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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Long Lost Cousin at Flamingo Crossing


My mother was one of nine children (eight girls, one boy) from a German-American Catholic family in southern Indiana (the "Kunkels"), and as a consequence I have 41 first cousins on my mother's side, and none at all hanging from the limbs of my father's (Lutheran) family tree.  I was number seven of these cousins on the list (starting from the age of birth), and the oldest is Judy Birge (now Judy Calley).  Because we were six years apart in age, and also because I was from an Air Force family and not around a lot, we have never in our lives had any significant contact with one another, and certainly not a one-on-one experience.  The photo above, at the wedding of our aunt Catty, is the only one I could find in which Judy (standing in the middle next to her brother Jerry) and I (far left, with Judy's sister Jane) appear.  Unfortunately we really don't know each other.

Until last week that is.

I've been teaching a course in Commercial Law at Ohio State and last week was spring break.  For that break I decided to visit my longtime friends Wayne Pawlowski and Ted Heath, who have a wonderful home in Wilton Manors, Florida (I visited them last year in January, and we had a great time as we always do).  Since Judy lives in Florida within driving distance of Wilton Manors, I asked her if she would like to get together, and, more specifically, if she'd like to play bridge with me last Wednesday.  My one recent contact with Judy arose out of an email she'd sent me about five years ago telling me that I was the only member of our large family that would appreciate the fact that she'd made "Life Master" in the rankings of the American Contract Bridge League.  I was thrilled for her (and am still short of the number of points needed to be a Life Master myself), and this led to various emails about bridge.  Because Judy runs her own bridge center in the Florida town where she lives, it was with some trepidation that I asked her to play with me—she's obviously a much better player than I am.  Happily, she agreed, and we arranged to meet on Wednesday at a Wilton Manors bridge center for an afternoon game.

Wayne duly took me to the bridge center that day and Judy and I promptly recognized each other, at which point I introduced her to Wayne (his partner Ted was out of town that day).  Wayne left and Judy and I sat down and reached agreement on the bridge conventions we'd be playing.  I haven't been nervous at the bridge table in decades, but I confess that I felt some slight trepidations sitting across from my very attractive cousin.  What if I messed up badly?

Instead of that, we did quite well.  Our bidding and play was good, and almost every pair we met were fighting with each other as we sat down (always a good thing in bridge opponents).  In the end we came in third overall, an improbable result for two people playing together for the first time.  We agreed it was our superior Kunkel blood line that led to this minor triumph! (And Judy informed me that the number of Kunkel first cousins is a mere 37, not 41, as above.)

Judy and I Holding Winning Hands
Judy drove me back to Wayne and Ted's house, and on the way I warned her what was coming:  a beautiful home suffering from a flamingo infestation.

Years ago Wayne and Ted had had a beach house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and while there had begun collecting flamingo memorabilia.  What started innocently (flamingo shower curtains, flamingo lamps, etc.) soon got out of hand as friends gave them flamingo-related gifts (flamingo wine holders, flamingo paintings, flamingo playing cards—the list goes on and on).  When they moved to Florida and bought a house the flamingo mania increased to the point where they finally forbade their friends to give them any more flamingos, but it was far too late.  Today their house, now aptly named "Flamingo Crossing," is awash with flamingos on every surface, in every room, on almost every object including plates, glasses, towels, bed sheets, pillows, and so on.  This sounds artistically bad, but, much like Las Vegas where if something is overdone enough it achieves an art form all its own, somehow Flamingo Crossing works admirably.  Moreover the house itself has been remodeled so that it's stunning.  Wayne was a varsity swimmer at the University of Maryland where we met (he was 18 and I was 21—47 years ago, yikes!), so the property boasts a 72-foot long swimming pool which allows Wayne to swim laps every day (32 of them—half a mile).  Flamingos aside, the house is a wonder: sunny, bright, spacious, attractive, and comfortable.
Ted and Wayne at Flamingo Crossing

