When toddlers attack

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Still an island

Know, that on the right hand of the Indies there is an island called
California very close to the side of Terrestrial Paradise

Sergas de Esplandián, Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, 1510

Or so went one of the early Spanish novels of adventure and chivalry, the sort that Cervantes later wrote so obsessed Don Quijote that they drove him mad.

When I was a kid, I thought Spanish explorers were similarly loco. I used to get a big kick out of the old maps that showed California as an island. It was obvious that the cartographers were just making shit up, since anyone who actually bothered to sail to the top of the Gulf of California would discover that it ended at the mouth of the Colorado River, and that Baja California was a peninsula. Duh.

Well, maybe those cartographers didn't have it all wrong. On Tuesday, while the rest of the U.S. indulged in an orgy of stupidity voting into office people who deny evolution as a scientific reality, who seem to suspect Hawai'i is a foreign country, and who believe free healthcare is bad for you, California swept Democrats - in some cases quite liberal Democrats - into every major statewide office. The "GOP wave" broke on the eastern flank of the Sierra (though it was good to see that Sharon Angle, one of the Tea Party's more astonishingly stupid candidates, foundered in Nevada).

Here in California, we got a Democratic trifecta: voters rejected Meg Whitman, a billionaire who looks like Miss Piggy in a pantsuit and spent $140 million in an attempt to buy the governorship and instead elected former Governor and current AG Jerry Brown; they reelected Barbara Boxer, defeating millionaire Carly Fiorina, the evil ex-head of Hewlett Packard who ran as a shrill conservative; and it appears that San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris MAY defeat Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley to become Brown's replacement as Attorney General (though the votes are still being counted and this all could change). This is important to me, the Spaniard, and the 18,000 other gay and lesbian couples who married in 2008, because Cooley and Whitman both said they'd seek to appeal the recent court decision striking down Prop 8 (the ruling is already on appeal by the supporters of Prop 8, but since the state has said it won't participate, the big question is if anyone has legal standing).

But I've done a similar Californian happy dance before, following the 2002 and 2004 elections, only to have later events put an abrupt stop to the joyful music: the moronic 2003 recall of Governor Gray Davis, which installed Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Republican-engineered coup d'etat; and of course, Proposition 8 in 2008, which as we all know stipulates that -- say it with me here -- "only marriage between a man or a woman is valid or recognized in California."

I helped do media relations for the "No on 8" campaign, and for about a month before the election, I went on full-time loan from my dayjob. I ended up handling a lot of the media for the field offices of the campaign, so it fell to me to chase after a bus tour the opposition organized, stopping at churches in some of the state's most conservative areas. Rather than hold counterrallies, we just arranged for some gay-friendly clergypeople to come out and stand with me to greet reporters and let them know that not all people of faith are narrowminded bigots.

Here's a rundown of the more interesting stops:

Sacramento - a teenaged girl came up to us, trying to make sure no one spotted her, and told us she and her family thought we were great, and that she couldn't stand the rest of the congregation.

Chico - a woman driving by said "sorry, I have too many kids to vote no on this." Really, a red herring, but messaging about the kids worked for the "yes" crowd. I've never understood why the "No" campaign ran screaming from any mention of children learning about lesbian and gay couples getting married. I wanted to say "what, and we don't have kids?"

Fresno - a woman from the "Yes" rally told me how presentable I looked and wondered what I was doing with "this mess," meaning the handful of hardworking local activists. I told her it was quite the backhanded compliment, and that she could be sure I did belong with them. Yes, lady, gay people wear ties, too.

Bakersfield - ever and deservingly the butt of jokes within California and beyond, I brought my mom with me to this one. We were surrounded by a torch-and-pitchfork crowd screaming "Yes on 8" while trying to talk to a reporter. I was happy they played that tape on the evening news.

Fullerton - "It's all about sex," a "Yes on 8" woman said to me.

"Uh... what do you mean," reluctantly ignoring my own rule not to feed, touch or otherwise engage.

"Women need to have sex with men. They need nutrients that semen provides."

Okay, so now I'm dumbfounded. I assume she wasn't talking blowjobs, either. I doubt she'd ever come within 20 feet of a blowjob.

"You know," I said, "I really have no response to that. You have some very interesting ideas about human anatomy, though. Have a nice day."

Fullerton was also the first time I had a conversation that I think may have opened a tiny crack of understanding in one of the church people. It seemed news to a young woman there that I had a happy life, support of my family, a profession. Then her pastor came over. Somehow we got onto the discussion of whether or not a "gay gene" was responsible for homosexuality. I told him that most studies seem to suggest that while there may be some genetic component, there may be a stronger link to development in the womb. "Oh, like a birth defect," he said. Lovely people, these "Christians."

San Diego - And then there was San Diego, or rather La Mesa, home to Skyline Church. It's where Pastor Jim Garlow, one of the biggest and most vocal backers of Prop 8, has his lair. Adrian went with me this time, and we stood with local clergy at the foot of the megachurch's driveway with our "No on 8" signs. As usual, rally-goers soon joined us and outnumbered us. I stood next to an older guy who tried to engage me, but I resisted. At one point, a guy stopped at the light started screaming at him. "Fuck you guys," he yelled, "why can't you leave us alone?!?" I stepped over to his car and calmed him down.

"See how your people are," old guy said when I stepped back on the curb.

"What do you mean?" I asked. "We get screamed at all the time."

"No you don't," he responded. "Our people don't do that."

"Yes they do. I've been called a sodomite and worse."

"Oh, but that's true."

Okay, so I wasn't enjoying the conversation much. Another few cycles of the traffic light. A scruffy old guy with a white beard pulled up, passenger window open and cute little dog with forepaws on the windowsill, looking at us. As Adrian and I started to smile, the driver suddenly scowled and spat out "What are you, a couple of COCKSUCKERS? Are you going to suck each other's COCKS?"

This time it was old guy's turn to step into traffic. When he came back, I just kept a smug smirk on my face. And then two young guys showed up with some very creative signs. One of them stood next to Adrian and elbowed him. "Hey," he said, "what do you think of this?" holding up this sign:
That's old guy's elbow, trying to wedge himself between the young Christian and my camera. Meanwhile, another Hitler Youth was exhibiting more artistic talent nearby:

I sent this photos to newspapers and TV stations, but unfortunately, they never ran. This sort of thing was far from uncommon at the rallies, but somehow never made the news. It made it possible for "Yes on 8" to claim that, why, they didn't hate anyone and were just trying to preserve the traditional definition of marriage, and it also enabled Californians to undo the civil rights of their neighbors and still feel good about it. If they had actually seen what Prop 8's most fervent supporters were up to, they might have changed their minds.

