Seasonal gatherings

(Some reflections on my life as an old man, disabled, living alone — resolutely and defiantly — in the midst of this endless, constantly morphing, pandemic. Trying to be clear-eyed about all of this, but a certain amount of unpleasant self-pity will no doubt creep into my account, so this posting isn’t for everyone.)

Two occasions on December 19th, together making my social life for the Christmas season: from 10 to 1 (Pacific time), a Zoom gathering of soc.motss folk (a community going back to the Usenet social newsgroup for lgbt-folk and their friends — members of the same sex — a community I joined in 1985); then at 2, an hour’s visit from my entire immediate family: my daughter, Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky (who lives here in Palo Alto), and my grandchild, Opal Eleanor Armstrong Zwicky (visiting for a few weeks from their first year at college, at the University of Pittsburgh).

These two occasions unified by little more than my costume: my in-your-face FAGGOT t-shirt above, and my Swiss-flag gym shorts below.

Faggot above, Swiss below:

(#1) The boldly and proudly queer shirt, plus my ultra-butch buzzcut

(#2) The boldly and proudly Helvetic shorts

In Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe, young Strephon, whose fairy mother married a mortal man, is (as a result) a fairy down to his waist, but his legs are are mortal. On 12/19, I was a faggot down to my waist, but my legs were Swiss.

Not your usual aged-(grand)dad costume, but then Elizabeth and Opal are long-inured to this sort of thing. I used to clean up for significant public occasions, but then I haven’t been on display for a significant public occasion for years, so now I pretty much do as I please.

motss Zoom. For many years it was our annual custom to gather someplace for a long motss.con weekend, of meals and parties and sightseeing and hanging out, enjoying each other’s company, in places all over the US and Canada and parts of Europe (twice, in Palo Alto). In between, there were occasional spontaneous mini-cons, when traveling motssers, visiting someplace, attracted others (sometimes to my own living room).

All that was shelved in the pandemic, but eventually several of our number proposed occasional Zoom gatherings, which (though I’m not very adept at using Zoom) I have come to get great pleasure from. In friendship groups, I’m much more of a side participant — observing and responding with facial expressions, supportive noises, and the occasional comment — than a central performer, and I’m comfortable with that. And I very much enjoy being in a friendly group with many different interactional styles mixed together.

On the geographical range of the participants (who joined in and dropped out throughout the time I was there), all from North America this time (I quite probably have forgotten some people; I should have taken notes):

— from the West: (NW) Vancouver BC, Portland OR; (NoCal) Sacramento (usually, but posting that day from a cruise ship in Mexico, with live footage from their phone), San Francisco, Palo Alto; (SoCal) Los Angeles, Claremont; (SW) Gleeson AZ

— from Mid-America: Omaha NE (with a trip to the carwash [music below], caught on their phone’s camera for us)

— from the Northeast: (New England) upstate VT (with a trip grocery shopping, caught on their phone’s camera), Cambridge MA; (Mid-Atlantic) Pittsburgh (PA West); Bethlehem, Philadelphia (PA East)

— from the Southeast: Boone NC, Venice FL

That’s where we are now, but many of us have moved around from the point when we arrived in soc.motss: Columbus OH to Palo Alto CA (me); Boston to San Francisco; Cleveland to Columbus to upstate NY to Pittsburgh; PA to FL; Minneapolis to San Francisco to eastern PA; and more. We are a restless people (both academia and the tech world promote mobility).

At the car wash in Omaha. The music. From “Car Wash” (a disco-funk single by Rose Royce, released in 1976):

You might not ever get rich
But let me tell ya it’s better than diggin’ a ditch
There ain’t no tellin’ who you might meet
A movie star or maybe even an Indian chief

At the car wash
Workin’ at the car wash, girl
Come on and sing it with me

(C’mon, sing it with the motssers!)

