When I lived in Albuquerque and flew anywhere from there, it was on an MD-80.
When I lived in Albuquerque and flew anywhere from there, it was on an MD-80.
Today would have been Allen’s 55th birthday. Thirty-five years ago for his first birthday with me, I bought him a unicorn music box that played this song. It was our song for as long as we were together, and still is.
Eighteen years ago today I left Albuquerque to move to Miami. It was me, Sam, the Pontiac, and my philodendron. All the rest was on the moving van. We left at 6:30 p.m., made it to Pecos, Texas, by midnight, and spent the whole next day driving across Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, finally crossing the Florida border after midnight, August 2 (I had vowed I would not stop in either Mississippi or Alabama). We arrived in Miami at the home of Bob and Ken 48 hours after leaving Albuquerque. Sam’s gone, but I still have the Pontiac and the philodendron.
The afternoon of July 31, 2001, was the last time I saw Allen until 2013. It was also the inspiration for my play “Last Exit.”
He died seventeen years ago today. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him and miss him. There’s still that worn spot on the old bedspread where he slept, and I still make room for him on the bed.
Allen and I loved to travel, and we had some of our best memories together when we went to Europe, to Jamaica, to Montserrat, and many road trips when we lived in Michigan and New Mexico. So in that spirit, so to speak, I took Allen along with me to Alaska, knowing that he wouldn’t let a little thing like death interfere with a visit to a place he always wanted to see. And I could hear him say, “You went to Alaska and didn’t take ME?”
So here is proof that he did get to go.
This is the one Friday of this month and the next where I am going to work: it’s month-end and we’re short-staffed with a lot of other people on vacation. But that doesn’t mean I can’t put up a nice picture.
This is a view of Grand Traverse Bay in northern Michigan that was part of my summer from about 1959 to 1997. I learned to sail on these waters, made a lot of friends, and enjoyed long twilights and cool evenings.
Thirty-five years ago this handsome young man came up to me at the University of Colorado Gay/Lesbian Alliance Spring Dance and asked if I would dance with him. The tune was “Turning Japanese” by The Vapors. He said his name was Allen. Later, after a bit of a Marx Brothers routine in meeting for coffee at Perkins, we sat and talked, and the next night he came over to my house. He brought me flowers. We were together for the next fifteen years.
Top 40 songs talk about wanting to know what love is. Well, I did after that first date, and I still do, even though we separated amicably in 1999. We shared so many good times and got through a lot of bad ones, and when he died last June 8 it was a loss from which I still feel aftershocks. But I will always be glad that he came into my life, and April 22 will always be our anniversary. And I will always call you sweetheart.
Fifty years ago this weekend — April 1969 — my parents and I went over to Brondes Ford in Toledo and found a gray 1965 Mustang 2+2 with a black interior, an AM radio, and a heater. It had the 289 V-8 with a three-speed manual transmission, no power steering, and no power brakes. They paid $1,500 for it. Somewhere in my box of pictures I have one of me standing next to it, but for now this stock photo of one will have to do.
Thus began my fifty-year love affair with the Mustang. In truth, though, I was smitten five years before when they were introduced with great fanfare at the New York Worlds Fair on April 15, 1964. They took the world by storm, selling over 600,000 in their first model year, and when they introduced the 2+2 in September 1964 to go with the coupe and convertible, they made an impression on this twelve-year-old car-crazy kid: I wanted one.
By April 1969 I’d had my license for all of six months and drove either my mom’s 1967 Ford Country Squire (the seed of my affection for wood-grain-sided wagons) or my dad’s 1965 Ford LTD. But I’d been bugging my parents for my own car and by April I’d worn them down to the point that even Mom liked the idea of me with a Mustang (although I can’t remember if she ever drove it). Ostensibly the car was to be shared with my older brother and sister, but they were away at school, so for the first few months it was my car, and when I went off to college in Miami in 1971 (and thanks to an inattentive clerk at registration who didn’t notice that as a freshman I wasn’t supposed to have a car on campus), I took it with me to Miami.
