The Ozarks

30 09 2007

As my last post indicated, I’m back in Philly after spending the week with family. After flying into Oklahoma, I spent much of the week with my parents and sister in a condo in the Missouri Ozarks.

Does that sound bad? Well, it was definitely a little bit bad. I didn’t entirely enjoy chaperoning my elderly parents as they (and I!) attended my dad’s Navy reunion. For one thing, the reunion’s organizers tapped the nearby talent pool in Branson for several courses of uplifting, patriotic music. Now, I’m as patriotic as the next guy, probably more so, but how many Tributes to the States can a guy be expected to endure in a week? I sat through three. (There are only a couple of really good state songs, one of them being “Oklahoma!,” of course, and I heard it every time.) That’s at least two too many.

My Dad is a WWII veteran, and—as you can imagine—he and his shipmates are showing some age. Traveling each day on a tour bus with all those bad knees and walkers tested my patience at times. That said, most of the guys were pretty cool. I could pretty much imagine them as 18- and 19-year-olds on a ship in the Pacific. (And that was before my dad told a sexually explicit joke to all the guys and their wives and families on the bus.) I adopted a new family, too, a sweet vet from Oregon and his lady-friend, and I just generally played the good son. So it wasn’t all bad, and it was certainly nice to be able to spend some time with my parents and sister (who, unfairly, didn’t have to attend the reunion events with her brother).

It’s so beautiful in the Ozarks. When I was a kid, we used to spend some of our vacation time in the area (frequently at my sister’s condo). I loved Silver Dollar City, the area lakes, the country music (but only the good stuff), and the pine trees. In fact, I can imagine renting a cabin there for a vacation now. But, then, all the local entertainers feel like they have to pander to the most conservative, most religious elements in the audience. That’s how one guy ends up in three Tributes to the States in a week…. Ugh.

What the Ozarks need—actually, what Branson needs—is a Queer touch. It needs a little more “Harper Valley PTA” and fewer Lee Greenwood wannabes. It needs a little more upscale food and a little less, um, fudge and pecan logs. More galleries, fewer buildings shaped like the Titanic. More bed-and-breakfasts, fewer cheap motels. My people can help, I’m telling you.

And, for that matter, I’m sure there a lots of gay people in Branson already. Several of the entertainers who performed for my dad’s reunion, well, set off my gaydar. But Gay Branson is just too subterranean (in the closet?) to be palpable, it seems. If there were some organized gay tourism in Branson, some good things would follow. Unfortunately, until there’s a little bit more going for it as a gay vacation spot, the bland magic shows and bad flea markets are going to win.

Maybe I should start my own tour company…. Any investors out there?



23 09 2007

Oklahoma Flag
I’m celebrating my 41st birthday today. And I’m doing it from Oklahoma. Yup, yesterday, I poured myself into one train, then another, then an airplane, then another, to arrive at Tulsa International Airport to find my parents waiting for me. Unfortunately, there was still an hour’s drive to my parent’s house—and I was pretty much bushed by then. Traveling is hard work.

But I woke up this morning in my hometown, just a short distance from the hospital where my mom and I spent some fairly eventful time 41 years ago.

As much as I’ve become attached to Philly, and I have, I love being from Oklahoma. It’s a cool place. Really! The drive south from Tulsa yesterday evening was gorgeous. Miraculously, it’s still green here—it has apparently been a rainy late summer—and there was lots of baled hay and happy-looking cattle in fields. The accents sounded right, too. I moved to Philly in 1996, but I’m still taken by surprise sometimes by what words sound like. Here, they sound different, of course, and in a way that sounds right to me. When an Oklahoman struck up a conversation on the plane ride from Dallas, she sounded country, and—somehow or other—I relaxed.

And as much as I hate to say it, men might even be handsomer here. To my eye, anyway. I’ve spent significant chunks of my adult life in Philly, New Orleans, northwest Ohio, and Oklahoma. In each of those places, it seemed to me that the men were just built differently. There were lots of fit, tall, clean-shaven, muscular farm boys (and grown-up farm boys, too) in Ohio. In New Orleans, my 5’7″ frame seemed a lot more normal. And in Philly, men frequently have a more obviously, um, ethnic look than anywhere I’ve lived before. (When I first moved to Philly, I’d be completely puzzled when someone asked me about my background. “No, I’m not Italian,” I’d say, once they explained their question. “I’m not Polish. I’m not Irish. I’m from the South. We stopped being ethnic a long time ago.”)

In the other places I’ve lived, it has taken me awhile to adjust my taste in men to the local flavors. (Recently, for instance, I realized that I’m now truly into Philly guys. Of course, that could just be Middle Age talking.) In Oklahoma, though, the guys have always just generally looked good to me. Whether they’re country ranchers, or Tulsa businessmen, or the Muscogee man who sat near me at the airport yesterday, I’m interested. I guess that’s not all that surprising; Oklahoma’s where I developed my Queer Country™ aesthetic.

