2009: The Year In Review

2009. What a year.

In many ways, this was probably the most tumultuous year of my life.  I’ve had some harrowing experiences in previous years, but this one just kept ’em coming, one after the other.  I’m amazed I got through it with my sanity somewhat intact!

But there were a lot of really great moments, too.  They were special moments that I never could have planned for.  I started the year in a bad place, and I ended the year in a pretty damn good place.  So 2010 is starting out on a better note than 2009 started.  I think that’s progress.

So here’s a timeline-based review of the year, with a little rating system, just for fun.

January

Barack Obama Inaugurated as the 44th President. After all that hubbub in 2008, our next President was now official.  Everyone waited with bated breath to see what would happen next. A year later… well… we’re still waiting.  I’m not saying I’m 100% disappointed, but I would like to have seen a few more  tangible results.  The economy is improving, and that is probably the best thing to happen since last January… but we’re still at war, we still haven’t passed health care reform, and the rights of LGBT people are still being infringed upon.  Let’s hope 2010 sees some more of that change.  I’m still hopeful.

Rating: Thumbs up for the change… Thumbs down for the progress.

February

RcktMan’s Launching Pad shuts down… for a while. I was really ready at the time to just say goodbye and let that be it.  I talked about going out with “dignity,” but what I didn’t express was how much stress I was already under.  I knew I had to move out of my apartment, but I was afraid of how that was going to go, and I didn’t know how to deal with that fear.  So I started to shut down.  And I wasn’t just doing on the blog… I was doing it elsewhere, too.  Eventually I formed a plan.  I thought it would work.  I would be wrong.

Rating: Thumbs down for jumping the gun entirely too early.


Plans to move are made. Things were looking pretty good with the moving situation in February.  I found a roommate and we started to explore options for our new living situation.  I was getting more and more excited about moving.  I started to pack and make plans.  Little did I know what lurked around the corner to dash all those hopes and dreams.  I couldn’t have written the story any better than it actually played out… and it was playing out like a souped-up melodrama.

Rating: Thumbs up for the initial good news.

March

Moving Plans dashed, panic sets in. Here is where things started really going to hell, and fast.  On March 1, I received an Email from my potential roommate, saying he was backing out of the plan.  My moving date was April 1.  In that moment, everything went sour.  I never felt such panic.  I knew my financial situation was bad, and my prospects of finding another roommate was even worse.  I blanketed every possible connection with Emails, looking for possibilities.   A few came in, but none of them worked out.  Finally, toward the end of the month, when my stress levels were at their absolute highest, I decided to go it alone.  I looked at some of the most dreadful apartments I have seen in years, and the ones that looked hopeful were way out of my price range.  I settled on a place I hated, just for the sake of having something.. and that went sour, too.  I was at the end of my rope, and finally asked for an extension to stay another month.  It was the best thing I could have done.

Rating: Thumbs down… WAY down… for a lot of really bad bullshit.

April

Blog resurrected… for the sake of my sanity. After a tumultuous March, I was a wreck.  My stress levels were unbelievably high. I wasn’t eating.  I couldn’t concentrate on anything.  But I did need to vent… so I resurrected the blog.  By now any semblance of a readership that I had probably left because they thought I was cuckoo.  They were probably right.  I was cuckoo at the time.  I needed to pour out all of my thoughts, and I did just that.  It was the best thing I could have done.  I formulated a plan, and stuck to it.  And then… good luck finally struck.

Rating: Thumbs up, for doing what I should have done two months earlier.

Apartment FOUND! Thanks to a chorus friend on Facebook, I found a place.  It meant moving further away than I had hoped, but I couldn’t pass it up.  It had everything I needed and much more… including more room… for less.  In addition, the neighborhood was nice, attractive and quiet.  I couldn’t be happier with how things ended up.  After some dealings with the landlords and lots of questions and answers, I signed a lease.  All of the panic I had felt instantaneously vanished.  Next step… moving day!

Rating: Thumbs up, for the kindness of friends and good fortune.

May

Moving Day! The weather really blew… and rained… and blew… and rained… but I really didn’t care.  I was moving, and that’s all that mattered.  Thanks again to incredible friends and a couple guys I hired, we finally got everything– well, almost everything– in.  OK I lost my sofa, but I didn’t care.  It was just good to be moved into a new place.  A new beginning.  I never felt so optimistic.

Rating: Thumbs up, for finally feeling settled.

