North Carolina

Today brought visits to the relatives in Reidsville. This is always nice even though it means being trapped in a non-smoking environment for three hours or so, and I’m usually a bit edgy by the end. Now I get to go over to my aunt’s house and finish hooking up her new VCR. I’ll probably miss “The Simpsons” again…

 

I also did my traditional run downtown to see the shadows of what we had instead of malls when I was very young. I peered into the old stores, most of them closed and boarded up, and thought about the crowds which used to roam the streets, and Santa Claus at Meyer’s, and eating at the S&W Cafeteria, and movies at the Carolina Theatre, and popcorn at Kress’s. I’m sad that it’s all gone now, but at the same time glad that I’m just barely old enough to remember when downtown was still the center of things.

I may try to hit Myrtle Beach tomorrow. I lived there for four months eleven years ago. Haven’t been back since. It’s changed either dramatically or not at all, I’d imagine. We’ll see.

***

Seems my dad developed a serious kidney stone in honor of the Tour. Thus, my biggest single frame of reference for the Greensboro leg as been the emergency room at Cone Hospital. Spent pretty much all of Saturday there waiting for something to happen. Fortunately, surgery finally ensued with no complications and my dad is home and quite normal now. Except for the string. Let’s not discuss that…

So I got to relive another aspect of my childhood by hanging out at Cone Hospital. From about age four to age eight or so, I had an awful lot of relatives die there and I remember playing on the steps in front of the main entrance many nights while my parents worried. I finally found those steps again last night while prowling around looking for a smoking area. They look much smaller now.

 

In the process of lurking about the hospital staring at the cute orderlies and interns and reading all about the architecture of Pittsburgh, I managed to miss my cousin’s wedding. At least I was spared the repetitive “I guess your next” comments of my more distant and less savvy relatives.

As yet I haven’t gotten in contact with half the people I planned to, due in part to the above-mentioned semi-drama. I have one day left; it might be a bit tough now.

I did, however, run into several old friends by accident Friday night when I realized that I’d had it with fags and Babylon’s rave children and instead checked out the band at ZooBar. The drummer for the trio on stage turned out to be Roy, a former co-worker from Kinko’s. The sound “man” was his wife Emily. And then I ran into an old WUAG cohort, Lynn Blakey, and found out that her new band, Glory Fountain, had opened. CD received; review forthcoming. I’m prepared to like it.

So as not to be completely removed from queers, I checked out opening night at the new bar in town, the Jokers 3. This is actually a straight club which has fallen on hard times and is now attempting to woo the fags on weekends. As of Friday, the strategy seemed to be failing miserably. And the bar is from hell. Surly staff, $3.25 for a Rolling Rock, and no crowd. Except for the straight redneck holdovers who looked as if they’d been clustered at the same table for the past ten years or so. I opted for a hasty retreat.

 

Drove to the Raleigh and Durham with mom on Friday as well. I’d probably have seen more and done more alone, but it seemed a good “quality time” moment, and was actually a nice break between trips to the hospital.

Tonight brought the big family gathering and dinner. Tons of food and most of the assorted relatives. It was nice, and I’m impressed that my mom managed to pull it off after yesterday.

Today also brought the first mild debauchery of the trip. I’ll skip that detail for right now, but suffice to say UNCG did it for me again…

    

The day before I left, we headed to Mt. Airy, birthplace of Andy Griffith and model for Mayberry. Oddly enough, I’d never been there before despite living most of my life about 45 miles away. Neat place, but they are completely shameless in their exploitation of the Mayberry theme. There’s a Snappy Lunch (which actually predates the show and was really one of Andy Griffith’s hangouts), as well as a Blue Bird Diner, Floyd’s Barber Shop, and Goober’s Filling Station (all “after the fact”).

 

Leaving Greensboro was rough. I have to admit to suppressing a few sobs as I headed for I-85; it’s rough leaving Mom and Dad. Unlike many people who move to SF, I wasn’t running from them. I actually like my parents. It’s Greensboro I was running from. The place just bugs the crap out of me for some reason. No doubt there will be more on this subject later.

So of course I never got in touch with Adam or Daniel and I feel most guilty, but it was a bit of a crazy week. There’s still Christmas, I guess…

Greensboro

It’s as surreal as ever being at home with Mom and Dad in Greensboro. Understand that I have the good fortune to have completely sane parents, which is quite a blessing, but it’s still a bit odd being back under the childhood roof. Among other things, I immediately feel about fifteen years younger — all in all, I guess this is a plus. But there are adjustments: I have to close the bathroom door when I piss, I feel odd about staying out late, I’m mildly uncomfortable about smoking in the house, etc. Plus, there’s no place to go should I meet the man of my dreams…

 

The older I get, the more time I devote to actually spending time with the parents when I visit home. I guess it’s due in part to the fact that I’ve realized they’re not immortal (at ages 67 and 72), and in part to the fact that I’m not as excited by the idea of spending every night lurking around in bars. Of course, last time I was here I felt safer at home anyway.

