February 27, 2009

Childhood Homes

(A tip of the hat to Torn, who tagged all of his readers with this great idea. Use the "street level" image of your childhood home from Google maps and write about a memory. Tag, you're it.)

While we moved around for a bit, this is the house I consider my childhood home, in Sarasota.

I lived here from age six to thirteen. My dad designed it, a tiny 3B/2b house with an open carport. Subsequent owners have apparently enclosed the carport, added another driveway and garage, and put up a storage shed on the right. They added trees in the front yard and a picket fence. Crowded property now. The real crime was committed by the owner who painted the exterior. The wood siding was wormy cypress, which aged to a beautiful silver sheen and was impervious to rot and insects. Someone decided to fill in the holes and paint it all. Gah. No maintenance to high maintenance. Such ignorance.

We three sisters slept in the front right bedroom. There was barely room for a bunk, a twin, and three dressers. The idea of entertaining friends in my bedroom was foreign to me; who could fit? There was a gardenia bush under the window (where the shed now sits) that was filled with blooms. That heavy scent takes me back to childhood every time.

The back yard had a huge single pine tree which I tried to use for a treehouse. Every nail I put in the tree produced a sticky flow of sap, making the ladder steps unusable. Do you know how hard it is to remove sap from your hands? It takes turpentine. Pew. I took my carpentry skills to the woods at the end of the street (now a housing addition), where I established two more “treehouses” (read: planks nailed to the branches). I loved those things. They were great for sitting and thinking.

When my mom remarried, we moved to this house near the bay.

It resides in the oldest neighborhood in Sarasota, at the midway point between the two keys. Less than half of the original houses remain, most of them falling to McMansions. This shot is relatively recent, and apparently Mom was home. (That’s her car in the porte cochere.) The city has put a moratorium on watering, and those who obey have faded yards. (Of course, many of the bigger homes have brilliant green lawns.)

This tiny half lot boasts five live oaks, a key lime, a ponderosa lemon, a macadamia tree which feeds only squirrels, two palms and various roses, ferns, bromeliads, and azaleas. Probably half of the original foliage has been removed. When I was in high school, I went out back to swing in the hammock strung between two oaks. It was a sunny warm day, and it was idyllic to look up in the trees to see squirrels gamboling in the large branches of the oaks. Except—wait a minute—these squirrels didn’t have fur on their tails. Oh, man, they were wharf rats. Ewww. Those miserable things live in every palm tree. I was up and inside.

I remember having to mow this lawn twice a week, back when it rained every summer day at 4:30. If you let it go five days the mower wouldn’t go through the Bahia grass. Half the front yard has been taken over by the walled swimming pool.

The 3B/2½b house was built in the 1940s and is floored throughout in terrazzo. We’ve carpeted about half of it, because, frankly, terrazzo may be beautiful but it’s cold and slippery. Think polished marble. We had to add a drive to the side so that no one parks on the street. I love this house, but its time is limited. Whoever buys it will raze it and mount another McMansion in its place. The $40K house of my youth sits on property worth $600K today. But this is home to me now, where I go when I visit Florida.

February 22, 2009

All God's Children, Week One

Our Families

I was told that standard attendance for this class is about 20 to 25. We had seating for sixty, and almost all the seats were filled. A few familiar and friendly faces were in the crowd, including Abe’s.

I had set up a resource table with displays of books from my own library and handouts of articles pertinent to the topic of the day. I included a bibliography of books, DVDs, and websites. There was a lot of interest in the materials; I will have a different selection at every class in the series.

I sat at a table in front with three other speakers, all of whom were parents of gay children. We took turns telling the story of our family members, their lives, their coming out, and the impact on the family. As you might expect, the stories were powerful.

The subject matter didn’t lend itself to questions. How do you question someone’s story? The response was overwhelmingly positive, but I wonder if dissenting audience members felt that their comments were not welcome. I think the next class—“Gay and Christian”—will bring about some differing opinions.

The memory I will take from this happened after class. A longtime church member approached me to say thanks. I had figured out he was gay some time ago, and I was eager to hear his feedback. He told me that he was no longer working, and now that he was 66 years old, it was time for him to speak up. He said he wanted our church to start a support group for its gay members. It took me a second to realize he was coming out to me.