June

I meet a boy! All the while everything was going on at home, I was still active with the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus, attending rehearsals and serving on the Membership Council.  In February I was elected Membership Council President, which was a good thing… but added even more work to an already-full plate.  I was concerned how things would go, considering everything else that was happening… but once everything got figured out, I settled into the job.

In May the chorus started rehearsing for our Pride show, “Over the Rainbow,” and we decided to take new members, which we don’t normally do for that show.  There was one in particular I thought was really cute, but I didn’t really think anything more of it… until he made a move on ME!  Talk about unexpected.  So we started dating.  And it was really quite wonderful.  It was especially fun being with him at the Pride Parade.  June was definitely busting out all over… and I was having a really great time.

Rating: Thumbs up, of course.

July

Apartment broken into, computer, camera stolen. Yeah there were a few too many green, happy thumbs for a while there.  July was a very rough month for me.  If you have never been burglarized, it’s hard to describe what it’s like to discover that a stranger has been through your things; been in your house; and taken things that belonged to you.  It’s one of the most awful feelings one can feel.  I don’t want to necessarily equate it to being raped, but that’s as close as I can come to that violated feeling.  Thankfully, nobody was hurt, and everything taken was replaceable… but that feeling of safety can never be replaced.

Rating: Thumbs down for assholes making other people’s lives miserable.

August

Rebuilding begins, while other things fall apart. August was a very transitional month for me.  I replaced the computer with a laptop that was generously donated (and soon to be purchased from) a friend, and I got back on track with everything else in life.  I wasn’t going to let the situation at hand break me.  I’d been through too much and was too happy with things to let that happen.  I did, however, re-secure my apartment, and became much more aware of my surroundings.  I wasn’t going to let what happened in July happen again.

But some things were not meant to be, and I once again became a single man.

Up until the last week, I thought things were going great.  But then I noticed the silence on the other end of the line.  Phone calls weren’t returned, Emails and texts were not responded to… I knew something was up.  To make matters worse, I was nearing the point where I was either going to totally fall for the guy or end it; and I realized I was totally falling for him.  So when I finally got in touch with him, I told him we had to talk, and I didn’t care that it was on the phone.  You see, we never officially said anything about our dating situation.  We weren’t boyfriends, and we certainly weren’t in a relationship.  We were just… dating.  And that’s how we both wanted it.  But after all that had happened and as wonderful as it had all been, I knew I wanted more.  He didn’t.  And we talked about it and agreed that it was for the best.  No harm was done, no bridges were burned.  And we remained friends, which makes things even better.  In the end, while it still hurt, I am glad we went about things the way we did.

Rating: Thumbs up, for the rebuilding; and Thumbs down, for the ending.  Final rating: A wash.

September-October

Chorus starts up again. The beginning of the chorus season is always a positive thing in my life, because it means I get to see all my friends at least once a week and I can get back to singing again, which is always a positive thing.  September was a busy month, particularly in terms of the chorus, because of my position on their Membership Council.  But I always have said that I like being busy… so that was a good thing, too.

Rating: Thumbs up, for a continually positive force in my life.

Also during September, I finally let my account lapse with DreamHost and The Launching Pad was gone for good. Although I had already copied all of the posts to this site on WordPress.com, I still hadn’t transferred my domain name, rcktman.com.  So I kept the blog quiet until everything was in place.  That wouldn’t come for another two months.  So I took that time away and paid attention to everything else for a while.

November

Rick’s Launching Pad Opens. It seemed like it took forever– and it took the better part of 2009– but by November I finally got my domain transferred and the new blog was officially open and online once again.  I still had a few bugs to clear up (like that crazy ping echo… thank goodness I figured that one out), but getting rid of that hosted account was worth the wait.  It would have costed me $140 to renew that site, and that was money I simply did not have; and it just wasn’t worth it when I looked at the small amount of traffic it generated in the first place.  So I transferred my domain to Network Solutions for a much smaller fee and applied it here.. and viola, rcktman.com now leads you here.  And if you read this paragraph and cared about what it said, you are obviously a blogger, too. 🙂

Rating: Thumbs up, for one more thing falling into place.

December

A crappy year ends on a high note. December is always a very busy month for me.  Of course there’s always Christmas to contend with, and that’s usually enough for any one person, but I also have my birthday, my annual holiday/birthday party, and a chorus show.  I read a post from a few years ago where I also had ANOTHER chorus show to prepare for in addition to the CGMC show and I almost died all over again just thinking about what a crazy year that was.  I don’t know I survived it.  Thank the Lord I came to my senses and cut a few things out!

