Aging Gaily

2 Apr

“Aging Gaily”(Or is it “Gaily Aging?”)

I’m walking into a gay bar on the Saturday afternoon of Tampa Pride. Bradley’s, I think is the name of the place. Ybor City. I realize that I’m old. 57. In “gay years, that’s about 105. The kids were all there. Shirtless. Abs. Hairless. Dancing. The older gays were there too. Trying to still look young. Some shirtless. Some with abs. Many, very, very hairy! As Stephen Sondheim wrote, “Here’s to the ladies who lunch. Aren’t they a gas??!!”

I said to my husband, Enrique, “If you die or leave me, I am never doing this. I’ll stay home home…wear moo moos… and play with the dogs!”  

Just a bit earlier, I was the Grand Marshall of the Tampa Pride Parade. It was huge. Far bigger than I ever imagined. Because I have read the news on Tv at the FOX station for more than twenty years, everyone knows me. It just comes with the job. To hear your name yelled by a crowd of people is incredible. Intoxicating, really. I told the Mayor, “Okay. I get it. This is why you put up with all the crap. Love from the masses.”

Anyway, as I realized I was old, really old, I decided writing about it is my next thing. Aging gaily. It’s fun. Really, it is. Being gay and getting older in this time and place. 2016. I mentioned my husband, Enrique. I have a husband! I got married! That’s a big deal. In the words of Vice-President Biden, “It’s a big fucking deal!” 

So, that’s where we start with this. The ups and downs of getting old in the gay world. So far, it’s mostly “ups.” I plan to make this a regular writing assignment. I’m doing it for me. You are welcome to read along. 

Harper Lee

20 Feb

When I heard the news that Harper Lee had died, my emotions were mixed. On the one had, gratefulness. She gave me my favorite book. Inspired my favorite movie. Helped me think beyond what I was taught about class and race. The other emotion was sadness. I hate that second book. Truthfully, I never finished it. I just want my memories of “To Kill a Mockingbird” to not be sullied by that other book. I always thought my dad, Ray Rhodes, was Atticus. In a racially divided Paris, Texas, he welcomed black people to his soda fountain in his drug store. My dad was like everyone else raised in the Depression. “People knew their place.”  Along the way, my dad became enlightened. I think it was the kindness that he somehow was born with. Trust me, it didn’t come from his parents!  When dad decided he would welcome black people into the fountain, it was a bit of a deal. His friends, even long time customers, didn’t like it. My mom wasn’t even so sure about doing it. “Goddammit, Phoebe, it’s the right thing to do!”  That’s what he told her. Mom got on board. I was little. A kid. I knew it was a big deal, but didn’t know why. Turns out, it was a blip on the radar. It came, it went. No big deal. Then again, maybe it was. My dad changed things in Paris, Texas. Taught me to be a better person. Taught me that you can change your mind about things. Taught me that you can make things better. In high school, I had to read “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  Yes, I “had” to read it. Wow. My life was changed. In a way, I was “Scout.”  Just like her, I had watched my dad do the right thing. Just like her, I was changed. I am forever grateful to Harper Lee for giving me that book. I think it’s time to read it again. I might even try that second one again, too. No promises. 

New Year

2 Jan

 It’s 2016. I have spent the last month of 2015 in a bit of a haze. Never really felt like it was Christmas. I even took the tree down the day after Christmas. That’s not that unusual for me, however. My mother used to take the tree down Christmas night. “I hate seeing a tree with no presents under it,” Phoebe used to say. This year though, was different. Most people I know said they thought the weather was too hot. Didn’t “feel” like Christmas. For me, it was that and a lot more. I started December by going to Texas. Had some vacation days to burn and decided to go home. I learned the meaning of the phrase, “You can’t go home, again.”  Now that some time has past since both my parents died, Paris, Texas, no longer feels like home. I still have friends there. My best friend is there, Mary Dee. Yet, home isn’t home anymore. The house I grew up in is owned by someone else now. The people I knew are gone. Any other time of year, it might have been fine. Being there during the holidays though, was tough. My family has this tradition of putting flowers on relatives’ graves. We have done it for years at Christmas and Easter. Not just a couple. Twenty or more!  I promised myself that after my mother died, I would stop it. Not yet. Oh, I did cut back. The relatives I never knew didn’t get flowers. But, Mom, Dad, Aunt Ma, Uncle J, Uncle Raymond and a few more…all got flowers. I knew it would make my mom proud. It didn’t help my mood however. The bright spot though was seeing Emma. The lady that worked in our home and took care of me while both my parents worked in the family drugstore. Emma is getting older. When I asked her how old she is, she said, “Boy, I’m as old as black pepper. And that’s been shaking a long time!”  That’s my Emma and I love her so much. So, I got through Christmas. Spent the new year in New York. Very nice. No, I didn’t see the ball drop. Far from it. I do love these first few days into a new year. The slate is clean. Everything is new. Starting over. I have great plans for 2016. Resolutions. I love making resolutions. This is the year I stick to them. By this time next year, I’ll be 20 pounds lighter…have 8% body fat…millions of dollars richer. That next trip to Paris, Texas, will be in style!  Happy new year, everybody. 

Fear wins?

