Tuesday, July 6, 2004

With Whom We Wander

With Whom We Wander

Do you see that drag queen over there at stage right, the one trying to hold very still so her rhinestones (corsucating wildly under the brilliant, hot, multispectrum stage-lights like a thousand disco-balls) don't distract from the person speaking at the podium? Do you see her muttering to herself? Pursing her vermillion-glossed lips and frowning as if something were hurting her (besides the corset that she bought a size too small)? What do you suppose she's muttering?

"It's with whom I went, not who I went with, you benighted booby..."

Yes, I am one of those people, the legion of tortured souls who knows the difference of when to use who or whom in a sentence; once you know such a thing, it is almost impossible to resist correcting people who do not know the difference — and, in most cases, couldn't care less. It's a terrible curse. But for the record (or to spread the misery, whichever), the simple rule of thumb is this: if you can answer the question with "him" "or "them," then you use "whom"; if you answer the question with "he" or "they," you use "who." For example: "With whom did you go to the opera?" — "I went with him to the opera"; "Who is taking you to the opera?" — "He is taking me to the opera." Simple, no?

Of course, I really do believe that, in order to make language more accessible to the masses (and accessibility is the hallmark of good language, since its aim is to communicate one's thoughts as widely as possible), such idiotic rules should be abandoned... and as we speak, the literati of this nation are already throwing out the Victorian claptrap of who-vs.-whom. Many English teachers don't even bother with it anymore (I got all the way to college before I was tainted with the knowledge... hey, that rhymes, I should write a song about it).

I once tried to curb myself of the habit of correcting people's grammar and syntax when they were speaking; but it proved too much, and I eventually crumbled under the weight of all those dangling participles and sentence-ending prepositions as they piled up uncorrected in my consciousness. It's simply part of who I am... I cannot change my nature. But I can be gentle about it, and I do try my very best to present my corrections in the most supportive possible tone, or else to just mutter them under my breath.

So anyway, how was your weekend? I had one of those weekends where I was so busy having fun that I didn't quite manage to enjoy myself as much as I'd like.

It started on Friday, as long weekends are wont to do. I took the day off (I even gave my boss the illusion that I was asking permission to take the day off, which I thought was very nice of me), and my plan was to get my nails done, pay my gym membership, pick up Madasin (my protegé) in Pinole, pick up a white Dream Corset in size 38 at Frederick's of Hollywood in Richmond's Hilltop Mall (where I had already telephoned to confirm that they had one), and BART over to the City for the first day of the Living Sober Western Roundup 2004 Conference. It was my plan to start early and be to the Conference around one or two p.m.

And as with all of my plans, I failed miserably. First, I woke up an hour later than I had intended (I forgot to reset my alarm to 8 instead of 9); then, the quick note I started to jot off here at Mannersism turned into a multi-paragraph spew on how stressed out I was (though I'm glad I did spew it all out, I had no idea why I was so stressed until I wrote it all down); then the girl who took my check at the gym didn't actually know how to process the transaction (she was new, but so was my friend Zach who just started working there, so I had someone to talk to, and eye-candy coming in the door every five minutes, while I waited for the clerk to figure out how to apply a payment to an account); then my manicure took for-fucking-ever (I had a guy do my nails for the first time, and it was a little unsettling... but he did a pretty good job, though the French tips I requested were too narrow); and then having futzed away the morning and gotten on the I-80 after noon, I was immediately ensnarled in bumper-to-bumper traffic as everyone and their mothers fled the Cities of the Plain Bay for the weekend.

By the time I got to Madasin's, I was two hours behind schedule and just a trifle frazzled. When we stopped at Hilltop Mall, of course I couldn't just walk straight from the car to Frederick's and buy my corset and get out... I had to make my way through a surprisingly crowded mall, hunt the racks for a corset and a full-coverage white lace bra in the correct size, and then try to decide whether to buy a 36 or a 40 when it turned out that they did not, after all, have a white Dream Corset in a size 38, and then find a bathroom and then find my way out. Then I got back on the freeway and was ensnarled in traffic again, then parked at El Cerrito del Norte and got on a slow train to San Francisco (actually, I got on a slow train to Fremont by accident and then had to transfer at MacArthur).

So anyway, by the time we got to the Conference at the Bill Graham Civic Center Auditorium, it was after four and too late to go to any workshops... in fact, once we got registered and chatted with a few friends, it was time to go to dinner. So off we went to Mel's, which was a lot farther away from Civic Center than I remembered, where I ate a rather bland pair of pork chops and Madasin had a cheeseburger. When we got back to the Conference, there were a lot more people, and much hugging and air-kissing ensued as I met up with all of the people I knew.