I told Judy about this, and by this time we were having a splendid time together.  She indicated that she knew Wilton Manors was a gay haven (60% of the town's population is gay, the third highest rate in the national census), and that she was fine with gay people.  Entering the door at Flamingo Crossing, she was amazed by the flamingo count, and, after a tour of the house, we three soon settled into comfortable chairs by the pool, martinis in hand.  This led to a happy hour of much laughter and great stories before we went out to a fine dining restaurant for supper.  Over that meal Wayne was cajoled by me into telling the incredible story of his first date with Ted (which occurred in D.C. in the middle of the great blizzard of 1983—indeed, their whole romance has been extraordinary, furnishing the basis for the one in my yet unfinished novel "Corbin Milk" and the blog post "The Thunderbolt").  In turn Judy told me that when she was age eight and I was just turning two, she and her mother had visited the Whaley family in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1945 just when my sister Mary Beth was being born, during which event she's helped babysit me.

The Whaleys in 1945

Back at the house Wayne decided to bring out a flamingo-related risqué item that, before going to meet Judy earlier that day, I'd insisted he hide.  It is an-over-the-top kind of thing, but Judy thought it very funny.  This led to a hysterical photo that—alas—can't be reprinted in a blog where readers with delicate sensibilities might be offended.  [But if you're made of sterner stuff, reader, send me a request at and I'll zip you back a copy of the ribald photo.]

In the end, as we said goodbye, Judy and I hugged each other and agreed it had been a magical day—one to be remembered and treasured.  I told her that I'm thinking about snowbirding in Florida in coming winters, so my guess is that my long lost cousin and I will play lots of bridge and drink many more martinis together in years yet unlived.

Related Posts: 
"Bob and Kink Get Married," June 2, 2010
"The Thunderbolt," September 3, 2010
"A Control Freak Turns 50 and Throws His Own Party," May 2, 2011
"The World's Greatest Game [Bridge] Needs You," June 20, 2011

Saturday, March 17, 2012

How To Be Perfect


Now, now, blog readers, you already know the answer to this one:
You can't.
(Sigh.  Shrug shoulders.  Obvious answer.  Damn it to hell!)

Can't be perfect, eh?  Now what? 

Let me give you the perspective a 68 years old has on this question, and that's the real subject of this post.

All animals, from bugs to whales, are programmed to fit in with their kind.  Those whose characteristics vary too far from the norm are "suspect," in a Darwinian sense.  If uncorrected and allowed, say, to breed, they'll possibly pose a threat to the survival of the species, which has evolved to what the current generation thinks of as near perfection.  Stamp out nonconformists!

Human beings are a prime example.  As children we're urged to conform, and this push comes first from most parents ("Don't do that—people are looking!") and then peers ("What a freak you are!").  High school is a conformity pressure cooker, where the inmates, er . . . students constantly judge one another one on all possible levels.  Clothing, physical appearance, personal hygiene, demeanor, etc., are evaluated and the results broadcast over and over.  This leads to considerable anxiety and a renewed effort to conform, conform, conform.  As the novelist Christopher Moore comments in "Bloodsucking Fiends":  "They have to look right or their peers will turn on them like starving dogs."

Since I was very little I've rarely conformed, and—what can I say?—it's been a delightful life.  I took my guidance from my parents, both genetically and from example.  As the posts I've written about them reveal neither played by the same rules as other people, and, having found each other, they rejoiced in their eccentricity.  Whether they were a married couple playing golf for substantial amounts of money against any two men on the Air Force base where they were stationed, or racing the start of World War II to get married days after Pearl Harbor, or refusing to play by military rules as to how to do things (Dad, the commanding officer, probed the private lives of each man in his squadron by long conversations so he would know them, and Mom refused to attend functions held by the officer's wives even though that was a move that could be suicidal for the career of her husband), they lived as they wanted to live and didn't care what others thought.  What was important to them both was their independence and their own personhood.  They must have been very grateful to have found each other, because marriage to a tradition-bounded spouse wouldn't have lasted very long for either of them.

