A mutual friend once said, “The best way to describe Doug is he epitomizes oops-ishness.” And half the reason that stuck with me (besides being true) is that I simply love the coined word, “oopsishness!” I met Doug back in 1976, shortly after moving to southwest Washington from Colorado. I met him shortly after joining an interdenominational (fundamentalist evangelical) teen touring choir, as we were both placed in the same section. Doug was two years younger than I was. He was one of the first guys I had ever met who was nerdier than me–and that’s saying something!
Now, his oopsishness wasn’t just a matter of clumsiness. No, Doug took things to a much higher level. Doug wasn’t dumb, by any means, but sometimes he would be extremely oblivious. He would get himself into strange (and usually hilarious) predicaments without being able to explain afterward exactly how it happened. Which meant people who knew him wound up laughing, rolling their eyes, shaking their heads, or picking their own jaws up from the floor after some of his mishaps. You know that old silent movie scene where a character steps into what appears to be an ordinary puddle of water on a street, but plummets completely out of sight? That actually happened to Doug. It was a flooded basement at his workplace rather than a street, but it happened.
Twice in a single evening. The second time at a different basement nearby.
That hardly scratches the surface, though. No, to really understand how oopsish Doug could be, you have to hear about the Train Crossing Incident.
We’d been out gaming with friends, and Doug was giving me a ride home. I was attending community college part-time and working multiple jobs at the time, and living at my grandparents’ house. I was trying to get the funds together to transfer to a university. Anyway, my grandparents lived in a part of town that was between several mills and the port, so there were a number of train tracks that crossed roads. None of the crossings had gates, but all of them had lights and those clanging bell signals. And because none of the crossings had gates, the trains were required to sound their whistles a lot. Living in that neighborhood, by the way, is where I developed my ability to sleep through just about any noise.
We were driving along a dark road and Doug was enthusiastically telling me a story about some horrible thing that had happened to him recently. Ahead of us was a crossing, there was a train off a ways to our right, sounding its whistle, and the lights and bells of the crossing signal ahead of us were going full blast.
And I realized, suddenly, that Doug wasn’t slowing down. So I said, “Doug! There’s a train coming.”
Doug kept talking, and he’s not slowing down.
I repeated, slightly louder, “Doug! There’s a train! Stop!”
Doug kept talking. We are now close enough that I don’t know if we can stop in time, and the train is awfully close. I exclaimed, “Train! Train! Train! Stop the f–ing car!”
We crossed the tracks. The train was so close to us that as I shouting obscenities and looking out of the passenger window, I couldn’t see the headlight because it was blocked by the roof of the car, but I can count the smashed bugs on the front of the engine.
I was holding on for dear life, absolutely certain the train was going to hit us before we were past.
And then we’re on the otherside and I’m still shouting, and honestly, I don’t know how Doug could hear me over the deafining whistle, but he says, “What are you so upset about?”
“WE NEARLY DIED! DIDN’T YOU SEE THE TRAIN!?!”
I looked at him, and he’s peering at the rearview mirror, his mouth dropped open in a shocked expression, because all he can see is freight cars rushing past fairly close behind us. And then he said, “Wow, where did that train come from?”
Given the physics of the situation and how long Doug’s big ol’ four-door Oldsmobile was, I think the train couldn’t have missed the back bumper by more than an inch.
Doug stopped the car. He sat there, gripping the steering wheel and almost hyperventilating. “I didn’t hear anything. Was the signal working?”
“Yes. Bells clanging, lights flashing, train whistle blowing, and me shouting at you to stop!” I replied.
After about a half a minute he says, “Wow,” and he starts laughing as he takes his foot off the brake and we start moving again. “I don’t know how I missed that!”
I was still trying to calm down. Doug seemed sincerely shocked and insisted he hadn’t seen or heard the train or the signals, nor my first several warnings. And I believed him. It fit perfectly with many things I’d seen before. He could recall miniscule details from a movie he had just watched, or a book he had read, but swear he didn’t notice that a door which had been open a few minutes prior was now closed and walk right into it.
