Thursday, July 24, 2014

THE PRIDE INSIDE

I’ve missed this year’s Pride parades. I am sure Toronto’s World Pride was incredible. (New and improved, no doubt. What will they call it next? Intergalactic Pride?) I was in Vancouver during L.A. Pride and I’ll be in L.A. during Vancouver’s upcoming big event. It’s okay. I don’t even have anything rainbow in my wardrobe.

Sorry.

But on Tuesday I went to an honorary Pride event: Lady Gaga in concert at L.A.’s Staple Center. As we were doing shots on Saturday night, Benny casually said, “You should go with us to Gaga.” My reflex response was “No thanks.” But that’s not what came out. Apparently I say yes when I’m liquored up. (It was only my first shot. Apparently I’m that easy.)

I do like Lady Gaga. I’m just not gaga for Gaga. My concert days are pretty much over. And I’ve never been one to pick the COOL shows. It’s probably because I got off to a bad start. Air Supply was my first concert. And I LOVED it! My last two concerts were this and this. So, really, it is amazing they let me through security on Tuesday night. Sometimes a short interview is a better screen than a metal detector.

Let’s back up though. The spectacle of a Gaga show begins hours before. As I sat through a dozen lights waiting to turn left to valet park at Benny’s building right across from the Staples Center, I got to enjoy the festive pedestrians who were, incidentally, ignoring those silly lights that we motorists tried to navigate through. Heck, even the naturally courteous ones were obstructing the flow of traffic. When you aren’t accustomed to walking more than three feet in platform high heels, traversing a wide street can be an arduous journey.

From what I could tell, not one of the high heeled and/or tutu-clad folks was in drag, but most of them had tagalong boys averaging nineteen years of age. In this safe pre-concert environment, the boys weren’t trying to pass as straight. Their mannerisms were freely effeminate, their smiles beaming. This is me! No filters! I was probably the same when I was their age as I excitedly rushed to get inside for the Barry Manilow concert. (See? I was never cool.)

We missed most of the pre-show people watching. (The shots bar is also conveniently within walking distance of Benny’s place.) We knew from the previous night’s concert that our Lady would not appear until around 10 p.m. The ultimate fashion diva must, of course, put her own spin on fashionably late. I’m guessing there are last-minute wig crises every night. In the fifteen minutes we had to wait, the gays were easy to spot, almost as common as teen girls wearing outfits their fathers could not have seen them in before they left the house. Lots of skin. Even fleshy rolls. Express yourself! Oh, wait. That comes my generation’s gay music icon. Glow sticks and glam predominated. (I donned a pink shirt. And purple shoes. That’s as Proud as I get.)

To be honest, the concert underwhelmed me. I know I’m not supposed to say that. Surely, it is a sin for a gay man to be meh-meh for Gaga. The choreography seemed haphazard—find your spot and wiggle in an outrageous costume. Too many of the songs were from Artpop, Gaga’s latest album which lacks the hits and the sizzle of The Fame or even Born This Way. (I get it. This is, after all, artRAVE: The ARTPOP Ball tour, but I think at least one of the first seven songs should have been a hit and “LoveGame” and “You and I” should not have been left off the set list.)

How I feel about the concert is irrelevant. It was never aimed at an old guy who can still contentedly pass an afternoon with “Lost in Love” playing in his head.

There were highlights. “Bad Romance” proved to be the most fun song of the night. And the most Prideful moment was, of course, “Born This Way.” Lady Gaga slowed the tune down and sang it at the piano with no dancers on stage. It showcased her strong vocals and made the lyrics more poignant.

Whether life's disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied, or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
'cause baby you were born this way.

No matter gay, straight, or bi,
Lesbian, transgendered life,
I'm on the right track baby,
I was born to survive.
  

I’ll admit my eyes welled up. Here was a pop icon providing validation to the nineteen-year-old boys, many who are still working through their identity in these more enlightened times. She is their Madonna whose words reflect acceptance and embolden them to go forward.

