The next half century

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So yeah, I’m fifty now.

I get mail from the AARP. I have abandoned the coveted 18-49 demographic. I’m sure there are places that would already extend me a senior citizen discount. And I’m now officially eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which means I can finally get tax breaks for any façade restorations that would return me to my original appearance. I’m pretty excited about that last part.

Now, a la Buzzfeed (or High Fidelity) here are my ten most unexpected things about hitting the half-century mark:

1. First and foremost, there have been times I didn’t even expect to be here.
Over the past fifteen years I’ve fought off thyroid disease, cardiac issues related to that thyroid disease, cancer, and a pretty crippling depression. I smoked for twenty-five years before quitting in 2003. I had some pretty significant non-medical stresses as well. I lived through it all and I fully intend to continue doing so.

2. I didn’t expect to be living in Greensboro and really didn’t expect to be living in the house where I grew up.
I didn’t expect still to be living in San Francisco either so at least I got that part right. Would Greensboro be my first choice of residence? Probably not. But I’m pretty happy here. I’ve carved out a good life, I live in a reasonably nice house, I have a job that I love (more later), and my low expenses allow me to travel to places I enjoy pretty frequently. Greensboro works for me on many levels. Related: I also didn’t expect to have become such a neat freak.

3. I didn’t expect to have become one of those people who–without fail–brings my own bags to the grocery store.
Those people used to really annoy me for some reason. But when I (1) started paying close attention to how fucking many bags there were in my house and (2) began shopping at Aldi a lot, which (3) got me in the habit, I didn’t look back. Hint: The trick is to keep them inside your car rather than in the trunk so you don’t forget.

4. I didn’t expect to be making life and death decisions for my parents.
Enough said. When you have to let your dad die naturally and start having the same conversation with doctors about your mom, childhood is pretty much over. The good (or maybe sad) thing is that I’ve already pretty much said goodbye to my mom. That will make it easier when she “really” goes, right?

5. I didn’t expect to be a librarian and tenure-track faculty member at my alma mater.
This one is pretty much a win all the way round. it took me a hell of a long time but I finally found out what I love to do and what I want to be when I grow up. And I found someone to pay me to do it.

6. I didn’t expect to be single.
Yeah, we’ve covered this ground. After years of thinking I didn’t want love, I found it unexpectedly and wound up in what I thought almost right up to the end was the perfect relationship. Turns out I was wrong. I loved him and I don’t regret most of the time we spent together. I do regret getting out of the “habit” of being single because I’m pretty sure I’ll spend the rest of my life that way–and that’s ultimately for the best.

7. I didn’t expect to have reconnected with so many old friends.
That’s a big win too. Being coupled often isolates introverts from their friends as we have only so much ability to be social an the partner gets first (and sometimes the only) crack at that. Some old friends, a surprisingly high proportion of whom live in various corners of the state of New York, have made life much more bearable over the past few years. They may all never know quite how much.

8. I didn’t expect The Simpsons to be in its twenty-fifth season.
Come on. Did you?

9. I didn’t expect to have experienced such a rebirth of my interest in music.
I really got out of that whole indie thing for a lot of years. Strangely enough, I think it was my fascination with all things Canadian that got me interested again, first with francophone Quebecois pop and later with the (mostly anglophone) indie bands on CBC Radio 3 and other places. I’m pretty immersed now, I go to shows, and I find a lot of the more disposable 1980s technopop that used to still be a big part of my life long after its “sell by” date had passed to be virtually unlistenable now.

10. I didn’t expect to have experienced such a rebirth of my interest in cities.
This is a big one that makes me happy too. After thirteen years in San Francisco, I was still fascinated by cities but approached them warily. Turns out that either (1) my hatred of SF was the root of the problem and it was geographically specific, or (2) I like visiting cities a lot more than living in them. Probably a bit of both, but now I do mostly urban destinations where I stay in the city rather than the ‘burbs and use transit or my Adidas instead of the car. And I love east coast cities.

And my three biggest random and pithy observations:

  • I don’t feel fifty. Most people tell me I don’t look it or act it either. I think that’s a good thing. I’m not sure.
  • Sometime over the past few years, I lost my sense of adventure and of wonder at the world. I’ve found it again. I’m glad.
  • Rock and roll is better than sex and drugs, and each can exist independently.

