Thirty Years

It was a sunny Friday morning in January 1991, when Tom died. I don’t remember everything, but I do remember watching from the kitchen as the home healthcare nurse and funeral director bundled his body into a zippered bag, rolling the stretcher onto the porch, lifting it down the stairs, and into the ambulance at the curb. There was a momentary pause as the world seemed to shift, and then Tom’s parents and brother hurried off to make arrangements for the hundreds of details brought about by a death in the family. I felt numb, going through the motions to execute a plan put together in introspective moments during Tom’s long illness. I called my Mom and my friends Vicki and Danny, extracting promises that they would arrive soon, and then shuffled through the empty, eerily quiet house to a chair in the living room, where I sat, shivering in the sunshine streaming through the window.

Tom was the kindest, most generous, most loving man I’ve ever known. He made me laugh. I think of him every day, and when I do, he still makes me laugh.

Death of the one you love more than any other is almost unbearable in its finality. The loss leaves an empty, aching yearning for what was. Everything feels wrong. It’s as if the very air you breathe no longer sustains you. Nothing is right. Nothing can ever be right again.

In so many ways it feels like yesterday. It’s not the time. In spite of what you’ve heard, time doesn’t heal the pain. No, the pain is still there. It’s more like the loss becomes part of you – like extra muscle from all those reps at the gym or the tissue covering a childhood scar. It was a very different time and AIDS was a different plague, but now as we fight through COVID, perhaps it’s enlightening to detail which bits are common. I find it’s mostly the sense of being surrounded, the uncertainty of what to do, the longing for a place to hide, the shunning of others, the fear. This time, so far, COVID has barely touched my circle of friends. Only a few are sick and just two have died. Back then I lost dozens of friends. In my life, if COVID is a Mac truck, AIDS was a freight train.

Is it odd that I still feel Tom’s presence? He’s with me in the touch of the sunshine and the inky void of the night. I hear his voice calling me, joking with me, haunting me. It’s a shadow of the past that lives inside me. It fills me with joy and hope. I am grateful.

Thirty years and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about love, loss, and the human condition, it’s this – life goes on, it tickles your desire and brings you pain, it demands your attention and ignores your confusion. And just when you think you’ve had enough, when you feel no joy and you’re asking yourself what’s the point, just then, a child laughs. Life goes on, and we must too.

We all have the capacity to succumb. We all have the capacity to overcome.

Life is running with the bulls, swimming with sharks, a walk along the cliff. We are dancing on the point of a needle, but oh, what a beautiful dance.

Tom Barr

A Reasonable Solution

I’ve been thinking long and hard about our national dilemma and have finally come up with a solution I believe will work for just about everyone. It would mean a little adjustment for Louisiana but I’m sure our bayou friends would agree – the outcome is totally worth the effort.

My solution – Let Texas Secede!

Now before you get all “but we’ve already tried that” on me, consider this. With Texas out of the union, textbook publishers could produce high-quality middle school history books without squeezing in chapters on creationism – Louie Ghomert would no longer lecture us on bestiality – and Ted Cruz could find a better place to read Green Eggs and Ham, better that is, than the floor of the United States Senate.

I realize not everything would change. For example Joe Barton would probably still apologize to BP, but this time he’d be speaking from the Texas Capitol instead of D.C. – with CSPAN filming the entire event.

Now I know, I know, I can just about hear you asking yourselves one vital question…

“What about beautiful Austin?”

Believe me I feel your pain. I live in the city after all, and it’s a shining citadel of reason and intelligence smack dab in the middle of a cow patty of ignorance. But Austinites are a giving bunch willing to sacrifice for a cause. Perhaps we could relocate the entire city en masse, to some place sensible, like say the Amalfi coastline or Kauai.

Judging solely from the conversations I’ve had today with my red-eyed zombie-like neighbors (most of them stumbling over curbs in search of brains) we’d gladly pack our belongings into our hybrids and head for the border – as long as it meant one thing.

Trump would no longer be our president-elect.

Now before you go all, “that’ll never happen” on me, consider this: if Texas had seceded before the election, Trump would never have won. Without Texas’s electoral votes he’d have fallen far short of the needed majority. He’d be flying home to his Florida resort right now and we’d have an actual thinking person shaking Obama’s hand in the White House.

