Orange is the New Sacked

“Quiet, please. We are about to begin,” the authoritarian voice boomed across the Orange Crest Senior Residential Community meeting hall. Nearly two hundred and fifty residents filled the folding chairs in the room. The seats were arranged in perfect rows, like soldiers at an inspection by a five-star general. Another two-dozen people remained in the lobby, lined up to sign-in. A cluster of folks, banished to a corner because, while they had their resident cards, they had failed to bring three other pieces of acceptable identification necessary to attend the meeting. They glared with agitation toward the registration table. One shouted, “This is what it’s like with him as our president.” The angry cry was heard inside the meeting hall.

“I said ‘Quiet, please,’” the man roared again. He waited a moment, adjusted the microphone on the podium, and eyed the gathering of residents. This time his order was obeyed. “I am Jefferson Thomas, founder of Orange Crest Senior Residential Community and Retirement Village here in Orange Crest, Florida.” A smattering of applause sprinkled the room. “I rarely return to Orange Crest, preferring my nearby estate on Monticello Boulevard across town. But, as you know, this election is very important. We are here to decide if Orange Crest Resident Association President Ronald Grump is worthy of reelection or if his recent actions demand his ouster.”

Rumblings through the hall morphed into an organized chant of “Throw him out.”

“Order!” Thomas yelled. “Can we have some order, please? You will have an opportunity to air your grievances and to determine the community’s future leadership. But first I have been asked by President Grump to explain his absence. “His wife, Mandarina,” Thomas explained, “apparently, had complications during her latest breast implant surgery; the silicone, it was discovered, had been tainted with Ukrainian bullsh…I mean manure…and infection has set in.”

Mandarina, a Kwidprow, Kosovo refugee, was known in her hometown as the Kwidproh Ho, although she insists she has never demanded money for sex. “But with his wife hospitalized,” Thomas continued, “Grump is sitting bedside, and his lawyer, Randy Zabaglione, will represent him today.”

Zabaglione rose from his front-row seat and stepped toward the podium, as whispered voices asked, “Why does he need a lawyer to represent him for this?”

“Those of you who wish to speak,” Thomas instructed, “may line up behind the standing mic at the head of the center aisle.” The cacophony of numerous chairs sliding on the wooden floor set hearing aids squeaking. “OK. It appears many of you have something to say.”

A moment later, Thomas addressed the man at the head of the line. “Barney, it looks like you’re first. Please, identify yourself, give your address, and then make your statement.”

Barney, a gruff looking man with an angry scowl cleared his phlegm-clogged throat. “Everyone knows who I am. I’ve been around forever. But I‘m Barney Saunders and I live over on Codger Way. And I’m pissed off.” His tone and volume reflected that. He continued. “Last Sunday, I caught Grump peeing on the golf course. This wasn’t the first time. Probably the fifth or sixth. And when he pees, it takes forever. No one can play through.”

“Really?” the development’s founder reacted. “I’ve heard reports of him pissing on the Orange Crest by-laws, several business contracts, and former business associates, but not on the—”

“And I’ve been told he peed in the women’s dressing room in the auditorium when those high school cheerleaders came to entertain us. I don’t even know why he was in there.”

“Hearsay!” charged Zabaglione.

Saunders ignored the lawyer. “Therefore, I challenge Grump for the presidency.”

A lean, middle-aged woman, Orange Crest nutritionist, physical activities organizer, and spiritual leader, Dolly Lamar, pulled a whiteboard to the front of the hall. As several people applauded Saunders’s announcement, she wrote his name on the board below Grump’s.

“Thank you, Dolly,” Thomas said nodding to the woman. “Who’s next?” he asked turning to the microphone. A woman in black slacks, a black turtleneck sweater, and a red blazer stood at the microphone. She wore moccasins.

“Alice Beth Warner,” she introduced herself. “Address, 1776 College Place. I, too, challenge Mr. Grump. He’s called me ‘Talking Bull’ one time too many.  And our weekend receptionist, Hillary Winston, a secretary at State University of Florida’s law school, told me Grump sexually harasses her when he’s in the front office.”

“How, Alice Beth?”

“He goes behind the counter, looks at the picture of her Calico, Ivankat, on her desk, and says, ‘Nice Pussy.”

“Oh, no,” Thomas groaned.

“And then he pats Hillary’s butt,” Warner continued. “That is no way to treat a former Miss USA contestant. Hillary is ready to quit.”

“Hearsay,” Zabaglione shouted again. Grumbling emanated from the crowd. “Mr. Grump has written a statement in the event this piece of fake news is brought up.” The lawyer searched through several sheets of paper. “And I read, ‘Hillary Winston is a loser. She’s a bad secretary. Very bad. Bad. So, if she wants to quit, it’s too late. She’s fired. Besides, I’ve heard people say she’s a loser, can’t brew a good cup of covfefe, and works at a stupid school.”

“Hearsay!” a voice yelled from the back of the room. The audience erupted in laughter as Dolly added Alice Beth Warner’s name to the list of challengers.

When the laughter subsided, Thomas said, “OK. Who’s next? Is that you, Beau?”

“Yes, Jefferson. Beau Haydn here.” He smiled a gleaming Pepsodent smile. “As a past vice-president of the association, I am appalled at Grump’s behavior and am, therefore, seeking to replace him as president.”

“Could you tell us, Beau,” Thomas interrupted, “where you live?”

“In the past.”

“I mean your address.”

“Of course,” Haydn corrected himself. “Hunter Road. Number one Hunter Road. Where it meets Denver Street. Hunter, by Den—What the hell?” he spewed, the result of being jostled from behind.

“I’m so sorry,” the young man who had bumped into Haydn apologized. “I slipped moving to the center of the aisle.”

Dolly added Haydn’s name to the growing list on the whiteboard as Haydn stepped away.

