Day 22 – Eat a Hot Dog, Reflect on Life

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At 11:30pm I started a late night bar crawl with Andrew. We met at Ivy & Coney, a dive bar in Shaw, that serves hotdogs, beer, and whiskey. That’s it. Over an IPA and a Chicago-style dog, we caught up on the last few years.

I’ve known Andrew just short of a decade, longer than anyone else in DC. It’s remarkable how much has happened and changed in that time period, and our friendship bears the marks like rings on a tree trunk.

We ended the night at the Gibson, a speakeasy serving craft cocktails. Two drinks in, we were reflecting wistfully on growing older, parents, relationships, and the frustrating seduction of living in this city. DC breaks your balls and gets under your skin, and yet you like it. It knows you, your best self you put forward and your worst self you try to hide. In that way, it’s like a marriage, if you’re willing to stick it out.

Anyway, at one point, the bartender approached Andrew with deference to ask a question about the computer system. Andrew is a general manager at the sister bar next door, and he rattled off the answer with authority in his voice. At the end of the night, we left the bar with a free shot and a nod of respect from the bartender. Managers drink on the house.

Ummm, what?! I remember Andrew as the 20 year old I first met, who lived in a dorm and shunned all oppressions and indignities like management. How did he become an almost-thirty-year-old telling people what to do? And how did I become that guy who reflects on the passage of time during a night out? I might as well have showed off some scars and reminisced about the war.

New places, new drinks, new places in life. Old friends, old stories, and despite the changes, still the same people in many ways. What a surreal combination of old and new for a Thursday night conversation over gin and rye, and a hot dog.

thegibsondoor Mixologist Jon Harris of The Gibson - Washington, DC

Day 15 – Say Hello and Goodbye

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I caught up with Patrick at the Royal Pig, a gastropub in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The place was new to me. He picked it for the buffalo shrimp. I was skeptical. And I was wrong. Blue cheese and ranch dressing have a way of enhancing shrimp fried in buffalo sauce. Then there was the bacon mac and cheese and honey buttered corn bread. Comfort food was a great way to reconnect with an old friend and to pass the extra night in Florida. Thanks, stormy weather, for the flight change and unexpected chance to say hello.

It was also the chance to say goodbye. Patrick is moving to L.A. in a few weeks. Sadly, another friend is leaving the area, taking with him good memories and one more connection to this part of the world. Yet, the move seems like a really good one for him. He’s been here 19 years, and as he put it, it’s time to get out and try something different. Indeed.

Funny, Patrick and I could have easily never become friends and never had this dinner. We met in passing at the wine bar where I worked, and only hung out a few times before I moved away. We never got the chance to know each other that well. Yet, there we were, years later, hanging out as friends bonded over some pretty serious life events we have in common. Like the loss of our moms, or leaving a city and people we love. From such a random beginning came my dinner date, ride to the airport, and new place to crash in L.A. And from it came some fond memories of a little bit of life shared.

I am grateful for the people who have come in and out of my life. I am grateful for what has been given me, what has been taken away, and what has been left behind. And I am grateful for buffalo shrimp on a rainy night at the beach.

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Day 13 – Remember the Dead

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I first met Wilder at church on Easter Day 2005. He was wearing an all-white suit and dancing to the Hallelujah Chorus. We are Episcopalians. We do not dance, and we do not wear white before Memorial Day. But that was the least of Wilder’s unconventional zeal. Later over brunch he donned his Easter bonnet and made the rounds, talking to and revving up each person in the room. He was like that yellow roman candle in On the Road, mad to live, made to talk, desiring everything at the same time. Our conversation was brief and furious, and I was a breathless by the end. I’d never met anyone so over the top.

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Don Wilder Plett died on April 30, 2014 in Spokane, Washington. Yesterday I took a few moments to remember all that he did. I wrote a few words and sent them to his family, gathering today for a memorial service. Nine years later, I am still breathless at the way he impacted me and others.

  • Wilder gave my friend, Ryan, a place to stay when he had nowhere to live. He put up a Chinese screen in front of the couch in that tiny one bedroom apartment so that Ryan had some sense of privacy.
  • Wilder cut my hair for years, sometimes on credit when I had no cash. For a half hour each month, I was the center of the universe. And I was treated to some tall tales that graciously reminded me I was the one orbiting him.
  • Wilder loaned out his car, his apartment, his time, his things, and I’m sure his money, to countless young people learning to make it in DC. He was generous to a fault.
  • Wilder always had a project, an idea, a brainstorm, or someone new that he wanted you to meet. For all his fabulous stories of the past, he was incessantly peering around the corner and yelling at everyone to come along.

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I met Wilder in my mid-20’s, during a delayed adolescence after coming out and moving to the city. I was trying to find my way, and myself, failing spectacularly at both. Wilder was not someone who helped me grow up. He helped me stay young, while I was stumbling toward adulthood.

My favorite Wilder memory must be from 2006 when he marched with my church in the Gay Pride parade. He carried a flag and handed out his business cards, calling out to the crowd: “God loves you, and he wants me to do your hair!” I thank God for the flamboyant, inappropriate, delightful, and generous of spirit person he was.

In this world there are people you remember. And then there are people you can’t forget. Rest in peace, Wilder.

Day 12 – Swap Crazy Stories and Take a Drive

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I had dinner last night with strangers, mostly, and the conversation included some interesting stories. A flight attendant for a private charter plane was propositioned by Zac Efron. An optometrist is training for a swim in shark infested waters off Alcatraz, part of his upcoming triathalon. A former underwear model can play the piano by ear and eats at this restaurant several times every week. A friend just visited his newly nudist parents at their Winter home in a naturist community.

I’m not sure who won the competition for the most interesting story. But the meal and the conversation were pure fun. Almost all were strangers to me, but they have been friends for some time. I was fascinated that they shared some fairly intimate, intriguing parts of their lives with someone they didn’t know well.

After the meal I had no plans. So I drove toward the beach. As I crossed the intracoastal, I rolled down my windows to let in the breeze and the sound of the crashing waves. I could smell the salt. I could see the moon reflected on the shore. I could feel my past washing over me, and then away. In its place was the present moment, with new memories of funny stories and good people. Past and present mingling together.

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I drove past other memorable places:

  • I watched the boat show from that balcony.
  • I met my mother for lunch at that restaurant during her visit.
  • I made a passing friend at that bar.
  • I used to work in that building.

With each memory, I wondered, who am I now? Am I the guy who used to live here, or the guy who likes to vacation here? I’ve been gone from Florida longer than I lived here. But I visit three or four times a year. So I have this “second life” now. With each visit, the former life fades a bit more, and new memories take its place. Yet the pull of the past is like the moon at low tide, constant, inexorable, almost rhythmic.

My 8th grade teacher taught us that ocean water rolls around but stays in place. The appearance of movement is an illusion. As I pass the time on my beach vacation in a city I once called home, the past crests and falls like a wave. What exactly is new and what is old, what moves and what stays in place, is a mystery. Both are within and both are true. How they combine to form and shape me is a process I will need to attend to if I’m to experience it fully. Otherwise, it will just wash over me like a nameless, meaningless happenstance.

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