Ich bin Oberliner

I just returned from a week-long vacation, much of which was spent in Oberlin, Ohio of all places.

Oberlin is a small town in northern Ohio a bit southwest of Cleveland, that would appear to be a perfect example of typical, picturesque All-American small town. The reality, however, is that there’s very little that’s typical about it. It was founded in the 1830s at the same time as Oberlin College, which was founded by two Presbyterian ministers who were strongly committed to a progressive understanding of the Christian faith. Women and blacks were admitted as students at Oberlin from the get-go, which would make the place atypical enough, but the town carried that understanding of the faith further, making it a hotbed of abolitionism and an important node on the Underground Railroad. Commitment to issues of social justice is just in the DNA of Oberlin.

Despite its very small size, the college is a very highly regarded school and a world-class conservatory of music. The campus is a veritable walking museum of architecture, with many examples of works by some of America’s most noteworthy architects. The town also boasts its own Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian house, which is now owned by the college and is open to the public.

Another atypical aspect of the place is that in June of every year, some of the finest violin makers from around the world converge on Oberlin for a gathering sponsored by the Violin Society of America. This event is an intensive two-weeks of hands-on time in the workshop, attending seminars, learning new techniques, and sharing of ideas among some the uppermost tier of the art and craft. This year, the 60 attendees came from 14 different countries, coming as far away as Australia – which is not quite, but almost as far away as a person can possibly be from Oberlin, Ohio. Of course, the gathering isn’t all work and no play – it’s also a time of friendship, camaraderie, and with just the right amount of silliness thrown in, too.

Because George is one of those attendees, I’ve been to Oberlin for at least a part of the last two gatherings. But more about that in a bit, since my vacation actually started in Columbus.

***

I drove to Columbus on Monday afternoon and evening, arriving there around 9:30 or so. I had discussed spending most of Tuesday with my older daughter, and I really wanted to spend time with my younger daughter, too. She’s a full-time student at the Franklin University in Switzerland, but she’d been home for several weeks of summer break. Our relationship at the moment has been strained at best, and until this time I’d been told that she didn’t want to see me. Still, via text messages, I’d told her that if she changed her mind, I’d be there in town and would like to spend some time with her. As of Monday night, I still didn’t know if I’d be spending time with one or both of them.

I was supposed to meet elder daughter around noon, so in the morning I popped my head in at the Worthington Presbyterian Church just down the road from the hotel, where I’d previously served as a pastor and where I’d been a member for more than 25 years. It was good to see some of the old gang and hear about what was happening there. After a short, but nice, visit, I headed out to meet up with Erica.

I picked her up, and we ended up at Stauf’s Coffee Roasters in Grandview. Stauf’s was one of my favorite hangouts back in the day, so it made me happy to know that now, she’d discovered it and enjoyed it, too.

We sat and talked about life in general, and politics in particular. She was shocked but very pleased to learn that we both wished the same person could become the next President – something that would never have happened before my politics slid from one side of the spectrum to the other.It was so nice to just have a nice, enjoyable conversation with her after some of the tensions of the past year.

staufs-grandview

Stauf’s – many a business lead, and many a sermon, developed here

 dirty franks

 After Stauf’s, we trekked downtown to have lunch at Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace on South Fourth Street. Dirty Frank’s has just about every variation on a hot dog that you could imagine, as well as brats and other things, too. The most hilarious thing I saw on the menu was The Glenn Beck – “Just a plain old weiner.” In the end, I decided to get a West Virginia Slaw Dog, something I hadn’t had since I was a teenager slipping down across the border into Morgantown for high school-era shenanigans.

