Thursday, December 29, 2011

(NOT) SO FAR AWAY



I get the sense that a lot of older single gay men fail to go the distance.

Sure, you can read that as not being fully committed, but I am referring to something more fundamental. They fail to consider that Mr. Right might exist beyond the gay ghetto of their chosen city. In Vancouver, that rather scenic ghetto (save for litter-strewn Davie Street) is the West End.

I realize I am not objective here. I am fortysomething and single. I do not live in the West End. In fact, I am more than an hour (and a ferry) away. I’ve only had a date cross the waters twice in six years...and each occasion only came after we’d had a few promising outings in town. Still, I have had many coffees in recent years with online single guys. I’ve heard the stories. Vancouver is a city of bridges and, if a gay has to traverse a bridge to date you, it rarely happens. Guys in Kitsilano, off Commercial and near Main Street have all shared their frustration that West Enders won’t travel.

Many West End dwellers pride themselves in walking to work, to the gym and to restaurants. They boast about not having to buy a car or pay the insurance, gas and maintenance. Indeed, their lifestyle is environmentally sound and, with all the walking, rather healthy.

There are, of course, drawbacks. There are 44,000 people who live in this downtown area. For better or worse, it only takes a few years to recognize and/or become acquainted with the gay neighbors. If you are going to online dating sites like Plenty of Fish, then chances are the dating pool has dried up. If you are over thirty and single, I believe who have to toss out a larger net if you want to reel in fresh fish. But West Enders are not that adventuresome. At best, they will meet for coffee...in the West End, of course. Many times, my coffee companion has shot me a puzzled gaze and asked, “Why don’t I recognize you?” Sigh. There may be plenty of fish, but they’re all swimming in the same fish bowl. I’m reminded of an old Roseanne Roseannadanna—I miss you, Gilda Radner!—quip: “Jacques Cousteau is swimming in a fish’s toilet.”

This post does not arise from my own dateless existence. Yesterday I received a message from a 59-year-old man on Plenty of Fish. He begged people to overlook the fact he lived beyond the ghetto. His three-sentence message to me included the following: ”I live in the burbs -for the last 2 years - but am considering moving into the city to broaden my social life.” Read: It takes a little extra effort to see me, but don’t hold that against me. The profile explained that he’d retired and moved to White Rock (which is a beautiful beachside community south of Vancouver). He stated he needed to establish a social life and then made his pitch: “I travel into downtown Vancouver fairly regularly by car or public transit. The public transit is actually pretty good out here - I can be in downtown in 50 minutes by bus and Canada Line.” Don’t dismiss me. I’ll come to you.

Less than an hour. Come on, people. This does not constitute a long-distance relationship!

I felt sad after reading this. We did not have anything in common, but that had nothing to do with location. (At this point, I’d date a guy in Portland. Or Pittsburgh.) Here was a guy who settled in a lovely place where he thought he’d live out a happy retirement only to realize that being single in the burbs was not practical.

Okay, here’s the interesting thing about writing. As I wrote the preceding paragraph, I realized I was the same as WhiteRockTim. I too live in a peaceful, scenic area and I feel the isolation. I am desperately waiting for my house to sell. Am I returning to ghetto life? Maybe. If immigration matters work out, I’ll be back in L.A. where I thought nothing of battling freeway traffic and dating a guy in Reseda or Silver Lake. I even fell in love with these guys! But then maybe it was just me. Maybe I am a gas guzzling gay.

Am single. Will travel.

Is that an anomaly?

Monday, December 26, 2011

DIM ALL THE LIGHTS

The microwave clock still displays “0”. I think of that old Chicago song, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” I leave it. There. I can be carefree. It is my vacation after all.

I should be prepared for power outages where I live. There are about a dozen a year, almost all coming during the colder, wetter, drearier months. Yesterday’s may have hit me the hardest. Christmas. No, I didn’t put up lights this year or even get a tree. And, no, I didn’t have a turkey in the oven. I am a vegetarian. No veggies roasting since the grocery stores were all closed after flying in from L.A. on Christmas Eve.

My Christmas for One was supposed to be simple. Michael Bublé, Sarah McLachlan, She and Him and The Carpenters playing on my old boom box. A thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle. “A Christmas Story” or “Elf” on TV. A nap. (Apparently I am the only one who gets jetlagged after a flight within the same time zone.)

I’d have never napped had I known the power would go out. Sure, I have candles and a flashlight, but the light isn’t strong enough for reading. I awoke at three in the afternoon and already the light was too dim to return to the puzzle. I went for a jog. It is five kilometers into town and there were no lights the entire way in. As soon as I crossed the town border, I was hit with power envy. Seemingly empty rooms fully lit, Christmas lights aglow before dark, closed boutiques with bulbs working overtime. In my six years living in the area, I can only recall one blackout that extended into town.

Still no lights when I returned home. December 25th, one of the shortest days of the year. I took the dog for a walk and then, since it was completely dark, we drove into town. I figured I could grab a coffee and write or read at McDonald’s or Tim Horton’s. Aside from a single gas station, everything was closed. Christmas, of course. I pulled up as close as possible to the Starbucks and used their wifi to check for an outage update. Wire down. 1,300 people impacted. Estimated time for power to be restored: 22:00.

That’s when I let Scrooge win. Brr, humbug.

I thought about one of my favorite films, “My Life as a Dog”, wherein the boy, Ingemar, copes with his own life’s challenges by thinking it could be worse. Indeed. I was not attacked in a Nigerian church. I didn’t have the misfortune of spending Christmas in a certain home in Grapevine, Texas. I didn’t suffer in a fire in Connecticut. Still, it was Christmas and I was spending it eating stale Doritos in an empty parking lot with my dog snoring in the back seat. Maybe next year will be better, I thought. Maybe I’ll have moved. Maybe someone will notice me there. Maybe I’ll get to watch someone special opening a gift from me.

After surfing the internet, reading some favorite blogs and downloading some scripts to read, I returned home. Power on! By then I felt deflated. No Christmas nachos. I heated up a can of beans and instant mashed potatoes. Filled me up just fine. I returned to the jigsaw, a wonderful distraction that helped me tune out all thoughts about a holiday that creates expectations that so many of us cannot reach.

I look back at the microwave clock. Zero. Please, at least let there be light on New Year’s Eve.

NOT THEN, NOT NOW

On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I stayed with my university friend Susan and her husband of seventeen years, Tim. Back when they were still dating in L.A., they tried to match me up with Tim’s gay work colleague, Matt. It wasn’t as though Matt and I had a lot in common. I was gay, he was gay. We were Susan and Tim only homosexual friends...and conveniently single! I attended a barbecue at their apartment complex, excited to meet the highly regarded gay-mate. Yes, I was so much younger, so much more hopeful. I was no better than Susan and Tim. Every encounter with a gay man brought the possibility of love. Yes, I believed!

Matt and I exchanged five minutes of conversation about our jobs, him a keen architect, me a doe-eyed attorney. After a few follow-up questions, we sipped our wine coolers in awkward silence. Hope can be so fleeting. We had another chance to mix as someone insisted on a game of croquet. I gravitated more to Susan as we shared the same silly sense of humor while Matt felt the game was a chance to show his winning ways. I don’t recall how to score croquet or if he did win...let’s say he did. Matt and I ran into each other during a few other occasions, including their wedding, but we never shared more than a courteous hello after that. No love match, no possibility of friendship. A pair of gays with nothing to show for it. Go Fish.

On my last night in town on this most recent visit, Tim announced that we were heading to a friend’s for cocktails and then going out for dinner. “You remember my friend Matt, don’t you?” Thankfully, he added, “He and his partner Josh have this amazing place just outside of West Hollywood. You’ve got to see it! Josh should be a landscape designer.” Although it went unsaid, Matt and I were still their only gay friends. No, wait! Add Josh.

Hope resurfaced. No, I do not set my sights on breaking up gay couples, happy or otherwise. I have enough challenges with the single gays. Why add complications with the taken? But since I am planning to move back to Los Angeles, I realized it would be nice to have some gay friends to connect with right away. My good friend Ray moved to Boise, Jed returned to Bakersfield (and still hasn’t confirmed me as a Friend on Facebook!) and things are just awkward when I reconnect with best bud Blake and his permanently velcroed partner who constantly comes across as abrasive.

We pulled up to Matt and Josh’s bungalow on a charming, tree-lined street. Large green and red lanterns adorned the coral tree in their front yard, where a stone walkway created an artful maze amongst succulents and sculptures. Oh, god. These guys are too together for me, I thought. Perfect little home and four years of blissful togetherness. Matt had rebounded well after what Tim told me was a dysfunctional relationship with a meth addict. (Okay, I think the word dysfunctional is superfluous.) Hooray, Matt!

If only I didn't use his success as a point of comparison for myself. Twenty years after meeting Matt, I am more aimless than ever. My stomach tensed.

Josh warmly welcomed us inside. “You haven’t changed a bit!” he gushed as he hugged me.

Okay, not Josh. Matt was totally different. His blond hair was now a dark brown, he sported long sideburns and facial hair and he had a thick Southern accent. Sure, I suppose the accent was always there. Either my memory is that bad or he made even less of an impression back then than I recalled. No worries. We could start this friendship thing from scratch.

Everything inside was perfect, from the ninety-song Christmas playlist to the glasses of Pinot noir Josh handed us immediately upon entry. The scent of pine emanated from the garlands draped from the chandelier to the four corners of the living room. The den had four new antiquities they got for a steal when the elder member of a California tycoon (whose name only I did not know) died and the family started dumping possessions, not interested in an estate sale. (No, Josh and Matt did not call attention to their new acquisitions. They were the perfectly modest hosts. It was Tim who inquired about them.)

