Honeymoon For One, Part Two

Greetings from Merida! Ok, so yes I am back in NYC after my vacation touring the state of Yucatan but ‘Greetings from Merida’ is a better opening line. Quick refresher, last time I wrote about my first ever trip as a freelance writer. Same-sex marriage recently became the law of the land in Merida, Cancun, Valladolid, and the surrounding areas. 

I was invited to the region on a destination wedding/honeymoon tour with eight other journalists, influencers, and editors. Sights were seen, food was eaten, drinks were drunk, and friendships were formed. It was a really nice five days south of the border, but sorry to disappoint…I did not come home with a husband. Nor do I come home with a nagging desire to get married. 

Basically, Merida would love to be the “new” Puerto Vallarta and tap into that billion-dollar wedding market. And honestly, that newness is the biggest attraction the state of Yucatan has going for it at the moment.  Gays LOVE discovering the “next best thing.” 

Tel Aviv Pride. Iceland. The gays also seem to know what and where is about to blow up and become super popular. Like Samantha Jones said, “First come the gays, then the girls, then the industry.” Merida is hoping that rings true for their tourism and city. 

A beautiful destination wedding in a stunning Mexican location, with a small group of friends, is CONSIDERABLY cheaper than a wedding at a venue here in the States. Taking 6, or 10 (depending on how well off my future imaginary fiancee is), friends to a gorgeous locale in Merida, and getting married in front of them does sound nice. Ten does seem like a lot of people. Don’t mention that to my cousin Jeannine who, lovingly, had all the cousins in her bridal party. Twelve. On each side. So yes there were 24 of us. The priest exclaimed after we all made it done the aisle, “Well now that the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games have ended, let’s get you two married!”

We did see quite a lot of venues, haciendas, and luxury resorts. My mind is a little foggy trying to remember everywhere we went. Good thing I still have the itinerary and the photos time stamped on my phone to refresh my memory. Easily, my favorite locale though was the last hacienda we visited, Hacienda Xcanatún by Angsana

It’s hard to explain why Hacienda Xcanatún by Angsana was my favorite. We can’t help what or who we are attracted to. The staff was remarkably friendly and personable. The grounds were gorgeous without being pretentious. I even envisioned my future imaginary bachelor party at the fabulous, but not grotesquely huge, pool area. Unfortunately, when I inquired about the packages offered, I was told a groom does not come with the deal. Foiled again! 

I think I am doing ok without a husband. Better than OK, in fact. As Carrie Bradshaw famously said in a “sex and the city” episode [ok I binged on some beloved classic shows that I have seen many times to get through the never-ending winter in NYC. Fuck you Omicron.] she is “SINGLE AND FABULOUS EXCLAMATION POINT”. Poor gurl ended up on a magazine cover not looking her best with the words “single and fabulous?” Notice the question mark. Not what she signed up for she mused. So like Ms. Bradshaw I too am single and fabulous exclamation point.

I always thought if the whole soulmate, wedding, two kids picket fence thing happened for me it would be amazing and wonderful. But if by some chance it doesn’t, my life will be just as happy and just as full. There are other kinds of love besides romantic love. Gen Y twentysomethings are buying homes with their friends. Whether that is due to astronomical real estate prices as of late or just the want and desire to own a home without having to wait for that future husband or wife is yet to be determined. We love those memes about normalizing “living with your 3 best friends in your 60s.” 

I still love my rom-coms devouring them all – “never been kissed’ “notting hill” and “13 going on 30” prob top the list – [can’t wait to add ‘Bros’ to that list when it is released later this year] but I am smart enough to know that’s not how life works. We all deserve the happy ending. Just believing that you deserve a happy ending is a very powerful thing.

But remember happy endings all don’t look the same and my happy ending (come through Avril Lavigne!) might look different from yours. Whatever your happy ending is I hope it happens for you. Mine might include a husband, might include a wedding but it’s definitely going to include a flash mob proposal. OK so maybe life can be like a rom-com! 

(this column originally appeared in “Letters From Camp Rehoboth”)

Rooftop Access Should Be A Right in New York City!

by Guest Writer Brandon Gage

Rooftop access should be a right in New York City

New York City real estate is some of the most valuable on the planet. Land is at a premium, and skyward is the only direction in which to construct. Developers desperately outbid themselves on erecting phallic monstrosities that will earn them ungodly amounts of money, slash their taxes, and render living in the Big Apple unjustifiably more expensive for everyone else. 

Like individual New Yorkers, each residential building is unique in its own way no matter when it was built. They share certain features including means of egress and ingress, basements, common corridors, staircases, and sometimes elevators. And while all of them have roofs, only in some are residents allowed to enjoy that untapped, secure, open-air square footage.

Commercial venues are encouraged to acquire permission to utilize their building’s rooftops due to the extra revenue that they generate for the establishments’ owners. In fact, retail spaces are commonly unleaseable without their respective upper levels, despite the increased cost.

People, however, are seldom presented with that opportunity unless the rent-collecting gentry issues special approval or has already invested in significant modifications.

That must change. 

photo credit//https://unsplash.com/@socialcut

This is not to say that landlords and property management firms need to adorn roofs with turf, furniture, or amenities that are unnecessary for tar beaches. Let those who pay to live there sort out the decorative details. The point is that providing an exclusive outdoor spot to lounge in the Sun, work out, or stargaze at night is a small request. And it would boost the morale of a city that has been through the fucking ringer and is doing its best to recover and evolve.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, the mercurial oasis atop my concrete and cinderblock prewar habitat became a refuge upon which to clear my head, burn some calories, and stare toward twinkling infinity. 

Behind me, a sea of staggered ceilings fills the blocks between my dwelling and The George Washington Bridge, a permanently illuminated beacon blinking a couple of miles to my North.

photo credit//https://unsplash.com/@kellysikkema

On warm days, I would tan and exercise, and when I got lucky, watch a storm approaching from the West. At night, when I lay down on a blanket and remained still enough, I observed the Earth’s rotation as stars slowly drifted behind the taller structures in the neighborhood. 

There were even instances wherein I fell asleep, bong in hand, under the heavens, never once feeling vulnerable, unsafe, or on someone else’s schedule. 

Time, it seems, prefers the sanctum of the indoors.

Meanwhile, down in Hell’s Kitchen, three of my friends occupy a penthouse unit with a private terrace, where they graciously host periodic social gatherings of the finest trade in the land. Beats and boys thump and grind until our joints start screaming, but in this setting, who cares?

Their quaint party pulpit is nestled amongst countless skyscrapers, surrounded by life, beneath a canopy of endless, cloud-brushed azure. Planes crisscross the expanse as the Sun dips below the mirrored horizon. Bronze twilight morphs into a blackness decorated with pinpoints of cosmic fury which because of light pollution are visible only from distinct spots like this and mine.

