Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why Can't We Be Friends? Oh, Wait. We Can!

The question goes back way before When Harry Met Sally. It's one of the oldest and most debated questions: Can a man and a woman be friends? Or does the sex thing always get in the way?
Let me ask the question another way. Can a man and a woman be friends? Or do other people's assumptions about the sex thing get in the way?

Here's a scene to contemplate. A couple is out with a group of friends. A is a regular, B is there occasionally. Several people do not know them very well. When B leaves, A gets rather snuggly with a girl, as he does almost every week with this group. B and the girl seemed to get along alright. As the night goes on, A is playing with the girl's hair, and she is bear-hugging him.

I think most people would assume that something fishy is going on with A and the girl. They are gently affectionate, his other half is gone, and he seems to do this a lot with the girl when his partner is not there. Would anyone believe that they are just friends, with nothing else going on? What kind of gossip happens when they are not there? (Note: I can personally attest to the fact that there is nothing fishy going on.)

These kinds of assumptions get made all the time, often on the premise that any man who enjoys the company of a woman, or women, wants something from them, whether it's sex, the admiration of his peers, the attention of another woman, or to take what belongs to someone else. Do people assume that the women have an ulterior motive? Sometimes, I'm sure. But I think the majority of the fault is found with the men, whether there is fault there or not.

And it's sad.

It brings up the old stereotype that a man is controlled by his urges, a user, a predator, trying to get something, get ahead, always having or looking for an angle, trying to one up someone or compensate for something. That he's not capable of affection unless he can get it to go farther. That he's not interested in physical contact unless he can get more. That he sees a woman as some sort of prize or pawn or goal. Let's give a big hand to mass media for perpetuating this.

I call horse manure on this (and to be fair, I call horse manure on the same fallacy that gay men and straight men can't be friends, or lesbians and straight women can't be friends because one just wants to "get" the other one).

What about common interests, common likes and dislikes? Odd bits of humor or shared experiences that bring them together? Shared lunch times or child care assignments? Went to the same school? Go to the same place of worship, or share a faith, or lack thereof? Are they only two people in the building who root for a team on the opposite coast? Choose any one of a thousand reasons you are friends with your same-gendered friends. Why can't that travel across gender lines?

Truth is, it does. Everywhere. All the time. Men and women are friends, without the desire to hop in the sack at the first opportunity. There is no evil ulterior motive. There are no late-night schemes, no secret texts, no coded emails, no disposable cell phones, no third-party cover-ups. There are no chats with Gloria-called-George. Those late nights at the office are really late nights fixing someone else's screw up. Going to lunch was just going down the street to grab a burger and a shake.

And yet so many people tread so carefully because all it takes are a few misplaced words or pictures, or someone's overactive imagination, to tarnish what could be something amazing.

How many men don't take the chance to approach and get to know a woman who they might have a common interest with, because they are worried about the assumptions others, or even the woman might make? How many potential friendships never progress beyond small talk, where there could be a real, platonic connection? And how many friendships and reputations get damaged because people are still have the old "Men and woman blah-blah-blah" stuck in their heads, and can't wait to gossip about something that isn't there?

To those people, I offer this little gem to think about: Sometimes, a hug is just a hug.

Yarn - Not Just for Girls Anymore

My adventure that is the world of fiber arts started (as many great adventures do) quite by accident. My partner broke his ankle and was confined to the upstairs of our place for a couple of weeks. We'd given our girlfriend, who is very crafty, a "How to Knit" kit for Christmas. She figured it out, came over while he was stuck, taught him, and he was hooked. I learned to knit because he did. Learn or be lonely.

Weaving was my choice. At about the same time as I read Farmer Boy (Little House of the Prairie books), I made a friend whose mom had the kind of loom you associate with the word loom: lots of hanging and moving parts, kind of noisy, made beautiful things. I was fascinated, and as an adult I found a small, quiet, portable loom.

Sewing was an accident. I hated it growing up, having been taught by a master quilter mother who was quite unkind when I made a mistake, but when my partner suggested I make our girlfriend an apron for her birthday, I readily agreed. I'm still sewing.

So what do all of these things have in common? They are all crafts typically associated with women that more and more men are doing.

Just quietly.
The textile/fiber arts extend far, far beyond what I do, but the one I see more and more men are doing in their rooms, their trucks, while waiting in the doctor's office, during long drives, during NASCAR races and football games and camping trips, is knitting.

Knitting is no longer the fluffy-pink realm of grandmas and mothers-to-be. It's not just making dainty sweaters or ugly afghans or cute little baby booties. It's about taking two sticks and some string and making something out of it---a corset, a scarf, a cup koozie, a willy warmer, socks, gloves, bicycle seat covers, bags, beanies, just about anything. For men, it’s a little subversive, even if you chose not to do it in public. You know that even if you are sitting alone in a room with the TV on, putting the last 10 rows on the Dr. Who scarf, you are doing something different, something that sets you apart, something common enough to have a shelf at the bookstore but unusual enough to draw open stares in public. You are part of a tribe that’s chosen to step outside of the gender lines, even if just in this one small way.

There are preconceived notions. I'm not going to lie. Knitting in public takes a leap of faith and a willingness to engage with strangers, because people are going to ask what you are working on, is that knitting or crochet, where can you by yarn, where you go to church, all manner of questions, usually when you are in the middle of something crucial. It's like having yarn and needles make you a conversation magnet. There's also the perception that knitting is a "woman thing," and by extension men who do it must be gay. Not true. But you'll still hear it.

So why do it? Why do something that you know, in advance, is likely to draw inquisition and possibly ridicule?

It's fun. It's portable. You don't have to be able to draw or paint. I sure can't. You don't have to carry a boxful of supplies. You can knock out quick, handmade gifts. You can make large, extravagant items. You can lovingly craft a pair of stripey socks. You can use the bright yarn from the local big-box store or the natural yarn made from the chest hair of bison. There are unlimited items for your toy box. And it's cheaper than building cars. Takes up less room, too.

But most importantly, you can play with color and texture in a way almost impossible in any other medium. Consider the sweaters and gloves you've worn that have designs you love, that you run your hands over when no one is looking. Think about the little smile you get inside when you see a bright red rose against a green lawn, or a rainbow, or a sunset with 10 different colors in fluffy clouds.


It's okay to admit that you like pretty things. It's one of the hard parts about being a man, having something you love but feeling like you can't share it with anyone because of how they might view you.

It's also okay to eschew making pretty things. There are plenty of things to make that aren't anywhere on the pretty scale, from tiny, scary little toys to zombie-apocalypse scarves to shark hats that the Sharknado creators would covet.

That's part of the beauty of fiber art. The materials are limitless. The things you can make are endless. Don't like patterns? Make your own. Don't like metal needles? We've got bamboo, wood, and in a pinch a pair of old ballpoint pens will do. Don't like wool? We've got cotton. If you are into green living, we've got recycled yarn for you, too. Sustainability report? Natural fibers are the ultimate in green living: the plants and animals they come from will make more.

Think you're not patient or coordinated enough, or don't have the time? You'll be surprised how much more patient you get with the world when you have needles at hand (provided some jerk is not calling out numbers while you are counting 124 stitches). Not coordinated? Once you get the basics, it's amazing how quickly you are off and running. No time? This is something for your hands to do while you are watching TV or waiting for the laundry to finish.

And by the way---it's a great way to pick up chicks. Trust me.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Purse. I'm Holding the Purse.

The Purse. I'm Holding the Purse.

This scenario is the stuff of nightmares and jokes, a standard of funny videos with commentaries about being whipped, pantsless, and pussified, a defining moment in many relationships, romantic or otherwise, the point at which she's got him and they both know it.

It's the moment when he stands, like a deer frozen in the headlights, wide-eyed, holding her purse.

It's the next moment when he realizes he is holding her purse, and suddenly this bag with a strap becomes a foreign, slightly itchy object.

It's the thoughts that flash through his head as he tries to decide, "How do I hold this thing? Over my shoulder? Do I put it under my arm or hold it in my hands? What does this look like? Oh my god, there's my boss. Can I just die now?"

It's a situation any man who spends time with a woman has been faced with, or will be faced with...holding the purse. There is no way to look macho while holding a purse.

Now, perhaps you are reading this and going, "So? What's the big deal? I hold her purse all the time." Would you feel that way if a male colleague saw you? What about a superior? What about someone you work out with? A client? Someone from your church? The guy at work who just hates you? Your fantasy football buddies, who you watch the game with almost every Sunday and who you'd be with this weekend if she hadn't made plans for you two?

I know several men who carry messenger bags or sling bags or man bags that still have trouble holding a woman's purse, especially if it is open. Hand them a clutch and they are doomed.

Yes, I know this is a cliched stereotype. It's also true for an awful lot of guys. I'll admit it. I dislike holding a woman's purse. I don't want to be judged as "whipped" or "controlled" or "weak" when all I'm doing is being something between nice and convenient, or get those looks of sympathy, with a dose of underlying, "Glad it isn't me." I get plenty of strange looks from people, but I prefer when it's because I know I am doing something ridiculous (and usualy having fun), rather than when I am doing something uncomfortable. Sad thing is, unless it is one of those rare occasions when my our girlpartner is carrying a purse, the bag-in-question usually belongs to a mom or a friend. Sometimes being a nice guy stinks.

You'd think in this metrosexual/post-metrosexual era, when men are allowed to wear bright colors on scarves and hats and ties, and there are shelves full of hair products and soaps and deoderants just for us, that we'd no longer hold purses like they are about to bite us. But when's the last time you saw a man stolling casually about, holding a patterned, buckled bag, or a granny-sack, or satin-and-chain mini-bag? My guess this that when you saw a man with one, he was either close behind its owner, or rooted to the spot where he was asked, "Can you hold this for a minute, please, thanks."

If you are thinking right this minute of the last time you got stuck holding a purse and nodding feverishly, you're not alone. If you've not had this experience, you will. If you are among the men who can casually hold something with shine, straps, and snaps, congratulations.

You can hold my rainbow-glitter man-bag anytime.

I Didn't MEAN to watch it, but it was in the player. Honest.

"I didn't mean to watch Hope Floats. It was just in the DVD player."
"I didn't mean to watch Pretty Woman. I just stopped on that channel."

