Monday, September 22, 2014

Gone Fishing. The loss of a childhood friend.

He wore a skirt to my 13th birthday party, and kissed me next to the pool table in my grandparents' basement.

We went to a small school together in a seaside town known for fresh scallops and lobster shacks. Buoys hung from backyard fences where lobster traps were stacked for mending, boat trailers rested in gravel driveways, and lifejackets mixed with bikes in the garages that had sand for floors. Fishing boats lined up along the coast every evening, and churned out to sea as the sun rose each day. None of my friends had  any aspirations to become fishermen ourselves at the time, but it was inevitable that the sea would lure at least a few of us. We all knew the ocean and the local beaches as well as we knew our own backyards. The Long Island Sound was our playground and our classroom.

He had huge blue eyes, peering out from under a mop of tousled blonde hair. He was quieter than some, smaller than most, and the third boy named Sam in our class of 18. At the end of ninth grade we parted ways - different high schools, different friends, very different paths.

Sam found me on Facebook about 4 years ago. He was in Hawaii, captaining a commercial fishing boat. A year later he came to visit. We planned to meet at an outdoor street fair, and I would be lying if I said I recognized him through the crowd. But he spotted me, raised his hand in greeting, and threw his arms around my shoulders for a long hug. He was strong, and taller than he had been the last time I saw him. His hair was no longer flopping over his eyes, but those eyes were still that deep bright blue I had all but forgotten until I saw them again. We stood around late into the evening, leaning on a pickup  truck drinking beer while my kids climbed around the back and hung from the racks. He talked to my Sam, we caught up on the friends we had in common, made plans for him to come out for Thanksgiving if he was ever around over the holidays.

He was never around for the holidays.

"Gone Fishing" he would post on Facebook, sometimes accompanied by a photo of the harbor receding in the distance as the boat entered the deeper water of the Pacific, bound for a few weeks of hard work and high seas.

We heckled each other on our pages, swapping photos and memes, and I could always tell when he had been drinking because his comments would turn dark, the words sharp and angry. And in the morning sometimes I would find an apology. "I don't even really feel that way" he said. Sometimes he would comment on something I had written here, and I was always surprised he had been reading.

A few weeks ago I found myself in the city where his boat was docked. A friend of mine was getting married, and I had flown in for the weekend. I thought Sam was fishing, but he sent me a message with his address at the dock and an invitation to come visit. I was standing in a bar sometime around midnight, drunk and slightly disoriented when I read it. I considered jumping in a cab and tracking him down, but only briefly. I was not in any condition to be wandering alone on docks in the middle of the night. I messaged him back with my apologies and regrets, and he responded quickly: "Don't worry, I'll catch you next time. I'm not going anywhere."

And then he left. Gone fishing.

I don't know exactly what happened on the trip, but I can tell you this: it was his last.
Sam was lost at sea.

As the news ripples through our friends, it is hard to understand how this could possibly happen to someone who was so in tune with the ocean and so respectful of it's power. But for people who spend their whole lives on the water, it is just the cycle of life. It is shocking, as an unexpected and untimely death always is, and at the same time, for a child of the sea, one who heard the crash of waves like a pulse, it is only fitting.

Our home town is filled with houses that have a small room at the very top of the roof. It's called a widow's walk, and women would go up there to watch for their husband's ship to return home.

It seemed strange to me, until today.

Monday, September 8, 2014

LIke a Virgin: Daffodil checks out a gay bar.

Yes Virginia, there is indeed a first time for everything.
I know. The thought that I have never in all of my (none of your damn business) years ever been in a gay bar is shocking.

I have no idea how I made it this long, and came this far (no pun intended) without stepping foot in an establishment that is filled with some of my very favorite people: Bartenders.

I kid.

But try as I might, I truly cannot recall another time when I was in a bar that was officially (or unofficially) a "gay bar". Granted, there are long blank spaces in my memory - particularly in the late-night time frame - but I think I would remember something so totally fabulous. Since I am pretty sober these days, I have a clear memory of everything that happened on - and off - the dance floor.  I am both open-minded and very familiar with bars and clubs and what goes on in those sorts of places. And this was not like anything I have ever experienced. It was an eye-opener, in the best possible way.