The opening meeting that night was great, I got to sit next to my sponsor, and the speakers were wonderful. Madasin got a little depressed towards the end of the evening, but I was manic so I guess it evened out. We stayed after the meeting for an hour or so talking with friends, and then got back on the train to return to our proper side of the Bay. Naturally the train was packed with drunks who'd been swilling beer at Pac-Bell SBC Park all day long during the ball-game (I really can't be bothered to care which one... all I know is that the Giants lost, so all the drunks were angry and weepy); and as soon as the drunks in the seat behind us got off the train at Ashby station, they were immediately replaced by a delirious little boy with a bad cold who spoke in tongues in between hacking up one of his lungs (without covering his mouth, naturally).

So then Saturday gets started, and again I had a plan: get up early, pack my drag-bag, pick up Madasin (I should have just kept her overnight, but that didn't occur to me until later), drive over to the Conference and get there at ten or eleven; I even set my alarm correctly for seven so I'd be sure to wake up in time. But the best-laid plans can go awry, and my plans are never laid all that well to begin with. First I couldn't get myself out of the bed without hitting the snooze button four times, and then I couldn't find my other boot for my drag outfit, and then Grandmother got into the bathroom just when I needed to take a shower. But traffic wasn't too bad (though there was a terrible backup at the Bay Bridge toll plaza because the rates had just gone up a dollar and nobody had remembered), and I got to the Conference just in time to take up my post at the raffle booth for my twelve-o'clock service commitment.

After selling a few tickets (and flirting with THE CUTEST BOY EVER... tall and slim, beautiful white skin with spanked-pink cheeks, shiny black hair, the most innocent-looking navy-blue eyes, a delicate red mouth that you just want to put things into, and an ass that you could set up camp on... his name is Troy, and I was more than half-tempted to take his number off his raffle-tickets and stalk him later; but then I saw on his name-tag that he lives in Fresno, and that's too far to stalk), I went to the one and only workshop I managed to attend all weekend, Depression in Recovery. The room was too small and crowded and hot, and the people who spoke tended to be more psychotic than depressive; but I did manage to pick up a few shreds of advice on how to work my Program around my depression, and to appreciate the mildness of my depression over the quite extreme cases in that room.

Then we went to see the Living Sober Musical, which was really wonderful in parts and kind of silly in parts but all-in-all a lovely experience; I laughed, I wept, I groaned, I applauded. It was a sort of a sequel to last year's production, in which I made my singing and dancing debut, and had many of the same characters; the music was lifted from all sorts of places, mostly from Sweet Charity, and worked extremely well for the theme (last year's was lifted mostly from Hairspray).

Next it was time to get something to eat, retrieve our drag-bags from the car, and then go get dressed for the Great Drag Invasion. My plans to get dressed early were thwarted (as one might expect) by the existence of only one key for the dressing room, and the fact that the one key was held by an actor in the musical who was taking part in the Decompression (a post-performance meeting where everyone shares their feelings from the last six months of musical rehearsals, eats pizza, and cries for an hour... after doing all that work and then culminating in only two performances, you need to decompress or else you'll just blow up).

While we waited, Madasin and I sat in the hallway with all our goods and chattels around us, eating Greek takeout and discussing life, love, and sobriety, while she touched up her wig and I touched up my French tips. We finally got into the dressing room and I was able to shave and smack my face on in pretty short order; my costume gave me a little trouble, though, since the corset was really far too small (I barely got into it when it was completely unlaced, and when I did get it laced there was a good four inches of bare skin at the back)... I guess I should have bought the 40 after all. Nevertheless, I looked unspeakably fierce in my white satin corset and bra with black pants, spectator pumps, and a black tailcoat — not to mention seven pounds of jewelry, my severe red pageboy (the lesbians love that hair for some reason, so I wore it for them), and my newly-touched-up French manicure.

Madasin had even more difficulty, as we discovered four minutes before we were to make our Grand Entrance that the dress she'd brought (her sister's unworn wedding-gown) didn't fit after all... she'd been so caught up in wheedling it out of her sister that she didn't think to try it on first. But a wonderfully wise friend helped her out by "borrowing" some silk flags from another of our friends and fashioning them and a white bustier into a reasonable facsimile of a very nice dress. She wasn't able to make her grand entrance with us, but she looked divine nonetheless.

