The Unbearable Niceness of Being

8 Jan

“Too nice is neighbor’s fool”
Dutch proverb

“It’s nice to be nice to the nice.”
-Frank Burns, M.A.S.H.

Who among us has not been amazed and appalled by how mean and rude some people can be? We all hate rude people and everyone says that mean people suck.

But what about the nice people?

At the risk of sounding cynical, I must confess, I have long believed there is such a thing as “too nice.” Maybe that says something about the world we live in or maybe it just says something about me.

How nice is too nice?

There’s nice and then there’s “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints nice.” You may think I am mocking the Mormons, but I am not. I have been to Salt Lake City and let me tell you there is no one nicer than a nice Mormon. Think Donny and Marie. Could anyone be any nicer than Donny and Marie?

Now that’s a good nice. It is, in fact, the final edge of nice.

Venture too far beyond that edge and you encounter another level of niceness altogether—a kind of mutant niceness, if you will…

There is a Starbucks near my office that is a place where mutant niceness dwells.

My first visit there was the Friday before Memorial Day. I had taken the day off and I went to the gym that morning. In an effort to reward myself, I went to Starbucks.

Nothing says, “Great workout!” like a triple venti latte and an orange cranberry scone.

I think Jack LaLanne used to say that when he wasn’t pulling semi-tractor trailers with his teeth or firing up the juicer.

The smiling woman behind the counter took my order and, as they always do, asked my name so she could write it on the cup with that eyebrow pencil looking implement.

Once I told her my name, she seized upon it like it was the key to happiness. Saying it sure seemed to make her mighty happy.

Customer Service experts will tell you to use the customer’s name because everyone loves the sound of his own name.

Me, I can take it or leave it. In fact, when I hear my name used too often it begins to sound funny.

You know, like what happens when you say a word like pistachio or ulterior over and over again until it loses all meaning and just begins to sound like funky gibberish?

That’s what happens when someone says my name too many times.

Then I start thinking, “Bill?! Who names a child Bill? What the Hell were my parents thinking?!”

Now the Starbucks lady seemed bound and determined to wreck my name forever.

“Thanks, Bill! And how is your day so far, Bill?”

Why does this sound like a trick question?

“Um…great?” I responded hesitantly.   

“Bill, that’s wonderful! Do you have any special plans for the day, Bill?”

“Why, no. No, I don’t.” 

“Bill, that’s great!” 

I pulled out a $20.00 bill to pay her.
“Oh, Bill, they don’t let me handle money!” She put her hands up in the universal “what can you do?” gesture. 

“Um, OK.”

I carried my plate with the scone and wandered around to the barista who was making my order.

While she was steaming and foaming milk, she looked my way. Clearly she had read my name on the side of the cup.

“Hi, Bill. How’s your day going?”
Oh jeez, the nice third degree again.

“Good…”

“That’s great, Bill. Here’s your triple venti latte. I hope you enjoy it, Bill!”

“Thanks. Who do I pay?”

The first uber-nice woman piped up, “No one, Bill. We just wanted to make your day better!”

The Starbucks’ staff’s obsession with the quality of my day was both heartening and somewhat  troubling at the same time…

The last time someone I hardly knew was this nice to me they were actually attempting to draw me into some kind of pyramid scheme involving Tahitian Noni Juice and ten or twenty of my closest friends.

You can see why I am gun shy.

Still, I was grateful for the free scone and steamed milk coffee beverage, even if I had to endure unbearable niceness to get it.

I returned to the same Starbucks this past Friday. Different women were on duty but the nice vibe was in the air…

“Welcome to Starbucks! What can I get for you today?”

“Just some coffee and hold the Tahitian Noni Juice.” I replied.

“Pardon me?” My sarcasm had confused the nice lady.

“Triple venti latte.” I said quickly.

“What is your name, please?”

Oh Lord. I just wasn’t up to hearing the sound of my name spoken over and over again.

So, for the sake of sanity, I lied.

“Tim,” I replied. “My name is Tim.”

“That’s great, Tim! How is your day going so far, Tim?”

For a moment I wondered what she would do if I replied, “My day is a steaming pile of monkey doo doo, if you must know!” 

Of course, I’ll never know how she might have reacted because what I actually said was, “Fine, thanks.”

“That’s great, Tim!” She couldn’t have looked happier if she had just won the lottery. 

In theory I should be pleased that a stranger cares so very much about how my day and I are getting along but I can’t help but be suspicious…

Unlike her colleague from a couple of weeks before, this gal apparently did not want to make my day better, as she was more than willing to take my money.

