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A Playground Story

 

Imagine a time, imagine a place, not so long ago as you might think. Move your mind to a schoolhouse tiny dropped on grounds with acres of space. At times I go there still, like a drug-fueled flashback, quick as a wink. Back to a dominion filled with children rowdy. Trapped in long recess. Lost in timeless free play. Bent on territory defending. With children wild and no adults attending.

Imagine a time, imagine a place, not so far away as you might think. Back where we knew each quirky personality, each freckled face. Back when we roamed the schoolyard wide in dog-like packs. Back when we played mumblety-peg on open plains. With pocketknives wielded like country swords. Arguing the merits of brands—the utility of Barlow, the beauty of Case.

Imagine a time, imagine a place, not so remote as you might think. Back when we could swing from the trees inwoods nearby. Limber, uprooted saplings, we were. Ascending taller saplings, with their tips touching the sky. Climbing until we rode them gently down to touch the ground with our skinned knees. Genuflecting in the primal forest without reflecting on what it might mean to fight a war, to love someone, to be a saint. No structure, no higher reason, just pure reaction to each passing season. Doing simply as we pleased. Some might christen this a wonderland, much akin to the Never Never Land of Peter Pan.

Such an idyllic world is less fun than you might think. I played my part in that piece of minimalist performance art. I endured the wilding kids seeking primordial thrills in chaos dark. Eight unschooled years I lived like that. Yes, there were lessons there to be learned. But here is where my truth lies. It was for me a place too far, for far too long a season. No place fit for Peter Pan. No love held for Tinkerbelle. No comical Captain Hook for fiend. In place of adventure, only trials. Survival of the insidious. Dante’s outer ring of Hell. Paradise lost at finish and from the start. Close kindred to Lord of the Flies.

It should come as no surprise that as soon as soon would yield, I left that brutal playing field. And I felt no sadness to say my sweet goodbyes. Hard and well earned are such sweet, sweet goodbyes.

The Old South Rises Still

The Old South still rises, though not to battle. It rises now like Brigadoon—mysteriously—but with its own lowland accent. If you seek it, you won’t find that spirit in the New South’s cities or even along the interstates of today’s South. But that old South still tarries in the small towns, still lingers along the gravel-and-tar back roads of the open countryside, still calls with a voice as sweet as the air around a fencerow bent low by honeysuckle.

It’s an attitude and it’s a way of life. Even if you don’t see it directly, look for its effects. For it carries weight, swaying the will gracefully, the way summer breezes Continue reading The Old South Rises Still

The Music of the (Southern) Night

A mood in me sometimes chases that golden glow that often bathes the high-rise buildings at sunset. It springs to life just as that dusky darkness descends over this mighty city. When it comes, my melancholy mood, it surrounds and comforts me like a fuzzy blanket deep in December, like blesséd breezes in the heat of August. It calls on me after my busy New York workday is done, dropping in like family or a friend who needs no invitation. Music is the tonic I take for these spells—I guess I’d call them longings—I get for a way of life that is no longer there. Or, at least for me, not here to be held.

No, I don’t crave the musical sounds you might expect. I don’t long for Continue reading The Music of the (Southern) Night

When the Role Is Called Up Yonder

An old college friend of mine is in mourning. He just lost a distant family member back in Tennessee. However, as is true for many gays, this deceased family member doesn’t feel so distant emotionally. Sometimes it’s our extended family members—or even our friends—who become family. This is especially true when our closest family rejects us. Other times, it just means that these beloved family members, whether they came to us by blood or by a beautiful sense of some other kinship, just seem to “get” us. We love them, they love us, and that’s that.