I used to love telling this story to both people who had never met Doug, and to folks who knew him. And the thing is, Doug loved telling these kinds of stories about himself, and did so all the time.
As funny as they are in retrospect, the experiences were often painful and terrifying to live through. And then, years later, we got an explanation.
Doug and I hadn’t lived in the same town for some years when I heard that he had become seriously sick and was trying to get on disability. I had last visited him and his wife about eight years previously, but we kept in touch via email. I pinged him to see how things were going, and soon we were on the phone. We laughed a lot, despite the subject matter being so serious.
Originally he had been diagnosed with generic peripheral artery disease, which is most commonly the result of the gradual build up of fatty materials inside the arteries. But they eventually discovered that the underlying cause was a more rare condition, one in which a person has fewer capillaries per volume of tissue to begin with. It was a congental problem he’d had his entire life, it was just getting noticeable as a medical issue as the ordinary build up of fat inside the vessels restricted things further.
In effect, his entire life every organ in his body had struggled with less than optimal levels of oxygen and nutrients because there were literally fewer tiny blood vessels, everywhere. It’s probably the reason that he always caught every virus or sniffle that went around. It also contributed to his longer than usual recovery times when he got injured. And it also meant that under lots of circumstances, his brain would be left with inadequate oxygen. And we think that one of the ways that the brain defends itself from damage in those cases, is to essentially shut down some functions temporarily, until oxygen levels return to normal.
I was getting depressed listening to him describe it, and starting to feel guilty for all the times we had shared those “Doug does something unbelievable weird or dumb” stories.
But Doug didn’t look at it that way at all. “It’s a relief, actually,” he said. “I mean, for years I kept wondering if something was wrong with me, mentally. But finding out that yeah, something is wrong, but it’s medical is a lot easier to accept. It’s not that I’ve got an intellectual deficiency, it’s that my body was dealing with this weird problem we didn’t know about. Literally, part of my brain would be starved of oxygen and shut off!”
Sadly, by the time of this diagnosis, there wasn’t much they could do. He had already suffered a lot of tissue loss not just in the muscles of his extremities, but also throughout his organs. They could slow the progression of the tissue necrosis by keeping him on oxygen, for instance, but the usual techniques for treating arterial disease such as bypass and so forth couldn’t address the underlying issue. The blocked arteries made it worse, but the capillary deficiency would still be there.
We stayed in touch mostly through the magic of the internet until his death just over six years ago. He remained his usual cheerful self throughout the last few years of his life. He always made a joke no matter how bad the news that he was sharing about the latest development was. As he said just about every time he told a story about one of his mishaps, “If you can’t laugh about it, what’s the point?”
Nineteen years and one week ago, Michael and I went on our first official date.
We had known each other for a few years. Ray and I had met him at a NorWesCon a couple years before that, and then again at the next NorWesCon (where he signed up for the Tai-Pan mailing list), and then he came to a Red Dwarf Marathon Party at our place and we started hanging out a lot. Then, when Ray died, Michael was one of the friends who kept me from completely falling apart.
It hadn’t been quite three months since Ray’s death when I asked Michael on a real date. I was nervous, not about the date, because we were already friends, but I wasn’t sure how some of my friends would react to the news. The first person I told was Kehf. She put her fists up, went “Woooo! I hoped something like this was happening. He lights up when you walk into a room.”
And the only thing I could think of was that I wanted to keep making Michael smile. I wanted that smile in my life forever.
I didn’t propose that weekend. But it wasn’t long after. We didn’t tell people, because I was still getting some weird reactions from several friends (and even worse from family) at just the thought that I was dating so soon after Ray’s death. So we made this very sober and rational plan that we would wait until at least November before moving in together. And we might have sticked to it, too. But some weirdness happened with a pair of new roommates at the house he was sharing with several (they weren’t hostile, they just had no sense of boundaries and did weird things like decide to switch rooms with him and moved all of his stuff without consulting first, and other creepy things) and I barely stopped myself from going ballistic. He was being calm and telling me I was overreacting, and I was “No! We’re getting you out of there now!”
