One of my readers commented that my posts are “very interesting” but “often sad.” So I’ve taken that on myself as a challenge to write a “happy” post. I have collected quite a few sad memories, but there have been some happy ones along the way.
I grew up in Arkansas, which is a landlocked state. The closest body of water was the Arkansas River, which divides Little Rock from North Little Rock:
Even though I’d taken on the label “lesbian” as a teenager, I was 24 years old before I found the gay community and had gay friends other than my partner, Dee. We heard there was a “gay beach” on the river, and went with some friends. Now that was the first time I’d swam in anything that didn’t have chlorine in it, and felt the sand between my toes. So much fun! Splashing, and paddling, and trying to float! Oh, it smelled rank and looked mucky and polluted, and later someone said that one could get hepatitis from swimming there. So it was an adventure that wasn’t repeated. It seems every joy comes with at least a little tinge of sadness.
The first time I saw an ocean proper was when I visited San Francisco at the age of 10. I don’t count that one because it was only seen from a distance, eating at Fisherman’s Wharf. So the first honest-to-goodness time I saw an ocean proper was in 1996, when I was 40 years old and took a trip to Nags Head, NC, with my partner, Kim. We went with our friends, Mo and Kay.
Now that is a beach!!! What glorious fun to feel the force of the ocean tide bouncing me to and fro, the sunshine beaming down with sheer unadulterated joy! I got kidded because I “squealed like a girl.” I know I have some photographs tucked away in a box, but none uploaded to my computer. The four of us had rented a beach cabin, and Kim and i were in the early days of our romance. Here’s a picture of us in front of the cabin:
Perhaps I’m really a mermaid, because from that experience onward, I’ve thrilled to be near water. Like I said, much joy seems to be tinged with sadness. The sadness of Nags Head was that my dear friend, Mo, took her life some years later.
The next year, 1997, Kim and I made several trips. I saw Lake Michigan near Saginaw, MI:
The teddy bear I’m holding was one that Kim had bought for me at a gift shop in Saginaw. The sadness — it was one of the few precious possessions I took with me to the UK, that my wife stole from me.
Kim and I also visited her parents in Bradenton, FL, and took Otis (the inspiration behind DogDharma) to “dog beach” on the Gulf of Mexico. Sweet little Otis hated to get her paws wet, so she stayed clear of the water, but sniff-sniff-sniff she did to her delight! (When I let Otis out in the morning to do her business, she’d daintily lift her paws to avoid the dew on the grass.)
That same year, 1997, Kim and I flew to San Francisco. We stayed at a B&B in the Castro District where I got my first tattoo, that reads “Spykie” over a rainbow heart.
Funny thing was, even though the tattoo shop was in the Castro District, the owner had no clue what the rainbow flag was. Had to drag him out on the street to point to a flag so he knew what order to put the colors in.
While in San Francisco, we rode the trolley, the famous one that goes up and down the big, steep hills. I stood on the sideboard of the trolley, and while it stopped at an intersection, some Italian tourists hopped aboard. These people of heritage kindred to my own were talking loudly, and I somehow found myself bent like a pretzel, trying to dodge the father’s stinky armpits!
We walked from the Castro District to the Exploratorium, got some Ghirardelli chocolate. I’m not a “fan” type person, but my teenage idol was Janis Joplin. Oh, how I loved going to Haight-Ashbury! We also toured Alcatraz. But hand’s down, my favorite thing was sitting on the San Francisco beach, watching the sun set over the Pacific. Astonishingly beautiful, the memory still makes me gasp. My own photos are stowed away in boxes, but the first picture in this post is someone else’s picture of a San Francisco sunset.
I marvel at the oceans and bodies of water I’ve seen:
- the Atlantic Ocean from both sides
- the Pacific Ocean
- the Gulf of Mexico from both sides
- the Caribbean (if that’s what it is called at Key West, FL)
- the Rio Grande, separating the US from Mexico
- Lake Michigan — on my trip with Kim in ’97, and on a trip to Chicago in ’62 with my dad before he died
- Rehoboth Beach, DE
- the beach at Nags Head, NC
- the beach at Provincetown, MA (where I also went on a whale-watching tour)
- the Baltic Sea, from Helsinki
- Lake Pontchartrain, on the way to New Orleans, LA
- the mighty Mississippi River as you cross from Arkansas to Tennessee
- the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers in Binghamton, NY
- the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny Rivers in Pittsburgh, PA (sorry, L!)
- the Potomac River, dividing DC from Virginia, where I took a cruise with Kim, and also where I went kayaking with my colleagues when I was still working (from the Potomac, you can see the famous steps from the movie The Exorcist)
- Lake Maumelle, outside of Little Rock
- the Thames River in London, plus the Adur River in West Sussex
- many beaches along the coast of southern England, on the English Channel, with France in the too-far distance
- Gunpowder Creek in Maryland, where I went tubing
- the Chesapeake
- Buddy Attick Lake in Greenbelt, MD
And many others that either don’t come to mind, or are too obscure to mention. All in all, I’m half Italian, but quite surely half mermaid. 🙂 Ssshhhhh…. don’t tell anyone! The last one on the list deserves honorable mention because it’s only a ~15 minute walk from where I now live. You can’t go swimming in it, and it’s only little, but it’s a great place to take a dog sniff-sniff-sniffing. Something to be grateful for.