Go, Gaga! Go, boys! “Applause” is in order after all. As we paraded out, how could I not feel the Pride?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

THE FUTURE IS CALLING

The caller ID showed it was my mother. I let it go to voicemail. After all it was 9:30 a.m. and I was in the midst of writing in Santa Monica’s trendy Urth Caffé. This was no slight to Mom. I just could handle news about someone dying sitting in such a public setting. Yes, that’s where my mind went. I got that kind of doomsday thinking from none other than Dear Old Mom.

How could it be anything else? My parents only call on weekends. I don’t know if calling rates are still higher during prime weekday hours, but that’s been the established practice. Weekends or, if absolutely necessary, after 5 p.m. during the week. Who died?

When I stepped out to feed the meter, I listened to the message. Something about Homeland Security. She needed me to call. Oh, no. Was I added to the no-fly list? Back when my novel was published, I signed up for Google Alerts to let me know whenever my name was mentioned online. I was hoping to be linked to (glowing!) book reviews, but alas, my name is rather common and, as it turns out, people who share my name die a lot and commit terrible crimes. If I was banned from flying, it was a case of mistaken identity. I’m the author, not the murderer. We’d get things cleared up, but would that happen before my scheduled return flight to Canada? What a nuisance.

Obviously, the creative writing spark had been extinguished for the day. Summarily spit upon. I drove back to the place where I am house-sitting and called Mom. No roaming charges. They taught me to be telephonically responsible.

I was way off. Good thing, too. All the relatives were still alive (as far as we knew) and there didn’t seem to be any glitches to my flight plans. My writing may not have garnered raves, but it hadn’t led to a transportation ban.

So why the call? Why the mention of Homeland Security? Thirty-two months ago, I got my parents as American citizens to petition to sponsor me for a visa to move back to the U.S. It’s been a frustrating process. Not really a process because nothing had been processed. The Immigration Department’s website stated its goal of working through petitions within five months; however, the estimated wait time kept increasing—last I checked it was forty-seven months! (With that kind of gap, I think they should delete the goal from the site. Why accentuate poor performance?) Needless to say, I’d stopped obsessing over my chances of moving back. I’d stopped griping about the concrete, miles-high barrier that stopped a person who’d lived sixteen years in the U.S., gone to high school there, obtained two degrees there and been admitted to the California Bar from re-entry. Out of my control. Just like the entire TV setup at the place where I’m staying. Forget about it. Learn to live without.

“They’ve approved the petition,” my mother said. And then she went ahead and read the entire letter. All I heard was “approved” followed by “blah, blah, blah.” I got the part that mattered.

And so it begins. There is no guarantee of what is to come, but the visa process shall finally begin…within thirty days. Yes, a real process! I realize that the whole thing will take longer than I would care to speculate—let’s just go with a year or two—but I may have options about relocating. Not just dreamy, rueful notions but real options!

Return to Los Angeles?

As Tim said on the phone last night, “Sounds like you’ve got a special connection with the city.”

Yes, Tim. The guy I just started dating only weeks before my extended summer stay in L.A. The guy with whom I’d like a “special connection”. And, yes, that complicates everything.

But it’s still early. Lots can and will evolve in the months to come…regarding my visa status and regarding my dating status. A few months ago, I felt I had no options. In anything. I had no control. Nothing ahead of me. How strange to think I may have things to look forward to. There may be a conflict to come, but it is a luxury to have to a choice to make.

Let’s see how it all unfolds.

Monday, July 21, 2014

WHISKEY & A GO-GO

To my parents, I’ll always be fifteen. And to my dear L.A. friend, Benny, I’ll always be twenty-five. In most cases, it feels great when people think you haven’t aged at all. But sometimes it’s a hindrance. They associate you with a particular time in life and, along with lack of aging, comes lack of growth.

Benny and I were great friends, maybe even best friends, during the five years I called Los Angeles home. We became roommates, commuter mates, tennis partners and AIDS Project Los Angeles volunteers. But before all that, we were bar mates.

