Free Fallin on the Jukebox

Back in the late 90s, I called the local mall, my catwalk. It was the place to window shop, grab a Frappuccino and watch all the cute guys walk by. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t drive and many of the cute guys, I admired were still closeted or not gay.

I didn’t quite bask in my high school existence, which screamed suburban America. There were many prominent subcultures in school. The jocks who played football, jocks who didn’t play football, cheerleaders, drama geeks, math geeks and the anti-establishment, hacky sack crowd, made up the quilt of existence for my local high school.

“Gee, where I do I fit in, here?” asked I. As one of the only openly gay kids at school, I lived in my own imaginary land. I dreamed of living in New York, seeing exotic lands, becoming a published author and of course, meeting a cute nerdy dude.

Once in a while, I departed imaginary land and was brought back to my very own brand of teenage angst. “Shit my grades suck, my face looks like a greasy pepperoni pizza and my stomach fat is giving me a muffin top,” said I, while in the back of the local convenience store.

My friend Clifford just shook his head. “That’s cool dude, just run with that,” said Clifford. He pulled out a precious white box from his backpack. From the box, he pulled out a cigarette. With great ease, he lit the cigarette. The smell was slightly intoxicating. More mesmerizing were his bright green eyes. He noticed I stared at his cigarette in curiosity.

“You want a puff?” he asked, with a calm exterior. “I’m okay,” said I with great confidence. “C’mon, it’s one puff, he persisted. “I am not one to give into peer pressure,” said I.

He handed me the cigarette, “c’mon give it a try,” he said. I peered into his eyes and took the cigarette. I examined it. With great ease, I took a puff. It was still wet from his saliva touching the tip of the cigarette.

After taking one puff, coughing persisted. “Shit, fuck, shit,” said I. “Wow, you’re one step closer to being a bad ass, said Clifford. “Really?” asked I. “No, dude,” he replied. “I can’t believe I smoked, my parents are going to kill me,” said I. Internally, I was delighted to have a bonding moment with Clifford, whom I regarded as an attractive confidant.

While basking in the initial glory of breaking the rules, I was later, riddled with guilt. “Oy, I pay too much attention in religion class. Should I go to confession and tell the priest I was smoking behind the convenience store?” asked I, internally.

As predicted, my guilty conscience persisted. Then I took a shopping and lunch trip to Newport Beach with my mom. We sat for lunch at the California Pizza Kitchen. As I sipped my soda, she asked me about school. Instantly I replied, “ I smoked a cigarette.”

My mother was a very conservative lady, who didn’t take kindly to smoking and booze. I was waiting for her face to fade into intense rouge. “Anthony, nothing you do surprises me,” she said. Rather than getting grounded until retirement age, it was dismissed as a life experience.

Years later I dropped the guilty conscience and enjoyed life. Being well-behaved gets old. A little rebellion and middle fingers to the air make life exciting. On the subject of exciting, I look forward to my next trip to California(where I grew up), since I still secretly love mall culture, especially the Nordstrom shoe sale and going to Cinabon for (you guessed it), a cinnamon roll.

Boy About the World

Ten years ago, in the blazing Riverside sun, I arrived for a photo shoot. In a matter of minutes, I struck a pose and proudly, “vogued.” Not quite, but I did shine my brightest smile.

On the faithful day, I took my passport photo. Upon receiving my new photo, an eyebrow was raised in terror. “Oy, I look like Butthead from Beavis and Butthead fame,” said I. Obtaining a new passport was one of the highlights of 2004: a suburban odyssey.

At the time, I was traveling to Spain for the Christmas holiday. When I touched down on Madrid, the excitement filled the drab customs hall. With one brave swoop, I had my first passport stamp (on the new passport).

My passport became my constant companion on visits to the Prado Museum and Barcelona’s lively Las Ramblas (Street). When I returned to the States, I wondered, “will I have other stamps gracing the pages of my beloved passport?”

Time would answer my question with great vigor. Soon, my feet touchdown on Australia. I marveled at the grandeur of the Sydney Opera house, sky blue seawater and marvelous cliffs, which epitomized Aussie living.

Then I ate plenty of pizza in Rome, with the backdrop of ancient history and vespas. It made me feel just a little closer to the artistic eye of Federico Fellini. Excitedly, I made the impossible happen.

“Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Tokyo Narita,” said the flight attendant upon arrival in Japan. It was a destination, I had always dreamed of visiting, but never thought I would actually make it to.

I fell madly love with Japanese quirk. Vending machines, Pachinko halls, Harajuku’s street fashion and neon lights, it delighted me. I longed for another trip to Tokyo and returned, two years later.

The Tokyo metro, a fashionable tweed coat, admiring kitschy art, it was a dream come true, x 2. However, my adoration for travel didn’t end in Japan. Paris eventually beckoned.

Coffee sipped from a porcelain cup, coupled with a dizzying array of experimental and enjoying live jazz at an underground bar, made Paris more inspirational than sitting through a Francois Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard film marathon.