 Here again, it was just nice to be able to spend time with Erica. But now, it was time to find out whether Andrea was willing to spend some time together.

erica at dirty franks

Daughter #1 at Dirty Frank’s

After finally reaching her, she decided that yes, she’d spend some time with me. She’d just gotten home from work, and said she’d need an hour and a half or so to relax and clean up. In the meantime, though, she didn’t want me at the apartment. So Erica and I decided to go to a nearby park and let Lexi the Wonder Dog stretch her legs a bit.

erica and lexi-1

erica and lexi-2

After about an hour in the park, we picked Andrea up and went out to eat – again – this time at the Cheesecake Factory, since Andrea was starved. Erica cringed at the idea of turning around and going to another restaurant, but I explained that if I had to stuff more food down my throat just to be able to spend some time together with her sister, then that’s exactly what I’d do.

The meal was uneventful. Conversation started out strained but polite, and since there was no screaming or throwing of cutlery, I put this meeting in the Win column. I actually got a smile or two out of her when she momentarily forgot that she was still upset with me. A little bit of progress. I’ll take it. Of course, as I type this a week later, I just got a hostile response to a text message I sent her, so what are you going to do?

After eating, Erica needed to get some new shoes, so the three of us went to a nearby shoe store. For some reason, I decided to buy a new pair of casual summer shoes, too, thinking that it’s been years since I bought a pair of shoes anywhere other than a thrift shop, and I thought it would be a nice time to treat myself. Andrea helped me pick out which of three different pairs I’d honed in on. We were having a nice moment.

As I was trying them on, Andrea said, “Why are you wearing a ring? Are you married?”  Oh boy, here we go. At this point, I figured any good vibes were going to disappear. Recently, George and I have started wearing matching rings – maybe a kind of pre-engagement commitment ring of sorts; nothing fancy, just an inexpensive stainless steel band that we wear on our right ring fingers.

“No, I’m not married.”

“Well, that’s an interesting choice of fingers you’re wearing it on. Are you engaged?”

“No, I’m not engaged, Andrea. It just means I have a boyfriend; nothing more, nothing less.”

She walked away. I braced myself for the shitstorm that I assumed was imminent, but to my surprise, it never came, and the mood remained moderately pleasant in the car.

All too soon, I had to go, moving on from Columbus to Oberlin. During my time in Columbus, I learned that Andrea was flying back to Europe on that Friday. It was bad enough that I was barely able to see her at all during her stay, I wanted to at least be able to see her off at the airport. But I knew that even asking that on this day would be pushing it, so I decided to wait and follow up with her later. I’d just have to keep my fingers crossed for now. On to the next stop.

***

Oberlin has accidentally become an important place for me in the unfolding story of LGBTQ issues over the past year and a half. I was out here, among the violin makers, before I was completely, officially out everywhere. It was while I was at Oberlin last year that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to allow ministers to officiate same-sex marriages if it were legal in their state and if their conscience directed them to do so. They also passed an amendment to their constitution to change the definition of marriage from being between “a man and a woman” to being between “two people.” I was sitting in the dormitory room in Asia House on campus, watching live streaming of the floor debate and vote when those measures passed. And this year, I would be here awaiting the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, potentially bringing marriage equality to all states. So even beyond the company I keep while I’m there, Oberlin is a special place to me.

I got there just after 9:00. Just outside of town, I discovered that the charger for my phone had failed somewhere along the line, and it had gone completely dead, leaving me unable to call George to let him know when I’d be getting there, or to find out where on campus he was, or to get him to let me into the locked dormitory. I stopped and bought a new charger, but the phone was so dead it wouldn’t even let me turn it back on, let alone make a quick call. I guess I lucked out a bit; when I pulled into the parking lot I could access the WiFi with my laptop and I emailed him to let him know I’d gotten there and my phone situation. We finally got together, and with just enough time to run over to the Cowhaus, an excellent ice cream shop in town, which just happened to be featuring Two Scoop Tuesday, a great two-for-one deal.