We met under false pretenses at Studio One, a large West Hollywood dance club. I stood alone, drink in hand, trying to look like I was having a good time. This was 1990, before we had hand-held devices to make being alone in public seem desirable. I had the choice of staring at the overly generous supply of ice cubes in what was ostensibly a rum and Coke or ogling the thong-clad go-go boys standing on block platforms. I chose ice. Benny fed me a lame line about being from out of town. As the eternally polite Canadian, I began to orientate him to the WeHo environs. Give me a safe topic and I can become chatty instead a shy, mumbling geek. It only took a few minutes before we realized he had just graduated from the university where I was attending law school. The truth came out. Benny was no stranger to West Hollywood.

What may have been a pickup line evolved into something far better. Right away, friendship seemed like the more obvious path. Instead of a one-night stand, we have a relationship that has lasted almost twenty-five years.

I laugh robustly whenever Benny and I get together. The frivolity is refreshing. But there is depth to the friendship as well. We shared crushes, anguished over breakups and grieved over Buddies who died from AIDS. We went through the Rodney King riots and the Northridge earthquake together. (At the time of the quake, my recent ex and Benny’s boyfriend both lived near the epicenter. We couldn’t reach them. In a panic, we rounded up groceries and drove to their houses, dropping off supplies.)

Despite all we’ve gone through, Benny still sees me as some sort of WeHo party boy. While living in L.A., our weekends began Thursday night and stretched through Sunday afternoon beer busts. For a while, all roads led to Rage. Or Micky’s. Or Revolver. Or Motherlode. Or Arena.

Or all of them.

Yes, it was fun. We’d dance and do laps at one establishment and then move on to the next. We’d talk in code about hot men we’d never dare approach. (It’s always nice to have a bar companion with completely different tastes in men. We never competed over hypothetical hookups.) There was a fair share of drinking, but I think Benny has a distorted recollection of that part. I slowly nursed a couple of drinks, primarily sucking on ice cubes. I knew when to stop. I never wanted to lose control. My hearty laughter, however, gave a different impression. People often thought I was plastered. I’ll have what he’s having. I just enjoyed celebrating a reprieve from law studies. And as our social group built over the course of the night, I was always the first to leave. I’d had my fun—the good, clean kind—but I knew I’d get depressed if I stuck around too long and let it sink in that I permeated a sexual invisibility. With drinks and dreamy men, I knew my limits.

I’ve seen Benny—and his husband—twice now on this summer stay in L.A. The agenda is what it always was: pre-drinks at a quiet bar followed by more drinks at the gay bars. The only thing that’s changed is someone at the first bar always offers us complimentary shots. Still the polite Canadian, I drink the whiskey and the vodka, knowing that my drive home has just been delayed.

Benny’s husband seems particularly amused by my shyness and my extreme pickiness in men. He sees how my laughter only goes so far. It becomes his mission to crack my uptight core. And how better to do that than by handing me dollar bills and imploring me to stuff them in a go-go boy’s Speedo, right?

Wrong. I am quick to fold my arms or shove my hands in my pockets. There is no way that’s going to happen.

“Why not?” he asks. I just shake my head and stare at my shoes. It would be positively Victorian of me to speak my mind: “It’s impure.” That’s the short answer. It’s prudish even in word choice. The longer essay involves my extreme dislike for go-go boys dating back to that perennial long-weekend era. All eyes on the gyrating thongs. How was I supposed to compete? Besides, I like something left to the imagination. I don’t wish to engage in the post-dollar drop-off interview: Did you see it? Feel it? Was it all him or stuffing? I’ve just started seeing a great guy. I don’t need this kind of play. 

Benny’s husband persists. He doesn’t know twenty-five-year-old me. While others fantasized over sex with the go-gos, I imagined grabbing Tanya Harding’s crowbar and knocking them all off their freakin’ pedestals. Go on, git. I came to this bar looking for love.

I suppose I’ve always been screwed up.

