Journal: 2001

The Methodists

I was reared in the Methodist Church and joined the church at fourteen. At fifteen, during a lesson on the Last Supper, I asked why Jesus and the Apostles were drinking wine when this was against church doctrine. My teacher said, “It was just grape juice.” This should have made sense to me since this was what we were offered at communion, but I wasn’t entirely satisfied and asked another teacher, who told me that the water was bad in those days and they had to drink wine instead. This led to more thinking. About that time I also discovered hypocrisy in the adult world, and, not being sufficiently sophisticated to separate the church from its parishioners, lost my faith.

However, I continued to attend church services with my mother until I left home, as my loss of faith, like sex, was clearly a matter far too important to be discussed with my parents. (And I learned this lack of openness from masters, as fifty years later I started sitting around with my cousins trying to piece together less presentable parts of the family history that our parents had done their best to conceal from us.)

As an undergraduate, I tried to regain my faith and attended church services of most of the available Christian denominations as well as non-sectarian study and prayer groups. Nothing worked.

I read voraciously, and what I got out of that was a clear understanding that while a good deal of good had been accomplished in the name of religion, so had an enormous amount of evil. For example, the millions of people all over the world slaughtered in the name of various gods, not to mention the countless more merely tortured until they saw the light. A fascinating irony here is that many of these atrocities seem to have occurred in conflicts between members of different sects of the same religion. For example, Christians have killed more other Christians than they have members of other religions. And the Sunni and Shia Moslems sure are fond of warring against each other, just as Hindu sects squabble. Granted, political issues are also sometimes involved, but still, it wasn’t a Moslem who killed Ghandi…or Indira Ghandi.

I also just looked around me, and what I saw was Christians grabbing every opportunity to pass legislation forcing the rules of their particular sect on all members of society, most particularly me. I was also broadminded enough to see that this behavior was by no means confined to Christians. Like that Israeli Orthodox rabbi who said, “This legislation does not prohibit the goyim  from eating pork, it merely prohibits the sale of pork.” Or more recently the Taliban’s destruction of those splendid Buddhist cliff carvings.

Consequently, it would be fair to describe me as rather negative on organized religion.

And yet, when I lost my faith, I did not, alas, lose my 800 pound gorilla of a superego. So I still believe very strongly in sin and guilt. One of my favorite pastimes is reviewing my sins instead of sleeping, typically focusing on a decade, the sixties being an especially rich source, but there’s plenty in every decade.

So do pray for me, you prayerful ones. I am very happy for you that you can. I have enough guilt to supply an entire congregation and yet I cannot pray in good conscience to a God I cannot honestly say I know exists.

But I do try to act rightly. Until November before last my mother could still walk and on my monthly visits I’d check her out of the nursing home and take her back to her house. During my visit, we’d run around seeing her friends and eating at her favorite places. And of course I’d harry her to get herself ready to go to church on Sundays. She was sufficiently deaf and senile that most of the service went right past her, but she still enjoyed going, and it was the least I could do. At least until that Sunday July before last when the minister spoke at length on a recent church conference he’d attended, a conference focusing on what the church might do to reverse the dwindling of its numbers, how the church might broaden its appeal. He ended this discussion by mentioning that, oh yes, there had been a vote on the ordination of homosexual ministry and he had given it the stout No it deserved, as he would on anything involving homos.

I thought, of course, of doing stuff like walking out or at least asking him afterwards whether he really thought Jesus discriminated against particular classes of sinners. But Mother chose to live in that town, and I needed all of them as parts of my support system for her. So I said nothing.
After that, though, I stopped harrying her to get ready for church, and she was sufficiently gaga that she never mentioned church again to me for the rest of her life.

She had been giving that church at first hundreds and later thousands of dollars per annum for thirty years, and I had continued her contributions at the same level when I started handling her finances. But after that day, I diverted those contributions to two churches willing to help everyone without regard to sexual persuasion: The Metropolitan Community Church and Glide Memorial Church, the latter, ironically enough, a Methodist church, unless the Methodists have kicked them out for being nice to the wrong people.