Gosh, that was quite a digression. Anyway, so I’m in Oklahoma…. I don’t expect much fuss to be made over my 41st birthday. That’s just not the way my parents roll. I used to wish they’d make a bigger fuss, but I know better than to expect it. I will see my sister today, though, and there’s a fair chance I might get some birthday cake from her.

I probably won’t do any blogging for two or three days, so don’t worry about me. My family and I and going to head off on a little adventure in the Ozarks. (I still can’t believe I’m doing it.) I imagine I’ll have lots to blog about when I get back.

Longwood Gardens

3 09 2007

Lily Pads
On our final day together, the Jag took me to Longwood Gardens in southeast Pennsylvania’s Brandywine Valley. Longwood is one of the nation’s premier botanical gardens, and it recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. Longwood was built by Pierre S. du Pont, who, of course, had loads of money—and was interested in trees, fountains, and pipe organs. (You weren’t expecting that last one, huh?) All those interests show in the 1000+ acres of gardens.

I especially enjoy visiting the Conservatory. (Mandatory Clue reference: Professor Plum did it in the Conservatory with the rope.) The Conservatory consists of four acres of greenhouses, showing all manner of flora that wouldn’t normally grow in the mid-Atlantic states. I’m particularly fond of the Silver Garden, the Banana Room, and the Palm House.

The Banana Room and the Palm House contain just what you’d expect. The Silver Garden contains plants of all sorts of dusty green and gray hues. They’re mostly cacti and other succulents, and the subdued coloring is just one feature that helps them survive in difficult terrain. I’m drawn to these plants—to their spines and prickliness, their otherworldly shapes, their general non-leafiness. Let’s face it: I like whatever’s different.

I’m also drawn to the waterlily ponds at the Conservatory. Some of the waterlilies, especially those from the Amazon, are several feet in diameter. Once again, I’m drawn to the extremes. (Hmm, this trip to Longwood Gardens seems to have put some of my quirks in focus.) Anyway, at one of the waterlily ponds, I saw a tiny, gorgeous yellow-green frog. His startlingly loud croak got my attention, but he really blended into his surroundings. When he made nose, his throat expanded incredibly.

Longwood is a sort of odd mix of the natural and the man-made. (Who’d build a Banana Room in southeastern Pennsylvania?) I’m drawn to the plants, but put off sometimes by the Versailles-quality grooming. (Is it just me, or are topiary gardens actually obscene?) I had fun today, though. I enjoyed walking around for three or four hours, getting some sun, being the intrepid explorer of a manicured setting.

Missing Weekend #2

7 03 2007

Immediately after the beer tasting, I hopped a New Jersey Transit train to, of all places, Atlantic City. I hadn’t been to Atlantic City in several years, and I hadn’t taken the train to AC in maybe a decade. But, gosh, it was so easy. And cheap. For $7.25, the train took me to Atlantic City, where I was met with a free shuttle to the Boardwalk hotels. Why don’t I do that more often?

Well, for one reason, Atlantic City can be kind of seedy. Because I couldn’t get a room in the hotel of my choice, I ended up in a not-quite-prime hotel at the end of the Boardwalk. My room reminded me of some Best Western motel that my parents and I might’ve landed in on summer vacation in, say, 1975. That’s not the kind of nostalgia I enjoy, you know?

Anyway, I devoted Friday afternoon to two tasks—exploring the Boardwalk and getting a massage. (I devoted Friday morning to finding a razor, which I’d forgotten to pack.) Strangely enough, it was a beautiful, almost springlike day, and the Boardwalk was a nice place to be. It was windy, though, and the ocean was roiling. Still, I enjoyed the sun. I also enjoyed the massage, of course, though the spa’s masseur acted a bit too much like I might be fragile….

I actually visited Atlantic City to see country singer Gary Allan‘s Friday night concert at the House of Blues. I saw him in December in Las Vegas (incredibly, blogging that trip is still on my to-do list…sigh), and he was energetic, engaging, and in good form. I was pretty much blown away. And he did all that again in Atlantic City. Wow. (If you’re not familiar with Allan’s work, by the way, you should check out his new greatest hits collection. You won’t be sorry. Unless you hate country music. Are you a hater?)

I headed back Saturday, and New Jersey Transit treated me right again. Does NJT have a fan club?

On Saturday night, by the way, I visited the Bike Stop—Philly’s most prominent, er, leather bar—to meet someone (i.e., gasp, a man) I’d talked to online. We actually hung out in the Bike Stop’s sports bar, which isn’t leather-y at all. There were no real sparks between the two of us, but it was fun to be someplace with so many attractive men. (Note to Atlantic City: How’d you become such a magnet for unattractive people?) I even turned a couple of heads. I should head out to the Bike Stop more often….