Visitors at home. If I’m to see people face to face, they pretty much have to come to me, because my mobility is so limited. When I got fully vaccinated, I had a small burst of visits, but then came Delta. I got a booster and had a very small series of visitors, but by then I was so needy for company, so full of things I’d had no one to talk with about, that I’m afraid I seized my visiting friends by their figurative lapels, engaged them in a tsunami of conversation, and was reluctant to release them. I became Coleridge’s ancient mariner (‘aged seaman’):

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

I fear thee, ancient Mariner!
I fear thy skinny hand!

I fear thee and thy glittering eye’

… and thy relentless colloquy

— Samuel Taylor Coleridge,”The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (written in 1797–98 and published in 1798 in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads)

Vows were made to meet again, but I fear I scared them off. But then came Omicron, and air too cold for me to breathe without pain, and rain I didn’t know how to negotiate while using a walker, so it was all moot.

Food and a lovely gift. With one thing and another, Christmas celebrations had already dried up almost to dust for me, so I just let them vanish completely this year and embraced my solitude. I made myself a Japanese version of my all-purpose East Asian soup (mirepoix, plus sautéed finely chopped black forest ham, broth (beef this time), some miso paste, lots of chopped bean thread, chopped clams, some tofu, Japanese spices), which produced two large bowls of soup, one for Christmas Day, one for Boxing Day. It is very satisfying. (It’s essentially the only cooking I do, and it’s mostly assembly, but there’s enough chopping and stirring and slicing that it takes hours and hurts my poor hands like hell, so I do it only a few times a year.

But this year’s Xmas version pleased me so much that I did a Korean version for New Year’s (the 1st and the 2nd): as before, but chicken broth instead of beef, Szechuan green beans left over from NYE Chinese takeout instead of tofu, chopped mushrooms instead of clams, lots of kimchee instead of Japanese spices.

Meanwhile, back on Christmas Eve, my friend John Le (who used to run the Three Seasons restaurant — Vietnamese fusion — here in Palo Alto, where I hung out for some years, and now runs the District 7 restaurant in San Jose’s District 7, Vietnamese, neighborhood) posted about his holiday food preparation, which included a mouth-watering photo of a huge slice of cheesecake. I sent John holiday greetings, admired his photography, and wildly admired his cheesecake, noting in passing how fond of cheesecake I was.

Back came greetings from John, who said he would be coming through Palo Alto on Christmas Day and would bring me a piece of cheesecake as a gift, would I be home at 2? I said that was absurdly sweet, but yes I’d be home at 2.

Christmas morning, as I was heating up the East Asian Soup, John e-mailed again to say he’d be a bit earlier, and he had some little Christmas things for me — just his version of boeuf bourguignon, some celery root puree, and a bit of his cauliflower bisque. (Well, I thought, all of this would keep, because I was about to tuck into into the mid-day meal.)

John arrived around 1 with two gigantic slices of cheesecake and containers of enough beef, celeriac puree, and bisque for (as it turned out) three hearty meals. The boeuf bourguignon and celeriac puree — everyday French food that Ann Daingerfield Zwicky made so wonderfully — caused me to break out in happy-nostalgic tears, which somewhat alarmed John, until I explained.

John wanted to just drop the food off and race on, but like the ancient mariner, I would not let him pass, and obliged him to talk about his life these days. He has taken his parents — older even than me — into his house so he can provide them with the round-the-clock care they need as they near the ends of their lives. (It calms them to know their son is in the house.) John has hired helpers for all of this, but that’s a difficult juggling act in itself, and I gave him the Caregivers Need Care Themselves lecture, which John took seriously because he knows that mine was the voice of experience. (Even in the giant-letter GAY AS FUCK t-shirt I happened to be wearing; I don’t think anything in my presentation of self would take John by surprise anymore.)

It was a fine visit, and the food was a lovely gift.

I have now plotted to get another visit from Elizabeth and Opal, tomorrow. Now in my KN95 mask. Rolling with the times.

2 Responses to “Seasonal gatherings”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Does this mean that Three Seasons (where we have been with you on at least two occasions) is no more, or only that John Le no longer runs it?

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