Tuesday, July 30, 2013

GETTING SOME ACTION IN WeHo: RUN, SKIP & HOP

When I decided on a gaycation this summer, I immediately thought of my own version of How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Clearly, when immersed in a gay epicenter, there’s going to be some action.

First, the run. Having enjoyed the Frontrunners session along the beach in Santa Monica, I decided to try the Monday night West Hollywood run. I figured it would be another way to meet gay men, in the healthiest of ways. And besides, I was curious about what might make a decent route, given all the traffic signals and the busy streets. Stops and starts on a run break my rhythm and make be want to trade the exercise for leisurely window shopping along a short segment of the route. This is why I only brought my driver’s license on the run and left the wallet at home. I cart the driver’s license for identification to address the morbid possibility that a drunk driver might plow me over by running the curb or, more likely, I might have a klutzy moment and stumble into traffic. This is just one reason I don’t feel the passion that other joggers profess. Some people risk life and limb jumping from airplanes, but I figure a simple run is enough for me.

While I began in a small pack of four, one fellow turned back two miles into the run and the other two pulled away. No matter. By then, I was fully invested in the run. The speedsters ahead of me proved taunting, like a pair of mechanical bunnies at the racetrack, with me being the lame greyhound, nearly catching them when lights turned red, only to see them pull away again upon a flash of green.

 The course took me down Santa Monica Boulevard through Beverly Hills before cutting over to Sunset to pass such sights as the restroom where George Michael got arrested and the club where River Phoenix died. Washington,D.C. has the Lincoln Memorial and the White House; L.A. has its infamous toilets and bars.

Next, the skip. Okay, not so much a skip, but a postponement. Despite Hoover’s intensive tail wagging, the dog walk had to wait. (He got to piddle on the tiny tree struggling to grow just outside the bungalow.)


Instead, I quickly showered and headed to dinner at Tender Greens on Santa Monica Boulevard in the heart of West Hollywood. Being a tad late, I altered the social dynamics, transforming dinner for two to dinner for three. Trey, the run leader, was taken, but judging for the icy coolness of tablemate Rocky’s greeting, he was taken aback that I would be taking some of Taken’s time. Oh, Rocky. I’ve been there. So much wasted energy, as clearly confirmed by Taken gushing about his partner and repeatedly responding to his boyfriend’s text messages over the course of dinner.

Finally, the hop. Bar hopping. Well, not so much a series of hops as a single pit stop. We strolled over to Revolver, a club I’d always presumed was named after its revolving door, but on second thought, might reference a misidentified gun in one’s pocket. Ah, what do I know? All I know is I’ve always been a sucker for spinning doors. How can one not find momentary amusement by the carousel version of an entrance. (Yes, there are so many reasons why I am still single!)

Being back in a WeHo gay bar, I could not help but let my eyes wander as Taken and Rocky talked. So much to see! Lovely brick walls, big windows, an uncluttered bar counter. Yes, once again, my timing was all off. Seems that, even in West Hollywood, gay bars are sleepy establishments at 9 p.m. on a Monday. Why should it matter? Clearly, Taken didn’t care. In an hour, he’d rejoin his partner who was winding down an evening shift. And Rocky was just happy to take up more of Taken’s time as I perused bar fixtures. Nice lighting, decent stools.

Could I have lingered when my companions left at ten? No doubt, the club would draw a crowd closer to 11 when nocturnal animals begin to prowl. But I’d had my fill. I draw the line at two club sodas. Too much lime makes my gums feel rough.

After a run, skip and hop, it’s good to walk it out. Hoover and I fit in both the delayed walkie and the window shopping as we strolled along the trendy shops of Melrose Place. Marc Jacobs! Carolina Herrera! Oscar de la Renta! Once again, I left the wallet behind, instead stuffing my pockets with pooper scooper bags.

Such an action-filled night! This is what people envision as a gaycation, isn’t it?

Maybe I should give that Stella book a closer read.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

TO LIVE & DYE IN L.A.


Justin Hartley: It starts with hair envy.
As long as I’m in L.A., dear reader, allow me the frivolity. This is yet another post about hair. And I’m guessing many of you will indulge me since my most-read post remains Highlights of Summer. I’d like to think it has something to do with the way I turned a phrase or how other middle-aged men secretly want to go blond but then check themselves. Let me be the spectacle.

Alas, I can only deceive myself so much. I am certain the post’s popularity has to do with this hot guy whose image I pasted. (Sadly, my second most popular post is all about another hot man with more of an appeal to news junkies and/or giggle aficionados. Makes me wonder if I should give up writing and just post Google Images of himbos. But then there are plenty of blogs that do that.)

Back to me. And my hair. In getting ready for L.A., I planned things out so that I had an appointment for a cut and highlights one hour after I finished work and began summer vacation. Shedding the duller, more conservative school principal look is essential for me to feel a Southern Californian vibe. As I’ve mentioned before, blond highlights used to come naturally from days on the beach and by the pool. But I’ve paid the price for that with skin cancer procedures—no new surgical removals in over a decade, thank goodness—and now I have to fake it.
What I hoped for...

I’d been seeing Angie as my stylist for six months and she was competent if not a hair genie. I showed her some post-highlight photos from my past as I detected a lack of confidence when I made the booking. Perhaps I should have looked for another hairdresser but it takes time for me to build trust. Finding the right stylist can be an exhausting endeavor.

The first indication that something was awry came as Angie rinsed the gunk. “I’m just going to apply a glaze to even things out,” she said. Logical interpretation: Things are out of whack!

Fleeing was an urge, but not an option. Pinned against an uncomfortable reclining chair, head dangling over an industrial sink, I did my best to channel pro-glaze energy.

Back in front of the mirror, I got my first glimpse. Yes, there was blond in the center but the sides seemed to have an orange hue. Could it be the lighting? I kept calm and subtly pivoted my head. Clearly orange.

I eyed at Angie’s thick, curly mane. Orange. We weren’t exactly twinsies but I had a patch match. I wanted to ask, “What color is your hair?” Could a stylist be colorblind? Isn’t that an occupational disability?

And then came a stream of utterances that served as confirmation that something had gone terribly wrong: “Are you coming back into Vancouver before you head to L.A.?”; “I can try to fix this.”; and the succinct, “I’m so sorry.”

