Saturday, 15 December 2007

Gone to the dogs

I am not a great lover of animals. My Dad loved dogs, and my Mum hated cats, and I am somewhere in the middle.

I’ve had two cats and one dog. They were OK as pets go, but I never lavished them with attention. My brother Martyn and his wife Wendy had a retired Greyhound names “Misty”, and I grew very fond of her. But, then again, she did not live in my home!

Glen Oaks Ridge, where I live, is a 55+ community. This means that there are no children or young people in the neighbourhood, but there are a ton of dogs. And it is my duty to fawn over them.

Betty live across the street. She owns a Chihuahua named “Dauncey”. He is a barker. He does not care for people. When I walk at 6:00 a.m. and Betty is out, her “shushing” of Dauncey is noisier that the dog’s bark. I’ve bribed him with “doggie treats” so he no longer barks at me. But I am no more than a food supply. He will never like me (Ior anyone).

“Little Betty” lives around the corner. Her miserable pooch died, so she has just adopted an abounded mutt named “Cocoa”. She takes him for long walks which he loves, but he ignores all human beings. We are irrelevant to his nose.

Sarita owns “Gizmo”, a Belgian Griffon. He is the ugliest dog you could hope to see. Gizmo hated and despised me, and he showed this by completely ignoring me. How rude!

Then Gizmo changed his mind, and I became his hero. He rushes to me, and puts his head down so that I will tickle him behind his ears. He is so ugly, but I like the fact that he likes me!

“GiGi”is a little poodle with the softest coat. She is the shy and retiring one, and always defers to the other neighbourhood dogs. Her owner is “Miky” - one of the kindest women you could hope to meet. GiGi loves to see me, but only because I like his “mother”.

The “big dog on the campus” is “Kelsey”, a nice looking Westie. He is not big in size, but in prestige, and he knows it. His owner Barbara knows this. Kelsey is the dog to whom other dogs, (and human beings) defer.

Kelsey is crazy about my neighbour Ed. Bellon. This dog will sprint towards Ed, greeting him with a doggy song.

We were on the verge on a “neighbourhood incident” last week when Kelsey scooted past Ed. and came straight to me. But then Kelsey came to grips with his mistake, and retreated to greet Ed.

As I said, I am not crazy about pets. But I am sure pleased that these dogs like me!

Friday, 14 December 2007

My religious journey (6)

So there I was, aged 21, working as a low level civil servant, with no plans for the future.
But I had learned to drink and to smoke. And I had left one Plymouth Brethren Assembly for another. Now I was “in fellowship” at Abingdon Road Gospel Hall. It was perceived to be slightly more progressive, but the perception and the reality were far apart.

After a year I applied for a job at the Westminster Bank. They’d turned me down when I had returned after the Eric Hutchins debacle, but “if at first you don’t succeed….”

A Mr. Hooper interviewed me. His opening words were not promising “Well Mr. Povey”, he said, “you are very persistent”. But I knew the game and pledged my life long fealty to the great and glorious Westminster Bank. “Never again”, I declared, “would I leave them”.

(Luckily for me the Westminster Bank merged with the National Provincial Bank a few years later, so my vow was null and void. I never left the Westminster Bank, but later I did leave the new “National Westminster Bank”!)

I was assigned to Knowle, Bristol branch as a cashier (teller) , and worked for an enlightened and fair Manager, Peter Long. It was retail banking at its best. I enjoyed the interaction with customers - Mrs. Fitzgerald who owned an unprofitable sweet shop, her son-in-law John who was a barber, (a married man who “came on to me” once when he was cutting my hair); and the owners of the old Gaiety Cinema in Knowle - long since gone. I joined the branch five-a-side soccer team, not cos I could play soccer, but because one of the team members, Desmond, was very attractive. I chose to continue with “Michael” rather than “John” as there were already two “Johns” in the office - and because I was liking my second name.

The Bank advanced me a loan and I purchased my first car, a little Ford Estate Car. For about a year I would first drive my sister Maureen to her job at the Metal Agencies Company (M.A.C.) in Ashton, and then wend my way through south Bristol to Knowle.

And I was “rehabilitated” as a member of the Plymouth Brethren, and became a “leading young brother” at the Gospel Hall. Here I made good friends with Phil and Hilary; Colin and Lorraine, and another Phil with his wife Bennie. We’d gather for “fellowship” at Colin and Lorraine’s home in Clay Bottom every Sunday; drink tea or coffee, tell dirty jokes and become quite boisterous.

But Mr. Holy Povey insisted on ending every evening with a scripture reading and prayer (to cancel out the dirty jokes?), and the other six soon got to call him “the Pastor”.