I keep thinking I’ll go to services at one of these churches. I don’t think that God would hold against me my abandonment of the First Methodist Church of Garrison, Texas; but on the other hand, since I know that the MCC and Glide would welcome me, I am beginning to feel that should He exist, He would expect me to give them a try.

Then again, considering the example His Christians, Confucians, Hindus, Moslems, Jews, and all the others have set, I may just try harder to do more good individually without participating in a religion.

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The Stars and Bars

My sister and I were recently back in the Piney Woods of East Texas for Mother’s funeral. On US highway 59 on the northern outskirts of Nacogdoches, there’s a nondescript warehousy-looking building, its finest feature being a very substantial, very tall flagpole. My sharp-eyed sister spotted a problem, though. Proudly displayed at the top was a gigantic Confederate flag and beneath that a middle-sized Texas flag. No US flag. The kind of place where you could go sit on sacks of ammonium nitrate and discuss problems with minorities. Makes me gag to remember that I volunteered for the Army in the early sixties to preserve these people’s liberty.

LATE NOTE: In July of 2008 I was notified that the Confederate flag was no longer being flow at that location. I consider that progress.

This outrage reminded me of a spectacular quotation I recently ran across. Max Liebermann, on a fine Spring morning in 1933, as he looked out his apartment window at the Sturmabteilung parading down Unter den Linden, said:

Ich kann nicht so viel fressen wie ich kotzen möchte.

This was translated in the Threepenny Review as “I can’t eat enough to vomit as much as I would like.” But this seems a bit roundabout and glosses over the difference between essen and fressen, the former reserved for humans and the latter for animals. How about “I can’t gobble as much as I would like to vomit.”

But this loses the emphasis on the sheer quantity of vomit (at least up to the tops of the jackboots) that one would want to spew forth. So I submit from my friend Jim (whose Turkish, incidentally, is even better than his German owing to an indiscretion of his youth) “There is no way I could ever eat enough to produce the vomit the sight required.”

Oh well. This language play is practice for an increasingly likely month of May in Amsterdam. I need a break, and picking on a minor language somehow seems just right. What with the number of repetitions it takes to pound anything into my memory, I’m clearly not going to develop a large vocabulary, but I have high hopes of getting an acceptable pronunciation.

And yes, when the Aliens land and can speak only Dutch, won’t you be happy that I’ll be able to save us. The grateful populace will strew my path with rose petals as they acclaim me President for Life, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, and Protector of the Unilingual.

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Time and Testosterone

I really liked my former doctor and was much upset when he decided to leave town. However, my new doctor is proving even better. In the first place, she’s just as delightful to talk to and, it turns out, is a Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market maven like me. I look for her every Saturday now at Mrs. Hoffman’s booth.

But she’s more than delightful. She’s really on top of things. At my first appointment with her last month she signed my request for a handicap parking placard but sent me off for some more blood work, speculating that perhaps we could get me walking better so that I didn’t need the placard, a possibility that in my despair I had not even considered.

Well, she’s so overbooked that her next available appointment was not until next Tuesday, but yesterday afternoon I got a call from this pleasant guy who identified himself as her HIV pharmacist. They’d gone over my blood work and decided that my crushing fatigue is the result of a dire shortage of testosterone. I have just picked it up and shall smear myself with it and crouch in the shrubbery, pawing the ground and snorting softly while I await the appropriate passer-by.

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Testosterone Transfer

Frankly, the testosterone experience has been far less dramatic than I projected. My lurking in the shrubbery was quite a lot premature, and all I got out of that was a few scratches and a slight sniffle.

do have more energy now after a few days on it. And the last few nights I have had really vivid “action” dreams. Not “that” kind of action, but rather wild physical activity. E.g., in one of them I was brachiating in trees, like Tarzan but fully clothed. First we dream…

I entertained myself a couple of days ago by reading the medical literature enclosed with the testosterone gel, and to answer everyone’s first question, the application site is the torso. Actually, they’ve done a good bit of testing with this stuff. In one test, “the couples engaged in daily 15-minute sessions of vigorous skin-to-skin contact so that the female partners gained maximum exposure to the application sites.” (I get this image of the couples surrounded by white-smocked lab technicians with clipboards and stopwatches rating the vigor.) Unfortunately, all the female partners showed at least twice their baseline serum testosterone concentrations afterwards, which is not good at all. Further testing revealed that wearing a tee shirt to cover the application site would “completely prevent transfer”, which is highly recommended unless you want your wives and/or girlfriends to gradually become more masculine.

