Adiaŭ, Urso!

It's interesting how much my recent experiences have changed my attitude toward certain situations. It used to be when someone went into the hospital I would be anxiously but guardedly hopeful. "I know this looks bad, but it will probably be alright, won't it?" I'd lived through two miraculous recoveries in my 20s: first my mother flipping her car on the interstate and walking away with more more than some broken bones and then my ex having botched surgery, falling into a coma and spending almost a full year in the hospital, and then making a complete recovery. So it was natural to view the best outcome as a distinct possibility.

Now it's, they're going into the hospital? With those symptoms? Better have POMA, a DNR, and a will all ready and I'll start preparing myself. Once I'd finally pressured Urso into giving me a decent account of his situation I knew how bleak the picture was. I expected we'd have him around for another couple years at best and already started planning my next trip out to see him. In the end, we didn't have two weeks and that trip may still happen but he won't be at the end of it to hug me.

It was a long night. Once it became clear where things were headed (you're not called to a hospital in the middle of a statewide lockdown to visit your friend if the medical team expects you'll soon be taking him home in anything but a box) I swore off sleep because I knew it was going to be a long night. One of Urso's best friends I stayed on a video call with until he told me he was ready to try to sleep. That was 1:30 a.m. I woke up at the regular time and tried to go back to sleep but the messages kept coming in from the group he set up for video chats and then the announcement went public and the posts started to come in and I kept reading them, crying, pausing, and then finding new ones to read.

I was so disoriented by the afternoon I had to ask my flatmate if it was time to feed the cat who was obviously begging to be fed. By four p.m. I was back in bed in a completely dark room. <lj user=clintswan> came in to sit with me. I talked out my grief until it was possible for me to look at photos and feel more consolation than grief. Then he brought me a gift of cookies and edibles from the neighbours which I took upstairs to eat and found them outside under their heater. We spent the rest of the evening hanging out and chatting and it did me a world of good.

I still need to distill my feelings down to fit the more concise demands of FB before I consider posting there. It's hard to explain just why I feel as privileged to know him as I did. It's not just because he was a legend on SF Bear scene (and beyond), it's the reason why he was a legend. Clint and I both joked about being mourned in spite of our abrasive personalities. But I tried to remember ever hearing Urso run anyone down to me and I simply couldn't. I literally could not recall him having a single bad word to say about anyone. In this scene, that is like walking into the bar and finding someone who's never had a drink or smoked a cigarette.

People were drawn to him and he had a knack for drawing those people together. Months ago now, he set up a Messenger group for video chats and invited me to it. Even with him out of the picture for a while ("like the host of the party falling asleep in the back bedroom" as I rather saltily put it) the group kept going. When we got the news early this morning it immediately made the transition from shitpost central to a support group for everyone who needed it. It'll be interesting to see how long this persists; certainly, whatever happens, some of the blossoming friendship there will.

There's a lot more to say but, as my friend Charlie reminds me, no rush to say it. You don't find out what a loss like this means right away. I'm only just beginning to really learn what we lost with the death of Urso.


Alle Jahre wieder

I never know what to expect from Monshu's yortsayt. Sometimes I think about preemptively taking the day off, but with COVID this year I was worried that would just give me more time to mope and so I was better off working. But my body had other plans: whether because of the added anxiety of hosting the association's first virtual annual meeting or what, my GERD was acting up something awful last night and I slept so poorly I determined that without taking the morning off to sleep in I wouldn't be able to function, so that's what I did.

Did it work? Well enough. Now it's evening, <lj user=clintswan> is off at the hardware store to get a replacement valve for the drippy faucet I complained about and his spendy light display is cycling in the dining room windows. I've got trivia tonight. Before that I should finish up an application for a work committee. Meanwhile I'm still trying to get a handle on what I'm feeling. It's not an intense grief, but it is a sense of weight, of a presence that is not a presence, of dislocation and bewilderment. Honestly, it's not that much different from many other days in this fucked-up doozy of a year but I guess because of the number on the calendar I think about it differently.

