Boat and Breakfast: Venice at Its Best

#TBT 2011: I’m watching a boat chase scene from the James Bond film Moonraker on my phone while standing at the Zattere waterbus station in Venice, Italy. I’ve been instructed to do so by Ava Cappelletti, my host, and to pay close attention to the mahogany motorboat with red leather seats. “This way,” she emailed me last week, “you’ll know what to look for when I pick you up at Zattere. 007 is driving my boat.”

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Social Media Has Convinced Millennial Men They Need Chin Implants — MEL Magazine

BY C. BRIAN SMITH

A weak chin—forever the enemy of masculinity—has never been so readily apparent

Twenty-one-year-old FouriersAllDay has come to the PlasticSurgery subreddit seeking guidance and support. He fears his weak chin makes everything about him weaker and “ruins Facebook photos taken from the side,” despite his dieting and the fact that he spends “a TON of time at the gym trying to look exactly the way” he wants.

Fellow Redditor Coltis feels exactly the same. “My chin looks a lot like yours!” he exclaims, adding he also lacks a jawline, so he’ll be having chin liposuction later this summer to establish one. “Sure, it’s a lot of money that I could do a lot of things with,” he reasons. “But when I really think about it, this is what I want more than anything in the world.”

“Slow down,” cautions Iredditi. “It sounds like you both are making major plastic surgery decisions based only how you look from the side-and-three-quarters!”

Here’s the thing: A lot of guys today are making plastic surgery decisions based on how they look from all sorts of shitty and mostly virtual angles.

Home is Where the Area Code Is | MEL Magazine

Why we hang onto those three meaningless digits

READ “Home Is Where the Area Code Is” on MEL

I got my first cellphone in college, in 1998. It came with a phone number and, more specifically, a Connecticut area code (203). I’ve yet to change either of them. In fact, when it comes to the area code in particular, I feel no need whatsoever to ever possess a different one. (203) just feels right to me: I was born and raised in Connecticut; I went to college in Connecticut; my family still makes their home in Connecticut.

And so, over the last 18 years, (203) has traveled with me from New Haven to Anchorage (907) to Washington, D.C. (202) to New York City (212) to my current home in L.A. (213/310/323/562/626/818).

All the while, it confuses just about everyone I come into contact with — outside of Connecticut, of course.

“Whoa, what planet is that from?” cashiers at my local grocery store have been known to ask when I give them my phone number — which doubles as my rewards ID.

I shrug my shoulders. “I’m from Connecticut.”

Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with the area codes in the other places I’ve lived. It just seems like a misrepresentation of my identity to use them. I’m no more a (310) than I am a throat surgeon. And the longer I spend in California, the clearer it becomes that Connecticut is where my heart is.

Shouldn’t my area code reflect that?

Nor am I alone. Virtually none of my friends have an area code related to their current geographic location.

“I’ve still got my 917,” says Ethan, a Hollywood transplant by way of New York City. “And I’m proud of that fact; it’s my number.”

“Rocking my Hartford roots with the 860,” adds Caroline, a fellow Connecticut native who currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. “I won’t get rid of it. Too many people from long ago still have that number, and even if I haven’t spoken to them in years, what if they wanted to call for some reason? You never know!”

Others keep their old area codes to honor a moment in time.

“At first, I hung on to my 202 Washington, D.C., number because it was the only number I could remember by heart,” admits Mary, who was born in Alabama and moved back after a stint in the nation’s capital. “Now, it’s pure nostalgia. I loved being in D.C. those days.”

Interestingly, there are no data to back up what seems so readily apparent: A majority of us are using area codes that have nothing to do with where we’re currently living.

“Verizon doesn’t keep stats on the retention of area codes when customers move from state to state,” says Chuck Hamby, director of Corporate Communications at Verizon Wireless. “I have no numerical stats to even say they keep their number ‘for an average of XYZ years.’ I guess they keep them now until there’s another reason to change them.”

As for why, Hamby thinks it comes down to inertia. “Since Local Number Portability [allowing customers to retain phone numbers when changing providers] took effect in 2003, people tend to hold onto old numbers simply because they can.”

The other anecdotal evidence I’ve gathered would seem to support this theory.

“Since they made numbers portable, why would I ever change it, regardless of where I live?” asks Ethan, the New-Yorker-turned-Angeleno. “I don’t know, call it laziness… But have you ever been on the line with your cell carrier?”

Even Chuck from Verizon is clinging to digits from a bygone time in his life. “I live in New Jersey but still have a Florida area code and number. Whatever’s easiest usually wins with me :)” he wrote to me via email.

