Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice Update

Happy Winter Solstice, Everyone:
Our latest news flash is that Ed returned home late Saturday afternoon, pumped anew with antibiotics and complete with a new tube that will hopefully keep any abscess from once again building up and preventing healing. Upon returning, he is trying now to stay upright and vertical much more in order to allow gravity to promote ongoing draining. He is now coming downstairs for all meals, for example.

His main, current issue is that, in his words, it feels all the time like he is sitting on a bed of sharp pebbles (with some of them going up his bottom). He is finding it difficult to find a spot where he can be comfortable for long. We have a feeling this is just going to be the state of affairs for most of the next couple or so weeks while this tube for draining (and its accompanying stitches holding it in place) remains in place. But, the tube is the key to healing, it seems; so I guess, no pain, no gain.

Our door is open again for visitors, for any one still in town and not consumed by the holidays. But even for those who are busy now, he will still be here all during January-April and would love to see folks along the way.

Our big hope is that nothing more happens in the next ten days. Our Doctor is leaving for what I am sure is a much-deserved holiday. While he has left instructions to the on-call surgeons of the Emergency Room what to do if the roller coaster reverses its direction, we are hoping that we are on the flat-to-rising portion of the ride for the foreseeable future.

For those of you who have already celebrated Hanukkah, enjoy the movies and Chinese food on Friday and seeing friends at the cinema that you have not seen since High Holy Days.

For those of you celebrating Christmas, please have the merriest, warmest, most loving holiday ever with all your friends and family (and watch the sugar highs).

For those of you celebrating Kwanza, may the candles' lights inspire you and yours as you celebrate the values that make your family special and strong.

For those of you celebrating none of the above, find some quiet spot and reflect on the close of a decade that many of us are happy to see pass and vision a new decade where no Bush is elected to any office, anywhere.

With continued thanks for all your support, messages, and caring,
/Eddie

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mid-Dec update

So, we were in the middle of having latkes every night (potato, apple, rice/cheese, ricotta, tuna, turkey-sausage/potato, etc.); and then while we should have been lighting the 6th candle, we were sitting once again in hospital admissions, operating room recovery, and the hospital room. And I was so psyched to welcome friends over tonight and tomorrow night for yet a half dozen more latkes varieties!

Yes, the abscess is back with its vengeance. Ed started having periods of really feeling bad about Sunday and into Monday. Every day was a real roller coaster. The abscess was evidently building up (making him weak and listless), then releasing itself (providing big-time, bottom pain) and then allowing a period of feeling really well until the build-up occurred again. I knew where this was leading and was in contact with the surgeon. Ed was already scheduled for a REUA yesterday (I now know that means 'Rectal Exam Under Anasthesia' -- which seems weird since he no longer has a rectum). The doctor already had planned to re-insert a drainage tube to the internal suture site (where the pocket of abscess is occurring and is keeping the suture from closing up and healing as it should). He then told us on Tuesday night via our email conversation that he would probably also keep him in the hospital for more intravenous antibiotics.

So, yesterday we arrived at 2:15 p.m. Operation room at 6:30 or so. Post-op around 7:20. Into room at 11 p.m. (They were very busy, and we were unexpected, so to speak.) Every where we went (admissions, pre-op, post-op, 4th floor rooms), we were greeted like old friends. We know them; they know us. Three times in 4 weeks, you get to know folk. They're nice people, the best actually; but neither Ed nor I (nor they) really wanted to become best friends in this manner.

Today, he will have another CAT scan (also third in a month ... I am ignoring this week's research showings on CAT scans). Our doctor patiently and thoroughly explained to me yesterday why he needs to know all he can about this cavity's location and size where the abscess is bubbling from. He is going to use the next couple of days to watch it, think about it, and decide if the new tube he put in will be sufficient to keep it drained well enough to allow the necessary healing to occur. If not, he may have to get to it from another angle.

Ed has tubes in him again but not quite as many as before. And while he is still on pain meds, the frequency and intensity is not as much as before. It seems he will be in the hospital until Saturday at least. I am beginning my 12-14 hours stints in the room again. ( I was actually beginning to miss the pretty good cafeteria food.) We are in yet again on the same hospital floor. Our goal is NOT to get to be the first to occupy every room on that floor in the shortest time possible, by the way.

Ed can use some cheering up, as you can imagine. Please feel free to send him an email. Once home, he loves visits and calls. These past 10 days have been wonderful for him. Folks have come by on scheduled visits, 2-3 a day. Someone has brought him lunch every day that I was working (which fortunately was once again most days ... thank you, dear clients). We even had started watching Netflix movies again since his pain had begun to subside more.

So, this is a journey. Many, many, many (including a number of you) have gone down much worst. And, April will arrive and will bring rainbows, emerging normality, and health (G-d willing).

Thanks for your interest, prayers, notes, cards, songs, incense burnings, drummings, incantations, cookies, and smiles.
/Eddie

Sunday, November 29, 2009

MORE UPDATES ON ED (Now back in hospital)

These are 2 updates I sent to our friends and family this past week. Since I know some of you among our virtual family are following Ed's progress, I wanted to let you see what has been happening.

SENT 11/24/09:

Hello Again Everyone:
I am getting lots of emails from folks asking how Ed is doing, so I think it is just easier to send out the big emails again with one message.

So, the first week at home for Ed has been like a roller coaster, as we might have expected. The news of the week has been more pain than experienced in the hospital. I think the 1-10 scale of pain is a bit like the Richter scale, climbing exponentially and not in a direct line. Ed has had a number of the 'Big Ones' this week, usually in the 4th hour of his pain pills when the effect of the pills is wearing off, and it is too soon for the next ones. Each day/night, there have been some pretty major pain attacks. The effect of those and the medicine is that he mostly, at this point, naps off and on, listens to the radio, and occasionally plays for a few minutes on his IPhone. He cannot really concentrate long enough to read or to watch movies.

Every day, we have had a visitor or two (which is the pace I am keeping it at this point), and those visits have been a real plus for him (and me). For those who would like to come by over the next several weeks, mid-day to 4 or 5 seems to be the best period to visit. The 50 or so cards he has received are hanging next to his bed, and he reads every email all of you have sent. Thanks again for all your support.

He has had a prevailing, off-and-on fever. Yesterday, the doctor did blood tests and informed us today that there is an infection, probably around his internal stitches, one of which has come a little loose (which is not all that unusual and will probably heal over itself). He is now on 2 different antibiotics and will have more lab tests of Friday morning to ensure his white blood count has come dramatically down. If not, he will probably be in the hospital again for a couple of days to get antibiotics intravenously, but hopefully that will not be the case.

Ed is eating well, and his ileostomy is performing perfectly. We both are looking at this as a journey that has a definite end (about April 1) and a happy ending (no cancer). So, just like we extend ourselves in hiking up and down rocky, rainy Alps trails, we are trying to see this as just another adventure travel trip.

To all of you, a most happy Thanksgiving. Certainly, we two will be full of thanks for our friends and family, for screening tests, and for each other.

Much love,
Eddie & Ed

UPDATE SENT 11/28/09:

Good Sunday Morning to All:
I feel like the medical center spokesperson who shows up at the podium with the latest update on some celebrity. Or, maybe I am the script writer for another episode of some TV-medical series. In any case, stuff has happened since we last gathered together in this Internet-virtual room.

Between Tuesday and Friday, Ed got worse by the day. I now know infections are not a good thing. By Thanksgiving dinner, he could barely make it down to dinner (which of course was an amazing spread, if I say so myself ... even if the feast was only for the two of us), and he was pretty much too weak to eat. (That was the first time since coming home from the hospital he had been that way at dinner.) And during that night and the next morning, his body was ejecting the results of an internal abscess that I won't even begin to describe. So it should be no surprise that the Friday morning blood test at our local Kaiser showed the white blood count had not gone down as a result of the two antibiotics he was taking, but had in fact gone up.