Happy birthday to me. Last week, that is.

Post mortem

Statistics and superlatives:

  • Total distance traveled: 3505 km
  • States/provinces included: 6 (North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Ontario
  • Days: 12
  • Nights: 11
  • Most surprising lodging: Motel 6 in Burlington. It was actually quite nice, clean, and quiet. And everything worked. It’s not your average Motel 6.
  • Best shawarma: Falafel Queen in Toronto.
  • Cheapest sit-down breakfast: Skyway Diner in Burlington.
  • Cheapest gas (US): $2.979/gallon in Wytheville, Virginia.
  • Cheapest gas (Canada): $1.151/litre in Guelph, Ontario.
  • Most colossally bad idea I’m glad I didn’t act on: Driving to Thunder Bay to visit Canada’s easternmost Safeway store before it becomes a Sobeys.
  • Best mood elevator when I needed it most: The toll collector on the West Virginia Turnpike who was dressed up for Hallowe’en.
  • Second best: The random teenager who stepped away from his posse in Kensington Market to tell me he liked my jacket.
  • Honorable mention: The cashier at Loblaws who shared my giddy glee about Coffin Crisp, the Hallowe’en version of Coffee Crisp.
  • Biggest regret: being in the GTA on a weekend when they were doing several shows and still not seeing Sloan.

 

 

Days 6-8: Toronto

I am absolutely exhausted (I tend not to take relaxing vacations) so this will be quick and dirty:

  • I did head back out Thursday night for a very overpriced beer. Got hit on more than once which is a nice ego boost for an old geezer, and spent quite a while talking to two very adorable youngsters, neither on whom hit on me, but both of whom were very nice.
  • Breakfast Friday at the Coach House, followed by some explorations downtown and along the Queen Street West corridor, including lunch at Falafel Queen. I love Falafel Queen.
  • Dinner in Greek Town, then a little walk, and a subway ride down to Dundas Square for more book browsing.
  • Saturday brought rain so I used it as my car day. Did laundry out on the Danforth, had lunch in Leslieville, and did my traditional drive up the length of Yonge Street.
  • Had an incident in the parking garage here at the hotel when I returned (fortunately not with another car) so I have a small repair to take care of on Monday. Thus I skipped seeing Sloan in Milton and opted for a stroll to the scary queer bar. I did not stay long. It was much ore fun on Thursday when there were many fewer people and much better music.
  • Slept later than usual (9:15!) and ran some errands this morning.
  • Had lunch with Mark, who was also visiting this weekend by coincidence, at the Coach House. Marked the first time we’d been in the same place in more than two years.
  • I walked around a bit afterward but suddenly realized I was really worn out so I came home and took some much-needed down time. I should really do that more often when I travel.
  • Dinner at the Thai place near my hotel with a friend from San Francisco who now lives here. That was nice.

I’m still pondering how the rest of the week will play out. It may depend on whether I can get my car fixed tomorrow. For now, though, it’s bed…

Best roadtrip(s) ever

Twenty-five years ago this week, I was embarking upon what was at that time the most epic roadtrip I’d ever made. My friend Jeff and I ventured northward to New York and ultimately to Boston on a on-week urban odyssey that in many ways changed the way I looked at life and was the start of my urban transformation. Thinking about that trip as I plan a more modest one for this weekend, I decided it was time for a “top five best and most life-changing road trips ever” list. And here they are in chronological order:

New York and Boston (August 1988)

This is the trip outlined above. Jeff and I left in the evening, stopped outside Richmond, and arrived in New York the next day for three or four days at the Hotel Chelsea, which was at the time a quite inexpensive and wonderful option. Then we did three or four more nights in Boston with my friend Margo, after which we drove home with an overnight stop in DC.

Significant aspects:

This was my first non-family trip to New York so it was my first crack at urban nightlife. It was also the trip that made me realize I was a thoroughly urban sort and that my current home in Charlotte didn’t qualify.

