The Girl With the Falling Beehive

amy_winehouse-300x300The posts were pissing me off.

“She was a nut. Too bad she didn’t try harder to live.”

“Coming soon, the Michael Jackson/Amy Winehouse reunion album.”

“Boxed Winehouse.”

I realize that making fun of messy celebrities on Facebook is the new American pastime, and I run the risk of appearing way too earnest here (I pretty much always run that risk here) but there was no part of me that found anything about her death funny.

I’ve been sober nearly eleven years, with the help of other drunks and drug addicts. Stay sober long enough, and well-meaning friends who don’t have the addictive personality, or the disease, or whatever it may be that kept you from applying moderation to your life, will praise you for your strength and willpower. (We call these well-meaning friends “normies.”)

But here’s the thing that every sober drunk and drug addict knows. Strength and willpower had little to do with it. None of us can say with any certainty why we were able to “get it,” and hold on to it, when so many couldn’t. The statistics were against us, rehab or no rehab.

Listen to enough of our stories, and you’ll hear a common thread. There was nothing special about the last time we got drunk or high. It was rarely the worst day or night of our lives. Rarely did it involve the worst consequences we’d faced. Sometimes no matter how much we drank we couldn’t get drunk that night.

Maybe the right friend said the right thing at the right second, or the perfect stranger opened a new door. Maybe that afternoon we just got tired of the emptiness where our souls used to be. Every story involves luck, or coincidence, or, if you prefer, a bit of grace. It took more than five or six tries until it happened to me.

I was late to the Winehouse bandwagon. I often stubbornly resist the zeitgeist, and her “Rehab” song turned me off. But during one visit to Hawaii, the Manly Fireplug added Back to Black to our iPod. We listened to it nonstop that week. There was something about our hotel, a rather seedy, down-at-the-heels tropical outpost called the Queen Kapiolani, that fit Amy’s lyrics.

Back in San Francisco I developed a back-up singer hand gesture routine to my favorite song, “Tears Dry On Their Own,” which I’d perform in the car while the Fireplug was driving. That song contained my favorite of her lyrics:

I cannot play myself again

Should just be my own best friend

Not fuck myself

In the head

With stupid men

Here’s the thing about Amy. She knew who she was. A drunk, an addict, a cheater. She slept around behind her boyfriends’ backs. She had bad taste in men. She didn’t whitewash her sins or blame it all on the other guy, which so many pop songs seem to do.

She made me feel less alone with my own sordid past. With the part of me that is still, to this day, less than virtuous.

I don’t know Amy’s story. I know she did, despite her song, attend rehab, more than once. I don’t know what it was like for her to wake up in the morning, to want to write her next record but find it impossible. I only know the smallest slices of her life, fed to me through headlines and grainy photos.

I don’t know how badly she wanted to get sober. All I know is that her time ran out before grace found her.

Do You, Dogpoet, Take this Fireplug

MikeJoeReyRey1-198x300Those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while know that I now spend a good chunk of my time with a guy I call the Manly Fireplug.  I don’t call him that to protect his identity – he’s just fine with notoriety, thank you very much – the nickname just cracks me up.

His name is Joe Gallagher, he owns Joe’s Barbershop here in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco, and we’ve known each other a few years now. Back when he first picked up a pair of clippers, he rented a chair in my barber’s shop. I used to sit in Pasha’s chair and just stare at Joe. A few months after Joe rented the chair, Pasha up and died of a heart attack in his mid-40′s, and so I naturally used the occasion to switch barbers. (I never said I wasn’t capable of cold calculation.)

Joe had a partner at the time, so I contented myself with feeling his hands touch my head every couple of weeks. He wasn’t stingy with advice. After hearing the 22nd installment of my doomed long-distance love affair with another blogger, he spun me around in the chair, looked me in the eye, and barked, “You just need to get fucked. Really hard.”

He had a point.

I went off to grad school in NYC and Joe opened his own shop. When I moved back to San Francisco in the summer of 2006, Joe was single. We started working out together and one thing led to another. He swears I spent a lot of time bending over in front of him at the gym, putting weights away. I never said I was a fool, either.

Fast-forward a couple of years. Joe proposes to me as I lay sedated in a hospital bed with a collapsed lung. I think the experience clarified for us that we wanted to spend whatever time we had left in this world together. The sedation just made it easier to say yes. Not long afterwards, California passed Prop 8, taking a legal wedding off the table.

Like most couples we hit a rough patch, but came back together with renewed purpose and respect. “People don’t change,” the cynics say, but I have first-hand experience to the contrary. With every passing day he became more solidly the partner I’d always wanted. I had to work to do the same for him.

We’d talk about heading off to one of the other states that had legalized same-sex marriage. Joe turned 50 . “I’m not getting any younger,” he warned me. But I kept dragging my feet, wanting to wait until it was legal in California again, wanting to celebrate such a day in the place we call home, with our friends.  But there were no guarantees that Prop 8 would be overturned, and eventually I realized that we could both get what we wanted. We could get married somewhere else for real, and still come back to celebrate with friends.