By 7 p.m. we were checking into the San Francisco Kaiser hospital again, arriving at the room across from the one we were at before, and feeling very 'deja-vu-iah.' (The nurses all remembered us ... probably for the 4 pounds of Sees Candy we had left them.) The lucky news was that our beloved and trusted surgeon, Dr. Stricker (who had gotten a hair cut and looked quite dapper and cute!) was on call at the hospital all weekend (Thurs. - Sun.) since this was his annual holiday weekend to take such a turn. Yea for us because having him right there has helped this rather sad chapter in our saga take a turn for the better.

After a night on all kinds of drips (antibiotics, pain, etc.) and going back to no food or drink, Ed went for a CAT scan mid-day on Saturday that located and sized the infection. At 3 on Saturday, Ed was back in the operating room under general anaesthesia. There was no cutting this time -- just probing, camera-work, tubing, draining, washing out, etc. More things we should not go into detail about (as if I haven't already, right?).

The doctor then visited with me for almost a half hour, detailing what he had seen, what he liked about what he saw, and what he planned to do. (I love this guy.) Bottom-line, the tissue around the break in the suture is looking very healthy, once all the abscess was removed. The colon that was really stretched to the max to join the sphincter and to replace the now long-gone rectum is looking wonderfully healthy. He placed two flexible tubes up the bottom to the operation spot and will keep them in place for a few days to be sure any new fluid finds its way out quickly. Ed is also on catheterized again for a few days. And the doctor is going to keep him in the hospital for 5-6 days to be sure this infection is licked and does not return.

Latest good news this morning as of an hour ago: The white blood cell count is back to normal, which is pretty amazing to me since it was still twice normal yesterday afternoon. I guess getting out all that infection crap was a good thing!

So, my friends, Ed is feeling MUCH better even if he once again has about a half dozen or more tubes going in and out of him. He will return slowly today to normal food. He will get to see his oldest daughter Shannon every day this week in the evenings since she only lives .25 miles from the hospital. And, he gets to listen to me read to him each night a book of comic essays by Scott Adams (aka "Dilbert") that we have been enjoying during these hospital stays.

A final word for equality:
I cannot tell you how wonderful it has been to be in a state, city and hospital system where not one person has blinked an eye every time I walk in any where with Ed or where I call or show up and say I am his spouse. The doctors, nurses, receptionists, social worker, medical records clerks, etc. have each and every one treated me with respect and as the person who of course should be monitoring and managing Ed's health care. I cannot imagine how much more difficult this whole situation would have been in most of the other states of this 'free' country. In many, I would not have been allowed in most of the offices. I certainly would not be called by the doctor, emailed with the test results, or allowed to ask anyone, any question and get it answered. We must all fight and demand for full equal rights for all our citizens -- especially when it comes to health and life care.


Again, thanks for your interest, care, and prayers/support. You are totally energizing Ed and me.

/Eddie

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Report on Surgery and Recovery Thus Far

I am the ‘E’ Ed refers to often, and the writer of our travelogues, recipes, poems etc. I am his husband who is here to report on his health status. Bottom-line, the surgery for the cancer seems to have been a major success. When, after the six-hour surgery last Friday, I first saw walking toward me a smiling doctor, I said, "You must be exhausted (given the surgery was supposed to be only four hours). He quickly replied, "Actually, I am jazzed! I met in every way all the objectives I had for Ed's surgery. He is going to be great."

So it seems that the doctor and Ed were deemed to have success through the doctor's knowledge and skill; Ed's positive attitude; and all folks’ good wishes, many emails of encouragement from around the world (which Ed read faithfully as I forwarded them to him and even read to him as we waited last Friday for the anesthesiologist), and certainly the many prayers from almost every religious perspective that you, our wide range of global friends, represents. Thanks to all of you for your interest, concern, and love.

Our surgeon believes he removed all the cancer, having been able to take out enough of the rectum as well as the lymph nodes surrounding the tumor hopefully to remove any wandering cancer cells. He hopes and expects that biopsy reports will confirm that the surrounding lymph nodes were cancer-free, which, if true, will indeed mean no chemotherapy or radiation. He was able to do some of the surgery by laparoscopy (aiding recovery), but he did have to do some hand-assisted surgery to suture the large intestine to the sphincter valve. He then did the necessary steps for a temporary (probably two months or so) ileostomy in order to allow the colon to heal thoroughly before being put back to use.

Ed has had this week multiple tubes coming out everywhere. We entered together the prep area last Friday morning at 6:24 a.m. I got to stay with him until 8 a.m., which included a final visit with our incredibly nice surgeon. The surgery began around 10 a.m.. I got a notice at 1:30 that things were going well but would take two hours more than expected. I and Ed's parents saw the surgeon as he came out of the operation about 4:10. I finally welcomed Ed to his large, single hospital room at 8 p.m. He was totally alert, joking, and relatively pain free. We talked a lot. He just then just held my hand for about two hours as nurses came and went constantly. All are extremely gracious and kind with him and are both men and women of every age, color and ethnic background (very San Francisco!).

The last few days have gone remarkably well. Ed has mostly reported the pain level at about a ‘2’ on a 10-point scale. He has been walking around the hallway a couple times a day since the first day after surgery. Slowly and each day, more tubes are coming out of his body. He had nothing to eat or drink the first three days but this morning, he is up to ‘soft foods’ (i.e., cream of wheat, mashed fruit, one piece of white toast). He now knows how and is adept at managing his ileostomy quite well. Overall, he, I and all the doctors/nurses could not be more happy of his progress.

We do expect he will be coming home tomorrow from the Kaiser Hospital in San Francisco. He will then be totally off from work until at least the end of the year or even the middle of January. Sometime in late winter or early spring, he will return to have follow-up surgery and another hospital stay to remove the ilestomy and return him to normal functioning.

Again, thanks for all your support. Look forward soon for Ed to be back to blogging.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Just what the doctor ordered

Being away for ten days after Ed's diagnosis/prognosis of and for cancer and just prior to his surgery on November 13 was really the best thing that we could have done. The fun we had every minute while in Nashville and Chicago was just what (literally) the doctor ordered.

First, The Theatre and Other Productions/Entertainment
Having the opportunity to sample the theatre of Nashville and Chicago was really special, and we made our way to as many of the known and renowned venues as possible.

We saw five plays, one opera, one comedy show, and one musical revue/show -- not too bad for ten days. And for the theatre, there was only one disappointment with all the others being from excellent to best-of-the-best.

The Lookingglass Theatre Company is a well-known collection of multi-disciplined artists who create and perform original, story-centered theatre that is often physical and may involve water, dance, 'flying,' and other unusual techniques. Having created over 50 world premieres already, the company's latest is “Fedra, Queen of Haiti”, written by company member J. Nicole Brooks, who also stars in the title role. Taking this ancient Greek myth and swirling it into an unspecified future date when Haiti is the dominant power of the world, Brooks and company have created a tale that is in every moment electric, mesmerizing, and progressively chilling. The acting, directing, lighting, set design, and the play itself are all stellar. Ed and I agree that this is among the top five productions of the eighty we have seen this far this year; and we both hope that Berkeley Rep will bring this production to its next season, as they did Lookingglass's Metamorphosis several years ago.

Almost as stellar of a production is currently at the Goodman Theatre, another award-winning theatre of Chicago that sends productions regularly to New York. The world-premiere “High Holidays”, written by Chicagoan Alan Gross, is -- in my opinion -- the Jewish version of “August, Osage County”. A family of four (two brothers and their parents) approach the bar mitzvah of the ill-prepared, younger son as we, the audience, enter their home three weeks before the big date. Soon, every audience member present is suffering from aching sides from laughing so much; but like “August, OC”, the comedy gets darker and darker along the way, and coalitions form and dissolve among the four members of this 'loving' family. Again, we would love to see a collaborative effort of perhaps SF Playhouse and SF Jewish Theatre bring this well-written play to the Bay Area. It is funny, edgy, and totally engaging.