The in-my-head responses: “No.”; “No!”; and “NOOO!”
What I got.

Generally, I believe in allowing a person to right a wrong. But not when it involves orangutan clumps on my head. I politely paid and exited. On the ferry ride home, I stayed within the shelter of my car.

A glance in the mirror at home confirmed that things were as bad as they seemed. I knew I needed expert advice so I emailed Ellie in Los Angeles. “Who does your highlights? Can you get me in?”

The replay was instant. “I have the BEST highlight person in LA. Danny at Byron's. Expensive but worth it.”  

I read it and reread it. It served as an adult soothie. Yes, it will get better.

A follow-up email told me that Danny was vacationing in Greece, but Ellie had got me in on his first day back. This met with a mixed reaction. I’d have to go a full two weeks with the hair quilt, but surely a stylist who has ritzy vacations must be doing something right. And then,...why did he have an opening on his first day back? Did I want to surrender my hair to someone with jetlag? Still, I put my trust in Ellie. She has always had impeccable style. And hair.

During the fortnight preceding the corrective action, I imagined myself as a defiant Goth teen with a weighty nose earring, theatrical corpse makeup and a pitbull named Mo. (Hoover didn’t once respond to his substitute moniker.) Still the persona allowed me to wander in public, ignoring any and all gasps of horror. (In truth, I didn’t hear a single gasp. Guess I had the Goth attitude down.)

On the eve of my appointment, I Googled the salon. Beverly Hills. Uh,...how expensive? Partial highlights, $230; full highlights, $300. And, finally, a gasp. Eating is overrated.

At the salon, an attractive receptionist told me to have a seat and I pretended to read my novel while nervously anticipating treatment. Some people get nervous before job interviews or blind dates; my worries are triggered while waiting to meet a new stylist. Call it hair anxiety.

Danny emerged and I immediately babbled on about my follicular nightmare. I’m not sure he believed it was a salon job. Several times, he asked, “Who did this?” His facial reaction was the most honest I’d seen—an understated version of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”—, but then again, I’d let down my Goth guard.

The color realignment took two hours, beginning with an orange purge and then starting anew. Ellie happened to be in the salon as well and I watched from the mirror to see four assistants gathered around her to witness every brush stroke and snip. I only warranted one assistant even though I was the bigger spectacle. I’m guessing everyone concluded that apparent home dye job fixes are a rarity in a chi-chi Beverly Hills salon.

Not much of a talker—at least to a one-time client like me—Danny politely gave me a rundown of his experiences in Prague, Berlin and on Mykonos. No doubt, he was wishing he’d never left the island.

Danny’s assistant regularly filled in as a succession of blonde women in the salon hugged and kissed Danny, each one gushing about how great he looked. And I felt the pangs of job envy. What I wouldn’t give for an insincere compliment—though, to be fair, he really did look great. Perhaps if I worked there as a stylist, I’d just receive standoffish parade waves. Even with the orangutan tamed and taken away, I don’t improve in hotness just from wielding a pair of scissors. Highlights—even good ones—can only do so much.

In the end, the blond was less than I’d wanted, but I’d seen what happens when I ask for too much.

Before tipping, the bill came to $150. Not a snip, just a color repair. A bargain from what I’d seen on the website. The fee was not an issue at all. To have my smile back was totally worth it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

SPINNING OVER WHEELS


The panic begins as soon as I read the email with the name and address for dinner:  The Jonathan Club, 850 Palisades Beach Club Road, Santa Monica. “Do you remember how to get there?” she asks.

Of course. When I jogged by it during my midweek beach run, memories came flooding back. I’d forgotten that I’d eaten there a time or two with Ellie and Tom. What stands out are the times I headed down with my short-term roomie, Noreen. We both worked as lawyers and once shared a hole-in-the-wall office at the courthouse in downtown L.A. But our Jonathan Club days came after that, when I’d assumed an ideal position in a boutique law firm, every office having a prime ocean view. (Ideal as long as I wanted to be a lawyer. Which I didn’t.)

Noreen and I would zip over to the Jonathan Club after we both got home from work, often with one of her siblings in tow. (It was easy to round one up. She was one of twelve. Very Catholic. Notre Dame Law School.) Noreen always drove. Her car was an older model, but it was still a Mercedes and I’ve always enjoyed riding with the top down.

On each occasion, Noreen addressed each valet by name and, as though working a reception line, stopped to ask about each one’s daughter/girlfriend/movie audition. Assuming I stayed in L.A. and made the most of my legal start, I could have learned a lot from Noreen, a lifelong socialite who once nonchalantly mentioned how her father employed a chauffeur to drive her to and from private school in her own brand new Mercedes before she got her driver’s license. No big deal. You just have to make travel arrangements when you don’t attend your local public school.

Sadly, I’ve lost touch with Noreen. She always had a (un)healthy dose of paranoia and was prone to constantly changing phone numbers and emails. If the phone rang and no one left a message—she didn’t have call screening at the time—it meant something sinister: a stalker, a famous married actor who broke it off with her two months ago, a spammer who’d bought her unlisted number from, oh, I don’t know, a drunken sibling. According to Google, she still exists but I can’t track her down.

That means I have to drive myself to The Jonathan Club and that brings me back to my (entirely founded) state of panic. You see, since moving from L.A., I haven’t given a flip over what I drive. Given how quickly vehicles depreciate, I take the view that you drive a car until even the tow truck operator refuses to help out.

Currently, I have 240,000 kilometers on my 2004 Honda Civic. That’s somewhere between a thousand and a million miles. I’ve never been good at converting. Now that the radio works again, I can turn it up loud enough to mostly tune out the high-pitched whistling that happens when I press the accelerator and the higher pitched screeching that sounds when I hit the brakes. Truthfully, all that racket is annoying. I keep the braking to a minimum. It’s okay. I’m up to date on car insurance.

Where I live, people don’t notice what you drive. If it’s not an extra large pickup truck with oversized, raised tires, it’s just an ordinary vehicle to get you where you’re going. (The real reason I booked this extended visit to L.A. is I was starting to like souped-up pickup trucks. My, what big tires you have!) Back home, my car doesn’t get good attention or bad attention. And I’m cool with that.

