March 16, 2019

Opera Birmingham’s Tosca – I’m one of the priests next to the painting of the Magdalene

It’s another exciting Saturday night chez Duxbury. Kraft macaroni and cheese for dinner, a movie on the blu-ray so I can start work on another column, and a bunch of progress notes from the last week still to be written but which I have no real interest in working on tonight. (I did do half of them this afternoon, I’ll do the other half after tomorrow’s matinee.) No performance tonight. In the opera world, there are never performances on successive days. Gotta give the principals a vocal break so they can sing full out when there are paying customers.

Anyone who has been watching my FB recently knows that the last few weeks have consisted of work (the usual – supplemented by an occasional camel), the viral bronchitis from hell, now finishing it’s fourth week (the acute illness is long gone but it has left an inflammatory reactive airway condition that’s driving me mad), and rehearsals for Tosca with the opera and Man of La Mancha with Virginia Samford Theater.

Tosca opened last night. I counted it up on my fingers and it’s the 14th opera I’ve done since Tommy pushed me into the opera chorus back in 2009. Actually he didn’t push me, but when they were desperate for a larger chorus on short notice for Turandot that year and I asked him if I should go for it, he encouraged me to do it and I’m very thankful that he did. There’s no way I would ever have done something like this without him in my life. Over the years, I’ve been able to sing Aida, Carmen, The Magic Flute, Lucia di Lammermoor and so many other wonderful pieces of music.

Tommy had been intermittently involved with the opera for some years and joined the chorus on a regular basis in 2007 with La Cenerentola, a couple of years before I made my bow. He went from that to La Boheme and, the next year, Barber of Seville and Tosca. I wasn’t able to see that Tosca in 2008 (Kallen Esperian sang the title role and was by all accounts quite wonderful) as I had a show that ran opposite it but I do recall him rehearsing it and coming back from rehearsal excited about how it was all coming together. Tosca had always held a special place in his heart. Many years earlier, in the mid 70s, when he was a boy soprano, he sang the part of the shepherd boy that opens the third act for Birmingham Civic Opera, the precursor to Opera Birmingham. I’ve been looking in various archives for a program or picture of ten year old Tommy doing this but haven’t been successful. He never kept anything. If anyone out there who goes way back in Birmingham music circles has anything about this, I would be most grateful.

Last year’s opera gala – the last picture of the two of us together

All of this operatic activity, is of course, taking me into my head space of last year when we were busy putting together Romeo et Juliette. Tommy became seriously ill immediately after finishing work on the show, entering the hospital just after its closing and never coming out again. The annual opera gala happens about two weeks before the March opera, so as to build interest in the production and to allow the principals to provide some entertainment and as I look back on last years, it seems odd and almost like it was a different lifetime. It was the last major social event we attended. The last picture of us together was taken there. His car accident earlier in the day was probably the first indication of his rapidly worsening health as it was likely caused by a short syncopal episode from his heart which was already failing, we just didn’t know it yet.

Part of me wanted to sit out this whole opera season as there’s so many associations. I did skip the gala this year (I had a legitimate excuse. I had a Man of La Mancha rehearsal that night). I could not skip the opera or my usual chorus duties. That love, which was planted by Tommy, had to be nourished in his honor. In the weeks before he died, we had a couple of conversations about the up coming season. He was so looking forward to revisiting Tosca and trying to figure out how he could balance his front of house duties in such a way so he could be in the chorus for it. As the chorus doesn’t show up until half an hour into Act I, he could have made it work. Tosca is not a big chorus show. Two bits in the first act (including the Te Deum which is a show stopper) and then a cantata in the second act which is sung off stage. The guys have some off stage yelling at the end but it’s just not a whole lot of music or stage time.

Tosca and Scarpia – Act II

This production hits all the high points. Full of brio in Act I, creepy eroticism in Act II, and tragedy in Act III. Friday night’s audience was enraptured and I think we’ll have a similar reception tomorrow. It’s been fun working with Craig Kier again, one of the more laid back maestros but always exacting and precise in what he wants out of singers and orchestra. The more I listen to the show, the more I’m recognizing where Andrew Lloyd Webber cribbed some of his music from. Prima Donna from Phantom of the Opera is right out of the middle of Act I.

