January 30, 2010

Tiffany & Company: Part Three

Part One
Part Two

Not that summer but the following, Abe was given tickets to the LPGA tournament playing at the course where he was an assistant golf pro. We walked the course and stopped for his favorite players as he told me about them.

We were crossing from one hole to another when Abe saw a fellow assistant from another club. He said he wanted to introduce me, and Abe called out to his friend, who joined us with his date.

“Jim, I want you to meet my wife Birdie. Birdie, this is Jim Sawyer from Heron Creek.”

Jim extended his hand. “Nice to meet you, Birdie. This is Tiffany.”

She stood there with her eyes as big as saucers. I gave her my Cheshire smile. “Hello, Tiffany.”

She mumbled a hello.

The guys exchanged a few pleasantries and we parted company. I spoke to Abe as we walked.

“How old would you guess Jim is?”

“I don’t know. Twenty-seven? Twenty-eight? Why?”

“Tell your friend his date is fourteen.”

Abe snorted. “Oh, please. Right.”

“Remember the story I told you of the girl who was caught shoplifting at Disney? That’s Tiffany.”

“I’ll be right back.” Abe took off at a trot.

He caught up with Jim in the distance and motioned him over to speak privately. I didn’t have to hear to know what transpired. I have no idea what happened after that. Abe and I went on to enjoy the tournament.

Tiffany was about ten years younger than I, and that was a long time ago. I wonder where she is now.

January 28, 2010

Tiffany & Company: Part Two

Sitting at one of the desks was Tiffany, holding a stuffed Dumbo and looking at me like a deer in the headlights.

The officer at the desk explained to me that Tiffany had been caught shoplifting jewelry from one of the shops. As he described what they had witnessed, Tiffany nodded at questions when asked if the details were accurate. He went on to explain to her that she was being released into my custody, and if she were ever caught stealing again, she would be permanently banned from entering Disney World. I think that got her attention. We left the security complex without speaking and emerged once again into the flower-filled alley.

I explained briefly to Lynn what had transpired and then turned to Tiffany.

“You’ve ruined your night, but you’re not ruining mine. You will follow us ten feet behind for the rest of the evening while we enjoy the rides and attractions. You will not speak to anyone else at all. Do you understand?”

Tiffany nodded, and Lynn and I headed out with her following apace at a distance. Word spread fast. Girls from the pep club kept appearing from behind pillars and kiosks, staring and whispering. I had to tell one that Tiffany was off-limits; after that no one else appeared for the rest of the evening. Lynn and I had a good time for the next hour or so while Tiffany stood silently at the entrance to each of the rides, holding Dumbo in her arms.

Around 9:30 Lynn and I decided we were done and headed for the bus. I told Tiffany to stand by the bus while we waited for all of the girls to arrive. They drifted in, already knowing that Tiffany was to be left alone. (Let me tell you: you want word to get around quickly? Tell a teenage girl. It’s faster than light.) As more girls arrived at the bus, they began to cluster and chatter about the Topic of the Evening. I strolled around, listening without being obvious. It was enlightening.

Apparently, all of those necklaces, bracelets and rings that Tiffany wore every day had been stolen from the mall behind the school. She was wearing a fortune in gold. I guess she just wanted a similar souvenir from Disney. I filed the information away and walked up to the bus door, announcing that it was time to board.

As the girls lined up to get on the bus, it struck me that the stuffed Dumbo that Tiffany was carrying was probably stolen too. I figured if I tried to take it, she would protest if she’d paid for it. She approached the door and took the first step.

“I’ll take that,” I said as I removed Dumbo from her grasp. She looked at me silently and then continued on to her seat. Great. Now I had a stolen stuffed animal. What was I going to do with the thing?

The long ride home was uneventful—thank you very much—but as we neared the school parking lot and the waiting cars, I told Tiffany she had to tell her parents what happened. I would be checking on her.

What a night. I gave a brief synopsis to Abe and went to bed.

The next day was Sunday. I slept in and waited until after lunch to make the call I did NOT want to make. Her mother answered the phone.

“This is Birdie Brown, the pep club’s sponsor. Did Tiffany tell you what happened at Disney World last night? Oh. Do you have time to see me? I’ll be right over.”

We all sat in the Florida room of Tiffany’s upper middle class home. As I ended the story, I told her parents what I’d overheard the girls say about her jewelry. Tiffany’s mother interjected, “Not my little girl!”

Stepdad had a different reaction. “Oh yeah. I believe it.”

They thanked me for my trouble and I left what was one of the lowest moments of my young professional career at the time. I gave Dumbo to Goodwill. I did not renew my sponsorship of the pep club the following year.

January 27, 2010

Tiffany & Company: Part One

Every teacher has stories. This is one of mine.

