Monday, April 27, 2015

Plodding down the Midnight Path

OK—here’s what I should have done: Taught my class at 8:15, gone for a three-mile walk while listening to Cristobal de Morales, eaten breakfast, written a blog post, taken the modem to Plaza las Américas (the Caribbean’s largest mall!) argued with the lady at the modem place, prevailed, come back home and clean house. Oh, somewhere along the line I would have eaten lunch, checked my email, glanced shudderingly at the news, and played an hour of Bach suites.

What have I done?

Major news—I got out of bed.

If you are saying, “why, Marc, why is getting out of bed a big deal,” then you don’t have what I have, nor do I know what I have. But Andrew Solomon, as you can see below, does a rather wonderful job of writing and describing the travelogue of depression, and his central point—that depression is not just a big sadness, but rather the absence of vitality—is very true.

Perhaps you’ll say, “and so what have you got to be depressed about,” and that’s a logical question, isn’t it? Except we’re not dealing with logic here, or even reality, or maybe we are, since it turns out that there may be something called depressive realism. Why can’t I tell you? The Internet, feeling bored, stepped out for a cigarette.

So depressive realism is the theory, and you know what? Life really does suck, and even if you’re not among the four thousand people in Nepal who are—presumably—buried under ruble, well…guess what? You’re still going to succumb to one of those deadly conditions predicated on your horrible lifestyle, sicken, and then die, leaving sorrow and grief behind you. And normal people get on with their lives and eat breakfast and teach their classes and go about their lives, but Marc? Not today, since I got obsessed with seeing a wailing Nepalese woman keening in front of the rubble that is now her house—and I only had to watch that seven or eight times before it occurred to me: The woman was half a world away, and my watching the video was doing nobody any good. So—either send some money or not, but move on!

Move on, of course, meant the local paper, which is worrying itself about 85 people arrested for prostitution. This, of course, actually proves the point about depressive realism, since what was I, depressed, worrying about? Well, from my warped / non-warped point of view, the sexual peccadilloes of 85 people are relatively unimportant, since we have until the end of the week to cough up some unthinkable sum to our creditors, and the government obviously doesn’t have the money, since it says it’s broke and will have to close in three months. Sorry, guys, but does it take little Marc to point that out?

Right, then it was time for Facebook, which I was dreading, since the marginal possibility that anybody would post anything interesting was completely surpassed by the probability that I would be presented with change of profile pictures, pray for Nepal messages, and—certainly my favorite for someone who had to force feed himself breakfast—pictures of meals relished and devoured.

OK, so then it was on to YouTube, where I looked for—hold onto your chairs, folks—videos of depression. But I had seen the BBC video, and Andrew Solomon as well, but the thing about Solomon is that he’s stiletto-sharp and very funny, and so I went along all very happily until 17:35, when the video stuck and I spent several minutes looking at the little ball spin. In fact, I probably spent a good 17:35 minutes watching the little ball spin when it eventually dawned on me: First of all, great metaphor for depression! Second, hit the refresh button. And guess what? The computer gulped, remembered what it had been saying, and went right back to it!

This, if nothing else, told me: Depression is also a cognitive disorder, since would it have taken that 17 minutes for a non-depressed man to have made that realization? Don’t think so.

So now Solomon is talking about the stigmatization of depression, which is a little crazy, since we’re all taking bucketsful of antidepressants, so it’s sort of like sex: We all do it, but nobody talks about it.

Of course, there’s another stigmatization going on, since my brother—who has failed pretty badly as father, brother and son and feels great about it, thanks!—recommended a book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, by Robert Whittaker, and here, courtesy of Amazon, is a brief summary:

Do psychiatric medications fix “chemical imbalances” in the brain, or do they, in fact, create them? Researchers spent decades studying that question, and by the late 1980s, they had their answer. Readers will be startled—and dismayed—to discover what was reported in the scientific journals.
Do I have to tell you? Simple explanation: Antidepressants change the brain nueroreceptor system radically, and patients who take them for acute episodes experience greater relapses more frequently than patients who don’t take treatment. And eventually, you end up “hooked” on the antidepressants.