But Los Angeles is the most car conscious place I’ve been. In Texas, there’s a Baptist church on every corner; in L.A., there’s a car wash. The problem isn’t just that I haven’t washed my car in, oh, three years, maybe four. I tell myself the dirt doesn’t show on the silver exterior. But even with a wash, my lowly Civic is an eyesore amidst the glut of Mercedes, Jaguars, BMWs and those other “status” brands that, not surprisingly, I can’t even name. (In the neighborhood where I’m staying, only the gardeners drive pickup trucks. They dot the streets in the daytime, but mercifully clear out by 5 p.m.)

So I’ve got a couple of choices for getting to The Jonathan Club. I can park my car in the first empty space I find along Pacific Coast Highway and then walk the 1.8 miles to the club, trying to casually saunter past the valets giving each other knowing nods. Cheap. Then, I can try to find my way to a restroom and use a dozen paper towels to pat off the sweat. With luck, there will be a hand dryer and I can try to abate the massive armpit stains on my prized new shirt.

And it’s that shirt, tastefully adorned with tiny purple flowers—oh, the pickup drivers will notice this when I get back home—that makes me lean to Option Number Two. Must avoid the sweat-fest. I’ll have to drive right up to the valets and leave my key in the ignition. If that were all, I could walk quickly into the club without catching them surveying my car and exchanging those knowing nods. Cheap. (I think this is the real reason people tip valets. They know too much.)

But before a valet hops into the driver’s seat with the fully ripped upholstery and the foam bits popping out—my previous schnauzer liked to go on digging expeditions—I’ll have to give instructions. “I don’t have a clicker thingy to lock and unlock my car. You have go around to the passenger side. It’s the only keyhole that works. And you have to reach across to the driver’s side to lock/unlock the driver’s door. And don’t worry about any of the squeaking sounds when you drive. I got here all the way from Canada just fine. But try not to brake. Unless you’re carrying earplugs in your pocket.”

And then, and only then, I can walk away and head inside the exclusive beach club. First, of course, I’ll have to find that restroom for the self-patdown/blow-dry routine. I embarrass so easily. No doubt I’ll have to repeat all or part of the instructions. A valet may be a professional, but my rundown Civic is uncharted territory.

It’s my nervous energy that makes be check out my car with hours still to go before dinner. Good thing, too. I collect all the frozen yogurt containers and plastic spoons for disposal. And then I notice the dog kibble scattered all over the back seat. (I’m very considerate. Sometimes my dog gets a craving while I’m shoveling yogurt in my mouth.) I scoop the dog food into a handy frozen yogurt container. This is why I’m never in a rush to throw things away.

As I’m about to re-lock the car (from the passenger side, remember), I mistakenly glance forward and notice one more eyesore. There’s a curly crack that stretches across the entire windshield. It’s been there since before my last car wash, but it suddenly needs urgent attention.

 Alas. No time. I’ve got a flowery purple shirt to iron.

And I should leave early. Just in case.

But there is nothing like a nice dinner with friends. And there is nothing like having a wheezy, screeching, ancient Honda Civic to get around L.A.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

EXERCISE OR SOCIALIZE?

Last time I ran with a group—or, at least, that was the idea—I was in Ottawa a few years ago. As that Frontrunners experience turned out to be perplexingly negative, I had low expectations for the Santa Monica run with L.A. Frontrunners.

But I also had some hope. I’d run with the group for my last few months in L.A. before moving to Vancouver. They were a bit nerdy and not so good about reciprocal conversation, but nice enough. I even made friends with one of them though we lost touch after he wanted more than friendship and I just wasn’t feeling it. People say, “Okay, sure. Let’s just be friends”, but it rarely works.

Decent memories from L.A. Frontrunners nonetheless. Hadn’t been for a run with the group in nineteen years, but it was comforting to know they still met on the same weeknight at 6:30 in the same spot in the park along Ocean Avenue with the same ocean view.

Still, I wasn’t sure anyone else show up. The website had references to 2011 so maybe the whole group had gone kaput. Maybe everyone had switched to yoga. Or bootcamp in one of the canyons. Or—I’m not making this up--Prancercise. (Sadly, it has nothing to do with everyone putting on reindeer antlers.) Maybe I’d appear at another Frontrunners session just to be jogging solo again.

There are a lot worse places to jog.

As I approached the meeting site—the Millennial Plaque which, okay, wasn’t there back in ’94—I noticed three men standing around in jogging gear. One immediately stepped up and introduced himself. Something in my walk, my clothing or my look apparently screamed “GAY!”

Thank goodness. (After eight years of rural life, you never know!)

Immediately, they were friendlier than the Ottawa folks. Having had his say, Greeter Guy stood back, intently doing calf stretches, but the other two brought me into their chitchat and one shared a lovely story about a guy’s vomit mutating into some sort of being. From a novel, I think. Although it did remind me of that urban myth about that rescued dog at sea that turns out to be an oversized rat. Surprisingly, I let my mind drift off, gazing at the sea, the succulent flora adorning the park and the homeless man passed out ten feet away from us on the grass. (I noticed signs of breathing, thank goodness.)

When my mind drifted back to Frontrunners, the group had doubled and a few more approached. By the time we were ready to run, there 15-20. The leader gathered us in a circle, asked for announcements and had us each say our name—the same routine from all those years ago. The name share is always rapid fire. I must have heard about five names, remembering three. Would they have run with those stickie nametags had I bought a pack? But then, you can’t read what is under “Hello my name is” if everyone leaves you in the wake.

Having broken my foot back in February, the recovery has been maddeningly slow. I finally had my first successful (albeit abbreviated) run just two weeks ago and managed another short run doing laps around the Silver Lake Reservoir on my second night in L.A. So this was Run No. 3. Would I be able to keep up? Would the left foot give out? What if I reinjured it? (I failed to purchase traveler’s medical insurance before leaving Canada.)

We started and people immediately paired up, with me running on my own.

Impose yourself into a pairing, my inner voice said. Oh, how I hate that voice. It always sounds like my mother, always harkening me back to adolescence when I’d waste away hundred-degree summer days watching “The Price Is Right” inside, my Showcase Showdown bidding plan interrupted by my mother urging me to go knock on the neighbor’s door,...the high school quarterback’s house. Yeah, right. My thoughts of winning a boat, a trip to Cancun and a lifetime supply of Rice-A-Roni were far more grounded in reality.

