20 Things You’re Dying to Know About My Huge Family

Fam '86

I recently read that Tom Wilson – the actor famous for playing Biff Tannen in the Back to the Future movies – no longer discusses his role in that classic 80s trilogy with his fans. Evidently tired of answering the same old questions, he now hands out concisely worded, postcard-sized accounts of his experience as the McFly boys’ bullying antagonist, and leaves it at that.

This seems to me like a novel, time-saving approach to what must be a daily bane for Mr. Wilson. And the reason I mention it is that Biff’s FAQ-busting postcard has given me an idea.

You see, one of the first things people usually learn about me is the fact that I come from a large family. It is, quite frankly, the most interesting thing I have to share about myself. I have four brothers, and twice as many sisters. That makes thirteen of us altogether, so yes, that’s one big-ass brood.

Without fail, this revelation sends jaws to the floor in amazed disbelief. And more often than not, it triggers a barrage of wide-eyed inquiries about what growing up in such a huge family was like for me. Fortunately, I love talking about my village-size clan, and I eat up the small-time notoriety this bit of personal trivia gives me among my peers.

But there are times when the questioning becomes predictable, repetitive, and a little bit silly. And occasionally, the questions can get rather inappropriate – offensive, even – leaving me to wonder in what universe it’s cool to ask about the boudoir habits and contraceptive practices of a new acquaintance’s parents.

Added to this are the subtly judgmental assumptions about our deprived upbringing that my siblings and I have been deflecting since childhood:

Concerned parent: “Oh, you poor child. You must be starving.”

Sibling: “No, I’m good, thank you.”

Parent: “Whatever. Here’s a yogurt.”

My folks fed us all just fine, thank you very much. But hey, some people just want to save the world one Yoplait at a time.

Anyway, that Biff article got me thinking: What if I just started handing out a list of short answers to the 20 most frequently asked questions about my huge family? It could save us all a lot of time, a lot of breath, and hopefully dispense with a few uncomfortable discussions about my mom and dad’s procreative business. And with the right amount of humor and finesse (and not a hint of sarcasm), this otherwise curt, self-important gesture would come across as funny and charming.

I think if I were to author such a list, it would probably read something like this:

(1) Yes, we’re all from the same mom and dad, and no, none of us was adopted. (At least that’s what they told us.)

(2) Yes, Catholic (East Coast). No, not Mormon. Catholic (West Coast).

(3) Why yes, my parents did have lots of sex. I mean, they must have, right? They had thirteen kids! And it’s my understanding that the more kids you’ve got running around, the more time and energy and privacy there is for that kind of thing. So yeah, it was basically a nonstop-intercourse marathon for them. Of course, that was never any of my business. But I’m glad you didn’t assume it’s none of yours.

(4) Well, since you so politely inquired, my parents’ views on birth control can be summarized thusly:

(5) Yes, my parents did in fact plan to have that many kids. I know thirteen is a large and oddly specific number to shoot for, but my folks had a thing for tormenting the sufferers of Triskaidekaphobia.

(6) I don’t know if I plan to have that many kids. Or any kids at all, for that matter. I’m gonna go with whatever answer scares you enough to get me out of this awful first date in a hurry.

(7) The age range between the oldest and youngest is fifteen years. And thirteen kids in fifteen years sounds downright reasonable when you consider that the first four have an age range of 21 months (in other words, four babies in less than two years). Yes … my poor mother.

(8) Yes, there are twins. Two of them.

(9) I’m the ninth-born overall (the Beatles even did a song about me), but unlike the eight Long Islanders before me, I was the first one born in Vermont. And that’s all that really matters.

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(10) No, actually, I can’t name all my siblings. Why would you ask? They’re just my siblings.

(11) Okay, fine, I’ll name them all for you, even though it kinda feels like you’re just challenging me to prove that I can:

(*deep breath*)

MaryTheresaMauraBobbyJimmyAmyKatieTimmyDannyPeggyVirginiaStephenBrigid.

Backwards now? Oh, for the love …

(*another deep breath*)

BrigidStephenVirginiaPeggyDannyTimmyKatieAmyJimmyBobbyMauraTheresaMary.

Satisfied? Good. Now please excuse me while I go pass out.

(12) Yes, we all look alike, in that we all look like we’re related. But I don’t think we’re that difficult to tell apart, if that’s what you mean. Like, I’m pretty sure no one ever mistakes me for my sister Peggy. And we all try not to dress in the same outfits. We do, however, all have the same freakishly large earlobes.