I circled around to the barista’s station. She was pulling levers and turning dials like a mad scientist in a sci-fi movie, operating one of those devices that bends time and space. It felt as if, at any moment, we could all be thrust into an alternate dimension.

It could happen. I have no idea how an espresso maker really works!

If someone isn’t trying to ensnare me in a pyramid scheme, this kind of niceness is usually an indicator someone is about to try and convert me to their  religion. Usually it is an obscure religion. The major ones have pretty much given up on me…

“How is your day going, Tim?”

“My day is going fine, thanks.” I responded.

“Tim, that’s wonderful. My day is going great too. And do you know why?”

I shake my head.

“Because, Tim, I have embraced Zoroastrianism.” 

What do you say to that? “Um, OK…” is all I could muster. 

“Tim. have you accepted Ahura Mazda as the one uncreated Creator?”

“Can’t say as I have…”

“Ahura Mazda will ultimately prevail. Then, Tim, the universe will undergo a cosmic renovation and time will cease to be—check it out!” She shoved a pamphlet in my direction. 

I picked it up.”Zoroastrianism and You” read the cover “That sounds really interesting…”

.”If you have any questions, my number is on the back, Tim.”

Was the room spinning? I was feeling a little funny…


“Tim? Tim? Tim?” 

For a moment I was annoyed. Someone is calling Tim. Why doesn’t this Tim answer? 

“Tim, your latte?”

There is no pamphlet. Just coffee and steamed milk in a cardboard cup with the name Tim scrawled on the side.

For a moment my warped vision continued. Knocking the cup from the barista’s hand, I screamed, “I’m not Tim!” as I ran for the door. As I make a hasty retreated,  I heard both women calling out in unison: “Have a great day, Tim!”

Instead, in reality, I was just standing there.

“Tim, are you okay?” the barista asked. The woman from behind the counter turned to me.”Hey, Tim, are you alright?” she chimed in.

“I’m fine.” I said, taking the cup from the counter.

And then I had a moment of realization.

It really isn’t fair for me to disdain these overly nice people just because of a few bad experiences with other painfully nice people.

It just isn’t, well, nice.

Latte in hand, I headed for the door. Just before I opened it I turned back to face my nice tormentors.

“Thanks.” I said, looking into the concerned faces of the two Starbucks employees. 

“You’re welcome, Tim” “Have a great day and a wonderful weekend, Tim!”

“I will, I replied. “And thank you for being so nice.”

To Autumn, with love

22 Sep

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Dear Autumn,

I just wanted take a moment to welcome you back!

Don’t tell the other seasons, but you are my favorite. I think summer already suspects how I feel–possibly because I spent most of July and August. whining, “Damn, I hate Summer!” but who can be certain?

It wasn’t always like this. When I was a child; I am pretty sure I loved summer best.

Summer was that special season when school was out and there were trips to the beach to be taken–and of course, day camp and swimming lessons and such–which I now realize were just busy work adults invented because, well, school was out and who wants a child underfoot all day everyday? No one in my family, that’s for sure.

I have such fond memories of day camp…

Once, when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old,  I got an ear infection from all that swimming and had to miss camp for a day or two.

When I returned to camp, the counselors had drained the pool because, the day before, an errant turd had been found floating in the pool. One of the campers was suspected…(don’t look at me, I was out sick that day and all I can say is, thank God for ear infections!)

No one would admit to being the guilty party (and this was before DNA testing was a thing) so they  punished all of the campers by making us spend that whole day cleaning the pool.

Then, one time, on the last day of camp, we had a sleep over and the next morning they gave us Krispy Kreme donuts for breakfast!

Then a school bus picked us up to take us to a rendezvous point where we would be reclaimed by our designated grown-up. It was a short trip, but I got car sick and threw up all over myself.

A perfectly good Krispy Kreme, lost…

Ah, memories…I remember a time when I would feel a certain sadness as summer was drawing to a close.

No more day camp, no more swimming with the turds or throwing up on the bus–though, thank goodness, Krispy Kreme is forever.

Then there was the cold hard fact that the start of school loomed large…

That’s where you came in, autumn. I might not have not liked you quite as much because of that whole school starting thing– but despite that, even as a kid, I still found a lot of things to love about you.

Like school supplies–no matter how lukewarm I may have felt about going back to school, I loved the annual ritual of shopping for new pens; notebooks and notebook paper.

Then their were the lunch boxes—don’t get me started on the metal lunch boxes! Seriously–Don’t!

OK, if you insist…

When I was about to enter the first grade, I wanted a Mary Poppins lunch box and my mother, as kindly as she could, warned me that might not be the best choice of a  lunch box…for a boy.