In August 1973, in a fit of stupidity, I sold the Mustang to some kid for $300 and bought an F-150 pick-up. Meanwhile, Ford kept making changes to the Mustang, including making it bigger and, to me, less attractive, and when they brought out the Pinto-based 1974 Mustang II, the love affair, as they often do, turned to indifference and even derision. For the next thirty years I stayed away, dallying, as it were, with other cars including a Ford Granada, a Jeep Wagoneer, a Subaru wagon, and finally settling down with the Pontiac in 1989. But the siren call of the Mustang was still in the back of my mind. In 2003, when my mom, who had traded her 1979 Volvo for a 1995 Mustang GT convertible, V-8 5-liter Laser Red with white leather interior, sold it to me so she could acquire a Mini Cooper (which she still drives), all was forgiven and I was back in a Mustang. The Pontiac went into the garage for a well-earned rest after 250,000 miles.
I happily drove it from August 2003 until one fateful afternoon in March 2008 when another driver in Coral Gables tried to test the theory that two molecules can occupy the same space at the same time by making a left turn in front of me. His theory was disproved, and the Mustang was totaled. I drove the Pontiac for a year, and then in March 2009 I took the insurance payout and, utilizing the internet, found a 2007 Mustang convertible, Wind Veil blue with gray interior and a black top and a V-6 at Maroone Ford in Fort Lauderdale. It had 34,000 miles and a full warranty.
Ten years later, it’s still with me, 100,000 more miles on the odometer, and likely to be with me for a while.
Like all love affairs, it’s not easy to explain. After all, it’s just a car; a machine that takes you from one place to another. But there’s always been a connection between me and this particular brand, and even though there was a long hiatus, I still get that feeling I had fifty years ago on the cold gray April afternoon when I drove my first Mustang off the lot in Toledo and learned, on the way home, how to drive a stick. What can I say? Love is like that.
By the way, the Pontiac doesn’t mind. It’s the one that wins the trophies at the car shows.
Christmas was Allen’s favorite holiday. For the fifteen years we were together, he went all out: a tree (had to be artificial because he was allergic to some pines), wreaths, and lights — oh, the lights. He put them up in the windows, along the mantel, and of course on the tree itself. He loved the music, too, but not the traditional Mormon Tabernacle Choir stuff; he introduced me to the George Winston / Windham Hill playlist as well as The Roches, much of which is still ingrained in me. He went all in for Christmas dinner with the family, and when we lived near his parents we were there for days cooking, eating, and sharing, much of it from the German tradition that his family brought to Kansas in the 1800’s and then through the generations. This WASP/Quaker learned a lot about some sugar-bombed Christmas cookies, cakes, and even liquor (before we sobered up, of course). He brought that exuberance, that child-like happiness, to my family when we lived in Michigan and would spend the day with my family and sharing our traditions as well.
After we separated we still kept in touch, trading presents and phone calls on the holidays, hearing the nieces and nephews and their kids and grandkids in the background, and it brought a bright light to the quiet celebration that I now go through living alone.
That’s why this first Christmas after Allen’s death has been more reflective than joyful, more a recollection of happier times even when, at the time, we were just getting by, or so it seemed. But I know that he would be bummed if I spent the day in mourning; “C’mon,” he’d say, “it’ll be fun.” And it will be. I’ll spend the day with my friends here with people who are as close to me as family, as joyful as he was, and the rest of my winter break will be doing what he knew was my true calling; writing, listening, and sharing.
Back on Thanksgiving I wrote him a love note about our lives together, finally able to put in words what it meant and how it shaped me and made me who I am. So here it is.
Allen’s Big Adventure
A Love Note from Philip
Well, Allen, you finally did it. You’re off on the biggest adventure of all; so big that it’s taken me almost six months to put my thoughts together and write them down.
