An absolutely gorgeous tall man in a perfectly form fitting t-shirt approaches with his dog. I smile as our dogs eye one another. The stud (human version) doesn’t break his stoic facial expression and he doesn’t dare let the dogs have a sniff. He goes in, comes out with his oatmeal and coffee, pulls up a seat and turns his back to me. Ouch.
It feels like the old gay bar rejections but this is 8 a.m. and I’m trying to concentrate on kickstarting my writing for the day. There just happen to be a few menacing distractions. Maybe the Starbucks at Santa Monica Boulevard and Robertson is not the right venue. Sometimes being smack in the middle of West Hollywood is the worst place for a gay man to be.
So now I am sandwiched between two beautiful men, feeling like the subject of a No Contact clause.
Two women walk by and tell T-shirt Guy, “Your dog is so cute!” I can see the side of his face. He says nothing and again fails to register a facial expression.
So it’s nothing personal. He’s a de facto mannequin. But I still feel it.
I’d forgotten this part of L.A. The attitude. The you’re-not-worth-a-split-second-of-my-time crowd. They plant themselves at all places hip or even quasi-hip. Their mission is to make the rest of us feel bad, to chip away at our egos, to remind us that, even though we ran 12K last night and are chipping away at that muffin top above the waistline, we’ll never ever be worth even the faintest smile.
And, not that I have the looks to begin with, but my goofy grin is the dead giveaway that I am not one of them. “You’re always smiling.” I used to hear the comment all the time when I lived in L.A. I couldn’t help it. I was under the mistaken belief that one should express happiness, an unfortunate brainwashing brought on by too many listenings of that Bobby McFerrin ditty that every loved for all of five minutes before loathing it became the only acceptable response. (Despite my pessimism (realism?) over dating, I’m just a happy guy. I still like this song and this one too.)
For many Hollywood wannabes, I’ll assume that smiling is a wrinkle hazard, an early call to a lifetime of Botox dependency. Maybe I never even smiled that much. Two, three times a day? That would be enough to stand out. I was hopelessly attitude free.
I am well aware that the WeHo attitude masters are models/actors who primarily work as caterers. I know the Better than You vibe is hollow, but in a shallow town, it cuts deep.
That’s why I never ventured into the core of West Hollywood alone. I never knew how to respond to the silent but potent attitude smackdown: that catwalk strut, eyes focused forward, never making eye contact with any animate object; that cluster of forever-junior high girls (posing as grown men), congregating in closer circles and talking loudly, punctuating every utterance with laughter to show EVERYONE how much fun they are having.
I’ve studied some of The Attitude Brood in the last few days. After twenty years, their walk has not changed. I wonder if someone takes the pretty newbies under their wing to give them pointers or maybe it’s a genetic thing, a more distinguished hypothalamus than my own. How much effort does it take to suppress a smile, to never blink? I wonder if they’re all playing that parlor game where, if someone blinks at you you’re dead. Why is it that the players seem like the dead ones?
The danger, of course, is how easy it is to let WeHo attitude influence my own interactions—and non-interactions. It’s all part of the pecking order. No one has ever mistaken me for a model/actor/caterer, but, in the WeHo caste system, there are still others “beneath” me. For now, there are still gay men who are older than me who have the gall to embrace their middle-aged bellies. There are others who have failed to learn the art of manscaping, letting thick tufts of hair sprout unchecked from ears and backs. And there are those who abhor clothes shopping and delude themselves into thinking that wearing a poncho-like Packers jersey in the off season is a fashion statement about one’s masculinity. I’ve caught myself falling into that Look Away strut. Yes, for now I self-correct. But that’s only because I’m still in my second week here. What will I become by the time the month’s stay ends? And what if U.S. Immigration dusts off my papers and allows me to move back here permanently? Will I turn on "RuPaul’s Drag Race" and fail to see the spectacle in it? Will I remove “Walking on Sunshine” from my iPod? Pathological fear of needles notwithstanding, will I add my Botox administrators to my Christmas card list?
I suppose being aware of what is not real in West Hollywood keeps me from succumbing. As soon as I say, “What attitude?”, I’m a goner. Still, I need to take precautionary measures. Before I head out for coffee tomorrow morning, I shall force myself to stand in the mirror for five minutes, blinking and smiling. (Work those wrinkles!) I shall say hello to strangers with dogs. And, just to be perfectly safe, I shall walk to another Starbucks.