Monday, June 27, 2011

Busy

Two weeks ago, it seemed like life pulled the rug out from under me, and then still had the audacity to kick me in the nuts.  Ouch. 

Okay, maybe I'm being a bit dramatic, but it was a tough week at work, having gotten pulled onto a major project with a tight turnaround, which entailed working late at the office, crawling home, working until midnight, crawling into bed, and then being back at the office by 7 a.m.  And while I was able to get done what I needed to do, I needed the following week to catch up on all of the other stuff that I had had to put by the wayside, hence the lack of (personal) writing/blogging.  So today, I took a personal day to recuperate a bit, which included a good run this morning (even with the bit of rain that fell during my last lap around the park), and about 12 miles on the bike. 

Here's a rundown on some of the things that have happened of late.

The garden
I am not known for having a green thumb.  In fact, I've been known to even kill bamboo.  Yes, my lucky bamboo that sat in a vase in my office - I managed to kill it.  (It went from a beautiful green to mushy yellow with black spots, so I figured it was a goner.)  So it's a frakkin' miracle that this year's vegetable plantings have not yet kicked the bucket under my watch.  I'm not a huge fan of summer (because the humidity makes my hair stand on end even more than usual), but I do love the annual ritual of planting flowers, vegetables and herbs, and watching them grow.  This year's crop includes three tomato plants (heirloom, cherry and grape - I think), a green pepper plant, basil, mint, rosemary and thyme.  Two of the tomato plants are growing like weeds, and are even outpacing the round cages we installed to support them; the third seems to be a bit stunted in growth, but is already bearing six beautiful cherry tomatoes that we're hoping will ripen soon.  The green pepper plant is showing five little buds that I hope will all turn into peppers, and the herbs are flourishing to the point that I've been sharing with colleagues.  And while I have no designs on being a farmer at any time soon, I have to admit there's something tremendously satisfying about watching nature at work and being able to say that we grew our own produce.

The screamer
On my route home, I occasionally have to share a bus with an older, stout woman, probably in her 60s, with grey, greasy hair.  I first saw her about two years ago on a different bus line, but now she seems to have migrated to my current route.  I call her the screamer because, well, that's what she does.  She speaks in some type of Eastern European language (as far as my non-Eastern European ear can tell), usually in a very loud voice to herself, and then - she screams.  Literally, she screams, sometimes at the top of her lungs.  And even though I'm sure she must suffer from a mental illness of some sort, it's very disconcerting to hear, especially since I'm on tenterhooks the entire ride, waiting for it to happen. 

Two weeks ago, when I was coming home late from another slog fest at the office, it was raining cats and dogs, and the screamer got on the bus.  (I was behind her in the line, and hadn't boarded at this point.)  The bus driver, who must have known who she was from prior experience, immediately ordered her off.  She wouldn't listen at first, and began screaming at the top of her lungs in protest.  It was - in all honesty - quite horrifying.  Eventually, after about five minutes, she got off the bus, and the bus driver took off without her.

I do feel sorry for her.  I don't know where she comes from, or where she's going.  I used to work for a social service agency that helps people with mental illness, so I like to think that I have an understanding of how debilitating mental illness can be.  Still, it's hard not to be alarmed when I see the screamer approaching, because I don't know if she'll be calm or agitated.  And when I'm coming home from a tough day at work, it's hard not to want a quiet, uninterrupted ride on the bus home.  I guess it's one of the perils of public transit.

Pride
This past weekend was Pride in Chicago, with the parade on Sunday.  In the past few weeks, we've seen the first civil unions to be performed in Illinois, and the gay marriage bill that passed in New York just last week.  And my blogging guru, Nofo, has a great post about why we - as a gay community - have much to be proud of.  And it's thanks to the gay activists, advocates, volunteers, and trailblazers who have led the way for the past fifty years that I am able to live my life openly - with my family, at work, in my neighborhood, on the WWW.

Still, I haven't been to the parade in years.  I'm not good in large crowds or in direct sunlight (no, I'm not a vampire), so I've tended to avoid the parade for those reasons.  But when I did go, what used to mean the most to me was not the glad-handing politicians trying to curry favor with the gay community, the gyrating muscle boys in skimpy trunks (even though they're nice to look at), the sequined drag queens, or any of the attention-getters who seem to find their way into the newspaper/media.  To me, the most meaningful of the parade participants are groups like PFLAG, the gay and lesbian associations of police and medical professionals, and the advocacy organizations that have worked so hard to win us the equal rights and acceptance that we deserve as gay men and women. 

To me, pride is about having my partner's picture on my desk at work, letting others know how important he is to me, bringing him to the office holiday party or other events, and never feeling like I need to hide who I am.  But I'm glad that we have a parade - in Chicago and around the world - because pride is worth celebrating.  I guess I consider my pride to be a bit more subdued than a once-a-year-on-a-parade-float event.  My pride is 365/24/7.