We sought out our third winning play in Chicago not because of the venue/company's fame (as we did the two above) but because we wanted to see a new musical (“The Glorious Ones”) by two of our favorite writers/composers, Tom Flaherty and Pam Ahrens (“Ragtime”, “Once Upon this Island”, “Schoolhouse Rock”). The fact that the production was being done in a house of 26 seats by the unknown (to us, that is) BoHo (Bohemian) Theatre Ensemble almost caused us to pass this one by; but how happy we are that we did not. This tale, based on a book by the same name, is a story about a roaming, Italian busker company in the late 1500s. The story is intriguing; the music, grabbing; and the acting by this set of community players, outstanding. All seven voices in this production could fill a hall twenty times the size of this barely living-room-size venue. With piano and violin accompaniment and a simple but highly effective set, this was our biggest surprise of the entire trip. We would love to see TheatreWorks take this one on, even though there are a few scenes more bawdy than TW usually does. (SF Playhouse would also be another possibility for a Bay Area production.)

In Nashville, we were treated to the opening stop of an extensive national tour of Minneapolis' Guthrie Theatre's “Little House of the Prairie: The Musical”. Now before anyone chuckles or rolls his/her eyes, let me assure you this is a very well-written book by Rachel Sheinkin (“25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”) and music by Oscar-winning Rachel Portman (Emma, Cider House Rules, Chocolat among many others). I read all nine of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books twice in elementary school and then once again to my boys as they were growing up. I and my ex watched all ten years of the television show, so I was totally primed for this production. Melissa Gilbert, who plays Laura throughout the television series, plays "Ma" here (along with two of her children in the ensemble). That is a real treat, except Melissa cannot really sing. Fortunately, she does not have to very much; and many of the songs go to the three Ingalls girls and to Laura's nemesis Nelly Olson, all of whom are portrayed by young actresses with incredible, top-notched voices (as is the very cute actor playing Laura's husband-to-be, Alonzo). The book of the musical captures very accurately the key events of the later years of the girls' growing up in South Dakota. This is a fun musical to catch as it travels across America (and skips Broadway altogether, at least at this point).

OK, there was a major disappointment. We were most excited to be going to the Broadway-producing machine, the Steppenwolf Theatre (of “August, Osage County” fame). We saw yet another world premiere, “Fake”, also written and directed by a company member, Eric Simonson. The play retells a somewhat true story about the discovery of an ancient skull in 1912 and the exploration in 1953 to determine if the original skull (considered one of the most important archaeological finds to-date at the time) was authentic or not. The play ping-pongs between the two time periods; and the audience subsequently nods to sleep as the plays talks them to death, confuses them as to which actor is which in which time period, and as the story just drags and drags when it is supposed to be, we think, an enticing mystery. Rarely have we ever heard from a sold-out audience such a tepid and short response, both at intermission and at the end. Hopefully, this play dies a natural death after this production; but I have a suspicion this is exactly the type of play that we will someday soon see at ACT in San Francisco, since that house seems to pride itself on bad picks of new plays.

In addition to the above plays and musicals, we were lucky enough to get balcony tickets to the Lyric Opera of Chicago (often considered to be the second-best opera house in America behind NY's Met) to see Verdi's “Ernani”. Certainly this production met and exceeded all our expectations from this acclaimed opera company. The massive stage was littered by several dozen chorus members, all sumptuously costumed and re-costumed a number for times during the elaborate show. The leads were all vocally outstanding as well as being great actors. The most amazing thing for us was the acoustical excellence of this massive, very long hall. The audience is much further back than in the similarly sized (seating-wise) SF Opera house, but the quality of sound (at least in the first balcony) was perhaps the best we have ever experienced here or in Europe.

We also attended, due to its decades-old reputation, the Second City Comedy Club in Chicago. While it was fun to be there, we found the evening to be only mildly entertaining. We came away feeling like this production much like the current Saturday Night Live, is only a faint shadow of its former self of the 1960/70s when Gilda Radner, John Belushi and friends reigned there.

In Nashville, we spent Saturday night at the longest-running live radio show (84 years), the Grand Ole Opry. Even for only slight country music fans, the evening was a real winner for us. The show is divided into four 30-minute segments (with lots of live commercials on stage throughout). Each segment is hosted by a Opry member (to which each person is elected for life), usually a star of past years. That person does two numbers and a few jokes, followed by two other performers who do one number each, and capped by the half-hour's marquee performer, who comes out with full ensemble for two numbers. So, in the two hours, the audience sees and hears on the massive stage 16 performers/groups along with back-up singers and a country band/orchestra in the background. We will definitely go again, even if we did have to sit in fairly uncomfortable church-like pews, a remnant of the early days in the original Opry setting.

And The Museums and Art/Architecture
In Nashville, we went to the beautiful, art-deco Frist Center for Contemporary and Modern Art, set in the former, vast, main post office of Nashville. This museum of rotating exhibits is worth a side trip to see if in the vicinity. Among other exhibits, we saw ”Georgia O'Keefe and Friends”, the third extensive set of her art we have seen in the past couple of months. We also spent 1.5 hours at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, a high-tech wonder that needed much more time for real exploration. We will return there and spend a half day to learn (and hear/see on video and in listening pods) the history of country music. By the way, Nashville is totally a great place to visit for a couple of days, and the Broadway Ave. district running into the Cumberland River is full of nightclubs, restaurants, museums, and sports facilities -- many new as of the '90s and beyond.

In Chicago, we spent the good part of a day at the Art Institute of Chicago where one runs constantly into almost every (it seems) famous painting/statue from the 19th and 20th centuries that has been seen in art books, art history classes, and art posters. The new wing, dedicated largely to architecture and design, is a good reason to return for those who have already been to the Institute in the past. But our real love of Chicago blossomed in the out--of-doors throughout the downtown region. The hours and hours we spent walking the streets and the Millennium Park gawking at outdoor art (Picasso, Miro, Calder, Chagall among many others) and at the gorgeous and awe-inspiring buildings were our most fun of the trip, in many regards. The best 2 hours we spent were on The First Lady on a boat tour on the Chicago River, guided by a member of the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The lecture and stories about the scores of buildings we passed were a real highlight of the ten days.

Finally, the Nightlife
Yes, we did play, too. As always, we spent nights in Nashville at our favorite nightclub, Tribe, where gays, lesbians and their friends gather in a series of large, upscale bars and rooms for socializing and dancing. We spent a really fun Halloween night there, dressed as sailors (me in white, he in blue) and saw some of the most creative costumes I think either of us has ever seen. (Actually, this is only the second time we have gone out on Halloween in the past 7 years, so we are not the best judges of what folks are doing these days in terms of dressing up.)

In Chicago, we purposely stayed in Boystown, near Wrigley Field and within the Lakeview district, where most of the gay venues of Chicago reside (bars, dance clubs, restaurants, retail stores). Our favorite three where we frequented until the wee hours of several mornings were Sidetrack (where supposedly more vodka is sold than anywhere else in the USA), Roscoe's, and Cocktail -- all fun and very nicely appointed. The mild, even warm temperatures while we were in Chicago assured that Halstad Street (the Castro Street of Chicago) was packed on the weekend, as were all its establishments.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Living Each Day

Me (L) and my husband E (R)
Two weeks ago I was given a surprise medical diagnosis. Colon cancer. I have no symptoms. In fact, I feel great. I don’t smoke; I eat a low fat/low salt diet with no beef; I get plenty of exercise; my weight is average; my age is relatively young at 51. It all started when a stool test showed positive for blood. That followed with my first colonoscopy. More tests and doctor visits followed. Surgery is still to come. The cancer appears to be caught early and is small enough that chemo and radiation isn’t necessary before surgery. The last couple of weeks have been a challenge to come to grips with this new reality. Fortunately my husband, E, has been so supportive. He has made the last couple weeks bearable while we deal with a lot of uncertainty.

This short nine-second video has been a reminder that we should live each day like it could be your last. There are also no guarantees even when you have the right of way.



