General: August 2003 Archives

Jogged by current arguments over New York's Harvey Milk High School, and a recent postcard from his own school, bj has written an honest, beautiful piece about an ugly memory, one whose counterpart I share shamefully, as I'm sure do many others. An excerpt:

John I love You

I actually started thinking a lot about my high school days during the first bits of current "controversey" over the Harvey Milk School's expansion this fall when that postcard arrived. No, I don't have horrible stories about constant harrassment from fellow students (but you can imagine in an all-male high school); yes, harrassment took place, and yes, I managed to survive it. And no, the Harvey Milk School wouldn't have been a good alternative for me. But then I remember John.

See, back then, I would get only the occasional taunts - the name-calling, the teasing. I remember one horrible day just after Christmas. My parents had bought me a leather/vinyl shoulder bag for my books - very 70's, very nice. But the day I brought it to school, the taunting began immediately. Guys grabbed it, put in over their shoulder and "minced" around, lisping words pretending to immitate me. They passed the bag around, wouldn't let me have it back. I tried to ignore them, and eventually got it back. But the day continued like that, name-calling, joking, tugging at the bag, laughing at my expense. When I got home, I walked straight down to the basement, put it on a shelf with all the abandoned toys and games of childhood, and left it there, never touching it again. Oddly, my parents never asked about it (it wasn't cheap, and we didn't have much money), and of course I never mentioned that horrible day to them, I was ashamed. Maybe they knew, and didn't know what to say or do.

But John. He was the "obvious" one. He had the pronounced lisp, limp-wrists, effeminate manner. He got it every day, all day. I don't know the real extent to what happened to him, I kept my distance. And it makes me feel very sad, and ashamed. Not once did I ever consider befriending him, and not 'til my senior year did I ever raise my voice to defend him, or tell the other guys to knock it off (By then I was into drugs, so that "coolness" aspect trumped my suspected homosexuality.) I remember once, sitting in the assistant principle's office, trying to get a class changed, and John was in the waiting room; our eyes met, a moment of sadness from him, then a determined resolve toughened him up, and he looked away. The assistant principle looked in John's direction, breathed a heavy sigh, and mumbled something like "not him again, won't he ever learn?" I said nothing, but was deeply disappointed in this 'educator'. John never got into trouble, he was no doubt there to complain about whatever latest incident happened to him.

Then I went to my next class, attendance was called, and when John's name came up, some tittering from the students, and I said "Oh, he's in with the assistant principle." The art teacher, who we all assumed was gay, then said "Jeez! What's wrong with him, he brings it on himself, he just needs to stop acting that way." You have no idea how clearly that is set in my memory, 25 years later, as vivid as if it happened yesterday. No, I didn't say anything, but I felt even sadder, more disappointment with the adults, and much, much more isolated. And I must say, I must've secretly been feeling "thank god John's here, otherwise it would be me."

Don't miss the music clip in his headline.

Silipups explains.

He's describing the intent of his own weblog, but on the subject of Palestine he could be speaking for many of us.

Hi, my name is Anees. As per many questions I was recently asked:






When the power went off we were upstairs at the Metropolitan Museum. We had just finished walking through the extraordinary “Art of the First Cities” exhibit on one of its very last days, and I had picked up, but not yet paid for, a book in the adjacent little tie-in shop. That whole area of the Museum was immediately thrown into total darkness, but no one was the least upset, and once we were in rooms with natural light, most people, including the guards, seemed not even to have become distracted. There wasn’t a crack of light visible in the “Cities” galleries, so we decided to wander around the grand permanent-collection areas where there was natural light from skylights, until we eventually decided it might be more interesting, if not wiser, to be out on the street. First I slipped around the ropes blocking the men's room on the first floor (absolutely no light inside, but I knew it well, and I was to be very glad I did that!). I reluctantly gave up my book at another museum shop just outside.

Our only delay getting home was the line of hundreds of people wanting to pick up bags and other interesting stuff from the checkrooms all at just about the same moment. Even now, about a half hour into it, no one seemed to have a clue about the scale of the blackout, but I was beginning to suspect the worse (short of a terrorist attack, which somehow I did not think likely) and I asked a security supervisor about it, since he appeared to have a radio headphone. He told me, “the whole Northeast, including Canada, all the way to Ohio and Michigan." Heavy.