Wednesday morning, George and I stopped in at the Slow Train Cafe for a danish and coffee breakfast, before he had to get to his morning workshop. Besides continuing work on a violin he has in progress, George’s big thing this year is to learn a new antiquing method for his instruments. He currently uses a method that had been taught over the past few years at Oberlin by Antoine Nedelec and Jeff Phillips, violin makers from Dallas and Salt Lake City, respectively. This year, the workshop is featuring a different technique, being taught by Stephan von Baehr, who operates a shop in Paris. Nedelec has given von Baehr the nickname “The Animal” based on the relatively intense methods he uses in his antiquing process.

Stephan von Baehr leading a workshop on his method of antiquing an instrument

Stephan von Baehr leading a workshop on his method of antiquing an instrument

While we were in the Slow Train, Emilio, one of von Baehr’s assistants, also stopped in. He had forgotten his wallet and didn’t have any cash, so I gave him a few dollars so he could get a coffee and a muffin. Afterward, I briefly stopped into the workshop with George to reacquaint myself with some of the people I remembered from last year, and to meet some new people as well. Before heading to Oberlin, George had been in contact with Bill Sloan, one of the other attendees – of whom I’ll say more later. George would be arriving before Bill, so Bill asked George to save him a workbench near the presentation space in the workshop, so he could get a good view of the antiquing sessions.

After the brief socializing, I said goodbye to George and decided to go sightseeing. As I mentioned before, Oberlin has a number of works by noted architects – many by Cass Gilbert, a theater by Wallace Harrison, two buildings by Minoru Yamasaki, a museum addition by Postmodernist guru Robert Venturi, and a number of lesser-known but still very accomplished architects. I’m not sure where the Frank Lloyd Wright house is – no doubt out in the countryside outside of town – but I’ll have to hunt it down the next time I’m there. So, George fiddled – or at least, made a fiddle – while I got to know the town a little better.

Someon bearing an uncanny resemblance to Donald Sutherland peering down from a column capital in the colonade of Asia House

Someone bearing an uncanny resemblance to Donald Sutherland peering down from a column capital in the colonnade of Asia House

One of the neat things about the workshop is that the group works in teams to prepare their own dinners each day. Some of the teams can get really into their menus, and there’s special recognition for the best culinary effort of the gathering.

Kitchen duty. George's team provided dinner during the first week, before I arrived in town

Kitchen duty. George’s team provided dinner during the first week, before I arrived in town

The violin makers cook and eat at Baldwin Cottage, and on Wednesday, they had invited the bow makers – a separate group who were meeting at Oberlin during the same period – to share dinner with them.

Baldwin Cottage on Wednesday afternoon. Only the cooler on the front steps gives a clue to the good times about to play out on the lawn in a little while.

The weather was sunny and dry, and they had decided to set up tables on the front lawn.  Pete Goodfellow, one of the attendees from Australia, had prepared several water-cooler jugs’ worth of Mojitos to get things started, accompanied by some delicious appetizers of small servings of gazpacho and some kind of baked potato thing that was very good. Before dinner, the group got into some fun and games, trying to see who could cut through a log with a two-person saw the fastest and thinnest; who could carry the log around a predetermined course the quickest,  and a kind of tug-of-war while perched atop some precarious little stools:

vsa tug of war

Stepstool Tug-of-War. I did mention Mojitos were involved, didn’t I?

Dinner this evening was, as usual, incredible – a Thai curry dish, beet salad, orange and pomegranate salad, couscous with lamb, and panna cotta with blueberry sauce for dessert.

Wednesday's dinner - thanks to Chris Ulbricht for the picture

Wednesday’s dinner – thanks to Chris Ulbricht for the picture

It was a great end to a great day. After dinner, I think George and I went to a shop downtown and I bought an Oberlin T shirt. We also stopped back at Cowhaus, wondering if, since they had a Two-Scoop Tuesday, they also had Wonderful Wednesday or something like that. Unfortunately, it was just Regular Old Wednesday, but we still got some ice cream, and then George got back to the workshop while I just hung out a bit.