(13) Yes, there was a lot of laundry, and it piled up quickly. But it was never anything the occasional match and can of lighter fluid couldn’t make quick work of.

(14) Yes, our house was big. There were eight bedrooms, and yet I still had to share one with three of my brothers. And there was only one shower in the house. That made for some fun traffic jams in the morning. My dad used to say that his idea of Heaven was thirteen bathrooms, and zero children … I think he was joking.

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Drawing by my sis, Maura Donnelly

(15) Yes, we ate our meals in shifts. But only to help regulate the whole pooping in shifts thing.

(16) No joke, we went through two gallons of milk per day. High gas prices? Psssh. We were all about the price of milk (which, incidentally, was cheapest at the gas station). My parents thought about investing in a cow, but this one wasn’t available.

(17) No, my folks were not rich. But only because they never realized they could exploit their kids for profit. They did, however, know how to exploit us all for pizza:

pizza

Circa 1982, the ad says, “When we say we’re a ‘FAMILY AFFORDABLE RESTAURANT’ we mean it … just ask Wayne and Ann Thies and their 10 children. Bring your family in and see just how affordable we are!” They went out of business soon after. 

(Also, no, we don’t know the Duggars. I mean, we see them at all the big-family meetings. But we’re not social with them.)

(18) Yes, I am close with all of my brothers and sisters. Just like war or prison or jury duty, doing time in a big family creates powerful bonds that no petty feud or rivalry could ever undo. (But the moment one of them defects to Team Bieber, they should consider themselves DISOWNED.)

(19) I don’t know who the “black sheep” is. Why would you assume there’s a black sheep? And does that mean the rest of us are a just bunch of cookie-cutter conformists? Maybe we’re just a big flock of black sheep. And you know what? We’re all freakin’ delightful.

(There are, however, a couple of proud “pink sheep” in the family. I won’t mention their names, but, you know … “guilty“.)

(20) And finally, no, we did not grow up on a farm. It was more of a compound, really. Sure, we grew our own food there, but we also stockpiled weapons and survival gear, and made plans to re-populate the world after the coming Armageddon. We only moved into town after the feds seized the place and indicted our Leader for tax evasion. I’m not sure if the end is still nigh, but with my family’s newest generation now numbering 25 kids, the whole re-population thing seems to be coming along nicely. Anyway, isn’t it kind of impolite for you to be asking all these probing questions? I mean, what were you, raised on a farm?

And there you have it, folks. Everything you could possibly want to know about growing up big-family style. Have any more questions? Feel free to drop them off in the comments section (no matter how obvious, assumptive, or bizarrely probing they might be). I promise to respond with only the gentlest of sarcasm.

Thanks for reading, folks, and thanks for keepin’ it classy!

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Seattle = Emergency Dispatch Nightmare: Impressions from a First-Time Visitor

There’s really no better way to enjoy the city you call home than to do so in the company of a first-time visitor. What better excuse to indulge in all the local delights and quirky trappings of your burg than to show them off to an out-of-towner? New guests can offer refreshing insights into what it is that makes your city special, and renew your appreciation for a place you’d nearly forgotten how to enjoy:

Curious visitor: “Why’s that wall caked in gum?”

Proud local: “Because Seattle!”

Gum
Yeah. This place rules.

Last week, Mike and I had the pleasure of playing host to our dear friend Belinda, who was visiting the Emerald City for the first time. By all accounts, her stay with us was a big success. The weather was freakishly pleasant, traffic was uncharacteristically obliging, and we didn’t run out of toilet paper once (wins all around). We took in all the must-see sights, enjoyed some of our favorite local eateries, and snapped a bunch of great photos:

Gorilla
I don’t photograph well in the morning.
Honey Bucket
Nothing but the finest for our house guests.
Troll
The rent-a-car folks were PISSED about their vintage Beetle.
Houseboat
Floating houses? The future is now!
Hairnets
Prepped for a day of beauty at the spa. Or was it a chocolate factory tour?

It was a real treat to witness Belinda’s reactions as she took in the sights and, perhaps more importantly, the flavors of Seattle. There was, of course, plenty of basking in the scenic splendor that surrounds our city. Belinda seemed particularly impressed by the rows of snow-capped peaks flanking the city, noting that our home state’s Green Mountains would be mere foothills in their midst:

Rainier
Mt. Rainier. For perspective, it’s 80 miles away in this shot.

And Belinda learned that when it comes to iconic landmarks, Seattle’s not all Space Needles and fish markets. We also have this:

Pink Elephant
Doubling as Seattle’s gay Republican HQ.