The young man took the microphone. “Hello. I know. You’re all thinking ‘Who is this young guy?’ Well, I’ll tell you. My name is Zeke Betterjudge. My parents are Bill and Betty Betterjudge, over on Center Street. They have told me about several of Mr. Grump’s suspicious financial payments, like to U-Grain Farms President Anton Uscratchmybackski, weatherman Storm E. Darnells, and numerous Grump University students who claim all they received for their tuition were photographs of Professor Shelly Ann Conroy’s emaciated face. Sadly,” Betterjudge continued, “my parents feel they are too old to challenge Grump. Dad suggested I do it, in their name.”

“But you don’t live here, son,” a man called from the audience.

“I know, sir. But I visit every Sunday. I’ve attended numerous events here, parties, shows, fund-raisers. So, I may not be a retiree or be qualified to live here, but I understand your issues. And my wife and I would move across the street from Orange Crest to be near you all if elected. By the way, have you met my wife? Please, stand up, Gay.”

Betterjudge’s name was added to the slate of challengers as “Buddahjuggs.”

A stream of other residents announcing their candidacy followed; Pamela Barris, a light-Black retired lawyer; Cody Hooker, a perennial bachelor; Tully Clapboard, a Vietnam vet with severe PTSD; Buddy O’Ryan, who had recently arrived from Texas, where he had been a flash-in-the-pan motivational speaker; Anthony Chan, a successful restaurateur who established Walk-In, Wok-Out, North America’s leading Chinese food to-go chain; and several other candidates, too insignificant to mention.

“Is that all?” Jefferson Thomas asked, looking at the abandoned microphone. “No one else wants to challenge Ronald Grump? No one else has anything to say?”

“I do,” a female replied. Her voice was soft and tired. The older woman, her styled hair dyed black, strode to the head of the aisle in Louis Vuitton shoes. She raised the microphone off its stand and spoke. “My name is Francie Lugosi and I’ve lived here for decades. People,” she said, “there’s too many of you running, too many choices,” she said. “I know I have had it with Mr. Grump’s shenanigans. But, while I would support an older experienced candidate like my dear friend Mr. Haydn, I do find the young, inexperienced candidate, Mr. Buttershu…Bill and Betty’s boy, to be very appealing. And if I can’t decide, how could any of you less-savvy people? I believe we all are too tired to choose between so many good, decent people.”

“I agree,” said a deep-voiced man.

“Me, too,” chimed a woman in a 1970s Equal Rights Amendment t-shirt.

“We didn’t live this long to have to deal with all this,” called a raspy voice from the center of the hall. “The behavior of this president is just…just…deplorable.”

Voices rose throughout the room. Frustrated and angry comments swirled about. “True.” “Absolutely.” “An embarrassment.” “Aye, aye.” “Throw him out!”

“We need a simple solution,” a man sitting near the microphone yelled above the din, his soft Southern accent as soothing as a distant saxophone. He stood and slid to the mic. “Bull Scranton here. We need a compromise of sorts, an appealing, likable, experienced candidate to step forward. But I don’t know who,” he said, shrugging his shoulders, but also craning his neck.

From the back of the room, a clear-voiced man called, “Perhaps I do.” All heads turned toward the man. A gasp blew through the vast room. The man, using a cane, struggled to the center aisle and inched his way to the microphone as applause built. “Yes,” he said as he reached the microphone, “I’m former…and do I mean former…association president Timmie Garner. I propose we have co-presidents, a duo, with both generations represented. I would be willing to serve as the representative of the old guard, experienced and wise. The transition. And for the other co-president, I suggest—”

A door sprang open and a tall African-American woman entered the hall. Her athletic shoes squeaked on the floor.

“Oh, good, Rochelle,” Timmie Garner celebrated, “you made it.” Heads again pivoted to the rear of the room. “Does everyone remember our previous nutritionist, physical activities organizer, and spiritual leader Rochelle DeGama?” A burst of joyous greetings indicated they did. “Just retired, Rochelle has recently finished writing her memoir, Re-Coming, and will be moving here with her husband Barry next week.” Applause exploded through the room. “So, in the event I—well, I am between ninety and death—Rochelle will take over.”

A momentary hush filled the hall, a pause for contemplation. It was unneeded. A spontaneous, unified, boisterous chant of “Vote them in!” blasted through the room.” When it died down, Jefferson Thomas smiled and asked, “Should we vote now?”

A chorus of “Yes!” echoed through the room.

Grump lawyer Randy Zabaglione eased his way out a side exit, mumbling “Fake news” and “Hearsay” repeatedly, and staggered across the sub-division until he reached the alligator-infested swamp separating it from Blue Donkey Estates. Zabaglione fell into the swamp.

Disgusting Perverts

“They’re disgusting,” I heard the woman at the next table say. “They’re all perverts.”

“Ssshhh. People can hear you, Barbara,” another female scolded.

Who are they talking about? I wondered. But I knew. I’d heard those words before. They were specific. Hoping I was wrong, I turned my backpack away from their table to hide the rainbow ribbon hanging from a zipper. I couldn’t see the women as I had my back to them, so I peered at the coffee house’s windows, hoping for a reflection of their faces. There was none. I looked around that part of the room I could see. No one was eyeing Barbara and her friend or mirroring my curiosity. No one seemed aware of the judgmental conversation behind me. The other customers, cocooned in their own worlds, appeared preoccupied with laptops, earbuds, and romance novels.

“Well, it’s the truth, LeeAnne. Horrible people, all of them, forcing us to accept their lifestyle and their agenda.”

“Can you speak quieter, Barbara? You don’t know who is nearby. I don’t want a confrontation. For all we know that barista can hear you. We could get kicked out of here.”

“For what, LeeAnne? For telling the truth?”

“For causing a disturbance.”