After the Grand Entrance, I took my place at stage right with other drag-queen friends, all in different types of wedding-dresses, who would be reading the various literature with which we AAs (and Al-Anons) punctuate our meetings. I read the Twelve Steps; I would say who read the other bits, but this is a program of anonymity after all, and I feel like I shouldn't use names (Madasin doesn't count... I've already told her that part of being my protegé is that your anonymity gets blown).

But while I sat on the stage during the first speaker, I felt horribly conscious of how glittery I was... I mean, if I was standing up at a podium telling my Story to fourteen hundred people, I wouldn't want some disco-balled drag-queen behind me drawing attention away from my words of wisdom. The second speaker was a little easier to sit behind, because her story had a lot of laughs in it so I was able to shift positions more often without interrupting anything important.

Either way, it was hotter than Hell up on that stage under full lights and in drag, it was like wearing a fur coat on a tanning bed; and the Countdown (which, as my neighbor pointed out at the beginning, was really a Count-up since they started at twenty-four hours and worked their way from there) took absolutely forever, hitting every day up to thirty, then every year up to fifty-five; and we applauded wildly at each number, so it was like doing callisthenics in a fur coat on a tanning bed... I couldn't feel the palms of my hands for hours afterward, and my lats and triceps are still sore.

Still, it was a great honor to sit on the stage in full view during the whole meeting, and the Countdown (or Up) was as inspiring as always, celebrating the sobriety we've all compiled, one day at a time, over the years... there's a gentleman who always comes to this conference, probably the Oldest Living Gay Alcoholic in the World (he has fifty-three years of sobriety), and he always comes up to present a Big Book to the person who has the least amount of time in sobriety (someone who is usually still a bit hung-over); before returning to his seat, he always steps up to the podium to reveal the secret of his success: don't drink, and don't die. Words to live by.

So anyway, after all that, I'd hoped to be able to relax and hang out and gather accolades for my fabulousness... but the one guy with the one key to the dressing room was leaving, so we had to get our stuff out or else it would be locked in until the next morning. I decided that I couldn't pack up my stuff while I was still wearing it, so I got out of drag as fast as I could and had everything but my makeup and bracelets back where it goes in a matter of minutes. I later decided to take my makeup off, too, after we'd schlepped everything back to the car; but I left my bracelets on (so people would recognize me) as we returned to the Conference to get our relaxing and hanging-out done... there was a dance going on, but I wasn't quite up to it, so we just sat around in the halls and talked with friends and ate hot-dogs.

Though I had missed most of the workshops, and didn't spend very much time in my fierce drag, I had to consider the conference a good time... I just wished I'd had more time to enjoy everything instead of having to rush hither and thither trying to get from one place to the next at a certain hour. I think next year I might take a hotel-room nearby for the weekend instead of trying to commute. And maybe by next year I won't be so damnably broke.

The next day was, of course, the Fourth of July, a day my family holds sacred for reasons that have always escaped me. Grandmother, despite her bum knee and the uselessness of Small Children, insisted on making homemade ice-cream as she traditionally does; I'm not sure why that sparked such a resentment in me, but I was so angry when I got home at almost two o'clock in the morning and found her just getting herself and the children into bed after spending hours on her feet making the custard base. And of course we only got to sleep for a couple of hours, since she planned for us to go to church in the morning as well... we didn't go to church, in fact, since it took us so long to pull ourselves together and for me to get everything loaded into the car (the ice-chest with the ice-cream base and other ingredients in it, the two ice-cream machines, the various accessories that go with the ice-cream-making, the children's badly-packed luggage, and my own changes of clothes).

I didn't stop being angry until we got to Concord, when I got to vent to my father about why I was so angry... and was able to realize that none of the things I was angry about really had anything to do with me. It just bugs the hell out of me that she puts herself to such pain and trouble over things that really don't matter. And I felt guilty that I hadn't helped her, even though I told her several days in advance that I was going to be gone all weekend and she should abandon the ice-cream issue. Feeling guilty always pisses me off, especially when I take steps to remove the guilt beforehand.

So anyway, there we were, tired and angry and whatever, driving out to Concord to pick up my Daddy, then venting and feeling better, then taking a weird "shortcut" through the mountains to get from 680 to 880... instead of using the usual connections (which would have been crowded with holiday traffic), we got off at I-82, which winds through an extremely picturesque canyon and decants into the historic little town of Niles, where Charlie Chaplin once had a film studio; there the road turns into Alvarado Niles Boulevard, which leads in its turn to the Union Landing shopping center beside 880 in Union City, wherein is located the only Krispy Kreme drive-through in the Bay Area (that I know about) — Krispy Kreme doughnuts were the sole reason we had taken the detour in the first place.

