The Parade-less Pride

This past weekend was Pride Weekend in Chicago.

I was really looking forward to the weekend’s festivities.  In addition to the parade itself on Sunday, there was the CGMC concert on Saturday night, and my friend Tracy in Sweeney Todd at Loyola University on Friday night.  It was definitely looking to be an action-packed week and I was ready for it.

The show on Friday was wonderful.  Tracy was awesome and I hung out with her afterward and met some of the cast.  Later I joined the Feast of Fools boys at Big Chicks and we did a bar crawl through Uptown, Andersonville and Edgewater that ended with me getting home late and a bit drunk, but still happy that I had a great time.

Saturday was recovery day (thanks to Friday!) but I was still able to get out and do a little shopping.  Then of course, Saturday night was the CGMC show, which was absolutely wonderful.  The chorus changed its Pride concert venue from the Athenaeum Theatre to Lakeview Presbyterian Church for this show, and it allowed the chorus to perform “Naked” – without any audio enhancement.  The result was a rich, wonderful show that the audience (and chorus) enjoyed immensely.  I wished I could be up there singing with them.

I joined a group of the chorus members out for a drink or two after the show and we were all psyched for the Pride Parade.  I was planning on joining them as we marched our annual march from Belmont Street to Diversey Parkway.  The Chorus was teaming up with the Illinois Lottery this year and we were planning on bringing 100 people to not only show our support but to sing out, loud and proud.  It was to be very exciting.

But for me, this was not to be.

When I awoke on Sunday morning, I felt my chest burning and my lungs heavy.  It was difficult to breathe.  I started coughing continuously. And the more I did to try to get ready, the worse it got.  I knew this feeling, and I knew it well.  I was having an asthma attack.

Foolishly, I thought maybe I was just hungry, so I started making breakfast.  I drank some orange juice and things seemed to settle a bit, but as I kept working and preparing my food, it got worse again.  I had another attack.

Defeated, I grabbed my Albuterol inhaler and took a couple of puffs.  The attack subsided but my heart was racing.  I knew this was a bad sign.  I ate my breakfast and tried to calm myself down, but it was too little, too late.  I had another attack.  So I puffed again and sat down.

By now I was running late for the parade, but I also knew there was no way I could do it in my current condition.  I sent messages to our chorus General Manager and another fellow member, letting them know I couldn’t make it, and got back into bed.  I slept for about four hours.

This was the first time since I attended my first Pride parade in about 1993 that I didn’t attend Chicago’s Pride parade.  If I had a different excuse I suppose I would feel better about it, but I guess my health is as good an excuse as any.  One thing  I knew for sure- my asthma is no longer just something I “might” have to worry about in the future.  It’s something I definitely need to worry about — NOW.

My mom had asthma throughout most of her life but let it go untreated and unchecked until it was almost too late.  Granted, she smoked throughout most of her life, too– but chances are she would be in the same boat she’s in today — with COPD/Emphysema— whether she smoked or not, simply because she let her asthma go for so long.  I don’t want to end up like that, and I know she doesn’t want me to end up that way, either.  So I’m doing something about it today.  I’m calling my doctor and we’re going to get me scheduled for a pulmonary exam.  I can’t deny the obvious any longer.  Asthma is a hereditary disease.  I have it.  I have to live with it.

I just want to live with it — and not die because of it!

So my pride weekend was a bit marred; but it wasn’t without its good moments.  And if I had to take something away from the weekend that was positive, it’s that I learned something important about myself and I will do something about it.  I guess that’s part of taking pride in living your best life.

RcktMan: POWER SHOPPER!

I don’t go shopping for new stuff very often.  I make do with what I have for as long as I can stand it, and then I do what every good gay boy does:

I power shop.

I’ve known for quite a while now that I needed new shirts.  Badly.  I’ve been wearing the same old, tired short-sleeved shirts for the past 3-4 summers and they have all seen better days.

