Friday, October 22, 2010

It gets better, families!

I've been watching all of the videos for the Trevor Project, and am amazed and humbled by the outpouring of goodwill toward young gays. But the Trevor Project is also an amazing resource for families and teachers. I'd like to be a part of this, but I'm much better at writing than attempting a video in which I would almost definitely ramble on and on. And on. So here goes my story:

I was raised in a blue collar, Republican, Irish/Italian, Catholic household with a twin brother. We both went to the same schools at the same time; had the same parents, same family, the same doctors, ate the same food, etc. We even had the same lisp (why is there an 's' in that word?!) and went to the same speech therapist. One of us is gay, and one is not. And that's just the way it is.

We both had periods of time when we were bullied. Mine was in grade school. I was skinny, had braces, a huge nose, and a tic (seriously. I would blink incessantly). I was teased mercilessly by the older girls. I dreaded going to basketball practice. Even my coach made fun of me. It really sucked. I felt totally worthless and ugly, and that it was never, ever going to end. But I was wrong. It did pass, and eventually we moved to the 'burbs, anyway. Things were lookin' up. Not so much for my brother.

Ever since I can remember, some kid would end up calling him a fag. Mostly because kids are not creative when it comes to insults, and that word seems to be the all encompassing one. However, no matter what grade we were in, it came up. Jim was always a little different. A little awkward, I guess. I had defended his honor a few times in school whenever some little shit would mess with him. (I threw Danny Bell into the coat rack during a fire drill in good ol' Immaculate Conception. I couldn't help myself. It was brilliant.) But this wasn't often. I should have stuck up for him more. A lot of the teasing he endured alone. It did get better for him, and he found his talents and made more friends and had some girlfriends.We went to separate colleges, but remained close. We talked all the time, and told each other everything. Or so I thought.

I had asked Jim multiple times if he was gay. Because I didn't care. I just wanted to know. He knew half of my friends were gay, and that I was the last person on earth that would judge him. But he denied it so much, that I believed him. I didn't see any reason why he would lie about it to me, of all people. He didn't come out to me until we were 21 years old. I learned then just how difficult it is to tell your family. This is a person that I had known, literally, since I was just a few cells, and he still felt he couldn't tell me until then.

He told my mother a few months later, and asked her not to tell my father. My parents have had problems, but they've always communicated with each other and raised us very much together. It was the first time my mother kept anything from him. Of course, Jim told me when he told her, and I waited for the inevitable phone call from her, as she always told me anything of importance within nanoseconds of its occurrence. I waited. And waited. I gave it 2 days, then I called her. She was very quiet (my mother's Italian, and never quiet) and short with me. And then she cried. Like I've never heard her cry before or since. And all I could do was sit there and listen while my mom's heart broke. And right when I was starting to think that she'd never get past this, and that this would be the divide between the kids and the parents, she started talking, and began to prove once again that she is a wonderful mother. Her fears were for him, not of him. She was afraid that his life would be more difficult, and that other people would hurt him. She felt that she had failed him, not because he turned out to be gay, but because she wasn't there for him when he was a teenager struggling with his identity. She wondered what she could have done differently, and how much pain he must have faced alone. And, of course, she worried for his health.

The only other gay person in my family had been her cousin Joey. I didn't meet him until I was 10, and I adored him instantly (of course). He had returned to Pittsburgh after up and moving to San Francisco 25 years earlier. He had called off his wedding and skipped town. No one really talked about the fact that he was gay, but everyone knew. He died from complications of AIDS when I was 15. Even as a kid, it wasn't difficult to figure out why he had left and why he had come back, and I was sad for him. On his chart in the hospital, he had listed the origin as IV drug use, to save his family embarrassment. Even as a 15 year old, I couldn't see the logic in that. But some people could. Because he had tried to be 'normal', a girl got her heart broken, and he moved clear across the country. And I'm proud of him for coming to his senses when he did. It was a different time and a different country, and it couldn't have been easy. None of that had to happen, and it wasn't going to happen again.

So, yes, my mom had a hard time at first. She thought it might pass, that if he met the right girl, etc. It took time. But she tried to understand, and eventually, she did. Over time, the rest of the family found out. And you know what? No one really fucking cared. It was just the way he was. Of course they made jokes, I made jokes, he made jokes. That's how we deal with things. It really wasn't that big of a deal. But he still didn't tell my dad for 8 more years. Honestly, a lot of things went down with my brother that had nothing to do with him being gay. There never seemed to be a 'good' time to tell my father, who is also a staunch Conservative, Irish Catholic retired cop who served in the Navy and has a temper. My dad's reaction: "I'm not thrilled about it, but you're my kid, and I'm gonna love you no matter what." He really didn't understand why he hadn't been told. He took it as his failing in some way. "Am I that bad?" he had asked my mom. When she explained that the timing was always tricky, and they didn't know how he'd take it, he said simply, "He's my kid." Exactly. 8 years of carrying that weight, and it was unnecessary.

So, kids, if you can learn anything from my family, it's this: give the people who love you the chance to love you to the fullest extent. Don't underestimate them or their ability to prove what unconditional really means. And families, it may not be easy at first, but all change is painful. You're not a bad parent for having questions, or for being upset. And even the most open minded household can have a problem with what's under their own roof. But we have a choice, the gay kids don't. We can choose to accept them, and to educate ourselves and them. This should not be the most difficult thing they ever have to tell you.

Kids, we are born into families, but we can make our own, as well. If for some reason you are in the unfortunate situation in which you are absolutely not accepted at home, you still have options. I truly feel sorry for anyone who does not at least try to change their perspective. Ignorance is not bliss. If anything, maybe they can learn from your strength, when you set out on your own and make a better life for yourself.

To both families and kids, THIS IS NOT THE END OF YOUR LIFE. It is just the end of your life as you've known it. And who says that has to be a bad thing?