Yes—apologies to Dr. Whittaker for the way over-simplification.

Well, I had read this in the months past and gotten annoyed—not with the psychiatrists who had given me these terrible drugs, but with Whittaker, since what was the message I heard? Chin up, take it like a man, stop whining and go on!

Of course, the other message is, “Get angry, get even, and sue that Harvard-educated bastard doctor who gave me the pills that pulled me out of a depression so that—on most days—I could write, teach, and even get out of bed!”

Well, I’m in this state since I announced to that doctor that my libido had flat-lined, which meant that I would have been completely happy living like a Catholic priest, since celibacy was as easy nowadays as singing in the shower. I am, however, married….

So on Saturday I had decreased my dosage of Lexapro 20 mg PO QD to Lexapro 10 mg PO QD. Sunday, I felt OK, though I did have a fight with Montalvo, who suggested that it was anal to object to his:

1. Missing the opera and
2. Arriving an hour and a half late to the dinner he had invited himself to

I had made it, three days—well, two, actually—since I knew what I had to do. So I took the extra 10 mg, waited the hour before it took effect. Then I got out of bed and sat down to write this.

Like Solomon, I have all these questions about depression and treatments and all the rest. Oddly enough, Lady is felled too, and is lying in bed, recuperating from a surgery on her ankle. So we are both sick, right?

I wish I knew. I suspect I will take the Lexapro 20 mg again tomorrow, and that I’ll feel better, and maybe even teach my class. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be strong enough for Plaza las Américas! 

What do I know?

I would ten times rather be Lady at the moment than myself.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Winterreise, Gute Nacht

Note: At a point in my life, I was ready to take on the greatest song cycle of them all, and Winterreise was my companion as I slid into the darkness of madness. Now, as a pure experiment, I want to revisit them, and use the 24 songs in the cycle as the emotional background for another kind of writing: part biography, part fiction. Will it work? One song a day, for the next 24 days! What will emerge from the experiment? Here, at any rate, is what issued forth today….

Gute Nacht

Shades of minor.

The music, I knew, started in d Minor, but on hearing it again—after so many years, after it had accompanied me to the darkest precipice of insanity I’ve yet visited—I realized: We don’t do sounds as well as colors.

There is a painter at work in the room where I am writing, and he could tell you: His paint is a specific brown, ordained or decreed by the government for use in this historic district, but this brown is more than just the color. It is shiny, flat, or even semi-flat; and brown goes from chocolate to tan. As well, colors change according to the time of day, to the amount and quality of light.

But the moment the piano began the first chords of Die Winterreise, I realized: The piece could only begin in d minor. Go up a few tones and put it in G Minor? You might as well play it in C major.

You are put off by these technical observations, perhaps, but no matter. Leave it to Schubert, who died even younger than Mozart, to arrange these things. As he did, nearly two centuries ago, and Schubert knew quite well what he was doing. “I’m going to come sing you some terrifying songs,” he is supposed to have said, or words to that effect, to one of his friends.

Schubert, yes, that great bastard Schubert. You know, perhaps, the Unfinished Symphony, or likely would if I sang it to you, and you may think that the composer saw only the light dappling across spring meadows. But Schubert, like me, knew madness, knew every corner of the madhouse, even long after it was boarded up, and the dust of ruin and disuse covered the delusions and the suicides and the voices of God and every devil. Yes, Schubert prowled the halls, overturning and peering at the shards of dreams, lost hopes, the occasional smile; he heard the thud of the gate as it shut the world behind, as it barred the world entrance.

You go there too, when you hear the music. Those first chords? Whose footsteps are those? The character in the song cycle, that group of 24 songs that are unlistenable, terrible, maddening, and inevitable? Schubert, who know perfectly well that his own winter’s journey was to begin? Or is it you—you for whom life has flung those sardonic chords down through the centuries?

Schubert knew: Any thinking man makes the journey. I could tell you, perhaps, that life makes the journey for you, puts you to plodding down that road, but no. However much it looked like fate, chance, coincidence, or just plain bad luck—you chose it. Because these songs are nothing about a man jilted in love—how could they be? A man jilted in love gets drunk, meets up with his friends in the bar, starts smoking again, and goes out, hoping to get laid.