I could keep using perfect to describe Josh and Matt’s home—I haven’t even gotten to the backyard!—but you get the idea. That is not my main point. Just as I realized five minutes into a conversation two decades ago that nothing clicked between Matt and me, I got the same non-vibe as to the friendship track after five minutes this time around. Did the setting and the relationship intimidate me? Sure...at first. But we had four hours of conversation at the home and at the restaurant and there was no common ground despite the clear fact that Matt and Josh were outstanding hosts and often animated individuals. Sometimes people just don’t mesh.

On the ride back to Susan and Tim’s, Susan noted that I was particularly quiet. “I’m just taking in the places we pass,” I said. “I like looking at what is familiar and what’s changed.” Actually, I just needed time to think. So much of my thoughts about moving have focused on establishing a writing career and the humiliations that will come as I take on peon gigs, making coffee for up and coming writers half my age. The social challenges will be just as great. Guys my age will be just as settled as they are in Vancouver.

Second thoughts? No. Just necessary thoughts. The resolve remains. Change always brings discomfort. I will simply have to rise to the challenges. And create my own pathways.

Friday, December 23, 2011

LOOKING BACKWARD, FORWARD, DOWNWARD & UPWARD

I fight back the tears as soon as I leave my friends’ house. Not an emotional wreck but something is bubbling up. I need to keep some semblance of control. I don’t want the person on the other side of the gas pump island to freak out. What’s his problem? Not that she notices me at all. It’s a quick pit stop. She’s on her way to work or to fight for a parking spot while doing last-minute Christmas shopping.

I restart the car. Colbie Caillat, that hippy chick from Malibu sings “Realize”, adding to the Southern California ambience. They really like her here. She sang “Brighter Than the Sun” as I parked under a palm tree on a quick grocery run after my plane landed at LAX three days ago.

My eyes well up again as I merge onto the 405, heading toward Santa Monica. It’s fatigue, I tell myself. A college bowl game, a day at Disneyland, sleeps in strange beds,...so many excuses. Except on this morning I feel more rested than I have in months. Apparently that smoggy L.A. air is good for my soul. I drive down windy Sunset Boulevard towards Pacific Palisades, the chic village between Santa Monica and Malibu where I used to live in a bright pink multi-unit building now blanched white. At least the ever-blooming bougainvilleas remain to cover most of the lower facade.

For a year, this was my haven. I could access all that Los Angeles had to offer and then retreat to this sleepy neighborhood where nannies chauffeured impeccably dressed toddlers in the newest Mercedes models. I cannot spot any caregivers today. Maybe they’ve been given a few days off for Christmas. Maybe they are the ones tasked with scouring The Beverly Center to pick up an extra something now that Uncle Lloyd is bringing his new girlfriend to the turkey dinner. I do not see any children at all. The sidewalk is stroller free. Maybe there are Christmas and Hanukkah camps tucked away in one of the canyons to entertain the kiddies.

I am composed now as I type on my laptop in a Starbucks that didn’t exist in this space twenty years ago. What was it? A restaurant? Doesn’t really matter. Gone, forgotten. I am sandwiched between two other laptop users. As I gaze at toward Sunset two other men punch keys on their laptops. They’re all writers, aren’t they? This is Greater Los Angeles where everyone is working on a screenplay.

My competition.

I peek to my left. They white guy with the ‘60s afro isn’t typing a thing. He’s surfing a police website after two officers approached him and directed him to stop smoking his tobacco pipe outside the neighboring retail space. He still simmers with anger. If he is a writer, his day is shot. One of the fellows across from me has stopped typing. He plays with the cursor, sips from an empty coffee cup. Writer’s block.

Maybe I have a shot. I must focus on my own work instead of (literally) looking over my shoulder. Do I want to return here? As evidenced only an hour earlier, I can be a little too fragile. I will face a lot of rejection. I will be summarily dismissed as the gray pokes through my dyed sideburns. My ego will be bruised and abused.

But I want this. My heart beats loud and fast. It may be the caffeine kicking in, but I prefer to attribute it to desire. Yes, I want this. I want my chance.

All of this feels right. It is home. I cannot move yet. The INS and the gloomy real estate market back home control the timing of my relocation. Still, this brief visit gives me resolve. In the meantime, I can write anywhere. As my own coffee is done, I am off to the other side of Sunset to settle in for a chopped salad at my old deli hangout. It used to be my Wednesday morning stop where I would load up on bottomless passion fruit iced tea and cheap buttermilk pancakes. The old awning is gone. The name has changed from Mort’s to Lenny’s. It is more upscale. Still, it remains a deli and there is just enough that is familiar to help me settle in. I have to rewrite the ending to my latest screenplay project. Having worked through the mixed emotions of returning here, it will be a productive day.

Monday, December 19, 2011

YEP,..."RUDOLPH" IS GAY

The rumors are out there. Bert and Ernie. Tinky Winky. Waylon Smithers from “The Simpsons”.

I want them all to be gay. (Somewhere in a red state, an aide for a Republican Congressman is citing my blog as proof that the gays recruit. A clear distortion. I have no affinity for Teletubbies, but if one of them is gay, I welcome him/it.)

Young or old(er), we all like to have people/creatures with whom we can identify. Some celebrities are openly gay, but I cannot relate to this one or that one . (Heck, maybe it's just the name. I cannot relate to this guy or that guy either.) Sometimes I have to settle for making glorified sock puppets my role models.

And stop-motion animated Christmas characters.

Yes, Rudolph. To me, the Rankin/Bass television classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” has so much to say about being gay. I watch it every December and find myself referring to characters, scenes and songs even in August. Usually, I have the sense to think in my head rather than out loud. Seems it’s more socially acceptable to constantly quote from “The Wizard of Oz”. I am one of the friends of Dorothy, but there is room for a reindeer as well.

“Rudolph” is all about being different, feeling different and being misunderstood. And it’s not just our now-beloved reindeer. Early on, Hermey, the only elf at the Pole with thick wavy blond hair, knows the standard elfin life is not for him. (Hermey’s odd name could be a tribute to the ancient god Hermes or to the venerable Hermès fashion house.) He wants to be a dentist, but is told in no uncertain terms that such a path is unacceptable. Elves make toys. He must conform. No break for him. While the other elves presumably drink cocoa and eat Keebler cookies, Hermey is forced to suppress his true self and bang out more toy trains. Hermey can’t do it. Hermey won’t do it! Instead, he sings melodic lines penned by Johnny Marks: “Why am I such a misfit? I am not just a nitwit. You can’t fire me, I quit. Seems I don’t fit in.”

Oh, Hermey, I feel your pain. And, please, I have nothing against elves. Tangential confession: When I was in grade three, I planned to leave home. Nothing against my family (then, at least); I had a higher calling. I decided to stay awake on Christmas Eve until not a creature was stirring and then scurry over to the fireplace to wait for Santa. I had to make my plea for the jolly guy to take me back to the Pole. I wanted to be an elf. No joke. Making toys for nice kids seemed like a noble profession.

Okay, so back to “Rudolph”, Hermey in my mind is clearly gay...and strong enough to break free from conventional expectations. While others admired Superman, Ironman and Batman, Hermey the elf was my hero. I suppose Hermey may be part of the reason I travel sixty kilometers each way to see my gay dentist.

So we’ve got Hermey figured out. How about Rudolph? True, he crushes on that young doe, Clarice. And he becomes gay in the “happy” sense at the very least. Rudy may not be gay, but he would certainly join a gay-straight alliance if they had one at reindeer school. Accustomed to rejection and ridicule, Hermey and Rudy are initially tentative. “You don’t mind my nose?” asks Rudolph, to which the elf responds, “Not if you don’t mind that I’m a—“ wait for it—“dentist.” In a precious part of the script, Hermey and Rudy agree to become independent...together. Rudolph also represents being different and being shunned. He questions himself, singing the same tune as Hermey with a different final line: “Why don’t I fit in?”

Poor Rudolph. Growing up is tough when you don’t feel “normal”. The name calling. The shame that his own parents project. My gosh, they insist that he cover up the part of him that makes him different.

Intolerance comes to a head when Rudolph’s true nose is uncovered at the testosterone-heavy reindeer school, a place where Coach Comet states, “My job is to make bucks out of you.” The coach, in fact, takes the lead in shunning the different pupil, telling his other students, “We won’t let him play in our games.” Even the supposedly benevolent Santa condemns the red-nosed reindeer upon discovery of his uniqueness, saying to the father, “Donner, you should be ashamed of yourself.” As I watch the show now, the behaviors of the elf supervisor, Santa, Donner and Coach Comet are far scarier than those of The Abominable Snow Monster.

I so empathized with the rejected reindeer.

But writer Romeo Muller (adapting the short story by Robert May) drives the theme of being different home with more examples. As a team, Hermey and Rudy set off on their own. They encounter an eccentric by the name of Yukon Cornelius who seeks his fortune in silver and gold. Though rough around the edges, Cornelius does not hesitate to befriend and assist Rudy and Hermey. “Climb aboard, mateys.” Full acceptance. You are who you are.

And to drive home the point about differences, the trio drift onto The Island of Misfit Toys. They meet the unwanted, the unloved, the banished: Charlie-in-the-box, a spotted elephant, a “choo choo with square wheels”, a cowboy who rides an ostrich, and a water pistol that shoots jelly. Rudy and Hermey think they have found a refuge, but they cannot stay. The island is for toys, not living creatures (a seemingly technical distinction since the toys talk, sing, dance and express feelings). They do not even belong among other misfits.

Rudolph sets off on his own in the night, fearing his unique trait will continue to bring detection and danger from the fierce Abominable Snow Monster. Eventually Rudolph reunites with family but he fails to fend the monster from Clarice and Rudolph’s parents. Cornelius and Hermey (yes, my childhood hero!) save the day. Hermey’s dental skills prove essential in reforming the formerly beastly “bumble”.