I’m playing a priest in Tosca. Usually, when it comes to opera chorus, I’m the town drunk so I suppose a priest is a nice change. I’m in the standard all black outfit with a white clerical collar. I did add one special touch, if you look closely at my feet, you’ll notice I’m wearing bright pink socks. One does want a hint of color. Don’t worry, Mary Gurney, the brilliant costumer, OKd the joke as next to no one is ever going to notice. I’m also carrying a rosary. It’s Tommy’s rosary. He bought it at the cathedral in Jackson Square NOLA one day. I’m not sure why. He had a fascination for the music of catholic ritual, especially the mass. One of his many projects that he wanted to get to eventually was to compose a Catholic Mass for children’s voices. I have his Liber Usualis and various other materials he was using for research. What I’m going to do with them, I don’t know.

Cavadarossi and the Firing Squad – Act III

Good opera heightens the emotions and brings both performers and audience to a slightly different plane of being. There’s not a lot of other theatrical forms that can do that. As I sit backstage and listen to Puccini night after night, I know I’m being transported in some way. Maybe it’s Tommy’s way of connecting. I just know that I’m both feeling closer to him and missing him more the last week or so than I have for a while. It might be at least in part the fact that I’m coming up on the anniversaries of both his birth and his death. Having done this before, those first year milestones are hard. I’ll soldier on, I always do.

And people are counting on my getting up tomorrow and being places and doing things…

February 25, 2019

I’ve just gotten out of a long hot shower where I’ve been treating my bronchitis with steam inhalation and my sore muscles with the shower massage heads. The master shower that does everything in this house was one of the selling points when Tommy and I decided to purchase it three years ago. When I go to move, I’m going to have to find something that has similar features. I’m spoiled. I was standing there with rivulets of hot water splashing down my sides and I started to sing the first act finale of Sunday in the Park with George to myself. I got to ‘arrangements of shadows’ and burst into tears and couldn’t stop for a while. Weird emotional jags usually means its time to do some processing so down I sit to do some writing and puzzle things out.

I came home from the Caribbean, launched into rehearsal for two shows at once and, of course, developed yet another viral bronchitis within 36 hours. I had to slow down a bit last week so as to not get too far behind the 8 ball and I’m on the mend, but the post viral inflammatory cough remains and I am still very tired and achy. Thank god for DayQuil and NyQuil. They keep me going. Monday is my hardest day stamina wise at work and I made it through without too many problems so I should be good for the rest of the week. And, I’m in bed before 8:00 so I should get plenty of sleep. (This is an invitation for me to wake up at 2:30 and be unable to get back to sleep but hope springs eternal).

The first show is Tosca at the opera. I’m usual third nobody from the left in the chorus (and I’m just fine with that at the opera). It’s not a big chorus show so rehearsal commitments aren’t arduous and it’s not a particularly big sing. There’s a bunch of supernumerary work in this one but I’m leaving that to the younger and more energetic folks. Two more music rehearsals this week, than moving into staging.

The second is Man of La Mancha at Virginia Samford Theater. I’m the Captain of the Inquisition (read jailer) which means I start the whole thing out by throwing Cervantes into jail and then I show up again at the end to get him back out of the dungeon. Again, not difficult. I’m the only member of the cast that doesn’t spent the whole 90 minutes of the show on stage. We were doing exercises on Friday night to get the rest of the cast to hate me and everything I represent. Kind of a cross between Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment and the last sequence of Suddenly Last Summer. Uncomfortable, either way. This one is going to be good. It’s only running two weekends rather than the usual three so I suggest getting tickets now.

