Saturday, February 26, 2011

QM2 and extremely expensive pens

Thanks to Robert I have a small, and growing, collection of extremely expensive pens. The pens were actually free. It is just the places that he took them from that were costly. I have pens from two of London’s most prestigious hotels, The Connaught and Claridges, another from one of London’s most elite private clubs, The Tory Party’s Carleton Club, yet another from one of New York’s most historic hotels, the home of the famous (and infamous) New Yorker roundtable, The Algonquian, and my favourite, due to its sleek design, from Virgin Atlantic’s upper class. And now, thanks to our voyage from New York to South Hampton England aboard the QM2 on route to Venice, I have a pen from the Cunard line, with which I originally diarized the notes which have become this blog post.

If you are not aware, the QM2 is an ocean liner (the only one of her kind left, as two of the ships Officers had independently shared over dinner), not to be confused with a cruise liner. The distinction is a matter of which comes first, the ship or the hotel. A cruise liner is a hotel that just happens to have a hull, whereas an ocean liner is a double platted hull that just happens to be shipping a hotel from port to port.
The resulting difference can be summarized as follows. I have been on a cruise liner previously, the Caribbean Princess to be specific (fitting on so many levels). The suite had been large and chock-a-block with amenities including a full four piece bathroom. Comparatively, on the QM2, Robert and I were in one of the more upscale top deck staterooms. While equivalent in creature comforts to a four or five star hotel, it was not nearly as spacious as what I had experienced on the Caribbean Princes and, additionally, the bathroom was missing the tub. On the other hand, to put things in perspective, the QM2 is built to weather an ocean crossing with maelstrom seas of 90 foot waves (roughly nine stories). The Caribbean Princes, well, not so much. I didn’t miss the bathtub. I should design the Cunard brochures. “You want a tub? I’ve got your tub! It’s in your cruise liner Jacuzzi crypt on the muddy seabed of the Atlantic! There’s your tub!”
Being a British liner, the QM2 had few North American electrical sockets outside of the stateroom. Knowing that I was in the process of writing my third manuscript Robert offered to loan me a converter for my laptop so that I could have full range of the ship. Frequently traveling between England, Italy and the United States Robert has an inventory of plug converters in various permutations. On our trip he had wisely brought along one (and only one) which took the relatively delicate and innocuous North American prongs and capped them with the British, “electricity is a damn bit of serious business, and we’ll have no tomfoolery about it”, industrial strength claw-like trident.

However, it was a boomerang loan, and in short order the converter found its way back to him, for he too wanted to use his laptop beyond the confines of our room. Fair enough. It was on my first afternoon of socket scouting which found me, on day 3 at 4:00 pm, in the Golden Lion Pub on the end of a long red- leather banquette beside a tiny bandstand, where the prized North American outlet was discovered. In a Jungian case of bizarre synchronicity (the meaning of which eludes me) it was at that day and time when the QM2 passed over the wreckage of the Titanic. The sea was suddenly the calmest it had been since we had embarked and fog, seemingly from nowhere, had closed around the ship; the kind of silver-gray soup that an iceberg could hide in. Less than an hour earlier people had been sunning on the top decks. Make of it what you will. I personally had made it a double. (As an aside, the QM2 can go from top speed to a full stop in six minutes, during which it will have traveled three thousand meters. Jarring, but awesome, yet with visibility looking to be no more than five hundred meters there was a whole lot of techno-trust going on that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with. )

Whenever possible, the pub became my literary haunt of choice. With six nights at sea, and no ports of call, there is a lot of free-time to people watch should you be so inclined, which I was. And where better to do so than at a pub in the middle of the Atlantic.

As it generally was, the establishment was relatively empty one mid-afternoon when I had once again returned; just enough patrons to keep it interesting, but not enough to be distracting. No sooner had I setup my laptop when a middle-aged man, appearing somewhat worn thin, plopped himself at the table directly beside me. In retrospect I doubt that I was even noticed. With a notable British accent, he ordered a rum and coke in a tall class with a straw and lemon wedge (In hindsight I think he was attempting to camouflage it as purely a soda).

 He had managed a couple of sips before his exasperated wife, with her mother in tow, arrived (both assumptions about the relationships involved are fairly safe bets, I assure you). As the two sat down at the gentleman’s table his spine went a little rigged. His wife sniffed the drink and then looked straight at him as a prelude to her scolding.  She at once asked a question and in no uncertain terms provided the answer. “It’s a little early don’t you think?” People are the best show in town.

Neither here-nor-there I suppose, but to be accurate it was 3:30 in the afternoon. “Since I’ve been married to you there is no such thing,” would have been my answer. But then I’m not the best council in such situations.  