And because this is one of those happily ever after tales, Rudolph, Hermey and even The Abominable Snow Monster are welcomed back at Christmastown. The adults finally show acceptance (though Coach Comet is silent). Hermey can be a dentist. Rudolph need not cover that distinct nose. The Not-So-Abominable creature can put the star atop the tree. Even the misfit toys are rounded up and delivered to homes where they will be welcomed and loved. Each is needed. Each is valued.

Produced forty-seven years ago, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was my annual dose of acceptance at a time when there were no openly gay role models. Am I being too egocentric in thinking that Hermey and Rudolph are all about the gays? Other minorities, others who feel they don’t fit in are most welcome to identify with the show and the characters. But I make no apologies for my own interpretation. “Rudolph” continues to entertain while also nudging society to be more open, more tolerant, more loving.

Watch it again. Sing along to the timeless tunes. Most importantly, think about the message.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

QUESTIONS

Nothing new in this post. It’s just me spinning in the same old spot.

In my twenties, I thought I knew it all. Even though, deep down, I knew I didn’t. There were many adult things I did not want to grasp. Stocks. Home ownership. “Murder, She Wrote.” Still, I had a clear sense of how to foster a loving relationship. Even if said relationship was only a hypothetical. I did not date ANYONE until I was twenty-five.

In my thirties, I may have actually known it all. Seriously. Everything clicked. Real relationship with a seemingly perfect partner. Heritage house. Pet. Job with growing leadership responsibilities. Potential everywhere! I was set for life.

Or at least until my forties. Relationship? Gone. Not a single hopeful sign in that area. House? Got one, but it’s a dead weight that I cannot seem to shake. It’s like the Hotel California: You can check-in anytime you’d like, but you can never leave. Job? It’s gruelling and utterly thankless. There is no time to savor a moment of success as more crises demand URGENT attention. Crises that began from the actions of others. I am the professional sanitation worker, expected to clean up everyone else’s mess. Pet? One of my beloved dogs died in March and I still miss him terribly, but at least I have my other one to be nonjudgmental, to pretend I am the greatest thing since sliced bananas, to get upset when any other dog seeks my attention. (Yes, dogs dig me. Gay men? Not so much.)

Life is now as much a puzzle as it was in my teen years. I am left with a long list of questions, but at the top of the list is, What happened?!

I know I have many changes to make, but the waiting is maddening. When will my house sell (if it sells)? When will I be approved to return to the U.S. (if at all)? What kind of peon job will I get while I strive to make it as a writer? And will I make it? Will all the changes turn out to be foolish in retrospect?

If there is someone for everyone, where is my guy? What if he has lost his way due to the ex-gay movement? What if I leave Vancouver when he was here all along, always walking the seawall ten minutes before or after me? What if he’s in L.A. and settles for someone else before I get here? How long will I have to sigh longingly as moviemakers lead me to believe Mr. Right is a fender bender away?

What if there really isn’t someone for everyone? Why shouldn’t I be one of the have nots?

No more questions, please. I have enough uncertainty despite decades of experience. To modify a common expression, the more I live, the less I know.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

DRIFTING AWAY FROM DOCTOR DREAD

I am the squeamish sort. I have fainted twice at doctors’ offices. I also passed out watching a film about the heart in high school biology. I have had to lie on the cold tiled floor of the bathroom outside a medical office after having a couple of moles removed. I have had ear and eye exams interrupted as the light-headed, cold, clammy symptoms surfaced. Yes, I am not just squeamish. I am a medical anomaly.

Any doctor’s visit brings uncertainty and anxiety. When I had my wisdom teeth removed, the specialist refused to put me under because I didn’t have anyone to drive me home. (I felt a cab would be fine.) He had barely begun when my semi-controlled moaning noises became too much for him. He screamed at me and then said, “I don’t care. You’re going under!” Fine by me.

Another doctor who seemed homophobic in the first place did not take kindly to my skittishness and went out of his way to make the examination unpleasant. In the end, he stated that he did not want to see me again. Again, fine by me.

I carefully selected my current doctor, putting out feelers among friends. Wanted: doctor with amazing patience for nervous patients. Thankfully, I found just the right person. He is a gay doctor who matter-of-factly asks the relevant questions about sexual health and seems genuinely amused by my nervous, fast-paced banter and by the bottle of O.J. that I bring along in case I feel faint. He takes his time. I get the impression that he extends the chat during the examination, viewing my behaviours as a quirky change of pace. At the very least, it must provide for interesting banter in the break room.

Today was my first appointment in three years. Yes, even though I have found the right doctor, I don’t go out of my way to visit. The office is one of my few exposures to the gay world as the other doctors are also gay and the waiting room is always filled with gay patients who intently eye the entrance door every time a new person walks in. Never thought of going to the doctor as an opportunity for cruising.

Beside the coat rack was a stack of the local gay newspaper, Xtra West, which I haven’t come across since moving out of Vancouver’s West End in June. As I waited forty-five minutes—okay, it seems my doctor dawdles with all his patients—I noticed a couple of assistants retrieving files and calling patients’ names. The assistants were both hunky, buff eye candy in tight shirts. My gosh, my doctor’s office is the gay equivalent to Hooters!

It’s all a bit surreal, but I suppose the übergay atmosphere provides enough distraction to take the edge off. I passed my physical by not fainting. The doctor did have to say, “Just relax” nine times—yes, I counted as a way to amuse myself. Still, I didn’t even reach for the orange juice and this is the first time that I can recall that the tin paper sheet on the examining table wasn’t soaked through when I got up. Progress! A phone number might have been a nice bonus, but that would have been pushing it.

Medical breakthrough? Sure. Medical miracle? Forget about it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

WHAT TO DO ABOUT BULLYING—PART TWO

UNDERSTANDING THE MINDSET OF THE “VICTIM”

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. Has there ever been a more inane commonly quoted expression? Few of us can definitively point to the spot where Joey Biagetti bruised an arm after we dropped the easy-out pop fly that gave the other team the winning run. We may, however, remember his brother Lenny calling us “uglier than dog shit”. Whether it’s five or fifty years after our escaping from school, we recall the most menacing putdowns. We’ve all had our names made fun of. Weight, degree of attractiveness and intelligence are all common sore spots as we navigate our way through childhood and adolescence. Often, it’s not so much about what was said, but who said it and where it was said.

Back then, we could all point to the easy targets. They were the ones who would wither and weep. The reaction was the payoff. When I was growing up, parents offered children two common “strategies” to react to those who taunted, teased, pinched, punched and bullied: (1) Just ignore it; or (2) Fight back. From what I observed and from my own experiences, neither tactic proved effective. Ignoring had the effect of internalizing the growing anguish and fighting back invited an even stronger physical response from the adversary.

Somehow, most of us made it through. When I read the comment sections related to online articles about teens who commit suicide after being bullied, some of the reactions perplex and sadden me. The line of thinking goes like this: I got teased, I didn’t take my life; people can’t be so sensitive. If most of us have gone through some degree of harassment, shouldn’t that foster a greater empathy rather than a dismissive judgment?

There is a term I learned during my first year of law school: the eggshell plaintiff. Some people crack more easily than others. If we are already aware of one person’s greater vulnerability, then our behavior is expected to change. If not, we are liable for our actions. You handle a box marked FRAGILE more carefully. Greater care is required with certain people as well. Children understand this at a fairly young age. They know who is more sensitive. They know that a joke made to one peer will be viewed as a putdown to another. It is clear from who the taunter/teaser/pincher/puncher targets that he is also highly aware of these differences in people.

Aside from the common subjects that irk us, there are certain topics that generate even greater sensitivity. An ESL student will be more sensitive if people make fun of his accent or his cultural background. A child of a different race is rightfully offended by comments about skin color, particularly if he is in the minority in that particular environment. The same goes for someone struggling with his sexual orientation.

I have worked with children for many years and, while having friends is important at any age, the need to belong becomes even greater when they reach twelve or thirteen. They become aware of whether they are popular or unpopular. The group way of being is more important than the individuality that adolescents are simultaneously trying to achieve. Walk through a mall or down a school hallway and watch how teens form packs that are seemingly unaware of others trying to pass by. Listen to how they talk louder than necessary. It is, in part, to impress their group but also to let others know that their commentary, however trivial, is more meaningful and more animated than anything happening on The Outside.

The dynamics of adolescence create the perfect storm for a person trying to understand his sexual identity. Just as the young teen boy grapples with the fact he may like boys in a different way from just being friends, he also feels that need to belong to the dominant group. Of course, the easiest way to belong to the dominant group is to be like the dominant group. Gayness is an obstacle, even a burden. While we all can identify teens who confidently, even defiantly, break free from social expectations, they stand out because they are the exception. The rest of the teens who know deep down that they are different struggle with the angst. Why me? Why can’t I be like everyone else? For a teenager who thinks he may be gay, each option brings its own problems. To come out presents the significant risk of external turmoil in the form of rejection, ridicule and physical harm. To suppress one’s identity deprives the individual of the rites of passage that come with teen dating. Moreover, the person faces internal turmoil from lying to oneself, to one’s family and friends. The gayness becomes something that is hated and resented. Either path brings long-term implications.

I do not mean to dismiss the challenges of other minorities, but a black teen has a black family that has (hopefully) instilled a sense of pride about his race. This teen can talk to his family when someone makes a racist comment. Beyond family support, there are also resources at school. He can get the support of a teacher and/or principal. He has observed the dominant white society make at least passing positive mention of his race on Martin Luther King Day and during Black History Month. Yes, racism still exists but there are opportunities for redress or, at least, a sympathetic ear.

