Monday, December 19, 2016

I'd Prefer to Sit Down, but...

              I recently completed one of my bucket list items (performing stand-up at an open mic night) at DRNK coffee house in the Bixby Knolls neighborhood of Long Beach.  There were about 20 of my friends to support me, about 20-25 Neil Young fans there to play guitar after I finished my set and three or four college students who were just trying to study for finals.  Two of my friends recorded it but they are both having issues with getting the video to me so I thought I would share with you my routine.


                My name is Dustin and I’m sure you can tell from my accent I am not from here.   I grew up in East Texas and Mississippi.  For future reference, this is what a redneck looks like.  Now if anyone asks if you’ve ever seen a redneck you can say yes and he was wearing orange pants but not as part of a chain gang.

                I’m from the boonies.  And I want to make sure you understand what I’m talking about.  We lived outside of a town with one red light.  My family is so country; if we had a crest it would have a tractor and some cornbread on it.  As you can imagine I never really fit in.  For instance, one year I got a .22 rifle with a scope for Christmas.  You can understand the confusion as what I asked for was an argyle sweater.

                I feel we’ve bonded so I can share with you that I’m gay, in case you had not already guessed.  My father always told me I wasn’t macho enough.  It’s ironic the only people who use that word are my Dad and the Village People.  Luckily I was really overweight as my father equates girth with strength.  I don’t know why.  When I was fat I used to be too tired to so much of anything except eat.  Now that I’ve lost so much weight, my father thinks I’m too skinny, like too skinny to go to the grocery store alone.  He’s thinks I’m going to get beat up while shopping.  I don’t know where he thinks I buy groceries but there are neighborhoods I specifically avoid in Long Beach.

                I’ve devised a few rules about living in Long Beach.  If you are on a Fruit Street (Cherry, Orange, Lime) and you can’t actually see the ocean, you need to get off that street.  They will kill you in the face in the daytime.  I live in Belmont Shore (a couple of blocks from the beach) and I consider anything north of 4th street to be Compton.  Yes, Bixby Knolls is Compton.  We are currently in Compton.  I’m going to need an escort to my car later.

                You can plainly see I am not skinny, however, I’m also not fat.  I’m in a weird in between body zone known to gay men as “might as well be a woman”.    I wish I could tell you under this sexy sweater vest is a ripped body but truthfully what is holding my torso into the shape of a torso is Spanx and hope and a series of ropes, pulleys and trick mirrors. 

                I’ve been in Southern California for almost two years and what I can tell you is there are so many feelings here.  I don’t know if it’s the tofu or the open-toed shoes or what but everyone feels too much here, which causes me to feel things too, like annoyance, anger and condescension, especially to the guys who love to wear jeans, hoodies and flip flops. 

                First of all, it is physiologically impossible for your upper body to be cold and your feet to be hot.  Secondly, no one wants to see your big nasty feet.  At least women have the decency to have their toes done.  Men, it’s just gross.  If your toenails look like a photograph of the Earth’s crust from a science book, nobody wants to see that mess.  And another thing, specifically for the hipsters in the audience.  If you can fit all your stuff in a pair of skinny jeans, you don’t have a lot of stuff.  I’m just saying.  Women notice that sort of thing.

                And the gay guys are just as ridiculous.  I have tried online dating and people are…I don’t know.  There was one guy who was nice and we went on two dates.  The first date was great and we made the second date.  Now I tell them upfront, I am not having sex on the first date.  Like Kelly Clarkson, I do not hook up.  This guy abruptly states during dessert on the second date that there was no chemistry, which I took to mean no forthcoming nudity, and he left.  I sat there thinking “What is the protocol when someone leaves during dessert on a date?  Can I finish his dessert for him?  It’s just sitting there.”  So I ate it.  It was a good brownie.

One guy on OKCupid sent me a message that said, ‘I want to be a baby.”  I told him I didn’t understand what that meant.  He said I want someone to treat me like a baby.  I told him, “I’ma pray for you heathen” and then I did what you’re supposed to do when you have an unwanted baby, I called Child Protective Services and had him placed with a foster family in Valencia.

                There was one guy who was a bisexual man in an open marriage with a bisexual woman.  I asked “What exactly in my profile made you think I’d want to be part that nasty mess?  I’ma pray for you heathen.”  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not judging.  Be who you need to be.  If you want to be a whore, go right ahead but keep me out of it. 

                My profile says I’m a Christian and it’s important.  I mean I’m not taking Jesus on the first date, but it’s going to come up at some point.  I tried gay Christian dating sites but they were worse.  One of them was like Grindr with Bible verses.  My screen name is BrooksBrothersPrep, which is obvious.  One guy’s name was Git U Sum 2Nite.  I don’t think he was talking about salvation.  Call it a hunch.

                Well, I’ve noticed a number of heathens in the audience who need prayer so I’m gonna stop talking now and go pray for them. 

Thank you.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

To boldly go...

              For many years there wasn’t much in my life which made me proud.  I was embarrassed my family was poor.  I was embarrassed I was overweight.  I was embarrassed I wasn’t handsome and I thought I looked like a cartoon or a teddy bear.  I was embarrassed I didn’t have it all together when people assumed I did.  I was embarrassed I was single, desperate for validation, obsessed with trying to achieve society’s definition of success.  Most of all I was embarrassed to be gay.  I never attended Pride as I believed actually being proud was a prerequisite.