Problem is, you can’t go shopping for short-sleeved shirts in the winter or early spring.  Everything available is jacked up to their full retail price in preparation for the upcoming summer months, so buying at that time is not only a bad idea, it’s plain stupid.

So I decided to wait a while until the summer sales started.  I kept a few gift cards from Christmas (talk about self-control!) and set them aside for summer shopping.

Last week, I decided it was time to start shopping.

I started at Old Navy, since I had a gift card for them and, historically, I’ve found some nice things there for really great prices.  I didn’t have any cash on me at the time, so I did a preliminary run-through to see what I could see.  I found a lot of nice shirts at between $7.99 and $14.99.  Hot damn!  I was in luck.

So yesterday, after I got paid and I had a little extra flow, I decided to make a return trip.

Problem is, I drove in to work yesterday ’cause I was running late.. of course… and I had to get my car out before 7pm or I’d have to pay more. So I got the car out, and drove around downtown to find parking so I could go to Old Navy to get my shirts.

The only spot I found was a handicapped spot behind Macy’s.

Now, I don’t usually condone the taking of a handicapped spot by an able-bodied person. It’s wrong and you should not do it.

But I did it anyway.

So I took the spot and bolted toward Old Navy. I ran in, found the shirts I wanted, chose 7 that I liked the best, headed to the register, paid for the shirts and bolted out the door.

I raced out of the store and crossed the street, hoping my car wouldn’t be ticketed.

As I approached my car I saw a cop a few cars ahead of mine, writing out tickets. My heart skipped a beat. Then it skipped another beat. Shit! I was doomed. But I kept on walking.

She hadn’t reached my car yet! There was no ticket on my windshield!

So I hopped in and zoomed away so fast it made her head spin.

From the time I parked the car to the time I go back to the car, a mere 45 minutes had elapsed. And I got 7 shirts for less than $80, and no parking ticket.

So yeah.. I sorta rock a little bit! 🙂

A Tisket A Tasket…

Every so often I notice a recurring theme in my day-to-day life.  The theme seems to involve anything from events that are happening to similar occurrences in the news, or something as simple as things people say at various times over the course of a week.

This past weekend’s recurring theme was baskets.

I’ll let you dirty-minded sorts chuckle on that one for a minute, just to get it out of your system.  Done?  Good.

Because I’m not talking about those kinds of baskets.

In fact, the types of baskets I am referring to are a little more literal than that.  Each held something important, and each represented something special.  Each touched me in a special way, and each had something to do with one another.

The Fruit Basket

Our Homemade Fruit ArrangementThis past weekend was my sister’s baby shower– which itself is an unusual circumstance, seeing as how the twins were born in February.  My mom did most of the work on the party (I helped whenever I could), and one of the things we — well, actually, she — decided to do for the event was to make our own edible fruit arrangement.  I’m sure you’ve seen these – sliced melons and shaped pineapples arranged in a basket or a planter with strawberries and grapes.  They’re visually striking and usually very expensive, so my mom decided we could, and would, make our own.

While it wasn’t technically a basket (we used a ceramic flower pot), the look is that of a huge basket of fruit- therefore it’s one of the baskets of this past weekend.

I have to say, it turned out great.  I’m really proud of what we produced- but in no way do I foresee this being a cottage industry for us.  These suckers are a lot of work to create, and by the time we were done we were both exhausted.  We certainly understand why they are so expensive!

But the end result was worth the effort.

The Broken Basket

My Teddy Bear LampMy Nana (my Dad’s mom) was quite fond of ceramics.  For years she would “Go to Ceramics,” which was a tiny converted home run by a lady she knew.  There she would select a ceramic figure, paint it, glaze it and give it as gifts to members of our family.  Every year for holidays we would get a new figurine created especially by our Nana – assorted dishes, animals, and even Chicago Cubs were created with our names on them and inscribed at the bottom with our name and “Love, Nana.”