"I know it's Nicholas Sparks, but you left it in the bathroom."

"I didn't use ALL of your Tangerine soap. I just, um, didn't grab another bottle."

"How am I supposed to figure you out if I don't read your magazines? And by the way, this sweater would look great on you."

Ok, guys. 'Fess up. You all have a guilty little pleasure or three that you don't tell anyone about. Ok, maybe your significant other. Maybe your best friend. Maybe. And maybe only after he's told you his.

It's something we don't talk about, except in whispers. We find 10,000 ways to make excuses if we get caught. We keep our stashes hidden. We don't put them in queue in our video service. We change the titles in our music players.

These are the little "unmanly" secrets we keep.

We pretend to not like chick flicks, chick lit, TV shows about women targeted at women who want to feel superior to other women, the shampoos we get when we get haircuts, the stuffed animals we got from teenage dates, the fluffy comfy bathrobe that we just "happen" to grab and wrap around us, eating the entire pint of ice cream when we've had a really bad day.

We go to karaoke and pic good, strong, manly songs, or Frank Sinatra, when really we just want to belt out some Beyonce or Aretha or Reba. We've evolved far enough to love our tinydogs, but don't dress them up the way we really want to. Admit'd love to put your chihuahua in a tutu. We punch each other on the arm or body-check each other into a wall or do a poor imitation of the three stooges when all we really want is a hug, a real hug, more that the hug-thump-twice-on-the-back variety. We resist massages while thinking about how nice it would be to lie in a candle lit room getting our muscles turned to mush.

Bathroom locked? It should be. There's a good chance we're playing air guitar in the shower or being a rock star with a hair brush. Put your ear to the door. You might catch us singing along to nothing.

We complain about mowing the lawn and doing dishes, but really, sometimes it's nice to have time to so something relatively brainless while humming the earworm we've been stuck with for days. But since it's the Beib, or Miley, or Abba, or John Denver, whoever our favorite guilty pleasure singer is, we don't mind it too much. But we think that we in any or all of these, are the Only One.

You are not the only one. It only feels like you are because men are not having these conversations. They are talking about what they like and like to do, see, hear. But I guarantee there's a lot they aren't saying. We try to find the right balance between being ourselves and meeting expectations and gender norms in interests and hobbies. Most of you will succeed. Some of us will not, or will fake it to be accepted. Some of you want to keep your secrets secrets. Some of you want to share them. Some of you get great ideas from what other people shared and wish you could share them, too. To the guys putting themselves out there, bravo. For the rest of you, it's ok. There's no rule book for this.

Gotta go. Steel Magnolias just came back on.

My Husband is Having a Baby! Just kidding...but what if...

I recently got to be part of a conversation about maternity/paternity leave, and how companies view men, and men view other men, who take time off to be there for the birth of their children, of for their first weeks of life, or to partcipate in school activities, take them to the doctor, etc., all things typically considered, “Can’t their mom do that?”.

The responses?  Here’s a sampling. They ranged from “They should be able to” to “It’s an amazing thing” to “Why would any man want to do that?”  to “Nice if he can afford it–most man can’t, especially if they are the only wage earner”.

There was no real consensus, although there was general agreement that men should not be looked down on or penalized for doing this.

What there was, though, was completely hetero-centric, marriage-centric language. Husband-wife. Husband-wife. Husband-wife.

This reflects an ongoing struggle in the workplace—how to handle leave when you are in a non-traditional relationship, particularly male-male, although not excluding unmarried or lesbian, and the company rules only make allowances for “spouses”.

If it’s somehow viewed as “weak” or “unmanly” or “unprofessional” to take time off to care or your wife and baby, and companies struggle with how to handle paternity leave/family leave, what will they do when faced with a man who needs leave to help his (legal) husband with their newly adopted baby? How will the man asking for it be received? What about taking a child to doctor’s appointments or dance class when there is no “mom” to do it? What if a guy wants to take family leave to help a cancer-fighting partner?

The company may readily except this and comply without a problem. But that doesn’t eliminate the social or career penalties that go with taking time off, especially when that “taking time off” puts a spotlight on your otherness.

The face of the workplace is changing, no doubt. In most places, open discrimination is a thing of the past. What still exists is more subtle. The games of avoidance and exclusion. The lack of invitation to join higher-ranking committees or groups or projects. The promotion opportunities, all other things being equal, that never seem to happen for those who don’t “toe the line” of traditional masculinity.

If a man is already perceived as being “unmanly”, or if his homosexuality already makes people uncomfortable, how much will that multiply if he has to take on a caregiver role? If he is excited about baby-arrival pictures and wants to show them to everyone, what reactions should he be prepared to deal with?

Or what if he never has to worry about these things, because he’d not be granted the opportunity to take time off for them?

Because in too many of our real-life companies and their policies, gay families aren’t just “lesser” families. They are invisible families, or not families at all.

We Are Not the Boogeyman

I’d like to begin by apologizing. I’m not sure what for, but you seem to be awfully scared of me.

Maybe it’s the 24/7 news cycle that goes into overtime whenever someone in power abuses a child. Maybe it’s the whispers in the neighborhood when a dad gets accused of hurting his daughters. Maybe it’s the idea, planted early and deep, that men are, by nature, aggressive and predatory.
I can’t speak for your mind, but I can speak for myself, and a darned lot, if not most, of the men out there.

Your child is safe with me. Your child is safe with us.


Kids love me. Friends’ kids, strangers’ kids, if they’re under 10 there’s a good chance that they’re going to take to me. Every time a kid hugs me, I cringe a little. Even when it’s a child I know well. When they treat me like a jungle gym and I need to grab them, when they reach to be picked up, when they want to hold hands or drive their toys around on me, I look around. If I don’t know them, I put a stop to it immediately. If I do know them, I am careful how I touch or handle them. I watch where their hands go and divert them if, in their tiny 3-year-old enthusiasm, they are about to grab (or even brush) the junk.


You might be afraid of me. I am equally afraid of you.

It’s a sad truth that men who interact with children are often viewed with suspicion. That people watch them a little more and questions their motives. That the same people who bemoan the lack of male influence in children’s lives are concerned when men want to be involved in children’s lives, especially unknown men.

It’s a sad truth that many men don’t get involved in children’s work-and-play because of the negative stigma attached to it, that being a caregiver or enjoying children’s company is somehow wrong or “unmanly”. And if you’re gay? Well then, you must have some sort of ulterior motive.

It’s a sad truth that men, particularly single men without children, are held to a different standard when interacting with children. Many of us hold ourselves to very careful standards. We guard our interactions, lest we do something that a person may think is inappropriate. We are careful how and when we take pictures. In some cities, we walk quickly by parks, very aware of the “No adults without the company of children” rule. We don’t linger too long, looking at children playing.


I am taught to be afraid of you. You are taught to be afraid of me.

During my teacher training, all of us were repeatedly instructed on the “touch touch pat pat” rule. It was ok to touch or tap a student on a shoulder to get their attention, or pat them on the shoulder to praise or comfort. Hugging or any other displays of affection were out-of-bounds. This was for our safety.

I never once heard of a female teacher reproached for this. I did hear from a few male teachers who were spoken to after female students hugged them, and they hugged back.

While part of me understood and understands the tendency of a school district to err on the side of caution, part of me hates to think of a child in need of a hug or an arm around the shoulder being pushed away for fear of a lawsuit.

This vigilant monitoring, or the potential for it, is why, when I was carrying a friend’s 3-year-old a few weeks ago and her dress shifted, resulting in my hand on her bare leg, I set her down quickly and picked her up again in a different position. Never mind that her mother was 10 feet away. Never mind that she had asked to be picked up. Never mind that it was a hot day and you can’t always control the clothing of a squirmy kid. Never mind that most of the people around us were longtime friends. My brain kicked in to “man survival” mode. My accidental hand-above-her-knee could be your “inappropriate contact”.

This “suspicion of men”, started early and repeated often, is why, whenever I watch a friend’s kid and they do something that yields a bruise, I worry that people will look at me and think that I am abusing this child. It’s why when a little girl tries to use me as a climbing tree, I hope she is careful of what she grabs as a handhold.

I’ve been told it’s why some men are afraid of children. They are not afraid of children. They are afraid of other people’s judgment.


I am in no way saying that there are not bad guys out there of every shape, size, age, color, and identity who hurt children. There are. We hear about them all the time. Every day. In local and national media. I was raised with “Stranger Danger” and “If anyone touches you…” TV commercials. I’m not saying that we should not be vigilant in the protection and care of children or trust them with just anyone who walks by.
But not every man who wants to mentor a boy is a predator. And not every man who wants to take a picture of a girl on a playground is a deviant.

I’d wager that most are not.

And it’s sad that they are, too often, treated like they are.

You want gifties? We've got gifties!

Have you ever experienced the phenomenon of not seeing a certain car much until you buy one, or are thinking of buying one, and suddenly they’re everywhere? That’s been happening to me recently, except the cars are crafters, the crafters are men, and the crafts are all over the board.

I’m a sucker for craft shows. Fiber festivals, too (think craft shows but a lot more yarn and a certain amount of fuzzy animals). I love going to them. Unlike a lot of the guys I see wandering around, I am not dragged, coerced, cajoled, bribed, or begged to do so. More than once, I’ve left my partner sitting somewhere with his knitting while I continue to wander.

Oh, I get some looks and a few comments, mostly along the lines of, “Is your wife with you/where’s your wife?” or “You’re here by yourself?” or “Can I help you with something?” in the poor-man-you-must-be-lost-voice. (The answers, in order: “My partner is over _____.”, “Yes I am/No I’m not he’s ____”, “Nope, just looking, thanks.”) I’m accustomed to this. Men flying solo at craft shows down here, not real common.
What is becoming more common, though, is men behind the tables, and not just doing crafts you’d think, like woodworking or pottery or metalwork.

Some of my recent finds: a man who makes lovely plantscapes under glass with herbs and leaves and tiny flowers, a hand quilter, a scented/decorative soap-and-candle maker (age 18), a stained glass painter, a guy who makes jewelry out of old telephone wire, a PVC pipe toymaker, two chainmaille jewelers, a guy who makes handsewn upcycled ball-caps, an ex-cop who does needlepoint, a handful of knitters, art-quilters, a tie-dye artist, a bead weaver, and a gent who can make just about anything from wire and old bullets—I have a Teddy Roosevelt with a guitar.