I considered asking the flatmate to take me to the scattering site but ultimately demurred. I think retreating to the library, lighting some incense and reciting the Heart Sutra will be enough. I do hope Mozhu or my sister or someone remembers to check on me--not so much because I think I need it but I like the thought that the Old Man is still in their memories.

Speaking of memories, I had an odd encountre over the weekend. Shortly after Monshu's obituary was published, I got a Facebook message from someone I'd never met offering sympathy and contact. I didn't really know what to make of it at the time, said something vague about keeping the offer in mind, and then didn't think about it again for nearly four years. Then some day last week I was looking at the list of active friends on Messenger, saw a name I didn't recognise, and perused our correspondence. It was brief: that offer, my polite acknowledgment, and then nothing more.

Sunday I called. We turned out to have a connexion after all, as he's a PhD student at UW-Milwaukee, where a friend teaches. Knowing he's a historian actually made the initial contact less creepy since (as I put it and he agreed), "Stalking dead people is what you do." We chatted for quite a bit about his programme and his interests and his circuitous Laufbahn and I introduced the topic of my dead husband by telling him I saw parallels in some of their choices. "I wasn't sure if you were comfortable talking about him." Bless your heart, hon, but there's almost no one I'd rather talk about.


Well, it was bound to happen eventually: We have a COVID case in the building. I thought it would be the flight attendant, but surprise! no, it's the young woman who just gave birth.

I shouldn't say we have a "COVID case". What we have is someone who tested positive for COVID. She's still not showing any symptoms, so there's still the possibility of a false positive. My chances of having been exposed are slight, but they exist: Saturday, in the course of coming and going, I passed within a few feet of her and we chatted briefly. And there are other vectors as well: Her daughter plays with my porch neighbours, who I occasionally share food and tools with.

In a sense, I'm, if not glad, a little...reassured? I was concerned that we'd all gotten lax in our habits over the summer--completely understandably, of course. It's hard to maintain vigilance when nothing much happens. It's unnatural to be around others and not interact with them--especially a child, who can't really comprehend illness, let alone something as abstract as a pandemic. This is a wake-up call, and hopefully it came before anyone else got infected.

Like everyone else, I'm just so weary of this regimen. This afternoon, before I got the news, I try to think forward to how I would spend my evening, realised it would be the same way I spend almost every evening, and I had to think of something else before the ennui started pressing down on me. I wish I could just skip ahead to January. The nerve-wracking election season (with prolonged postelection uncertainty and chaos, possibly featuring armed insurrection) would be over, the transition would be underway, and a vaccine would most likely be in sight--three or four months away, perhaps, rather than half a year. As a bonus, I'd skip a number of death anniversaries in the bargain and the disaffection of holidays without family and friends.

But short of a coma, that's not an option allowed anyone. The price of being alive is having to live every day. I know I'll get through it--and that there will be little rewards and joys along the way---but I just don't care to, that's all.

Fall reading 2020

With exquisite timing, the weather turned just after Labour Day. It had threatened to do so earlier--in fact, I'd turned off the AC Sunday in anticipation of not needing it again until next year and was forced to relent that very afternoon. But it's been consistently under 20°C since yesterday evening and that's where it will stay for at least a couple days. We'll probably get some glorious fall weather pretty soon, but right now it is grey and rainy and I'm loving it.

This is what I've been waiting for for weeks, where it actually feels like a reward to stay in and not a punishment. I'm wearing flannel pyjama pants and drinking tea and basically indulging in all the Fall Things again. One of those things is reading. My official Spoopy Book for Fall this year is something called White is for witching by Helen Oyeyemi; don't know anything about the book or the author except that I was intrigued to see what a British Nigerian's take take on the classic haunted house in the English countryside novel might be.

