Friday, June 21, 2002

Thank God It's Friday!

I sometimes wonder why I think of God as male...and I wonder why I think of my car as female. All cats are female until proven otherwise, all dogs are male until I know their names. According to the French, my desk and my pen and my notebook are boys, but my chair and my peach and my suitcase are all girls. And let's not even get started on my gender...the jury's still out on that one.

So I took the day off work today and went out to Corte Madera to meet with my vacationing coworker and dear friend JB. We met in front of Nordstrom's and then got in her car and headed to Petaluma for the day. Petaluma, or rather Old Petaluma is a lovely little town of Victorian vintage with wall-to-wall antique stores. There were vintage clothing stores, shops of collectibles and collectables (I could not discern the criteria, but apparently there's a difference), jumbled antique collectives and great glossy antique collectives (at least two of which are in converted Gilded-Age bank buildings, most fascinating), and multitudinous little boutiques specializing in one kind of vintage antiquity or other. Apparently an object has to be more than fifty years old to be sold in Old Petaluma.

My shopping had a "T" theme. I bought a tie (brown silk with gold and rose embroidery, from Kowloon, China, circa 1955), two tomes (Cartier Platinum; Triumphs of the Jeweler's Art and The Short Stories of Saki [HH Munro]), and a turtle.

"A turtle? Did she say 'A Turtle'?"

Not just any turtle, my darlings. It's a striped turtle. A dead striped turtle. A dead striped turtle, stuffed, lacquered, standing up on its hind legs and playing a real seven-sting wooden harp, from Vera Cruz, Mexico, circa 1940. It's the funniest thing you ever saw! The expression on his little face, as if he were singing his stuffed heart out whilst playing the harp! Every time I look at it I giggle. When I think about it I giggle. When I remember that I plunked down $37.50 cold hard cash for a stuffed turtle playing a harp from Vera Cruz, I giggle. I'm giggling now as I type. I wish I had a digicam so I could take a picture of it and show you. But really, disturbing as it sounds, it really is the funniest thing!

Another great discovery in Petaluma was the XXIst Century Bakery, where from 5pm to 6pm they have Happy Hour! At late tea-time, everything you eat in the bakery is half-off. Now that's forward thinking, if you ask me...Happy Hour in a bakery. I had a pot of Earl Grey tea and twelve different kinds of cookies, each one more delectable than the last! JB had a hot-fudge sundae and coffee, and we split an espresso/hazelnut-cream tart. Oh yummy yummy yummy!

Now take into account that the newer part of Petaluma is home to the Petaluma Village Premium Outlets mall, you come to realize that Petaluma is practically Heaven on Earth. If only it weren't such a long drive from here.

Speaking of here, today's Friday Five seems to have a homey kind of theme...

The Friday Five

1. Do you live in a house, an apartment or a condo? I live in a house...a three-bedroom, one-bath sorta-Tudor-style house built in 1928, with large double-height cathedral-ceilinged living room and well-proportioned airy dining room for entertaining, recently remodeled eat-in kitchen with laundry included, spacious private backyard, plenty of closets, full insulated attic and a half-basement, two-car garage, and many elegant old-world details. A realtor would call it "charming"...which, in realtorese, means that it is falling apart at high speed.

2. Do you rent or own? I do neither...I just live here. My grandmother owns the house. My grandfather bought it in 1934 for $6,000 (and now it would sell for almost a hundred times that); when Grandmother married into this nuthouse in 1945, Grandpa's mother, Great Grandmother Chin-Shee, was still living here, and Grandpa's sister Auntie Wai-Hing also lived here (taking care of her mother and keeping house for her baby brother). Quite a hen's-nest. Great-Grandmother died in 1948, leaving most of her stuff here (she was the first, but by no means the last, confirmed packrat to occupy this place), and Auntie Wai-Hing went to live with her own son. My father grew up here, I more-or-less grew up here, my nephew sort of grew up here.

Here's something interesting...we've had the same phone number all this time, seventy-six years.

3. Does anyone else live with you? The Grandmother. Here's a new picture of her...a picture where she's smiling! Isn't she sweet?

Grandmother is going to be 84 this August. Doesn't she look great for her age? She credits avoiding the sun as her beauty secret.

People often ask why I live with my Grandmother at my advanced age. Well...

