Thursday, September 18, 2003

Meet Me At Penn Station: My Unexpected Afternoon in New York

Jack Parsons, at Toronto Pride, 2003 :: Wednesday night I was supposed to be doing laundry and getting ready to visit my friend Jack, in Asheville, NC, but as usual I was having many qualms about going on a trip. I first met Jack at the Kirkridge gay christian men's spiritual retreat in Pennsylvania in January, 2003. He came up to Toronto for a visit in February, and again for June Pride, and had invited me down to his home in late March. With the Iraq-US war hostilities in full flight at the time, we delayed the visit till now.

Hurricane Isabel was about to cut a swath right across my flight path (Toronto-Newark, Newark-Asheville, NC) but I did get on the flight early this morning. The adventure began as I was packing at 6:30 am for a 6:45 exit from Maitland St. Checking the web, my reservation could not be located. In their wisdom, Continental Airlines had done a re-org in May and, according to the nice woman at the 1-800 number, they had "sent an e-mail" last spring; my flight was now at 9:30 am and the stop-over in Newark would be eight hours instead of 53 minutes. Welcome to the new realities of today's improved airline industry.

I managed to get to Toronto's Pearson International airport and be checked in by 8:30 am. The arrival in Newark shortly after 11 am was uneventful except that all available staff were busy closing the airport; many people were sent home early to avoid Isabel, "just in case"; Laguardia was already closed. In the end, Newark remained open with a skeletal staff, and, appropriately I suppose, it resembled a wind-swept ghost town (not unlike Pearson since SARS); I expected to see, but didn't, a tumbleweed or two drifting by in front of me as I strolled around deciding what to do next. After some inquiries (thank you, Jeff Weber, of Terminal C's Group Reception Lounge), I determined it was a relatively safe option to spend the day in New York City, assuming the rail line was not shut down later as well. My back-up plan was to stay with a friend in New Jersey who happens to work for Continental (at Newark, in fact) but he was in Houston for the day and would not be returning till nearly midnight, if at all that day.

For $23.10, I bought a round-trip train ticket from the airport to Penn Station at 8th and 33rd (underneath Madison Square Gardens); I also got $16 as change in US dollar coins from the ticket machine. I thought we were the only ones with loonies. Go figure; it may have been an omen. Fortunately, my calling card worked and, after a long distance consultation with DJ, my Toronto roommate, a strategy for the next few hours was worked out.

It's not exactly Michelangelo, is it? Amazingly, I have never been to New York and as this opportunity came up suddenly, I was not prepared, and in any case had no spare money, and was concerned about being back at the Newark Airport by no later than 6 pm. So I did what any self-respecting homo would do -- I asked nice people passing by on the busy New York sidewalks how to get to Christopher Street. As one lad shoved a pretty green Gideon New Testament bible into my hand ("It's free! God protect you, brother! Head that way, three blocks south of 7th and 14th, you can't miss it!"), I knew someone was watching (over) me.

A view of the very park bench I was chatted up on at Christopher Park in Greenwich Village :: I figured that if I saw nothing else in New York this day, I ought to check out Stonewall Place and, thanks to the guidance of the green bibled street man of God, it wasn't long before I was standing in front of this historic spot. 51-53 Christopher St is where the famous Stonewall riots (more resistance and hissy fit according to contemporary accounts) took place outside the Stonewall Inn. In late June, 1969, the police chose the wrong night to harass the local queers. We were in mourning over the death of Judy Garland, eternal keeper of the flame of Oz, and this raid was one too many. Thirty-four years later, there is a lovely plaque and sculpture garden located in a parkette just opposite. (Christopher St is only two blocks long and this stretch has been renamed Stonewall Place in honour of the event. The also famous Oscar Wilde Bookshop is just down the road and a quick trip there was equally spiritually uplifting.)

(Younger readers may not know that marking these riots, which in fact occurred over more than one night, is why we celebrate Gay Pride Weekend at the end of June every year instead of more practical times like college reading week.)

As I bowed my head in silence, conjuring up in my mind's eye what must have taken place right here and trying to calm the voices in my head, I realised there actually was someone talking to me: he appeared, by his dishevelled garments, and noticeably toxic odour, not to mention blood shot eyes and sudden jerky nods of his head, to be a slightly-elevated-state-of-mind street person. Before I knew it, we'd been formally introduced to one another. Gerry was about medium height, probably about 30, curly hair, and, after a bath (or possibly two), likely quite attractive.