And yes, the literature does mention increased libido as one of the effects. But seriously, there are layers of irony here since I have just now reached an age at which I can comfortably view no libido as a blessing. I mean, what would I do with a libido if I developed one again? Join a gay wrestling club to get some of that “vigorous skin-to-skin contact”? Actually, I suppose I’d become very popular at the wrestling club as all the guys gradually noticed that that the longer the match went on, the somehow…strangely…better they’d feel.

No, no, this wouldn’t work at all because then there’d be the spectacle of those out of my weight class pleading, “Couldn’t we at least hold hands?”

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More Testosterone

There’s a new breakthrough on the testosterone front: zits. We’re not talking blackheads here; I mean deep, exquisitely tender zits. Real, hormonal zits. They didn’t tell me I’d be going through puberty again at sixty!

And the dreams! Dear Lord. Last night I went to bed kind of expecting something like Tarzan’s Extended Adventures with the Fertility Goddess…or Whoever. And what did I get? Technicolor footage of my ripping great hunks of flesh off the bones of an indeterminate large vertebrate and gobbling them voraciously. I would like to say that this creature had been cooked, but I fear it was just greatly increased hand strength as I think we were both running. Oh please don’t tell the Jungians, or worse yet, the Freudians.

And yes, my appetite, which has never been lacking, is now greater than it’s been in oh, say, three decades.

Luckily, the pain in my feet and legs when I’ve walked half a block is still present, and this acts to some degree to keep all this new energy under control. However, I have advance word from my pharmacist that my doctor, whom I see tomorrow, is going to take me off the med they think responsible for this pain. So I may be running the streets by the weekend.

In the meantime, I remain thankful that I have, at least, been spared a resurgence of libido. Although, I did notice during this morning’s news that President Bush is actually a very hot guy, even though he’s a bit young for me.

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Rappaccini’s Son

The reference, for those who have forgot their nineteenth-century American literature, is to Hawthorne’s short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” which is about a woman whose father had, in an attempt to protect her, made her poisonous to other creatures.

One of my straight male friends expressed concern after reading my recent account of the effects of my current medical treatment, most particularly the little fantasy riff in which I speculated that should I experience a return of libido I might track down and join a gay wrestling club and then expose innocent members of this club to a “transfer” of testosterone by failing to wear a tee shirt.

This made me realize that others might have the same concerns, so I want to reassure everyone that I am acutely aware I am Rappaccini’s son and that I have taken every precaution to avoid transmitting anything to anyone.

Most particularly, after I learned that I was HIV+ in 1987 and before I stopped having sex, I started taking the Ultimate Precaution. My first criterion in selecting sex partners was the question, “Are you HIV+?” I never had sex (nor even wrestled, for that matter) with anyone who did not answer Yes to that question. I refused those who said they did not know, as well as that monster who waffled upon learning that his initial No had disqualified him. To further reassure everyone, it has been years now since I have had physical contact with anyone more extensive than a clean, dry handshake.

I failed to mention in my recent discussions of testosterone gel the significant danger that testosterone presents to the fetus, but I must assure you that I am very careful to wash the application hand thoroughly with soap and water after I have smeared the stuff on my torso. Actually, I go ahead and wash both hands just to be sure.

I described a study in which the female partners’ serum testosterone levels more than doubled after extensive daily “vigorous skin-to-skin contact” that maximized their exposure to the application site. What I did not mention was that subsequent to the exposure period the female partners’ testosterone levels returned to normal, and that no lasting effects were noted.

During my last appointment with my doctor, I asked her about the possible harm I might cause one of my hypothetical wrestling partners by failing to wear a tee shirt. She laughed, and then responded that the only way she could imagine a male being harmed by the stuff would be if he took one of the packets and, seeking a new high, ate or injected the contents.

Resumption of humor follows.

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Culinary Summit

I’ve just reached a culinary summit so high that I need supplementary oxygen.