He brings a go-go boy to me. The go-go boy pouts. Surely he’s not used to working this hard for a measly buck. It is Benny or Benny’s husband or one of their newer friends who must feed the briefs. Probably what they wanted all along.   

I spend another hour and a half nursing a bottle of water. I block out thoughts about how environmentally wasteful it is to drink from plastic. For the moment, Mothers Against Drunk Driving provides the louder message. The whiskey must go. As must the next go-go that is ushered my way. Sometimes it sucks to be that eternally polite Canadian.

And twenty-five.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

BODY TALK

If you’ve got a gut, enjoy it. Appreciate all the food that got you there. You may cringe when you look in the mirror or maybe you don’t. Maybe you are perfectly comfortable the imperfection. Bravo! If you long for a better body, one like those buff “avi is me” pics on Twitter, know that the price can be too high for a slimmer you.

I have never before posted a shirtless photo of myself. Not my thing. Wouldn’t even send it privately to a boyfriend. My body and I have a longstanding hate-hate relationship. Still, I included this photo of me from this week because, while I can savagely pick it apart, this is as good as it gets. Maybe if I document it I can stop the madness. Been there, done that, movin’ on. Objectively, I know it’s not bad for forty-nine. I am acutely familiar with the natural belly inflation that occurs at this stage. I’ve fought it off, but it’s nothing to be proud about.

I’ve written about eating disorders before. (If you're so inclined, you might want to read this or this.) I have struggled with food and weight issues for most of my life—at least since I was eleven or twelve. Male or female, there is pressure to look perfect. I knew that in the ‘70s as a kid who sipped Tab while friends guzzled root beer to show off their belching prowess. They had their priorities right.

Women talk about the constant media exaltation of The Body Perfect. While they can’t fully ignore the pressure, they can sit together over skim lattés and talk about it. Men, not so much. Most guys would just laugh it off. What’s your problem, man? Have another beer. This leaves guys who are, for whatever reason, more susceptible to this pressure to internalize their feelings of inadequacy.

I’d be envious of these other guys—if I had any fondness for beer. (I say I don’t like the taste. Subconsciously, I probably formed a strong resistance to the beverage that spawned the term beer belly.) Pizza, ice cream, cheesecake, these would be my indulgences. I talk about them a lot. But it’s rare to catch me ingesting anything beyond nonfat cottage cheese, Melba toast and plain fruits and vegetables. I have maintained a strict diet for decades, typically with the same dull staples.

The only blip was a couple of years when my ex and I were together. I indulged and the relationship went sour. The sex stopped. He became terse, then abusive. Logically, I can say that the ten extra pounds around my waist—and that’s as extreme as it ever got—had nothing to do with the demise of a doomed relationship. But my nagging interior/inferior voice says, “Porking out couldn’t have helped.”

Oh, what a piece of work I am.

Things become most dire when I hit a time in life where things are out of control. I drastically reduce, I deprive and the weight drops. Fortunately, the last severe bout was about twenty years ago when I first moved to Vancouver, was underemployed and questioned whether the spontaneous move had been an act of pure stupidity. Friends intervened and insisted I see a doctor. He turned out to be clueless about eating disorders in men, but somehow my friends shook me up enough to get me to change course. I returned to never-ending dieting and wisely didn’t talk about calories or fat.

Last fall, as feelings of isolation escalated, I became especially critical of my rising gut. Despite the regular workouts and the dieting, the Pillsbury Doughboy always greeted me in the mirror. Next up: Little Buddha. “This is 50,” I told myself. Single, fat, lonely, hopeless.

When my dog Hoover died in April, I went into full deprivation mode. The grief was so intense and the guilt so great that food deprivation constituted both control and punishment. Whenever the grief lapsed, a general apathy stepped in. Why bother? With food or anything.