Sunday in the Park with George at Birmingham Southern College

Now back to my moodiness, two things coming together I think. The first was going to see Sunday in the Park with George at Birmingham Southern College on Saturday night. It’s a show that’s always spoken to me. It premiered at the end of my senior year of college and, while I was too poor to get to New York to see the original production, I was able to devour the LP, discuss it ad nauseam with theater friends, and eventually see the original via Great Performances on PBS. I’ve always had an affinity for Sondheim. He writes from the perspective of the alienated outsider peering in the window at the party and I, like most gay men, completely understand all the nuances of that point of view. George, the protagonist, is the quintessential Sondheim hero, striving, dispassionate, aloof, focused to the point of obsession. Sound familiar? When the first act ends with the gorgeous chorale as Seurat assembles his masterpiece from the fragments he has been collecting and the audience is taken on a audio/visual journey of genius at work, I always tear up. This week, I was more than tearing.

What did it to me? I think it was actually an earlier scene in the play. When George and his mistress Dot realize they are at an irreconcilable impasse and part to the song We Do Not Belong Together. As I was watching the scene, I was smacked between the eyes. I always knew I was George but it had never occurred to me that Tommy was Dot. As they had their final arguments, tapes of any number of the fights the two of us had over the years unspooled through my memory and limbic system. The dynamics were identical. And just like George loses Dot, I have irrevocably lost Tommy. It’s a death rather than a departure but the end result is the same. Our A number one cause of conflict was my emotional remoteness and his constant need for presence that I didn’t always know how to fulfill.

I’m probably still on a bit of downhill run from the cruise as well. Someone once asked me why gay men go on cruises and other such group vacations together. It’s really mainly about connection and reaffirmation of a tribal identity. It’s about creating a space where behavior that may be looked down on by the straight world is not merely tolerated, but celebrated. We all get together, let our inner butterflies out for a time, recharge the batteries and then go back to our caterpillar existences for a while long, ready to face those challenges as we know there are others who have our back and like us the way we are. Over the years that I’ve been taking these kinds of trips, it’s been interesting to see the changes in the hospitality industry itself and how it relates to a LGBT charter. Twenty years ago, there was deep suspicion and it was hard to book the best properties or staff. Now, cruise staff fight to get assigned to those weeks. Gay men, as outsiders, treat staff courteously and with respect. Staff are invited to participate in the party. We tip well. And, most importantly, no children.

Universal Studios Hollywood

This has been a bit heavy so I better tell a somewhat light hearted story tonight. I was reminded of this one by something Amy Light had posted about what’s a food you hate that everyone else seems to love. So this is the tale of why Andy does not eat bananas. I used to eat bananas with abandon, like any good American middle class child. In Seattle in the winter, it was one of the few fruits you could get before the days of widebody air shipping of produce all over the world. Anyway, I need to take you back to the early days of Andy and Steve, I think spring of 1989 or 1990.

I inherited my father’s GI tract. It’s very finicky. It gets upset easily. It doesn’t like strange water in particular. Over the years, I have learned how to beat it into submission with a couple of medications but it still will get the best of me from time to time. For some reason, every time I go to Los Angeles, it gets set off. This has been happening since I was teenager and there’s usually been at least a day on every visit when it wants nothing more heavy duty than Ginger Ale.

Steve was an LA boy so, when we got together, we went to LA fairly routinely to see his friends. On this particular trip, we decided we wanted to go to Universal Studios to take the back lot tour. We’d both done it in the past, but never together. So we got up early so as to be there when it opened and get an early tram. I was queasy coming up the hill from the parking lot and told Steve that I didn’t want to eat anything. Steve, who never missed a meal, was sure I would fall over in a dead faint if I didn’t have something to eat, so he bought me a banana at the snack bar and stood there to make sure I ate it. I ate it alright. Five minutes later, my stomach rejected it mightily. We were in the middle of the ticket plaza. There was no restroom. All I could do was lean over the parapet and let the remains of the banana fly off the scenic vista and into the flowerbed forty feet below, much to the amusement and consternation of the other tourists hiking up the walk. Steve was mortified. But he did learn an important lesson. He never again force fed me anything if I said I wasn’t feeling well. My nausea centers also learned a lesson. Banana bad. I really haven’t been able to eat one since.

