25 posts categorized "The Husband's Most Honourable"

Waking up from the American Dream, Part One.

Change. A good idea.

American values. Another good idea.

Am I the only one who sees a train wreck coming?

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for change. Hell, I voted for change. And thank goodness that change has come.

Changing presidents is the easy bit. Changing America will be tough. Some treasured American values need an overhaul.

Many would argue that rather than change, American values must change back. Back to an earlier, purer, more noble version of themselves.

Whatever. The truth is, my fellow Americans need to look hard at the values by which they live today, and not flinch when they see hypocrisy, shallowness, inhumanity and falsehood.

It takes moral courage to do this; you must be open to truth, from any source. Stop buying half-truths ready-made, cloaked under religious rhetoric, or cooked in glib sentimental goo.

What values need to change? Here's one.

The marketplace is moral.

Victoria de Grazia opens her book Irresistible Empire, the classic study of how American consumer society triumphed over European bourgeois civilisation, with an astonishing scene.
She recounts Woodrow Wilson's 1916 address to the World Salesmanship Congress in Detroit. With the American century still a decade away from its first spectacular cycle of boom-and-bust, he argued, with touching innocence, that greed is good.
America's "democracy of business" had to take the lead in "the struggle for peaceful conquest of the world," Wilson said...
"let your thoughts and imagination run abroad throughout the whole world, and with the inspiration...that you are Americans and are meant to carry liberty and justice and the principles of humanity wherever you go, go out and sell goods that will make the world more comfortable and happy, and [thus] convert them to the principles of America." (pp. 1-2)
Over the next several pages, de Grazia analyses Wilson's assumptions in eloquent detail. She describes a caste of mind which I find familiar from my American boyhood.
If the gentry turn up their noses at the great unwashed, then one should use the power of mass production to make soap cheap enough for them to buy. Pretty soon, the great unwashed will look pretty clean and smell pretty good, and the gentry will seem a whole lot less genteel by comparison. The influence of the wicked old gentry will fade away, along with their silly elitist ideas. Democracy triumphs, and freedom reigns supreme.

So pervasive is this notion through the United States, that many have ceased to see material goods as a means to an end, but as the end in itself.

During my recent stint back in the USA, I would challenge people to show me how America was, in fact, the land of the free. Disturbingly, proof often pivoted on the freedom to choose amongst a vast array of consumer products.

Again, don't get me wrong. A vast array of consumer products is a jolly nice thing. In fact, I make my dosh shilling for a vast array of consumer products.

But consuming in quantity does not equal living in freedom.

You can walk right into any American supermarket you damn well please and vote with your wallet for Liquid-Plumr® over Drano®. Is that the beginning and end of freedom? Are these the fruits of democracy? You'd be surprised at how many Americans believe so.

De Grazia points out that Wilson endorsed "a peculiarly American notion of democracy, that which comes from having habits in common rather than arising from equal economic standing, freedom to select far fetched alternatives, or recognising diversity and learning to live with it."


That is, if billionaire George Bush drives a pick-up truck, and I drive a pick-up truck, then the difference in our incomes doesn't matter all that much. Homogenised tastes iron out political differences. Promoting that homogeneity furthers peace and progress. Right?
(Elections have been won and lost in America for the sake of homogenous tastes. Earlier this month, 48% of America voted the Republican ticket. Many of these voters did so, at least in part, because it contained a hockey/soccer mom just like us. More about that later, perhaps.)
Does it work?
Let's make a value judgement on this system of values. Does it work?
Recent history vividly shows that this sea of material goods is not, to stretch a metaphor, a tide that lifts all boats. The gentry hasn't drowned in an ocean of the gentrified middle class. If anything, the worker's quest for material comfort has enriched the elite far more handsomely than it has enriched the worker.
Getting richer doesn't guarantee that a worthwhile democracy will take root, as is implicit in Wilson's argument. "Liberty and justice, and the principles of humanity" don't necessarily follow from owning a lot of stuff.
Look at the Middle East or China. There are plenty of ways to get rich, and not all of them are the American way.
Nor does democracy make you rich, automatically. Just ask a South African township worker, or a disappointed eastern European after the Iron Curtain fell.

Did the spread of American bounty result in the "peaceful conquest of the world," as Wilson predicted? If only he could see how much of her wealth America pours, today, into the violent conquest of the world. With little real peace to show for it.
The marketplace is incredibly good at sorting out, and providing in abundance, what is useful. But that misleads us. An abundance of useful stuff doesn't guarantee that amongst it, you'll find what is essential.
Like healthcare. Or education. Or art. Or justice. Or equality. Or peace.
Modern Americans seem to believe that if you just get rich enough, everything else will sort itself out. From there, it is not a long stretch to believe that getting rich is the only way to sort everything out. If we're all fat and happy, what else matters?
Shovel enough Oldsmobiles, Pop-Tarts, Magnavoxes and Cheez-Whiz in my direction, and do I really need to marry the man I love? If my supermarket shelves are well stocked, is it important that the local library's shelves are not?
I'm not knocking materialism--hey, I work in advertising. But it it's a pretty poor place to search for values.
Modern American values are so entwined in materialism, that it will be a hard habit of mind to break. Can we do it? I hope so.

Digg!
Photos from Cape May, New Jersey, April 2007, and the Woodbridge neighbourhood of Detroit, 2004.

Cape May is a classic, picturesque American seaside resort, popular for weekends away from Philadelphia or Washington, D.C. Some time ago, the town's hotels and guest houses were booked out by Disney executives. Locals were abuzz with speculation that they might see a new Disneyland nearby. Alas, the Mousers were in Cape May to rip it off; the town of Celebration, Florida is an ersatz Cape May. Celebration is so creepily fake, that they filmed The Truman Show there.

I do? That's easy for you to say.

As if to rub our noses in it, our local park, Europa Platz beim Friedensengel, does a brisk trade in wedding photos. What's to bet that the bride chucks a wobbly and demands they retouch the rubbish bin out of the picture?