21 Nov

 

I have spent much time this week thinking about Syrian refugees. For a time, I bought into the argument that we need to slow down or even put the brakes on the idea of allowing them into the United States. After the events in France a week ago, why not be careful? Thankfully, my smarter less scared side has prevailed. It has been interesting to see how the tone in the Presidential race has changed. Syrian refugees and immigration have taken over the debate. Fear, it seems, always wins. If we let them in, how can we be sure they won’t do here what they did in France? Well, how can we be sure it was them? I keep thinking about our history. A nation of immigrants. Unless you are native American, your people came here from somewhere. They wanted a better life. Don’t these people from Syria want to come here for a better life? Yes, make sure they are vetted. Don’t we do that anyway? I’m pretty sure those that come here legally are as safe or safer than many of us already here. It’s a scary time. We are going into the holidays with a new sense that we are not as safe as we thought. It may well get worse. I think it probably will. There will be other attacks. Maybe even an attack on the U.S. I trust the people in charge of that are doing everything they can to keep it from happening. They can’t catch everything though. Something will get by. When it does, we will do what we do. Deal with it. Fix it. Make it better. To deny someone a better life in our country because of that, though? Seems like the wrong way to handle it. Allow them the opportunity to come here…legally. As for the terrorists, we know that they will try and get here…illegally. We can fix that. We can watch for that. We know how to do that. Let’s not use fear to shape the debate. Let’s not allow fear to win. Not this time.

Paris

14 Nov

I have spent my career reporting the news. It has now been thirty-five years. So, when big events happen, I tend to look at them differently. The “news instincts” kick in. How would I cover this? If I were on the air and this crossed the wires, what would I say? It was not like that when I learned of the terrorist attacks on Paris. I was sitting in a movie theatre watching the latest James Bond movie. I didn’t like the movie. Thought it was too long. Too cerebral for a “Bond” movie. And, just as I thought of the other recent Bond movies…too real and not a lot of fun.
So, when my phone starting vibrating with news alerts, I looked at them. In disbelief at what was happening in France. You felt immediately that this was big. Terrorism. Probably Islamic State. Why once again, France? Does it get bigger? London? New York? That’s the news guy thinking. After the movie ended, I played newsman and told my friends what had happened. We went to dinner and I kept looking at my phone. The rising death toll. My best friend, Chad, a cop, said, “You know this number is only going to go up.” He was right. We finished dinner. I came home and did what I had wanted to do since I got the first AP alert. Turn on the TV. Wished for Peter Jennings or Walter Cronkite. Settled on MSNBC and Brian Williams in his “new role.” He is still the best, by the way. A great talker. I realize that’s probably what caused his problems. I have forgiven him. Trust him again. Thanks to my phone and all the news sites to which I subscribe, I knew the story. Brian didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. This phone is going to be the end of my business, by the way. I decided to just go to sleep.
As I lay there, I couldn’t help but think what it must have been like in Paris. At a soccer game. At a restaurant. At a concert. Friday night in one of the world’s beautiful cities. People just out having fun. Then, this. I could only think about that “too long, too real” James Bond movie. The Bond that reflects the times. I decided I don’t like this James Bond. Not because it’s Daniel Craig. He’s a great James Bond. I just don’t like his place in the James Bond timeline. Too real. Longed for simpler times. Like The Cold War and Sean Connery.
I decided that I need to start putting my phone away at a movie. At church. Just turn it off. Not happening. The newsman in me won’t let that happen. As Cronkite said, “And that’s the way it is.”

Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg

18 Oct

When I committed to writing something once a week, I had not intended my posts to be movie critiques.  Well, two weeks now, that’s what I’ve done.  It is still not the plan, but here we go.  I saw “Bridge of Spies” this week.  That Cold War era spy movie starring Tom Hanks and directed by Stephen Spielberg.  As I left the theatre, I said those two together just can’t make a bad movie.  There is just something about their collaborative product.  It just always works.  In this case, a great movie.  I have always been fascinated about that period in our history.  The post World War 2 era when we feared the Soviets and they feared us.  The Space Race.  The Arms Race.  The Red Scare.  However real all of it was, it was a time that this country feared an enemy.  An enemy we could see and know.  I read an interview with Stephen Spielberg in the New York Times about this movie.  He said, “There was a specific enemy, the Soviet Union, the 1950’s and ’60’s.  Today, we don’t know our enemy.  The enemy doesn’t have a specific face.”  I think he is right.  We can’t really put a name with a face on Isis.  We can’t do the same with the Taliban.  Yet, they are probably a bigger threat to us than the Soviets ever were.  “Bridge of Spies” reminded me of simpler times too.  Tom Hanks character, attorney James Donovan, probably could have never accomplished a secret spy swap like he did back then. I also wonder if his belief that everyone in this country, no matter what their charge or ethnicity, deserves a defense would play well today?  Let’s be clear… it didn’t play well back then either.  I want to believe we are better than that.  I’m not so sure.  As we talk about putting up walls to keep people out of this country, I realize we have the same fears we had in the 50’s and 60’s.  The names have changed, but we still have fears.

Duct Tape and a Tarp

11 Oct

I saw Matt Damon’s new movie, “The Martian.”  I had been warned that it was long and very technical.  Both true.  What I wasn’t ready for though was the ingenuity of it all.  I hear that NASA likes this movie very much.  That it is pretty realistic.  It sure can’t hurt the cause for the need to explore space.  What I liked about the movie was the “we have to get it done” attitude.  We have to get this stranded astronaut off Mars and back home.  President Kennedy said in 1962, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”  That was the attitude I grew up with.  Do the hard things because, well, they are hard.  “The Martian” made it look hard.  And when everything else seems to be failing, get creative.  Duct tape and a tarp.  With everything they had at their disposal, it was duct tape and a tarp that was key in getting Matt Damon’s character home.  I like that.  The whole movie made me proud.  I want to believe that we could really do that.  That we have the know how, the attitude and the people to get it done.  So often these days, I feel like we don’t try hard enough.  We do what it takes to just get by.  I needed to be reminded that sometimes we have to do things that are hard because they are hard.  Big things.  And maybe if it all starts coming apart, we can pull it back together with duct tape and a tarp.