The Brink Of Disaster: The Odyssey Postings

The tiger in my tank/ is going to go extinct/ And I'm not feelin' so good myself/ I think I'm on the brink of disaster!

At last! A record of my travels conveniently located in one place. And yes, it's still all about me.

Monday, December 29, 2003

"A Name I've Not Heard In a Long Time...A Long Time"

Okay, so this isn't a name so much as it's a posting, but it has been a long time. Sue me: I've been on holiday.

But now I'm back and I'm in desperate need of another holiday so that I can recover from the stressful (but not entirely unpleasant) week I've spent with my family. It started last Sunday when my dad decided that a good way to deal with his stress was to isolate himself, alienate his children and cancel our traditional Christmas Eve A Christmas Carol marathon (Alastair Sim's 1951 Scrooge is far and away the best; George C. Scott's 1984 is pretty damned good, and Michael Caine's 1993 foray in The Muppet Christmas Carol is quite nice, while Patrick Stewart's 1999 TNT Original Production blows). I talked him down from that in time for me and my younger sister to spend an afternoon with our mom, step-father and step-family where we always feel oh-so warm and welcomed. It's been a helluva year between the birth of my step-niece, the death of my step-grandmother, my other step-niece's behavioral disorders, my step-sister's recurrent alcoholism in the face of liver failure and her final success staying clean and sober long enough to get herself on the transplant list, so nobody had any energy left to attempt to degrade the queer child of a recent convert to a socially conservative religious orientation. Yea me!

I really am too hard on them. They've never really been insulting--well, my mother has, but she's behaved very nicely of late (I think the HRT is doing her some good)--they're just a bunch of rednecks who don't know what to do with me. I'd be queer to them even if I were straight. I just don't fit any of their norms. Eh. C'est la vie. But I got through dinner with them in time to have supper and the movie-fest with Dad. My sister left for a bit to spend time with her boyfriend and some of their people, but when she got back at 1 AM she had new jewelry to show off. My initial reaction to her engagement was chilly, but I'm slowly warming up to the idea. It has nothing to do with her fiance, and it has nothing to do with her (although she does need to finish her degree before she gets married--all my girl friends agree). It has everything to do with the way marriage gets sold as the end-all-be-all of human emotional, sexual and economic relationships.

In other words, I'm an outspoken critic of marriage--gay and straight--who now needs to find productive ways to manage his concerns about his sister's impending marriage. On the upside, this is an opportunity for them to do marriage differently, an opportunity for a young couple to recognize that there is no set of necessary propositions for what a marriage is or is not. It's an opportunity for them to queer their marriage. Insert smiley face here.

Christmas with Dad and our extended family was a blast, as usual. I don't think I ate any solid food all afternoon; my uncles kept feeding me imported beers (which were just excellent), but they were only doling them out in tiny portions, and I was drinking quite slowly anyway, so I never got crocked, but I was quite happy by the time my aunt, uncle and cousin dropped me off back at my dad's place where I celebrated my masterful diplomatic skills and inspired negotiation of my family relationships by watching the Special Extended Edition DVD of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (a much appreciated gift from my sister--thank you, Sweetie!--who's Kermit the Frog, by the way) and drinking the last of the Old Fezziwig Christmas Ale my father had acquired for the celebration of our Christmas feast. It was a very nice holiday, indeed.

But now I'm home and I need to decompress quickly so I can get back to work on my Master's Portfolio. I've chucked the Thesis Project entirely, and I'm a bit frustrated that my advisor didn't see the wisdom of this a long time ago. At the beginning of every semester for three semesters running I've gone into her office to pitch my portfolio proposal, and every semester for three semesters running she gives me the "A Portfolio Is an Inferior Option" speech.

She gave it to me in August. I remember.