* * * * *
Naturally, Master Right and I are in favour of gay marriage. But we violently oppose gay weddings.
So many trappings of a conventional wedding demean and insult the couple whose joint life it is meant to celebrate. The bride officially becomes property of the groom, while the groom is more-or-less a bytander at the whole affair. Mainlining alcohol, guests unpack their emotional baggage on each other and behave like monkeys. Yes, weddings suck.

Thankfully, in Germany, one doesn't need to do all that. One simply visits a notary's office, signs an agreement, and you're hitched. Gay or straight.

Well, it's simple if you're German. If you're a foreigner, you need to wave a brace of documents under an official nose, to guard against bigamy, marriages-of-convenience, or other hanky-panky.

First, you need to prove when and where you were born, and that you are not married to anyone else.

No problem for Master Right. His birthplace, Japan, is sensible. The whole thing can be taken care of in a single visit to the consulate.

As a citizen of both the USA and Australia, I am in a messy position. Both countries are federations of states, and each state keeps track of hatches, matches and despatches.

The US authorities are uncooperative or obtuse, and the Australians are mostly drunk or something. The US is not a signatory to the Hague Convention for the internationalization of documents, so my birth certificate needed to cross the Atlantic several times to be stamped, sealed, confirmed, apostilled and vouchsafed by an army of civil servants. And in spite of letters and sworn statements which showed the contrary, the Australian Botschaft (embassy) still issued documents which referred to Miss Master Right. The Australian Botschaft? More like the Australian botch-up.

If you and your spouse wish to live here, the demands mount. One needs to prove coverage by health insurance and a sufficient income. You must submit a floorplan of your home; German law demands a home provide 12.5 square metres per person.

Further, the notary must satisfy herself that both parties understand the agreement. This means that one needs a sworn translator into one's native tongue.

Thus, a rather peculiar wedding party assembled last week, amid the girly, weddingy decor at the offices of Frau Ehe, Notary Public. There was Master Right, his Japanese translator, my English translator, and me.

Oh, and my translator's dog. He goes everywhere with her. Since this is an anonymous blog, I shall not post pictures of the wedding party, but I feel it safe to show a snapshot of the dog. His name is Kuscheln. Or, in English, Cuddles.

Cuddles always pees at weddings. It's the excitement.
As we waited for Frau Ehe to arrive, our translators chatted. Both had recently served time behind bars; that is, they translated in prison. I joked that they need adjust their vocabulary only slightly from arraignment to marriage. The Japanese translator remarked that foreigners can get themselves into trouble under both circumstances.

I really lucked into a great English translator; a leader in her field, and office-holder in the professional association of translators. She was curious to observe her Japanese counterpart, another highly-qualified professional, who faced quite different obstacles with her assignment.

The Japanese language uses sparse grammar and limited sounds. Much day-to-day Japanese is structured to keep a polite distance between two speakers; it can be constructed to reveal little.

When one needs to speak of more complex matters--like law, love or laughter--Japanese reverts to elaborate metaphor. And emotional arguments sometimes carry the same weight as rational ones.

A linguistic challenge, given the thorough, and thoroughly dry, German documents that Frau Ehe led us through. She took great pains to stress that the Lebenspartnerschaft wouldn't apply in the US, Australia, or Japan. She wanted to make clear that this union was not a back-door way to obtain a legally-binding marriage in our home countries.

Therefore, it was only useful if our life would be based in Germany. Herr Honourable has chosen to make his life in Germany, she observed, and asked if Herr Right had yet done the same.

Before Master Right could answer--indeed, before this were even translated into Japanese for him--the translator leapt into a passionate speech. This man, she pleaded, was a man of courage, following his dream and creating a new life in spite of the odds. This went on for several sentences. Master Right was touched.
"Would you like me to tell you our story?" I offered, in English.
"No," replied Frau Ehe, "I get it."
Naturally. our Japanese translator embarked on a subsequent translation of this whole exchange. And it served as a neat segue into Frau Ehe's next subject. A little homily.
We asked for no wedding vows or such silliness, but Frau Ehe decided she'd toss in a speech, for free. It picked up on the theme of courage.
She reminded us that the uncertainty which affects modern life acts against the idea of marriage. That making a commitment to a shared life, forever, takes bravery and faith in the future. She congratulated us for making that choice, in a binding agreement before the state. And, she added uncomfortably, God. Or, um, whatever we would like to call that thing up there. Ah, good ol' Catholic Bavaria.
Both our translators signed the document, along with Master Right and me. Et voila, we were husbands. We declined the you-may-now-kiss business--we're not into PDAs--and gave each other a hearty, relieved hug.
The perfect wedding, I think.
* * * * *
P.S. Hat-tip to Brock and Manuel for referring us to Frau Ehe.

UPDATE

We presented our Lebenspartnerschaft to the Kreisverwaltungsreferrat. (Don't you love German words?) Good news. Master Right now has a visa to stay in Germany, but he has five years to learn German. That will be amusing.

A public rehearsal

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2017-02-23/61fbdb4b-674a-42cf-b29d-1dbc6fdae3a0.png

The theatre makes magic. That's its job. 
 
Like all jobs, magic entails work. Very few elements of an actor's art are truly spontaneous; it is her craft to conceal this fact.
 
Artistic inspiration comes only when the nuts and bolts are tight, when we have dispensed with the practical demands of putting people around each other in a limited space. To paraphrase Noël Coward, magic happens when everyone knows his lines, and nobody trips over the furniture.
 
A good rehearsal is like carpentry. At the end, you've built a functional object, the performance. Like a door, you can open it and close it as many times as you like, and it will always do the same thing.
 
In my student theatre days, I used to love rehearsals; nowadays, I treasure the moments when I stumble across one. Cycling home from work today, I did just that.
 