Then again, that lightheadedness may just be another manifestation of my increasing madness. You be the judge:

1. Place a perfect, vine ripened Brandywine tomato 4 1/2 to 5 inches in diameter into the small clear glass bowl that came with your Sunbeam Mixmaster, which I’m sure you’re taking good care of now that there’ll be no more of them since Sunbeam has been conglomerated, spun off, shredded, and its value applied to the golden parachutes.

2. Fill the bowl to within 3/4 inch of the top with filtered and lightly chlorinated Hetch Hetchy water or a reasonable substitute.

3. Remove the tomato, put salad plates beneath and atop the bowl, place this assembly in the microwave, and punch in 8 minutes.

4. Peel a medium Haas or Gwen avocado (or if you must, a Reed) and cut it in small bites into a soup bowl.

5. When the water is boiling vigorously (less than 8 minutes unless you have a really wimpy microwave), remove the plate and bowl assembly by the still cool lower plate and place it on the counter. Gently lower the tomato into the boiling water and recover the bowl. Let stand thirty seconds. Remove the tomato (I prefer using a slotted spoon, but Julia, who has told us to just get used to burning ourselves in the kitchen, would probably snatch it out with her bare hands), re-cover the Sunbeam bowl, skin the tomato, and chop it into bites atop the avocado.

6. Drizzle just the right amounts of balsamic vinegar, chipotle chile oil, and salt into the bowl and mix well.

7. Enjoy.

8. Use the still-hot water in the Sunbeam bowl to rinse the soup bowl and flatware before placing them in the dishwasher. You re-covered the Sunbeam bowl to keep the water hotter longer.

You ask, “Why the microwave?”

My rental unit is heated by an antique gravity flow gas furnace, which I just love. Having no fan, it requires only enough electricity to operate the thermostat. Its only downside is that since it lacks that noisy and intrusive fan, the floor is always cold. Not a problem for those who don’t need to run around barefoot.

Well, actually, it has another downside. It has a non-adjustable pilot light that is a wide tongue of flame… a big wide tongue of flame that is during warm weather a grotesque waste of energy and, OK, PG&E bill dollars. But I had solved this problem by turning the pilot off during the summer months when the baseline allotment is miniscule. And yes, during our fog season in July and August, there were sometimes days when I needed to relight the pilot, but I would go for weeks and weeks at a time without relighting it.

Compulsive behavior, actually, and in any case I had to give it up, being informed by the landlord that turning the pilot off was harmful to the furnace.

So now I have a gas bills that prove beyond doubt that a good deal of precious natural gas is being squandered in the basement. I really did perform the ludicrous microwave experiment described above. I had to find some way to hysterically conserve gas to compensate, even for a day, for all that senseless waste.

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Great Difficulty

I’m currently reading with great difficulty Stephen Pinker’s newest, Words and Rules. My intellectual capacity is actually no longer quite up to the challenge, but even partial understanding is great fun. Fun, of course, is relative. I can understand that there are persons for whom three hundred copiously footnoted, closely packed pages explicating current theory on the formation of English regular vs. irregular verbs would be less than entertaining. Those persons might not obtain the aha experience I enjoyed upon reading: “English phonology doesn’t allow a long vowel to precede a consonant cluster at the end of a syllable unless all the consonants are produced with the tip of the tongue”. Pinker throws this in for the benefit of those who might have questioned his earlier statement that “toask”, unlike “toast,” is not a possible word in English. But he’s far from all work and no play, as the book is larded with delightful lines that keep me reading despite only partial understanding.E.g. “Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien; beloved from coast to coast for mangling the two national languages with equal proficiency….”

And now, the pop quiz: When was “oink” first used in print as a verb? Pinker would, of course, have got his answer from the newest release of the OED, which I don’t have. Ooooh. I see that I’ve at least partly given myself away, so I might as well give the answer now. It’s later than you’d think. It’s 1969, this being one of the few exceptions I’ve seen to the general rule that word usages are always far older than I’d have thought possible.

And oh yes, for those who wish to cut to the chase, Pinker’s thesis, for which he uses those three hundred pages to make a seemingly airtight case, is that when you need a past tense verb, you first check your memory for an irregular form. These have to be memorized since there are no good rules for the generation of irregular past tense forms. If you do not get a hit in memory, then you apply the past tense generation rule to get the correct form. All this, of course, takes place in a fraction of a second.