Of related interest, the QM2 has a theatre for live performance which seconds as a non-denominational chapel for private weddings. Conversely, the ship also has a huge expanse of railing from which to sightsee, sections of which could second as a rather secluded place for a witness free divorce.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dating, sexism and fabulous lemonade

Before getting back to the matter of your gay-man-approach to the first meeting, let’s review. You select a man primarily based on his looks and to a lesser extent on his personality. His current job and his career potential are not part of the equation. You pepper conversation ever so lightly with flattery, as you work your way toward complimenting his body parts. 
At this point any man would be lucky to have you, but one small refining matter remains before moving on to that all important first meeting, sexism. I have never seen this topic mentioned in any other dating advice column/blog, mock or not. And I don’t understand why that would be the case. Sexist comments happen. They can be a mood killer and therefore merit discussion.
To be clear, in this post I’m not referring to your date’s stereotypes inadvertently directed at women but rather potentially your stereotypes naively directed at men.  When I started to date men I have to admit that I was not at first consciously aware of the complete absence of sexist comments but I think that it did immediately contributed very positively to the overall enjoyment of the experience.    
To simplify for the sake of this particular blog post, and by simplify I mean pigeon-hole, I will divide the women I have dated into two distinct camps. The first are the women who while attracted to the male body and male sexuality have strong issues with ‘men’ as a gender. They are complicated, tirade prone and seemingly unhappy ladies. The other category I will simply label as – fans of men. These are the women that would join in, if only in spirit, with the Weather Girls as they belt out their 70’s disco classic ‘It’s Raining Men’. It is to the latter group that I write.

So that we have a shared understanding of what I am talking about with regard to sexism let me give you a hypothetical scenario. You park your sexy sports car and as you are getting out, a young man who is passing by comments, sincerely: “Nice car! Your husband must have a great job.”

Some examples of equivalent female slip-ups which have actually been said to me by women (though not necessarily about me) include:
1)      “A cashier is no job for a man.”
2)      “When the woman of the house is happy, then the house is happy.”
3)      “I’m just not used to a man who can’t do home repair. My father was so handy.”

Should you not see an issue with one or more of the above - you’ve got your work cut out for you. I can help. If nothing else, avoid generalized statements. It sounds simple enough but it is not. And you will, as will your future dates, screw this up. My point it is that sexist remarks will happen from time to time. Don’t become obsessively on guard but it is something to keep in mind. It is also perhaps a suggestion for some tolerance when the shoe is on the other foot. Taking my above car scenario, if you are single and the young man is attractive you could respond with: “Actually I’m not married. Would you like to take a closer look at my car?” Make fabulous lemonade from lemons my dear, it’s the gay man way.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Our Stay in Truro

In May 2009, while winding our way to Venice, Robert and I took the ferry from Boston to Cape Cod to visit a couple of his dear friends. The boat docks in Provincetown which, if you haven’t been, is on every gay man’s bucket-list but shouldn’t be. Once quaint I am sure, the town is now a caricatured amusement park of its bygone offbeat self. Our final destination was to be Truro, a lesser known, lesser gay, still quaint, town further up the Cape.

After disembarking, Robert and I were met by Mitch and his wife Judy. Not entirely recovered from the two hours of being on a seafaring tilt-a-whirl, I sat in the back of the SUV and listened quietly while these longstanding friends caught up. Interspersed amongst the gossip were sprinklings of Cape Cod trivia provided by Mitch, one particularly interesting fact being that the Pilgrims did not first go ashore in Plymouth, as is the popular lore even amongst Americans, but rather had first gone to Truro. Curious, I later researched this titbit and stumbled upon an historical irony surrounding the arrival of the Mayflower that I positively relish. These religious puritans (similar in beliefs and practices to today’s Baptists, Congregationalists, and Methodists) first dropped anchor on November 21, 1620 in Provincetown Harbour; the future site of the gayest place on earth, right after San Francisco’s Castro District and the Vatican. After which they proceeded to explore Truro as a possible place for settlement--and promptly left. No reflection on the place in its current state.

In a short time the drive brought us to the hillside enclave of four homes (the combined plot of land could have fit a small subdivision) where Mitch and Judy had built their beautiful abode which had been designed by their architect son and his architect wife. It is modern in its lines, including a flat roof, but kept with regional tradition in its exterior finishes such as the clapboard siding.  The property, a few acres of it, had for the most part been left to the indigenous coastal flora. Tall poverty grass, subtle wild flowers and wind pruned trees like pitch pine were made part of the home’s decor through large windows.