So this man—you or I or Schubert—speaks the words we all know from the cycle: I came to this place alone, and alone I leave it. Can you say those words? Must you say those words? Because in them is the consent, your payment for the fare of the winter’s journey.

A curious journey, since you pay, yes, but have no certainty of quite where, if anywhere, the journey will end. In your death, perhaps, if the weather turns cold, you have drunk too much at the inn, and rashly decide to venture to the next town.

Yes, death—which can come at any time, as we all know. But do we know it as Schubert knew it? Because when he wrote these songs, in the 1820s, he had not only gotten the diagnosis, he had been hospitalized for it. And his malady was that oldest of plagues, syphilis, and death was the least of his worries. Few people today realize how insidious the disease is: Minor symptoms at first, a rash, a sore throat. Painless, usually, and the rash heals without scarring. And then nothing—nothing, during which your lead your life, raise your family, impregnate your wife or mistress. But all the while you are contagious, and the disease is building slowly in you, studying your weakness, your vulnerabilities. Will it be your heart? Your brain? Your nervous system?

Perhaps you will develop the shuffling walk, perhaps you’ll go mad, you might also go deaf—was all that to be Schubert’s fate? Perhaps so, since in his final years he had crushing headaches, fever, swelling in the joints. He was nauseated and vomited frequently. Yes, they called it typhoid fever, but was anyone fooled? Not the patient himself.

So he was beginning a journey, as he begins the first song, and what does he call that song? Gute nacht—and no translation, I’m sure, is needed. And Schubert starts the song with the words “I came here a stranger, a stranger I depart.”

He was never known, you see—though May, we are told, favored him with bouquets, and the young lady who is everything and nothing, and whose mother even spoke of marriage…well, what happened? Because he is on the road, outside of the house where his love is sleeping, and his only companion is “a shadow of the moon.”

Yes—what happened? Why should he stay, he asks, only to be driven away? Let stray dogs, he says, howl in front of the master’s house—he’ll be on his way.

Unrelenting, these minor chords in the bass line—unrelenting as the syphilis was for Schubert, unrelenting as the would be for the wanderer in the songs. Moonlight, I can tell you, is a lovely condiment, but as the only course on the menu? If you are, as the old song has it, “full moon and empty arms?”

I sit here now, in an empty room, empty save for a painter whose task will end in an hour or two, at most. But my task? Mine will not be so short, nor so easily accomplished. In an hour’s time, the painter will wash his brush, the brown will course into the sink until all color is gone, and all that remains is clear water.

But I must tell you of the man who sings the songs, and the only man I know is I. Yes, I can imagine the young man of 1828, a poor itinerant roaming, lighting into a town, falling in love…oh yes, I can imagine.

It happened to me, as it happens to us all. It’s a very old story, one perhaps not worth telling. “Love loves to wander,” as the poet, Müller wrote. And I was wandering too, in those years when I was struggling to get the music out.

For it was never as easy for me as it was—apparently—for Schubert. He is described as “very prolific,” which means that the music was probably flowing faster than the pen could catch it down. He started one composition as soon as he finished another. Is there a man or woman alive who has heard every composition of Schubert’s. Probably, but most of us know perhaps thirty or forty songs, a few of the symphonies, some of the chamber works.

But for me it was different. They had put a cello in my hands at what I now know was a late age; I was ten or so, and so I had missed those early years when I could have acquired the technique I needed.

Ah, but that’s too easy, isn’t it? If I am to take this winter’s journey, I must…well, as Müller would say, “I must find my own way in this darkness.” For it was darkness, those years in which I struggled.

Unlike the violin, the cello can produce, in the hands of a beginner, acceptable sounds almost from the start. But was “an acceptable sound” what I sought? No, of course not, since I had been hearing wonderful music from a very early age.

It was a time when music came in the form of a record, you remember, and we did not have sound systems or speakers or any of the other accouterments that we now have. We had record players, and ours was a brown, clunky affair with the turntable clothed, as I remember, in a kind of felt, all the better to protect the record. And my mother, an editor, would stack three or four records, to be played one after the other. She would slash her manuscripts with a red pencil; I would listen to Bach and Beethoven.