She opined that, were I to take this particular lunch box to school, the other children might make fun of me.

Say what?

I had not attended kindergarten and had no older siblings at home, so this whole “children might make fun of me” thing was a fresh new hell I was suddenly forced to consider for the first time.

I was also shaken to the core by the notion that there could such a thing as a gender-appropriate lunch box.

How were such things decided?

I was very confused.

If only I had thought to say, “But Mother, Mary Poppins was one of the top grossing films of 1964! It was no My Fair Lady, but it did win 5 Academy Awards!”

I bet my mom wouldn’t have worried about her little man sporting a Mary Poppins lunch box then!

But I didn’t think to say that at the time, and so my mother guided me toward what I assumed were lunch boxes for Boys.

I don’t really remember much after that. All I know is, I wound up with a metal lunch box with a red plaid design. Generic plaid with a matching thermos.

Of course that was back when the thermos that came with every child’s lunch box was constructed with a glass coated interior. Dropping the thermos, or some other unforeseen impact would cause the glass inside to break.

Sure, deny me the lunch box of my dreams, but don’t fret for a second about the possibility of me consuming deadly shards of glass with my grape Kool-Aid.

Anyway, autumn–I did enjoy the school supplies.

Another really cool thing about the coming of autumn when I was a kid, was the new Fall TV Schedule! We only had 4 channels then (if you counted PBS) so, getting a whole bunch of new shows to watch was very important at that time. There was no internet, so watching TV was pretty much the only things Americans had to do back then.

So, the release of the Fall Season TV Guide was one of the high points of autumn, if not the entire year. That was back when the TV Guide included local TV listings and was much smaller–but the New Fall Season edition still packed a powerful punch.

Also, of course, I have always loved Halloween and Thanksgiving. Thank you for those, autumn. Nice work!

Nowadays, since I have to pay my own electric bill and the summers just seem to get hotter and hotter, I find myself spending all of summer pining for you. Since that Jaws movie came out, no sane person goes to the beach anymore. And swimming pools lost their allure for me after that unfortunate turd incident.

So much for summer. Now I am all about you, autumn!

Nowadays, I don’t care so much about the new Fall TV Season since we have the internet and about a million cable channels, so it is humanly impossible to keep up. But I do love your cooler temperatures and I still love Halloween and Thanksgiving.

And of course, I still love the school supplies. I still love the huge displays of pens and paper and notebooks–ah, the notebooks…

So, welcome back, autumn! Feel free to linger as long as you’d like!

It’s no wonder I love you best!

 

Happy Birthday, L. Frank Baum

15 May

“Oh, I see;” said the Tin Woodman. “But, after all, brains are not the best things in the world.”
Have you any?” inquired the Scarecrow.
No, my head is quite empty,” answered the Woodman; “but once I had brains, and a heart also; so, having tried them both, I should much rather have a heart.” – The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Today is the birthday of Lyman Frank Baum (May 15, 1856 – May 6, 1919), famously known as L. Frank Baum. In 1900, he published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He went on to write 13 more Oz books, as well as numerous other works.

Baum’s avowed purpose in writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was to write an American fairy tale, a book for children without the dark tone of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson.

The first musical version of The Wizard of Oz was produced in Chicago and then on Broadway in 1902. In the stage version, Toto was replaced with Imogene the Cow. Apparently Mr. Baum did not have final script approval and there were other significant changes as well–including the elimination of the Wicked Witch of the West entirely, and the addition of topical references to President Theodore Roosevelt and other politicians of the day.

Baum, who actually lived in Aberdeen, Dakota Territory (later South Dakota) rather than Kansas, was a strong advocate of women’s suffrage and when Susan B. Anthony came to Aberdeen, she stayed at the Baum’s house. Baum’s belief’s about women’s equality are reflected in several of his works, include the second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz.

In 1905, Baum announced his plans to open an Oz amusement park on an island off the coast of California. Baum said he planned to live on this island and have children as advisers in the development of the park. Alas, financial reversals prevented Baum from moving forward with his vision. Another problem may have been that no one has ever been able to locate the island Mr. Baum claimed he was buying to headquarter the park.

The classic film, The Wizard of Oz, was released 20 years after L. Frank Baum’s death. When I was growing up, annual television broadcasts of this movie were a big event. I watched every year. While not entirely faithful to the book (few movies are) the movie owes its genesis, message and its spirit to L. Frank Baum, the man who gave us The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The message of both the book and the movie resonates for me every day. All too often we go through life thinking we are “less than” when, in reality, if we look within, we can find that we had everything we needed all along.