George in the midst of some antiquing on his instrument, in the

George in the midst of some antiquing on his instrument, in the “Scratchatorium” – the workshop where the makers distressed the finishes on their instruments to artificially age them, using an assortment of wire brushes, stones, and even a meat cleaver, to achieve a realistic appearance of a hundred years or more of age on the instrument

On Thursday, while George continued his activities, I checked out the Allen Memorial Art Museum, which had a relatively small but extremely impressive collection of paintings, sculpture, and other works from many different ancient cultures through modern and postmodern works.

alan art museum oberlin

The Allen Memorial Art Museum – the Cass Gilbert original building to the left, the Robert Venturi addition to the right

The violin makers’ workshops were actually in the lower level of the Venturi addition to the Allen, in what’s usually the sculpture studio, a woodworking shop, and other ancillary spaces.

I also tried to get through to Andrea via text, to ask her if I could be at the airport to see her off the next morning. I was shocked that she not only agreed, but she also invited me to go to breakfast with her and Erica before she had to check in at Port Columbus at 10:00. This was a very good thing.

At some point during the day, we also went back to  the shop where I’d bought the T shirt. I had inadvertently picked up the wrong size and needed to replace it. They were out of my size in the style I’d bought, but they had a similar design in the right size and we got the exchange taken care of.

I don’t actually see much of George during the days at Oberlin. That isn’t a complaint; it’s just an observation. The violin makers often work until late at night, and even sometimes into the wee hours of the morning, just enjoying the unique example of collaboration and collegiality that the event is. George kept trying to explain what the schedule was like, almost apologetically, and I had to keep reminding him that I completely understood the nature of the gathering – in fact, it reminded me very much of the magic, the energy, and the creativity of my experiences in my architecture design studios back in my days at Penn State. I love checking in on what George and the others are doing in the workshop periodically, but I’m very much aware that I’m an outsider – a welcomed outsider, as far as I’ve ever experienced, but an outsider nonetheless – so when I stop in for a visit, I try hard to stay out of people’s way, to largely be a fly on the wall and to be as relatively invisible as possible. I remember how nice it was to have someone stop by to visit in the architecture studios and to see what you were up to, but there was always more work to do, and the next deadline always looming, so after a visitor had been there for a while, they brought as much pleasure in their departure as they had in their arrival. Despite my interest in what they’re doing, and my fascination with their talent and the beauty of their craft, I try really hard to not be “that guy” when I’m there.

Thursday’s dinner was just as delicious as Wednesday’s. But while some of the makers also have great culinary skills – at least one of them was a former chef – not all of them shine in the kitchen, so on this day dinner came from a restaurant in town – an excellent little Korean restaurant that George and I had actually had lunch at the day before. At this point, I can’t even remember everything on the menu, but suffice it to say it was all fantastic, and there was more than we could possibly eat. On Thursday of the second week, the group also typically gives out various awards – the best meal, the winners in some of the fun activities, etc. George was tapped to make the presentation to Chris Germain, the head of the VSA, for having organized the event once again. A good time was had by all.

I think it was about this time that George and I had to make a run into Amherst, the next town to the north of Oberlin, to a hardware store for something he needed. In the process, we also found a Giant Eagle grocery store. I took the opportunity to stop in and buy another gallon of Lemon Blennd concentrate. Lemon Blennd is a Pittsburgh-area tradition, at least for people of my age. It’s a sweet, lemon-orange-flavored concoction that is absolutely, incredibly thirst-quenching over ice in the summer. I learned in adulthood that it’s also a pretty good mixer with whiskey or bourbon. In any case, I’d just finished my last gallon of concentrate, and I knew that Giant Eagle, being a Pittsburgh-based operation, sold it, so I took the opportunity to pick some up since it isn’t available anywhere in Auburn.

Nectar of yunz gods

Nectar of yunz gods

Later, George went back to the workshop. I knew he was going to be there late; in fact, he hadn’t gotten back in by the time I had to leave the next morning for Columbus.