The Altstadtfest happens this weekend, a highlight of Munich's 850th birthday celebrations. One of major performances is the München Revue, in the Odeonsplatz. It will, it seems, involve an acrobat on a trapeze suspended above the crowd.

Just another workaday job on a working city street. Very few of the passers-by even noticed.

Plenty of workers sitting around, leaning on their shovels. In the theatre, that's forgivable; indeed, it's necessary. They're waiting for a cue.

The craft of the theatre doubles in complexity when you put it on film. If managing actors in a physical space in a theatre proves a challenge, imagine the same thing with the audience wearing blinkers. That's film.

These filmy types are working for Bayerische Rundfunk, the German version of the BBC. Actually, it's not quite the German BBC: that's Deutsche Welle, based in Cologne. Bayerische Rundfunk is the Bavarian state BBC. They've covered Munich's birthday celebrations diligently.
 
Though not a national institution, BR is a broadcaster of considerable standing. Listen to any classical music station on the planet, and you'll soon hear a recording made by the so-called Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. That's BR.
 
With 20 million inhabitants, Bavaria holds as many people as Australia; why shouldn't our local broadcaster be on a par, at least with the ABC? BR broadcasts throughout Germany.

These pictures are much better if you embiggen them, BTW. By a neat coincedence, this week's Photo Friday challenge is Lightness.
 

The Civility of Hope

Where is he gay today? Milford, PA

 

The cocktail wasn’t a Molotov. It was a very nice Soave, perfectly chilled. But it could fan political flames, in its own way.

This trip, Master Right and I visited one of our favourite towns. Milford nestles into a bend of the meandering Delaware River, in a corner of northeast Pennsylvania that bumps up against both New York and New Jersey. Frommer ranks it as number two on its list of ten coolest small towns in America.

Standing nobly on a hill near the edge of town, we find Grey Towers, former home of Gifford Pinchot, twice governor of Pennsylvania and founder of the U.S. Forest Service. This faux-mediaeval mansion, today, anchors the Forest Service’s training and education programmes.


Milford hit its heyday around the turn of the century. (The last one, not this one). With a variety of landscapes nearby, the town became a centre for the early film industry, before the whole show moved underneath the reliable California sun. Mary Pickford once kept a house here.

This brush with glamour gave Milford more than its share of fancy homes, posh hotels and grand public buildings. One such place is the Hotel Fauchere.

Legend has it that Pinchot and Teddy Roosevelt sketched the plans for the Forest Service on a Fauchere napkin after a boozy dinner. Thus, one could argue that the hotel is the birthplace of the environment movement in the United States.
The famous Delmonico restaurant in New York recruited the Francophone-Swiss Louis Fauchere as Master Chef in 1851. In 1870, he moved his family to the countryside and opened an eponymous hotel. Thereafter, Fauchere became one of Milford’s most celebrated citizens, officially known as “the crazy Frenchman”.

Shortly after our arrival, we found ourselves sitting in the Crazy Frenchman’s stylishly renovated conservatory, sipping Soave with one of his successors. Sean is a partner in the Fauchere, and joins his guests every evening for a drop of very nice wine, and a few very nice cheeses. Ever the gracious host, he remembered Master Right and me from previous visits.

The thing that attracted us to Milford in the first place was an article in Instinct Magazine, describing the small but vigorous gay community. Sean is a pillar of it.

Our last visit coincided with the hotel’s monthly rather-gay dance-party. The party grew so successful, that it had to move to larger premises. Sean and his partners are tossing up what to do with the space. Top of the list is a patisserie. In middle America, this is pretty much neck-and-neck with a gay disco in the gayness stakes.
We always seem to arrive at the right time for an event. Sean remarked that we should stick around the next day for a political rally. Documentary film-maker Rory Kennedy, eleventh and youngest child of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, would stump for Barack Obama in the Pennsylvania primary.

By now, you all know the result of the election. Obama was defeated, but went on to secure the (presumptive) national nomination in spite of it. This Pocono Record News Forum comment on the Milford rally helps explain why, perhaps.

"Rory Kennedy is no gift, nor is she representative of the working class people of NEPA...She stood outside the Hotel Fauchere giving a speech about who she supports in a place were most working class people could not afford. The Hotel Fauchere is an over priced bed and breakfast that caters to the upper class at $300 a night per person and $40 to $60 a plate meals not including drinks and appetizer…Although her father died before she was born, she was still born with the silver spoon in her mouth and a trust fund filled with money from her grandfather's criminal activities...When she lives through the true hardships real Americans face of either buying heating oil or paying the mortgage, buying food for the dinner table or putting gas in the tank so she can get to a real job...Until then she is nothing more than an ugly more educated Paris Hilton…"


Hmmm…Paris Hilton has proved herself truly, profoundly ugly in so many important ways, that I don’t quite get the comparison.

And our room didn’t cost three hundred bucks, either. Perhaps he was confusing the Fauchere with…oh, I dunno. Paris Hilton, the hotel?

Obama’s famous comment about Pennsylvanians clinging to guns and God—spoken behind closed doors in San Francisco, no less—is a fairly mild rebuke compared to the vitriol that drips upon him when the cameras aren’t running.

Here’s a report from the Washington Post about the Pennsylvania campaign.

"The contrast between the large, adoring crowds Obama draws at public events and the gritty street-level work to win votes is stark. The candidate is largely insulated from the mean-spiritedness that some of his foot soldiers deal with away from the media spotlight. Victoria Switzer, a retired social studies teacher, was on phone-bank duty one night during the Pennsylvania primary campaign. One night was all she could take: "It wasn't pretty." She made 60 calls to prospective voters in Susquehanna County, her home county, which is 98 percent white. The responses were dispiriting. One caller, Switzer remembers, said he couldn't possibly vote for Obama and concluded: "Hang that darky from a tree!" Documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy, the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, said she, too, came across "a lot of racism" when campaigning for Obama in Pennsylvania. One Pittsburgh union organizer told her he would not vote for Obama because he is black, and a white voter, she said, offered this frank reason for not backing Obama: "White people look out for white people, and black people look out for black people."