There are a variety of reasons...the most easily explained is that neither of us is capable of living alone. Grandmother is arthritic, overweight, short, and prone to tiny strokes, slight attacks of angina, and may possibly be in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's (which runs in her family); she can't drive, can't walk very far, can't operate electronic devices of any kind, and can't reach high cupboards. I, on the other hand, am irresponsible, forgetful, and incomprehensibly of those people who always win trivia games and work the New York Times crossword in ink, who can remember the exact succession of the Monarchs of England starting from the Tudor dynasty (those sticky Plantagenets are too confusing even for me), use thousands of truly obscure words and phrases (a couple hundred in other languages), and recall the characters and plots of at least a hundred vintage films and perhaps twice as many novels...but I can't remember to eat regularly, pay my bills, or get my oil changed.

So we have developed a sort of symbiotic relationship: I chauffeur her around, push her wheelchair around the malls, administer the answering machine and the VCR, make phone calls to delivery restaurants and services with multioptional routing systems, and transfer things to and from the cupboards out of her reach (and since she's 5'2" and the cupboards go all the way to the 9' ceiling, that's most of them). At the same time, Grandmother provides me with a spacious home with all the amenities (washer/drier, my own room, use of a spare car, furniture, heat, electricity, etc.) in a quiet semisuburban neighborhood, something I could never afford on my own unless I worked a lot harder (which, aside from being against my nature, would leave me too little time for TV and resting and writing); she pays for most of the food, keeping the fridge and pantry full, and cooks or instigates our meals, and reminds me to eat regularly; she nags me about my car and my mail and my job, making sure that I am at least aware that these things exist, even if I don't always follow through.

The arrangement is not without domestic relationships run perfectly smooth. For one thing, there's the whole politico-religious difficulty, which is the great trunk from which most of our disagreements stem: she is a conservative, reform-Christian, traditional-morals Texan; I am a liberal, agnostic/platonist, humanist Californian... worse, she loves children and worships marriage, and I'm an uncloseted homosexual and very interested in population control. So we often have these little set-tos about such things as Republicans, civil rights and liberties, religion, gay pride, censorship, history, war, ethics, and morals.

We have worked around this with the "Don't Talk About It" Solution, the usual WASP way of dealing with disagreements in soon as we have one big knock-down-drag-out fight over a given topic, we simply drop it from the repetoire as best we can. I don't do or discuss "gay things" around her (which unfortunately includes dating...but then that's another story altogether), and in return she doesn't remind me that I'm going to go to Hell; she doesn't eulogize George W, and I don't call her a drivelling idiot for so doing. It's dishonest and problematic, but it's the best we can come up with: our mutual need outweighs our differences.

There are other problems, less serious things that tend to make life difficult for us. One of these is in the Age Thing...she thinks I'm fifteen and I think I'm twenty-five — and we're both wrong. More difficult than this is the Tone of Voice Problem: she doesn't hear very well, and doesn't listen very attentively, yet she is always asking questions; I dislike being questioned in general, but I become irate when my answers aren't heard, and apoplectic when made to repeat myself. So when I do have to repeat myself, especially after being assaulted by that Texas-twang "HANH?" that passes as a querying tone, I tend to be just a little snappish. And then she gets snappish, and we fume at each other for a while. I usually end up apologizing for yelling, and then tell her that she really ought to consider getting a hearing-aid.

And then there's her exasperation over my complete and utter disinterest in housekeeping. It's not just the cleaning that's a problem — though I'm a complete slob, I don't even like clean rooms, and I won't clean anything unless it smells bad...I will, if reminded, tidy the public rooms, load the dishwasher, empty the garbage, fluff the dust off the knick-knacks, or push the vacuum cleaner around — but the actual maintenance and care of a house doesn't interest me. I just don't really care what the house looks like from the outside, or what condition the garden is in, or whether or not the foundations are sinking unevenly. Maybe if it was my own house, it would matter — but I'm pretty sure that if I owned this house I'd sell it as fast as I could and move into a condo on Lake Merritt.

But as it is, the house is first Grandmother's, secondarily the entire family's, and (with the exception of my own room) mine only tertiarily. And that, friends, is the final trouble we have. The rest of the family always comes first with her...particularly those who are under the age of 12 (it comes as no surprise to the regular reader that I am not fond of children). And some of the family tend to treat me as if I were mooching off Grandmother. But this, like the other troubles, is still outweighed by the fact that Grandmother can't live alone, and I don't want to live alone.

But there's more to it even than that. Grandmother and I have always had a very special relationship, and the echoes of our friendship in my childhood have kept us from each other's throats in my adulthood. Though we are now rather far apart, emotionally and philosophically and mentally, we can still relate to each-other as the companions we used to be. She has always loved children, especially children who are very quiet and a little shy and a little strange and very lonely...she always treated me more gently and more lovingly and with more patience than any of the other parents in my life, my parents and stepparents and stepgrandparents and so on and so forth. When others would become exasperated with my eccentricities, infuriated by my silent rebellions, she would just accept them. I learned a lot from her, reading and color-harmony and patience and family history and an appreciation of the past.