                Now, six weeks after my 46th birthday, I find myself suddenly proud of it all.  Proud of me, proud to be me with all my experiences and failures, my background and roots.  I am proud because I am a product of those experiences, those failures, those roots.  I’m proud because all this made me different than I would have been otherwise. 

                My gayness, if you will, caused me to be more ambitious, sometimes misguided in my pursuits, but always striving to achieve whatever I felt was necessary.  At first, it was to feel I deserved the tenuous love I felt with my family.  Then it was to impress, to receive validation.  By my late 30s it had just become who I was; my ambition was simply a part of me, to improve for the sake of continued growth, to be a better person, a better leader.  I wanted simply to impact the world in a positive way, to be the passion I didn’t see. 

                I have never had an ego.  However, I do have traits commonly misjudged as ego – stating my strengths aloud to people, hoping it would be believed if they (or I) heard it enough, striving to convince me and everyone else of my value through sheer force of will.

                I was 29 when my mother died never having accepted my homosexuality.  I was devastated as my mother was perhaps the most important person in my world.  I have not talked about it much, it seems disrespectful.  However, for the next 11 years, until I turned 40, it caused me to try to attempt to be straight and when that inevitably failed, to simply choose celibacy and solitude, believing I was unworthy of personal happiness.  My father had the advantage of living long enough to accept me as I am although it has been slowly over the years.  His comfort is that my gayness is almost theoretical at this point.  I am still single at 46. 

                Also his opinion of me hasn’t mattered in such a long time.  As the one constant bully during my formative years, I stopped caring what he thought long ago and it’s hard to truly care even now, when he tries to be a different person, often failing but still trying, though I really haven’t given him a chance like I probably should.

                The other relationship my gayness impacted has been with God.  If I had been born straight, I may have kept the same superficial Christianity as many of my fellow Evangelicals; attending church Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, plus choir practice, teaching Sunday School, chaperoning youth events.  Never really learning who God is; never questioning my opinions or actions, thinking “I’m not a bad person therefore nothing I do should be considered bad.  Even when I think, say, do, vote in a certain way, I’m exhibiting Christian behavior solely because I think of myself as a Christian; my behavior should be beyond scrutiny.”  I would have bent Jesus to match what I feel because I never studied enough to really know Him enough to understand and know what He would do.  It’s Evangelical privilege and I would have likely had it, based on many self-professed Christians I have known throughout the 14 states I have lived in the last 46 years.

                It’s lazy Christianity; the right to refuse to change to be more like Christ because calling myself, and believing I am, Christian simply requires adherence to a certain appearance, attendance, surface prayer, remembering as opposed to learning. My gayness compelled me to study because I had to know why God would make me gay if it were a sin.  Why would He create someone solely to hate?  He is not about hate; He is about love.  To create someone just to make them perish for all eternity no matter their actions is capricious and hateful, two things God is not.

                In my studies I also learned my view of God was skewed by my view of my father; that I was afraid of God like I was afraid of my father.  Questions with strong Christians and conversations with other believers helped me understand the God Jesus knows.  Dedication to learning more helped me realize it really is all about the greatest commandments:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and love your neighbor as yourself.  These are the greatest commandments, all the law and scripture fall from these truths.

                I am a proud Christian and gay man and I need to say this because of what has recently occurred.  Thirty-seven days after I officially hit my late-mid-forties, a reality TV star and one of the most anti-LGBT politicians in a generation became our new leaders.  Based on the rhetoric during the campaign and the activities since the election, it is more important than ever before to stand up; to be proud; to ensure my voice is heard not just by those who need to be reminded we are here and we are worthy but by those who need to know I am here so they feel less alone.

                I will not be silent while rights are taken away.  I will not sit idly by while actions are taken and laws enacted that are counter to real Christian and American values.  I will be vocal so those who are disenfranchised and targeted know I am here to stand with them, to love them as God loves them, to fight for them.  I want to be a living example of a successful, happy and proud Gay Christian not for me but for the younger me out there struggling.  I will be who I needed when I was younger because I know exactly what it feels like to be alone in the world, to feel like a stranger in your own family, in your own house.  To be embarrassed to be who God made you to be.

                I must be bold because boldness is appropriate, boldness is necessary, boldness is required, boldness is the new mandate.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Gravel, Chakras and Lying to Art Majors

                With all this talk of red and blue states I am reminded of a time when a lack of information about color saved me death and dismemberment.   

                My first junior year in college, I was a Graphic Design major.  I had two junior years due to my inability to decide on a major after unrelenting math classes forced me from my original intended major, Architecture.    During this same year, I was also pledging a fraternity, which placed me fundamentally at odds with many of my fellow Art Students League members.  Between project deadlines and the stress related to the all-encompassing belief that my fraternity brothers would suddenly realize I was a big gay nerd and vote me out, I didn’t get much sleep. 