Before I was born, she created a lamp for me featuring a white teddy bear sitting in a bed of daisies.  I had this lamp in my bedroom for many years, finally putting it in the basement sometime before I entered high school.

Beth's LampShortly after she was born, my sister got a lamp featuring a figure of a little girl wearing a green dress, holding a doll and a wicker basket.  Her lamp, too, ended up in the basement, and for the past 15 years or so, they both sat on a shelf and collected dust.

I found them over the weekend as we were preparing for the party and decided to clean them up and bring them as a surprise for my sister.  The lamp mechanisms were both in bad shape, but the bases looked to be just fine.  I brought them both upstairs and started cleaning them up.

I started with my sister’s old lamp.  I removed the lamp mechanism, filled the sink with water and placed the lamp base in the water and started scrubbing.  As I cleaned the figure, I noticed a gummy substance coming off the figure.  I quickly realized this was probably glue.  I removed the figure from the water and let it drain before proceeding, but it was too late- the figure came apart in two pieces.

Apparently it had fallen at some point in history, and it had been together using Elmer’s Glue instead of Super Glue.  Great.

I drained out the rest of the water from inside the figure and let it sit to dry.  As it sat, I noticed the basket started to fall away from the girl’s hand.  I hadn’t even realized it was broken, but upon closer inspection, I realized it had not only broken, it had been extensively repaired and made to look like nothing had happened to it.

My dad was a pretty good artist.  He was good with paints, markers, whatever he could get his hands on. He was always creating posters and signs, and drawing pictures and cartoons.  Many times I can recall him repairing broken items with plaster and paints, and when he was done with it you couldn’t even tell anything had happened.

As it turned out, the basket the girl was holding was broken into tiny pieces.  As the pieces came apart in my hands, I realized how much effort my dad had made to repair this basket so it looked like new.  He probably used Elmer’s glue because that’s all he had available at the time — he just wanted to fix this lamp and make it look great for his little girl.

That’s the kind of man my dad was.

I did the best I could to restore his handiwork, but by that point a lot of the pieces had become ragged and the plaster my dad added was soft to the touch.  I reshaped and re-fit the basket as best I could and put it back on the figure.  I then put the top of the figure back on the base and secured it with Scotch tape until it was secure.  It looked okay, but it would need some explanation as to why the basket was so badly broken.

I cleaned the Teddy Bear with Windex and rinsed it under water instead of submerging it– I had learned my lesson.  As far as I knew, my lamp had never broken like that, but I didn’t want to take any chances.  In the end, both of them turned out fine and we brought them both to the party and presented them to my sister for the girls.   Needless to say, she was surprised.  And even though the basket was broken and held together with tape, she got a special gift that she can now pass on to her daughters.  With love, from Nana.

The Food Basket

About a month ago, my mom called me up to tell me about something she wanted to do – a church around the corner from our house was having a food sale – for $30 she can get a full basket of food and for an additional $20 she can get some extra items.  With food prices being so outrageous, and her income being so limited, she took interest in this program, and wondered if I wanted to go in on it with her at all.  One of the “special” items was an assortment of meats, which would come in handy for my camping trip around July 4, so I agreed.  The catch was that we had to pick up the food at the church on Saturday, the day before my sister’s shower.  Seeing as how I was going to be in town anyway, we agreed that wouldn’t be a problem.

At 3PM, Mom and I were deep in the middle of preparing our fruit arrangement, and I had to leave to pick up the food.  I grabbed a few “green” shopping bags and headed over.

I expected a possible crowd, but I didn’t expect the crowd I saw.  There was a line snaking out the door of the church and into the parking lot.  People were there with boxes, bags, carts, and baskets.  As I stood in line, I overheard many people talking.  The family in front of me drove up from Milwaukee.  Another family came from southern Illinois.  All of them spoke of how difficult it was to buy groceries when they are so expensive, and how much this program means to them.  They were hard-working, lower- to middle-class people, who were merely trying to put food on the table for their kids.  I felt guilty standing there, knowing I can afford to feed my single self on my salary.  But I also knew the money went to a good cause, and helped the organization continue to do what it does.