Highlights and strong memories:

  • The pre-gentrification Hotel Chelsea.
  • The Tompkins Square Riots and the way we didn’t quite “get” what was going on at the time.
  • My first encounter with the Cross-Bronx Expressway, which was to become something of an obsession in later years.
  • Stifling heat in both cities and the way Jeff and I went to the drugstore and bought my college kid pals in Boston a fan because it had apparently never occurred to them to do so.
  • A very long, drunk conversation with a male prostitute in the Boston Ramrod.
  • The Pyramid Club, King Tut’s Wa-wa Hut, Ground Zero, Axis/DV8…
  • “Peek-a-Boo” by Siouxsie and the Banshees playing everywhere.

San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego (July/August 1991)

A two-week trip to visit friends on the West Coast resulted in my first quick visit to Los Angeles, a place with which my lifelong obsession was just beginning and in a surprising appreciation for San Francisco. I spent several days with Steve and Todd in SF, drove south to San Diego to see Stan for a few days, and then came back to SF for a few more days.

Significant aspects:

This is the trip that resulted in my move to the West Coast a year later and my decision to move to San Francisco rather that Los Angeles, which had been the plan up to that point.

Highlights and strong memories:

  • My first ever (and last ever) trip to a bathhouse in San Diego.
  • The Dore Alley Fair.
  • The Market Street Safeway in San Francisco. And the Cala Foods at Hyde and California.
  • Jack in the Box.
  • Queer Nation T-shirts.
  • The Detour, the End-up, the Overpass, some bar in San Diego whose name escapes me.

Planet SOMA US Tour (September/October 1997)

Well-documented itinerary. This was a five-week trip with real-time online updates from the road (no small trick in 1997) and accommodations with random strangers who were fans f what this website used to be.

Significant aspects:

This was sort of “web history” for me but more importantly it also signaled the beginning of the end of my monogamous relationship with San Francisco. I began to realize there was a whole country out there that was in most ways the equal (or better) of Sodom by the Bay.

Highlights and strong memories:

  • My first look at Detroit after a several-year fascination.
  • Walking into a Windsor bar and seeing very naked strippers on the tables.
  • Flat tire in Gallup.
  • Dad’s kidney stone.
  • Going unexpectedly batshit crazy over Pittsburgh.
  • Mark’s Powerbook.

Seattle and Portland (April 2002)

About three days in Portland and four days in Seattle with my new boyfriend Mark. Since my first visit at age ten, I’ve never been able to get enough of Seattle and still long to visit again.

Significant aspects:

This was Mark’s and my test drive for cohabitation. We also made some semi-serious plans to relocate to the Northwest afterward.

Highlights and strong memories:

  • Beth’s Cafe.
  • The fucking Fremont Troll that we were never able to find.
  • A moderately embarrassing late-night trip to Walgreens in Seattle.
  • A very exhausted and late dinner in Redding.
  • Underground Seattle.
  • Powell’s Books in Portland.

Toronto and Ottawa (October 2011)

Four nights in Toronto and four more in Ottawa, as I recall, with stops in Cleveland, Buffalo, and Schenectady. I visited Sarah and Brad in Buffalo, Robin in Ottawa, and Duncan and Rick in Schenectady.

Significant aspects:

This was really one of my favorite trips of all time. It was my first big vacation after splitting with Mark and the last one before all the drama with my parents. I fell (more) in love with Canada, communed with urbanity in a way I hadn’t in years, and became obsessed with francophone alt-rock.

Highlights and strong memories:

  • Quatre-vingt-seize-cinq: Capitale Rock!
  • Beef on Weck.
  • Kensington Market.
  • Poutine in Gatineau.
  • Queen Street West. All of it.
  • CBC Broadcast Centre.
  • Unnecessary Canadian immigration paranoia.

Honorable mentions:

  • Cross-country Move (September/October 1992)
    Hard to beat this one for “life changing” and as my first introduction to…well…the whole middle of the country. Funniest memory: Ditching a boy in a Kansas City bar only to run into him again four nights later in Salt Lake City.
  • Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, and Pittsburgh (October 2006)
    Maybe the most urban vacation ever, with Mark. We were both sick in Toronto. I was impressed that this didn’t sour me on the place. Toronto is a wonderful place.
  • Los Angeles and San Diego (July 2012)
    Following ALA, I was able to spend significant time alone in SoCal for the first time ever. It was heavenly. The fact that this was my first ever trip to California that in no way involved San Francisco had a certain charm as well. Great trip. Perfect timing.