Incidentally, you know those buzzing mini-moons that line the streets and burn your retinas?

Fuck those things. Let there be night.

Nevertheless, universal rooftop access certainly harbors potential liability concerns and legal ramifications, and although they are valid, they are not insurmountable. We can overcome.

Rooftops bring joy, strengthen the bonds of community, and enhance the urban experience. 

Access should be a right.

Brandon Gage is a political columnist and editor who is sick of right-wing bullshit preventing us from having nice things.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Don’t Let The News Get You Down, COME ON DOWN Instead!

America is on shaky ground these days. Ron DeSantis won’t let Floridians say gay. Congress is filled with corrupt, lying, cheating racist homophobes like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorne, and Matt Gaetz.  And what’s worse is there are no repercussions for their actions. Tucker Carlson is the number one news show nightly. 

Biden is doing a stand-up job, probably the best job of any President in recent memory, yet half of America refuses to acknowledge it. Last week a dozen people were shot by a madman in the Brooklyn subway. As of writing this, there have been 145 mass shootings in the USA – THIS YEAR. And it’s only April. Yes, things are pretty bad right now. 

I will admit watching the news endlessly only depresses and stresses me out. I try to limit my news to Good Morning America and The View.  Friends love to tell me those are “not news shows” lol. These are the same friends who watch CNN, and MSN on an endless loop. Every time I stop over at their apartment there is always news on. Hours and hours of pundits giving their opinions on whatever topic is being discussed. To each their own, but for me, my television viewing needs to be light and fun. Emily in Paris, Bridgerton, The Other Two, you get the gist. Throw in some reality tv, Survivor, Project Runway, Top Chef, and game shows. 

Truth be told, I am very competitive. Love a good game night with friends. Cards Against Humanity. Taboo. Also love competing in 5k races, and Obstacle Course Races (OCR). Not to toot our own horns but my friend Noah and I placed 2nd in the Sundance Cornhole Tournament last August, and almost took the crown! 

I have always loved game shows: Wheel of Fortune, and $100,000 Pyramid, but the one that constantly fills me with joy and makes me smile endlessly for an hour is The Price Is Right. For me, The Price is Right represents the America we strive to be!

First and foremost, anyone and everyone can participate. Older, younger, middle-aged, white, black, Latin, gay, straight, trans, Muslim, Jewish, overweight, skinny, blonde, brunette, smart, dumb. The audience looks like a melting pot of every type of American in our great country. The inclusivity of ‘TPIR’ is the goal America should be working towards.

AIDS Lifecycle Rest Stop 4 – Soccer team

Taking the inclusivity a step forward, no longer are the ‘models’ all female. ‘TPIR’ has vaulted in the 21st century and employs two GORGEOUS male models to show off the luxurious prizes. In total there is a rotating cast of six models, two male, and four female. Manuela was born in Colombia and she is stunning. James hails from Australia, and if he wasn’t straight and married, he would be the man of my dreams he is that hot. Devin, an African-American hunk, played college football and Amber was a former Miss Washington Teen USA. Each of them is likable, and personable, and interacts with host Drew Carey throughout the show. Again, the representation and inclusivity in this hour are hard to top. 

Next, you would be hard-pressed to find a more joyful, exuberant, happy group of people. I mean why wouldn’t you be, you have the chance to win pretty amazing prizes: trips, cars, boats, cash. Even better – the entire audience cheers for everyone. High fives happen regularly, with strangers cheering on other strangers. 

You get outbid in contestants row by a dollar? Yeah, that SUCKS, but it’s the name of the game.

Even the games themselves inspire raucous applause. Raising the curtain to see the beloved Plinko board? You would think Lady Gaga just walked out on the stage. The Mountain Climber is also a much-loved favorite. My favorite games are Ten Chances, the Clock Game, and the Race Game. 

I love going on a cruise or group trip where we have matching shirts celebrating a birthday or a hometown. Last Atlantis Cruise for the white party 12 of us wore our homemade “I LOVE NY” shirts. 

If you are looking for an hour of nonstop joy and happiness, give ‘The Price is Right’ a try. You won’t be disappointed. COME ON DOWN LETTERS FROM CAMP REHOBOTH!   

That being said the group/matching t-shirts in the ‘TPIR’ audience give me life! Some homemade, some bought from the show store. [Drew is not a fan of the t-shirts with his face plastered all over them.] Popular ones include “I called in sick to work to come on TPIR,’ or ‘I am ready to COME ON DOWN.” Jack MacFarland in an episode of Will and Grace suggested a game show for the new all-gay network he started working at – The Price is Right AND GAY! Perfect for my t-shirt when I am called down to contestants row. 

Smart Ride from Miami to Key West
Annual Lupus Walk for our beloved cousin Dawn Cetero, she remains in our hearts forever
Intramural Bowling!

(this column was first published in the May issue of “Letters from Camp Rehoboth”)

HONEYMOON FOR ONE?

How did I wind up here? On a flight bound for Cancun, all expenses paid! Something like this definitely does not happen to me. But today it is. As a writer, I can quite easily spin any FB post to make it seem like my life is all beaches and bars. Which it definitely is not. I don’t really know what people think when they hear I left teaching to become a freelance writer. You work odd hours as a freelancer: late nights, early mornings – a very flexible schedule. But you need to book the jobs to get paid and obviously the more you write, the more you get paid. 

The pay isn’t the best. But you do it for the “work,” as cheesy as that sounds, it’s true. There are perks. Sometimes. But you have to know how to “work” them, how to ask for them. And I don’t think I have mastered that quite yet. Need to get on more PR lists, more screener lists, more “try this product and if you like it write a great review” lists, a Botox one of those would be AMAZEBALLS.

But back to the here and now. The here: 30,000 feet in the air. The now: En route to Mexico, on a group trip with 7 other journalists from the States, Canada, and Colombia. The reason: To tour the region. As of March 4th same-sex marriage is now legal in the Yucatan peninsula. Another win for gay marriage, or as we call it now, marriage.

Yes there is a select, very vocal, very powerful portion of the USA that doesn’t want to say gay, thinking that if you don’t say the word that somehow makes it so queer people don’t exist. (Republican scumbags I am pointing at you) Sorry not sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. 

Gays have been around for centuries. If the studies are correct, one 1 out of every 10 people are gay, which equals there are 30 million gay Americans. (There are 330 million people in the USA. I hope my math is correct) The gay wedding industry is big bucks and the state of Yucatan would love to tap into that market. Destination weddings are tres’ gay and Merida wants to be part of the conversation. Groom and Groom has a nice ring to it. I think that’s the first time I ever said that. 