As I went through the line, I watched the other people as they received their food.  They were so thankful and so happy to get these items.  Everyone was friendly and helpful, making sure the elderly got a hand bringing their food to their car, or helping a large family with more boxes for their supplies.  Sure, the quality of the food may not be as good as what you get at Whole Foods or even your typical supermarket — but it is food, and they need it just like anyone else.

When I got home and unpacked the bags, I told my mom we would keep the food in her freezer until we needed it.  She agreed and we went back to creating the fruit arrangement.

But I couldn’t help but think of those families who came from so far just to get a box of food.  It made me wonder why we were doing something that seemed so excessive, so unnecessary.

Three “baskets,” three different stories – but all added up to a pretty special weekend.

Oh, and here is one last “basket” – a baby basket!  Abby and Emily are now just over 4 mos. old and getting cuter by the minute.  Proud Uncle Rick, signing off.

Abby at the shower
Abby

Emily at the shower
Emily

Schlameel, Schlamazel! Hassenpepper Incorporated!

A couple of weeks ago I joined the gang from Feast of Fools for a trip to Milwaukee for PrideFest.  It was my first time in Brewtown in over ten years, and I was really looking forward to it.  

I had visions of us exploring the city a-la Laverne & Shirley, soaking in the charm and the love of one of the Midwest’s most unappreciated gems.  I wanted the weekend to be memorable and fun, and to leave with a sense of pride in my Cheeseheaded heritage.

Sadly, the weather was absolutely atrocious.  

Group Shot!Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time. There were some really great moments, lots of good laughs, and we met some really nice people- but that weather was a real downer!

Surely by now you’ve heard about the draining of Lake Delton and flooding in Racine and other Wisconsin cities, and have seen the video of the houses falling into the raging waters

Thankfully nothing like that happened in the Milwaukee city proper, but it was still a near-complete washout.  Call it unfortunate timing.  It certainly wasn’t the city’s fault.

Milwaukee and I have a lot of history.  So it seemed sort of unfair that I’d forgotten about it while living in the much bigger, much busier city to the south.  I was really looking forward to getting ‘back to my roots’ a bit and seeing how much Milwaukee has changed in the last 10 years.

I remember visiting Milwaukee many times in my youth, and nearly every visit was the subject of a really good time.  As a kid there were numerous trips with my family and friends to Festa Italiana, German Fest and, of course, Summerfest at the Summerfest grounds (later renamed the Henry W. Maier Festival Grounds in homage to the late, long-term mayor of the city).  There were tons of Milwaukee Brewers games at old County Stadium, concerts at the Bradley Center or the Marcus Amphitheater, scads of visits to the Milwaukee County Zoo and the Wisconsin State Fair, and a great number of trips to Marquette University when my good friend Mark was going there for his undergrad.  

I’m happy to report that Milwaukee has changed a lot — in some ways for the worse, but in most ways for the better.  

For the worse, it seems that Milwaukee has gone the way of many smaller municipal areas and lost a lot of its gay-identified spots.  Places I used to visit in the early to mid 90s like Club 219, M&M Club and C’est La Vie are long gone.  Although LaCage is still there, I probably wouldn’t recognize it since it’s constantly being remodeled; and I think the venerable Triangle bar is still there.  I don’t know if this is the result of gays and straights co-mingling more, or the further loss of any sort of gay ‘neighborhood’ in Milwaukee; but it seems like the choices are a little more slim than I remember.

However, that doesn’t mean that Milwaukee is a bad place to be gay.  No other city in the nation holds a PrideFest like Milwaukee.  And whether it rains or shines, it’s always an amazing event.  

