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Hello There Young Man

Monday night after the World AIDS Day Concert at Lake Eola Park a strange thing happened to my friend. We were just standing in the grass talking, minding our own business, when a guy neither of us knew walked up to us. It was a cold night so he had a relatively brisk pace — he definitely wasn’t mosying. I’m sure both my friend and I were thinking, “who is this guy and what does he want?”

There were two things that felt kind of out of place to me. One was this stranger’s dress. As I said, it was cold, especially for Florida. At the concert, which was attended primarily by gay guys, there were a variety of approaches to dealing with the temperature: some, like me, chose to ignore it; others wore fancy fur lined coats. There were plenty of options in-between but almost all were at least somewhat stylish. This guy was different — his dress was much more … utilitarian. He was dressed for the weather and definitely looked like he belonged in the park on a chilly night much more than most of the World AIDS Day celebrators.

The other thing that set this guy apart was the fact that nearly everyone who was there for World AIDS Day got a free glow-stick and was wearing it around his or her neck. When the concert was over we snapped them into a glowing state and were supposed to have a glow-stick-vigil walk around the lake. I can’t say as I actually made it around the lake (I was looking for my friend and it took a while to find him), but the red glow sticks let you know who was who. This guy didn’t have one. Now, that’s not to say that either me or my friend are generally unfriendly, even to those who miss a great World AIDS Day event, but to us he just seemed like an outsider.

So there he was, walking up to us, looking at my friend and as soon as he entered our vicinity said, “Hello there young man.” Seriously.

The thing about it is, my friend is comfortably middle aged. He’s a tall guy, probably over six feet two inches, if I had to guess. He’s been paying more attention to his health and diet lately but I think it’s fair to say he’s an IT guy who works at a desk. The other thing I didn’t really notice about him until that night is that he has a few noticeably gray hairs on his head. My friend is active and not afraid to take on a kayak trip on the St. John’s river as Saturday’s thing-to-do, but it’s probably been a while since someone who wasn’t hitting on him called him “young man.” The look my friend gave him was priceless. With the right director and vision, it really could have been a Visa commercial.

This was, obviously, when things started to go downhill. My friend is not always the most socially outgoing person. He certainly tries hard, but I don’t think he’d embarrassed for me to tell that sometimes his efforts backfire. Our “new friend” certainly didn’t feel the love, and after only four words, the tone of the conversation quickly changed. The stranger immediately picked up on “the look” and wasn’t too shy to share his feelings about it. He said something like, “why are you gonna look at me like that,” to which my friend calmly replied, “I’m just wondering what it is you want.”

At this point, I was actually feeling proud of my friend. I know other people who might let a similar situation escalate, but he was calm and collected and to-the-point. I was wondering what this guy wanted too, but at that point it was a mano e mano affair. The stranger was quick to tell my friend how he was insulted by “the look” and after a relatively brief tirade decided he didn’t have to tolerate a look like that and walked away, muttering to himself.

My friend had to go back to volunteering for the event so we hugged good-bye. Me, I had to go in the direction of the upset stranger so I waited until a few folks (who had glow sticks on) were also headed in that direction and made very pleasant conversation with them until he was out of sight.

Add comment Humanity 12/02/2008 at 14:01 ET

Living in Florida

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of things that I’d change about Florida — the schools could use some work and they won’t let the gays adopt kids. Yet most days I just love living here. I love the weather; some people complain when it gets too hot or too humid, but they’re crazy. I’ll take hot and humid to cold (anything below 65 seems cold anymore) any day. I also love the skies and sunsets. Plus, in my new house I’ve gotten a lot closer to the wildlife. The wild turkeys in our neighborhood are OK. More spectacularly, I’ve seen a few deer within a few hundred yards of my house and they were spectacular. Then, yesterday, I made friends with four Sandhill Cranes.

I just never expect to go out my front door and see such big wild animals in my yard. I grew up in a rather natural part of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but we never had anything bigger than a squirrel or an occasional pheasant. These birds were absolutely magnificent and they were only a few feet away from me. I love living in Florida.

Add comment Humanity 01/08/2008 at 08:04 ET

Happy New Year

I just heard an interesting article on NPR. They were talking to Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. This has actually been my goal (as yet unaccomplished) for quite a while now. I think it’s my new New Year’s Resolution; this is good. Seven words:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Enough said.

Add comment Humanity 01/01/2008 at 07:00 ET

More Alike

I was listening to NPR on my way home today and I was mostly thinking about what I was going to write for my first post to my new blog. I hope there will be many more interesting posts to come, but I strongly felt that the first post aught to be high-caliber. I was about to stop off at the store to pick up a few things (don’t you just love new socks) when I heard an essay by and about Darcy Wakefield on All Things Considered. As NPR often does, it caught my attention. The essay is entitled “Life with Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” It’s the second essay that Ms. Wakefield has written for NPR, but was read by her sister instead of in her own voice. Her ability to speak is only one of the faculties that ALS is slowly taking from her.

Darcy’s essay is mostly about her inability to turn her own body over in bed and how she wasn’t prepared for the possibility that going to bed could a scary proposition. If the covers were to engulf her, it’s not impossible that she would suffocate for the inability to move her body enough to disengage herself. What an unimaginable fear that must be. Yet it was another part of the article that caught my attention. She talks about how one night she reached out her arm to wrap it around her lover — and couldn’t. After the slow but constant progression of her illness, she wasn’t surprised; she just lay there, alone in the dark and alone in her own mind. She was longing to hold him and wanting him to hold her.

Darcy’s feelings aren’t necessarily unique even if her circumstances relatively are. I’ve felt that way before and I know plenty of other people who have too. Yet there is a big difference between Darcy and me: Darcy couldn’t reach out or speak out. I sat in my car and counted the gifts given to someone who can drive himself home from work, call his boyfriend on the way, and spend two hours typing a weblog entry with his own two hands. Maybe it is morbid, but I think almost every day, “it could always be worse….”

The other day I was talking to my friend who is going through some “major trauma” in her personal life. She told me her story and the pain she’s going through. She wasn’t shy to admit that handling the stress is made more difficult by her mental state, which these days she is managing with the aid of some none-too-wimpy medication. I truly felt badly for her and I wouldn’t dare mock the very deep emotions she’s feeling or how her illness must make it a challenge, but I couldn’t help thinking I’ve felt the same way too. I’ve spent whole weeks (or sometimes longer) being sad, disturbing the normal flow of my life, crying until it hurt, and generally feeling like it just couldn’t possibly get better. I think only the most lucky among us can’t relate to those feelings and that experience.

We’re not so different, us homo sapiens, us people. It’s a theme you can use in many contexts. Although the two examples I picked aren’t exactly celebratory of our similarities, I think they offer a fair share of hope. Sometimes when I’m feeling my worst, it’s helpful to know that there are people who’ve been somewhere like where I am, or maybe somewhere worse, and they’ve found a way to move on. Every day I awake and draw breath, I feel thankful because each day is a chance to feel and do and be better. I think to myself, “it could always be worse…you could be dead.”

So when I first conceived adding some weblog features to my site, I had hoped to be different and daring and bold about it. After a whole lot of work (a.k.a. weeks doing just some basic modifications to WordPress’ excellent software), I think I’ve come up with a rather humble beginning. It may be more alike than it is different from other blogs, but maybe it’s not so bad to be similar. Maybe we (or our blogs) should just be human and be thankful. I hope you like my new site.

To listen to Darcy Wakefield’s story from the NPR website, click here.

2 comments Humanity 09/19/2005 at 20:47 ET