A chair creaked as if its occupant were turning. A moment for observation passed. “Oh, lord,” Barbara gasped. “He definitely is one.”

An audible sigh wafted in my direction. “Why would you say that, Barb? He seemed perfectly normal when he took our order.”

“The way he said, ‘Have a nice day.’ You didn’t hear that? Do you not have ears and eyes?”

“Gosh almighty, Barb, you’re getting all worked up over nothing. He’s just a baris . . . oh, now that I look at him, I see what you mean. He looks just like they do.”

“And he was too polite,” Barbara added.

“Yes. You’re right. And look at how this place is decorated. I’ll bet he did that. All those glittery stars. And those iridescent hoops.”

“And those translucent—What are those things?—rays of li—”

“Yeah. Coming from the ceiling,” LeeAnne interrupted. “All so pretty. And so perverted.”

“We can never tell our husbands we came in here.”

“No. Never.” LeeAnne’s eyes bugged. “You know how Richard feels about them. Doesn’t want to hear them. Doesn’t want to see them.”

“Kyle’s even worse, Barb. Sometimes I think he had an experience with one when he was younger. You know, with their constant recruiting young people.”

That revelation triggered a momentary silence. I could practically hear Barbara wondering, “You think Kyle’s a closet—” A dropped spoon rattled on the floor aborting my thought. Distracted, I scanned the room again, searching for the noise’s source. The other customers continued their self-involved activities, unaware of the noise or the women’s heated conversation. I shook my head. Someone, I thought, should say something to those rude bigoted ladies. I swallowed. Maybe it’s up to me. Maybe I should…

“I’m embarrassed we came in here. No. Not embarrassed. Angry.”

“Angry?”

“Yes, LeeAnne. Angry that places like this even exist, that people like him are allowed to…”

“Well, this is the last time we stop in here for coffee. We don’t need to support people like that.”

“No. We do not,” Barbara agreed. “Finish your latte so we can get out of this awful place. Besides, we’re supposed to be at the homeless shelter in ten minutes.” Her tone changed. “I’m so proud of our work there, spreading our message of love and acceptance.”

“Yes. Me, too.”

I started to turn to look at them, perhaps confront them, but as I did, I heard their chairs screech on the wooden floor and squeak with relief as the women stood. I returned to my face-forward position.

“Don’t forget your bag, Barb,” LeeAnne said, as she stepped away from their table. “They’re gonna appreciate the socks and soap.” I peeked toward the door to catch a glimpse of the women. But they did not appear. Instead, I heard their voices along the back wall, by the order counter.

“Oh, my gosh, Barb. Look. He’s wearing a crucifix. Why didn’t I see that before?”

“I knew it,” Barbara spewed with venom.” He’s a damn Christian.”

“Because,” the handsome young man answered LeeAnne’s question, “I just unbuttoned my top button. That’s why you didn’t see it. It’s really hot in here today.”

“He’s a damn Christian. You a Christian?” LeeAnne charged.

“Yes, of course,” the barista answered with pride. “I believe Jesus Christ is our savior. And my name is Christian.”

“You’re sick, Christian,” Barbara said. “Disgusting. Flaunting your chosen lifestyle.”

LeeAnne jumped in. “I’m surprised your manager hasn’t told you to hide that fucking cross. You know you offend a whole lot of people and that could hurt business.”

“Oh, damn,” Barbara said. “Look at that. That tattoo on his forearm.”

“What’s it say? I can’t read it. It’s upside-down.”

Christian apparently held up his forearm so LeeAnne could read the inscription. “Oh, WWJD,” she said. “Well, I’ll tell you what Jesus would do; he’d puke. Making your private business public. Acting all holier-than-thou.”

I turned to study the women. But they had their backs to me.

“Ma’am, this is the Light Brew Coffee House. What did you think the ‘Light’ represents?” Christian smiled a sugary smile and motioned to the decor. “The stars, the shimmering halos, the shafts of light. They’re all about God’s love.”

“You’re repulsive, disgusting,” Barbara spat. They pivoted and stepped toward the door and I, at last, could see their faces. More important, though, I saw the heart-shaped rainbow buttons on their coats. “Ally” was superimposed on them. “C’mon, LeeAnne, we need to get to the LGBTQI Teen Homeless Shelter to spread our support and unconditional love.”

What the Health?

I’d been having stomach discomfort for several weeks, and, although stomach irregularities are not foreign to me, these recent sensations were more severe than prior ones. I went to the doctor.

He analyzed the symptoms, placed a stethoscope on my belly and intestines, and listened. “Diverticulitis,” he said. “It’s an inflammation or infection of small pouches called diverticula that develop along the walls of the intestines. But it doesn’t appear to be a bad case.”

“I can’t have divituliticus,” I said.

“Why not?”

“Because I can’t pronounce it and I’m going to have to tell people why I just shat my pants.” (I’m sorry. That was gross. I shouldn’t have said that. What I meant to say was, “Because I can’t pronounce it and I’m going to have to tell people in the swimming pool why I just shat my trunks.”)

But there I was exiting the doctor’s office, prescription for an anti-inflammatory in hand. I had asked the doctor if I could mix alcohol with the medication since I was heading to Puerto Vallarta the next day. “Yes,” he said.”

So, I did. Two margaritas the first night.

The next day, the friend from home with whom I had rendezvoused and I took the water taxi to Yalapa. We sat under a large umbrella on the sun-drenched sand and drank two beers, one prior to eating nachos and the other while eating. Shortly after downing my nachos, I felt an internal rumbling. I raced to the rudimentary beachside bathroom and spent fifteen minutes emptying out my guts.

Or so I thought.

We boarded the water taxi home, my mind swirling with relief and worry regarding that traumatic bathroom experience, and, as the sun beat on my left shoulder, I realized it was sunburned; the umbrella had been as protective as a mesh condom. But that was the least of my health worries. As we neared the Puerto Vallarta pier, a mere three blocks from my hotel, I felt a resurgence of stomach rumbling. I rushed home, where I filled the toilet for a second time that day. How, I asked myself, could that be? I thought I was empty from the first incident.

