Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Year in Review

Last January, when I began this blog, I never intended it to be a diary. I had loftier ambitions. I wanted to write the kind of articles that, in more skillful hands (and perhaps better connected hands), you might find in The New Yorker. That might seem presumptuous but I never assumed that I was that talented; it was just a goal to work towards. The most important thing for me was to develop the discipline to meet my self imposed deadline – a new article every Wednesday. I am pleased, and surprised, that throughout this past year I have met that goal. This is the fifty-sixth entry in “The Bitter Old Queen.”

I am happy that I have received many responses from readers. Some have sent emails to me. I have also received feedback on Facebook and to a lesser extent in comments posted directly into the blog. Blogger does not make it easy to enter comments so I especially appreciate those readers who have persevered and submitted their thoughts.

I got the most reaction, and most of it was negative, from “Reflections on Vallarta”, published on March 31. Many regular visitors to Puerto Vallarta, along with expatriates who live there, took great exception to what they read as a condemnation of their version of Paradise. The point of the article was that our perceptions of a place can not be separated from what is happening in our lives at the time. In this case I had just broken up with my partner, who I had met and lived with in Vallarta before he came to live with me in New York. When I returned to Vallarta after the breakup I saw it more objectively, both the good and the not so pretty, rather than through the eyes of a man in love. Perhaps some of the recently arrived foreigners need to remove their rose colored glasses and see it more objectively as well. They may discover that they like it even more.

My most read, or at least accessed, article was “Miss Columbia”, posted on June 2.  It was about a contest for Latino drag queens. I was surprised that it has received ten times more page views than any other article I posted. It turns out that most of the traffic came from Google searches for the terms, not surprisingly, “Miss Columbia.” My article comes in at number ten on a list of 2,280,000 results. Just think how surprised the devotees of the Señorita Colombia (Concurso Nacional de Belleza) must have been to find themselves reading about two fat old homosexuals listening to bullfrogs in a campground in Pennsylvania.

Another article that got a lot of response, and this time overwhelmingly positive, was “The Rescue”, posted on November 3. This was the story of how I rescued two abandoned cats from a campground in the Poconos. I’m happy to say that one of them is living with me here in New York and the other has been adopted by one of my camping buddies. They are both doing well and have turned out to be delightful pets. I have since taken training classes and been certified by the City of New York to participate in the Trap-Neuter-Return program. TNR is the most successful and humane way of dealing with the severe overpopulation of stray cats living on the city’s streets.

Most of my readers are in the United States. I also have readers in Canada, Mexico, and the U.K. but Google Stats reveals a few surprises. For example, I have had page hits from Austria, Ukraine, Croatia, India and throughout central and south America. (I suspect many of the latter were looking for Miss Columbia.)

I think a few of the articles turned out quite well. I have listed my favorites in the sidebar to the left. If you missed them the first time around you might want to sample one or two of them now.

I took up blogging as a way of continuing my effort to improve as a writer. I have also taken several classes at the New York Writers Workshop. One thing I have learned in the workshops, as well as in writing this blog, is that my best writing occurs whenever I write from the heart. It is often painful to reveal myself personally. I have written about things that have opened old wounds and I have exposed myself in a way that leaves me embarrassed, humbled, and vulnerable at times. But, in doing so, I have occasionally written things that have resonated with readers. That is, of course, the ultimate goal of every writer.

So I close this year by saying something that I could never have said last January. It is simple and yet it is an affirmation that I have accomplished something important to me even though, at times, it was very much in doubt. I think I can now say it: I am a writer.

Thank you for hanging with me through this process of learning and discovery. I hope you will stay with me as the journey continues in the new year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree!

I hate Christmas. There, I said it. Bah-fucking-humbug.

We all know that Christmas is an over-hyped gimmick to prop up the sagging retail industry and to somehow revive our economy by promoting wanton consumerism. (Although it seems more likely to help China’s economy than our own.)

This is the time of the year when suicides and psychiatric hospital admissions spike. For many, it is not a happy time. There is an expectation that we are supposed to be happy, more happy than usual, at Christmas. When it doesn’t live up to expectations, we feel more down than ever.

Not everyone lives in a house that looks like the Currier and Ives illustration on the front of a Christmas card. The snow, if there is any, is more likely to be slushy and dirty. The woodland was cut down a century ago to make way for farms and orchards and more recently for planned “estate” communities. Sitting in a traffic jam in an SUV is a far cry from a one horse open sleigh.

Christmas has never been a happy time for me. As a child, my sisters and I used to dread it. Our obsessive-compulsive dad would put up the same white artificial tree each year. He would allow us to assist in putting up red balls (all the identical shade of red) scolding us if we were not careful to graduate them from small at the top to large at the bottom. Those red balls were the only things we were allowed to put on the tree. He aimed a red spotlight on the red balls. He liked the uniformity and simplicity of it. Our obsessive-compulsive mother liked not having anything messy that might detract from her immaculately clean living room. The tree itself was disruptive enough.

We did not have a happy family but at Christmas we were supposed to play the role of happy children. We would dutifully make wish lists for Santa Claus, carefully editing to be sure that we listed only gifts that were within Santa’s price guidelines and that were readily available at the local mall. On Christmas morning we did our best to pretend enthusiasm and curiosity about what might be under the tree, knowing full well what was there. The things we really wanted – to be loved, encouraged, made to feel we had some self worth – those things were never under the tree.

As a young man, Christmas was even worse. Everyone would be preparing to go home to their families. They were excited. What little was left of my family had become so dysfunctional that we did not even see each other for holidays, or any other time for that matter. I spent Christmas sitting at home alone. Everything would be closed. The decorations and holiday music outside mocked me, reminding me that my life was a failure.

So forgive me if I fail to wish you a merry Christmas. Let Christmas revert to the religious holiday it once was and let Christians celebrate it. I do not identify myself as a Christian and I have no more need to make a big deal over Christmas than I do over St. Francis of Assisi Day, Purim, or Ramadan.

Instead of looking to the unhappy past, let me focus on the promise of the future. I wish you all a very joyful New Year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Life on the Off Ramp

When I was a grad student at Syracuse University, I took a course in media criticism. It was taught by a visiting lecturer who flew up from Washington DC once a week to fill in for the full time professor who had suddenly vacated his post. I believe our instructor was a past president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, or some similar entity which would have been suitably impressive to the hopeful future broadcasters in the class.