I wasn't handsome, and on some level, though I strove to hide it, I knew I was gay.  Panic?  No, no.  I had some positive traits, so I looked to those to keep me afloat.  I was smart and I was funny.  I learned that people liked to talk about themselves, so when approaching others I asked them questions that would get that going ("You're the most popular girl in the school, how do you handle it?").  People are thrown off base by those who aren't playing by the same rules, and that can work in your favor.  Who wants to be thought of as dull and ordinary?  I know nothing about Lady Gaga as a singer—I wouldn't recognize her if she rang my doorbell—but I certainly admire her daring.
Lady Gaga in a Meat Dress
As I settle into being older I realize that I no longer give a damn what anyone thinks.  Why should I?  I'm retired and my career was already made by the decades I spent building it.  There is no "Judge Of the Worth of Douglas Whaley" who will report back whether I succeeded or failed at the game of life and write the result on my tombstone for all to see. 

Hmm.  As soon as I typed that sentence I knew it was wrong.  There is one "Judge" who so qualifies and that's me. 

One of my posts is called "The Deathbed Test," and it explains my philosophy on how to judge whether you're making the right decisions in life.  The real question to ask yourself is what you will think about all that happened to you from the viewpoint of your final moments on this planet.  What will make you smile when you remember it ("That sudden kiss!") and what will make you slap your forehead and think "How could I have been so stupid?" 

Perhaps you're the kind of person to whom it's important not to stand out, and who takes comfort in not being noticed.  There is nothing wrong with that, and if your happiness depends on your privacy, then arrange your life with that goal in mind.  I wish you well.

But you're also allowed to be an eccentric both in your personal life and in your professional one if that's your bent, and you shouldn't shy from such a fate.  What?  No one has ever done things the way you have?  Well, as this blog says in a number of its posts and as I tell my students constantly, in life gall is all!  When I teach my law students  I tell them (a) it's unethical to advocate things in which you don't have a good faith belief, but, that aside, in planning what to do (b) gall is all!    No one has ever done it before?  Will it work?  Will it shake things up in a good way?  Well then—what the hell—try it!

Do you have a new idea, something that's all your own, on how to do things (what to wear, what to propose, how to solve a problem, an outrageous way to get someone to notice you)?  Well then, ask yourself if you try it what will happen?  Might you be fired?  Shunned and avoided?  Shamed?  Arrested? Will the world crash down on your head?  Ugly headlines in the press or an undefendable video on the internet?  Goodness!  If those bad things will happen, then don't do it.  Going too far is every bit as bad and not going anywhere.

But most decisions are not like that and won't have those scary results.  The usual answer to these questions is that life will proceed and no one will notice that you've moved closer to an eccentricity that pleases you and makes living easier.  Start to embrace your own individuality and cherish those things that may puzzle others.  Be proud of that, satisfied with "you," as you self-define that term.  As you get older you'll realize the proper course is doing just what you want to do (and to hell with what others think).  Trust me on this: that's the good life.

None of the above means that you shouldn't try to shed bad habits or make needed corrections in your life.  We should all eat right, exercise regularly, get a good night's sleep, be kind to our spouse and children and friends, pay attention to our jobs, etc.  But the direction to do these good things should come from within, not from others.  You are in charge of your life, and you must decide how to live it, handling both the ups and downs as they occur.

At age 68 I wish I'd have known the following rule when I was young (and particularly as a teenager): in the end it all comes down to being pleased with yourself for what you did on the planet Earth during the only life you'll ever get to live.

Related Posts:
"The Deathbed Test," July 27, 2010
"How To Make Ethical Decisions," December 1, 2010
“My Competitive Parents,” January 20, 2010
“Bob Whaley, Boy Lawyer,” March 28, 2010
"My Mother's Sense of Humor," April 4, 2010
“The Sayings of Robert Whaley,” May 13, 2010
“Bob Whaley and the Best Evidence Rule,” June 26, 2010
“Bob and Kink Get Married,” June 2, 2010
“Dad and the Cop Killer,” July 19, 2010
“Doug, Please Get My Clubs From the Trunk,” August 20, 2010
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

Friday, March 9, 2012

On Being a Gay Sports Fan

I've recently returned from a trip to California where I made the keynote speech for a law school symposium at the behest the law professor organizing the event who is (a) a former student of mine and (b) gay.  At one point we were talking and he commented that when people learn he's a rabid sports fan they're usually surprised since gay men (unlike lesbians) are reputedly not interested in sports.  I told him I'd had the same experience.