But let’s not kid ourselves: This city’s real attractions come in dessert form. I would be lying if I told you most of our itinerary wasn’t planned around visits to places like this:

Cupcake
Cupcakes!

And this:

Top pot
Doughnuts!

And not to mention this, and this.

For such a health-conscious city, Seattle is quite the dessert mecca. As a longtime resident of this Bermuda Triangle of sweets, all I can say is, thank goodness for its many steep hills. “No wonder you’re all so fit,” Belinda observed as I put away my eleventh doughnut. “These hills are just brutal.” Word.

Anyway, one of Belinda’s more spot-on observations about Seattle came from her experience as an emergency-services dispatcher. As someone who routinely directs first responders to emergencies, she’s developed a keen sense of workable traffic patterns. And apparently, there are one or two kinks in the layout of our fair city:

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If you stare at it long enough … you might get a migraine. (photo credit)

Unlike, say, Manhattan, with its rigid, numerically ordered grid, Seattle’s street plan is anything but straightforward. If you ask me, it’s more like an Escher drawing, or one of those webs spun by spiders on crack. I’ll spare you the wonky details, but let’s just say that to the unschooled visitor, these streets can get pretty disorienting pretty fast. To quote Belinda’s professional assessment, “this place is ONE BIG CLUSTERFUCK.”

Okay, maybe those weren’t her exact words. But she did point out that this city is “full of emergency-services nightmares.”

As we zipped across our sprawling cityscape, Belinda couldn’t help but marvel at the confidence with which Mike and I navigated this jumbled maze of thoroughfares. How was it possible, she wondered, that we could find our way to cross-town destinations without the aid of GPS, or some kind of celestial navigation? Fortunately, Mike and I are seasoned Seattle veterans who’ve been working this crazy jigsaw puzzle for years. I suppose our ability to navigate the city with relative ease is one of those things we now take for granted.

This is not to say we don’t hit our fair share of snags around town. There are times, for example, when just getting home can be a bit of an ordeal. You see, while Seattle is not without imagination when it comes to naming its streets:

TrollAve
Not pictured: Ogre Boulevard and Gremlin Lane.

One sometimes senses that they’re not even trying:

BBB
Not pictured: the actual city of Bellevue.

This in-no-way-confusing intersection is where you’ll find Mike’s and my apartment building (you’re welcome, internet stalkers). It’s tucked away in a relatively quiet corner of our neighborhood, and, as Mike recounted to Belinda, it often requires careful explanation:

Taxi driver: “Where to?”

Mike: “The corner of Bellevue, Bellevue, and Bellevue, please.”

Driver: “No such corner, wise guy.”

Mike: “Dude. I think I know where I live.”

And so begins the comedy routine that is describing our address to locals and visitors alike. Belinda was right – God help us in an emergency.

But thankfully, Belinda’s stay with us was emergency-free. It fact, the entire visit was just about perfect. I’m confident her first impression of Seattle blew away all expectations, and hopeful that a few days with the city’s two funnest gays left her eager to return soon. But until that day comes – thanks to Belinda’s own expert observations – Mike and I can rest easy knowing that if ever there is an emergency, we’ll be pretty well effed.

KerryPark
Thanks for coming, B!

A Mother’s Day Message

When I was in high school, my mom had a new ceiling fan installed in my bedroom. It looked exactly like this:

RaindowFan
(Photo credit)

Several years later, I came out as gay. Coincidence? I’ll let you be the judge.

Anyway, I just wanted to give a Mother’s Day shout-out to my mom, who is in every way fabulous. Sure, she is known for her impeccable taste and interior-decorating prowess, her eye for style and ever-fashionable appearance, and her love of opera, Broadway musicals, and Barbra Streisand. But lest you suspect otherwise, none of my mom’s hey-girl fabulousness actually made me gay. No more than that gay pride-y ceiling fan did. All it did, really, was make me fabulous, too.

So thanks for everything you’ve given me, Mom. You’re the the best a guy like me could’ve asked for!

mombabydan

Happy Mother’s Day!

(For more on my fabulous mom, check out this great blog post my sister Mary wrote last Mother’s Day)

(Also, please enjoy this amusingly apropos Mother’s Day video):

President Obama Endorses Marriage Equality

Please excuse the following outburst:

HOLY EFFING SHIT THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES JUST CAME OUT IN FAVOR OF SAME-SEX MARRIAGE!!! SWEET MERCIFUL CRAP THIS IS EXCITING NEWS!!!

Thank you.

And, it’s about time.