So he moved in with me in August of ’98 and we’ve been together ever since.
I would have to go dig around in the filing cabinet to remember the date of our commitment ceremony. My then-employer changed the rules for adding domestic partners to insurance, and we had to have certain papers signed by a particular date, so the times was thrust on us. We decided to sign medical powers of attorney while we were at it, and since you need to have a notary and witnesses for that we made a small party out of it. It was fun, but wasn’t timing of our choosing. Neither to I remember the exact date we officially signed the paperwork for the state level civil unions, when they became legal.
Our wedding when marriage became legal in the state was also a date that wasn’t entirely our choosing (the very first day you could legally do it), but because of when the law passed the previous spring, and its implementation being delayed because of the anti-gay referendum attempt, and ultimately the voters getting to approve marriage by a comfortable margin, we had months to plan. And our friends threw us a great shindig. So that date I remember. It’s an anniversary, legally and otherwise.But while I don’t remember other details of our first date, I do remember it was February 7, 1998, and it was clearly one of the most important days in my life. We didn’t have a meet-cute. We didn’t experience a lot of hijinks or drama. I still can’t quite believe such a funny, smart, talented, wonderful man can put up with me at all, let alone love me. But he does. And clearly I’m completely and totally gone on him. Happy Valentine’s Day, Michael!
I come from a long line of packrats. So I have a very strong visceral reaction to the idea of throwing something away. Especially if there is any sort of sentimental attachment to it at all. So, when Ray passed away twenty years ago, when his mother, sister, and I went through all of his things to decide who would keep what and which things would go to a thrift shop, it was a very emotionally difficult time for me. I hung on to all sorts of things. And a couple of dozen of those things were some mugs. I didn’t hang on to all of his collection, by any means. For one thing, there were a several of the mugs that his mom, his sister, and one of his brothers wanted, because they reminded them of him. Those were easy to let go of, because I wasn’t disposing of them, I was sharing them with someone else who loved Ray as much as I did. But I still had a rather lot of them after that process was over.
And when I said I hung onto a couple of dozen, that’s a bit of an understatement. We had these racks mounted on the wall in the kitchen, each of which held ten mugs. There were four racks on the wall, and all of the racks were completely full. That wasn’t the entire collection. Even after several of his family members took some away. To be fair, not all of the mugs left hanging on the wall had been Ray’s. There were a couple that had been mugs I owned before Ray and I met, and there were several more that had been gifts to me from either Ray or a friend or family member which I hung onto with at least as much of a sentimental attachment as Ray had clung to his.
When Michael and I moved in together, I went through all of my stuff and all of Ray’s former things again, and had a not terribly pleasant emotional time picking more things to haul away. And that included some of the mugs and tea cups. Periodically over the years, we’ve repeated the process of going through things, getting rid of stuff we don’t use any more and/or forgot we had. It gets easier, particularly when I find something squirreled away on a shelf in a closet that I barely recognize, and can only vague describe as, “these are some souvenirs Ray wanted to keep of… something.”
The mugs have been a weird case because they’re hanging on the wall in the kitchen. I see them all the time. Unlike the boxes in closets or cupboards, I don’t ever forget they exist.
And we keep acquiring new mugs. People find funny or pretty mugs and get them for one or the other of us for birthdays or other gift-giving occasions. Or we buy them for each other. So I have to go through the mugs from time to time and decide which one or two or three to get rid of to make room for the new.
The most ridiculous part is, that most of the mugs hang up there on the wall and never get used. It’s sort of embarrassing if we have company over, and we have tea and/or coffee on offer, and somebody picks a funnyy mug off the way before I can get them one, because most likely which ever one they pick is going to be really dusty. So much so that they need more just a quick rinse to clean out. Part of that is because there were forty mugs hanging from the wall with only two people living here. But another part is that bit I mentioned at the beginning about me being an I-need-my-favorite-mug kind of guy. I almost always drink coffee from this one very over-sized purple mug of which I have written before. And I almost always drink tea from my “Queen of Everything” mug. I rinse and re-use those mugs day after day. And when, for whatever reason, I use a different mug, there is a fairly limited number of the mugs among the forty that are my go-to next favorites.