A gay teen typically does not have gay family members in his household. His family has not modeled a sense of gay pride. He is unsure of who to talk to at school for support. How does he even raise the subject? What good will it do? Conversely, what harm will it do? Most likely, he has observed many incidents in which “gay” has been used in a derogatory manner.

“That’s so gay.”
“Don’t be gay.”
“Shut up, gay boy.”
“Ew, how gay!”

Rarely would a student correct the person making the comment. Teachers and administrators are often selectively deaf.

The putdown, no matter how indirect or seemingly disconnected to sexuality, means little to anyone who is not gay. Whatever. Shrug it off. Easy to do when the comment has no relevance to one’s true identity.

One’s homosexuality is a not something clearly known at birth, at five or ten years of age. Understanding, accepting and loving oneself as a gay person is further muddled by the frequency of the gay putdowns and jokes. Peers are not the only ones who exhibit homophobia. A gay kiss on television continues to draw criticism from groups that purport to advocate for family values. Many religions and denominations denounce homosexuality. Politicians still use homophobic stances to gain votes and to deepen campaign coffers. Homosexuality is portrayed as sinful, sick and a danger to the ideals of society. How does an isolated gay teen tune out the hateful rhetoric? How does he find vindication when homosexuality remains fodder for scathing “humor” and much-publicized slurs from celebrities who later retract their remarks as if they were mere slips of the tongue, on a par with an unexpected belch at the dinner table?

There are many who wonder why an apology is not enough. They wonder why gay teens and twentysomethings can’t be more resilient. Just ignore them. Show your inner strength. These people are naive. They do not understand the long-term process most gays and lesbians have to work through in coming to terms with coming out. Am I gay? is a question that can take years to figure out. It is a question the person usually has to figure out while alone and isolated. Once a person gets to “yes”, the Now what? takes at least as long to figure out.

The vulnerability remains during the entire process. This is why even the most confident, out gay teens suffer setbacks. External ridicule and hatred can reignite self-hatred and despair. In those moments, an “It Gets Better” video may only frustrate the teen. You don’t understand! This is different. This is worse! How does an inconsolable individual find comfort in heartfelt testimonials of hope that may not come until five or ten years later? How does he hold on?

NEXT UP: HOW TO MAKE IT BETTER SOONER RATHER THAN LATER

Thursday, December 8, 2011

WHAT TO DO ABOUT BULLYING—PART ONE

A “VICTIM” IMPACT STATEMENT

I don’t think I ever used the word bully while I was in school. I had conflicts. There were people I avoided, even dreaded, especially when I was by myself. I was a perfect target, younger, scrawnier and more timid than my classmates. I was the type who would quietly “take it”, wise enough to know fighting back wouldn’t turn out so well and dim enough to only think of a decent retort hours later. I did get into a physical fight once in sixth grade and, gasp, “won”...if anyone really wins when a dispute comes to blows. I felt shame after the scrap. It was a completely out of character. I could not watch animals catch prey on Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom”. I turned away from boxing bouts, even if a Canadian was in contention for an Olympic medal. Pacifism trumped patriotism. Crime shows gave me nightmares. I even took detours in our living room to distance myself from my father’s display of antique rifles.

As a person trying to figure out my sexual identity, the years from twelve to twenty-four were the worst. I didn’t have to face one bully or a clear succession of bullies. Instead, I dealt with a culturally condoned mindset of hating gays. It seemed to be everywhere. In my high school in Texas, “fag” was the more common putdown than today’s automatic “gay” utterance. Common sense told me that the word was tossed around regularly, but anytime the slur hit me, I reddened and wanted to quit school, even quit life. “Fag?” Who me? No, it can’t be. I go to church. I hold doors open. How could I be a societal pariah?!

I couldn’t talk to my parents about the “fag” taunts. It’s okay when it’s not true, but as much as I tried to deny my feelings, I knew the word might have some validity. Fred was hotter than Daphne on “Scooby Doo”. I lingered too long on the wrong underwear ads. I marveled at Peter Frampton’s hair, not Farrah’s. Faggot. What if this hateful, belittling word truly defined me? How could I open up to my parents about something I hadn’t figured out myself? How could I tell them about something that made me feel such shame? I couldn’t talk to a counsellor or teacher. Compassion? Hell, no. Ninety percent of the town was Baptist. Church and Republican leaders made it clear: To be gay was to be a product of the devil.

I NEVER heard an adult address the constant “fag” remarks. I hypothesized that adults sanctioned the taunt as part of a survival of the fittest process. Let the real fags die out. Gays were the modern witches,...that was how I identified with Hester Prynne in our class novel, The Scarlet Letter.



Instead of fighting others, I fought with myself. How could I like boys? The inner conflict continued into university. I wrote suicide notes and dramatically held handfuls of pills in the palm of my shaky hand. I latched onto the common hypothesis that homosexuals were the product of domineering mothers and absent father figures. It was true! My father had played little part in my growing up, after all. I tried to cure myself, thinking a strong male best friend would satisfy the need to connect with a guy and quell the sexual urges. I put unrealistic expectations on my guy friends. They constantly let me down. I blamed them.

If they were better friends, the urge would go away.

I battled anorexia during my sophomore year of university. Everything seemed beyond my control and I found satisfaction in having power over my body. The routine was simple: diet sodas as meal replacements all day and then a big meal around four in the afternoon. Already thin, I lost fifty pounds in three months. Still, I viewed the wrinkles on my shirt as tufts of lard. I felt fat. No matter how much weight I lost, the plan stayed the same: Just five more pounds…

My friends held an intervention. Despite the fact I still failed the Special K Pinch (Kellogg’s should have been sued for this outrageous pitch), they insisted my face was gaunt. “You look sick,” they insisted. “You look awful.” And, as always, the external judgment hit me hard. I twisted “awful” into “ugly”.

I could very well have killed myself twenty-five years ago during one of those nights when I sat and wept on the bathroom floor. Stabbing, shooting, jumping from high places all presented too violent scenarios. Being a lifelong wuss saved me. I’d never be able to pull off an overdose. I’d mess up and then go through stomach-pumping torture in a hospital. Maybe they’d hook me up to tubes and jab me with needles. Maybe there would be an obstruction and they’d cut me open. Thankfully, I feared all things medical.

Somehow I made it through. The best decision I made was moving from Texas to California to soften the stifling religious judgment. While I survived, I have battled with my body image for four decades. Calories and fat weigh on my mind during every meal, every snack. I am currently trim, having implemented a six-day a week workout regimen over the summer. I have a four-pack in the abdominal area, a six-pack on particularly good mornings. My ribs show. And yet I still can pinch more than an inch from my sides. Damn Special K.

Over time, I turned self-hate into self-deprecation. I mock myself before anyone has a chance. There was once an edge to it, but now it’s pure humor. I think the comments even when there isn’t an audience. I react with a smile, even a chuckle. What once scratched off old scabs now serves as a reminder to not take myself so seriously.

I don’t wallow in my past, but the impact shaped who I am. There is greater acceptance in areas where I choose to live. Some instances of intolerance are harder to identify as overt homophobia has gone underground. I remain guarded during any interaction with any seemingly straight male. My voice and my gestures may instantly expose my gayness. I’m fine with it, but is he? Yes, there is a fear of the unknown. That fear exists on both sides of a fence that still divides. That fence may be lower than I perceive it to be. Like it or not, my past experiences help define my present outlook.

NEXT UP: UNDERSTANDING THE MINDSET OF A GAY TEEN

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

WORLD AIDS DAY: BYGONE BUDDIES

Twenty years ago, Stephen dreamed of becoming a successful actor. Like so many such dreamers, he moved to Los Angeles to see if he could make a go of it. He befriended others who were interested in the arts, joined several choirs, tried out for musical productions and even appeared as cast member in a television pilot for NBC. Unfortunately, the network passed on developing the pilot into a series. To pay the bills, he took jobs in catering and eventually started his own catering company.

Stephen lit up every time we talked about television or movies. He was appalled over how few of the oldies I’d seen. When I confessed that black and white footage lulled me to sleep, he was aghast. Still, he felt it was his role to educate me. He made me watch Stephen Sondheim’s INTO THE WOODS and helped me realize that Bernadette Peters actually had talent beyond being a lackluster occasional guest on “The Carol Burnett Show”.

We had tea together and enjoyed kosher chocolate macaroons (after I mistakenly picked up a dozen that weren’t kosher). Stephen regularly prodded me for information about my first love. He let me know I deserved to be in love. He listened as I unloaded my insecurities.

Stephen would be 49 years old now.

Nineteen years ago, I met Don. Don lived in a tiny bungalow in Venice with his life partner who had gone blind. Don liked having me over as a distraction from all the needs of his partner. We’d go out to Santa Monica restaurants. Knowing I was a vegetarian, he introduced me to a wonderful Buddhist Chinese restaurant where I later took my parents—I confess to delighting in seeing how awkward my father was in pretending to like eating mock duck but that could be the start of a completely different blog post. Don raised orchids. He talked of them like they were his children. I decided it best not to share that I preferred tulips.

On one evening, I picked up Don to go to our favorite Italian restaurant. I took a shortcut through a neighborhood and we came upon a crowd marching in the street. “Good for them,” I thought. Everyone in the crowd was black and they voiced their anger over the not guilty verdicts announced that day in the Rodney King beating trial. As we idled at a stop sign, a bullet pierced and shattered the backseat window. Had Don not been with me, I might have frozen in panic. I had to protect him. By then, he walked with a cane. If I didn’t get us out of there, if we were swarmed, how would he cope? Only when we pulled up beside the restaurant did my hands begin to shake uncontrollably. Only after I dropped Don off after dinner did I burst into tears to let out the pressure that had built up from the danger I had put us in.

