80: Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase by Betty Thesky (and others): I had high hopes for this book – I am a devoted fan of the Betty in the Sky podcast – and I thought that surely it would translate into an amusing book. Ultimately this book completely lacked the voice of Betty, and instead was a collection of short vignettes about flying – many of which I have read elsewhere. Love the podcast, but I wouldn’t bother with the book.
81: Cruising Attitude by Heather Pool – this was actually an amusing memoir of being a flight attendant, including experience at some very run-down airlines, before moving on to a major carrier. The stories told here are things I have heard echoes of before, but based on her actual life. An enjoyable read, if you’re into that kind of thing.
82: Trust the Focus by Megan Erickson: A very sweet story about a guy traveling with his friend to re-take photographs that had been taken by his father. Love does break out, but the story here actually works fairly well. It’s not perfect, but what story is?
84: A Line in the Sand by Robin Reardon: The first of two Robin Reardon books in this list: this one is a story about an out 15 year old meeting the boy of his dreams while on a beach vacation. Unfortunately the boy has parents who are not really all that understanding.
85: Silver and Black by Tyler May: This is a gay romance about a couple with a tremendous power imbalance – one is a rich man who owns a chain of coffee shops, the other is one of his minions. It kept me entertained on a long flight, but it isn’t great literature by any stretch of the imagination.
86: Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary: This book I re-read based on childhood memories. Beverly Cleary wrote a lot of books that I liked and this one contains scenes that would never happen today: Kindergartner Ramona walks to school alone. Yes, that’s right: Mom couldn’t supervise the walk, so Ramona walks alone. The reason I re-read the book is that I remembered this scene where Ramona’s Mom told her to leave the house at a quarter past in order to get to school on time. Ramona realized that a quarter was 25 cents, and therefore she must wait until 25 minutes past the hour. She gets concerned when she realizes that she is the only kid walking to school.
87: Roundup at the Palace by Kathleen Cook Waldron: This is a children’s picture book set at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, where I picked up my copy. It covers what happens when a bull escapes its ride and charges into the hotel lobby. Denver natives will appreciate this more than anybody else.
88: Falling (Fall or Break Book 1) by Barbara Elsborg: above average gay romance novel in which a fresh out of prison man meets a new boyfriend. Maybe it is just average. I read it, and by the time I got around to writing this, I had to look up what it was about.
90: Thinking Straight by Robin Reardon: Robin Reardon is a pretty amazing author, especially of novels aimed at the GLBTQ teen audience. This one centers on a teen boy who is sent to a Christian de-programming camp in order to become not gay – perhaps not her best effort, but I imagine there is a target audience for this book that is depressingly large.
91: My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki: I picked up this book because I saw it somewhere while on my trip around the world and the premise seemed amusing. It was – although the book was disturbing on a number of different levels. Through the narrative, the author manages to explore the US beef industry, Japanese domestic abuse, and whatever else she thought was important.
92: Rainbow Road by Alex Sanchez: A trio of recent high school graduates takes a road trip across the country; hilarity and growth ensues. Alex Sanchez is actually an excellent author, especially when writing for the teen audience
93: The Children Act by Ian McEwan: This is a very nice, very powerful, relatively short story about a high court judge in London who intervenes into the life of a 17 and three-quarters year old Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s an incredibly powerful and moving book.
94: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque: I read this for book club – it is certainly one of those books that everybody has heard of, but not many people seem to have actually read. Set from the perspective of a German soldier on the frontlines, it’s actually rather depressing to read about what it is to fight, the exhaustion, the pointlessness of it all.
95: What Daniel Did With His Life by Keith Hale: This book puzzles me – not sure why I decided to buy it. It’s a rather complicated book with several nuanced stories told throughout it – perhaps too complicated. There is a nice moral for overly religious parents who treat their children badly.
96: Misfits by Garrett Leigh: This is a charming gay romance that explores how a couple with an open relationship become a closed throple. It’s actually a rather sweet story that is surprisingly well written given its genre.