I smiled and reached for a hug. He was trembling. What a gift that he would trust me with his honesty. We talked for a few minutes more, and he said I was the first person he’d “said something to” at our church. I promised him that I would address his request to our senior pastor.

I am thrilled, grateful, hopeful, charged, and I feel like jumping around like a fool, whooping and pumping my fist in victory. Yesssss! I will do that in my head and on the outside appear to be the calm and confident person they want leading this class.

Next Sunday: “Gay and Christian.”

Image courtesy of Christ First Church of Gainesville, GA.

February 20, 2009

An Invitation

The adult class series “All God’s Children: Exploring Homosexuality and Our Faith” begins this Sunday at my church. I will be sitting on the panel this week, moderating next week, and attending the last two. I’ll report here on each of the four classes, but there are some readers out there within driving distance. If you are one of those silent readers and would like to attend, please email me at birdoparadise [at] sbcglobal [dot] net for times and directions. I would love to meet you.

February 19, 2009


Home again. I had dinner once again with my parents and sister on Saturday night. I had loved the long drive and especially the reason for it, but my body was protesting. I needed rest.

I spent Sunday in my usual manner of home visit: lying around reading. Monday my oldest friend since junior high drove over from Arcadia and we caught up on family goings-on. Kelly also has a gay brother and was very pleased to hear about my progress in my church. My sister joined us for lunch on the Circle.

On each visit home, there are certain places I want to eat, and near the top of the list is the Columbia Restaurant on St. Armand's Circle. They’ve been around since 1905, and their famous salad is named for that date. But the salad wasn’t the same. It wasn’t nearly the pungent garlicky delight that I’ve always enjoyed. Family tells me that it changed a while back and has never been as good since. Why do people mess with perfection and change something for the sake of change? Change is not always better, new is not always better. Cross that restaurant off my list. Meh.

On Monday my sister suggested Mar Vista, a restaurant at the north end of Longboat Key. They have patio tables in the grass by the docks, where boats can moor.

It’s interesting to see the address on the menu, one by street and one by channel marker. Pelicans and herons frequented the docks, and I was able to get close to a couple of them.

We ordered the Stone Crab claws, something I can afford only once in awhile. Oh, hon, what a treat for the mouth. But you have to earn it; it isn’t easy cracking those claws to get a decent sized bite, but oh so worth it when dipped in clarified butter.

After lunch my sister told me to drive through the neighborhood at the tip of Longboat. Sure enough, a flock of peacocks was strolling through the yards.

They’re colorful, but they have an incredibly loud and annoying call. I’m glad they’re not in our neighborhood.

Monday afternoon I joined another dear friend (since high school) and we had dinner at a little Italian place downtown. I think you could eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at a different place every day for months in this town. Such a wealth of privately-owned places which take pride in serving really good food. I talked away the evening with Lynn and we howled over memories until we both realized how late it was.

I had to leave for the Tampa airport after lunch on Wednesday. It was sunny and 75° and glorious. I drove back over the Skyway—of course—with Dire Straits cranking over the span. (Have you listened to the last four minutes of “Telegraph Road?” Whoa. It's on the playlist.) When I pulled in with the rental car, the attendant wanted to know the mileage for their records. I drove just over a thousand miles on this trip. And I loved every inch of the way.

The terrain was beautiful and the car was pretty cool. But it was the people that made this trip memorable: new friends, deepened friendships, old friends and loving family. It doesn’t get better than that.

February 18, 2009


(Mat la SHAY)

This time my trusty GPS got me to my next destination easily on Saturday morning. I was late of my own accord. Jack was forgiving, as always, and we tooled in the sun to a local coffee bistro he liked.

I met Jack online about three years ago, and he was my guide into blogs on the interwebs. He has been a faithful friend and occasional taskmaster, helping me when I asked. Jack is a self-deprecating man who is unable to turn down a request for help. And his help isn’t the hand-holding kind. If you need a swift kick—as I did at a couple of points—Jack is there with a sharp-toed boot and a kind word.

Luckily for me, I didn’t need a swift kick this time. So we laughed through the hour or so that we had until we left to join Doug and his partner Chris in the island town of Matlacha. These two men are real sweetiepies, and they were eager to show us around their island. They took us through the artsy town of Matlacha and to their favorite galleries. I had hoped that Doug would be dressed in one of his new handmade tie-dye shirts, but he said they were being washed. They are to dye for.