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BO2rW1alVv8

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

10 Gay Signs I Missed Growing Up

Me in grade schoolI’ve written before that I came out late in life. Reflecting back, however, there were signs of my gayness that I did not recognize back when I was in elementary and high school. I knew I was different but I choose to ignore it and repress it. Here is my list of 10 signs I missed:

(10) I checked-out and listened to all the Broadway Cast Albums in our local library when I was in junior high school. I made mix-tapes of my favorite Broadway songs.
(9) I didn’t start buying rock and roll records until the second half of high school (Elton John, David Bowie, etc.). Prior to that, I loved listening to the pop divas of the day on the radio (late 60’s & early 70’s): Karen Carpenter, Cher, Petula Clark, Melanie, Dionne Warwick, Cass Elliot, etc. I knew the words to all their hits.
(8) During grade school, my dad had a basement full of Playboy and Penthouse magazines. I always thought the pictures of the naked women were creepy and would flip by them quickly. However, I enjoyed reading the articles and trying to make sense and understand the sex jokes in the cartoons. I especially liked the Forum section of Penthouse which always had a letter that started "I'm straight but one day..."
(7) I thought my best Halloween costume in grade school was the year I dressed up in drag and wore my mother’s red wig.
(6) Ever since I was very small, I wanted a doll house of my own. My parents did not buy a doll house until my sister was born. Although the house was not mine, I was allowed to furnish and accessorize it.
(5) Playing sports was never an interest of mine but I always took my time changing in the locker room for PE or swim lessons. I was always secretly scoping out the other guys. If I had to try out for a sport, I always thought wrestling or swimming would be interesting.
(4) I was envious of my little sister getting to take dance lessons. But I never spoke up to my parents about it. It would be many years later before I took dance classes on my own.
(3) I always thought Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly were funny and outrageous along with the other queer-type closet TV comics, Don Knotts and Tony Randall. I would try to mimic their routines.
(2) I was a band geek all through junior high and high school. I thought half-time shows with marching bands were the best part of football games. Seeing a marching band in a parade still brings a lump to my throat.
(1) The highlight, for me, of the Key Club ski trip I went on in high school was sharing a double bed with the most handsome student body officer in our class. Nothing happened.

National Coming Out Day: Celebrate October 11... If not now, when? Whether you're lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or not, be proud of who you are and your support for LGBT equality. A simple conversation can change the lives of people you care about. Coming out information and guides are available at the HRC site.
In September the New York Times Magazine did a major feature on middle-school youth coming out. Outlet, a local teen organization that we support is mentioned in the article. Outlet supports and empowers local GLBTQQ youth by providing counseling and community, leadership training & advocacy, and outreach awareness.

Friday, October 02, 2009

October is for Gay Activism

CALIFORNIA: The Marriage Recognition and Family Protection Act will affirm that California will continue to recognize the marriages of couples who married outside the state prior to the passage of Prop. 8—and that those who marry out-of-state in the future won’t be treated as complete legal strangers in California.
Opponents of marriage equality claim are once again using lies and scare tactics to deny us equality. We must not let them win. Put an end to their campaign of lies! Enough is enough. Call the Governor today to set the facts straight. Let him know of your support for the Marriage Recognition and Family Protection Act.
Call the Governor's Capitol Office (automated line): 916-445-2841

MAINE: Protect Maine Equality. Vote No on 1. This is going to be a close vote. The anti-gay groups that won in California are now in Maine spewing lies and misinformation. Donate, volunteer, make calls, and write letters. Vote early.

WASHINGTON: Washington State's Domestic Partnership Law is under attack. A yes vote on Referendum 71 will keep Washington’s Domestic Partnership Law and ensure fairness and equality for all Washington citizens. Donations and volunteers are needed

NATIONALLY: The National Equality March, October 10-11, 2009 in Washington, DC, is an event to show support for full equality on the door step of those who can make that happen: the Congress of the United States. The goal is equal protection in all matters governed by civil law in all 50 states.

NATIONALLY: GLBT History Month highlights annually the achievements of 31 gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender Icons—one each day—with a free video, bio, bibliography, downloadable images and other resources.

NATIONALLY: National Coming Out Day on October 11, 2009. Share your story, educate people.

ON GOING:
- Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). Write, talk to or visit your congress person. Write President Obama. Spread the word by submitting a letter to the Editor to your local paper.
- Pass and sign into law the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). It is pending in Congress. The bill will ensure workplace equality by protecting LGBT workers from employment discrimination. The bill protects workers from discriminatory hiring, firing, promotion or compensation practices, as well as retaliation for reporting such practices. Write, talk to or visit your congress person. Write President Obama.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Firmware Flashback

Earlier this year my mother was cleaning out her files and found this old newspaper clipping. I am one of spellbound high school freshmen. See the kid on the right with glasses, standing next to the math teacher? That is me. The picture dates from sometime in the early 1970s.

We are being wowed by a new technological breakthrough called a programmable electronic calculator. Oooooo, look but don’t touch!

The back of the clipping says we are looking at the school’s new Wang calculator. I poked around the web and by comparing pictures I think I have determined that the calculator is a Wang 720c Advance Programming Calculator. Just about everything you would want to know about one can be found at this Old Calculator Web Museum webpage: http://www.oldcalculatormuseum.com/wang720.html

Here is a “flashback” song and video, an old school computer remix of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. It is performed on an Atari 800XL, Texas Instruments TI-99/4a, 8 Inch Floppy Disk, 3.5 inch Harddrive, and a HP ScanJet 3C. (Found on Wayne’s Nude Musicians blog)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ht96HJ01SE4

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hiking in the French Alps (vacation p. 2)

Capturing the essence of an almost two-week hike in the French Alps on paper is next to impossible. It is easy enough to review plays seen, to describe museums visited, and to detail (as much as we dare) the nightlife enjoyed. But, to describe the sights, sounds, and smells of a hike that sometimes feels totally exhilarating and at other times, absolutely exhausting -- that I find quite impossible.

This year's adventure hike for us was on the Grande Randonnee 5, considered one of the world's premiere hiking trails. In its entirety, the GR5 runs from the Netherlands to the Mediterranean and takes months to complete. The section we did is in the French Alps and runs from Megève, FR (near Geneva) to Menton (two coastal cities from Nice). If we had done the hike point-to-point, it would have taken 5-6 weeks; and we would have stayed in lots of mountain huts, probably carried our own packs, and hiked in parts not as exciting as what we ended up seeing. So, we opted for the 12-day version, where we hiked 7-9 hours each day on the best of the trail options along the 200-mile stretch, staying in small hotels and inns along the way, and shuttling a few minutes each day from our residences to the trail heads. As we often do, we traveled with Mountain Travel-Sobek and with guides certified by the world-renown "Compagnie des guides de Chamonix," a professional guide association that dates back to the first climb of Mont Blanc over 200 years ago.

One of the things that made this particular hike so wonderful is that each day seemed to be distinctly unique and different from all the rest (which really shows up in my pictures). In fact, I have titled each day of the hike with a different theme:
Day 1: Views of the Mont Blanc Range
Day 2: Hiking above Lakes and on Ridges
Day 3: Waterfalls and Glaciers by the Scores
Day 4: Jagged Peaks and the Sound of Streams
Day 5: Massive Outcroppings and Rocky Summits All Around
Day 6: "Scenes from the Sierra Nevada of California"
Day 7: Rocky Trails Hidden in Fog
Day 8: Reflecting Lakes (or, Scenes from 500-Piece Jigsaw Puzzles)
Day 9: Multi-colored Rocks and Boulders
Day 10: Forest and Ridge Hiking
Day 11: Descending to the Mediterranean
(One day in the middle was a rest day, to round out the 12.)

We were fortunate to see lots of bird and animal life during the two weeks. In particular, we had very close encounters with marmots (which look and act like chubby prairie dogs) and chamois (beautiful and shy mountain goats). We also one day saw the endangered and very rare bearded vulture soaring way above with its 8-foot wing span.