97: Understanding a Photograph by John Berger: A physical book that I am not quite yet done with, but will talk about now, since I’ll finish it in a couple hours. This is a nice collection of essays (and other short narrative pieces) regarding photography and how one views photographs. I’m learning a lot from this book.
I’m happy to report that 2015 had a lot of travel — more than it should have. I managed to snag my 50th US State and two more territories (or whatever you call them), plus an around the world trip that hit up a lot of amazing places. I also flew my first airline where I paid cash at the ticket counter (Star Marianas Air, Saipan to Tinian and back).
At the moment I have no more plane trips planned (or booked) for this year. There are a couple in the thinking stage for 2016, but time will tell — and the ones in the thinking stage will add neither new airports nor new airlines.
Star Alliance Hubs Used (as hub): Auckland, Brussels, Chicago/ORD, Cleveland, Denver, Frankfurt, Houston, LAX, Munich, Newark (as Continental & United), San Francisco, Tokyo (HND), Tokyo (NRT), Vancouver, Washington/Dulles, Zurich (Hubs as O&D not listed as hub: Copenhagen, Guam, Istanbul, Montreal, Seoul (ICN), Seoul (GMP), Taipei (TPE), Toronto, Vienna)
SkyTeam Hubs Used (as hub): Amsterdam, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, MSP, Memphis, Moscow (SVO), New York/JFK, Newark (as Continental), Paris, Salt Lake City (Hubs as O&D: Amsterdam, Prague, Tokyo (NRT))
Places I’ve Entered the USA:Air: Atlanta (ATL), Chicago (ORD), Cincinnati (CVG), Denver (DEN), Detroit (DTW), Guam (GUM); Houston (IAH); Memphis (MEM), Montreal (YUL); New York (JFK), New York (EWR), Pago Pago (PPG), Saipan (SPN), Salt Lake City (SLC), San Francisco (SFO); Vancouver BC (YVR), Washington (IAH) (17). Land: Detroit, El Paso, Niagara Falls, New York Northway (4)
Places I’ve Entered Schengen:Air: AMS, AOC, BRU, CDG, EIV, ERF, FRA, MAD, MUC, SXF, TXL, ZRH (11) Land: Dresden (train from Czech Republic), Görlitz (Foot from Poland), Konstanz (Road from Switzerland), Vienna (train from Bratislava) Sea: Helsinki (Ferry from Estonia) Note: Some of these crossings are no longer Schengen border crossings, but they were when I made them.
DEN1 = Stapleton International Airport; no longer exists
The museum displays 180 pieces of western art in elegant surroundings across the street from the Brown Palace Hotel (which is probably the finest hotel in Denver, at least by reputation).
Open only for limited hours, this is not a museum you can just walk into, one must reserve your entrance in advance, paying online, and showing up at the appointed hour.
I’d show you pictures, but photography in the museum is strictly forbidden – and to be frank, I think it is hard to do justice to some of the art through photographs of it.
The museum is filled with paints by Bierstadt, Moran, Remington, Mechau, Blumenschein, Benton, and Borglum. But these are merely just a few of the names – with 180 amazing paintings, it is a museum easy to spend a lot of time in.
In a strange way, for me, this museum was a perfect extension of my (recently discovered) love for Kent Monkman: much of his art <strike>steals</strike> borrows from Bierstadt, taking the larger painting and then adding subversive and devious elements to the painting.
It’s well worth visiting – and if you’re a western art lover, probably worth making a trip to Denver just to visit the museum.
For family reasons I visit Denver once a year – the timing is always a bit in question – last year was October, this year also October – this year because Dan Savage brought the Hump! Tour to Denver.
Hump is, as he explained it, an accident: back in 2005, Dan Savage and a colleague put an advertisement seeking amateur porn films in the Stranger, Seattle’s alternative newspaper, as a joke. And it remained a joke until submissions arrived.
And there’s sufficient demand to take the films on tour, amusing audiences with amateur porn films across the States.
After becoming aware of the Hump! Tour and its dates, my dates for Denver were set.