One day, apropos of nothing I could discern, he drew a timeline on the marker board representing the various stages of human development. At about the twenty year point he drew a tick mark and labeled it “relationships.” Apparently we humans are supposed to begin mastering the ability to form committed, long term relationships with significant others at that age. He marked various other stages along the line culminating with self actualization – that point where you become a very successful human in all dimensions.

Then he said something which froze me in my seat. He said that you must master each skill in sequence and that if you become stuck at any point, you can not progress to the next. I was staring hard at the relationship tick mark and I knew at that moment that my life was destined to fail.

Even in my twenties, I had already fallen behind in the march along the human development line. I couldn’t recall any successful relationships to that point, not even with my own parents. They were the caretakers who ignored me most of the time except for those occasions when they chose to actively thwart any aspirations I might show.

As a boy, the neighborhood kids would torment me. I got picked on, beaten up, and had stones thrown at me any time I ventured outside. To this day I don’t know why I elicited so much negative attention, but the fear I developed remains with me. I am afraid of the world that exists beyond my apartment door. It is a hostile place.

Yet I remained unrealistically optimistic. Ever since I first began to contemplate my own life and compare it to others, I have felt that I can overcome everything and still live the life I fantasize. There was always tomorrow. Such ungrounded optimism must be something that is hard wired into me. There is no basis for it in reality.

Now that I am in my sixties, I realize that the direction of my life is unlikely to change much. There is no precedent for suddenly popping back to that twenty year tick mark and hitting the play button. Aside from all the psychological baggage, there is the physical reality of aging that hinders making up for forty lost years.

Sometimes I think about the boy I once was. He was quiet and gentle, a fair skinned red head with freckles, and a sunny disposition. I want to protect him. I don’t want him to become cynical and bitter. I want to teach him the lessons I have learned through all the years and tears of my life. I want him to live his life fully and not wait for a better day to come. But I can not do anything for that boy. It is too late.

I believe that the visiting professor left something off his diagram. I think that there are alternate branches for those of us who live a compromised life. Instead of progressing in a straight line towards self-actualization, there are paths to other destinations. One of those destinations is self-acceptance. That is the point where one realizes that he will never achieve the happy and successful life he has so desperately chased for most of his life, but he can settle for the comfortable realization that he did the best he could with what he had to work with.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

You Put de Lime in de Coconut but Not in de Beer!

The other night I asked the bartender to put a lime in my bottle of Rolling Rock. He looked at me with incomprehension.

“You want me to put lime in a Rolling Rock?” There was suspicion in his tone.

I assured him that it was perfectly legal even though it wasn’t Corona. He did his best the-customer-is-always-right shrug and jammed a fetid little sliver of lime into the mouth of the bottle. I didn’t really want lime in my beer; I was just messing with his head.

I don’t know why Americans think that Corona, and only Corona, must be served with lime. Mexicans certainly don’t. Mexicans only put lime in a beer bottle to keep insects out. They are careful not to squeeze the lime. They don’t like the taste of lime in their beer any more than they like the taste of inebriated insects swimming around in it. It doesn’t matter if they are drinking indoors either. Most Mexican buildings don’t have screens.

When Mexicans do choose to put lime in their beer it doesn’t matter what brand of beer they are drinking. Most likely it is not Corona. Corona is not a popular beer in Mexico. It is mostly produced for export to the United States and, as such, it is crafted to be tasteless. It’s amusing that Americans think they are drinking real authentic Mexican beer when they have Corona. But then what can you expect from a county that celebrates Cinco de Mayo? In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated in only two small villages and wherever there are a lot of U.S. tourists. Many Mexicans have never heard of it. Those who have think it’s an American holiday.

Mexicans don’t drink tequila the way Americans do either. If it’s good quality tequila they sip it slowly, like Cognac, savoring the rich and subtle flavors. If you try a premium tequila, such as Don Julio Añejo, and you think you detect a slight taste of whiskey or bourbon, you’re right: tequila is aged in oak casks which have previously been used in the production of American whiskeys such as Jack Daniels. Lesser quality tequila is usually drunk along with sangrita, a sweet, spicy drink made from orange juice, grenadine, and hot chilies.

If you’re not in a sipping mood, the correct method for slamming a shot of tequila is as follows: Have ready fresh limes, quartered, and a bowl of salt. Pour good quality tequila (save the cheap stuff for margaritas) into shot glasses. Throw the entire contents into your mouth and allow it to sit on the tongue. Then dip a lime wedge into the salt and suck the juice into your mouth. Enjoy the exhilarating sensations.

My ex introduced me to a charming variation of this technique for use with someone special. Proceed as above but only one of you should suck on the salted lime. Immediately thrust your tongues into each others mouths while the tequila, lime, and salt are still present. Kiss deeply. You need only do this a few times before you will be swearing your undying love to each other.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Loss of Language

Those who first encountered the keyboard as a writer saw it as a better way to write. Since they were already accustomed to composing at length, most learned to touch type so they could do so quickly and efficiently. The advent of the word processor was the next leap forward. Editing and rewriting became a joy rather than drudgery. To writers, language is a medium just as paint is to an artist. Writers enjoy bringing creativity to the correct use of grammar and vocabulary.

On the other hand, those who first encountered the keyboard as a computer geek see it as a necessary evil to get to what they really enjoy: playing with technology. Since typing is awkward and annoying for them, they invented a shorthand so they could do less of it. From them we have things like IMHO (in my humble opinion) and ROFLMAO (rolling on the floor laughing my ass off).  As you can see, they are not very original either.

Language took it’s biggest hit when text messaging became widely used in the late nineties. You could hardly blame people for taking shortcuts when they had to type on a miniature version of a touch-tone dial pad. Who wouldn’t substitute “u” for “you” when entering the latter required pressing the 9-key (WXYZ) three times, the 6-key (MNO) three times, and the 8-key (TUV) twice? Or substituting “2” (one key stroke) for the words “to” (4 key strokes)  or “too” (7 key strokes)?

But what’s the excuse for using the same abbreviations in an email when it’s composed on the full keyboard of a computer? Could it be indifference? Next time you post something on Facebook or dash off a quick reply to an email, consider this: if it isn’t worth the extra few seconds it would take to proofread it and improve it, then it probably isn’t important enough to do at all.