So far I'm still wondering. A hundred pages in and it feels like she's not done assembling the pieces for her plot. She's rather thoroughly introduced her main characters--including the house, which actually has dialogue (or rather, monologue, as it addresses the reader directly). Amusingly, she's just introduced a character with a Nigerian given name who seems like a cringeworthy cliché (she cooks for the family and practices juju) but I trust her to have some interesting twist in store.

COVID seems to be affecting my ability to concentrate, given my seeming inability to finish anything. I've already chronicled how Un nos ola leuad took me simply ages, despite being an excellent work, and the same thing is happening with El amor en los tiempos de cólera. I stalled out for a while about the same time as the juvenile romance did but then García Márquez surprised me by shifting the focus to a successful middle-aged marriage, which is much more my style. I've just crested the two-thirds mark and hopefully gathered enough momentum to finish it off before the end of the year.

Its latest competition is something called Sarmada by Syrian author Fadi Azzam. I think I may actually have ordered this because I was intrigued by a novel being told from a Druze viewpoint. Still very early days but I find his prose very readable so far. It will be a joy compared to the novel I just finished, Erhöhte Blauanteil by someone named Bruno Steiger (who's so obscure this novel wasn't even in Goodreads until I added it). A mere 126 pages, it nonetheless took me weeks to finish because there's no plot to speak of, just a Mary Sue Swiss-German author of obscure novels going on endlessly about Peter Handke (who I haven't read and don't plan to) and avoiding work. I can't even tell you why I decided to finish it, to be honest. I guess I just kept thinking there had to be something more to it than there was.


One to remember

I've been meaning to do a writeup on how I spent the past weekend since--if my attempts to recall how I spent my birthday last year are any guide--I won't remember otherwise. Everything happened more-or-less as I outlined in my previous post: I lazed around on Saturday and managed to miss every single attempt to call and wish me a happy day but one. I think my family were holding off in order not to interrupt a nap and then from about 4 p.m. until midnight, I was basically continually socialising.

It was a lovely lovely day to be out in JB's back four. We spent a languid couple hours on the deck listening to the wind in the trees and the sounds of our own voices while sipping sparkling wine and eating zesty orange-banana cupcakes. The weather predicted thunderstorms, but apparently the line broke and they went to the south and the north. As the first drops fell, Big Red and I hustled into a car driven by JB's husband, who brought us back to my place, but they never amounted to anything more. To my surprise, I found the whole porch decked out in blue and yellow streamers and suddenly Clint's impatience as I delayed my departure made sense.

I brought out the Missouri cheeses my brother had sent me and the cocktails paid for by a pal and distributed them among the five of us. Dr Balzac's Other Gay Friend came by and we got an appetiser of thin slices of grilled zucchini and salty ham rolled into roulades accompanied by leipäjuusto. For the main course, our chef had pureed the avocados he'd asked me for the day before and frozen them into squares, which he plated and covered with succotash before laying perfectly cooked fillets of crispy-fried sockeye salmon (which I'd also given him) on top. The succotash was what really impressed me: I was like, "You peeled favas for me?" "Don't expect us to do it again!" shot back Dr Balzac.

I bummed bourbon off of them to make cocktails with the Amaro Sfumato Rabarbaro for me and Big Red. He was one of the last to leave, well after Clint had gone to bed, leaving just me, Dr B, and the OGF. I'd preempted a contentious political discussion by beginning a game of Categories shortly before my sister called and I picked up just as she and her kids were leaving a raucous rendition of Happy Birthday on my answering machine. Then came the OGF's stunning fresh fruit tart, which I insisted on Instagramming.

The odd thing to me in retrospect is how a few small tweaks--inviting a new person, going somewhere else for a bit--made the whole experience feel fresh. I've been hanging out with these folks on that porch on the regular for weeks now, and yet it all felt special. I really couldn't have asked for anything more than that.

This one doesn't count

*glances at calendar* Oh, I guess I'm due for my annual whiny post about my upcoming birthday?