Don probed me to find out how my first love crashed and burned. He offered encouragement, chipping away at the walls I was putting up. Even though I didn’t believe him when he said I was a catch, his words provided a healthy counterbalance as I frequently replayed in my mind all the mistakes I’d made in love. If I wallowed too long, Don would refocus me. “So…it seems soup now gives me diarrhea, too.” He’d put things in perspective.

Don would be 71 today.

Stephen died in 1992, Don the following year. They were my Buddies, PWAs (persons with AIDS) who requested a little extra emotional support from AIDS Project Los Angeles. Stephen the dreamer and Don the pragmatist were both very different from me. Still, we bonded. They empowered me, they helped me feel like I was doing something besides living in fear at a time when AIDS remained a death sentence, when I could walk the streets of West Hollywood and see the gaunt faces of the ones who had only months, perhaps weeks left to live. Most of my friends got quiet as we passed them. Conversation abruptly paused. They looked away. By getting to know Stephen and Don, I learned not to look away. I offered a warm smile and mentally passed on encouraging, albeit naive thoughts. Hang on. Take care of yourself. You are loved.
Being with Stephen and Don, I saw how one family gathered around while another refused to have any connection with their son. I watched as Stephen’s roommate coped with one-liners, while a Don’s lover lost all ability to care for himself much less Don. Don’s partner moved into a hospice in the worst part of Los Angeles, a place that reeked of urine and appeared more depressing than any hospital. Stephen talked as though AIDS was a temporary setback, a nagging condition a little more persistent than the flu. Don recited the names of all his friends who’d already died. He talked about his funeral and relatives who were not welcome.

As both Stephen and Don’s bodies shut down, their inner strength remained strong. While it is true that I only met each of them months after the initial diagnosis, neither one asked “Why me?” They lived in the moment, dealing with the present physical challenges while yearning for an outsider like me to share bits of normalcy.

I learned that a quiet moment holding someone’s hand while hooked up to a morphine drip lingers longer and comforts more than the cheery story I thought of on the drive over. Because of them, I became more compassionate. When my grandmother was ill, I removed myself from the family dinner and sat at her bedside, allowing her to whisper a few thoughts, letting her see my familiar smile. My grandmother, a lifelong worrier, relaxed. Her breathing became easier, her mood brightened a tad. “Where did you learn that?” my bewildered mother asked.

I think of Stephen and Don often, particularly Stephen. I think about the contributions to the lives of others that they made and the greater contributions they could have made. I honor Stephen on every bike ride, letting the water from in the Strait of Georgia lap over my front tire at the far end of my journey, much like we dipped the wheels of his wheelchair in the Pacific during a trip to Santa Barbara during the final month of his life. That little ritual keeps me connected.

I remember Stephen and Don. I miss them. I think of all the others who died from AIDS, gone too soon, missed by too many.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

THANK YOU, HARVEY MILK

Long before Ellen Degeneres graced that magazine cover and Dan Savage inspired youth with the "It Gets Better" campaign, Harvey Milk became the first openly gay man elected to public office in California. He told us we didn't have to hide, he encouraged us to come out...in our hometowns or to San Francisco.



On this day in 1978, he was assassinated by Twinkie-eating Dan White. With thanks to the incredibly detailed writing of Randy Shilts and the Oscar-winning movie penned by Dustin Lance Black and starring Sean Penn, Harvey Milk lives on as a martyr and as a figure who represents the need to fight for change and full acceptance.




Let's march on, inspired by Milk's speech about hope.


Thank you, Harvey.

Monday, November 21, 2011

THE DEEJAY FROM DUBAI IS RUINING MY LIFE!

No, this is not about being overexposed to songs by Britney or LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” (but if you ask me, Right Said Fred had a lot more fun with the subject of egomania).
You can, however, surmise that this is one of my shallow posts. You’ve been warned.

I suppose it’s even shallower when you realize this isn’t the first time I’ve written about my hair. But then you—or some other reader—may be equally fixated on follicle follies. HIGHLIGHTS OF SUMMER remains my most-read post. (I’m sure it has nothing to do with the shirtless shot of David Beckham. Sometimes the writing just crackles, right?)

Here’s the “problem”: I’m overdue for a haircut. Three weeks overdue! Every morning I awaken to a nightmare. Something like this. At 47, one might think I am flaunting the fact that I still have a full head of hair. But this goes beyond fullness.

I have clown hair.

All I need to do is spray the rainbow colors into my curly mop and put on a pair of who-knows-how-many-feet-have-been-in-‘em bowling shoes. It’s enough to make Mary Richards cry that I’m not dead.

So how did I become an afro-topped, mullet-backed tragedy? It’s all about stylist loyalty. I can’t cheat on her. I should. I am entitled to. She had the nerve to get chummy online with a deejay from Dubai. Skype chats, text messages,...who knows what else? And he had the nerve to break the virtual barrier and fly here for a visit. They have two weeks to turn a techno-crush into true love. My stylist took no bookings for the first half of November.

Now I’m all for people finding love. Unless, that is, my hair has to suffer. It can’t work. What if she moves to Dubai? How can she leave me?

Is this what it’s come to? As a chronically single man, I am now reading more into casual service relationships. Oh, no! What next? What if Tara quits her job as barista at the Starbucks on Hastings? What if Mabel—or is it Mavis?—walks away from her job (and me) as the weekend librarian?

Egad! I’m not so monogamous! Okay,...easy. One possible breakup at a time. Back to Carrie. We’ve been seeing each other for five years. Initially, she was just my rebound hair stylist after Christine up and moved with her husband and child to the B.C. Interior. (She had the audacity to want an affordable family home!) Surprisingly, Carrie and I clicked. Yes, opposites do attract. I’m a guy. She’s not. She’s a big-dog gal. I’m a small pup dude. (Though, really, I must cringe at calling myself a “dude”. I’ll never be a surfer—don’t like all that sand getting in my swimsuit.) She has ink art expanding across her shoulders, arms and legs while I can’t even handle temporary tattoos for the Terry Fox Run. She always fits in crass remarks about her vagina—or someone else’s? I try not to listen too closely. I joke about how six-year-olds relate to the world. Somehow it all works. Except, of course when she’s not working.

I won’t try a haircut from the lady two streets down from me. She can’t even prune her hedge right. Who knows what horrors will happen in the darkness of her makeshift basement salon?! I confess that I have gone online at looked up other hairdressers. City folks. A ferry ride away. Carrie will never know. Except she will. She will recognize the uneven line in the back. She’ll notice that someone got lazy and finished up with a razor instead of shears.

Why am I fretting? She gave me permission to cheat. Still, I can’t do it. I have this mole that new folks always nick. I don’t like it when a stylist massages my temples during the shampooing. Certain smocks make me look fat. And what if I have to spend forty-five minutes in a chair listening to a Susan Boyle CD?

There are too many risks that come with cheating.

So here I am, the eternally loyal, risk-averse schmuck who has to avoid glancing at myself in mirrors until The Return of Carrie. Sound like a horror movie? Let me reiterate: clown hair. There are many who get wigged out by the imagery.

So I wait things out. In a fortnight, peace will be restored. In the meantime, I’m going hat shopping...even though I hate anything on my head. Do hats come in XXL? At least ‘tis the season for toques.

Thank you for reading. I promise to spare you any more fretful reflections of my bad hair days in the near future.

Unless, of course, Carrie is Dubai bound. Then I’ll be looking for a support group. And, of course, another salon chair where I can plop down, clench-grip the arms and sweat profusely as I begin a whole new relationship.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

CHILDISH EXPECTATIONS

I think of myself as an avid swimmer, but somehow I let sixteen months lapse between laps. When the pool in town closed for summer maintenance in July 2010, I filled the void with jogging and cycling. Then I got consumed with work and comforted myself with a few too many Starbucks scones. You think horizontal stripes make you look fat? Try strutting by the pool in a Speedo. I stayed away.

I’m back down to my ideal weight and decided to get back in the pool today. As I drove into town, I prepped myself with positive self talk. You’re gonna suck. But you’re supposed to suck. That’s what happens when you lounge for a year and a half. Those scones aren’t even tasty! Okay, well, that’s as cheery as I could muster. I fell back into every sports scenario of my childhood.

Long before the confusion over my sexual identity chipped away at my self-esteem, my athletic shortcomings tormented me. (For many of us, there seems to be a link.) Dreams of becoming an NHL hockey star were put on ice after two seasons in which I scored a single goal—one of those flukes for which we berate Luongo—and had learned nothing other than remembering to take off my skate guards before stepping onto the rink.

My father tried to teach me how to throw a football, but I whined too much. “Why do they make it so hard to hold? Did they really kill a pig for this?”

Baseball was okay, I suppose, until they took away the t-ball stand and got a harder ball. You’re throwing that awfully close to where I’m standing. I’m going to duck. I did learn to hit the ball over the fence, but I had the wrong sport...tennis, not baseball. (I loved running off to search for the tennis ball, getting sidetracked by chestnuts and clover patches. Heck, if I ever found a four-leafer, all my luck would turn around.)

In P.E., we always lined up against the wall for picking teams. Even though I knew the drill, I wilted a little more each time the final picks came down to me and Mary Novakovich. I’m not religious, but I feel compelled to say God bless Mary. Without her, there wouldn’t have been any suspense. Or hope.

I tried to rationalize my athletic ineptitude. I skipped a grade and, due to a late birthday, was nearly two years younger than many classmates. Of course, the argument proved faulty when we stuck around after school to play soccer with the younger kids. I was picked dead last every time. I don’t remember, but I’m guessing Mary had piano lessons...or a macramé project to finish.