Or maybe not. Turns out California is a long way from the Terrestrial Paradise. But it beats the hell out of living under the banner of the Tea Party.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Que sí... espera... que no.. no, que sí

Cuando empezamos este blog, pensaba que yo escribiría las entradas en inglés y que Adrián se encargaría con el español o incluso catalán.  Como lectores habituales (si existís, gracias por existir!) ya saben, no ha habido mucho aquí en español, porque ha resultado que Adrián tiene poco afán de "bloguear," y yo... pues, he evadido la responsabilidad un poco por pereza y un poco de vergüenza de escribir en español sin alguien detrás de mi corrigiéndome mientras escribo.  (No tengo ni idea porque este párrafo ha salido con mayúsculas, pero Blogger no me deja cambiarlo).

Pues, nada.  Aunque parece que sería muchísimo más fácil que sea yo el padre biológico en nuestra aventura hindú por ser ciudadano estadounidense, seguimos siguiendo las noticias en España.  Y parece que ahora, el registro civil español está dispuesto reconocer los niños nacidos en el extranjero por gestación subrogada... pero solo con un documento judicial de paternidad.  Según el artículo abajo, que salió hace algunos días en El País, en este momento eso se dispone solo en Estados Unidos, y como sabemos todos, la gestación subrogada americana no es asequible para nosotros simples mortales.

REPORTAJE: Vida & Artes

Niño legal de mamá ilegal

Los principios frente al pragmatismo: la gestación en un 'vientre de alquiler' está prohibida en España, pero los hijos nacidos en países que la admiten están aquí - No pueden quedar desprotegidos

Cuando José y Juan decidieron tener un hijo lo tuvieron claro: querían que fuera lo más "hijo suyo posible", con su carga genética. Como la naturaleza obliga, tuvieron que contar con la ayuda de una mujer. Pero ellos no querían que ella -por muy estupenda que fuera- interfiriera en su familia.
Cuando José y Juan decidieron tener un hijo lo tuvieron claro: querían que fuera lo más "hijo suyo posible", con su carga genética. Como la naturaleza obliga, tuvieron que contar con la ayuda de una mujer. Pero ellos no querían que ella -por muy estupenda que fuera- interfiriera en su familia. Por eso acudieron a una agencia californiana, que les facilitó una gestante subrogada (lo que coloquialmente se llama vientre o madre de alquiler, un término que ellos rechazan tajantemente).
En 2008 nacieron sus gemelos. Suyos para todos, menos para la legislación española, que no les permitió inscribir a esos niños como suyos. O, al menos, que no lo permitía, porque se les exigía que dieran el nombre de la madre, algo a lo que se niegan. Además, los contratos de gestación sustitutiva son nulos en España. Pero José y Juan -nombres supuestos-, un matrimonio valenciano, no se rindieron. Llevaron adelante su exigencia de que sus hijos fueran inscritos, desde el principio, como hijos de ambos. Y por medio de una política de hechos consumados han conseguido que la Dirección General de Registros y Notariados, dependiente del Ministerio de Justicia, promulgue una instrucción que permitirá -a ellos y a otras 26 familias por lo menos- normalizar la situación de los niños.
Para ello han tenido que hacer un fuerte desembolso (el proceso puede costar unos 60.000 euros, entre lo que se paga a la mujer, los viajes, las pruebas médicas, el hospital), y es aquí donde empiezan las pegas. La catedrática de Ética de la UNED Amelia Valcárcel lo tiene claro: "Hay cuestiones vinculadas al cuerpo que no pueden ser objeto de transacción económica. Se pueden hacer de facto, pero eso no quiere decir que estén bien". Además, la catedrática ve otro problema: "No existe voluntad humana que se mantenga firme para toda la vida. Es posible que dentro de 10 años la mujer no pueda soportar la idea de lo que hizo".
Por eso, a pesar de que todo se basa en el principio del interés del menor, la decisión de regular a estos niños no ha sido fácil para las autoridades. "No podíamos ignorar que están aquí, que tienen un padre español", dice la directora de Registros y Notariados, María Ángeles Alcalá. Pero eso no quiere decir que les guste la idea. "No podemos meternos en la legislación de otros países, pero no se puede aceptar todo", afirma. Aunque está satisfecha con haber dado solución a la situación, no puede ocultar que en el fondo del proceso hay algo que le da miedo. "Cuando ves que hay agencias que ofrecen en el mismo paquete el viaje a Estados Unidos, el tratamiento médico, el útero de alquiler y volver a España con un niño te planteas muchas cosas", admite.
Y eso que, seguramente, los procesos que se dan en Estados Unidos sean los que tienen más garantías. Por eso Justicia exige a los padres de estos niños un documento -una resolución judicial de paternidad- que es obligatoria en ese país para inscribir a los niños, pero que no se usa en otros que también permiten la práctica, como India, Rusia y Ucrania (en la UE solo lo admiten Reino Unido y Grecia, aunque con muchas limitaciones, indica Alcalá).
Para el Ministerio de Justicia -y para las Cortes españolas, que aprobaron unánimemente la parte de la ley de reproducción asistida que declara nulos los contratos de gestación subrogada- hay un problema de fondo: que se use el cuerpo de la mujer como una mercancía. "Y la resolución judicial permite, por lo menos, salvaguardar sus derechos: la gestante tiene que declarar que no ha sido coaccionada, que ha actuado libremente", indica Alcalá. "Lo menos que podemos pedir es que el país de origen garantice que se han respetado sus derechos", insiste.
La directora de Registros admite que en su departamento han tenido que actuar empujados por los hechos. "Aunque esos niños no estaban desprotegidos. Uno de los padres podía haberlos inscrito como propios, y el otro adoptarlos", explica.
Pero esa solución no es admisible por los afectados. "Son hijos de los dos por igual", insiste José, siempre combativo. Además, el proceso de adopción lleva su tiempo, y en el intervalo podrían haberse dado situaciones -separación de los cónyuges, muerte del padre inscrito como biológico- que amenazara la relación del otro con los niños (por ejemplo, que los abuelos se negaran a facilitarle las visitas).
Además, hay una cuestión de igualdad, sostienen los afectados. La responsable del Área de Familia de la Federación Estatal de Lesbianas, Gais, Transexuales y Bisexuales (FELGTB), Luisa Notario, lo aclara: "La instrucción nos ha causado mucha alegría, por supuestísimo, porque a estos niños y niñas se les va a poder inscribir". "Pero no podemos dejar de señalar que hay una situación de agravio comparativo con las parejas heterosexuales. A ellas no se les cuestiona cómo han tenido el hijo, no se les pide que presenten una resolución judicial. Se da por hecho que la mujer es la madre, y se los inscribe sin más", añade. Por eso la FELGTB -y padres como José- creen que debería haberse pedido otro documento, como la transcripción literal de filiación. Pero la solución pergeñada por Justicia rechaza expresamente este tipo de documentos. "Solo con la resolución judicial tenemos la garantía de que la mujer ha sido escuchada y sus derechos respetados", insiste María Ángeles Alcalá.
Luisa Notario coincide en que la situación de las mujeres que se prestan a gestar un niño que va a ser para otros en Estados Unidos es especial. "Son de renta per cápita media alta. En Rusia o India pertenecen a capas sociales bajas, y ahí es más fácil que lo hagan coaccionadas o como una opción más para ganar dinero", lo que "en el fondo no es muy distinto de lo que sucede aquí con las jóvenes que se someten a una hiperestimulación ovárica para donar óvulos", dice.
Pero mientras unos critican la solución por tibia, otros creen que es un exceso. Nada más saberse que iba a haber una instrucción, la portavoz del Grupo Popular en el Congreso de los Diputados, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, reclamó al ministro de Justicia, Francisco Caamaño, que explique cómo piensa regular la inscripción en el Registro de los bebés nacidos en el extranjero mediante una práctica que en España es ilegal. "Antes se inscribía a la madre biológica, y figuraba como madre
; ahora, sin cobertura legal" se podrá inscribir a la pareja que "alquila el vientre" como progenitora. "Esto debe explicarse", aseguró.
Alcalá cree que el debate no tiene sentido. "No enjuiciamos lo que se hace fuera; lo que no podíamos era tener a los niños sin inscribir", dice.
El hecho es que, desde 1988, la ley de reproducción asistida declara nulos los posibles contratos entre una persona -sea hombre o mujer, pareja o no- y una mujer para que esta lleve a cabo un embarazo a cambio de dinero y el compromiso de entregar el hijo. "Pero en las últimas modificaciones de la ley [en 2003, con el PP, y 2004, con el PSOE] ese artículo no se debatió. La discusión estaba centrada en otros puntos", explica la diputada autonómica en Madrid Inés Sabanés, de IU. Sabanés, que se ha caracterizado por su apoyo a los movimientos de gais, lesbianas y transexuales, afirma que su coalición "no ha apostado claramente por la gestación subrogada", pero cree que "los avances en las técnicas de fecundación asistida" pueden obligar a "volver sobre el debate". Eso sí, siempre manifestando su apoyo "a una instrucción como esta, que soluciona la situación de unos niños. Porque lo que está claro es que en este tema la realidad va por delante de las leyes", apunta.
Notario, a título personal, va más allá. "¿Por qué no se puede legalizar esto? La sociedad es muy paternalista hacia nosotras, las mujeres. Si es una decisión propia y libre, debería ser legal". La representante de la FELGTB insiste en que esta no es una postura del colectivo. "A nosotros nos toca reivindicar que se solucione la situación de los niños; en la regulación de la subrogación no entramos, no es un movimiento que debamos liderar nosotros", argumenta. Una postura, por cierto, que choca frontalmente con la minoritaria Colegas, otra asociación de lesbianas, gais, transexuales y bisexuales, que apuesta claramente por la legalización de la gestación subrogada para acabar con el contrasentido de que sea legal tener hijos así en el extranjero y no se pueda hacer en España.
También una histórica del movimiento feminista como Empar Pineda cree que es una práctica que "tiene que regularse aquí para acabar con situaciones de discriminación". "No podemos cerrar los ojos a una realidad", dice. Se refiere Pineda cuando habla de discriminación a que, de todas las parejas o individuos con problemas para tener hijos, de momento solo las más pudientes pueden acudir a Estados Unidos a formalizar un contrato de gestación sustitutoria. Por ejemplo, Ricardo e Iván, una pareja de Sevilla que ha contado su caso, calcula que el proceso les costó más de 60.000 euros, incluyendo los viajes a Estados Unidos, la estancia y la atención médica de la gestante de su hijo.
Pineda recuerda que hace 30 años, cuando se empezó a hablar de técnicas de reproducción asistida, fueron las feministas quienes más se opusieron a ellas. "Había un rechazo frontal a que las nuevas tecnologías participaran en algo tan propio de las mujeres como la gestación y el parto". La situación ha evolucionado "cuando aprendimos a que no existe la mujer única, sino que somos muchas y muy distintas", dice Pineda. Por eso ella cree que lo que hay que hacer es "escuchar a las que se prestan a ser madres por sustitución".
Manuel y Marcos, una pareja de Sevilla que lleva 26 años junta, admite que hay debate, peor para ellos solo hay una prioridad: inscribir a su hijo de año y medio. Ellos han vivido el mismo proceso que el resto: viaje a Los Ángeles, gestación, nacimiento, intento de registrar al niño en el consulado, denegación por parte de este, y recurso ante la Dirección General de Registros.
Los hombres -49 años Manuel, 42 Marcos- cuentan que en cuanto se enteraron de que había esta posibilidad para ser padres volaron a Los Ángeles. "No queríamos pensar que habíamos explotado a una mujer". La vista les dejó tranquilos: "Son mujeres que ya han sido madres, que tienen trabajo, una estabilidad. Para ellas lo económico no es un problema. Podían ganar más en cualquier trabajo", dicen. Por eso ahora tienen la conciencia tranquila. Vamos, que si duermen mal no es por remordimientos, sino porque su hijo está siempre pidiéndoles atención.

