Friday, December 9, 2016

Enrichment from Enemies

Years ago I managed a low-rent apartment building where two women feuded for a decade. Ms. Kelly, the first floor corner tenant, was old, wiry and irritable. Her arch nemesis, Miss Donna, reminded me a lot of Divine (of John Waters fame) and lived upstairs and one unit over. Donna not only had the upper floor, but also had the upper hand in the feud - a feud which mostly consisted of Ms. Kelly complaining to and about Donna, while the brash and bosomy Donna flippantly pretended to be unaware she was irritating Ms. Kelly - or that it was accidental. A perfect example was the time Ms. Kelly kept yelling up at Donna's unit from the back of the building, and was "accidentally" soaked by a bucket of Donna's mop water. 

One day Donna was found dead in her apartment, and Ms. Kelly was devastated. Her feud with Donna was familiar, comfortable, and part of her routine. She mourned her, and she missed her. 

I've thought about that dynamic over the years, how everyone in our lives has a role to play, and sometimes the right role for someone is that of an enemy or nemesis. 

One that comes to mind personally is someone I've known for twenty years, but who turned against me suddenly after taking offense to a joke I wrote for a roast.

It turns out that our current standing works out much better for us both than the friendship ever did. While the joke backlash (it wasn't about him, but a fellow roaster) was the first I knew he had anger towards me, I later learned he'd been complaining about me and the attention my stories garnered for a long time - despite posing for photos with the book, buying a $30 ticket to the book launch, and cornering me whenever he saw me out. 

I was his friend because of mutual friends, but thought he was insufferably dull. And when he saw me out, it wasn't enough to say hello. He had to pull up a bar stool and lock knees, making sure his face blocked out any distractions which might prohibit me from giving the undivided attention he found so hard to come by. 

After our falling out he got into a romantic relationship, and weeks after it ended he came out with a bizarre story about how I had used a series to fake profiles to manipulate them into breaking up. I found the story entertaining, although I was frustrated that a couple of seemingly-intelligent mutual friends claimed to believe him. He reconciled with the young man, and when they broke up again he posted twenty-five (or so) reasons why the relationship didn't work. I saw that as vindication - since I wasn't on the list - but those who defended his original story said I was a bully for pointing out the blatant inconsistency. 

Despite the back and forth, if I look at the dynamic from 30,000 ft it really is a win-win. His tall tales about me sabotaging him at every turn make him interesting to his friends, which is quite a feat, and I no longer have to feign interest when seeing him out. We never worked as friends, but we've settled into our new dynamic nicely. 

I'm almost always open and receptive to mending fences, but sometimes you look at a situation and think, "You know, I'm good." 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Whisper City

I'm enough of a St. Louis insider to see the inner workings, and enough of an outsider to see what makes it all interesting, but I don't think any non-native can truly understand the secret language of the locals. In particular, the whisper campaigns used to elevate and to shun. 

On the surface, St. Louis is defined by restraint. Unlike in-your-face New Yorkers or boastful, showboating Texans, St. Louisans hold their cards close to their chest. In many cities people are openly competing for their piece of the pie, and to the untrained eye, St. Louis, by contrast, is wide open and ripe for the taking. But there's so much beneath the surface, and non-natives are constantly falling into traps. 

Let's take the case of 15th Ward Alderman and New York native Megan Green, who along with practically all other elected officials, was opposed to funding a new NFL stadium. Her peers nearly all spoke out against the stadium deal, but when it came time to vote everyone but her got on board. Something was lost in translation, and she didn't understand the dance -- the speaking out against it and then pushing to pass it -- and the knives came out when she not only didn't get on board, but spoke out about the deal making.  

The whisper campaigns seem to be even more of a factor in the LGBT community. 

Many openly despise Vital Voice publisher and Tulsa native Darin Slyman simply because of the whisper campaigns by supporters of his rival, who seem to feel there should be no players in local LGBT media outside of their preferred blog. 

I, of course, am constantly dealing with these issues. Just in the past few weeks a couple who put every detail of their relationship and breakup on Facebook, including video, claimed, in retrospect, that I was somehow to blame for the breakup, or at least played a role. Others jumped on board with this claim, but when pushed to defend it, conceded it might not be true --but I was wrong for speaking publicly about the accusation. I should have, according to one longtime Facebook friend, "taken the high road" and ignored the baseless claims. There's also outrage in certain circles that my book claims a popular bar has a dark room - when there is no such claim in the book.

Then there's "Queen of Controversy" and Springfield native Janessa Highland, who has been blacklisted from most gay bars for making controversial comments. This, despite the fact local drag queens say worse about one another all the time.

Fact-based arguments aren't enough to change the narratives pushed by the whisper campaigns, because once the tide has turned against someone, embracing the shunned person would mean being disloyal to the group. People therefore tend to fall in line, facts be damned. 