That evening, my friend and I attended a customer-appreciation/anniversary party at a nearby restaurant. Even though I felt empty and wasn’t hungry, I ate a few appetizers. But I downed two margaritas.

During the night, I awoke to stomach growls and a chill, the later, I assumed, because I had set the air conditioning too low. Instead of getting up and turning off the a/c, I pulled my covers higher so they could keep me warm. I woke up in the morning and promptly visited the porcelain throne for a third major evacuation.

I flew home later that day on a two-and-a-half hour-delayed flight, with no intestinal incidents. Stomach irregularities, however, were not my only concern. I also was worried about the delay, fearing the small local airline would cancel the flight until morning, which would have been problematic as I had an early morning appointment with my ophthalmologist. But I got home that night and went to bed.

I awoke the next morning with a sore throat. “Damn a/c,” I grumbled as I prepared for the eye doctor. She was going to perform a common procedure done about six months after cataract surgery, a removal, by laser, of a film that can accumulate on the new lenses. It is a quick, painless procedure that does produce several days of “floaters” dancing in your vision. My ensuing floaters varied in size from specks to wide-winged bats to small New England states. My eyes dilated, I donned sunglasses and headed home.

As I rode the bus, I realized I did not feel right. It wasn’t stomach-related though—that appeared to be settling down—but feverish instead. Once home, I took my temperature. It was about a full degree above normal. So, there I was, recovering from the runs, a sunburned shoulder tingling like the embers on a fireplace hearth, floaters making me swat imagined bats, and a fever.

It couldn’t get worse. I thought.

By Tuesday morning the sore throat had moved to my head and I had a runny nose. By afternoon it had shifted to my lungs. Meanwhile, my temperature bounced between low-grade and quasi-semi-sorta low-grade. This created a dilemma because I had a Wednesday morning appointment with my orthodontist to have some braces added to my existing front-bottom teeth. The new ones would be in the rear and were to space the now aligned teeth. Should I postpone this appointment or follow through to keep the process on schedule? I opted for the latter.

Delirious from my quasi-semi-sorta low-grade fever, I stumbled to the dental office Wednesday morning, dripping sweat along the route. I immediately told the orthodontist of my quasi-semi-sorta fatal condition and reminded her to thoroughly wash anything that touches my mouth. I then yanked a bottle of Windex from my backpack. “It cleans and fixes everything,” I said, “according to My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” I handed it to her and yelled “Opa!”

Additional braces were wired onto my mouth and I departed. I immediately, however, felt the rearmost braces, because of their proximity to my inner-cheeks, jabbing them. As if I needed another irritant, my inner voice screamed. Later that day, as I sipped chicken soup—made by a lovely woman named Campbell. She even added some rice—I felt one of the new braces separate from its tooth and dangle on its wire like a Christmas tree light. “Damnation,” I quasi-semi-sorta wailed, remembering a lesson from when the first braces were installed: Crowns with porcelain veneers resist the adherent that seals braces to teeth.

So, I went back to the orthodontist the next day, still sweating a fever and smarting from sunburn. The brace was reattached and I left. As I went home, my skin-damaged shoulder developed a new sensation. I’d had sunburn before. I knew what healing should feel like. This, however, was different. I touched the burning area and felt bumpy skin. That’s not normal peeling, I thought. Then I could feel moisture, minimal, but a wateriness, nonetheless. I have heat rash, I told myself. I knew heat rashes; Dad, who rarely went into the sun, suffered them on our summer vacations. The tiny, itchy blisters, when scratched, ooze mini-droplets of water.

It has been a week now and the sunburn and heat rash have disappeared. I no longer have floaters startling me into lunatic-like swatting spasms. My braces have remained attached and I am adjusting to the inner-cheek jabbings of protruding metal. And my divictulisis. I mean, disticulicus…divertistiliitis…diverticolitis…distorti…oh, whatever…seems to have disappeared. It, apparently, was a light case as the doctor said or merely a bug. Either way, I am fine now and—oh no.  I just shat my pants. Thank God I wasn’t in the pool.

20/20 Hindsight

There are moments in our lives that change them forever: Marriages, the birth of children, unexpected deaths, serious accidents or illnesses, getting fired, aha moments, a world event. We all experience them.

I’ve been thinking about those moments in my life, those events that impacted all the days that followed. These are the twenty events or moments that, I believe, formed who I am today. I know I am exposing much of my inner-self here. But it has been cathartic. If, however, you see it as self-indulgent. it isn’t. It would be had I included twenty-one.