Without further ado, here is a brief summary of the ins and outs of gay bars, as experienced by me, Daffodil, in Waikiki last week.

(You can also watch the video below for reference/musical accompaniment.)

1. No shirt? No problem.

Shirts are strongly optional - nay, discouraged - in the bar I visited. Now, I have no idea if this is an across-the-board kind of rule, so please observe the "no shirt, no shoes no service" guideline until you see otherwise. But considering that even the barbacks were shirtless, I was looking at a whole lot of hairless chests and nipple rings,  and the shirtless theme was widespread among employees and patrons. I turned to a friend and said "What is up with the no shirt thing?" "It's hot." she replied. Did she mean the bar was hot (because it was) or being shirtless was hot? Either way, people were digging it. Later I overheard a woman ask her husband (hey, no judgement) why he was shirtless. "I like the attention" he confessed. Hm. That gives me a lot to think about.

2. Handle package with care.

I have never seem so many people - mostly men, but some women* too - massaging each others crotches in public before. Mostly over the pants - but not always. Weird. Also, gross.
(* The women could have also been men. It was a little hard to tell in some cases.)

3. You do not have to dance with the one who brought you.

In fact, dancing just with one person is not an option. The amount of grinding amongst strangers was truly encouraging. It was an equal-opportunity grind-fest. Watch your bum. Because if you don't, someone is going to grind against it at some point - whether you want them to or not.
At one point, there was a couple grinding against each other so hard one of them was hanging on to the wall for support. I actually had to look away, because it was getting a little intense over there.

4. Get it together.

It seemed that in this bar, you had to be fully fabulous at all times. Moisturize, shave, style, and then dress to impress. No one was standing around in their football jersey drinking a beer. And any scruff was carefully cultivated and groomed. This place was full of the fashion-forward, and the people-watching was excellent. I also felt like a total slob.
I will do better next time.

5. No Photos, please.

Arrive with your phone fully charged, because you will need it. Whether you are getting someone's number or taking a group photo for social media, you will need all of your battery life to properly document the evening, and find your ride at the end of the night. When the above noted "Selfie" song came on, the entire group next to me sang along, and at the line "Let me take a selfie" they all lifted their phones and took a photo of themselves, then tagged and texted the shit out of it, passing their phones around each time. It wasn't just this song, however, that got everyone engaged. I loved the interactive approach to almost every song. And to the guy videotaping his wife's butt as she danced for him: I was impressed by your enthusiastic appreciation of your spouse, and only sort of weirded out.

The bottom line is that usually, bars have at least an undercurrent of sadness, to match the smell of stale beer. But not this bar. The joy that was exploding out of the club was just amazing. People were smiling, laughing, talking, hugging, letting people cut in front of them in line (and not just to check out their ass, but that definitely seemed to be a part of the motivation). No one was fighting, crying, or sitting alone in a corner. This was the friendliest, most affectionate and welcoming crowd I have ever been lucky enough to spend an evening with. If you walked out on the dance floor, you were instantly a part of their good time. And there was not a whiff of stale beer, mostly because everyone smelled SO LOVELY.

Now, maybe I happened to hit this place on a good night. Maybe, just maybe, I was seeing some of these people being their true - and truly fabulous - selves for the first time in a long time - or perhaps ever. I don't know if it was a unique evening. I do know this - what I saw was inspiring. The quiet boy in glasses ditched his backpack, ripping his shirt off as he climbed up and started gyrating on a pedestal. He was exuding joy, and it was contagious. People walking in alone were immediately being embraced by total strangers, who introduced themselves and let them cut in line to get their first drink ASAP. (This happened to me, so I speak from experience here.) Young couples with heads together and arms around each other's waists, laughing with friends, or talking quietly while they swayed to the music, unaware of the crowd around them. Men proudly dressed in full drag and looking better then most of the women I know - all the second glances they got here were ones of appreciation.

And that is the best word I can come up with for the evening: Appreciation. There was a feeling of appreciation from everyone I came into contact with. Appreciation of being able to be themselves. Appreciation of being in a state that allows marriage equality. Appreciation of the music, the staff, and each other. Appreciation of the moment. And really, I can't ask for more than that.

Today the Ninth Circuit Court is hearing 3 cases regarding marriage equality - including one case from Hawaii. More info can be found here