Saturday night I went to the 8:30 showing of Hump!, where I got to see Dan Savage, in person, for the first time in my life – a personal hero of sorts, I would label him the single most important gay voice in America today. Best known for his relationship advice column, and now podcast, he’s important to me because he constantly advocates for progressive causes and rants against conservative assholes – rants that often spill over into major media and shape conversations. If not for Dan Savage, Rick Santorum’s last night might be associate with a respectable politician. Instead it is associate with the unwanted byproduct of anal lube and fecal matter – which pretty much describes Rick Santorum in general.
Enough about that: The Hump! Tour consists of 18 short films that have previously shown and been stars at the Hump festival in Seattle or Portland – in other words, the cream of the crop.
Strangely I’ve seen one of the 18 films before: Butthole Lickin’ – it was shown at the 2010 Bloomington Pride Film Festival – and it was so good I embedded it into the blog way back then. In case you missed it, here it is again:
As for the rest, there were some outstanding films and there were films that left me scratching my head as to what exactly they were about. But I guess that was the fun of it – the audience seemed to, in general, agree about the best ones: The Grocer, the Glory Hole, Anal Alley, and Beethoven’s Stiff.
And while there was plenty of nudity, some intercourse, and some climatic moments shown on screen, not one of the films meet the general definition of “porn” – if your definition of porn immediately imagines Hustler Magazine. (It might if your definition of porn includes Playboy, even before the recent announcement that Playboy is losing its nudity.)
Trying to describe the specific comic genius of these films would be, basically, impossible – and destroy the point of seeing the films.
So instead, a bit about the audience: incredibly mixed: ages, genders, ethnicities – in other words, Dan Savage has an incredibly diverse fan base that shows up. To me, it was a microcosm of America’s future – once the boring white conservatives die off. Or get converted.
If you have the opportunity to see Hump! – Do not hesitate.
76: The Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander – This book is hailed as fantastic first novel – except that I think it is incredibly poorly written. It’s an easy, but boring, read about life in 17th century London. I forced myself to finish it because if I hadn’t force myself to do so, it would still be sitting by my bed, taunting me.
77: Defining Marriage: Voices from a Forty-Year Labor of Love by Matthew Baume – The author takes on a history of working toward gay marriage in America. Although the subject is interesting, I find his writing style to be awful. I hate how he introduces the people that he’s interviewing. I hate how he forms sentences. What’s strange is that I was giving him a second chance: I’ve avoided his YouTube channel because I couldn’t take his take on gay marriage news. It turns out my initial judgment about him, at least as far as I am concerned, was right.
78: We are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas – this epic length novel takes on Alzheimer’s disease and its effect not just on the sufferer, but their family: the spouse and the kids. The book itself varies widely: I found the first quarter to be boring. The second quarter was tedious. About half way through, it became interesting and engaging.
79: The First Bad Man by Miranda July – This is a very strange novel about a woman who is slightly off-kilter. Slightly may be the wrong word choice. I’m listing it here, now, even though I am not yet finished because I expect to finish it by tomorrow evening.
Matthew Shepard is a man who is often on my thoughts, with increasing frequency as early October rolls around.
It was October 6, 1998, when Aaron Kreifels had an accident with his bicycle, looked up, wondered about a scarecrow – only to realize that the scarecrow was a human being, Matthew Shepard.
Tuesday, Matthew Shepard came up on the Box Turtle Bulletin – and I cried as I remembered and reflected on those awful days some seventeen years ago this week.
Writing this post every year brings a great deal of reflection, taking stock of my life, and even more tears shedding.
It is clear that society has come a tremendously long way in the intervening years: same sex marriage is now the law of the land in the United States of America (but not yet in Germany; but that is a different battle to be fought), gays and lesbians are welcome to serve in the military (with the transgendered also gaining ground on that front), and – for many – coming out is a casual mention, not a big drama.
But I still feel small and scared when thinking about Matthew Shepard, me, and 1998.
