It's Easter Sunday today, and while it may not have the self-reflective quality that say, Christmas, or the first day of school does, it's still a day to look back. When I was a kid, we often went to Massachusetts on Easter weekend, to see my grandparents who lived in North Reading, just north of Boston, in a small Cape Cod house at No. 29 Eames Street. My sisters and I loved the house because of how it smelled, but more so because we loved seeing our grandparents. They were funny and affectionate.
On Easter Sunday in North Reading, we'd get gift baskets from Grammie, filled with plastic, opalescent grass, a chocolate bunny, and candy you could only buy in the States. We'd then hunt throughout the living room for jelly beans that she and my mother would have hidden in the room, before eating ham for dinner, in the small kitchen with the red and black linoleum floor. After dinner, we'd watch The Wizard of Oz on TV, which was shown every year at Easter on CBS. The moment when black and white Dorothy opens her front door to a full-colour Oz blew my mind every time I saw it. It still does. And those flowers, the blue sky and the very beginning of the yellow brick road still feel like Easter to me, no matter how old I get.
It feels like the future today. The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing this week on whether or not to uphold an Appeals Court's overturn of California's Proposition 8, which restricts marriage to heterosexual couples. Whatever the decision could possibly be, it does feel like the future is here now. Imagine - gay marriage in the United States. I never thought it would become legal anywhere while I was alive, and certainly not there. I remember thinking as a kid that I'd never be able to get married, at least to the person I wanted to. Thankfully, this conversation that the U.S. is having right now was decided long ago here; same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada in 2005, which I'm very proud to say..
Even after it was legalized here though, I had no interest in getting married. Not many gay people I knew did at first. It felt too conventional; it was a state that had never belonged to us anyway. I'd lived so many years thinking I wasn't 'allowed' to get married, that suddenly when it was permitted, it was too late. "I'm not the marrying type," I'd say to people, sounding like a bachelor from a Blue Stratos commercial. Now however, with so much conversation about it going on, I'm pretty sure I am the marrying type after all. It's a future I never imagined.
40 used to seem old to me. It looked old to me. My own parents had me when they were 41 and 40. I came along in 1972 to a family of five, already established as a couple and three girls approaching teenhood. I didn’t know Mom and Dad were older than other parents until I started going to school and seeing what most kids’ parents looked like. The moms that came to pick up their kids at Brick Street Public School were often blonde. They had bobbed hair that moved when they did. They wore denim, one-piece jumpsuits with cream coloured turtlenecks and big fat shoes that were ready to run when they needed them to. They had names like Linda and Brenda.
My own mother’s hair didn’t move so much. It was permed to be curly and it was grey. Mom worked at Price Waterhouse as a secretary so she wore skirts with matching jackets, and shoes with thin heels that weren’t conducive to running. Her name is Elaine.
Other dads were different too. They were often tan. They wore t-shirts and Adidas jackets with stripes on the sleeves. Some wore gold chains or big rings. They moved fast and spoke in loud voices. Some had beards. My own Dad, Jim, was gentle. He spoke mildly and slowly. He didn’t like jeans so much, opting instead for grey or khaki slacks with a shirt that would button up the front. Dad was approaching 50 when most of my friends’ fathers were likely coming up to their mid-thirties.
I couldn’t believe it when Gina Nagy – the five-foot tall eight-year-old – told me in Grade 3 that her parents slept naked in their bed. They sounded like wild people to me. I’d picture their bedroom messy, with dirty crumpled white sheets on the bed and ashtrays on the side tables. I met them once. They drove a big blue Lincoln. They were tall and spoke with accents. I knew they slept naked. I hated that I knew that.
And Michael Brock's mother was the local Beaver leader. We called her Akela, but her name was Diane. She wore track suits and was always out running in the neighbourhood. She was "active". At Michael's birthday parties, Akela would play a game with us called Poor Pussy. She’d sit on the floor in the middle of the room and one by one, each kid there would have to go sit with her and stare into her eyes without turning away or laughing, this while she stroked your face and repeated the words "poooooor pussy" over and over again. It was humiliating, but at least she baked money into the cake.
My own parents didn’t play games on the floor with us. We played cards at the table sometimes – crazy eights maybe, or cribbage. They slept in pajamas like my sisters and I did and on Sundays we went to church before coming home to eat molasses poured on crusty bread from the Italian bakery downtown. They taught my sisters and me to be polite and to speak to strangers with kindness. They loved me and they told me so every day.
I am finally older now than my mother was when she gave birth to me and almost as old as my father was, and my 40 feels different than I perceived theirs to be. I never pictured that I’d live in Toronto. I never thought that I wouldn't own a car by now, or that I wouldn't be a dad. I didn't know that I wouldn't have traveled as much by now as I would have wanted, or that I'd have stopped drinking coffee because of the effect that caffeine has on my nervous system. With a slowly balding pate, a greying beard and one root canal behind me, this is what my 40 looks like, what it feels like; a conspiracy led by my body and denied by my heart.