Eventually, my sports deficiencies collided with my awkwardness toward the same sex and locker rooms and gyms became my personal hell. Moving to Texas, where every school had an athletic director and a sizable stadium with lights, things only got worse. There was a hierarchy: football, basketball, baseball, track,...and, not that it mattered but, everything else. I spent two weeks in regular P.E. with guys who’d failed a few grades and didn’t own sneakers. Escaped by signing up for the swim team. I sucked, but it was an individual sport so, as long as the coach kept me off the relays—and, yes, she did—I didn’t have to worry about letting other people down.

Still, I get anxious whenever I walk into a new gym and even when I sign up for a gay sports program. The past is hard to shake. Jumping back in the pool today was important. There were three fit men my age and we had two lanes to share. When I used to swim regularly, I often had a lane to myself. I certainly didn’t want company as I struggled with my form and endurance.

Fortunately, the other cardio work I’ve been doing helped. I took a few extra breaks, but I swam three kilometers and lapped the other swimmers many times. The stranger part was that one of the men chatted with me after the swim. Oh, he’s one of those talkers who probably converses with the microwave when his wife heads out for groceries. But the topic of conversation threw me. He talked to me like I was a jock. He thought I should be doing triathlons, asked me about running distances and then recommended that I try a cycling track in Burnaby.

One part of the above bears repeating: He talked to me like I was a jock. Me?! There was no sarcasm in his voice, no audience in the background to snicker. I flashed back to fourth grade, Mary folding her arms, glaring at the captains through her thick glasses. On that day, she was second to last. I glanced down at my untied shoelace, waiting that infinite second before Steven Miller begrudgingly called my name. Yes, I’d be the clear weak spot for Red Rover. The memory sticks even when circumstances change.

Friday, November 11, 2011

LOSING IT

I used to dress well. I had a look. Clean, conservative, but with splashy accessories. What happened?

Should I blame Vancouver? The city is not known for fashion. Plaid is always in style. People dress for hiking even when headed to work or dinner. No, it can’t be Vancouver’s fault. I never bought into the outdoorsy look. I can’t fake it as a hiker. I don’t like mud. Hiking boots are too bulky. And I still don’t know if I’m supposed make some noise or play dead if I stumble upon a bear.

So then my rural home setting of the past six years must be a factor in my fashion slide. Last weekend I went on another quest for the latest issue of GQ. The guy at the gas station stared back blankly. Seems I was spouting random letters. GQ, SB, LMNOP. I didn’t even bother to ask at the drug store. I’m still peeved that they only get a shipment of Entertainment Weekly every other week. Read the cover—it’s not Entertainment Biweekly! But I digress. Must stop scratching old wounds. I suppose local retailers are just being practical. Retirees and mill workers aren’t seeking out an article about “how to brave the cold in style”. The John Deere cap and hockey jersey are all-season wear.

Fashion has no place here. Case in point. On Saturday, I saw two people nonchalantly walk into cafés in town wearing flannel pajama bottoms. Where’s the sign?! No real pants, no service. I will never step foot in Mark’s Wearhouse, the only men’s clothing retailer, but I am guessing they had a 50% off sale of loungewear. Irresistible, eh? Why wait for bedtime?

But no. I am certain that the blue collar, multi-paint-stained jean look has not influenced my wardrobe. Basically, my fall from fashion can be attributed to shingles and logs. As a homeowner, anything I had in savings—and then some—rests on the new roof that I have to climb up a hill to even see. Okay, it’s not just the roof. There’s the new flooring, new lighting, new ceilings, new heating, new drywall, new paint. The NEW IMPROVED house is most impressive…even if my dog fails to comment. The “For Sale” sign still isn’t on the front lawn as more fix-ups arise. Sadly, I won’t recoup any of the expenditures. I’m just trying to minimize my losses.

And then there are the logs. I’ve walked by them countless times and they never seem to notice my $120 designer hoodie, my Michael Kors jeans and my perfectly matched belt, socks and shoes. Those damn logs just sit there like, well, logs. I can’t think of anyone or anything else to try to impress. Here’s the hard truth—oh, I can’t believe I am saying this: Fashion doesn’t matter. Not here, not now. Maybe I really have hit rock bottom!

At work today, I dressed up. I reached into the back of my closet and pulled out a classic suit. I found the shirt and tie I’d bought specifically for the suit. I polished my shoes and put on my ultrasoft olive Hugo Boss topcoat. And the kids loved it! Especially the coat. “I like your cape,” one of them said. Sigh. He meant well. Another commented, “You look like a mystery solver.” Yes, she likened me to Sherlock Holmes, that incredibly popular fictional dude from the nineteenth century. Not sure how to take that.

I’m weeding my collection, bidding sad adieus to Armani sweaters that belong on “The Cosby Show” and faded Ralph Lauren dress shirts and frayed Hilfiger slacks. I am sure there are designers and styles to replace my old favorites, but I would need to consult a current issue of GQ. Something tells me I’m not going to learn the right things watching “The Big Bang Theory.”

If I ever do move, here’s hoping I can regain some fashion flair. I fear that beer tees, knee-high black socks and Dockers khaki shorts are hovering above, ready to swoop down and curse me for life in fashion hell. Makes me want to don my ripped, balsamic-vinegar-stained, too short pajama bottoms and curl up in bed. Damn, I need new sheets too.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

UNTITLED

There are moments of writing when I discover something fresh and exciting. One such occasion hit me this morning while I sat on the ferry at 6:45, reviewing my chapter notes and beginning to draft a query letter for my untitled novel.

I have a file on my laptop with a list of a dozen possible titles and thought I’d committed to one, but tellingly I never put that name atop the manuscript. I began this project two years ago during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I simply saved it each draft as “NANOWRIMO” for lack of anything more inspiring. The name came during a five-minute brainstorm where I typed a stream of titles on the same theme. Then, The One hit. So clear! (Aside: If only searching for a guy brought a similar moment of clarity and exhilaration.) I typed it and then jotted down my rationale and the multiple meanings. My feet began contorting, rocking and shooting outward as I sat in the snack bar area amongst a cluster of way too chatty early morning commuters. A leap or a happy dance might have effectively let out all the energy, but I am too reserved.

I have struggled with titles since elementary school. I had no tolerance for the standard teacher directions at the outset of writing activities. “Put your name on your paper and then write your title.” Just because the title appears at the top, why should it be written first?

Oh, you can change it later.

Sure. Go into an elementary classroom and watch how much changing young writers do. They don’t! Nobody teaches revising. Sad, but true. The title gets scrawled in pencil, but it might as well be in permanent marker. A quickly determined title limits the writer’s creativity or becomes a mismatch to the subsequent story. Young writers learn to write safe headlines. “The Dog”. “My Thanksgiving”. “The Scariest Moment of My Life”. Ho hum. Is it recess yet?

My wise editor for my first novel knew I was not committed to the title I’d attributed to the manuscript at the time the publisher accepted it for publication. She didn’t fret. “It will come to you at the right time. You’ll know it when it comes.”

And, yes, for this second novel, I do know it! Hooray. Except, I’m not sharing it. Not just yet. Nobody has green-lit the work yet. I reserve the right to change my mind. What if a fresher, more exciting idea pops in my head? Heck, that happy dance may happen after all.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

BOY MEETS BOY: A NOVEL FOR GAY TEENS (and the rest of us)




The first couple of chapters of David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy (Knopf, 2003) take some getting used to. I had to keep rereading lines.

What is this...a fantasy?

Paul is a sophomore in high school. He is also a happily adjusted, fully out gay adolescent. His kindergarten teacher outed him by writing on his report card, “PAUL IS DEFINITELY GAY AND HAS A VERY GOOD SENSE OF SELF.” (Paul eyeballed the document on his teacher’s desk. Apparently, Paul was also an advanced reader. Alphabet, schmalphbet.) In third grade, he campaigned for class president with the slogan, “VOTE FOR ME...I’M GAY!” And, yes, he won. He had a boy date for the fifth grade dance and formed a gay-straight alliance in sixth grade along with a fourth-grade lesbian.

Is this an alternate universe? Is this set in 2211?!

The backstory isn’t all rosy. Paul was beat up in eighth grade as the two perpetrators grunted gay slurs, but a group of friends from the fencing team come to the rescue instead of being the passive bystanders we often read about in news articles. Another student regularly refers to him as Gay Boy, but it is almost a term of endearment. This is, after all, a high school where the quarterback of the football team is a drag queen with the moniker Infinite Darlene.

Oh, why couldn’t I have gone to this high school? Why couldn’t we all?

Paul’s self-acceptance and the matter-of-fact manner in which his family and peers regard his gayness make him a fictional gay hero. Perhaps even a superhero whose superpower is self-confidence, a mighty elusive trait among many gays, young and old.

Once the groundwork is laid and the surprise passes, Boy Meets Boy reads like a typical young adult novel. Paul is the centerpiece of a love triangle, the other players being Kyle, a former boyfriend who freaked out and dumped Paul but wants him back, and Noah, the new kid in town who is recovering from his own bad breakup with another guy. Guys openly dating guys—okay, it’s an atypical typical young adult novel.

I have to admit that there were times when I was awed by Paul, even envious. At other times, I wondered why Levithan took such a leap beyond reality. How common are these love triangles? I can’t stumble across a love line, let alone a triangle. Sheesh.

Thank goodness the author adds ANOTHER gay character, Tony. He’s a quiet thinker, living in a household where religion guides the family’s lifestyle and his parents’ response to the fact he is gay. I suspect gay readers will relate more to Tony than Paul. We may strive to evolve into a persona like Paul’s, but we face fears and obstacles as does Tony. The difference between Tony and many teens struggling with their sexuality is that Tony has a friend who is a supporter, a role model, even a nudge-nik. Tony is not alone.