***

I got into town just a little after 8:00. As things developed, the breakfast got nixed because Andrea had gotten very little sleep the night before, and she still hadn’t quite finished packing. It also ended up being helpful if I drove her to the airport, which I was more than happy to do. I helped her finish packing, and weighing her bag to make sure it would be under the airline maximum. During all this, she actually seemed very much at ease and pleasant.  Just before leaving, she remembered she was supposed to bring some basic gardening gloves with her to the archaeological dig she was headed for, so we stopped at a convenience store along the way and picked some up for her. She also thought it would be helpful to have a pair of sunglasses, and all of a sudden the inexpensive pair I had in the car – which she’d teased me about the other day – seemed to be pretty nice, and she asked if she could take them along with her. I told her of course she could. “Thanks, Pops.” That was the first time I’d gotten called that in a long time. It was nice.

It was just about ten when she was checking in, and that was also the time the Supreme Court was supposed to release its ruling in Obergefell, the same-sex marriage case. As we stood in line, I quickly checked my phone and saw that the ruling had just been released, and in favor of marriage equality. I quickly flashed the phone to Erica, but didn’t say anything to Andrea about what would be a touchy topic for her. So technically, I wasn’t in Oberlin when I got word about the decision, but this was all part of the same trip.

After that, things went smoothly. I at least got a hug before Andrea disappeared through the TSA security. I dropped Erica back off, we said our goodbyes, and I was northbound again.

When I got back to Oberlin, the violin makers were in the midst of their end-of-the-event discussion of what went well, what didn’t, how things might improve for next year, etc. After that, George and I did one last special Oberlin thing. I’d mentioned an attendee named Bill Sloan earlier. Bill is a doctor from Los Angeles, who just happens to own two wonderful violins – the 1714 “Jackson” Stradivarius, and a Guarneri del Gesu dating from 1742, if I recall correctly. You can catch a short video of these two beautiful instruments being played together here. Bill had brought both of the instruments with him to Oberlin, and he and George had made arrangements to play the Bach Double Concerto for Violin on the two violins. So Friday evening, the two of them sat down in the front parlor of Baldwin Cottage and played – a little tenuously at first, since they hadn’t practiced at all together, but by the second movement, they’d found their groove. It was really a magical experience – George on the Strad and Bill on the del Gesu. Sitting there, listening to them playing on two of the finest violins in the world, I was grateful for just how lucky and blessed I was to be there.

George and Bill Bach Double

I got a chance to examine the instruments up close, to compare them and ask questions about some of the details of each of them. Of course, I was very nervous just holding these instruments. In getting a picture of me with the Strad, I was holding it out away from me, almost as if it were radioactive. Bill laughed and stepped in, saying “Oh come on, hold it up close to you like it’s yours and you love it!” I still felt a little nervous, but the second picture was much better:

me and jackson strad

The Jackson Strad

When they finished, Bill took off for Cleveland to attend a concert. George and I went down to The Feve, a nice restaurant/bar in town, to get a bit to eat and hang out with some of the crew on the last night there. After dinner, we headed upstairs where a large group of the makers were gathered around two long tabletops enjoying several pitchers of beer. When we walked in, someone called for a toast for George and me. That was heartwarming, but I don’t want to get a swelled head – by that point of the evening and with the beer flowing, I suspect they’d have drunk a toast to the paint on the wall. Still, it felt good, and almost before we could sit down, there were glasses of beer sitting in front of us, which was nice. It was a great way to celebrate both the end of another two-week VSA workshop, as well as the terrific news coming out of the Supreme Court earlier that same day.