We ate at a local BBQ place, maintaining my vow to avoid all chain restaurants as much as possible. It was great food; and to celebrate Valentine’s Day, the café gave me a free glass of merlot. The guys? They got nothing. Ç’est la vie!

One of the galleries was a trip back to the sixties.

And I mean trip in every sense of the word.

I loved Matlacha. All of these beach communities with their tiny buildings just feel like home to me. What am I doing in Indiana?! Well, there is that whole job and family thing, I suppose.

I had a great afternoon with the guys. Look for news on Doug’s blog of the new yoga studio that he and Chris are opening. Also check out the new Gay Fort Myers blog that Jack, Doug and others have recently launched.

My Southern Florida Blogtrip was coming to an end. Four bloggers—and three nonbloggers—in four days! What a ride. I was due for dinner once again with family in Sarasota. (Remember them?) I hugged my thanks to Doug and Chris and taxied Jack back to his place in Ft. Myers. Time to head home.

Update: Joe has a gorgeous slide show on Matlacha on Hooky Beach.

February 16, 2009

Cape Coral

I spent over ten hours in the car on Friday. I know I had to be tired, but I was too excited about seeing Jeaux to feel any fatigue. I had met Joe last year when he came up to Sarasota to visit me while I was in town. This time we met on his turf, where he offered me dinner and a movie and a place to stay for the night.

We caught up while Joe fixed dinner: tortellini alfredo with fresh green beans, garlic bread, and red wine. (This was not last year’s “cabinet” but infinitely better.) My job was to keep talking while he worked. I can do this.

We carried our glasses to the living room after dinner, where I chose “Fargo” from among Joe’s offerings for the night’s entertainment. I hadn’t seen this bizarre black comedy since it was in theatres. Each Coen Brothers movie has their unmistakable mark. The wine and the driving finally made their influence known, and when the movie ended I admitted I was tired. It was time for bed, and Joe fixed me up on his sofa. I slept soundly through the night.

We went to breakfast on Saturday morning at a little locally-owned place that had good food at an incredibly reasonable price. This is the sort of café that becomes “your” place. From there we drove to a boat club at the confluence of the Caloosahatchee River and the Gulf. We walked out on the pier and looked over the water while we talked.

Oh, how we talked. You know how you hope you can use your limited time well, but you have no control over whether that happens? It happened this time. Joe and I had one of the richest conversations I’ve had in a very long time; and yet I can’t be specific because we discussed so much. I came away with a great deal to ponder over forgiveness, gay culture, spiritual identity, family and more. It was very hard to call time and say that I needed to get back.

I had more visits to make that day, and I was running a little late. I gave Joe a farewell hug and knew that our friendship had deepened considerably in this short visit. I am incredibly grateful for his hospitality, honesty and challenges, and I can’t wait for our next visit. 

I got in the car and headed for my next rendezvous.

February 15, 2009

Key West

I arose early on Friday morning. I had many miles to go, and my first stop was about an hour south for a special task in Key West.

I realized I had the chance to honor a request from my brother David when I decided to visit the Keys. In his will, David had asked that we—his family of origin and his family of choice—scatter his ashes in places that held special memories for him. One of those places was Key West. When I told my family of my plans, my sister gently said that David’s friends had already taken some of his ashes there.

I thought about that before I flew down to Florida. The implication was that my effort might be redundant; and in fulfilling David’s wishes, that was so. But this ceremony is for the living. It is a ritual of remembrance and connection and closure. I was doing this for me.

In Sarasota, just before I went to bed on Tuesday night, I took from the bookshelf the cloisonné urn that contained David’s ashes. There was little remaining, as David’s friends had performed a number of rites of commemoration for him and themselves. I scooped a handful into a plastic baggie and zipped it tight. I put it carefully into a pocket in my suitcase—such an incongruous container for this small but priceless item.

I left for my road trip the next morning, and as I visited friends the remaining purpose for this trip lingered in the back of my mind. When I allowed my mind to fully examine what I was feeling, I realized it was not sadness. At least, it was not sorrow for the act I was determined to fulfill. The grief that came with the vision of what I was going to do was not new. It simply floated to the surface for this moment. I was surprised by my sense of completion at doing this for David. For all that I was unable to do for him in life, I could do this one small act.

