Four Years of My Life I Can’t Get Back (but there is hope)

It’s been a week since Joe Biden became president of the United States. For four years, ten weeks, and four days I was in a shitty mood. Granted, it got a bit better after November 7, 2019, when Biden’s win became official but still, having Trump in office and spreading malice cast a shadow on every day until January 19, when I could finally say, in 24 hours Biden and the Democrats would be in control of two branches of the government.

Neither Biden nor Harris was in my top three during the primary season. However, once the votes were cast and Joe selected Kamala as his running mate, I put my reservations aside and wholeheartedly supported them. So far, I’m pleased with the direction they’re taking the country. Beyond treating COVID seriously, Biden’s moves signal a grasp on the realities facing the third decade of this century. No doubt, our new president and his team will do things I don’t like, but I think he is a well-intentioned person who cares about the good of the many, not the White, wealthy few. Perhaps I’m deluding myself, but after the last administration, I so want to believe that there are decent people who go into government service.

When I reflect on the trauma that set in on November 8, 2016, I am disturbed because I feel like I lost four years of my life. Every day I woke up wondering what screwed-up thing Trump did while I was still asleep. The constant barrage of hate wore me down. The rhetoric, the racism, the anti-LGBTQ policies, war on the environment and other species, additional destruction of public education…I can go on, and I know a lot of you are well aware of what I’m saying as you experienced the feeling of constant doom and gloom yourselves. Trump and the GOP’s behavior gave people license to be their worst selves. I witnessed bullying, lying, and misogyny (on the part of both men and women) among wine professionals that I never saw before in my 30-year career. He brought out the base instincts in so many. Even if you don’t know these people personally, to think that we live in a country where a significant minority is ok with fascism is frightening. The attack on the Capitol, the contrast in the way law enforcement handled it compared to the BLM protests over the summer, and the fact that Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are still allowed to make policy for our country boggles the rational mind.

That’s not to say there weren’t good things to happen or happy occasions. Entering a graduate program was one of the best decisions I ever made. It brought a lot of things I was grappling with into focus and helped put my life on track after years of depression. I met some great folks, both teachers and other students, who taught me so much more than anything I can read in a book. At the same time, taking a deep dive into Butler, Foucault, hooks, and other theorists satisfied an intellectual thirst that’s been dry for decades. While my 50thbirthday (13 days after Trump won in 2016) sucked, Cami’s the following year was one of the best parties we’ve ever had. A few weeks later, we went to Vermont for a fantastic wedding. I’ve seen my nephews turn into wonderful young men. I got back in touch with an old friend from when I studied in London more than 30 years ago, and we’ve become closer than ever. Moving in 2019 gave us a home that we love and an incredible community with our neighbors. I did some traveling, started a non-profit organization, and got to see the Warriors win two championships.

At the same time, there was always this underlying feeling of not being able to take a deep breath. I don’t say that lightly; I had severe asthma before I moved to San Francisco. Not being able to breathe is scary as fuck. Like so many others, my mental health was affected daily. Now that Biden is President, I realize even more how the period between 11/8/16 – 1/19/21 was one of constant trauma. Granted, Black and Indigenous people in this country have probably always felt this way. White people will never know what it is like to be Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, or of Middle Eastern descent in the US, but we now have an idea of what it feels like to have our values and humanity attacked. When I talk to older people, they say that they felt more threatened by Trumpism than any other political movement in their lifetimes. That includes McCarthyism and Nixon. This makes me feel very sad for people, such as my dad, who is 86. Like me, he lost a lot of sleep over the last four years. We cannot get this time back, and when you know that most of your life is already behind you, the present is ever more precious.

So how do we make sense of it? There were silver linings, of course. The Democratic party is now more progressive, thanks to women of color. More White people woke up to their privilege. Youth activism is driving discussions about equity and justice. Yet it still feels like a temporary reprieve, and that scares the shit out of me. Alt-right Christian nationalism is not going anywhere any time soon. The crazy train of Q-Anon and Marjorie Taylor Greene left the station. While I feel better about the federal government, there are still plenty of right-wing nutjobs wielding power. We can’t change the past, but we can use it to guide our futures. The four-plus years of Trumpism and trauma are over, and I’m cautiously hopeful that better days lie ahead for my family, friends, and the country. We can right the ship with Biden and Harris and show the world that imperfect as the US is, it is reckoning with its past and earnestly working towards a more equitable future.