I grew up in a sports family.  As is related in numerous blog posts ("My Competitive Parents"), my parents were both fine athletes (as golfers they once won the Bermuda International Amateurs Couples Open), and my sister and I were raised with sports as a constant in our lives.  One post ("Put Out at Home Plate") details how the proudest my father ever was of me was the time I was the catcher for his Air Force slow-pitch team and had a stellar moment at home plate.  In other sports I was mediocre at best.  I could play tennis, but not well, and held my own on a couple of volleyball teams.  I've written before ("Bowling With Charleyne") about my limited prowess with a bowling ball (though I bowled with my parents often when growing up, was in two leagues at once in Chicago while practicing law there, and still own a bowling ball and shoes).  When in high school, I broke my leg while roller skating.  For two summers, as related in a prior post ("Doug, Take Me With You"), I was a camp counselor dealing with nine year-old boys, and in that role had active sports involvement with the kids.

I was always a strong swimmer and in my senior year in high school (the summer of 1961) I was a lifeguard at the Langley Air Force Base Officer's club prior to reporting to the Navy for active duty.  That summer my co-lifeguard was named Johnny Post, and the girls swarmed around him, which Johnny liked a lot.  In those days I was very nearsighted (corrected in later life) and had to wear thick glasses to see.  On my first day as a lifeguard I didn't wear a t-shirt and ended up with a bad sunburn, so the rest of the summer I did wear a shirt and put on layers of lotion.  I sometimes wondered what I'd do about my glasses and the shirt if called on to save someone, and one day I found out.  I noticed a small girl having major trouble staying afloat just into the deep end of the pool, so I dived in, and, ignoring all my Red Cross training, just scooped her up in my arms and pulled her to the side of the pool.  She was fine.  When I climbed out I asked a concerned Johnny what I'd done about my glasses (I was wearing the soaking wet shirt).  "Well, Doug," he replied with a grin, "it was really interesting.  You suddenly jumped up, tore off your glasses, threw them down hard onto the cement, and dived into the pool."  Yikes!  But, fortunately, the glasses were unharmed, and I was a momentary celebrity.

So all my life I've been an active sports fan, growing up with parents who were sports nuts.  Dad would have played professional baseball—he tried out once—as a catcher except that in his last year of college he threw out his arm showing off.  Mom bowled the highest score a woman had ever bowled in Japan (as of 1956), rolling seven strikes in a row for a 270 total.  And—wow!—were they good at rooting for whatever team they cared about.  When Mom finally saw Mickey Mantle (her hero) play live in Kansas City and hit a home run, she turned to Dad, my sister, and me, and calmly announced, "I'm ready to die."  Watching any sports event she would frequently go bananas, and was finally barred from Dallas Cowboy games when she accidentally broke a rib of the friend of the family who owned the season tickets.  One time when I was an adult she and I went to Churchill Downs for the horse races.  We weren't doing so well at winning any bets and finally up came the last race.  It was a dismal day and it was raining, but I'd gotten very interested in the tote sheet, reading all about the horses who were to race that day, and I told Mom to cheer up—in the final race one of the horses was what they call a "mudder" (meaning that he did well running in mud), and in fact this particular horse had never lost in that situation.  So we each put a six dollar bet on him to win and Mom was most downhearted to see when the odds came up on the big board that our mudder was 17 to 1.  "Are you sure, Doug?" she asked me with a frown.  "Absolutely," I assured her, faking it.  When the race, a long one, began our horse was in front.  "He's in front!" Mom moaned, knowing that a horse that starts out in that position almost never finishes there.  I said nothing, but I later learned that mudders frequently do this because they hate being splashed by mud and so stay ahead of the rest.  As the horses rounded home stretch our horse was still ahead, and Mom suddenly came to life, jumping to her feet and going into major cheering mode.  Very loudly (in a volume I inherited from her—I can quiet a large noisy room with one bellow) and with major gestures and jumping up and down, she rooted him home, causing such a commotion that people around us stopped paying attention to the race and just stared at her, jaws dropped.  I believe some of the horses actually looked up too.  When our mudder crossed the finish line still in the lead, the celebration continued for some time.  [Years later, when I left law school in Austin, Texas, my former roommate, Jim Kunetka, sent me a letter saying that he'd been going over to my parents apartment to watch the Olympics because they had a color TV, but now he was going over there just to watch my mother watch the Olympics—"I've never seen anything like that!" Jim commented.]

