Every town seems to have “that house.” You know, the one where the residents GO NUTS decorating for the holidays.
In Washington, it could well be the 1609 16th St., N.W. home of Greg Nelson and Jose Cunningham. If you frequent the area, you probably know it — it’s the one next to Church of the Holy City that’s always decked out in wildly extravagant lawn decor no matter the holiday.
And, of course, Halloween is one of the biggies. Nelson, the self-described “Mr. Holiday,” started going all out about nine years ago and says that while Christmas is his favorite (“because it’s truly the most wonderful time of the year”), Halloween and Easter aren’t far behind. He also says he’d put money on the fact that he has the largest collection of red, white and blue bunting and USA stick flags in the city.
Nelson stores the massive collection in his basement and garage. Each holiday has its own color-coded plastic bins. The most common comments he hears are, “Thank you for bringing joy to the neighborhood,” “This is so cool,” “What is this place” and “Where do you store all this stuff?”
Cunningham, he says, is supportive and looks at it as Nelson’s hobby while he has his own.
Nelson, 47, came to Washington 21 years ago for work. The Minneapolis native works by day as a marketing consultant. He enjoys cooking, mixology, holiday decorating (of course!) and walking his dog Arbo in his free time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
Twenty-six years. My father.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) the first member of Congress to permanently display the Pride flag outside his office in the Cannon House Office Building.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
I am the wrong person to ask. I met my partner three hours after moving to D.C., and while we often eat out and dine with friends, we don’t go to bars and tend to be in bed by 10 p.m. every night.
Describe your dream wedding.
“Getz, Gershwin & Gaynor.” Creative black & white attire, private ceremony, followed by the best theme music of the decade. Opening with “Signature Cocktails & Bossa Nova,” followed by “Farm to Table Menu & American Standards,” ending with “Dessert & Disco.”
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Criminal justice reform
What historical outcome would you change?
My first relationship and his subsequent involvement with serial killer Andrew Cunanan.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
The death of Princess Diana.
On what do you insist?
Treating people with respect. Don’t say you aren’t judgmental if you only listen to one side of the story. People who assume without knowing all the facts or the reasons why people are the way they are should think twice before throwing stones from their own glass houses.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
Life lesson learned while on the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky this weekend: “I like my bourbon straight, but my friends can go either way.”
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Life is better with a THEME”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Read that news article in the Washington Post and then head to the dog park for my morning walk. In other words, nothing at all.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
That all dogs go to heaven.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Have an open mind about stopping the tribal partisanship between Democrats and Republicans. I know that is much easier said than done. However, I also know first-hand, misconceptions exist on both sides. Please take a minute and attempt to listen to one another as individuals before making broad, sweeping generalizations just on the basis of political affiliation and sexual orientation.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
My Labradoodle, Arbo.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That all gay men have a flair for style and interior decorating.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“The Normal Heart”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Presidential turkey pardons.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
The original recipe card for my mother’s Swedish meatballs. They are delicious and award winning.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
You will have friends for seasons, friends for reasons and friends for life. Have fun, love and laugh with others but don’t be disappointed or angry when friendships end. Find wisdom behind the reasons why some friends have enriched your life, while others have brought you disappointment. But most importantly cherish, love and show gratitude to the individuals who have stood by you and helped to clean up your life messes, because those are the individuals that are your true friends and matter the most.
It is the only place in America where you can never have too much bunting or too many flags.