Escape

Eight years ago this week, I was working furiously on my escape from San Francisco. It’s hard to believe it’s been so long since we filled up the pod, packed up the Toyota, and left the city like a couple of refugees. So much has happened since then. I’ve called one apartment and three different houses “home” on a variety of levels. I went back to school, got my Master’s, and started an entire new career. I’ve said goodbye to the three most important people in my life, although two of them are still around, if in a somewhat unrecognizable format. The Toyota went several years ago, replaced by a Buick that will be going away soon, too. I’ve reconnected with the East Coast, bonded with Pittsburgh, contemplated cohabiting with Canada, and have pretty much never looked back at San Francisco even for a second. Some rotten things have happened to me here (loss, depression, cancer…) but all in all, I’ve done pretty well on this end of the country and I know that I’m at the right longitude if maybe not yet at the optimal latitude.

Most of the time, geography is not really the cure-all we want it to be, but at two times in my life–when I moved to San Francisco and when I left–the change really was just what I needed. I don’t regret either move.

The Ghost of October Past

I used to do these all the time but I haven’t recently. Tonight seems like a good night since I haven’t much of anything to say tonight that doesn’t revolve around (a) whininess about the fact that I’m not in Canada right now like I’m supposed to be, (b) misplaced resentment that’s making me feel a little guilty, or (c) new techniques in the avoidance of starch and sugar.

We’ve already established that October is my reflective month and that I’m not averse to reruns, so here’s early October through the years:

Trans-Aid and other tales for a Thursday night

I’m sorry, but every time I see one of these vans, I can’t help but think it’s full of people on their way to a giant benefit concert for people with gender identity issues who may also be suffering from famine or the loss of their farms.

More random thoughts for a Thursday “basement night” in Winston-Salem:

  • Some really great news at work and I hate that I really shouldn’t talk about it publicly until next week. I would be quite happy to brag privately to anyone who cares, though.
  • In case you were wondering, Trader Joe’s Punjab Eggplant over rice makes for a surprisingly satisfying dinner. This is part of my new meal strategy, which basically is “cook lots of rice on Sunday night and keep pouring different stuff over it all week.”
  • Have I mentioned yet how much happier I was back when my dad used to hate using the phone as much as I do?
  • I was reminded this morning (fortunately with ten days to prepare) that I have multiple speaking engagements this month. I’m not sure why anyone particularly wants to hear me do it, but I’m sure glad public speaking was never quite as frightening to me as it is to most people.
  • Three new used books from Amazon this week: histories of A&P, Loblaws, and Steinbergs. I sense a theme here. Maybe two.
  • I am really, really impressed by what the ex is doing this week. God knows I couldn’t do it. If you asked nicely, I imagine he would still accept donations. Just sayin’.

Back to Capitale Rock and writing my luncheon speech now.

Six years on the cul-de-sac

Six years ago today, the ex and I took possession of this lovely house in Winston-Salem.

In a lot of ways, it’s the only place I’ve ever lived as an adult that’s ever really quite felt like home. At the same time, it also sometimes feels like I’ve never really lived here at all. For the first few years, I was waiting for Mark to be here full time so we could really “start” living here together. Once he moved back (only for a few months, as it turned out) we pretty much immediately put the house on the market with an eye toward downsizing and moving to Greensboro, and it’s been on and off the market ever since–in a pretty much “staged” condition, devoid of any personality whatsoever. And then there was the mortgage nightmare earlier this year, where I took full possession even though I wasn’t particularly sure I wanted to do so. I feel like the poor house and I have both been in limbo for a good chunk of the past six years.

And now, strangely enough, I’m thinking about hanging on to the place for a while. I’d be hard pressed to find a rental that would compare at the same price point. I really do like the house even if it is too big and too much to maintain. I have a lot going on in my life for the next year and the thought of a move fills me with much dread. And to be brutally honest, I kind of like having thirty miles separating me and my parents right now; I think that maintaining that distance might be essential to my sanity.

So after six years, I’m thinking of actually moving in. On my own terms. With my own stuff on the walls, and new curtains in the somewhat grim bedroom, and maybe even a new refrigerator and some paint.