As our means of communication has shifted from the slow, thoughtful discourse of the written letter to the instantaneous one-liner of the text message, the intent has also changed. We used to have longer thoughts. We used to have deeper dialogue. Now we seem to be texting the electronic version of carving our initials in a tree or drawing moustaches on subway ads. Everyone wants to jump in, say something really witty, and jump out again.

The trouble is that being clever or witty requires expressing yourself intelligently. Having lost the ability to craft language, we resort to ending every sentence with smiley faces (in the form of punctuation marks that attempt, and often fail, to resemble facial expressions) or the acronym “lol” (which no longer means anything). The fallacy which is used to justify emoticons is that since words do not convey the facial expressions and body language of face to face conversation, nobody can tell if you’re being sarcastic or attempting a joke. Thank god nobody ever told that to Charles Dickens or Mark Twain or any of the other great satirists or humorists.

People have bemoaned the degradation of language throughout literary history. Usually they are regarded as anal retentives who just don’t like things to change. But there are real consequences to the severe deterioration of language that is taking place today. People are losing their ability to communicate with each other. The evidence of this exists on every bulletin board and chat room on line today. Flame wars regularly break out as participants fail to understand each other. They seem as incapable of expressing themselves clearly as they are at understanding what they are reading.

We know from psycholinguistics that language and thought are intertwined. Our language not only reflects the culture we live in, it also shapes it. That accounts for some of the differences between western and eastern civilizations. Language is the currency of our thoughts. It allows us to solve complex problems and to survive as ever greater challenges confront us.

Eighty percent of the cortex of the brain is used for speech and language functions. As our language contracts and becomes less sophisticated, we need less and less of our cortex. What happens to the unused brain cells? If we allow our language to continue to regress, we will lose the ability to create not only great works of art, literature, and philosophy, but also the very technologies that led us to this state in the first place.

Will we become the mindless consumers of technology products invented by other cultures which have more carefully nourished their language skills?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Outer Limits

New York City is big. For the uninitiated, it consists of five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Each of those five boroughs is also one of the 62 counties that comprise New York state. They are named Manhattan County, Queens County, Bronx County, and – don’t get smug, it gets weird now – Kings County (Brooklyn) and Richmond County (Staten Island).

When most people think of New York, they are thinking about Manhattan. Those other four places are known as the Outer Boroughs. I’ve always found that strange. If New York has outer boroughs, shouldn’t it also have some inner boroughs? I asked some New Yorkers, and by that I mean Manhattanites, about that. A few told me that Manhattan is the inner borough, but most said that there aren’t any inner boroughs. There is The City (where they are) and there are the outer boroughs. That’s it.

Maybe New York is like one of those grid drawings that they use on the Discovery Channel to explain the Theory of Relativity. You know, the one that has a big ball rolling around on it causing it to warp like a too soft mattress. The shiny ball begins to sink into it’s own depression, spiraling downward, like water draining from the bath tub, until it disappears into a black hole. Maybe that’s what happened to the Inner Boroughs; they just disappeared into a black hole.

City dwellers (Manhattanites) dread the thought of travelling to the Outer Boroughs. Like Columbus’ sailors fearing that they would fall off the edge of the earth, people in Manhattan apparently fear getting sucked into the same black hole that swallowed the Inner Boroughs.

Not all of the Outer Boroughs are equally denigrated. Parts of Brooklyn are downright trendy. The Bronx has the distinction of sounding like the plural of something, but nobody knows what. Besides, it is the home of the Yankees, the Bronx Bombers. Queens gets less respect. During introductions in swank Manhattan bars, I’ve had people back away from me in alarm when I mention that I live in Queens. Staten Island is the purgatory of New York. Nobody admits to living there. They lie and tell people they’re from New Jersey.

So next time you’re in New York, consider something adventuresome. Take a free ferry ride to Staten Island and get a good view of the Statue of Liberty on the way. Or if you’re feeling really wild, try crossing the dark, dangerous waters of the East River and venture to the other Outer Boroughs. The pizza at Enzo’s in Park Slope, Brooklyn, is better than anything in Manhattan. For authentic Greek food, you must come to Astoria in Queens and for the best Italian head up to Arthur Street in The Bronx.

And don’t worry, for a mere $2.25 you can get back into The City before nightfall. Just try not to think about those lost Inner Boroughs as your train tunnels under the river.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Pity the plight of bartenders. They are being replaced by mixologists (The word hasn’t found its way into my spell checker yet.) The expectations of the hard working, hard drinking, professional crowd in Manhattan have grown to keep pace with the obscene amount of their disposable income. No longer satisfied with a mere martini after work, they now sip concoctions such as the Buffalo 66 at Il Matto made with rosemary vodka, Worcestershire sauce, and beet juice. Yours for just fourteen dollars. If you are so plebian as to order a Martini, take comfort in knowing that it will include vermouth soaked black stones from Mongolia. I’m not sure if the stones are yours to keep.

Over at the Pegu Club they “like to think in terms of each cocktail having its own unique personality,” according to their website. While they will not condescend to tell you ahead of time what these personable cocktails consist of, they do inform that “the creative process is not something we rush” and that, for their Master Mixologists, “development of each drink takes place slowly and thoughtfully.”

Oh, give me a break! It’s just a freaking drink, not the Mona Lisa. You’re going to wait forever while they slowly and thoughtfully pour it and you’re going to get a megadose of attitude when some snooty wait person presents it and informs you that you now owe the equivalent of her next two credits in college. She will expect a commensurately large tip.

I go to bars (yes, bars, not lounges, not clubs) to socialize with friends and perhaps to meet new friends. If my main objective were to drink, I could stay home and do it far more efficiently. The bartender is not my friend; he is the guy that is between me and the bottle of beer that I want to drink. I don’t want to know his name. I don’t care if he has movie star looks and exposed pecs worthy of a centerfold. As often as not, he is going to act as if he is doing me a favor and only because the bouncer screwed up and let an old guy with a pot belly into the place. I’ll be charged seven bucks for a beer that cost the owners about forty cents. For the Herculean effort of lifting that bottle of beer out of the cooler and popping off the top, Mr. Perfection will expect a tip of at least a dollar or two.