From a historical perspective, our deep attachment to our phone numbers is nothing new. In fact, AT&T faced a minor rebellion in the 1950s when it introduced all-digit dialing (e.g., 310–555–2424) to cut down on the labor costs — switchboard operators in “central offices” who connected calls by inserting phone plugs into jacks — associated with placing a call back then. In those days, phone numbers weren’t numbers, per se, but alphanumeric addresses of the central offices encompassing a particular region, followed by a 5-digit personal identifier. For example: “My dad’s newspaper and candy delivery service on Madison Avenue was BUtterfield 8–8848,” remembers Laura, who explains that the actual numbers dialed were 2 (for the letter B), 8 (for the letter U) and then 8–8848 (hence the capital letters).

In opposition to AT&T’s new numbering plan, the Anti-Digit Dialing Leagueformed to combat what it referred to as “creeping numeralism.” In the League’s manifesto, “Phones Are for People,” co-founder and famed semanticist S. I. Hayakawa warned: “These people are systematically trying to destroy the use of memory. They tell you to ‘write it down,’ not memorize it. Try writing a telephone number down in a dark booth while groping for a pencil, searching in an obsolete phone book and gasping for breath. And all this in the name of efficiency!”

The ADDL lost the war, however. In 1964, territories were divided into “numbering plan areas” and given three-digit codes. The most populous cities got area codes that took the shortest amount of time to dial on a rotary phone. New York City: 212; Los Angeles: 213; Chicago: 312; Detroit: 313; and Philadelphia: 215.

Those codes are now essentially tapped out, according to John Manning, the current director of the North American Numbering Plan and the guy responsible for all the area coding in the U.S., Canada and Caribbean. “We don’t have any more 212 prefixes to give out,” he says. “The same can be said for 312 in Chicago, 213 in L.A. and 404 for downtown Atlanta. Especially if people have been in that area for a long time, they don’t want to give them up.”

Scarcity has not only inspired a growing black market for vanity area codes, it’s also caused some to cling even tighter to their hometown codes, fearing a piece of their identity could be lost forever.

Especially because, as it turns out, most of us aren’t living at “home.” According to a 2008 Pew study among U.S.-born adults who had lived in more than one community, nearly 40 percent responded that “home” was somewhere other than where they were currently residing. Twenty-six percent said “home” was where they were born or raised; 18 percent said it was where they had lived the longest; 15 percent said it was where their family came from; and 4 percent said it was where they went to high school.

“In this day and age, when more and more people are opting to live in places that aren’t the ones from their childhood, an area code is sometimes the only thing that ties them back to home,” says Hannah, who currently lives in Chicago (312) but was forced to part with her beloved (917) to join her Detroit-based husband’s family plan (248).

Of course, there’s another way to look at it, argues Hank, a Louisville native (502) marooned in Santa Barbara (805). Maybe an area code is the only thing holding people back from finding a new home. Says Hank, “I know people who move from Kentucky to California and instantly get a new phone number because they want to lose that part of themselves.”

. . .

C. Brian Smith is a writer in Los Angeles. In his last piece for MEL, he interviewed gay men who adopted their partners before same-sex marriage was a thing.

Happy Father’s Day (Go Yanks)

MEL Magazine | June, 2016 

The only thing I remember watching over and over again with my father were New York Yankee games. There were no movies — just the familiar cadence of Phil Rizzuto’s color commentary over Bill White’s play-by-play. If the Yanks were home, I was directed to hoist a pinstripe flag up the pole in the front yard. There wasn’t a whole lot of talking either, which was a welcome relief for me — an angsty gay teenager sitting alone with his father for long periods of time. The silence was mostly broken up by the ingestion of overcooked cheeseburgers and shitty chardonnay. I found great comfort watching those games with Dad; I still do. — C. B. S.

 

 

A Different Kind of Gay Adoption

by C. Brian Smith 

MEL Magazine | June, 2016

Two couples explain why they adopted each other before the advent of gay marriage 

In the 1970s and ‘80s, when marriage equality looked to be an impossible pursuit, lifelong same-sex partners facing the financial and emotional insecurities of old age didn’t have the time to wait around for marriage equality. Instead, some changed the legal status of their union to father and son or mother and daughter. Adoption gave them next-of-kin rights vis-à-vis their estates and taxes, as well as hospital visitation and other legal rights not otherwise available to gay couples at the time.

In a way, commitments like these trumped even the presumed longevity of marriage because the bond between parent and child in America is legally irrevocable: The law cements them as parent and child for life. And that became a problem for some couples. When Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage throughout the U.S. in 2015, gay couples who had adopted each other suddenly faced a new hurdle: Getting married would violate state incest laws. They needed to have the adoption annulled — no small task — in order to get what they always wanted in the first place — to be married.

Such was the plight of the two Pennsylvania couples below.

Bill Novak adopted Norman MacArthur in 2000, after they had spent more than three decades as partners. They married in 2015, once a judge in Bucks County had vacated their adoption.