We walked home at a very relaxed pace, stopping for small meals along the way (gosh, I love hotdogs and brownies!), beginning in Central Park and continuing down 5th Avenue to 42d Street, then to Times Sq. and left down 8th Ave., taking pictures as we went. Arrived home early in the evening. The weather? Like September 11, a beautiful, beautiful day.

When we arrived home on 23rd Street, coming in through the lush interior garden from the north, we found ourselves in the midst of a residents and refugees garden party. There was lots of conviviality, the sharing of food, wine, flashlights and candles, much greeting and talking among people who had never taken time to approach each other before (and a certain number who had, of course), soft songs and one mandolin. We were almost half and half "boys" and "girls," but we agreed that it was still just about certain that there would be no new babies in this building 9 months from now.

Back in the apartment at first we even had warmish water for showers! We returned to the garden for a spell, until we became overheated by the zillions of tea candles and their truly monstrous relatives. We headed to the roof for a look at the darkened skyline and streets, and of course the Big Dipper, scads of other stars and red Mars itself.

We came down for a walk around the neighborhood where the real life was concentrated in and outside the gay bars on 8th Avenue, with hundreds of barely- (and bearly-) dressed Tom-of-Finland types hanging out in the dark. Pretty impressive group, even by Chelsea standards, but the most significant difference about the street on Thursday night was probably less the extraordinary subtle lighting than the relaxed friendliness and sociability of the guys. “Attitude” had taken a holiday. It felt like a steroid re-creation of the gyms and playing fields of my all-boy prep school or college experience, but here you could fearlessly look at the musculature.

In the end (if not at the very beginning as well), like those schools, it was a pretty dull scene without any women around. Eventually the cold beer ran out and the crowd started to thin.

On our way out the doors of our building we had run into our friend Glenn, and he was trailing a wheeled suitcase, having just arrived from D.C. in circuitous Greyhound routing. Since he lives pretty far out in Williamsburg and intended to go on to Texas the next day, he stayed here that night. The next morning he set off for the airport. We wished him luck. Hope he made it out that same day.

Now we all really understand why, pre-Edison, people went to bed early, and got up early. What do you do after dark, if it stays dark after dark? We tried sleeping, with only some success.

Friday we walked to our Hudson River Park (in the Village, since the Chelsea Piers corporation owns all of our shore in Chelsea), and had a beautiful day. The new park is wonderful. I hope it manages to be maintained properly. On the way back the power went on in the West Village, but we found it was still dark above 14th Street.

Later that afternoon, between 5 and 6, having just about had it with the information shutdown, I got on my bike and zoomed up and down Manhattan from 80th Street to the Battery, visiting both sides of the island. I found that the only neighborhoods which did not yet have power were either the poorest neighborhoods, or those which were the least important as far as corporations are concerned. Coincidence, political calculation, political reality or a reflection of where we build our substations?

Friday night I decided we'd have a relaxed supper on our own terrace, so I moved a small table and a couple of Windsor chairs out with the potted garden, along with some old candle lanterns, linens, and the food which might not last much longer (Italian salamis, cheese, bread, cooked broccoli salad, fresh plums, wine). Sweetpea joined us out there. It was a delightful meal, in circumstances which probably could not and should not be repeated.

I had reluctantly decided, very much against my nature, and for the first time since the lights and the hot water had disappeared, not to wash the dishes immediately. I was going to just rinse them in the dark and finish them the next day in light, with water heated on the old gas stove. But just after I had brought the dishes into the kitchen, I heard a loud roar, cheering actually, coming from the larger garden below, where there was the now familiar assembly of friendly neighbors being very friendly. The power had returned. Bingo! Hot water for dishes. And showers! We rushed to join the group, but by the time we got downstairs they had dispersed into the walls, and the now exotic hum of air conditioners already surrounded us.

Sleep came easily that night.

