Entry #12

I got an email from Callie yesterday. She and Tiffany are coming on the 15th. They’ll be here for a week.

Suddenly, it seems like this has all happened really quickly. Too quickly? I dunno. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have concerns. I feel like Woody Allen when I ask questions like this, but really: what if we run out of things to talk about? Five days is a long time to spend with strangers.

I have a hunch my fears are unwarranted, though. From our emails and our one-time phone conversation, I think the three of us–four, counting Jonno–are gonna be fine.

If all else fails, I’ll just start drinking. I can blab away for hours with a little alky-hol in my veins. Just ask Jonno.

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Entry #11

Hmm. My sister’s music reminds me a little of Moloko, one of the hippest bands of the late mid-90s.

Separated by three decades and 3,000 miles, we still manage to share a lot. Genetics, oy.

Entry #10

Last Saturday night gave me my first real chance to speak with someone who knew my uncle, Stuart. I mean, Callie knew him, of course, but she knew him as a brother. This man, Jerry, knew him as an artist, a roommate, and a lover–a very different set of relationships.

Let me back up: earlier in the week, I’d run into my friend Amy on the street. She’d mentioned that Jerry–a New Orleans native living in New York for a couple of decades now–was paying her a visit. As she described him and his work in theatre, somehow we pieced together that he probably knew Stuart. She offered to bring him along on Saturday night to the Libra party, held in honor of my boyfriend and few others. She wanted us to meet. (Amy’s a real yenta’s yenta.) When they arrived at Lucky Cheng’s, though, I’d completely forgotten about him. I guess I assumed that even if Jerry did know my uncle, it’d be only tangentially.

I was very, very wrong.

Apparently, the two met when they were very young; each was the first boyfriend the other had had. Even with the painfully loud disco music thumping through the lounge, I could hear sincere affection in Jerry’s voice as he spoke of Stuart. There was a thoughtfulness to his descriptions–as if he were trying to relive a particular moment and wanted to get every detail right. It’s the same tone I hear in my voice when I try to describe childhood walks with my grandmother through the ludicrously idyllic woods of rural Mississippi. Sadness, happiness, nostaliga: all of it mixed together.

I don’t know why, but from the moment Jerry began speaking, I was on the verge of tears. I’m not the sort of person who gets weepy when he’s drinking–if anything, I head towards giddiness–so it was an unusual sensation to be feeling so maudlin with a glass of wine in my hand. If I hadn’t been in such a festive, public place, surrounded by friends new and old, though, I probably would have bawled my eyes out. This from the guy who began searching for his biological family with textbook Gen-X glibness.

As Jerry unraveled Stuart’s story, I drew parallels between my uncle and people in my own life: Mick, the artist and designer in a constant, manic state of destroying old work, building new; Michael, filled with creative drive and a laugh like a big, strong hug–each impossible to dislike. No, I didn’t know my uncle, but I knew people like him, fantastic people no longer here, people I’d give anything to see one more time, just to say a proper goodbye.

But enough about that.

As it turns out, Amy knew Stuart, too. His name rang a bell the first time I mentioned him to her, but it took her a while to remember: he was the nephew of a woman in her care on her first job in New Orleans. Amy is a counselor for the terminally ill, and this woman, Stephania, was one of her patients. Stuart visited her weekly during her last years of her life.

It’s a damn small world. Damn, damn, damn small world.

Entry #9

Before leaving for Louisville, I made The Call. I guess I was just being paranoid, but given the current political climate, I didn’t want to shuffle off without at least meeting Callie voice-to-voice.

As it turns out, we gabbed for nearly an hour, filling in various blanks and getting a feel for one another. To me, she sounds like a good-time gal who’s slowly settled down over the years (a far cry from my own, painfully demure mother). Different, good, alien–all sorts of things.

I still don’t think the reality of our reunion has hit me yet. (Though “reunion” isn’t exactly the proper word; we weren’t really “united” in the first place. I mean, she didn’t even know she’d had a boy.) Callie, on the other hand, seems very excited, and very cautious, too. We’re set for a mid- to late-November rendez-vous. She and my sister are coming to New Orleans for a visit.

Three interesting things I learned from our conversation:

1) As a child, I was told I was born in Jackson, but in reality, my mom gave birth in Natchez. Not a big deal at all, but interesting. Apparently, Callie was sent away to a maternity home there for the bulk of her pregnancy. She said it was fairly pleasant, though when I imagine it, I invariably picture Lu-Lu’s nun-run stalag for unwed mothers in Polyester.

2) At the time of my conception, Callie was a grad student, but my father, Haleem, was an undergrad. In that way, I guess she and my mother are alike: they both prefer younger men.

3) Callie always kinda suspected I was gay. In fact, she’s very happy with it. Yippee.

Entry #7

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.

Entry #6

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?