The fact of the matter is, when I was envisioning my life and planning it out, I never saw myself as a husband. Marriage was never in the picture of the life I envisioned for myself. But I marched for it. I fought like hell for it. I celebrated when it became the law of the land. But even when marching I felt myself marching for the cause. For my queer brothers and sisters. For equality. But not really for myself.

I have had boyfriends before, relationships. Even been in love once or twice. And even throughout those relationships, the topic of marriage didn’t even come up. I did date a guy once who was obsessed with getting married. He dropped the ‘I love you’ within weeks of our first meeting. I definitely was not in the same space as he was and thought the best thing to do would be to break it off. Fast forward about a year later as I see his wedding photos (to the next guy he dated after me) all over social media. He wanted to get married. He got married. Better him than me! 

I mean, this trip has all the makings of a rom-com! (I love me a rom-com!)  Friends have specifically told me “do not fall in love!” Background history on that: in my younger days I would somehow “fall in love on vacation.”  Atlantis Cruise, Puerto Vallarta, Provincetown. On each of those trips with friends, I met someone, usually on day one, and we hit it off. We quickly become VB’s – vacation boyfriends. My PV VB even joined our group for breakfast on the last day. But that was the younger, leaner, more carefree Robby. He did not get on the plane for this trip lol.

Speaking of rom-coms, I think I just realized I am Jane – Katherine Heigl’s character in “27 Dresses.” She winds up having to plan her sister’s wedding – to the guy she thinks she is in love with, Edward Burns. Spoiler Alert: Jane is really in love with James Marsden, the reporter who covers the wedding section for a newspaper. Yes, it’s a stretch, but I will be tasting wedding meals, and touring catering halls. Scouting the perfect locations for a gay wedding. But not my gay wedding. (love “27 dresses’ and James Marsden, and yes I know my analogy to me being Jane is quite the reach. Who cares, let me have it. I told you I want my life to be like a rom-com!)

The pilot just announced we are making our way into Cancun and should be landing in 30 minutes or so. My first international assignment! Here we go. 

I wonder if I am going to get the honeymoon suite in any of the places we are staying!

To Be Continued…

World’s Third AIDS Patient Cured

By Kambiz Shekdar, Ph.D, GUEST WRITER

(this article was originally published in WestView News)

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR A GLOBAL CURE?

Within the research community, the Holy Grail to cure AIDS had been to find new drugs to “Shock and Kill” the festering virus from its hiding places (“latent infections” and “viral reservoirs”). No such drugs have been developed, yet three persons have been cured using highly imaginative stem cell strategies. The most recent stem cell cure reported in February 2022 is beginning to cause the field to re-think and expand strategies to develop a global cure, including new initiatives by NIH.

Many readers of this newspaper [WestView News] will remember the height of the AIDS epidemic. New York City’s West Village, where this newspaper is based, has always been one of the epicenters of the AIDS epidemic in the United States. The neighborhood’s St. Vincent’s Hospital, now closed, once served as the center for the compassionate care of dying patients. Today, an AIDS Memorial sits adjacent to where St. Vincent’s once stood, as though AIDS is history. In fact, the best way we can memorialize those lost to AIDS and impact the lives and health of future generations to come all around the world is to build a research incubator and hub to accelerate a global cure, right here in New York City.

A brief timeline of 40 years of AIDS: the modern HIV epidemic started in the early 1980s. The first life-saving AIDS drug cocktail was introduced by Dr. David Ho in 1995. Global access to the drugs was initiated by President George W. Bush in 2003 via PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). In 2012, the FDA approved the use of existing AIDS medications to prevent HIV infection. AIDS may have been tamed, but it did not go away; it has been smoldering ever since. 

HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) occur in some 50% of people living with HIV. HAND is not in the least bit addressable by any of the many existing AIDS medications available today, not even in people who may achieve undetectable viral levels using existing AIDS medications. The disease continues to ravish the poorest and most disenfranchised communities. In the U.S. this started with the gays and now includes black women, our prison populations, trans individuals, and our inner cities. 

The goal of a cure for HIV is to replace human T-cells infected with HIV (left) with non-infected cells (right). Photo credit: Nancy Burson in collaboration with Kunio Nagashima.

40 million people around the world are living with HIV, making Planet Earth a massive petri dish for the emergence of new strains. COVID’s Delta, Omicron, and Deltacron variants illustrate how infectious agents can change and evade existing defenses. So far, drug makers have been able to develop stronger and newer drugs for new strains of HIV, but this is getting more challenging all the time. Moreover, young gay men in the U.S. have largely stopped using condoms, creating ideal conditions for the spread of any drug-resistant HIV.

With treatment and prevention drugs alone, we can maintain a smoldering HIV/AIDS epidemic, but we cannot end it. With a cure, a vaccine, or both, we can end AIDS for good and wipe HIV off the face of the planet. 

ENTER CURE: Timothy Ray Brown is the first person cured of AIDS. Mr. Brown recounted how he was cured at a symposium at Columbia University organized by Research Foundation to Cure AIDS. He said that he suffered from both leukemia and AIDS. His physician, Dr. Gero Hutter, had an idea. Dr. Hutter was not an HIV or AIDS specialist, but he recalled from his days in medical school how certain rare individuals are naturally resistant to HIV/AIDS. Mr. Brown needed a bone marrow stem cell transplant to cure his leukemia. What if, Dr. Hutter reasoned, the stem cell transplant was sourced from a donor who is selected from the group of individuals who is naturally resistant to HIV. Could the transplanted stem cells give rise to a new HIV-resistant immune system that would cure Mr. Brown of both AIDS and leukemia? Mr. Brown was a willing guinea pig. The answer to this pair’s experiment was a resounding “YES!”

Who was this leukemia doctor with claims of using stem cells to cure AIDS in 2007, when stem cell science was new and when almost all the experts in the field believed new drugs, not stem cells, were required to achieve a cure? Not even long-time AIDS activists popped any champagne bottles. Was this yet another case of drinking goats’ milk to cure AIDS? It took years for news of the innovative cure to catch.

RESEARCH FOUNDATION TO CURE AIDS during NYC World Pride advocating for a CURE as a milestone LGBT! success of the future. Photo credit: Michael Scott

DRIP BY MONUMENTAL DRIP, the three cures to date and the new knowledge gleaned from each success have chipped away at the calcified and crusty assumptions with the real-world data and results of what works to cure AIDS. Each of the cures and their contribution to the field of curing AIDS using innovative stem cell strategies is summarized below.