In 1977 Tiffany was in eighth grade. She was slender, blond, tan and as gorgeous as a model—and she knew it. She looked much older than her thirteen years, and she cultivated the illusion. All the girls wanted her to be their friend. She gave out small doses of her attention to keep them yearning for more.

I was a teacher at the middle school in Florida, and a bevy of girls came to me at the start of the year to plead with me to sponsor their pep club. For those who don’t know—and I was one of you at the time—the pep club is comprised of all the cheerleader wannabes who didn’t make the squad. Apparently they attended each game and cheered for the team from the bleachers. My lack of understanding on this subject should tell you my level of interest in being their sponsor.

Every club has to have a teacher sponsor. The pep club’s previous sponsor had bowed out. They were begging me to please just sign the paper; I didn’t have to attend any of the games. They wore me down and I reluctantly agreed. I would live to regret that decision.

The girls met in my classroom and planned their fundraisers—bake sales, car washes, etc.—and organized rides to the games. I maintained order and kept the books, showing up at the fundraising events to oversee everything. Honestly, it wasn’t too bad, except for watching those sweet little girls fawning over Tiffany, who was elected president. She ruled with a cold, regal hand. I did not flatter, so Tiffany had little use for me.

At year’s end the club had enough money to give the school a substantial gift and still organize a trip to Disney World. We had enough money to rent the bus and driver and pay for each girl and chaperone’s entry to River Country and the Magic Kingdom and have a cash dinner allowance. I’ll give them credit: they worked hard for this trip.

After spending the day at River Country, we packed onto the bus and drove over to the Magic Kingdom. I reviewed the rules: each girl would have one buddy, and they were never to be alone. They would stay inside the park, have dinner on their own, and all would meet up at the bus at 10:00 p.m. to drive back home. Everyone offloaded and I joined my own friend and fellow chaperone, Lynn, to hit the rides.

We’d been there about two hours when, in the middle of a street in Adventureland, a man in a polyester suit with an oval nametag asked me if I was Birdie Brown. Uh-oh. I affirmed that I was.

“Would you follow me, please.”

With a brief explanation that I was "needed," he turned and Lynn and I followed. We crossed the bridge onto Main Street USA and passed the quaint shops and restaurants. We followed him into a flower-filled alley where we found a pleasant little door. The man asked Lynn to wait for me there. She and I exchanged glances and I turned to follow the man.

The door opened to a flight of stairs that led us to a large room that overlooked Main Street. The room was filled with monitors displaying the views from dozens of security cameras all over the Magic Kingdom. (Apparently, that’s how they found me.) This was the security department for the Magic Kingdom. Sitting at one of the desks was Tiffany, holding a stuffed Dumbo and looking at me like a deer in the headlights.

Part Two

January 22, 2010

It's Not Who You Are, It's What You Do

That's the crux of the course from the American Red Cross on HIV Education and Prevention. I finished the two-day course on training certification today.

Most of the information was not new to me, but a lot of what I knew was anecdotal. It's gratifying to know that information floating about is mostly correct (although there are some real doozies as well).

What I needed was training on how to present the information in a way that it will be received by my audience. We practiced with scenarios, pretending to have audiences of various ages and situations that had varied requirements. My practice session was to teach basics to high school students without mentioning condoms, per school request—which is not uncommon in Indiana, where it is illegal to offer condoms in schools. What's more, I had to do it without rolling my eyes. I really have to work on that particular angle, especially since I'll be offering my services to my son's high school. What are the odds that he'll crawl under his desk or disappear that day?

January 21, 2010

Today On Bilerico: Catholic Church Fires Woman

A tip from a Bilerico reader led to an article in the Des Moines Register about a woman who was fired for counseling transgender clients on church property. It's a complex case that has just come to national attention. The official response from the Catholic Church refers to thousands of years of teaching. You can read about my feelings on church "traditions" here.

January 20, 2010

Review: A Single Man

“A Single Man” opened this week after buzz for weeks about its excellence. Produced, directed and co-written by designer Tom Ford, it is a beautiful film. Some movies are clearly the vehicle for the director’s vision—Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” is a great example—and I knew to anticipate this for Ford’s first film. He succeeds on all levels, bringing us into the 60s with lush visuals that are rich with color, texture and emotion. The lingering pace makes it intimate: the camera becomes another character, narrating the story with movement, light, and close-ups. The story (co-written by the author of the novella, Christopher Isherwood) covers one day in the life of George Falconer, a gay man who has lost his partner in a tragic accident.

Colin Firth and Julianne Moore are outstanding as Falconer and his best friend Charley. Their nuanced performances reveal the complexities of love and enhance the intimacy we feel as the story unfolds. Both of them should be nominated for Academy awards, as should Ford for his directing. Go see this movie.

January 17, 2010

Sunday Shuffle

Here's today's random shuffle from my iPod.