This is a refreshing work of gay fiction. Aside from a little kissing, there is no sex. There is no gay hustler. There is no drug usage. While Infinite Darlene may be overly dramatic, the shock value arises from the normalcy of the characters and their interactions. Boy Meets Boy is a quick read that will surely help struggling gays to envision a better reality. It may get better sooner rather than later. If not, Paul and Tony may be the fictional friends needed to get through the now.

Friday, October 28, 2011

CECI N’EST PAS UNE PEEP



I’m not someone you’d describe as singularly focused. I may have my sights on moving to L.A., but that does not mean I’ve successfully tuned out the nagging thoughts of being forever single.

It’s silly really. This is not the time to think about finding love. When I lived in L.A. but dreamed of moving back to Canada, I knew I’d never find a lasting relationship under the palms. I told myself that I had to be in the place where I wanted to be first. Otherwise, my dream would only lead to frustration. Twice I fell in love in L.A. and twice I pitched moving to the land of igloos and no TVs. Both times my Northern ideation helped walls go up. How could the relationship feel stable when I was quite literally unsettled? Eleven months after the second breakup, I quit my law career, packed my car and headed to my home and native land. I had no idea what I would do for a job—turns out studying this video was not helpful—, but I sensed that my life would fall into place. Love would follow. Add a Tim Hortons donut and homemade veggie poutine and I’d live happily ever after.

Seventeen years later, I’m looking South. Whereas I only had four weeks from when I decided to move to Vancouver until I began the drive, my earliest date for a return to Los Angeles will be in July 2012. For the next nine months, I should tune out any ideas about finding love. It’s been a 7 ½-year wait so far...I have lots of reading and writing to bide my time. And I really should catch up on movie classics if I want to hone my screenwriting. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve seen “Pillow Talk” but not “Citizen Kane”. For shame!

Still, a little validation would be nice. My last real date was fourteen months ago. One-time coffee “dates” after online messages don’t count. They are just interviews. The reality is that I fail time and time again. “We’ll call you if we’re interested.” And the cell phone never awakens from deep sleep. I would welcome several dates with the same guy. Get beyond the standard bio exchange. When did you come out? How long have you been in B.C.? Where were you when you learned Ricky Martin was really and truly on our team? Yep, I’m tired of playing in the shallow end. Why doesn’t anyone want to venture to the other side of the pool,...even if only for a season?

It’s a long shot.

If not a string of dates, a few knowing looks would at least affirm that I am more alluring than the ho-hum pastries in the Starbucks display case.

Can’t a decent looking man takes his eyes off the cereal box display in Safeway and give me a peep? Consider it charity. Stares for the needy. Ogle away!

Hello? I exist. If I am stuck in the shallow end, why does it seem that everyone has their eyes shut when I wade in? How long must they play Marco Polo?

I might be better able to play the waiting game if I thought things will be better in Los Angeles, but I cannot kid myself. I remember the model/waiters, model/accountants, model/personal trainers. If I don’t warrant a glimpse here, any thought of standing out in L.A. is foolish California dreamin’.

Sigh. Spinsters may take refuge amongst colonies of cats, but I’ll have closets stacked with jigsaw puzzles. If I’m going to get nothing from time spent gazing elusive baby blues, I might as well lose my vision going bug-eyed staring at cryptic cardboard pieces of indistinguishable blue water. In the end, I might have something to show for my time.

But then, perhaps I’ll send out a final mating call. “Marco?”

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

TICK...TICK...TICK...TICK

When I was young and actually looked forward to birthdays, the countdown began at least two months beforehand. I’d browse the Sears catalog, take in the Saturday cartoon commercials, peruse the toy section at Eaton's Department Store and create ever-changing wish lists for parents and grandparents. (They needed to know that there were alternatives to woolen socks and books about the Hardy Boys.) Time crawled as the date neared. Same for Christmas, summer vacation and the start of a new season of “Rhoda”. Yeah, I was ecstatic when she married Joe, but I related more to Brenda.

If only Anticipation were satisfied as quickly as the slowly oozing stream of ketchup in a bottle of Heinz, coaxed along by the husky vocals of Carly Simon. So many waiting games are much more excruciating.

I am standing by my plan to move to Los Angeles in July 2012. That’s eight and a half months away. Yes, I’m counting down. Yes, I have a wish list. Make connections, land a lowly writer’s assistant gig, make more connections, sell a screenplay or move up to SENIOR writer’s assistant for a television show. (Senior writer’s assistant—that’s gotta be the guy who orders the pencils and makes lattés, not just regular coffee.) The problem is that I am hitting hurdles before even crossing the border.

Problem #1: My house. Now thirty years old, my house has started to show some wear and tear over the past year. I spent the summer calling laborers to do the necessary repairs and upgrades before I could list it. Calls went unanswered. Appointments got rescheduled. July turned to August. Materials became out of stock. Shipments were delayed. August segued into September. Still, I could see the finish line. The basement carpet that my now-deceased older dog had repeatedly soiled was replaced by laminate flooring. Dim lighting gave way to bright pot lights. Rooms that inexplicably never had any heating source were hooked up with baseboards. Views improved as windows with broken seals were removed. A drywaller filled in all the holes created by the electrician. The only thing left for me to do was to prime and paint the drywall.

And then it rained. Nothing extraordinary. Just a typical five-day streak of downpours and showers. Plop. Plop. Drops began to fall from the ceiling in one of the bedrooms. The aging roof pressed for retirement. Last week, I got a new roof. Now I need to get the drywaller back in to fix the ceiling. (I am sure his kids will be getting way better Christmas presents than woolen socks this year!) I spend my evenings searching for fortuitous deposits in my bank account—maybe I should help that Nigerian ambassador who keeps emailing me—and then planning the payment succession from credit card to line of credit to ???

Ah, but the money will come when the house sells. Right?

It will sell. Right?!

Despite dumping all that money into work that had to be done, selling the house will still be a huge challenge, especially doing so in only eight and a half months. In Vancouver, houses sell in a week, perhaps a month. A ferry ride away, it’s a radically different market. Two houses in my neighborhood have been listed for over two years. Other homes in the larger community have sat with For Sale signs for up to three years. Signs are everywhere. Collectively, that’s a bad sign.

I should have the house listed in early November. Prime time for house sales. Right?

Problem #2: The visa. I once had a permanent alien card, allowing residency in the U.S. Six years ago, I flew to Dallas to visit my parents for a weekend and a customs officer threw a fit over the fact my parents were American and I wasn’t. He sent me off for questioning and I nearly missed my flight. I had to sign a form surrendering my visa card. Now I am one of hundreds of thousands looking at the (fading) American Dream from the outside.

I can’t get an American employer to petition on my behalf for work purposes. Steven Spielberg doesn’t know me yet. From what I’ve read online, I move up in the queue if my parents successfully petition on my behalf. First step is to establish that I am their son. The form is ready to go. Unfortunately, my birth certificate does not list parents.

I knew it! In Ontario, at least, babies are delivered by storks. (I think this is connected to my fear of flying. Being airborne while dangling in a cloth from a bird’s beak had to be traumatic.)

More online searching and I discovered that I can apply for a “long form” birth certificate. If I have parents, the certified copy will show this. Having proof of my legitimacy remain in limbo would normally be mildly amusing. But the fifteen business days seem to pass slower than the two-month buildup to my birthday. Tick tick.

The hurdles are there to test whether I really want a change. And here I thought I’d already worked through that. I am anxious to step up to the starting line. Some things in childhood required seemingly endless long waits. I preferred the instant action. Someone yell, “Ready, set, go!”

Sunday, October 9, 2011

TUNING OUT THE EXPECTATIONS

Today is Moldy Cheese Day, but few observe the occasion in a formal capacity. More people recognize the day as Thanksgiving (in Canada). Instead of thinking about gratitude, it is a time when I fight off pity. And, yes, I almost always win the battle with self-pity. It’s the pity from others that creates more challenges.

The good thing about Canadian Thanksgiving is there is no clarity over when to have the big celebration. When I lived in the U.S., it was always on the Thursday. Everything except Denny’s and 7-Eleven shut down. Here, some folks have the big dinner on Sunday, others on Monday. This helps as there isn’t one particular day to lump me with the sad sacks.

I am a vegetarian with vegan leanings so I am not missing out on turkey and gravy. In the past, I have picked at too many sides of heavily sugared sweet potatoes. I am not even a fan of thick pie crusts. (A pumpkin pie Blizzard at DQ suits me just fine.) Obviously, it is not about the meal. It is the expectation that eats at me.

Just before the holiday comes the obligatory question: “What are doing for Thanksgiving?” When I smile and say I’m repainting the ceiling in the basement, people respond with looks of deep sympathy. Oh, poor you. Yes, I shouldn’t have bumbled the first painting attempt. Of course, that’s not what they mean.

Sometimes I get an invite somewhere, but I have regularly declined over the past two decades. The host needn’t stress over making an entirely separate entrée—which he or she invariably does. “Oh, it was no trouble at all” is the standard line, but good hosts are bad liars. When I go to barbecues, I eat first or bring my own food, but it is harder to be inconspicuous at a sit-down dinner.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I hosted Canadian Thanksgivings. I could serve stuffed peppers without people feeling disappointed. They’d get a crack at a turkey leg at the end of November. In Vancouver, I went through a couple of years of inviting over others with families in Ontario or elsewhere. The Bailey’s chocolate chip cheesecake quirked things up enough to help folks get over the mindset that a plate of roasted veggies left a void. Over the past decade, however, friends have settled into marriages and young families. Thanksgivings are with the newly doting grandparents.