Mind you, I’m not completely averse to nightlife. Last night was fun. Jeff and I met some friends at New York Pizza, which was one of my old “trouble spots”. This is a strange little bar with a strange mix of people of all sexual, social, and cultural persuasions. Ran into an ex-something from many years past (“boyfriend” would be too strong a word…) who recently has had a heroin problem, was flirted with by another friend, and had generally good Christian fellowship. And pizza…

  

There have also been the obligatory trips to new subdivisions and shopping centers. Greensboro seems perpetually under construction, as perfectly good and relatively new homes and retail buildings are deserted for still newer ones farther out, a result of overabundant cheap suburban land.

But hey, the cable TV is great here; I’ve even been watching Nick-at-Nite’s TV Land. I didn’t think ANY cable companies carried it.

And it’s raining! I’m so excited…

 

Flirtations and relatives and barbecue and clean laundry. All is well down Carolina way. But I now remember that a trip home is no vacation. There are far too many responsibilities for that. There’s this relative and that relative to visit, friends to see, “quality time” with Mom and Dad, etc. I sort of feel like I’ve been on a schedule ever since I got here, even though I really just wanted to sit around watching TV and eating myself into oblivion.

 

It will be odd if my only debauchery of the entire trip occurs here. There have been flirtations, one that I wouldn’t have turned down Tuesday night, and one less enticing one last night. Tuesday’s wasn’t to be at the time, but was fun all the same. As for Wednesday’s, it went as follows (keep in mind that I had given NO signal that sex was a possibility):

“Can I be direct with you?”

“Sure…but I’m really beat and it probably won’t do much good.”

“So how do you feel about HIV?”

Now you see, I hate when it starts like this. I live in San Francisco. I’ve slept with people who have HIV. I’ve dated people who have HIV. Even though I’m negative, I pretty much assume everyone else is positive. But when this is the first part of a pickup line, it makes it hard for me to respond in any polite way. If I say no, it seems as if it’s related to the HIV rather than the fact that I’m just not interested in the guy, when in fact the latter is the true reason.

 

But I got out diplomatically and finished watching the drag show, although I was being stalked by someone else throughout. All this other guy would do was stare at me and try to make me uncomfortable. No conversation. He didn’t even buy me a beer.

Baltimore to Greensboro

The junction of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland is full of history. Where else could your highway choices be Charles Town/Leesburg or Fredericksburg/Gettysburg? It’s as if both the American Revolution and the Civil War selected this scenic area as ground zero just so tourism would be strong in the twentieth century.

 

This is a truly beautiful part of the country, one of the top two or three in my humble estimation. I spent a lot of time here as a child, so I know the layout pretty well. Twice a year or so, my family would come to Charles Town, WV for the horse races and balance the trip with side trips — always to Harpers Ferry, and sometimes also to Washington, Baltimore, Richmond, or Williamsburg. The Shenendoah Valley was like a second home to me as I was growing up and I was looking forward to a return after fifteen years.

Jefferson County, WV is home to both Charles Town and Harper’s Ferry. The tow are connected in history by abolitionist John Brown’s 1859 raid, held in Harper’s ferry, and his subsequent trial, held in Charles Town. I was happy to see that at least downtown Charles Town hadn’t changed much, although the outskirts have been bludgeoned with the sledgehammer approach of Wal-Mart and related enterprises.

 

I saw all the sights: the courthouse, Charles Washington Hall (where we used to eat breakfast every morning), the 7-11 where I bought cigarettes when I was 15, the motel where I fell down the stairs at age 7, the hospital I was rushed to afterward, the old and deserted race track as well as the renovated new one…

I was, on the other hand, appalled to find that you now have to pay five bucks to park and take a bus into Harper’s Ferry from a lot two miles away. Having no time for such nonsense, I drove into town and found a two-hour space and told to the National Park Service, in essence, to bite me.

 

I looked in the old shops. I stared at the absolutely beautiful point where the Shenendoah meets the Potomac. I climbed the mountain. I saw the ruins of the old church. I sat on Jefferson Rock. I made a nice lady from North Carolina take my picture and showed her party where the graveyard was.

And then I left. West Virginia gave way to Virginia and I realized I was damn close to home. It goes without saying that no maps were required from this point on.