Crawling into the closet of my Braeside Drive apartment; essentially being forced to come out to a number of people newly important to me in Bloomington, even though I wasn’t quite ready to do so; feeling lonely. Isolated. Afraid. Scared. Sad. Powerless. Unable to sleep, read, think, feel, function, …
Showing up at my first gay protest and memorial – Dunn Meadow, outside the Indiana University Memorial Union – lighting my first candle at a protest and memorial.
Being Shell Shocked.
I have not looked at my past ramblings about Matthew Shepard yet this year – I want to write this anew, fresh – yet I feel that I am probably being repetitive, but it is not clear to me how I can state my thought process any differently.
Any particular way to talk about the impact that Matthew Wayne Shepard has had on my life.
Will have on my life.
That core feeling of helplessness as the news first broke, reaching me 1,100 miles away. Facts alluded to. Hints at the victim’s sexuality. The brutality of violence. The sinking feeling in my stomach. The fear that it could have been me.
I try to do my part to change society. To change Wyoming. To change the University of Wyoming. I’m keeping up with my personal pledge to help the University of Wyoming’s Rainbow Resource Center. Extending my commitment to help establish the RRC Resource Scholarship, a fund dedicated to helping UWyo students who are cut off from their families because they come out.
I like to imagine that I would choose to do these things even without Matthew Shepard having been murdered; but that is a condition that cannot be tested.
Instead, as I live in a safe place, a safe time, and a safe world – I look back.
After my last report, I made a concerted effort to read the physical books in my unread stack. I managed to read six actual books, four of which were new, one old, and one borrow. I have two other physical books in progress, plus 11 more on the shelf. In that sense, it feels like I really haven’t made much progress, but four off of the new pile is a good thing.
As for my mini-reports, here it goes…
67: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel – I noted that I would read this book last time. This is the graphic/comic novel/memoir by Alison Bechdel that relates her father’s life in the closet, which several incoming freshmen at Duke University declined to read because the graphic presentation of lesbian oral sex would offend them and their god. Now that I’ve read it, the graphic presentation wasn’t graphic in the pornographic sense, it consisted of simple drawings that didn’t reveal much – I’ve read written descriptions of lesbian sex that were more graphic than that presented in the graphic novel. As I think back to what it would have been like to read this as a fresh out of high school 18 year old, I get the ickiness factor: if you’ve never had cause to consider lesbian sex (and you’re a deep in the closet gay guy), then this book is going to throw you a lot of curve balls. But using “god” to hide from reading it is a pretty pathetic excuse. I’m willing to concede that not all people click with all books – certainly I have tried to read John Irving’s In One Person several times, but it just did not work for me. That’s a fine excuse, you tried, but it doesn’t click, but to hide behind your god is a pathetic excuse. This is a fine novel – a quick afternoon read next to the fireplace.
68: The Bookshop that Floated Away by Sarah Henshaw – I picked up this book while in the UK; I must have thought that it was a novel, not actually a memoir of Sarah Henshaw’s efforts to run a floating bookshop up and down the canals of the UK. Ultimately this book was a tremendous disappointment, without a strong story to tell – other than to discourage anybody from entering the business of running a bookshop on a floating barge.
70: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Beck Albertalli – this is a lovely coming of age and coming out novel aimed squarely at the youth of today, incorporating a conversation between Simon and one of his classmates at his school – a conversation via email, using fake names, but one that touches on everything challenging about being young and gay. It’s a very nice YA novel.
71: Economical Writing by Deirdre N. McCloskey – I borrowed this book from a colleague – this is, for budding economists, a nice essay about the best way to write a serious economics paper, all while imbibed with a sense of humor. Deirdre N. McCloskey is one of the most important economists out there, and her advice is mostly spot on. (Although she has lost the battle for two spaces after the period. That’s way passé, even if I do it myself.)
72: Nothing Pink by Mark Hardy – This was a reread, taken from my shelf – I needed something short to read and I couldn’t remember the book. It’s a nice coming of age, coming to terms with being gay story, centered on a guy who is the son of a preacher. Stories like this make me grateful that I grew up with was essentially atheist parenting.