But, as for our own mental health and how Trump and then COVID impacted it, it’s going to take way more than executive orders, promising cabinet posts, and stimulus checks. The United States does not take mental health seriously. We pay lip service to it but good luck finding a therapist who takes insurance. Insurance companies that cover mental health have massive restrictions, and their customers are limited to a list of therapists in their network. If you’ve been seeing a therapist for several years and your insurance changes, you may no longer be covered. Therapists are not interchangeable, and disruptions can have dire consequences. Mental health insurance often has a cutoff of so many sessions per calendar year. This determination is sometimes based on the insurers’ assessment of our mental health, not what the therapist thinks. Instead, psychiatrists push anti-depressants on people, and while many have positive responses to medication, they do not help everyone. Also, there are other forms of treatment with fewer side effects. Millions of people do not have any health insurance, let alone mental health coverage. The stigma that surrounds mental health problems prevents a lot of people from getting help. The Biden administration needs to address this and fast as we’re looking at widescale PTSD from COVID and Trump’s four years. It’s real.

If you feel like a war just ended and that you’re processing four years of anguish, you are not alone. I certainly am, as are many people I know. One of the dumbest things I’ve heard is that politics is not personal. It is entirely personal. We vote for leaders who we hope will perpetuate our values. Some are solely concerned with how government makes their lives better, while others prioritize the well-being of the many. Either way and anywhere in between, our personal interests drive our political positions. There might be a sizable minority on board with Trump’s malice, corruption, incompetence, and, to repeat, fascism, but I believe that the majority was horrified and that for years to come, we will continue to be affected by the hatred he engendered. We cannot get those four years back, but we can try to have peace going forward. I don’t want to hear about Donald Trump any longer. I hope but doubt he’ll get convicted in the Senate impeachment trial. I suspect that between his smoke and mirror finances, tax fraud charges, and whatever else Leticia James and Cyrus Vance have against him, he’ll pay some price, though probably not enough. If Cruz, Hawley, and Greene are allowed to keep their jobs in the Senate and Congress, I hope the good works of their benevolent colleagues drown out their petty, hateful voices. The best way to expunge Trumpism is to use government to make people’s lives better. No doubt, the collective trauma brought on by Trump pushed the Democrats and the country to the left on many issues. But there was a steep price to pay, one that we are only just beginning to comprehend.

2020

January

With Cami at Sundance, Park City.

February

 

Cami and Stanley Mouse at The Haight Street Art Center.

March

WINeFare 2020 steering committee, from left, Ailis, Haley, and Sherry.
Patti Smith, March 9, 2020, at The Filmore. The last hoorah before lockdown.

April

The first Covid Zoom bday for my sister, Jenn.

May

Golden Gate Park during the first lockdown.

June

 

 

BLM protest and rally.

Our relentlessly gay pride. Michael, Ramon, and Scott top. 

July

Nancy at Blackbird. The first bar visit after the lockdown was lifted over the summer.
July 4th weekend in St. Helena with Vignon.
And then we went for a bike ride and I broke two ribs.

August

The stowaway.
My nephew, Luc.

 

Sister, Jolie. 

A very quiet Washington Square Park in August.
Mira, NYC in August.
#resist NYC
Jenn and Batman in Times Square.

September

And then there was the day when San Francisco had an orange glow.
Dolores Park during the apocalypse.
Castro Street, 10 am.

October

And then a hummingbird came to visit.
And spent the night.
Renee (friend and exhibit curator) and Cami at the Silence of the Good opening at Haight Street Art Center.
With Leslie at Golden Gate Park. October. Our tribute day to Marguerite.

November

And then this happened.

 

 

And all of SF started partying at 9 am.  With Matt in SF, 10:30 am, two bottles in. 
Kite Hill with Vignon

A last-minute visit from Luc.
Three surgical procedures, one foot. Next up for 2021, the right one. 
Isn’t she lovely?
My COVID bday celebration

 

December

Have a seat at the table.
Went for a drive down the coast with Doyle.

And made a friend.
Vegan Latkes

Hannukah.
Cami, Mini, J
Christmas

 

New threads from my sister’s company, Pipenn Threads…check it out…T-shirt and bag.
Seamus self-trolling

Happy New Year.