Go here:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Part II: The Empire Strikes Rack

For as long as I can remember, it has been my goal in life to have an MRI with GAD (dye contrast). As a child, I would lie awake at night, praying that someday, no matter what, I would annoy my way into getting one of my very own.

None of that is true.

For starters, the only thing I lied awake at night praying for was Kyle (Michael Biehn) from Terminator. I also have documented proof by way an unfortunate kindergarten art project, that my earliest career aspiration was to be a babysitter and a cheerleader. Always the multi-tasker. The only possible defense I have for this is that I must have misunderstood the assignment as 'Who I Want To Beat Up When I Grow Up.' Either way, I am periodically reminded of this low setting of the bar, which has taught me a very important lesson: never leave a paper trail. While my parents’ amusement is genuine, I feel it's peppered with a bit of sadness, as I'm sure that for a short time, they were assured that college tuition would be a burden they would never have to face. Unfortunately, life has clearly hardened me since I was 5. My goals progressed into somehow ousting Alyssa Milano as Arnold Schwarzenegger's daughter, should there ever be a sequel to Commando, while simultaneously acting as Ripley's sidekick in Aliens. I could go on. And on. The point is, while my goals may have been varied and ludicrous, being the lucky recipient of an MRI has never been one of them.

But it's certainly beginning to feel that way.

Since last we spoke on this here blog, I have been approved to have an MRI....after 2 weeks. Guess they were playing hard to get, and I'm ashamed to admit that, hot damn, it worked. I was waiting by the phone. Anyway, I get the OK late in the day on a Monday, with a reminder that I have to have this completed by July 21st. Or, what? They turn into pumpkins? So I call the scheduling department the next day, thinking all I have to do now is schedule the thing. Silly Rabbit. First, I'm told to call my doctor's office to get the insurance authorization number, which seems to somehow be missing from the order they faxed. OK...? Oh, and would I mind asking them if I'm supposed to have a dye contrast? Thanks! What? What does that even mean? So, I call, get the info, then call the hospital back, where I meet Kathy, in all her Midwestern-accented glory, who asks to call me back, as they are slammed. Is this Wendy's? Fine. She calls me back, and halfway through, puts me on hold. She returns with, "OK, now what you have to do is call your doctor..." WHY? The doctor put in an order for a standard MRI (one side), with directions to reference the order from the radiologist, who ordered a bilateral (both sides) MRI with GAD.

Looks like my doctor and the radiologist are thinking two different MRI's, which is daunting to someone who had no idea until 4 seconds before that there were different kinds of MRI's. Basically, one's saying to just check one tire, and the other's saying to check all the tires, fluids, emissions, brakes, transmission, etc. Nice. Until both orders match, I'm not permitted to even make an appointment. Yougottabefuckingkiddingme. So, I'm to call my doctor and tell her what to do. In what world does this make sense? I call the doctor's office again. I can’t help but feel that this would be a much more efficient process if they would just be proactive enough to pop up around me in boxes with Kathy on one side, and the multiple nurses from my doctor's office on the other. What's the story, Morning Glory? What's the WORD, Hummingbird? This continues through a 16 hour day of 2 jobs. And not once did they have the decency to break into song.

The next morning, I get a call around 8:30 from my doctor herself. "So, now, vat is zis? I'm supposed to send zis order for bilateral?" I inform her of what I've been told, and explain that I spoke with Kathy. The silence is icy. "Oh, yes. She ees problem. I know zis woman very well," she says, with the bored disdain of a Bond villian. She would be a perfect one, too; tall, blond, accent. The thing is, Kathy's a talker. She is, literally, a Chatty Kathy. We all know the type, the kind you ask for directions to Kmart and 45 minutes later you know the history of the people who owned the store that used to be where the Kmart is. You can tell she is a thorn in her side. A hapless hero, of sorts, that messes things up for the better. Though I now fear for Kathy's life, I suggest that the offices discuss this amongst themselves and let me know when we're all on the same page. Kathy calls me later just to assure me that "I haven't forgotten about you!" which is nice. Almost makes me want to warn her that my doctor is most likely unreachable because she's propelling herself from the ceiling to crack her windpipe without breaking a nail.

After several calls and ridiculous but necessary questions: Do I weigh more than 350lbs? Am I allergic to shellfish? (Why? Are there hors d'ouvres?) Am I claustrophobic? And my favorite, do I have implants? (This one sent me into hysterical laughter. "No, but thank you." "Well, it looks like it from here." WHOOOAAAAH! Looks like we got a spitfire in the scheduling department.) Somewhere out there, there's a 500lbs woman with an aversion to shrimp and enclosed spaces, who will one day regret spending her savings on those double D's. After all is said and done, I get the final kick in the balls in the form of, "Now you have to check with your insurance to make sure the code will cover a different MRI before we can schedule you." It took 2 weeks to get to this stage of idiocy, and now I have to possibly start over?

As a wise man once said, "All this aggravation ain't satisfactionin' me.”

At this point, it's been 3 weeks since my first appointment, and I feel like I've been trapped in Who's on First? for the majority of 2 days. I'm convinced I've spent more time on the phone than my entire sophomore year of high school, and am totally frustrated. If this is all standard and nothing’s wrong, then why are 2 people asking for totally different tests? All I want to do is get it over with and move along. The fact that I have been at work since 8am, after working a stupidly long day before, is not helping. I am spent, and do what any rational adult would do in times of trial: I run crying to my mommy.

Big mistake.

I don’t cry often, so when I do, my mom is always mildly stunned. She answers the phone, and is met with the 'trying not to cry, but clearly crying' technique. You know, the kind usually reserved for Lifetime Television heroines, as they explain to their concerned neighbor why they stay with their husband who just threw them down the stairs for the umpteenth time? Lots of pauses, breathing, pulling it together, etc. The desired effect is a quiet struggle to keep some dignity, but…they just end up looking like stupid bitches who want sympathy for being just that. Well this time, that stupid bitch was me. Take that, Ms. Baxter-Birney! She hears me out, saying such reassuring things as, "Well, if she's a specialist, then she should know better!!" Hard to argue with that logic. Suddenly, she's eerily calm.