It took five days before I acknowledge I needed to be admitted to hospital. In the short term, it was the right thing, but I am still dealing with the aftermath. Nobody raves about hospital food. Especially not vegan hospital food. Plain bread, vegetable broth, half a canned pear. It made deprivation even easier. In the psych ward, everything was highly scheduled—all controlled by someone other than myself. Meals at 8, 12 and 5. Snacks at 2 and 8. I’m sure the intent is to help stabilize some people, but for me, it only intensified my desperation to exert control.

My eating does not get too drastic when I can exercise. I am fanatical about it. I over-exercise. I exercise when injured. In the hospital, confined to my ward, there was no jogging, no swimming, no cycling, no weightlifting. There was a Stairmaster that I would ride in my flimsy hospital bottoms and gown, but I worried too much about body odor. We weren’t given soap for the showers; only tiny gel packets that failed to do much of anything.

No one monitored my intake. The food trays went largely untouched. I hoarded soda crackers, instant decaf coffee packets and apples from snack time. When I felt dizzy, I’d slowly chew a Saltine or lie down and try (unsuccessfully) to sleep.

I lost twelve pounds in the first six days. They didn’t bother to weigh me after that. More troubling was where the loss occurred. In the mirror, my body was unrecognizable. After all those years of building muscle mass, all was gone.

 
Biceps gone. Pecs gone. Quads gone. Welcome to a new kind of hideous.

The transformation only made me care even less about living.

In the three months since being released, I’ve increased the intensity of my workouts. I’ve lost a few more pounds but I’ve regained strength. I don’t have near the bulk from before, especially in the chest. My tight t-shirts are now roomy. Still, my body gets noticed. Gay guys are openly complimentary. It’s foreign territory.

But I am an example of how unrealistic body images are in our society. Yes, I am forty-nine and I appear fit. But my food intake continues to be tightly controlled even more so than before I entered hospital. No more breakfasts. I’ve cut lunches in half, dinners by a third. I look healthy. It’s an utter deception.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

COMING OUT OF THE DARK

I’ve been having a streak of good luck of late.

Karma?

Good things happen (finally)…?

But I’m going dark with this post. There’s a backstory.

When I first started the blog, I swore that it would be an authentic portrayal of a single, middle-aged gay man living in a rural area. For all the tasty blackberries flourishing in my backyard, there are plenty of thorns. And so it is time to be completely honest.

I knew I was in trouble last August. I’d had a wonderful summer in L.A. I felt reconnected and reinvigorated. But I was all too aware that wouldn’t last. I hadn’t moved back to Los Angeles; only visited. As I’d taken my dog, Hoover, I had a long drive back to British Columbia to think about what the trip did and did not satisfy. It was dangerous to return to my ho-hum life and expect the happy hangover to stretch until the next summer vacation. While driving the I-5 through Washington, I pulled over at a rest area and typed out a survival plan of sorts—things I needed to keep doing, start doing and stop doing. It was a comprehensive document.

By October, the emptiness returned. I lived by rote. Hoover continued to bring me plenty of smiles and laughs each and every day, but there was no other source of fulfillment. I couldn’t entice friends to visit. And my writing seemed to stall. I’d slipped from Writer to Writer Wannabe. As an intensely high achiever, I’d accomplished nothing in any domain in recent years. Life had peaked.

By January, I decided I was done with life. The thought of another thirty years of nothingness seemed like an excruciating existence. As if to confirm my thoughts, my laptop crashed. I’d backed up nothing. Years of writing projects vanished. While I should have been an emotional wreck, I took two Tylenol and went to bed at 6 p.m. Done. The sham of being a writer was over.

I knew I would never leave before Hoover. I would not do that to him. And so, while I drafted and tweaked an elaborate suicide plan that would neatly leave no loose ends to burden others, I continued to savor life with eleven-year-old Hoover, knowing that we had about a thousand days left together. Hoover would allow me to buy time. Maybe I could turn things around, find a purpose for being.

Tragically, time with Hoover came up 910 days short. He died unexpectedly and traumatically in early April. I blame myself. The grief was intense, far beyond any typical loss-of-a-pet scenario. Truly, he was all I had. While dealing with grief, the suicide plan came to the forefront. The downward spiral went into freefall. I had myself committed. I spent nine days in hospital.