I love every time I find another guy crafting, especially a young one, or one working in a medium not traditionally masculine. Nothing at all wrong with the other ones. But I know from talking to some older guys, those 65+, that they got started on their crafting later in life, when they were less concerned about what people thought about them and when society became a little more open to what men should and should not do. And some of the younger ones, they’ve seen enough men crafting now that they know they are not alone.

We non-traditional male crafters still share some experiences when vending at craft shows. The assumptions that someone else made it—we don’t often hear women behind a craft table being asked, “Did you make this?”. The surprise in people’s voices when we assure them that yes, we did. The compliments on our good work that I sometimes think might be taken for granted if the crafter were a woman. The quizzing we get about how we do what we do, as if we are lying about making these things. The looks of distain? irritation? distaste? we get from some men while the woman with them is talking to us and going through our stuff. Trust me, guys. We are not flirting. We are too concerned with trying to make sure we helping everyone as much as we can.

But there is definitely a greater recognition that men—including straight men—can make pretty things, can work with fine items and lovely colors, can have an eye for design and know what people will like, can innovate and remake and restructure. Guys are showing up across the craft spectrum, to the point that tools, bags, books, etc are being made in “colors for men”, with an emphasis on blues and greens and browns rather than pinks and lavenders. A 20-something going into a craft store for 20 pounds of soy candle wax, a pair of fine beading tweezers, or a couple of packs of new sewing needles is not a complete novelty (although there are a few stores where we are distinctly unwelcome). Their friends may not get it, but when it gets cold, they’ll be asking for crocheted beanies; when they need a last minute anniversary present, they’ll be hoping you have some potholders or homemade lotion handy.

Because not only are men capable of being crafty—we are great first responders in a Gifting Emergency.

(Note: JJ is a multi-crafter who sews, weaves, knits, does papercraft, and makes side trips into whatever else looks like fun. He participates in a weekly artists’ market and stores his finished objects in his car).

OMG OMG OMG OMG! Tales of a (not-reluctant) fanboy.

I’d like to dedicate this to my friend H, who I have always thought was the coolest, least flappable guy ever, capable of meeting icons of the literary and music worlds with a casual handshake and nod, the most Dude-like dude in existence.

I was wrong.

He inadvertantly, in a totally random situation, crossed paths with one and became a slobbering, babbling, 13-year-old fanboy. He did recover and have an adult conversation, but not before revealing to everyone in the general vicinity that even 40-something men can be reduced to “duhhhhh” idiots.

I know the feeling well.

I have been “that guy”, the guy who swears that if he ever meets X or Y or Z, or someone like them, he will just be cool and talk to them and maybe hang out, whatever….and when the moment comes, he utterly and completely fails. Many times over.


Celebrities seem to be just part of our daily lives. They are on our TVs, our computers, our cell phones, our print media, whether they are the entertainment or the news. These are not the people I’m talking about. I’m talking about the people who are iconic to you, the people who by their art or music or abilites or inspiration or accomplishment have made an indelible impression in your life, the people who you would give almost anything to have 15 minutes with, just to listen to them talk or watch them work or play.

The people who you, in short, dream of meeting.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve played the “What-if” game. What if I met so-and-so? What would I so? What would I say? Maybe you’ve even played out the meeting in your head, scripting it in different (often impossible) scenarios, voicing both or all roles.

It’s highly unlikely that this fantasy involves multiple OMGs, near-hyperventilation, and the desperate tumble of thoughts through your mind, “Do I ask for an autograph? A picture? Wait, my cell camera is not working, crap, omg did I just ask that, ok, he is not laughing at me, facepalm on the kindergarten rookie screwup.”

You’d like to think this would not happen, that you will be Dude-cool. You won’t be. At least once.


I’ve been uncool more than my fair share of times. You can’t go to Comic-con for 17 years without meeting someone who makes you totally lose your marbles. I’ve handflapped at the illustrator of a popular card game, jumped up and down and clapped when getting the autographs of the cast of a certain “geek comedy”, hoped to goodness I made sense the first time I met Henry Rollins (still not sure I did), and done something so mind-numbingly stupid that it can only be summed up this way….when someone famous admires  the buttons on your lanyard and asks about them, GIVE HIM ONE. Sorry Mr. O’Donnell, I’ll know better next time.

I will admit to hanging on to my dignity on a few occasions.

I’ve been to a number of non-Comic-con events where I’ve crossed paths with the awesome. I’ve met my top three favorite authors and did not turn into a goofball. I met an icon in the queerlit community and hung out with her. I met a legendary comic book artist and we talked about a long-forgotten 80′s TV show he was part of. I said complimentary things to two actors I love without needing a babble-to-english translator. I was a semi-regular call-in guest on a radio show and did not lose my cool, even though the host was a legend in her field.

But truly, when it comes right down to it, I am a fanboy.

Meeting the people who make or have made a difference in our lives is, for most of us, not a common occurance. So I think when we have their attention for 20 seconds, we try to cram all of our admiration and sentiment and enthusiasm into 16, with 4 left over for a photo. The anticipation has us red-faced and breathless, even if it is a chance meeting and we have about 3 seconds to decide what to say and how to act. We start out behind the eight ball. Add to that the  rapid-fire speech and cup-runneth-over excitement and you have a recipe for risking being “Fanboy Idiot of the Week” on someone’s website.

But that doesn’t stop us, does it? It’s kind of nice to revert back to being a starry-eyed little kid in the face of a larger-than-life personalities. When they notice you back, for a moment you feel special, like you are part of some elite group.

And as weird and sometimes inadvertently obnoxious as we fanboys are, I think our icons can handle it.

We do, however, apologize in advance if we drool a little.

S-E-Z? Oh, you said S-E-C! Yep, it's College Football Season in the South.

College football season is officially here.

Which means it’s SEC time.

Which means it’s Alabama vs Auburn time in my world.

Which means I, and many others like me, will endure 3-4 months of “Roll Tide!” “War Eagle”, while drowning in a sea of crimson, gray, houndstooth, navy, and orange. But it has to be the right crimson and orange. Too red, that’s Gamecocks (South Carolina) or Bulldogs (Georgia). Orange too bright? That’s Vols (Tennessee). We’ll be navigating the intricasies of soap-opera/WWE level rivalries for the rest of our time here.

If you live in another college-football-mad region, you understand. If not, take a knee.

When I first came here, I knew squat about SEC football. This did not endear me to my male peers. While on an outing with my partner, his best friend, and my MIL-to-be, I saw a display that said Roll Tide and had an elephant on it. My logical (to me) question was, “What does an elephant have to do with football?”. When they were done laughing, they explained that that was Alabama’s mascot. When I innocently asked a co-worker, who just happened to be a local sports radio personality, what this “Iron Bowl” thing that you could win tickets to was, he choked back a laugh…and got 30 minutes worth of airtime out of it. (side note: It’s the Alabama-Auburn game. BIG GAME. And he didn’t use my name, for which I am still grateful.)

Months later, on a job interview, I was asked, no joke, what I knew about college football, and I said, “Just enough to have a conversation.” The gent’s office was plastered in ‘Bama, but I guess it was a good-enough answer. I got the job. Years later, he told me that if I had said I was an Auburn fan, he would not have hired me. I believed him. Still do.

Weddings and funerals are arranged, or rearranged, around game schedules. Don’t expect much service if the game is close in the last two minutes, there’s a contested call, a player is down, or there’s about to be, or has been, an Epic Play. That second date may not happen if your teams aren’t compatible, or your date’s team won’t fly with your family. Some place you’ve been dying to go but is always swamped? Consult your nearest game schedule. If there’s a Big Game on, go. You’ll have the place damn near to yourself. If you are a small business who counts on Saturday traffic, see previous sentences. Unless you have a TV. On. In your location. And people know it.

You learn early on that the entire mood of an office on Monday can be predicted by the weekend scores. See who beat who and you’ll know who to approach with caution.

You also learn who does and does not take this lightly. I had the misfortune of, in front of several coworkers, questioning the salary of the current Alabama football coach. After they were done with me, I knew more about the finer points of college football economics and the outstanding character and qualifications of this gentleman than I ever wanted to, and swore to myself I would never make that mistake again. Another time, I told a woman about a cake I’d seen that said, “Go War Eagles”, a mistaken reference to Auburn, who despite their battle cry of “War Eagle”, are in fact the Tigers. (I was confused at first, too.) I found this amusing, figured that it had been done by an new arrival, said I once might have made the same mistake. You’d have thought I’d just beaten her dog. She was deeply offended and suggested that the cake decorator should have been fired for being so stupid.

To be sure, there are other SEC teams. And they do beat the sacred Alabama teams.

But here, I am still amazed at how deep this stuff goes. You pick your loyalty early, usually in line with your family, and you stick with it. And there’s a good chance no one in your family went to either school. I was cautioned before I moved here that if I was going to pick a team, it had to be Auburn, because my partner’s family is Auburn. Please note, none of them attended. If your child chooses to go to the rival university, you suck it up and deal with it, although I’ve heard about plenty of family fights over this, and parents and students receiving less-than-enthusiastic congratulations, if not outright, “Why on earth would you ever want to go THERE?”

That said, though, differences can be put aside when the fit hits the shan and Really Bad Things Happen. After Tuscaloosa got devastated by the April 2011 tornadoes, Auburn raced to help their sworn enemies. When two historic trees were poisoned and ultimately cut down at Auburn, Bama fans were there mourning along side their permanent rivals. Tragedy transcended trash talk.

But come most Mondays,  I get ready to answer the Big Question….”Did you watch the game?” And I’m ready with my usual answer.

“Nope. Too busy sewing.”

It’s Only Been, What, 25 Years?

I used to curse Facebook. I claimed I thought it was the stupidest thing ever. I had completely resisted myspace, opting instead to spend several years on Livejournal, which if I had any spare time I might revisit. But Facebook? Nope, was not going there. Truth? Too many people I did not want to find. Too many people I did not want to find me. Too many people, period. So many people. So many people I was curious about. So many people around me finding old friends. So many old friends I wanted to find. Maybe they would be ok with that. Maybe not.