As always, I ignored that inner voice.

And so I jogged bravely onward. Solo, just like back home, only a little more relaxed without having to watch for bears or cougars. Or highly scratchy blackberry bushes.

But then a friendly voice over my shoulder asked, “How long are you visiting?” A friendly man, the oldest in the group, in good shape for sixty-five. We jogged together as others passed. Eventually another man joined us. It was pleasant conversation that petered out as sweat started to stream down our faces and, now on the winding beach path, we had to focus on dodging cyclists, roller bladers and the ever-oblivious walkers who stretched across the entire width of the path, cameras capturing every moment.

In the obstacle course, I got a little ahead of my jogging mates and I could hear them carry on their conversation. It had been nice to be included, but I wasn’t essential. The pace had been too slow and felt unnatural for me. Like driving with the emergency brake on. I took the moment to pick up the pace and jog on my own, eyeing a couple members of the group ahead in the distance.

I passed them and spotted another pair up further.

Reached and passed.

Yes, I can get a little competitive when I run. I like to pass. It breaks the monotony of a run when there are moving targets ahead.

My left foot felt great, the pace seemed right. How exhilarating to really jog again! For months, I wondered if I’d ever run again.

I stopped the passing when I reached Greeter Guy. His pace was decent and, as we were approaching the final incline back to Ocean Avenue, I had no desire to pass him and then be passed again with me huffing and puffing, a wolf who finally meets his brick house.

Sensing that Greeter wasn’t a gifted conversationalist, I took the lead and asked a series of questions about himself. No reciprocity, but no ill intent either. Just like old times. 

A potluck followed the run and, not knowing this, I’d brought nothing. The guy with the vomit tale had said I was more than welcome to attend, but as a quirky vegetarian with eating issues, I’m not a potluck fan.

For a moment, I faced a dilemma. I could wait around and socialize with what I sensed was a friendly group. Isn’t that why I came to L.A.? To connect with people? But the run had only been four miles. My standard run has always been 6-7 miles. I still felt energized. This was my first chance since the fainting episode to reach my standard.

I politely said goodbye to the few runners that were waiting around and then continued on, jogging up my favorite road in Santa Monica, San Vicente Boulevard, with the gorgeous tree-lined island splitting east and westbound traffic. It was part of my old jogging route and on my bucket list of things to do again while in L.A.

Pretty sure I exceeded my regular running distance and due to the old tree roots jutting out along the path, I was beginning to feel discomfort in my foot (and both knees) as I returned to Ocean Avenue. Still, nothing could pierce my joy bubble. I did it. Sure, exercising trumped socializing, but I was elated.

So elated in fact that I walked back to the picnic tables where the potluck was underway. I politely declined gnawing on a roasted chicken carcass, forgot about my shyness and casually chatted for the next hour with a group of genuinely nice people. I tossed aside my need to be critical, smiling politely as more than one guy said, “Oh, you’re from Canada! I love Canada. I was in Toronto last year.” Yep, Vancouver, Toronto,...same thing. (The critic tends to resurface when I write and the endorphins settle down.)

Smile on.

As it got dark—an hour earlier than in Vancouver—I remembered my little dog waiting back in our little bungalow with no lights on and I excused myself again.

“You coming back next week?” I was asked several times.

Absolutely.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

SHOPPER UNLEASHED

It’s a stereotype to say gay men like to shop and, as I’ve learned from years of bad dates, totally unfounded to say gay men have a superior sense of fashion. At least, Vancouver gay men don’t fall into stereotype at all.

But behind every stereotype, there is a kernel of truth. And I would be most proud to be part of that truth. Shallow? Sure, but I like to feel good about how I look and, as my workouts fail to produce results, the bulk of feeling good about how I look stems from what I wear.

I think my fashion quest began during my first year of teaching in Texas. Because I wasn’t a U.S. citizen, I couldn’t teach in public schools—something about a Supreme Court decision upholding the fear that a non-citizen might teach children Communist beliefs (because all Canadian were and are pro-Communism). Anyway, in the private school, I was earning less than $12,000 a year and I quickly grew tired of alternating meals between Wonder Bread and peanut butter and generic boxed macaroni and cheese.

I got a second job, working in the men’s department at Sanger Harris, a fairly upscale Dallas department store that no longer exists. As it turned out, I kept the same meal menu because all the money I earned at Sanger Harris went back to Sanger Harris. With the employee discount, I made off with some good deals!

Fast forward to my first stint in L.A. as I began law school. Whenever my parents called, I failed to convey enthusiasm about my studies. In fact, I was unhappy. I wanted to quit. This got their attention. My mother had never been keen about my becoming a teacher. She was gleeful when I decided to go back to school, desperate to tell her bridge and golf partners that her eldest was a lawyer.

And so I negotiated a clothing allowance for several hundred dollars a month for as long as I stayed in law school. Would it make me happy? Well, it was a good start.

I have been fashion deprived since moving to Vancouver. Everyone talks about Robson Street as this fashion mecca, but I think it’s overrated. When I shop, it’s hit or miss,...mostly miss. Not so in L.A.

It took less than forty-eight hours for me to head over to the Beverly Center. (Wouldn’t you know, the bungalow where I am staying is only three blocks away!) I sauntered into the Macy’s Men Store with the intent to buy a couple of pairs of shorts—I’d forgotten how hot it is here—and I made three trips to the fitting room before walking out of the store with seventeen new items.

If I’m going to do L.A., I’m going to do it right.

There are more shopping destinations, but I’m laying low for the rest of the week. I am all too aware that my shopping surge wasn’t just about feeling overheated in blue jeans. It goes beyond the lackluster Vancouver fashion scene. It’s largely a response to living in a rural area where there is only one place to shop for men’s clothes in town and that place specializes in lumberjack wear and construction boots. Seriously.

So let me immerse myself in men’s fashion once again. I won’t regain my stereotypically strong fashion sense in four short weeks, but a little self-improvement is always a good thing.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

MALIBU DÉJÀ VU

Twenty-three years ago, I drove into Malibu for the first time, laughing over the fact that this was where I would go to law school on full scholarship. Some gig.

