Gay But No Green Thumb

7 01 2008

Dear Alex: Your orchids are gorgeous! Why does every orchid I get always die? I’m even gay, which I thought was supposed to mean I have a genetic “green thumb.” Help!

Love’em but Kill’em

Dear LbK,

There is no genetic gay green thumb. It is a myth perpetuated by anyone who can’t arrange flowers (i.e. most of the population). Don’t despair. Here’s a quick guide to get you up and running. Orchids, like all living things, have certain needs. You just have to fulfill them.


The first is light. You must have light. Even the orchid group I would suggest for beginners, the phalaenopsis (moth orchid pictured above) needs light. Not as much as some others, but you can’t put them in the middle of the living room with the curtains drawn and expect them to flourish. An east window is perfect, south may even get too hot in the summer and mine do fine in the west (though I do check them on hot days in summer and may bring the shade down if it’s too hot.)

These incredible plants are used to living in trees and not in soil. They receive moisture from the rain and the air. To duplicate this indoors, the orchid is planted in a “medium” rather than soil — I recommend Aussie Gold Orchid Mix which does not disintegrate and needs to be replaced less frequently than some other mixes (so less work). I also add some New Zealand Sphagnum Moss to the mix and the top of the pot to keep it from drying out too much.

Most orchids fail because of watering. This is actually easier than you think. I water my phal once per week. That is all. Once per week. They like to dry out. And how do you water? Bring the plant to the sink, run the water till it’s cool but not freezing, and give the orchid a shower with your sprayer. What you are actually doing is washing away all the salts and built-up wastes from the past week, so fill the pot a few times with water and let it drain through. Think of it as giving the orchid a cool rain shower rather than watering.

Next is fertilizer. Since the orchids are not in soil, there are no nutrients. You must supply them. I try to make things easy for myself so that I don’t have to “think” too much, so I go by the “weekly, weakly” adage. I have one of those inexpensive plastic 2 quart pitchers (like for lemonade) and some liquid fertilizer (I use liquid because it dissolves instantly). I fill the pitcher with the same temperature water I am using on the plant and put in 1/4 to 1/2 of a cap-ful of fertilizer. Mix it up. Then pour it over the plant, let it drain completely, and put it back. You’re done for a week.

I also give mine a little spritz with a mist bottle in the morning, while the tea kettle is heating and the computer is booting up.

Orchids do not grow fast, and they have growing seasons. When you purchase one, ask about the blooming cycle. The one pictured above (I call her “The Phebe” after the friend who gave her to me) sends up an inflorescence (the flower spike), blooms, and the flowers last an incredible 6 months! After I cut the spike, she sends up another immediately — she’s always in bloom (just like Phebe).

As the plant matures, it will flower more, but be patient. Orchids take time, but are definitely worth the wait.

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My Sister-in-Law the Conniving Bitch

6 01 2008

Dear Alex: When I was home for the holidays, I got into a fight with my sister-in-law and told her what I’ve always thought of her, which is that she’s a conniving bitch who stole my brother from the family. This happened just because I made plans with my brother to go out and see our old high-school friends, which is like a tradition for us, and at the last second she decided not to go, which made my brother not want to go either (she was all “pouty” for no good reason.) My mother — even though she hates her, too, of course — is now mad at me and wants me to call and apologize to my sister in law! What should I do?

Like, Sorry for What?

Dear LSFW?,

First of all, unless your brother is both ball-less and brainless, your sister-in-law did not steal him away — he “left” of his own accord and free will. Your family may not like her, and maybe that’s the reason your brother chose her to begin with — subconsciously, he needed a way to “get thee to a nunn’ry!” She is certainly aware of all the animosity focused in her direction from your family, which no doubt contributes to her conniving bitch-hood.

That being said, your brother totally dropped the ball on this one. Your sister-in-law probably never wanted to go to the traditional annual meeting of the high-school friends. Like, how total a yawn is that for someone not involved in the “remember when we snuck out after second period, dropped some acid, and couldn’t stop starring at Fern Ferguson’s nipples cause they were making lassos around her neck?”