Wishing everyone a much better and healthier 2021.

 

In memory of Marguerite Lutton…and George.

Never forget your loved ones.

George and Marg (Spanky)

Peace to all. 

 

The Cork Menorah

I don’t know how I ended up with this cork menorah. I don’t think I bought it…pretty sure someone gave it to me during the CAV years but embarrassingly, I can’t remember whom. Had it not been for this silly yet useful wine enclosure, I probably would never bother celebrating Hannukah. No one in my immediate family is observant, and most of us are non-believers. My sister and I share our lives with people who grew up Catholic and celebrate Christmas. Yet Cami, my partner, took all of the menorah photos posted on The Vinguard Instagram account and she’s been way more cooperative than Seamus, our cat/mascot/child who is into when he feels like, or if there’s a spinning dreidel for him to kill. But, like most kids, he often just wants to jump the fence and play outside.

Despite my atheism and not being a Zionist, I strongly identify as Jewish, but Hannukah is the only holiday I celebrate. The others are depressing. I’m down with the idea of reflecting on our past mistakes that we’re supposed to do on Rosh Hashanah but trying to be a better person should be a 365 days a year practice. I used to fast on Yom Kippur out of habit but, after spending one Yom Kippur eve at Martunis, drinking three martinis, and woke up the next morning with the hangover from hell, I said fuck it, I can’t wait to break the fast, I need an H&H bagel now. Sadly, H&H is no longer in business. If it were not for my mother calling to wish me a happy new year, the high holidays would be completely lost on me.

This year, Hannukah was a bit more fun. I said to Cami on the first night that we should try to have a good holiday season. I lost a dear friend over the summer, and others who are close to me recently lost loved ones. I’m at an age when I need to start getting used to death, and that in itself is hard to face. It’s been an incredibly shitty ten months for the world at large. I say this with a proverbial asterisk because even though so many people died from COVID and racial injustice hit a boiling point, inadequate and inequitable health care, and anti-Blackness have long plagued our planet. Fucked up as it was before, we’re really in the shitter now. I’m not super excited by Biden but at least it’s a pause in the destruction Trumpism wreaked on the country. I hope future generations get their priorities right and figure out how to take care of the planet and all of its inhabitants. However, we live in the here and now and as much as we can, let’s try to enjoy this moment. Though fleeting, joy is the best antidote to depression. For me, opening a different bottle of wine every night made by people I like and respect, and imbibing in the celebration of light, is a much-needed respite. It is a way of honoring some of those whose tireless efforts make our lives more delicious. They work so hard not because there is a financial windfall waiting somewhere in the future but because of their love for the juice, and sharing it with others.

I’ll leave it here. I hope that everyone has as best a holiday season as possible. It’s not about religion but taking the time to slow down and relish the precious time we have with those we love.

Peace – Pamela

 

For Marguerite, and all my friends…

A while back, my partner and I were talking about our fear of friends dying. We are at the age when it starts to become more likely. We’ve already lost some, but perhaps because they were a little bit older than us, the idea of peer mortality seemed less real. When I received the message my friend Marguerite passed away last month, I was flattened.

As the years go by, our friends – those with whom we share a deep connection – become, as my friend, Rebecca said, “part of our bones.” They often know us better than our family members, and bring out our best selves, in different ways. When we feel close to people, there are bound to be disagreements and qualities in one another that drives us nuts. That comes with letting down your guard, and revealing who you are, warts and all. We learn to accept some things and make adjustments. These annoyances are nothing if you can count on someone to be in your corner, make you feel loved, and laugh.

When Marguerite, aka Spanky, moved to LA, we saw each other maybe every couple of years, the last time in July 2018, but it was as if no time had passed. We sat outside on a warm summer night, laughing, catching up, and talking about life, past and present, and our hopes and aspirations for the future. Sometimes we can pick up where we left off, sometimes not. Our lives change with spouses, children, work, and the path of discovering who we are. Some friendships, even those that felt close at one point, run their course and become estranged. The death of a friendship carries its own set of grief, but we get through it, comforted by the love we share with other people and knowing that maybe one day, that relationship will rebloom and that if it doesn’t we did what we could to keep it alive. The death of a friend is final. We carry their energy with us, but it is one-sided…we are the only beneficiary. There is no longer anything we can give to them to show how much they matter to us in return.

