WEEKEND Beach Bum
|by Eric Morrison
|Just a Little Patience
"Patience is not one of my virtues," my mother always likes to say. Ironically, it is one of the virtues I admire most about her. She had the patience to raise two sons six-and-a-half years apart in age while holding down a full-time job. She has the patience to keep my two young nieces for the weekend. She has had the patience to work at the same job for almost thirty years. I think she's actually become more patient as she's gotten older. I don't think I can say the same for myself.
I used to be the poster child for patience. When I was nineteen years old, my boyfriend and I were hanging out on a Philly stoop with his best friend. Up walked a homeless man in tattered clothes, reeking of alcohol. He was singing a song and staggering, so we knew he wasn't dangerous, just annoyingat least to my boyfriend and his best friend. To me, it was a golden opportunity to learn about another living soul and another blissful experience dealt to me by the hand of life. I listened for almost half an hour as the man read poetry to us, tripping words written by him with what couldn't have been more than a junior high school education. I loved every minute of it. That was me at nineteen.
Yesterday, at thirty, I told my apartment manager to go fk herself because she wouldn't fix a leak in my kitchen.
In the eighteen months my roommate and I have lived in our apartment complex, the maintenance has been nothing short of a nightmare. You have to call several times just to get a maintenance man to your apartment, and then they fix the leak in your ceiling by shoving cardboard inside of it and painting over it. No kidding! I'm more comfortable in stilettos than loafers, but still I know that you have to use spackle or putty or something like that at some point in the process. Anyway, the apartment manager is arrogant, confrontational, and rude, and those are her good points. She began to raise her voice at me, and that, as my mother also likes to say, was all she wrote. I showed her exactly why we're known as "screaming queens." It wasn't pretty.
My friend Michael and I have often talked about the fact that the well of patience in gay people is often run dry at a young age. I know I had to muster more than my share of patience to put up with adolescent taunts, teasing, and threats. Looking back, though, I think it was more fear than patience that kept my mouth shut and my hands to myself. When you're five feet tall with glasses and zits and you play the piccolo in the marching band, you tend not to punch back when you're hit or talk back when you're insulted. As an adult, I'm on a much more level playing field, and now I'm not scared of the bullies. I am scared, however, of being walked all over.
In one of her fabulous comedy routines, Margaret Cho rants about turning the other cheek, declaring: "I don't WANT to be the bigger person!" Go, Margaret! I am normally patient to a fault, but when someone takes my kindness for weakness and pushes me just a little too far, I go completely over the edge like Wile E. Coyote plummeting off a cliff in a cartoon. Smoke actually billows out of my ears. My grandmother was the same way, and I have often thought of us as kindred spirits. She could put up with almost anything but "when I'm mad enough to start laughing," she'd always say, "leave me alone." Laughing was Mom Mom's warning that you had pushed her too far. I regress to puberty. I start feeling very insecure and small. I start shaking and my voice cracks like Peter Brady's.
In today's world, whether you're LGBT or heterosexual, patience is such a rare commodity that it ought to be traded on the stock market. Look at road rage, gun violence, and rampant drug abuse. All those things often have their roots in someone being pushed too far. Our modern day bodies and minds are overloaded with information, sound, images, and advertisements. It's no wonder that patience is in shorter supply than mascara at a Tammy Faye convention. We're just plain full. We spend all day at work with phones that won't stop ringing and computers that shut down before we've saved our documents, and we come home to a mailbox full of junk and an answering machine full of voices we don't want to hear. In today's world, we're not "mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore." We're tired as shit and our last gay nerve is fried.
To tell you the truth, I felt kind of crappy about myself after I blew up at my apartment manager yesterdayan unfortunate side effect of exploding uncontrollably when you're frustrated and angry. Don't get me wrong, she deserved it, and I'd do it all over again, if only for the brief relief I felt for spitting it all out for once. For the first thirty years of my life, I listened to everyone's complaints and smiled when I wanted to shout, and that got me nothing but a monthly Paxil prescription. For right now, my plan is to let the dormant volcano of anger brew up in me a little bit and spew out some occasional burning lava from my lips, at least until I'm forty or fifty. I'll try that for the next decade or two and see if I feel any better. I'll be sure to let you know. Still, something tells me that when I am old, I will be more like my mother, at a happy medium with my patience, not afraid to send back the salad at the restaurant, but not throwing it in the waiter's face either.
If you write to Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org, he promises not to reply with a nasty email.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 2 March 11, 2005