I didn’t know how I would feel about this. I didn’t know how I would feel about where they were in their lives. I’ll confess—some of them were exes that had not ended in drama or disaster.

I caved. I signed up.

I started slow, friending current, real life friends. Fine, no problem. Then I started branching out into older friends. Mostly fine, a few never responded. Then I went farther back in time—and former relationship status.

It’s amazing who you find, who they are, and what you connect over. Not every jock remains a jock. Not every party-hardy-good-time-Charlie is still drinking and cussing. Not every gamer geek is still having three-day LAN parties, not every Alex P. Keaton is still sleeping in a suit and tie. Some of you are saying, “Well, of course not!” Some of you who still bear the scars of high school are nodding smugly. Some of you who look back wistfully at, “Remember when?” still wish they were. Some of you are so, so glad they are not.

I found an old dance company buddy after we hadn’t talked for roughly 20 years. They were a stellar singer/dancer/actor AND an elite runner. We have long chats now about what’s up with TV’s current dance shows.

I found an on-again, off-again boyfriend of several years who is married with a bunch of children. He was the life of the party. His life now centers around his baby girls. He’s also gone quite gray and bears little resemblance to his high-school self. He reconnected me to several other friends whose lives have gone in unexpected and utterly fascinating directions.

The eternal bachelor/boyfriend who swore he would never marry, never have kids, has a page covered with pictures of his daughter. If there is anyone who will max out his allowance of pictures, it is him.

I ran into a childhood friend at my father’s memorial lunch. He had been in and out of trouble as a teen but is now a music producer. We connected on Facebook, and I am so happy to see that he is still working in an industry he loves.

Two gents with whom I’d have to say, “It was complicated,” found me. We don’t talk very often, but there’s never been any mention of what was, or might have been, or could have been. I think it just doesn’t matter at this point. We relate to each other as the people we are now, not the people we were then.

An old roommate with whom I parted on very, very bad terms, who at the time had no goals and no direction, is in law enforcement, and about the last person I would have expected to go into that field. He is also a seasoned traveler, and has given me much advice since I’ve upped my time away from home.

I made a lot of acquaintances when I was on stage my many moons ago. Most of my fellow performers are on Facebook, and I’ve also gotten to know several of them far better in writing, online, than I ever could have in a noisy, crowded, backstage dressing room, or when we were jockeying for time and tips. A guy that I admired but barely spoke to back then is someone I now get to have lively—and sometimes utterly frustrating—arguments with.

I think that’s been the best thing about using Facebook as a way to reconnect. It’s helped me get over my fear of people from my past, made me more open to getting to know them again, because I’ve realized we are not those people anymore. We’ve grown up, moved on, and if any of them are holding a grudge, they’re not bringing it up. Myself, I’m not seeking out anyone I have a grudge against. That just doesn’t make sense to me. And it’s not just the men, but the women from my past that I’ve reconnected with—friends, roommates, exes—even when our old relationships were complicated, now the connections seem to have a lot less baggage.

Maybe it’s the fact that we don’t see each other in real life. Maybe it’s the arms-length friendships that technology allows. Maybe it’s that we have the luxury of not having to respond at that moment, or be forced by distractions to cut our answers short or not think about what we are saying. Maybe time has polished the rough edges of these old relationships and mellowed them, or erased the memories of whatever made them complicated in the first place. Maybe our use of technology to communicate, the ability to fine-tune what we say, has helped us master the art of avoidance.

I can’t answer for everyone, or anyone.

But in getting over my fear of communication with the past, I’ve opened myself up to a much more interesting present, and future.

I Dare You to Define Normal: Families

This all started when my partner J and I and our Miss M. started talking about hypothetical children. If she were given a child, we’d have a share of the parenting, along with our girlpartner Z. If we were to put custody on paper, it would be two moms, one dad, and me, good ol’ Unky JJ, at a 30/30/30/10% split. We’d buy another house or two on our street and raise the child communally. If J and Z had the baby, then there would be one mom, one dad, Unky JJ, and Aunty M, at a 40/40/10/10% split, also communally child-rearing. This arrangement seems perfectly normal for us, and Miss M used to live on a commune, where all of the children slept in their parent’s space but were raised by everyone.
Here’s some more normal: We have a friend who lives with the mother of his child and her wife and they raise their four kids (one biological, three adopted by various combinations of adults) communally. Two of J’s cousin’s babies are being raised by their great gramma and gramma. I’m close to a single father with two teenage boys, another with a daughter in college, and another with an 8-year-old daughter with a Calvin-level imagination . Two white lesbians I know are about to adopt an African-American toddler. Another friend has three kids being raised by her, her husband and her husband’s boyfriend. Oh, and the eldest still sees her dad and stepmom all the time.
Want some other normals? We know several straight couples who are long-term married with 1-3 three kids, raising them with little or no outside support, and a couple with three kids who’ve been together so long everyone thinks they are married. Also in our circle of friends and acquaintances are childless-by-choice people who take care of everyone else’s kids in time of need, and the mom and dad with two biological kids who have taken in enough strays to field a football team. When I lived in southern California, multiple generations of Asian families living in a single home/multiplex was pretty common. Still is.
Unfortunately, our legal and educational systems have not caught up with the true normals. Too much is structured around the mom-and-dad, or the single mother. When it’s time for a classroom party or fundraiser, call on the Moms, even when the Dads are jumping up and down to participate. Notice the exclusionary language? No words for caretakers, adults, kid’s adults, keepers, or wranglers, and I’ll bet very few schools have alternative names for caretaking grownups outside of the traditional structure (mom, dad, stepparent, partner (in the more enlightened areas), gramma, grampa, uncle, aunt, brother, sister). A kid brings something homemade to school or daycare? Chances are, praise for help will go to the mom (unless it’s mechanical). A man takes a girl to dance class? He’d better clear out quick, lest someone think he’s a “perv”.
Male caretakers get especially short shrift in the shifting normal. When they do something totally average in child care, it’s treated as though they have done something heroic (although I must say some of the clever ways to make ponytails are indeed amazing). When they are the only man in the room at a Mommy and Me event, because there is no Mommy and there are few Daddy and Me events, they are not, shall we say, embraced, at least not at first.
I’ve talked to a few single and/or stay-or-home dads who’ve been quite disgusted at how condescending people are to them, or how people assume they don’t know what they are doing and offer advice on everything from car seats to diapers, or people who boldly ask why they don’t have a job. If it were me, I’d probably be tempted to tell them that I’ve gotten the child to age 4, thank you – I’m doing ok, and I like raising my child.
I wonder if part of the fear of two men raising a child less about sexual orientation and more about the fear of, “If one man is incapable, two will be worse.”
The norms of child-rearing are constantly shifting, and vary between cultures and regions. That’s kind of a “duh!” statement.  And I think that when that “otherness” comes to their neighborhood or school, people get nervous, even when it’s something as seemingly straightforward as men and women getting equal family leave when a child is born (fairly common in Europe). Here, a man taking time off when a baby arrives is risking not only his career, but his status among his peers. It’s just not “normal”.
But really, what is normal anymore?

Grillin' and Chillin': Not just for boys anymore...

So there was just an ad on for grills and grilling accessories, featuring men grilling. No women in sight. Meat, sunshine, comraderie, smoke. Since the sound was off, I could not hear the voice-over, but I suspect it was deep, gruff, and manly, as is typical for these commercials.

But not a women in sight for the whole of 30 seconds.

This reminded me of a roommate I used to have. He and most of our friends had a code: women do not grill. They do not touch the grill. They do not touch meat on the grill. If there should be a few vegetables on the grill for some traitorous friend who believed that a meal needed more than meat and starch, they were not to touch that either. Not the tools, not the sauce, not the charcoal, not the lid. The grill was a Man Zone. On one memorable occasion when a woman picked up tongs and turned a nearly-burnt chicken breast, four voices hollered, “She’s touching the grill! She’s touching the meat!” And my roommate came bolting out of the apartment, turned the chicken back over, and told her not to touch it, that he had just turned it, and that women were not allowed to touch the grill.

For the record, I don’t care who touches the grill, as long as the food is cooked.

Since I saw that ad, I’ve been thinking about other ads I’ve seen for grilling, and cooking in general. If it involves the kitchen, common kitchen tools, family meals, desserts, good, wholesome nutrition—it’s going to feature a woman, almost every time. If it involves grilling, tailgating, campfire cooking, BBQ—it’s gonna be a man. Healthy or pretty food—women. Junk food, sloppy food—men.

Once again, thank you, advertising, for reinforcing outdated stereotypes.

Plenty of men love (or at least like) to cook and be in the kitchen, and at least some will admit it. I thank the rise of celebrity chefs for that. BAM! Plenty of women cook out, and there are more than a few female teams on the competitive BBQ circuit. Men are completely capable of cooking full meals, packing lunches, baking cookies, handling nutritional needs, pouring cereal, converting bread to toast, everything that women are seen doing in commercials.

So why don’t we see more of this in popular media?

My guess is that many of the people running the advertising are still locked into the idea that woman are the primary shoppers and decision makers in a family, and that they will mirror what their own do. That they trust their own. That they connect with their own. Ditto with men, assumed to be the primary consumers of grills, steaks, and brats. (We’ll ignore for a moment the lack of ethnic diversity in commercials.)

Maybe I’m crazy, but if a cereal or soup or a frozen-in-bag meal or a set of pans or tools looks good to a consumer,  I doubt that they would not buy it because of the gender of the person in the commercial. A company might even pick up some customers if they turned things on their heads and gave a woman some meat tongs and a ribeye and a guy a big steaming bowl of mac-and-cheese or a homemade birthday cake.

And I might be going out on a limb here, but maybe some men who are reluctant to pick up a whisk might do so if they saw more of themselves doing it. Not just one on a cooking show, but in everyday, shown-repeatedly-everywhere commercials. Let’s trade in some of the emaciated slacks and shirts modelmen in guy’s magazines and replace them with burly, bellied, bearded dudes making toaster pastries for their daughters, or a guy in coveralls using some good olive oil in his pasta. How about Mr. Shirt-and-Tie extolling the virtues of how this dish soap works great on the glass dish he baked a lasagna in, or how these are the easiest, tastiest break-and-bake-cookies ever (while a bunch of his buddies devour them).