You would think that here in the outer boroughs we would be immune to the aggrandizement trend. You’d be wrong. The current hot spot in my corner of Astoria is a lounge (not a bar) named simply enough, Mix. I’m not sure if that refers to the mixed assortment of wannabe trendy metrosexuals or the fact that they don’t pour drinks, they create cocktail art. At least we now have all the pretentiousness, price inflation, and self absorbed staff of a Manhattan lounge without the hassle of going to Manhattan to get it. Progress?

A friend of mine told me that his dad, a bar owner, once asked him how he could turn his bar into a gay bar. On a good night he would have a dozen or so guys sipping on dollar beers and two dollar shots of whiskey while the gay bar down the street would have a line outside waiting to buy nine dollar cocktails. Maybe he should have just raised his prices and replaced his affable middle aged bartender with a shirtless bodybuilder.

Frankly, I'd prefer this.
There used to be an effective strategy to counter the greed of lounge owners. You would do your drinking at home then only buy bottles of water at the bar. (Learned that trick from the ecstasy crowd, although they had far different reasons for their love of plain old water.) Unfortunately the lounge owners have caught on. A bottle of water will set you back five or six bucks. I envision the day coming soon when people who actually have to live on a budget won’t buy anything when they go out. Of course the owners will be ready for that: They will sell admission tickets outside, just like a movie theater. Ten dollar peanuts optional.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Just Say No to Bullies

The recent spate of teen suicides has brought a swift, and mostly positive, reaction from Americans. The spontaneous creation of “it gets better” videos has shown that even in an ugly political climate, there is an enormous reserve of compassion. There has been a nearly universal condemnation of bullying in our nation’s schools.

But it hasn’t taken long for both sides of the political battle over gay rights to co-opt this issue. At the insistence of gay rights advocacy groups, school boards in more liberal communities across the country have incorporated messages of tolerance into their curricula. These messages are specific: tolerance of families with two daddies or two mommies, acceptance of love between two boys or two girls. These messages are being pitched to students as young as those in elementary school. Needless to say, social conservatives are outraged. They see a “hidden” agenda. They believe that gay rights advocates are exploiting the bullying crisis to promote acceptance of homosexuality.

As in all complex and deeply emotional issues, neither side is completely right. The need for a swift and vigorous response is obvious. Shaping that response is tricky. But we’ve been down this road before. Not long ago the battle lines were drawn over hate crimes legislation. In an effort to combat violence against those who are perceived to be gay, laws were passed that go beyond punishing behavior involved in a criminal act. These laws attempt to punish perpetrators for the motivation behind the act.

Isn’t it enough to have strong sanctions against violent acts without attempting to ascribe motivation? The answer is yes, if those laws are enforced equally for all persons without regard to classification. The problem is not a lack of legislation, the problem is a lack of enforcement. The solution is a zero tolerance policy for violence of any kind, in any situation, against any person. That policy must come from and be vigorously enforced by the people in charge – the mayors, the police department chiefs, the school board administrators, and everyone who reports to them.

As it turns out, all of the people who can implement and enforce such a zero tolerance policy serve as elected officials or work at the discretion of elected officials. Therefore the ultimate responsibility lies with us, the people who vote for school board members and politicians. We must demand a zero tolerance policy towards violence and we must remove those who do not work forcefully to implement it.

Each of us must exercise our individual responsibility to create a climate in which violence is unacceptable. Parents, in particular, must teach their children from the earliest age that bullying will never be acceptable behavior. If we work together, we can make a difference. We should fight our ideological battles in some other arena.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Rescue

Clusters of brown leaves fell like rain each time the breeze picked up. They scuttled across the bed of leaves that had fallen earlier and lay on the gravel base of the camp site. I sipped on my coffee. It had been a long drive from New York to the Poconos.

“Brindle,” I called. That is the name my camping buddy had given to one of the two stray cats that had inhabited the campground all season. There was no sign of her. I began to worry that my trip would not result in a successful rescue. I didn’t want to think what would happen if I failed. The wind was cold already and it was only the beginning of November. With everyone gone, there would no longer be anyone to leave food out for her. I doubted that she would survive the winter.

The first time I saw the two abandoned cats was early in July. It had been midweek and the camp was relatively quiet. They were barely older than kittens. They sauntered over to my site and immediately tried to befriend my cat, Osito. But Osito was more fearful of them than curious. Each time I returned to the campground I would see them. They were having an idyllic life. The entire campground was theirs to roam. People left food out and there were streams and a lake for water. They frolicked and played with each other or curled up together under a tool shed for a nap. But that was summer.

I worried what would happen to them when the campground closed at the end of the season. Some people think stray cats can always survive. “They’ll hunt. They will be fine,” some of the other campers assured me. But it’s a myth that abandoned cats can survive on their own. If the mother does not teach them to hunt and eat prey, they can only eat scraps from garbage or handouts from sympathetic people. How would that happen in a remote camp devoid of humans for six months?

Last Sunday was the day the camp closed. Everyone had to vacate by six o’clock. If I were going to do anything, it had to be then. The two strays had been hanging around my camping buddy’s tent. They were even in his tent for a while. They were trying to befriend his dog. I think those two young cats really missed their mother. We decided to try to catch them.

Neither one of us had any experience rescuing animals. We had no plan and no equipment. I thought we might be able to use Osito’s carrying case as a trap. We would lure them into it with lunch meat, which we had discovered they craved. Brindle was the first to take the bait. I quickly closed the end of the carrier. We had one!

Now all we had to do is get the other. We decided to try the same technique. First we had to transfer Brindle into another container. That’s when we lost her. Frustrated, but determined, we kept at it for hours. Several times we almost had one or the other. We could sometimes get our hands on one of them but they always got away. Too fast. Too agile. My friend finally left for home but I felt I could not abandon these guys.

As the sky grew dimmer I began to despair. But then I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Sunshine, the second cat, had jumped into the cab of my truck. I had left the door open by accident. As stealthily as my creaky old joints allowed, I sprung over and closed the door. Got her!

I tried for another hour to get Brindle but she wondered off. She was probably stuffed from all the ham and treats we had used. Reluctantly I called off the mission. At least one rescued cat was better than none.