Two Milford residents, quietly proving the lady from Pittsburgh wrong.


It raises the hackles of some Hillary supporters that she cops so much blatant sexism. They uncover misogyny in a thousand subtle (and not so subtle) ways—from Obama saying she has her claws out to the famous heckler who shouted iron my shirt.

It’s a legitimate concern, yes. But iron my shirt ain’t in the same league as hang the darky. (Or bash the fag, for that matter.)

A couple of hundred supporters braved the nippy spring weather to hear Kennedy speak. The crowd suffered no hecklers, though some Hillary supporters cheerfully waved a banner across the street.

I worried that Master Right would soon grow bored. After all, I remember how I struggled to get through a political meeting in Munich in a language that was not my first. No matter how fluent you may be in your adopted tongue, the grammar of politics demands a sense for subtext which challenges those not born to it.

As it turned out, one could read the subtext without a word being spoken. “I’m enjoying this,” he said. “You can feel the positive spirit.”

The rally started with a surprisingly sincere recitation
of the Pledge of Allegiance from all concerned
.


Indeed, you could. The gathering was traditional, grass-roots American democracy at its finest. Speeches from the podium rang with passion, but were delivered with grace and generosity. Small towns often cultivate this kind of genteel politics; one must know how to debate people whom you need to face the next day.

The latest Economist points out that the drought of civil discourse in American politics might stem from one key demographic fact. As Americans become more mobile, many choose to live amongst politically like-minded neighbours. The more choice an American has, the more likely he will veer towards either a Grosse Pointe or a Marin County, with few settling in-between. Presumably, estate agents can market homes based on the Tahoe-to-Prius ratio of the neighbourhood.


In towns like Milford, though, a Republican and a Democrat actually stand a good chance of crossing paths. That's increasingly rare.

Kennedy’s speech, in many ways, reflected her films. She recently made documentaries about Hurricane Katrina and Abu Ghraib; we should not be surprised that she spoke of changing the moral tone which the nation has set for itself.

Just as interesting, and just as serious, was the speech of 18 year-old Ryan Jameson. He's a high school senior—that’s year 12, the final year, for those of you outside the US—who organized two hundred of his fellow students to register to vote in their respective Primaries. In recognition, Ryan became chair of Obama’s Pike County organizing committee. And I understand he actually comes from a Republican family.

Another surprising speech came from County Commissioner Mike Warsho. His daughter, studying in Italy, relayed the excitement and interest surrounding Obama abroad. (Master Right and I can attest to that, too.)

The crowd murmured approvingly.

Well, knock me over with a feather. The Clintons spend much energy concealing Bill's exploits as a Rhodes scholar in Oxford, lest it alienate their base of inverted snobs. Many here, though, thought it a good thing that a prospective president should have lived abroad, as Obama has.

As we heard the speakers, it became obvious what made the atmosphere so inspiring. We beheld an event that had been absent from American politics for a long time. A discussion of ideas and principles rather than personal invective and ridicule.

Yet more identity politics.

Ideas and principles are not a luxury for the elite. They are life and soul of what makes a nation.

Here, let me venture into an area which will infuriate friends, casual readers and partisan political activists alike. The elephant in the room for American politics is social class.

From time-to-time, anti-elitism can act as a healthy foil to political hot-air. But fake-anti-elitism has become the order of the day in American politics. Frankly, the fakery is beginning to smell. Perhaps the electorate caught a whiff of it on Hillary’s breath. The super-delegates certainly did.

I suspect Republicans have tired of this bogus culture war, too. A CNN poll shows a number of them, cautiously, listening to Obama.

Standing amongst the crowd, I couldn’t help but remember how fragile this idealism is. Master Right felt inspired; I felt like—forgive me—a bit like a Weimar Jew.

Philistinism was one of the great weapons Hitler exploited for popular support. The bombast about liberal-biased media, which so much of the USA swallows, reminds me not a little of the smear directed against the so-called conspiracy of rich Jewish bankers.

You can’t trust people who are a little too smart, a little to worldly, a little too decadent, or a little too rich—unless, of course, they’re a lot too rich, which, since this is America, any of us might become at any minute.

Obama supporters held a bake sale to raise money for the campaign.
Get these people a patisserie, quick!

Obama speaks of the audacity of hope, while his opponents so often decry the vanity of hope. Kennedy’s speech addressed this, quoting no less a moral authority than Nelson Mandela. (Mandela attributes this passage to Marianne Williamson; did she insert a few gay code-words?)

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? …Your playing small does not serve the World. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that others people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us: it is in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

More than once in my life, I had to make the choice between a tank of gas and dinner on the table, too. But it never stopped me believing in the power of ideas.

Having lived outside the United States most of my adult life, I never voted in a Presidential election. But I might just do so, this time.

Now let's get back to that crazy, elitist liberal agenda. Come 2009, everyone will have to learn Latin, attend the opera, and substitute extra virgin olive oil for Crisco. Top up my Soave, would you? There's a good chap.

Obama supporters can log onto Obamacycle.com
to swap and re-use campaign materials.
The rally was some three weeks after St. Patrick's Day,
but thrifty Milfordites didn't seem to care.

Photos of Grey Towers and the Fauchere from their respective websites.


Chance Encounter with an Old Friend

There I was. Walking down the street, minding my own business. And what should slap me in the face but a giant cooch!

Of course, there was a woman attached. Like most men, I’m programmed to view her as nice, but merely a gift-with-purchase.

Coming from a gay guy, you might find that last sentence odd. Isn’t our programming different? In some ways, perhaps. And in some ways, we’re a little less different than we seem.

As a confused youth, The Honourable Husband consorted with the fairer sex quite a bit—he certainly gave it the good ol’ college try.