That was the May of my childhood. I was shy, I was moody, I was guarding a secret so well that I had hidden it from myself. And so normal contact with other kids was never a possibility for me. The tyranny that is childhood—for it is a tyranny—and the death camp of the play ground were hell; I had no idea what to say, what to do, how to hold myself, much less how to run and play. The other kids very quickly sized me up: I didn’t fit, I would never fit. On those occasions when forced to get out of the house, get some fresh air, play with other kids…those moments were an unrelenting viewing of my otherness.

What did exist, if not baseball and tag? What filled my childhood?

Music, always music, then and now.

Today, I tell myself, my childhood might have been different. A teacher, perhaps, would have recognized the social failure that I obviously was and wondered: Was anything there? What was roiling under the surface of that closed, moody child?

I asked my brother, once, what I was like in those years.

“When I first read Steppenwolf, I kept thinking, ‘how does Hermann Hesse know my brother?’”

Right—I asked about that, since my own reading of Steppenwolf was many decades behind me.

“You were hermetically sealed…”

As was the age, since it was the early sixties, and from what did the riotous later sixties spring? To call it a prison of conformity doesn’t quite describe it, since a prison inevitably implies a free, wondrous world outside it. Instead, I think the times were hiding a secret as tightly as I was clutching mine: We were in perfect synch.

Change the metaphor: we were both of us closing our eyes so tightly, so ferociously, that the pressure on our eyeballs was almost unbearable, and the strain of self-blindness had been so constant, so unremitting, that our faces had become caricatures, unseen and un-seeable.

And so we went through our days, we did our appointed tasks. Mine was to go and sit at the tiny tank that was my desk and learn—which I did easily—and to dread the coming of recess, which I would spend with my back pressed against the cyclone fence, while the rest of the children played. I would walk back home for lunch—alone, since in those years kids could and did: The lurid world of child abductions and Amber Alerts had yet to come. Lunch was as predictable as school: The peanut butter sandwich and the carrots, since in a family of words, eyesight was highly prized (my father was a newspaperman). Carrots, filled with vitamin A, would ensure: I would never go blind.

I hated them.

The first attempt was to get the dog to eat them.


Unfortunately, Charity—who looked like she had inadvertently crossed into doghood from foxhood—developed a loathing equal to mine after the first bite.

The next attempt was to throw the carrots out the window, behind the juniper bushes that were in front of the house. Unfortunately, one snowless December morning my mother—spurred only by neighborly convention—got behind the bushes, in order to put up the Christmas lights. You knew she was there only because the bushes—some five feet high—were swaying drunkenly and speaking in my mother’s voice.

Rather muttering, since in the battle between the junipers and Mother—well, the junipers were the clear victors. She wasn’t giving up without a fight, though, nor was she so afraid of that neighborly pressure that she refrained from issuing a stream of profanity.

“Shit! That goddamn branch…. Now where they hell did I put my shears? Ouch, dammit!”

This was interesting, as was the sight of my mother emerging with a handful of brown, desiccated carrots, which looked like droppings from some imagined and horrible beast. One could imagine that they had been passed painfully through the guts of the animal, who was howling in the process.


Ooops, a sign of trouble, since I had been named only Marc Newhouse. When the full gale of a scolding was needed, my mother thrust her maiden name—Myers—into mine.

Carrots. They became my Calvary, though in my case there was no cross to bear nor via cruxis to trudge. There was silence, and the sight of carrots on the plate, and the stern injunction: I was not to get up until the carrots were eaten.

Or rather, gone, since I had discovered that whoever had made the curtains—very likely my mother, since no professional would do such a thing—had neglected to sew up the side of the hem of the curtains. It was a great place to hide…

And so I inserted carrots into the hems of the curtains for several months, until they began to sag badly. Nor was that all, since who could believe that there was enough moisture in a carrot to produce the foul smell that wafted from them, and hung like a miasma over the dining room table? Shouldn’t all that vitamin A have protected them from rot? At any rate, my mother took them down, and went off with them to the dry cleaners.