                I enjoyed the dichotomy of fraternity and artiness all in one person, but I found there were times when I did not fit in with either.  For the fraternity, it was the drinking, which I have never.  For the Art Students, it was the basics like food, clothing, shelter, music and also drinking.  With them there was a lot of tie-dyed, fibrous clothing (purchased from the local hippie emporium Belladonna), CDs of the sounds of whales mating and random talk about auras and chakras and other things seemingly hippie-adjacent.  There were also a lot of black clothes, which I appreciated for its slimming effect but I wanted to be a little less funereal in my ensembles.  Granted I did wear a burlap hoodie and had a pair of fake Birkenstocks in an attempt to blend, but my body secretly craved brightly colored fake Polo shirts.  Everything I owned was fake as I had no money, people.

                As I am willing to try most anything once, I readily agreed when asked, “Do you want to meditate in the Frazer Dorm parking lot?”  Frazer dorm was the men’s dorm at my predominately female Mississippi University for Women.  It sat at the back of the campus, about 20 feet from an active railroad track where a train came by and honked (do trains honk?) their horn at least every hour. 

 My memories are a bit hazy due to age, not drugs, but I remember sitting on gravel, trying to find my chakra with one eye open scanning for cars.  I wanted to make sure I protected my black-clad friends sitting on the ground in the dark in a location frequented by young people mindlessly driving cars; distracted by the tunes of Jesus Jones and Book of Love since cell phones had not been invented at this particular point in history.  Outside of “are we going to die tonight?”, the most pressing question was, “Are chakras to be found in a parking lot on a Mississippi college campus, about 10 miles from the Alabama state line?”  It was unlikely as one of those searching was continuously struggling with random bits of gravel lodged in random bodily nooks and crannies previously unexplored.

I felt fairly certain I had not found any of the colors of the chakras.  There are at least red and blue, to my memory.   Unsure if I would recognize my chakra were I to stumble upon it, I asked, “What shade of blue is the blue chakra?”  The response was a completely disappointing, “Blue.”  We were art majors and we couldn’t specify the exact shade of blue.  Really?  I pressed on, “I know you said blue, but which shade?  Cerulean?  Lapis?  Turquoise?  Aqua?  Tiffany?  Robin’s Egg?  Cornflower?” 

They didn’t snort with derision, but there was a collective sigh as if I had just knocked them up or down a level.  I’m still not sure how this works.  Is it like a video game?  One of the less annoyed ones answered, “It’s just blue.  You’ll know when you’ve found it.”

Tired of sitting in gravel in the dark and starting to get hungry, I lied and said, “Oh.  There it is.  I found it.  What a nice shade of blue.”  You can think all art majors are laid-back, but the looks I received were among the looks you would get if you got caught using Miracle Whip in your chicken salad at a Baptist Women’s luncheon.

With the chakra search abandoned, I suggested a trip to Delchamp’s, the 24-hour grocery store where our intrinsic differences were never more evident than in our snack choices.  They all chose fruit, yogurt or nuts.  I chose chicken salad and used BBQ Crunch Tators (remember those?) as a spoon. 

What can I say, y’all, I am a complex creature.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Hearing Aids for No Apparent Reason

               I talk to The Dad by phone (as opposed to telepathy) every Saturday, usually around 11 am Louisiana time.  Sometimes he doesn’t answer, which is annoying, because the man literally doesn’t leave his recliner on the weekends other than to eat and use the bathroom, sometimes concurrently.  The reason it is annoying is his timing is always terrible.  If we don’t talk on Saturday morning, he panics and then starts calling me every 15 minutes, leaving no voicemails, until I answer and I am usually in a movie or having brunch or some other really important thing.  When I ask him why he doesn’t answer the phone, he says it doesn’t ring.  When I point out he keeps it in his shirt pocket where it should at least vibrate he declines the logic.  When I remind him I call at the exact same time every week, he pretends to not understand what I’m saying.

                He does this by refusing to wear the hearing aids prescribed by his doctor and received free of charge from the VA.  He does not want to admit it but he is 75 and has the hearing prowess of a Dowager Countess.  I used to think he had selective hearing because he seemed to be able to hear a bag of chips open from a half-mile away, but not hear when I ask him if he took his medicine or if he showered that day.  I knew something was wrong however, when I whispered at dinner one night that we had chocolate ice cream for dessert and he didn’t move a muscle.  I called the doctor the next day.

                And I share all that to give you context of the conversation we had just this past week, when he wasn’t wear his hearing aids.

             The Dad:  Joe’s Pool Hall, Cue Ball speaking.

Me:  Hey, what’re y’all doing?

             TD:  Hey JD!  We’re just sittin’ around watching the grass grow.  Whatcha doin’?  Shoppin’?

             M: Well I went to the grocery store if you consider that shopping.  Ran some other errands.  I’m meeting some friends in a little while to have tea.

             TD:  Teeth?

             M:  No, we’re going to a tea room to have High Tea.

             TD:  What?

             M: High tea. 

             TD:  Hottie?

             M: (Speaking loudly) High Tea.

             TD:  Highty?

             M: (Almost yelling) Where are your hearing aids?

             TD:  Don’t need ‘em.  Now what were you talkin’ about doin’?

             M: (Yelling) Going to High.  Tea.  Like they do in England?

             TD:  You’re goin’ to England today?

             M: (Sarcastic but still hopefully respectful) Yes, I’m going to England.  Today.  I have to hang up, the plane is here.

             TD:  Oh, well I’ll talk to you later.

             M:  No…I’m just kidding…I’m not going to England.