Sunshine is now safely at home, in my New York apartment. She is still trying to befriend Osito who is still wary. Within 36 hours she has already allowed me to pet her. I think she will socialize well and be a very adoptable pet in no time. But I couldn’t bear the thought of her sister, now alone, back in the Poconos. I couldn’t give up on her. Not yet.

After a little networking with cat rescue people, I had a trap and some advice on how to proceed. I got permission from the camp owners to return for one day only and attempt to rescue Brindle. I headed out early this morning, confident that if I could find her, I could catch her. But would she still be there? After three days without food, and without her sister, she may have wandered away.

I first returned to the site where I had rescued Sunshine. I called and called, walking around, looking under trailers and sheds. No sign of her. So I canvassed the entire campground eventually returning to the site where Osito and I had first seen her. I called. She squeaked, then timidly approached. Her squeaking turned into a desperate wail. She was very, very hungry.

Moving quickly, I set up the trap, baiting it with tuna fish as the cat rescue people had recommended. The sent of tuna travels further than ham, they told me. She came to the trap but was afraid to enter it. She circled around, trying to get at the food, crying loudly the whole time.  I held my breath and dared not move a muscle. Desperation took over. She scurried inside.

Whack! The door of the trap slammed shut. She cried out in alarm and thrashed around inside the trap while I ran over to the truck to get the blanket that I had brought to put over the trap. Another tip from the rescue people. That calmed her down. I loaded the trap and Brindle into my truck. The adrenaline rush abated and I realized that my mission was successful. I’m not usually prone to displays of joy, but I think I let out a hoot and looked up at the sky and thanked the god that I don’t even believe in.

The drive back to New York was the calmest, most pleasant one I have ever experienced. It was a beautiful, sunny autumn day and Brindle and Sunshine would soon be reunited in the safety of my apartment.
Brindle and Sunshine on my bed.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ask Your Doctor

Does anybody still watch the network news programs? If you do, you might get the impression that the news is making us sick. Of the 30 minutes allotted to the evening newscasts, only about 20 minutes is actually used to tell us what’s going on in the world. The rest is commercials, and almost half of them are for medicines or dietary supplements.

Look at the list of advertisers for this Monday’s CBS Evening News:

Campbells Soup
Alka-Seltzer Plus
Lipitor (prescription cholesterol drug)
Toy Story
Prevacid (prescription acid reducer)
Vesicare (prescription drug for overactive bladder)
Zegerid (prescription heartburn drug)
Discover Credit Card
Boost (nutritional drink)
a negative political ad
Enbrel (prescription drug for rheumatoid arthritis)
GoLean cereal
Geico insurance
Crest toothpaste
Secret deodorant
Phillips colon health
Early Show promo

That’s 18 commercials in a 30 minute broadcast. No wonder you were left with the feeling that you really didn’t get much news. Instead you were invited to try some of Campbell’s ridiculously over-salted soup after which you had a choice of anti-acid treatments. If the negative political ads are giving you a headache, down some Alka-Seltzer. You could rent Toy Story and take some Vesicare to sit through all 90 minutes without wetting your pants. Chug a little Boost to make up for what the soup lacked and follow it up with some Phillips colon health in lieu of vegetables. Don’t forget the Lipitor to wash away the cholesterol. And if sitting around all day watching TV and taking drugs has left your joints stiff, ask your doctor if Enbrel is right for you.

Apparently the folks who watch ABC News are a little healthier. Only one third of their 19 commercials were for medicines or nutritional supplements. On the other hand, the ABC viewers must be plagued by mice. They received not one, but two, ads for Ortho mouse traps. They also had that alleged eye doctor, the one whose glow-in-the-dark contact lens make her look like an alien, pushing prescription eye drops.

Some advertisers take no chances; they flog their pills on all three networks. Prevacid, for example. The prescription medicine ads are strange. While we see active, healthy people enjoying a happy family life, we hear warnings about all the horrendous things that might happen if you take the pills. Stop taking this stuff if you have sudden changes of vision, rapid pulse and sweating, confusion, depression, thoughts of suicide. Don’t drive or operate machinery. Sometimes this medication can result in death. Call your doctor immediately if this happens to you.

The newest drug ads don’t even tell you the name of the product. They just list some symptoms which most people experience from time to time – low energy, loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy, decreased sexual performance, etc. Then they give you a website to visit. In this case it’s “Is it Low-T” .com. Even the web site is secretive about who is sponsoring the campaign. You have to read the fine print in the privacy statement to discover that it is Slovay Pharmaceuticals, a division of an international chemical group which is now part of Abbott Labs. The product is most likely Androgel, a topical gel used to boost testosterone in men.

Another such ad urged viewers to go to (good luck remembering that one) to learn more about the connection between heart disease and stroke. No product or sponsor is mentioned. At least this website does have the logo of the corporate sponsor, Boehringer-Ingelheim, another multi-national conglomerate which, in addition to vaccines for horses, cattle, and pigs, makes Pradax which is supposed to help prevent strokes, presumably in people.

Most of the pharmaceutical ads end by telling you to ask your doctor if the product is right for you. Some of the web sites are even more helpful – they list discussion points you should use when you talk to your doctor. Imagine if you actually followed this advice. From just one week of watching the nightly news you could be armed with a list of dozens of drugs and the rationale as to why you need each. Any reasonably compliant doctor should give you an entire pad filled with new prescriptions.

But after a week’s worth of watching the news, you still wouldn’t know much about what’s happening in the world.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Today I finally told my ex that I forgive him. More than a year after our breakup he emailed me to tell me how sorry he was about the way it ended and he asked me to forgive him. I had been carrying my anger and disappointment throughout that entire year. The bitter side of me wanted him to suffer longer but the sensible side won out. It was time to let it go. It was time to move on with my life and if he needed my forgiveness to move on with his, then why not give it to him?

But in forgiveness also comes humility. One can’t truly forgive another without admitting that some, perhaps much, of the blame lies within himself. My ex said some pretty nasty things to me when we broke up. They hurt me deeply. But the truth is that I was the one hurting myself. Because it wasn’t what he said that hurt. It wasn’t even the fact that our relationship was ending. It was the realization that I had been living in a fantasy.

I wanted so much to be in love. I wanted the security of knowing that I would not spend my life alone. I wanted someone to share my dreams with and someone for whom I could act as a safe harbor. I wanted these things so badly that I was willing to overlook every obvious sign that the relationship I was in was not the relationship I wanted it to be. When it ended, those illusions were shattered. I was hurt and angry but not surprised. The rational side of me knew all along that it wasn’t going to work.