February 17, 2019

Travel day

Dateline:  Birmingham, Alabama –

And another trip comes to an end.  I went to bed early last night, intending to get a sound sleep and energy for a travel day which, of course, meant that I slept very badly, waking up every 20 minutes or so.  Perhaps it was too much red wine at dinner.  Perhaps it was the knowledge that I have to gear up for my usual life, rather than a more relaxed pace. Around 6:30, I gave up and got up.  The packing had been done the night before, the boat was already docked at Port Everglades, so there was nothing to do but have a leisurely breakfast and wait for my group to be called so we could disembark.  I must say, the cruise industry has the moving of large numbers of people down to an exact science.  Perhaps they’ve taken a course at Disney University.  They called my group at 9:15.  I was off the boat, reunited with my luggage, through customs and in a taxi by 9:50.  The airport is close to the cruise port so I was checking in for my noon flight by 10:15. I had been worried that I was cutting it a little close with that flight time.  I needn’t have been.

The flight to ATL and then from ATL to BHM were uneventful.  Birmingham was muggy and rainy and is apparently going to rain all week.  Ah well, I’ve had my sunshine quotient for the winter and my Vitamin D supplies should be replenished.  I was back at the house around four, unpacked, and then had time to run grab some dinner before my first chorus rehearsal for Tosca this evening.  I’d been eating such a balanced diet all week, that I must confess tonight was Bojangles fried chicken with dirty rice and mac and cheese.  Don’t judge, I was hungry.

Rehearsal periods for Tosca and Man of La Mancha are simultaneous but I don’t have a ton to do in either one of them so it’s mainly going to be a matter of me keeping my calendar straight so I show up in the right rehearsal hall on the right day at the right time.  Tosca is over and done with in four weeks.  Man of La Mancha opens in six.  There’s not likely to be much in the way of travelogue while all that’s going on.  I’m looking at a brief Seattle trip in late April or early May to check on the family but that’s going to depend on a lot of things falling into place.

No story tonight.  I’m finishing up moving all of these posts over to the blog site and looking to see what I’ve already talked about so I don’t get too repetitive.

February 16, 2017

The Beach at Half Moon Cay

Dateline: Half Moon Cay, The Bahamas:

I bounced out of bed around seven this morning, ready to go.  I seem to be doing this alternating thing between sleeping to all hours and wide awake with the sun.  I’m not sure what in my circadian rhythms causes that but on a vacation like this, it doesn’t really matter much one way or another.  I got up, had breakfast, several cups of coffee, grabbed my book and headed up to the observation lounge to watch us sail towards and dock at Half Moon Cay.  It’s one of those small islands that every cruise company seems to have somewhere in the Caribbean, where they can give passengers a beach day while still being able to control the experience and make sure the extra revenues continue to flow up to their corporate coffers.  As this is my first time on Holland America, this particular stop was new to me. 

The beach was lovely.  The water actually a bit cooler than I was expecting and therefore refreshing.  The food was the same as the cruise ship buffet line.   It was a pleasant few hours in the sun.  I got slightly pink, but not too badly burned thanks to SPF 100.  A flock of semi-domesticated chickens which strutted around the area provided free entertainment.   They should consider putting them on stage.  They might be better than some of the in house offerings. 

Eventually we weighed anchor, had one last tea dance on the fan tail (the them being jade so all the costumes were variations on green.  Think of 250 pound bearded men dressed as Disney’s Tinkerbelle).  I had a cocktail, watched the party and retired early as I am pretty much danced out for the week.  Then a very nice dinner with Jeff, West, Lee, and some new friends and packing up to disembark in the morning.  The show tonight is Ty Herndon.  I’ve seen him in more intimate settings in the past so felt do need as I am staying in the cabin and watching movies.  I want to see if I can get some decent sleep as it’s a travel day tomorrow and my first rehearsal for Tosca in the evening.