Some nights, the inns/hotels we stayed in were surrounded by little more than one church and a few houses (or on one night, totally by itself on a ridge). Other nights, we were in such settings as a 17th- century fortified city, a town of wooden buildings where the second floors had been traditionally used to dry out produce and grains, a town of extremely narrow streets and gutters running down the petite avenues, a resort town on a river with our hotel and its large outdoor patios perched on a hill above, and our final town right on the Mediterranean. One of the moments we will never forget is hearing a long pealing of church bells in one small French town just as Senator Edward Kennedy's funeral was beginning in the USA, a great tribute to a man respected world-wide.

Our days were in many ways very similar, even though the scenery changed each day:
- The alarm goes off and we are up at 7:10 a.m.
- Breakfast at 7:30. Usually cheese, bread and coffee or tea
- Pack lunch at 8:00; finish getting ready (sun screen, e.g.).
- Leave at 8:30 with the two other couples and guide to begin the day’s trek.
- Hike UP all morning (huffing, puffing, sweating), culminating sometime between 1 and 1:30 by crossing a 'col' (a high, mountain pass) -- although on several days we crossed two cols; and on one day, three. Most cols on this trip were in the 8000-9000' height. Our highest two were at 9566' (Col d' Aussois) and 9504'.(Col Blanchet).
- Have a well-deserved and always tasty lunch. (Philippe, one of our two guides, was in charge of lunch food for this trip and out-did himself. We had great variety and many wonderful delicacies and cheeses.)
- Begin our afternoon of descending. On some days, this was extensive and lasted for hours. When the downhill was really steep, most of us found it harder than going up.
- Have a mid-afternoon treat of French chocolate and cookies (yum-yum).
- Get to the van for a short trip to our new hotel, where bags were waiting in our room.
- Wash clothes. (Yes, every day. Socks, shirts, underwear. Rule is, pack only 3 of each for entire trip. Hiking shorts lasted more days and had to washed less.)
- Shower ... and I use the term loosely. In the Alps, and in Europe in general, you will always have a bidet in your room -- Lord knows why -- but you may have just a tub; a tub with spray nozzle but no curtain; a shower that is big enough for a short, 90-pound person; a shower where the water comes in a few drops every minute or two. You get the picture. But in any case, each one felt great at this point in the day.
- Rest maybe 15-30 minutes. Or, maybe 'walk the town' for a few minutes, if there was a town.
- Go at 7 p.m. have a beer or two or some wine before dinner with our fellow travelers at the bar.
- Eat dinner with the group at 7:30.
- Be offered cheese course between 8:30 and 9:00 -- This being after a full meal, some wine, and satisfaction settling in. However, we discovered the French really take their cheese seriously and could not quite understand why Americans did not want to have smelly cheese with bread after an already, often very rich (sauces, butter, cheese, etc.) meal. (As you may see, French is my least favorite cuisine, although many nights we did have wonderful meals, to be sure.)
- Head back to our room by 9:15. Get everything prepared for the next morning.
- 9:30 or so, turn lights out and fall to sleep immediately.

Why, you may ask? (All of our friends and family don't understand at all how two theater queens want to spend time each year on such an adventure -- or 'torture trail,' as they tend to describe it.)

Why? Because we can eat and drink all we want the rest of the vacation and still come home without any poundage gain!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Theatreworks goes to Broadway

On September 23, the musical “Memphis” will become TheatreWorks' first show to reach the Broadway stage. Originally developed in their New Works Festival, the world premiere musical highlighted 2003/04 mainstage season and became one of the theatre’s greatest hits. That production featured an astonishing cast, and many of our original leads are starring in the New York production.

The TheatreWorks community has a unique opportunity to be enchanted once again by this inspiring musical hit. If you are visiting New York City, take advantage of this valuable discount ticket offer. Call 212-947-8844 or visit broadwayoffers.com and use code METHW0819. You'll enjoy a great Broadway show, and TheatreWorks will receive a $5 donation for every ticket purchased!
Call 212-947-8844 or visit broadwayoffers.com and use code METHW0819. You'll enjoy a great Broadway show, save money and TheatreWorks will receive a $5 donation for every ticket purchased!
Artists who have participated in previous New Works Initiative workshops at TheatreWorks include Mark Allen , Todd Almond, Sean Barry, Neil Bartram, Raquel Bitton, Beth Blatt, Nell Benjamin, David Bryan, Kirsten Childs, Darrah Cloud, Joe DiPietro, David Ford, Jenny Giering, Daniel Goldfarb, Paul Gordon, Jack Heifner, Brian Hill, Aaron Jafferis, Tom Jones, Rajiv Joseph, Lynne Kaufman, Kait Kerrigan, David Kirshenbaum, Gihieh Lee, Andrew Lippa, Brian Lowdermilk, Taj Mahal, Brendan Milburn, Tommy Newman, Marsha Norman, Laurence O’Keefe, Billy Philadelphia, Steven Sater, Laura Schellhardt, Scott Schwartz, Stephen Schwartz, Tanya Shaffer, Duncan Sheik, Kim D. Sherman, Chris Smith, Lee Summers, Matthew Sweet, Vienna Teng, Joe Thalken, Valerie Vigoda, and Chay Yew.

While TheatreWorks audiences see the fruits of the New Works Initiative on our main stage every year, works originating here regularly go on to success at other regional theatres and in New York.
The “Summer of ’42”, a musical developed at TheatreWorks with music and lyrics by David Kirshenbaum and book by Hunter Foster, had an off-Broadway run in 2002.
Vanities: A New Musical”, with music and lyrics also by David Kirshenbaum and book by Jack Heifner begin an off-Broadway run this last summer at Second Stage Theatre and has also been produced at Pasadena Playhouse.
GrooveLily’s illuminating holiday hit ‘Striking 12” also enjoyed a successful off-Broadway run.
Paul Gordon’s sparkling adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma”, which became the highest-grossing, most-attended production in TheatreWorks history, has gone on to Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, and Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.
Bill Cain's play “Equivocation” is currently premiering at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and will come to Marin Theatre Company this season and open in NYC at the Manhattan Theatre Club in February 2010.
The Matthew Sweet musical “Girlfriend” is in the upcoming Berkeley Rep season.

Speaking of Berkeley Repertory Theatre, they have done an amazing job as well. They have sent 12 shows to New York in the last 12 years, including four to Broadway in the last four years:
Bridge & Tunnel” [After workshopped at Berkeley, Sarah Jones’ one woman show played five months on Broadway and won her a Tony Award.]
Passing Strange” [Berkeley Rep was one of the producers of this Broadway run, which earned a Tony Award for Best Book. The show also won three Drama Desk Awards, two Obie Awards, and many other honors before being made into a film by Spike Lee.]
Wishful Drinking” [Hollywood legend Carrie Fisher worked on her solo show at Berkeley. It is playing a limited engagement at Roundabout Theatre’s Studio 54.]
In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)” [Debuts at the Lincoln Center Theater this fall.]
Currently Berkeley Rep is presenting a new musical that has Broadway ambitions: “American Idiot” It unites the songs of the band Green Day with the director of “Spring Awakening”, Michael Mayer.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Amsterdam vacaton - August 2009

One of the canals of AmsterdamAs we planned our Summer ‘09 trip to Amsterdam, almost everyone we told that we intended to stay nine days looked at us in amazement and said, "Why?" People told us that 2-4 days was plenty because it is relatively small and compact, it has only a few interesting museums, it is too seedy, it is mostly canals and bridges, it is expensive, etc. Unwavering, we stayed with our plan and our predisposition that we like really getting to know one city at a time and having adequate time in the most interesting cities to walk the streets, explore the nooks and crannies, hit all the key sights and the lesser-visited ones, etc. We had done this in Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Cuzco, London, Reykjavik, Edinburgh, etc. But we also hedged our bets and always replied that we also knew there were also many one-day trips we could take from Amsterdam to other parts of the country and even to Belgium.

GuyDads visit AmsterdamWell, after our nine days, we were ready to stay another week; and we already are thinking about when we can go back. I am not sure any city we have visited has quite captured us in the way Amsterdam did. One of the key differences is that we came away meeting many very interesting local and visiting people while there. The city's outdoor cafes and bars and its openness to all cultures and types as well as its predominance of English usage among natives and visitors made it very easy to strike up conversations wherever we went.