Friday morning I left a note of thanks for my still-sleeping hosts in Marathon and started down Highway 1 for Key West. The sun was up and the air was barely cool, so I put the roof down on the car and played Terence Blanchard’s soulful jazz. I traversed once again Seven Mile Bridge and continued southward. As I approached Big Pine Key (just above Key West), I saw a wall of fog worthy of a Stephen King movie rolling northeast over the islands and swallowing the end of the bridge. In minutes I was enveloped in cold gray mist that made the temperature drop eleven degrees. I pulled over to raise the roof and keep out the cold.

The fog was intermittent when I entered Key West. I knew almost nothing about the island. I did know that I wanted to complete this act on the ocean. I followed the road to the left until I reached water and swung west. The public beach stretched for perhaps a mile. In the middle of the expanse of sand I saw a rock jetty reaching out into the ocean and decided that this spot was a good one. The mist had lifted just high enough to give me some light.

I took the bag from my purse and approached the beach. Gingerly I stepped on and over the rocks to the end of the jetty. While some traffic continued behind me on the sidewalk and street, no one was near me on the beach. A swimmer was far off and moving away.

I reached the end of the jetty and stood facing the calm and endless ocean. The wind was constant but not troublesome. I really hadn’t thought about how to perform the ritual. I didn’t have words chosen, so I let the moment speak for itself. I poured David’s ashes into my hand and they filled my palm. I held them in my upturned fist and remembered our last months together. I recalled that instant when he knew for certain that we loved him. That love powered this moment, and I swept my arm across the sky and surrendered his ashes to the Gulf Stream. My stomach had been tight and finally released the sob I’d been holding.

My grief was short-lived as I stood and stared at the water. Calm descended once again and I recalled my resolution to let David live on in me, in the acts I commit on his behalf and for those he would love. My connection with David was too brief, but at least he knew that I loved him fully for who he was. May his legacy be one of greater bonds in our family and widening circles of acceptance in our world.

I had over 300 miles to drive; it was time to go. I meandered through a few streets of Key West, happening upon Old Town with its tiny alleyways and bright flowers and smiles. I can easily see why David loved this place, and I will be back to enjoy it fully, with friends and family. I left the island in silence and didn’t turn on the music until I emerged from the mist into the sun. A friend awaited my arrival that afternoon in Cape Coral, near Fort Myers.

February 14, 2009

The Florida Keys

The sky is a different color of brilliant blue in the Keys. I took a picture, but it doesn’t really convey the intensity and depth of color.

I spent—what day was it? What day is it now?—Thursday, I think, tooling around the middle keys with my colleague. Judy and her husband Terry have just started wintering down here and were foolish kind enough to extend an invitation when she learned I’d be making my annual Florida pilgrimage. It was her offer that stirred the idea that I could visit a number of bloggers on my way down and back. And what a trip it has been.

Judy and I went south of Marathon over Seven Mile Bridge to Bahia Honda State Park. Most of the roadway down the Keys is lined with businesses and condos. Apparently and thankfully there is a moratorium on building height that keeps the community intimate. At the park the beauty of the land remained intact.

We wandered on foot and by car through meandering trails. There was a single butterfly in their designated butterfly garden, which included this butterfly house. I’ve never seen such a thing and I have to wonder if it’s just a piece of whimsy. Why on earth do butterflies need a structure? What would they use it for?

I’m now the proud witness to two national “follies” at opposing corners of the continent: Seward’s Folly, which was the purchase of the state of Alaska from Russia, and Flagler’s Folly, which was running a highway and train down the east coast of Florida to the Keys. Seward’s gamble paid off handsomely; Flagler’s not so much. Here’s the tail end of his roadway and bridge.

From our rail of the bridge we looked down onto brush and trees. Movement revealed a brown and orange iguana munching on leaves. This big daddy was at least three feet long. The picture does not do justice to the brilliance of the orange crest running along his back.

The only request I made of my hosts was sunset on the ocean. They served it up in style. This was my view over their shoulders when we had dinner.

The stars that night were vivid and plentiful. Constellations that are too low on the horizon in Indiana are high in the sky at this latitude. I saw Orion, of course, but also two globular clusters, two open clusters, and even the Andromeda Galaxy was up. I am so glad I hauled those big astronomy binoculars down with me.