I remember being somewhat disappointed that there should be a KFC on Pacific Coast Highway in the business section of Malibu. (Actually, it was Kentucky Fried Chicken. This was before the Age of Texting and reducing everything to initials.) I was also peeved that Olivia Newton-John wasn’t waiting to personally welcome me. In fact, I never met her even though a law school friend rented a space in the home next to Olivia. During my two and a half years of law school, I had to settle for chance encounters with Rick Springfield, Jon Lovitz and a personal fave, Bob Newhart. I always gave them their space. That’s just how Malibu folk treat one another.


Technically, I only lived in Malibu—on campus—for one semester before getting an apartment up the treacherously windy Malibu Canyon in lowly regarded Calabasas before moving to another coastal community, the boutique village of Pacific Palisades. Still, Malibu was home base The Law School Experiment.

I drove to Malibu from the north today, saddened at first by the scorched mountainside vegetation from recent wildfires. Nonetheless, the more remote coastline induced awe as I gazed at the gentle turquoise Pacific waters, a disappointing status for the black speckles that represented surfers lolling on surfboards.

A lot has changed and yet nothing has changed in the years that have passed from my stint amongst the wealthy. Malibu’s population remains at 13,000, unlikely to ever climb due to building restrictions, mountainous terrain and, well, forest fires. Much of the core area of Malibu business has changed. Not so much the structures, but the signs. Pizza Hut, Ben & Jerry’s, the deli where I always ordered mac and cheese and the video store where I ran into the incomparable Suzanne Pleshette’s TV husband are all gone. My bank is now a medical clinic. Even the Hughes Market grocery store is now a Ralphs. (It pains me not to write Ralph’s, but the company has dropped its apostrophe. Maybe it too was a texting bother.)

The most tragic new sign is for Banana Republic. I’m neither a lover nor a hater of the chain. Take it or leave it. (Maybe that’s because the first thing I ever tried on back in the day when Banana Republic had a safari feel was a summer shirt that felt very strange in the chest. Turns out it was a women’s blouse. But nice peachy tones!) BR took over the struggling, yet sprawling women’s store once owned by my one of my first gay friends, José, who died of a brain aneurism fifteen years ago at the age of forty. My friend, Benny, and I used to pop in regularly to chat while voluntarily changing all the displays to make things look more inviting in a effort to increase sales. (Perhaps I was, in fact, the reason the business went under. What do I really know about fashion? Recall blouse incident, above.)

But for all the changes, there is plenty that is the same. Pepperdine University still occupies prime land on the edge of a mountain with insanely gorgeous ocean views. Most of the beachside pubs with subpar food remain open, again due to insanely gorgeous ocean views. John’s Garden still sells sandwiches with sprouts in the Malibu Country Mart courtyard beside the children’s playground. The public library remains with a spruced up facade, this being the place where I escaped the law school crowd to study across from a homeless man who soaked his dirty clothes in a white plastic bucket. We were regulars who never exchanged hellos but allowed for one another to peacefully coexist.

I’m still laughing as I sit in the courtyard and watch people pretend to be locals. I was a great pretender. Why did I ever move? A nagging voice inside my head chants, “Dumbass”, but it was not a practical commute to downtown L.A. or to my subsequent job in a small Santa Monica law firm where I had a perfect ocean view that included the Santa Monica Pier. Yeah, left that, too. Once again: Dumbass.

When you are young(er), you don’t fully appreciate each moment. This is perhaps the biggest reason I am back for a month, even though I am staying in West Hollywood instead of a preferred coastal area. My five years in L.A. ended with the Rodney King riots (during which my car window was shot out as I drove) and the Northridge earthquake, but there were great times before all that.

L.A. is where I fully came out. It is where I fell in love the first (and second) time. It is where I learned how to do something constructive in response to AIDS and where I listened to my buddy Stephen talk of his unfulfilled Hollywood dreams while he bravely kept his resolve to break in once he conquered AIDS. This is where I met many good friends, many of whom still live here. In fact, I have more friends still in L.A. from my brief stint two decades ago than I have in Vancouver from the nineteen years since.

I am back, if only temporarily. Laughing once again.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

GROVE IS IN THE HEART

Last time I visited San Francisco, I did what all gay men do: I cruised thousands and thousands of shapes, sizes and colors. Of pumpkins. I’m not using a euphemism. I’m really talking pumpkins.

That’s what I get when I stay with my one San Fran friend, a straight married woman. It was October 2008 and she wanted to photograph the uncarved gourds at the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival which is a far bigger draw than you might imagine. If it had been in Cleveland or Pittsburgh or Boise, the folksy festival might have been a big hit with me. But gay men don’t fly to San Francisco for pumpkin postcards.

Five years later, I needed to do something different. I chose to visit during the week when my friend would be working during the day (and when certain veggies are still in the early stages of the growing season).

After wishing her a great day at work, I got in the car and departed suburbia with Google Map directions to take me to Castro Street.

Of course, Castro isn’t exactly a hopping place at 10 a.m. on a Thursday. Like my friend, most people are at work—or sleeping off a wild Wednesday night. (Vacation or not, I don’t think I’d have much in common with the wild weekday set anyway.) My dog Hoover and I walked along the Castro, peeked in all the closed clubs, oohed over all the rainbow flags—Look at all the colors!—and then got back in the car to marvel at the roadway ups and downs while I fretted over all the stop signs impractically positioned in the middle of steep inclines. Surely car insurance costs more in Frisco.

We headed for my second Google Map destination: Golden Gate Park. This would be a place my dog could truly enjoy. (In truth, those rainbow flags did not impress him at all. Perhaps dogs really are color blind.) The destination on this visit to the park was the National AIDS Memorial Grove. I am ashamed to admit that AIDS has fallen off my radar in recent years and I am willing to bet this is a trend amongst gay men and the general public. We’ve become complacent. People traded in their red ribbons for yellow rubber bracelets—at least until a certain someone had a sit-down with Oprah.

Medical and charitable causes are competing more than ever for the same dollars. There are runs, walks, bike rides, dinners and auctions every weekend for one charity or another. The donors are suffering too, partly due to the economy and partly due to Bleeding Heart Burnout. With everyone from grocery store clerks to sign-toting girls’ baseball team members asking for donations, it has gotten easy to say no. I don’t even put my head down or feel a pang of guilt.

But AIDS shouldn’t be lumped in with all the other causes, not for someone like me who came out during the height of the AIDS crisis and whose participation in the L.A. AIDS Walk made him The Gay One in his law school class. (There were others, of course, but I was the outed one at ultra-conservative Pepperdine University.)