But life with you has always been an adventure, from the moment we met on that spring evening in April 1984 at the dance at Eldorado Springs outside Boulder and our first date the next night – you had me with the flowers you bought from the street vendor on the way to my house – and for the next fifteen years. Sometimes it was scary and harsh, but no matter what, we were together, and so many times, whether it was snorkeling on the reef with the barracuda, or skiing the double-black diamond runs at Snowmass, or sailing on the waves of Lake Michigan, or wandering the streets of Paris in December in jeans that didn’t fit because your luggage was lost on the missed flight, or climbing the steps of Notre Dame to pet the gargoyles, or standing in the Vatican to see the pope bless your mom’s rosary, or climbing to the top of St. Peter’s to see the roof of the Sistine Chapel, or the tower of Pisa, or driving through the night from Boulder to Northport to surprise my dad for his birthday, or riding in the bunk of a semi to get to Hays for the family reunion and being swept up in your family’s loving arms and you in mine, or renting the house on Bross Street in Longmont, or the house on Michigan Street in Petoskey, or owning our own home on Canary Lane in Albuquerque and planting a garden in each one of them, or showing up at the gym with Sam cupped in your hands and making him our companion for the rest of his life, or buying me that 1959 Buick for $150, or wandering through the Painted Desert and the canyons of New Mexico, or going to Montserrat and Jamaica and Tobago and wandering the beaches, or standing backstage waiting for our cue to be the boat in “Candide,” or the many, many other things we did, including the weekend in October of 1992 when we went to Traverse City and began our journey together to sobriety. For every one of those times, you always said, “C’mon, it’ll be fun!”
I look around my house and still see you here. The chairs and table we bought at Sears for the house in Albuquerque. The O’Keeffe prints from Santa Fe. The Gandalf candle in the bookcase. The fish mobile made of palm fronds from Jamaica that hangs over the sink in the kitchen. The shirts in the closet that still fit both of us. The Pontiac in the garage that once had both our names on the title. Our rings in the little carved box that also holds the slip of paper with your phone number on it. The dedication in my dissertation to the man who showed that wisdom is not measured by degrees. The character who shows up in my writing again and again. The hundreds of pictures, mementos, and kitchen utensils; traces, as the old song goes, of love.
We were never married in the cold and unfeeling eyes of the state or in the thrall of a church, but even if it was unwritten or unvowed, we were married in every other way, and despite the mere fact that we separated for reasons I never truly grasped, we never let go of each other. You were always going to be a part of me, and when we talked on the phone, each call ended with “I love you,” and “love you too.” And while we went our separate ways and found new lives in different places and with new friends, our time together was and will always be the best time of my life.
I don’t believe in the superstitions of Heaven and Hell or Life Eternal; those are things the mind has concocted because it is incapable of comprehending its own mortality. But I do believe in the spirituality of everlasting because as long as I and your family and your friends and the people who knew you remember you, you’re not really gone. You’re just in the next room, even if it’s just that little pewter urn next to your high school picture. Your number is still on my phone. Your letters are still in my drawer. I can still hear your laugh.
So when you set off on your last adventure that quiet night in the house you grew up in Longmont last June, I knew in my heart that I was losing a part of me in one way, but keeping it with me forever. Grief does not care about time or distance, and while I may not technically be widowed, I am very sure that what I feel, what I miss, what stops me in mid-sentence, is every bit as real as it gets. And, to quote you, it sucks. But it also shows me how much I truly loved you.
I know that you went in peace and on your own terms, and I know that you were ready to go. Because, as Tinker Bell says in “Peter Pan,” to die is an awfully big adventure.
And Merry Christmas, sweetheart.
Doonesbury — Almost made it.
Thirty years ago today I walked across the stage at the Events Center in Boulder and picked up a piece of paper. It was the culmination of six years of work and research, but it was also a record of getting to meet some wonderful people and learn a lot about them, about myself, and about the art and craft that I love. I’m sure there were a lot of people who were amazed that I even got a PhD (my grade school and high school teachers and classmates in particular), and so am I. But having one doesn’t make you smarter; it just goes to show that with hard work and dedication, you can add a little knowledge to the world. And I can also say that I’m a doctor of theatre: I can cure a ham.
This little music box has been in our family for as long as I can remember, and listening to it brings back memories of the holidays when I was a child. For all those years I never knew the name of the carol that it plays, but a little research (and turning it over to read the faded label on the bottom) ended the mystery.