But in the midst of a job which I enjoyed, the good friends I’ve mentioned, and my super religiosity, the “big question” would not go away. “Why did I lust for men?”

I hooked up with the Gospel Quartette again for a few gigs. One took us to the south Devonshire coast for a youth conference. Another “pinch-hitter” in the Quartette for that weekend was a gorgeous guy named Brian. We roomed together.

But this conference was different. The Charismatic Movement (speaking in tongues, healing, prophecies etc) was bringing Pentecostal worship to main line Churches. And this conference was Charismatic indeed. We were urged to another act of surrender to Christ in which we would be baptised in the Holy Spirit - evidenced by speaking in tongues.

I resisted. But on the last night Brian and I knelt to pray in our room. It was a heady time. And he and I, spontaneously, and without the “laying on of hands” began to speak in tongues.

We wept and laughed and wondered. We basked in this time of spiritual intimacy. And I began to recognise the powerful link between spiritual and physical intimacy.

Fear or wisdom kept me back, and we went to our separate beds. But the gift of tongues did not take away my longings.

Back in Bristol the Peeb elders were mad at me. They called me to account in a formal meeting. Their theology dictated that I could not possibly be speaking in tongues since those “gifts of the Spirit” had been “withdrawn by God when the canon of Scripture was completed” .

But I knew that “something” had happened. I was praying with strange sounding words which I did not understand, but which allowed me to feel close to God.

So my experience and Peeb theology did not mesh at two levels. I was gay, which was to them an abomination. I spoke in tongues, which to them was spurious and false.

I had to quit religion or find a new Church. I was on the road to Canterbury in more ways than one.

….. To be continued……..

It's a great time of year.....

Is that time of year when we who live in South West Florida vest ourselves with a self satisfied smile, and say “this is why I moved to Florida”.

In short, the weather is gorgeous. It was in the 80’s yesterday, without a trace of humidity. In Pittsfield, MA where I once served it was in the 20’s, and in Bristol, U.K., where I grew up, it was in the 40’s.

I am writing at 5:00 a.m. and the outdoor temperature is 72. That’s good for me, and especially good for my homeless friends who sleep in the woods.

Just outside my back window is a lovely orchid tree. Its branches, swathed in purple flowers attract monarch butterflies. There’ll be more next year as the “butterfly friendly” plants I put in a few months ago begin to settle in and blossom.

The old vine at the front of my home was long since past its best, so I dug it out and replaced it with three hibiscus bushes, each with a different coloured flower. They are in bloom, as are the chrysanthemums and geraniums in the little garden area alongside the car port. So too are some irises which have big leaves, long stems and oh so tiny yellow flowers.

It’s a great time of year to be in South West Florida.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Another day in Sarasota

He was microwaving some sandwiches in my local convenience store. I reached over to pour a coffee. He flashed me a gorgeous smile, thinking that he was in my way.

I assured him that this was not the case, and moved away to add some cream. I went back to him and said “We do not all hate you, you know”. He was puzzled. “Immigrants” I said. “We are not all bad” he replied. “I know that”, was my reply. He smiled again and we shook hands. (I am an immigrant too!).

“Fred” was in jail for 34 years for murdering a prison guard. He is cagey. He utters possible threats - “I’ll not be pushed around”. He was talking to C, one of our Resurrection House Volunteers. She was nervous. Me too, but I rescued her by calling him to his shower at Resurrection House. We do not want to offend him.

“Tim” asked me to take care of his belongings. He is an affable Irishman. I told him that I could not be responsible if they were stolen, but he took the chance. His belongings were in well cared for suitcases.

An hour later “Tim’s” girlfriend returned. He had been arrested for an open bottle violation (drinking beer in public) and the police had discovered his outstanding warrants. No saint, he was in the clink on $15,000 bail. She asked “will you take care of his belongings?” Another volunteer named Mike and I agreed to break the Res House rules and store them in the back room.

Who knows if they will be there when he is released from jail?

“Flo” was in my face when first I met her at Res House. She was suspicious to the limit. She is short, wears a cap all the time, and has a boyfriend. She is in her mid-forties.

One day I risked a joke with “Flo”. That was all she needed. The barriers fell.

Today she came over to chat. It all came out. She’d just left a psych. unit in SRQ.

She’d been there cos she was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

She had buried her pain in booze, but wanted to get better.

Better from what?

Better from the molestation from her father when she was eight. Better from the rape by her grandfather when she was ten

The whole story came out to me in tears. I listened.

Then I moved around from my counter, and hugged her. It was a long, safe, very safe hug.