And why not? What’s not to like?

Take tits. I get tits. Could play with tits for days. Bouncy, silly, innocent, tasty, curious, ticklish, fun. Generously-nippled and endlessly unpredictable.

Tits have real personality. Think about how they get all dolled up into a nicely cleavaged bust, looking a million dollars, ready to go out and meet the world eye to eye. Think about them when your lover is lying on her back, her breasts at ease—nipples akimbo, pointing to four and eight o’clock, opening her heart to you.

The vagina, though, remained a stumbling block.

My father had no stash of Playboys for me to discover, nor god forbid, share on the sly. The Honurable Husband’s first glimpse of snatch was when he and the young lady were already en flagrante.

I'll admit it.  I found it confronting. 

A woman can be groomed, coiffed and manicured. She can keep herself perfect as a work of art. But a vagina betrays all that. It reminds you that woman is animal.  Being reminded that man is animal somehow seems like less of a surprise.

That poster on the corner, not five doors from my house, was the first time I’d confronted female anatomy in quite a while. My first reaction was one of sheer delight to live in Europe, since you could never plaster your privates over a billboard in, say, Alabama. My second reaction was, yep, I’m still gay.

The poster sits outside a museum called the Villa Stuck, which is no stranger to the odd flash of gash. Expressionist painter Franz Stuck built it as his studio and atelier, after he married a rich American widow, of course. Some say that the Villa Schtup is the single building that most typifies the Munich Jugendstil style of art noveau, for which the city (and my neighbourhood in particular) is justly famous.

When the building and furniture won a Grand Prix at the Paris Exhibition of 1900, the Kaiser waved his magic wand and turned plain-old Herr Stuck into the glamourous Count von Stuck. This gave him license to be decadent, horny and perverse—the privilege of aristocrats everywhere.

Count von Stuck mainly painted figures from Greek and Roman mythology, which provided an excuse for them all being rather compromised in the clothing department. His most famous piece, The Sin (1893), caused a sensation. Hell, it caused all kinds of sensations.

One of the things that attracted me to the neighbourhood was the Villa’s roof full of tasteful dickage, ready to make a long wait for the nearby tram pass that little bit faster.

It’s grand to see that the current masters of the museum are staying true to Stuck’s spirit in their choice of temporary exhibitions. The current show lasts ‘til July. Plenty of time for the minge and me to reminisce.


Should I trash the War Memorial?


I own a calendar. Like many calendars of its day, this one has a huge ornamental image on top. The image is an American flag, colours rich and deep, with the flags of the fifty states arranged in a clockwise circle around it. These flags follow the order of accession to statehood, starting with Delaware and ending with Hawaii. My home state of Pennsylvania, though a crucial player in American independence, lagged behind the other colonies in signing on the dotted line. Our rather unremarkable flag hides, anonymously, in sixth place. An exquisitely kerned Pledge of Allegiance sits below the central image.

For every day except Sundays, up to and including August 9th,1974, someone has written a single digit number. That day—a Thursday—is marked in red. Thereafter, the hand-written numbers stop.

The calendar was a freebie from the American Ex-Serviceman's Association of Australia, South Australia sub-branch, of which my father was a member. Had he not scored it for free, we would have made do with the Columban Calendar, bought at church every year "to support the missions". Much less flashy, the Columbans showed instructive pictures of their order at work. Perhaps a priest baptising adult Pakistani heathen, a brother teaching the catechism to a bulging classroom of Filipino kids, or a nun washing the eye of an aboriginal child blinded by trichnosis.

The Columban calendar had one advantage. Plenty of space to write doctor's appointments (often missed) due dates for bills (often ignored) and vitally, the number of bottles we asked the milkman to deliver each morning.

Our family drank loads of milk (You can see it today in our waistlines). Raised on cartons of fifties-style Homo Milk in Pittsburgh, one of the pleasures of moving to an Australian suburb was a gentleman who delivered actual glass bottles of fresh, straight milk. Real milk in real milk-bottle-shaped bottles, sealed with a heavy foil cap which we opened by depressing it in the middle with our thumbs.

By straight, I mean that the milk was most decidedly not Homo. The Southern Farmer’s Dairy Co-operative bottled the stuff practically from the cow’s teat. Cream sat in a layer on the top—sometimes a very thick layer, especially in winter, when the pastures were rich and the cows a bit lazy. We kids loved this layer of cream for iced coffee and other treats; creamy chocolate milk is the best. Of course, we got yelled at if we opened a new bottle of milk, just to get the cream, while another remained opened in the fridge.

Mostly, my father conducted the morning milk audit. He was the earliest riser, and the grumpiest about how much the world was out to cheat him. He railed against the milkman—otherwise a perfectly nice chap, I thought—because he always tried to up-sell us to home delivered butter, cheese, or some damn thing.

Checking the milk tally, and recording it on the calendar, was one of the few bits of family life that interested my father. Unfortunately, the American Flag Calendar wasn’t quite up to the task.

The functional bit with dates and such huddled at the bottom on a pad of blueprint paper. It was always meant to occupy a wall in a school, church or clubhouse; to be used for planning scout camps or bake sales, or reminding us when Easter was. Not to act as a diary for those like my mother, too scatterbrained to write things down on anything substantial, like one of those newly-trendy Filofaxes. Waste of money to buy anything so vain and self-important as a diary, went the family line.

I can’t recall what started the daily argument on August 9th. I think the milkman left fewer bottles than he’d been asked. An oversight, perhaps? Maybe he’d just run out. No biggie, one would have thought.

My father was outraged. We had better damn well make sure that we check the bill at the end of the week. Or does nobody care about saving money in this house, greedy spendthrifts that we were?

This led to my mother making a few remarks bout the relative levels of industry which the two heads of household displayed. My mother had recently gone back to work, and my father had been laid off from his job. Perhaps it might be he who should check the bill at the end of the week, since he had nothing better to do?