Spanky was one of my first friends in San Francisco. We met at Café Claude, where her girlfriend, Elizabeth, was the chef, a few days after I moved here. Within a few minutes, we realized how much we had in common – she was 19 days older than me, both Scorpios, from New York and hella weird. We had an instant connection. I was – strange as this may sound – sort of dating a guy who worked with Elizabeth, and in disbelief that I was “straight,” they invited me to a lesbian club with them that night. A few months later, she was the second person I came out to. She was just like, “Look at you. You’re wearing aviators, a black leather jacket and ride a motorcycle, of course, you’re a dyke.”

Spanky had her demons – who doesn’t – yet, I think she found a way to turn her struggles into strengths. She was a great listener, and I appreciated that she never passed judgment, not on me, not on others. She had empathy, not just sympathy because she understood that life can really suck, and you never know what’s going with people no matter how well they seem to be doing on the outside. She was hysterical; even now, I laugh about some of the things she did and said decades ago. As our mutual friend Leslie reminded me recently, “her laughter was infectious.” She was brilliantly creative. More than anything, Marguerite was warm and kind, and we all could use more of that in our lives, especially now. Over 28 years, with numerous girlfriends/partners, jobs, businesses, struggles, and triumphs, she was always the person I met in January 1992, who got who I was right away, made me feel welcome in San Francisco, and helped me become who I am today. I feel privileged to have had such a dear friend.

I want to believe that Marguerite knew that she was loved by so many. I hope she knew how important she was to me, but I can’t be sure. So I’ve been thinking about the other friends in my life who I dearly cherish and am reminded that I need to make efforts to show, not just tell them, that they matter to me. We can’t go around thinking that we need to always be at our best with people because we might lose them one day; we are humans with our own moods, and timing is a tricky thing. Yet we can try to be better, be more sensitive and considerate, and realize that sometimes we’re going to fail. Failures become a success when we take responsibility and learn. Saying sorry is an act of great strength. It is also a gift because it lets people know that they matter to you.

So, don’t forget to remind those you love how much they matter because love is the best feeling, whether you are on the giving or receiving end. It makes this fucked up world a much more bearable place to inhabit. Losing someone does not make that love go away; enduring love gives comfort. Even if you haven’t talked to friends for a while, knowing that they are still roaming the planet is reassuring. To think that they’re gone, or will be one day, makes the world seem like a lesser place. But we can still keep our love for those lost alive by remembering how they made us better people and that even if they are gone, they are still part of our bones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Being Vegan

A year ago, I decided to become a vegan. When I was eight, I stopped eating red meat, went back and forth with poultry for about a decade, and fluctuated between pescatarian and veganism since college. Over the last few years, I’ve had a few spurts where I gave up fish, but still ate cheese, or vice versa. Finally, though, I decided on September 16, 2019, while I was on a plane back from New York, that I would see how it felt not to eat any animal products. At some point, I told myself I would try to make it a year. Here I am.

Honestly, it’s been easy. I thought I’d miss cheese…being in the wine business and having bought a lot of cheese professionally, it was a big part of my diet. But I don’t. I used to love cooking and eating seafood, but I’ve adapted. Being vegan certainly tests my creativity in the kitchen, but it’s fun…I’ve never cooked so much, but that is partly a result of the pandemic. I miss the ritual of going out for sushi with friends but I’m good with avocado rolls. I’ve never used a lot of honey so once I wrapped my head around the fact that being vegan also means not profiting off of animals’ labor, I gave that up, too. Before taking vitamin capsules I make sure there is no gelatin. I’ve gotten accustomed to reading all labels, even in natural food markets.

However, the difference between being vegan and following a plant-based diet is one of lifestyle…it’s not just food. Given the current situation, I haven’t had much need to buy clothes, but the few purchases I’ve made do not have any animal products. I’m on the fence when it comes to used clothing. I have a closet filled with leather, wool, silk, and cashmere and feel it would be senseless to discard the clothes I still wear. Maybe I’m just making an excuse but what’s the point in throwing or giving away jackets, sweaters, and shoes if I’m going to replace them with others.