Un proceso garantista

La instrucción de la Dirección General de Registros y Notariado del 7 de octubre establece los requisitos para que la resolución judicial del país donde se ha llevado a cabo la gestación subrogada sea aceptada para inscribir a los niños en España. Entre ellos:
- "Que se hubiesen garantizado los derechos procesales de las partes, en particular, de la madre gestante".
- "Que no se haya producido una vulneración del interés superior del menor y de los derechos de la madre gestante". Sobre todo "que el consentimiento de esta última se haya obtenido de forma libre y voluntaria" y que tenga "capacidad natural suficiente".
- "Que la resolución judicial es firme y que los consentimientos prestados son irrevocables, o bien, si estuvieran sujetos a un plazo de revocabilidad conforme a la legislación extranjera aplicable, que este hubiera transcurrido".
- No se admitirá "como título apto para la inscripción del nacimiento y filiación del nacido una certificación registral extranjera o la simple declaración, acompañada de certificación médica [...] en la que no conste la identidad de la madre gestante".

Monday, October 4, 2010

A New Way to Predict IVF Success: Film the Embryo

Time has two articles online today about IVF -- one details a study that says that babies born through IVF may be more intelligent.  The other, which I think has a more immediate relevance to the surrogacy community, talks about what may be a new way to predict a given embryo's chance of success:

A New Way to Predict IVF Success: Film the Embryo

With more than four million babies and counting, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is a well-established way for couples who otherwise couldn't have children to start or expand a family. For some, it's their only option.
It has been more than three decades since a physician produced the first successful pregnancy through IVF, a process that involves extracting and fertilizing an egg with sperm in a lab dish, creating an embryo and transferring it to a woman's womb. (That doctor, Robert Edwards, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine on Monday for his achievement.) But the success rate for a live birth still remains disappointingly low, on average around 30%. So researchers at Stanford have come up with an innovative way to improve the chances of a pregnancy by selecting only the strongest and healthiest embryos. (More on
Led by Dr. Renee Reijo Pera, director of human embryonic stem cell research and education and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, the group predicted with 93% accuracy which embryos generated during IVF were most likely to lead to a successful pregnancy. The team was able to peek into the very earliest stages of human development, when the embryo divides for the very first time in the two days after fertilization, by making a movie of the process and then measuring differences between those early steps. “What we've done is make a movie of the entire pathway and process rather than taking pictures at stagnant times,” she says.

Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2010/10/04/a-new-way-to-predict-which-ivf-embryos-will-lead-to-pregnancy/#comments#ixzz11Q4vG0CO

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happy birthday to me

I'm cranky and listless today.  In fact, I was cranky and listless yesterday.  Come to think of it, I was cranky and listless all weekend.  It could be the weather -- the National Weather Service's super-duper Lord God High Thermometer in Downtown L.A. hit 113 degrees yesterday... and then broke.  So maybe it was actually hotter.  One thing is certain, though:  if it was 113 downtown, it was closer to 120 in the Valley, even in the relatively cool part where we live.  Adding insult to hot injury, a branch on our tangerine tree, heavy with fruit that will ripen close to Christmas, cracked in the heat yesterday.  Or maybe I'm grouchy because I'm OLD.  I turned 46 on Friday.  That's three years older than my dad was when he had me.  And needless to say, I'm WAY behind in my goal to father a child.

Forty-three has always been a deadline of sorts for me.  I was a product of my dad's second marriage; he had two daughters by his first.  The story he told was that he got drunk one night during the war, when he was stationed in Panama, and woke up married to a boozy, hard-living Army nurse.  The marriage lasted for seven miserable years, and when they finally divorced, she took the two girls and left for the East Coast.  He was a starving actor and figured they were better off with their family.  He was wrong; not surprisingly, she was a terrible mother and her family was worse.  He didn't discover all this until much later.

So when I was born, I think it represented a chance to make up for the years he lost with his daughter.  He always seemed a little apologetic about his skills as a dad, even though he was always available, always affectionate, always effusive in his praise.  When he died 10 years ago, neither of us felt like anything had gone unresolved or unsaid -- sparing me the need for therapy or a weekend naked in the woods banging on a drum in a circle with other men to ease the void created by a too-distant father.

So I think about that a lot:  if we have a kid, how old will he or she be when we die?  I was 35 when my dad died; he was 78.  But he was a heavy smoker, and had a life-long love affair with red meat and ice cream.  During my high school years, he survived a mild heart attack and a burst aortic aneurysm. He had been working for a few months in Arkansas, swimming laps regularly.  Naturally, he blamed the exercise for the aneurysm instead of crediting it for his survival.  While he had been a lifeguard in his youth and even auditioned for the role of Tarzan at the same time as Johnny Weissmuller, I imagine he found swimming inconvenient since it's hard to smoke while you're doing it.

So, while I'm three years older than my dad was at my birth, I think smoking is repugnant, I've exercised regularly since I was in college and a doctor once told me my cholesterol was so low I must be eating cardboard.  Is that a game-changer?  Are those of us currently in our forties so fabulous now that we get to shave 10+ years off what the calendar says?

Or maybe I should wait until it's cooler out to contemplate my own mortality.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Diēs Caniculārēs

Dog days:Latin: diēs caniculārēs) are the hottest, most sultry days of summer. In the northern hemisphere, they usually fall between early July and early September. In the southern hemisphere they are usually between January and early March. The actual dates vary greatly from region to region, depending on latitude and climate. Dog Days can also define a time period or event that is very hot or stagnant, or marked by dull lack of progress.  The name comes from the ancient belief that Sirius, also called the Dog Star, in close proximity to the sun was responsible for the hot weather. 
Thus spake Wikipedia.
Traditionally, the dog days of summer are supposed to be a time when it's too hot to summon the will to do much of anything other than lying on a cool floor with your tongue hanging out.  Until this week, though, this summer has been playing coy in Southern California, with fog and only a day or two above 90 in all of June and July.  And work has been extraordinarily busy, at least for me, since unlike certain people to whom I'm married I don't work an academic calendar.

But our child-rearing plans are definitely in the doldrums.  Before any baby crosses the threshold, we have to add a bedroom onto the house.  I contemplate the renovation process like a man about to eat a brontosaurus all by himself, unsure where to begin and overwhelmed.  While we've settled on a clinic (Dr. Shivani),  one self-imposed deadline after another expires as the balance of our savings account stays motionless, trapped in a sargassum (look it up) of emergency expenses that inevitably come up.

One thing I haven't blogged about are the occasional moments of panic (less frequent now) when either one or the other of us is convinced we're utterly insane for considering children 1) at our age, or 2) at our income level, or 3) (take your pick).  Over the past few months, we've decided that we're still younger and better off financially than a good number of people who raise perfectly wonderful kids.  We've decided we'll still be able to travel -- we may have to forego the Inca Trail for a few years, but taking the train to Macchu Pichu won't be so bad either.  And it's fun to imagine the complaints of "oh, Daaaaaad.... do I have to spend the summer in Europe AGAIN?"

But first we have to get to step one, and with the thermometer outside topping 100 degrees and the dog panting in front of the fireplace, hoping to wring a bit of coolness from the brick hearth,  that seems a lot farther away.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Ala... Moana... has everything.

How I spent my week
Or so went the jingle when I was a seven-year-old living in Honolulu of what I believe is still Hawai'i's largest mall.  This is relevant because I'm writing this from my room at the Ala Moana Hotel, which overlooks the mall's majestic Macy's parking lot.  I'm here for work, not fun, so I've spent nearly the whole week in my room, glued to this damned keyboard.  I've also been risking sodium poisoning stuffing myself on ahi poke (raw tuna... they sell it at Costco, who knew?), sai min (sorta like ramen), li hing mui (salted preserved plums, apparently an acquired taste that I acquired as a kid) and other foods from my childhood that are hard to find on the mainland.

The hotel is fine, though it wasn't my choice to stay here initially.  This the second time my coworkers and I have come to Honolulu, and it was one of my coworkers who first booked us here.  It was an ironic choice, as it turns out I have a long history with the Ala Moana.

When I was six or so, we were still living in Hilo on the Big Island.  For my spring break that year, my parents took me and a teenaged girl who lived a few houses away for a trip to the big city.  We stayed at the Ala Moana, which, it being Easter time, had pens set up in the mall's main corridors filled with live bunnies, and other delicate baby animals, perfect for children to torture.  I got to spend lots of time at the pool with Lori the babysitter and had my first vacation romance with another six-year-old, visiting from the mainland.

One funny thing, though:  my dad never took vacations.  We never went anywhere fun involving an overnight stay, all three, as a family.  My mom would take me for short trips, and my dad took us to live in places everyone else goes to holiday, but generally he was either working or horizontal on the sofa, reading. 