Tommy’s skin demonstrating why he didn’t like the beach

I’ve been trying to think of a Tommy in the tropics story to tell.  We didn’t do that much beach vacationing together as his skin tone was such that he burned about fifteen minutes after arriving at the airport and he had to hide under the nearest palm tree in a caftan for self protection.  (I am exaggerating a bit there but it’s my life so I can if I want to).  We did spend a week on an Atlantis Trip to the Mayan Riviera in the spring of 2004.  There, among other things, we spent a day at a nature/amusement park called Xcaret which featured several underground rivers that flowed through limestone caverns to the sea.  Tommy was in his element with these.  You put on a life vest, and bobbed along with the current.  It took about 45 minutes to traverse the whole thing.  Being underground, we were out of the sun, the water was warm, and with a travel group of gay men, we could hang on to each other as we floated downstream without anyone thinking anything of it.  I think we floated the whole thing four times.  There were various other things there such as a zoo, a swim with the dolphins lagoon, and some paddle boats through the mangroves but none of the rest of it has stayed with me.  Tommy was having serious back problems that trip and had to walk with a cane.  He had back surgery a few weeks later with some improvement but ended up having to have a second surgery about five years later.  But bobbing along in the water, he felt weightless and wonderful and I think he was as happy as he had ever been that day.

February 15, 2019

Nieuw Amsterdam Casino

Dateline: Somewhere East of the Bahamas –

Today is another sea day.  I slept in, rolled over, looked at the dreary skies and rain outside the stateroom windows, and decided to sleep in some more.  I did get up eventually, having missed breakfast and took a constitutional and did some reading.  I then had lunch with Rich Campbell, who owns and runs both Atlantis Events and RSVP Vacations, two of the major gay travel companies.  Rich and I go back more than twenty years at this point as Steve and I first started to travel with Atlantis before they even had cruises.  Rich and I have kept tabs on each other, but hadn’t actually seen each other for pushing fifteen years so it was nice to catch up on things over Indian food.

I then retired back to the stateroom and did some writing.  Sue Millinocket will be happy to know there’s another MNM column finished and one beyond that should be done by the end of the day tomorrow.  There wasn’t a whole lot happening on shipboard in general so it was the perfect day for it.  Eventually there was another nap, a nice dinner, and some time in the piano bar.  I was tempted to return to the slot machines, but I was good and have remained $100 ahead for the cruise.  It won’t pay for the vacation, but it should take a big bite out of the bar bill.

There’s another dance party tonight late on the deck.  I shall wander up to look at the outfits.  The theme is ‘Royalty’ and on my way back to the cabin I was nearly run over by a guy in a gorilla suit and crown with a name tag reading King Kong so it sounds like there might be some interesting looks up there.  And I did bring my chainmail shirt…

Chainmail – it’s heavy and it’s cold

After last night’s very long post and story, I think I’m out of gas tonight.  I’ll try to think of something interesting to write up tomorrow night, which is our last night on board.  Cruise time is very different from land time.  In some ways, it feels like living in a Las Vegas Casino.  There is no day; there is no night; everything just is in the moment.  My college roommate Craig Mollerstuen is working for Holland America on the Alaska run this summer.  I’ll have to call him and find out exactly what he’s doing.  He was working as a tour guide for the shore excursions last summer.   It seems to be his semi-retirement calling.  I once looked into working for a cruise line as a ship’s doctor.  Looking at the contract and expectations was enough to disabuse me of ever wanting to do that.

One more travelogue update tomorrow night, a wrap up the night after, and then back to intermittent long posts depending on life and emotional state.  I have no major traveling planned from now until late June but I may have the occasional weekend away or make a jaunt to Seattle to check up on the family.  I’ll figure it out as time goes on.  In the meantime, I go into rehearsal for two shows as soon as I get back to Birmingham so that should keep me out of trouble.