Missing Weekend #1

5 03 2007

So, where was I, when I wasn’t blogging?

Well, impulsively, on Friday, February 23, I decided to head to Baltimore for the weekend. It really was on impulse, too. I hadn’t packed a bag, or toiletries, or even thought about booking a hotel. At 4 p.m., though, Priceline gave me a reasonable rate on a nice hotel. And after a quick stop at a drugstore and a Gap (for, well, a couple of shirts and some underwear), I found myself on the train to Baltimore.

Baltimore was the destination because of a really cool craft show that’s held there every year by the American Craft Council. The Ex and I attended the show a few years ago, and I was really impressed by the number of craftspeople who showed. And, well, we’re not talking about your everyday crafts show; we’re talking high-end (does that make me sound snobby?) furniture, pottery, glass work, jewelry, etc. I’d been itching to get back to the show.

I devoted Saturday to the show. Actually, I devoted Saturday to spending money at the show. I came back with:

  • an inkpen and bottle stopper made out of beautiful Osage Orange wood by North Carolinian Allen Davis (I have a real soft spot for Osage Orange trees, which we called bodark [a bastardization of bois d’arc] trees in Oklahoma);
  • a penguin-shaped mug made by Massachusetts potter Stephen Schiffer (I’m going to order some stork-themed products from him);
  • a crazy briefcase made out of a One Way sign by Tripp Gregson, also of North Carolina; and
  • two rough-but-gorgeous café-au-lait mugs made by western Maryland’s Kirke Martin (I’m hoping to visit his studio).

I easily could’ve spent quite a bit more money, of course, if I’d had any more. I fell hard for some coffee tables made by woodworker Michael Thomas Maxwell out of broken-down pinball machines. And I also flirted with buying one of machinist(?) Bill Durovchic‘s cool desk toys. If I win this week’s $120 million Powerball jackpot, both can expect an order or two from me.

Also, if I win this week’s (or, hey, any week’s) Powerball jackpot, I think I should open a high-end craft gallery/shop in some cool travel destination—maybe in West Yellowstone, Montana, or Marfa, Texas, or Key West. Any other ideas?

Question of the Day: Next On My Itinerary

2 02 2007

What’s the next country you want to visit?
Submitted by Schomer.

For awhile, I’ve been saying I’m headed next to Turkey. This seems like an interesting time to visit, after all, and I’ve been intrigued by Istanbul for a long time. Last year, I even bought the guidebooks…but life got in the way a little bit.

The last few months, of course, I’ve been thinking about—and, um, drinking a lot of—beer. That has me thinking that my next big trip should be to, say, Belgium to visit some cool breweries. And sample the products. If I did that, I could probably work in two or three days in Amsterdam, too. Maybe that’s what I should do.

For a long time, too, I’ve intended to get myself to Spain. Deep down inside, I think, I’m hoping I’d find myself in a screwball scene that’d fit in in an Almodóvar movie—something like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown—but that’s not realistic. I’d just end up at the Prado and being a wallflower at some night spot. (There’s some confidence for you!) But Spain is definitely a possibility.

In any event, my big project for 2007 is moving to a new apartment. For budgetary reasons, that probably means I won’t be making it to any “next country” this year. Unless you convince me otherwise. Or something.

Other countries I’d like to visit before I’m 85: New Zealand, the U.K., Japan, Denmark, Liechtenstein (yeah, really), and Argentina. Given that I’ve made it to middle age without visiting any of these places, the odds that I’ll make most, or even many, of these aren’t good, huh? That’s pretty darn depressing.

I’m planning a visit to San Diego. Maybe.

27 01 2007

California Globe
I’ve never been to San Diego, but I’m thinking about visiting for the Museum of Contemporary Art‘s upcoming Morris Louis exhibit, which runs from February 17 through May 6. If I make the trip, it’ll probably for a long-ish weekend. What else should I think about doing while I’m there? I’m open as to the timing of the visit. Is there some reason I should travel in February or March or April? Any and all advice would be much appreciated.

I intended, by the way, to catch the Morris Louis exhibition while it was at Atlanta’s High Museum, but the timing—in and around the holidays—wasn’t right for me. Getting to Atlanta from Philly for a long weekend would certainly have been a much easier production, but maybe sunny San Diego is what I need, anyway. If I don’t catch the exhibit in San Diego, I’ll have to wait until September, when the exhibition moves to D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum. The Hirshhorn is my favorite museum on the planet (sorry, MoMA, you’re just too crowded), but I can visit D.C. anytime I want….