It was both a relief and a disappointment to visit the AIDS memorial without anyone else around. Indeed, I had the opportunity for quiet contemplation, reflecting on how AIDS served as a death sentence for so many proud, defiant people who dutifully took their AZT and dealt with the side effects of diarrhea, nausea and unhealthy looking tans while continuing to face extreme weight loss, blotched skin and an increasing dependence of canes, walkers and wheelchairs. In the early ‘90s, we all knew who had AIDS; people could only conceal it a month or two at most.



Undisturbed, I read the inscriptions on every rock and honored the named and the nameless. I remembered my friends who were part of my AIDS Project Los Angeles Buddy group, My first love arose directly from the AIDS crisis as he was a coordinator of APLA’s Buddy Program and my facilitator pulled the two of us on the dance floor in a matchmaking gesture at a volunteer appreciation event. I recalled the AIDS quilt, watching the documentary (the Oscar-winning “Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt” narrated by Dustin Hoffman and featuring a haunting score by Bobby McFerrin) and seeing a part of it on exhibit. More than anything, I remembered Stephen and Don, the two men I connected with, at first solely because of their AIDS status since I was assigned as their Buddy. Stephen, in particular, remains a strong part of my life twenty-one years after his death.

Rocks form Dry Creek, a representation of what we
lost due to AIDS. 
Reflection ultimately turned to tears and I sat on one of the dedicated benches to weep as my dog looked on, perplexed, licking my leg in comfort.

Here’s where the disappointment came in. It saddened me even more to realize no one interrupted my thoughts. Granted this was a working day for most, but Golden Gate Park is a tourist draw which attracts 13 million people per year. On a mild summer day, how could I possibly have this section of the park all to myself?

Meandering through the grove, I ultimately came upon a clearing, an open field area bordered by unused handball courts. I sought out a restroom
and then tried to stroll back through the grove. Due to my complete lack of direction, I couldn’t find the grove again. The dog was content to amble aimlessly as I attempted to walk back in toward the start of the memorial. I wound up far off the mark, but signs ultimately guided me back to the car. I stopped once more at the entrance of the memorial, this time disturbed as a horde of tourists on Segway PTs gathered to listen to a guide explain the memorial. Finally, some recognition. The Segway tour felt tacky but no more so than hooking up with a grocery chain to peddle your cause.

Even though it was only early afternoon, I headed back for suburbia. I was done being a gay tourist for the day, not on account of getting lost. No, I’ve become blasé about that sort of predicament. But I’d broken another form of blasé and felt more empowered because of it.

Turns out daytime San Francisco isn’t much different from daytime Cleveland, Pittsburgh or Boise. Still my dog is well walked and I am thankful I found the car. And no pumpkins! My vacation standards are getting lower all the time. Still, San Francisco does have the AIDS Memorial Grove and that makes all the difference. It is what I needed, so much more than an overpriced glass of ice with a dash of Dewar’s, even more than a cheap ogling from a well-dressed octogenarian.

I’ll end this post with a dedication to Stephen and a quote inscribed on a stone wall at the grove:

May we all remember our lives are not measured by the number of years and days we exist
but by what we accomplish while we do live and the good we may render our fellow man. 
             –Henry Wells

Saturday, July 13, 2013

TWINS OR PARTNERS, NOT TWINS AND PARTNERS

I’ve spent the past two days driving along the Oregon Coast, an area dotted with a few cluttered (tacky?) beach towns, patches of underappreciated forest and umpteen glorious ocean viewpoints, so many that they become at risk for making beauty blasé.

Ho hum, more scenic awesomeness.

We’d do well to be more like dogs. Every time I slowed to drive through a township at 25 miles per hour, my dog eagerly popped his head out to make sense of the scents. Pure delight every time!

Hoover was, of course, even more thrilled during our frequent stops at state parks and random walk-downs to yet another strip of beach.

One adventure—yes, it’s always an adventure when I jangle the leash—involved a ten-minute hike whereby we passed toddlers begging for a rest and surfers toting their boards. Oregonians are obedient people. Just as the drivers consistently consider the speed limit as just that—a limit, not a starting point—they also adhere to the Dogs Must Be on Leash signage. I dutifully followed the When in Oregon custom as Hoover continued to look up at me, awaiting the release that never came. In protest, he tugged like he hasn’t done since being a pup and dragged me over to scope out a Highland terrier.


With a little fog, we had the beaches to ourselves.
Perhaps the dog wasn’t the draw at all. Maybe he has developed better gaydar than my own rarely used device as the terrier leash connected to a fiftysomething bearded man walking with another fiftysomething bearded man. To eliminate any doubt that the men were a couple, their matching hunter green Lands' End windbreakers and navy Sperry topsiders were a dead giveaway. Perhaps my gayness was not so obvious as neither man made eye contact and they pulled away the pooch, not wanting it to associate with my sea-christened schnauzer. Horrors should Hoover shake and get a little wet sand on Fido. This couple clung to the impossible belief that the beach is to be observed, not worn.

Later, as my dog and I hiked back to the car, I tried to recall if I’d ever worn a matching outfit during the ten years or so that I had been coupled with someone. Aside from a Vancouver Sun Run t-shirt an ex and I wore (along with 50,000 other participants), I am certain we never celebrated Twin Day.

At the risk of offending some readers, I cannot imagine ever dressing alike. In fact, if I ever achieve coupledom again and we “accidentally” wear the same thing, I will blink first and go for a costume change. It’s wonderful when two gay men hold hands or share an ice cream (well, maybe not ice cream), but I’ve never understood the urge to be matchy with your match.

In university, I had a roommate who was involved in an incredibly co-dependent relationship with a mousey girl who looked to him to speak on her behalf. (She could be quite chatty when isolated from him, but always clammed up as soon as he appeared.) Each morning, he would call Anne so they could plan what they were wearing. It wasn’t so creepy as him telling her what to wear, thank goodness. No, they’d plan it together. While they didn’t always dress like Raggedy Ann and Andy, it happened enough that, yes, that became their nicknames and I’m pretty sure I did not so anoint them.