Well, that’s all in the past now. I have let go of my anger and perhaps even my disappointment. No relationship is all bad or all good. I still have fond memories of many wonderful times with a man who was, on his good days, friendly, fun, charming, affectionate and very attractive. I had a preview of how wonderful life could be with the right person. I learned how I could change some of my behavior to be a better partner.

Maybe some day I will meet someone new and have another chance to get it right. Maybe not. But I will always have the memories of the happy times I spent with my ex while the rest fades into the confusion of my past. Forgiving him has allowed me to forgive myself. That has made this bitter old queen a little less bitter and a little less old today than yesterday.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Writing Workshops

Eighteen months ago I started writing a novel. At the time, I didn’t think of myself as a writer and I had never seriously thought about writing anything for publication, certainly nothing as ambitious as a novel. But the idea for a story just came to me out of the blue one day and I felt a compulsion to get it down in words. So I started to write.
Early in the process I signed up for a class at the New York Writer’s Workshop. It was my first writing class since high school and I was a little intimidated. Several times over the next ten weeks we were required to submit 10 to 15 pages of a work in progress for critique by our fellow classmates. The first time I had to read my work out loud my voice was cracking from nervousness. I wasn’t just afraid of the criticisms I would get for my writing, but I was also revealing more of myself than most of my friends know. It was very personal.
My work was well received and I got a lot of compliments as well as constructive suggestions and observations. I was surprised by how much time and effort my classmates spent reviewing my submissions in advance and preparing notes for discussion in class. It was exhilarating and I attacked my novel with confidence that not only would I finish it, but it would get published.
As soon as time permitted, I signed up for a second workshop which was taught by a very successful novelist. The structure of this course was different. We submitted only three page samples and our classmates did not see them in advance. It was a large class and there was very little time for feedback. The instructor urged me to change the point of view and the voice that I was writing in. I had actually considered that before, but had decided that it wouldn’t work. But she was a published author and I was just a guy trying to write. So I switched gears. That meant discarding most of the sixty pages I had written so far and starting over. I wasn’t convinced that changing the voice of the story teller was the right thing to do. I wasn’t convinced that it was wrong either. I got lost. I got overwhelmed. I quite writing the novel.
That’s when I decided to start writing this blog. I was hooked on writing. I knew that I wanted to be a writer. I still wanted to write that novel but I just wasn’t ready to do it. So in order to keep writing, and to keep the consistency of writing regularly, I became a blogger.
Apart from my self-imposed deadline of a new article every Wednesday (and I haven’t missed once since I started last January), writing a blog is easy. My articles are short. I’m not sure if that’s because I have a short attention span, or because my reader’s do. I can write about whatever I want. There is no continuity between one article and the next. Some of them are little more than rambling rants but a few of them have turned out quite good, in my somewhat biased opinion.
Enough time has passed that I felt ready to take yet another workshop. So tomorrow I submit my first assignment for class review. We were given the opening and closing words and told to fill in a four page story between them. I decided to write from the point of view of a 40 year old heterosexual man lamenting his breakup with a sophisticated woman. I guess just writing from my own experience wasn’t a big enough challenge.
I don’t know how well this first assignment will be received, but it’s alright if it gets torn to shreds. It’s only a writing assignment, not a segment of an epic best-selling novel. We will be required to do a writing project every week for the next 8 weeks. I don’t know if I will have the energy, or creativity, to do this blog as well but I feel that it is important that I do. Time will tell.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tax Time

It’s tax time. I have procrastinated as long as possible and now I am down to the last few days before I must submit my federal and state income taxes. But tax day is in April, you say. Not really. That’s just the deadline for submitting your request for an automatic six month extension. October 15 is the real deadline.

Of course there is no extension for submitting any money you might owe. I sent the IRS and the state of New York each a large check last spring. I don’t resent paying my fair share. What I resent is filling out the damn forms. It takes the better part of two days to gather all the information and submit the returns.

The instructions are incomprehensible. Enter the amount on line 38A onto line 16 of Schedule H. Subtract from line 15. If the result is negative enter it on line 38 of the worksheet on page 76 of the instruction book. Enter it as a positive number. If line 38 is more than line 34, enter it on line 39 or else enter zero. My eyes glass over.

I heard an IRS agent say in a TV interview that compliance with the tax code is “razor thin.” I think what he meant is that most people are very close to throwing the whole mess into the trash can and telling the government where to get off.  When intelligent citizens, people with advanced degrees even, can not understand the hundreds of pages of instructions for filling out the forms there is something seriously wrong.

So why don’t I just do what most people do and hire an expert to file for me? Never! I refuse to allow the government to force me to support the tax preparation industry – a multi-million dollar industry that lobbies very hard against tax simplification. H&R Block and their cronies are a special interest group that buys our elected representatives with big bucks. Why should I support that kind of conspiracy?

No, I’ll slog my way through this as I always do. I’ll try my best to make sense of it. I’ll report what I think I’m supposed to report and ignore what doesn’t seem relevant or what is so bewildering that I couldn’t possibly comply with it even if I wanted to. If I screw it up, let them figure it out. In the end I always get a refund. Most of the time my tax is less than what it probably costs them to process.

About that razor thin compliance: the big stick that the IRS holds over our heads is the dreaded audit. I was audited a few years ago for allegedly failing to report some interest income. I dutifully sent them more money while my appeal waddled slowly through the system. Six months later they admitted that they had made an error. I had indeed reported the income and I even did it on the right line of the correct form. They refunded my money with interest.

Time is precious. What a shame to waste so much of it on this nonsense.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


It has been raining steadily for several days here in New York and that has a lot of people depressed. It shouldn’t though. Apart from the lack of sunlight, which really is a problem for those of us who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, there is a lot to like about inclement weather. When it is lousy outside you can sit at home and do nothing without a shred of guilt.

In the past two days I have lounged around in my sweats and tee shirt, eating comfort food with my feet up on the ottoman and catching up on all the shows on my DVR. (Watching an entire season of “Being Human” was worth a week of rain.) I have spent an inordinate amount of quality time with my cat. In fact, he now thinks that I am the one who is overly affectionate. He probably wishes I would learn something important from him: uneventful days are meant for sleeping.