Years later, my mom told me what was behind our trip to Honolulu that year... it was so daddy could get a vasectomy.

So it's true, Ala Moana does have everything.  Even vasectomies.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stalking the Stork Anniversary Edition

I've mentioned before on here how, for one blissful year, I was a travel reporter. I did four trips involving air travel while there (Santa Barbara; Durango, Colorado; Disneyworld; and a cruise to Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore. The stories aired on local newscasts across the country. Whenever my friends talked about how jealous they were, I shut them up quickly and spit through my fingers, or whatever you're supposed to do to ward off the evil eye. I knew it was too good to last. When the dot.com implosion sank the San Francisco-based production company I worked for I very reluctantly went back into local news, but I mourned the loss of that job for years. I mean, getting paid to travel? What's not to miss?

So occasionally when we travel, I'll write about what we find.

Two years ago this week, we took my mom, met 15 more of our friends and family from Stateside, joined 46 of Adrián's friends and family, and got married at Alicante City Hall. The question was, where to honeymoon?  We considered Morocco and Lithuania (mainly because Ryan Air and Easy Jet have cheap flights to both from Alicante), but a country where we could be arrested for getting married didn't sound like an ideal place to spend our first day as husband and husband.  Then Adrián found a cheap... really cheap... flight to the Canary Islands.  That clinched it, so we headed to Lanzarote for a week, me with the remnants of a wedding night-induced hangover that lasted three days. After planning a wedding that was a lot larger than we expected and ten days across Spain in a car with my mom... a week of peace and quite was very much needed.

I wrote the following article about our trip. I don't do this much anymore because I spend more time obsessing about whom I need to talk to and where I need to visit than I do enjoying my travel time, and having a day job means I don't have much time to pitch what I write. This one almost ran in the SF Chronicle -- the editor asked me to rewrite it to include more about the Almodóvar angle, but it never saw the light of day.  But I figured, hey, I'll publish it here, two years late:

LANZAROTE – Volcanoes, vines and viento – August, 2008
For an island that specializes in the production of sweet white wines, our first experience with a vineyard on Lanzarote –the northeasternmost of the Canary Islands – was surprisingly sour
My husband and I had stopped into a tiny, unnamed bar in a whitewashed roadside building to ask directions to La Geria, the town where most of the island’s vineyards are clustered. The noise of raised voices was like walking into a 100 decibel wall as soon as we stepped through the door – an argument already in full force. About a dozen men were shouting at each other over cañas of beer.

“What’s got everyone so upset?” I asked a local, Gerardo, who stepped out with us into the parking lot where the decibel level allowed a conversation at normal levels.
“Wine,” he said. “They’re talking about wine.”

Specifically, he said they were discussing Stratvs, the newest cellar on an island with a 200-plus year history of coaxing vines from the arid soil. Local developer Juan Francisco Rosa opened the winery to much fanfare in May after an investment of 18 million euros, including more than a million euros from the island government. It didn’t help that Stratvs wines began winning international competitions even before its doors opened to the public.
“They were already swimming in money,” said Gerardo, who wouldn’t give his last name because he worked at another winery. “They didn’t need it. They didn’t deserve it.”

Sour grapes, perhaps, but winemaking is a fiery topic on Lanzarote, which seems appropriate on an island that boasts some 300 volcanic cones, the most recent of which date from the 19th century. Getting anything to grow here is a challenge, but the island is home to 18 wineries. The vines hug the ground, peering over zocos, individual semi-circles of lava rocks that scallop the hillsides, protecting them from the relentless island wind. The surreal landscape draws film crews from time to time; this is where Raquel Welch ran screaming from giant anachronistic turtles in One Million Years B.C., and we missed Pedro Almodóvar and Penélope Cruz by a month. They visited the island to shoot Los abrazos rotos, which opens in the U.S. in November.

A tray bearing glasses of white wine met us on a vine-shaded patio when we finally made our way to Stratvs, the source of so much hot air back in the little bar. The tasting room is built from native lava rock and is tucked in a hillside next to the highway. We found a place among a group listening to the winery’s resident sommelier explain the blend of malvasía and muscatel grapes we thought we were about to sample.

Then he spotted us.

“Are you part of the tour?” he asked, raising his eyebrows in suspicion.


“Uh…” I stammered, “no, we didn’t know this was a tour.”

He walked over to us, took the wineglasses out of our hands, set them back on the tray, and finished his presentation. Turns out there’s not much free wine tasting to be found on Lanzarote.
“It’s okay,” said my husband, Adrián, as we slunk out the entrance, mortified. “I already drank out of that glass he set back on the tray.” Though Adrián is no wine aficionado, he assured me the wine was quite good; semi-sweet and floral. I just hope he backwashed.

We had better luck down the road: the winery El Grifo opened its doors in 1775, less than a half century after a massive eruption resculpted the island. El Grifo still bottles sweet and semi-dry malvasía and muscatel wines from stock that dates from the 18th Century. Today, the old presses and vats are on display in the winery’s Museo del Vino.
“We’re the oldest winery in the Canary Islands and one of ten oldest in Spain,” said tasting room manager Ana Cárdenas. “They’re experimenting with red wines now, but if you have limited room in your luggage, I say don’t bother. This is still the land of white wine.”
Until the 18th Century, Lanzarote was famous for its grain, not its vines. But the 1730 eruption buried the only part of the island with natural springs, covered more than 400 homes with 30 feet of lava, and displaced and impoverished hundreds of islanders.

Mmm... donuts
While Lanzarote has largely been spared the runaway high-rise development that plagues the rest of the Canaries and Spain’s Mediterranean coast, it has its share of beach resorts, still so popular with the Northern European package holiday crowd that the island has been dubbed “Lanza-grotty.” But the rivers of lava belched out by the volcanoes provide a rugged-yet-easy escape from the sunnier, tourist-mobbed southern side of the island. Just past the pretty town of Yaiza on the LZ-67 begins the Malpais de la Corona (the “Badlands of the Crown”), a landscape of twisted lava, frosted in places with a lime-green or orange layer of lichen. That’s where we found the entrance to Timanfaya National Park, marked by a steel sculpture of a pitchfork-brandishing devil at the side of the road -- appropriate for a countryside straight out of Dante – and off in a hollow to one side of the road, we spotted... camels.

Camels are one of the only ways into the national park, the others being on a guagua (the local word for tour bus) or a guided hike. Farmers introduced the one-humped dromedaries to help with agricultural chores, but when tourists began arriving in large numbers back in the 1970s, the animals began hauling two-by-two loads of Brits, Germans and Scandinavians. For five Euros each, guides strapped us into basket-like seats on either side of the animal, and up we went the side of a cinder cone. Okay, it wasn’t particularly informative or comfortable. But sharing a camel train with two dozen other sunburned tourists was good for a laugh.