You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.
― The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Thank you, Mr. Baum. Happy Birthday wherever you are (hopefully over the rainbow…)

Spring, it’s a thing!

21 Mar

It is cool again today, but over the weekend, Spring reared its lovely head and I took some pictures I’d like to share in honor of this beautiful season.

In North Florida, where I live, Spring is an all too elusive season. We have to savor it while we can, before Summer rolls in consumes the landscape.

But until then—ah, it is Spring!

Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s Party!’
– Robin Williams

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. – Anais Nin

 

A little Madness in the Spring Is wholesome even for the King. – Emily Dickinson

It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.
― Rainer Maria Rilke

In springtime, love is carried on the breeze. Watch out for flying passion or kisses whizzing by your head.
-Emma Racine deFleur

  

For every person who has ever lived there has come, at last, a spring he will never see. Glory then in the springs that are yours. – Pam Brown

On Any Random Sunday

22 Nov

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On any random Sunday, you might wake up and find yourself feeling blue; looking for hope in a cup of coffee. The piece of apple caramel pound cake is also hopeful, or so you find it, on this particular, random Sunday.

On any random Sunday, you might find that you are out of tea. Your partner is still asleep, but when he awakens he will surely seek a cup. You realize the closest place to buy tea is that store– one of those stores with the word Dollar in its name, but it isn’t an “everything for a dollar” store–that store you usually avoid. The store where the clientele look like they are only in the store because they took a wrong turn on their way to the methadone clinic–or so you might think, but you don’t like to judge, at least not on this random Sunday.

You might, on any random Sunday, drive to that store you do not like– not just because of the clientele, who you do not judge, but mostly because the place is crammed full with too much “stuff” and the aisles are tiny. When you enter the store, you might find yourself overwhelmed by displays of ceramic fall foliage and pumpkins jammed into shelf after shelf of wrapping paper, tree decorations and other Yuletide paraphernalia. It is like Christmas threw up all over Autumn.

On any random Sunday, especially on a Sunday just past mid-November, especially the Sunday that falls randomly before Thanksgiving, you might find yourself bemused by how quickly a year can pass. You might recall good intentions for the year that never came to pass, at least not beyond the part where you were good at intending but at implementation, not so much.

You might, therefore, find yourself entertaining regret. You might offer regret a cup of tea. You might consider that a good host would also offer regret a slice of apple caramel cake. But you don’t.

Instead–and this is highly recommended–you might send regret on its way. Instead you might brew a cup of hopeful coffee and seek another slice of apple caramel pound cake for yourself.

Then you might should eat the cake without regret; for surely cake and regret are never to go together-not on any random Sunday. Not ever.

Cat Zen Space

18 Oct

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Happy Sunday!

Coming Out: now and then

30 Jun

 2015

The first production of  the Jacksonville Coming Out Monologues opened at Kent Campus of Florida State College on June 29, 2012. 

Being part of this community-grown project was truly a life changing experience for me and for many others. Happily, the show in 2012 was only the beginning. I have been honored and inspired to have been a part of this remarkable project, both on stage and behind the scenes, for four years now.

The Coming Out Monologues 2015 was performed this past weekend. Opening a show like the Coming Out Monologues on the same day the Supreme Court made their historic ruling making same sex marriage the law of the land, was serendipitous to infinity. And what an amazing cast of storytellers! I am so happy to have met each and every one of them and am so blessed to have them as friends. 

For a taste of what the 2015 COM was all about, check out Kyle’s blog: My Coming Out Monologue. Kyle is both witty and wise, so you owe it to yourself to click the link and check his wonderful monologue. 

2012

All of this COM love sent me on a rainbow walk down memory lane to the very first Coming Out Monologues, at Florida State College Kent Campus.

Although I have written about COM in previous blogs, I have never shared my monologue from that first show. I’d like to remedy that today–the 4th anniversary of the final performance of the first production of Jacksonville Coming Out Monologue. And here it is:

August 1958: I came into the world 12 days after the birth of Madonna.

That may be the gayest sentence I have ever said out loud in my life.

Like most children of my generation, I learned early that homosexuals were terrible, scary people.  I just wanted to be loved, so, there was no way I could ever be one of “them.”

There may have been gay liberation somewhere, but I grew up in Jacksonville. I’m pretty sure the Stonewall riots weren’t covered by the Times-Union.

My father died when I was six. So, when it came time to teach me the facts of life, my mother gave me a book: David Reuben’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask.  I raced to my bedroom, closed the door and immediately turned to the chapter on homosexuality.

The book said gay men live loveless lives spent in public restrooms, writing notes on toilet paper and “playing footsie” under the stall. Dr. Reuben said a homosexual has to get his fun where he finds it since Mother Nature didn’t see fit to give him a vagina.

