Friday, March 27, 2009

I am often traveling on what we here in Boston affectionately call the "E" car. This is also known as the "E" line; or "Arborway," but that is a really old designation. I find that I can approximate when people arrived in Boston by the way they refer to certain places and things. New arrivals call this system "The Subway," arriviste students refer to "the trolley." Actually, they are trolleys in the B.U. and B.C. areas, but those of us who have been around since the Kingston Trio days called it the "T." This is the short version of MTA, on which rode the former "Charlie," who we were promised would never return, but apparently he has, with much humor and convenience. he brought an extra initial with him: it's now the MBTA, but still "The T" to it's users.

If you meet someone who is going to "Columbia" on the red line, or doesn't think there is anything beyond Harvard, or knows not to expect to be in the middle of the MIT campus when he comes to the surface at Kendall/MIT; who is not the least confused that the "C" car runs down Beacon Street while the "B" car runs down Commonwealth, and will direct you to "Auditorium" when you're trying to find Hynes Prudential Center- or knows not to direct you there if your looking the ICA, then you have met a very long time resident. If he drives (which he may not) he would know that the traffic merging into the left lane of Commonwealth Avenue, merging from the tunnel under Mass Ave, the tunnel which is completely invisible to the uninitiated, has in fact the "right of way" over Commonwealth Avenue traffic. During my driving years there was no sign there. One just knew. These people call a certain portion of Route 95 "128" causing out of state drivers no end of confusion. 

I often say that in Boston the rules of the road are only guidelines. I had a friend who moved here from California. A day or two after settling in Cambridge he decided to drive to Boston to do some errands. He proceeded about a mile, returned home totally shattered and refused ever to drive in Boston again. We took a gymnastics class together and I volunteered to drive him, hence the friendship and the explanation. He was able to figure out the "T," and even became fluent in "Inbound, Outbound," which is great fun to explain to someone at Symphony who is now trying to get back into town.

I have always ridden the "T." The city has severe traffic and parking difficulties-although the "Big Dig" seems to have helped the former and the present state of the economy may help the latter, but the "T," for all people complain about it, is a very efficient system. A few years ago I stopped driving, and became an exclusive "T" rider. Certain friends are horrified, they offer cab fare when I talk of grabbing the green line at Beaconsfield. I know they turn on the television after I leave, but they don't know that I am the one being entertained. Those who enjoy "People watching" have no idea of how enjoyable that pastime can be on the "T."

I was riding the "E" car on afternoon, watching folks as usual. This line takes you the Symphony and NorthEastern, and the Museum of Fine Arts, so it has a fair number of tourist riding along with this sometimes smug, rather self conscious, one time "A List" urban gay man. Well, the bloom may be off the lilly, I'll admit that much, but I do still have a certain amount of sartorial pride. There was a group of "Older Women" from "The mid west" no doubt, sitting across the aisle. I have to be very careful, this happens all the time now, I see these older women, or older men and as I observe, or perhaps eavesdrop- only for scientific purposes- I come to realize that the term "older," if taken in reference to myself, ceased to be true some time ago. Older than my twenty year old self perhaps, but that leaves a 40 year gap, and I realized these "older" folks were probably 15 years younger than moi!

Je suis choqué

But wait, it gets worse. I am wearing a very pedestrian (excuse the pun) pair of basic Reeboks in very dirty white, while this little old mid western lady, soon to acquire her blue hair no doubt, is standing there in the coolest pair of sneakers I've ever seen. Very smart, with nicely trimmed flaps that fold very neatly over what I sure must be an elastic and velcro closure- I was totally out classed! Me! I would have asked their origin but pride again, I just couldn't. It was really embarrassing!

Monday, March 9, 2009

But sin has nothing to do with it!