***

Saturday morning, it was time to leave Oberlin and head to Toronto, to wrap up the week at George’s and to also celebrate the end of Pride Week, and to catch the Pride Parade while in town. This would actually be the first Pride parade I’d gone to, and since it was still part of my Big Gay Year, I figured I’d do it large in Toronto, versus a smaller local one. George was insistent that he get on the road first, so he could get to the condo first and clean up a bit. Apparently, things had gotten out of hand as he rushed to get things ready to leave, so he wanted a bit of time to make the place presentable. It was pouring rain when we left – as it had been several times while we were there. We’d both gotten on the road relatively early in the morning, and the drive up was just nasty, with hard, driving rain, and very high winds while crossing the Peace Bridge, really pushing the car around as I was making the crossing.  Also, just as I hit the Buffalo area, I discovered that the phone charger I’d just bought a few days earlier had crapped out on me, and my phone was almost about to completely die again. Of course, as I’m battling the wind, the rain, and a phone just about ready to become a paperweight, I get a call from Erica. I quickly ascertained that she wasn’t calling for any emergency, and I told her my predicament and that I’d call her back as soon as I could.

Once across the border, the rain let up a slight bit, and I pulled into the first place I could to get yet another charger. Then, while sitting in the parking lot, I called Erica back.

“Hey, I just wanted to say that it didn’t really sink in what you were showing me on your phone when we were at the airport yesterday. I didn’t see anything about the SCOTUS decision until today. I just wanted to say congratulations.”

After making some joke about it really not being anything I had a hand in, I agreed that yes, it was a pretty big deal, and that while there’s still a long way to go for full equality, I was really happy about it.

“So, I couldn’t help but notice that you’re wearing a ring. Are you engaged?” Here we go again.

“No, we’re not engaged.”

To be honest, I was trying to avoid getting into the subject. But she kept discussing it, and I finally blurted out what I was originally trying not to.

“Well honey, the truth is that George and I have discussed what the future may hold for us. We are moving in that direction, but we both have some things to take care of before we take that step. George would have some business-related things to take care of, and of course, there would be legal implications about being citizens of two different countries that we’d have to research. For my part, I have to find a permanent, installed call; an interim pastor’s position is unstable enough for one person; it isn’t anything to invite a second person to pull up stakes and join into the insanity. Most importantly though, I need to try to work on my relationship with you and your sister, to try to strengthen those first.”

“Well you don’t have to worry about me; I’m OK with it. As far as Andrea, she’ll eventually come around, but honestly, you shouldn’t tie your happiness and getting on with your life to whether or not she approves.”

Hm. I wish it really were that simple.

The truth is, as I finally admitted to her, I’d almost actually proposed to George at Oberlin the day before. Yes, we know we have these issues to work out first, and we know that because of it an engagement might be a little longer than most. But with the great news of the day, and with all of George’s international friends there in town to be able to be a part of it, I came within a hair’s breadth of officially proposing to him at Oberlin. Looking down the road, I even considered a potential wedding date just the day after some future workshop ended, so his international associates could just tack an extra day onto their trip and be part of the wedding, too.

“Oh no, you don’t want to propose like that! That’s lame; you can come up with a better way to do it than that!”

“Um, OK, so by this, I’m assuming that you’re OK being around George now?”

“Yeah, I’m OK with it; just for a while make sure there’s someone else around, too, because it’s still just a little awkward since I don’t know him well enough yet, but over time that will work out.”

I really don’t have words to convey how good this conversation made me feel. We talked a bit more, but I really did have to get back on the road, so I finally had to say goodbye.

“OK, I’ll talk to you later, I love you to death, and when the time’s right to propose, you talk to me and I’ll give you some ideas for how to do it right!”

I really, really love this young woman.

But now, on to Toronto.

***

It had been snowing in Santa Barbara since the top of the page (extra points, not to mention birthday candles, to you if you understand that reference) – well actually, it had been raining in Toronto since I got into town. Of course, my new phone was somehow not configured to work across the border, so I couldn’t call George and let him know I was downstairs, outside his extremely security-conscious building. I did finally get into the lobby, where someone called up to let him know I’d arrived. After I got my car parked in guest parking and my stuff upstairs, we called Customer Support and got the phone to work.