STEM CELL CURE #1, reported in 2007, used HIV-resistant stem cells to cure AIDS. But because only one person was cured, it was formally possible that something else or extra about the biology or genetics of either the donor or the patient, or both, was at play. In addition, because the patient suffered from leukemia as well as AIDS, he underwent radiation to eliminate his cancerous immune system first. Also, the donor-derived stem cells that were transplanted into the patient caused a phenomenon known as GVHD (graft versus host disease) where the implanted cells attacked the recipient’s own cells. Any of these factors could have contributed to the cure of the patient in addition to the curative role of the HIV-resistant stem cell transplant.

STEM CELL CURE #2, reported in 2019, was achieved in much the same way as the first. Now two people were cured, not just one, providing clinical proof that the cure could be repeated and that the first case was not a fluke. Also, by this time, similar cures were attempted in additional patients who suffered from both leukemia and AIDS but using regular stem cell transplants and not HIV-resistant stem cells. All these attempted cures failed, suggesting that radiation to kill off a patient’s cancerous immune system without adding back HIV-resistant stem cells is not sufficient to cure AIDS. 

STEM CELL CURE #3, reported in 2022, makes a compelling trifecta. This third was achieved in a multiracial woman. With the first cure being that of a White man, the second that of a Latino male, and the third a multiracial woman, together, the diverse backgrounds of the three individuals cured to date dispels the possibility that any particular biology or genetics of the individuals involved was likely a key factor in achieving any of these cures. Moreover, GVHD did not take hold in patient #3, increasingly pointing to a central curative role being played by the naturally HIV-resistant stem cells that were in common across all three cures to date.

Any time when the first patients are cured of a disease that has been lingering for decades, the primary goal of the research community must be to investigate all possible factors, especially all of the factors that were involved in the index cases, that could have contributed to the outcome. 15 years ago, Dr. Hutter showed us all a cure is possible. It took the NIH until the end of 2019 to make its first major announcement prioritizing the development of a global cure for AIDS. Regrettably, the COVID pandemic hit just six weeks later. Since then, I have seen one narrowly-defined call from the NIH for research proposals expressly focused on curing AIDS. 

Much more can and must be done to make up for lost time and mobilize a cure. During the last 40 years of living with AIDS, the focus has been on drugs to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS. Now, the cure of three patients using stem cells points to the need to invigorate and add to the field. Room must be made to add new teams that bring novel and differentiated cellular biotechnologies needed to harness natural and curative biological resistance to HIV to develop a global cure. 

For full disclosure, I am the President and Founder of the Research Foundation to Cure AIDS (RFTCA). RFTCA is not about treatment or prevention; we’re about the cure. Together with our collaboration partners at Columbia University Medical Center, New York Stem Cell Foundation, New York Blood Center, and others, RFTCA has applied for NIH grant funding to advance innovative stem cell science originating from The Rockefeller University. 

The imaginative and breathtaking results that Dr. Hutter demonstrated when he combined pieces of knowledge known to all—but synthesized by none before him—into a coherent sequence of events that cured AIDS for the first time ever, inspired me ever since I heard about his work. The recent news of the third patient cured of AIDS and how this cure specifically informs the field makes me more hopeful than ever about the prospects of developing a global cure. 

Rockefeller University alumnus and biotech inventor Kambiz Shekdar, Ph.D., is the President of Research Foundation to Cure AIDS and Science & LGBTQ editor at WestView News. To support RFTCA, go to https://rftca.org/. This article originally appeared in the WestView News.

P-town’s Dirty Little Secret

by GUEST WRITER DENNIS HOBART GILES

In 1976, at twenty years old, my boyfriend Michael and I left The 1270 Gay Bar in Boston at 2:00 AM full of piss-n-vinegar. Well, more beer I’m sure, but I was certainly interested in continuing the energized night when Michael asked, “You wanna take a ride to P-town?”

“What the fuck is P-town?”

He couldn’t believe I didn’t know about Provincetown, Massachusetts so, with great enthusiasm, he explained in detail how gay friendly it was with bars, restaurants, nightclubs, a gay beach, and guys holding hands in the streets.

“Sure, what the hell, let’s go!”

We jumped in my car for the two-hour ride from Boston to the tip of Cape Cod and parked at Herring Cove Beach. With the beat of my heart in his ear, we fell asleep and woke to a glorious sunrise and the sounds of waves gently washing ashore. After hanging out at the beach a while, we cruised downtown. What a blast—we turned the corner onto Commercial Street and he slid over, nearly sitting in my lap. Rolling along at a parade pace, we kept up with couples pushing strollers and took in all the fabulous sights.

It was a wonderful little historical fishing and whaling village, with roads so small that only one car could pass at a time. Quaint shops and restaurants lined the streets with galleries, artists, and entertainers. Beautiful old buildings were converted into hotels, and hundreds of bed-and-breakfasts were immaculately preserved and decorated with flowers and rainbows. Today, P-town has hardly changed.

After my first time in Provincetown, I knew without a doubt I’d return.

When my now-husband Paul and I met four years later, we vacationed there—tanning at the beach, strolling in shops, eating out, and experiencing the gay life.

One evening in 1981, we did our usual and went out for a romantic dinner. The restaurant was quiet and elegant with white linen, crystal, and silver. We enjoyed a bottle of wine at dinner and polished another off before we left our room. What the hell, you don’t have to drive in P-town, you can walk everywhere.

We weren’t much for public displays of affection, except for the occasional photo-op after surveying the scene to ensure it was safe. We never held hands in public, but on this night, on our way back to our room, we thought, what the hell, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. I threw my arm over his shoulder, and he wrapped his arm around my waist and pulled me tight. It was awkward with a hefty buzz, and walking required some coordination to not trip over each other. Giddy, maneuvering through the crowded streets and sidewalks, we got the hang of it just as we entered a darkened area of Commercial Street.

Out of the shadows stepped a kid in his mid-teens, who approached us like he was about to split us apart. We held tight, anticipating his advance, but instead, he stopped just in front of us. The little bastard stared us down and with a degrading tone asked, “Are you gay?”

I sized him up and thought, this little prick has no friggin’ idea who he’s fuckin’ with. While holding onto Paul, I leaned into the kid’s face and growled, “Yeah I’m gay, what the fuck are you gonna do about it?”

His open mouth and raised brow indicated he knew he’d picked on the wrong fag that night and backed away. I released Paul and stepped toward him. He moved to his right and headed up the street where we came from. I followed and called out, “Come here you little prick.”

He ran and I chased in a full sprint yelling, “That’s right little straight boy, I’m gay. Come back here and I’ll kick your ass.” I stopped and screamed, “You little pussy.”

As I turned back to Paul, I realized a cop watched the whole thing unfold and he turned a blind eye.

I slipped my arm over Paul’s shoulder to continue our walk. Suddenly a much bigger kid stepped out from the shadows and rumbled, “That’s my friend you’re talking about.”