The images, from the top: tea lights in the garden, 23rd Street in front of our building, guys outside of Rawhide

Updated August 20, with pictures

We’re back. Time Warner somehow managed finally to push the right remote control button exactly two days after electrical power (but, for our building, not their cable) was restored to Chelsea. We now have our connection once again, for email and the internet, and of course for television as well (although I haven’t looked, and now have no need for its sad contribution to news reporting).

As you see, Barry and I have been pretty much out of touch with the world since Thursday morning (We left the apartment early in the afternoon to visit the Metropolitan Museum, where we were when the power went off). This means that I have little idea of what has already been said on line about the events of last week, so I’m going to limit my comments to personal experience – and I guess I’ll use the opportunity to let off a little steam.

First of all, I am so f ___ing furious about the spin we were getting, and still get! Yes, New Yorkers were wonderful, but the people everywhere at the very top (of the political, energy and communications heaps) who are supposed to be responsible for our security and basic services should be boiled in oil. Instead, we're forever hearing this counter-productive, counter-revolutionary crap about how well we made it through.

For most New Yorkers, at least for those with batteries and portable units, there was nothing but radio for word about what was going on, and that is another problem about which we should be hearing much more from both the cord and remote phone industries. We can at least ask whether it was necessary for our only source of information to give us only what they or the authorities thought would calm us poor children, rather than any real information. I only remember hearing over and over again about how relaxed the City was, about how there was one cooling-off shelter in each borough (one in each?), about calling 311 rather than 911 unless it was a real emergency (how were we going to call any number?) and about the mayor expecting power to be restored very soon, in hours, pretty soon, well, . . . soon, or maybe by some time on Monday. The only practical information I remember hearing (and this from public radio, where I should have expected real reporting and real questions to be asked) was the situation at the airports, certainly not a priority even for New Yorkers not stuck in subways or trying to survive without food or water.

New York did so well, I’m almost surprised we don’t hear some people saying, “Bring it on, again!” - the idea being that we should regularly have this kind of opportunity to prove our mettle and our civic sweetness. Besides selling papers and airtime, it helps the economy – or so the reasoning might go. Even though we know there was no power overload this time, that it was the transmission and other systems that failed, I expect nothing to be done to prevent a recurrence, except what will further enhance the profits of the decision-makers at the top and their paid operatives in Washington, state capitols and cities. Alaskan oil drilling, tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, nuclear energy and countless other destructive rapes of the public and its weal, come to mind immediately. Hey, does anyone remember ENRON? Does anyone recall the vaunted and still very secret Cheney energy meetings that were supposed to result in miracles? The only miracles were the obscene profits of those whose conversations are still kept from us.

Second, do we really have to submit to "Blade Runner"-like assaults by police helicopters? We hardly slept Thursday evening, and the problem was not just the dark, warm, airless room. It was less the heat and humidity that arrested sleep and more the horrendous and mindless whop-clack of the police helicopters (infra-red cameras directed below them in a neighborhood "security" watch) passing every few minutes and hovering directly overhead for a few more, while occasionally and disturbingly shining searchlights onto the ground and the walls outside our rooms. Not knowing at the time how many days and nights this might continue made it even more horrible and obscene.

Can't the police walk, or pedal, or even drive cars anymore? Did they have to terrorize us (disturbing what peace we might have hoped for) in the name of combating terror (keeping the peace) by remote, and in fact secret, control? These may be rhetorical questions, since there is little doubt that helicopters are considered more fun, more manly, than the alternatives, even as they are less risky for the individual officer. If the police were only interested in preventing lootings or controlling what they consider to be the threat to order represented by the large public housing units in our neighborhood, they would have announced they were going to be haunting us all beforehand, but even after the fact you don't see any report of their overhead presence, at least in the print media. I figure it's something like the approach our cops use to catch speeders. In the U.S. they usually try to catch them by hiding; in Europe they are interested in keeping them from speeding in he first place, so they are very visible, especially on dangerous sections of roads.

And finally, why on this tight little island of Manhattan has no one apparently even thought of setting aside at least one or two north-south avenues for emergency vehicles and some routes for pedestrians alone? Why, in the great emergencies unfortunately not unexpected these days, do 10 million people on foot have to compete with the idiots who choose to drive private cars in Manhattan?

