Monday, November 23, 2009

Matt and Levi

For the past several weeks I've been volunteering at a Sunday meal for homeless GLBT youth. It's really enjoyable and not just because I have a thing for three of my fellow volunteers. (Yeah, that's right, three). ;( I really like some of the attendees as well, although because they are generally younger and more homeless than I, no matter how attractive they were I wouldn't say I had a thing for them. Which is not to say I don't like homeless people (my thoughts on such people were partially addressed in a previous post) but rather that the power dynamic would be inappropriate.
I especially like Levi, who's about the same age as my brother Matt (who's currently living as an exchange student in Germany). He also has similar elements to his personality, such as being a silent complainer. It's hard to describe exactly what I mean by 'silent complainer' but I know what I mean, and, as always, I think that's the most important thing.
But to try, both Matt and Levi have complained to me about the families they live with. Matt lives with a relatively wealthy family (his host mother is a doctor and I think his host father is an automobile salesman). He has two host siblings, a younger brother and sister. He complains that his younger siblings are spoiled; that they steal from his parents. He complains that the family always fights. Matt's family is very dysfunctional.
Levi lives in a foster home. His foster mother is about the same age as I am. She's not married or employed. According to Levi, the required 'source of income' that allows her to be a foster parent is food stamps. His foster family also includes two brothers but he said they aren't around much. He complains to me that his mother smokes pot and uses ecstasy and keeps the house poorly stocked with food.
Neither Matt's "parents" nor Levi's "mom" are very authoritarian. Matt is allowed to stay out as late as he wants with the only rule being that he be home and up for breakfast the next morning at 9am. Levi's mother doesn't have any idea where he goes half the time. She's completely unaware that he's involved with the Sunday meal where I met him, for example.
Both kids are political. Matt's shaken the hand of two presidents. He also specialized in hit pieces when he was the editor of his school newspaper last year. Levi volunteers at the office of Christine Quinn, the gay leader of New York's City council. He doesn't like Paterson. He was disappointed though, when Thompson lost the mayoral race because it meant there couldn't be a black governor, pres., and mayor. (I, for the record, didn't even realize Thompson was black).
Matt had to be prodded quite a bit in order to be convinced to leave his home in small town Oregon and set out for Germany. In the end, it was a great decision for him: according to him, he's 'been an adult for the last three years' and there's no way that my parents would have ever given him the type of freedom he enjoys in Germany. Which apparently the German teen takes for granted. I'm not trying to mock him, at any rate, because he's an exceptionally developed kid for his age.
So is Levi. From what I can gather, Levi made the choice to leave his family and join foster care. At least, I'm pretty sure he wasn't kicked out as soon as he came out to his family. He mentioned something about having to go to prayer groups and each week being asked 'Are you any less gay yet?'. In the end, I think his decision to leave was good, but it's tough to say. From what I can tell, his real mother loved him... although maybe a little too much. He told me she used to scrub his skin really hard with a bleaching cream when he was a little kid. Now his facial coloring is a little patchy.
He had to leave a younger sister behind. He told me she really looks up to him and his mother completely cut off contact for fear that Levi would turn her gay. (Which doesn't completely make sense, because she's a girl and Levi likes guys). Levi's older brother has tried to contact him but Levi didn't respond because his brother isn't all that sensitive to gay issues. While he was 'reaching out' to Levi I think he might have said some offensive things.
I'm not quite sure that there's a point in comparing Matt and Levi. Except maybe that, I wish that when I was their age I had been doing something nearly as exciting as either of them, rather than whatever the hell it is I was doing (which if I devoted space to a description would seem rather boring indeed). I never complained as they do when I was their age. So, I'm not sure what the moral of the story is but I think I'll pretend that this all means I'm a better person than they both. ;(

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Out of Form

Here's another non-traditional post in as many weeks (I know this makes little sense but I really like saying 'in as many weeks').
This is the letter I'm writing to my congressional representatives about health care. In the second paragraph I talk about my personal relationship to the health care debate. I hadn't really thought about this until recently, but I know a lot of people who are going to be completely screwed unless meaningful healthcare reform passes. Anyways people need to make sure we let congress know how we feel. Don't let the right wing drown us out.