For the better, Milwaukee is a large city on a smaller scale, and from what I’ve seen, it’s really become much more cosmopolitan and chic than I ever remember it being.  There are so many great clubs and restaurants to visit, cute shops and walkways, and their riverwalk through downtown puts Chicago’s to shame.  And of course, the people are as friendly as can be.  There’s tons of entertainment and culture – from the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts to the Pabst Theater to the absolutely spectacular Santiago Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum on the lakeshore- MIlwaukee is prettier and even more memorable than I ever remember as a kid.

So once everything dries out up north and I get a free weekend, I think a return trip is in the works.  I need to re-orient myself to my former neighbor to the north.  I’ve done a lot of growing in the last ten years– and so has Milwaukee.  It deserves to get a second look. 

Father's Day – The sound of my dad's voice

Another Father’s Day has arrived.  The second since my dad passed on.

I’ve given a lot of thought about how to honor the day on my blog.  It seems that I’ve told just about every possible story and shared countless pictures of him in the past two years.  If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, you probably know him pretty well.  

But the one thing I hadn’t included was his voice.

You see, one of the wonderful things about being born when I was born is the advent of so much great technology.  Generations of people lost family members over the years, and subsequently lost the ability to hear their voices or even see their faces again.  As time went on, we had photographs, then home movies, and then even audio recordings.  

When I was born, my parents purchased a portable cassette recorder made by Realistic, the house brand at the time for Radio Shack.  It probably about 10 lbs. heavy and needed an external microphone to record. 

Shortly after we were born, they tried to catch our first words on the recorder; then as we grew up, my mom or my dad would set up the tape recorder and sit with us and have us recite our names, our address, our phone number, and then have us count or say the alphabet, and then sing some songs.

It is on these tapes where I can hear myself counting to ten at the bright young age of two.

It is on these tapes where one can witness my budding interest in music – singing songs like “Top of the World” by the Carpenters and “It’s Such A Good Feeling” from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood with confidence and pretty darn good tonality.  

But it’s also on these tapes where I am reminded of how loving and nurturing my parents were.  

Toward the end of my Dad’s life he became a very bitter and angry person.  These tapes bring me back to the Dad I really knew and remember the most.  They show how proud he was of me when I counted to 10 at almost 2 years old, then counted to 30 at the age of 4.  How he laughed when I said something silly (which was fairly often, especially when I was 4), but was stern when I wouldn’t give my sister her turn at the microphone, telling me that it’s only fair that she have her turn.  

Over the years, some of the tapes had broken, and some of our memories were lost forever.  But fortunately, most of them still survive to this day.  I took them into my possession a few years go and decided to digitally record them on my computer, preserving them forever.  I then burned them onto CDs for me, my mom and my sister.  

So on this Father’s Day, I want to share with you some of my memories.  You don’t have to listen to them if you don’t want to (they’re pretty long – about 20 minutes each), but if you do, you’ll have some sort of idea of what kind of a dad my Dad was.  He was a pretty great guy.  

Thank goodness I can still hear his voice today. 

Me with my Dad and Mom, November 20, 1972

After dinner, Mom and Dad ask me what I want for dessert, then ask me some questions, which I repeat back to them- sometimes repeatedly.  I also explain the contents of my Dad’s wallet, which has forever been a source of comedy and good memories for my family. (For years my nickname was “Wallet” because I always wanted to see my dad’s wallet and look at his credit cards.  Obviously a shopper was born.)  I also count to 10 – at 1 year and 11 months old. 

Me, my sister and my Dad, various dates, approx. 1974 and 1975

This tape has my sister and I sharing the microphone as best we can at various ages.  It seems like my sister is older and more talkative in some spots and younger and less talkative in others. I think my dad recorded over some stuff at some points, too – he was never much good at figuring out the tape recorder – but throughout he is there, coaching us to say things and sing songs. Toward the end, there is a segment with my Mom where she “interviews” us.  I was a pretty silly kid at this point.  To this day I still don’t know what “I am very it” and  “Everybody likes it to be here” mean.