But when I ponder the yard and the roof and that big, dead tree out back, I waffle a bit.

To be continued, evidently…

Canada, urbanism, etc.

Several years ago, shortly after my 2009 trip to Toronto and several months before I got my current position, Mark and I applied for Canadian residence. This is not a simple process; it consumes significant amounts of time and money and it takes forever. Mark did most of the work, but I participated as well, and when our number came up, I decided that I would not let the events of the past eighteen months or so spoil my chance to establish residency and make Canada a future option. To do so after all that effort and expense seemed a colossal waste. So that’s the “super secret” reason why I had to make a quick trip across the border last week. It was for purposes of “landing” as a Canadian immigrant. Which I have now successfully done.

Does this mean I’m moving to Canada? Probably not, at least for now. I basically have nearly three years to decide, and I imagine that my ultimate decision will be that my job prospects are insufficiently promising north of the border. Of course, if I don’t make reappointment next year (the first step toward tenure) my perspective may be somewhat different and I may find myself packing lots of warm clothes.

All things being equal and employment not being a factor, I think I’d enjoy living in Toronto. It’s a city that I love every much in a country that in many ways makes more sense than the U.S. Seven years after fleeing San Francisco, I’ve realized that I probably would enjoy a slightly more urban setting than the one I landed in. Sarah and I discussed this last week; she commented that her last few years in San Francisco turned her against urban living in general. I used to think that was the case for me too, but I’ve come to realize that it mainly just put me off ever wanting to live in San Francisco again.

But it helps to keep the following in mind:

  • I’ve never spent any time in Toronto in the winter. Or commuting.
  • I’m only willing to trade off so much quality of life in order to be there (read “I won’t live in a hovel”).
  • I have a very good and relatively secure job here that I love very much.

Honestly, I don’t dislike where I’m living right now although I’ll allow that it might not be my first choice if I were given carte blanche. I need to keep in mind that my depression has made me very much inclined toward escapism of late. Family issues are likely to make the next few years here rather unpleasant for me and that makes just about anyplace else seem appealing on some level. But I’ve got some personal stuff to deal with before a big geographic shift would be a wise move–assuming it ever would.

Anyhow, I’m not moving anytime soon, if ever. But the big bonus is that I can if I choose to. Which will give me some ammunition to shut up the whiny people who will be threatening to do so (but wouldn’t really ever even consider it) after the November election.

Abandoning Da ‘Burgh


Goodbye, house…

I think I already mentioned it, but the Great Pittsburgh Experiment (2009-2011) came to its conclusion a few weeks ago as Mark and I met up to dismantle the house we’d been so excited to buy two years earlier.

The reasons are clear: we’re no longer a couple and one of us lives on the other end of the country. And the one who lives on the other end of the country is the one who was more excited about having a house in Pittsburgh to begin with. Not that I didn’t love the house too, but it was always more Mark’s fantasy than mine, and he did all the painting and the renovations, etc. Pittsburgh is a place I’d still consider living should an opportunity arise. I really like it there. But I probably won’t visit much now that we’ve sold the place; part of the fun was “playing house.” It just wasn’t enough fun to justify paying another mortgage.

One benefit of moving is that I got lots of nice new old furniture to use in Winston-Salem. The former owner left a fair amount of stuff in the house when we bought it, including an amazing “Brady Bunch Hawaiian Adventure” bedroom suite which has now migrated southward to the Carolinas. I got custody of a much newer and better mattress too.  Thanks to Mark for driving the truck and helping to load and unload all this stuff. It’s inspired me to do a makeover.

It was sort of a sad weekend, obviously, as one more part of the life we used to have together was ending. But it was something we had to let go. I wish I’d taken some time to spend a few days up there before we gave up possession of the house, just to have a few more breakfasts at Barb’s or lunches at Smallman Street. I felt very much a part of Pittsburgh, strangely enough, even with my limited time there. Years from now, I’ll probably see these two years of owning two homes as a sort of surreal period, much like 2005-2006 in Charlotte but probably with fonder recollections (except maybe for the ones that involve driving through 250 miles of West Virginia each visit). I’ll miss Pittsburgh, but I’ll miss what it symbolized even more.