Heck, maybe, just maybe, he pulls a Mrs. So-and-so’s apple pie out of the oven while a women hollers from outside that the burgers are ready, and could he please grab the ketchup?

Warning: I Indulge in Age and Gender Inappropriate Behavior

This is the best button I’ve ever owned. “Warning: I indulge in age and gender inappropriate behavior.”

Come on, own up. You do it, too. I don’t care if you are 17 or 75.

There are no age limits on some things. There are no age limits on a lot of things.

When there’s a good song on the radio, I rock out. Ice Ice Baby, Single Ladies, YMCA, Blurred Lines, Lady Gaga anything. Go ahead, guy in the truck next to me. Get your phone camera out. There’s steel and glass and space between us, and a green light. Reba, Tone Loc, Missy Elliot, Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, Thriftstore. Yes, woman in the silver BMW. Your child (who should be in the back seat, by the way) is pointing at me and laughing hysterically. I know I look ridiculous. It’s Raining Men, Trace Adkins, anything on Wii, I’ve got a dance to it that can be done sitting down. It’s ok, teenagers in the Brady-wagon. Laugh at me now. You do it, too.

Someone has a bottle of bubbles? Go pop some.

Oh, look, an open parking lot. A long hallway. Let’s skip. Right foot hop, left foot hop, right foot hop, left foot hop, repeat. Can’t skip? Let’s do that other thing (it’s called a chasse, but I won’t expect you to remember that). Right, left together, right, left together, right, left together, repeat. Go solo, grab a buddy, grab your kids, grab the girl you are friends with, and skip. Have a skipping race. If there are puddles, splash in them a time or two. You are washable. So are your clothes. You’ll love it. Doesn’t matter that you haven’t done it in mumblemumble years.

Look, there’s a balloon. Bat it around with a friend. Or yourself.

That little kid wearing their “awesome sneakers” that give them magical powers to shoot green lasers from their fingers and jump so high and fast that you can’t even see it (There! They just did it!)? Play along. Doesn’t matter if you spend your day being the manliest man ever seen. Another kid invites you to a tea party? A secret superheroes meeting? Don’t resist. Let your kidself come out and play.

Those concerts where you see the beach balls flying? Join in. Take a look. Lots of other guys are doing it too. Good chance they are diving for it.

You are just standing there and you hear the music. Your feet hear it first. Mine start tapping. Then they start to prove that you can line dance to anything or everything. Then they start listening to the music in your head and dancing along to it. Baby dance steps. Nothing grand, nothing that takes up more than my own personal space. But if you are even a little bit like me, you want to move. Maybe your shoulders. Maybe your fingers or hands like to drum. Maybe your head bobs and weaves a little. It’s ok. Guys dance.

Sprinkles on your ice cream sundae are a good thing.

Sitting under some speakers somewhere? It’s a favorite song. Maybe one from now, maybe one from high school. Maybe a slow song from that dance where you got to stare at your crush and you almost got the courage to say hello. Maybe one you and your favorite grownup sang to when you were a kid. Maybe one you sing to a kid while making funny faces. You hum a little. You sing under your breath. You leave, and in the parking lot you sing a little louder. You think you sound pretty good. I know I do. I think I sound great. I also think that I am mildly delusional in this area. But dude, it’s MUSIC! You have to sing. Think about the voices of all of the men before you. What if they hadn’t?

Is there a piece of playground equipment you can climb? Go up. See the world from a different view.

Years ago, I got to spend time in an old industrial building that contained the awesomest library ever, complete with scooters and a long, empty room. One guess what I did with that combination. One guess what you would do.

How many times have you been tempted to play with those Legos? To grab a stick horse in a toy store and go for a gallop? To make all of the crowd sounds while you play air baseball and hit a grand slam, or catch a ball on the fly? To grab a couple of sticks with a friend and stage your very own sword fight? To wail on that air guitar? To speak like a pirate, one day a year?

Go ahead. Do it. If anyone laughs, just remember. They probably want to do it, too.

Thanks, Facebook, But I Don’t Need a Makeover

It used to be just the sidebar ads. A few here and there for expensive monogrammed dress shirts. An occasional shoe ad. Maybe a sports drink of some sort of shake. A 2-week trial membership to Generic Jim’s Gym. They showed up here and there and I ignored them.

And then my eagle-eyed honey pointed out the sudden KERPOW! increase in ads for Sexy Man Underwear. Not ads  for April Fools. Not ads for Valentine’s Day. Everyday ads.

So there I was, occasionally showing my FB account to people, and it almost never failed that while doing so, I’d get a bunch of…men-in-underwear ads. Only in their underwear ads.

Those went away after a while. I guess Facebook finally realized I was not going to buy a banana-hammock.

Next came the Suggested Posts of things I should like. Apparently I am not big enough or strong enough or the right shape for Facebook, because it keeps suggesting I “like” this muscle-building shake or that “get buff” program or some exercise program guaranteed to reduce my body fat to -10% and bulk me up until the Hulk himself would be jealous. Yes, I am too fat for Facebook.

I’m also not fashionable enough, since they are suggesting I “like” these boots and those shoes and, for some reason possibly related to a project I did for a friend, this flirty little dress-and-high-heel set. Ties, also. Apparently the 50 or so I own  isn’t enough anymore.


I understand that Facebook has this-and-that algorithm that is supposed to look at things I like and try to predict other things I’ll like and advertise them to me. It is trying to think for me, and I suppose I should thank them, since I do enough of that during the day.

But I have my own style, thank you. I don’t need to look like Joe Magazine, and I certainly don’t want to spend the money to. $75 for a t-shirt? I’ll pass, thank you. Balloon animal muscles? I’ll keep my pencil arms. A diet consisting of rare berries and grasses and the purified, encapsulated milk of some distant animal that will make give me a lustrous head of hair and make me live for 150 years? Nope, I’m happy with my yogurt and apple lunch.

There are enough images of what men are expected to live up to around us without our social media outlets trying to make us feel like we need some sort of fashion and diet cure-all. Think about it…you are happily scrolling through Star Trek memes and stories of your buddy’s kid’s football game and online comics and updates from your favorite TV shows and you get a Suggestion to “like” something that tells you to “man up, get buff, get chicks”. Thanks, Facebook, for preying on our insecurities. Apparently, you’ve tired of doing it to women and decided to move on. Or it’s working so well on them you’re trying it out on us.

And given the amount of these thing that are stacking up, I think it’s (sadly) working.

PS: To the person who added a sneaky little way to try to get these to go away, we appreciate it. Now, can you actually make it work?


I saw a commercial today for an amusement park, or with people in it at an amusement park, or for something being sold using an amusement park. I don’t remember. There were too many roller coaster shots.

Yep, put those on my “scared” list. Old fashioned coasters without loops or corkscrews or tall, tight banking are fine, especially if they are wooden. But these spinning, twisted, diving coasters? No. You go.

Tonight I learned about something called “lint flies”. Apparently, these nasty little things fly around during the day, land on you, and look like dryer lint. One of my friends thinks they are cute. I’m adding them to the list of things that I will swat if they get too close, unless I am too busy flailing and running away from a swarm.

I have been known to fly across the room and cringe against a wall when I see a moth. They won’t hurt me, but I own a goodly amount of good wool yarn, and while my left-brain knows that not all moths are wool-killers, my right brain is screaming, “Kill kill kill before it murders my yarn.”

Let me just lay it out. If it flies and might get in my nose, mouth, or hair, or bite or sting me, I want to be as far from it as possible.

My partner and I have several animals—2 dogs, 2 cats, 3 guinea pigs, a hamster and a fish. So my “ick” at cleaning up animal messes is a point of contention. I will do it, but eeewww.

Not manly in the least, I know.

Also not manly—I am seriously “icked” by raw fish. I’ve been fishing. Once. A few years ago, we went fishing in a friend’s pond. I boldly baited the hook with a piece of cheap hotdog and flung out my line (fishing line and cane pole). Within a few moments, I had a fish. No one prepares you for that.  It was dangling and wriggling and its mouth was gaping open and close, open and close. I pretty much turned my head away while my partner detached the fish and threw it back. He offered to let me do the honors. Not happening, y’all.

I’m completely terrified of any spider that is not a cute-and-fuzzy tarantula. I’ve finally come to a point where is no one else is around, or if I don’t want to embarrass myself, I can squish one. With my shoe stuck way out or a wad of paper. Timidly.

Right up there is something that I KNOW a lot of men are lying about when they say it’s…”wonderful, natural, beautiful”. Childbirth. Thanks to my friends and Facebook, which allows postings of pictures without warning labels, I have seen more about this subject than I ever, ever cared to. Please folks, give those of us who are a wee bit squeamish some warning. I have already told our dear girlfriend that if she ever decides to have a baby, I will be by her head.

Along with childbirth goes part of the inevitable after-effect–diapers. Don’t do them. Won’t. I’ve made this abundantly clear to my friends with babies of diapering age. I have changed a diaper. Once. There are some sights and smells that can never, ever, be bleached from your brain. Ick.

And let me tell you about the stupidest fear imaginable, and how the dumb things we do as children can stick with us forever. I cannot touch mirrors in the dark. If that is not “unmanly”, I don’t know what is. Too many games of Bloody Mary and too many bloody horror movies at a tender age.

Some things you never outgrow.

Rubber Duckies, You’re the Ones: How to Freak People Out in 178 Easy Steps

Years ago, I went to a friend’s house in California and saw his rubber duckie bathroom. There were dozens of ducks, tastefully arranged, with a rubber duckie shower curtain, rug, cup, toothbrush holder, the works. I decided that one day, I would have a rubber duckie bathroom.

When my partner and I moved into our house, I turned the hall bathroom into the rubber duckie bathroom of my dreams. Ducks on the walls, ducks on the towels, ducks on the tub, ducks on shelves, ducks on rugs, ducks on ducks. This didn’t last long. Our housekeeper said that that was her least favorite room to clean. Why? Because of all the ducks. Too much to clean. She was cleaning every single one.

