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New Year’s Madness

Leonardo Ricardo/Len Clark: Feastival pot.

Leonardo Ricardo: Feastival pot.

There are times I am astonished at my own greatness.

Isn’t that the most ridiculous line you’ve ever read?

I want this essay to explore what it’s like to wake up one day and find yourself with talent.

A million people have that experience; “Hey, I’m Peyton Manning.” Or Julie Andrews, Barack Obama or Yo-Yo Ma.

Then they get up and go to the bathroom, the same as you or me.

Isn’t life crazy? You’re Frank Lloyd Wright, and then you get up to take a leak.

How do they stay sane? I do not know.

Of course I’m not Julie or Barack or Peyton. I’m not even Leonardo Ricardo, who is a certified genius and all his friends know it.

I’m not Stephen Helmreich. He’s the actual genius I’m closest to, and he’s so much smarter than I am it’s not funny.

But I am Josh, and that is good, and hello, 2013.

Think about “the hardest-working man in show business.” Who is that to you? Sammy Davis, Rich Little? The term has been applied to several performers.

What it actually means is “He’s not that talented, but he uses all he’s got.” They try to express their total admiration, “Look at how good this guy is!”

But “Everyone’s a genius on Skid Row.” A social work supervisor told me that in 1984 at Gay Men’s Health Crisis. I didn’t much like her, but I’ve always remembered what she said.

Using what you’ve got, instead of peeing it away, is the name of the game.

“I’m John McEnroe! I’m Diana Butler Bass! I’m (fill in the blank)!”

Fame is public recognition that a person has talent and uses it, in public.

That takes courage, to do your thing in public; Emily Dickinson was very, very lucky. She was private, but she managed to attract a few devotés who loved her poetry and made her well known. Without them, I’d have to come up with a new example for Ms. Dickinson. In her lifetime she wasn’t famous at all.

But a few key people recognized she was a soul of uncommon beauty. So they talked her up and now we know her name.

Fame is happenstance. I bet right now you can name a hundred people in your life who are all-stars.

Few of them are famous, though. The set of people who are {famous} ≠ those who are {talented.}

Fame itself is not a thing one ought to pursue. (Kim Kardashian is pregnant! Who exactly is Kim Kardashian?) The person who is wise as well as talented pursues her talent, not her fame. She can’t help it; Susan Boyle was born with that voice, and she has to sing.

She would die if she could not; the people on Skid Row have voices but prevented themselves from singing.

God makes more talent than “men” make famous.

It’s kind of a scary thing. But then you look at a bowl by Leonardo Ricardo and just go, “Wow.”

How did he do that? And why? “It takes so much patience,” that pointilism of his. He’s in fucking Guatemala; who gets famous in Guatemala? But the place is teeming with talent, apparently.

He doesn’t need to be famous; he’s famous among his friends, and that is good enough.

If someday he becomes actually famous, won’t that be a joy. (Or not; it can go wrong.)

I do not know why I am not famous – except that I come from a particular place, which might as well be Guatemala, and I’ve never pursued fame, especially compared to Kim Kardashian, and “talent” I think probably seeks its own level and finds it.

If, years later, you go back and watch Susan Boyle’s introductory video on “Britain’s Got Talent,” you’ll see that whatever she lacked in looks, she made up for in chutzpah. She walked out on that stage prepared. She knew what her talent was, and that if she could get a chance to sing, she could bring down the house.

They gave her a chance and she brought it down. Instant worldwide fame.

Most of us don’t know what she’s done since, but she’s still got that voice inside her body. She still can make, and always will make, that sound.

I’m no Susan Boyle. I don’t even carry Doug Blanchard’s water. I’m just Josh, and that’s pretty good.

I’m happy with my life, this first day of 2013. I’m singing. It’s what my body needs to do, so I’m doing it.

What prompts these musings? Why am I yammering on here? Several things which fuse in my mind.

• I looked over ten days’ worth of posts from dailyoffice.org. This is the public performance I’m best known for now; Morning and Evening Prayer, plus graphics I select, with an occasional prayer of my own composition. I’m happy with my posts, with the art and little comments. It’s some beautiful stuff, and my site’s had two million visitors. I like what I’ve done, and I’m pleased to have a following. Every day, a thousand people get e-mails with my stuff. It’s mostly about God and not about me, but people sign up because, well, I deliver them God.