I always thought of Grandmother as my fact, my stepmother used to punish me by not letting me come visit...and when my father and stepmother separated when I was fifteen, I was overjoyed that we (Daddy and my sister Suzie and I) were going to live at Grandmother's. Grandpa was still alive then, but he was sick...he'd had several strokes and was suffering from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases; he didn't talk much, was often confused and frustrated, and was just becoming difficult to handle. After a while, Daddy and Suzie moved out — I was sixteen at the time, finally happy at home, with friends at school, so I was having none of this "moving-away" business.

About that time, Grandpa started going downhill. First he stopped speaking English and only communicated in a few stock phrases of his first language, Cantonese. Then he stopped talking altogether, and then couldn't walk, and finally became bedridden and incontinent. All through this period Grandmother and I took care of him at home, and he was a bond between us, the project we had in common that saw us through all the difficulties of an old Texas woman raising a teenage gay boy.

Grandpa finally died when I was nineteen, and we lost our bond. I moved out of the house about a year later, first living with a boyfriend and two female friends (and staying there after breaking up with the boyfriend), then with another boyfriend who became a buddy after about a week, then with my sister and her first husband and son while my sister was expecting her second child. All through these moves, Grandmother was helpful and supportive, loaning me money when I couldn't make rent and taking me to dinner and letting me do my laundry at her house. It was in this "independent" period that I did all my screwing around, all my drinking and drugging, all my unemployment, and when I started doing drag. Eventually, my sister and her husband split up, we lost our lease, and I was faced with two choices: couch-surfing and hustling, or going home to Grandmother.

She took me in without argument, with only one demand (after a summer of loafing around): that I either get a job or go back to school. Well, I was virtually unemployable: I'd been fired from my last three jobs for tardiness, the Bay Area was in the midst of a recession, and all I had to recommend me was my fading looks, a drinking problem, and a high-school diploma. So I went back to school, I liked it, I stayed there. Then when I was finished at community college, I also quit drinking. Then I went to SF State, then started working...and the rest, as they say, is history (recent history, anyway). And so, here we both are, still stuck together.

And that, Gentle Reader, is why I live with my grandmother. Now back to the Friday Five...

4. How many times have you moved in your life? Oh, more than I can remember. My mother had this idea that First and Last Month's Rent was all you had to pay...and since her landlords always disagreed with her on this point, we moved a lot. But here's what I know of or remember from my infancy onward: when I was born, we lived on base at Fort Ord; then we lived here in this house with the Grandparents; then we lived in an apartment on Stow Avenue, where my sister was born (actually, she was born at Kaiser Hospital, but you know what I mean), and which was directly across the street from my Great-Grandfather's former mansion (which burned down a year later and was replaced by two condominium complexes); then another apartment, I forget where, when Daddy left; we then lived in the Buena Vista apartments in Alameda, right next to the Naval base (which was good...none of the other children had resident fathers, either, so we didn't feel left out). A couple of other places in Alameda that I don't clearly remember; then in a big pink Victorian that I do remember, we moved from the upstairs left to the downstairs right when Mother married her second husband (who was a complete psychotic); then back to Oakland, where we lived in two different apartments with my evil stepfather, one of which was on 10th Avenue and the other was somewhere off lower Fruitvale (I started the first grade there); then we lived in Twaine Harte after a while, first with my maternal grandparents and then in an apartment over the bakery. Then my sister and I went to live with my father and stepmother in Hayward. From there we moved to Concord where we lived in a three-bedroom townhouse in a huge complex on Mohr Lane for about five years (the longest I'd lived anywhere); then we moved to a house on Dawn Drive in Pleasant Hill, and lived there for about a year and a half (I remember reaching puberty there); then my father and stepmother split up and I came to live here with Grandmother again. After Grandpa died, I lived first with the two strange sisters (my friend Kevin referred to the house as "Eastwick," for obvious reasons), then with Jason, then with my sister and her husband. Then I came back here...and it's going to take Death, Disaster, or Marriage to get me out of here.

So, to make a long story short (too late!), I count at least sixteen moves.

5. What are your plans for this weekend? Tomorrow I am going to Marine World with Dalton, then going up to Club Fab to see a drag show. Sunday I plan to do laundry, clean my room, and attend a Wheel Monitor Orientation meeting so that I can march in the SF Pride Parade with the Marin Contingent! It's gonna be fuuuuuun!

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