  1. Just prior to my sixth or seventh Hanukkah, I discovered a sled in the darkest corner of the basement. It was, I realized, my BIG Hanukkah present. The second-hand sled had been freshly-painted burgundy and a pinkish off-white, colors I would not have selected. Mom was very proud and excited when she unveiled the gift days later and pointed out how difficult it had been to paint. I, too, was excited. . . until the first snowfall when I discovered I could not steer the sled because the sticky, thick coat of paint had gotten under the steering bar rendering it useless. Disappointed, I wondered why I hadn’t received a new sled. I knew we were not rich, but certainly not so poor we could not afford a new one, one that worked. I was hurt. What that incident taught me was, in my mother’s eyes, I was not worthy a new sled. I did not deserve it. I could, and should, always accept second best. I should settle. Because Mom had not asked me what my favorite colors were as she prepared to paint the winter toy, I also learned my input and opinion did not matter. She painted the sled burgundy, her favorite color. Imagine the impact those lessons had on my psyche, self-confidence, and future.
  2. It was the late 1950s. I was eight or nine, maybe ten. I was introduced to Top 40 radio and pop music by a schoolmate who had a family friend who was a disc jockey on one of Seattle’s top radio stations. My love for pop music was born. Certainly, I would have discovered pop music eventually under other circumstances, but Bill and the deejay were the ones that steered me toward pop music and away from the classical music to which my parents listened.
  3. About the same time, Top 40 radio entered my life, I discovered my affinity for writing, a talent I likely inherited from my father. I had been selected by my fifth-grade teacher to write a summary of our class’s activities for the monthly PTA Newsletter and I took this duty very seriously. I felt great pride when I saw my work in print. That assignment marked the birth of Tom Nussbaum, Writer.
  4. I was ten or eleven when I first saw late ‘50s-early ‘60s teen idol Fabian Forte on “American Bandstand.” He stirred feelings in me I neither understood nor could explain. Or share. They, of course, were my first pings of same-sex attraction. When, at the peak of his popularity, Fabian appeared on “Person to Person,” Edward R. Murrow’s Friday night celebrity interview program, Fabian looked tired. He was slumped on his couch, valiantly trying to maintain a smile. The sixteen-year old began the interview with an apology. “Ed,” he said, “I just got home from a long tour and I’m really tired.” I heard a plea. Internally, I became Fabian’s agent or parent; my inner-voice screamed, “This interview is over. Can’t you see Fabian needs to go to bed?” Because I was a pre-pubescent child, my intent was not sexual. My motive was more protective. I wanted to take care of him. Later feelings were more sexual. However, as a result, throughout my life, I have joked that Fabian brought me out of the closet.
  5. November 22, 1963: The assassination of John F. Kennedy. Anyone who was alive then knows how that tragedy impacted the world, the USA, and the future. Like Pearl Harbor a generation earlier or 9-11-2001 nearly four decades later, this was a date that influenced all the days after it. It was the first time I was disappointed in the world around me, the world beyond my home and family. It wasn’t the last.
  6. My post high school plans were to attend Shoreline Community College, an established and reputable two-year school, for a year and then transfer to the University of Washington. However, I missed the deadline to apply to Shoreline and I had no Plan B. I was panicked, freaked-out. A school counselor, suggested I attend fledgling Seattle Community College in its first year, pointing out that there still was time to apply. I was not thrilled with this option as the quality of the school had not yet been established. But I went. When classes began, I was contacted by the school’s journalism teacher and school newspaper advisor offering me, based on my experience as a high school newspaper editor, the founding editorship of the school newspaper. I took the offer. Good fortune then came my way. Not only was I part of history, but my tuition and books were covered for the year. And through that connection with the instructor/advisor, I landed a summer job at The Seattle Times, which I parlayed into a longer lasting, more appropriate position at The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. My college major, journalism, was written in ink. But more important, I became a believer in fate and destiny, a philosophy I still believe in today.
  7. I was a University of Washington frat boy in November 1969 when I suffered my first herniated disc, a moment that changed everything. On the positive side, that moment saved me from being drafted and going to Vietnam; it provided me with a life-saving out. The trade-off, of course, was a lifetime of back problems culminating in five hours of surgery more than forty-five years later during which three other herniated discs were verified.
  8. Although I had recognized and explored my homosexuality earlier, it was not until I graduated from college in 1970 that I “came out.” If there were an official moment when that happened, it would have been when I met George at Madison Beach, Seattle’s perennial gay summer playground. Although he was a year younger than me, he became my mentor and conduit to a new life and social world. He introduced me to my first circle of gay friends.
  9. I met Ray Woods in 1971. He brought me to a gym. I didn’t leave until 2016. As a result of my workouts, generally 3-4 times a week, I transformed myself from an insecure soft blob to an insecure buff dude. Because I met many interesting and wonderful people through gyms, it became as much a part of my social life as a physical regimen. Ray, who had been one of the founders of the UW’s Gay Student Union, also introduced me to political activism. Obviously, meeting Ray was life-changing. It was because of him, I, shirtless, rode a floral float in the Portland Rose Parade. It was because of him I represented Seattle in a beef-cake competition at New York City’s Madison Square Garden and got ogled by Andy Warhol. It was because of him I was featured in a Gay Pride report on local TV news. And it also was because of Ray I laughed through the ’70’s.
  10. We can all chuckle about this. But disco music and discos were very important to me. I know. Silly. Shallow. The truth, nevertheless. My first disco experience took place at San Francisco’s The City where I heard, for the first time, its overpowering speaker system. As I recall, I was mesmerized by The Intruders’ “I’ll Always Love My Mama,” Everyday People’s “I Like What I Like (Because I Like It),” and Love Unlimited Orchestra’s “Love’s Theme,” which segued into “Under the Influence of Love.” I had never heard music like that, lyrics that touched me like that, and rhythms that stirred my soul so. Discos, with time, became a safe-zone, its music an audio comfort food. It was the soundtrack of the most exciting time in my life. To this day, disco gives me joy, lifts me when feeling low, and makes me feel young. I know not everyone loves disco, and they are entitled to their opinion. Nevertheless, I believe disco-haters and detractors should be banished to Siberia and forced to listen to Ethel Merman’s disco version of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and the holiday classic “The Little Drummer Boy” a la disco. On an endless loop.
  11. In my “coming out” process, I had chosen to keep my sexual orientation a secret from my parents as they, I felt, had experienced enough disappointment and hardship because of Adolph Hitler. They had lost family members, left their homelands, and made numerous other sacrifices. But as time passed, the burden of this secret became heavier and more complicated and, finally, after seven years of being “out” socially, I told them. It was difficult and it had its bumps, but it was an unloading of a crippling weight. I did feel a freedom I had never felt before.