Leonardo does too; Stephen and Doug and Diana and Grandmère, Robert and Malcolm and Sara. We all do this; we all deliver God, which is a really fun thing to do.

But the other day some friend of Leilani’s posted a hurtful comment. She re-posts my stuff on Facebook for her followers, but FB gave her trouble with the link, which she mentioned in frustration, and some guy wrote, “Go to Mission St. Clare, it’s much better!”

That’s the competition, and no, it isn’t better. It’s run by a machine and not a person. But it’s good, and I’m happy to acknowledge it – because God is good, who you kiddin’? – and anything or anyone who delivers God is doing right. Still, I wondered if that guy knew how hurtful his Christian comment was. “Josh is bad, St. Clare is much better!”

Oh yeah? Sez who?

• I put out a book last fall, The Gospel According to Gay Guys. It’s extremely long, starts out with graphic Gay sex, and it’s not going to make me famous, but I’m proud of it. It distills everything I think I know.

It’s sold enough to pay my electric bill for a few months, and my genius friend Stephen raved about the first couple of chapters he read before life made him put it down. I was pleased by his excellent reaction.

This book has one reader-review on Amazon. It’s one star; I haven’t read it. I just know the person hated it.

I do have the ability to piss people off. Usually I don’t even know when I’m doing it; I make a simple statement, some truth that is evident to me, but whammo, I’m in big trouble.

The few times that Jack, my late beloved done-me-wrong, raised his voice to me, I rushed to stop what I was doing in the latest pissoff. But I can’t do that with strangers, and even Julie Andrews ain’t gonna win ’em all.

• Some part of me is glad I have that pissoff factor. The same thing led me to march for Stonewall in 1974, when sidewalk gawkers outnumbered Pride participants; in 1980, when I led a student rebellion at college; in 1982, when I founded AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati, the world’s second-oldest AIDS services organization. Prophets get stoned; I’m proud of my battle scars.

But I don’t like bad reviews, when I’m trying to deliver you God here.

• I’m engaged today in a mini-debate on The New York Times website. They ran an article about Lincoln and Walt Whitman, part of their Civil War series. I commented on Lincoln’s Gay sensibility, which I see dimly between America’s Poet and America’s President. This got some Likes, as well as a chorus of dissenters. A hundred and fifty years later, after three states have voted in Gay marriage, Lincoln’s hetero defenders still turn out in force. That’s fine, I’m not surprised by this, but it does get old after awhile. I don’t claim the fact that he slept in the same bed as other guys while circuit-riding in the wilderness proves he was Gay; for that I look to his relationship with Whitman, distant but respectful. Those two loved each other, but America still doesn’t want to hear it.

God cannot possibly be Gay.

• But God is Gay to those of us who are, and Straight to those who swing the other way, and female if you need her to be; Jewish, Arab, Christian, Black and utterly Japanese. What else would God be but Black or Japanese?

I do not whine; I’m not famous and never will be. Some people hate my books, my sites and my life. Some people like them, too, and for that I’m very glad. They enable me to keep singing by their belief.

Leonardo, down in volcanic Guatemala, keeps on making his bowls and pots and tables and entire house with pointilistic perfection, and if you ain’t been there it’s your tough luck. His doggies snuggle up; he’s got a Juan Carlos, too. The garden blooms, the feasts get made and he lives happily ever after.

Not famous, just talented. Happy New Year.++

To Luke I'm the center of the universe - or at least the guy with crunch food twice a day.

To Luke I’m the center of the universe – or at least the guy with the food twice a day.

Indianapolis Chip Dip

Oh. How zesty.

In honor of the New Orleans Saints’ spicy victoire over the bland and tasteless Colts in Super Bowl 44, I humbly offer this little recipe — and a story to go with it.

It is an established fact that my mother could not cook. She was terrible at it, and for two good reasons: when she was a child her father made her get up every morning to make cornbread in an old cast-iron skillet. He didn’t feed his daughter; she fed him because she was a female and he lost his wife in childbirth, when my mother was born. His little girl was apparently supposed to be his substitute wife, because God forbid he should make his own damn cornbread. My mother quickly came to resent this, and my brothers and I never blamed her for it.