Maybe I am single for a reason, but I’ve always felt each member of a couple must retain his own identity. You can like each other without dressing alike. Going twinsies has always felt like the couple is trying too hard. Look at us! My heart belongs to him! My wardrobe, too.

I suddenly recall what is perhaps the real source for my disdain for matchy mates. Maybe it all has to do with my mother. Oh, why do mothers have such a lingering impact?! She took a night class when I was in fifth grade. Apparently, she felt her Singer sewing machine—a housewife staple at the time—wasn’t being put to good use so she learned how to make boys’ clothes. For the next year, she bought fabric in bulk—my father, though a doctor, was notoriously cheap—and made an entire clothing line of t-shirts for my brother and me. I had yet to develop a spine so, every Sunday, when we went for dinner at my grandparents’, my first grade brother and I dutifully wore our matching shirts and smiled for the camera. No self-respecting guy wants to dress like his kid brother. Let him have the hand-me-downs when I’ve outgrown a particular garment!


No one around...I released the dog!
(And I made sure to change out of my green shirt.)
The only saving grace is that my father preferred slides to photographs at the time and none of the pictures have been converted to a current means of viewing. (For once, I am glad he is penny conscious!)

All this dressing-like-my-partner business is moot as long as I am solidly single, Still, I have a loopy confession. Today I am wearing a green shirt and I refused to put the red leash on my dog as we prepare for our next law-abiding beach walk. Red and green remind me of Christmas and the color combo is ludicrous in July. I dug out his black leash and collar and now we’re good to go. Color matters; just don’t go crazy with coordinating what to wear.


Monday, July 8, 2013

TREATS AMONG THE GRUNGE

The last time I stayed in Portland, I had two sleepless nights since the hotel was right across the street from a gay bar. No, I did not suddenly hook up. That would just be awkward for a prude like me. Instead, I laid awake listening to the pulsating club beat and then the drunken shouting that passes for a conversation in the middle of the street after last call. As nice as my boutique dorm room was at the Ace Hotel, I swore I’d never stay there again.

Instead, I chose the historic Benson Hotel, which turns out to only be a few blocks from my previous accommodation. It’s still part of the Grunge District, out-grunging similar areas of Vancouver and Seattle. After settling in, my dog and I set off for a self-guided walking tour—with no guidance whatsoever other than a map littered with advertised establishment logos. All the ads seemed so anti-grunge.

We walked by a block of food trucks and, although my dog would have settled for any of them, nothing satisfied my picky vegetarian tastes. We moseyed onward to a vegan restaurant, recommended by the hotel concierge. A very nice woman whose body was completely covered in tattoos—remember when tattoos meant DANGER? (Or was that just me?)—offered to hold my dog while I stepped in to order. As I retrieved my dog and waited for my carrot beet apple ginger juice (“The Rising”, of course), the tattooed woman ran to fend off her car from two drunk men who were insistent on breaking in, even with her present along with a cluster of outraged citizens. (I was clueless, positively un-civic, mistaking the yelling for some early partiers leaving a certain nearby club.)

The dog and I zigzagged along sidewalks, working our way to the water. We encountered many friendly homeless folks and a few drug users caught up in their own escapist state of mind. (No judgment. At a certain low point, I can see how escape would feel like the best option.) Each corner I turned led to something seedier. It got to the point where I stopped letting my dog sniff pee spots since I couldn’t be sure if the scent was canine or human-derived. The distinct stench nostalgically reminded me of Santa Monica paring garages back when I lived in Southern California.

An oasis appeared! I lucked upon a Ben & Jerry’s and allowed myself a double scoop waffle cone (Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz and White Russian!). I can’t get either flavor in Vancouver. It’ll take some intense workouts to work that off, but one must indulge every now and then. It is my vacation, after all. (There. Suitably rationalized.)

I walked along the river, crossing on an old train bridge, now a pedestrian/cyclist pathway. Graffiti artists competed with one another to tag the posted signs, so much so that I could not discern any part of the original message (“Danger. Bridge Subject to Collapse”?!) On the way back, I passed a naval ship from California, moored at river’s edge with sailors looking utterly bored as they sat in lawn chairs, smoked cigs and stared back at passersby. The men acted like zoo animals with attitude.

Next to a congregation of early street campers with heavily marked up arms, I came across a large line of people for what I presumed was the night club du jour; instead, the patient folks awaited a doughnut fix, the street marked off with the temporary rows one might navigate to go on Pirates of the Caribbean. Doughnuts? How ridiculous! It was an easy judgment, being as I’d already filled up on ice cream, a far better cause for treadmill penance.

Come morning, I trod familiar ground, fueling up at Stumptown Coffee and, yes, “accidentally” happening upon Voodoo Doughnuts and finding my way in the line, something I could justify as it was only half as long as the night before. (Besides, the bathroom mirror at The Benson was the most forgiving I have encountered in months. (Forget towels and mini shampoo bottles. I wanted to smuggle the full length mirror (and lighting) in my carry-on bag.)

I asked for the two most popular vegan doughnuts. I know, Dear Reader, that must seem like a paradox, mixing “popular” and “vegan” in the same sentence, but they don’t raise an eyebrow in Portland. This is the No Judgment Zone for all walks of life. Were the doughnuts worth the wait...and the weight? Probably not. I’m not exactly a doughnut connoisseur. As I tourist, I dutifully seek out lines and get sucked in by the hype. I’d say that most people would have oohed and aahed over the peanut butter chocolate doughnut. I preferred the drier, more subtle other one until the candied gobs slapped atop the icing became overpowering nuked my tastebuds.

And what of the Ace Hotel, that unfortunate lodging that came with complimentary, albeit ineffective, earplugs? Still in business. The gay club across the street two years ago has shut down, replaced by a ramen noodle house and an under-renovation space that looks to house future trendy shops. My timing was all off. Or I needed to support the gay business with a few dances, drinks and one of those forgettable hookups. Yes, it’s all my fault the gay bar closed.

Driving away from Portland, I began to pay for my sins. Yes, that sugar coma feeling overpowered the last-minute caffeine surge I imbibed at a café called Public Domain. This after I had repeatedly brushed my teeth in the hotel room in a frantic moment of regret reminiscent of Lady Macbeth. Out, damned sugar! Out, I say! And as if to rub more sweetener in the wound, the oldies station on my car radio played a perfect piece of pop confection: The Archies’ “Sugar,Sugar”.
Sweet memories, indeed.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

SUMMER CRAM SESSION

In a few days, I head to Los Angeles, with leisurely stops along the way on the Oregon Coast and in San Francisco. I am itching to go, but part of me feels like the timing is all wrong.