"What's your doctor's name?"

"It's Doctor W-" Waaaaaait a minute. "I'm not telling you that."


Because I know she knows how to use the internet now, that's why. And she is Mom Incarnate. I’ll be 50 and still getting phone calls asking what I ate that day. Couple that with Google and the woman is virtually unstoppable. She may be 5' tall, but she has the mouth of 10 men. The thought of her going behind my back to have a verbal Hulk out with my doctor’s office is my worst nightmare realized. "Hello, this is Jayne Conley, Chrissy's mother? Well, I just thought you should know that you’ve made my daughter cry, and you should all be very ashamed of yourselves. Can you get your head outta your ass long enough to tell me who seems to be in charge here? I mean, she’s CRYING. Yes, I’ll hold. And you be sure to tell her she’s crying!" (Incidentally, I passed this little event on to my friend, Christina, who, after 14 years of friendship, is well-schooled in the ways of Jayne. She felt it would actually go down more like Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment. "GIIIVE MY DAUGHTER THE MRIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!" Both are strong possibilities.)

"I am 31 years old. You are not calling my doctor."

"FINE!" Busted. You almost had me, but your flippancy was clearly forced. Nice try, grasshopper.

"You listen to ME, sweetie," the mominator continues, "I've been doing this a LOT longer than you have, and I have been dealing with this for FIIIIVE YEARS!"

If assaulting vowels were a misdemeanor, my mom would've been in prison on multiple counts years ago. Her vocal chords are built in such a way that even the most endearing of pet names can be instantly converted to a shiv. My full name is Christine, and after years of hearing it yelled in various stages of anger, I’ve learned to fear that second syllable. If I had my choice between a dark alley and the long 'e', I’d take a dark alley any day. That 'sweetie' was merely a thin candy coating for the 'you unbelievable dumbass' that lay beneath. (Go ahead, insert it into the sentence. It totally works.) I have no one but myself to blame. I triggered her primal instinct with my distress, only to foil her scheme. She also played the C-card with that ‘this.’ I knew I had to disarm the situation with a brilliant response.

"I know."

Yeah. I don't think the UN will be calling me in to mediate anything anytime soon.

I somehow assure her that I am a functioning adult, and get her back in her cage. At some point Thursday, day 3 of the Three Stooges Phone Marathon, I get an appointment set for the 20th. Three more weeks. Fine. Whatever. All good, right? Wrong. During, and since, this crapfest, I've received all kinds of mail from the hospital and insurance company, which I suppose is nice, as I’ve always wanted a pen pal. One letter informed me that the results from the mammogram and ultrasound warrant further investigation via MRI. Really? Get OUT?! I got two more stating that the company received insufficient information from my doctor’s office, a bill for $0, a bill for partial payment, and last, but not least, another saying that my insurance company is unable to cover any of it now until I provide adequate 'Accident Information.' As I don’t seem to recall falling from a 10-story window and landing in a mammography machine, you see my confusion. But, hey, at least they thanked me for my assistance ‘in resolving this matter.’ (If you ever want to see my head explode, be condescendingly polite to me.) Christina’s response to this last tidbit: “I think it’s time for your mom to call…and may God help them.”

As of this morning, all seems to be normal. Well, as normal as it can be to anyone with half a brain. I was informed by the claims rep that this clusterf*ck of paper is due to my being insured with them for less than a year. As of August, the hijinks will stop. 'Accident' really means the date of my original appointment (which is already in the co-pay information, but hey, what do I know?) to verify that this is not a pre-existing condition…that I waited 11 months to see a doctor about…? (I would bang my head against the wall, but I’m afraid I’ll have to go to the hospital). So, basically, I’m a rookie and am being hazed to prove I’m not a lunatic. Hopefully, they have the good sense to let me climb out of the MRI before dumping Gatorade on me.

Ironically, in the month since this all began, a friend of mine's dog, Jack, began having seizures. Luckily, he has pet insurance. Jack has had a battery of tests, including an MRI, and the resulting surgery, all in the time that I, a human, have been waiting for permission to get half as far. Huh. Maybe I've been looking at this thing all wrong. I should really take all of this hassle as a huge compliment to my demeanor. Clearly, I'm not a bitch. If I were, I'd have better insurance.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Nice Rack.

Well, I haven't really talked to many people about this, as I really don't like to talk behind others' backs. I know all relationships have their problems. You never can really know anyone. But I must say I've been blindsided by my most trusted friend(s), after 20 years of friendship. I really thought we had something. And it turns out, I think they just did it for attention.

Yeah, boobs, I'm talkin' about you. And I know you can read, so you can stop playing dumb.

You guys know me, and I don't get overly personal, so don't worry about that. This ain't no Vagina Monologues (I never really understood that title. I mean, wouldn't they be better at cold readings? And 16 bars? Doubtful.). Anyway, over the last few weeks I've had a bit of a, well, 'scare' is a strong word. We'll call it a 'nervous'. I've had a nervous. In a moment of surprising adulthood, something was located where nothing has been located before. There's not supposed to be anything in there; they're all form, no function at the moment. And, try as I may, I could not find a reasonable explanation (Was I shot with a b.b. as a child, and blocked it out? Mom says no.). To my dismay, my doctor, who is Polish and awesome, confirmed a strange finding located "Zere. At 6 o'clock." Well, I've never been good with clocks, so you can imagine. Anyway, that + mom in remission (4 years, baby!)= "You know vat I sink? I sink you get mammogram. And ulllltrasound." Well, well, well. The truth comes out. Guess you really never do know anyone. The betrayal cuts like a knife.

Here's the thing: ever since I was 9 years old, I've known I wanted boobs. It is, to date, one of the few certain and attainable goals I've ever had.