February 14, 2019

Cruise Port – Sint Maarten

Dateline: Phillipsburg, Sint Maarten –

I’d forgotten how conducive cruise ships are to decent sleep patterns.  The gentle rocking of the boat, plus after dinner cocktails usually leads to a good eight hours or so.  That was certainly true last night.  I dropped off sometime just after midnight and didn’t stir until about nine o’clock this morning.  The ship was docked in St. Maarten (the Dutch side – St. Martin, the French side is a few miles away – both countries seem to have been cohabiting one rather small island for centuries without much issue).  I have very specific memories of St. Martin from a prior trip (which I will go into detail with later in this post) which has made it something of a touchy subject in my life.  I therefore did not feel a particular need to go ashore other than for a brief walk through the cruise port where I contributed my twenty dollars to the local economy by buying a T shirt.  Instead, I used the day to read, to do some writing, to continue to get the new blog site in order (it’s more or less complete up through the first half of the Thailand trip), and to avail myself of the ship’s spa without having to battle with a dozen muscle queens for space in the hydro pool.

There were three other ships in port besides us, all bigger than we are which means something over 10,000 cruise passengers were descending on a town whose permanent resident population is somewhat smaller than that.  I figured that was also a good reason to stay close to the ship.  We pulled out about three in the afternoon with a Valentine’s themed tea dance happening on the pool deck.  You could see the passengers and crew of the other ships gathered at the rails to watch us depart and it wasn’t too hard to pick out the look of longing on some of the faces.  We know we’re fabulous and much more fun- come join the party.

Gathering for the Valentine’s dance

After that, gala dinner in the dining room (Asiatic duck and shrimp cocktail) and then I went to the casino where I managed to turn $50 into $200 on the slots and wisely stopped playing before I could lose it all again and went and sat in the piano bar instead and sang along to show tunes.  The dance party tonight is classic disco which is much more my music than most of the current techno so I’m going to head for that for a bit before bed.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk all day and it has to do with the combination of Valentine’s Day and St. Martin.  Often times when I get moody, I’m not really sure what’s causing it.  This one hits me right between the eyes.  What’s the connection you may ask?  It’s Steve.

Steve and I met sometime in mid February of 1989.  Neither of us could remember the exact date so we always used Valentine’s day as our anniversary.  Those of you with basic math skills have by now figured out that, had he lived, today would have been our 30th anniversary.  He’s been gone more than 17 years now so I only get little pangs when I think of him and our special moments, but I always feel him when conversation hearts hit the stores.  (I was actually able to find a bag this year, despite the national shortage.  This made me happy.)

In 1999, when we had been together for ten years, we booked ourselves on an Atlantis Events trip to a resort on St. Martin.  It was in late October and in celebration of having survived our first year in Birmingham together. Our first year in Birmingham had not been especially happy.  There was a lot of culture shock for two gay boys from California.  I was still reeling psychologically from the wanton destruction of my career at UC Davis by forces far beyond my control.  Steve had been unable to find a job other than temp work.  He was so miserable, he kept threatening to move back to California and leave me there.  And then the summer hit.  Neither of us had ever lived in a climate with humidity and we learned to hate it quite rapidly.

Steve had been a smoker earlier in his life and had had some mild asthmatic/chronic lung issues for a few years but that first summer, when we met the Southern climate head on, his breathing got worse.  We assumed it was due to the weather and it would get better in the fall after the heat broke and we were dealing with saner temperatures again.  Neither of us was especially worried about it. By October, things were cooling down slightly, we were both more or less resigned to life in Birmingham and we had a week of fun in the sun to look forward to with a number of friends.

We were due to fly out of Birmingham Friday night to Miami, spend the night in an airport hotel so we could catch the Atlantis charter flight to St. Martin on Saturday.  I came home from work at noon on Friday to get us ready to go only to find out that Miami was under siege from Hurricane Irene, the airport was closed and the flight was canceled.  They were willing to rebook us that night through Houston but with no guarantee on when they could get us to Miami.  I said no thank you, we looked at each other and then we drove to Atlanta and spent the night at an airport hotel there.  Miami was open again the next morning and, with all the disruptions, we had no problems finding a morning flight there and we arrived hours before the charter was due to leave.