Bill: In 1997, adoption-as-legality was all the talk in some gay circles. It was very popular since it was the only method for couples to use that would give legal underpinning to gay relationships.

Norm: But it was more than just a fad for us — we’d been together for more than 30 years.

Bill: We met in June 1963 at the wedding of a friend of mine’s sister in New Jersey. One of the bridesmaid’s dates had stood her up, so she asked if I would accompany her to the wedding.

Norm: Our relationship deepened, and six years later, we purchased a brownstone in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Park Slope in Brooklyn for the princely sum of $26,000.

Bill: We spent 28 wonderful, happy years in Brooklyn.

Norm: We registered as domestic partners in 1994.

Bill: Three years later, we retired to Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Norm: Of course, we knew that Pennsylvania didn’t recognize gay marriage, or domestic partnerships. But the selection of places to retire that recognized gay marriage was very limited; Pennsylvania was near family and friends, so we were happy to call it home. Still, we heard stories from other folks about difficulties in stressful times — for example, when a gay partner would be cut out of visitation rights or inheritances. It was widely reported in the press, too.

Bill: Basically, if one of us were to be hospitalized, we legally would be considered strangers.

Norm: We talked to friends and family and decided to move forward with the adoption option. It was the closest thing we could find since there was no other piece of paper available to give us the rights of a married couple. And at the time, we were told that “hell would freeze over” before Pennsylvania approved same-sex marriage. The adoption process itself took about three to four months and was handled smoothly. When it was completed in January of 2000, we sent copies of the adoption decree to our attorney, our accountant, our doctor and our local hospital.

Bill: The timing couldn’t have been better, because when Norm had heart surgery in 2002, a large sign on the door to the Cardiac-Intensive Care Unit announced that visits were restricted to “immediate family only.”

Norm: But since we were legally father and son, Bill was permitted to see me. The staff at Doylestown Hospital was enormously gracious.

Bill: When hell did freeze over and gay marriage was legalized in Pennsylvania in 2014, Norm called the lawyer who’d handled our adoption years ago and said we wanted to get married. She said the adoption was permanent, and there was no way to undo it.

Norm: I happened to mention the difficulties we were having to another lawyer I was speaking with about land preservation. He said, “Norman, we’ve got to do something about this.” He started investigating and heard that some judges in Bucks County were already talking about cases like this, assuming they would come before them. So he filed a petition to vacate the adoption.

Bill: A court date was scheduled for 10 a.m. on May 14, 2015.

Norm: The entire thing took 25 minutes. Our lawyer argued that the only reason we adopted years ago was because it was the best we could do at the time, since we couldn’t get married. After he finished, the judge issued his decree. He said, “The times have changed and the laws must change with them,” and vacated the adoption.

Bill: The courtroom burst into applause! And we burst into tears. We had 30 friends in the courtroom who all got up and cheered.

Norm: It was electric. Something very important had happened.

Bill: We immediately went across the street to get our marriage license.

Norm: In Pennsylvania, though, you have to wait three days between when you get the license and when you can get married.

Bill: After 52 years together, it was already the world’s longest engagement. What was another three days?

Norm: So we’re not celebrating Father’s Day this year — we’re celebrating our one-year anniversary!

Bill: And so grateful for that fact. Those poor guys in Pittsburgh, Nino and Drew, got an unsympathetic judge and have had to prolong their suffering.

Nino Esposito, a retired teacher, adopted Roland “Drew” Bosee, a former freelance writer, in 2012, after more than 40 years living together as a couple. Unlike Bill and Norm, though, they have been unable to vacate the adoption, due to an uncooperative judge in Allegheny County. As such, they will spend yet another Father’s Day as father and son, at least in the eyes of the law.

Drew: When we walked into the hearing about annulling our adoption, we knew exactly what the judge was going to do. His general demeanor and attitude was very negative and not pleasant at all. He’s a Democrat, but also Irish-Catholic. We think that had a lot do with it.

Nino: I think he was just homophobic.

Drew: Plus, he gave ridiculous reasons for his decision — he said we were trying to get tax advantages.

Nino: He’s not wrong. Isn’t that a factor in any marriage? You don’t ask a heterosexual couple, “Why are you getting married?” You say, “It’s great that you’re getting married!” But with a gay couple, they want to look for ulterior motives.

Drew: We were first introduced on Easter Sunday in 1970. We were 23 and 33 respectively. 1970 was a year of many decisions for me. Before coming to Pittsburgh I was actually planning on becoming a veterinarian — I had been accepted at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. To the bewilderment of my parents, I declined acceptance to Penn, packed up my 1967 Mustang and moved to Pittsburgh!

Nino: Some friends were having a cookout and Drewy came to that.

Drew: We, however, didn’t get a chance to speak at the cookout.