And it doesn’t just have to be one state either. Perhaps Texas could take Oklahoma with it – I’m pretty sure no one would object to that… well, no one that matters. Together they could form the new country of Yeehaw-stan.

Right about now you’re all thinking the same thing: “But what about Trump? Wasn’t he just elected to office and how can we unseat him after that?” Well there’s a simple solution here too – we offer him the presidency of Yeehaw-stan for Life. Think about it for a minute. Texas, after all, has little governmental oversight, a pro-business attitude and a lawsuit happy court system. He’d fit right in. And in Yeehaw-stan, he could build a wall all the way around the entire country. Of course Mexico won’t pay, but I’m guessing the rest of us would pitch in to their Go Fund Me effort. (Note: The wall would mostly serve to keep people in because, let’s face it, no foreigner would ever try to break into that place.)

We all know Texans in general would be much happier with a country of their own. Every year either the Dallas Cowboys or the Houston Texans would win the new Kinda Super Bowl. Also, Yeehaw-stan’s national college football championship would almost always come down to a three-way race between OU, UT and A&M – and without the SEC, they’d actually stand a chance.

So just to be clear, I’m not saying this is the only solution, but in my view, it is the most logical. The fix for our national nightmare is simple… for the sake of our children and our country we must – Let Texas secede!


Mom’s Favorite

Dear Mom,

Please consider this letter my formal application for the position of Mom’s Favorite Child.

I realize I have stiff competition – after all Rene’ gave you your only granddaughter, Rod is looking more and more like Pa Pa everyday and Rick has a horse. Still, I’m sure you realize Derald helped make Keely, Rod’s looks will eventually fade and, unless you own a vineyard in need of fertilizer, there’s a downside to owning a horse.

When you think about it, you and I have always been simpatico. Two great minds thinking alike, gracious and caring, willing to let others share the spotlight – how else can you explain Dad always winning at dominoes?

And we look alike too. I have your little ears, and silver hair (silver of course, gray is the color of dormice and navel lint). I have your hands. I even have your penchant for neatness – if you ignore the shoe pile in my closet. And while it’s true, I don’t mind a dirty window, and can pick up an earthworm without fainting; I’m still very much your son – just like you, only much taller.

There’s another factor you should consider, I’m not above bribery. I can send you flowers, I can help around the house, I can reach things on the top shelf and kill spiders – well the little ones, for the big ones I can call an exterminator.

Always remember this… you haven’t had to do my laundry since I was nineteen.

This should be a pretty easy choice when you think about it. After all I’m the sweetest of your children. I’m the one who brushed his teeth before bed, only wrecked the car occasionally and rarely belched at the dinner table. OK, I’ll admit, when you made me wash the outside of the windows while you wiped the inside, I did sometimes point to clean spots just to watch you scrub them again – but to be fair, we all did that.

And here’s another thing… I know that you’re well loved. All your children love you – all your friends, neighbors, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, siblings, in-laws, nieces, and nephews too.

But no one loves you more than I do. That would not be possible.

Because you see whenever life throws me a curve and I’m over-whelmed, or disappointed, or just plain sad, a little voice in the back of my head tells me, “You’re OK, Russ. You’ll be OK, Russ. You can do it, Russ.” Hearing the words soothes me, gives me strength to go on and makes me know everything will be all right. And even though I live in Austin and you’re miles away in New Mexico – I know it’s Eva Kay Gregory’s voice I hear. So you see, I may have left to go to college forty years ago, and lived in Austin ever since – still, in all that time, we’ve never really been apart at all. I carry you with me, deep in my heart.

So thank you, Mom, for the kind of love that transcends space and time, and for the overwhelming joy of being your son.

Oh, and one more thing, when you let the others know you’ve picked me as your favorite, don’t worry too much about their disappointment. They’ll get over it. They have distractions to help them deal with the let down. Rene’ has Keely, Rod has his looks and Rick has a horse.

Your favorite son,


Review of Dan Jones’ The Wars of the Roses – The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors

The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the TudorsThe Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dan Jones is a special writer and this is a brilliant book. The Wars of the Roses tells the improbable and violent story of two factions of the House of Plantagenet as they battle over the English crown. This tale sheds light on how decades of strife and conflict brought about the unlikely rise to power of Henry VII and the House of Tudor.