Walking down from the Metropolitan, we saw a couple of women try to force their Oldsmobile across Fifth Avenue on 52nd Street through the huge crowd of pedestrians. They nudged a woman pushing a baby carriage. At that moment there were thousands, maybe tens of thousands of pedestrians visible on Fifth Avenue at 52nd Street, and only a handfull of cars and SUVs, each of them carrying but one or two people. And yet the machines still seemed to think they had the right of way – they wouldn't even pull over when an emergency vehicle was blasting its horn immediately behind them, until people on foot engaged the drivers. All this a habit of 50 years, encouraged by the authorities in the name of "keeping [vehicle] traffic moving."

In fact we ourselves were really very little inconvenienced, especially compared to the problems experienced by so many others, and compared to what could have happened to all of us.

There are a few pictures below. For the fun part of the blackout, and more pictures, go to the next post, just above this one.

The images, from the top: 5th Avenue, Pennsylvania Station, Public Library steps across from the station

Posting will resume once Time Warner Cable/Road Runner deigns to get our cable modem running again. 24 hours after Chelsea (the last neighborhood in the city, yes) had its power restored, we have no cable.

WWII pilots

All day long, after posting the item below, "their flesh . . . revives," I’ve been thinking about WW2. I have to admit that it's not dead to me. I actually remember it.

No, not exactly as a combatant. Even though I was in love with my two dashing and much older flyboy cousins, in the end the hunks wouldn’t let a pre-schooler sign up and fly off to the Pacific with them. And then the war ended, and so did their uniform grace and their frequent visits. Those later war years and the immediate postwar years were to be the last time I was interested in military service – except eventually as the very special friend of other soldiers and sailors.

But I do remember the war. There was the threat from Germans (strange, I don’t remember “Nazis”) and Japs (sorry). There was rationing, car fan belts constantly needing mending (rubber, like our very pampered tires), white margarine. There were paper pennies, care packages from the farms in Wisconsin, certain big news stories. We loved spam (the old kind), and plane spotting (maybe less as a serious occupation than as a hobby) and dealing with the heavy blackout curtains was very exciting (blackout curtains were going to save us from Axis bombers – yes, in Detroit!), and finally VE and VJ days. I don’t remember any atom bombs until much later, but my parents were always pretty good at keeping other bad stuff from us – like prejudice - and bless them both.

Still, one of my strongest and earliest memories is of peeing in glee and excitement on the chest of my knockout-handsome cousin Dick, while he was upright bathing the infant me during one of his frequent visits from Selfridge Field. It was very exciting. I also recall he was as genuinely sweet as he was hot.

Mother had gone out and put the big guy in charge for the afternoon. I don’t remember the baths she gave me. I also can’t remember where Dad was that day, but I do remember he and these two nephews were very close so long as he lived. They all loved each other very much. They were certainly all charmers and they made everyone around them very happy - or so I remember it.

"More Zealous than the Pope."

He's head of the Vatican's "Holy Inquisition" [modern, formal name: "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith], and he's described as personally charming.

The man who wrote last week's Vatican document ruling out same-sex marriage is a soft-spoken Bavarian who was once a liberal but has served as Pope John Paul II's ultra-conservative guardian of Catholic doctrine for more than 20 years.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has been at the Pope's side as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for so long he has been nicknamed "The Enforcer" or the "Panzerkardinal".

Cardinal Ratzinger is regarded as the second most powerful man in the Church. [oddly, his nicknames immediately suggest the next governor of California and himself soon one of the most powerful men in American]

If anything, he is even more zealous than the Pope, whom he meets every Friday evening, in laying down the law on social or sexual mores.

One joke told in the Vatican has Cardinal Ratzinger arriving in heaven with the church dissidents he has suppressed. The dissenters emerge after meeting God, crying: "How could I have been so wrong?" Then Cardinal Ratzinger goes in to meet the Almighty, there is also wailing and gnashing of teeth -- and God emerges, crying: "How could I have been so wrong?"

The former Hitler Youth member and Wehrmacht draftee was shocked by the reforms of Vatican II. The Australian site [] linked above reports that he condemns Buddhism, Hinduism and other Eastern religions as offering false hope through "auto-erotic spirituality," that he insists the media exaggerates the extent of the American pedophilia scandals and that he's pushing for a return to the Latin Mass.

