My sister’s a hottie. Or a drag queen. Or both.
My sister’s a hottie. Or a drag queen. Or both.
Life is weird, the world is small.
I plopped myself down in front of the computer Sunday morning with a reheated cup of yesterday’s coffee, and I began to do a little bit of casual “work”–poking around, really, just a bit of research on Lebanon and Beirut and such. Maybe something would point to my father.
I quickly learned that Lebanon’s few “white pages” directories were going to be no help at all–it seems like they only list people who sign up for the service. That, coupled with the ubiquity of my father’s first name (i.e. Haleem/Halim) and the uncertainty of spelling his surname, meant I got nowhere.
I changed tactics and began flipping through chat rooms. Again, nothing. Most of the major Lebanese portals have chat rooms and guestbooks, but they’re rarely used. In fact, the only room I found occupied was on gay.com, where a couple of very helpful men offered to do some legwork, provided I could give them a little more info. I’m going to see if the LSU alumni association can can help me out with a recent address or something.
While I’m sitting there, chatting away to anyone on the Mediterranean who’ll listen, a banner ad pops up. Remember, I’m surfing the international section of gay.com, and as such, I’m privy to ads only intended for folks living outside the US…. Well, what should pop up but an ad for Jeff/Varla‘s upcoming show at London’s Soho Theatre, The Very Worst of Varla Jean Merman? I found it bizarre. Tiny, tiny world.
Later, I stumbled across a piece of my uncle’s work: a play with Meryl Streep, directed by Elizabeth Swados, called Alice at the Palace. My uncle, Stuart Baker-Bergen, is listed in the credits, right after Mark Linn-Baker. I’ll never know him, but he’s preserved on video.
Life is really, really, really, really weird. Really.
JUST THE HIGH POINTS
The letter came yesterday afternoon while I was home for lunch. I was in the kitchen having tomato sandwiches (a childhood/Harriet the Spy fetish), when the mail slot opened with its typical nerve-shattering squeal. I gotta oil that hinge one day.
I trekked to the front of the house to see what had arrived. The letter lay on top of a pile of garish circulars in a simple white envelope, with only a Jackson, Mississippi post office box for a return address. I was excited, but not unduly so. I think I was probably more nervous opening acceptance letters from grad school. I guess I’m still not taking this as seriously as I should.
I took the envelope back to the kitchen and sat down. The letters inside–one from Callie, my birth mother, and one from Tiffany, my half-sister–were kind of amazing. Not just because the two come across as normal, healthy, wacky people, but because of the way I’m an eerily neat genetic fit for the family.
Callie, my mom, is a librarian in Columbus, Georgia. (Yes, JB, this may entail a trip to your neck of the woods soon.) She grew up in Orleans Parish, not far from where I live now. She attended Rhodes College–perennial rival of my alma mater, Millsaps College–and earned a BA in English, with hopes of teaching, not at all unlike yours truly. Eventually she began work on a Masters at UNO (where I myself picked up an MA about 30 years later), and it was during that time that she met my biological father; shortly thereafter she became pregnant, gave up the baby (i.e. me), moved to Georgia, fell in love, got married, and had more kids. All in all, she was leading a pretty normal, middle class life a couple hundred miles due east of me.
Fine so far, right? Nothing surprising or unusual.
But our circles begin to overlap. My half sister, Tiffy, is two years younger than me and is apparently a musician. She’s moved around a lot, bouncing from Columbus to Atlanta to LA to San Francisco. Now she’s living in London, cutting an album or something. I dunno.
At one point in Tiffy’s self-described “crazy” life, she moved to New Orleans and worked at Warlocks Salon. Warlocks, as you might imagine, was the ever-so-wacky salon, one of the first in New Orleans to offer extensions and Manic Panic hair colors–you get the picture, I’m sure. As a fringe member of the hipster crowd, I was familiar with most folks who worked there, and I can just barely remember mention of a gal named Tiffany. New Orleans being as small as it is, she and I invariably crossed paths, maybe shared drinks, bummed smokes, who knows? But we were definitely part of the same peer group. There was no way we could have avoided it.
Things started to get considerably stranger when Callie spoke of my uncle, Stuart, to whom she affectionately referred as “Diggie.” Diggie was, by the sound of it, a theatre guy extraordinaire, with training in playwriting, directing, and acting. He earned a degree in Drama from UNO, then moved on to an MFA program at Columbia. After two months in the city, though, Diggie was lured away from his grad program by none other than Andrei Serban, Ellen Stewart, and La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, with whom he worked over the next several years. As fate would have it, during my own stint in New York, I had a job that required me to speak with Ellen or one of her staff on a weekly basis. If I’d known, I guess I could have asked…
Being a New Orleanian, Diggie couldn’t completely stay away from the city. He’d come back from time to time, hanging out with New Orleans’ only female female impersonator, Becky Allen–the same Becky Allen with whom Jonno and I appeared three years ago in Psycho Beach Party. Yet another person to ask.
I keep using the past tense because Diggie is dead. He died of complications from AIDS in May of 1986, at the same time I was graduating from high school.
Here’s the only missing piece of the puzzle: my father. Apparently, he wasn’t just of Lebanese extraction, he was a citizen of Lebanon. Callie seems to think he moved back to Beirut after college, sometime in the early 1970s. I have no idea where I’d even begin looking for him. Anyone have access to the Beirut white pages? Anyone?
Same brow, same jawline: physically, I’m clearly more his son than hers. She‘s happy to hear from me, she‘s accepted me. What would he think? And do I really want to know?
I’m sitting at my desk yesterday afternoon, trying to clear up some painstaking minutiae involved in an artist residency I’m coordinating later this month, and the phone rings. My caller ID shows a 601 area code: Mississippi… It’s not my father, it’s not my mother, it’s probably not any of my brothers… I pick up and hear a five-syllable “hello,” and instantly I know I’m on the phone with Jodie, the agent at the Children’s Home Society who’s coordinating the meeting with my birth mother. From the sound of her voice, I can tell she’s got good news: the letter from my counselor arrived, it was approved (even though, I think to myself, it wasn’t anything like what she’d requested), and it’s been delivered to Callie. A corresponding letter is on its way to me, complete with photos and such.
I’m excited, but not in the way you’d think. Yeah, sure, meeting my birth mother’s going to be interesting and all, but more than that, the anal side of me is thrilled that one more facet of my life can be wrapped up, checked off, and neatly filed away:
_x_ College degree? Yes indeed, and there are numerous sheets of paper in the attic to prove it.
_x_ Adopted? Affirmative: here’s a pic of mom and dad.
Just another victory for empirical knowledge.