Reflections on home

I guess my two-plus weeks in North Carolina could best be described as “restful”, which may be just what I needed following my newfound umeloyment. I spent a lot of time with mom and dad, not much time going out, only minimal times shopping and cruising, and I slept a lot. Good things included seeing the family at Christmas, spending time with Jeff and Duncan, and much excellent food. Less good were the fact that I was half sick for my whole visit (not used tp places with heat, I guess…), I didn’t get to visit my friend Dawn in Charlotte, and really heinous airline food.

A few things which come to mind after this visit:

  • The preppy look never goes out of style in North Carolina, especially among gay men. I’ve never seen so many oxford shirts “tastefully” layered over polo shirts all tucked into khakis or acid-washed jeans anywhere else.
  • People on airplanes flying home for the hoildays look as if they’re going to a funeral. Guess the stress level is a bit much, huh? Maybe it’s even more intense on flights out of San Francisco, where it seems everyone is running away from something.
  • There should be a law against going to “retro” nights at clubs in cities where you grew up and no longer live. Major emotional roller coaster.
  • The last call rush is much more intense in North Carolina than in California, maybe because state law in NC gives you a very civilized half hour to finish drinks bought at 2AM.
  • Why is it that in an intense place like San Francisco, speed is the drug of choice, while in a laid back (OK…boring) place like Greensboro, it seems to be all about heroin. You’d think the reverse would be true.
  • Newspaper stories in North Carolina still tell you what to do with an Internet address: “if you have Internet access, take a web browser, such as Netscape, and type in…”
  • Why is it so intensely unpleasant to be in a gay bar alone in the South? Here, it’s pretty standard for me, but everything is so damned clannish and cliquish there, it just seems really uncomfortable. It doesn’t help that absolutely NO ONE would dare appraoch an “outsider”.
  • A few things which will always happen when I visit mom and dad: meals at the K&W cafeteria, a trip to the Virginia line to play the lottery (NC doesn’t have one yet), and a tour of every new suburban development within 30 miles. Fortunately, I enjoy this…
  • In the Charlotte airport, it is cheaper to go to a bar for a Coke than to one of the fastfood places. Plus, you get free refills and can smoke! Of course, in the Greensboro airoprt, you can smoke everywhere, so it’s not even an issue.
  • Southern friendliness and hospitality are often overrated. If you don’t “look right”, you’ll see what I mean.

Home for the Holidays

  

Aah…Christmas morning. This is the first one I’d spent at home since 1991. It wasn’t quite the same as when I was a kid, but it had its certain charms. We had breakfast with my aunt and her family next door, and dinner with my dad’s relatives in Reidsville. I’ve reached the point in life where few of my family members know enough about me to give me anything other than money, which is fine.

It was a foggy Christmas, and the weather for my whole trip was unseasonably warm (until the day I left when the ice came). I had a bit of a hard time getting used to the fact that places are actually heated in North Carolina. This is sadly not the case in San Francisco, where no one admits that it ever gets cold. Of course, Christopher in Minneapolis tells me “you don’t know the meaning of cold.” Jeff had to work Christmas night; he tends bar many nights. Not a good thing for him, but it was very nice for me…

  

Greensboro bars are even more depressing than I remember, with the exception of Babylon, which is really happening despite the overabundent and annoying rave children on certain nights.Suffice to say, I didn’t get laid the whole time I was in NC, and never even felt really inspired to attempt it. There was a cute boy named Brian at the Palms one night (pictured above) but our association never got near the point of sex. Todd (above right) supplied his boyfriend for my “amusement” last visit, but only took pictures of Brian for me this time.

 

Believe it or not, I spent New Year’s Eve at home with mom and dad, despite the festive decorations at the Palms. It seemed the sanest thing to do in a town where (a) cars are the only mode of transport and there are all of three cabs in the whole city, (b) I was stationed in the ‘burbs, and (c) concealed weapons are legal.

  

I made the annual pilgrimage to the trailer park to visit Anthony, Jeff, and Jeff’s new beau Dave and trade Christmas presents and drink beer. Jeff showed me his affection for Dave’s size 17 (?) boots, Dave worked on a model of something I can’t remember, and hideous pictures were taken of me. The we left, ‘cuz the cat was giving me fits.

 

There were the usual tours of the city, “what’s new”, “looks ‘big city’, doesn’t it?”, the trip to Virginia to buy lottery tickets, a jaunt to Winston Salem, where I found this sign which was of interest to a certain fiendishly cute webmaster. I saw the old schools, all the buildings which had been torn down, the monster malls, etc. And food at all my favorie places. Then it beacme time to rent a car and leave my real home town for my adopted home town, the land of all night diners, the Hornets, the Panthers, NationsBank, First Union, and other world class attractions.