73: Into the River by Tad Dawe – I read this book because it was in the news for a reason that ought to embarrass New Zealand: the book was banned after complaints by Christians. The Kiwi Christian group, “Family First” complained about sexually explicit content, drugs and ladies body parts being called by a dirty word. Such a review (and banning) brought me right to the book – and here’s the thing – it’s probably a fantastic book for New Zealand’s youth, but it didn’t speak to me. Sure there was sex. Yes drugs were abused. And yes, dirty words were used – but if the book was going to be read by the youth of New Zealand in an impactful way, it must use real words and realize the truth of daily life for teens. Would I read it again? Probably not. But I’m glad I read it – and if the ban holds, this is a huge stain on the reputation of New Zealand. Actually, the stain already exists – the question will become how permanent is the stain. Right now I wouldn’t want to move to New Zealand. Or spend money there.
74: The Pearl that Broke its Shell by Nadia Hashimi – I read this book for book club – what a fantastic book about what it is like to be a girl who is allowed to live as a boy so that, in rural Afghanistan, you can do things for your mom and sisters – women who cannot leave the home because they are women. It’s a fantastic novel.
75: Passing by Nellat Larsen – I saw this book mentioned in an article in Bitch and thought to myself, I should check it out – in a strange way, as I write this, it occurs to me that this is a lot like The Peark That Broke Its Shell, except that instead of dealing with an oppressive Muslim, misogynistic society, it deals with an oppressive racist society in the form of the United States. As a short novel it addresses what it is like to be a very light skinned black person, so light skinned that you are able to get into white only venues without being noticed. It’s a powerful novel that dates back to 1929. Highly recommended.
This weekend, for reasons I won’t really disclose here, a friend and I agreed to meet in Wolfsburg – a city just over an hour west of Berlin.
For most people it is notable because it is home to Volkswagon.
I’ll admit that when we agreed to meet in Wolfsburg, I had no idea what we would do there in our free time. There is only one well known attraction in the city, Autostadt (in English, Auto City), which is a mecca for all things Volkswagon. A quick perusal of the Autostadt website left me uncertain what one does there – but given that we had a day to hang out, it was what we decided to do.
When we planned this trip, we thought that we’d be visiting a dull little city in the heart of Germany.
Little did we know that it would be the epicenter of German news while were there after it was discovered that VW had manipulated, through software engineering, the emissions of its famous, environmentally friendly, diesel engines.
Which also excited me, because I was excited to see exactly how much VW talks about its diesel engines and its environmental record at Autostadt.
The answer is mixed.
There’s a whole floor of one of the buildings that is dedicated to the environment – where I learned that I am a climate asshole. (And, to be honest, I am: but if you cut out my air travel, my footprint would be tiny.) But, now that I think about it, on the green floor I cannot remember VW talking about exactly what it does for the environment, it’s more the bang the tourists over the head with reminders that they ought to be environmentally responsible.
Then, in the VW pavilion, there was a section dedicated to their BlueMotion efforts to improve diesel engine efficiency. But, uh, they didn’t really note that the engines ran on diesel. You had to read the labels on the cars to find that out.
Beyond that, the best piece of Autostadt was the building housing old cars – I fell in love with an old Bugatti that looks awesome, plus a number of other cars that were either beautiful or, if from the 1970s, hideous beyond all words.
I suspect that, at least for me, Autostadt is a one and done kind of destination. The city, itself, is pretty ugly. At one point I asked my friend whether or not Wolfsburg had been in East or in West Germany – the architecture in the city center would be right at home among the plattenbau apartments that scar East German cities.
And tucked into one of those really ugly buildings – a division of Volkswagon that had an especially bad week.
Late last week one of my friends told me about a recently released film that features Berlin: Victoria.
So I saw it Sunday evening – and while there are a number of impressive things about (like the fact that it was shot in exactly one take with one cameraman), ultimately I hate Victoria.
No, not the film, the main character, the raison d’être for the film.