But, after accomplishing absolutely nothing in terms of material development of the thesis this semester (but accomplishing a great deal in terms of personal growth and development) and getting called onto the carpet to explain my apparent lack of progress (I'm still pissed about this--I haven't accomplished a damned thing either of the other two semesters I've been enrolled in Research Hours, but now a satisfactory assessment is an ethical dilemma for her), I pushed my portfolio plan one more time and she gave her consent. Apparently there's been some new thinking in the Department, and they've realized collectively that a portfolio is not to be looked down upon because other big-name departments (like Harvard) don't even offer a thesis option for completion of a Master's Degree. I'm not really upset about the time I've spent at this institution; I've been clueless about what to do next for the past 18 months, so I would have hung around here anyway until I got myself sorted out (which I think I've managed to do, by the way). I am, however, pissed about the extra $18,000 in student loans I've taken out while I beat my head against a wall trying to get this damned thesis out of me by hook or by crook.

But now, I need to start thinking about getting to bed so I can get up in the morning and go running before I throw myself into the retyping of my seminar papers for my portfolio. I lost the electronic originals when Windows 98 crashed after I installed my external CD writer last January--I like XP Pro much better, thank you--but I do still have hard copies of all three papers. Hell, I have hardcopies of everything I've ever submitted. That's just the sort of guy I am.

So a happy Christmas to all, pleasant Kwanza, a good Yule and a luminous Hanukkah (I know it's over, but I never took the opportunity to publicly acknowledge it, so thpppt).

Monday, December 08, 2003

Notes on Episode II, from the Reverend Mother

I always like it when persons respond to my work, so I can't help but include the commentary of the persons who were there with me. This is what the Rev had to say: "...Although you described the trip from Ft. Oglethorpe to Atlanta as uneventful, for me, it was a really high time in the trip... Anything but uneventful."

There was more. Nothing salacious or revealing, but the Rev is a rather private, somewhat shy sort of individual, so the rest must remain our own little secret. Sorry kids.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Two Weeks in November, Episode II: Attack Of the Anecdotes

When last we left our intrepid band of travelers, The Rev, D&D Guy and The Gay were stranded on the side of a highway in Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia.

We had two options for finding a payphone, walk a half mile south to the next exit or walk a half mile north to the last exit. Opting to at least keep moving in the right direction, we chose to walk to the next exit. We hadn't gone more than a quarter mile when this Ford Explorer-thing pulls onto the shoulder and begins to back toward us. I'm a little nervous. I've read stories. I've seen Deliverance. I know what they do to/with my kind in the South, so I decide to butch it up real quick-like. So, The Rev, D&D Guy and I are introduced to a lovely couple whom I shall refer to as Oxygen Guy and Real Estate Lady. To put our would-be saviors at ease, The Rev introduces all of us and explains that we're headed to the Religious Studies conference in Atlanta.

I still want to know whose gonna put me at ease. Oxygen Guy and Real Estate Lady seem like a perfectly nice 40-something couple, but my experience has been that straight people can turn on you faster than bad sushi. So I remain guarded and thoroughly butchified, busying myself by contacting our fellow travelers (who are now safely in Atlanta, by the way, desperate for a way to get into a hotel room). As I'd been busy on the phone in the back seat, I hadn't realized that Real Estate Lady had been on the phone in the front seat, attempting to contact someone who might have been able to help us. It seems we ended our conversations at about the same time, because I had no sooner flipped my little phone closed when I heard Oxygen Guy say, "well, he sounded awful snippy." Remember what I said about straight people turning on you?

Now, like I said, I was at my butchest, and I had felt that I had been behaving in a very polite, courteous and gentlemanly manner with both my interlocutors and my Southron saviors, so expressions of hurt, confusion, exasperation and ultimately defiance passed across my fair features in a flash. If Oxygen Guy thought I had been snippy before, he hadn't seen anything yet; I very nearly went into vicious-queen mode in less than a second. D&D Guy and I have been friends now for several years, and he knows me quite well, so he was able to read my expressions as quickly as they passed. Being the thoughtful and considerate guy that he is, he gave me a not-so-subtle elbow to the ribs to make sure I kept my mouth shut and we didn't all get tossed out on our ears at the gas station in Ft. Oglethorpe. He's a very smart guy, D&D Guy is. That, and he was paying enough attention to realize that Oxygen Guy had been talking about the guy on the other end of Real Estate Lady's conversation, not me.