Ring! The dry cleaners!

“Mrs. Newhouse, would you like us to dry clean the carrots as well as the curtains?”

It was hardly the worst of my childhood, as I told you, and as I tell myself now. Why have I wasted my time, your time, with the tale of carrots? Why, since I am about to embark on the winter’s journey with the singer, who has stood outside his beloved’s doorstep in the key of d minor, and looked one last time at the house where he had once been welcomed?

I listen to that first song and hear, again, that magical moment when Schubert, perfectly, changes into D major. Why that shift, that moment when moonlight changes to sunlight?

Easy for any lover to explain: The wanderer has stopped thinking about his own misery, his own journey, and has begun to think of his beloved. She is sleeping, he sings, and he’ll go softly, quietly, and not awaken her.

But why does he stop? And why does he sing: I write in passing on your gate: good night, so that you might see that I thought of you? And why, when she has been “she” and “the girl,” all throughout the song, why is “she” now “you?”

And then, in the very end of the song, d minor returns, mocking that glimmering of hope. The road is calling him, the journey has begun.

As it did for me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Anybody Got Twenty Grand to Lend Me?

OK—here’s the problem: If we wanted to get rid of our debt, down here in Puerto Rico, every single last one of us—including the neonates in Centro Médico and all the viejitos in I Love You Lord Home Center (could I make this up? Click here and find out!) would have to pay … all right, take a look.

Wow—over 21,000 bucks! And so how many people work in Puerto Rico? Well, here’s the Latin American Herald Tribune:

SAN JUAN – Only 40.2 percent of people in Puerto Rico are working or actively seeking employment, a structural problem that is amplifying the effects of the severe recession afflicting the Caribbean island.

Right—and what’s the norm in developed countries? According to the article, it’s 65 to 70 percent. So roughly half of the people who should be working are. But no problem, because that must mean our population must be insanely rich, and hence have no need to work. And our average gross domestic product? It’s $21,233.33.

Hey, no problem! $21,470 that we owe, and the $21, 233 that we “make”—well, we’re only two hundred bucks plus change short. So what’s the big deal?

Well, in the first place, I could adduce the person who makes the best tuna fish sandwich in the café. And how much does he make per hour? Probably not much more than $8.00 an hour; I can’t be sure and wouldn’t ask him. But what I do know is that he is both on food stamps—called down here la tarjeta del la familia—and on the government health plan. So he’s one of the 40% who has a job—but does he have $22, 000 to pay off the government debt? Don’t think so, and if he does, I’ll be pissed, because when his car breaks down? He hits me up for a loan!

Oh, and the abuelitos and abuelitas and the neonates? Right…they’re out.

And the other problem? Well, if memory serves, our major newspaper came out with the news that—as I remember it—the actual debt is not a mere 73 billion (OK—a trifle more than Detroit’s 18 billion) but is actually substantially more than twice that amount, since our government is not bothering to calculate how much interest we will have to pay to finance this debt, but only the debt itself. But anyone who has a credit card can tell you: paying—if we possibly can—the monthly minimum on the principal? Well, we’ll be an abuelito or abuelita in I Love you Lord Home Center before we pay off the debt.

And the other problem? Using the completely scientific and statistical method for which this blog is famed, I have asked four people—three employees and a gringo customer—in the café how much we would have to pay. Curiously, all of the Puerto Ricans were completely at sea: One declined to answer, the other thought the sum would be one dollar per person, and the third asked the question about the size of the debt versus the size of the population. On hearing the numbers, his eyes glazed over, and it was up to the gringo to speculate: $100,000 dollars was his guess.

But there’s another problem, which is that the simple trick that got me through arithmetic—eliminating zeros—nobody seems to have taught people here. If we eliminate five zeros from each sum, what do we get? 

73,000,000,000                                         730,000
---------------------                                        ----------                                           
            3,400,000           is basically                   34

“It doesn’t matter if we all could pay the 21,000 dollars,” said one person, “since the politicians would steal the money and not pay off the debt anyway, like they always do.” This from a person who is also on the government health plan, and is also getting subsidized housing from the government.