There is something comforting about rain in the city. It softens things. It muffles the endless cacophony of traffic sounds – horns, sirens, car alarms – and best of all, it forces people to keep their car windows closed and the thump, thump, thump of their music mostly consigned to their own space. It’s the exact opposite of the first nice day each spring when everyone responds by making as much noise as they can.

Everything looks sharper on a rainy day. Maybe that’s because the rain washes all the pollution out of the air. The streets are cleaner as well. One good downpour washes more trash from the gutters than the loud, and mostly ineffective, street sweeping machine does in a lifetime.

Aside from pests and vermin, weather is about the only part of nature that still exists in the city. It is bigger than the city. Watching a massive front move across the weather map reminds us that, from the storm’s point of view, we are an insignificant ground feature along the route. Throw in some good loud thunder and a pyrotechnic display of lighting, and we are realize that nature is still bigger than any power we have created and it is one thing over which we still have absolutely no control. Think about that, my thumb twiddling apps devotees!

Not everyone is fond of rainy days, especially if you have to go somewhere. Mass transit gets overwhelmed (much to the irritation of regular riders). Pools of water accumulate from dripping umbrellas in trains, lobbies, and elevators. These same spaces turn into steam baths from all that extra moisture. Glasses fog over and newspapers become limp. For commuters, it’s hell on wheels.

But to a contrarian such as the Bitter Old Queen, these past few days have been heaven. I am lifted up from my usual melancholy while everyone else is dragged down. The playing field has been leveled, however momentarily. How I love a rainy day.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Man on the Bus

I met a man who lives in a bus. His bus is parked in a campground near Binghamton, New York. It is a classic 35 year old Silver Eagle, which for years was the trademark coach of Continental Trailways. Trailways had been the chief competitor to Greyhound until Greyhound purchased it in 1987.

The man in the bus used to travel all around the country with his partner who passed away ten years ago. However he is not alone. There is a very lucky cat named Murphy who lives in the bus as well. Murphy is fond of lying on the dashboard, basking in the sun, and watching the world through the huge picture window.

Eagle coaches are still manufactured, primarily for conversion to motorhomes. They are especially popular with country music singers, perhaps because Willie Nelson tours in one. Bus conversions can be quite luxurious. They are often custom fitted with satellite TV systems, high tech lighting effects, leather furniture, and all the usual comforts of home such as showers, dishwashers, laundry and air conditioning. New conversions begin at about a half million dollars.

The bus I camped next to was not so luxurious. It looked like it hadn’t been driven for a long time. I assumed that it no longer could be driven. I was wrong. It’s owner makes candles and for many years travelled the country selling his goods. He bought it 20 years ago and did the conversion himself. He is handy with carpentry. He took me for a tour of his home on wheels. You enter through the single front door, as in any bus. The driver’s seat was serving as a catchall for empty boxes and old magazines. He had a living room in front: sleep sofa, recliner, and a make shift desk for his computer. Yes, he has telephone, internet, and cable TV.

Next is the kitchen. It is serviceable although he hadn’t used the stove in several years. I wouldn’t trust it myself. It was the kind of kitchen that they describe as “dated” on HGTV. The bathroom was pretty decent. Several years ago he had replaced the Jacuzzi tub with a glass walled shower. The bedroom was at the back of the coach, big enough for a queen size bed. The walls were covered with an odd assortment of unfortunate paneling.

The candle maker then took me for a tour along the outside of the bus. He showed me the enormous storage space in the “basement”, what you and I would think of as the luggage compartments. There was air conditioning equipment down there, a generator, and two enormous tanks – one for fresh water and one for waste water. He was very proud of the fact that it could hold two months worth of waste. That’s a lot of shit.

He opened the doors across the back of his bus to show me the engine. He didn’t know how many miles were on his bus – many millions, he estimated – but it was not the original engine. Over the years he had replaced many of the running components. The manual transmission was a source of constant trouble. But it still ran well, he said.

In a few weeks he will be heading down to Virginia for the winter. When he fires up the engine, Murphy will get nervous and hide under the couch, but unlike my cat, Murphy never leaves home. It goes with him.

I wonder what it would be like to live on a bus. Anytime I got bored with the view, I could just drive somewhere else. If my neighbors became tiresome, I could get new ones. When it got too cold, I could go somewhere warmer and when it got too hot, I could head north again. No packing required. I could live life on the run without leaving home. Just like Murphy.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Passing of a Friend

I don’t remember exactly when I met Marco. It must have been one of the first times I visited Puerto Vallarta. Each time I returned I could count on finding him at one of the usual spots and I could count on receiving a warm welcome. Marco was the unofficial social director for gay visitors to his town. He was always organizing something: a day trip to a nearby scenic locale, an afternoon at the casino, or a pool party at some wealthy acquaintance’s home.

He never had a stable home of his own. He often stayed with an older French Canadian who spent winters in Vallarta. The rest of the year he spent a few days here, a week or two there, sometimes house sitting, sometimes staying with friends, sometimes perhaps doing whatever was necessary for a bed to sleep in. He did odd jobs to make pocket money. He often made the rounds of the beach and bars and popular restaurants handing out leaflets promoting various businesses that cater to gay tourists.

New Year's Eve 2009
Marco was fond of dressing in flashy clothes, costumes really. He had a card printed up that introduced himself as a Public Relations Specialist. A friend of mine scoffed at the pretentiousness of it but I admired him for it. Vallarta was full of drifters who sold their bodies in exchange for a meal and enough money to buy the next day’s drugs. Marco was attempting to earn a legitimate living even if it required major subsidies from generous friends.

When I received word that he had passed away a few weeks ago I felt that something precious was lost from my life. Not only had I lost a friend but one of my last links to Vallarta. I have written before about my changing relationship with Vallarta, a place that I once believed would be my future home. Vallarta is the place, and Marco was the person, who brought Luis into my life.

Over the course of two years Luis and I had one of the most romantic, volatile, passionate, disappointing and doomed relationships of my life. After it flamed out in a particularly painful episode, I cut off all communication with him. I did not respond to his emails and I rarely spoke of him, although I often thought of him. But the passing of Marco required that I break the silence. Luis is now in Mexico City and I could not be sure he would have heard the news. (He had not.) It’s as if Marco is still playing matchmaker.