Which makes hanging onto all of the others even more ridiculous—right? There are, for instance, two Christmas themed mugs, one that Ray gave me, and one that someone else gave Ray, that are among those I’ve hung onto forever. Most years I make a point of getting down each of them around Christmas and using them at least once. One of them has and odd-shaped handle with a jingle bell built in that is a bit awkward to hold onto, and isn’t as festive to use because it’s hard to make the bell jingle. But it’s the mug that Ray gave me for, I think it was, our second Christmas living together, so the thought of parting with it is painful. The other one has a much narrower base than its mouth, and therefore is prone to being knocked over, but Ray adored it, so… Another odd one is a Valentine’s Day themed mug that Ray gave me on our very first Valentine’s Day together. It’s handle is heart-shaped, and very awkward to use. I haven’t used in it many years, with the excuse being that it is literally almost impossible to get off the rack because of how tight a fit the weird handle it. But I also wouldn’t part with it because, you know, first Valentine’s Day, right?
With the upcoming move, and the fact that I’ve lived in this place for more than 21 years (whereas Michael has lived here with me for 18½) we have a whole love of stuff that either needs to be packed and moved, or hauled away. Among the things I went through this weekend was the mugs. Among the large load that filled the back of the Subaru which I took to Value Village on Sunday was a very heavy box with at least 38 mugs and tea cups in it, plus three no longer needed racks. This left ten mugs hanging on the wall, plus my two favorites that never get hung up on the wall.
It felt really good to unload the stuff at the thrift store, and to carry out the five big bags of recycle. But I had made a comment to Michael last night that with the amount of emotional effort to pull down all those mugs, it’s kind of disappointing that it didn’t result it a space I can use for staging in the coming packing efforts. When I’ve been going through shelves and closets, afterward I’m left with space I can stack packed boxes in, and so one. But these were all on the wall—not really a usable space.
So I wrote most of this post last night while I was trying to unwind from the long day and get mentally settled so I could go to sleep. That post ended with a comment about trying to remind myself of the end goal of not trying to unpack and find room for a whole bunch of stuff we never use when we find out new home.
But this morning, when I walked into the kitchen shortly after waking up, I was startled at how different the wall looked without those other three racks full of mugs (and while I was working on the wall, I also took down and hauled away a bunch of copper jell-o molds that have just been decorative for years as I stopped making jell-o things when I was diagnosed pre-diabetic back in 2001!). The kitchen still has a lot of clutter in it. Other than the mugs, the rest of my purging this weekend was focused on the computer room and bedroom. But I was amazed at how less crowded the kitchen felt with more blank wall visible, and the immediate emotional lift I got. I am making progress, but even more, I didn’t feel any guilt about getting rid of Ray’s mugs.
Yay for letting go!
Another in my series of posts recommending web comics that I think more people should read:
Tom Gauld is a cartoonist whose work appears in several publications (The Guardian, The New Yorker, New Scientist, to name a few) so not a typical web comic. But most of his cartoons are posted regularly at You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, so you can enjoy his work without hunting around in all of those other publications. I’ve seen him described as a political cartoonist, and clearly his cartoons often comment on world events, but his subject matter is much more far-ranging. And he has a perspective that is very different from the typical political cartoonist. A certain sci fi/fantasy/nerd slant is often evident in his cartoons.And they always make me chuckle!
Go browse his comics, and if you find you like his work enough to want to support him, he has a collection of places his work is available to purchase here.
Some of the comics I’ve previously recommended: Some of these have stopped publishing new episodes. Some have been on hiatus for a while. I’ve culled from the list those that have gone away entirely.
“Deer Me,” by Sheryl Schopfer tells the tales from the lives of three friends (and former roommates) who couldn’t be more dissimilar while being surprisingly compatible. If you enjoy Deer Me, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!
Scurry by Mac Smith is the story of a colony of mice trying to survive a long, strange winter in a world where humans have mysteriously vanished, and food is becoming ever more scarce.