  12. The fight for gay rights became personal in 1978. After defeat in public votes in Florida’s Dade County, Wichita, St. Paul, and Eugene, the issue of equal rights for the LGBT community came to Seattle. Well, surprise-surprise, we won. The No on 13 victory was the first of its kind in the US. And it wasn’t even close. The celebration that November night gave me one of the happiest moments in my life and a heart full of hope that lasted about 25 years. But, alas, that feeling did not last forever.
  13. Because I had never lived anywhere but Seattle, I moved to Portland in 1985 to prove to myself I could live somewhere else and start anew. I immediately met Larry, with whom I was involved for about a year and a half. He was not my first “boyfriend,” but it was through him that I discovered why my relationships had not worked and understood my role in those failures. I realized that the societal ideal that everyone must be married or partnered to be happy did not apply to me; I was happier, freer, more content, alone. When Larry and I broke up, I decided I would no longer seek Mr. Right. I rearranged priorities in my life and began to understand and accept myself on an entirely deeper level.
  14. When tests were first approved to determine if one had HIV or AIDS in the mid-1980s, gay men were advised to avoid them. “The results,” community activists warned,” will be shared with employers, landlords, insurance companies, and families.” Therefore, it was not until 1988 or 1989, after we all had lost countless friends, and acquaintances, that we felt safe being tested. I was certain I would be found to be HIV positive. I had been, after all, rather promiscuous in previous years. But as fate would have it, I tested negative. I was stunned. Once I recovered from my shock, I determined that God, fate, the zodiac, or whatever, had plans for me, a mission. There was a reason I was spared. But I did not understand what that purpose was. Yet.
  15. I returned to Seattle in 1990 and held two unsatisfying jobs over two years. I was unhappy and frustrated. But during those years, I had a brief friendship with a neighbor, a middle-school special education teacher. He often mentioned his assistant and her duties. I could do that, I thought. Then I realized that that was my calling, the purpose of my HIV negative status.  Because I had often served as a trusted advisor, “big brother,” or “uncle” to younger gay men, I thought, I’m supposed to work in high schools, using those skills and my experience.  Special education is my entrée. I applied to the Seattle School District and was hired. I spent twenty-one of the next twenty-two years working in high schools. When I retired, I knew I had helped many special needs students and influenced countless other teenagers as the advisor of gay support groups, gay-straight alliances, AIDS awareness clubs, and the Men’s Forum, where boys discussed sensitive issues concerning them. I also forged relationships with numerous young men, friendships that some outsiders looked at as “suspicious,” but weren’t. They were innocent and appropriate, but they were needed, by both the student and myself. Conversations, images, and memories from those days are part of my DNA now. I had found my purpose.
  16. It was a few days before school started in September 1993, my second year in special ed. I had been transferred with a certified teacher to a different high school to start a new program. We entered the office and introduced ourselves. I, in typical Tom-fashion, said something humorous and smart-assy. I heard a snicker behind me. I turned. A young man, sitting at a table, looked at me with an expression that mixed a smile with disbelief. I thought he was a college student, perhaps an alum hoping to see a favorite teacher or a teaching intern waiting to meet his new mentor. He was, however, the student body president. Years later, David told me, because of that irreverent comment, he knew immediately that I was to play a major role in his life. It was providential, he explained. He became my unofficial son, I his “other” dad. We learned from each other. We impacted each other. I witnessed his graduation, departure for Marine bootcamp as part of ROTC, college graduation, and wedding. I was elated by the birth of his son. I worried when he was sent to participate in 2003’s Iraq War. David is a lawyer today, my lawyer.
  17. I will be the first to admit that I had an unorthodox way of doing things as a high school staff member. As I said earlier, I forged relationships with students that from the outside may have appeared odd, even suspicious. None, however, were inappropriate. None were sexual. My concern at all times was in the student’s best interest. I mentored, looked out for, and protected them as best I could. Nevertheless, I, after years of advising gay support groups and then gay-straight alliances, was removed from my position by the school district administrator overseeing these groups. Her reason? My unorthodox style might, if exposed to the public, rankle homophobes. The irony here is that this administrator was a lesbian and was acting out of homophobia-phobia. But, I believe, she also was driven by a general distrust of men, including gay men, and saw them all as potential predators. I was informed of my removal days before summer break and that decision ruined my vacation. Being distrusted by someone who should have supported me and being thought of as a perv sent me in a tailspin. My vacation was spent with suicidal thoughts, crippling depression, and growing anxiety about returning to school. But, because I began taking ant-depressants as the summer ended, I did return and survived. I still take the medication, albeit at the lowest dosage. To say that woman changed my life would be an understatement.
  18. I attended Vancouver’s Gay Pride in 2004, the summer George W. Bush campaigned for reelection, the year Republicans in eleven states put same-sex marriage on the ballot to lure conservatives who had not recently voted to the polls. This divisive tactic worked. The Battle for Equal Rights was defeated in all eleven states. But more important, that sense of hope I acquired in 1978 died. Bush’s reelection became the straw that broke the camel’s back, the point at which I had had enough of rationalizing and tolerating US politics and its countless hypocrisies. While in Vancouver, I had an epiphany: I did not have to remain in the US forever. I could, and would, leave upon retirement ten years later. And I did.
  19. With a few years remaining before retirement, I conceded it was time to seek counselling. Psychiatrists and sociologists were people I had avoided my entire live, for reasons too involved to explain here. But a situation had arisen at work that I could not remedy and it was affecting my mental health. I could no longer avoid “the couch.” Within a few sessions, Gary connected the specific school situation to my mother, something I had never considered. Suddenly, my entire life flashed by and I understood why I had made many of the decisions I had, why I reacted to people and conditions in my life as I had, and why I saw myself as I did. In a flash, I understood why I was unable to maintain a long-term romantic relationship. I had been right; that ideal wasn’t for me. But after two plus decades, I understood why. Gary was a godsend. He steered me into my future.
  20. My second stop in the search for my post-retirement home as an ex-pat was Ajijic. It was 2009, five years after I had made the decision to leave the crumbling US. I knew within hours it was the place for me. Five years later, I left Seattle for Lakeside. Once settled, I watched, from a distance, as Seattle continued to change and became too big for its britches, and I witnessed the downfall of US democracy. I never looked back. I have no regrets.
  21. Now it is your turn. What choices or events changed your life? A marriage? A divorce? The birth of children? Disease? A job change? An election? Or reading my list?