When I was in elementary school, the 4th and 5th grade were in a different building. I noticed something was different about the girls over there; there was definitely somethin' goin' on with the shirts. And I wanted those kinds of shirts. I'm not the best at math, but in my mind, 5th grade = BOOBS, and not just on an upside down calculator. Well, 5th grade came and went, and...nuthin'. I was perplexed. But I didn't lose hope. Being as my nose had reached adult size by the time I was about 6, I was anxious to have something to pull focus in front, and awaited bigger and brighter...things. I just hoped that when they showed, they'd have something to bring to the table. Three perms and a set of braces later, I woke up one day and there they were, with no idea where they came from (how all the best relationships begin). And they did bring their A-game...and B-game...then eventually, C-game. (Stop, Forest!) Second to my eyes, I feel they are my best feature. I guess you can say I have four windows to my soul. So...where did I go wrong, ladies? I've always been nothing but nice to you. Good natured mocking aside, I've treated you with total respect, swearing to only use your powers for good, not evil. Sure, I may have thrown you under the bus for my horrible golf swing, but I thought we got past that. I have always practiced total fidelity, and my eye has never roamed. I never tried to change you, and accepted you just as you were. And I have never, ever, named you.

Is it residuals? Do you feel you've been exploited for free advertising space by many a strategically placed bar name/sports team/school/slogan/band name t-shirt? I never asked, but I assumed you wouldn't mind. Any press is good press, right? Or perhaps you just wanted more attention! Considering how well I tolerate that trait in people, I feel we're at an impasse. If we are to continue this relationship, you cannot be crazy bitches. So help me, God, I'll have you in a sensible sweater so fast your head(s) will spin. If that's even possible.

So, I go to the doctor, guns blazing. As I am young, I am prepared for resistance. I am armed with statistics and stories of some lovely gals my age who found themselves in some crappy boats. And I have the 'immediate relative' card. But, I was relieved, and admittedly a bit unnerved, when I didn't need 'em. Yep, it's there, yep, you're getting some tests. Hmmm. That was easy! (New ad campaign, Staples? Call me!) She points out repeatedly that they are 'dense.' Why, thank you! So, a week later, I'm off to the hospital. I'm given a three-armed gown, told to figure out how to work it, and left alone in a room...with the machine. You. I get the gown on in a bold fashion choice, and I wait for the tech, Sherly with an 'e', to return. I eye my competition, which looks like a clear, rectangular Tupperware container hanging over a hot plate. Huh. You ain't so tough. I'm recalling all the horror stories we're told about its kung-fu grip. A tumbleweed rolls between us. I don't blink. Sherly with an 'e' is gone for an eternity. Maybe she was getting her 'e' removed. Now, for the first time, I am nervous as hell, simply due to the fact that I am not looking forward to this at all. I don't wanna! I start reading pamphlets, which is a bad idea. No amount of boredom is worth reading the pamphlets in a doctors office. Insta-hypochondria. As Sherly with an 'e' returns, I panic, and try to go to my happy place....which means talking myself down. Well, it could be worse, I could have a prostate, right? And it only lasts a couple seconds, right? And I was in college once, I dated college-aged guys, this can't be that different, right? Right. After some very unsuccessful quips land with a thud (Sherly with an 'e' was a tough crowd. She's just totally over it, which I find very, very sad. There's a reason I don't want to learn how to cook scallops myself: I like them too much.) it's go time. It really wasn't awful at all. It's like an awkward photo shoot, complete with 'Lift your chin.' I can deal with that. Again with the 'dense.' Now, come on, have you even tried talking to them? They're quite well-read.

So, now it's time for round two, the ultra sound. I'm left in a sitting area to watch 'West Coast Choppers'. Huh. Somehow, this all seems fitting. I overhear an irritating conversation between two nurses about escalating airfare, which featured 'like' no less than 45,000 times. Of course, one of them walks out and heads straight for me. Nice. You're 12. I don't know if any of you have ever been privy to an ultrasound, but there is goo involved, which makes it possible for the machine/scanner thingy to glide. It is not remotely hot, but I was half expecting a pizza delivery man to knock on the door, followed by a copier repair man. And maybe a plumber. Anyway, I watch the screen, and I don't know why. I don't understand any of it. If you're wondering what it looks like in there, it's kind of like 'Dune', or post-apocalyptic somewhere. Not a place worth buying a postcard for. My first instinct in awkward situations is to say something smartass (Is that....Neil Armstrong? Or Does that say...SMS Titanic?). But Sherly with an 'e' had robbed me of any will to try again. It feels like I'm there for 8 years. The 'dense' issue is addressed again. Alright, already. I get it. Move on, people, there's nothing I can do about it. (Actually, there is: cut out caffeine. And that will never happen.)

The next day, my doctor calls me to tell me the results are 'inconclusive'. That's great! Isn't it...? Basically, nothing showed up because nothing showed up at all.'re saying, you tried to take a decent picture, and they blinked? Once again, I hear the word 'dense'. And in an unfortunate knee-jerk reaction, my mouth said: "You know, my boobs went to college, too." Silence. Oh. My. God. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. And then she laughed. Finally! Put that in your 'e' and smoke it, Sherly! So, anyway, she does not think there is anything to worry about. This is all standard, and the next step is an MRI, which I find hilarious for some reason. I have always associated that with brains. Perhaps this explains a lot. My brain really is in the wrong place. Or the right place. Depends on how you look at it.

That was a week ago, and I have yet to hear back from my insurance company about whether they will cover an MRI or not. Yeah. Once again, I find that my boobs are in the hands of strangers. Oh, cruel fate. vait. If the powers that be say no, then...? Well, I guess we'll just jump off that bridge when we come to it. On the upside of this no-fun situation, I have learned that the medical term for 'nice rack' is 'dense.' Good to know. So, yeah. It seems the boobs are hell-bent on dragging me through a messy, tabloid-ridden custody battle. I hope we can be friends again when this has blown over. But I'll never look at them the same. You can, though.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Actually, no I don't 'love a piano.' I like them as friends.