I had to pull over for gas on my way down the Keys, and this sign said it all.

If I need any motivation at all, I can just remember the view from my living room window one week before I left.

The next day would bring the long drive up the length of the Keys, across Alligator Alley, to friends in Fort Myers. But I would need to start the day with an important task in Key West.

February 12, 2009

Fort Lauderdale

It was a long beautiful drive from Sarasota to Ft. Lauderdale. Alligator Alley is no longer the outpost of my youth; it is a smooth four-lane thoroughfare lined on one side by cypress swamp and on the other by freshwater marsh grasses. The cypress appear to be dying, and I have to wonder if it’s due to the strain of overpopulation diverting water from the Everglades. At its healthiest the Everglades was a river 100 miles wide and 100 miles long, running a foot deep from Lake Okeechobee to the southwest Florida shoreline and the Gulf of Mexico. The Army Corp of Engineers began changing its configuration to “reclaim” the land from the marshes, I believe in the 1920s. We have spent billions in recent decades to undo the harm of our intervention, but it will never again be the expansive wetland of the past.

I expected to see more evidence of wildlife in such open expanse. I did see a gloriously dark pink flamingo fly overhead. I’ve only seen domestic flamingos, whose diet of expensive shrimp is augmented with foods that leave them a pale pink in comparison. A lone bald eagle was doing its darnedest to escape the harangue of two smaller birds who took turns nipping at its taloned heels.

I zoomed out of the wilderness into the pastel civilization of Fort Lauderdale. I pulled into the parking lot of a beachfront high-rise to find Father Tony on the leash of a small white dog, whose care he undertook for vacationing friends. Tony’s greeting was warmer than the dog’s.

We took off right away for lunch in a nearby deli. Food and conversation were equally delicious, as you might expect. When Tony asked about dessert, I produced a tiny box of truffles which I’d brought to celebrate the occasion. The chocolates did not disappoint.

Tony took me to Java Boys for coffee. We bumped into a man whom Tony had met the night before, and we were off to the races. A discussion of local politics somehow turned to religion, and we stood for maybe an hour discussing modern Christianity, the Catholic Church and our own beliefs. It was a spirited, friendly debate that both men commented was rare in Fort Lauderdale. People come to Florida to turn off their brains for awhile. I know that the days’ names and dates disappear the minute I set foot in the state. But this conversation was like a party to me. I love good discourse.

Our new friend had to leave and we wandered through some of the local shops. Tony toured me through some of the neighborhoods, which were starting to look depressingly like newer Sarasota, which is to say like Italy. Mediterranean architecture is replacing beach bungalows and sixties angular homes, and I don’t like it. Am I feeling territorial, or is it just good taste? Why didn’t they pick Grecian influence of white and blue? Orange stucco and red clay tiled McMansions are everywhere. It’s ostentatious.

I still had about a three-hour drive to my destination in the Keys. Tony and I lingered for a while in the parking lot and agreed that the afternoon had flown by. He confessed that I wasn’t quite what he expected but he was pleasantly surprised. That is the nature of Internet introductions, isn’t it? Tony was everything I expected and more. Such a delightful, gracious and enormously intelligent man. His brain races and it is a fascinating marathon to keep up. He is a one-man party.

It was getting late; I really had to go. I set my GPS for Marathon Key and took off. During rush hour in Miami. Do you remember reading about all the shootings in Miami traffic? I understand it perfectly. If I’d had a gun, I’d have taken out a number of drivers whose absence would have raised the collective IQ of the city. These people are nuts, and that’s the opinion of someone who learned how to drive in Sarasota, where every car is the enemy. At least in Sarasota they are crazy and slow; in Miami they are insane at 90 to 100 mph, two feet from your bumper.

After wrangling with a GPS which wanted to take me the “fastest” way through the middle of the city, I wrestled with the spaghetti bowl of state highways in southern Florida and emerged victorious onto the Keys. It was dark by then and I saw nothing but roadside signs and businesses. The moon was rising as I pulled into my colleague’s condominium. We chatted, I had too much wine, and we went to bed.