Bright and engaging, Mitch and Judy were gracious hosts. Mitch is a wonderfully pragmatic man who once took a silver-set to the public dump simply because they never used it - a treasured find that was quickly snatched up by others. (It would seem from the description that the site was actually somewhat of a free-market open-air exchange for locals.)  Subsequently, on a different run, Mitch picked up a rusted grate which he refurbished and repurposed as a tabletop, because he needed a tabletop. After recently having purged myself of most of my worldly possessions (it’s just stuff after all), his pragmatism had a very rational charm to it.

Judy is an extremely sweet woman whose self-proclaimed type-A tendencies with regard to tidiness are endearing, almost beautiful, to watch. She was as delicate, unobtrusive and welcome as a humming bird as she cleaned alongside me while I worked in the kitchen. Directly alongside me, as if I had two additional autonomous arms rushing to diligently conceal my trail.
During our outings Mitch would not only share his knowledge about the Cape, its ecology and history, but also would provide quick insights of his neighbours (aka gossip).  The three neighbours which shared the vast hillside reserve consisted of; a couple who were both judges (from western Massachusetts who got together on the Cape to live in sin supposedly unbeknownst to their hometown friends—scandalous), and a couple who were both architects (gay and impossibly bitchy, they didn’t abide by the environmental protection codes) and a couple who were both psychiatrists (No juicy scoop on them, but they’re psychiatrists so you know they’re definitely not normal--my generalization not Mitch’s.) It would appear to me that in Truro there are some very strict, two-by-two, cohabitation laws. I can only assume, but didn’t confirm, that Mitch and Judy had a type of zoning waiver since he, formerly being in real estate, was a painter and she is a retired school principal. Who cohabitates with someone outside their own profession?

Further down the hill was a woman who lived in a lovely yellow saltbox house whose garden we raided for the ingredients to a salad as we were taking a shortcut through her yard. (Both acts Mitch assured us were perfectly acceptable amongst congenial neighbours.) This particular neighbour loves to travel, Nepal being her destination of choice. Periodically, we were told, she brings back a Sherpa or two. Yes, a Sherpa--or two. I’m not sure what one goes for these days, but apparently they are very conscientious, hard working men who put in a six month tour and then go back to Nepal.

In addition to providing general labour, they are skilled builders who construct delightful, but durable structures, such as little cages of woven branches for the roses and charming little huts without the use of nails. It is a remarkably generous act on her part, but who does that? Seriously, if you want to ensure that your money is getting to the people who need it most, hire them directly. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hooray for Prime Timers!

Robert and I began the celebration of my birth-month, February, with an extra long weekend in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. While we were down there we meet up with a couple of friends of Robert’s to whom he had sent a copy of my book, “Pairs”. It turns out that they liked it so much that they bought a few copies (five) as gifts for friends. And, when they return to their home in Boston, they would love for me to come and speak at the next get together of Prime Timers. What is Prime Timers, you ask? well according to their website:
“PRIME TIMERS WORLD WIDE has thousands of members and more than 70 chapters from Australia, to North America and Europe. PRIME TIMERS is a brotherhood of mature gay and bisexual men and their friends who join together for social, educational, and cultural activities.  Our diverse membership, some retired, some still working, are involved and focused on improving the image and quality of gay life through activities like volunteerism, politics, gay issues, arts, sports, and entertainment.”
Cool, eh. My editor and I had thought that I had written a work in the genre of “women’s literature” but it turns out that I may have actually written a work of “mature gay and bisexual men and their friends” literature. Time will tell....

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The ‘SS Dramamine’

In May 2009, I made the decision to move to Venice to be with my love, Robert, on a permanent basis.  Robert joined me in Ottawa in June to help in preparations that lasted two full months.  As July wound down, I went through the motions of day-to-day living, but my mind was already in Venice.  Actually getting there was a bit more of an adventure.

The first stop on our journey from Ottawa, Canada to Venice, Italy was Boston. Robert has cherished friends there that he had wished us to visit. By Boston, Robert actually meant the greater Boston area. And by the greater Boston area he actually meant the American eastern seaboard. So, it was in following his encompassing line of thought that we had found ourselves, one Friday afternoon, taking the fast ferryboat out to Cape Cod.
The weather in Boston for the late July week leading up to our departure to the Cape had been unpredictable. Waking up in the morning I never knew which unseasonable it would be. Unseasonably cold, unseasonably wet or unseasonably like the gloomy depths of autumn. The day of our departure it was unseasonably gloomy. I had been a little disappointed that restricted visibility, due to the fog, had spoiled my chances of getting to see the great oceanic vistas I had heard about. This disappointment was immediately usurped and cast aside when I was greeted by a sunglass clad young gentleman (I guess he didn’t want to get his eyes wet from the rain) passing out seasick bags while offhandedly providing what I soon discovered was a very understated explanation. “It’s a little rough out there today.”