The second reason: when I was six, she went away to The Best Pharmacy School in the World™, four long years of terribly demanding study. (Now it’s six.) In the meantime our all-male household learned to slap bologna between two slices of bread and call it supper. When she got back home to our grandparents’ drugstore, she worked 8, 10, 12 hours every day on her feet, and didn’t see why she ought to have to keep on working once she got home. My brothers and I never blamed her for that, either. Who could?

The Bro’s and I all became good cooks, as men ought to be, because there’s not always going to be a woman around to do your bidding. If you’re Gay, there’s never going to be a woman around, so you’d better know the difference between asparagus and an anchovy.

My mother was good with a few dishes; her onion dip, her potato salad—and I’m trying to think whether there was a third one; maybe her fruit salad with the cute little ’60s marshmallows. That was the level she was on foodwise. Couldn’t fry a chicken to save her life. Then there was a dish so notorious that the mere mention of it now provokes groans: hamburger gravy on boiled potatoes, the most ghastly stuff you ever saw. (And saw, and saw, and saw.)

Women have every right to resent cooking. But since they invariably like to eat, the rational ones ought to learn a few recipes, just in case.

NOW IT HAPPENED that while my mother was lousy in the kitchen, she took a bit of interest in cookbooks; in fact, all the ones she bought date back to the first years after her lastborn son went to college. She didn’t have males to press into service anymore. (Not that we ever resented that!) When she died, we found 50 or 60 cookbooks in her kitchen, all © 1970, the year I left home. My brother Steve, who accepted his one-third share of the cookbooks, examined them all to see whether the pages needed cutting. He was certain she’d never cracked them open. He’d turn a page and say, “No ketchup stains here.” He’d turn another one in the casseroles section and declare, “Not even Campbell’s mushroom soup.”

(We all cooked for her when we went back home, and in her later years we teased her without mercy.)

This is a long prologue for announcing that I seem to have made it my mission lately to actually make some of the things in Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook. Page 1, recipe 1, dips.

I have kept this cookbook because in some ways, it’s not bad. It’s terribly out of date, the food has no sophistication whatever, everything is geared to time-saving devices and the TV Dinner Generation; but still, it has some good features, including an herb-and-spice chart on the inside covers that I use today. (The competing Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks, which she also bought, dump MSG in everything.) Betty’s pictures of vegetables are useful and so are the basic preparation hints. Ol’ Betty apparently assumed that young brides didn’t know jack-shit in the kitchen, so she would teach them to be Happy Homemakers. In other words, perfect for my mother—and not bad for a Gay guy just starting out.

I have made four of the dips so far. This adventure did not start out well. Cape Cod Dip calls for an envelope of dry onion soup mix, 2 cups of sour cream and a 7-ounce can of minced clams, drained. The accompanying commentary suggests using thin strips of turnip or zucchini, which it calls “surprises.” Well, yes, it would still be a surprise today to see a turnip on the cocktail table.

Anyway I tried it. The canned minced clams were like eating bits of rubber. Maybe tuna would work but I don’t guarantee it.

Harlequin Dip uses sour cream, mayo, ripe olives, snipped chives, Worcestershire, mustard and a tiny bit of curry powder. Well, do you know how old my mother’s curry powder was? The internet hadn’t been invented; neither had the Zip Code. A&P was still a grocery chain. Streisand was an unknown Jewish girl from New Yawk who could Get It For You Wholesale. Yes, the dip was edible, but why would you bother?

Next came Artichokes with Onion Dip; this I had hopes for, because I’ve eaten real artichokes. This Betty Special called for frozen artichoke hearts, sour cream, mayo and… a tablespoon of dry onion mix. The artichokes were tasteless; the dip was not as bad as feared.

Finally there was Peppered Cheddar Dip: sour cream, a cup of shredded cheddar, 1/4 cup of chopped onion, 3 tablespoons of minced bell pepper, a little salt, some milk, a few drops of hot sauce; refrigerate at least one hour.

Honey, four days wouldn’t give this dip any flavor. The sour cream overwhelms everything and the cheddar is undetectable. I wasted a dollar’s worth of cheese on this thing. (I also didn’t add the milk; the sour cream is plenty runny as it is.)