June 16, 1948 was a Wednesday. It was a pleasant day in St. Louis, Missouri; the high was about 78 with a little haze left over from the morning fog along the river. It was a nice day for a wedding.
The young bride and groom came to the Church of St. Michael and St. George on Wydown Boulevard for the ceremony, with the two families and close friends gathering. The bride’s younger sister was the maid of honor and the groom’s twin brother was his best man. After the brief Episcopalian service, the bridal party went to the bride’s parents home for a small reception, and then the newlyweds left on their wedding trip to Chicago, staying at the Blackstone Hotel. Then they went on to their new home in Princeton where he was finishing up his studies before moving on to Houston, Texas, where he would take up a job in the bag business.
The first child, a daughter, arrived the following year, followed the next year by a son. Then, after moving on to Dallas, a third child, the second son, arrived in 1952. Shortly thereafter they moved again, this time back to St. Louis, where in 1956 the fourth and last child, another son, completed the family.
Then in 1957 the family moved again, this time to Perrysburg, Ohio, and there they stayed, the kids growing up in a big house with a big yard, lots of friends and things to do, and the usual joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies, that come along with any family. Dogs, cats, birds, bikes, camp, school, Little League, dancing school, tennis lessons, swim meets, all of the cacophony and organized chaos that fits in the wayback of the Ford Country Squire for trips to the lake and the ski slopes.
All too soon came the departures: college, weddings, new worlds for the kids to explore, new lives to lead, but always knowing they had a place to come home to, a phone number — TRinity 4-7824 — to call. Over the years there have been bright days and dark nights. There have been additions and losses, pain and laughter. After all, it has been life. And through it all Mom and Dad were there for us and for themselves.
Trying to put into words what a child feels when reflecting on the lives of the people who brought him to this world is not easy. And knowing that among many of my friends, the simple fact that both of my parents are still alive and well is a rare blessing. So I will make it very simple: on the seventieth anniversary of the beginning of the journey that has brought me and my sister and brothers to life, I say thank you and I love you.
From an earlier time: December 1950 in St. Louis at my aunt’s deb party.
Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it.
There is a discussion in my family as to what year this photo was taken; is it 1958 or 1959? If it’s 1958, the youngest child in the photo would have just turned two years old, and he’s pretty big for two, and the girl would be nine. I — the one in the red coat — would be five-and-a-half, but I’m two years younger than the boy on the right, and he’s pretty big for someone seven-and-a-half; he’s almost as tall as the station wagon (which is a 1958 Ford Country Sedan) even if he is standing on the curb. So it’s probably Easter 1959, and we just finished Easter dinner and the egg hunt at the Carranor Club.
The air conditioning in my house went on the fritz on the 4th of July. The landlord came by and it was determined that the main cooling unit needed to be replaced. This being the busiest time of year for air conditioning replacement, it will take a couple of days before they get to me.
I spent the first 20 years of my life without central air, and summers in northwestern Ohio are as sweltering as they are down here, the difference being that in Ohio it cools off a little at night and doesn’t last six months at a stretch.
My parents tell me that as an infant I was fascinated with fans. I have a vague memory of that, but I do have memories of being lulled to sleep by the hum and breeze from the fan in my room.
I’ve opened the windows, turned on the ceiling fans, and dug out an old fan to move the air around and do its evaporative cooling magic. Just like the summers I remember. Now all I need is Ernie Harwell calling the Detroit Tigers game and lightning bugs out in the backyard.
Patrick Thornton at Roll Call says it’s time to stop making the heartland the “real” America.
My home county in Ohio is 97 percent white. It, like a lot of other very unrepresentative counties, went heavily for Donald Trump.
My high school had about 950 students. Two were Asian. One was Hispanic. Zero were Muslim. All the teachers were white.My high school had more convicted sexual predator teachers than minority teachers. That’s a rural American story.