Well-informed queers have known about Rat for over 10 years. In 1992, during a period of particularly virulent antigay violence in the U.S., he authorized a Vatican proclamation which said that that when lesbians and gay men demand civil rights, "neither the Church nor society should be surprised when ... irrational and violent reactions increase"

Swell guy.

Ratzinger will preside over the Conclave which elects the next Catholic autocrat when Wojtyla kicks.

Off to the 17th century - in a hand basket!


Maybe she's finally beginning to rot.

Some of the world's media this week is carrying the story about a festival in Calcutta celebrating Mother Teresa's imminent beatification. Calcutta, or Kolkata, as it is now known officially, is the city which made the Albanian-born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu a star. The news is that the Catholic Church was very upset that organizers had decided to include 2 films which her cult found objectionable.

"In the Name of God's Poor," a puff-piece dramatization, is based on a book by French author Dominique Lapierre [also wrote "City of Joy"]. It is opposed by the order, the Missionaries of Charity, for reasons not clearly explained. What we do know from a New Delhi daily is that the nuns insist Teresa, on whose life the film is based, did not approve of the script. Huh? Actually, the film sounds like it would be pretty boring for everyone.

At least "The Song of Bernadette" had moments of rapture to look back on. But "Mother Teresa" is flat. It's as if the reverberations she set off fell on deaf ears, and the poorest of the poor were still left wanting.
The other film, "Hell's Angel" is a documentary based on Christopher Hitchens's book "The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice." Some of us are already familiar with the reasons why such a film would be a problem for the order and for all the people and institutions that have so heavily invested in the Teresan cult. Even Australia's Catholic News admits Hitchens is well known as a strong critic of Mother Teresa with his claims that her reputation for sanctity was a front.

The section of the NYTimes review shown on Amazon reads:

Like all good pamphlets, The Missionary Position . . . is very short, zealously overwritten, and rails wildly in defense of an almost nonsensical proposition: that Mother Teresa of Calcutta is actually not a saint but an evil and selfish old woman. And Mr. Hitchens . . . is rather convincing. His main beef is that Teresa . . . has consorted with despots and white-collar criminals and gained millions of tax-free dollars, while the residents of her famous Calcutta clinic are still forced to confront their mortality with inadequate care. Ultimately, he argues, Mother Teresa is less interested in helping the poor than in using them as an indefatigable source of wretchedness on which to fuel the expansion of her fundamentalist Roman Catholic beliefs. Hitchens argues his case with consummate style.
I find it very interesting that the Archbishop of Calcutta, who saw them in a private screening in his home, is reported in the Hindustan Times article cited above to have said said he found no reason to object to the films being included.

The anti-Teresan's arguments? I'll offer these for a start:

The Mother promoted promoting a strain of religion reactionary even when compared to the Vatican's most conservative parties.

She objected to artificial birth control despite the serious problems caused in India and elsewhere by overpopulation.

She constantly condemned abortion as a "the greatest destroyer of peace."

She said it is better for women to be "handmaids of the Lord" than to become priests.

She accepted contributions from unclean sources, and without questioning them, including huge sums from Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. In 1992, she wrote to the U.S. judge presiding over the trial of Charles Keating, who had donated $1.25 million to her order, telling him that the central figure in the U.S. savings and loan scandals "has always been kind and generous to God's poor."

No aspirin. The [sometimes incendiary, but solid with basic Teresa facts] writer on The Konformist site, to which I owe this post's title, contributes,

Despite this money, her missionaries were noticeably frugal... at least as far as it concerns those who needed it. When one volunteer questioned why no pain-killing drugs were supplied to those who visited, the response shot back, "This is not a treatment center. This is a place where the dying can die with dignity." Even in a notably impoverished area as Calcutta, those who visited with any knowledge of normal treatment standards knew that Mother T's home was seriously lacking.
We should all have been noticing for years that whenever she herself was ill, the Mother stayed in modern hospitals, not her own hovels with their racks of the sick.
Of course, when she required her own medical care, only the best would do. In public, she declined a 1984 offer for free cataract surgery from the St Francis Medical Center, worth $5,000. But the following year, she quietly received the same treatment at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York. Not to mention visits to the Scripps Clinic and the Gemelli Hospital, and numerous visits for cardiac care at the Birla Heart Institute in Calcutta. At some point she got a pacemaker installed.