In many respects, that made things worse. My timing sucked. I was admitted on the Thursday preceding Canada’s longest holiday stint of the calendar year. I was basically in a holding pen through Good Friday, the weekend and Easter Monday. And that pen happened to be the Psychiatric Assessment Unit, a place for the most acute patients. All along, they assured me that I did not belong there, but they had no other beds available. With the long, long weekend, doctors weren’t releasing psych patients. There were also more appropriate clinics at other hospitals, but all had put out the No Vacancy shingle.

In PAU, I was the model patient. They weren’t having to call security to force me to take medications by injection. When required to, I engaged in pleasant conversations with other patients, never once veering into an unpredictable tirade, never even provoking such an episode in someone else. They never had to lock me in the windowless room and I didn’t fall into an hours-long rage, pounding and yelling, “I’m going to fucking kill you all!”

I just witnessed such things. Repeatedly.

I developed an anxiety I never had. I’d shake, my heart would seem to race and I failed to sleep even when I’d take one of the sleeping pills the nurses and fill-in doctors eagerly hawked.

I was not “treated” in any substantial way. I negotiated to have my admission changed from involuntary to voluntary and I checked out a week earlier than they’d wanted. I couldn’t bear the thought of going into another weekend with absolutely no medical intervention. Before I was released, a psychiatrist who had seen me twice for a total of twenty-five minutes spoke with confidence of The Plan “we’d” created. “What plan?” I asked. The all-encompassing plan involved a follow-up appointment with a new psychiatrist, my sixth.

Apparently most people do not plan as elaborately as I.

And yet I am still here. I am on an upswing. I am giving myself some time. I held on—sometimes just barely—until I could get back to L.A. This vacation once again offers a temporary reprieve from the monotony. I appreciate every minute of it.

On this visit, I’ve planned less. This needs to be more low-key. Frankly, I feel the edge. I don’t handle the daily nuisances so well. Even so, I know I am safe here.

That recent stroke of luck? Maybe it does have something to do with being a good person. I’m pretty sparing and dismissive of any kind of acknowledgment, but frankly, I don’t think I could have lived a more honorable life. Still, the luck may be of my own doing. I’m less reserved. I’m taking more chances. Why the f*#k not? What have I got to lose? I am not the same. My life has shifted. It needed to.

Now let’s see what I do with it.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I'M LATE

I hear many gay men talking about being late bloomers. High school? No way. Twenty-two, twenty-six.

How about forty-nine?

On Monday evening, I drove to West Hollywood to join the gay Frontrunners group for a run on Santa Monica Boulevard into Beverly Hills. It’s a small group—on this particular night a mere half dozen of us and none of the people I knew from last year. A tall, pretty young guy immediately started to chat me up.

What?!

This is not supposed to happen in West Hollywood.

Tall, pretty, young gays pretend old fags like me do not exist. It’s the WeHo way. Nondescript telephone poles are more interesting. As we were waved over to the rest of the teeny group, I realized he was just chatty in general. He immediately introduced me to the others, repeating everything I’d told him about myself. I’ve never had my own spokesperson. Not sure I liked it.

Once we began the run, I expected everyone to spread out. Without the familiar faces from last year, I prepared to run solo. Not a problem. It’s fun to roam through the 90210 zip code, even without a helpful Star Map.

The tall, pretty, young gay guy ran by my side. “Feel free to run ahead,” he said. “I’m by far the slowest.” His words reminded me of my own self-promotion in my early twenties. Perhaps it was sympathy more than flattery that made me keep his pace. The other four weren’t exactly making a break.

Was I interested? No. Was he? Of course not. He mentioned his boyfriend a few blocks into the run. I was simply intrigued that he gave me the time of day.