Whoever happens to actually read this probably knows me, and you probably know that I'm not the sappiest gal this side of the Mason-Dixen line. But some things deserve their due.

Four years ago today, my friend, Chris, was killed in a plane crash with four other music grad students, inlcuding another BG alum, Robert Samels, on their way back to I.U. from a Bach chorale rehearsal. I had known him since college, and he was a funny, insanely talented, inappropriate human being, and I loved him for it. I've been reading some things my friends have posted and was reminded of some blogs that I had written after this happened. While this was a horrible time for his family and friends, there were so many reasons to laugh, at him and with him, and be happy that, even for too short a time, someone like this was a part of your life. It was a shock that cannot be explained; partly because it was the first time that I can recall him being early for anything. But through this, I was able to reconnect with some awesome people, and make new friends as well, and I can't help but be thankful for that small bit of good that could come of something like this.

Even as I write this, I know he'd make some sick joke about the lump growing in my throat.

So, guys, I'm reposting the bloggings (some of you have already read them, but, well, read 'em again, damnit) and hope they make you smile as I did remembering all my quirky memories of him, Robert, and you Mens Chorus types. I knew early on that he was someone I would never forget. Unfortunately, I can now understand just how true that sentiment has had to be. I think we can agree that there really wasn't anyone quite like him, and I miss him very much. But don't tell him I said that.

Your mom Sings Dem Herrn
Sunday, April 30, 2006

My first impression of the BGSU Men's Chorus was by accident. I was a freshman, and didn't know shit about the music college, or any department, for that matter. I wanted to major in English, didn't know anyone, and that's all I knew, really. I had unwittingly enrolled in the Women's Chorus because I wanted to keep singing in choirs; that's how cool I was. Being surrounded by women, all wearing goth 80's prom dresses and pearls seemed all right with me at the time. We all looked like burnt muffins. And, you know, I thought we were pretty good.

We sang the first half of a concert, then the second half were those other guys. I was sitting in Kobacker hall, and all of a sudden, there was this flurry of marching and German. (Zing! Gay Men? What?!) Suddenly, we were surrounded by men, walking down the aisles like the Third Reich. In tuxedos. And my 18-year-old heart thumped in my size 10 dress (yes, not only were they ill-fitted, but they ran about 4 sizes too small. Flattering all around. There is one picture in existance, taken for the parents. You'll never see it.) I'm happy to say that they've since improved the dress code.

There were several impressions made that day that would be very amusing when I actually met these guys later. My teenage eye was caught by a cute blonde in the front. (I would come to know him later as Bob Strickland. Yep.) There was also a certain Baritone who was lovingly mocked onstage (5th year senior, ooooh!) due to his overdue solo, which admittedly, blew me away. I would see him later that year, when I went to see my friend, Joey, in a mini-opera about the environment. He was a tree, so he had stuck a fern-like plant down the back of his shirt. Made sense...I guess. Anyway, he was The Man, The Myth, The Moorman, and it was No Man Is An Island. (This would also be funny later.)

The more they sang, and the more obvious fun they had, the more I wanted to drop these hacks and go play with them. But, for obvious reasons, I could not. And yes, I would have worn a tux. (Do I hear a zany teenage comedy? The Sopraritone! Someone call UPN!) Anyway, they ended with Please! Mr. Columbus!, which is a really funny, difficult song (including a bit of choreography). If they would have publicly asked for my virginity, I would have only regretted not having more than one to offer. Even the gay ones.

I wasn't really around MMAC the next year. Women's Chorus was the only reason I was ever there anyway, and I had a mutual break-up with the new director. Probably because I never went. Probably because I didn't care. Even the dreamiest of conductors couldn't inspire me to phone in A la Nanita Nana. (I still have the pearls. Take that!)

Anyhoo, the beginning of my Junior year was eventful. I had finally overcome the crippling stagefright with acting, and was ready to conquer the next one: singing. I auditioned for the faculty, and was very lucky to be placed in Myra Merritt's (Ms. Merritt, if you're nasty) studio. I had also just met my friend Shannon's new squeeze, Eric, who in turn introduced us to a bunch of jackasses, including one that I would somehow start dating. For a whole month (actually, an accomplishment for both at the time), followed by the most amicable break-up I've had, second only to the Women's chorus (And, no. No pearl necklace this time. Which, I suppose, wasn't really my loss.) They were all pretty tight, including alumni, all very inappropriate, and very fun.
It was through this group that I learned of the new, hidden epidemic in the drug world: Tags. At every bar, and every party, they would go out back and "sing" tags. It was said to be innocent, but they'd come back all giddy and loopy, and I knew they had a problem. But I didn't know how to help them. I tried everything from "Shut the fuck up, you're in a bar," to pleading, "What's wrong with you?" But my desperate cries for help fell on deaf ears. Probably deaf from the tags.
I also learned just how many Chris' existed in the world. There were certainly a plethora, rarely called by their proper name. Off the top of my head- C.C., Chrissy, Carducci, Cricket, me, etc. There was only one that I never called by their last name, and that was Chris Leacock. Because it made me blush.

The following is one of my favorite stories ever told to me:

Chris Leacock's parents had unfortunately passed away years before. One day, when he was living with Bob, he got a phonecall, so Bob yelled for him.

Chris- "Who is it?"

Bob (moment of forgetful sarcasm)- "Your mom!"

(Pause) Chris- "Must be long distance!"

Just giving you a glimpse at the mentality of these guys. Anyway, I would go to my afternoon lessons and run into them coming out of chorus. I'd occasionally hang out by the side door, dodging smoke, being molested by large gay men in Bettis jerseys, the usual. There was quite a bit of time spent at Gay Corner. This consisted of 2 apartments across a parking lot from eachother. There were 4 people involved, and one of them was straight. (And that one was a photo finish to hetero, anyway.) The funny thing about Shaun and Eric's apt. were their bedrooms. They were side by side, and if you looked head-on, the one on the left (Moorman's) had this plush comforter with 34 pillows and matching cabana boy. The one on the right was....a college guy's room. Something like...a twin bed and a lawn chair. It was like looking at before and after, only straight and gay.

