Thursday, July 7, 2016

A Blast at the Invasion of the Pines

If the rest of the summer is going to be like this past weekend, well it's gonna be a great summer! This particular 4th of July Weekend was a great one from start to finish, full of friends new and old, plenty of fun, new memories, and a little bit of discovery to boot.  Sandwiched among drinks with friends on Friday night and a 4th of July party on Sunday, I got to experience the Fire Island Pines a bit more extensively not once, but twice, and on Monday I had my first opportunity at experiencing the infamous Invasion of the Pines...a complete blast!

The Invasion

According to legend, 40 years ago, in the summer of 1976, a Cherry Grove man by the name of Teri Warren was denied service at a Pines restaurant called the Botel, simply because he was dressed in drag.  Upon hearing of the incident, the freshly crowned Homecoming Queen of the Cherry Grove Arts Project, Thom Hansen, lead a small group of about 9 fellow dragsters over to the Pines to protest.  Though the drag queens expected confrontation, they were instead welcomed wholeheartedly and invited to hang for awhile at the Blue Whale by their more affluent neighbors who were amused at this "invasion of drag queens."  And thus, the Invasion of the Pines was born and has continued and grown ever since.   

After All These Years

In all of the years I have been going to Fire Island I have never gone to see the Invasion of the Pines. Sure, I'd been invited before, even to ride on the boat, but I never accepted an invitation to go until this year.  Since I'd missed the NYC Pride Parade with my pals Manny and Ozzie a week earlier, I couldn't pass up a chance to see what all of the fuss was about.  Besides it was the 4th of July and a beautiful day to boot.

Manny, Ozzie, their friend Tara, her friend Jeannette and I made our way out to the Pines on an early 10:00 ferry.  The invasion is supposed to start at noon, but that's really when the festivities begin over at the Grove.  The main event doesn't really get underway until about an hour later.  When we first arrived the crowd was sparse, but not for long.  By noon the place was absolutely buzzing with people from all walks of life; straight gawkers, wannabe queens, muscleboys and pretty much everything in between.  As the time got closer and closer to the arrival of the boat it was literally standing room only on the dock.  Virtually every inch of space was filled, and it was going to be hard to see it all.  Finally, around 12:30 or so, the red carpet had been laid and the festivities were about to get underway.

After about a half hour of intros and filler, the time for the invasion had come...

Dragsters Galore

As you can see from the video, there were A LOT of drag queens on that boat, and the crowd loved it.  There was something about the spectacle of it all, the outlandish costumes, the performances of God Bless America and other tunes, the dancing and the parading, that made for an exciting celebration.  One by one the dragsters exited the boats as they were introduced and then made their way down he red carpet and off into the depths of the Pines community.

At Manny's suggestion, we had earlier purchased passes to the pool area, and once the parade had begun, my friend ushered us all to that very spot, as that was where most of the queens would end up. He was right, and this was where we got to check out some pretty colorful sights...

The Star of the Show

For me, the best part of the entire day was my friend Ricardo, who participated in the invasion as one of his alter-egos Miss Piggy.  Now Ricardo is a huge part of the gay community out here on Long Island, seen at virtually every major and minor event, recording all with his photos, and he even hosts a Latin Fusion Dance Party once a month at the Veranda in Bay Shore.  He's donned his Piggy outfit once before, but not for such a huge audience.

Piggy was on fire all afternoon, taking 2nd place in a contest of about 85 contestants and he was even mentioned newnownext/logo's blog post about the event.  Yeah, she was that good and you couldn't hep but smile every time you saw her.  God thing for me I got her on video doing her thang so you can see for yourself just how electrifying Piggy was...


All in all it was an awesome day under the sun at the Pines, with good friends and several hundred drag queens. I honestly don't know if I ever really have to do this again, it was soooo crowded....but it was a blast while it lasted!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Flipping the Negative For Some Positive

I'd been looking forward to this all week long, a little, annual get together at Corey Creek Vineyards to celebrate the end of the school year with my pals Terry, Jeannine and Heather.  We'd started the tradition about three years ago on the last Thursday of the school year and every year it's been a real blast. After missing most of the past four weeks at school, and feeling somewhat out of the loop, this was one last chance at enjoying some quality time with work friends before heading off into the summer. Little did I know beforehand that mixed in with all the fun there would be some really good advice and an epiphany that just might make it a good summer for me after all...  

They all saw it on my face the moment I arrived at the table.  What happened? Jeannine was immediately concerned.  

Three herniated disks!  I answered.  And one of them is "severe."  

For the next couple of hours, I was enjoying my time with my friends, but I had a really hard time masking the worry I was feeling. After about an hour, I went off to smoke a cigarette and Heather soon followed.

Dude, you gotta get rid of all of that negative energy.  Her head shook from side to side in a concerned manner.  It's not good for ya.  She could tell I was just thinking bad thoughts and feeling sorry for myself.  She told me some stories about her own life and how negative experiences she'd had taught her one thing: that negative only begets negative.  When you dwell on bad thoughts, nothing good can come out of it, so just count your blessings and forget about least as much as you can.  I completely understood.