Which is a very long way of saying that I’m getting married. In like five weeks.

I now understand why people take a year to plan these things. “What are your colors?” a florist asked Joe a couple of weeks ago.

“Um, colors?” he said.

Yeah, we’re not that kind of gay.

The Bay Area Reporter ran an article on some of us heading to NYC to get hitched. You can read it here. My only caveat is that I now better understand why some people feel slightly misrepresented when interviewed by the media. The whole Cher thing was sort of a joke. Also, the idea of a “traditional” wedding matters less to me than the idea of sharing the day with friends. But if that makes it traditional, then I guess I want a traditional wedding.

Two days later CBS radio interviewed us as well. It’s a nice, short piece, and you can hear it here.

Then ReyRey of ReyRey’s Photography offered to shoot some engagement pics, including the one above.

Joe and I had talked about keeping the whole thing low-key. It’s not like we can afford to throw a party for 500 people. But there is no low-key with Joe Gallagher. Frankly by now even I’m starting to find myself overexposed. But it seemed wrong not to mention it here, where I’ve chronicled ten years of my life, and where some of you have been kind enough to follow along.

Goddamn, I’m going to have a husband.

The Night I Fed the Troll

The email popped in my inbox with the subject line: “Saw You Online and OMG!”

Thinking it might be spam, I clicked on it anyway and found my own face looking back at me. My face with annotations.

i thought you may benefit from this program:http://www.menshealth.com/fitness/abs-workout

However……. I cannot refer you to anyone about the american touristors

she-thinks-shes-all-that1

I didn’t recognize the email address. He’d pulled my pic from who knows where; I’m a modern man – half my life is on the internet.

To be honest I had to look up “turistors.”  Turns out he meant luggage. Luggage=bags. I’m not always the sharpest pencil in the cup, I admit.

So yeah, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting. I showed it to the Manly Fireplug and even he was – momentarily at least – stunned into silence.

Everyone knows that the internet is full of trolls. Sad sacks haunting the forums and chat rooms and comment sections, trailing poison with every keystroke.

I’ve also been blogging for ten years, and I know the number one rule: DON’T FEED THE TROLLS. They live off engagement. They thrive on the back-and-forth, left hook – right hook of threaded comments and retaliatory emails. Without it they move on to the next sucker.

But I just couldn’t help myself:

Sorry you’re such an unhappy person, I wrote. Good luck with your miserable life. You’ll need it.

Short, bitter, and to the point.

It didn’t really make me feel any better.

Two minutes later I got a new email: “Saw you online and again what the fuck??” Inside was another of my pics:

shethinks-sheall-that-2

I noticed he had named my annotated pic, “SheThinksShesAllThat.jpg”

I know, I know. Like I hadn’t learned my lesson. But by now I was too far gone. I could taste his blood on my tongue. I promptly shot back:

The image of you spending your days and nights photoshopping other people’s pictures is cracking me up.

I notice you didn’t include your own photo. That must be because you’re stunningly beautiful.

But chances are you’re just another internet troll (there’s millions of you) hiding behind your computer. Fortunately you still have your mother to tuck you in at night, since you’re living in her basement.

Please, please, please keep spending your time sending me pictures of myself. It’s actually kind of flattering.

I waited, checking my email every few minutes while fixing dinner for the Fireplug. But that was the last I ever heard from the troll. I didn’t feel as though I’d won.

Now, I knew the dude was a loser. And a jealous one at that. But as I set the table I realized that he had, with devastating accuracy, zeroed in on the two areas of my body I’m most anxious about. Trolls do that. I don’t know how, but they do.

As the days passed the sting faded, and I found myself now mulling a fellow blogger’s tagline, which I will paraphase as this: “If you post anything on the internet, expect criticism.” It’s a motto for which I have no real affinity, which is not to say that I don’t understand it.

I’d thrown up a couple of pics of which I felt proud, as they showed off some of the hard work I’d put in at the gym, transforming my 128-pound frame into a more solid 185. I put it up, I should admit, expecting some praise. Which I got. But of course there’s a flipside to praise, and when you post something, you invite it.

Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, to see parallels between photoshopped beefcake and other works of creativity. You make something and put it up – a blog post, a poem, a painting, a song – hoping for praise. It’s an act of courage, to spend hours or days or weeks building something, and then to make that jump – to take it from your bedroom or your office or your laptop, and put it out there for public consumption. Many, many people never make that jump.

You run the risk of the devastating Facebook critique. A hundred hours of labor met with a single, “Meh.”

It’s easier to consume than to create. But that’s why its worth doing. Add something to this imperfect universe. A small act of generosity. Something that will make the reader or the viewer or the listener feel a little less alone in the world. Screw the trolls. Do the work.