The ducks had to go.

My office has a long, long windowsill. Everyone around me knows that I collect duckies, and they they got kicked out of my house. But no one truly understands “the duck thing” until they come into my office.

What do you expect when you walk into a guy’s office? Some geek stuff, maybe some pictures, maybe some sports stuff, some toys and gadgets, a few collectibles. Drawings and paintings by kids, a poster or two.

I doubt you expect to find 178 rubber duckies staring you in the face, plus a giant Darth Tater Mr. Potato Head wearing a pink-and-purple Pretty Pretty Princess tiara, a teddy bear holding a giant peep toy, and a dozen or so mutant potato heads. You’d probably be surprised that there is also a piece of Fight Club fan art over my desk, along with a variety of flying pig sculptures and my emergency knitting bag emblazoned with the numbers of my NASCAR drivers (Mark Martin, Dale Jr.).

Any time a new visitor comes in my office, it’s a 100% certainty that they will stop in their tracks and look at the ducks, look at me, look back at the ducks. The next thing out of their mouths is almost always, “That’s a lot of ducks.” If they look more closely, they’ll see little stories and grouping and dioramas among the ducks. The braver ones will make a closer inspection, or pick up the ducks and start looking at them. Some will tell me stories of their kids and their ducks. The ones that are a little weirded out will try not to look at them and utterly fail, because really, what can you do when 356 eyes are staring at you?

These things are my sanity savers, and much as they deny it, they do the same for other people in the building, because I’ll come in and find ducks rearranged, potato heads with light sabers and tongues sprouting out of their heads, and smeared dust on the shelves. It’s ok. I’ll share my toys.

To quote one of the Doctors, “What’s the use of being a grown-up if you can’t be childish once in a while?”

“Hi, Dad! Nice to See You!” The Ghost of My Father is Very Near.


I lost my dad almost four years ago, in December of 2009. He'd been ill for most of my life, so this was nota surprise. I'd known it was coming. It was just a matter of when. But he is far from gone. My mom swore he would never move to Alabama.

I beg to differ.

#1 I inherited a lot of photography equipment from him when he died. He’d done photography for most of his life and was strongly anti-digital. With his various disabilities, it was one thing that he would do almost until the end of his life. I could not bring myself to sell it, but I wanted it to go to a good home. I was in a fashion show earlier this year and was paired for a runway walk with a teenager. We decided to use cameras as props and I asked if he had an old camera—if not, I would bring bring him one. Turns out he had one, as he shoots in film. Kid with his own SLR. He left for college this week with two bags full of lenses, filters, flashes, and I’m not sure what else. Thanks, Dad.

#2  My mom was working on rearranging her house this past week and found several pieces of new and nearly new stereo equipment. My dad loved music. Most days when he was confined to bed or one of his easy chairs, he would have his headphones on, listening to classical music and opera for hours on end. He always had back up receivers, amps, and tape recorders, just in case. I had tried to sell them after he died, and my mom could not give them away. Now she finds them, I make one phone call, and they are getting a new home this weekend with a group of local musician. Thanks, Dad.

#3  A local theatre (Merrimack Hall) has a dance program for special needs kids, teens, and young adults. The teen/young adult group was invited to perform at a special event in LA, and the theatre did a fast fundraiser. This cause would have spoken to my father, as he, like these kids, spent most of his life being told, “No, you can’t.”, and then finding ways to do it anyway. Money that my father left allowed my mom to make a donation in their names. Thanks, Dad.

#4  My office received promotional items for an upcoming event we are doing. My father wore pocket watches his whole life, first because his father did, and after his father died, just because he liked them. Even as a teenager, he wore one, no matter how uncool anyone said it was. As an adult, medication made his skin so fragile that he could not wear wrist watches. At one point, he had upwards of twenty pocket watches, some of which I inherited. Guess what arrived in the promotional items box? One thing. A pocket watch. It has no connection whatsoever to what is bring promoted. But it landed in my office. I hope whoever it is given to appreciates it, or else my dad may haunt them, too.

#5 Tonight I was out with one of my friends, and asked what his license plate meant. It is his amateur radio license. My dad was a HAM radio operator until he was in his early 30′s, and this made him very valuable to the company he worked for for most of his life. He was very proud of his radio work and esoteric knowledge of all things related. My friend tonight was beaming that someone even knew what he was talking about, thought it was cool, and knew someone else who had done it. Thanks, Dad. Once again, you helped me make someone smile.

My dad was never what you would call a traditional father. He was disabled. He spent more time with music–classical, opera, folk, rock-and-roll—than just about anything else. He loved book about space, about science, about classic cars. He took me and my teenage friends to concerts. He never fussed much about curfews, although he never went to bed until I came home. He mixed argyles and stripes with wild abandon. He tried to teach me to bowl and supported any crazy thing I wanted to try (although I think he often regretted teaching me to play the spoons).

And he loved to find young people who shared his interests and make them smile, especially at Christmas when the Angel Trees went up, and he could give a kid in need something that other givers might overlook.

I’m not sure why he’s chosen now to make himself so known. But he’s definitely here. And I’m grateful that I’m getting all of these chances to make others—and him—smile.

Glitter Toes: Yes, I have them.

I look forward to flip-flop season. In Alabama, this is roughly April to November. I have casual flips, dress flips, thick squishy lavender flips I can wear for days. Why do I look forward to this season?

My toes. More specifically, decorating them.

This is one of my not-so-secret secrets. I love having sparkly toenails. I have at least 30 bottles of polish, mostly colored glitter. I’ll wear a base color with 1-3 colors of glitter over it. Green and silver. Black and Red. Orange and Silver and Purple. Yellow and orange. Pink and pinker and pinker. No team colors, because they last thing I want to do is take my accidentally-Auburn toes into Alabama territory.

In most other ways, I blend in. Cargo shorts or jeans. T-shirts or short sleeve buttondowns. Short hair. Black geek glasses. A handful of tattoos, none that can be seen when I wear work clothes. Pierced ears. Somewhat androgynous, but otherwise pretty normal, if much younger than my years.

But I cannot resist the siren song of the sparkly.

I know this is a contradiction. Most of the time, I try to be invisible. My size and stature don’t make me stand out in a crowd. I like this. I can count on less than two hands the number of people who have flirted with me in the last 8 years. I move through holiday stores without being offered a splash of this or a smell of this. I’m rarely accosted by people asking for money or a cigarettes. I don’t read things that will draw undo attention (ok, I dance in public, but that is another post). I try to avoid confrontation, my own or anyone else’s.

But when the weather’s good enough for flips, it’s good enough for polish.

I used to make up excuses when people would ask me about it. “My friend’s little girl wanted to play Beauty Shop,”, I would say. Or, “I lost a bet.” Or, “I was hanging out with some girlfriends and they were painting nails, so I let them do mine.” After doing this for years, I finally stopped. I came out (as my partner calls me) as, “Glitter Boy”.

The only person decorating my toes is me.

Believe me, people notice. Especially kids. They look at your toes, look at you, look at your toes, look away. The adults who notice it don’t usually ask. Occasionally I can see a kid screw up their courage and blurt out, “Why are your toes sparkly?” I answer honestly. “Because I like them that way.”

I do. I like them that way.

This is not a political statement. There is no attempt to subvert the stereotypical male stereotype. I am not trying to get people to question anything about their assumptions. I don’t care if people think I should or should not paint me toes. If they see my toes in the men’s room, well, let me just say you would not go in there unless you had to.

Occasionally, I’ll even go plain. Just color, no flash.

Two Saturdays ago, a cashier I know in a retail shop told me she wanted to see teal, no glitter or glitz, just teal. I went back the next day and showed her teal. I had it on hand, so why not? It made her happy in the midst of back-to-school shopping madness. It made the morning a mad dash, because I was running late for a volleyball game. But what’s a little frantic scrubbing with acetone to make a woman smile?

Before the teal, it was ruby slipper red. As in Dorothy’s ruby slippers.

One weekend, I even matched my gauged earrings (6g) to my toenails. Ruby red glitter arches. Normal for a 39-year-old guy? Nope. Did I care?

Nope. Because I liked it. Did anyone notice. Don’t know. Wasn’t paying attention.

I recently made a friend, a guy named C. We bonded over our toenails. He is purple and black. I am glitter and shine.

You never know how you’ll meet a kindred spirit.

I Don’t Know How to Talk to You: Conversations Among Men

It’s pretty hard to shock me. Your 16-year-old son has admitted to being a BRONY? Ok. Your year-old son stole-and rode-his 3-year-old sister’s scooter? Wow. Your brother is my mail carrier? Ok, kind of weird, because he knows what magazines I get, but ok. That wedding you were in was for a couple I knew from a completely different circle of friends, so y’all were talking about the same wedding on Facebook? Your hubby’s ex is married to WHO? Small world. You are part of a clown ministry? Seriously?

But this one, THIS ONE, left me utterly speechless. This was years ago.

“My husband doesn’t like to be around you because he doesn’t know how to talk to you.”


She elaborated. “You know, he likes hunting and fishing and, you know, you….”

Huh? Um, okay. I told her that I was sorry, but I had no idea how to respond to that.

Yes, I talk about my weekend at the craft show and how crazy the knitters were on Monday night. I get excited that I’m going to have extra sewing time this week. I live with a man. I also have a girlfriend. I flap my hands when I get excited and am prone to rolling my eyes and saying, “Oh, my gawd.” I’ve never shot anything and the one time I went fishing I spent more time being grossed out by the wriggling fish than anything else.

But this is about where the differences end.

We both work in the same industry. We both have dogs. We both like BBQ, steaks, and NASCAR. We both love action movies and have bad knees. We eat at the same restaurants. We’re both fond of sweets and know that forgetting our significant other’s birthdays is a bad idea. We like a lot of the same 70′s rock bands and think bowling and pool are fun. We believe that sitting on the beach is great but seagulls are evil. I know these things about him because his wife and I are friends.

So what’s the problem? She has no idea.

I do.