Enraged, I released Paul once more and yelled, “Fuck him and fuck you.”

Again, I sized this one up. He reminded me of guys I worked out with at the gym, lifting weights in my younger days—his body language threatened. I knew what was coming and concluded, that I better take the first shot. At that moment, I realized three more waited off to the side.

Like a baseball pitcher throwing a fastball, I took a large step toward him with my left foot. Leading with my left shoulder, I threw my right fist and smashed him square in the mouth. Smack, he went flat on his ass, propped on his elbows.

We were both stunned. He wasn’t expecting it, and I couldn’t believe I actually connected.

I took a defensive stance with my arms up and fists clenched while he shook it off. My mind raced. Do I hit him while he’s down, run away, or be a gentleman and let him up?

Then his buddies cheered him on. Scared to death, I thought, what a fuckin’ idiot. I’m way too kind to be a streetfighter. Even if I win this fight, another will step up to put me down. Am I some kinda fool? Who the hell do I think I am?

Adrenaline coursing through my system overwhelmed the liquid courage that brought me to this point. I shook all over, scared shit these guys could sense my fear.

Like a fool, I let him up. He mirrored my stance and we squared off for a bare-knuckle boxing match. We swapped punches to the face for the first couple of blows. Things got foggy and I believe he connected more than I did. Through the fog, I heard Paul cheering me on. Staggering from the punishment, I spun from his fist crunching my temple, and saw my opponent’s cronies blocking Paul from coming to my aid.

A minute or two into the beat-down, I barely had enough strength to stand. My arms were heavy. My wrists and knuckles felt like I’d been hitting a brick wall. I ran my tongue over my teeth to check if they were still there. Each time I’d taste the blood and saliva stung the cuts inside my lips. I wasn’t sure if the burning in my eyes was perspiration or blood. My jaw and nose felt like they’d been knocked out of place. My ears were on fire from being smashed against my skull.

With the final blow, I faltered and bent over, supporting my upper body with my hands on my knees—but I never went down. With no fight left, anticipating him beating me to the pavement, I waited to be finished off. As Paul shouted in the background, my opponent pleaded under his breath, “Please stop.”

Am I hearing right? Is this thug begging me to stop? Is he afraid he’ll kill me? Does he fear I may have enough fight left to walk away the victor?

Before I could react, again he whispered, “Please stop.”

Without acknowledging him, I staggered toward Paul and the goons separated. Now in need of support to keep from collapsing instead of affection, I placed my arm over his shoulder. With my head low and defeated, we continued on our way.

I stopped, straightened up, lifted my head, raised my fist to the sky, and yelled, “I’m gay and proud of it.”

Over the decades I’ve shared this story with friends, but not with such detail. I told it with pride about how we stood up to the bullies. How it was a fair fight and he got the best of me.

While writing this story, I intended to do the same.

As I analyzed the details of that evening, I wondered what stories each of the people involved told. Or, did it remain their dirty little secret?

I believe the first kid that approached us was scared. He probably only did it because he was encouraged by the others. I believe he was the youngest of the group and after failing to scare us, couldn’t face his peers and ran. I also believe he never intended to physically harm us under the circumstances—with people on the street and a police officer a short distance away. The guy I hit most likely reacted out of embarrassment because a gay guy called his bluff. Because I threw the first punch, I’ll never know if he intended to assault me.

Even though these guys were obviously there with bad intentions, the fight occurred because I reacted in fear. I was angry and drunk and my anger turned to rage. While we fought, the guys keeping Paul from joining in had every opportunity to hurt him but never laid a hand on him.

My actions risked both our safety.

The thing that sticks out in my mind the most? How afraid I was after knocking the guy to the ground. My fear wasn’t of being injured, but of how I appeared to these people. I was afraid of appearing cowardly, so I acted like a bully.

It’s obvious they were there to intimidate people and because one ran away from a gay guy and the other got knocked on his ass by one, I’m confident their stories remained a secret.

What I didn’t realize when I began writing this story was, that P-town’s dirty little secret was mine.

Dennis Hobart Giles is the author of the just-released novel, “To Know Him Is,” available on Amazon. He and his husband, both lifelong Massachusetts residents, have been together for 42 years and live in the suburbs of Boston.

GAG ME!

((aka Why I Am a Gay Against Guns)

On Sunday, January 16, Gays Against Guns (GAG) was joined by US Rep. Carolyn Maloney to demand that the United States Supreme Court let our state’s strict gun laws stand. The court will rule this year on New York State Rifle Association v. Bruen, the case in which the NRA-affiliated NYSRA seeks to overturn 108 years of New York State law. New York’s strict gun laws are a likely reason the city has not had a public mass shooting like the June 12, 2016 massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, FL that inspired GAG’s formation.

Recently I joined GAG on a day trip to Fairfax, VA to protest outside NRA headquarters.  The bus was filled with about 40 activists ranging in age from 16 to 70. People from all different backgrounds, young, old, male, female, gay, straight, married, single; all share the same goal. Some have been personally affected by gun violence. Many have been politically active for decades. I was honored to hear stories from ACT UP members, stories from the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. 

During the round trip bus ride, many of us shared our reason for joining GAG. I myself spoke about reasons for joining GAG. I spoke about my years as a classroom teacher. The monthly lockdown drills. The threats to the school via social media. An actual lockdown lasted until 9 pm that evening, due to a bank robbery a few blocks away.  The feelings of complete heartbreak, anger, and fear I felt after Columbine. After Virginia Tech. After Sandy Hook. After Parkland.  I could not imagine losing any of my students. The monthly lockdown drills. 

GAG NY is an inclusive direct action group of LGBTQ+ people and their allies committed to nonviolently breaking the gun industry’s chain of death – investors, manufacturers, the NRA, and politicians who block safer gun laws.  GAG is NY-based but works with GAG chapters in other cities to ensure safety for all individuals, particularly vulnerable communities such as people of color, women and those who struggle with mental health issues, LGBTQ+ people, and religious minorities.

The first GAG meeting was on June 17th, 2016, five days after the Pulse massacre. Attendees united in realizing that this was no longer acceptable and something had to be done.  They turned their anger and outrage into action.   Many victims were young adults in their 20s and zzz  TV30s, out for a night of dancing and celebrating with friends. Bodies of multiple victims were riddled with bullets. A dozen or so were found in bathroom stalls, where they tried to hide, begging the shooter for their lives. 

GAG members participate in a variety of protests and demonstrations. Their largest action:  marching in the NYC Gay Pride parade numbers over 200 attendees. Every 15 blocks GAG members lie down on the street. The “die-in” provides a searing visual of what dozens of people murdered in a mass shooting actually look like. 