My mother wasn’t trying to start an argument. She never tries to start an argument. She hates arguments. She simply has no idea that anything she says might cause offense. She just opens her mouth, and when someone takes her words to heart, she has no other reply than a blank, confused stare.

My father always took it to heart. Anger was a hobby.

Now, I’m not sure exactly what they said. How the number of bottles of milk led to affairs of the heart. But at one stage, it became apparent there was an elephant in the room. And it was up to me, eldest son, just turned sixteen, to identify it. After all, they both taught me (at the end of a strap) to tell the truth.

“Well, if that’s the way you feel,” I remarked to my parents, “why don’t you get a divorce?”

I had rubbed the genii out of the lamp, and none of us could recant him. From then on, the arguments weren’t about milk bottles. Not about who was idle and who busy, nor about the hundreds of small snags that family life throws up every day—stuff that most families dispense with in an instant , but which stopped us dead in our tracks and ended in misery and reproach. Now, the issue was divorce. Every argument focused on how much the two spouses hated each other, and how each would be out of the marriage in an instant if the other would just be reasonable about the divorce conditions.

This would continue for another eight years.

One thing that did not continue was anyone marking the number of milk bottles left out for the milkman. Nobody checked the tally; I can’t recall if we even paid the bill very often. Nobody bothered, even, to change the month from August to September.

When the calendar finally came down, I marked the day in red, and kept it. Later, I framed it.

Why? I don’t quite know.

To commemorate a moment of clarity and honesty in the train wreck that was our family life? To congratulate myself for ending a sham? Because it was a nice calendar? No, none of these things.

I kept it to commemorate a tragedy. Kind of like those crosses and flowers people put at the scene of an accident. To honour the suffering. (Mainly, I guess, my own.) I nicknamed this calendar the War Memorial. It has followed me around the world, though in most of the places I lived, there was no spot to hang it. I never even unwrapped it in New York or Munich—the bubble wrap still bears labels from Tokyo.


The other day, I came across the War Memorial. Should I find a spot on the wall for it? Part of me says yes, I should put it on the wall to remind me how far I’ve come. Part of me wants to throw it away; nay, burn it in disgust. Part of me says I could probably get a few bucks for it in the Ephemera and Collectibles section of Ebay.

What do you think I should do? There is a poll at the top of the sidebar, or leave a comment.

EDIT

The poll is now closed, and you certainly made your opinions clear. Everyone told me to treasure this bittersweet keepsake.

Only two votes dissented. One was me voting from my work computer, and the other was me voting from my home computer. This exercise proved both revealing and theraputic, both in the writing of it and the discussion. Why do I feel so differently from the world at large? Do I really think that trashing keepsakes will erase the past? Probably. All you wiser people are telling me that it won't work, right?

I may well take Arizaphale up on her kind offer. Lemme think about it, Riz.


The Utch

Where is he gay today? Amsterdam.

Hieronymus Bosch Antiquariaat, in the Leliegracht
"I call them the Utch," said the Diva, "because after a year, I give my host culture a D-Minus."


As if to confirm her judgement, our drug-fucked waitress sloshed a cup of Douwe Egberts fakeaccino across the table without a word of remorse, nor an effort to wipe it up.

The Diva does the same thing I do for a living, only better. A perceptive and articulate woman of Mexican stock, we used to work together in NYC, before her fortunes took her to Amsterdam, and mine to Munich.

"Weeeelll, maybe once you get to know them you'll find they have hearts of gold, deep down."

"Deep down? You mean among the swanshit sludge at the bottom of a canal?" she sneered. "You should try being a Hispanic in Holland."

"What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing, except that everyone mistakes you for a Muslim." she sighed. With her long dark hair and light-coffee complexion, the Diva looks ten kinds of exotic. She might be Brazilian beach bunny, a Roma princess, a swarthy Scheherezade or a native American. Trust the Dutch to take all those gorgeous possibilities, and read terrorist. "It's not just the stares and the suspicion. I've been grabbed, jostled and hounded. So much for tolerance."

Outside the Cafe Brandon, in the Kezergrecht

"Well, that book my old pal wrote should have given you a hint. A cuture which religiously examines its bowel movements on a little shelf in the lav needs some cheering up. The Dutch ain't laugh-a minute.


"I don't know", she said sarcastically, "I did hear an actual Dutch joke recently."

"Oh?"

"Yes. When the Germans invaded in WWII, the first thing they took away were the bicycles. So when you meet a German, you're supposed to ask for your bike back."

"Um, that could sound funny with the right timing."

"Sure," she replied, mopping up the coffee with a dog-eared copy of Danish GQ, which the cafe management had left on the table since 2004. "...hysterical."


A cry for help

Dear Abby,

I'm all in a tizz! The people I love are tearing each other apart!

Betty (not her real name) is my faithful fag hag. We met when cast opposite each other, as Mr. And Mrs MacAfee in a student-theater production of Bye-Bye Birdie. (C'mon boys...how many of you met the hag of your dreams through amateur musicals? Thought so.)

I call her my Not-Insignificant Other. And we've enjoyed over twenty years of not-unwedded bliss.

Betty sports impeccable hag credentials. She smokes like incense, drinks like a drain, and pours obscenity onto the conversation like she pours gravy on mashed potatoes. That is, abundantly.

Speaking of abundance, we nicknamed her breasts Hindenberg I and Hindenberg II. Like their namesake, they ceased to defy gravity in a most spectacular way quite some time ago.

The two of us even shared a house, Will-and-Grace style. It was perfect; we agreed early on that she needn't show any graciousness, and I shouldn't display any will. (Fag hags are allowed to be a little bit bossy, aren't they?)

Her sex life? Tres predictable. Betty had no trouble finding straight male companionship in her youth. She used these boys like kleenex. After a quick blow, she tossed them away. And as the years passed, she decided that unless one found the perfect handkerchief, one could stifle the urge to sneeze. Soon, she stopped looking for the handkerchief entirely.