Jones correctly points to the weak and ineffective rule of the Lancastrian king Henry VI as the impetus of the conflict. This tepid and ineffective leader loses the English continental territories to France and  suffers a breakdown, which leaves him bedridden and unable to speak for over a year. During his convalesce, Richard Duke of York takes power as regent.  Eventually Henry recovers somewhat, but shows little interest in his regal responsibilities. Always a reluctant and feeble ruler, Henry often defers decisions to his queen, Margaret of Anjou, and ultimately she blunders. On May 14, 1455, Margaret calls a Great Council excluding York and his followers. York has a distant claim to the crown himself and the Yorkist faction is born as the duke moves to assert his position sparking conflict and eventually full scale civil war.

The House of Lancaster is symbolized by a red rose, and the House of York’s symbol becomes the white rose, hence the War of the Roses. Jones follows the twisting tale as Henry is taken prisoner by Richard at Northampton on 10 July 1460. He’s rescued a few months later by forces loyal to his wife but Richard begins to style himself as king. York is killed in the Battle of Wakefield in December of 1460 but eventually, his son, Edward, leads a force against the royalists in the Battle of Northampton. Henry is  captured and Edward takes the throne becoming the Yorkist king Edward IV.

This tale is convoluted and complicated, but Jones deftly leads us through the twists and turns of Edward’s rule, his grasping in-laws and the eventual murders of his sons in the tower under the “protection” of his usurping brother Richard III. Richard’s eventual defeat at the battle of Bosworth by Henry VII, the first Tudor king, doesn’t end the conflict outright, and Jones details the ongoing challenge to Henry’s reign by others with royal blood. Not until his son and successor, the notorious Henry VIII, takes the thrown, does the conflict finally come to its bloody conclusion with the brutal hacking-to-death of Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury, in the Tower.

This is a fascinating story, full of intrigue, changing fortune, nearly indecipherable motives and shifting alliances. In the hands of a less brilliant writer, this tale would be incomprehensible. Jones is a master.

Read the book.

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Review of Richard Prices’s Clockers

ClockersClockers by Richard Price
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A tale of murder, told from conflicting points of view. A veteran homicide detective and an inner-city crack dealer walk us through decaying streets in search of truth, or truth as they see it. Each man believes he knows what happened. Reality is something different and Price guides us through the murky waters of drug dealing criminals to a satisfying resolution.

The story is harrowing and powerful. Price writes remarkable dialog, the street language is pitch perfect. He builds a tale of extraordinarily mundane street-life, inviting the reader into this seedy, troubled, decaying world and dares us to picture ourselves caught in this degrading and hopeless place. It’s gut-wrenching and yet hopeful.

A brilliant novel from an exceptional author.

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Review of Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage 

Days of Rage: America's Radical Underground, the FBI, and the First Age of TerrorDays of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the First Age of Terror by Bryan Burrough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When history, even relatively recent history, is written well it can be spellbinding and Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage enthralls from the very first page. This detailed account of America’s homegrown terrorist groups, anarchists and radical movements breathes new life into the confusing and misunderstood passions of the Sixties and Seventies, an era which spawned an interconnected mesh of underground criminals determined to foment chaos in this country.

Burrough’s studied account brings context and order to a confusing and co-mingled cast of characters willing to rob, bomb, kidnap and murder in order to spark revolution. This well-researched chronicle takes the reader underground into safe houses, bomb making facilities and crime scenes following radicals as they plan and execute their destructive schemes. It also trails investigators, policemen and FBI agents, as they hunt down criminals, using every trick in the book, including breaking laws themselves.

Days of Rage is a rare piece of history. It informs and entertains. Highly recommended!

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Review of Michael Connelly’s The Burning Room a Harry Bosch Novel

The Burning Room (Harry Bosch, #19)The Burning Room by Michael Connelly
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This one was disappointing.

Bosch – working in the Unsolved Crimes Unit with a rookie partner, Lucia Soto – is assigned a case involving the recent death of a gunshot victim. The coroner determines the death was due to complications from a bullet still lodged in the victim’s spine from a shooting that occurred years before. So the old case becomes a new murder. From the very beginning the investigation is entangled in politics because a former LA mayor, now running for the California Governor’s office, showcased the victim in a series of campaign appearances during his initial mayoral contest.

The inquiry starts off smoothly enough, at least until Harry discovers Soto looking into another decades-old unsolved case involving the destruction of a building housing a daycare facility. Several children died in the fire and Soto confesses she was one of the few survivors. This spurs Bosh to rig a mechanism tying the two cases together so he and his partner can pursue both investigations simultaneously.