In any case, he soon forgot that his original interest in me was in obtaining 37 cents -- a sum to be used for nefarious purposes, no doubt -- and for the next 20 minutes or so we were engaged in a lively discussion about art, travel, politics, the New York City parks department and its logo which looks suspiciously like a rip-off of Air Canada's, life in Toronto and Weyburn, and stern advice that I refrain from "too much" alcohol.

Sheridan's Statue, the one in Christopher Park in Greenwich Village I also had the pleasure of meeting some of his friends. These included a 30s-something str8 couple visiting from Connecticut (who seemed much less interested in random conversation and fled quickly); another chap in Gerry's vaguely alarming condition (I am speculating here); the four white statues which make up George Segal's "Gay Liberation" monument (there is more at Greenwich Village online tour); and an older stone one of Civil War General Philip Sheridan who, for reasons not entirely obvious, resides in this 1837-built parkette and not around the corner in Sheridan Square.

As the conversation waned, I recalled Teddy was in my Maxell bag, which by now I was clutching with a probably noticable hint of trepidation, and I wondered how to gracefully end this encounter. As I was considering various diplomatic Canadian-style options, events began to move quickly. Gerry frowned suddenly and, with a fiery, intense look in his eye, growled "make a wish" as he reached forward, his fingers now millimeters from my trembling Adam's Apple. "Your medallion is turned around, Alexander" he sighed and proceeded to adjust my necklace with touching tenderness. Nonetheless, I decided my nod to history had come to an end. I bid the collected characters, living and dead, adieu and sauntered back across town wondering where the possibly safer and also modestly historic Carnegie Hall might be located.

Lisa calling for an emergency fur coat delivery from Saxs :: Manhattan, it turns out, is a big place. I later discovered the famous musical mecca was a scant 30 or 40 blocks away. I opted to stroll along a section of Fifth Avenue not too far from the neighbourhood of Penn Station. In spite of Eva Gabor's Green Acre's optimism, this end of the strip is not entirely my idea of high class -- certainly much more sex is in evidence than Saxs. I returned to Penn Station around 4:15 and, in checking with the attendant in the Continental booth which happens to be in the station, discovered my flight had indeed not been cancelled and, after downing a not-so-cheap (but well-earned) Happy Hour draught beer, I has onboard New Jersey's North East Corridor train headed back to Newark.

(Update: I also read that two lesbians were involved in a stabbing a couple of days after my New York adventure -- at the same Stonewall Inn I had stood in front of admiringly -- so my Thursday timing, Isabel notwithstanding, turned out to have been propitious. Of course, the altercation took place in a woman's washroom so it's not likely I would have been there, but these days, given the signage in gay washrooms, it's not entirely unthinkable.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

What's in a Name?: Don't ask! Please tell!

Alain? Paco? Carlos? Taken?!? :: I was minding my own business, as I occasionally do on the web, when I decided, in a moment of utmost humility, to see what might pop up if I googled "alexander.inglis". Quite a lot, as it turns out, not least of which is, well, me. (Interestingly enough, if that's all you enter and click "I'm feeling lucky" ... you still end up at my home page.) There were a number of entries concerning genealogy (another major interest of mine) and some links to the Inglis of Aberdeen, Scotland -- where my own family's ancestors came from, arriving in Toronto in the mid-1800s. So imagine my shock when, on page 14, I came across:
"Pete's hand found the older man's shoulder; the touch sent a shudder of electric energy down his spine" (Alexander Inglis)
It turns out the extraordinarily attractive young man pictured above recently wrote an essay, Sexual Energies From Head to Toe, in which he quotes directly from a section of an erotic story I wrote in May, 2000, Tasting Heaven. (I will pause, now, for the voyeurs among you -- that's pretty well everyone, right? -- to check out that last link.) From the phrase-for-today ... who knew? This adorable hunklet devotes his essay to discovering the erotic zones of the human form; by the time he reaches the shoulders, "Waking Dream" decides to quote from my only outing as an author of erotic fiction.