Football at Doug's
This blog has commented on my enthusiasm for sports in a number of posts ["Basketball and Its Announcers," "Football Advice for Coach Jim Tressel," "Potpourri #1" (about being a Chicago Cubs fan)].  While at Ohio State I had season tickets to all of the football games from 1976 until the early 2000s when my health failed and I had to watch the games from home.  In that period my seniority on the OSU faculty increased to the point where eventually my assigned seats were on the 45 yard line, three rows up from the field.  Since 1976 it's been very rare that I've missed seeing a Buckeye football game either live or on TV (I routinely have up to 13 people at my house watching games—see photo).  With OSU basketball I had half-season tickets for years and saw lots of those games live too, typically with a good friend Tom Jeffire (with whom I saw the game live at Value City arena this year where the Buckeyes stomped Indiana). 

Tom and I at a Buckeye basketball game

This past year I watched all the OSU football games and every single one of the basketball games, but when my bridge partner fell ill and I started going over to his house to watch the basketball games with him and his wife, they were both amazed that I knew the jersey numbers of the OSU players.  I assured them that I also knew the names of the starting Texas players (U of T is my law school alma mater) and some of the starters for Maryland (my undergraduate college, not often on TV this year).  My bridge partner and his wife frankly confessed that their amazement was because I was gay and they'd shared the usual supposition that gays aren't sports fans.

My recent post about Urban Meyer ("Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team") was picked up by other blogs and has generated much more attention than I'd anticipated (almost 500 hits this past Tuesday).  A number of the adverse comments (which I duly appended to the post when I could have just deleted them) seemed to imply that because I was gay I obviously didn't care about football at Ohio State.  That's wrong, and I should have said so in the post.  When Urban Meyer took over the team I was excited, hoping this famous coach would rescue the program from the dismal mess of last season.  But I was disturbed when I learned he was conducting Bible study groups that were quasi-required.  Some of the comments about the post informed me that Meyer absolutely wouldn't discriminate against a player who declined to participate in the Bible studies (held, I've learned, on campus at the Woody Hayes Center), and that the only thing Meyer truly cares about is whether the players are good on the field.  I certainly hope that's the case.

So, as another comment to the post exclaimed, "Go Bucks!"
Related Posts:
"The Aging Gay Rights Activist," March 24, 2010
"Frightening the Horses," April 4, 2010
“Homosexuality: The Iceberg Theory,” April 25, 2010
“How I Lost a Gay Marriage Debate,” April 29, 2010
“Straight Talk,” May 10, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
“How To Tell if You’re Gay,” August 31, 2010
“The Thunderbolt,”September 3, 2010
“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010
"How Many Homosexuals Are There in the World?" November 8, 2010
"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011
"The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World," February 8, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Coming Out: How To Tell People You're Gay," March 27, 2011
"Jumping the Broom: How 'Married' are Married Gay Couples?" July 17, 2011
"The Legacy of Homophobia," August 2, 2011
"Going Undercover at an Ex-Gay Meeting," September 19, 2011
"The Presumption of Heterosexuality and the Invisible Homosexual," October 2, 2011
"Gay Bashers, Homophobes, and Me," January 27, 2012
"Sexual Labels: Straight, Gay, Bi," April 15, 2012
"The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio," June 4, 2012
“I Support the Right of the Boy Scouts To Ban Gays,” July 24, 2012
Straight People: Thanks From the LGBT Community,” November 20, 2012
“Gay Marriage, DOMA, Proposition 8 and the Mysterious Supreme Court,” January 15, 2013
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013