My previous reading of any note was the last half of Wallace Stegner’s Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, subtitled John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West. The first half, that dealing with Powell’s running of the Colorado River, I had read a couple of years ago and for some reason set the book aside, leaving Stegner’s treatment of the remainder of this astonishing man’s life for later.

It seems that I postponed a treat. Powell is just fascinating, and Stegner writes entertainingly. Case in point: On page 263, which I selected more or less at random, are two eminently quotable lines. Stegner is discussing James Constantine Pilling, the man who, devoted to Powell, devoted twenty years to the compilation of the first bibliography of American Indian tribes by linguistic affinity, a “vast tome…which grew as Pilling’s sight weakened.” Another of Powell’s associates said Pilling “reminded him of George Hurst, who in Tucson was bitten on the privates by a scorpion, which fell dead.”

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Nouveau Gonzo

I am more and more frequently nowadays brought up short by the discovery of the error of my ways. Case in point: since September 11, I have been reading voraciously in an attempt to avoid thinking about, and more importantly to overlay in my memory, the horrific images I saw on television immediately after the terrorist attacks.

But what did I turn to? Well, the catch of the day consisted of those books I’d bought but not yet got around to reading, and I’ve made a serious dent in the stack. Unfortunately, the great bulk of them were either nonfiction detailing various outrages upon society or novels written by persons who wished to share their depression with me. Hardly upbeat material.

But then yesterday my eye alit on a slim paperback volume titled Frisco Pigeon Mambo by C.D. Payne. It was a continual delight, and I cannot too highly recommend it to persons capable of some suspension of disbelief who’d like a little break from bombings, vanishing civil liberties, and anthrax.

Just suppose that in a laboratory in Berkeley there is a group of pigeons employed as laboratory animals. They were all born in captivity and think of themselves as human, doing things like falling madly in love with lab technicians, being unaware that they can fly, and exhibiting other humanoid behavior. In their cages are the Drag-o-Matic, which allows them to smoke as much as they like, and the sherry tube, at which they can refresh themselves whenever they want.

Then suppose that this group of alcoholic nicotine addicts is seized by an animal rights activist, taken to San Francisco, and liberated.

Their adventures will take your mind off all that other stuff.

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The Mouas

And now, in response to popular demand, if one correspondent’s mere admission of unfamiliarity with a tale be construed as popular demand, The Tale of the Mouas.

Over the past year I have found myself buying more and more stuff from the Mouas at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, as their quality is just outstanding. They’re a little standoffish, even faced with (or perhaps especially faced with) a shopper who chats up his vendors. As a socially-challenged buddy remarked after I’d taken him to the FPFM, “You don’t give anybody a chance to give you attitude. You just swarm all over ’em.”

But the Mouas yielded to the swarming during the boiled peanut season, and they’ve become much more outgoing. And since we’re practically friends now, it occurred to me to wonder about their ethnicity. I mean, to me, “Moua” does not ring an ethnic bell like, say, “Cohen”, “Schickelgruber,” or “Cabeza de Vaca.” Theylook sort of generic Pacific area dweller, but not Hawaiian, not “round” enough to be Samoan, and certainly not Chinese or Japanese or Korean or Thai or Vietnamese…just tantalizingly unidentifiable Asian.

So I plugged “Moua” into Google (an Internet search engine). Of the eighty gazillion hits, a few seemed to be out there somewhere in the middle of the Pacific, but overwhelmingly the hits were on Vietnamese text, which I can’t read even though I can recognize it. But, see, these folks don’t look Vietnamese.

So I swallowed my pride last Saturday and asked one of them. He said they were Vietnamese. I told him about doing the search and getting all the Vietnamese hits but being confused because they didn’t look Vietnamese to me. He allowed himself a small smile, and said, “Actually, we’re Hmong.” I think I deserve a discount for being able to tell the difference, but I’m terribly embarrassed for not thinking of the Hmong as I certainly knew but had temporarily forgot that large numbers of them immigrated here after The War and that they tended to go into farming.

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