As we're sitting in the parking lot of a gas station, pouring through the phone book looking for an 800-number for State Farm (which apparently doesn't exist; you have to know your agent's name and number in order to get any help--what sort of crap is that? At least Progressive has an emergency service number when you pay the $9 for the assistance service), an independent towing service and a tire place, not having any luck at all finding ones that are open at 7:20 on a Friday evening, what should pull in right in front of us but a tow truck. Now, you think our troubles are over, don't you?

Think again. Because of our location (just inside the Georgia state line) the best this tow truck driver could do would have been to give us a very expensive tow to a very expensive garage that wasn't even open deep in downtown Chattanooga. But, the serendipitously-arrived tow truck driver tells us, he thinks that there might be a garage/tire shop/tow service that's still open and able to take care of us in one fell swoop. So, on Tow-Truck Guy's word, Oxygen Guy and Real Estate Lady drive us the mile-and-a-half down the road to a family owned and operated auto shop in East Ridge, Tennessee.

As we were arriving, the family-member on duty, Family Tow-Truck Guy, was about to take-off on another call, and he sadly informed us that they neither carried tires nor did they stock any on the tow truck, but he did leave us with a ray of hope: if we could get a hold of the proper sized tire, he would be able to get the car with the tow truck, return to the shop and complete the repairs this very night. Moving with new motivation, we call every Wal-Mart Supercenter to check if their automotive centers have already closed for the evening as we hurtle back to the car to take the sizing information off the flat tire. Just as we get the information from the tire, it becomes clear that most of the Wal-Marts have already shut down their auto centers, but there is a chance that we can make it to one last center before it closes down at 8:00.

As we were arriving in the automotive department, the last two auto-employees were cleaning up and signing out, so we were just barely able to get the damned tire from the damned evil empire. But we got the bloody thing, so we called back to the Family Service Center only to find that Family Tow-Truck Guy's wife and younger son had joined him at the garage for dinner and that he would be unavailable to help for about a half hour. So, Oxygen Guy and Real Estate Lady decided that they could spare the time to take us to McDonald's for some quick dinner. I should probably mention at this point that Southrons are not afraid to share.

As we were headed to Micky-D's, Oxygen Guy explained to us that his first job had been selling the compound that makes tires black. The Rev was curious as to what color tires are in their natural state, and Oxygen Guy proceeded to describe this creamy, pale color. Being a man of the world (or slut, depending on whom you ask), my immediate thought was, "oh, like a rubber." D&D Guy didn't need to stop me this time around; I had regained my bearings and knew enough to keep my mouth shut. But, Oxygen Guy tells us, now he's a tech for a company that distills liquid oxygen from the atmosphere (You get it now, don't you? Can you guess what Real Estate Lady does for a living?). We also learn that he and Real Estate Lady have been together for six years, but that they've just celebrated their second wedding anniversary after moving back to Georgia from one of the Carolina's (I just can't remember which one) to live in her parents' old home since they, her parents, had just built a new place on adjacent land. Oxygen Guy has traveled all over the world, but he and Real Estate Lady just completed a tour of the Northeastern US this summer--all except for Delaware, but that's okay since she doesn't consider Delaware to be part of the Northeast (even though he does), but now they're back in Georgia, and they're really happy there with their five Chinese pugs, one cat and one snapping turtle named Dollar (because he was about the size of a silver dollar when they found him), but they'd really like to buy some more land so that they can start a stable for horses and a kennel for dogs. Remember what I said about sharing?

It was about at this point in the conversation when it became time to return to the Family Service Center to complete our transactions. Oxygen Guy and Real Estate Lady have been exemplary hosts and have treated us with courtesy and respect. We could have been in a world of hurt, but because of their concern and good nature, what could have been a horrible experience was actually a rather pleasant, if unusually loose-lipped (to my Yankee sensibility), experience. This is my big shout out/thank you to them. So, Oxygen Guy and Real Estate Lady leave us in the capable hands of Family Tow-Truck Guy, his wife, Account Office Lady, and their younger son, Number Two.