She relaxed, cried, and said “thanks, I needed that” She needed a safe hug from a man who was old enough to be her father.

I came out of “Whole Foods Market” this afternoon and wandered to my car. Then I saw “Carlos” who’d been at Res House earlier in the day - his first visit.

I hailed him and he smiled. Maybe his first smile of the day. He remembered that I was “Pastor Michael”

“I am down to my last cigarette" he said, “could you give me one?”

I reached into my shirt pocket and gave him a pack with five or six cigarettes in it. “Take this”, I said, “I have more at home“.

He smiled again, and said “thank you Padre Miguel”.

The sacrament of nicotine?

Another day in Sarasota.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

A bit naughty! Things to say when stressed

Things to say when stressed (stolen from the Web)

1. "Okay, okay! I take it back. Unf--k you!!!"

2. "You say I'm a bitch like it's a bad thing?!"

3. "How many times do I have to flush before you go away?"

4. "Well this day was a total waste of make-up"

5. "Well aren't we a bloody ray of sunshine?"

6. "Don't bother me, I'm living happily ever after."

7. "Do I look like a f--king people person!"

8. "This isn't an office. It's HELL with fluorescent lighting"

9. "I started out with nothing still have most of it left"

10. "I pretend to work, they pretend to pay me"

11. "YOU!!... off my planet!!!"

12. "Therapy is expensive. Popping bubble plastic is cheap. You choose"

13. "Practice random acts of intelligence and senseless acts of self-control"

14. "Errors have been made. Others will be blamed"

15. "And your cry-baby, whiny-assed opinion would be.....?"

16. "I'm not crazy. I've been in a very bad mood for 30 years."

17. "Sarcasm is just one more service I offer."

18. "Whatever kind of look you were going for, you missed"

19. "Do they ever shut up on your planet?"

20. "I'm not your type. I'm not inflatable"

21. "Stress is when you wake up screaming and you realize you haven't gone to sleep yet"

22. "Back off!! You're standing in my aura."

23. "Don't worry. I forgot your name too."

24. "I just want revenge. Is that so wrong?"

25. "I work 45 hours a week to be this poor."

26. "Nice perfume. Must you marinate in it."

27. "Not all men are annoying. Some are dead."

28. "Wait...I'm trying to imagine you with a personality"

29. "Chaos, panic and disorder . . . my work here is done."

30. "Ambivalent? Well yes and no."

31. "You look like shit. Is that the style now?"

32. "Earth is full. Go home."

33. "Aw, did I step on your poor little bitty ego?"

34. "I'm not tense, just terribly, terribly alert."

35. "A hard-on doesn't count as personal growth."

36. "You are depriving some village of an idiot."

37. "If assholes could fly, this place would be an airport"

Monday, 10 December 2007

Friendship is good

My good friend Betsy Pusey of Pittsfield was here for the long weekend between Thursday last and today (Dec 10th).

We had a blast and a ball!

Betsy arrived on Thursday evening and we prattled and enjoyed beverages until about mid-night.

Friday morning saw us prattling again over coffee and toast until we hoved off to my bowling group. There I bowled (dismally); Betsy visited with the folks she had met last year; and one and all nibbled on chicken wings and pizza provided by Marie to celebrate Ann’s birthday.

After bowling Betsy joined the others at “Findaddys” (bar) for libations, whilst I rested and farted around at home.

At about 8:00 I broiled the most delicious T Bone steak, which we shared, with no veggies, potatoes or salad. Just steak!

On Saturday Bets and I went down to Sarasota’s North Lido Beach and swam in the 70 F water - my first time in the Gulf of Mexico since I moved here. Wonderful!

In the evening I hosted a party for two birthdays - for Betsy and for my friend Bob. 10 of us enjoyed slices from a spiral ham, baked beans, and cold pasta salad. And we laughed, joked and got silly all evening. Betsy had been here last year for her birthday, so we decided that this was her second annual birthday bash in Sarasota.

Emboldened by my swim on Saturday I took Betsy to the very wonderful Fort DeSoto County Park in Pinellas County, about 75 minutes drive from here. What a treat. This approx. 1000 acre county park is an unspoiled gem, with wonderful bird life and fabulous beaches. Again we swam in the Gulf. Yes we swam on December 9th!

Back home we had more steak, this time with pasta and baked beans, and then went to the Christmas concert of the Gay Men’s Chorus. Bruce Wirtz sang in this group, and the concert was dedicated to his memory.

I took Bets back to Tampa Airport today, and we parted - each glowing, but with tears in our eyes after a most wonderful weekend.