 Unfortunately, my friend—I’ll call him Matthew—now lives out west and simply can’t get away for the long trudge back home for the burial. So, Matthew grieves among foreigners who don’t understand Southern bereavement. And he feels like Continue reading When the Role Is Called Up Yonder

The Mug

Clouds over Brooklyn, from my apartment (Photo by Larry Garland)

My elbow nudged the mug off the corner of the bathroom sink. It toppled to its side and slid gently into the basin. The good news was that the hot tea was captured and drained immediately. The bad news was the mug suddenly was a mug no more. It looked like it had been mugged, and it was a fatality. What had once been a singularly useful object had been instantly partitioned into an unholy trinity: a three-quarter near-mug, an elongated sliver of porcelain, and an almost circular finger-grip handle that then attached only to air.

It had been a good companion. I felt like giving it a eulogy. My cup of kindness began its life with me back in Continue reading The Mug

A Wandering Minstrel I’m Not

Okay, so it’s been quite a while since I wrote for this space. I’ve been busy. Have you tried becoming a first-time New York City co-op owner? Yeah, I’ve been busy: The “three months buried under a mound of paperwork” kind of busy. Did I mention that the process entails at least four sets of lawyers delightfully burning and slashing as they cut a path through the red tape, sparing the wallets of neither the anxious seller nor the impatient purchaser? Continue reading A Wandering Minstrel I’m Not

Going Home: Crossing over Gowanus

The most amazing view in all of New York City is not what can be seen in the lights at street level in Times Square, or from the rails while riding the waves of the Staten Island Ferry, or even taking in the views from the soaring ramparts of the Empire State Building. By land, sea, or air the winning scenery sits along the two-stop, above-ground section of the subway’s F Line, where it crosses high above Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal.

That largely industrial landscape, dominated by its soaring train trestle, certainly caught my eye the first time I glided over it by train: bleak is the word that came to my mind back then. That was seven years ago—when I first moved here from the South, knowing nothing of the nuances of my newly adopted home. I was not prepared for the metamorphosis that was yet to occur—not of the Brooklyn landscape but of my own mindscape.

There is a hot season of excitement for every new resident who is drawn to this Continue reading Going Home: Crossing over Gowanus

Restoring a Friendship

Ah, the power of Facebook. One day recently, I received a mysterious Friend request. It had no details, just a name—one I didn’t recognize. Or did I? Something about it was vaguely familiar. Soon afterward, another request came in. This one said, “Could you possibly be the Larry Garland I knew back in my college days in Tennessee?” Continue reading Restoring a Friendship

My Grandmother and “The Angels’ Share”

I’m home today, not in my office, because I chose not to share my newly acquired … cold? … with my colleagues. To take my mind off my misery, I decided to sort through some of my stored Letter to the Editor submissions to the New York Times. In doing so, I came across one I had written five years ago that gave me a chuckle.

Sadly, that Old Gray Lady, perhaps suffering from declining hearing, paid no mind to my call for consideration—other than thanking me for my submission and reminding me, with a matronly poke of her dagger, that many letters are received but space (Ha! Make that inclination!) permits use of only a few. Well, I liked it when I wrote it, and I believe it still shines, even though Father Time has spent these past few years testing its mettle. See if you agree that it’s worth a read. The gist of my letter follows:

I grew up just a few miles from Lynchburg, Tennessee, home of the Jack Daniels Distillery. When I read “Whiskey’s Kingdom (Pop. 361),” by R.W. Apple, Jr., published March 17, 2004, recollections stirred in me. I wasn’t thinking of the whiskey itself, as I have never been a connoisseur of fine spirits—I was recalling a droll incident with my grandmother who has long since passed away. Continue reading My Grandmother and “The Angels’ Share”

Paris Found, Paris Lost

Recently, my partner and I went to see the movie Revolutionary Road, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

 

As a married couple with young children, the protagonists have settled for less in their lives than they imagined they would—settling, literally, in suburbia. The wife dreams of moving the family to Paris, finding their true paths, finding themselves. She sells her husband on the idea, and now the fun begins. In revealing their plans to family and friends, they evoke reactions quite unexpected  and wholly disappointing. Continue reading Paris Found, Paris Lost