On future Super Bowl Sundays, to honor Drew Brees and the Saints’ victoire, you might try this, though it will still be bland:

Indianapolis Colts Dip

1 1/2 C sour cream
1/2 C minced onion
1/2 C minced bell pepper
1/2 t. flavored salt (garlic, celery, onion, seasoned, anything with some flavor to it)
1 t hot sauce
and all the dead curry powder in your house

Mix, cover, refrigerate “at least one hour,” and for God’s sake don’t serve it with a freakin’ turnip.++

Yes, There Is a God! Saints Win Super Bowl

Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees marvels at victory, while protecting his one-year-old son's ears from the crowd noise.

Like most Americans, but few Hoosiers, I am thrilled the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts tonight in the Super Bowl, 31-17, behind the brilliant Purdue quarterback Drew Brees — and a turning-point interception and touchdown return by Tracy Porter of That Other School.

I thought of titling this post “Super Bowl Theology.” Maybe a better headline would be “God Loves New Orleans.” But I’m walking on a theological minefield here, hoping to come out on top.

Most of the time (99%) I think God couldn’t care less who wins the Super Bowl, the World Series, the FIFA World Cup, the NCAA Championship or your 8-year-old niece’s gymnastics meet. The more hype there is, the more God’s bored, just like us mortals. God’s got better things to worry about than who gets a five-yard penalty for encroachment. Sports are trivial; they’re games.

But tonight I wonder if God did not choose his Saints to bless his city.

Divine intervention? Not in the least. God can’t be bothered with such things. (I do think God intervenes frequently in human affairs, but not over a stupid ballgame.) Instead God created a system that allows humans great freedom, so that we are mostly responsible for what happens to us. The same system that created life, on this earth and maybe elsewhere, out of hydrogen, carbon and eventually oxygen, has to allow for earthquakes, cancer, human stupidity, global warming and human mortality.

Which brings us to New Orleans and Vera.

The fact that God allows evil, including natural disasters and Federal floods, does not mean we can blame him for them. God had nothing to do with Hurricane Katrina. It wasn’t because of Gay people, or Bourbon Street, or Jack Daniels, or jazz. It was because of weather. (Federal floods are the Army Corps of Engineers’ responsibility.)

God also had nothing to do with the earthquake in Haiti, despite the pronouncements of jackasses like Pat Robertson. God is as bored by fundamentalist hypesters looking for ratings as she is by football.

(I’d like to think she’s slightly more interested in Gay Spirit Diaries, but who can say.)

The fact is, everyone in New Orleans, in Louisiana, in Cajun country and upstate, most of the American nation, knows that tonight’s football game was a storybook ending to four and a half years of misery, suffering and death—the kind of ending that happens only in nursery rhymes and vintage Hollywood movies directed by Frank Capra.

God blessed New Orleans tonight, for a reason; God has hurt terribly these past four years over what happened to New Orleans and south Louziana, and the abysmal response by the world’s (self-proclaimed) Most Enlightened Government.

Did God tip the ball so Tracy Porter could catch it? No. Mr. Porter deserves the credit for a play he made all by himself.

Did God hire Drew Brees as a free agent four years ago? Did God decide who won the coin toss? Did God tell New Orleans Coach Sean Payton to start the second half with an onside kick?

No, no, no. God has to stand a certain ways off from us to allow us our freedom. We have, compared to most animals, highly developed brains. Puny compared to God’s, but nevertheless, we have brains. (It’s kind of like the relationship between me and my dog Luke. Most of the time he’s real dumb. But oh, do I love him; does he add so much to my life.) Since God is about relationships, he has to/wants to allow us freedom as independent actors. Otherwise God would simply be an imperialist oppressor, which is the opposite of God.

God is not a dictator.

This requires that God lets certain things happen that we’d much rather never occurred. Fires, floods, mudlsides in Southern California; an earthquake in Haiti, even that Katrina person. Create a world, then set it free; that’s God’s modus operandi. It’s the most loving choice he could make, so naturally it’s the one he did.

But God got highly upset with “Here Lies Vera,” and all the other suffering that occurred on the Gulf Coast (Texas to Florida) in 2005. The humans were responsible, not God; the humans deserve the recriminations.

New Orleans needed a group of saints; not any one strongman, but a whole group of hope-givers. No man or woman knows how to fix that place, it’s too overwhelming. All those parishes and jurisdictions, the river, the Feds, the racial politics, the history, the neighborhoods, the corporations, the restaurants: who could sort all that out? Not Ray Nagin. Maybe not Moon Landrieu’s son either. God has to let all that go—which doesn’t mean he isn’t intimately involved in whether a Black nurse and single mother finds a place to live with her kids. God’s passionate about that, just as she is in restoring former Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, whose house was destroyed.