It's not going to be what I hoped, of course. I really wanted to go all-out for my 50th. I wasn't sure exactly how, but I did consider a destination celebration. Even after the lockdown started, I didn't give up on the notion of an exorbitant restaurant meal. After all, Alinea was doing takeout!

But that was before a quarter of our workforce was furloughed, resulting in the permanent loss of many employees, including my two direct reports. We just learned that, even though the Library has worked out a way to bring back all but two of the remaining furloughs, they're going to face an uphill battle making their case to the University. Moreover, the Administrations jst warned that more cuts might be coming (because, after all, NOTHING HAS FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGED despite all the magical thinking I'm seeing around me). So even if my job were secure (which it isn't at this point), it would feel deeply irresponsible to be dropping hundreds on any kind of self-indulgence.

I keep telling everyone our COVID birthdays don't count and we'll get do-overs. I really hope that's true. So far I haven't lost any close friends in the pandemic, just friends and relatives of friends, which is plenty bad already. I feel like I'm living in a charmed field of unreality and it's got to give way at some point. (And if the past year has been any guide, the hit is quite likely to come out of an unexpected quarter.)

So I'll be taking some modest risks: JB is having me Big Red over for cupcakes in his big breezy yard and then afterwards we'll come back here and drink the cocktails friends gifted me with with <lj user=clintswan> on the back porch while our neighbours cook up some of the fish I got from another more mysterious benefactor. For once, I'll finally be home when my family calls! And I will count my blessings--which are still multitudinous--and try not to dwell on all the absences. After all, those are only going to get worse with time.

The Ballad of Chest Rockwell

When I first met Chest Rockwell (I believe the year was 1995 or 1996), we had both just recently joined the Great Lakes Bears. I'd only recently learned they existe and he'd only recently relocated here from the Northeast. The organisation had been growing explosively and their annual event, Bear Pride, was starting to become the tail that wagged the dog. The officers realised that the bylaws--written for a smaller and looser organisation--had become outdated and asked for volunteers to form a committee to revise them.

I joined because I thought it would be a good way to meet folks. I imagine he thought the same thing. I don't recall who else was on it except that ubiquitous Bob Singer, who I recall functioning as committee chair (whether officially or otherwise). We met maybe a half-dozen times at Reza's in the evenings to hash out the document, which was approved with minimal discussion.

I liked Chest from the start. He was only a year or two younger than me and already seemed more confident. We had a lot of interests in common, not least among them daddy bears. Chasers were a small contingent in those days and it felt like most of the members were bears-seeking-bears, so it felt good to have an ally. I suppose we could've seen each other as competition instead, but that was so contrary to the Bear ethos that it never occurred to us. Those were the heydays of GLB and Bear Pride and we soon became "Bauchbrüder". He became someone I would seek out at every gathering. We developed a greeting ritual consisting of running at each other dramatically and falling into furious feigned snogging. We traded intelligence about the Bears we had had or wanted to have or who we wished wanted to have us.

And this was how I came to glimpse the first hints of the bitterness that would later consume him. I remember the disastrous Bear Pride of '99, the first of three at the Mistake on the Lake. Monshu had just broken up with his boyfriend--three short months after dumping me to reconcile with him--and I was furious. I went to the Welcome Party, only to find his ex there, so I sought out Chest. But he was equally upset, ranting about being ignored by the older daddies whose attentions we were unsuccessfully angling for, who he venomously called "paedophiles". (Like me, he was rapidly closing in on 30.)

Shortly after that, our paths began to diverge. Monshu and I got back together and decided to close our relationship. His ex requested that I keep my distance from the Great Lakes Bears--never mind that I'd joined it years earlier, I had Monshu now, so what did I need it for? I didn't need the aggro (and I did have Monshu), so I stayed away. (There were also rumours that Chest's boyfriend had spread gossip about me, hoping to break them up so he could sleep with Monshu's ex, but I never knew whether or not to give those any credence.) The death of a popular president of the organisation robbed it off some of its soul and Bear Pride crested, its attendance dropping annually until it ceasing to exist entirely a few years back. Chest had a partner and they moved out of Rogers Park to a cheaper apartment that no one wanted to go visit.