I have mentioned my discussion group to you all? Last week we were talking about sin. Of course, in  discussing the topic there is a definite risk of personal revelation, and though the context of this group is Episcopalian a surprising number of us were raised Roman Catholic. Confession being so closely wedded to sin in the Roman Catholic mind, we gained a small window into one another's experiences in the confessional. They were singularly banal, and the discussion turned on the strategy of the Church in creating so much guilt in our young minds over actions that a moral adult can not even entertain as being transgressions. One thing that really took me by surprise was the repeated inclusion of "swearing" as a matter for inclusion in the confessional formula.

I was surprised not because I did not also "confess" that particular failing, I think I must have, though in truth I don't remember, but because for such a long time my thinking about it has taken such a different track. (You should be playing Lenny Bruce's "Fuck You" routine as a background to this.) You see, I have no problem saying the words, yet I never, or almost never, use them. This is so much the case that even my clients will apologize to me if they let one slip, thinking they have exhibited some moral lapse.

What such people don't realize is that they have only exhibited a lack of vocabulary. In addition, they rob these very useful little words of all their impact by unthinking over use. I will tell you that when amongst those I know, if I let out an "Oh, Fuck" I immediately have everyone's attention, which is what we desire from that particular utterance. Such expressions seem to be very forceful, but in fact are fragile little flowers that loose all their fragrance when trampled by moronic tongues.

I almost never use them. That of course does not mean that I am guiltless of offensive speech. It's just that, well, to confess, I get much more sadistic satisfaction from speech that offends without the object understanding it's offense, or which leaves the object in that most distressing of situations: confused, but embarrassed to confess their confusion.

"You, You, librating lestrigon"

Even spell check is upset!

"You limicolous troilist"

Another tack is to imply the invective with out meaning anything ill (this is for the penultimate equivocator:)

"He's an henotic escrivan"

"Why, I'll delumbrate the demot!"

These charming words all come from "Foyle's Philavery" which I recommend most highly for your lexical amusement!

 You will now understand that my abstention from profanity, which seems so admirable to many, is actually rooted in a much more grievous failing, and one that was almost absent from our discussion. "Pride goeth before the fall" was the constant refrain of my childhood. I long ago decided that my own fall would be accompanied by the most graceful narrative I could conjure!


Friday, March 6, 2009

State's Rights

I am very relieved that the astronomical controversy regarding the planetary status of Pluto has been resolved, at least in Illinois. You are aware of this; that it has been determined that our beloved Pluto (the planet, not the dog) has had it's qualifications questioned? There is the issue that if Pluto remains a planet then other occupants of the Kuiper belt must also be counted as such. Here is more than you ever wanted to know about all this. I personally prefer the inclusive solution of 23 planets, but then I am an Episcopalian.

You perhaps are asking what this has to do with state's rights? Well, it seems that the legislature of Illinois has stepped in and officially declared that Pluto is a plant; at least while it passes over Illinois! I assume it will swell with pride sufficient that it's size will increase the necessary amount. We then will be confronted by a constitutional crises: if Pluto is a planet in Illinois must it not be a planet in the rest of the states? You see, we've been so excited about Obama and now we discover that we may miss the unifying wisdom of Mr. Bush. I am sure he would issue an executive order circumventing the mean scientists.

Personally I see an opportunity for the homosexulists in Massachusetts  here. I propose that we enter into a treaty with Illinois stipulating that we will recognize Pluto as a planet if they will recognize same sex marriage! Then we could talk to Indiana about their idea of making Pi equal to 3. Think how much simpler that would make things.....


Monday, March 2, 2009

Lent, part four

"I am mistaken if you do not make a strange and proper jumble of the sublime and the ridiculous, the lofty and the low. I have looked at the world, for my part, and come to the conclusion that I know not which is which."

W.M.Thackery, from Catherine: A Story

Having gone through all that self revelation regarding last Lent, I must now discuss this Lent.

Before I consider this years resolution I want to relate something that took place on Sunday Morning. A member of the theology discussion group I belong to- the very generous and passionate member who gives us her house to meet in, often claims to not believe in God. This is very Episcopalian. Rev. Werntz repeated in a recent sermon the statement that there were many things that Episcopalians can believe,"none of which we actually do." On the surface this seems odd, I suppose, but in fact it reflects the wisdom of Elizabeth I who saw a society, a nation, and a church ravaged by conflicting contention about things no one could prove, and she managed to construct a church which could unite through society and ritual people who were divergent in belief. This was not a bad idea, both realistic and truly, well, Christian.