GAG also demonstrated on the 26th of each month outside the FedEx at Penn Station. The 26th to represent the 26% discount NRA members were given for shipping a gun. The NRA’s influence and power are waning, slowly but surely… NRA puppets are being voted out of office one by one. In 2019 FedEx finally severed its relationship with the NRA. #GAGforthewin 

Unfortunately, the gun violence epidemic in this country is only getting worse. The unfettered access to guns has led to increased gun violence in almost every major city. There are now 400 million guns in the United States. The population of the country: 330 million people. We have more guns than people. 70 million more guns. I can’t even wrap my head around a number like 400 million. Guns. 400 million guns. Gun stores were deemed essential during the Pandemic. Couldn’t go to a movie or a bar, but I could buy a gun. GO USA!

I will march on Washington however long it takes for the ban on assault weapons of war to become law. I will use my voice as often, as loudly as I can to draw attention to the epidemic of mass shootings in this country. I am tired of running memorial 5ks in honor of teachers shot in school. The solution is clear as day. As the headline of an article in “The Onion” stated – “No way to stop mass shootings says ONLY country in the world where they regularly happen.” 

HEY NRA – GAG IS COMING FOR YOU, YOUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED! Gay, straight, queer, all are welcome… join us on Zoom every other Thursday from 7-8:30p!  We need everyone! Go to  www.gaysagainstguns.net for more information.

(this column originally appeared in the March issue of ‘Letters from Camp Rehoboth)

NOW AND THEN

GUEST WRITER – BUCK JONES

Today I live in Paris where on any given fifteen walk from my apartment I will come across men holding hands, gender fluid queers with pink hair wearing make-up, posters for the latest gay film coming to theaters soon, and, if I’m lucky, a smile from a handsome stranger. All of which is to say my daily existence now couldn’t be more different than from the small Southern town in which I grew up. 

Author Buck Jones, now.
Author Buck Jones then. 1983.

When I was a kid, gay visibility in popular culture was like a celestial event, as if a comet was passing by, and on the precious few occasions when it happened, it was the subject of social debate as to its significance. Typical of gay portrayals prior to the AIDS era were caricatures of us as a fey accessory in a sit-com, a comedic trope that carried on from Paul Lynde (on The Hollywood Squares) and Billy Crystal (on ABC’s Soap) in the 1970s up to this day (exhibit A: Carrie Bradford’s “Stanford” on Sex & The City). Or if a gay man was featured in a drama, he undoubtedly met a tragic end. By the time of the horrible AIDS scourge in the 1980s, we were useful as an object lesson in an endless morality play. Either way, there was little to positively reinforce my own existence or to give me a practical roadmap of how to navigate my own life as a gay man. 

As a shy teenage boy, I didn’t know of any other guys “like me” ⎯ sensitive and perfectly content to be left alone in my bedroom where I could read and draw, escaping in my imagination to someplace far, far away. I had friends, of course, but they were normal boys. Their interests were in sports, both playing and watching, whereas my interest lay in boys, both playing and watching. Far too rarely my sexual Venn diagram overlapped where there was another cute boy who might be secretly interested in exploring past the safe boundary of chaste friendship and crossing over to experimentation. 

Now and Then.

In my novel, “The Last Good Republican,” the protagonist is named Carter Ridge. The setting for the story is the South of the 1960s, but he came of age as a youth during the Second World War in the 1940s. In comparison to my adolescence in the 1980s, he had even fewer guideposts as to what was going on with his sexuality. Yes, there were very coded gay characters in film following the Hays code introduced in 1930, but for the uninitiated, certainly, someone not living in a metropolis, it must have felt as if one were truly alone in the world. Despite these challenges for Carter Ridge, he manages to figure things out easily, although finding lasting love and building a relationship continues to escape him, as it does for so many of us still today. Going from one surreptitious blow job to another anonymous fuck in a darkened parking lot, it is an all too familiar pattern that is born out of necessity, and Carter is able to find pleasure in those stolen moments even while he knows that he wants something more. But how does one build a durable future, particularly when there are no examples of same-sex couples in the 1960s? 

I wanted to explore this in the novel, for then, as now, society and life often get in the way of finding that special someone to have that “happily ever after.” Even for hetero couples where roughly 40% of marriages end in divorce, learning the art of staying in love despite the challenges and the flaws we all eventually exhibit, is difficult enough. This is despite centuries of role models and social constructs that practically spoon-feed us a constant diet of hetero conformity. Through the character of Carter Ridge, I want to push back and create our own paradigm of a gay literary figure who doesn’t end up dead at the end of the story, and who doesn’t have his heartbroken. 

Author Buck Jones now
Author Buck Jones, then. 1989.

A major difference between now and then is the ubiquity of erotic images. Today it is at times an unwelcome distraction with my favorite porn sites just a click away on my computer, but when I was growing up in my small town in the middle of nowhere I had to be creative. Imagination played a crucial role in augmenting the dreary reality of my teenage life. A random photo of a male model in a magazine like “GQ” could sustain my private fantasy until it was replenished by another source. The embarrassingly obvious mail order catalog “International Male,” which practically screamed out “STROKE TO THIS!”, I kept tucked in a desk drawer away from my mom’s prying eyes. But as for television viewing, we had a family tv that served as the altar in our family room. Whatever masculine beefcake I could gather up from watching Primetime television on the three national networks would have to really sear into my cortex. Thankfully the “Dukes of Hazzard” provided just the ticket as family-friendly fare for a Southern audience. The episode when the two Duke “boys” went skinny dipping… well, that was a frequent go-to for my mind’s eye. 

If inspiration came in irregular sources for a resourceful boy such as myself, it proved even more so for Carter Ridge in my novel. While the focus of the story is on two years of his adult life in his early thirties, I wrote three short story novellas that act as a prequel trilogy. In these, I visit Carter during his teenage years when he has his first crush on a fellow student at his prep school (“Sunday’s Child”), and then later when he is fresh out of college and on his own for the first time. 

In one of the short stories, “The Seduction of Carter Ridge,” I write about that curious excitement one has when finding oneself in a cruising space for the first time. For me, my first time was as a naïve innocent here in Paris while a student. Not fully baptized as a card-carrying gay, I was clueless as to the many possibilities for meeting other men that live in a big city offered. I thought it was just bars and big disco dance clubs. Oh non, mon frère! There was, and still is, opportunity EVERYWHERE. But of course, well-known cruising areas are only found about either through word of mouth (again, prior to the magic of the internet), or in my case by accident. I stumbled upon the once infamous cruising area in the Tuileries Gardens on a summer Saturday afternoon when I climbed up the steps to the elevated promenade that separates the public park from the road that runs along the Seine. In the shade of the towering plane trees with the flowering French garden facing the Louvre below, mingled men. Only men. Most stood by themselves, some were smoking, but everyone was watching the other men as they walked by. The heady rush when I realized that this was “our” space shot through me, and I recalibrated my walk, slowed down my pace, and returned a gaze when passing by a particularly interesting possibility. 