Me? What gay man stops looking for a hanky? I found mine in a distant city, sticking out of the right-hand back pocket (For joy! A bottom!) which covered the oh-so-cute tush of a dark, elegant man named Master Right. (That's actually what his name means in his native Japanese.)

He balked at meeting Betty. "She sounds a little bit...well, vulgar." he admitted after I needled him. He's such a snob. And because he's the love of my life, I find it endearing.

Master Right and I weren't living together at the time, so when Betty came to visit, I arranged for us to meet at a restaurant for dinner. And the Master, with a good mannered but patently flimsy excuse, stood us up.

Betty quietly fumed at me for at least an hour. She fumed almost as much as that memorable moment when we decided to add two cats to our household.

"My dearest," she remarked, "we need to resist the idea that these cats are surrogate children for two childless, middle-aged, single people."

"Not likely." I replied, perhaps a little injudiciously. "Everybody knows cats are surrogate boyfriends. But only for you. It's a girl thing."

Oh, Abby, tell me what to do. They're both acting like children. It will simply ruin our plans for a tasteful wedding in Vancouver. I wanted Betty to be our Best Human, but she's threatening to stand us up as an act of spite!

Why, I'll need to cancel the whole thing! That means losing the deposit on the topless lesbian biker escorts for the wedding coach, the speedos for the groomsmen, the size 12 reinforced stilettos for the bridesmen, and the leather harness for the archdeacon!

What's more, I'm so upset that I've COMPLETELY forgotten how to be STRAIGHT-ACTING! My hips have become gorgeous and slim, and move side-to-side as I walk, rather than backward-and-forward. I traded in the Silverado on a Hyundai. I found myself serving chardonnay to my dinner party guests. I am neat and well organised. And--gasp!--master Right and I bought a lovely set of china at the Pottery Barn.

Yours sincerely,

The Honurable Husband

(not his real name)


Princess Grace's First Foreskin

No it's not like a banana. Everybody expects a goddamn banana.

Princess Grace, my #2 fag hag, was on the phone, sizing up her latest prospect for happiness. He is a gentleman with, it seems, a foreskin.

"I'd never serviced an uncut man before. With the top up, it hardly even looks like a penis." She spoke like she'd just discovered a box of stale Pop-Tarts, remembered an errand, or got the wrong frappasomething at Starbuck's. "Hey presto, he gets excited and it disappears. Where on earth could it go? Does it just, like, fall off?"

"Yes," I said, "It falls off and a new flap of skin grows before the next boner."

"Get outta here! Really?"

"No. Just pulling your...uh, it simply retracts."

"I thought you had to peel it like a banana." she continued. "That would be logical."

"C'mon. Imagine sticking it in with shreds hanging down the sides. And when the cock deflates, what does a guy do? Zip up the gussets?"

"Gussets! You're so funny. I bet you call your boner a stiffy!" She giggled for a moment, and returned to business. "Um, I don't see why not. How else would it work?"

"Forget the banana. It's more like..." I paused, stumped. "Um...it's more like a freezer pop."

"Ooooh. I see. A freezer pop. That makes sense now." She paused. "Are you sure that's how God designed cocks?"

"You Americans..." I sighed, "How could a sexually active woman reach the age of (censored) and not face a foreskin?"

"Well, Mr. Been-Around-the-Block-on-His-Knees, I've been choosy about the dick I suck."

"Me, too!" I retorted, knowing this applied only if measured by gay standards. "I knew how uncut dicks worked long before I started sucking any."

"You don't mean...you're uncut?"

"Circumcision? Dad wouldn't hear of it...and no doubt wouldn't pay the extra $200, either.  Many men of his generation weren't cut.   Did you ever see your father naked?"

"Eeuuw. Gross. No."

"Maybe you should ask your mom about it."

"I don't think she's ever seen his dick, either."

"So...they're in-the-dark, eyes-closed types? I know she's a strict Catholic, but surely..."

"Well," she interrupted, "not just that. She's usually...um, facing the other way."
Long pause for mental picture.

"Don't ask me how I know this." she cautioned.


The price men pay.

I post in an online community that deals with men's issues. A member—a female member, interestingly—raised the topic of men and their tears.

Many men wrote of crying for lost loved ones, or the pain of separation. Posters spoke of the funerals at which they cried, and how it put them back in touch with the emotional depth of which they are capable. Losing the one you love gives men a license to weep, it seems.

I commend my fellow men. On the other hand, I feel a bit sad for us. What a barren emotional life, if you need to wait for funerals and divorces to show emotion! How do we expect men to keep their hearts closed for so long?
Some men boasted how easily they're re moved to tears. Several admitted that they cry more often and more fulsomely than their wives and girlfriends. Are men really heartless droogs, as so much modern discourse suggests?
In his indispenable book on male depression, I Don't Want to Talk About It, writer and clinician Terence Real quotes much fascinating research. It suggests men may be more emotionally responsive than women. More alert to feelings, in themselves and in others. More profoundly affected by sadness, joy, pity, alarm...even, dare I say it, love.

Somewhere along the path between birth and manhood, men lose their unique emotional gifts. How?

One might argue the only way to train an animal to behave so profoundly against its nature, is through strong negative reinforcement. That is, punishment. In truth, violence.

So many of my cyber-brothers wrote movingly of their own violent instruction in manhood.