Dear Representative Charles Rangel,

My name is Joseph Moll and I am a chemistry graduate student at Columbia, a loyal Democrat, and a constituent. I just finished giving a financial donation through ActBlue to the members of the house who have committed to voting against any health care bill that does not include a strong public health care option. I was disappointed to note that my representative’s name is not on that list. I urge you to stand with your progressive colleagues and also make a commitment to vote against any bill without a strong public option.

I take the issue of affordable universal coverage seriously. I have fairly poor coverage through Columbia University although luckily I am young and healthy. Many of my friends and family are not in the same situation. Two of my brothers are completely uninsured. My sister and her husband are both currently unemployed and their family of five is only able to afford a bare bones health insurance plan (with a deductible of $10,000 before 80% coverage kicks in). I sincerely hope nothing happens to one of my three nephews. If a bill is passed that mandates her family to purchase coverage but doesn’t provide them an affordable option (like a strong public option), that’s not fair. They and many others will be understandably angry. Meanwhile, one of my best friends is also in graduate school and unable to afford insurance. While we were undergraduates together she had her thyroid removed because of a medical condition. When she became too old to be on her parent’s health insurance plan, she had to quit taking the drugs which were providing her the hormones a normal person’s thyroid would produce. All she can do is ‘hope’ that nothing bad will come from this. (When she visited me in New York city, we had to take cabs or the subway even very small distances, because of the danger if she were to overexert herself without a thyroid).

Needless to say this is a very personal debate for a lot of Americans. If Congress passes and the President signs a meaningless, watered down health care bill, we will not be happy. As I see it, the progressive members of the house who are standing up for a public option are the American people’s last defense against this happening. I urge you, Congressman Rangel, please join them.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Fifth Chapter

The following is the fifth Chapter in the book I'm trying to write. The reading level is kind of elementary school, but I'm going to make up for that later by adding in lots of gratuitous violence and sex (such that the book is only appropriate for very, very old people). Because honestly, who likes kids. Also, this is an early draft. Also, this doesn't make much sense standing alone. Rest assured that it still doesn't make a lot of sense in the context of the whole book. That's sort of my style:

Chapter 5:

"You've got to try this," Theodore was telling Timmy. "Bilawel taught me how to make it." Timmy waited expectantly for his brother's newest experiment.
"We put the cheerios into some marshmallows, add some milk, and then microwave it. I just hope I get the ratios right. I'm using colored marshmallows, they're more nutritional." Theodore was taking advantage of Timmy's gullibility. He filled the bowl to the brim with marshmallows, sprinkled some cheerios on top, added a few tablespoons of milk and microwaved it on high for two minutes.
"It's very mushy, but I still better blend it too, don't you think?" Theodore asked Timmy. Timmy couldn't say for sure because the bowl was being held much too high for him to see its contents, but Theodore was nodding so Timmy nodded along with him. Theodore grabbed a spoon and started scooping the brownish rainbow colored mush into the blender.
"I don't think it's supposed to be so brown," he said. "I'll add some food coloring. Why don't we make it red." He poured half a bottle of red food coloring into the blender and hit blend. A faint smell of burning began to fill the room. The motor was struggling, and probably would have failed if it weren't for the addition of a lifetime's worth of red 40, some of which had managed to trickle down near the blades. Still, not much blending was going on. Theodore gave up and scooped the treat into a bowl that he placed on the floor next to Timmy. Timmy cautiously stuck his finger into the reddish brown goop with watery red die in an indentation near the center, where it had managed to mostly collect. It looked like a volcano of blood, whose base had been formed from layer upon layer drying over millenia. Once Timmy tasted it, he was satisfied. It was quite a bit better than what Theodore usually fed him.
"What a mess!" Theodore said. He grabbed the gooped up blender and shoved it to the very back of the dishwasher, underneath a large pot, so his mother would not find it.
"Okay," he said, "I've got to do my homework. You can come watch me in the dining room, but don't bother me." He shook his head, indicating no. Timmy shook his head. He picked Timmy up, who was clutching to his marshmallow bowl, and headed to the dining room table. He set Timmy on top and got down his algebra book from the nearby shelf.
Theodore began trying to work on his homework. Timmy was using his left hand to clutch his dessert tightly to his chest and kept gooping his right fingers into the bowl. He would then stick them all together in his mouth, pull them out with a big pop, and giggle before going in for another dip.
Theodore looked up and glared, "Stop making so much noise, I've almost got this one."
The front door slammed and a few seconds later their older brother Benjamin walked in, looking upset. When he saw Timmy and Theodore he couldn't help but smile a little. "I know you like to experiment, Theo, but isn't it going too far to feed Timmy poop?" At this point Timmy shoved his face into the now nearly empty bowl in an attempt to lick out its remaining contents
"That's gross," Theo said, making a face. Timmy pulled his face out of the bowl, and scrunched it up in an imitation of Theo’s disgusted expression. His brothers smiled at him and he shyly returned to his marshmallows.
"Do you like your poop?" Benjamin walked up to Timmy and gently pulled his face out of the bowl using a tuft of hair at the base of his neck. Timmy smiled and nodded and then tugged his head away so he could give his full concentration to the bowl.
Benjamin laughed. His good mood didn't last too long. Especially when he saw Theo happily doing algebra homework. Benjamin was also learning algebra, and not nearly as easily. It naturally bothered him how quickly his little brother took to it. He sat down and started complaining.
"I've had a terrible day. Mom gave me a package to take to the post office this morning, a new draft of her paper that she was sending to her friend, Dr. Wilkinson. Of course the line in the post office was stretching to the sidewalk. And then when I finally got done, this little girl insulted me. She was on the steps outside," Theodore was struggling to concentrate on his homework, "and she asked my name. 'Ben', I said. Then she started chanting, 'Ben's a girl, Ben's a girl, I found a pearl on that girl.' 'No you didn't' I said. "I think that showed her."
"Yeah," Theodore murmered.
"I hated today so far," Benjamin replied, "and it's not even halfway done." Timmy was now done with his treat and crawling around the table, making quite a mess wherever he touched. Unfortunately this eventually ended up being Theodore's homework.
"Come on," Theodore said. "I can't concentrate, and now my homework's a mess. And by the way, your day didn't sound all that bad. You just love to complain. I'm going outside to study. I can't even turn this in." He grabbed his homework, crumpled it up, and threw it on the floor. He picked up his algebra book, a pen, and some fresh pieces of paper, and headed out of the dining room. A few seconds later the front door slammed.
"Sorry Theo," Benjamin said sarcastically. He picked up the homework and smoothed it out. "See you later little Timmy. I've got to go copy this over." He left the room, and poor Timmy, who was too little to get down from the table by himself, was left with nothing to do but sit and think.