Two young men ready for each other :: Which reminds how much I rather like the male form, and especially two men together in something that resembles romance with the anticipatory promise of some future physical interaction ... oh, heck, LUST! I know that on the basis of what I have seen (he's sexy), read (I am soooooo turned on by words) and fantasized about (his bio is elusive at best), 31 year old Waking Dream is very well named. The downside is his b/f's name is Bryan. *sigh* The good ones are all "married"!!!! *cries*

More about Waking Dream:
Names: Alain (my French name in French class, given by the teacher); Paco (my Spanish name in Spanish class as well as a nickname given by my paternal grandfather, a pet form of "Francisco"); Carlos (my Spanish name in another Spanish class, given by a Peruvian Baptist minister); Plenty Crow (my chosen Native American name in Indian Guides); ??? (a name I cannot remember, but I knew it to be my true name, spoken by an 8-foot tall dark skinned Shaman who appeared to me in a dream to answer any question I had.); Prabhu (my Hare Krishna name, given to me by the devotee who sold me a harmonium, Hindi for "King," "Lord," or "Revered Master"); Abdul (my chosen Muslim name, "Servant of the Praised One"); Dadashee (Persian pet name for "Brother," given by a close friend); Craig (my Gaelic name, meaning "craggy")
Location: nomadic; virtual self lives in cyberspace
Cultural Heritage: In the mid-thirteenth century, in the land of my ancestors, two great spiritual men met for the first time and formed an amazing bond. These men were soul mates, and their love for each other inspired some of the world's greatest poetry. Their story is told in The Illuminated Rumi, an illustrated book that is stunning to behold and to read. I cherish this book.
Interests: masculine beauty, mystical philosophy, hiking, swimming, travel, electronic music
Have I mentioned yet I am single and am ready to be snatched up? I have wonderful friends -- you know who you are -- but who will snatch me up and make me their mate in Toronto? Earth to Waking Dream: your prince, Alexander, awaits!

Same-Sex Marriage in Canada: Parliament Votes

Stephen Harper, Canadian Alliance leader :: It's not everyday that a politican actually admits he's going to tie up the House of Commons for a stunt; but that's what Stephen Harper, plucky leader of the Official Opposition in Ottawa is doing today. Allison Dunfield, reporting for the Globe and Mail, notes Harper "said Tuesday's motion, which has no real weight but is meant to embarrass the Liberal Party, is a chance for the government to 'come clean.'" The Canadian Alliance Leader rose in the House of Commons this morning to introduce the highly anticipated motion, which says that a marriage should be a union between one man and one woman; Parliament will vote around 5:30 pm today.

And a stunt it is. A motion of this sort carries the same weight as a motion asking Israel to be nice to Palestinians. It's a sad commentary on the ongoing devaluation of public debate that "leaders" such as Harper can get away with remarks like: "Changing the traditional definition of marriage to allow homosexual unions would 'endanger actual rights that are enshrined in our tradition'". Harper also neglects to mention that the reason gay marriage has become a reality in Canada is because we have values enshrined in our constitution and in particular in the 1982 "Charter of Rights and Freedoms".

Jean Chretien, Prime Minister of Canada :: The reality, as Prime Minister Jean Chretien has pointed out repeatedly over the course of the summer, is that "Society evolves. It changes over time", even though as recently as 1999 a vote in the House of Commons resoundingly supported the notion of "one man and one woman" for a definition of marriage (Canada having caught a sneeze or two from America's appalling "Defense of Marriage Act" nonsense). The good news is that Parliament is only allowed to pass laws that are, well, legal. The whole point of having a constitution is to ensure that "rogue politicians" don't seize power and enact legislation based on personal whim or bias that is fundamentally against national values. So no matter how hard you try, you can't become elected Prime Minister and pass laws which, to take a topic at random, require Catholic priests to marry same-sex partners: that goes against the Charter's freedom of religion rights. Similarly, you can't enact laws which create discrimination against specific identifiable groups, including homosexuals, because you've decided it requires heterosexuality, or blond hair and blue eyes, to formalise your union in the identical way as everyone else.

The courts have already ruled on this issue in Ontario and British Columbia and have granted same-sex marriage rights to the residents there (actually to visitors, too) with the impact that all provincial government programs must recognize same-sex marriages as equivalent to opposite sex marriages (that's because they are now the same). That already covers 55% of Canadians. A court decision is pending in Quebec which is almost certain to concur, bringing the total to around 75% of the population. The federal Parliament is expected to update its laws in late 2004 but in the meantime even the Justice Minister Martin Cauchon has urged his provincial counterparts to act as if the federal definition has been amended.

It might be possible to enable a constitutional amendment in Canada similar to the US Defense of Marriage Act but it is a virtual no-go strategy. So the worst-case scenario will be that Parliament doesn't act to change the federal law until, eventually, the Supreme Court hears a case forcing it to, and similar provincial legislatures do the same. It's a strategy which is messy and long-winded and accomplishes nothing, but this is the world Stephen Harper wants us to embrace. As I started out saying, he devalues the public debate.