             TD:  Oh.  So you are goin’ shoppin’?

             M: (Resigned) Yes, sir.

             TD:  That’s that I thought.

             If I drank, I'd be drunk at brunch right about now.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Who Peed in the Dating Pool?

              Some time ago I mentioned I was going to dip a toe back into the dating pool, but then never mentioned it again, like some of those peripheral characters on soap operas.  Truth be told, in my attempt to wade, I slipped and fell headfirst into what can only be described as a kiddie pool based on the maturity level of most of those I’ve encountered.   I will state this was surprising so you won’t think I’m all jaded and whatnot.

                After my most recent debacle which involved an alleged construction accident in the Philippines and the realization that I am not overly attractive while Skyping, I was encouraged to blog about my experiences dating using as a guide the numerous suggestions I have been given by well-meaning friends, church folk, acquaintances, advice columnists, outcomes of lawsuits and random advertisements for dating websites. 

                Titled “26 Ways to Not Meet Mr. Right” (, this new blog will take you on a magic carpet ride but without any further veiled drug references or Steppenwolf songs.  Over the next six months, I’ll be your intrepid explorer through the vast wasteland of dating in an age of self-involved Pokémon Hunters with little to no ability to actually communicate in person.  I’ll be like Columbus without the smallpox or murderous intentions; like Carrie Bradshaw, with all the fashion but without all the trashy behavior.  I love me some Sarah Jessica Parker but all four of those ladies were what we would call ‘fast’.  Just saying.

On this particular note, please be assured my blog will be rated PG as I am rated PG, or Puritanically Gleeful.  And never fear, I shall continue the Penny Loafers blogs although only 1/8 of my Facebook friends even read it and yes I’m a little bitter, like endive; slightly bitter but still palatable.

Join me on my quest to find my one true love.  I believe he is out there somewhere, unless of course, he was hit by a bus or kidnapped while shopping for clearance-priced Brooks Brothers.  And even though Tanya Calvert and Gary Piercey (yes, I still remember their names) used a particular song to beat me in the Will Rogers Elementary School Talent Show in Burns Flat, Oklahoma, in 1981, I will be like the ant that pushed over the rubber tree plant and have (singing, with jazz hands) HI-I-I-IGH HOPES!

Somebody might want to say a prayer.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Bless Your (Judging) Heart

               In my current position, I sit on many interview panels for both my facility and peer facilities throughout our region.  Judging others has become my life’s work.  If those readers with whom I attended school can kindly refrain from smirking and just say, “bless his heart” and move on with your day, it would be much appreciated.

                Everyone has skills.  Some skills are awesome, some are not; some used for good, some for evil, but we all have them.  Most times, people use skills learned at work only at work and those learned outside of work only outside of work.  I think we are selling ourselves short by not finding new, creative uses of our skills.  For example, I use Lean processes at home to make my shopping trips as efficient as possible. In preparation for the grocery store, I list the needed items in the order I will come across them in the store, saving myself steps and time.  I am Lean like Toyota, people. 

As much as I try to be a good executive and always make the best hiring decisions, I know there are those who don’t seem equipped to make good choices.  I say this only as I see people making bad choices and I feel as if they simply don’t know the best way.  With this information, I thought I would share some of my expertise and the interesting genesis of this different way of thinking. 

                As you know I began working with the Miss America system when I was in college at MUW.  I began as Assistant Student Director and have since served as a Local Director, State Judge and State Trainer.  When I was still in Mississippi, I attended Miss America Judge’s Training with a multitude of fantastic people with gravity-defying hairdos and exceptional outfits.  To clarify, Miss America is not, I repeat NOT, Miss USA which Donald Trump used to own.  I feel the need to distance this blog and my reputation from anything as gaudy and gold-plated as The Donald. 

                Miss America Judge’s Training teaches you not to compare the contestants to each other.  Instead you compare each contestant to the ideal contestant, whatever it may be for you; speaking ability, critical thinking skills, musical talent, ability to levitate, etc.  This way each contestant is judged according to how well they measure up to the ideal.  This is important.

                For example, if you wanted someone on your trivia team who would help compel you to the winner’s circle, you would choose someone with significant knowledge of useless information, wouldn't you?  However, if you were to compare The Dad to my sister, she would know more than he about trivia, so you’d pick her.  The Dad’s answer to any and all trivia questions are “Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood or Leave me alone!”    My sister would seem to be the best of that particular group, right? 

Let’s look at the facts:  my sister thinks Chevy Chase and Bill Murray look so much alike she can’t remember which one is which, just that she likes neither.  She calls Jack Black, “That ugly, greasy, not funny guy.  What’s his name?  Adam something?”  When describing most movies she says “You know that guy?  The one with the face?  No, not him, the other one.  The one with the hair I don’t like.  You know the one who looks like the other one in that movie that I thought I liked but remembered I didn’t?”  She will not help you win trivia.  By the way, she was talking about Hugh Grant.

You should always pick the best; not just the best of the bunch, because your bunch might be a big ol’ mess.  I’m just saying.   Judge not lest ye be judged are definitely words to live by, however, since you were judged in order to get your job, feel free to judge others from the perspective of selecting a candidate for a job.  I feel sure Jesus is okay with it, in this context.   