As my Air France flew out of Paris, I shed a tear. “Oh, I think I am sick,” said I. That’s right, I didn’t need WebMD to diagnose this condition. While sitting through the same Family Ties episode on the flight for hours, a diagnosis was reached. “Oy, I have the travel bug,” said I.

It’s that condition, which is medically untreatable. However, more stamps on the passport would help elevate any wanderlust symptoms. I trekked on. After listening to the Evita soundtrack, one too many times, I was inspired to head south of the equator.

Buenos Aires was elegant, even in the midst of deep humidity. I ate steak and more steak and even more (you guessed it) steak. I also found romance with a flan with dulce de leche, which melted from the afternoon sun. “Oy, I must eat vegetables, when I get home,” proclaimed I.

On my return to the States, I didn’t exactly become a vegetarian. I did marvel at my collection of stamps. One stamp was still elusive. On an icy, but sunny Tuesday in an island, which was also known as a kingdom. I ran around in a navy pea coat and proclaimed, “hello London.”

I had a most magnificent time in old London. It was a place, which dazzled me as a teenager. As an adult, it still captivated my imagination.

While wondering around one of the capital’s many spaces of green, I took a deep breath. “This has been amazing, all this travel. The ducks on the pond are charming. Look at those clouds above. Oh, that beer from the pub last night is my making my head chime like Big Ben. I am in London and feel like a real world traveler,” said I.

After a quick trip to Amsterdam from London, I plotted my next trip. However, as time went on, the only jet setting my passport saw was moving from one New York apartment to the next. The traveling stopped as adulthood responsibilities took over.

During the Thanksgiving holiday, the passport and I finally took a voyage together. Did you take that fabulous trip to Rio, you ask?” Why, no, the next exotic destination was better known, as “Casa de Daddy,” (dad’s house) in Riverside, CA. I didn’t receive a precious passport stamp for flying cross-country, but it was a treat to finally use it on plane travel.

After stuffing my face with my dad’s famous turkey and stuffing, I was heading back home to New York. Like most voyages to Riverside, I had a lay over. As I rushed through Phoenix airport, I felt like a jet setter again. The plane was boarding. I was given the news, which most airline travelers dread.

“Folks, you have to check in your carry on, we’re out of overhead space on this plane,” said the (not at all) merry flight attendant. “Oy, what’s the point of having a carry-on? Asked I.

The plane took off into the darkness of Arizona’s rustic desert. “With the all this modern technology, how does this plane not have television sets behind the seats?” asked I with a strategic eye roll.

I checked my pocket, “oh no, my passport,” said I. “ Oh that’s right, I stuffed it in my carry on luggage, I replied with ease. “Shit, I had to check it in. Dear travel Gods, please save my precious little passport. I promise to go to church. Actually, I promise not to say fuck so much on Sundays,” said I.

The flight commenced and we finally landed in Jersey. I rushed to baggage claim. I waited with a bit of anxiety kicking in. The colorful array of suitcases made their way through the conveyor belt.

Hello, hint of olive green, that’s my suitcase, I declared. I grabbed it and opened up the top zipper. Shining navy blue and bright was my passport. I skimmed through the pages. “Oh stamps, you are more colorful than any of those silly suitcases in the conveyor belt. With great relief, I made my way back to the city.

Whoever says New York doesn’t sleep, hasn’t stepped out of a train at a 6 AM on Sunday. Walking through a sleepy Manhattan to grab a coffee, my own backyard seemed more exotic, even after being away for only four days. “Hey I really like passport stamps and writing about my travels,” said I, while reminiscing on my good ol’ days of travel.

When I returned to my apartment. I put my passport away. Soon it will retire, since I have to renew my passport. I’ll miss our many journeys together. Optimistically, I head to McNally Jackson’s (bookstore) travel section.

It’s the closest I get to the international travel. As I opened up books on countries, which I aspire to walk in, I proclaim, “don’t worry new passport, you will be filled with precious and very colorful new stamps.” I just need to strike a pose and vogue, for the next passport photo. Excuse me, while I practice my best cheesy smile.

The Californian

 

“I am not a beach guy,” said I, at age, sixteen. The sand, surf, and blazing California sun, didn’t quite tickle my fancy. One summer, my dad talked me into a road trip to Malibu.

In the midst of a-list celebrities, glitzy trailer parks, and rugged hills, was the piercing blue ocean. The most popular spot was Zuma beach, a grand surfer’s spot with an eclectic beach going crowd.

After recovering from extreme motion sickness, my father and I walked into the piping hot sand. It contrasted a very mellow California sun.

The waves crashed against the sun. It’s ferocious roar sounded like a lion. “Why don’t you get in the water, Anthony?” asked my father. I don’t wanna go into too deep, I forgot how to swim, said I, drenched in sunscreen.

“Oh give me a break, enjoy the water,” said my father, who was basking in the Malibu grandeur. From the corner of my eye, I noticed a gaggle of attractive, shirtless guys dash toward the Pacific Ocean. “Fuck drowning, I am going in,” said I.

The relatively cold Pacific Ocean was refreshing for me. It was a treat for me feet, which were roasting in the sand. I went in a bit deeper. “ Oh this isn’t so bad,” said I.