Flash update!

The federal government's plan to legalize gay marriage barely passed a critical first test today as MPs narrowly voted down a Canadian Alliance motion calling on Parliament to preserve the traditional definition of marriage.

At about 6 pm, the House of Commons voted 137-132 against the Alliance motion to retain marriage as the exclusive domain of heterosexuals.

The narrow victory gives the government the moral clout to go ahead with its plan to redefine marriage, but it also highlights the deep divisions in the Liberal party and could mean a rocky ride for the government's plan.

Wayne Steinman and Sal Iacullo on their wedding day at Toronto City Hall, 2003 :: On a related note, I had the pleasure of attending the marriage of Wayne Steinman and Sal Iacullo, at Toronto, at noon on 27 August. They had come up from New York City, with their teenage daughter Hope, to take advantage of the low exchange rate and the new court rulings allowing for same-sex marriages; Rev. G. Malcolm Sinclair of the Metropolitan United Church of Canada did the honours in the Wedding Chapel on the third floor at City Hall on Queen Street. My roommate DJ knew them from an online list and he was asked to be the second official witness (Hope was the first signatory).

Terry and Sandy, Newly Weds in Sudbury, Ontario Waiting in the waiting room was another happy male-male couple; they tied the knot at 12:30 at the same venue. And, who knew? At 2 pm, in the same venue, pop singer Janis Ian and her beau (?) Patricia Snyder also made their relationship a matter of equal legality in Ontario -- though not in their homeland (security issues?). Just a few days earlier, in Victoria, BC, my online friends Alan and Steve flew up from California and got married there. And earlier in the same month, Terry and Sandy (see pic this paragraph), who met online about three years ago and live in Sudbury, Ontario, sent me pics from their recent wedding (including the kilt shot!).

Remind me again ... how does extending marriage to same-sex partners adversely affect opposite-sex marriage partners?

Monday, September 15, 2003

About the Tao Te Ching: Completing the Beginning

A Doorway to the Way of Tao? :: For a few weeks I have been working, on and off -- some days it feels mostly off -- at a project which has sometimes had my toes curling on their own: a personal re-interpretation of Lao-tzu's awesomely inspiring and quietly wise Tao Te Ching. Although written down some 25 centuries ago, it is a marvel of contemporary insight.

One of the first translations from the chinese was made into french in 1823; it's intriguing to speculate if Beethoven might have been exposed to it; he almost certainly would have admired it. John Chalmers created the first known complete english translation in 1868 and famous ones followed by James Legge in 1891 and Aleister Crowley in 1918. Since then, famous and infamous, scholars and poets, ministers and aetheists alike have tackled their own Taos. If you hunt online, you'll find at least 35 current translations/interpolations/re-interpretations, including, soon, one by SensualPoet!

The translation challenges are immense and, in comparing closely about 20 versions of the 35 I have managed to locate, there is little consensus among authors. A glimpse into the gnarliness of it all can be found in the brief article Pathless path, nameless name: Translating Laozi by Imre Galambos. If you'd like to compare just chapter one, several english renderings are conveniently located here.

:: Today I completed part one, Tao, or the Book of the Way. Tao Te Ching means "The Book (or sacred texts) of the Way and Virtue" where "way" is something like all-encompassing Nature and "virtue" is a way of being which attempts to harmonize with Tao. Much of the first book concerns itself with trying to describe the indescribable. Lao-tzu uses about 5000 characters (these are rich chinese characters, each equivalent to a word or a paragraph densely contained within) for the entire 81 chapters; my first 37 already stretch to 4300 words. But then, I am using english. ;-)

I haven't posted my own version -- the ink isn't even dry! -- but I will do so within the next several days (probably after my return from Asheville, NC). As an appetite whetter, here is my Chapter One.

One - The Essence Of Tao

The Tao which is explainable is not the Transcendental Tao.
True Tao is felt, discerned and lived. It is seen as if out of the corner of the eye -- ever there and never there.
Real Tao is nameless because it is beyond words. Attempt to Name the Infinite Tao and its ever-present essence slips away and leaves merely the Name.

The nameless Eternal Tao begins before the beginning, even before Heaven and Earth.
The nameable Finite Tao marks the boundary which contains all things.

Tread the earth lightly, free of fear or longing, and with your Spirit you may come to know the inside of Tao.
Charge into life lustily, dazzling your senses, and by celebrating life with your Body you will feast on the outside of Tao.