Then, and now, cruising is a part of our shared experience as gay men. You might have never stepped foot into the enigmatically termed “cruise bar,” but anytime you have had a pair of male eyes land on you and linger for long enough to know that there is an interest from the other you have entered the magical realm of gay cruising. Sadly, I fear that the finer points of this artform of publicly checking out other guys are being lost in this digital age, and there is now more of an awareness that one man’s “following” can be interpreted as another man’s “stalking.” 

As difficult as it used to be for a closeted high-school or college kid to sneak moments together with another guy. In high school, I tried (and failed) with a boy who was on my soccer team during a sleepover one night. We stayed up watching “Saturday Night Live”, each in our underwear while in our sleeping bags. I waited patiently until I was sure his parents were asleep, and then gradually lowered my sleeping bag until it was revealing my torso. He didn’t take the bait and showed no indication of interest on his part. I asked him if I could have something to drink, and he crawled out from his sleeping bag with a slight chub showing in his briefs. Perhaps there was something stirring, after all, I thought. An elaborate game of cat and mouse ensued, with me trying to up the ante as the night continued. Arm wrestling, followed by leg wrestling, followed by giggling, and then he’s falling asleep while I feigned slumber. I listened to his breathing, watching his chest gently rise and fall as he slept. After what seemed an eternity, I worked up the nerve to rest my hand on his shoulder as I pretended to sleep. 

Surprisingly enough, that was all I needed at that age. The sheer excitement of surreptitiously touching another boy in high school gave me plenty of fodder for later. It wasn’t until I was in college, far enough away from home to be living independently in a dorm that I pushed the frontier of my sexual awakening. Don’t get me wrong, I was still deep, deep in the closet, but I had at least recognized this clawing need from deep within me that I was attracted to certain guys, and I, in return was attractive to them. Years later I would joke with my best friend that I was attracted to seven distinct categories of guys (“…# 5, Armenian auto repairmen.” This was when I was living in Los Angeles). 

It is this realization of same-sex attraction, of being inextricably drawn to a certain kind of guy, that animates Carter Ridge as he begins his young adulthood. We all have our favorite flavors of ice cream, and the same goes for gay men and their partners they seek out. In Carter’s case, he is a product of his era. The American South of the late 1940s and early 1950s was a deeply conservative place, and his best friend Margot (who he ends up marrying as his beard), is cognizant of the dangers his particular “flavor” might bring. 

Buck Jones – now
Buck Jones – then. College life.

As a gift to the readers of this blog, I am including a free e-book copy of one of my novella prequels. “Apollo & Dionysus” is a more erotic, sensual short story that I think this audience will appreciate. To get your free download, go to https://www.monsieurbuckjones.com/trilogy-prequel and scroll down to “Apollo & Dionysus.” 

If you appreciate gay literature, my novel “The Last Good Republican” is available to pre-order at any bookstore prior to its release on March 15th, 2022, after which it will be available on Amazon. I would appreciate you sharing this article with your friends who like to read gay literary fiction and please, please, please if you read my work, leave a review on Goodreads or Amazon. It means a lot to me. 

From Speechless to Storyteller – One Man’s Hike through the Grand Canyon

Growing up in New York and then living in South Florida, I am not someone you would call “a hiker” – for me, climbing over sand dunes on a Saturday is considered altitude training.  So when a friend of mine suggested that some of us travel to the Grand Canyon to hike it from one end to the other, in one day, I have no explanation for my immediate agreement to do it.  FOMO, perhaps? I mean, I have always been passionate about fitness but this was next level stuff. Looking back I realized that if I had hesitated then I would have been susceptible to insecurity, or self doubt, or fear and I have committed myself to not allowing those emotions to get any traction at all! Our passions must be respected without distraction.  That’s the great thing about our passions, they are always with us even in difficult times just waiting to be reignited. So we circled Saturday, September 11, 2021, on the calendar and our planning began.

For those of you as unfamiliar as I initially was, nearly six million people visit the Grand Canyon every year.  However, less than 1% of those visitors take on the “Rim to Rim” hike – a nearly 30 mile trek down into the Canyon, across the Colorado River, through a punishing 7 mile stretch known as “The Box” and onward to the opposite side.

The first decision to make is which Rim to descend – North or South? We choske to descend the South Rim for a few reasons. First, the paths are more “hiker friendly” and less steep.  It is also at a lower elevation than the North Rim. We would begin our hike at 4:00 a.m. using headlamps so we wanted to take advantage of the smoother route in the darkness.  This of course meant that our climb out of the Canyon to the North Rim would be difficult, but more on that later.

Fast forward to 4 a.m. on Saturday, September 11, 2021, and we were ready. After some words of encouragement and a moment of silence in remembrance of the lives lost on 9/11, we turned on our headlamps, firmly gripped our hiking poles and off we went.

The 8 mile Bright Angel Trail is a series of switchback paths which zig zag back and forth descending 4380 feet to the bottom of the Canyon and hug tightly along an imposing but truly mesmerizing cliff face. Looking across the darkness we could see dancing white lights from the headlamps of the other hikers on the trail. They looked like fireflies and it was truly a magical start to a life changing day.

By 5:45 a.m., the sun began to rise giving us our first views of the majestic Canyon. The sun brought the Canyon to life, illuminating parts of the rock face while keeping other areas hidden in shadow,

As you arrive at the bottom of the Bright Angel Trail, you are greeted by the soothing waters of the Bright Angel River and the trail continues another two miles to Phantom Ranch – a historic canteen nestled at the bottom of the Canyon which includes cabins for campers but the cabins are awarded only through a lottery system and there is a 15 month wait even if you are lucky enough to be selected. 

Before you arrive at Phantom Ranch, you cross the Colorado River on the Bright Angel (Silver) Bridge and it is majestic!

We arrived at Phantom Ranch around 10 a.m., and quickly sat down to eat and enjoy some of the best lemonade you will ever taste!  It was great to talk to other hikers and campers about their experiences. The hikers with whom we spoke came from all walks of life – groups of friends, seasoned hiking veterans and even families with young children! I must admit that I was most impressed with the families for instilling in their children a sense of adventure and a love of the outdoors that they will carry with them throughout their lives.

Full disclosure – I maaaaaaaay have a fetish for men with great calves. Let me tell you, I don’t know why I waited so long to start hiking because there are great calves EVERYWHERE! Of course, decorum prevented me from taking any “calves selfies” but trust me, the memories will last a lifetime. 