Toronto had been celebrating Gay Pride all the past week with a number of events, all culminating with the parade scheduled for Sunday. Saturday evening, George and I went to a little Izakaya-style Japanese restaurant just behind his building. It was excellent food, but we were still hungry afterward, so we walked a block over into the Church & Wellesley  Village and loaded up on some onion rings from a Hero Burger. Also, in my rush when packing, I’d forgotten a jacket, so we looked around for a place where I could pick up just a basic, inexpensive one, but we never found one.

An even more significant disappointment was that as we were walking down Church Street, we discovered that the Timothy’s Coffee shop had closed. I’m no coffee snob, but I really do like Timothy’s coffee, and I try to keep a bag of it at home pretty much at all times. It’s very good coffee, but what was always more important to me was what it represented. Timothy’s – and this particular store – was a favorite hangout. Any time I’d get into Toronto, you could be sure that George and I would end up there before the night was out. Oberlin has some significance to me in my gay journey, and this coffee shop in the heart of the Gay Village did, too. This was the very first place that I felt completely comfortable holding George’s hand in public, or giving him a kiss, without having to scan my surroundings for fear of becoming the next gay-bashing statistic. Timothy’s was our first “safe place,” where I could feel like part of a perfectly normal couple just like anyone else. And while there are other places where I feel that same level of comfort now, this was the first place. And now it’s gone. Crap.

At the same time, I learned via Facebook that a somewhat distant cousin, whom I’d never actually met in person, was also in Toronto for Pride, so we tried to make arrangements to meet for lunch or something while we were both in town. Meanwhile, George and I went back to his place and watched a movie or two and just stayed inside, out of the wind and near-horizontal rain, hoping the weather would improve the next day.

Sunday wasn’t nearly as bad as Saturday. The wind had calmed to almost nothing, and the rain wasn’t heavy, but most of the day came with a near-constant misty rain – never really enough to make you think you’re getting very wet, until you realize after a couple hours you’re soaked completely through, and it really isn’t as warm as you thought earlier on. At least that was my experience throughout the day.

We did manage to meet up with my cousin and his partner for lunch, to talk a bit and watch some of the parade together. The actual relationship between us is that his father and mine are cousins, making the two of us second cousins once removed, or in more common terminology, total strangers. He’s part of my paternal grandmother’s family. She died shortly before I was even born, and because so many in that family had spread pretty wide geographically, I never got to know many of them, which I wish wasn’t the case. So it was nice to meet him and his partner – who, coincidentally, are both named Matt, which I imagine must get confusing at times.

After watching a bit of the parade together, the Matts went their own way and we went ours. They had other friends in town that they were trying to meet up with, and frankly, I couldn’t imagine a couple of male-modelish twenty- and thirty-something guys having a worse time at Pride than spending it talking with two fifty-somethings they didn’t even know. They seemed to be having trouble contacting their friends; I hope they eventually found one another.

George and I were able to work our way right up to the guard railing and actually had a pretty good place to watch the rest of the parade. It was fun. There were lots of floats and marchers, including different student groups, unions, churches; there were representatives from just about any group you could imagine.

One of the things that’s changed with Pride parades over time, as public acceptance of the LGBTQ community has increased, is that they’ve gotten a lot more “family-friendly” and less, well, in-your-face. This is both good and bad: good due to where the change is coming from, and that it can be a much more welcoming event to include more of the family in; but also bad, because there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done – more here in the U.S. than in Toronto, unfortunately – with regard to full equality, and whether one likes it or not, ultimately the in-your-face efforts are sometimes necessary to jolt people into awareness and action. As Joan Baez said, “It isn’t nice to stand in the door/ It isn’t nice to go to jail/ There are nicer ways to do things/ But the nice ways always fail.” I don’t know about “always,” but she had a valid point. So, given the amount of work yet to be done, I make at least a case for what I’d call “purposeful” in-your-facedness – but despite that, I’m not a big fan of gratuitous shock that doesn’t make an ideological or political point any deeper than “because I can;” in my opinion, those kinds of things only serve to hurt greater LGBTQ acceptance. We didn’t see the entire parade, but we did catch most of it, and in all that we saw, most of the participants were completely PG rated, not even PG-13. I think there were only two groups that would have risen to R-level. One was a pickup truck filled with foam and a bunch of nearly naked but apparently very clean people; and the other was a local group of naturists insanely marching together through the cold and rain in their official non-uniform. If you remember the TV show “Friends,” they occasionally made reference to Ugly Naked Guy, who lived in an apartment across the street from them. Apparently, UNG retired and moved to Toronto, where this day he was pushing himself around on a razor scooter through the entire parade. No pictures of this. You’re welcome.