            By then I knew I was attracted to other boys but I definitely didn’t have vagina envy, so I was clearly not a homosexual.

In high school, I began keeping a journal. Even though I recorded my most intimate thoughts, my desire for other boys was the love that dare not write its name. I knew what I felt, but I refused to admit what it meant. I wrote in my journal about girls I told myself I wanted and expressed frustration that whenever I got close to a girl, we always wound up being “just friends.”

I also wrote about boys—guys who triggered desire I wouldn’t accept, so I channeled the feelings into an emotion I could process–jealousy. I was jealous because more than anything, I wanted to be like other boys who I thought were normal in ways that I feared I would never be.

I was a virgin when I left for college and during the next 2 years I went on exactly one date with a girl.  While I was writing frantic journal entries, pining for a girlfriend, I was engaging in activities I didn’t dare document—furtive, random hook-ups with other men that left me feeling empty and even more alone.

Since I really didn’t enjoy these trysts, I couldn’t really be gay.

I’ve never been particularly athletic, but I am a Gold Medal winner in the sport of mental gymnastics.

In 1977 Anita Bryant went on national television and said, “If gays are granted rights, next we’ll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters.” I have no idea what Anita had against nail biters, but Anita was yet another warning that I had better keep this whole gay thing under wraps.

While I was busy keeping secrets in my own head, I made a secret deal with myself.  I couldn’t and wouldn’t decide if I was really gay, until I experienced sex with a woman.

Fall 1978, I took a class on The Novel and in that class was a woman I couldn’t take my eyes off of. She looked like a Cuban Carly Simon. For the sake of the story, I’ll call her H. I plotted excuses to strike up a conversation with her. I even had a pre-rehearsed line:  “I’ve never read Virginia Woolf before, so Orlando is a real revelation to me.”

Note to anyone who wants to woo a girl who’s an English major with a Women’s Studies minor–this line works like a charm!

After class we walked together and talked about literature and life. The fact that we were both left handed Virgos seemed to take on cosmic meaning.

Besides astrology, H was also into Tarot cards and she insisted on giving me a reading. She laid out the cards and then predicted that I would soon meet someone who would change my life. I was beginning to think I already had.

November 27, 1978–I lost my virginity (heterosexually speaking.) Afterwards, H said, “Are you going to write about this in your journal?” and we both laughed.

And then I went back to my dorm and wrote about it my journal.

 H consulted her astrologer about me. The astrologer warned H that a high percentage of Virgo males, born in 1958, were gay.  Really? I blame Madonna.

Spring break 1979, H stayed in Tallahassee while I came home to Jacksonville. During the break, feeling lonely and horny, on a whim I visited a gay club. I was bored as soon as I got there and I nearly left, but then I saw him. His name was Ray and he was different from any of the other men I had met.

I spent the rest of Spring break being wooed by Ray–we went out for Chinese food; we went to the movies; and spent time at the beach, where we found an abandoned kite.

When I returned to Tallahassee after the break, I had no idea what I was going to do.  Ray and I had not made any commitments. I wasn’t even sure I’d ever see him again, but I knew everything was different now.

Just like the Tarot reading said, I had met someone who had changed my life.

What was I going to tell H?

I called her. H sounded odd and declined an invitation to have dinner. When I called her, the next day, she cut me off in the middle of a sentence. She said she was listening to a Lou Reed album and wanted to hear ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ so she had to go. Two hours later, she called to wish my roommate a Happy Birthday, and when he asked her if she wanted to speak to me, she said, “Not really.”

Did she suspect? How could she know? Was it that damned astrologer?! I still blame Madonna!

After two days of silence, I ran into H on campus. She looked me in the eye and said the four scariest words in the English language: “We have to talk.”

We sat down and I waited for her to say something. By now, I was prepared for the worst.

Finally, she spoke: “I’m having an affair,” she said, “with a woman.

This is how I described the next moment, when I wrote about it in my journal:

I told H that her confession had made it much easier for me to confess something I needed to tell her: I have been having an affair with a man. (My God, I’ve actually written it!)

After all of the mental gymnastics and then finally meeting a man I thought I might love—it still had to come down to this. The moment I wrote it in my journal was the moment that I truly, finally came out to myself.

H told me not to label myself but to be open to this new love. And I was.

I did see Ray again. In fact, today, decades later, Ray and I are still together. I’m still keeping a journal too, but thanks to H and Ray, I’ve stopped keeping secrets from myself.

I guess I had always known it would take the love of a good woman to teach me to accept the good love of a man.

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