Tag Archives: Love

The Haitian Trunk

Some years ago I finagled possession of a family heirloom, a trunk my step-father picked up in his travels in Haiti.  It is large enough to crawl inside and pull the barrel vaulted lid down on top of yourself.  I can’t say how long I have managed to hang onto it, or how I have done so without doing it any damage, or losing it in my many moves. Inside it I carry my past.  I have always believed that if I kept the thread of my stories together, I would one day unpack them and discover what my life is about, and lay out the blueprint, or the treasure map, to the story as I would like it told.

There are gaps in the narrative, and I am a shoddy record-keeper; but in the piles of notebooks, photographs, consecrated broken clocks, divine pocket knives,  fliers for bands long broken up, and letters from old girlfriends, there is a common thread-me. I picture myself at a desk, a dedicated funcionario, with an inbox on my left as high as the ceiling.  I process each item, evaluating it for its historical significance and narrative merit, then digesting it into fiction, nonfiction, or poem than placing the empty husks on my right-hand side in the outbox, where each item will be preserved, or discarded.

The Big Ring Circus, has become another Haitian trunk, full of evidence and artifacts. It is a narrative that jumps in time and space, leaving fingerprints of nearly a decade.  I found myself writing about bikes,  probably because I trust bikes to always get me where I want to go.

This is where we have arrived next, www.bigringcircus.com.



Too late

My arm is sore from patting myself on the back so much for being a strident supporter of equal rights for gay, lesbian, and transgender people.  I wrote this and got some things off my chest, and many of you were complimentary and supportive, and that was lovely.  

Elvis Presley recorded some 800 songs in his career, and to my knowledge In the Ghetto was the only one that addressed a social issue.  We all have our causes.  As a writer, I avoid using my digital soapbox to advocate, because in the end we all sing to our own choirs and go home with sore arms.  What’s the point?  If it matters to you, sacrifice for it.  Go sleep in the Capitol rotunda for 31 days.    Stand on the right side of the street at a protest and get called a faggot.  Go out and get your skull cracked for the right to vote. 

And yet:

I need to tell you a story about how everything being done to support the gay rights movement, or the Big Gay Agenda, is just too late.  Too late for some anyway.  I saw an old friend this week in Texas.  An early mentor of mine, she has spent most of her life working on behalf of kids who are homeless, runaways, or otherwise lost and forgotten.  No better or worse a person than the rest of us, but a damn good egg.  In all the time I have known her she has been with her partner, Nadia,  another good egg.  They raised a family together, and their kids now have kids, and there is even a great-grand child at this point. 

Her partner, her love, and her soulmate  fell ill with a catastrophic brain injury, requiring many surgeries that she somehow survived.  She lost much of her ability to speak, and requires constant in home care, that my friend was willing and able to handle.  Instead, Nadia’s aging mother was given power of attorney over her daughter, and promptly moved her 800 miles away from her home.  You see, Nadia’s mother doesn’t believe in gay.   Now, on the rarest occasion, they are permitted to see each other.  Nadia is making great progress, but is still unable to assert her wishes legally so this family remains broken, because by the laws of this land they are not a family at all. 

I hope on the day this nation arrives into the light, we celebrate even as we hang our heads in shame for the damage that can never be undone.

Have a nice weekend, enjoy your family time.


The Dynamite Kid

       The Dynamite Kid used to clean my room for whatever spare change he could find.  I would lay on my stomach on the bed, hands crossed under my chin and who knows what we discussed? Imaginary girlfriends, Galaga, and what we wanted to buy from Kmart most likely.  I think my mom knew about our arrangement and had no issue with me sub-contracting. 

TDK was my best friend and technically, he never forfeited the job.  I remember the day Mr. Howard, our 5th grade teacher, asked me to stick with the new kid for his first day and help him out.  I loved Mr. Howard, but this was pushing it.  I agreed with a wishy-washy nod and gestured for the new kid to come on already and let’s go eat lunch. 

It was cold that day, at least in the 50’s and we were all bundled up in Central Florida.  The Dynamite Kid wore a Pittsburgh Steelers t-shirt and elastic athletic shorts.  We all thought he was poor because he didn’t have a coat.  He was a chunky kid. His eyes were slanted, his skin was brown and he said he moved here from Alaska.  Everyone called him Eskimo. 

They didn’t call him that for long. Eskimo could fight.  I found myself the de facto best friend of a controversial 5th grader, a son of a single-parent father who was a Correctional Officer who understood the sad need for his kid to make a few trips to the office.  His Pittsburgh Steelers ball cap would tumble to the floor in the hall and I would think, here we go again, as The Dynamite Kid turned head down to tackle whomever had felt the need to test the Eskimo.  