As we carried on our evening, I kept thinking of all the things that she had told me, and really it became clear to me.  Either I can go on mourning my situation or just make the most of it.  If I keep a negative spin on this back problem I'm going to have a terrible summer, and that is not what I want. Yeah, I may not be able to do all of the things I would like to do, but it is not the end of the world.   What bothered me more about the bad news really was the fact that I was probably not going to be healed quickly and that I'd be holed up at home for the duration of these very precious two months ahead.  I was feeling sorry for myself.  

I think that maybe fate brought me to spend the evening with Heather that night.  Realistically, I already knew what she was saying, but I think I needed to hear it from someone.  I wasn't thinking in the terms she was saying and was just ready to dwell on how my summer was going to be ruined because of my back problems.  Now I know better.  It is a temporary thing that will go away, and though it may take all summer long, that's not the worst thing that could happen to me.  Besides, even though the MRI had showed a pretty serious condition, I do feel a lot better than I did even just a week ago and who knows, maybe I'll be healed sooner rather than later.

So for what it's worth, thank you Heather!  You've got a wisdom that's beyond ordinary and I appreciate you caring enough to help me snap out of it.  I am a lucky guy, with friends and family who care for me, and in the days since Thursday, quite a few of them have helped me keep some of that positive energy going.  As for my condition, well I'll be headed to a surgeon next, but with any luck, they'll be able to take the pain away quickly and without much fuss.  In the meantime, I'm going to go out and enjoy my summer no matter what!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Getting There

Today is a good far.  If things stay the way they do, I will finally get to the Grove this afternoon with a bunch of my friends.  Fingers crossed!  Over the past several weeks and with more and more frequency, a lot of people have been contacting me to check on how I am doing.  I really am a lucky guy to have so many people in my corner, and I am truly appreciative of your concern.

The purpose of this post, especially for those of you who are not intimately connected to me, but do like to keep apprised on my situation, is to give you an update on my progress.  From what I've learned over the past four weeks now, sciatica is a very painful (Amen!) condition that can take a long time to heal, but it will heal.  I can see that now...

The above graph is a weekly summary from an app on my phone called Pacer.  Basically it's a pedometer that keeps track of your daily steps. As you can see, the number of steps I've taken this week has varied, telling the tale of my state of progress these days.  Even the highest day, Thursday, was at a little over 5,000 steps and is much lower than my normal 10,000, but still it is encouraging.  

The pain I'm experiencing now is still pretty much keeping me stationary, especially after a day when I've done a lot of walking.  Those have been work days for me, Tuesday and Thursday.  Yesterday was an especially bad day, as I was pretty much rendered immobile and in pain virtually all day long. Today, however, the pain has definitely subsided.

So I guess that I am healing, slowly but surely.  As encouraged as I feel on the good days, I'm feeling just as discouraged on the bad ones, but I just have to remember that eventually I'll be back to least I hope so.  Fingers crossed!


Monday, June 13, 2016

The Gun Angle to the Orlando Tragedy

The man in the picture above is 20 year-old James Wesley Howell, from Jeffersonville, Indiana.  In case you may not have heard, Howell was arrested yesterday in Santa Monica, California after police uncovered a virtual arsenal of weapons in his car, including "three assault rifles, high capacity magazines, and ammunition and a five-gallon bucket with chemicals that can be used to make an explosive device (WLKY)."   He told authorities he was heading to the L.A. Gay Pride Parade. Though he never revealed what he intended to do there, I think that after yesterday's tragedy in Orlando, we can only imagine. Thank God he was stopped and we never got to find out.

Of course, there's speculation that Howell was going to perform a similarly heinous mass attack to the one perpetrated by Omar Mateen, but we may never know the truth.  For one thing, James Howell is bisexual and even has a boyfriend, so targeting gays may not have been his intent (though I have a contrary theory on that matter best saved for another time).  What we do know is that a possible, potentially disastrous catastrophe was averted, and only hours after the horrors that unfolded first came to light.

Should all LGBT's be alarmed at this news?  Perhaps, but as I said in my previous post, what happened in Orlando is not about one issue alone.  We should all find it troubling that this young, 20 year-old man had all of these terribly deadly weapons in his possession.  Why does anyone need three assault rifles?  For protection?  Should our answer be to have assault rifles of our own so that we can defend ourselves against someone like James Wesley Howell or Omar Mateen?  Maddeningly, some people think so.   

Throughout history, mankind has come up with some of the most incredible of inventions, technologies to help us survive, to get around, to entertain us, but there is one invention that I wish never happened, and that is the invention of the gun.  Aside from the most incredulous number of them in existence today, the gun is responsible for a lot more harm than we ever even think about.

As a teacher to youngsters who are not only learning history, math and science, but our language as well, I have to explain things to them in the simplest of terms so that they'll get it.  And sometimes when you explain things in such a manner, everything becomes ridiculously clear.  