 

In Charlotte, I stayed at the nifty new home of my nifty old friend Duncan. We did lunch at Gus’ Sir Beef, always a damn near religious experience, and sampled other Charlotte food as well. Tours of the thrift stores, aimless driving through the city (always a favorite pastime when Duncan and I convene), and more. Friday night started late, but we still hit a few bars (and Duncan got hit on by an adorable boy, while alas I didn’t). Saturday night, we made the trek to Columbia (and back), always one of my favorite road trips when I lived there.

  

On Sunday, much to the chagrin of bigger sports fans than myself, I got to see the Panthers/Cowboys playoff at the new Erickson Stadium. We tailgated next to the most beautiful redneck boy in the world (or at least in the parking lot). Good game, great stadium, cute boys, no tearoom scene (inside joke). Alas, Green Bay kept the Panthers out of the Super Bowl the following Sunday.

Sunday night took me to Oleen’s and back to Scorpio, and Monday morning took me back to Greensboro for one more day. Now I’m home. While it’s good to visit my family and friends, and while I miss having them nearby, I’m not itching to move back. If only they’d come out here…

Vacation Plans and Drugs

Just by way of an update, I’m almost over the nasty bronchitis thing, thanks to antibiotics, the inhaler, and codeine — the happy drug. I was really amazed at how many people wrote to ask how I was doing. It’s almost tempted me to believe that people are nice, which — given my experience with the public at Kinko’s — is hard for me to admit. Anyway, thanks a lot. It made me feel good to know people actually knew and cared.

So what’s up, you ask? Got a job yet? That answer would be “no”. I am starting to feel a little nervous, given that my current one ends in a couple of weeks. I find myself walking around saying “what the fuck am I thinking?” Of course, I then go back to work, have a couple of days like the last two, and realize that I’m not making a mistake.

Right now the plan calls for a few weeks in scenic North Carolina around Christmas, with side trips to Atlanta and maybe D.C. I suddenly realized the other night that for the first time in my life, there’s no real hurry to come back off a vacation and I can really take just about as much time as I want. kinda cool, actually. Plus mom and dad will feed me for free, and Jeff and Duncan can show me all the newest decadent hot spots in return for their Planet SOMA tours!

Seeing “Beavis and Butthead Do America” while in North Carolina holds a strange thrill for me somehow…Sorry, got sidetracked by a commercial.

May have a visit from Christopher some time this rainy season.

Had a very entertaining evening out and about with Rob (picture soon, I promise) last night. He’s coming along quite nicely, is passing most of the major “tests” (except the music quiz…Pet Shop Boys…bleccchh…) and he looks much younger than his 107 years too. And he has a room with a view…

On my mind in a major way lately: drugs.

I’m really getting tired of going out and seeing that my neighborhood local bars look like (unsuccessful) drug rehab centers. There’s always been a lot of speed South of Market, but it’s seemed a lot worse lately. At Hole in the Wall especially, the scene used to be about smoking pot and drinking to excess. Even though I stopped smoking pot about 1981 and don’t foresee returning to the habit anytime soon, I can understand these drugs. Pot heads may be annoying at times, and may show all the motivation of a coma victim (there are, I admit, exceptions), but at least they’re not doing major damage and killing themselves. Same for your average drinker, although excess in this area has its fatality factor too.

Now it’s all about speed and X (and heroin and even crack, to a lesser degree). A whole fashion culture is developing; it’s not hard to tell who’s dealing or tweaking even from a distance. And it really bugs the shit out of me that this whole scene is overtaking places I like to hang out. One of the main reasons I don’t do the dance club scene is to avoid this crowd (of course the fact that I don’t dance figures into it too…) and now I can’t even escape it in the corner bar.

Maybe I’m just more sensitive now that a few close friends have allowed their own addictions to render them homeless and essentially useless. Maybe I’ve just brought home one too many boys who couldn’t muster an erection if their lives depended on it and just want to sit around watching porn and calling the sex line at 4AM. Who knows?

I’ve always tried to let people do their own thing in peace as long as they (a) go outside to smoke pot, (b) shut up about it after the first time I say “no, I don’t want to join you” and (c) don’t allow their drug drama — including endless conversations about how good it is, how much it cost, and how much trouble it was to obtain — to impact my life in any way. But I’m now declaring Planet SOMA, the “little apartment that could” and all areas within a five-foot radius of my person a “tweaker free zone”. What this essentially means is that if you’re on the amphetamine train, stay away. Period. If you manage to get into my house, you’ll be asked to leave as soon as I clue in. I do not trust you. Actually, I may trust you, but I don’t trust your chemicals.

End drug rant.