The sky outside this morning is bright blue and the open balcony is bringing me that intoxicating ocean breeze. The WiFi here is like Tony’s foster dog: it acknowledges my presence but it won’t let me near. I’ll have to find a way to post this elsewhere.

February 10, 2009


To experience the full effect of this post, click "play" on the first song in the playlist in the righthand column.

This morning's flight to Tampa was uneventful and allowed me time to get some reading done. I left Indiana at a balmy-for-there 55° and arrived in Tampa two hours later to 81°. The 2009 Sebring I was able to get at a discount is beautiful. At the gate from the car lot I shot my hands into the air with a "Woohoo!" The gatekeeper laughed and raised the arm. Vacation had officially begun. When I left the airport, I had the World's Best Convertible Song—"Jessica" by the Allman Brothers—blasting from the stereo as the sun shone in the west and the wind wreaked havoc with my hair. (Who cares?) The Sebring handles very well, even at 70 mph (yes, the speed limit) with the roof down.

I try always to take the Sunshine Skyway to Sarasota, even though it adds a few minutes to the drive. You can see why:

Just as I hit the rise up the span with the sun reflecting off the water, Jeff Beck's "Bolero" began. Whoa. (You can hear that as the second song on the playlist. Can you feel it?)

I had a wonderful dinner at a little place a block from the house with my parents and my sister, and I leave in the morning for Ft. Lauderdale and the Keys. I'll take you along. Good night.

Quick Update

If you've noticed I've visited your blog without commenting, chances are I did and it disappeared. I've left at least four comments in the past few days that never showed. You can bask in the knowledge that it was witty, uplifting and stunning in its razor-sharp observation.

I'm finishing up my duties here at home today so that I can leave for Florida with a clear (or at least translucent) conscience. This trip will be unlike any of my other annual trips home: I will be visiting with four terrific blogger friends on my way to and from the Keys for the first time. I'll blog all about it when I get a chance to sit still. I am so excited that I won't miss the down time I usually require. Woohoo!

I'll have a convertible, my iPod and long stretches of sunny road between visits with good friends and family. What could be better? I'll see y'all soon, with my face to the sun.

February 6, 2009

I Can Be Your Superhero

I love it when I can steal creativity from other bloggers. This one's from Tater. I want it clear that I did not choose the name.

February 3, 2009

Thrill Ride

I’ve been meeting with a number of people, staff and laypersons, getting ready for the upcoming four-week series of adult classes. The name of the series is “All God’s Children: Exploring Homosexuality and Our Faith.” I am so pumped for this.

I will miss the pastor’s sermon on the 15th which will introduce the subject into public discussion. It kills me that I won’t be there for the follow-up workshop, during which the congregation will be taken through the discernment process to change the language of our denomination’s constitution. That change will allow each church to decide whether to ordain openly gay pastors. While the church’s vote does not count, persons from each church will be appointed to vote in the presbytery. I have great hope that we will lead our presbytery in approving this change.

Once the sermon opens up the topic, we will offer guided discussion in the class. I and two other individuals will open the series on Feb. 22 talking about family members and the impact of the church on their lives.

The second week, we have “borrowed” two gay Christians to tell their stories. I met one of those people today. A man strong in his faith, “Corey” was raised in a Baptist church and learned early on to hate who he was. He even attended an Ex-Gay reparative therapy course and miraculously emerged whole. I have great respect for anyone who can hold tight to his faith through such a test. He and his partner are new fathers to an adopted elementary-age boy. They are solid in their faith and at peace with their lives. I am grateful for his willingness to share his story. I believe it is stories like his that will change the hearts of those who hear them.

We will follow with a session on the genetics of homosexuality and close with the class that I’m sure will be packed: Biblical interpretation. The response to these classes will determine how we move from here. I have a number of ideas and a slew of resources.

I’ve been cleared of my on-floor responsibilities with the Sunday School to attend and co-moderate all of these classes. I’ve climbed aboard the roller coaster, and it’s ascending to the top of the first rise. I’ve never been on this one before, so I don’t know what kind of ride it’s going to be.

Here we go...

This Just In

Look what I found while surfing the interwebs:

100. Read an entire book in one day.

Turns out there's one more to that list. I did find it disconcerting that the list stopped at 99. So:

Yes: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. I finished it at 2:00a, alone in the house. I was terrified to go to sleep. The film remains the scariest movie I've ever seen.