The fast ferryboat from Boston to Provincetown meets neither my standard of fast or of ferryboat.  I’ve been around ferryboats. If they cross anything wider than a river, they are rather large car carrying water-pit-bulls that stubbornly plod along with single-minded disinterest in anything that is not the pier looming on the approaching shore. Crashing waves are but delicate crystal upon those mighty hulls.
However, the ‘SS Dramamine’ that shuttles from Boston to Provincetown, is not a pit bull. It is a jaunty excursion craft that weathers rough water like a cork. Alright, that is a bit of an exaggeration. The boat is slightly more substantial than a cork, but not by nearly enough.

The fun began in fairly short order once we were away from the dock. Swish up, swoop down, list this way, then that way, burrow under the crest, spray windows into a translucent melting smear, pop back out, and then turn yourself about! Repeat, but this time with feeling. Wheee!

Maybe I’m showing my age but for some reason in my mind Jacques Cousteau’s soothing but authoritative Parisian accent was providing the voice over. “Cape Cod, she is a giant sandbar of immense destructive power. During the 18th and 19th centuries, hundreds and hundreds of ships ran aground and were smashed to kindling by the merciless waters of the Atlantic. Un temps terrible pour les marins.

There were two related phenomena that didn’t quite fit into my passage of the Calypso scenario. First there were the three televisions suspended above the forward windows.  All were on the same channel, the sports network, and therefore showing the same round of golf. Keep in mind that the pervasive backdrop behind the onscreen stately and peaceful emerald greens was the pitching grey brine of the sea and a murky, landless, horizon. The sound was down but the games were helpfully closed captioned in teeny-tiny letters to encourage further nausea for those wishing to enhance their experience.

The only passenger who seemed to take note of, and offense to (to no avail), the programming was an inebriated fifty-something year old dude-want-to-be wearing a black wool and leather varsity take on a biker jacket. His voice was scratchy and etched. As he wobbled and teetered in front of me kvetching to the previously mentioned sunglass clad seasickness bag greeter, I had time to judge him harshly while sipping my wine.

Across the back of his jacket were fat, richly piled, cloth letters in a pub inspired ‘days-of-yore’ font which spelled out ‘Harley Davidson’-- correctly. I’m not sure if he had stitched the letters on himself or if the jacket came from Walmart that way, but in either case they offered a glimpse into the man’s glory-days psyche. Finishing off this summer ensemble, from the ‘You’ve got to be joking’ collection, was a matching baseball-cap, bill to the rear. Twines of blond rinsed hair, which might have been included with the cap, I don’t know, squeezed out from under the rim like frayed wet straw. There were many stories onboard the vessel, his was the stupidest.

The wine that Robert and I had been sharing was a bottle of Ciros de Susana Balbo. It is a charming, but not spectacular, Malbec, that was perfect accompaniment to an open sea crossing peppered with bouts of white-knuckled bracing, should you ever find yourself in the market for such a thing. The woman sitting across from us applauded our tenacious perseverance to civility in the face of “this is the worse I’ve seen them go out in” commentary from the more experienced passengers. We decided it was time to finish up when the changes in elevation became so rapid that the wine in our glass failed to keep pace and spent fleeting moments airborne.

Sometimes, when there was a particularly steep and rapid fall (just love that particular combination by-the-by) from a high swell, I’d get that funny feeling I used to get when I was on the top end of the teeter-totter and the kid on the bottom hoped off. Great playground times when there was a brief mid-air test in physics where my testicles traveled to the ground at a slightly slower rate than the rest of my body and would pass through me until catching up to speed. There were a few such gloriously nostalgic moments. Again, wheeee!

Not to get too graphic, but as you can imagine there are those for whom a weaving horizon and agitated sea might cause queasiness and perhaps projectile vomiting. As one might guess the thoughtfully provided bags were indeed used, en masse. Of interest, people really do go green and the blood really does drain from their face when seasick. As Robert napped, yes napped, I made a game of predicting who was about to blow while watching helpful attendants, all of whom wore surgical gloves, run around to provide fresh baggies. Now that is service.

Also of interest, the bar was opened the entire time. Those who had the foresight to have taken Dramamine prior to the trip were getting laced, for although Dramamine does quell a queasy stomach it does not quell the fear of a cold and watery grave. Did I mention wheeee?

Sure this went on for a relentless two hours, but I don’t want to scare off any potential visitors, so for the sake of somewhat balanced reporting rest assured that it was not as if we were off of the
Tierra del Fuego archipelago rounding the “Horn” in the icy grip of winter  (I’m certain then that you’d need to drink the wine directly from the bottle to prevent spillage). Our return trip two days later was very beautiful.