And I love this impish girl thief with a tail and her reluctant undead sorcerer/bodyguard: “Unsounded,” by Ashley Cope.
Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu is the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a former junior figure skating champion from a southern state who is attending fictitious Samwell College in Massachusetts, where he plays on the men’s hockey team. Bitty is the smallest guy on the team, and in the early comics is dealing with a phobia of being body-checked in the games. He’s an enthusiastic baker, and a die hard Beyoncé fan.
Muddler’s Beat by Tony Breed is the fun, expanded cast sequel to Finn and Charlie Are Hitched.
The Young Protectors by Alex Wolfson begins when a young, closeted teen-age superhero who has just snuck into a gay bar for the first time is seen exiting said bar by a not-so-young, very experienced, very powerful, super-villain. Trouble, of course, ensues.
Fowl Language by Brian Gordon is a fun strip about parenting, tech, science, and other geeky things. The strips are funny, and he also has a bonus panel link to click on under the day’s strip.
Tripping Over You by Suzana Harcum and Owen White is a strip about a pair of friends in school who just happen to fall in love… which eventually necessitates one of them coming out of the closet. Tripping Over You has several books, comics, and prints available for purchase.
The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard. is frequently autobiographical take on the artist’s journey to creating the crazy strip about science, science nerds, why girls are just as good at being science nerds as boys, and so much more. It will definitely appeal to dinosaur nerds, anyone who has ever been enthusiastic about any science topic, and especially to people who has ever felt like a square peg being forced into round holes by society.
The Last Halloween by Abby Howard is the creepy story of 10-year-old Mona who is reluctantly drafted to save the world on Halloween night. This is by the same artist who does the Junior Science Power Hour. She created this strip as her pitch in the final round of Penny Arcade’s Strip Search, which was a reality game show where web cartoonists competed for a cash prize and other assistance to get their strip launched. Though Abby didn’t win, she started writing the strip anyway. If you like the comic, you can support Abby in a couple of ways: she has some cool stuff related to both of her strips in her store, and she also has a Patreon.
If you want to read a nice, long graphic-novel style story which recently published its conclusion, check-out the not quite accurately named, The Less Than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal by E.K. Weaver. I say inaccurate because I found their story quite epic (not to mention engaging, moving, surprising, fulfilling… I could go on). Some sections of the tale are Not Safe For Work, as they say, though she marks them clearly. The complete graphic novels are available for sale in both ebook and paper versions, by the way.
Oglaf, by Trudy Cooper and Doug Bayne is a Not Safe For Work web comic about… well, it’s sort a generic “medieval” high fantasy universe, but with adult themes, often sexual. Jokes are based on fantasy story and movie clichés, gaming tropes, and the like. And let me repeat, since I got a startled message from someone in response to a previous posting of this recommendation: Oglaf is Not Safe For Work (NSFW)!
“Mr. Cow,” by Chuck Melville tells the tale of a clueless cow with Walter Cronkite dreams. If the twice-weekly gags about a barnyard of a newsroom aren’t enough excitement for you the same artist also writes and draws (and colors!) some awesome fantasy series: Champions of Katara and Felicia, Sorceress of Katara. If you like Mr. Cow, Felicia, or Flagstaff (the hero of Champions of Katara) you can support the artist by going to his Patreon Page. Also, can I interest you in a Mr. Cow Mug?
It seems so reasonable. Simple. Just talk. Listen to their side. We always argue for tolerance, right? Listen to their side of things. Maybe we’ll learn something. And once they see we’re willing to listen, they can be persuaded to see things from our perspective.
Seriously, I’m a queer man in my late 50s. I grew up in tiny rural communities attending Southern Baptist Churches. You think I haven’t heard at least a billion times the perspective of the people who think religious freedom means a right to discriminate against me? You think I haven’t heard millions of times why queers don’t deserve civil rights protections? You think I haven’t heard millions of times how they perceive black people, brown people, people with accents, people who don’t attend the same churches as they do?
I have had no choice but to listen for decades!