“Jorge, do you have $21, 470…”

Wrong, it was more like….

“…Jorge, do you have $21, 4”


Notice what he didn’t say: “I’ll have to check my balance….”

So now the wolf is at the door, since we told our creditors that we would pay them on the first of this month, and did we? No, we sent the woman whose company is getting ten million bucks for six months to sort the mess out at the electric company to go and plead time. Remarkably, she—right, her name is Lisa Donahue—has gotten not one extension but two. So now we have until the first of June to tell the creditors what the restructuring plan is going to be. And today, Ms. Donahue faced the Senate commission in charge of all this and answered questions.

Well, she did and she didn’t, since the party in charge of hiring her treated her with great deference, but the opposing party? Well, the senator María de Lourdes Santiago, from the party favoring independence, came out and said that Donahue’s plan was nothing more than what any Puerto Rican could cook up in five minutes over coffee. Oh, and she said all this in Spanish, after explaining—in perfect English—that she believed all state business on the island should be conducted in the lengua franca.

In fact, I listened to Donahue for an hour or so, since it was the kind of thing my journalist father would have done: I vividly recall him listening to the Madison City Council meetings over the radio. That, of course, was when he could listen, since there were hills between the station and our house, and sometimes they got in the way, and sometimes they didn’t. Or perhaps it was that some radio signals were higher than others—even then, technology was defeating me.

But Donahue seemed bright enough, and managed to answer each question with the appropriate level of vagueness and general inapplicability that would allow her to deny anything at all in the future. She did, however, point out that no infrastructure company anywhere in the world can operate when the top 200 people running the company change every time the government changes. So what to do?

She didn’t say, and couldn’t say, because the answer is completely unpalatable; she did say, however, that she believed in appointing people who were qualified for the position and retaining them in that position until they were no longer needed or effective.

Well, the senators asked question after question, but I waited in vain for the question to be posed that I’ve been mulling for days: Given that we have a massively indebted company run by 200 politically-appointed friends of the governor, and actually run by two unions with a stranglehold on the company, and this company is operating under completely inefficient circumstances (the EPA is demanding, among other things, that we close two of our worst plants), and the populace is poor and cannot afford to pay a penny more, and there’s no way to borrow since our credit rating is firmly embedded in junk status, and that’s a problem, since the governor wants to throw out our 7% sales tax and put in a 16% value added tax, and…

…I’m probably forgetting something, here, but anyway, Lisa….

…have you ever seen a mess like this?  


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

On Pizza and Persecution

It’s a little weird how it happened—Indiana did what 40% of the 50 states have done, albeit with an added protection to allow individuals protection against anti-discrimination lawsuits if they deny goods or services to LBGT people. And where 19 states, including Connecticut, for God’s sake, got away with it, why did Indiana take it on the chin?

It was weird that it happened for other reasons: The “right” of a photographer to refuse to photograph a gay wedding seems a lot less appalling than the “right” of a landlord to refuse to rent an apartment, or a boss to refuse to hire a gay person. Yet in Indiana, those last two scenarios are possible, if—I hope—unlikely. So the fundamentalist florist has to photograph the wedding, but the fundamentalist boss can fire a gay person? Anybody out there who can explain that? Drop me a line….

It was weird for another reason, to me at least. Look, guys, some very decent, very fine people have a moral objection to my / our existence. There are, in fact, a lot of people whom I object to, starting with the fundamentalist Christians. Indeed, as a gay man—and terrible photographer—I would be appalled to photograph the wedding of the daughter of our own local fundamentalist firebrand, Wanda Rolón. So if a photographer says no to me and my gay wedding? I’d walk away and find somebody else. And I’m betting that for every florist who says no, there are at least as many who would say yes….

Weird, also, was the totally insane sense of religious persecution that fundamentalist fanatics exhibited—that old devil, “gay militants,” were goose-stepping straight into the churches and homes of the godly, and what Hitler did to the Jews? Hah—child’s play!