Theodore wasn't really upset. He just wanted to get back to his homework. He rushed down the stairs and out the front door, headed for the Riverside Park. It was then that he saw her, sitting on the steps outside the apartment building. She was Theodore's same age and he thought she was quite pretty, in a mad scientist sort of way. Her hair was a blonde/brown color and about double shoulder length. It hadn't been combed. She was wearing a sweatshirt that was too large along with patchy jeans and green sneakers. Her teeth were not particularly clean. She was whistling 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again'.
"Hey," she said, after seeing Theodore staring at her. She shrugged, in an effort at indifference, but her eyes were lighting up. "What's your name?" Her voice was pretty deep for a little girl.
"I'm Theo." Theo was scrambling to think of something to say that wouldn't make him sound too smart.
"I'm Erin." She said, smiling.
"I like your sweatshirt."
"Thanks, me too. It's too warm out for this sweatshirt, really. But I already left my jacket at home. I made a compromise, the weather should meet me halfway."
“I don’t think it works that way.” Theo corrected.
“What’s that you have in your hand?” she asked. Theo quickly hid his algebra book and papers behind his back.
“Nothing,” he said. He took a few steps backwards so that his back was against the railing along the stairs and his study materials were just hanging over the drop to the garbage collection area below. He considered letting go, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
Erin looked skeptical for just a second, but then seemed convinced, forgetting what she had clearly seen a few moments ago.
“What are you doing out here anyways?” Theo asked.
“I’m just counting the number of boys and girls that go by. My dad and I just moved into this building so I’m gathering information.”
“So what have you figured out so far.”
“It’s hard to tell, you can’t always be sure who’s a boy and who’s a girl. I consider a lot of factors, hair length, name, jewelry, eye color.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Maybe to you, I suppose you’d just trust any one was whatever gender they told you. My dad taught me to be more discerning.” Erin looked a little angry. The use of the word ‘discerning’ from some one his same age sent a shiver through Theo. He decided he really liked this girl.
“No, of course not,” Theo shook his head vigorously, trying to make her happy. But he was naturally confused. He tended to trust that people were the gender they claimed to be.
“But to answer your original question, mostly girls…” she said, “but that’s only natural, considering there are more of us.” She dragged a dirty hand through her tangled hair. “Anyways,” she continued, “do you want to go do something?”
In his excitement, Theo almost dropped his book and had to bend backward over the rail to catch it just in time. “Yes,” he replied, while still bent unnaturally over the rail and with his face contorted in an attempt to hide his obvious excitement.
“Good, but I don’t want to do whatever it is your doing,” Theo quickly straightened himself up. “How about we go down to the post office and rile up the line. That’s what my older sister and I always used to do when we lived downtown.”
"Okay," Theo hesitantly replied, not sure what that would entail, but Erin was already on her way down the block to the post office. Theo stuffed his algebra materials between his back and his shirt, tucked them into his belt and then hurried after.
He caught up to Erin halfway down the block and only a few buildings away from the post office. She was talking to a tall, dark haired man in a business suit. He had a blanket wrapped around his shoulders.
"Sir, can you tell me which direction it is to the post office?" she was asking.
"I believe I saw a post office behind me," he answered. He gestured backwards. Theo nodded to himself, the nearest post office was halfway down the block and within clear sight. Maybe Erin wasn't as smart as he hoped.
"Come on Theo, we'll check this way." She turned around and started walking away from the post office and in the direction opposite where the man had gestured.
"But..." Theo began but before he could get any further, she grabbed his elbow, locked it in hers, and nudged him right in his gut. She then pulled forward, and they were marching together. Theo didn't object at all to locking elbows with this girl and was so caught up in his enjoyment he didn't finish his sentence. He squeezed her elbow with his to which she responded by pulling him forward even faster.
"Wait a second, I told you it was the other way," said the man in the business suit. Erin pulled Theo around so they were facing the man and glared. Theo's jaw was hanging open a bit from the excitement but when he saw Erin's expression he copied it with a glare of his own.
"I don't trust you!" Erin shouted. The man looked confused.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"What I mean is, what's your name?" Erin asked.
The man paused, "I'm Mr. Jones," he said.
"That name sounds made up," Theo said to Erin loudly, playing along now. She nodded her head. He wasn't sure if Erin was just messing around, but he was starting to not trust the guy for real.
"Listen, I told you the post office is down the street. You can pretty much see it from here. But if you really think I'm lying, go the other way, that's fine."
"We don't trust you, we've never trusted you, you're lying and this is our street. You're lying on our street." Erin shouted.
"Yeah, why don't you go lie on your own street!" shouted Theo.
"Come on Theo, we'll find the post office." They circled the block and ended up behind the guy, running the whole way. He had continued walking, and was just visible turning the corner.
"Why did we do that," Theo asked, as they approached the door to the post office from the other direction.
"Just for fun," Erin replied, "Okay, let's go rile up the post office line."
"But we're just kids," Theo said. "I don't think they'll let us in there if we don't have something to mail."
"You're right," Erin said. "Here, we'll get something to mail out of this blue mailbox depository." Theo seemed skeptical that the idea would work but before he had a chance to object Erin was grabbing his foot in order to boost him up. It seemed he was meant to be the one to reach in and grab something. He gently lifted his foot off her cupped palm and returned it to the ground.