You cannot talk someone who doesn’t think you’re their equal into accepting your right to autonomy. They may claim that they respect you. They may call you their friend. They may think of you as an exception to the truth they hold deep in their hearts about the inherent inequalities of different types of people. But the only thing that’s going to do is that you will be the person they trot out as proof that they aren’t prejudiced when someone else calls them on it. I know because it’s happened many times to me, personally.
Sure, when I’ve argued that queer people need to live their lives out and proud (if they can safely do so), I have cited the studies that show that actually knowing queer people makes other people more likely to support our rights. But it makes them more likely. It isn’t a magic formula that is guaranteed to change any specific person’s mind.
My evangelical upbringing is especially relevant to this particular argument. Despite making fun of a disabled person, talking about pussy-grabbing, and openly calling for violence against people who disagree, Donald got 80% of the evangelical vote. That’s better than George W. Bush every managed!
And those folks are absolutely convinced that they don’t hate anyone. They will angrily tell you just how much they love you in the same breath that they say that if your rights are protected, that will offend god so much that he will destroy America. They don’t see the contradiction between those statements. When it comes to things like women’s rights and racial issues, they just as emphatically insist that they aren’t bigots. They just know, because they think it’s in the Bible, that women are meant to be subservient to men, and that brown people are meant to be subservient to white people. If they aren’t quite willing to say that last part out loud, what they will fall back on is the separate but equal dodge on race, because god intended the races to be separate, they say.
It’s a weird theological argument: god wouldn’t have made you a woman, or a African-American, or Latino, or whatever, if you weren’t meant to fulfill certain roles in life. Maybe he sees inherent moral weaknesses in your soul. It isn’t at all logical, and most of them can’t articulate it beyond the notion that they believe it’s in the Bible. But that’s what you’re up against: god said it, god did it, god intends it. And no amount of talking or listening or being friends with people whose life experience belies that is going to shake their resolve. They may feel doubts. They may even confess to you that they realize you are a good person despite being in a category they have been taught is inherently not. But they will then shrug, say it’s god’s doing, and they’ll cheerfully vote for any candidate who affirms their ideas.
Even if that candidate also says a lot of things that completely contradict the teachings of their church. Because once they decide that a candidate is god’s choice, they can hand-wave everything away with the old “he works in mysterious ways.”
It’s an exhausting battle.
So, yes, be kind and civil. If you have the time and energy to attempt to be friends with someone, you can. But don’t kid yourself that doing so is more effective than calling your congressperson, or going to a protest, or joining a boycott, or going to town hall meetings, or donating to organizations that protect our rights. And please, don’t let the people in your life who think it’s okay to take away your rights think that you endorse those ideas.
Because you’re just empowering them to hurt others.
As the article I linked points out, Guthrie wrote “This Land Is Your Land” in a fit of pique from constantly hearing Kate Smith’s “God Bless America” everywhere along with rhetoric which would sound very familiar to anyone clamoring to make america great again as if the deprivation and suffering and oppression of the working class, particularly during the oppression, had never happened. Guthrie’s original title (and lyric) was “God Blessed America for Me.”
And if you don’t understand that it’s a protest song, you might want to read these original verses that people almost never sing any longer:
Was a high wall there that tried to stop me,
A sign was painted said: Private Property,
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing —
That side was made for you and me!
In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?
Can you imagine if Lady Gaga had sung the verse about the high wall? Ha!Guthrie’s song is an especially good choice to subtweet the trumpkins, because back in the day, Guthrie was famous for writing “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar. So it wasn’t just Captain America who was advocating punching Nazis at the time. Guthrie first wrote those words on his guitar after writing the song, “Talking Hitler’s Head Off Blues.” Guthrie argued (I think correctly), that fascism is a form of economic exploitation comparable to slavery, and that fascist leaders are essentially gangsters out to rob the world. He explicitly included within the category of fascist leaders all of the wealthy elite who profited from social, political and economic inequality.
Guthrie also argued that people who protested those inequalities were not thugs or outlaws, but are heroes rising “in times of economic turmoil and social disintegration” to fight “a highly illegitimate criminal endeavor intended to exploit the common people.”
Let’s go be heroes!