Before much longer I became the son of two single-parents myself and The Dynamite Kid taught me a lot about negotiating the post-divorce middle school environment.  

By 10th grade I was working with him in the Chinese restaurant he adopted when he was 10.  They hired him because he wouldn’t go away.  Everyone thought the owners were his parents.  They didn’t know he was a non-Eskimo, non-Chinese, half-Thai, half Irish kid.   We would get off work and go break-dance behind Winn Dixie or K-Mart, which is when he became The Dynamite Kid.

After his father died he moved back to Alaska, where he stayed for many years.  

Last week we met in Nashville to teach a class together about Race and Culture. 

I started the class by telling everyone this story.  



Two years ago I had a secret.  I was about to go and see my best girl for the first time in 26 yearsI was nervous and hopeful.  I am re-posting this from the days before we met so you understand that when I write about bike rides, they are almost never really about bike rides.  That’s one of the reasons bikes are magical creatures.  

I filled my jersey pockets with big scooping handfuls of Munson sand last night so that I would not float away. I felt light, not just in heft, but light of heart as well. Worry-free, content. I pedaled into the malingering crowd a moment before departure. There is W.B. There is his enforcer, his son. There is Big Worm. I bobbed along near them, daylight blinking beneath my tires as I inhaled and exhaled.

I left the pack in the car. No tube, no pump, no patchkit. No tools, first-aid kit, spare glasses or food. Two strong legs, a water bottle, and some hope for the future- that’s all I carried. I joined the current of riders as they seeped up the trail. At the top of the hill someone said, “If you want to go fast, then go now” and everybody waited. Two guys, then Big Worm, and when nobody moved for his wheel, I took it.

We galloped along in big ground-gobbling strides, and I hung on long enough to taste what it might be to belong there. After 5 or so miles the spell was broken. Maybe I tapped a brake, or burned the last molecule of the previous day’s hamburger, but I kept on. I watched the Clydesdale on the back of Worm’s jersey slowly pull away through the trees until it was gone.

I waited for the WB, and rode it in with he and his boy, my barrel smoking and low on ammo. Too much fun, too much stupid available joy to be had, out there floating away.


Hot Wednesday

The look on my face should say it all.  The heat was so intense when I walked out of the house at 8:00 O’Clock in the morning it felt like someone whacked me in the ear with a switch.  Now, 8 hours and 18 degrees (99) later it was time to go for a bike ride.

Why?  Because– that’s why.  There are people who own bikes.  There are people who are cyclists, then there are riders.  Riders ride.  Besides, after being released from my air-conditioned cell I craved the suffering. I needed the immediate and all-consuming presence of effort to blot out the day’s tedium and confining press of the Dockers asking me, “Don’t you think it’s time to go up a size?”

So out into the streets and woods we rolled, Joey and I, posing for this shot while we played cat and mouse with a questionable vehicle in a questionable location.  I spared you the midriff, which feels more like a mostriff, and the plunging neckline of my sleeveless gown.

The air smelled like burnt toast, and when we stopped to address a flat, the sweat ran unbroken from the gutter under my helmet.

I like these summer rides for one thing.  They prove I am meant to be in this saddle.


Happy Birthday

Today is my wife’s birthday so I wrapped up my eye teeth in my last bottom dollar to give to her.
She said, “Thanks, but that’s really not necessary.”  I said, “Oh, but it is.” and ran across a bed of hot coals to get her a glass of ice water.  “Now you’re just being silly,” she told me as I rubbed my belly and patted my head while jumping up and down on one foot.  “No I’m not. I’m a serious person.” I told her and I seriously love you and that is nothing to joke about.”  She said, “What has two cheeks and is brown in the middle?” and I guessed a hamburger, which was the wrong answer.
Last week she said, “Don’t do anything special for my birthday.” So I let the ice carving of Pegasus slowly melt out behind the shed.  I paid the chorus of 5 and 20 angels their travel per diem and apologized for putting them out unnecessarily.  “What can you do when your true love speaks, but what she requests?” the conductor angel shrugged.  “Indeed.” and the 26 of us polished off the Scuppernong  pies I made for her, cooling on the window sill.  “Good pies!” the angels said and they penciled me in again for next year just in case.

Finding Charlie

Charlie the black Labrador disappeared in the storm on Sunday, a pouring down of buckets and crashing thunder that laid most of us down flat with the weight of the  falling pressure.
It has been a run of the putrid touch lately, when my every effort to get it right turns up shit. It is a syndrome exacerbated by effort, churning more and more best intentions into disappointments, let-downs and failure.

“My aged black lab escaped my yard Sunday during the storms. He is black, about 100 pounds, and he has a difficult time getting around, so I’m not sure how he got further than the drive, but he is missing.  If anyone has seen him, please let me know.  He answers to Charlie, though usually only if he thinks food is involved.”