So, what were some of our highlights?
First, any one who has been to Amsterdam can attest to its unique beauty. Canals and bridges link the scores of islands that make up the City. Canal houses, largely built in the 17th-19th centuries, command the casual stroller to look up at the unique facades and tops of the buildings and to notice how many of them lean forward, sideways and every other direction possible. Hundreds of houseboats of every description line the canals, and thousands of black bikes are parked and locked in every available space, in every imaginable manner. Church spires mark neighborhoods as do red lights mark districts for prostitution. Coffee shops by the dozens sell legal marijuana and hashish; while cafes by the hundreds line streets for strong coffee and discussion. Cobblestones make walking a bit difficult but very romantic. Ice cream and French fry shops dot the city. History is every where. Fun is totally in the air.

The MUSEUMS: In a word, WOW!
Van Gogh Museum- The Van Gogh Museum: While as crowded as any museum we have ever visited, we never felt rushed or unable to see each painting for the amount of time we wanted. The excellent audio tour talks about each displayed painting, not just the random one here and there. The sequence is well planned along the walls and follows the chronology of Van Gogh's life and changing abodes. The crowds move at a snail's pace, but they move together as they listen and look. We were so impressed with the presentation, the art, and the subsequent learning.

View looking down on Anne Frank House- The Anne Frank House: To ready ourselves, we re-watched two movies about Anne Frank before leaving the USA. We were prepared (we thought), but the impact was even greater than we expected. Again, the officials have figured out how to deal with huge crowds that line up daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. We were moved through the house in a small group at a good pace. Walking into the hiding space through the bookcase door we had seen in the movies, seeing Anne's movie-star pictures still on the wall, hearing her church bells and seeing her chestnut tree through the attic window, and even stepping lightly on the creaking floor boards out of respect for how quiet they had to be those two years of hiding -- The impact of it all was over-whelming.

- The Rijksmuseum: Housing probably the world's best collection of 17th century Dutch Master artists, this museum was amazing. It also was very well-laid out and had a fantastic audio tour. We were both particularly blown away by the Rembrandt paintings. Unlike many we have seen in other museums that always appear dark, these showed much light and color. They had all been restored in the past few years to remove the protective shellac that had sealed them for so many years, bringing them back to their original states. We also were struck by the other artists of the time and their beautiful portraits of local civic leaders and life. (Only 25% of the museum was actually open, due to extensive and multi-year renovations; but even that amount took us several hours and was remarkable. We look forward to returning some day when the entire museum is open.)

- The Amsterdam Historisch Museum: Charting the history of the City and country and especially of its meteoric rise during the Golden Age of the 1600s (when Netherlands ruled the seas and the trading world), the museum was fascinating and very educational. The audio tour was exceptional, and we were particularly interested in the section devoted to the Nazi occupation period. We also saw an authentic re-creation of the first gay bar in Amsterdam. We went to this museum early in our visit in order to set the context for the rest of our stay and explorations.

- The Hermitage Amsterdam: This extension of the world-renown Hermitage from St. Petersburg just opened in what was the 'widest' building in Amsterdam when it was built (as a retirement home). The first exhibit that is housed in the several huge buildings and their two floors is on the 19th century czars, their families, lives, courts, wealth, and achievements. The ball gowns and uniforms alone that were displayed as if at court before the czar were absolutely stunning. The huge paintings of the rulers and their families were testament to what handsome and beautiful people they all were. While some were real despots and while they together certainly brought destruction on themselves and their ways of life, we were struck how family oriented they seemed to be in each generation. We were overall amazed how all the things we saw has survived the 1917 revolution and all the years of Communism.

- Museum Willet- Holthuysen: This is one of several grand canal houses built in the late 1600s, early 1700s that are today open in full display of the grandeur and life of the wealthy at that time and into the 18th centuries. This particular house had a great collection of the owners' ceramics and dishes as well as art.

Rembrandt House- Museum Het Rembrandthuis: While standing in Rembrandt's studio, his storage room of collectibles that often appeared in his paintings, and in his bedroom has some exciting aspects, we were overall not that impressed by this experience; but we went since it is on every one's 'must-do' list.

- The Verzetsmuseum: Following the development of the Dutch resistance movement, year-by-year, from the invasion of May 1940 to the liberation in May 1945, this very hands-on, 'in your face' museum was probably our biggest surprise and the most fascinating of all we visited. Hiding nothing, the museum set the stage even before the invasion of the life in Amsterdam, for its Jews and its other inhabitants. Like in other parts of Europe and even in the US, Hitler had him sympathizers in the early days of his reign in Amsterdam. As Amsterdam was finally invaded, life actually did not change that much at first since Hitler saw it as the ideal Aryan site overall. The changes that did occur in the first year or so were mostly for the Jews. The City did react quickly and in a big way through its unions for a general one-day strike after the first set of Jews were deported, but a swift, deadly reaction by the Nazis shut up immediately visible resistance; and most people just watched as the 80000 Jews were rounded up, family by family. The museum chronicles what it took to get a resistance movement really moving and why it took so long. As a visitor, we were given small, hand-held computers that guided us through the museum in a logical order and that added music, sounds, movie clips, and other information beyond what we saw in the exhibits. We were also asked along the way to respond to "What would YOU have done," and then saw our answers compared to past visitors. The entire experience was challenging, educational, and totally thought-provoking.

There were many other museums we did not get to (by choice and by necessity of time); and maybe we'll regret not going to the Erotic, the Hemp, the Torture, the Madame Tussaud's Wax, or the Sex Museums. But overall, we had a full schedule and did about as much museuming as we (and our backs) could tolerate.

We did see one more outstanding museum as part of a day's bike trip we took to the nearby totally charming town of Haarlem. The Frans Hals Museum is considered by many to be one of the best in the country, featuring this Grand Master of the 16th Century as well as his collected paintings and house furnishings of the time. The large museum is unique in that many of the paintings are displayed as they would have been in regular rooms of a house, along with other furnishings of the time.

The JEWISH HISTORY OF AMSTERDAM:
Whenever we visit a European city, we spend as much time as is needed to visit all the Jewish sites that still exist. In Amsterdam, as in many Nazi-occupied cities, the sites are now few; and the history, very sad.

The Jewish Museum (Joods Historisch Museum) is within the buildings of the "Old" and "New" Synagogues of Amsterdam; and on the site where two more synagogues also existed at one time. The restored interior of the Old Synagogue is beautiful, and it is the oldest public synagogue in Europe. The museum, using high technology as well as saved remnants of Jewish life, recounts the proud and important history of a country who welcomed exiled Jews from the Spanish Inquisition and even fleeing Jews from Germany in the early and mid 1930s and where, up until the Nazi invasion, Jews had largely lived safely and in an overall flourishing manner. Of the 80000 Jews in the country prior to WWII, only a fraction survived.

Portugues-Israelitische SynagogueThe Portugues-Israelitische Synagogue, built in 1675, was the largest synagogue in Europe when it was built. The bulky, red-brick building and surrounding building miraculously survived the Nazis. The massive, wooden-vaulted ceiling, the huge windows bringing in full light, the huge brass chandeliers, the dark-wood and huge ark area, etc. all make this an impressive and yet very sad (since now mostly empty) sacred place to visit.

The Hollandsche Schouwburg was home to the Jewish operetta and Yiddish theater that thrived in Amsterdam, even after the war started. The Jewish Philharmonic was well-regarded, and even non-Jews sought to play in it. At this site, whose main facade still exists, Jews were rounded up before deportation. Today, a memorial wall with 8000 of the family names of those deported, an eternal flame, and an outdoor monument serve as reminders of the horrible events.
Throughout the City, we walked to sites where statues and plagues were devoted to the Holocaust and its victims. While not as proactive and pervasive as cities like Berlin in owning and telling its awful past, the story is told in Amsterdam in its museums and its streets; and certainly there is much more recognition of 'never again' and 'how we failed' than in a city such as Vienna, e.g.