I also had the pleasure of attending a holy union. At the end of my junior year, Eric and I ditched those losers and went to a wedding. (By ditched, I mean he was still pining, and I had been dropped for the second time that year by the same dego, thus proving that I'm in the same league of people who, say, run face-first into a brick wall over and over until they get a different result. Still no pearl necklace. Still ended up friends.) Eric and I were mopey (well, mopey for us, anyway), so we hung out a lot, including drinking on the steps of U. Hall the night he graduated. Honestly, I don't remember who's wedding it was, as I had never met the groom. I do remember it being early, boring, and our table had a pyramid of beer cups by the end of it. Then, we all slept in bunk beds in a trailer (c/o J.R.'s patient future father-in-law), and Eric had to take me to a beer drive-thru for girl products. Classy all around.

It was an unspoken rule that if you were in Men's Chorus, you were to have a man-crush on R.D. Mathey, the director. I knew of him, but I hadn't met him. Until... I went to their Halloween party one year with Noah, who was dressed as R.D. I had decided to go totally feminine and chose William Wallace. Surprisingly, couldn't find a kilt. So, my very tall, very straight friend, Nick, and I went to JoAnne Fabrics and he made me one. He sings, he draws, he sews! Anyway, Nick came in to get me, and there I was, blue makeup, sword, nappy hair, etc. And his reaction was a surprised, "You have nice legs." Not quite what I was aiming for, but I'll accept that. Anyway, so my only formal introduction to R.D. was as a Scottish warrior, with the kid dressed as him. I'm fairly certain he hasn't recognized me since. Thankfully. Due to drunkenly leaving my camera in an alumnus' car from Columbus, I have no documented proof of this costume, sadly. I did manage to survive waking up in full costume, including sword. A real sword.

One day at a fine dining establishment called Kermit's, I was introduced to the mechanics of the Atkin's diet by a man who, to protect his identity, we'll call "Lassie." Yes, you can have a steak and eggs, just keep those pesky potatoes away. Got it. And, it works. Very well, in fact. It was also my first attempt at the Meijer game. You can buy everything at Meijer. Pets, guns, greeting cards, produce, beer, etc. So, we'd list the three things adding up to the best and/or most misleading purchase. Ex: A carton of smokes, a fifth of Jack, and diapers. Or, Condoms, Vaseline, and a disposable camera. OR, garbage bags, a hammer, and gerbils. And so on. My favorite was Eric's- a rifle, the Bible, and a highlighter.

There were lots of fun, quirky times with these guys (rolling Eric around in a garbage can, and Jason Budd in a mumu included). I wasn't around everyday, but enough to appreciate this, um, unique group of personalities. I did get to go to a few concerts and witness the true beauty of disgusting people who truly loved eachother and music. I was unfortunately fortunate enough to see them a few days ago. Some are good friends, some I've kept in touch with, others I haven't seen in years, but it was good to see them all. I was strangely happy to see them all sing together again; big, shit-eating grins on their faces. I used to pan the chorus, looking for the guys I knew. And this time, though he was particularly hard to miss, it surprised me that I didn't find one. But I kept looking, because it was harder not to. I have never laughed and cried so much in one day. For only the second time in my life, I sobbed because, and through the entirety, of a song (fuck you for that, by the way). And that is a testament to the kind of people I consider myself lucky to be associated with, in some way. They truly rose to the occasion, including R.D., who rarely sings in public, making an exception for the worst best reason. I don't know what I believe, but I definitely know it wasn't unnoticed.

In all seriousness, it was awe-inspiring. The geniune love, pain, and completely inappropriate humor was indescribable, honestly. Mark Twain said, "The human race has one very effective weapon; laughter." Truer words were never spoken. You gave him one hell of a send-off. If I could, I would ball tap each and every one of you. And I mean that.

The Terfel, The Witch, and The Fun Bike

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

I had been out of school for two years, and still had never had what I would call a crazy ass St. Patrick's day. All through college, I always had some sort of rehearsal (which everyone else would be tipsy for, anyway), and my first after graduating was during the run of Tony n' Tina's Wedding in Pittsburgh, surrounded by WOP's. Which, I guess, was fun. (When else can you be an 8-month-pregnant, dego maid of honor, resentfully sneaking champagne, AND have a removable baby?) I moved to Chicago in April, so I had to wait a year until my first St. Patrick's day here, and I had had enough, damnit. This was gonna be my year.

I got a call that my two friends, John and Chris, were coming into town for an opera, because that's what straight men do. (Probably safe to say that will be the only time I'll ever be in a position in which Bryn Terfel and I are both taken into consideration.) And how would I like to be followed around by tall, lanky, blue-eyed baritones, you ask? I'll take two, please! Both very witty, both very animated and (unitentionally) funny when angry. (How to make a Chris and John: 1.Take two teenage girls and marinade in ESPN and Curb Your Enthusiasm 2. Send one to spring training, the other to charm school, then both to Vienna 3. Add testosterone 4. Sprinkle with loveable arrogance, and serve.) Both incredible smartasses when given the chance, as well. So, of course, I was, and am, quite fond of them. We had all met separately in college, but ended up in several of the same boats.

Actually...over the last 7 years, John has served as my: friend, coworker, costar, boss, boss's son, cheuffeur, and has slept on every couch I've owned. But, most importantly, my classmate in Singer's Diction, with Andreas Poulimenos, aka: The Greek, and/or Silver Fox (P was, and is, a big, scary man with a big scary voice, and a big scary Imperial March-worthy full-length leather coat....who used to tell dirty jokes and let me hug him.) Ironically, years later, John would save my ass as a dialect coach for a play I directed, featuring a character who spoke entirely in Italian (mine is dodgy, at best). Oh, shit, who speaks Italian? John! Seriously. He is the only person who could make me 1. eat mussels 2. drive to Ohio to see Oklabastardhoma! after swearing to never sit through that show again. Though never a fan, my only real example, admittedly, was not the best. It was so bad, Chris and John laid down on the floor in the balcony sometime during the 3rd hour of the performance. Now that was entertaining. Everybody, hands on knees! Okla! Homa! Okla! Homa! Now you! Have the! Song in! Your head! (Side note: When there is a song that builds in a way that sounds like everyone's about to, you know, but nobody looks remotely happy to be there- it's a crap show.) He is talented, generous, wordly, and smart. However...not smart enough to not tell me that he absolutely despises blogs, MySpace, etc. So, I'm just going on and on. Take that, Glann! Even if he does skin me alive, at least he'll know which wine to pair me with.