Back to my friend, and her disbelief, which I disbelieve in. She gave as illustration of her impatience with the concept of God the "Great Litany." I have managed to miss that ritual, until this past Sunday.

People today live in, what shall I say, the promise, or the illusion, of a stable healthy comfortable, and a safe life. I agree, that in my past I often would chuckle about such quaint phrases as "from the crafts and assaults of the devil" or "By Thine agony and bloody sweat."

She, my friend, would seem to think that these graphic and morbid phrases were irrelevant and meaningless in our lives today, and spoke of a God she couldn't relate too.

On Sunday I listened with different ears than I would have in the past. The years of sickness, loss, despair, fragility and uncertainty have changed my view of life's context. It often seems to me that I now occupy a space different from the one my contemporaries do, a space much more like that of the sixteenth century, when life had no certainties, when death and loss were constant companions to the individual life.

The service started with the litany, being chanted, as the procession of cross, candles, choir, deacon and priest moved in slow cadence around the nave of the church. My fellow parishioners complain of the nave being dark. It is, it is a little mysterious and a hundred years of wear have left it feeling like the gothic parish church it imitates. We chanted for mercy, for deliverance. "Remember not, Lord Christ, our offenses..." "Spare us, good Lord"

"From all blindness of heart, from pride, from vain glory and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred and malice; and from all want of charity, Good lord deliver us"

"From lightning and tempests; from earthquake, fire and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine, Good Lord deliver us."

There was nothing self conscious, or showy about all this. perhaps because of that it became a very moving, a very transporting experience, and it spoke to my heart with an unexpected force.

During Gay pride in 1992 I walked onto Boston Common and looked around the 100,000 gay people who were celebrating. I could see no one my own age. Every one was ten years older, or ten years younger. The AIDS epidemic had reached it's height, but "cocktails" were not yet available to combat it. It was a chilling experience, and I am left with almost no one who shared it. I now have that plague, and have spent years in despair. The condition of my health is so fragile that I view each spring as the last. Dr Choi would say I'm being overly dramatic, and perhaps I am, but my point is that now I hear the litany from a place in which all these odd and archaic concerns seem very real and pertinent to my life. I was moved to tears by the solemn chanting procession as it wound it way through the congregation. The liturgy of the church speaks from a place that we all like to think is irrelevant to our 21st century lives. I am here to tell you not to be so sure! Later, the tears came again. this time thinking about the musicians, and the church and the people who attend there; how lovely they are, how really beautiful. That beauty causes me to start to think once again of passing on as being a loss.

But lest I leave my dear Mr. Thackeray all alone up there at the top of this post I will make some comments about what I should give up for lent!

I was dressed in a Paul Smith shirt with a Dolce and Gabanna tie, both in the perfect ecclesiastical purple. I had been saving them for the season; I was wondering what to follow with on subsequent Sundays- black shirts, off course.

I've been thinking perhaps I should give up ice cream, I am accumulating a little fat, which is not something I've had to worry about since my little periods of wasting disease, and I really am vain about my flat stomach... A friend and I were discussing this this other day- he loves vegetarian food, and considered giving up wine, but is leaning toward giving up meat. I myself have seriously considered giving up long sentences. A friend who sings in choir was talking about giving up joking, but I rather thought increasing joking was a better idea. I was thinking about a wise friend who once spoke in terms of doing challenging things rather than not abstaining from pleasures.

All this is a delemna, and I suppose if I were sincere I would start going to church in jeans and a "Tee" shirt during lent... but then that would be disrespectful, wouldn't it? or so said Mom in the years when it would have been a preference!

I will revert to Mr. Thackeray, this time from "The Newcomes"

For in the majority of cases conscience is an elastic and very flexible article, which will bear a deal of stretching, and will adapt itself to a great variety of circumstances.