OTHER FUN:
Amsterdam is a city of bikes like probably no other European city. 800,000 residents; and we heard estimates of at least 600,000 bikes -- all of which seem to be moving all the time. Bikes rule the narrow streets and bridges. Pedestrians, beware. Woe also to the person who believes it is possible to drive through the City. (It is admissible by law to stop your car on a one-way, narrow street up to 20 minutes to take 'care of business’ -- whatever that means.)

Can you see the woman working the window in the 'red light' district?We took advantage of the biking tradition and did a wonderful bike tour of the City and one of the countryside with Mike's Bikes (with whom we had already done tours in Berlin and Munich). We also rented bikes on our own from them and followed the bike lanes out of the City to Haarlem, as I mentioned above, which is about a 60-75 minute ride out of the City. Every town and city in the country is connected by bike trails, by excellent signage, and even by special bike-only traffic lights.

Mmmmmm, beerWe, like everyone, had to go to the Heineken brewery for a tour and the 'free' 3 beers your admissions gets you. Given we also were given 2 more each by some folks we met who did not want their drink tokens; we had a VERY good time.

The GAY LIFE:
As probably the Gay capital of Europe and maybe of the world, Amsterdam is gay everywhere, not just in one or two districts. GLBT folks are every where; and they are totally integrated and accepted in all Dutch life, from what we could see. Estimates are that 300K of the 800K residents are in fact GLB or T. Amsterdam is very accepting of all races, cultures, and people; it is the nearest place we have been to our own San Francisco Bay Area. We heard all the many languages and saw all the many colors of skin we see in downtown Palo Alto or SF on a typical day.

Part of Amsterdam's Homomonument pokes out into the canal.Amsterdam was one of the first cities, if not the first, to memorialize in a very moving and public way the persecution of gays by the Nazis. The three-part Homomonument juts out in one piece into one of the main canals, sits in the shadow and grounds of a major church and is next door to the Anne Frank House.

Walking to our favorite bar, SOHOWe found one gay-frequented (but not exclusively gay by any means) street (Regulierdwarsstraat) where we tended to spend every night from 5-7 or so in an outdoor bar having a cold Amstel and then moving on to one of the several outdoor restaurants (particularly the several Italian and Caribbean ones) on the street. We particularly loved lounging on the outdoor couches of SOHO where we met some fascinating men from around the globe. We also like a bar called April, a very trendy and high-style gay bar. We danced at the 3-floor Exit night club nearby and made our way up and down the street each night. We certainly explored many other of the 100+ gay bars and venues in the City (including a fun club called "Church") within gay Amsterdam, but we kept coming back to this area as the one where we felt at home.

The Amistad Hotel in Amsterdam where their motto is 'Sleep with Us' Our hotel was also a real winner. As we tend to do all over the US and the world, we stayed at a gay-owned, boutique-style hotel. The Amistad was warm, friendly and very comfortable (and overall affordable). We met very interesting, new friends from Australia and Germany; and our hosts (Danny, Mike and Elioje) were the best.

Finally, a real highlight of our time in Amsterdam was a private, 2-hour canal trip offered arranged by our hotel. Our hosts (Gary and Steve) are from the US and have recently moved to Amsterdam to set up a laundry business. They provided wine and snacks for our late afternoon journey through the beautiful water streets and alleys of the city. Their stories were wonderful; and their knowledge of their relatively new home, impressive. The Saturday evening we went happened to be a record-breaking warm day, so the canals were packed with boats and parties.

All in all, what a City! Lots of people come to our home area and leave their hearts here. Well, we did the same in Amsterdam.

A Few Notes on Our Time in Geneva and Nice
While we did not stay as long in either city as we did in Amsterdam, we did enjoy the time we were there. In Geneva only for 24 hours, we mostly visited with a former aupair of Eddie's family (Peterson) who lives near Bern in Switzerland. We did together take a boat tour of Lake Geneva and had a lovely, long dinner on the lake that evening.

View of the beaches of Nice, Fr.Our three days in Nice at the end of our trip (after our two weeks of hiking in the French Alps) did entail much more serious touring. We walked the hilly city by the hour, exploring in particular its beautiful seashore of a dozen-plus major beaches as well as its Old Town of incredibly narrow and beautiful streets from centuries past. We went to the Matisse and National Biblical Message Marc Chagall museums (both, outstanding) as well as the Archaeology Museum in the Cimiez neighborhood of Nice with its Roman ruins site and to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (in which the building itself -- much like the DeYoung in San Francisco -- is interesting as the excellent exhibits. We also found time for a day at the beach on our last day in Europe as we contemplated a month of much fun and joy.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Another new year

Rainbow shofar blowerWow.
We barely got back from vacation and we are already starting the Jewish holidays. "L'shanah Tova" or “Happy New Year”, 5770.

Write ups of our vacation travels coming next!

Monday, August 10, 2009

On holiday, August 2009

We are off on an adventure. We will be visiting the European cities of Amsterdam, Geneva and Nice.
The main part of the trip is a two week, guided hike on the GR5 (Grand Randonnée 5). We begin in the alpine region of the Mont Blanc range. We wind through valleys, cross meadows, and explore the national parks of the French Alps. Our efforts are rewarded with a finish on the shores of the French Riviera.
This will be strenuous hiking over varied terrain (max. elev. 9,566'). We will be hiking with a small group and a guide. Other than a day pack (lunch, clothes for weather changes, etc.) our luggage is shuttled to our evening destination. We spend the evenings in small inns/hotels in alpine villages where we have dinner and breakfast the next morning. We trek six to nine hours a day.
This year we are using the adventure travel company Mountain Travel Sobek. We have used them many, many times and they do an outstanding job. This trip is called “France: Hiking the GR5 - The Alps to the Sea.”
Other excellent travel companies we have used in the past are REI Adventures, Bicycle Adventures, Backroads, and the gay adventure travel company, Alyson Adventures.
We will be back posting in September.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Coming Out Jewish: Exploring Faith and Sexuality

I recently spent several hours walking in the woods. Much of the time was a quiet, reflective period. The chatter in my head slowly settled down to thoughts about how my coming out was a dual revelation. The obvious one was the recognizing and accepting of my sexuality, that I was gay. The other was developing and embracing a mature spiritual/religious understanding. For me one was not independent of the other.

I’ve written about my coming out gay previously. This is a review of my spiritual coming out.
In my twenties I had very little interest in religion. I felt I had outgrown the need for fairytales and superstitions. However, I thought church could be an interesting way to develop a new social network. After college it seemed harder to meet new and interesting people. My first wife and I were feeling isolated and cut-off. We joined a local Protestant church. I participated a little but refrained from getting too involved. My wife did not grow up going to church every Sunday like I had. She grabbed hold of the opportunity, got involved and made new friends. It served her well, especially when her health deteriorated and she died of a disease at age thirty.

My thirties became my time for spiritual exploring. I navigated a number of interesting paths but none of the resulted in a sustaining faith or conviction. On the home front, I remarried immediately. It would not be an ideal match. We were very good roommates but hardly ideal husband and wife. The second wife wanted nothing to do with any kind of religion. She developed her own separate network of friends and activities. I started exploring churches and other spiritual avenues on my own. Unfortunately, I’ve never liked going to church services by myself. I was very self-conscience about being there alone. I’m usually too shy to talk or engage with people. And when I did talk to other church members, I always hated the awkward introduction where I answer, “I’m married but my wife doesn’t attend”. The usual patronizing reply was “we’ll pray for her.” Ugh! I hated that. Bottom line, I never felt like I fit in or belonged there.

I joined a men’s study group at another church. We would meet weekly before work and discuss a Christian book. Topics often were on men’s issues and faith. I loved going to that group until the minister moved away and the group disbanded. There wasn’t another good leader to continue it. One of the things I liked about this minister was he had a larger view of religious topics and ideas than most of the men participating in the group. He was not as closed-minded and literal believing as many of the congregation were.