"This is silly," he said nervously. "And pretty illegal. Maybe we can just go in without any mail."
"No you were right," said Erin, "at the first sign of riling they'll try and kick us out. We need to have a reason to stay and the reason is in that blue container." Theo looked very skeptical. "Come on," she said, looking hopeless, "I can't do it without you." Theo saw his opportunity to be a hero to his new friend, but was still hesitating. Erin could see she almost had him. "I'll create a distraction," she said. "No one will even know." She tried to pull off a wink, but it came out as a blink.
"I'll do it," Theo said courageously. "And while I'm doing it, you can create a brilliant distraction." Theo had barely finished his sentence when Erin was again boosting him up. He grabbed the latch to the mailbox depository, pulled it open and squirmed his way in. His body was bent at a right angle, with his upper half hidden from the world and his legs dangling out through the opening. Alas, there was a deficiency in the design of this (and all other) mailbox depositories. While one could easily put mail in, one could not easily retrieve mail. Luckily for Theo the box was exceptionally full and thus there were some envelopes just barely visible in the crack behind the lid. He went to work trying to pry one out.
Meanwhile, Erin, whose so called distraction (jumping jacks in front of the mailbox) was starting to draw attention, was getting a little panicky. Just then Dr. Sanderbagger showed up.
"What are you doing little girl," she asked.
"Um... I'm just trying to mail my package... um... I just mean maniquinn." She wasn't that great at thinking on her feet. In the past, her older sister had made up most of the details. "My dad just got so annoyed with him. He just said ventriloquism would be a dead end for me, just like it was for my mom. He just said put a stamp on him and dump him in the mail." She started nodding vigorously, very proud of her concoction.
Dr. Sanderbagger was very sad to see this little girl giving up her dreams. "Well, I'm sure your father has your best interests at heart," she said. "Here, let me help you." And with that they both grabbed one of the protruding legs and shoved with all their might. Poor Theo's head was thrust directly against the steel inside of the container. The jolt caused his algebra book, which had previously been tucked into his belt, to dislodge, slide down his back, slip through the neck of his shirt and hit his head from the other side. It then fell into the mailbox, out of reach. Theo grabbed one of the letters near the surface. At this point he had what he needed and his claustrophobia was really taking hold of him. He started kicking vigorously. He had to get out.
"Why is it kicking at us?" Dr. Sanderbagger asked.
"Oh, that's just an, um… reflexive mechanism," Erin replied. "Just put just one hand at the knees and you can just hold his legs straight." They both grabbed Theo's knees and, holding his legs straight, shoved him in as far as was absolutely possible. Theo was shoved just close enough to reach his algebra book, which he quickly grabbed.
"I think my Mannequinn's in good enough now." Erin said. "Thanks for your help."
Dr. Sanderbagger looked at the Mannequin skeptically. It really wasn't in at all. It's but was still hanging out of the blue mailbox and it's feet were dangling against the side. "Okay," she said skeptically. "I'll see you around little girl. What was your name?"
"I'm Sally," said Erin. They shook hands and Mrs. Sanderbagger headed down the street. As soon as she did Erin gave a small tug to Theo's right leg. He started climbing out, algebra book and a little blue envelope in hand.
At that moment Dr. Sanderbagger looked back to wave at the girl she believed to be Sally. Erin smiled and waved back and said through her teeth "stay behind the mailbox depository."
"Who was she?" asked Theo.
"I don't think it was a she, and whoever it was is heading straight into our building."
Theo ducked his head around the corner of the mailbox depository. "That's my mom!" he said.
Erin was a little embarrassed that she had questioned the gender of his mother. "What's that you have in your hand?" she asked. Theo held up the blue envelope. "No, your other hand." Theo looked down at the algebra book he was holding.
"Oh... I found this in the mailbox," he lied. "Looks kind of interesting."
Erin was already walking into the Post Office. "Come on," she said.
So he followed.

The People of State College Part Nineteen: The Dancer

I haven't updated this blog in a long time because I've been running out of material. But then I thought how almost daily I develop an obsession with a new guy. People would be interested in that, right. :) Also, I feel like my blog is lacking in real, very personal details about my life. Details that one would never feel secure in sharing with the world except in blog format. (This has been a reader complaint.) Also, The People of State College was always a very popular series.
I met the red headed subject of this post in State College a few weekends back when I was there for a weekend of research. I met him in Chumley's, the only gay bar in State college (although apparently the city used to have four separate gay bars in the seventies!). He was sitting by himself at the other end of the bar and would occasionally begin to dance rather violently to the music. Apparently he can't control this. The bartender invited him behind the bar to mix drinks and he ended up making one for me. Later in the evening, I stared at him. :) I think he noticed this because he moved to a different location in the bar, directly behind me. This may have been to prevent further staring but I interpreted it as an attempt to talk to me. Anyways, it came out that he was an astronomist (not a word but this is what I called him). The next night I danced with him a little at the club next to Chumley's, which has a gay friendly night once a week. I asked him to visit me for pride weekend. He declined. It was a tragic, short lived, and probably one sided romance. But I got another facebook friend out of it. (I'm almost above 100).