That’s the setup. Fortunately Connelly knows how to tell a story and his writing is interesting enough to keep you reading along. The problems with this novel come at the very end when things just run flat.

At least the first case is resolved, sort of, when Bosch and Soto arrive in the nick of time and shoot the bad guy (of course). Left unresolved is the question of whether others participated in the crime. As for the second storyline there is no resolution – it ends with a lot of hand waving and conjecture regarding the circumstances of a nun’s death.

The last few pages of this tale, true to form, find Harry unreasonably blamed and targeted for dismissal. That’s when everything just sort of stops, no doubt leaving readers everywhere scratching their heads in confused disappointment.

I found this story dissatisfying and sub-par for what is otherwise an excellent detective series.

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Review of Dan Jones’ The Plantagenets – The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England

The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made EnglandThe Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An absolutely dazzling achievement.

Jones writes narrative history with lyrical prose. This wide ranging tale keeps the reader enthralled as three hundred years of English rule is explained in five hundred pages of spell-binding story telling. Broken into seven parts, this work illuminates England’s warrior dynasty as no other. We watch in awe as Jones walks us from the Plantagenets’ blood-soaked beginning to it’s, well, blood-soaked ending (make no mistake – there does seem to be an awful lot of blood in this story.) From the ruthless land grabs and Bible-inspired conquests of Henry II, Richard the Lionheart and, perhaps the quintessential Plantagenet King, Edward III – through the power struggle that brought about the Magna Carta and on to the devastating failures of Edward II and Richard II, Jones teaches us what it means to be king.

This is a spectacular effort! Dan Jones writes history as if it has a plot-line. Highly recommended.

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Dear Teen Me from author Russ Gregory (Honey Agency series)

Teen Russ

Dear Teen Me,

I know you.


I know you better than you know yourself. I know you so well right now I can see you sitting there, shaking your head, smiling in disbelief.

You don’t trust me. You don’t trust anyone. You’re stubborn and determined to find your own way, but please hear me out. Because there are a few things you really need to know, and I’m the only one who will tell you.

First, you’re never going to play professional basketball; it doesn’t matter how many free throws you shoot. There are very few five-ten players in the NBA, and all of them can jump a lot higher than you.

Second, your mom is right; you really should do something with that hair.

Third, wearing the perfect tennis shoes will not make beautiful people love you. No one is looking at your feet.

And finally, just give it up already. No matter what you think, it’s not going to change—you’re always going to be gay.


It won’t melt away. You can’t think your way around it, laugh it off, cure it with prayer, fake it, or ignore it. It’s not a temporary phenomenon, a phase or a stage in your development—you won’t outgrow it. It doesn’t work that way. You won’t change; you can’t change it. Someday you won’t want to. Someday you’ll look back and wish you’d figured it out sooner. You’ll wish you’d had the courage to be the first openly gay kid at Farmington High.
So all that energy you’re exerting, trying to be what you think you should be, all that lying, acting, pretending, and bargaining with yourself, all the self-loathing, fear, and loneliness…it’s just plain misspent effort. You’re spinning your wheels.

Teen Russ!

I’m sure that thought terrifies you. You’re probably shaking in your boots just reading these words. When you try to fathom a gay future all you see is loneliness and misery. But it’s not going to be like that. You’re sure there’d be fights, and there may be—so what, you’ll survive. You’re sure you’ll lose status—news flash, you’re not as popular as you think you are anyway. You’re afraid your brothers will tease you—they will, you won’t care; you’ll laugh along with them. You’re sure your closest friend will avoid you—he won’t and one day he’ll ask you why you never let him in; he wants to be there for you, let him.
Most of all you’re terrified your parents will stop loving you. But what you don’t know is they can’t stop loving you. It’s beyond their ability. Because that kind of love is not under anyone’s control. And here’s the thing – deep down they already know the truth anyway. They’re waiting for you to tell them. So why not give them a chance to help? Why not let them in?

Why not let someone in?

You’re gay, Russ.

Teen Russ!

Even if you don’t want to be, even if you sleep with women, even if you don’t sleep with men, even if you marry, have children, enter a monastery, give up and die. You’ll always be gay. Your choice is not between ‘being’ and ‘not being’—it’s between living your life and faking it.