I read that message at my desk and thought about old Charlie.  Was he off on a rounder? Scarfing cat food off or porches and licking wrappers behind Vertigo burgers? Had someone taken him in, unable to find his people? Was Charlie alive?

I thought about that dog all day as I willed myself to not leave the building, my job, and my financial security behind.  Such a feat of strength by the hunger artist that goes unnoticed by his distracted audience. I exited the building to no applause, although I took my bow.

The social network was alight with erroneous sightings of Charlie, and one concrete piece of information, however ominous-

“There is a black lab laying in the water in the Greenway by optimist park if anyone is missing a black lab it is alive but seems disoriented.”
 I called Charlie’s people, and she said that she had been up and down the greenway twice and saw nothing.  I felt the draw, the inexorable draw of adventure, redemption, yet another go at getting it right. I wanted to find Charlie, and I felt that I knew where he was.  Down into the greenway we went- my wife, my neighbor JJ, and our two intrepid search dogs, Summer Chanel (pictured) and Max the Australian Shepherd.  Find Charlie! we beseeched them and they did nothing of the sort.
The greenway is a lowland drainage, which in lesser neighborhoods would be separated from the community by a chainlink fence and no trespassing signs, but in idyllic Indianhead Acres, it hosts wild foxes, a beaver, a walking path and even in early spring, every mosquito on earth.
Our crew trundled down the long stairway into the covered, close air of the swamp.  I hung back, allowing myself to wander off the path and into the knee-deep marshy thicket.  I could see the basketball court, the nearby road, and hear the kids playing in the playground just a hundred yards away, but this was a wild place and I walked it the way a wild place must be walked.  I walked cautiously along a muddy rivulet invisible from the main path, obscured by thickets of grass.
A black lab laying in the water, a black lab laying in the water, a black lab laying in the water, I whispered to myself as I walked and then I stopped-frozen with excitement, relief, and fear for the possible outcome.  There, neck-deep in the mud, were the sad and frightened eyes of a dog, alive.  I cried out something, and as I splashed towards him Melissa appeared above on the bank, her hand outstretched with a packet of food.  Charlie licked an inquiring tongue out to taste the food and then hungrily lapped it up from his prone position.  I called the owner and she was there, she could see us down below and she hurried down into the mud with me, a strong woman with white hair in a long braid and worry all over her face.  I reached into the water and felt all over Charlie, probing for injuries or signs of trauma.  He seemed unhurt, just exhausted.
A gentleman with a long white beard and a rugged bearing, Charlie’s other human companion, went back up the trail to find a tarp to help us move him, and Charlie made a move to follow. He was a willing old dog, but he just wasn’t able. His tired old hips would not hold him upright as he repeated his effort to get unstuck from this place.  That was it for me.  I knew how Charlie felt, stuck and tired, staring hope in the eyes yet unable to get there.  “Charlie, it is time to go buddy.  We are getting out of here.”
I knelt down in that  muddy water, my knees pressing into the walls of this rutted stream and I scooped my arms around this 13 year-old dog, 90 lbs made heavier by muck and mud, and I lifted him up, cradled in my shaking arms and laid him on the grassy bank above us.  His owner and I worked ourselves out of the crick and Charlie stood wobbly and tried to head up the trail, unable to hold himself upright for long.  I thought once of my back, then put that thought aside and thought, I will carry this dog out of here or stay here with him forever.  Up he came, and he felt so good against my chest, this thing that I had gotten right.

El Merengue

At the risk of sounding overly noble– sometimes I want to see my friends succeed so badly I can barely stand it, and when they do, it makes me hoarse with pride.  At the root, it is self-serving because by my logic if my friends are interesting and successful people, then perhaps I can feel the same about myself?

A sweat-polished Fender bass, near to a thousand gigs behind it- 995 of those gigs in the hands of his octagenarian father,  my friend pulls the beat from it while my own father sits in on guitar, the congalero is in a trance, he is also amigo to me, not this master musician.  A couple gets up to dance, they are amazing- no. They are incredible- as in it all seems staged and unreal.  The small, packed room cheers them and they move roller coaster hips in Converse All-Stars and high heels.  We are the hippest collection of gringos to ever watch them dance and we can’t stand it, we all want more, and the band won’t let them quit.   I see them talk with their eyes.  He says, “Tienes mas?”  She purses her lips, “Por favor chico, siempre!”  Finally the keyboard signals the break and the band, the dancers, and us, the audience, take a deep breath, a swig of wine, to see us through to the end.  This room has never seen this moment, and this moment is already gone, and the next one is passing. My hands sting from clapping and I want to carry all of them; band, father, friends, audience around the room on a chair and celebrate them, but instead I just smile, and clap and dance in my own chair.