Marco died from AIDS. When I last saw him, this past April, he was thin and lacked energy, but seemed reasonably well. I was shocked that he was gone just 5 months later. I was also angered. In 1995 the number of AIDS deaths in the U.S. peaked at over 50,000. Over the next two years the death rate fell dramatically and now hovers around 18,000. Seen another way, in 1995 AIDS was the leading cause of death for U.S. males between the ages of 25 and 44. Today it has fallen to fifth place, behind injury, heart disease, cancer, and suicide. Far too many, of course, but getting better. This trend is due to aggressive efforts at testing and treatment. The situation in Mexico is far different.

Although the rate of AIDS infection is far lower in Mexico than in the United States, diagnosis and treatment lag behind. I could not find reliable data to prove it, but I am certain that the life expectancy for HIV infected people in Mexico is far lower than in the U.S. There are many reasons for this, including the inadequate health care available for the poor in that country. I’m not suggesting that AIDS is not still a devastating problem in the U.S. nor do I mean to imply that there is good health care for the poor in the U.S. But I suspect that Marco would still be with us if he had lived here rather than Mexico.

Whatever the implications of Marco’s passing, whatever the statistics are, the fact remains that a dear friend, a person with a good soul, has been taken from us. He will be missed.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Almost Heaven

Camping again. This time in the hills of West Virginia. But try as I might to hear any faint trace of “Dueling Banjoes” filtering through the rustle of the leaves in the breeze, the only music I hear here is Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Kelly Rowland. Yep, I’m in another gay campground. After visiting my sister north of Pittsburgh, Ranger Rudy hauled Penelope Pop Up, my cat Osito, and me up some very back country mountain roads to a place called Roseland Resort.

Once again I had trouble hitching Penelope to Rudy. The hitch didn’t want to seat itself completely on the ball. The last time that happened I was pulling Penny back to her home, a field full of RV’s where she rests when I am not using her. (No place to keep her in New York.) As I drove over a bump, the hitch had finally settled into position. So I decided to drive around the block at my sister’s development hoping for the same luck. I drove over the curb, across every bump I could find, and slammed on the brakes a few times. The hitch didn’t budge. I turned a very sharp curve onto the steep hill back to my sister’s townhouse then backed into her driveway. Penelope tracked perfectly through it all but the hitch was still sitting too high on the ball. Oh well, it seemed to tow well enough so I bid my sister farewell, loaded Osito into the truck and we were West Virginia bound.

About a half mile later there was a bang and Ranger Rudy began to swerve erratically. I didn’t have to look to know what had happened. I managed to get Rudy and the unhitched Penelope off to the side of the road. The tongue of the trailer was on the pavement, the emergency chains had dragged it to the side, and the trailer brakes had applied. I could not swing the tongue jack down to raise it back up and I could not lift it by hand. I was stuck.

Fortunately the disaster had occurred across the street from an auto repair shop. Two burly men came to my assistance. All three of us could not lift the surprisingly heavy Penny so they retrieved a hydraulic floor jack from their shop and wheeled it over. That did the trick. This time the hitch engaged the ball correctly and I was safely underway again. (I have yet to unhitch it; I’m not going to unhitch until this trip is over and Penny is back in her field.)

I am camped on the narrow spine of a ridge with majestic views of the surrounding hills in all directions, mostly carpeted with oak, maple and walnut trees. On the next ridge a huge flame springs into the air day and night, like an eternal torch. It roars like a jet engine. I’m told that it is a gas well burning off methane. I wonder why the energy of the methane could not be used.

It was hot when I arrived but the next morning brought gentle breezes and billowing cumulus clouds decorating the vivid blue sky. I decided to hike one of the many trails that encircle the property. The trails are hilly and, for an out-of-shape person like myself, strenuous. Arriving huffing and puffing at the poolside café, I had lunch. The breeze picked up somewhat and the clouds thickened. A gust almost toppled my umbrella table, but relative calmness followed.

Things were less tranquil up on the ridge where Penelope Pop Up was parked. The wind was whipping up the hillside with a fierceness that launched anything that was either not heavy or not securely tied down. Penelope’s canopy awning had pulled free of it’s stakes and was wrapped backwards over the roof, flapping violently. It’s support poles were still attached and splayed about threatening severe damage to anything in their reach. I struggled to retrieve the awning but the wind, now howling, made it impossible. The seam where the awning attaches to the roof was torn almost half its length. In the end I had no choice but to tear it the rest of the way so I could free the awning, roll it up and prevent further damage.

The wind continued to howl the rest of the day and throughout the night. Penelope was buffeted about to the point that I worried that it, and Osito and I, would be blown off the ridge and, like Dorothy, we might find ourselves in Munchkin Land. We were safe, but sleep was difficult and Osito was alarmed.

My eye doctor friend and his partner were also camping at Roseland, but they had wisely opted to rent a cabin rather than staying in Penelope with me. I joined them for dinners which we prepared in their kitchen. The winds had subsided somewhat but it had turned sharply colder. We bought some wood from the camp store at one dollar per stick and looked forward to a nice fire in their fireplace. Unfortunately our expensive wood resisted all efforts to light.

Roseland provides an abundance of activities; it reminded us of a land based cruise ship. There were theme parties each night. I recycled a costume from a long ago party for the Roman toga night. It was amazing to see how many men in a remote campground had brought elaborate costumes for multiple events. I was slightly annoyed with how many of my fellow campers were obsessed with sex. When are people going to realize that a hot tub is better for relaxing your aching back than for stimulating your hyperactive front?

I was favorably impressed with Roseland and with its new management. The facilities are superior. There is even an observatory on the highest hill with nightly programs presented by the resident astronomer. I was not so impressed with the drive up the mountain from the Ohio River. It took almost an hour to go 20 miles over crumbling narrow roads with steep hills up and down, through hairpin turns and endless switchbacks. Not the kind of driving where you can relax and enjoy the scenery.

This trip was meant to be a dress rehearsal for an extended road trip through the south that I might take this winter. Of course that assumes I will solve the cranky trailer hitch problem, repair or replace the awning, fix the plumbing leak (again), find out why the brakes don’t always work, and steel myself for endless hours of hauling a 3000 pound trailer with a little V6 Ranger. Airplanes and hotel rooms are starting to sound a lot more attractive.