For a moment in time Chicago and St. Louis were each vying to be the nation's fourth largest city, but as well all know Chicago shot past us. One theory is that while Chicago was relatively open, by comparison anyway, St. Louis business interests carved up the city amongst themselves and shut out newcomers. 

I'm under no delusions of changing a deeply rooted culture, but I hope in discussing it, we can help give non-natives a better understanding, or perhaps better incorporate them into this byzantine metropolis of ours. 

Just as you wouldn't wade into the murky waters of the Mississippi, you should always be aware there's much under the surface in this city, and it could pull you under. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016


I've felt like a deer in the headlights since the wedding as I try to begin the monumental task of thanking those who gave so much of their time, talents, and treasure to make this event so perfect. This post may be the hardest thing I've ever written because not only is it lacking the shocking revelations I'm famous for, it's simply hard to capture in words the feeling of that day and how much everyone's involvement meant to me. 

It all started with a day trip

As I stood across from Kage in the gazebo overlooking the park and the river below, seeing friends and family in the golden sunlight, I thought back to the series of random events which led me to that moment and place. A place I roamed on my own on a few occasions before discovering a steep staircase, partially obscured by trees, climbing a hillside. I had no idea where it led but climbed to the top, sensing something wondrous awaited, and now I was sharing that place with loved ones from around the nation. I thought about the random Saturday day trip with Meeshu Bono-Thompson, the first we'd taken together, to a town where we didn't know a soul, but where we now had strong friendships with people who've warmly welcomed us into their lives and homes, including the man I was marrying. 

In the moment

I knew the day would go by fast, so I worked to savor every second and to be present in the moment. Late in the morning we arrived to the historic Victorian home of George Scanlan Jr. & Ken Williams, where Meeshu, our wedding planning guru, had been staying for a few nights while preparing the decorations, cupcakes, and floral arrangements - fresh cut wildflowers from both his and George's gardens. We brought everything to the patio at Bubby & Sissy's and watched as the patio and lawn were quickly transformed for the reception.

We were surprised with a lunch spread brought in by Kristin Ecker, who I met during my teenage clubbing days in Tulsa, her handy husband Brandon, and the wedding party. It was great to visit and break bread with them, along with Bubby's Jason Brooks, Andrea Barker, & Michael "Bubby" Paynic, before the evening events.

Jason did some heavy lifting, moving tables downstairs, Brandon flipped chairs over and tightened screws, and Bubby and Andrea covered tables and prepared the bar. 

The Original Plan

When we began planning our wedding we figured only close friends in the area would attend, but before we knew it we had a guest list of 150, with friends and family traveling from Denver, Oklahoma, Atlanta and New York. As a showman I began to worry about the simplicity of our wedding, and that people traveling great distances would expect more. But then I was reminded this wasn't about a show, it was about people who loved us coming to share in the moment.

Logistical Problems 

The electricity to the gazebo was supposed to be on, but wasn't. For a moment I thought we'd have to do without, but my friend Donald Cole had an electric outlet in his SUV and Yogi Thomas had a very long extension cord, so we had power.

The Moment 

Photo by Rob Kiechlin-Thomas  
Shondra Adams passionately sang "Giving You the Best that I Got" during the processional. Ben Shambaugh, who I've known since he was born, and Donald, who stars in many stories in my book due to all the good times, stood behind me. Kage's Maid of Honor, Ashley Winchester, and Best Man, Zach Springman, both who threw us a bachelor party a week earlier, stood behind him, and Sarah Edington  eloquently officiated. The sun was glistening on Kage's smiling face, and I thought about how, in my eyes, the sun is always shining on him. With such an uncommon genuineness, such remarkable sincerity, and a simply awe inspiring capacity for joy, he's lit up my world in a way I never imagined possible.

The Reception 

Lauren Robb, who feels like a mother to Kage since first meeting him when he was 21, was the DJ and announced us as we descended the staircase, and restaurateur Ron Boles had a full buffet set out, with one guests hugging him in appreciation of how flavorful it all was. 

It's impossible to spend as much time as you'd like with each person, but we managed to share a moment with everyone as friends and families were introduced. 

We celebrated until the lights came on.

I held my emotions together on our wedding day, but they spilled over the following day while reflecting on all everyone did for us. We're both so deeply moved and appreciative.

Guests posted well wishes on the event page after and during the reception, including the following from Kage's longtime friend Ellen Vega:

At the wedding, and have seen a lot of dragonflies, so I share this:

'The dragonfly, in almost every part of the world symbolized change and change in the perspective of self realization; and the kind of change that has its source in mental and emotional maturity and the understanding of the deeper meaning of life.'