I use the Miss America training to help me pick the best candidate.  If I am looking for someone who is skilled at critical thinking, I will choose the person most similar to my ideal critical thinker.  If no one in a group of applicants comes close to the ideal, I simply choose no one and re-advertise for the position.  I would rather be alone than regretful. 

Of course, I realize there are situations where you don’t have the luxury of time, but it doesn’t mean you still can’t look at your options more critically to ensure you are getting the best people on your team.   No one is perfect, except Jesus, but He’s not applying to work at your business.  He should already be there, in your heart.  If He’s not in your heart, we can help you, heathen, but not in that judgy, interviewy, pageanty way.   Bless your heart.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Putting the 'Duh' in Humidity

Part of my daily routine, even on weekends, is to check the weather prior to confirming the outfit which had been decided the previous evening is still appropriate.  And while we are safely beyond Memorial Day and in the white shoes/seersucker/linen zone, I am still reluctant to wear any of these things if there is a chill in the air.  Nothing says distressed more than a preppy shivering in cream suede wingtips and pastel chinos and the possibility exists in Southern California in June.  I had checked the forecast, with a current temp of 63 and an anticipated high of 72, but I also did a visual check as “almost” only works in horseshoes and hand grenades and apparently meteorology.  The weather app on my phone is rarely accurate.  Of course it was raining.

There is a meteorological phenomenon known to Southern California and Hawaii; I call it spritzing.  Spritzing is actual precipitation but more along the lines of a baby slobbering than anything even remotely replenishing to Mother Earth.  It comes in fits and starts and is sometimes so light, you think maybe you’re imagining it.  All it is good for is stirring up the latent dirt on your car causing it to look a mess. 

Since it was spritzing, I had to alter my intended wardrobe and choose a more weather-appropriate ensemble, replacing the suede shoes with stylish, navy leather wingtips.    However, because of the humidity, I was forced to wear a Polo shirt, which was much cooler but did not look as nice as a button-down would on my body.  Despite being bereft of children, I have somehow morphed into what can only be described as a “Dad” body, resplendent with man boobs and a spare tire worthy of a dune buggy, people.

Speaking of dunes, the very next day summer arrived in all its glistening glory.  Once I escaped the clutches of the swamp-like conditions of both Louisiana and Washington, DC; I thought man-boob sweat would be a thing of the past.  My four years in the Bay Area led me to believe California to be the land of broken dreams and no need for air conditioning.  My interstate relocation to Long Beach, 18 months ago, gave me the false sense of not needing any appliance to cool one’s household.  I was told on more than one occasion by the bald-faced liars, I mean citizens, of SoCal, “It doesn’t get hot enough to need an air conditioner.”  And like any other yokel from out of state, I believed them.  I wanted, needed, to believe them as my apartment did not have an A/C unit.

                July 2015 reared its fire-emblazoned head which led me on a fruitless search for anything resembling an air conditioner, swamp cooler, fan or ice chest.  None were to be found as they had purchased by the ridiculous people who assured me I didn’t need anything to help cool.  Hateful!

                Not wanting to put the ‘Duh’ in humidity again this year, I learned from my mistakes.  So when I went to bed on a chilly Saturday in Long Beach and awoke Sunday morning stranded on a pirogue in a Louisiana swamp (it’s a boat; look it up), I simply turned on my air conditioner, which I had purchased back in April when it was still 50 degrees outside.  The only thing I want moist in my home are baked goods. 

                And my friends say, “But Dustin, you’re from the South.  Shouldn’t you be used to the heat and humidity?”  And I always reply, “Yes, I spent the first 32 years of life, traversing every boon and cranny in every part of the South not touching the Atlantic Ocean, sweating and pouting about sweating.  I was a hot, unhappy child, yearning for a family from somewhere cold.  I was convinced I was switched at birth with a preppy family from up North who somehow had a small redneck child, begging for Wranglers and boots while swaddled in layers of MY argyle and corduroy.”

Why do you people think the first place I moved out of the South was to Alaska?  No one moves to Alaska by accident, y’all.  And speaking of Alaska, my little air conditioner keeps it chilly in mi apartmento por favor.  Seriously, you can see your breath in my living room.  And that’s all I’m saying for now as I have become too cold to type.  Winning!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

You. Are. So. Gross.

               Visiting relatives always sparks memories and you spend much of your time reminiscing, mostly about embarrassing events.  Now, I would never air my siblings’ dirty laundry but as you have come to know, I will air mine like a reality star hoping for their own spin-off.

                In 1979, we had returned to Northeast Louisiana, settling into an old plantation home situated behind the post office, a block from Sonic, in the bustling metropolis of Tallulah, Louisiana, which was the first US city to offer shoppers an indoor shopping mall, Bloom’s Arcade, built in 1925.

                This particular house was built long before indoor plumbing was even a glimmer of a hope in anyone’s mind in a small Southern town; therefore the bathrooms were located in areas not previously utilized for daily ablutions.  Hence, the master bathroom was an enclosed part of what had previously been a wrap-around porch, with an additional half bath near the kitchen.  The upstairs lavatory was directly at the top of the stairs.  To give you a more vivid picture and place you right in the episode, the toilet was situated directly facing the door within full view of all stair travelers.