Inside and outside; darkness and light; unnameable and named; though seeming opposites they make up a whole; inseparably locked together, they are one: the one is Tao.

Experience reality! Then dare to step beyond into the darkly, vaguely invisible, charcoal on gray path, and you will be, as you ever are, at the gateway to the sensed, not spoken, Darkest Mystery: Tao.

Comments welcome!

Words I Love: A TS Eliot Moment

TS Eliot, Late in LIfe :: TS Eliot's The Waste Land was regarded as one of the best poems in English almost as soon as the ink was dry. The University of Toronto has an outstanding collection of online poetry and commentary; The Waste Land link is above.

While I was showering this morning, getting ready to meet a friend for a cup of coffee at Starbuck's on Church today, suddenly these lines popped into my head:


Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
  A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
  Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

Awesome stuff ... and leading, as it does, to incredible conclusion, "What The Thunder Said" wherein Eliot sings, lullabyes, dances into my soul, and ours presumably, in ways which provoke visceral reactions like shivers, and involuntary reactions like smiles, and spontaneous, and repeatable, "ahhhhs!" as at:
Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
I am smiling, now.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Afternoon Update: People in My World

Julian Aynsley, 2003 :: The biggest news of the day is that my ex-ex, Julian, is in hospital. Saturday evening he was rushed to Barrie's Royal Victoria Hospital in excrutiating pain. It turns out he had a perforated appendix; they operated immediately. Graham, his other half, sent me an e-mail this afternoon. When I finally manged to get through, he was in good spirits but very tired and in some pretty awful pain. Julian is 50; we were living together from 1979-1995 and stay in daily touch by phone or e-mail. I'll post updates as I hear them.

:: Last night, I had the pleasure of running into a sweet (and very bright) young man, Matthew Charlton whom I first met about three years ago at Zelda's, a local funky restaurant in the heart of the Church and Wellesley village. He was working in software design and development back then (at the ripe old age of 20). He's now in engineering at the UofT but that hasn't stopped him from writing music and self-publishing four poetry chapbooks. At 2 am, over a smart martini, he handed over a copy of The Cosmology of Love – musings on love and science. Some good stuff in there, not least the opening piece "Cosmology" and the centre work, "Music". Bravo, Matthew!

Emmerson Swerdfeger, c1918 :: Not that it was exactly today, but I continue to mull over the fate of Emmerson Swerdfeger, my great uncle, whose pic I happened to receive from a second cousin, Donald Shaffer at the University of Northern Colorado who mentioned my ancestor in passing on his website. Emmerson died at the Battle of Amiens, France, on 18 Aug, 1918 just days after his 19th birthday. I have been doing some geneaological research for a couple of years, since looking for, and finding, my biological family. Alexander Swerdfeger? Yup, it could have been ....

For the record, I am: Alexander Inglis (1955- ), son of Gordon Barclay (1931- ), son of Miles Swerdfeger (1896-1972), son of Arthur Swerdfeger (1871-1963), son of Samuel Swerdfeger (1841-1911), son of Michael Swerdfeger (1802-??), son of Frederich Swerdfeger (1765-1849), son of Rev Samuel Swerdfeger (1734-1798). Miles changed the family name to Barclay in 1930. I am adopted; Gordon is my biological dad.

Welcome to Alexander's Blog

Aztec Oroborus :: Ok, so I have been plotting and scheming to create a blog for quite a while but I found the whole thing quite intimidating. And me, an ex-webmaster!

Like a lot of folks, the thrill of blogging became a reality with Salam Pax's Dear Raed posts from Baghdad. Now a celebrity, many of us waited with held breath and fear in our hearts when his posts stopped appearing after the American bombing started. (But he's alive and well and writing for the UK's Guardian. An update appears here.)

Some blogs are online rants (esp. by gen-xers or loopy politicos), and some are just peeks, diary-like, into some more-or-less ordinary bloke's life which suddenly becomes exciting because this is all, so -- well -- naughtily clandestine.

I am hoping to offer you a glimpse into this sod's boring life, plus some works in progress. (I'll try not to retell my story too many times ....)

Ciao for now

All sounds, images and words Copyright © 2000-2003 Alexander Inglis. All world rights reserved.
I can't believe you are still reading this. Typos on this site are strictly for artistic purposes.
Green eyes make me wet. Well, except for the cat's. Did I mention that I am single? Gay?
Cute-as-a-button? Looking for some nice writing gigs? Call me! Better yet, e-mail me. Yah!
For reproduction and all other inquires please e-mail Alexander Inglis.