I know, the position expressed by our president today is not unnuanced or without its caveats. He says he’s okay with the issue being decided state-by-state, a position scorned by most marriage-equality advocates. It’s tantamount to saying, “I personally support marriage equality, but I’m okay with individual states banning same-sex marriage if that’s what they want to do.” And that’s exactly what North Carolina did just yesterday in a crushing setback for marriage equality. Not exactly an affirming backdrop against which to endorse the state-by-state strategy.

However, as I’ve been saying for the past three and a half years, the LGBT community has never had a better friend in the White House. And that distinction is far from marginal. President Clinton signed DOMA and DADT into law. President Bush advocated a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and anti-gay-marriage sentiment played a significant role in his re-election. But president Obama has used his executive authority to roll back federal restrictions on, and extend federal benefits to LGBT Americans. His Justice Department no longer defends DOMA in the courts, and DADT met its demise on Obama’s watch. And now the president publicly supports marriage equality.

I understand that there is little the president alone is empowered to do that would bring sweeping marriage equality across the U.S. I also realize that in this election year, there are politics at play, and that Obama is a politician. But this is a bold and still-risky position for him take. It may have taken him some time to “evolve” to this point, and his current position may still be less-than-perfect, but the president has proven himself a true ally to LGBT Americans.

However long overdue, this is a momentous pronouncement from our president, and it is worthy of celebration. I, for one, will be raising a glass (and perhaps a cupcake) for President Obama this evening.

Hiking in the Cinque Terre: My Second Everywhereist Guest Post!

I know I’ve been a blogging slacker lately, but I hope you’ve noticed that I’ve been picking it up a bit lately. My total number of posts has increased by 30% in the last week, and traffic to the blog has ticked up by literally thousands of percentage points. I’m really gonna to try to keep this thing going now, and I know it’s gonna be great!

So now let me tell you about my latest blogging coup (and pretty much the sole reason for my sudden traffic surge).

Occasionally, my friend Geraldine, who has this truly fantastic and wildly popular travel blog, asks me, “How can I push the loyalty, tolerance, and punishment thresholds of my devoted readers to the absolute limit?”

Then I reply,”By featuring me as a guest blogger!”

So here I am, now a twice-featured guest blogger on The Everywhereist. And seriously, it is such an honor to be featured on Geraldine’s blog. I can’t tell you how flattering it is to have such a smart, witty, all-around kickass writer praise my work, let alone see fit to share her illustrious web-space with me. Someday soon, I’ll have the privilege of saying I knew her when.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy my latest guest post, about Mike’s and my adventures in Italy’s Cinque Terre. And if you haven’t already, be sure to add The Everywhereist to your list of daily reads!

200 Miles in an Ice Cream Truck

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Have you ever been on an overnight road trip with your boss? I mean, there must be people do it all the time, right? It’s a not-unheard of demand for any number of professions. But last weekend, on a 24-hour work trip to Portland, Oregon, this was a rather memorable first for me.

I work as a part-time branch associate for a smallish community bank. It’s not really the type of job one might associate with road trips and overnight travel. The branch is an easy five blocks from my apartment. Most of my workday is spent at a teller station about as sprawling as a phone booth. And the farthest I usually travel on the job is to the Starbucks on the next corner.

But an overnight stay was called for last weekend, as the company was holding its annual employee-awards gala at the Portland Hilton. My boss, Stacey, was up for two big awards that evening, so even though no paid time was allotted for the trip, the presence of her staff was forcibly coerced gently encouraged.

Naturally, any reservations I may have had about devoting the better part of my weekend to an unpaid work function were allayed by the promise of a free dinner. And Stacey generously sweetened the deal by putting each of us up in the hotel at her own expense. It also didn’t hurt that the “City of Roses” is a handsome town, and always a fine place to visit.

The night played out as only a gathering of hard-partying bankers could. Awards ceremonies may be invariably tedious, but open bars and chocolate cake will always help to dull that pain. People-watching with a table full of tipsy colleagues never fails as an amusing way to pass the time (and never, ever devolves into catty critiques of the hairdos and formal wear of intra-company rivals). There was plenty of drunken reveling when Stacey won the “Manager of the Year” award. And afterward, our team made its way to an elementary-school-turned-brewpub to drown the remainder of our night in (surprisingly not-awful) raspberry-flavored beer.

I rode down to Portland that day with Stacey and her husband. It was an uneventful, but well-soundtracked three hours in their cushy SUV. But arrangements for the next day’s drive home were a tad less conventional. While the hubby would be driving solo back to Seattle, the boss and I needed to swing by another branch to pick up the truck … the ice cream truck, that is.