                On this particular day, I had exhausted myself with manual labor and farming (full disclosure: making my bed and raking leaves) and retired to the bathroom with the latest tome in my favorite series about an 11 year-old detective, Encyclopedia Brown.  As my sister was attending an ironically named slumber party, I felt completely comfortable leaving the door open due to the ridiculously warm weather often found across the South in the fall.

                Having been trained through example by The Dad, I was settling in for a relaxing, lengthy session when I heard footsteps on the stairs and girls’ voices.  I froze.  What else can you do when you are seated with the door open and not remotely within reach?

                My sister and her friend get to the top of the stairs, see me and stop to stare, horrified.  My sister, never at a loss for words, stated matter-of-factly, “You.  Are.  So.  Gross.”  I could do nothing but hide my face in shame.  Instead of walking away, my sister turned to her friend and said, “See?  I told you.  He’s so stupid.”  Still staring in disgust, she yelled, “Mother!  Dusty is so gross!”

                My mother walked to the bottom of the stairs and asked what had happened.  My sister, still looking at me, now with a mixture of condescension and revulsion, like Alexis looked at Krystle on Dynasty, responded, “He’s pooping!  With the door open!  Reading a book!  With the door open!”

                I stated my case, pleadingly, “I can’t shut the door.  I can’t reach it.  Make her go away!”

                My mother started up the stairs and asked my sister, “Why are you standing there?  Shut the door or go to your room.  Actually, do both and leave him alone.”

                My sister huffed in frustration and departed with the scathing indictment, “You.  Are.  SO.  Gross.”  Her friend looked traumatized, which is understandable.

With the humiliation, you would think I would have quickly dethroned to shut the door but you’d be wrong.  I felt I had earned my spot with the poor treatment and I remained ensconced until my leg fell asleep. 
I spent the next year and a half unable to look my sister’s friend in the eye, until we moved to Oklahoma, not only from this but from an additional embarrassing moment. 

Do you remember Big Wheels/Hot Cycles from the 70s and 80s?  You know those plastic tricycles with the big wheel in front, but low-riding like a gangsta?  My little brother had one back when we lived in the previously mentioned house.  Please note our neighborhood had, at the time, short hedges lining the sidewalk. 

Like members of the royal family, my sister enjoyed being outdoors but not necessarily under her own exertion.  Deciding she desired to traverse the perimeter of the yard but lacking the inclination to actually pedal the Big Wheel herself, she directed me to serve as the horse to her molded plastic carriage; her team of Clydesdales if you will.  Her idea included a jump rope fastened to the handle bars and looped around my waist.

To give you pertinent information into the situation, you must understand I was in 4th grade, age 9, measuring just a notch above five feet.  My sister was in 6th grade and measured 5’7”.  She was taller than my mother and almost as intimidating as my father.  When she said jump I instantly complied, not waiting to ask how high or how far; hoping against hope I would meet her unspoken expectations.

Cut to me pulling Princess Shontyl down the sidewalk like one of those carriages in Central Park if they were low riders and the horses wore husky-sized Tuffskins.  As we were making our way in front of the house, a car slowed down and before I knew what was happening, my sister leapt from her vessel into the hedge to hide, leaving me to stand on the sidewalk pulling an empty Big Wheel behind me.  As the car passed, I realized it was my sister’s friend (who bore witness to the previous bathroom-related shame) who was in the back seat staring out the window. 

Her look informed me she had just crossed over into the same territory as my sister, thinking I was indeed So. Gross.

A single tear slid down my cheek.   
Not really, but I sure was shamed, y'all. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Bangs, Funnel Cakes and The Rapture

              When offered the opportunity to attend an event in, at or near a fairground, pavilion or other such assembly, my family typically says a hearty “Yes, please” with the immediate clarifying query, “Do they have corn dogs and/or funnel cakes?”  Knowing this, I was not surprised when my larger extended family and I visited the Oklahoma State Fair sometime in mid-September, 1978; close enough to my birthday to have possibly been my gift.  Like other nomadic groups, my family tends to travel in packs so our party consisted of my parents, brother and sister; an aunt, uncle and cousin and the aunt’s best friend, her husband and two children, who I actually though were related to me until I was told otherwise when I was in high school.

                Everything was going along as swimmingly as possible when I had an accessory malfunction and was forced to bend down to tie my shoe.  As I was not skilled at squatting, I did a complete bend at the waist as if I was an early adopter of yoga, my buster brown haircut’s signature bangs blocking my peripheral view.  In that moment my family made a sharp right into one of the buildings to look at homemade jam, pigs, rocking chairs or whatever else occupies your attention at a State Fair besides the aforementioned corn dogs and funnel cakes. 

                When I righted myself, I did not immediately see them and before I could make an assessment of the situation and do something other than completely freak out, the “I’m 7 years-old and a bit dramatic to boot” gene took over and I leapt and ran just like OJ did in the airport in those commercials back in the day before he was a murderer or whatever.  It never occurred to me to realize if my family hadn’t themselves run as if being chased, then I should have overtaken them.  It didn’t occur to me they wouldn’t be standing at our car in the parking lot waiting for me until I arrived at the location and found myself alone; impressed I found the car, but alone nonetheless.

                Now out of breath and unsure of my next move, I took the opportunity to pause and reflect.  Full disclosure: I was almost paralyzed by fear; I wondered if the Rapture had happened and I had been left behind with the heathen who did not know Jesus, like the Moonies or the Catholics.