But all those things are good things, and they helped me realize that no matter how bad things get, my family and friends are there to help me through it all.  I can’t help but think how lucky I am to have those people in my life.  They are truly the best.

Other good things– I replaced my stolen camera; the first stolen item to be fully replaced since the burglary.  Finally, it seemed, I was on the road to recovery from that nightmare.

As 2009 rolled to an end and I looked back on the year (and I started writing this post, which has now officially taken me three weeks to complete, and probably took YOU three weeks to read!), I realized that 2009 wasn’t as bad as I thought.  Sure, the bad moments were REALLY bad… so bad that I almost resorted to prescription medications to deal with the stress… but in the end, things came together, and all was well with the world.

So what’s ahead for 2010?  Well… keep reading and find out!

Rating: Thumbs up, for looking ahead and keeping things positive.

Thirty-Nine

Ouch.

Thirty-Nine.  It sounds so… penultimate.  It’s a transition number, just leading into the next.  It’s a placeholder… a stepping stone.

And it’s so meaningless.  There’s little that’s particularly interesting about the number 39, except that it is the number just before fffff…foorrrrr… well, the number that follows.

In past years on my birthday, I looked for information about the age which I was turning, just to give some fun facts about that number.  And in most cases, there were some interesting things to find out.  For 39, there were just a few.  For instance:

  • In religion, Jesus was scourged with 39 lashes at the pillar before he was crucified.  The law stated that a criminal was sentenced to “40 lashes minus one,” or 39, because the belief was that 40 lashes would actually kill a man.  In other words, 40 is fatal.  Lovely.
  • Also in religion, there are 39 books in the Old Testament.
  • In arts and entertainment, Jack Benny claimed to be 39 years old for over 40 years.  Sounds like a good plan to me.
  • The bands The Cure and Queen both recorded songs with the title of “39.”  Queen’s song coincided with the 39th song released in sequential order on their albums to that point.
  • In history, the U.S. Constitution was signed by 39 different people.
  • The number of Scud missiles that Iraq fired at Israel during the Gulf War in 1991 was 39.
  • And at age 39, Martin Luther King was assassinated; also at age 39, Amelia Earhart went missing.

So what does all this mean?  Nothing, really.  Except that today I am 39 years old, and I really don’t feel a day older than 29, or even 19.  (OK I do feel a little older than 19.)  I’m happy and healthy and in a much better place in my life now than I was even a year ago.  I feel optimistic about the year ahead, and am hopeful for some wonderful things to come my way in 2010.

Today, I will be spending my birthday with 128 of my dearest friends, on stage, singing my heart out in the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus’ holiday show, “Christmas Follies.”  If you’re around the Chicago area and have a few bucks and a couple hours to spare, stop by for our show at 3pm or 8pm and celebrate with me.  Because, as one of our songs says… I can’t celebrate without you!  You can find out more at www.cgmc.org.

Thanks for being with me for another year.  Looking forward to the next 39 years!

Holiday Giving

Each year at the holidays, we are encouraged to give.  Because giving is better than receiving.

I believe in this mantra.  I think it’s noble and just.

But times get hard.  Money gets tight.  And no matter how much we scrimp and save and try to make ends meet, we sometimes come up short.  And sometimes we come up short more often than we come out ahead.  Especially the way things have been going lately.

So this year, I’m going to set up my own Holiday Giving plan.

Yep, that’s right.  I’m officially declaring myself a Charity Case.

Hey, it’s been a rough year.  I had a hellish move, where I lost my sofa; I had a break-in and lost most of my stuff; and even though I have tried to cut costs and make things easier for myself, I still can’t seem to catch a break.

So, hey, can ya help a brother out?

OK OK I know this is pathetic.  It’s also totally tongue-in-cheek.

But in reality, how many of us are putting up a brave front this year in the face of adversity?  How many of us are just one bounced check, one lost paycheck away from total devastation?  I bet it’s more of us than we really think.

I have to admit (and here’s where I’m being serious), I’m really very, very lucky.

With everything that happened in the last year– and believe me, there’s more than I’m even mentioning here — I have still managed to stay both sane and afloat.  That horrible move turned out to be an incredible lucky break for me, because I now have a really great place (despite the break-in).  I still have my job.  I still have my friends and the chorus.  And of course I still have my family.