So get over it. Grow a pair and tell someone. Tell everyone.

In the future you’ll look back, frustrated that it took you so long to accept the truth. And all that energy you’re spending trying to act like everyone else—all those awkward dates, all that trash talking and false bravado, posturing and pretending—is just wasted effort, the sad performance of someone afraid to face reality. Trying so hard to act straight is beyond ridiculous; it’s sad. You’re not fooling anyone.

So give it up. It’s not what you want anyway. What you really want is to be like you—to be yourself.

And here’s the thing, those guys you’re trying to impress, the sleek-skinned swimmers with the Clearasil complexions and Pepsodent smiles, the homecoming royalty, football players and wrestlers with V-shaped builds and hairy legs… all those high school guys with easy smiles and beautiful eyes—in fifteen years they’re going to have drinking problems and nagging wives. They’re going to lose their hair and grow double chins. Their appeal will wane. You won’t lust after them forever, you won’t die because you can’t be with them; you won’t even want to be with them.

Adult Russ!

You’ll move on. You’ll find new guys, gay guys, attractive guys; guys with common interests—guys a lot like you. You’ll fit in, fall in love, see the world, swim in the ocean, suffer tragedy, bounce back, march on Washington, make a panel, write a stack of novels…you’ll live—really live. And one day you’ll look back and wish you’d had the courage to come out sooner.

Right now, in your darker moments, you’re sure you’ll never be happy. You hate yourself. You think you’re an aberration, twisted, broken.

But you’re not. And you’re not alone in the world either. There are others out there, just like you; living double lives, hiding their true feelings, fighting with themselves. You’ll find them, and a time will come when you look back and wish you’d figured it out sooner.
So be happy. Be gay. Be proud and unapologetic.

Accept who you are and look to the future. Don’t push your sexuality but don’t deny it either. Just be OK with it. Know that better days are coming and trust that you’ll find a way.

Let it be.

Oh—and one more thing—trust me about the basketball.

– A much happier you in the future.

A Conversation with my Nephew

I love my nephew. I love that he can ask me these questions. I love that he comes to me for answers and perspective. I love my nephew.

Hi Uncle Russ,

I just watched a video by Hozier called Take Me to Church. To me it is about the gay community and how church looks at them. Is this how the gay community really feels about church? If so, it is very sad that that kind of judgment and hate is out there. Sorry, very deep topic but the video hit me very hard and I wanted to know how you saw it.

I hope my question or the song doesn’t offend you. What I’m trying to say is that an institution like the church, which preaches acceptance and love, often misses the mark. The hypocrisy of love and the “come as you are” attitude, is often a lie in my opinion. It is more come as you are and we will fix you and make you what we think is right. Sorry if these words are hurtful, I don’t mean it in that way at all. I guess what I want to ask is has the church offended you or your friends?

I could see how religion could be very offensive and condemning, I hope that makes more sense.

Love you,

Hi Marcus,

You haven’t offended me at all. I like the song and yes the video does, sort of, speak to the conflict between some churches and gay acceptance. I’m not sure I can speak for all gay people but in my experience some churches and some people are threatened by change, especially the change that gay people represent. I’ve seen violence and conflict. I’ve experienced it first hand. I’m not sure if it’s church, per se, or just the conservative views and intolerance religion sometimes represents.

I certainly hate it when someone comes at me with a religious argument against my sexual preference, trying to save me from the everlasting fires of hell. More often attacks are more subtle and unremitting – death by a thousand cuts. It’s like the argument against gay marriage couched in terms of the institution being about raising children (when gay couples with children can’t marry, yet straight couples with no children can.) It’s hard not to take that as a put down. The message is gay people aren’t worthy of marriage.

The truth is being gay sucks on so many levels. I fought with myself for most of my youth and with society ever since. Coming out to Mom and Dad was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I found the love of my life and managed to hang in there through the worst kind of death… and yet, at the end, my right to be with him hinged on his parents’ permission. That was demeaning, and just plain wrong. So much of this world is like this still – things are changing and I truly believe it’s getting better – but I will always be part of the AIDS generation and I will always have to fight this fight. It would have been so much easier to have been born straight.

So when you speak about religion being offensive and condemning – you may be right. But in my view it’s not just religion, it’s intolerance – and it’s not just church, it’s society.

I love you Marcus,
Uncle Russ