The sugar-rush from three filled Krispy Kremes and a cup of coffee (and the pleasurable fact that Krispy Kreme spells its product correctly as doughnuts instead of donuts) altered my mood significantly, and by the time we got to my aunt Terry's house in San Jose I was quite cheerful; I was able to get the ice-cream made without too much drama (fortunately Grandmother's knee was so painful by then that she couldn't come micromanage me, so I guess her staying up late worked out in the end), and then enjoyed a huge repast of hot-dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, fruit salad, and chips. After that I took a long nap, played with my aunt Judy's new dog, Patty (the cutest little black Scottie/Shih-tzu puppy you ever saw), went swimming with my aunts and cousins (Terry's is the only pool to which I have access where I can swim exclusively with people who are older and/or fatter than myself), then we had cake and ice-cream (my cousin Michael's birthday is on the 6th, but we have always celebrated it on the 4th), and then we sat around and dished for a few hours until it got dark.

Driving back to Concord in the twilight, enjoying the slowly cooling air and the occasional fireworks shooting up alongside the freeway from the various arenas, parks, malls, and backyards along the way, I only regretted that I hadn't been able to go to Barry's party in Pinole as I had intended... other than that one fly in the ointment (and the morning of anger following on too little sleep), it was a pretty nice day. But again, it would have been better if I hadn't had to drive all over Hell and half of China to get where I was going. I guess I'm getting into one of my no-driving moods... these happen every once in a while, when I overdo the driving and stop enjoying it for a time.

I had Monday off from work, and as I said in the last post, I intended to do some laundry and work on my novel. But of course it was not to be... if I plan something, apparently it automatically becomes doomed to failure. Aside from being even more tired than I thought I'd be after sleeping for ten hours, Caroline came over less than an hour after I got up, and so I couldn't really spend the time writing. I could have done some laundry, of course, but I didn't. Instead, we watched a DVD I bought last week but hadn't watched yet, Girls Will Be Girls starring Jack Plotnick (whom you would recognize as the nelly clerical type he has played in countless movies and TV shows), Clinton Leupp (better known as Miss Coco Peru), and Jeffery Roberson (alias Varla Jean Merman).

If you haven't seen this film yet, I strongly suggest you run (don't walk) to your nearest video outlet and get a copy ASAP. It has to be the funniest movie I've seen in years... so funny that we had to keep pausing the disk so that we could finish laughing before the next joke, gag, or one-liner shot out at us... such as:
    Evie: "So that's your big secret? You had an abortion?" (rolls her eyes in disbelief)

    Coco: (indignant) "Have you ever had one?"

    Evie: "One? I've had more children pulled out of me than a burning orphanage!"

    (pause while we laugh so hard we have to go to the bathroom immediately or else pee on the rug)
After that, we watched another Coco Peru vehicle, Trick (her role was brief, but unbearably memorable, she stole the whole movie with that one line: "You ever get cum in your eye, Gabriel? It buuuuuuuuurns!")

Caroline took off to do some shopping after that... she was feeling antsy and wanted to go out and do something, but I was feeling particularly sluggish and didn't intend to leave the house at all. But shortly after she left, I noticed that my throat hurt rather more than could be explained by all the laughing I'd just done, and my muscles ached more than seemed likely even after my weekend's exertions, and I started feeling a little dizzier than watching TV for several hours would normally make me feel. It occurred to me after a while that I must have come down with a cold... suddenly I remembered the little Plague Boy coughing behind me on the BART train Friday night: I cursed him, his ancestors, and his descendants in perpetuity. Babbling little heathen.

Of course I could have gotten the cold anywhere, from any of the fourteen hundred people at the Conference or the fifteen people at my aunt's or from Caroline herself (who picked up a rather similar cold last week at Pride); I mean, any time I lose sleep and eat sketchily and expose myself to the multitudes, I take a fifty-fifty risk of coming down with a cold. But I prefer to blame Plague Boy — he's so much more picturesque.

And so here I am at home, on the fifth day of my three-day Holiday weekend, snuffling and aching and coughing and sneezing and hurting and telling you all about it. At rather some length, I see. This has taken me almost four hours to write, my Tylenol Cold is wearing off, and it's now time to take a lil' nap.

I hope your weekend was super fun and that you didn't get sick from it. Toodles!

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