                Just like every after-school special, I was found by a kind elderly couple from a nearby Winnebago.  I say elderly as I remember them seeming grandparent-esque.  To be honest, my mother was 33 and I thought she was “pure grown”, so they could’ve simply been in their late 40s.  Whatever their age, I was fortunate this couple did not kidnap me.  They simply questioned my solo status and took control of the situation, returning me to the entrance of the Fair, leaving me under the care of a friendly carnival worker who suggested I wait with her and let my family find me.

                I thought about discussing my “left behind” theory with her, but had quickly assessed her to be a heathen, due almost entirely to the feathers clipped into her lustrous hair.  Deciding I did not want to cause a ruckus on my first day on earth without Jesus or my parents, I didn’t broach the subject of religion.  Additionally, as I was here, it seemed I had inadvertently joined the ranks of the carnival heathen and needed to get along with my new people.  One of my talents has always been the ability to insert myself into any situation quickly and with relatively little fanfare. Ms. Feathers, as I named her, was very kind and allowed me to have a great time greeting people.  Well, as great a time as you can have looking toward an eternity in the Lake of Fire.  At least I could smell the funnel cakes.

                I sat for what I remember to be quite some time (but was probably less than 20 minutes) saying hello and taking tickets from the more fortunate Fair-going families who had not been torn asunder by poor timing, overreactions and bangs.  My family finally made it to the front gate as my mother is a proven problem-solver.  Hugs abounded, at least from the mothers; back slaps from the fathers.  My siblings and cousins were less charitable.  Apparently the group veered to the right into one of the buildings in search of ice cream, but before any orders could be placed my absence was noticed, the frozen dairy treats were quickly forgotten and the search began.  I should have known the pursuit for sustenance would be our downfall.  We are Southern; eating is what we do. 

                After my rescue the adults wanted to head home, as searching for a missing child is, apparently, psychologically exhausting.  The children, including me, still wanted icy refreshment.  Skilled at reading her audience and a negotiator at heart, my mother suggested a trip to Baskin-Robbins which was on the way home.  Also gifted in looking on the bright side she said, “At least Dusty knows where we parked.”   

Newly found by both God and family, I triumphantly escorted everyone through the maze-like parking lot, not unlike a chubby, pre-pubescent Pocahontas, with less woodland creatures but about the same amount of suede fringe.  It was Oklahoma, y’all, cut me some slack.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

I’m not referring to the cologne from the 90s

We often hear stories about Lewis and Clark and how successfully they maneuvered the vast unknown of the US.  However successful they were, there are tales of the incompatibility of their personalities and I am reminded of a time in my past when I traversed this country to visit our neighbor to the north, Canada.

                I graduated college in May, 1993, and was to set out on the course of my new career when I realized I had neglected to actually obtain employment.  Having no idea what to do with myself, I moved home and panicked. I decided I needed to travel and my best friend John Allen’s parents had a lovely resort in Nestor Falls, Ontario and I had been invited to join them for a week or two.  My parents and I looked at our finances and to the bus station we went.

                Have you ridden a bus from McComb, Mississippi, to Duluth, Minnesota?  No?  Well I have.  It took more than 24 hours of non-stop driving and I use the term loosely.  We stopped for about three minutes in every podunk town on the route through Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.  I don’t know if our driver was lost or drunk but we weaved our way northward spending hours-long stops in both Memphis and Chicago. 

                Do you know what people do in the bathrooms of the Chicago bus station?  Well I don’t because I refused to enter due to the overwhelming stench of “stock show” greeting me before I crossed the threshold.  I took refuge with the kindly snack bar manager who let me spend time in the employee breakroom because, in her words, “You don’t look like you belong here, honey”.  I concurred and enjoyed my respite from “the bus people”. 

                I made it to Duluth, the rendezvous point as John’s brother Lee lived there and it is very, very clean and very, very close to the border.  Upon my arrival, we ate, watched a Joan Rivers standup special, slept and headed to Allen’s Crow Lake Lodge on the shores of Kakagi Lake.  Kakagi is the word for crow in a language I failed to establish.  We headed to the land of ketchup-flavored potato chips armed only with a driver’s license as it was all you needed back in the gentle, innocent days of the 1990s, well before anyone wanted a piece of Britney and she was simply a former Mouseketeer whose family lived about 15 miles away from mine, just across the border into Louisiana.

                Upon arrival I was greeted warmly by the family and coolly by the weather.  August in Canada is simply delicious weather; 70 degree days and 50 degree nights which required a lovely fire.  I was not sweating in the summertime and I was loving life even though I was voluntarily swimming which required a level of public nudity I felt inappropriate.  I tried water skiing but was unable to surface on the skis, even when they tried to start me from the end of the pier.  My body is not built for water sports, such as canoeing, which I try to avoid.

                It was decided by those who decide such things that we were to fish and I was to participate, just like in my youth in the Texas and Mississippi.  At least this time there would be no sweating but the setting, ominously, was canoe-related and I’m not referring to the cologne from the 90s.  The day began with John and his father in one canoe.  I and the 12 year-old cabin boy Stephen were in the other.  Yes, the Allen’s are a two-canoe family.  It’s fancy up in Canada, y’all. 