I think what makes me happiest is being able to make other people laugh. Even at my own expense. So there are a few stories I like to tell. Maybe they’ll bring a chuckle, or maybe they won’t.
Playing Pool: I’ve only had a few opportunities to play pool. Gosh darn it, I now forget where I was or who I was with — I think it was my second partner, Donna? Never mind that — I was enjoying the social milieu, and hoping to demonstrate my greatness and prowess. A little too much beer, eyesight a little too feeble, skill near zero. I’d only played pool a couple of times in actual fact.
So I take my stick, whatever they are rightfully called, made a grand show of applying the chalk. Leaned over the table, lingered long seconds to take aim, making everyone wait and guess. But hold on! What’s an 8-ball? Am I “solid” or “striped”? Pulled back my arm and made the daring jab. The ball, the target of my aim … torpedoed across the green felt … and, and, and … over the edge, and across the wooden floor it rolled, me scampering to retrieve it. I seriously doubt anyone was impressed. Oh well.
Bowling: To get my undergraduate degree in psychology, I had to take two physical education courses. I forget what the first one was — I might have gotten a doctor’s excuse, due to my eyesight. But the second one was bowling. Now, I can barely see the pins at the end of the lane, but I do like bowling. My average score at the beginning of the course was 60. By the end of the course, I was racking up an average score of 100. Something over 120 was my all-time high score.
One day, I went bowling with some friends. Again, I was well determined to show off my greatness and prowess. I might note that there is a certain dilemma in finding the right weight ball with the right sized holes when you have strong arms, but small hands. Later in life, after transitioning, there was also an embarrassment in asking for shoes when you look very male, but have small feet. Never mind the minutae.
So here’s me, ready to do my pirouette, aiming slightly to the right of the lead pin I could barely see. Just a blurry white triangle in the distance. I had learned to pace my steps to the forbidden line, which thou shalt not cross, and how to hold my arm straight. I swing back, thrust forward, release, hold my breath, and wait. Oh, oh, oh! To my dismay, it’s a gutter ball. Shameful enough to any aspiring bowler, but this ball… It wasn’t satisfied to leave my self-esteem in tatters. Down the gutter the ball flew … and quite suddenly it bounced … into the gutter of the next lane!!! So it was demoralizing, but I ask you, how many people can achieve a gutter ball in the adjacent lane? Pitiful as they are, I do have some claims to fame!
The Staple: Yah, yah, yah, I was crushed when I understood that my BA in psychology was not sufficient to garner me a career as a therapist, and I was forced to take up clerical work. I rose to the lofty position of “Accounts Payable Clerk II” at the University of Arkansas — Medical Sciences campus. The stuff of my work was stacks and stacks of paper, held together by staples. To do my task, I had to untether the papers, assure that the correct documents were present, and then re-staple the papers in a form such that payment could be made on debts the university legitimately owed. The staple-puller was my comrade and best friend.
One day, I faced a stack of papers perhaps 12 inches tall or more. But before I trod deeper, let me explain… I was one of 6 accounts payable clerks in the comptroller’s office. There were many other employees in the office, shuffling papers, crunching numbers, doing their drone. In those days, “cubicles” were unheard of. So we sat in a vast open space, all visible to each other, with no privacy.
I grab the first clump of papers, and wield my friend, the staple-puller. Politely apart, the papers come. But the now-crooked staple itself… It zings in an arc and, and, and… imbeds itself into my right nostril. I lower my head and cover my proboscis with my right hand. I peer around to determine who might have witnessed the debacle. I worry about the sharp staple traversing its way up my nose to my brain. I consider foraging for it with my fingers, but someone, or many someones, would think I was *gasp* “picking my nose.” Stuck between etiquette and life-and-death, I slink off to the nearest restroom for the archeological dig. Staple removed from the fleshly cavern, but to the detriment of my woe-be-gone self-esteem, but I sincerely hope, to your smirks and tummy-rumbling guffaws.
Many foibles I’ve had, and I ain’t afraid to share them if they can bring a laugh. I’ll save the spitball for another post.
I had intended to share a few bits about the many kindnesses I’ve been blessed with, but that would make this post waaay too long. So that will have to wait for a future post as well. That, and the things I am grateful for. I’m bereft to report that the greatest happiness I ever felt was with my wife. Joys come with sorrows. A damn sad shame she offered nothing but lies and abuse. For she had this over-flowing heart which she could not and will not appreciate, as flawed and wanting as it may be. Her loss, my triumph.
I’m Falling in Love with You
Yah, you, dear reader. I’ve bared my soul, and you have given nothing but kindness in return. Writing, telling my truth, was the passion I never claimed till now. You’ve made it happen by reading and commenting. Like Ponce de Leon in search of the Fountain of Youth, in the last chapter, I’ve found my calling. My syntax bleeds on your far-away retina. Unlike the staple-puller, my words are my tool of truth and choice. If I have made you smile or stop and think for a moment’s hesitation, or cry a tear blocked behind thick walls, my work has been done. There is sadness in joy and joy in sadness. You are my joy, keeping me afloat in my ocean of memories.
Added for Your Enjoyment:
This isn’t my video, but from the comments on YouTube, it seems to have been filmed at Lancashire, UK:
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