Two of the greatest human tragedies in history can be attributed to the gun: slavery and the genocide of the Native American.  Think about it.  When the European colonizers went to Africa to gather slaves for hard labor in the New World, how were they able to do so?  It's simple, they had guns and the African peoples did not. It's the same with the Native Americans.  Bows and arrows, or guns? Imagine if guns did not exist during the colonization of North and South America.  Would we exist as we do today?  Like I said, simple yet clearly true.  

The Good Ole Second Amendment

There has been so much said on both sides of the aisle about the Second Amendment to the Constitution that I will not tackle the issue too deeply here.  If you'd like to read some informative pieces from non-partisan authors, I suggest you do a Google search for 'origins of the Second Amendment.'  I will reiterate what I said earlier, that it was written in a very different time, under very different circumstances, and since the Constitution is supposed to be a living, breathing document that changes with the changing times, then it needs to be scrutinized, and sooner rather than later.

During the Revolutionary War, the colonists did not have a well-trained, cohesive army.  They were up against the strongest professional military in the world and so were very mismatched in their struggle for independence.  The average citizen was at the mercy of random British military units and so having the right to defend themselves as such was necessary for the times.  The organization of local militias in such circumstances, was the original purpose of the Amendment.  

Of course these days the Second Amendment has taken on a whole new interpretation. There are no superior armies walking amongst us, and we have one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world.  Today, we view the right to bear arms as a defense against anyone who would do us harm, like Omar Mateen or James Howell or pretty much anyone out there who's got one...and that's a lot! Did that happen yesterday, or during any other of these horrific massacres that have taken place over the past twenty years?  How many murder attempts have been thwarted because the victim had a gun?  I wonder even if that's a realistic statistic to find, but I'd bet it'd be far less than any gun supporter would lead us to believe.

In my research for this post, I Googled "number of guns per country statistics," and I found that the way it is counted is per hundred people.  Not surprisingly, the U.S. leads the pack by a large margin with 88.8 guns owned out of every 100 people.  Next up is Yemen (54.8), Switzerland (45.7), Finland (45.3), and Serbia (37.8).  Though the United States represents less than 5% of the world's population, we carry 35-50% of the world's civilian owned guns at an alarming 270 million owned privately.  

I was surprised at some of the countries on this list, like Switzerland and Finland, as you might be. There is a difference, though.  The U.S. also represents the highest firearm homicide rate, as well, wheres none of these other countries even make the top ten. Why is that?  

Please note that I am not a professional journalist and I realize that statistics like these can be spun and analyzed in virtually any way a spin-meister wants to spin them.  Simply put, though, that's a lot of damned guns and a lot of unnecessary murders, too, just like those poor souls who lost their lives just yesterday at the hands of guns.  

The Gun Angle to the Orlando Tragedy

Of course, commentary on both sides of the aisle on that good old Second Amendment argument have abounded and will continue to in the coming weeks.  It's sad that this issue comes up way too often these days, yet nothing ever changes.  Yesterday's press conference on the Pulse shootings by President Barack Obama was his 16th such meeting with reporters during his eight years as President.
That's a sad fact, and to reiterate what I said yesterday, I don't remember any of the others being called terrorism.

The graphic above shows just a few of the too many mass shootings that have happened in this country over the past 17 years.  High schools.  Elementary schools.  Universities.  Movie theaters. Even churches.  Yet, there are many in this country who continue to cry out that the answer to this problem is leave us to our guns.  If guns never existed, there'd be 156 people in this image alone who would still be alive today.  It's pitiful and it's embarrassing!

A couple of years ago, I wrote of an experience I had in Nashville during one of my Roller Coaster Road Trips with two pals:

While we waited (to get into the Grand Ole Opry), there was this nice local girl working a lunch menu from the entrance to the tour, and I asked her about something I'd been noticing ever since we had arrived in Tennessee.

Practically everywhere we went, there was this sign in the front window indicating "no handguns allowed." I though it was odd, and since the girl was so friendly I thought I'd ask her about it...

Do that many people really carry around guns?

Well, no, not around here in Nashville, but yeah, in the surrounding areas. Sure.

She seemed surprised that we don't carry guns around on our person in New York.  I wouldn't even think of it, unless there was maybe a zombie apocalypse.  Well, there are more murders in New York than Tennessee, so maybe....oh, wait a second!  There are way more people in New York than there are in Tennessee, and actually the gun murder rate, as a percentage, is higher there than it is here. 

Yup, just like I thought...more guns, more murders!  
Clearly, what happened yesterday in Orlando, Florida exposes several terrible realities of our society, and one of the most critical is our love affair with guns. I only hope that this time, more people will tire of these terrible events and start doing something about it.  I don't hold much optimism, but I do hope. 

Stay tuned for more on this mess of a mess, and in the meantime, check out yesterday's post:

U.S. Gun Policy: Global Comparisons - Council on Foreign Relations

U.S. Gun Policy: Global Comparisons