Fun with volcanoes
The winding road leads away from the highway and heads up the Montañas de Fuego to a spectacular visitors center atop the 1700 foot Islote de Hilario. It, like the park’s diabolical logo and many of the other attractions on the island, was designed by local artist and architect César Manrique. Islote de Hilario includes an eye-popping view through bowed plate glass windows, a restaurant that grills meats directly over volcanic heat radiating from the rocks, and light fixtures shaped like frying pans.

But when we showed up at the park’s second visitor center near the town of Mancha Blanca, we were told you need to reserve a spot in a guided hike three weeks ahead of time. “No os preocupéis,” "don't worry," a guide told us conspiratorially as she unfolded a map on the counter, “you can hike alone just outside the park boundary.” She showed us a trail that took us to two ancient volcanoes, across a desolate plain piled high with lava flows broken and beaten into stiff peaks of black meringue. The hike wasn’t difficult until we reached the steep side of the 1300-foot volcano Montaña Blanca, but the loose, rocky footing made a good pair of boots a must. As soon as we reached the rim of the volcano, we were pummeled by blasts of wind that came screaming up from the caldera, a thousand feet below. The higher we went along the uneven lip, the stronger the wind became. Halfway around, the wind forced us back.

Almodóvar's beach at Famara
It was fine; we were starving.  The hike worked up our appetite for the roasted parrotfish, papas arrugadas (“wrinkly potatoes”), garlicky mojo sauces and other magnificently prepared local dishes at Casa Ramón, in the town of Caleta de Famara on the north coast. Almodóvar shot a major scene on the nearby beach, stocking it with sunbathers, kites and windsurfers. The truth is, Famara is a beach more akin to Northern California than Ibiza – while windsurfers may be common, the gusts deter all but the hardiest of sun worshippers. Fine with us; we retreated each night to our rented 19th century farmhouse not far away, where the wind whistling through the lava rock walls outside lulled us to sleep each night.

If you go:

Connecting service is available on American Airlines, changing to Iberia. Passengers change airlines in Madrid for the final leg to Arrecife, Lanzarote’s capital. Budget fares are available on RyanAir and other low-cost airlines. .

To call any of the numbers below from the U.S., dial 011 (the international dialing code) followed by 34 (the country code for Spain), and then the local number.

Most traditional accommodations are clustered near Arrecife or on Lanzarote’s southern coast, where the fog and wind are not as apparent and sunburned hordes congregate. But you’ll find casas rurales, converted country houses offering bed-and-breakfast-like services, across the island.
Finca de las Laderas, Calle las Laderas 2, Caleta de Famara, 607.591.447, is a traditional Canario farmhouse converted into several guest apartments. Each has its own kitchen and is tastefully and comfortably furnished by owners Elke Sellmann and Juan de León Luzardo. Finca de las Laderas has a pool and is about two and a half miles from the island’s largest beach (windy, but popular with surfers) and the tiny town of Caleta de Famara. From 50 euros/night, depending on the season.
Finca de las Salinas, Calle La Cuesta, 17, Yaiza, 928.830.325, occupies the former mansion of an 18th Century salt merchant, with former stables converted into guestrooms. The casa sits in the middle of a beautiful garden in the town of Yaiza, near the wine region in La Geria. Rooms start at 61 euros/night.
Is that a cannon in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
Gran Meliá Volcán Lanzarote, Urbanización Castillo del Águila, (888)956-3542 (toll-free U.S. reservations) is a 206-room five-star resort in Playa Blanca, one of Lanzarote’s larger tourist zones. You’ll lack the windswept solitude of towns like Famara on the island’s northern end, but the hotel isn’t far from Timanfaya National Park or Playa Papagayo, one of Lanzarote’s prettier beaches. Rooms start at 119 euros/night.


In Arrecife and the larger beach resorts, you’ll spot plenty of places selling fish and chips, bratwurst and gooey paella. Avoid them. Local food is fresh and delicious, lighter than mainland Spanish cuisine, and difficult to find outside the Canaries.

Casa Ramón, Carretera General, Caleta de Famara, 650.423.704, specializes in local fish – try the vieja (parrotfish), roasted with papas arrugadas (baby potatoes boiled in salty water until they emerge looking like a six-year-old after a two-hour bath), all served with red and green mojos, the traditional spicy sauce of the islands. Dinner for two runs about 40 Euros.

El Monumento al Campesino, Carretera Arrecife-Tinajo, 928 520 136, was designed by the ubiquitous César Manrique as a tribute to Lanzarote’s long-suffering peasants. The real monument isn’t the sculpture you’ll spot from the highway; it’s the museum below that features traditional Canarian crafts. The restaurant and tapas bar here are reasonable and one of the best places to try local delicacies like grilled octopus, lapas (limpets), and sweet potato and blood sausages (better than they sound). Small plates start at five Euros.


TURESPAÑA, Spanish Tourism Office, L.A. Office: (323) 658-7188, http://www.spain.info/.

Patronato de Turismo de Lanzarote, http://www.turismolanzarote.com/ (Spanish only), 928 811 762
Museo del Vino, Mon.-Fri., 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., 928 524 951
Bodegas Stratvs, every day from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. with reservation, 928 809 977, bodega@stratvs.com (just be sure to sign up for the tour or they get really bitchy)
Timanfaya National Park Visitors Center, 928 840 839, can reserve your space in a guided hike, but be sure to call weeks ahead of time.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Evita made me gay

When I was 16, my mom told me she'd take me to see the show "Evita" if I learned a little about Eva Perón. I did. In fact, I became obsessed with 1940s Argentina, playing the eight track cassette my parents bought me until it wore out... not before they threatened to throw it in the trash after having to hear it every afternoon when I returned from school.

A few years ago, my mom remarked that I never fell victim to stereotypical gay diva worship. I replied "um... Evita?" "Well, that's not the same," she said. "You loved history." Well, yeah, and I still do, but somehow I never got as excited about Catherine the Great.

Argentina leads the world in psychiatrists, beef consumption and hair dressers per capita, and of course gave us a Dior-clad quasi-fascist dictator's wife as a gay icon. Now Argentines can be proud that they're leading the world -- especially Latin America -- in a new direction, as the first country south of Canada to offer gay and lesbian couples the full rights of marriage. The Argentine Senate passed a bill legalizing marriage equality -- with full adoption rights, something that even much of supposedly liberal Europe doesn't allow -- early this morning after a bruising wee-hours debate.

Not surprisingly, the Roman Catholic Church took a hardline stance against marriage equality for same-sex couples, marshaling some 60,000 Catholic and Evangelical faithful to march on Congress.