A few years later, LiveJournal became a new haven for Bears. I'd joined it in ordered to see locked posts from a RPG pal but soon stumbled across acquaintances from the GLB and began reconstructing something of my social circle online. Chest was soon part of it and began sharing his work woes with us. He'd graduated from law school with crushing debt and the need to pay it down in order to keep from losing his licence led him to work for some dodgy firms. I began to see much less of his carefree side and more of unease and resentment.

This reached an apotheosis on a disastrous trip to the southwest. Their car broke down in the desert and he went to LJ to beg for help, but none was forthcoming. In response, he soured not just on his acquaintances in the vicinity but all of beardom. It became an event that he regularly referred back to during his frequent rants about the lack of community in our community.

Our friendship didn't survive the transition to Facebook. He posted screeds, I attempted to engage, he got annoyed and eventually unfriended and then blocked me. I didn't take it personally because he wasn't the only one and he was still cordial on the very rare occasions when we still saw each other. At HiBearNation, we even greeted each other in our old flamboyant style. But when I ran into him this spring at C2E2, just before the pandemic nuked all social intercourse in Chicago, he was distant, chatting briefly for form's sake but not intending to rekindle anything. I, buddied with an exciting new friend, shrugged it off and moved on.

So he was just about the last person I expected to hear about this past Saturday when I went over to friends' apartment for a socially-distant chat. He'd come to their attention in just about the worse way possible: by retweeting white supremacists. I wish I could say I felt more shocked, but it seemed like a logical endpoint for his trajectory. He'd always felt entitled to more professional success than he achieved, so there must be some explanation for his failure to achieve it that put the blame on others.

I feel sorry for his remaining friends. Reportedly, some were sticking with him and trying to talk him back off the ledge. (My friends didn't stick around to see how this turned out and don't hold out much hope; one didn't seem to think he was long for this world.) I wonder if what pushed him there was more bad news at home, since his husband's health problems were another frequent theme in his litany of complaints. It's a sad ending to a relationship I once really treasured, but some things just can't be helped.



I suppose I was overdue for a COVID-19 scare. A couple months ago, I felt a bit overheated and broke out the thermometer, but my temperature was actually below average. Since then the weather has warmed up and my allergies have blossomed but without becoming acute enough to require medication.

I've also been exposing myself a bit more than I was before. It started the weekend before Father's Day with the barbecue. I was a little antsy for the next two weeks but showed no symptoms and relaxed a bit. Then <lj user=clintswan> arrived last Thursday to live with me, which was fine, except he brought along a friend I didn't know, which made me a bit nervous. Sure, he'd been isolating himself in rural Washington, but then he did just complete a cross-country trip through several hotspots. I was particularly dismayed after I learned from his Facebook that he'd made a sidetrip on the way to visit his relatives and the pictures he posted didn't seem to indicate much social distancing.

I'd hope to have the upstairs bathroom fully function so we wouldn't have to share facilities but didn't manage it. Despite being a sizable apartment, it's a pretty cozy arrangement. I did my best to maintain some separation without being too obvious about it, but it's so hard to navigate being a good host in the age of Coronavirus. Am I supposed to use tongs to hand someone a glass of water or Chlorox every doorknob every time? No, I just washed my hands a lot and tried not to fret.

He left on Monday and my new roomie and I started to negotiate a routine. He's been having more trouble sleeping than me, so when I woke up suddenly from a weird erotic dream around 3:30 a.m. last night, I figured I could count on him being awake, too. My heart was pounding and refused to slow down. My stomach was upset, but I figured that was due to to snacking too much during trivia. However, when I got up to pee, I noticed dizziness, aches, and fatigue. As I crawled back into bed, I thought, "Well, here we are. You'd better get your affairs in order."