Things could have been a hell of a lot worse.

But I can’t help but wonder about those who have had it a lot worse.  Do they really and truly need the help, but are too proud to ask for it?

And if they did ask for it, would any of us lend a hand?

Maybe that’s what the Holiday Spirit is really all about.

Prepping for the Party

Every year for the last 10 years, I have had a combination Holiday/Birthday party at my apartment, wherever it was at the time.  And every year it’s one of the most exciting and stressful times in my life, because I have to consider one very important thing:

What will I make to eat?

You see, I’m Italian (in case you haven’t guessed), and us Italians like to do one thing, and we do it very well.  We make food for our friends and family.  And when we make food, we make enough to feed an army.

For me, it goes back to my childhood, when my Nana and my Aunt Rita would prepare Sunday dinner for the family.  Nana would never serve store-bought, dry pasta… for shame!  Nana made pasta from scratch!  And she’d make a TON of it.

On those Sundays we’d arrive and on my Uncle John’s bed (he was a priest, and he had a bedroom for when he would come to visit Nana) there would be a huge white sheet with rows and rows of that evening’s pasta laid upon it.  Some days it was spaghetti or linguini; others it was stuffed ravioli.  Some days it was gnocchi.  Whatever it was, it was all homemade and, we knew from experience, incredibly delicious.

That tradition also carried through to our family Christmas Eve dinners, where we observed our own version of the Feast of the Seven Fishes.  There was, of course, the Italian staple, baccala, served both fried and in sauce; an anchovy-bread crumb-walnut pasta; numerous breaded and fried fish (croppi was one I remember liking a lot); as well as the standard calimari and, for starters, shrimp cocktail.  Add to that the amazing fried potato rolls with the name I can never spell, and a plethora of delicious dessert items, and you had yourself one heck of a feast.

So as I got older and moved out on my own, I kept the traditions of feeding the world alive.  My first official party was actually a New Year’s Eve party in my very first apartment in Wicker Park.  I don’t think I did a pasta dish, but I do recall making Italian Beef for the very first time.  At my first Holiday/Birthday party, however, I did make some pasta… probably Mostaciolli.  I didn’t have that many people there, because my apartment at the time was very small; but it did mark the first of many to come.

The next party was with my roommates in Andersonville – Chad, Jason and I.  Our last names started with A, B and C; so we called it the “House of ABC Holiday Party.”  I went pretty nuts for this one, as I recall.  I made stuffed shells… at least 3-4 huge pans of them.  It took FOREVER, and I was so exhausted by the time the party started… but everyone loved them.  That was the party that really started the tradition.  From there, in subsequent years, I made lasagna (again), mostaccioli, Italian beef (again), meatball bombers, and then chili.

Chili was always the favorite.  It was easy to make, comparatively inexpensive, and still had a place in my family history– the recipe was my Dad’s.  So for the last few years, I’ve been making chili, and everyone comes expecting it.

But this year I think I’m going to try something really different.  I have my ideas, but I won’t reveal them just yet.  Just suffice it to say that those who taste this will WANT the recipe.  And it’s so easy, too.

Yes, the holidays are fun and planning the party is a lot of work, but the end result is always a good time.  No matter how decorated my place is (and it will be QUITE decorated), if I don’t have some yummy treats for everyone to enjoy, the evening just won’t seem complete.

Maybe someday I’ll feel inspired (and have the money) to make 9 pans of lasagna again.  But for now, as long as it’s delicious and everyone likes it, I’ll make it easy on myself.

What a wonderful day today! The sky is bright and clear…

…I’ve been waiting for this day for practically all of the year…
— “Parade” by Eric Lane Barnes

This weekend was Pride weekend in Chicago, and for me it was a markedly different Pride weekend, especially compared with last year.  It was also one of the best Pride weekends I have had in recent memory.

CGMC in "Over the Rainbow"The weekend started off with opening night of CGMC’s Pride show, “Over the Rainbow,” which featured the music of Judy Garland interspersed with songs about the Stonewall Riots of 1969.  This year being the 40th anniversary of both Judy Garland’s death and the Stonewall Riots, the theme of the show was perfectly selected… even if the original intent was to combine the two stories and show how they related to each other.

As it turns out, they really don’t relate to each other at all– except for the fact that Judy Garland died just days before the riots happened, and that Judy became an icon for gay men both from her portrayal of Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” and for the trials and tribulations she endured during her lifetime.