While Family Tow-Truck Guy and D&D Guy head off in the truck to retrieve the stranded automobile, Account Office Lady and Number Two chat up me and The Rev. Did I mention Southrons like to share? Turns out that they have the office cleaned on Friday night, so all the office furniture is out in the shop, and it makes a lovely obstacle course for Number Two to play on while his mother chats with us, but he just can't help interjecting periodically to explain what all the machinery in the shop does and how it works, and how much fun it is to work with his father, grandfather and uncles in the shop. Number Two, by the way, is in first grade.

As it turns out, Account Office Lady has pictures of Number One, who's 9, and Number Two covered in grease when they were as young as six months old. Personally, I think that's a little kinky, but I'm not a parent, nor do I plan to be. Anywho...Number One is off at his first away from home sleepover, and his mom's a little tense. Seems that a couple months ago, she and her husband headed out to Las Vegas for a five-day convention, and the fifth day of separation from the boys had nearly been too much for her. She thought she could handle one night, and that Number One would be okay as well. He was with his new cub scout troop, and he'd only known most of those boys for a couple weeks, but there was one boy whom he'd known from his earlier troop--there was apparently some scandalous occurrence that fractured that poor troop; Account Office Lady was strangely reticent to speak of the "trouble" they'd had with that previous troop, but I (and Account Office Lady) digress--so Number One would probably be okay overnight. Of course I'm thinking about the sex that scouts do, but I'm certainly not gonna mention that to Account Office Lady in her delicate state. About this time, D&D Guy and Family Tow-Truck Guy returned from their errand, and who should be the one to open the door and release the car from the wrecker but our six-year-old mechanic, Number Two. That child has greater facility with automobiles than most 26-year-olds I know. It's just not natural.

But I can't really complain. The Family cut us a fantastic deal on the work they did, and really did help a queer group of complete strangers out of a really messy spot. So this is my big thank you to Family Tow-Truck Guy, Account Office Lady and their little Number Two.

After our Chattanooga/Ft. Oglethorpe/East Ridge experience, the rest of the trip to Atlanta was really rather blase. We finally arrived in Atlanta just before midnight, so I began the celebration of the beginning of my thirtieth year of quasi-independent living by crawling into bed with a woman as old as my mother (The Rev) whom I had to hip-check at one point to gain more than six inches of mattress for myself. An inauspicious beginning? Perhaps, but I've just gotten started.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Two Weeks in November, Episode I: The Phantom Hope

I know I've been away for a while, and I do apologize, but I swear this installment will be worth the wait.

Ever since I started grad school, the weekend of my birthday has corresponded with the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion, the largest professional organization for the study of religion in the world. The other grad students and I have made something of a tradition to road trip to the conference. We've been to Nashville, Denver, Toronto and now Atlanta. This is the story of one little mo's journey into the heart of Dixie.

Typically, I take a very active role in the planning of these trips, but this year I decided to be hands-off and let the new kids take care of the arrangements. That was mistake number one. The wankers decided that it would be great if we left at 4 AM so that we could avoid rush hour traffic in St. Louis. Now, I know, most persons don't like to do anything at 4 AM, but I REALLY don't like to do anything at 4 AM, especially when it means that I'll have to get up and have myself ready to go at 3:30 AM. If I'd attempted to go to sleep and then get up, it would have been hopeless. So, like the responsible chap I am, I decided to pull an all-nighter. So I did. I entertained myself through the packing process with my newly-arrived Battlestar Galactica DVD collection, and was actually good to go by 3:00.