Loyal reader...s
So even though I know that my increasing infrequency of postings has led to dwindling readership, I was surprised to learn over the weekend that my dad reads my blog.  Hi, Dad!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Update

I've previously written about Tyler Clementi here, but since I was in the throngs of preparing for our SF trip, I haven't had an opportunity to provide an update on the arraignment of the sad excuse for a human being schmuck who now stands accused of the invasion of privacy that ultimately led to Tyler's death.

Dharun Ravi - whose name shall ever be dragged in mud - was arraigned on May 23.  For a 19-year-old guy who, at one point, had so much to say about his gay roommate (including inviting his friends online to watch the webcast), he was uncharacteristically wordless during his court appearance. 

While he has not been charged with having a direct role in Tyler's suicide, in my view, Ravi's heinous actions contributed to Tyler's death by bullying him, specifically because he was gay.  If Tyler was straight, I doubt that Ravi would have set up the webcam; instead, Ravi would have happily cleared out of the room, patted Tyler on the back and high-five'd him for a job well done.  But we all know what happened instead.

Even worse, Ravi is accused of trying to get a witness to not cooperate with prosecutors, erasing text messages, and replacing his Twitter messages that encouraged his cronies to watch his webcast of Tyler.

From the New York Times:
Mr. Ravi has been accused of setting up a webcam on Sept. 19, 2010, to view Mr. Clementi without his knowledge, then going to the room of Ms. Wei to turn the camera on remotely and watch. Ms. Wei and Mr. Ravi were high school friends from Plainsboro, N.J., and lived in the same dorm at Rutgers.
“Roommate asked for the room till midnight,” said a message posted that night on Twitter that the authorities attribute to Mr. Ravi. “I went into Molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” He is accused of setting up the camera again two days later, and urging others to watch.
Posts on a gay chat site, believed to be by Mr. Clementi, show that he learned of the spying and decided to report it to a resident adviser. “I feel like it was ‘look at what a fag my roommate is,’ ” he wrote on Sept. 21, adding that Mr. Ravi’s friends seemed more upset about his having a gay roommate than about his spying.
Despicable. 

Regardless of the outcome of this trial, like his co-conspirator Molly Wei, this will plague Ravi for the rest of his life.  Any potential employer, spouse, school, bank, or credit company is going to be able to see what he did, and it will likely (negatively) affect his prospects forever.  Serves.  Him.  Frakkin'.  Right.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Musical

I'm a big fan of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City (as detailed here), so when planning our recent trip to San Francisco, I just about peed my pants when we got tickets to the final preview night of the musical adaptation commissioned and presented by the American Conservatory Theater


With a tummy full of a so-so hamburger from Lori's Diner, a pocketful of lozenges to quell the hacking cough that has still not yet learned how to quit me, and a very patient hubby by my side, I climbed the several flights of stairs and settled into my (steep) balcony seat in a packed house with much excitement and - in all truth - a little trepidation.  How do you capture lightning in a bottle?

Firstly, props to ACT for an amazing set design by Douglas W. Schmidt, primarily a three-level structure with moving (up and down) platforms and screens that seamlessly alternated between 28 Barbary Lane, nightclubs, office space, and even a cliff where one seedy character meets his demise.  (Or does he...?)  The set has the perfect combination of sparseness yet believability, and was well-suited to the production.

Of the cast, my favorites included Judy Kaye (Anna Madrigal), Mary Birdsong (Mona Ramsey), and Wesley Taylor (Michael "Mouse" Tolliver).  I thought that Kaye really captured the "den mother" aspect of Anna Madrigal, and, frankly, was as much like Olympia Dukakis from the TV adaptation as I could have wanted.  And I thought that Birdsong was the free-spirited Mona to a T (including revealing her boobies on stage), and Taylor was thoroughly believable as the eternally lovelorn/lovesick Michael. 

That being said, theirs were not the strongest singing voices (although Birdsong was pretty good overall).  I thought that honor went to Betsy Wolfe (Mary Ann Singleton), who has a big brassy voice, albeit a little thin in the upper register, followed closely by Kathleen Elizabeth Monteleone (DeDe Halcyon-Day).

But, IMHO - and even though I desperately wanted to like it - the weak link to the show is the music itself.  Librettist Jeff Whitty and composers John Garden and Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters did an admirable job of crafting songs that fit the story, but I felt that it generally fell flat.  When I see a musical or a concert of any sort, I want to leave humming a tune, grabbing onto a melody.  But nothing from this show really stuck for me.  Maybe I'll feel differently if they release a cast recording in the future and I can listen to it again and perhaps come to appreciate it more.  Maybe I was thinking that it would be like Wicked, and I'd immediately fall in love with it.  Or maybe I was just expecting too much.