After we refueled, reapplied sunscreen and took care of bathroom business at Phantom Ranch, we began our hike on the North Kaibab Trail which would take us to the North Rim.  As you leave Phantom Ranch, you enter what is called “The Box” – a four mile stretch of trail which is very narrow and gets very hot if you do not get through it in the morning.  This was another reason we chose to start on the South Rim. Once the sun crosses over the Canyon, the temperatures in the Box can soar above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, I haven’t been in a box since my high school girlfriend so I was ready to get out of there in a hurry! Lucky for us it was still nice and shady so we did not suffer from extreme heat.

On our way along the North Kaibab Trail, we took a detour to Ribbon Falls.  The falls are about 100 feet high, and the mineral rich water has created a distinct ecosystem of lush vegetation and gorgeous flowering plants.  It is about a 1 ½ mile round-trip hike off the Trial and you have to cross a few streams and climb some rocks to get to it but it is worth it!

Once we returned to the North Kaibab Trail, we were blessed with a brief rainstorm that cooled us off.  The steepness of the trail got considerably more difficult, so we knew that we had to stay mentally tough because the hardest part of the hike was about to begin.  

We arrived at Cottonwood Canyon which is about the halfway point on the NOrth Kaibab Trail and took advantage of the campgrounds for a water fill up and bathroom break.   The sign at Cottonwood Campground told us that the North Rim was 7 miles away.  The steepest section of the North Kaibab Trail is between Cottonwood and the North Rim Trailhead.  While the Bright Angel switchback trails were mostly smooth rock, the switchbacks up to the North Rim were just nasty.  In addition to their steepness, many of the switchbacks included sets of steps in excess of 12″ in height.  To make matters worse, the terrain on these switchbacks varied from very loose soft sand, to slick rocks over which you had to climb, as well as large logs you had to navigate across. And several of the paths were more mule poop than dirt, which was super fun to navigate as well.

I am not going to lie, the 6,000 foot ascent tested all of us mentally in ways we did not expect.  The North Rim itself was not far above us, but because the trails zig zagged back and forth you would hike for an hour and feel like you had made no progress at all. Suffice it to say that we took a slow and steady approach as our collective fatigue set in.  The five of us were united as one, ensuring that we each stayed hydrated, rested when necessary and there were pep talks a plenty!  

As we began to see hikers coming down, fresh faced with a spring in their step, we knew we were close. At 5:45 p.m., 13 1/2 hours later, we made it to the North Rim Trailhead. These exhausted but proud faces tell the tale. 

But wait – there’s more!  We were staying at lodges back at the South Rim so I trust that you are asking yourself, how the hell did they get back? The only way is by reserved shuttle, and it is a 211 mile drive that takes about four hours.  So yes, after hiking for nearly 14 hours we climbed into an air conditioned van that drove us back to our lodge (with a pit stop for food of course).  We got back to our cars at the Bright Angel Trailhead at about 10 p.m. 

It has been said that you are defined by the people with whom you surround yourself and I believe this to my soul.  I could not have imagined this journey without Sean, Erika, Danny and Micaela. We have an experience that is exclusively ours. 

I talked earlier about insecurity, doubt and fear.  These are ever present, very real emotions.  There are times when I have been paralyzed into inaction because of them, we all have.  What I can tell you now is this – we are presented with fear and uncertainty not to relent to them, but to punch them in the face and thrive. You don’t have to hike the Grand Canyon in a day but I promise you there are things in your life you can accomplish just by believing, by ignoring self doubt and by spending time with like-minded souls.

DISTANCE 

26.7 miles (Bright Angel Trailhead to North Kaibab Trailhead including our side trip to Ribbon Falls)

ELEVATION 

10,500 feet total elevation: 4,500 feet descent on Bright Angel Trail and 6,000 feet ascent up North Kaibab Trail.

THREE POEMS

by GUEST WRITER JIMMY WOODFILL

“Soaring”


Inequality marched on Selma, Birmingham, and of course D.C.
Discrimination will be snuffed out: equality for all… let it be, let it be.
We’re not being thrown from buildings, or burned, or lynched.
Be grateful the crumbs I’m tossed, nay sure I’m convinced.
Oppression: a word not hard to define in the least.
We hear it on Twitter, world news, and battles in the Mideast.
While waiting for the crosswalk, they shout “fag,” a beer bottle thrown at my feet.
It didn’t even get my shoes wet – did oppression and I just meet?
Stifling tears, I click on the remote to ease my anxiety.
Polite tidy panels of four, a discussion on TV:
Debating my rights, whom I should love, where I can work, whether I’m a danger to children?
Hurting kids… I’m just a wannabe writer, mostly watching “Grey’s,” and chillin.’
But at night in my mind’s eye, my rainbow color wings unfurl, and I soar like a mythical
Phoenix over unseen blue and red states. I glide over swaying fields and crashing oceans,
echoing dry canyons and crisp mountainous rivers so vast. I ascend northern metal giant
skyscrapers and then plummet to the southern delta with its humidity, cobblestones and sweet-
sweet jazz. I experience life as my multilayered kaleidoscope-prismed wings, all the differences
needed and in harmony.

“Bird of Paradise”

My sister is a bird of paradise, the pretty one, the first grandchild, the only girl.
Upon my grandfather’s lap she shouts orders to us lesser children, we recoil from her wrath and
marvel at the way she has them hanging on her requests.
We long to be in the birds’ universe, but always feeling cautious and watchful when granted
limited access; for she always bites. It’s inevitable; it’s in her nature, her radiant design.
The world hearkens her whims and desires; I stay in the shadows hesitant to shine on my own. I
fall flat, she shrugs at my gaff. It’s inevitable; it’s in my nature, my flawed self.

She reigns over her adobe estate, squawking commands that must be completed post haste. She
knows I’ve come to inquire a favor. “Come forward little brother, you know we always do for
family.” A drop of bird venom…

“Pink Sheep”

I am the pink sheep of the family,
sissy is what some called me.
Their guns, their god, their glory,
but I am not welcomed to share their story.
Just another minority born into the enemy camp,
so I found refuge under a night club speaker amp.
No longer a misfit, I travel the world with my own kind,
their willful blindness never cross my mind.
Our haven lost at the Pulse, Eddy and forty eight people died;
months earlier, I’d dance eternally by his side.
We weren’t that close, just flag football friends;
this I tell myself, when my panic attack ends.
Mom says: “come on home baby, I’ll bake you fresh bread all day,”
my bags in the trunk, her cars NRA sticker on display.

Jimmy Woodfill is an aspiring writer, world traveler, citizen of the planet and a student of the
school of hard-knock’s – plus a few other universities. He lives in New Mexico and can be found on Twitter at @PonderingJimmy