. . . .

In the April 1996 issue of Ladies Home Journal M.T. disclosed that she wished to finish her life in one of her own Houses of the Dying, just like those poor people she attended to. But when she died the following year, she was in her private bedroom, surrounded by modern cardiac machinery.

No bread for the unconverted. She was only concerned about stacking up "souls" in heaven, not helping bodies on earth, and it was all for her own honor and glory, here and in an imagined hereafter, and not just for the honor and glory of her god. One who saw it long ago writes:
Back in the late 1970s I recall watching a PBS documentary the Spanish language channel. It documented Mama T's trip to Central America after the terrible earthquake that devastated either Guatemala or Nicaragua- I believe the latter. While pretty much standard doc there was 1 thing which burned itself in to my mind - scene where Mama T was in an Indian hospital. She, literally, had some pieces of plain bread that she teased the bloated bellies of starving children with. However, she did not feed all the children - only those who would recite Catholic vespers with her. Those Hindu Moslem children who refused were not given any bread. Yes, Mama T almost surreally - would not feed those children who would not prostitute the beliefs of their conscience. This was where I 1st learned - visually & viscerally - why Missionism & proselytizing were so fundamentally wrong. What is incredible, to me, was how this documentary has apparently fallen to the nether-regions of public consciousness. A few months later, Mama T won her Nobel Peace Prize.
Remember "Pagan Babies"? Later the writer excerpted above offers an explanation for the perverse character of this scary nun's life work:
"Well, the answer to that is simple, as Christopher Hitchens said, Mama T's mission is 'the promulgation of a cult based on death and suffering and subjection.'"
In her own words, "I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot . . . I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people."

I'll close with just two of the blurbs from the back of Hitchen's little book.

"A dirty job but someone had to do it. By the end of this elegantly written, brilliantly argued piece of polemic, it is not looking good for Mother Teresa." - Sunday Times (London)

"Hilariously Mean" - John Waters

The 16 acres formerly occupied by the World Trade Center is not the only large lower Manhattan site whose future is being contested these days; it’s merely the most visible.

On Friday we toured some of the 172 acres which contain this landscape:

The house in its sylvan setting lies only a thousand yards from this scene:

In the mid-80’s my loft apartment was the second floor from the top of the small early-19th-century brick house in the center of the picture above.

The landscape in the first picture is on Governors Island, located just south of Manhattan. The house in the second is 105 Broad St., part of the landmarked Manhattan block which includes the Fraunces Tavern historic site next door.

In between these two views lie these dock pilings:

and water, churning, sometimes angrily, between Manhattan and Brooklyn while it tosses boats serious and gay:

including this particular ferry boat deck, which on Saturday supported a handsome, and very silent, shipmate:

During the three years I lived in the canyon of ancient Broad Street I could look out my windows to salute the Statue of Liberty's motionless sentinel to the south or the busy little car ferry to the east. Stubbornly refusing to carry civilians, every 10 minutes the floating shuttle left its slip for its short hop to the green island just beyond FDR Drive.

Today the Coast Guard has left, and the Federal Government has handed the island over to New York. The island is ours! A limited number of people are able to visit the oasis for a limited time, apparently because of its inadequate public facilities and because of imminent survey and construction activity, before it is closed again, perhaps for years.

What happens next? Supposedly it's entirely unresolved, but while we don't know the answer Im sure there are many who think they already do.

The future disposition of this precious natural and historical treasure is up to us – or it should be. The reality however is that we probably won't escape the curse of our contemporary officials' bad taste and bad judgment. We also seem to be kept in the dark lately, probably deliberately. Add a scepticism fed by consideration of the huge amount of money and power at stake and we should not be surprised if what ends up happening on New York's Governors Island is not in the best interest of most New Yorkers.

But even if we lose, the decisions which define that loss must not be made in unlighted rooms.


See "Army Brat Life at its Best," a personal and idyiosyncratic site with history and pictures and memories.

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