Flight Risk

Some passengers say it is people who take off their shoes on the airplane. Others say it is loud, drunk passengers. Many flyers complain about plus-size people who spill over onto neighboring seats, invading their space. There are those who become enraged at people who take care of personal grooming, like nose-hair trimming or toenail clipping, while in flight. And countless travelers say their primary pet-peeve when flying is talkative, overly-friendly neighbors who ask a hundred personal questions and tell them the unsolicited story of their boring life. But these behaviors can be controlled or corrected.

For me, however, the most irritating aspect of airline travel involves a group of people with a condition that makes controlling their behavior difficult. Granted, they cannot help who they are and their condition is the product of nature, God’s plan. But, while these people are just being themselves and although many people can tolerate and accept them as they are, I can’t.

That is why I say airlines should ban children under five. Or, if their travels are absolutely necessary, they should be stowed in an overhead compartment. After being sedated. Now, don’t remind me of that incident in which a flight attendant placed a dog in an overhead where it died, and how the attendant and airline were criticized and reprimanded. Toddlers are not dogs. It’s not the same. For one thing, toddlers do not lift their leg to pee. Or sniff other toddlers’ butts. Apples. Oranges.

It is my opinion that if God had intended for small children to fly, they would have exited the womb on a Boeing-747.

Don’t get me wrong. I like young children. When they are asleep. Or stuffed in an overhead compartment. Of course, placing children in the spaces intended for carry-ons creates a logistics problem: where would those small suitcases and backpacks go? I suggest they be placed on the child’s parent’s lap. For the entire flight. As punishment for forcing other people to endure behavior considered normal and acceptable on terra firma, but not on flights between Peoria and Pretoria.

Once these pint-size passengers reach five years of age, banning them from air travel seems a bit extreme; they are, after all, more mature at that age and have better communication skills. At five, they also would be too large for overhead banishment during emergency travels, like to a relative’s funeral or a taxidermist. But if their behavior warrants it, they wouldn’t be too large for exile to the cargo hold in the bowels of the plane. There, if the sedation wears off, their childish outbursts and behavior would only irritate suitcases and casketed passengers, not living ones trimming nose hair or clipping toe nails.

When they reach their teens, though, young passengers, I believe, become our equals. They could fly with adults, provided, of course, they show proof of their bar or bat mitzvah or graduation from the seventh grade, and have letters of recommendation from at least three of the South Korean boy band BTS or the two Kardashians who know how to write.

I bring this up now because I recently flew from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara, a normally thirty-five to fifty minutes flight. This one, however, took an excruciating fifty-four and a half minutes, during which I endured a four-year-old sitting behind me, continuously kicking my cramped center seat and singing “Baby Shark,” the number one song on the Pre-K Hit Parade since 2017.

A boy, perhaps fifteen, sat next to me on the aisle. Before he sat down, he had stashed a skateboard in the overhead, space that could have housed that four-year-old. The teenager reeked of Axe, Clearasil, and Under Armour labels and began playing with his Game Boy. His presence did not initially irritate me. He wasn’t, after all, kicking my seat or babbling shark nonsense. But when I asked him a few personal questions—OK, perhaps a hundred—and began to tell him the unsolicited story of my exciting life as a retiree, he popped in his earbuds and ignored me. It was then I realized this kid was a rude punk. So, I removed my hand from his upper leg and refrained from interacting with him.

But as the flight approached Guadalajara and the garbage-bag toting flight attendant neared our seats, I had to communicate with the kid once more. I was polite and non-intrusive. Therefore, I am baffled why that snotty twerp got all bent out of shape when I asked him to throw away my nose-hair trimmings and toenail clippings. You’d think I’d asked him to help me change my just-soiled adult diaper.

You know, now that I think about it, five isn’t the right age. Perhaps, all children under sixteen should be banned from airlines, so pleasant passengers like me can enjoy the flight.

The T-Shirt in the Closet

To be on TV or not to be on TV, that was the question. And I chose to be on TV.

I look back at that decision, and I am thankful, because, were it not for my presence at that early Gay Pride event, I may have remained behind an ajar closet door for more than an already eternal seven years. But it was that picnic and a KOMO-TV news crew that kicked that door from ajar to wide open.

I came out in the summer of 1970. But it was a limited “coming out.” Close friends from high school and college were informed why my social life veered away from them and began to revolve around gay people, parties, events, and gay bars. But I did not come out to my family.

There were many reasons for my familial secretiveness, reasons too complicated to go into here. It was not until 1977, therefore, that I came out to them. I had to.

My parents were in Europe that late-June. Seattle’s Saturday Gay Pride March, and it was a political march then, not a celebratory parade, had meandered through downtown Seattle, ending up, I believe, in Pioneer Square. A picnic was held the next day at Seward Park. I attended, wearing a t-shirt announcing “A Day Without Human Rights is Like a Day Without Sunshine;” it mocked the Florida Orange Commission’s “A Day Without Orange Juice is Like a Day Without Sunshine” campaign featuring homophobic entertainer Anita Bryant.

KOMO’s reporter Ken Schram noticed my shirt and approached. “May we photograph your shirt?” he asked.

“Sure,” I answered without hesitation.

“May we pan up to your face?”