The one, the only Miss Richfield 1981, aka Russ King

Atlantis now had the unenviable task of trying to track down guys all over the country booked on their charter whose travel plans had been upended.  The charter would be delayed.  Steve and I settled down on a not particularly comfortable piece of floor of the charter terminal as guys trickled in.  We were joined by Russ King (better known as Miss Richfield 1981) who was joining the gang for the first time and we first got to know him during the endless hours of waiting.  Eventually, eight or so hours late, the charter took off and we arrived in St. Martin and were bussed to the hotel arriving sometime around 3 AM.

The next couple of days were lovely.  The resort was nice with a great beach, we toured the island, we did some shopping.  All the usuals and it looked like it was going to be a restful and reenergizing week.  Now, unbeknownst to us, a couple of things were happening outside the confines of the resort.  First, this was in the early days of large scale gay travel and the locals were deeply suspicious.  Word had gotten out, egged on by some local conservative preachers, that we were there to recruit children and have mass gay weddings on the beach.  This led to a number of the resort staff to call in sick so they wouldn’t have to wait on us and a certain amount of hostility in town.  There was nothing overt, just a lot of dirty looks.  Second, another hurricane system, Hurricane Jose had formed and was speeding directly towards St. Martin.  This was pre smart phone and everyone was pretty unplugged from news that week so we didn’t know about it (although we should have gotten a clue when we saw everyone boarding up their windows while out and about on tour). 

The afternoon before the hurricane was due to hit, Steve started to complain of being more short of breath than usual.  We were walking up the hill from the pool to the building where our room was and I could hear him panting behind me.  When I turned around to look at him, he was cyanotic.  And there wasn’t a whole lot I was going to be able to do about it on a tropical island preparing for a direct hit from a hurricane.  I put him to bed that night and told him to take it easy.  He felt better the next day but decided mainly to nap.  The winds had picked up, the staff was pretty much gone, and we were all left to fend for ourselves.  We had been told no alcohol which of course meant that we all drank every drop in the place at the mother of all hurricane parties on the beach. 

As evening approached, the winds continued to increase.  The deep sea birds, albatrosses and the like, came in and hovered over the sand, turned out to sea… waiting…   The rains started shortly after dark.  Steve and I had economized on a ‘garden view’ rather than a ‘sea view’ room so our room was on the ground floor and at the back of the resort, well away from the beach and the winds that came howling in off the ocean.  Even still, the windows kept buckling slightly and water kept pouring under the door.  Steve, who was already having respiratory problems, descended into full out hyperanxiety and panic attacks.  I had two things with which to treat him.  A decent bedside manner and a brown paper bag.  As  the wee hours of the morning wore on, the winds finally died away but the rains continued to come down in torrents (and did so for the next three days). 

The resort was a bit of a mess when viewed next morning.  Some of the roofs had come off, a lot of windows were broken.  Power was back on thanks to a generator and the manager and his family, the only staff on site, somehow managed to produce a hot breakfast for several hundred bedraggled queens.  Those who had splurged on sea view rooms had had to spend most of the previous night in their bathtubs for protection.  No one was seriously injured and everyone made the best of it over the next few days until the buses came to get us and take us back to the airport.  There we found we were the lucky ones.  We were on the French side and had more or less been free to do as we pleased.  On the Dutch side, everyone was in a lock down curfew in their hotel rooms and had been miserable for days.

One final memory of bumping down the semi-washed out road from the resort on the way back to town was turning for one last look and seeing a column of smoke rising from one of the buildings.  The hotel was on fire: a perfect metaphor for the week.

Steve’s breathing had not really improved, but with the storm over, he was no longer having panic attacks.  I do not advise anyone to spend time with someone having such things during a category 2 hurricane.  It’s highly unpleasant.  We got back to the mainland, spent a night in a hotel in Miami and eventually, somewhat the worse for wear, made our way back to Birmingham.  The first thing I did when we got back was drag him down to my clinic and get him a chest X-ray.  When I saw the film, I didn’t know what was wrong but I knew he was going to die.  It looked that bad.  This was the week that the pulmonary fibrosis that was to kill him two years later made itself known.