Last night I thought of that evening as I rode a murderous lap around the trail, no joy in my heart, no sap in my legs, just knives and brass knuckles in my determined heart. I ran over a snake while racing the clock, which I believe must be a high sin.  I think it was not the killer, but the benign Lampropeltis elapsoides, the Scarlet King Snake, and he deserved better.

Let us rush in this life, but be in no hurry.


Over it

In the 1980’s when I was emerging into my own sexuality,  I might greet a friend by calling him fag, like, “What’s up fag?” Which was enough to get you a frog on the arm and a return shot of “nothing fag.” This was just adolescent business as usual in central Florida and probably every other community in America.  Adolescent boys are nothing if not repugnant, ignorant, fetid assemblages of mucous and ill-intent.  In the complex rules of middle school, boys whom one was not friends with were not fags, but homos, as in, “What’s up homo?” followed by slapping whatever the homo might be holding in his arms to the floor in the hall- books, Trapper-keepers, cartons of half-drunk chocolate milk, pink Hostess coconut snowballs. This might result in retaliative homo-calling (I’m not the homo, you’re the homo), pretty standard and unoriginal stuff between dullard tweens.

And thus the days did pass.

By the 1990’s I was here in Tallahassee, enrolled in a University, and working at a restaurant known as a refuge of employment for gay and otherwise outcast members of society who were turned away from more traditional venues of employment, such as everywhere.  I remember the day I was hired, having spent dollars I could not afford on a cup of gazpacho served in an octagonal glass bowl that I slurped nervously watching the clock and wondering if I had been forgotten.  After the tomato had crusted to the bowl and I had drank much more coffee than recommended, the owner sat down with me, looked at my application stacked with pancake house and Chinese restaurant experience, and she hired me.  I worked there until I left town almost five years later.  Gay was normal at Food Glorious Food.  Normal and fiercely defended.  When I get nostalgic about my college years, it is never school I think of, but pulling all-nighters making pita chips for a wedding party of 300, and taking my orders from a smart and exacting lesbian who indulged us boys our buffoonery and chided us towards sophistication.

I learned from the owner of that place, and my friends there, that it was not enough to refrain from persecuting gay people, but that an active role in the advocacy of their rights and protection was a moral obligation, and that choosing not to do so was persecution itself.

By the year 2000, I was working in a place that housed teenagers in crisis. Homeless, angry, scared, defiant runaways who came in every form, including the old familiar stinky, lumpy, fuzz on their teeth adolescent boy form.  It turns out lots of kids end up in runaway shelters because they are gay, or to be more specific, gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual, intersex, two-spirit, and every other sub-category of not straight and conformed to gender stereotypes.

But now I’m getting preachy, which is so boring.

I learned to protect these kids from other kids, my own staff, and themselves. Some were bright and resilient, capable, intrepid believers in themselves.  Others spent their free time in their rooms scratching into their arms with safety pins, or trying to set themselves on fire with curling irons, which never worked and left an acrid burnt foil smell in the building for days.

I watched a young woman transcend her physical male body and become who she was in the confused and chaotic safety of our building.  For me it was a logistical issue, which bathroom can she use and who can be her roommate? For others it was an ideological war to stop her at all costs.

She ran away to New York days before she turned 18 and got help from this place.  Years later I met the woman who picked up where I left off, and we shared a cigarette outside a hotel in Portland, OR and hugged like proud parents.

Now I have friends who I still, after all I have learned,  think of as my gay friends, which means I am not done growing yet, but there is still hope for me, because they are gracious and understanding with me, and far too patient with all of us.



Power Trios


Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
The Police
Father, Son, Holy Ghost
King Ad Rock, MCA, Mike D
Duke, Mingus, Roach
Crosby, Stills, Nash
Bosh, Wade, James
The Melvins
Armstrong, Hincapie, Popovich
Bill, Larry, Juancho

Bill told us about pulling a bonked rider through the forest by a stick. I said nothing, but kept wishing for that stick.
He said he liked what Bruce Lee (Lei?) said, that he hoped he never reached his peak, because there’s nowhere to go but down from there.
Larry mused about watching people get napalmed on TV in 1969, and how tennis lessons did not help ameliorate that.

The forest was lovely, dark, and deep
and I hung all the way to Fisher Creek.

We saw Mike M along the way, and I wished again that I could stay.
Instead I rode along in silence, glad to be there, in defiance-

of my legs, my lungs, and pollen
voice of weakness again has fallen.

Robert Frost deserves better, but I’m just trying to say thanks. It’s not every day you get a private audience with two of the most respected men in town on two wheels. I felt better at the end than I did at the beginning, which is all I needed to keep me coming back.