I could have gone this weekend to Tofino with my two remaining single gay friends. They’re great for shopping weekends, but not for holidays. Neither of them has ever (EVER!) expressed the slightest desire to find a partner. Indeed, they resemble a couple, well-settled in a sexless relationship. Their “children” are the latest techno gadgets, every conversation interrupted by an iPhone Google search or a quick check of an incoming text.

No, I am happy to paint the ceiling. I will walk the dog on the beach. I will hit the gym where others stumble in before that sleep-inducing turkey enzyme casts its spell. I am thankful for an extra day of sleeping later and letting the early morning ferry sail on without me.

Tuesday morning I’ll be hit with people asking, “How was your Thanksgiving?” I am prepared with a quick, “Fine. Wasn’t the weather wonderful on Sunday?” If we can leave it at that, I will be spared the looks. Can we move on? October 12 is Farmer’s Day, the 14th is Grover’s birthday and the 15th is National Grouch Day. October is also National Popcorn Popping Month, National Pizza Month, National Clock Month (huh?) and, best of all, National Roller Skating Month. These are just a few of the occasions I can celebrate on equal terms!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

FRIGHT & FLIGHT

As a middle-aged single, gay wannabe writer, there are so many opportunities for self-doubt. (Why is it that my parents feel they need to nurture that?)

Life would be far easier if I stayed on the ground. After all, being “grounded” is deemed an admirable quality. Unfortunately, I’ve got this urge to walk the tightrope. I’m a wee bit afraid of height so I’ll set it three feet above ground, but still there’s a huge risk of an ankle sprain. I’d be quite the wuss on crutches.

I have a solid job, one that I feel more satisfied doing than I ever have. I go about the days calmer, with a clearer understanding of what I can impact and what is too burdened by personalities and other issues. And yet I’m walking away from the job and the career in nine months. (Yes, I’m counting.) Perhaps seeing the finish line is what makes the work easier. Maybe it strengthens me. It excites me to think I’ll leave on a high note. If only all life changes could begin that way.

When I move, take a peon job (“Welcome to the Gap!”; “Have you tried our newest McFlurry?”) and put all my energy into writing, it will feel in some ways as if I’ve sunk below ground, but really I’ll be flapping, hopefully soaring, above. The pension fund will sit stagnant, enough to buy kibble for the dog in what has the potential to be a frugal Meals-on-Wheels-seniors’-bus-pass-thrift-shop-scrounging future retirement. I turn forty-seven this week. That leaves me with plenty of years to keep hoping my lottery numbers will come up if my writing dreams prove as silly as my childhood aspiration to work as an elf at the North Pole.

A nagging message in my head (presented in my mother’s cautionary voice) says, “Why would you quit your job? Why not write on the side?” Ah, yes, so practical. A sage suggestion for the grounded folks. I’m not wired that way. I require risk and discomfort to push me into action. When there is nothing to fall back on, I waste no time fretting and doubting. I write.

To my parents’ dismay, I’ve done this all before. I went through law school, passed the California Bar, clerked for judges and then worked as an attorney in a boutique firm with an office view of the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Pier, only to decide as I hit thirty that I needed to start over. To do so, I had to leave California so there would be no way I could fall back on my license to practice law. I moved to Vancouver where I had but one acquaintance and no job prospects. I took a Christmas retail job on Robson where my manager was twenty-three and my coworkers lived for Saturday nights at The Roxy. I didn’t get as psyched about selling leather jackets as my colleagues and rarely made my daily sales target. Management chose to end my seasonal employment after Boxing Day.

I could have taken going from successful lawyer to unemployed sales clerk as a humiliating game-over fumble, but I needed that awkward time to stop speculating about my future and to DO SOMETHING! I’m pleased that I found a path to follow for seventeen years. To continue to amble along and extend the trek to thirty-two years is not an option. It’s safe, but it would foster feelings of regret. It should come as no surprise that my favorite poem has always been Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”.

I can feel the excitement, but the pressure mounts as well. As Martha would say, it’s a good thing. I have a manuscript that will be ready to submit by the end of October and a screenplay that will be fully polished by the end of November. Maybe there will be bites, maybe there won’t. It is the beginning of a new phase in life. The journey on the tightrope is frighteningly narrow, with nerve-fraying wobbles. I don’t care how I look—I’ll wear a helmet and my old kneepads from volleyball—but I can’t wait to remove the safety net and give it a go. If, along the way, I have to mop up on Aisle 6 or cohabitate a moldy basement suite with a rat I’ll name Ben, so be it. I’ll twist a retro expression and say, “Write on!”

Thursday, September 29, 2011

HERE I GO AGAIN

Six years ago, I commuted five days a week from my house to my place of work in Richmond: 5:20 a.m. alarm, a walk with the dogs to the ferry, a journey across the water, another walk to a remote parking lot and then the drive to work. Two and a half hours in the morning, two and a half hours in the evening.

It’s a déjà-vu I swore would never happen, but I’m doing it again, the only differences being I’m down to one dog and work is in Burnaby. I may have cut five minutes off each leg of the commute.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. The house was supposed to sell. I’d be back in the city. One home, a decent ride to work, maybe even something along a transit line or bike route. Bah! Getting a second place in the city isn’t financially feasible. Last year, I spent $1,700 a month on the extra rent, doggy daycare and commuting costs. Now I’m down to $1,000 per month. Still crazy but relatively reasonable.

The upside is that I have built in time to write each day on the ferry. I even have my own office. It’s a caged area on the vehicle deck where my dog and I must stay during the trip. There are often imposters of the two- and four-legged kind cramping our space, but this will lessen as the weather gets colder and rainier.

While I am still writing, there is less material for the blog. I’m back to being gay in absentia. As I’m in a highly involved job and I have a five-hour commute, there is little or no time for anything gay or gay-ish to happen. That’s not necessarily bad. It is what it is.

This morning, as my dog and I left the house to walk the first leg of our journey, I gazed up at the night sky and marveled at the stars which I’d never see under city lights. As I boarded the ferry, I peeked at the silhouette of the mountains across the water. Lovely. This is why I chose such a crazy place to call home.

By next week, the house will be back on the market. It won’t sell fast, but I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’ll be out of there by the beginning of July, ready to start a new chapter of my life in Los Angeles. The same phrase about being single applies to selling the house: it just takes one person. I need to be luckier in real estate than I’ve ever been in love.

Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

CALL ME IRRESPONSIBLE

If I want to feel young, all I have to do is call my parents.

Alas, it doesn’t make the lines on my face fade away or zap the gray from my sideburns, but I’m thirteen again. Sometimes younger.

In their eyes, I’ve never grown up. Three university degrees, a published novel, a position of leadership...none of that matters. I lost a library book when I was seven. And another when I was eight. Maybe two the following year. Not sure. I’ve repressed much of the past. Too bad my parents never mastered that skill.

Somewhere in my childhood, I left the gate ajar and the dog got out. He was found ten minutes later, sniffing doo in a neighbor’s yard, but that meant 600 seconds of worry that an intruder had stolen our bad-breathed, tinkle-prone, yappy terrier. (They were in high demand back then, I guess.) My fault.

In grade one, I took my dad’s album of “The William Tell Overture” to school for Show and Tell and Randy Simpson tripped over the turntable plug, scratching and then cracking the beloved LP. If my teacher had been more aware of the cord hazard or if Randy hadn’t been so consumed with digging for a booger, the album would have survived. All ifs were off. I was to blame for the damage. (If I’d asked and received permission, wouldn’t the disk’s fate have been the same?)

I was irresponsible; therefore I am irresponsible.

A couple of weeks ago, I announced to my parents that I was quitting my job. In July 2012. (If you thought for a moment that I’m bound for Olympic glory in London, I am flattered. Cramped-calf muscle hobbling is not even an exhibition sport.) I plan to move back to L.A. where I lived for five years before heading to Vancouver. I have screenplays and TV specs completed, others in progress, and Los Angeles is the center of the entertainment universe, particularly for television writing. I may be too old in an industry that targets teens and twentysomethings, but I have only one life and I need to give everything I’ve got in trying to realize a dream.

In recent months, my parents and I have clashed during phone conversations as they’ve tried to direct my unsuccessful home renovations and hectic work schedule from that giant, overhyped piece of Oz behind the curtain: Texas. “You should...” “You should...” “You should...” The solutions are so easy. Obviously, I’m not trying hard enough.

It was refreshing when my parents barely reacted to the announcement of the upcoming career and life change. Finally. They’re willing to listen and refrain from unsolicited advice/judgment. We’ve reached the Age of Enlightenment!

Not so. When I called this weekend, we talked a few minutes about the weather and they seemed in good spirits as I wondered aloud why my sister couldn’t edit the emailed photo albums of her weekly hikes. (Does every trek warrant 200+ pictures? Ooh,...another cactus!) And then my mother turned the phone over to my father, an act that only occurs on Father’s Day and his birthday.

“So you’re thinking of moving to L.A.”

“Uh, yeah.” What was coming next?

“What happens to your pension?” He asked as though I’d never considered this circumstance in changing jobs. After all, we all remember the William Tell incident. From there, he quoted unemployment stats for California and then quizzed me on the mileage of my aging car. He mentioned the sun in California, something I have to avoid. (Oh, how had I forgotten this song?!) He reminded me I’d been shot at during my last stint in the City of Angels. (Yes. The Rodney King riots. I didn’t point out that Vancouver’s most recent riot was only three months ago. Why quibble?) And then he almost dropped a bombshell. He didn’t quite press the red button, but his fingers hovered above it. My relatively quick return to the U.S. depends on an American relative vouching for me. Might I jeopardize their retirement savings if I wound up a burden to society, writing abysmal scripts on the back of discarded bus transfer stubs on Skid Row?

I got a paper route to pay for my lost library books, didn’t I?

I let it go. I am irresponsible.

And yet the planning continues...