Those of us who survived that Atlantis trip have never forgotten it.  Wayne Moore, Bruce McDonald, Rich Campbell – you were all there.  I’ve always thought we should have had special pins made ‘I survived Atlantis Events St. Martin 1999’.  It’s not too late.

It should be pretty clear now why I wasn’t terribly keen to get off the boat.  How ironic that I would spend our 30th anniversary in the one place on the planet that has the worst connotations for the two of us.  It wasn’t planned.  It’s just the way it worked out and I didn’t even realize it until this week.  Steve’s either completely pissed at me or laughing his head off.  I don’t know which.  Maybe I’ll figure it out the next few days.

February 13, 2019

Tourists in Old San Juan

Dateline: San Juan, Puerto Rico –

Stop number two on this particular cruise.  There were apparently strong headwinds last night so we were an hour late getting in.  That suited me just fine as we have set the clocks forward an hour from Eastern to Atlantic time and I wanted to sleep in anyway.  So, after a leisurely breakfast, I watched San Juan harbor come into view and the ship make a smooth sail into its mooring berth.  It’s rather amazing how well these huge boxy ships maneuver in tight quarters.  I once had a tour of the bridge on one of the big Norwegian Cruise Liners.  (It pays to know people).  The technology they use to keep everything just right is quite remarkable. 

Old San Juan Fort

I’ve been to San Juan several times in the past.  I was racking my brain how many times and with whom and decided it was in 1999 with Steve and in 2002 during the period when I was single between husbands.  Tommy and I were also here together in 2005 on our last cruise together before life and finances took us in other directions.  Old San Juan hasn’t changed in the last twenty years.  It probably hasn’t changed that much in the last two hundred other than the addition of electricity and modern sanitation.  Lee and I took a long walk through town, did some shopping and toured the old Spanish fort that protected the harbor.  My pedometer was very happy at all the walking.  The fort is the major tourist attraction and a world heritage site.  Parts of it date back to the early 16th century and it’s still possible to conjure up the ghosts of generations of Spanish soldiers patrolling the battlements, keeping their cannon at the ready.

Hamilton in San Juan harbor

Old San Juan has recovered from hurricane Maria.  There’s not much in the way of visible damage but I’m sure if one was to venture out from that highly visible part of town, it would become clear how devastating the storm had been.   There was still a monument to Lin-Manuel Miranda floating in the harbor celebrating his recent run in Hamilton there as a fund raiser for Puerto Rican relief.  It’s rather sad when a private citizen does more than the federal government in terms of visibility and reminder of what the island continues to deal with.

More pool time this afternoon, followed by dinner (Wiener Schnitzel) and then a show by Christina Bianco, one of the female vocal impressionists who do such things as Forbidden Broadway.  She was quite funny and I won’t soon forget Julie Andrews singing Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’.  Tonight’s late night dance party has the theme of Taboo.  That’s a dangerous one on a gay cruise.  I put on suitable clothes (which I will neither describe nor post a picture of – let us just say I won’t be wearing the outfit to work in the near future) and danced on deck until some sudden rain squalls chased everyone indoors.  I used that as an excuse to come down to bed early where I am writing this.  I also updated the blog site all the way up to my Thailand trip.  Only about twenty more entries to move over.

I’m trying to think of something interesting that may have happened on one of my other San Juan trips that would make a good story.  Nothing much is coming to mind.  I remember next to nothing about the visit with Steve.  The time I was on my own, I bought a very nice kite with a tiger motif.  It hung in the stairwell of the old house for years.  When there was no proper place for it in the new house after the move, we took it to Tommy’s music classroom where it still hangs from the ceiling.  The visit with Tommy, I remember vaguely walking through town with him and with someone else.  I can’t for the life remember who that was.  It might have been Shann Carr or Wayne Moore but I could be completely misremembering.  Either way, I don’t recall anything very interesting happening.