1. My Back Pages / The Byrds
2. New York On My Mind / John McLaughlin
3. Anon: Gloria In Excelsis 2 / Chanticleer
4. New York Minute / Don Henley
5. Once Upon A Time There Was An Ocean / Paul Simon
6. Two Cowboy Waltz / Mark Weigle
7. Open Your Eyes / Snow Patrol

January 13, 2010

Rethinking Random Acts Of Kindness

The Children and Family Ministry Team at my church—of which I'm a member—is reading Craig Dykstra's Growing in the Life of Faith. Dykstra, a highly respected theologian and author of numerous books on Christian thought and practice, is a member of our church. This particular book is one I had left over from one of my own courses, but it was an auxiliary text that we never used. I'm glad I'm reading it now.

We've only begun the first few chapters, and I had the joy of teaching a couple last night. (One of the finest ways to learn is to teach.) While I'm coming away with a deeper understanding of a number of familiar ideas, one concept that Dykstra examined was a new way of thinking for me.

He proposes that the current popularity of "random acts of kindness" is not the direction we should be going in terms of expressing grace. Random acts are somewhat passive as we wait for the opportunity to present itself before we act. While it is a redeeming moment, only two (or few) people gain from the exchange.

Dykstra urges us to be more intentional in our grace, to make it a practice and one that is communal. That means being able to establish guidelines and boundaries and to communicate it to others, inviting their participation. By doing this, we share it among its practitioners and recipients: grace abounds. This easily applies to acts of service, but think how it would apply also to reading, prayer, daily routine, and more. I see brief bursts of such communal grace here on the Interwebs, and I see its power for good.

I find this very appealing. Those who receive my emails see Gandhi's quote (also posted under my banner); it is an urge to act upon the philosophy we have which makes this a better world. (Note that it doesn't say what that might be. A whole 'nother post.)

I find this new way of looking at "good deeds" very inviting. To be intentional sets it the forefront of our consciousness. While we continue to look for those moments where grace can make itself known, let us make it a communal practice in whatever way we can.

I will need some time to think about how I would turn my call to teach inclusiveness into a practice. It demands a structure that currently is not firm. I have been passive as I wait for opportunities to speak and teach. And I am learning so much. Every day brings a new awareness of just how much I do not know.

This happy coincidence of learning has energized me. May the grace which feeds me be known by all who wish it. That is my call.

January 9, 2010

Today On Bilerico: The African Christian Church In America

I came across two different links yesterday: a video and an article. They had an interesting commonality, and I ended up writing about it this morning. The article explains why some African Americans feel justified in voting against civil rights for people who are LGBT. They don't see it as a civil issue at all. You can read my take on it here.

Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairies

Like you've never heard it before:

January 8, 2010

Verbatim: Buns

Jan. 7, 2010 3:11 PM
Some nice buns needed.

Jan. 7, 2010 3:13 PM
You already have some very nice buns.

Jan. 7, 2010 3:14 PM
We need some for dinner.

Jan. 7, 2010 3:16 PM
I think that’s a GREAT idea, but what will you have?

Jan. 7, 2010 3:17 PM
Stop it!! Nip it!!
Please stop by the store for hamburger buns, if you are able to.

Jan. 7, 2010 3:19 PM
Nipping is exactly what I had in mind. :)
Fine, I’ll pick up some buns on the way home.

Jan. 7, 2010 3:21 PM

January 5, 2010

Tiny Bubbles

No, not from champagne. But I want to break out the bubbly, because I’ve finished my scuba class except for the check-out dive.

Those “tiny bubbles” are the ones we are to pace as we slowly ascend from the depths, giving our bodies time to adjust to the changes in pressure. It can save our lives.

Most of the skills we are required to learn are those that we will need in an emergency. We have to be able to breathe through the regulator without a mask for one minute. (If you grow up near the ocean as I did, it becomes second nature to block water from entering your nose.) Then we must put our masks back on and fill them with air while underwater. We had to show we could breathe from a nonstop free-flowing regulator, easier than it sounds. We must learn two ways to deal with running out of air: with a buddy and without. We have to be able to shed our equipment and put it back on underwater. We had brief training on how to read a dive computer, which displays crucial information on depth, time, and pressure.

It was a blast. I can’t wait to get to the Keys and earn my certificate. I’ve been invited by my instructor to visit class one last time to refresh my skills before going down to Florida, and I’ll take him up on that.

I won’t be able to take pictures during my checkout dives because I will be busy meeting class requirements. But I’ll be glad to tell you all about it. Meanwhile, raise a glass with me and celebrate with some tiny bubbles.

January 4, 2010

Today On Bilerico: Building An Inclusive Church

"IN THE LIFE" is the PBS monthly series of "documentary stories from the gay experience," producing media for change for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. January's episode profiles Emily Eastwood, who led the Welcoming Church workshop I attended in 2008. I wrote about my experience then and found this opportunity to share it with Bilerico readers.