The Stonewall Riots, of course, were the true defining point of the beginning of the Gay Liberation movement, which sparked GLBT people’s desire to work against, rather than within, the system to gain the rights they so greatly deserved.

False legend has it that the patrons were so upset about the loss of the gay icon that, when the police raided the bar, they reached the point where they just couldn’t take any more pain and fought back. The truth, however, was that, although the reaction of the patrons did have a lot to do with the raid, the patrons either had no idea of the significance of Ms. Garland’s passing, or did not really care either way.  In fact, many of the patrons of the Stonewall Inn were younger, more effeminate youth who were not as emotionally invested in the passing of Ms. Garland, therefore they were probably not fueled by her loss in any particular way.  Still, the connection is uncanny, and made for an interesting show for CGMC.

I loved doing this show.  I loved the music, and I loved the story the songs told; but even moreso, when we started putting the music together with the narrative that our director, Patrick Sinozich, had written; along with stories some of our individual chorus members had contributed; the show became a wonderful story of history– with pain and sorrow, joy and laughter, and hope and pride.

We did one show on Friday night and two shows on Saturday, so by the end of that last show, we were pretty well exhausted.  The weather was hot and muggy, and a soft rain had begun to fall.  So instead of going out to celebrate, we went home and, quite literally, crashed.

We… well.. I guess I should explain why I’m saying “we” instead of “I.”  You see, I’ve actually been dating a nice young man from the chorus in recent weeks.

***SCRATCHING RECORD SOUND*** WHHHHHAAAAAATTTTTT???????

rick_andrewYes, stop the world, and stop the music… it’s true.  I’ve been… DATING! *Bom Bom BOMMMMMMMM!*

The world may now officially end, and the tides may officially turn.  Those of you who have read this blog since the beginning (I can count you on one hand now… 🙂 ) know that I haven’t been much for dating lately… or ever, for that matter.  I guess I’ve always either been entirely too picky, or too afraid to start seeing someone — but lo and behold this adorable guy joined the chorus for this show and we hit it off, so… there you go!  We’re taking it very slow; one day at a time; and just enjoying each other’s company and time.  I like it.  And I like him.  So that’s a very good thing going on in my life lately. 🙂

So, where was I?

Oh yeah… we crashed on Saturday night, while the rain fell and the mugginess of the day subsided.  And as Sunday dawned, we went out to join our chorus friends on the parade route.  It was a glorious day– sunny, clear, cooler, breezy, less humid– a PERFECT day for a parade.  In all my years living in Chicago, I had never seen a more gorgeous morning.  The leaves seemed greener, the grass more lush, and the sky an even more dazzling blue.

The mood leading up to the parade route matched the beauty of the day.  Everyone felt festive and joyful.  There were smiles all around.  Oh yes… this was going to be a GOOD day.

There was a  lot of talk about how the parade was going to be organized this year.  The city came out with a thorough plan for the parade, saying that the entire route would be barricaded, and the crowd would be forced away from the street, allowing the parade to pass easily and swiftly.  I have to say, in all my years of participating in the Chicago Pride Parade, this was the swiftest moving parade I could recall.

That didn’t stop the crowds from stuffing the streets from end to end.  And it certainly didn’t hurt the crowd’s enthusiasm.  As the CGMC float passed (we were generously sponsored by WGN Radio AM 720 – our HUGE thanks to them!), the crowds erupted not only into cheers, but screams of joy.  The Chorus sang a few songs from our Pride show, interspersed with thumping dance tracks and even a few Michael Jackson tunes, all of which the crowd loved.

Michael Jackson’s death provided the soundtrack for many of the floats, as it turned out.  Once the parade was finished, we walked back the way we came and saw a lot of the floats along the way – most of which were playing upbeat Jackson tunes.  It certainly made sense, and the crowd always responded with cheers and sang along.

After we made our way back, and grabbed a bite to eat, we went home and absolutely crashed, exhausted… but snuggling up to a wonderful guy after a weekend full of joy, music and pride made the weekend extra special.

——————————-

Today I received a news bulletin from The Advocate, which told the story about a gay bar in Fort Worth Texas that was raided on Sunday, June 28.  On the 40th anniversary of Stonewall, the same thing that started the entire LGBTQ movement happened again.  It just proved to me that, although we are moving forward in so many ways… we still have a long way to go.