Anyway, the pressure was on to find something fun to do. There's always the downtown parade (Hey! The river's green! That's....gross, actually) and the famed South Side Parade. I had somehow managed to acquire a boyfriend, and he and his friends were going to the South Side, via a cheap bus ride sponsored by Glascott's, a bar in our hood. So, I passed the idea along, to favorable results. You want to sit drunk on a school bus for 45 minutes at 9:30am on a Sunday with beer provided, for 20 bucks?! Done and done!

The night before, I had a late-night improv/musical/nightmare, and they had the Lyric, so we met up after. You know when, in a moment of clarity, you realize you have a long day tomorrow, so maybe you'll take it easy.......and your friends are drunk when you get there? Upon going to a random bar I never go to (Alive One), we happened upon a slightly cracked, plastic green bowler hat just sittin' on the table. Seemed like a waste. Give it a purpose, shall we? Because, as you all know, if you find something lying in a bar, you should immediately put it on your head. After a short evening (for me) we part ways, and vow to meet early so we can be at the bar by 9am. This is funny for all kinds of reasons. 1. When you think of any of the three people involved, a lot of things may come to mind, but punctuality and 8:45am would not. 2. I was worried about other people being late. 3. Meeting before 9am to go to a bar on the Sabbath. Hey, you worship your way, I'll worship mine.

Around 9am, they come walking up, still drunk. John's wearing the plastic hat, and would all day, until it's untimely demise. One of my roommates, Kelli, only in town on weekends, stuck around to come with us. She's awesome, just takes a little while to warm up to people. Usually. Unless, of course, they're a Red Wings fan, which worked out nicely. So, a German, 2 Degos, and a Scot walk into a bar...and the people I was meeting were already on a full bus (nice friends ya got there) so we got on our own, damnit, and we were on our way.

By the time we got there, low blood-sugar and Bud Light had joined forces, and I was unsober. Perfect time to get a call from my friend in Pittsburgh, "I'm engaged!" Well, I'm drunk! The goals were now clear: remember where the bus was, find the boyfriend, remember where the bus was, eat something, buy a flag, remember where the bus was, and Carducci had to see the bagpipes. Not hear them, so much as see them. Like a kid at the monkey cage, seriously. We get no cell reception, end up in a Jamaican restaurant, and eventually lose interest in finding my people. And nary a bagpipe. After 400 floats of Irish Dancing schools (all girls wearing fake ponytails, aka: falls, or white girl weaves which are, apparently, a rock in the foundation of Irish heritage. What?!), we hear....bagpipes. Happy day! We would proceed to hear them about 96 more times. But, hey, worth the wait.

We seemed to be some of the very few fortunate enough to actually make it back to the bus (thanks to a message we left ourselves on John's phone. My, how Back to the Future of us). Now, we just had to wait to get out of the sea of people drunkenly trying to get the hell out of the South Side. All of a sudden, this guy passes by on the funkiest looking bicycle ever. It was green, two wheels in the back, and a goofy-ass flag behind it.
There are times when you realize you are witnessing a thing of beauty; you are moved beyond the English language; you long to let that person responsible know it's impact on you, which itself is so great, you cannot possibly express it through words.
But you go and try anyway.

"HEY!! (pause) Fun Bike!!!

Nice. I'm not naming names, but it was the dark-haired guy. You would have thought someone tripped a nun. Uncontrollable laughter. The sheer absurdity of it all, in the back of a half-empty school bus. Lots of funny things that day, but that, mixed with a touch of alcohol-induced delirium, was the winner, for some reason. And a running inside joke was born.
To our dismay, the package did not include beer on the ride home from the parade. Because, you know, we really needed to drink more. So, we rounded up the tattered remains of people on the bus, banded together, and bribed the bus driver to stop at a liquor store in a dodgy neighborhood. Just like Braveheart. With Germans and Italians. In the ghetto. Das Braveheartilli In The Hood.

The day ended back at Glacott's, where Kelli sent her nauseous self home to Wisconsin, just missing our meeting of Dwayne, the leprachaun-clad midget, with which we spent some bonding time. The plan was for the boys to nap at my place, and I would meet up with them later. Never being the most organized of people (Carducci pulled out a palm pilot in my presence the next time he was in town. I've never recovered.), John lapsed into a coma, I didn't make it back to my own apartment, and Chris woke up with the only available second-wind, leading him to the 7-11 to get a sammich and sit on my front stoop, sans friends. Probably fantasizing about the bagpipes. Or Welsh baritones.

That year holds the title as my favorite St. Paddy's Day. Over the years, I've been to the parade again, even saw Dwayne...not the same. Sorry to say that even a midget was not an equal substitute (especially one that's also an underwriter at a mortgage firm and makes way more bank than I do).

This year's officially sucked. The parades and crawls were the weekend before, and I had dropped any plans anyway because my mom had to go and catch cancer (so that must be the .3 that Airborne can't prevent), and I wanted to be there for her surgery. On the 17th itself, I had to work, of course. There I was, lamenting my lost holiday and brooding over actually important things continuing to wrong, when Oooh, I have messages! Upon checking my voicemail to see who liked me, I heard an Indiana area code. Could it be...? "Fun bike!" click. I went on to explain to my coworkers that my idiot friend, Chris, was the reason I was laughing (They didn't really appreciate it. The downside of inside jokes, you know). Made my day. At last, something funny happened. My response was a thank you for cracking me up, and I hoped he was having fun, wherever he was. And I meant it.