I dropped away from that church and began a new quest. I got involved in a secular men’s group. I started reading books by Joseph Campbell, Robert Bly, Sam Keen, etc. I did a men’s self-improvement weekend and joined a men’s group. Found lots of ritual but very little depth of meaning. After a couple of years, I dropped my connections with the group.

By my late thirties I started exploring and experimenting with my same-sex attraction with other married men. I spoke to one of my buddies about my interest in religion and desire to participate somehow but not being able to find a satisfying way to do it. He said he was thinking about taking a bible study class as well. Together we took classes for a year and half. I ended up reading most of the Bible. Again, I loved the study but did not participate in the church services. This Bible study class went a long way to fill a spiritual and social need. We would car pool together and go out of coffee every week after class. Much of the time we discussed the topics and readings from the class. I was sad and disappointed when the class series ended. Because of all the group study and reading I have done, I consider myself to be very knowledgeable layperson about the scriptures. During this time I also read books by religious (mostly Christian) scholars such as Karen Armstrong, Jack Miles, Marcus J. Borg and N.T. Wright.

You could say that forties was my midlife crisis. I came out, divorced and began a new relationship with E. I also converted to Reform Judaism after a year and half of study with a rabbi. It was important to both of us to practice the same faith. Reform Judaism is very welcoming. As a denomination, they have been inclusive and supportive of gays and gay rights since the mid-1990s. With E, my spiritual longings and desire of authentic, meaningful rituals are fulfilled as we explore, worship and learn about Judaism. I love sitting with him during services. As a couple, we have enriched our Jewish experience during our travels and recreation time. In cities around the world, we have gone on walking tours of old Jewish neighborhoods and visited synagogues. We browse Jewish museums and exhibitions by Jewish artists, attended Jewish theatre and watched Jewish and Israeli films. For the first time in my life I feel like I have a fully committed spiritual life with a partner and a community.

I sometimes wonder if I would have converted to Judaism if I hadn’t met E. I think it would be unlikely unless I met someone else who was not only Jewish but actively involved with a synagogue. Coming out as a gay man, even today, would pretty much kill any involvement with almost all Christian churches. I would not want to be a part of such an organization where I had to hide who I was or even worse, told that it is a sin to be gay or Hell was your future. I am saddened and dismayed at how bigoted, intolerant and hypocritical most Christian denominations and their members are towards gay and lesbian people. I probably would have given up finding and joining a church. However, I sincerely believe if E and I were no longer together, I would still be actively involved in Reform Judaism. The road to studying and converting to Judaism renewed my faith in myself, faith in my life with the man I love, and faith that things do have positive meaning in this world.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bay Area Musicals – World Premieres

In the past three days, we have attended two world-premiere musicals; and the two could not be more different in some ways and yet also share so much in common.

World premieres are for us some of the most exciting times in the theater. To see the birth a work, to be among the first to determine what is funny and what is not or what moves to tears and what maybe to yawns, and literally thus to be a part of the creative team as an audience member -- that is theater-going at its best.

In the past, we have seen the phenomenal "Wicked" in its first week, the successful "Legally Blonde" the first night it was seen by an audience any where, the not-so-successful "Lennon" in its birth, and the altogether failed "The Mambo Kings" whose much-anticipated life has proved to be short. All of these premieres (and more) have been produced by our often brilliant Carole Shorenstein (and of course other co-producers) who in the past 20 years has made San Francisco a major launching pad for Broadway.

More locally for us, we have seen many world premiere musicals and plays at Theatreworks, the leading professional theater in Silicon Valley and one of the largest suburban theaters in the US. TheatreWorks began 40 years ago this month with the first of its now 50 world premiere musicals and play (a rock, anti-war musical called "Popcorn"). Today, playwrights and composers literally flock to Palo Alto area to write, workshop and premiere their works (e.g., Andrew Lippa, Steven Schwartz, Tom Jones, Henry Krieger, etc.). Currently, the New Works Festival '09 features six new musicals and plays being given staged readings (i.e., professional productions with scripts still in hand and with minimal staging, no costumes or scenery). At this stage, audience members are encouraged to give written feedback to the writers about what parts works well and what are problematic.

And that brings us back to this week's two premieres we saw. One, "Tinyard Hill" by the exciting and up and coming team of Mark Allen and Tommy Newman, is a "country musical" that takes place in 1964 in rural Georgia. The production is first-class in every respect (well-respected New York actors, outstanding sets and costumes, top-notch direction, lighting, sound, etc.). The story is very compelling as the nascent Vietnam conflict is fast becoming a war and is a growing topic of interest and concern of the small community of Tinyard Hill.

The beauty of this production is in the relationships of its four characters, including one of the best portrayals of a father-son relationship I have ever seen. The music is apropos for the era and the setting, with a rock country beat with often haunting and foreboding quality to it. But, as a premiere, all is not perfect or settled yet. The first act at times seems a bit choppy (lots of scenes, some songs so abruptly ending that the audience was not sure whether to clap or not, e.g.). On the other hand, the second half seems close to 'being done," The story quickens, the songs really move the story along, and the outcome moves to one that really grabs every one's heart and brings today's Iraqi and Afghan wars right onto the 1964 stage.

Whether "Tinyard Hill" has a life beyond this production is still unknown, but I would not be surprised for it at least to show up on many a local repertory stages in the next few years. (By the way, one of TheatreWorks' recent world premieres -- "Vanities, the Musical" -- is now at Second Stage, an off-Broadway and highly respected venue. Another, "Memphis," opens in October at a Shubert theater on Broadway.)

Last night, we were privileged to be in the second audience ever to see “Rent Boy Ave.: A 'Fairy's' Tale”. The music is by Michael Mohammed and the book and lyrics by Nick A. Olivero, artistic director of the small, urban Boxcar Theatre where we saw the musical. With similarities to "Rent," "Passing Strange," and various Mamet plays, the raw realities of the street life right outside the theater's San Francisco doors explode all around the audience. Sitting all around the graffiti-covered walls and columns sometimes in clumps of 2-5 people, sometimes on scaffolding or in a corner almost alone, the audience interacts from the moment they arrive with roaming street people. A wandering, muttering woman (Trashcan Sally) turns and confronts entering audience demanding money or cursing them just for being there -- not unlike what folks may have encountered only minutes before on the sidewalks coming to the small theater.

The 50 audience members are soon brought into the daily drama and boredom of the street's life, meeting various characters with and without names. Pimp, social worker nun, married hetero looking for young boy for hire, male and female prostitutes, drug addicts, mental cases -- they are all here' and all have formed an uneasy alliance and community that we learn is almost impossible for them to leave, even when given the chance.

The music is loud rock; and sometimes in this early stage of the musical's development, a bit unintelligible. But, the overall effect of a cast of non-professional, young actors who are probably getting at best gas/bus money for the several-week run -- the effect is exhilarating. Like "Tinyard Hill," the new work still needs work. Come back several years; and if it lives to see further productions (many new works never go beyond their world premiere), we will probably not recognize it as it is further refined and shaped.

Even more than "Tinyard Hill," frankly, I would love to see "Rent Boy Ave." get a full New York production in a year or two. I really think there is seed of brilliance here that audiences need to see to better understand the life we all try to ignore as we walk the streets of New York, San Francisco, Palo Alto, etc.

My advice: Go to the theater to see world premieres whenever you can. Do not expect perfection or a finished product. But do expect to feel electricity, excitement, and deep emotion as you witness the creative process before you.

TIP: Half-price tickets for many select performances, sporting events and family activities are often available on Goldstar Events. Areas include San Francisco Bay Area, San Jose, San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, Washington DC, Boston, and Chicago.
Goldstar Events is our favorite source of cheap tickets in the SF Bay Area. But it is not the only option. You can also find half-price tickets at: Artsopolis – good for San Jose & the South Bay. And Theatre Bay Area - discount tickets from member theatres available online and/or at TIX Union Square, SF.
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