I work for a bank that glories in its un-banklike quirkiness. Our branches are designed to resemble inviting hotel lobbies, and are referred to as “cafes.” Cash and receipts aren’t so much handed to customers as they are served on polished-wood platters with a fancy chocolate coin on the side. We offer complimentary espresso, sweets, and free internet access to anyone who walks through the door. And we regularly host local merchants and organizations in need of promotional-event space (“What’s that? You want to set up a professional dog-grooming station in the middle of our lobby? You bet!”).

We also have an ice cream truck. It’s one of the bank’s more deliciously ingenious marketing tools, used to dispense free frozen treats at picnics, parades, and any number of other bank-sponsored events. The truck is shared by a handful of the bank’s Washington State branches, and for the weekend of the awards gala, it was Stacy’s and my duty to retrieve it from Vancouver (WA) and drive it back to Seattle. Fun! Right?

Too bad a terrible glitch would turn the sweet promise of this on-the-road adventure into bitter disappointment on wheels. Normally, of course, you’d expect a three-hour drive in this particular SUV (sweet-utility vehicle) to be a nonstop joyride of frozen delights; a 200-mile, sugar- and cream-fueled jaunt down the Häagen-Dazs Highway. And, had the truck’s freezer been fully functional that day, I suppose this would have been the case.

But the truck was a lie. And not even a truck, really. It was just a big, empty van with the big, empty promise of “free ice cream” splashed across its sides. There was no ice cream, free or otherwise. That broken freezer melted my sugar-high hopes like so much Cherry Garcia, reducing them to a tepid puddle of oozy disappointment. The dream was over before it even started.

All that was left now was the long ride home in a goofy-looking van.

Adding profound insult to grievous injury, we discovered that the van was ill-equipped to play the music on either of our portable devices. With a CD-only stereo system, our great road-trip playlist was suddenly cut down to the few discs that were already in the van (Alvin and the Chipmunks, and an empty case missing its copy of the Grease soundtrack. Awesome). We also had our pick of cheery talk radio (of the “Praise Jesus!” and “Obama’s a socialist-alien!” variety), and a selection of top-40 stations that seemed to know of only four contemporary pop songs between them.

But the trip did go fast. Literally. Not being loaded down with 31 flavors of frozen cargo does wonders for a vehicle’s agility. I can imagine what a sight we must have been – a big, flashy delivery van, painted in Mystery Machine colors, covered with silly slogans, and cruising along at 85 mph (past a puzzled state patrol officer looking unsure whether to stop us for speeding, or to grab a quick sno-cone). Weaving through freeway traffic with the urgency of a blaring ambulance, we no doubt gave the impression that some dire ice cream emergency required our immediate attention. And actually, such an impression wouldn’t have been that far off.

There was no way we were going to drive 200 miles in an ice cream truck and not have any ice cream. Surely that would upset the natural order of things in ways both frightening and unfathomable. So about halfway through our journey, Stacey made the kind of brilliant executive decision that earned her that “Manager of the Year” title: “That’s it,” she declared. “We’re stopping at the next Dairy Queen and getting Blizzards!”

The confused looks we were given as we rolled into the DQ parking lot in our “free ice cream” truck were priceless. The irony was lost on no one as I stepped up to the counter. With a bewildered smirk, the cashier couldn’t help but ask what the hell we were doing there, and why on earth we were buying our ice cream.

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As we finally rolled back into the Emerald City, I was kinda hoping Mike would be there to greet us as we pulled up to my building. I didn’t know him as a child, but one of my most cherished images is that of a young, pudgy Mike running with the contents of a hastily smashed piggy bank and yelling “WAAAAIIIT!” as he chased down a passing ice cream truck. It’s a hilariously precious Mike-memory that he and I revisit often. But alas, he wasn’t home that afternoon. And I suppose that was for the best. There was nothing for my ice cream-obsessed boyfriend to chase this time but a couple of licked-clean DQ containers.

It had been a road trip quite unlike any other. It’s not every day that a banker like me is delivered door-to-door in such a memorable and exciting fashion. I was bummed about the truck’s crappily timed freezer malfunction, but in the end, we got our ice cream, and the indelible memory of a unique and oddly delightful excursion. After Stacey dropped me off, I waved goodbye to our flawed, but noble chariot. My Blizzard-buzz waning, I ambled inside, crossed “Drive 200 miles in ice cream truck” off my bucket list, and crashed.