Still, I thought it was a good show overall, and captured the essence of the first book of the series (and parts of the second), even with some artistic license. (AfterElton has a good review here.)  The hubby and I had a good discussion following the show about the viability of the production in other settings; that is, could a show that is as geographic-centric as Tales do as well in other parts of the country, even Broadway?  With some tinkering and tightening up of the music, I think it could.  What has always drawn me to Maupin's stories is how family is who you make it to be - whether blood relative or otherwise - which is the case for many gay men and women, regardless of where you live.

So, survey says, go see the show if you're in San Francisco - it's been extended to July 24.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Vacation

The past two weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind, including a visit from the in-laws, and my first trip to San Francisco over Memorial Day weekend.  And thanks to a partner who always does an amazing job of planning our trips, we were able to hit all the major sites, despite my having caught a doozy of a cold on the Thursday that we left ORD.  By Friday, my voice had dropped an octave, and the chills hit me on Saturday.  And I'm still hacking up a lung a week later.  And hating the taste of cough drops even more than I did before.  Bleh.

First, a word about the actual flight down there.  This was my first time flying on Continental, which included confusion about where to check in because of the merger with United, a 1.5 hour delay, and one of the most uncomfortable flights I have ever experienced.  Scrunched seating, hardly any legroom (I'm only 5'9 and my knees still backed into the seat in front of me at all times), bad service (the first time the beverage cart made an appearance was about two hours into the flight) - ugh.  Never. Again.  As it is, we only fly United when absolutely necessary, a plan to which we will continue to adhere, to the greatest extent possible.  On the flight back, we were at least able to switch to aisle seats, which was slightly better, but not much.

We stayed at the Marriot Marquis, which was very conveniently located in the Union Square area, and a stone's throw away from the Powell BART station (the commuter train from the airport, which, at $8.10 per person each way, is still cheaper than a cab or shuttle bus).  We had requested a large corner room (thanks to Matthew's research), which was far from the noise of the elevator (and foot traffic), and gave us a great view of Market Street and the gate to Chinatown a few streets up.

We took three rides on the iconic (yet expensive) cable car, which was an adventure in and of itself.  The line to get on was extraordinarily long each time, and at $5 a pop (cash only), it's not cheap.  Still, it's hard not to enjoy the open air ride (although we had seats each time), especially as you get close and personal with your neighbors when you go up and down the hills.


Ding, ding, ding went the trolley...
 Apart from the barely-passable Caesar salad from CVS (because I had a fever and couldn't go out for dinner), we ate pretty well, with an emphasis on Asian food:
  • Dinner at an otherwise empty Lichee Garden in Chinatown, where we had a fixed menu meal ($13.50 per person) which included egg rolls, wonton soup, ginger chicken, stir-fried beef, and honey roasted pork.  All in all, the food was very good, although the hostess tried to push us to get another dish that I'm sure would have cost much more.  (While we were a bit nervous about eating at a place that had no other customers, it had been recommended in a book that I perused at City Lights Bookstore earlier in the day.)
  • Dinner at Ahn Hong, a Vietnamese restaurant which is supposedly known for its seven courses of beef, but which we didn't want to try that night because it just sounded like too much beef for one sitting.  What we ordered (eggrolls, grilled beef with fried rice) was m'eh, at best, and just made us all the more grateful for our favorite Chicago option in Hoanh Long.  And the only time our waiter was actually attentive was at the end of the meal when he waited for me to sign the receipt and leave a tip.  Asshole.
  • Dim sum at Ocean Pearl in Chinatown, which was bustling with Asian faces, even on a non-holiday Tuesday at noon.  We would have been shunted to the lower level/basement seating area (which we would later find out is where they seat all the non-Asians) had my particular non-Asian not requested seating on the upper level.  We enjoyed some of the usual dim-sum suspects, including surprisingly tasty shrimp-celery-cilantro har-gow, and egg custard tarts. 
  • Lunch at Mifune in Japantown, which is part of the large Japan Center Mall that we walked to.  For $10.50 each, we got a large "combination" meal, which, for me, was a bowl of miso-flavored soup with ramen, pork and fish cakes, with six pieces of California roll sushi.
  • Brunch at Luna Park, which was recommended to me by a colleague.  With high ceilings, dark wood paneling, and a low-key vibe, this place reminded me very much of something we'd find in Wicker Park or Bucktown.  
We also took several walking tours (oy, the hills!), including Lombard Street, the Castro, Chinatown, Japantown, the Mission District, and the amazing farmers' market at Embarcadero.


This famous, winding street comes with its very own Asian tourists.


The Castro's flame burns bright.

Harvey Milk's former camera shop - which hosted his gay rights community organizing and political office campaigns - is now home to an HRC retail store and The Trevor Project's help lines for troubled teens.

And on Sunday night, we caught the last of the preview shows for the musical adaptation of Tales of the City at the American Conservatory TheaterWhile I enjoyed the show overall, I'll have more to say about it in a subsequent posting.

And by Monday I had recovered enough from my cold that we were able to rent bikes, bike over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, and catch the ferry back.  An amazing - albeit chilly - bike ride.