The half hour between 3 and 3:30 was absolutely hellish. I'd sit on the couch. Then, I'd lie on the couch. Ultimately, I found myself sleeping on the couch, and I knew if I let that happen, there'd be no rousing me for either love or money, so I got up and paced about the apartment. Finally, 3:30 rolled around, and I figured my pain was nearly over. Such was not to be the case. 3:30 came and went with no sign of my ride, as did 3:40 and 3:50. By 3:55, I was tired, concerned, irritated and on the verge of becoming one of the most vicious queens in all of Christendom, so I resolved to call my erstwhile chauffeur, whom I shall refer to as The Rev (since she intends to study for Methodist ordination) and see what was going on. I got her answering machine, so I assumed that meant she was on her way. After another 15 minutes, The Rev called me back to inform me that it had been taking her longer to get ready than she had anticipated, and that she would be leaving her apartment in 10 minutes.

I figured that it would be wise to call the other two sets of travelers with whom we were supposed to rendezvous. As it turns out, nobody had anybody else's home or mobile telephone numbers. I have already mentioned that I had NOTHING to do with the planning of this affair, haven't I? So, we're cut-off from the other travelers, and we haven't even gotten going.

Finally, about 4:30, my ride shows at my apartment. After a quick packing job, we head off to retrieve one other fellow traveler, whom I shall refer to as D&D Guy (since he not only looks like a character you might see in a medieval themed adventure game, but enjoys playing them as well) and then we all finally reach the rendezvous 50 minutes late, which happens to be 20 minutes after the other crews have left. This really isn't as big of a problem as it might seem. I had both a ride and a place to stay since both of the rooms we had waiting for us in Atlanta had been reserved under the names of my two traveling companions. The bigger problem was for the other cars since none of them had a reservation. But we did get our hands on a mobile phone number for one of the other cars. Finally, we made it on the highway at 5:20 AM, nearly an hour-and-a-half after we had intended, and close to an hour behind our six classmates.

At this point, after nearly 24 hours of consciousness, I had officially become a vicious queen, so I decided to stretch my 6-foot frame across the back seat of a Toyota Corolla to get some sleep. And so I attempted to sleep, but I was very nearly rolled off the back seat by inertia several times since we had managed to arrive in St. Louis in the heart of rush hour. After braving the St. Louis highway system, I suspected that it would be reasonably safe to sleep through Illinois.

This seems to have been yet another mistake on my part. When next I began to awaken, I overheard D&D Guy ask The Rev, "are we in Missouri again?" My friends had been so involved in their conversation that both had missed the interchange between the two major highways we had to travel through Illinois. Still feeling a bit tired, and more than a little cranky, I decided that it was very important for me to be asleep through that conversation and the next 30 minutes, since I very likely would have said some very cruel things to persons whom I otherwise consider to be my friends. So I slept some more.

When next I woke and asked what state we were in now, the consensus reply was, "Confusion." While amused, I was not heartened. At what seemed like long last, we finally recrossed the Mississippi river (again), this time into Kentucky. We'd now lost another hour on the other cars and were a total of two hours behind.

The rest of the trip through Kentucky and Tennessee was largely uneventful. We hit Nashville just before rush hour, so we didn't have any trouble there. We neared Chattanooga toward the end of rush hour, close to 7:00 PM. Part way through downtown Chattanooga we struck a piece of debris on the roadway. There was some momentary clunking and chugging, but there was no pulling, so there seemed to be no great damage, if any at all. Just as we left Chattanooga (East Ridge, actually) and crossed out of Tennessee into Georgia (Ft. Oglethorpe, to be exact), the driver's front tire went flat. So, at 6:50 PM, on an eight-lane superhighway, with heavy traffic moving at speeds well over the legal limit, there was no chance in hell of safely changing the driver's front tire, so the motley trio of The Rev, D&D Guy and The Gay (it is an awfully big responsibility being the gay, but I can handle it) decided to take a walk to the nearest pay phone to call the insurance company to tow the car and save our butts.

When I'm a little more conscious, I'll fill y'all in on how we survived Chattanooga, and how I survived Thanksgiving with only one "when are you going to get your hair cut?" and a solitary "you've put on weight."