But yesterday, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirschner -- who in my book now replaces you-know-who as the Argentine gay icon -- addressed the topic in an interview from a trade visit to China:

Wow! While our supposed friends in the Democratic Party here in the U.S. wring their hands over conceding us our basic humanity, in Argentina Kirschner actually calls things -- that is, attitudes -- as they are: medieval, harking back to the inquisition. It never ceases to amaze me that more Americans aren't threatened by religious groups gnawing away bit by bit at any Constitutional freedom that doesn't expressly apply to freedom of religion. Oh, and the freedom to bear arms. They love that one, too.

But I digress. Meanwhile, a crowd was waiting outside el Congreso:

The forces of equality actually ran an excellent ad campaign called "The Same Love, the Same Rights." Here's one of the best... no subtitles, but it's pretty self-explanatory:

Maybe we can get them to do an ad campaign for us here in the States...

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

And a big מזל טוב and FELICIDADES to Amani and Bob!

They welcomed their beautiful son Toby into the world Tuesday.

Through multiple attempts and disappointments, you've been an example of persistence and good humor.

Much happiness! You deserve it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Take that, haters

Nearly two years ago, the two of us joined 18,000 other gay and lesbian couples who tied the knot in California. Okay, actually, we did it in Spain and we had it planned before a lawsuit by three very effective civil rights organizations made it legal where we actually lived, but still -- we were part of very heady summer.

Comprehensive domestic partnership, providing essentially all the rights and responsibilities of marriage without the name, has been legal in the state since 2005. We registered in 2007, when A needed to add me to the vision insurance plan he receives through his employer. The process works like this: you go stand in line at the Secretary of State's office in between the man opening a muffler shop and the woman opening a nail salon. You fill turn in a couple of notarized forms that you share a residence and expenses and have been together for at least six months, sit for twenty minutes or so in a fiberglass chair that screams "institutional," and the clerk returns with a certificate of domestic partnership on heavy paper and a lovely embossed official seal of the State of California (which features a giant amazon queen and a tiny grizzly bear -- I've never been sure if the bear is supposed to be tiny or in the very near foreground), "suitable for framing." A handshake, and you're on you're way to the rest of your life, just like that. It's about as romantic as the Department of Motor Vehicles, but more efficient.

The day we "DPed," we were joined by my mom, my aunt and their cousin Anita for a brunch in West Hollywood. It was pleasant, but suffice it to say no one calls to congratulate us on the anniversary of our domestic partnership. We don't remember the date ourselves.

Flash forward a year to our wedding: with the dollar at its weakest in years against the euro and airfares nearly double what they'd been the summer before, 15 of our friends and my family made the trip to Europe; 50 of A's family were on hand. And even though nobody would have admitted to treating us differently beforehand, after the wedding it was obvious our standing as a couple had increased in everyone's eyes, from A's dad saying to me "Yeso! (he can't pronounce my name, so this is a close Spanish approximation. It happens to mean "plaster"), ahora eres parte de la familia" ("now you're part of the family") to the total strangers having a picnic on the beach who yelled "que vivan los novios!" when we passed on the sand, dressed in suits, to have our photo taken by the waves. No one knows what civil unions are, but marriage means something universal. Sure, like civil unions or domestic partnerships, it's a civil contract between two people that you'll take care of each other, assume each other's debts, and inherit each other's property... but unlike those other arrangements, it carries an enormous significance to society at large that you and your partner constitute a family.


That's why it's been so interesting to watch backers of Proposition 8, where seven million Californians voted to divorce the two of us and bar any other lesbian and gay couples from civil marriage, as they come up with different reasons for why two men or two women marrying will cause grown men to weep, horses to spook and bunnies to eat their young (they failed at divorcing the already married couples). During the campaign itself, it was "WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?!?," where they successfully convinced 52 percent of voters that allowing us to marry would confer the message to their children that we're basically okay as human beings. Then, their best argument seems to have been "we don't know." What sort of horrors will befall society if Adam and Steve can marry? It's an experiment! We just DON'T KNOW!"

That argument didn't go over so well when they recently tried it on Judge Vaughn Walker in Perry v. Schwarzenegger the federal legal challenge to Prop 8 that wrapped up last week. So then they tried the "no one will have babies if we weaken the link between marriage and procreation" thing.

This was Ted Olson's response, just posted on the website of the American Foundation for Equal Rights:

The Supreme Court has said in -- I counted 14 cases
going back to 1888, 122 years. And these are the words of all
of those Supreme Court decisions about what marriage is. And I
set forth this distinction between what the plaintiffs have
called it and what the Supreme Court has called it.
The Supreme Court has said that: Marriage is the
most important relation in life. Now that's being withheld
from the plaintiffs. It is the foundation of society. It is
essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness. It's a right of
privacy older than the Bill of Rights and older than our
political parties. One of the liberties protected by the Due
Process Clause. A right of intimacy to the degree of being
sacred. And a liberty right equally available to a person in a
homosexual relationship as to heterosexual persons. That's the
Lawrence vs. Texas case.
Marriage, the Supreme Court has said again and again,
is a component of liberty, privacy, association, spirituality
and autonomy. It is a right possessed by persons of different
races, by persons in prison, and by individuals who are
delinquent in paying child support.
It is the right of individuals, not an indulgence
dispensed by the State of California, or any state, to favored
classes of citizens which could easily be withdrawn if the
state were to change its mind about procreation. In other
words, it is a right belonging to Californians, to persons. It
is not a right belonging to the State of California.
And the right to marry, to choose to marry, has never
been conditioned on or tied to procreation. It hardly could be
rooted in the state's interest in procreation, since the right
to marry, in Supreme Court cases, has been invoked sustaining
the right to contraceptives, to divorce, and just a few years
ago in that Lawrence case, to homosexuals.

Take that, haters.

For a look at the full transcript of closing arguments, go here: http://www.equalrightsfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Perry-Vol-13-6-16-10-Amended.pdf

Monday, June 21, 2010

A belated Father's Day

"It's Fathers Day," my mom told me on Sunday.

"I don't have a father," I said, ever the curmudgeon. But I'm not, not really. Of course I have a father... it's just, well, that he's dead.

We've never been a family to mince words. While other people say "he passed" in hushed tones, we've always said DEAD. D-E-A-D. A coworker of mine in Sacramento once asked offhandedly if my parents were coming up from L.A. for Christmas. "Well, my mom is," I said. "I suppose she could bring my dad... I mean, he doesn't take up much space in the little urn and all. I suppose we could put some holly around him and use him as a centerpiece."

"Oh god, I'm sorry, I didn't..."

He was so genuinely embarrassed that it was my turn to feel bad. But my dad would have guffawed.

Jokes aside, I miss my dad a lot. He died of lung cancer in January, 2000. I was working in Vermont at the time, and attended a reporting seminar in Florida a week or two after his diagnosis in April of 1999. Happy Fathers Day, Dad. I'm sorry you never got to meet the wonderful man I share my life with. I'm sorry you'll never meet your grandkids.

I wrote this as part of the seminar.

Looking for Marion

I stand in the Hilton's lobby, pen in hand, and dial Los Angeles.