Like a lot of straight men raised in very conservative areas, I think that he can’t get past “the gay”. He can’t get past the differences, although we have more in common than not. I’m not sure that his world view would allow him to have a whole lot of things in common with a gay man. What would his friends say if they found out he was friends with a gay man? What would it do to his sense of his own masculinity?

* * *

I was recently reading an article a friend wrote about how the Green Bay Packers lost their game first pre-season game. This brought me up short, as I realized it is barely the middle of August and there are NFL games. Pre-season games. But still, it’s professional football time in America and I am about to be, shall we say, royally screwed in the realm of male social inclusion. The conversation conundrum just got a little more confusing.

Forgive me, but I am about to make a confession that will cost me my “man card”. I don’t care about football. I don’t dislike it. If it’s on somewhere I may keep half an eye on it. If it’s playing in the background, fine. If a friend invites me to a game party, I might go, more to hang out than anything else, and probably watch the game. But it’s not something I make any effort to follow, and if you asked me to match up a list of teams to cities, the only reason I could is because I’ve listened to enough people talk about it for enough years.

I know enough about the NFL to have a fairly intelligent conversation, or at least follow along reasonably well. I credit my mother for this. I grew up in a household where she ruled the (non-cable) TV, and when there was a game on—baseball, football, tennis, golf, basketball—my dad and I did not DARE change the channel. Period. This was not negotiable. She understood sports, too, and explained what I was seeing. At the time, I nodded when appropriate and made the right noises, but some of it sunk in, and I’m grateful for that.

Not caring about football did not help me fit in at school. Aside from faith (I attended a Christian high school), sports was the default topic of conversation among my peers. College was infinitely better. I found a bunch of friends who probably couldn’t tell you how many points a touchdown was worth and didn’t care. But when I left the cozy nest of classroom conversation and campus jobs, the real world was much like the stereotype that still haunts me. Default conversation topics: Who’s going to win this weekend? What’s your team? Did you see the _______ game? Because the presumption was that this is what men talk about.

Now I live in Alabama, and here, the SEC is more important than the NFL. Stories about my faux pas in that realm will fill several more posts. But in general, there is still the assumption that man=sports=talk-about-sports=not-talk-about-sports=what-the-heck-kind-of-man-are-you-you-fag….

I think many of the men around me around me are set in their ideals of what makes a man, and to them, my lack of traditional male interests puts me in the realm of “other”, “strange”, too “different”.  That my partner and I have a girlfriend? Fine, doesn’t phase them. That I am gay? Problem. But that I don’t participate in the most traditional of male-bonding conversations? Get thee away.

But with all the things going on in this world, with all of our various interests, with all of the things to ponder and pontificate and pick apart and discuss and argue and cheer and question, to be excluded because of failure to adhere to one of the most stereotypical of stereotypes? Either they’re lying, or I just really don’t get it.

I would love for someone to magically toss out the rule book on men’s conversations. Not being able to “speak the language” of the general population, and having no desire to learn it just to fakely “fit in” leads to a lot of exclusion. You find out what you didn’t get invited to, because people didn’t want to sit near you and be uncomfortable because there was nothing to say, or they thought you’d be embarrassing, or you’re just “kinda weird”.

And no matter how old you get, that still hurts. Oops, just violated a “man conversation rule”.

Don’t Judge a Person by Their Trailer. Or the South by its Stereotypes.

I’ve lived in Alabama for over 8 years. I’m acclimated to pretty much everything here: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s beautiful, with lots of clean air and open space. There are terrible people here, some who think that slavery never should have ended. Big hair will never go away. These are facts. I would not have believed these things, and many more, when I first got here. I thought a lot of jokes about the South were just that—jokes. I found an awful lot of assumptions and presumptions about the South that are true, at least superficially. But once you get below the surface, things are a lot different—and more interesting—than pop media would have us believe.

During my first visit, my partner and his best friend took me on a “back roads” tour of North Alabama. I was in absolute shock when we drove down several roads with nothing but trailers that had yards full of broken down appliances, kids toys, rusting hulks of cars, trucks on blocks, and bags of trash. The siding was mismatched, the curtains were faded, and in at least one case the flower beds were plastic flowers. I was blown away—I didn’t believe people really lived that way. I thought it was just a stereotype, an overdone sitcom joke, people snobbishly making fun of Southerners. Nope, all real.


You’ve heard the joke, “I hear banjos…keep paddling…”? Not necessary. Because most of those people, with broken down trailers and trashed yards, are the nicest, coolest, most laid-back and fun people you will ever meet. They may not have the brick house in the suburbs with a white picket fence and a pretty little cat in the window, but they are not where they live. They are not their situations. They are people, above all. They may not have a new stove and a big screen TV, but they’ll feed you the best tomatoes you’ve ever had.

On that same visit, I learned about the rules governing overalls. The stereotypical image of a farmer in his overalls, wearing a trucker hat and dirty boots all the time? Almost true. In reality, there are dress overalls, town overalls, and work overalls. Dress overalls are usually worn with collared shirts, maybe a bola tie. Town overalls, a clean t-shirt. Work overalls, anything or nothing under them. Hats will tell you where someone’s loyalties lie. John Deere, McCormack, Alabama, Auburn, the NRA, the Confederacy—think a bumper sticker for your head, with the added bonus of keeping your head from freezing or crisping. Country bumpkins, right? Well, they may not be as sophisticated as a big-city dweller, or know a lot of fancy words, but when something needs to be grown, fixed, built, created, arranged, rearranged, they are your guys. And the one covered in dirt, with the blue bandanna handkerchief? He’s probably got more money in the bank than you will make in a lifetime.


Now, listening to and understanding Southern speech takes time. It was months before I could reliably understand what people were saying, and I did a lot of asking people to repeat themselves—I played the “weirdo from California” card for as long as I could. There are plenty of people who think that all southerners sound uneducated and backwards, that a Southern accent is some sort of character flaw, that  if you have one, you’re sore sort of ignorant, knot-head redneck. I believe that the doctors, lawyers, engineers, rocket scientists, tradespeople, teachers, scientists, political and social activists, writers, musicians, entrepreneurs, inventors, builders, and every other sort of intelligent person with a twang would beg to differ. There are stupid, thoughtless, narrow-minded mean people with Philly, Brooklyn, Minnesota, and West Coast accents, too. Your voice does not determine your destiny, much as the media would like to make you think it does.

I’m not going to say that some of the darker, more brutal, more unpleasant things you’ve heard about the South don’t exist. We’ve got plenty of racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and xenophobia to go around. We’ve got people who behave in the most unchristian-like manner possible but show up to church every Sunday. We’ve got people who would rather eat glass than share a bench with one of “those” people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve flinched when the “n” word gets tossed around in polite conversation. The men-are-men and women-are-women attitude is not dead yet. But while that’s what gets the press, it’s only a tiny piece of the place.

If you look hard enough, you can find dirt anywhere. But give this place a chance, and you’ll see that we’re a lot more than camo pants and rebel flags.

Monday, August 12, 2013

City Boy, Country Boy: When the Creepy Crawlies Invade

Traditionally, men are called upon to deal with anything that's alive and has fewer than one leg or more than four. We are the slayers of snakes, the smashers of spiders, the squashers of cockroaches, the obliterators of ants, the crushers of beetle bugs, the destroyers of centipedes, the mashers of millipedes, the killers of plant-eating worms.
I am not traditional. And let's just say that tonight, I'm glad the neighbors weren't watching, and they know that my dog squeals like a little girl. Flatulence is not the only thing that gets blamed on her.
My partner is a country boy. He can look at bugs of all manner and identify them, where they come from, how long they will be around. He can do this calmly and rationally. I am a city boy. I identify them this way: "Honey, there's a crunchy bug. Can you get it?" "J! Get in here! There is a BIG f-ing spider! Kill it NOW!" "Ahhhhh! Like, 10 things just flew in! Bring the cats!" And the infamous, "Bug bug bug there's a bug in my hair! (swat furiously at my head where there is nothing)" and the now-legendary, "Spider! Spiderweb! Getitoff! Ahhhhhhhh!" (throw the platter of cut veggies and ranch dressing ten feet in the air before sprinting down the driveway). We don't discuss the willow-fly-outside-the-restaurant incident. We'll just say a lot of diners got a good laugh.
Tonight, though, my poor, long-suffering darling came home to me having a near meltdown. It involved something that should be harmless, healthy even. Field corn.
Field corn, according to J, is corn that is grown for feed, not for grocery market. His mom got us some from his uncle's farm. It's been on the counter since last evening. This is an important point. He asked me to make him two ears tonight. No problem, I think. Shuck them, desilk them, boil them. Easy, I think. It's corn.
You are nodding in agreement. Let me stop you right there.
Field corn brings hitchhikers. These hitchhikers are sneaky. You peel back several layers of husk and  the tassel of silk and there, still very much alive, is a worm. Or a caterpillar. Or both. On the corn. That has been sitting on your counter.  If you score high on the Gay Man Scale of Squick[tm][by our girlpartner Z] as I do, you drop the corn and let out a squeal that makes the dog look sideways at you. When you get your breath, you decide that the most sensible thing to do it grab a large knife, go outside, and hack off the offending chunk of the cob with its hitchhikers. You repeat this with the second ear, this time without squealing.
I did this. I am proud. I survived the Invasion of the Corn Worm Things. And I very carefully took the cobs by two fingers, rinsed them well, and dropped them in boiling water. If there was anything else living on them, too bad.
When J got home, he was informed about the aforementioned incident.
And told that in the future, he can clean his own damn corn.

Just Dance, and Dance, and Dance, and Dance-Wii love these games.