The irony is that nature is cruel. Many animals, people included, have a predatory instinct. I witnessed this last week when my cat killed a baby mouse, brought it into the house, and batted it around until I realized that the gray thing he was swiping was not an extension of his tail. I get that many animals have to rely on other animals for food. What sets humans – in many but not all parts of the world – apart is that we have the cognitive ability to know that we have options. I can easily find plant-based protein.  Granted, living in California in this day and age, it is not hard. However, when I tried being vegan 30 years ago, it was more difficult. Still, though, if I was really willing to do the work, I could have stuck to a vegan diet earlier in my life.

I can understand killing animals for food, but not sport. People who hunt for fun are cold-blooded killers and belong in prison. Some cultures continue to rely on animal skins for clothing and protection, but there are no excuses in areas where there are abundant alternatives to staying warm. We’re all going to die at some point, so if our bodies can become a source of sustaining other lives, using animals for food or clothing makes sense – and here I include human beings…please feed me to the vultures or compost me when my time is up. Yet, I don’t think we should raise animals deliberately to profit off of their bodies. There are too many cows in the world already. Cow’s milk is meant for calves in the way that human milk is intended for human babies. Cows also produce methane gas, a contributor to global warming. Pigs are hella smart…you don’t think they know when they are being brought to slaughter? I’ve also read that human flesh taste a lot like pork. I can go on about the various reasons not to eat or wear specific animals, but I try to respect people’s choices, and sometimes it’s a matter of survival.

But we have to come to terms with the fact that a big reason why people eat so much meat is that our agriculture policy is upside down. Our government gives massive subsidies to an industry that treats animals inhumanely and uses hazardous chemicals to cut costs. This might make food cheaper, but in the end, it creates a tiered system where those who have enough disposable income can afford to eat organically and entertain the idea of not eating meat at all. Big Ag is a powerful lobby, and you won’t find too many politicians – Democrat or Republican – willing to stand up to them.

Being vegan has, more than anything, been a spiritual awakening. I don’t mean this in a religious sense, but it’s helped me feel more connected to the natural world, and that’s given me a sense of calm and heightened purpose. I try not to kill bugs though admittedly, I have my limits when it comes to fruit flies. I appreciate sitting in my backyard, surrounded by greenery in a way I didn’t before. I even long for having a garden so I can grow my own food. Being vegan has made me think more about the circle of life, how humans artificially changed it, and how we can get back to a better balance. I don’t think you have to stop eating and wearing animals to get here, but you need to stop and think about the role animals have in our world, and respect their right to live without undue suffering. Every life has value, and if we can treat animals with greater tenderness, we might have something left over for each other.

I can’t say that I’ll be vegan for the rest of my life, but I can say that I have absolutely no desire to reintroduce animal products into my diet or buy new clothing made from animal fur or skin right now or see myself feeling different in the future. Human beings can be cruel but we also have the ability to show those with less agency kindness and respect. Being vegan makes me want to be a better person.

 

 

2019

2019 didn’t start off that great…more aptly, 2018 ended badly. I often suffer from seasonal affective disorder, more commonly known as the winter blues, and December 2018 was a month I was happy to put behind me. No year is all good or all bad, but when I think back on the last 12 months, there was a lot of joy, new beginnings, reconciliations, great times with friends, old and new, and growth. It was complicated but mostly, great.  I will think of 2019 with lots of smiles. Happy New Year to everyone…

 

Seamus and Cami. January.
With Ed, our annual beach selfie. Ocean Beach. January.
Cousin Robin and Cami in Central Park. March.
Vignon, Dillon Beach. April. 
Beth dressed as a Games of Thrones character that doesn’t exist…it was all Cami’s idea for Vignon’s bday. Dillon Beach.
We moved in June and while all of us are in love with our new home, no one is happier than Seamus who now gets to walk the beams, and go outside.
Pride, with Jenny and Sara. Dolores Park.

The night of the blackout in NY. Luc and I were downtown, which was not affected. We spent hours walking around the village. Washington Square Park was packed, kids were jumping into the fountain…NYers know how to pull together.
Julian feeling the vibes from what was the Woodstock stage. Bethel, NY.
Making the pilgrimage to Woodstock. Bethel, NY.
Me and the stinker. Photo credit, Charlotte Fiorito. 
Jolie and I took Ryan to school in August. Tulane campus. New Orleans.
Fashion icon, Ryan Schifino. New Orleans.
My oldest and one of the most dearest friends, Vanessa. NY.
Mom and Jolie. NY.
Cousin Allan, Cami, Me. Album cover, 2019 Greatest hits.
Chatting with Daddy. NY.
Jolie and her loving nephew.