I’m not saying God involves himself in draft picks. But when Drew Brees, a free agent, came available in 2006, nursing an injury, wondering whether he was washed up, I wouldn’t be surprised if God said, “New Orleans might be a good place. He could help them.” So maybe there was a little nudge, or maybe not; I don’t know.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if God put it in mind of Saints executives that Brees might be a good fit; that’s how God works, just putting something in mind. The response of the mortals is not God’s job description; but every now and then he gets a hit.

Someone in New Orleans (I don’t know who) recognized that Brees is not only an extremely talented quarterback, but he has the character (personality, values) that would perfectly suit a devastated city. That he would plunge into rebuilding; that he’d be tireless in helping his city, and lead his team and his whole organization—thrown out of New Orleans by Katrina, forced to play games in San Antonio and Baton Rouge—to reinvest in the idea of New Orleans.

Did God win the Super Bowl for Drew Brees? No. Drew Brees and his Saints did that. God stayed above the fray. But this year, I think, unlike most years, God tuned in (at 6:30, not the pregame show) to see what would happen, to see what his kid could do.

The irony, the amazing thing, is that God supplied Indianapolis with a quarterback every bit as good as Brees is; a New Orleans kid, Archie Manning’s son, who has been as heroic (with less acclaim) in his adopted city as Brees has been in his.

These two guys are as old-school as they come in their community behavior, yet as high-tech and turned on as an athlete can be in 2010. Manning is sometimes called a robot; no one outprepares him. He recognizes the defense he’s facing better than anyone else in history. And oh, what a champion he’s been for good causes in the Circle City; the list is as long as Brees’s, multiplied by nine years, not four.

Tonight we saw a Clash of the Titans. Manning, the best QB ever, deserved the win; but prosperous Indy doesn’t compare to hurting New Orlins. Did God decide who won? No. But I do think he was pulling for Hurting Town, like most Americans. That’s what God’s like; down in the trenches with the people who hurt.

So if he kind of nudged the Saints management to look at this Brees kid and pick him up—implanting an idea, which the individuals were free to reject—you can’t blame God for the final score. New Orleans won, 31-17, and that devastated city, which has lost one-fourth of its population, tens of thousands of homes, billions of business, staged a blowout party tonight on Bourbon Street, and will keep on dancing all the way to Ash Wednesday.

One might imagine that God isn’t entirely pleased that Drew Orleans got drunk, smoked weed and fucked; but considering that the main street is named for bourbon, God cannot be terribly surprised. What else would humans do when they finally, finally win a world championship after 40-some years? Mortals don’t surprise God anymore.

God surprises mortals instead, with a storybook ending even Capra couldn’t have imagined. NEW ORLEANS MATTERS.

It’s called justice. Read Amos, Hosea and Isaiah if you’re not sure what justice is. Widows and orphans; strangers; the poor. Maybe even the queers.

Peyton Manning is not only the best quarterback in history, he’s one of the best citizens of the United States.

But then there’s this little Drewboy, 5’11”, with a mole on his face and a passion for children, the poor and oppressed. God blessed him with New Orleans, and New Orleans with him.

Purdue fans knew how good he was when he beat Wisconsin in the last minute in 2002. Don’t ever bet against Drew Brees. He’s gifted (by whom?).

God bestows gifts widely. But the honorees are seldom that good at living up to the charge. (I should know.)

I hope that in time my readers of fiction will come to understand Kent and Jamie, my Gay heroes. The great rap on them is that they’re “idealized,” but the criticism itself is false and cynical, from people who think “the dark side” is somehow attractive. It isn’t. It’s ugly, it’s violent, it’s murderous. Most commonly among Gay men, it’s dehumanizing. Invariably it’s selfish, and it’s time that Gay selfishness became as repulsive as a little limp dick.

Heroes do exist; ask Indianapolis, ask New Orleans. Peyton Manning is the best there ever was, and Drew Brees just whupped his ass. But these two men are among the greatest philanthropists—human-lovers—in their cities.

The game of football itself amounts to nothing; but a great American city now survives, thanks to an entire team made up of Saints. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Angels are dancing on Bourbon Street tonight, right next to the queers and the Saints fans.++