I don't cry. If I did as a kid my dad hit me. I learned quick to be strong means be devoid of "weak" emotions. I never hugged people after sex when I felt a bit sad. If I lost a wrestling match my coach would usually yell at me and dare me to cry. I remember standing in the locker room naked holding back the tears as he yelled and belittled me. I coach wrestling & I teach. I encourage my boys to communicate their emotions. Crying is not "breaking down". It is honest open communication. They look at me like I'm nuts when I say "It's okay to cry". The worst sight in the world is watching a 15 year old boy fighting to hold back the natural tears his feelings & body want to produce. It kills me anytime I see it. I can't cry. I have tried.
The violence is, of course, emotional as much as physical.
My old man used to go off on hour-plus long tirades, couched in terms of "family meeting" but it was usually just us as an audience while he went off verbally, redfaced, hoarse - totally apopleptic over one of us. In one of these tirades, I was singled out for having the undesirable trait of crying easily. "You look at the kid crosseyed and he cries, for Gods sake! [mother], when's this SHIT gonna STOP?" I vowed from that point to do whatever was necessary to either surpress or hide any crying. I think I was seven years old.
Many women observe that the most vocal enforcers of male stoicism are, in fact, other men. Thus, it becomes a problem for which women hold no responsibility.

Wrong. Authorities like William Pollack document, time and again, that mothers buy into myths about masculinity as much as fathers.

Mothers push boys away earlier, and assume that they need less nurturing than girls. They provide less of the positive reinforcement that builds self esteem. Less of the normal human closeness that makes us feel secure, sane, and loved.

Men administer the violence, women the daily humiliations. My father may have been the rageaholic, but my mother was the cruelaholic.

Rewind. The Honourable Husband suffers fifth grade in a Pittsburgh mill town. At the top of his class, duking it out for academic kudos with the handsome, blonde, athletic kid whom everyone liked.

Unlike my rival, the other kids taunted me mercilessly on the lengthy walk home from school every day. What was different? Difficult to say. Did I act a bit gay, maybe? Probably not; I was a regular-guy kid. You know...cars, guns, games, bad jokes, that kind of thing.

Mainly, I think, the kids lashed into me for showing emotion. I had the temerity to be hurt by an insult.

It started in kindergarten. I know this for a fact, because one of the taunts from first graders went we're in a grade and you're in a garden. The sentence, conveniently, scans the same as nyah nyah, nyuh nyaaah nyah.

In the fitfh grade, a teacher finally noticed. Or cared. Her name was, ironically, Miss Savage*.

One day, during study period, Miss Savage asked me to step outside for a little chat. (Whispers and giggles in the classroom.) Outside the classroom door, she spoke to me kindly, but firmly. It turns out that I'm just just too sensitive. And I should stop it. OK?

Miss Savage had let my mother know of our little chat. When I got home, my mother sat me down for another little chat. About how humiliated she was. About the trouble I caused. About not knowing what to do with a kid like me. Whatever that was.

It ended the same way it always ended. With my father involved, both parents shouting to stop crying, or we'll give you something to cry about.

How many men of my generation find those very words baked into their brains? It can't be clearer. Cry, and get beaten. Pavlov would approve.

So, I stopped.

Miss Savage took me aside several weeks later. "Remember our little chat?" she asked.

"Yes" I said.

"Are things better?"

"Yes" I said.

Miss Savage smiled. She had created another strong man who spoke in single syllables, like men should. In the usual male manner, I would get misty from time to time, but when I really needed to cry, I couldn't.

My first decent therapist, whom I saw in my early thirties, shocked me. He pointed out that wanting to cry, but not being able to, was not a sign of manliness. It was a marker for clinical depression. No wonder depression goes undiagnosed in men.

After years of work on the problem, I have recovered the ability to cry on happy occasions. It's harder to let tears soothe my sadness—I resist giving myself succour. Many men share the same problem; we cannot comfort ourselves.

I manage it, but usually with the help of a certain Dr. Johnnie Walker. Yes, I know. That's not a good thing.

Several men rediscovered the ability to cry only when pushed to breaking point.
I agree that American society teaches its young men to be callous almost to the point of automatons when it comes to emotions. When I was a child, I could bawl myself tearless easily. However, in my teens, I began just holding it back. It is very hard for me to cry still. I lost my grandfather in 2002 and couldn't get out a tear over it even though I loved the man. In 2003, I lost grandma on the other side of the family and couldn't cry. I remember watching my first son born the next month and wanting to cry in joy, but being unable to. I couldn't cry when my second son was born in 2005. In September 2006, I was held up at gunpoint by a punk who just wanted drugs. It was obvious he was coming off a "trip" and Jonesing for his next hit. I finally found myself crying from anger at myself for letting it bother me. [The experience reminded me] that crying was the release it had been as a kid...and not to hold back so much. However, it is still a hard thing for me to do.
It took a physical threat to remove their tears; sometimes, it takes physical pain to restore them.
Some of us were so badly stunted by life that we can't cry. I was so badly abused by my family that I turned to stone. I showed no emotion of any kind until I was in my 20s. Then, I wound up in such physical agony that I cried for 3 years. The pain was horrible. Next, I learned to laugh. Trust me, this man can laugh loud and proud. I don't cry often but when I do, I make up for all the other times. Sheesh I am an ugly crier. My cousin died 4 days before Christmas. She was the last relative I had that really cared about me. I cried for days.
These are the lucky ones. Few men rediscover healthy sadness. Instead, they engineer emotional release through a bottle, a joint, or a syringe. Or, their solitary misery explodes into violence. Against other men, usually, or hmself.

June Stephenson, in a rather grim little treatise called Men Are Not Cost-Effective, proposes a means to deal with male violence. 
She argues that men can be encouraged to take collective responsibility for their own behaviour through adding a gender surcharge to their income tax. Men should pay a punitive $100 a year for the cost of male behaviour. For the extra policing and incarceration. For the damage male recklessness causes to the environment, or the community. And, especially, to protect women.

I wish it were that simple. There's only one real way to make men behave better.  Stop beating them up in the first place.  Stop threatening them with violence, for just being human.

Guess what? They'll become human beings, not crippled, limping, wounded animals, prone to lash out against their perceived captors. And for pity's sake, let us cry.

Apologies for a late addition to the 2007 Blog Against Sexism.
*That was her real name. The next year, I had a teacher named Bill Sykes. No kidding.