Life has so much to offer. If you're willing to venture out, explore, and climb mysterious staircases you might find yourself surrounded by more love and beauty than you ever knew existed, and you might finally find where you belong. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Andoe - Black Wedding Info

Our wedding is this Saturday evening (7/9). We'll be married high atop a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, right where we first met, and we're excited that so many of you are joining us.

Below is the basic info, followed by sightseeing info for traveling quests.

Wedding Location:

Riverview Park. The address is 450 Belleview Ave, Alton, IL 62002, but that address takes you to a MASSIVE, four story staircase. Park Avenue runs along the other side of the park and is at grade. Either way you arrive, you can't miss the gazebo where the ceremony will take place. Please reserve the first few rows for family (either side of the aisle is fine). There's seating for about 40 and the rest will stand, but the ceremony will be short.


This is a residential neighborhood and parking is mainly on the street. The reception is at 602 Belle Street, about a mile away, so parking there (ample street parking) and carpooling to the park would be a good idea.


We're expecting the ceremony to begin at 6:15.

Dress: Casual.

This is an outdoor wedding and reception, so please dress comfortably.


Immediately following the ceremony (7:00pm) at the patio/lawn of Bubby & Sissy's, 602 Belle Street. When you walk in you'll go to the back door, behind the bar. We'll be serving BBQ.

Weather contingency:

If there are heavy rains the entire event will be moved to Bubby & Sissy's (Indoors).


The grill will be operational and the DJ will be working until about 10:00. At that point our reception merges with the regular Saturday night schedule, which includes a drag show. We expect the party to continue until closing time (3am).

RSVP: Please let us know if you're attending so we can get a final count for the caterer.


Simple, relaxed, and fun is the vibe we're going for. Come for all or part of the evening's celebration.

If you're spending the weekend in the area check out my guide to the Great River Road.

Saturday at 2:00: Ellen Vega is giving tours of Alton with stops at many historic and haunted sites. If you're interested please contact her via Facebook.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Notes on St. Louis man's tawdry 2005 encounter with Senator Larry Craig

On June 11, 2007, Republican Senator Larry Craig was arrested for lewd conduct for propositioning an undercover officer at the Minneapolis - St. Paul International Airport. Craig later entered a guilty plea to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct. The scandal ended his career. 

Yesterday a friend, who I'll call "Jack" since he asked to remain anonymous, shared a story of a restroom incident in St. Louis a full two years earlier.  

In the middle of the rendezvous Jack gasped from the sensation, which apparently spooked Craig, who got up and "zoomed away like the Road Runner,"  likely believing Jack recognized him.

Because he doesn't want to go on the record out of fear he'll be judged by the community, there's not a lot I can do with this story, but my fiance Kage sat down for breakfast this morning and saw my notes, which he found amusing. 

In light of that I decided to share them. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Volunteer stuffs cash into bra, sprays cops with mace, is tackled.

Several Pride St. Louis volunteers who asked to remain anonymous report that on Friday a liquor tent volunteer was spotted stuffing cash into her bra. When confronted by an employee of Great Southern Bank - who was collecting cash for Pride - and several police officers, the cash bosomed woman claimed the random assortment of crumpled bills were the proceeds of her paycheck from St. Patrick's Center.

When police went to arrest her she sprayed the officers and bank employee with mace and attempted to flee, but was tackled and cuffed while thirty or so witnesses, many from the VIP tent, looked on.

The volunteers report that the stolen cash was recovered at Police HQ.

This story will be updated if and when more details emerge.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Travel Advisory: STL Scammers Hitching to Florida - UPDATED WITH ARREST

Brian Toppins & partner Eric Straussberger have allegedly
Brian Toppins 
been having a field day stealing from the homes of local gays.                                  

I sensed something wasn't right from the start, when my friend Matthew Bono-Thompson told me about his house guests and the series of unfortunate (and unbelievable) mishaps that left them "between places" at the moment.

Days turned into weeks and it was clear the pair were in no hurry to move on, then Bono and his husband began to notice valuables were missing.

When Bono found many of his items hidden among the guests' belongings, the police were called and charges were filed.

Within days of being thrown out of Bono's apartment on the Hill,  the couple reportedly stole $500 and a Wii from a Granite City man who took them in - money which was to go for rent.

Today, the pair posted they were hitching to Florida with a gay trucker named Robert. If anyone comes across them do not let them in your home or vehicle.

They appear friendly until they realize you know about their history, and then they become threatening.

Stay tuned for updates.


Angie Sutton, a disabled woman, said she was robbed by the pair. Many others are telling their stories in the comments.


****UPDATE**** 6/26/16 ***

It was Florida or bust, and bust it was. Both are locked up near the Lake of the Ozarks.