In many of these areas, the only Muslims you see are in movies like “American Sniper.” (I knew zero Muslims before going to college in another state.) You never see gay couples or even interracial ones. Much of rural and exurban American is a time capsule to America’s past.
And on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, they dug it up.
The first gay person I knew personally was my college roommate — a great man who made me a better person. But that’s an experience I would have never had if I didn’t go to college and instead decided to live the rest of my life in my hometown.
That was when I realized that not supporting gay marriage meant to actively deny rights to someone I knew personally. I wouldn’t be denying marriage rights to other people; I would be denying marriage rights to Dave. I would have to look Dave in the eye and say, “Dave, you deserve fewer rights than me. You deserve a lesser human experience.”
When you grow up in rural America, denying rights to people is an abstract concept. Denying marriage rights to gay people isn’t that much different than denying boarding rights to Klingons.
To pin this election on the coastal elite is a cop-out. It’s intellectually dishonest, and it’s beneath us.
We, as a culture, have to stop infantilizing and deifying rural and white working-class Americans. Their experience is not more of a real American experience than anyone else’s, but when we say that it is, we give people a pass from seeing and understanding more of their country. More Americans need to see more of the United States. They need to shake hands with a Muslim, or talk soccer with a middle aged lesbian, or attend a lecture by a female business executive.
We must start asking all Americans to be their better selves. We must all understand that America is a melting pot and that none of us has a more authentic American experience.
With a few changes to the narrative (I’m the gay roommate and I live in Miami, not Washington), this is my story, too. I grew up in a nice quiet suburb of Toledo. It was pre-1960 Norman Rockwell with the 99.9% white Christian population, the soda fountain, the bakery, and everyone voting the straight Republican ticket. The other difference is that my parents knew it was a bubble and encouraged me and my siblings to get out of town as soon as we could. (I remember my mother being disappointed that I went to Miami because my grandmother lived twenty miles from campus. Yeah, like a 19-year-old theatre major is going to hang with his grandmother.) But for the rest of it, Mr. Thornton and I are on the same page and I concur wholeheartedly.
I also know that this part of the country has had it rough, not just in the last twenty years and not just economically. They have seen jobs go away, shipped overseas by large corporations; agriculture taken over by big business, and kids graduating from high school take off for Minneapolis or Denver or Miami because they want to find a better place to be themselves. A lot of them have done it not in defiance of their upbringing in rural America but at the urging of it. Ask most people in small town America if they don’t want their son or daughter to have a chance at a good education if not at Harvard than at The Ohio State University. In short, they aspire to become coastal elites.
Yes, they worry about the coarsening of the culture, of the changes that multiculturalism has wrought in the society as seen in the films and on TV, but they’re also the ones with the satellite dish and the subscription to People and can name the Kardashians by height and hair color. But they’re not hypocrites; they’re human. It’s natural to be curious about other ways of life as long as theirs is still safe to come home to. (If you think I’m being elitist or over-generalizing, I refer you to John Steinbeck’s observations of America in Travels with Charley: In Search of America (1962). Steinbeck was many things, but an elitist he was not.)
We all come from small towns. Even if you grew up in a neighborhood in the Bronx, Liberty City in Miami, or the South Valley of Albuquerque, you had a community of family, neighbors, schoolmates, church/temple/meeting that was your small town. The values they share are not that much different than those in Perrysburg, Ohio, or Van Meter, Iowa: safety, security, companionship, and hope. To say that one experience is better than another only enforces the walls of the bubble.
Here is the updated photo I promised.
One of the adventures I signed up for was a horseback ride. I used to be quite the rider when I went to camp in the 1960’s, and when I was a counselor I often accompanied the kids on their all-day rides. So it was like old times yesterday when I saddled up Jamaica Jet and went for a ride around the ranch. It was a great time. I would have worn the cowboy hat I had when I was a camper — it still fits — but rules require that we wear helmets.
I made it safely to my destination, high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains at a place dear to my heart for a reunion with old friends and making new ones. Internet connections are limited, and besides I am having too much fun with my memories and friends.
So this will be it until Sunday night when I will upload a bunch of pictures and then hit the road early Monday morning.