Summer is the best time to be in my own sprawling coastal community. While the HUGs (Highly Urbanized Gays, something I used to be and, admittedly through this trip, a status I am seeking to reclaim, albeit temporarily) stay clear of my homeland, the summer beauty of this area is what lured me here.

I write this while my car is in for a tune-up before the big trip. I walked down the street from the auto shop and stumbled upon an oceanfront park I have never explored. I ambled along the rocky beach before retreating to a shaded picnic table with a million dollar view of the cresting waves and the silhouette of the gently rolling mountainous landscape of Vancouver Island in the background. It’s simultaneously calming and exhilarating. Should’ve brought my camera. [These photos are from the general area, posted on Google Images.]

Am I really leaving this? Yes, the need for a HUG moment has churned for too long within me. Knowing I am spending the bulk of my summer vacation elsewhere, I have spent recent weekends and the past few days cramming in all the outdoor beauty this area has to offer. Yesterday, I biked to a jetty about twenty kilometers from home, taking in an idyllic northern beachfront as a group of kayakers set off for an evening paddle. (Note to self: I must investigate kayaking options upon my return. Hadn’t I planned to buy one when I first moved here nearly eight years ago?)

Peddling home, I exchanged curious looks with a coyote crossing the road and, later, a deer, patiently waiting for the right moment to saunter across the highway. Two days earlier, I cycled farther from the ferry terminal, toward the mill which is the biggest local employer. I stopped where I always do at a little cove where I have a ritual of dipping my bike tire in the ocean, just as I did twenty-one years ago with my AIDS Project Los Angeles Buddy’s wheelchair tire in Santa Barbara in the final month of his life. It is my way of honoring Stephen and thanking him for the strength and hope he instilled in me.

I have hiked each morning with my dog along a local trail which begins a mere two blocks from my house. I don’t dare venture too far, as I have no sense of direction and I got lost in these trails sixteen years ago with a school group before I ever decided to move here.

There is more to do and see, but time ticks and I’ll come up short in this cram session. I can explore more upon my return.

I regularly bemoan the fact that I mistakenly moved here on my own. A better plan would have been to find a partner and hope he too would feel a strong connection to this land (and water). Waiting for that guy to come along, I might never have moved here. This is the season, however, when I don’t care about being alone. I am reinvigorated by this place. This is when the move doesn’t feel like a mistake.

I will soon head South, happy to reconnect with my Californian friends and to take in all that my old haunts of West Hollywood, Santa Monica and Malibu have to offer, but there is a good chance I will be thrilled to return here as the vacation winds down, eager to discover another coastal pearl.

For now, I sit, eyes continuing to gaze upon the ocean as a gentle breeze massages my face. Simply stated, this is a perfect moment.

Monday, July 1, 2013

FIVE AND THEN SOME

Yeah. I’m the kind of guy who forgets an anniversary.

I let the day marking nine years being single pass right by without playing a song by Linda RonstadtEric Carmen or Gilbert O’Sullivan.

Today marks twenty-eight years of being a vegetarian, but I only stumbled upon that fact as I began writing this. I have no special plans with tofu tonight (not that I ever do!).

Mid-June marked the fifth anniversary of my Rural Gay blog. That is indeed a milestone. I began with a short post explaining my love for quieter, scenic surroundings but ruing the fact that I was losing my gay identity. My thoughts are as true today as they were then.

I felt the blog provided an original point of view—what middle-aged fool goes from urban to rural as a single gay man? What compelled me to play The Opposite Game? Isn’t it a law of nature that all small town gays must move to the city as soon as they attain some semblance of independence? Aren’t the suburban and nether-land gays the ones who have found a partner and want to explore gardening and daily nature walks? I’ve discovered that we fools are few and far between, but I am not alone, at least not in spirit.

Five years ago, blogging was new to me. I didn’t really get it. I’d write something, post it and then nothing would happen. Did anyone read it? I figured it was my online journal—if nothing else, a way to save paper as I worked through random, often self-absorbed thoughts.

It took sixteen months before I received my first comment. Eureka! A reader! Comments have come sporadically since then, but they’ve never been as much as I’d hoped. I wanted the blog to be a meeting place, particularly for other remote gay men, a way for them (and myself) to feel connected and to reaffirm whatever it is that makes us gay.

Eventually I got a Twitter account, using the Rural Gay name and it has proven to be a better connection to The Disconnecteds. I’ve also received far more feedback regarding my posts through Twitter. I suppose a quick Tweet is easier than posting a comment under an account and affirming you are not a Spambot by typing one or two blurry, usually nonsensical “words”.

My greatest dilemma in keeping the blog current is having something to say. If I want, I can Tweet about cutting my toenails or burning a piece of toast. These “events” are not blog-worthy. (Really, they shouldn’t be Tweet-able either but there are thousands of people who lack Twitter sense. I’m talking to you, ArizonaDaredevil4. I don’t care which McDonald’s you are at for lunch.) A key aspect of being Rural Gay is that nothing much gay happens. Perhaps the blog concept was inherently flawed. Still, I’ve somehow managed to write 227 posts. My apologies for the more inane ones. Rest assured, I’ve rejected even duller ideas!

A few years ago, I decided I needed to abandon rural living. I needed the sound of sirens, I’d come to appreciate traffic lights and, yes, I wanted to eat at restaurants that featured a single cuisine. (Still haven’t tried the Greek/Indian/pizza place in my neighboring town.) With the house up for sale, I figured the blog’s days were numbered. I’d go from “Rural Gay” to “Gay”, maybe even with a celebratory exclamation mark. As one of many urban gays, my life would be happily unbloggable.

And yet I blog on. The house is off the market. I’m here to stay for the foreseeable future. The blog has gone from Is anybody out there? to a modest but growing 3,000 visitors a month. I am glad you are with me, Dear Reader. Even when you lurk in silence and are nothing more than a number on my blog count, you provide me an audience which is what every writer desires. More importantly, you make me feel less alone, more connected and a part of something bigger.

Thank you for reading. I am immensely grateful!