Still do. With all my heart.

Who the hell plays a hammer dulcimer?
Friday, April 28, 2006

Robert Samels was a very tall man who had a very serious chronic problem: no one pronounced his last name correctly. My first impression of Robert was when he was in Sweeney Todd. The show was sort of a big deal because they hadn't done a musical in 2 years, and this one had music majors out the wazoo. Worlds colliding (imagine the knife fight in the "Beat It" video.) Being a Theatre major, minoring in music, I was sort of like Switzerland. Anyway, he was this big guy, with a voice that was about 25 years older than his face. Very scary, rich, bass. He was 17 years old, and I had no idea what to make of him. Or so I thought.

The most distinct memory I have of him was that year as well. Every Friday at the College of Musical Arts, there was a seminar and you were semi-required to attend. Especially if someone from your studio was performing. During one in particular that was held in the Chorus room, Robert comes walking out and I thought, "Hey! That's the guy from....what the that?!" It was a hammer dulcimer. Who doesn't have one of those lying around? If you have no idea what I'm talking about, allow me to share part of a definition: hammer dulcimer is an ancient trapezoidal music instrument with several courses of strings.

Even the definition is hard. It kinda looks like a xylophone, but with strings. Kinda. Anyway, I walked out with some friends, and the consensus seemed to be, "Who plays the hammer dulcimer?!" Who? Who, as a child, wakes up one day and says, "Mom, I wanna play the piano, and the drums....and the hammer dulcimer!"? It became a bit of a running joke, and up until last week, I still thought of that every time his name came up.

Over time, I would get to know Robert better. He was one of those I thought of as the "good kids"- Teresa, Becky, and a majority of Dr. Lockard's studio. You know, the Collegiate Chorale types. We were in some shows together at the Huron Playhouse (Glann-packed with fun!!) where I would learn that, in addition to being a composer, musician, singer, obstetrician, and goodwill ambassador, he was also a good actor, with great comic timing. I would also witness what I believe, if memory serves, was his first time being totally shitfaced. Imagine a very happy elephant after you've shot him with a tranquilizer. I have pictures. (One in particular features Bill Sparks, wearing my bikini top over his shirt (huh?), tootsie-pop in hand, looking down in shocked amusement at an arm sprouting between his legs. That arm was Robert.)

We didn't know what was happening. Robert was loosening up. Actually, we analyzed it. Seriously. We decided that he was happy to be free from classes and responsibility, and this was relaxing for him. A 14-hour workday was vacation. Mmm'kay...? I would also experience his wonderfully horrifying sense of humor.

One particular day, we were sitting in the hallway and he decided that he wanted to sell inappropriate greeting cards, so we came up with a few:

Outside- "Sorry to hear you lost your baby.."
Inside- "Hope you find it soon!!"
Outside- "Sorry to hear you've been raped..."
Inside- "Slut."

And so on. I wish I could remember the rest of them. He actually kind of grossed me out with the baby one. I was recently reminded by the John Glann of the homemade giraffe he had somehow acquired. It looked like a saw horse with a head, only about 2-3ft. tall. He used to put it over people to screw with them while they were asleep, thus inspiring it's name, "Straddles". He even wrote a song about it. Four part harmony. Anyway, Robert went on to play three roles that summer (Sorry, Robert. Even you can't be in Nunsense. Or can you?) His Richard Henry Lee song in 1776 would crack my shit up. All 8' 5" of him, runnin' around with 2 gays. (Forwaaaaaard Hooooo-oooooo!) Cracked me up so much, that I ganked a production shot of it, which I found a few days ago and gave to my friend, Geoff, who was in it with him. He somehow managed to escape the horror of the fourth show that year (Greg, Dave, Ed, and Laura were not so lucky) and ended the season playing Harold Hill in The Music Man. He totally rocked it, of course. (It was a little scandalous, since he had a huge crush on Becky, aka Marian the Librarian. Shhh.) During one of my lame ass solos, there was a line to him about Marian having a lump of steel or something "here! Where a woman's heart should be." I would clutch his hand to my chest to fuck with him. It didn't. He just looked at me with fear. Every night. Oh, well. No one was complaining. It worked for the song.

The next year I had a newfound respect for Robert, knowing now what lay beneath. I was quite excited to see him as The Mikado, second only to my excitement to see my very, um, bubbly friend, Joey play an executioner named Ko-Ko. I had the good fortune of having Robert sing in my recital, replacing a friend of mine who had a previous engagement. To protect his identity, we'll just call him "John Glann." Anyway, I needed a bass for my rockstar quartet- Geoff, Moorman, Cotherman, and Robert. All friends, all talented. I was quite lucky. We did "Lida Rose" (Fine, don't cast me. I'll just sing the song in my recital. Take that!) and it was awesome. I don't know why I was so surprised when he said he'd do it. I guess I thought he'd be too busy composing a new national anthem for Prague as a work study, or something. (Fun fact: during the whole one rehearsal we had, my accompanist couldn't come, so Robert starting playing. Of course. Why wouldn't he?) Anyway, I was very flattered to have him be a part of it, as he was stupidly talented.

We didn't keep in touch after I left. I'd ask about him and hear of his goings-on from mutual friends, and I'm sure he cried himself to sleep that I left, etc. He was on the plane with my friend last week, and I was sad to learn that such a funny, talented person was gone. We weren't terribly close, but I was fortunate to be around him for a while, and have yet to meet anyone remotely like him. He just wrote an opera that was performed at I.U., one of the best music schools in the country, at 24 years old. I know I'll continue to marvel at all that he has accomplished at such a young age, and mourn what he could have. He would have been a huge success, and I'm not just saying this because of what has happened. I, along with everyone else who ever met him, never doubted that he would be something big. And he would have been. Right after he cured cancer.