I live in a townhouse in the core of the city. When you share walls with other people, you can only hope they are as careful as you when it comes to fire safety. I can’t speak for my neighbours so I’ve devised a plan to salvage my favourite things in case of fire.
My first stop will be the upstairs hall closet where I keep coats. There are two that I simply must save. One is a camel cashmere wool blend. It’s fifty years old and it was my father’s. He’s still alive, but I stole it from him a decade ago. It does have sentimental value, but even more important, I look great in it. It is the first ageless classic garment I have owned and I expect to have it forever. I’ll also grab my heavy suede jacket with the lamb’s wool collar, which was also Dad's. It makes me feel cool when I wear it; it gives me street cred in the eyes of the kids twenty years younger than me who shop at vintage stores. I can’t let that burn.
While I’m passing the bathroom on my way downstairs, I may as well grab my toothbrush and toothpaste. If I’m going to be speaking to camera crews about my misfortune, the last thing I want to be is self-conscious about my breath.
My next stop is the kitchen for something purely sentimental. It’s my circus elephant sugar n’ cinnamon shaker. It’s much older than I am and belonged to my mother when she was very young. My sisters love it as much as I do, but I was the first of us bold enough to take it from my mother’s kitchen, so I deserve it.
While I’m in the kitchen, I may as well save my French yellow sugar bowl which I love so much. In fact, I’ll save my Michael Graves coffee maker from Target as well, and the coffee is right there, and my coffee grinder obviously and I may as well throw in the mugs I like because they’re within easy reach. And in the fridge, there’s currently a jar of homemade strawberry jam that my sister made too. I’ll take that. And the Guinness Cheddar. It’s divine.
On my way out of the kitchen, I may as well grab any booze I have in the dining room sideboard. I’ll want something to drink while I sit on the curb being comforted by my friends who have made the journey over because they saw me on the news. Currently I have one bottle of amaretto and one bottle of banana liqueur. I’ll likely just grab the amaretto though. I don’t want to be unrealistic.
As I’m fleeing toward the door I’ll be sure to remove the long mirror off the dining room wall. This way, whatever one-room shanty I may have to move into will look twice as big and will help to keep my spirits up following this tragedy.
Reaching the front door, I’ll step into whatever shoes are in the hall – I’m not picky – and step outside. And there on the street, with my neighbours all around me, I’ll pour myself an amaretto, and ready myself to speak to the nation.
I took this picture three years ago today and I love that I can know that so easily. Luis and I were in Brisbane and were headed downtown that afternoon, so we left a note for our host, written in stones. That evening, we met some gorgeous new friends, Lisa and Dayna, whom we still miss. We also, unfortunately, got into a fight with our host that evening, about the fact that we'd gone downtown without her. I've been fortunate to live a life largely without much arguing, so when we were embroiled in it that evening, I felt really angry about it.
Anyway, my point isn't about the fight, and it's not even about our beautiful new friends we met. It's that every day now is an anniversary of some kind. There is a date stamp on every photograph we take digitally, and every email has one also. As a result, there is always an opportunity to look back and measure life by any ordinary day. It used to be that I'd reflect on my year since my last birthday, or even last Christmas, or the first day of school last year. Now, with just a bit of searching on my computer, I can look back at what I've done and how I've changed since something as simple as writing a note in stones three years ago.
Bonnie Franklin died yesterday. She was the mom, Ann Romano, on One Day at a Time. It was a show I never loved, but watched a bit as a kid. I thought Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli) was really pretty and I had a crush on Julie (Mackenzie Phillips). In recent years, after hearing of Mackenzie's problems with drugs and her fucked up family, I've discovered I still have a soft spot for her.
The colour on the show was terrible - all camel-y and tans and some light golds. I never loved shows with palettes like that. M*A*S*H* was another one. All that army green and desert-y brown. Blech. So depressing. And Schneider's denim vest and white t-shirt - something I could probably find hot now on the right guy - seemed dirty to me. Not sexy dirty, which hadn't occurred to me yet in the late 70s; just dirty dirty. I will admit that Glenn Scarpelli did improve the viewing for me. I thought he was nice to look at and I liked his scratchy boy-man voice. I don't want to know what he looks like now, but I'll probably Google him anyway.
But anyway, when I heard that Bonnie Franklin died yesterday, I felt sad. For her a bit, yes, but really, more for me. It's people like Bonnie Franklin that played roles in my childhood, no matter how small. Isabel Sanford. Sherman Hemsley. Beth Howland. Linda Lavin. My beloved Celia Weston. I am hating getting older, so as the components of my childhood disappear from the world, I notice. And I hate it.
I won't admittedly miss Bonnie Franklin, but I'm sorry to experience the disruption that her leaving has caused.