I did my best to remain calm and went upstairs for the thermometer. The reading was normal (still a bit below 98°F). I thought about how, the first time I became seriously dehydrated, I mistook the symptoms for a summer flu. So I drank some water before heading back downstairs. But I still texted <lj user=clintswan> and asked him to bring me his pulse oximeter.

He showed up almost immediately with his comforting voice and reassuring presence. My reading was completely healthy: 98%. I thanked him and went upstairs for more water. It took me more than an hour to fall back to sleep, but when I did, I stayed out until nearly 9:30. I wasn't feeling 100% but my symptoms were no longer out of line with what I'd expect from mild summer allergies, disturbed sleep, and too many chips before bedtime.

While it wasn't a pleasant experience at all, the overall effect was to calm my nerves somewhat. Whatever I have to deal with in the coming months, I won't be going through it alone. That is a huge, huge deal.


A chance to breathe

Today on a Zoom call with several colleagues, one of them referred to the situation as "post-pandemic" and I quickly jumped it to remind him that we are still "mid-pandemic" and that meeting face-to-face was simply not in the cards for the foreseeable.

Maybe someone should have reminded me of this yesterday before I went out to the parking pad to day drink with the neighbours. I did my best to keep my distance, but I doubt that's very effective when everyone is serving themselves from the same vessels. We had wipes and sanitiser (including the coveted Malört variant) and used them liberally, but at some point is occurred to me that dishes on the central table were collecting everyone's airborne droplets anyway. One of the organisers kept touting the fact that all of the households present had been self-isolating since the start of the pandemic and was entirely asymptomatic. And though that's reassuring, it's far from a guarantee.

So it was a calculated risk, an attempt to balance self-preservation with everyone's natural need for some human contact. Two of us, if we hadn't've been there, would've likely attended the Drag Queen March for Black Lives Matter in Boystown. That also would've been a calculated risk, slightly increasing the risk of transmission (the demos here have been quite good about enforcing distance and mask use) in the name of promoting social justice.

There was a social justice aspect to our get-together, too. The idea was proposed by Big Mike, who lives across the alley, and was originally supposed to include a book exchange. The book he brought was titled Black rage, so that gives some idea of his perspective. The death of George Floyd affected him very personally. A couple weeks ago, he was hollering off his balcony in the middle of the night until the cops came. I slept through it; one of my immediate neighbours went out to keep and eye on the situation. When he called out to ask how Big Mike was doing, he replied, "I'M HURTING, MAN!"

So it really felt like an invitation I couldn't refuse, even if, in the end, it was more about creating a sense of normalcy and community than getting into root causes and remedies. Not to minimise the importance of either: I think of what might've happened to Big Mike the other night if he hadn't built the kind of relationships that bring your neighbours out at 4 a.m. to check on you and it chills me.


Something to fill this space

I've been thinking all week about posting an entry here, which is to say I've been spending all week avoiding posting an entry here. There's a lot I want to talk about but the days go by so quickly and leave me with so little energy. Plus the background anxiety is manifesting as insomnia

Usually it's not too bad: Wake up at 4 a.m., take an hour to fall back asleep. But last night was awful. I woke up thinking it was 4 a.m. only to discover it was 2:20. Then I made the fatal mistake of checking FB, which was flooded with images of Minneapolis. It took me another hour of doing chores, reading, and stroking the cat to fall asleep again after that. I had disturbing dreams, woke up every hour, and finally crawled out of bed just before 11 a.m. feeling like I hadn't really slept at all.

I'd been planning a morning shopping trip--which probably fueled my anxiety--but that wasn't happening. I stumbled through half a day of work, did a little bit of gardening with the neighbours, who cooked me a hot dog. They're really helping me hold it together.