"Hi, Mom."

My voice ricochets off the cold marble.

"Hi. Sweetheart."

"How's Dad?"

For two weeks, it's been the question preoccupying both my mother and me.

"Oh, he's fine, I guess... he's having toast and a poached egg."

My mother can't say he's fine without a catch in her voice. "Would you like to talk to him?"


I hear her fumbling with the phone, then my dad picks up.

"Hi, Jase."

"Hi, Dad. How you doing?"

The question sounds casual, but it's not.

"Oh shit, I feel all right," he says.

Sixty years on the West Coast and an actor's vocal training still haven't smoothed over the last traces of his hardscrabble, Down East accent.

He's quick to change the subject.

"How's your class going?"

"It's great," I say. "Listen, I'm figuring as long as I'm here, I'll try to talk to Marion."

Marion Fogg and my dad have never met. In fact, she's barely aware he exists. In most families, you would probably call her my dad's stepmother. Not in mine.

"Really? That's great. I don't think she wants to talk to us, though"

He tells me that's why he didn't keep her address and phone number, but tells me she lives in a place called Sun City.

I'd seen it on maps before, during the two years I lived in Florida -- a semi-circular blip between Tampa and Sarasota, just off 1-75. I always imagined a grand trailer park, something ala the movie Cocoon, perhaps.

"Call me tonight," my dad says. "Let me know how it goes."

My mom comes back on. "When you talk to Marion," she says quietly, no longer within earshot of my dad, I sense, "tell her he's dying."

I head my rented car over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, touching down in Manatee County. From there, the road heads east, through orange groves and palmetto scrub, finally joining up with 1-75.

Someone gave my dad Marion's name online. He was looking for anything on his father, Cassius William Fogg. My dad thinks she's his fourth wife, though his father was still on his third when they parted ways. It wasn't amicable.

"Last time I saw the f---er, I beat the shit out of him," he'd told me. He doesn't like to talk about it.

My dad spent his childhood moving from his mother, to foster homes, to his paternal grandmother, back to foster homes. When his father did make an appearance, often as not it was to deliver a beating. My dad returned the favor at age 18, then legally changed his name to his mother's maiden name.

That was in 1939. My dad doesn't know where his family is buried. He doesn't know who his family was in life, for that matter. Doctors say he has six months to find the answers.

My dad has inoperable lung cancer.

Green highway signs point out the way to Sun City.

Sun City has its own exit.

Sun City has its own boulevard, stretching off to the flat horizon in palm-lined magnificence.

My dad told me Marion works in the clubhouse, so I look for the glorified trailer I'd imagined, possibly surrounded by shuffleboard courts and crones in blue or pink stretch pants.

Instead I see what looks more like a pink stucco palace, complete with Corinthian columns and its own guardhouse. I park and head up a path toward a door marked "Sun City Information." The air smells of cedar chips and geraniums.

I ask the two 20-something receptionists if they've heard of Marion Fogg. "Um... no? Does she work at Northfield Clubhouse?"

"There's more than one?" I ask.

It turns out Sun City has no fewer than three clubhouses. The pink palace served geriatric blue bloods. Pebble Beach North and South were for the plebeians.

I get directions and join the flow of champagne and pearl-colored Cadillacs and Town Cars on Sun City Boulevard. The street is lined with offces of orthopedic surgeons and hairdressers.

I head north on Pebble Beach Boulevard, past other streets named for golf courses, past tanned and fit looking septuagenarians in golf carts, and come to a low stucco clubhouse.

A plump woman in a pantsuit is walking out of the building. I park quickly, and run across the street, catching up with her, expecting to be arrested at any minute.

"Excuse me.. could you tell me where to find Marion Fogg?"

"Yes," she says, "but not after 2."

I check my watch. 4:15.

"But she works here?" I ask.

"Oh sure. She handles all the contractors for the development here. She's very highly regarded. Are you a contractor?"

How much do I tell her?

"No," I start to fumble, "I guess you could call her my dad's stepmother, but I don't think she knows it."

He had tried to call her once before. He explained who he was, that he knew she was the widow of Cassius Fogg. She told him her husband had no children. And hung up.

"Oh," pantsuit lady says. "Well, you can check in there, but I'm almost positive she's gone home. She's listed, though."

I thank her and head inside.

Marion's name is on an offfice door, but it's locked.

An old phone hangs on the wall. It's vintage 1975, one of those gimmicky things with huge pushbuttons, like something you'd find in the Brady house. A phone book hangs underneath.

Marion is listed.

I dial, my heart in my throat, though I'm not sure why.

It rings.

It rings again.

There's a click, then a machine picks up. Damn.

"Hello, this is Marion."

Her Yankee accent makes my dad sound like a Valley Girl. It's thicker than winter ice on the Androscoggin.

"I'm not home right now, but please leave a message. I'll call you back as soon as I can."

Sure she will.

What do I say now?

"Uh... Mrs. Fogg. My name is Jason."

Without my little reporter's badge to hide behind, this isn't easy. This is personal.

"I think you spoke with my dad before," I continue. "I'm in St. Petersburg for a seminar, and found myself in the Sun City area, so I figured I'd try to get hold of you."

What a load of shit.

"My dad told me he spoke with you before, and he says he's sorry if he scared you. But we think your husband was my dad's father. I know this is probably a shock to you, and you may not believe any of this, but I'd sure appreciate it if you could give me a call."

I leave my phone number, and decide I'll try her in person. The phone book lists her address as 1301 New Bedford Avenue.

I have no idea where that is and head out blindly. I head south on Pebble Beach, past Sun City Boulevard, and head smack into a neighborhood full of streets named for New England ports. New Bedford is the second cross street.

I count down addresses, starting at 1400.

I see the little sign reading "Fogg" from a block away.

Marion lives in a pale blue stucco duplex. There's a lawn, but little greenery other than a few sunburnt azaleas gasping for life near the front door. Two plastic chairs sit on the small porch. The blinds are tightly drawn against the bright sun.

I knock on the door, my heart pounding. I wait. The neighborhood is absolutely quiet. I imagine old ladies peeking out through curtains across the street. I imagine a cruiser pulling up any minute. I ring the doorbell.


I walk back to the car, still looking around nervously for flashing blue lights.

I make another half-hearted attempt a half-hour later. She's still not home.

I reluctantly head back onto Sun City Boulevard to the interstate, and follow the signs to Tampa.

I'll call her tonight, I tell myself.

Maybe my dad can still get his story.

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Well, he never did get his story. When I finally did get her on the phone, she said "my husband had no children!" and hung up on me. "Send her some photos," my mom suggested, so we did -- me, my dad, and one of Cassius. That got me a call from her attorney, saying he'd get a restraining order if I contacted her again.

Ah, family.

Actually, I'm grateful I didn't have to grow up a little gay boy with the last name of "Fogg." Things were bad enough.