Victoria is a petite, young, stupid, naïve, dumb, clueless, and generally idiotic Spanish girl who, because she is all of these things, makes a really stupid decision in the first 15 minutes of the film.
Admittedly without this decision, the film wouldn’t have a reason to exist – it would be over before it started. And I must admit that lots of literature and lots of films hinge on exactly one decision going one way, but usually it is believable because the motivation of the characters make sense; the set-up makes sense; the suspension of disbelieve is something that you, the viewer, willingly gives up.
And in what follows, there’s a pretty racy story line, complete with a bank robbery and police shoot-out.
But the thing is, Victoria, if she’d been a smart, actualized, and intelligent woman, would never have been there.
An intelligent Victoria – a petite Spanish girl who doesn’t speak German – would never have agreed to do anything with four large, muscular, thuggish German men who talked to her as she left an underground nightclub after a long night of dancing.
And the movie would have been over in 15 minutes.
Instead I spent the entire two plus hours hoping that something really bad would happen to her.
You can see the overhead power supply, and the cable guides.
For reasons that I would rather not go into right now, a couple weeks ago I did some research on Strausberg – the far east end of Berlin’s S-Bahn S5 route. While doing research about Strausberg, I really didn’t plan on visiting the place – which is a tiny bit of a lie: basically I have a plan to pass through it, maybe eating dinner. And then I learned about the Strausseefähre: Lake Straus’s Ferry, which is BVG route F39. Here’s the thing: I thought that I rode all of Berlin’s BVG ferries two summers ago, including the infamous rowboat, F24 (which I believe was saved from elimination thanks to the effort of many locals). But I hadn’t – to be fare, F39, although numbered as a BVG ferry, does not actually fall under BVG tariffs, so I had to fork over 1.30€ to ride it, each way. OK, to be honest, that news was probably not enough to get me to trek all the way out to Strausberg (the S-Bahn ride alone was an hour from Berlin’s main train station to Strausberg, plus a 15 minute tram ride… more on that in a minute).
What put it over the top for me is that, per Wikipedia:
The ferry is unusual in that it is electrically operated, with an overhead supply at 170 volts. This is believed to be unique in Europe, although ferries using a similar power supply exist in the United States.
Unique in Europe: an electrically powered, via overhead supply, ferry?
I was there. And so it was – some other events lined up in my life that caused me to head out to Strausberg bei Berlin this afternoon – out to enjoy the sites of Strausberg and – to be honest – doze a bit on the extremely long S-Bahn ride. The village is certainly picturesque, but with an apparent dearth of restaurants (I needed lunch; the options ranged from mediocre to “wish I had trusted my gut and not actually read the menu”) – and I tried to imagine myself living way the hell out there in something that is included within Berlin’s excellent public transportation network, yet not really anywhere near anything that I would consider to be part of Berlin.
At the other end of the ferry ride (not only electrically powered via an overhead supply, but also a cable ferry!), one is let off at “Strausberg Waldseite” – I gathered from the informative signs around the lake that this used to be a happening beach town with resorts of some kind positioned around the lake, but today there’s just not much there: it’s a ferry to hiking trails, or if you’re too lazy to actually walk around the (admittedly) medium sized lake.
I suppose that I could have walked around half of the lake, but ultimately I decided that given the extreme unlikeliness of my return to this village anytime in the near future (other than my future plan to pass through it and maybe eat dinner, although I hope that said “dinner” is better than the lunch choices I found around the ferry landing in the village’s center), to ride the ferry both ways.
The other thing that I did was ride Strassenbahn 89 – which is notable because the tracks are regular railroad width – even though it’s run as a normal tram. Unlike the ferry, Tram 89 is part of the BVG tariff system.
I'm an American living in Berlin, Germany -- which makes me an expatriate, not an ex-patriot. Before landing in Germany, I've lived in Denver, Colorado; Laramie, Wyoming; Bloomington, Indiana; and Weimar, Germany. If you want to write to me, feel free! The username is elmadaeu on the gmail.com service.