But there are a few other pictures:

Proud farmers

Proud farmers

Foam rubber hair

Foam rubber hair

Asphalt-shaking bass. Thump, thump, thump, thump...

Asphalt-shaking bass. Thump, thump, thump, thump…

Proud librarians, carrying signs with literary themes

Proud librarians, carrying signs with literary themes

Not really accurate, but he couldn't help himself

Not really accurate, but he couldn’t help himself

Beads, beads, beads for everybody!

Beads, beads, beads for everybody!

Proud drummers of some kind or another

Proud drummers of some kind or another

Proud engineers. This was actually George's old student engineering association from the University of Waterloo.

Proud engineers. This was actually George’s old student engineering association from the University of Waterloo.

And more engineers.

And more engineers.

Proud Anglicans. Blimy!

Proud Anglicans. Blimey!

And finally, a truckload of proud attorneys, as it turns out.

And finally, a truckload of proud attorneys, as it turns out.

Finally, the parade wrapped up. It was a great time, but by this point I was completely waterlogged, and we tried – unsuccessfully – to find a jacket again. Ah, well, time to just go home and dry off.

After all of this, it was time to turn south and get back to Auburn. I came back into the States via – appropriately enough – the Rainbow Bridge. After declaring that I had nothing to declare to the Customs agent, she was apparently skeptical and had me pop the trunk. The shoes that I’d bought in Columbus, and the jug of Lemon Blennd were in the trunk. Coming back around to the kiosk, the raised her eyebrows and asked, “Are you sure you didn’t buy anything in Canada?” “No, not on this trip.” Momentary pause… “OK, go on through.” Passing through Niagara Falls, the falls themselves and a number of other things in town were lit with rainbow colors, maybe in honor of the SCOTUS decision, maybe just because they thought it was pretty. Either way, it was nice. But now it was time to get home.

And more bonus points for you if you got this reference.

And more bonus points for you if you got this reference.

I didn’t roll into Auburn until about 1:00am, and I needed to be at work by noon, so I immediately crawled into bed. End of the vacation.

So now I’m sitting here, more than a week later writing this recap of the vacation. My suitcase is still sitting on the bedroom floor, not quite fully unloaded. Other than that, I’m back into the normal routine of things. There had been enough going on during the week that when I did get back into the office, I actually had to think for a split second what my office email password was. That’s probably a sign that the vacation was just the right length of time. It was a really eventful week, one that I won’t soon forget. But now, it’s time to get back to what one person dubbed “the relentless return of Sunday.” Goodbye, Columbus. Goodbye, Oberlin. Goodbye, Toronto. Hello, Auburn.

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2 thoughts on “Ich bin Oberliner

  1. “The actual relationship between us is that his father and mine are cousins, making the two of us second cousins once removed… ”

    Actually, if your fathers are cousins that makes you second cousins. His children would be your second cousins, once removed. And of course your daughters are his second cousins, once removed. Your daughters and his children would be third cousins.

  2. What a great read, Dwain! I love to meet work-shop attendees’ significant others. It made me smile to see George so visibly elated at your arrival. Thanks, also, for sharing a glimpse into your personal life. My heart goes out to you in your journey with your daughters. And, I think as long as true love is involved you and George will find your way. I look forward to more blog posts and also to catching up with you again in Oberlin next year!

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