Your brother should have stepped up to the plate: “I really enjoy this time with my brother and old friends and it’s our holiday tradition — Hon, if you don’t want to come, why don’t you take a day of beauty at the spa. Do the nails, the hair, get a facial and a massage.”

She would have been much less bitchy with new nails and a perm. And you and your brother would have had a blast with the past. You always get more with honey than with vinegar.

Send her flowers and apologize for being a jerk — your mother knows, even if she is a conniving bitch, better to have some peace in the family. And she is your brother’s wife, for better or for worse. Then have a talk with your brother, discuss how you missed him at the event, and give him some suggestions for conflict resolution in the future.

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The Orchids of Alexander G DeWitt

6 01 2008

I live on the northwest shore, near the highest point, of a densely populated island, neighboring an estuary that lets out to the turbulent Atlantic. When one lives amidst such mountainous terrain, the greatest pleasures are often viewing the flora and fauna that have adapted to life amidst the clouds.

Doritaenopsis Fire Cracker Blue Martini Dendrobium Green LanternPurple Dendrobium

Ascda. Su-Fun Beauty ‘Orange Belle’PhaleonopsisDendrobium New Somrak White

Phaleanopsis Sogo Lion AmberBrsa. Mem. Bert Field ‘Monte Vista’Oncidium. Wild Cat ‘Norman’ AM/AOS

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30-Something Gay Guy Stumbles into MySpace

4 01 2008

Dear Alex: I am a 36 year-old gay man. I’ve been out for close to 15 years and have dated a lot of guys but never really had much interest in having a boyfriend or partner. Until now. About six months ago I happened to stumble on a MySpace page of this guy who went to the same law school as me and I fell in love! He’s sooooo hot (all my friends agree) and I’m constantly checking his page for new pix, which he posts pretty often. Here’s the thing: even though I’m totally convinced that he’s “the one” for me, I haven’t written to him yet (I’m also in New York and he’s in San Diego). What should I do?Soon to be Bi-Coastal

Dear S to be B-C,

Ummm, I’ll try to be gentle. Looking at a picture of someone who lives 3,000+ miles away and thinking he’s “the one” is a wonderful fantasy for someone with intimacy issues, like yourself. If you really want to try having a relationship, stick closer to home. Otherwise, write the hunk. Maybe he also has the maturity of a 12 year old, and you can have email sex, phone sex, cam sex, IM sex, and when you two finally meet atop the Empire State Building and the spark is nothing but spunk, at least you had a good time and can wallow in the “you see I tried and I’ll never have a boyfriend, ever, ever, ever” tar pit of doom with your friends. Do send pix!

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The Real Deal: Bridge and Relationships

2 01 2008

I would be living on Park Avenue with a very tall, dark, and handsome robot assistant who takes dictation and does windows, if I got paid for all the advice I’ve given to others regarding their relationships. I’m writing it down now so everyone can benefit (“my therapist thinks you’re wonderful!,” “you should have been a doctor!”) and the phone will stop ringing.

When you are thinking about investing in a relationship, how do you analyze the strengths and weaknesses?

And what are the strengths and weaknesses? How do you know? What are you supposed to do?

The game of bridge is a handy metaphor for understanding your ability to forge a partnership.

In bridge, for every deal, you do the following in sequence:









Don’t know from bridge? Here’s a little intro.

The game of bridge is a good way to practice and sharpen your analytical and conceptual skills so that you can apply these toward creating, developing, and maintaining strong, solid relationships.

Bridge is played with 2 sets of partners — north/south and east/west. They sit across from each other, just like the directions on a compass. The partners may know each other and have played together for years, or they may have just been introduced.

The goal of the game is for you and your partner to “bid” for a “contract” saying you can take so many rounds or tricks. You can name a trump (the special suit which will take all others) or play no-trump. The bidding is based on a minimum of 6 tricks (called a book), so for example, if I bid 1 spade, that would mean that between my parnter and myself, we could take 7 (6 + 1) tricks (7 rounds of each person playing one card) if spades were trump (our special suit that can take all others.)