I was not an early adopter of the Wii gaming system. When it first came out, I played a few games at friends' houses - sports, auto racing, ridiculously fun rabbit games where you got to shoot things with plungers. They were fun, but nothing that made me want to run out and buy it. This lasted until I learned about these games called, "Just Dance". If you're not familiar with the Just Dance games, and some of their copycats, the idea is this. A popular song from the 1950's-now plays. The colorful body on the screen makes movements and your try to mimic them. Sounds easy, right? Yeah, not so much. I learned this the hard way. Very publicly. VERY.A company I work with had a booth at a local Relay for Life event where people could contribute a dollar, play a round of the game, and possibly win a prize. I was monitoring the game booth when we wound up with a single player, a boy about 10 years old. I couldn't very well let him play alone. Good sport that I am, I grabbed a wiimote and stepped up. I let the kid pick the song. It was something current and, based on what I had seen so far, I thought it would be pretty easy. Set it up, push play, and off we go. I figured if he wasn’t doing too well, I’d just sort of move around and make sure he got the win.
Within about 30 seconds, I had had my pride, my decorum, and any shred of dignity I possessed handed to me.
The word you are looking for is “flail”. I did not have to try to lose. At about one minute I was just glad when the speakers did not let out a string of noises announcing that I had missed another move, and another, and another. And another. Kid looked utterly bored as he easily tripled my score without breaking a sweat.
I must confess that despite my shameful defeat and the giggling around me, I was immediately hooked. No matter how ridiculous I looked, no matter how insane the choreography on this game was (and as I saw some players doing trickier songs, I realized that some of it was pretty fancy), no matter how silly some of the animation and the music, I found myself wishing for more single players so that I could further humiliate myself in public. I had no Wii at home. None of my friends had these games. If I wanted to play, it meant spending the next three Friday nights looking like a complete goof in front of coworkers, clients, sponsors, local teenagers. Game on!
And I was not the only guy doing it! Dads did it with daughters, brothers and sisters challenged each other, groups of teens lined up for repeated plays, boys barely big enough to walk waved remotes around while everyone cheered them on. I’m pretty sure we even had some football players step up. When no one else was playing, I’d coax a buddy to play with me to draw a crowd.
But the best man-round that year was when two teenage boys were openly taunting a man in his 40’s who was hanging back, looking like he maybe wanted to play. He finally shrugged, paid his dollar, and stepped up. Two minutes later, a couple of very chastened kids and their formerly noisy buddies slunk away as the man smiled slightly, put his jacket back on, collected his female companion, and wandered off.
I am now the proud owner of a Wii and almost every Dance game on the market. And I will play it in front of anyone.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Monday Night's Alright for Fighting...Over Yarn

I know that some of you are knitters. Or you crochet. Admit it. It's ok. There are a lot of us. There must be, or the publishers would stop publishing pattern books for us and the people who run our knitting retreats would not occasionally be found in corners, curled up in balls, mumbling to themselves and a skein of worsted alpaca (alpaca - big fuzzy things with lollipop heads).

My partner and I have been part of a local knit/crochet/etc. group for about 7 years. We are not your Gramma's knitters, unless your Gramma and her friends are really cool. We meet in a side room at a local restaurant, and our conversations are PG-13 on a good night. The ratio of women to men is about 3:1, and if at least one person per night does not get the B-word screamed at them, something is every wrong. Weekly Show-and-tell runs the gamut from freshly spun wool to handmade glass penis beads to fresh tattoos to yarn spun from the chest-hair of musk ox (it's called quivit, and one good sized ball will set you back more than a box of good cigars). We've got farmers, housewives, engineers, programmers, retirees, small business owners, college students, nurses, gamer geeks...people who seemingly have nothing in common except a love of making things and minds that roll around in the same gutter.

I tell you all of this as background for what happened the other night. You've probably heard of Dirty Santa...each person contributes a gift and then takes a gift in turn, and when it's your turn you either pick from the pile or steal someone else's stuff. After a set number of "steals", the item is declared dead. We do one of these in December, one about June, and one in the fall called "Black Sheep", which is everyone's chance to offload their unloved, unwanted, and sometimes just plain hideous yarn on someone else. The good part is, you get rid of stuff you hate. The bad part is that you are revealing to everyone that at one time, you thought that that red and silver tinsel-and-pom pom yarn was awesome. The best part is that one person's trash is another person's treasure. The scary part is what people will do for that treasure.

So on this night, I am running the Black Sheep Dirty Santa, outfitted in my usual work clothes (jeans, shirt, wookboots), and wearing a pink-and-purple tiara so I could be seen in the crowd. Part of being the Sheep Runner is keeping order. Usually, Black Sheep is a pretty easy gig, since people tend to play keep away with the bulk of the items, planning their steals so they do NOT get stuck with something. But this time, there was a lot of Really Good Stuff in the mix. And this means war. I'm barely 5'4". There are a lot of pointy sticks. There are two other men there (F-M ratio 5:1). One is a guest and more interested in starting trouble than referreeing it. The other is trying to untangle a huge tangled pile of chainmaille rings. I am utterly alone. The game (12 players, 24 gifts, each player has 2 numbers) begins quite sedately until #4 steals from #2 who steals from #1 who then takes from the gift pile. #5. #6. #7 steals from #2 (who has now been stolen from twice) who steals from #5 who steals from #1 who calls #5 a b----who then climbs over a chair and the person in it to steal from #6 who takes from the gift pile. Now, finally, we move along to #8. I have taken up a position against the wall and shout my orders, or I am going to be trampled. The whispering has begun, as partnerships form to negotiate who is going for what, with The Big Male guest, well known for instigating trouble, smiling in a most unnerving way. #9, #10.

#12 is wondering if anything she wants will still be alive when her first number is up. I am now standing on a chair, trying to make myself heard and not get run over. The steals are running long now, six or seven a turn. #13. #14 to #3 to #8 to #6 to #9 to #10 to #1 to the gift pile. We've got a running tally now. 5 b----hes, 3 you a**hole, a sprinkling of F-Us, some "THAT WAS MINE'S, numerous threats of parking lot theft, at least one "I know where you live", and an offer to trade a three year old for that bag of cashmere. Despite my tiara, I am rendered powerless to do anything more than keep track of what number we are on, tell people to hold up "in play" items, and hope that that last "I will cut you," was someone talking to their yarn. Also note, the room has a gigantic window open to the bar, so those people got a lot more than they bargained for.

An hour and a half later, it is over. Everyone has two somethings. The wheeling and dealing is underway - bargains, trades, promises, favors, outright bribery, shameless manipulation, begging, wheedling, and even Big Man trying to dash out the door with an armful of goods, only to be bodily in his tracks by two women half his size.

It seems knitting really is a full contact sport.

So Many Books, So Few Choices: Would I Read That in Public? Would You?

This is probably a little old-fashioned, what with the ubiquity of e-readers and smartphones, but there are still plenty of us who read paper books when we are waiting for something, or find ourselves stuck in a doctor's waiting room looking for something to read. The question is, what do we read, and why?
There are plenty of books out there targeted to a male audience - action-adventure novels, male-progtagonist mysteries, science fiction series, how-to-get-ahead-in-business, biographies of great (or at least celebrated) men, and even a growing amount of literary fiction, with a tendency towards male main characters that play into the sterotype of the wild, troubled, sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll manchild or the man-on-the-wrong-path who-needs-a-woman-to-set-him-right guy. And books in all of these genres are all well and good. People reading and discussing what they read is good. But what about those of us who want to read something else, or find ourselves choosing between staring at a wall or flipping through April's Cosmo or Modern Moms Monthly?
When I'm looking for a book to travel with, I consider my selections carefully. First, where am I going? Am I going to a coffee house or a lunch-for-one where everyone else is occupied or I'll be in a tiny booth? Am I getting oil-changed and sitting in an auto shop waiting room? Am I at a ball game waiting for the first pitch? Am I going to be with co-workers? Am I going to be in an airport? Am I on a long drive and stopping for food at a small town diner? In other words, what is the likelihood that I am going to be taunted-or worse-for my choice of reading material?
I know there are going to be plenty of you who say that I should just do what I want and not care what other people think, but let's be real. Some of us have to care. Some of us, by virtue of our appearance and size, are bully magnets, even in middle age. Some of us don't want confrontation. Some of us have spent our whole lives fighting to be left alone and are tired of fighting. Suck it up and deal with it, you say? Man up? Just ignore them, don't be such a wuss?Thank you, you've just reinforced the reason why I'm not likely to ever take a kitchen-cozy mystery out in public.
As much as we'd like to pretend that we men today are more open and less judgemental, consider what you'd think if you saw a man reading a Ladies Home Journal in the dentist's office or DIY for Moms in the tire shop holding pen , or "The Joy Luck Club" or anything with a group of women on the cover while in queue at the DMV. You'd probably look twice and wonder why the heck he was reading that. Would you make an assumption about his sexuality? His manliness? His job? Would you elbow your buddy and nod your head at the guy? What if you knew he coached high school football or was the State Bar President? If you asked a guy who was laughing hysterically at his e-reader what he was reading and he said,"Tina Fey's new book," would you keep talking or move away? What if that same guy showed up at your house the next day to fix the toilet YOU broke while trying to fix it? Would you be nervous?
Myself, I try to limit what assumptions people make. I never leave home without a few books. I have them stashed in my car and office. But they are, by and large, "man-approved" authors and titles (side note: I own all of these authors because I LOVE their work. If I strictly wanted to be socially acceptable, this would be a sci-fi/action/sports list and I'd be miserable). Dan Brown. Preston/Childs. Chuck Pahlaniuk. Anthony Bourdain. Hunter S. Thompson. I have a few other "women's authors/books" mixed in. Fannie Flagg. Sarah Waters. Isabel Allende. Jane Austen. If I'm going to actively read in public, I choose carefully. Reading in public while eating a meal alone is an act of social rebellion in itself. No need to push my luck.
I was at Book Expo America (huge, HUGE book trade show) a few months ago, and at more than a few booths I noticed the segregation of "men's" and "women's" titles. If a publisher was promoting books targeting these audiences, the books were segregated within the booth. This was especially true in the religion and children's area and with popular fiction titles. It was less true in the university press and novelty press booths. I guess academia and humor are gender-free? And generally speaking, men were pitching the "men's" books and women were pitching the "women's" books, and books about politics and history were usually displayed in the "men's" area. It's not hard to see where some of the core reinforcing of stereotypes is coming from.
I wonder what would happen if all books were printed with black covers with shiny black writing, so that no picture or gender-specific color could give away the contents. Would men be more open to reading, say, the history of women in cinema, or a novel by Oprah Winfrey, or a biography of Celine Dion, if no one could see it?
Maybe that's one of the reasons FOR the growing popularity of one has to know what you are reading. A guy could even get away with a Harlequin romance...provided he could manage not to blush.