Eventually, I could sense him struggling to keep up. “Go on ahead,” he said. And so I did. I passed the others and fell into a better pace. A stoplight held me and the others caught up. With the green, I pulled away again, but another tall, pretty, young gay guy picked up his pace to join me.

What the—?!

Is the First Monday now Golden Oldies Day in West Hollywood? Must have missed the flyer on one of those fascinating telephone poles. Still, we ran side by side, chatting about my summer stay and his move from Kansas City. Typical of a young guy, he spoke at length about a recent falling out with his one L.A.-based girl friend from Kansas and talked with pie-eyed enthusiasm about his impressions of West Hollywood.

Anything in common? Of course not. Besides, I am not looking. I’d like to think there is something promising back in Vancouver. The fact that I registered at all with another young gay proved astonishing.

As we reached the iconic fountain at Santa Monica and Wilshire, I said goodbye. Everyone else planned to turn back, but I wanted a longer run. I set off toward Sunset Boulevard. On my own, I took in the palm trees that lined the road and the well-manicured gardens of succulents and bougainvillea. But then it registered that a black open-top Jeep was driving unusually slowly beside me. A young, tanned muscular college student in a baseball cap pivoted his head and stared at me. He looked ahead, looked back, looked ahead, looked back. As a rule, I am clueless about cruising, but this was blatant. A Mercedes approached with aggressive-driver urgency. Jeep dude drove on and I jogged on.

Late bloomer, indeed. Guys like this did not notice me in my twenties, my thirties or, up until now, my forties. Maybe it is the sense that I consider myself to be unavailable that is suddenly getting me noticed. I doubt that. I’ve had years of being in relationships (long, long ago) and I was always easy to ignore. It was effortless.

I am much more confident, sure. My protective wall is thinner—balsa wood instead of concrete. I even appear to be in great shape (though more on that in an upcoming blog post).

I suppose I should appreciate this blip without overanalyzing it. Perhaps I just needed another dose of California sun to finally bloom. Despite slathering up with sunblock, a few rays seem to be sinking in.

Forty-nine and hitting my stride. At last.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

IS THIS HOME?

I’m sitting in an organic coffeehouse on trendy Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. It is one of my favorite L.A. neighborhoods. A life-size framed photo of Lucille Ball looks down at me from the brick wall on which it is mounted as BMWs and Mercedes roll down the street. Not one of the pedestrian passing by carries any extra weight other than what is loaded in the tasteful shopping bags.

This is truly an alternate reality. Somehow it all grounds me. I belong in this land of frozen yogurt, palm trees and boutique shops that bait my credit card from my wallet. I can see the lunacy in all of it, and in spite or because of that, this is what feels like home. In Los Angeles, the trivial matters. Every stop during the day is a carefully chosen event.

This city is the place where I first felt free. Twenty-five years ago, I managed to escape the stifling judgment of Texan Bible-belters. I finally heeded the words of the Village People. I decided to Go West. (Sorry, but I’d have never made it In the Navy.) It wasn’t just about feeling accepted as a gay man. I also finally found friends who were vegetarians or who didn’t view me as a steak-deprived freak of nature. This is the place where I also felt most comfortable celebrating my geeky love of all things entertainment. Was I one of the thousands of Hollywood wannabes? Absolutely. But this is the one aspect of me that remained closeted. I suppose I didn’t want to taint my newfound freedoms with a new realm of rejection.

This morning I registered for a full-day television writing symposium with panelists from Modern Family, Parenthood and Community. On my iPhone, I’ve entered a retro movie screening of “Shampoo” with Lee Grant in attendance. Here, I can indulge in superficial culture without a tinge of embarrassment.

While I stayed in the heart of West Hollywood last summer, I am in ho-hum Westchester this time around. Never heard of it? Neither has your average Los Angelino. (It is the first community north of LAX, the kind of area that pushes me to get out and get away. I am embracing the Nobody walks in L.A. mindset.)

This is most definitely a world away from my scenic but sleepy home environment 1,300 miles up the Pacific Coast. At once, I feel relaxed and invigorated. Let the vacation begin!