At the time of the event, I was 6’ and approximately 275 pounds give or take a Frito Pie; Stephen was 5’5” at best and 110 pounds at most.  Due to the differences in our masses, the canoe was riding low in the rear and barely skimming the surface of the lake in the front.  I don’t know the nautical term for popping a wheelie but were doing so, I can assure you.

Anyone familiar with canoe etiquette knows you must paddle on opposite sides of the craft in order to keep your forward momentum on a reasonably straight trajectory.  John and his Dad were making great time.  Young Stephen and I, on the other hand, were taking a more meandering route.  For every deep stroke I made, Stephen’s paddle did little to counter so we made continual, lovely loop-the-loops in the water as if we were a graceful, but boring Ice Capader. 

It was bad enough we fell further and further behind, but all the circling had caused me nausea, coupled with an irrational fear of a snake swimming in my back pocket (as the water was mere centimeters from the top edge of the vessel).  The only thing keeping us from being forever lost in the mists of Kakagi Lake was the repeated stops by the Allen men due to their constant laughter at our performance.

Even in adrift on Canadian waterways, I’m funny.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sparkly Sister Wives and Sci-Fi Movies

                I recently watched a sci-fi film, “Midnight Special”, not to be confused with “Midnight Express” which is what I kept calling it, serving to befuddle everyone with whom I shared this information.  In the movie, there is a young man with special powers of some sort who may or may not be an alien or a messiah or something equally spectacular and implausible.  The young man is a member of a cult, but is kidnapped by his father (also a cult member) and a random state trooper, who “saw the light” which came out of the young man’s eyes.  The cult was located in West Texas and I am assuming was supposed to be based on the Branch Davidians at Waco, you know, before Janet Reno put the hurt on ‘em.

                Have you ever noticed the women in these cults whether on TV, in the movies or on the actual news all wear the same dress; a high-necked modified shift with a pointed collar and jaunty puffed sleeves made a bit more uptight by trailing all the way to the sinful wrist where it buttons so as to allow the toil and drudgery I imagine is required?  They are, however, allowed a veritable rainbow of color which the men are not, one of the myriad reasons not to join.

                From what I have read, cult members are not to be of this world and anything causing undue attention has no place in a community with very strict rules about hair volume and living arrangements.  During the scene where all the members are loaded onto school buses and transported to the local high school to be interviewed about their interactions with and knowledge of the young man, whose name escapes me. 

During the scene, a thought occurred to me concerning the original seamstress who designed this dress.  Did she feel it worthy of ubiquity?  Was she the original sister wife?  Was her husband the original prophet?  Did he like it and proclaim it to be the “dress of their people”?  Was she specifically tasked with designing the dress?  Was this an original pattern?  Was it a McCall’s pattern that she modified into what I call Subservient Sister Wife?  And if this was her original design, was she allowed a demure acknowledgement of her legacy?  If so, did she handle the attention with humility ?  Did she demonstrate the proper degree of self-effacement or was she banished due to pride, exiled to life in our society?  If she is among us, is she the person who designs Loretta Lynn’s Grammy dresses?  You don't agree?  Well, then you explain her choices.

                Oh, and the movie was good, too.  Weird, but good.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pop Art Wars: Gucci, Fantastic Beasts and Gender Norms in Louisiana in 1978

Returning after a winter hiatus, Andy Warhol was very busy on April 6, 1978, but he was focused on shallow pursuits, very few art-related.  He had lunch with Mark Littman (Queen Elizabeth II’s attorney) and his wife Marguerite as well as Regine and Diana Vreeland.  The talk focused on the need for the world’s largest discotheque.  Later Gianni Agnelli (Chairman of Fiat) also came by. 

Interestingly enough, I, too, was returning from a hiatus on this particular date in 1978.  Whether my hiatus was self-imposed or not, I couldn’t say.  All I know is my seven year-old mind was focused on creation of a fantastic beast which I named ButterBearGirlLion.    I am unsure of the instructions for the assignment as it was not titled and I usually titled all my work in order to establish provenance.  This aside, the depth of understanding of vague instructions, my preternatural grasp of future trends in gender fluidity and the foresight to anticipate the color scheme showcased in the 2016 Gucci GG Bloom collection is astonishing. 

Even though I referred to the animal as “he”, I gave “him” the head of a girl, which is a departure from the concrete gender norms I had been taught at home and church.  What was I trying to say?  What was my motivation?  

What about these colors inspired me?  Why this combination of animals?  Why so many animals converged into one?  Was my muse anticipating the excess of the 1980s due to my experiences in the recession of the late 1970s?   Not to mention the artistic license I took with proportions which may have dampened my intended impact.  I mean, a butterfly with a pterodactyl-esque wingspan was one thing, but to add a superfluous lion’s tail was simply an adolescent disregard of Coco Chanel’s advice on accessorizing, “take off the last thing you put on”.  And the art is poorer for it. 

                Initially, I felt, like Icarus, my Butter-bear-girl-lion flew too close to the sun and was destroyed.  However, upon reflection, as I actually created art and Andy simply had Tom Sullivan urinate on one of his Piss Paintings, I feel the point goes to me.  I think we can all agree, including my readers who stopped reading at the mention of urine in the previous sentence.