The entire deck is dealt; 52 cards. There are no jokers. Each person receives 13 cards. There is no passing or trading in of cards. What you are dealt is what you have to live with. The dealer revolves so that each person has an opportunity to deal. The dealer has the first “bid.”


Each person evaluates their hand. There are simple and increasingly complex ways to evaluate one’s hand. But for our purposes, each player basically takes stock of their strengths and weakness — how many of each suit they have, how many high cards they have, etc. What is important is that they analyze their hands in a similar way. Let’s say they use the point system:

Ace=4 points, King=3 points, Queen=2 points, Jack=1 point, Doubleton (only 2 of a suit)=1 point, Singleton (only 1 of a suit)=2 points, Void (none of a suit)=3 points.

So, each person adds up the points in their hand. They also look to see if they have a long suit (5 or more cards of a suit) which could be trump.


Once everyone has evaluated their hands, the auction to bid for a contract begins. The dealer has the first bid. In bridge, you should not open the bidding unless you have at least 13 points in your hand. Since everyone in a relationship has strong and weak points, we will assume that everyone has an opening hand.

There are many, many, many bidding systems. There are exhaustive books on the subject. These “systems” define how well partners communicate with each other in order to see if there is a good fit between their hands. Bridge is all about having a good fit.

Ideally, we would like to bid high enough between us to “make game,” the minimal amount to earn a high score. This is defined as 3 No Trump (we agree to take 9 tricks with no suit as trump), 4 major suit (we agree to take 10 tricks with either spades or hearts as trump), or 5 minor suit (we agree to take 11 tricks with either diamonds or clubs as trump). Since we are discussing relationships, if we don’t feel we can make these contracts between us, then we should pass and wait for the next deal.


We have bid and won a contract. In bridge, unlike life, only one of the partners actually plays the hand. The cards of one of the partners is put down on the table, for all to see. Obviously, assuming a sense of honesty, no hyperbole, and skill, we should have a pretty good idea of what our partner offers from the bidding — so there should be no major surprises.

Sometimes the hands “play themselves,” because they are so strong together. Sometimes the play is not so obvious, but with some careful thought, we can make the contract. Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we just can’t make the contract. If we make a mistake, we can learn from the mistake and not repeat it the next time we play. Sometimes, the deal was just against us.


Like relationships, the more you know about your hand (i.e. yourself) and can clearly and honestly communicate this information to your partner, the better able you both are to decide if you can bid for a contract.

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The Clunker or the Cadillac?

1 01 2008

Dear AlexG: I’m driving a clunker but I don’t want to buy a new car until they’re like super energy efficient. How long will I have to wait?

Low ‘Carb’ Babe

Dear LCB,

I hope you’re young. Very young. Keep driving that clunker, which is probably getting better gas mileage than most new cars (with the exception of the hybrids — but only in city driving). Let’s hope for a “change” on the political horizon and a heavy investment in fuel-cell, ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas, hydrogen, and other technologies. Sure, we would all like to see cars whose thermal byproducts were environmentally friendly, but how about some spankin’ hot design!

Is it just me, or isn’t every “box on wheels” the same in small, medium, large, extra-large and behemoth? Even the futuristic concept cars are boring. What happened to fins, chrome, fenders and grills? Auto design mediocrity is polluting the landscape as much as mediocre fuel efficiency. Let’s put some swank back in the tank.

And while we’re on the subject of transportation, how about transforming our vast web of 19th century train track into maglev bullet trains swooshing one and all from town to town across this great land … Let the car charge in the garage for a while and catch a glide on the Appalachian Eagle or the Park-Beverly Transcontinental Express. Just thinking about the dining car (all that china! the quadruple plate!), the bar car (“L’amour, l’amour — how it does get you down“), and the first class sleeper (does anyone really ever sleep?) makes me want to rush out and buy a ticket.

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