London with Cath and Alex. 
I think that what people have inside comes out more as they age. This photo of Cath says it all.

Brighton with Shana and Jane.

 

Cami, Rachel, and Linda. London.
One of the best parts of our UK trip was unexpectedly seeing Henry.
Gabriel at Remedy Wine Bar, which is coincidentally,  just a few blocks from where I met his parents at UCL 32 years ago.
Our daily selfie.
My Hanukah party. Becky, Matt, and Nancy, the human menorah.
True love.

2018

 

Cheffypoo Christine, Leslie and Seamus at his birthday party.
NCLR with Nancy. A time-honored tradition.
Seamus, dumbbell, Cami.
Buggin’ out. 

Hippies.

Spencer, Luc, Ryan’s graduation.
Ryan’s graduation.

Pride, Dolores Park. Nancy, Cami.
4th of July. Wasted hippies. 

Cath, Alex, The Pyrenees. 
Versailles, Ryan.
Happy bday Cami.
Cousin Galil in duh house. Hippies.
Beth, Vignon, separated at birth, reunited in love. Not hippies. 

 

2017

 

Cami, hiking, waterfall, Malibu.
Ryan, oysters, Zuni.
Tessie reflecting, LA. 
Is it a cat? In Colorado with Rob, Mandy, and the Erichson clan.
No caption required.
MUNI
Marty O’Reilly at the Chapel. Every time we see him play we’re in awe…
Nancy feeling manic elated. 
When Shana came to town. At Fig & Thistle, Hayes Valley.
Getting ready for Cami’s 50th at Rhett’s was as much fun as the party itself.
This might be the photo of the decade. Cami 50, with Michele and David.
Cami and Kirk, Cami 50.
Four September birthdays. Cami, Cousin Allan, Dad, and Barbara.

Squab and Tonya’s Alice and Wonderland themed wedding. Barre, Vermont.
The tea ceremony. J and Christine. 

Iceland.
Fleet Week has never been my thing but I have to give it to David and Michele, they know how to throw a party.
Spanky, in Pasadena.

 

2016

2016, not a great year. Beyond the devastating election, it sucked in a number of ways but as these photos show, there is still joy to be found even in the midst of sorrow and loss. 

Henry came for a quick visit. It’s a delight to have an adult friendship with someone I knew as a child. 
Paul and Ryan. Los Angeles.
With Luc. Los Angeles.

 

The blue-eyed side of Tessie. Los Angeles.
We were driving up north, somewhere in Marin, when all of a sudden this amazing cloud formation appeared.
An afternoon at Arlequin with Tony Poer. San Francisco.
Ferry hair.

These pix were taken on ferry from Connecticut to Long Island. We were at my aunt’s funeral earlier in the day. She died unexpectedly, leaving us sad and still shocked. I don’t know what made us laugh but, no doubt, it was much needed.

 

Leslie and Cami, NYC.
Mom and Jolie, Sag Harbor.
More Hardly Strictly. Golden Gate Park. 
Sergio Romo warming up at the last playoff game the Giants would be in this decade…that tells you who won. Not us, but the seats were awesome.

After the hellacious year, I just wanted on my actual birthday to be surrounded by those who I really loved. With a few exceptions, most of them are in this photo.
Thanksgiving. We were supposed to go to St. Helena but the election and death of a friend left us feeling very depressed…so we stayed in town and had a mellow time with Seamus. 
Figuring out a way to take down the Christmas plant with one good shake.

 

 

2015

Warriors! 
So Vignon does have the best smile.
I take that back, Cami has the best smile. Los Angeles.
Snuggling.
Pride, Cami and Katherine.
With David and Elizabeth at The Four Horsemen.
Cousin Allan at the Cloisters.
Dad on the roof.
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.
A few days before this picture was taken, I noticed some guy in a cafe checking me out, like he was there to meet someone. Then he asked me if I was Rodney. The name stuck…Rodney in all his glory.