In an instant, Gay Liberation and “coming out” became personal, real, and risky. And I knew I had to say yes or I would be a hypocrite and chicken-shit activist. Therefore, my shirt and my face, although not my name, aired throughout Western Washington on that evening’s local news and I knew I had to inform my parents as soon as they returned home, before someone else did.

At the time, I worked with my father, a man who spent the early hours of every Saturday morning at the office catching up without being interrupted. Nevertheless, I interrupted him there, on his first post-Europe Saturday. His response to my announcement was calm, accepting, and true to his progressive, tolerant political philosophies.

“I’m telling Mom next,” I told him as I stepped to the door.

“Oy vey,” he moaned.

I drove to the family home and was greeted by my mother. “I have something to tell you,” I announced. “Sit.”

“Oh, no,” was her typically negative response. I explained that I had been on the local news and why.

Was she supportive? Was she calm? Hardly.

“Where will I move to? was her self-involved response to my being gay. She said this in her thick German accent. “They will be whistling from the rooftops.” Her shocked, muddled mind reverted to a German idiom for gossiping and translated it to English.

“Who will?” I asked.

“My friends. They all will be whistling from the rooftops. I will have to move. Where will I move to?”

Suddenly, my coming out was about my mother. She was the victim, the inconvenienced one. “Why would you have to move?” I asked.

“Because they will talk behind my back. They will abandon me.”

“Well, if that is the case, Mom,” I said, “you have a bigger issue to deal with than a gay son. You’ve picked crappy friends.” She gazed down, at her lap.

“Yah. That is easy for you to say,” she replied, minimizing the challenges and difficulty I may have endured prior to coming out. “I can’t look at any of them.” Her eyes shot up. “Oh, now I understand what Betty meant.”

“Betty?”

“Yah,” Mom continued. “I talked with her on the phone Thursday. She said she saw you on the news at a picnic. ’What picnic?’ I asked. But she did not answer. She changed the subject.”

“So, Betty saw it,” I said. I wonder how many others saw it, I thought. I never found out; no one else ever said anything to Mom. No one ever said anything to me about the picnic, my t-shirt, or my being gay.

In the end, Mom did not move, nor did her friends abandon her. And I no longer had to play closet games with my family. It only had taken me seven years since I began living as an “avowed homosexual.”

And I proudly thank Gay Pride and KOMO-TV News for that.

He Made Me Feel Uncomfortable

“He made me feel uncomfortable,” she said and, I, as a longtime feminist, should have understood better and supported her more. But I didn’t.

“She,” Lucy Flores, the 2014 Democrat nominee for Nevada’s lieutenant governor, was speaking on CNN in Spring 2019. “He” was Joe Biden, the former vice-president and then undeclared, but front-running, candidate for the Democrat nomination for president. Flores was discussing a recently-published article she wrote in which she recalled, while campaigning, Biden touching her, smelling her hair, and gently kissing the back of her head. “As I was preparing myself to make my case,” Flores penned, “I felt two hands on my shoulders. I froze. ‘Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?’”

I immediately became suspicious. The timing for telling this five-year-old tale seemed odd. Why now? We knew Biden was a touchy-feely guy; we had seen the film clips and photographs. We knew he hugged and patted people, often touching their faces. He also was known to make inappropriate comments. That was his style. That was why he became known as “America’s Favorite Uncle.” Flores should have known that. Or at least been warned by her staff.

But when I learned Flores supports and has contributed to the campaigns of several Democrats seeking the presidency, candidates more progressive, more left-leaning than Biden, her motives became clearer; she wanted to cast doubt on him and diminish his early lead.

OK, I thought, that’s politics. But when she said that while his actions were not threatening or sexually motivated, “He made me feel uncomfortable.” I became angry. No, Ms. Flores, his behavior did not make you feel uncomfortable; you chose to feel uncomfortable. You are responsible for your reaction.

We all are responsible for our actions and reactions. Flores was responsible for her feelings, not Biden. He is only responsible for his actions. Other people might have been flattered, comforted, or sexually aroused. Flores chose to feel uncomfortable.

Flores stated that she was “preparing herself” to make a speech. Biden was behind her on the dais. He, perhaps, observed nervousness or tension, and may have wanted to offer support and, with countless witnesses, placed his hands on her shoulders. Her reaction was to freeze, to react negatively to a kind gesture. “Why?” I ask. Do you, Ms. Flores, have experiences from the past that have conditioned you to respond as you did? That would be understandable. I don’t need to be a woman to understand that. But that is no reason to smear Biden. Unless you had ulterior motives.

I am certain we all have, at times, overstepped personal space or misinterpreted boundaries in relationships. Have you never been introduced to a Robert or Susan and called them Bobby or Suzie only to be sternly corrected? Have you never greeted someone at a social gathering, an individual you haven’t seen in a long time, and warmly hugged them only to realize they were resisting your embrace? Awkwardly, you retreat and wonder why that person doesn’t hold you in the same esteem you hold them. Have you never had someone you know so casually you are not certain of their name greet you with a kiss on the cheek and wonder why (s)he felt it appropriate? I know I have.

Therefore, I am Joe Biden. And you are, too.

I believe all Joe Biden meant to do when he touched Flores was to communicate care, support, camaraderie, and his desire to connect. Yes, his style may have been aggressive or insensitive but it was well-meaning. It also, to his detriment, contradicts the American cultural norm of over-emphasizing personal space, a norm I do not see here in Mexico.

While I may be defending Biden here, do not assume I am touting him for the presidency. I am not. He is not even in my Top 3 of the 3,467 declared and undeclared Democratic candidates being considered for the nomination. Chances are I am much more in line with Ms. Perez’s choices than I am with the ex-vice-president.

And do not assume I have abandoned my fight for women’s equality or my support for the Me Too Movement. I have not. Claims by women, or men, that they were sexually abused or assaulted should be listened to and believed. Claims that one’s personal space was violated or that they were made to feel uncomfortable, should not be taken as seriously.