Nino: But we met again a few months later.

Drew: On Friday the 13th.

Nino: At an after-hours gay social club in Pittsburgh called the Transportation Club.

Drew: I walked in, Nino gave me his barstool, and the rest was history. I moved in with him and his parents into their home, a Victorian-esque house dating back to the 1890s. I think Nino’s parents sort of took pity on me. Don’t forget, this was more than 45 years ago — the “gay agenda” wasn’t on the minds of many people, especially those of Nino’s parents’ generation, especially those born in the “Old Country.”

Nino: Generally speaking, we’ve always been quiet about our relationship. We were never officially out to family or even friends.

Drew: Nino’s parents most certainly just saw us as “good friends.” Even though I had appeared on the scene rather suddenly (especially from Nino’s parents’ point of view), they accepted me unconditionally. From today’s perspective this may seem strange, but it was as uncomplicated as that.

Nino: Everyone had to know the situation, but they were totally accepting. With maybe one exception, it was simply never discussed.

Drew: Even after the adoption, which occurred after both sets of parents had passed away, I still did not discuss it with my sister and her family.

Nino: Our lives didn’t revolve around our “gayness.” We don’t have very many gay friends. Most of our friends were straight people that I knew through school. I was a high school special education teacher.

Drew: We opted for adoption in 2012. We were talking to a lawyer concerning our wills and mentioned that we had considered it before — he was happy to help.

Nino: At that point only 10 states had marriage equality laws. It just wasn’t as obvious as some people seem to think it was. Adoption really felt like our only option to be connected in the eyes of the law. Needless to say, it was a big surprise when marriage equality came to Pennsylvania a couple of years later, especially because we had a Republican governor. We didn’t rush to annul the adoption because we didn’t really know what was going to happen. In fact, we didn’t begin the annulment process until March of last year, which is when we went before O’Toole, the Irish-Catholic judge. Our appeal of his decision was heard by three judges in Superior Court in late April. From what we could gather, everything looked positive in our favor.

Drew: We were led to believe it would take about a month to get a decision, and we’re past a month and haven’t heard anything yet. So I guess we’ll be celebrating Father’s Day again this year — though we prefer to celebrate anniversaries.

Nino: We really don’t anticipate that things are going to feel that much different once we’re married. After all, with 45-plus years of being a couple, being officially married will just be a further affirmation of a relationship that’s been there from day one!


C. Brian Smith is a writer in Los Angeles.

Locked Up for Being Gay? | ADVOCATE, JUNE 2016

“It was Mother’s Day last year, and I was expecting my daughter to come home. But instead I found out she was in a jail cell in Kuwait,” recalls Michelle Jackson. “In jail for what?”

On the morning of May 8, 2015, Kuwaiti police kicked in the door of American military contractors Monique Coverson and Larissa Joseph’s apartment and confiscated one ounce of a “tobacco-like substance.”

The lesbian couple were sent to the Central Prison in Sulaibiya, Kuwait, for eight months while the substance was sent to Germany for analysis. Upon testing, lab results concluded it to be synthetic marijuana (also known as “K2” or “spice”) — a legal substance in Kuwait.

As Coverson and Joseph sat in a Kuwaiti jail for eight months, the charges began to escalate. By the time they were tried in January, the couple were charged with drug trafficking — the one ounce of K2 had somehow become a pound of hashish, despite the two substances looking nothing alike. Coverson and Joseph were sentenced to 20 to 25 years on drug-trafficking charges.

“I spoke with Monique the day they were sentenced,” remembers Jackson. “She told me, ‘Mom, they planted this on us. We didn’t have anything like that. I really don’t know what’s going on. You’ve got to get us out of here.’ To hear her voice and that sound, as a parent, it was devastating. I told God, ‘As long as I have breath, I will continue to fight for my daughter.’ That’s when I started putting everything into place. I was like,

What’s my move? Where do I go from here?

 

FULL STORY

Coverson Small

Dusting Off: Digging a Hole to China

There comes a humbling moment in every boy’s life when he realizes that digging a hole to China is impossible.

Previous attempts at burrowing a Sino-antipodean tunnel had been foiled — not by his inability to procure a plastic shovel capable of withstanding earth’s 9,800-degree inner core, but rather by a late-afternoon thunderstorm or his mother’s maddening penchant for whisking him off the beach just as the tip of a chopstick was being exhumed.

Digging in the wrong direction? 

As Robert Krulwich explains, China’s antipode, or diametrical opposite, is in fact 150 miles north of Buenos Aires. If you dug a hole from any point in the contiguous 48 states, you’d end up in the South Pacific Ocean somewhere. Sadly, only four percent of earthly antipodes are land-to-land.

Then again, if we all keep digging, we might one day meet in the middle…

—C.B.S.

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