Then there was big business, since Walmart, down there in Arkansas where they were considering a similar Religious Freedom Restoration Act, growled, and that put an end to that. OK—it was clear: Walmart has over 3,000 stores in the United States, and though it’s hard to imagine a gay couple walking into a Walmart to order a wedding cake, trust me, it happens. So did Walmart want to be stuck justifying a baker who refuses to bake the cake? Or, did Walmart have the right to fire a baker who refuses to bake the cake. Anyway, Walmart and every other employer is walking on the thinnest of eggshells, since no employer can ask about religious beliefs, or even if they can work on specific days (think Saturdays for Orthodox Jews and Sundays for fundamentalist Christians.) So here’s what employers have to do:

The best way for the employer to gather this information is for the employer to state the normal work hours for the job and, after making it clear that you are not required to indicate the need for any religious-related absences during the scheduled work hours, to ask whether you are otherwise available to work those hours. Then, after a position is offered, but before you are hired, your employer can inquire into the need for a religious accommodation and determine whether an accommodation is possible.

Well, I had already figured out my newest scheme: Train as a barista, get a job at the competing café in Old San Juan, and then announce that I was Mormon, and therefore could not make coffee. And if they fired me? Well, a friend of a friend—that’s how things work down here—is on the board of directors for the ACLU. Naturally, Lady, the owner of the café, was totally great with this idea.

The weirdness didn’t lessen when a small town pizzeria announce that—sorry, guys—no pizza for gay weddings, thus eliminating the one food that has probably never been served at a wedding. Right—so everyone jumped all over them except for a zillion fundamentalists, and now the owners are close to being millionaires.

So for a week, I scratched my head about this, and during the week became obsessed with…well, here’s what I wrote last week:

I can tell you that he may have been born in Wisconsin in 1901, and that he died in 1978 in Phoenix, Arizona; I could tell you his social security number, if the Internet had not gone off somewhere. But there is absolutely nothing else I can tell you about the man who must have slept 20 yards away from me for twenty years or so.

There were walls separating us: He lived in one house, I lived in another. But there were many other walls. The fence between the two houses, the fact that he had no friends in the neighborhood, the fact that I can remember every other face of my neighbors, but his? I draw a blank.

It could be that he was never seen, and that, I think, is the point. He must have come home, he must have gotten out of his car. I even think he must have given me the $3.60 I seem to remember charging for delivering the morning paper: I have a vague memory of his house—which was as bland and nondescript as he, and how else would I have seen it? He never had visitors, never had anyone in; I recall him coming home late once or twice, but where did he go? Who were his friends, if any?

There was the silence my parents guarded against him: They never spoke of him, and never interacted with him, except perhaps once, when he complained about the pussy willow tree that grew on our side of the fence. The tree was greatly prized, since my mother would send the youngest son out to scale it—always when my father was away. The pussy willows would be in the vase, my mother beaming at the spring that they portended, and my father shuddering, since he knew perfectly well that his child had been clambering around on a still-icy roof. But my father kept quiet; the neighbor, who got the mess but not the pussy willows, did not.

I tell you these facts, but not his name, since he’s gone now, and deserves his privacy. Nor do I know factually what I know instinctively: He was gay.
This may or may not be, but let’s assume that he was, if only to imagine, for a moment, what his life may have been like.    

In fact, I have his dates wrong, as wrong as I may have had his sexuality. But I can tell you, now, how his life may have been, since the 1950’s have been well documented for gay people. As you can see in the second clip, the case for militant gays persecuting Christians could only be made if gay cops—dressed presumably in lavender—burst into churches, arrested everybody, and then doled out the information to the newspapers, which published the faithful’s names the next day, causing social stigmatization and loss of job. Because that’s what happened to gay people in the fifties.

I wonder, in fact, if both sides of this issue know this, and if they did, wouldn’t be acting more sensibly. I value jobs and apartments more highly than wedding cakes and flowers. If somebody doesn’t want my business, I take it elsewhere. I might—just might—grant a small business owner the right to say no, I want nothing to do with your gay wedding. I think the photographer has the more compelling reason—since he actually has to be there: The flowers and the cake can be delivered.

So what am I sure of?

Don’t, anyone, tell me that gay people are persecuting Christians!