My Malibu buzz was quickly killed. A flying football narrowly missed my precious face. It also nearly knocked me into the water. “Oh who’s the fucking asshole, who threw that ball?” said I, internally (of course).

”I am sorry about the ball,” said the voice with a distinct California accent. Unexpectedly, a handsome young man appeared. He smiled with his big brown eyes illuminating perfect white teeth, which contrasted my mouth full of metal (I had braces, forever).

“You’re not a beach guy, are you?” he asked with a giggle. I smirked, “no, I am from landlocked Riverside. He went back to playing football with his buddies.

“Shit, times like this, I should’ve fake drowning, I would had some mouth to mouth madness,” said I. I admired the Malibu charmer from a distance as the football was tossed from one well tone and muscular guy to the other.

I walked toward the sand, with the following thoughts in my head, “gee, I wish more guys at my age were out of the closet or that I could ask a guy out and not be disappointed that’s he not gay or not into me.” Disappointingly, I left the shores of Zuma, lacking romance.

The old song, “why must I be a teenager in love” played in my head. “Oh well, I thought, at least dad and I will go for ice cream. The world tastes better sprinkled with hot fudge and a cherry on top.

Left Coast

Coffee sops, art galleries, gastro-pubs, old buildings, and a mismatch of political views; this isn’t New York’s East Village. It’s surprisingly, a world away, Riverside, CA.

Riverside may not be one of the world’s great cultural centers, but it’s ideal for a lovely holiday. Nestled in Southern California’s Box Springs Mountains, the city played host to my greatest daydreams. Growing up there in the 90s, the same thought persisted. “Oy, I want to leave this town surrounded by brown mountains and move to New York City,” said I.

I eventually moved to New York in my early twenties. In Manhattan, I have most recently resided in a small fifth floor walk-up. My windows overlook a quintessentially New York landscape. To one side, there are charming brownstones. If you glare up, the imposing redbrick projects, smile back. If you step outside onto my fire escape, the Midtown skyline flashes brightly way down the street.

This is my New York reality. Hence, my father’s home in Riverside has always been a lovely escape. Going out west has always meant delicious food in the fridge, cable TV and chirping crickets, thanks to the serene terrain.

Like any good Californian transplanted into a New Yorker, I’ve made an art form out of not driving a car. Traffic, parallel parking and freeways send my neurosis levels to skyrocketing high levels. Typically, I have my father and/or generous friends drive me around. However, I gave driving another shot.

My dad gave me the keys to his car. Like any proper creature of habit, I decided to re-create my East village routine in the heart of Downtown Riverside. I drove there, one Saturday afternoon.

Firstly, I commenced with a walk. I admired Riverside’s antiquity. It’s flower shops, restaurants gone al fresco, little fountains and street musicians provided a tranquil, but surprisingly lively vibe in the heart of suburban madness.

That afternoon, I enjoyed a latte at the local indie coffee shop and explored the titles at the favorite used bookstores. After a whole lot of strolling, I headed for a sandwich at the gourmet deli, Simple Simon’s.

After a day, which mirrored my routine in New York City, I still longed for that most suburban of moments. Risking loosing my cool urban card, I set off for that delicious slice of American peach pie.

“This top 40 station stinks,” said I. Quickly, I switched to 80’s music. Missing Persons, Culture Club & Depeche Mode were the soundtrack of my road trip. It brought me back to a time, when I romanticized about being an adult.

I parked in a parallel parking spot and stared up into the bright blue California sky. There it is, the Galleria at Tyler, Riverside’s premier shopping destination, where Nordstrom meets Forever 21 meets Cinnabon.

My first stop was Nordstrom’s. Since, we don’t have a Nordy’s (Nordstrom’s nickname), I went wild. I always adored their sneakers department. The sweet smell of men’s cologne dominated my nostrils. As, I secretly wished I had a boyfriend to enjoy this suburban moment.

After Nordstrom’s, I snuck into the actual mall. It was interesting. This was a world I once longed for, but like braces, had been buried in the graveyard of teenage angst. The galleria was secretly an enjoyable experience.

Also, the people watching was intriguing and different from my usual East Village/Upper West Side afternoons. There were soccer moms, different tribes of teenagers from gothic people to preps, families representing virtually every culture and college kids. After my quick run-through, I had my mall fix for a long while.

I returned back to my dad’s house, feeling slightly accomplished. That afternoon, I stepped out into the back patio and sniffed around, “oh it really smells like the suburbs,” said I. The suburbs smell like grass, but I most prefer the exotic smells of New York, when it’s not on the subway in summer.

 

Texas

3:30 AM in New York City, the neon lights of Times Square awaken the evening sky. Hold on, I don’t live near Times Square. Why are there flashing lights uptown? Shit, it’s a thunderstorm, said I. While still half asleep, I couldn’t go back to bed with the pitter-patter of raindrops.

On that dreary Thursday morning, I was off to that most grey of places, sunny Palm Springs, CA (insert laughter). As I wrestled with the notion of going back to bed, I had a 4 am car picking me up. As I almost shed a tear to accompany the sad sky outside, I prepared my outfit for the great expedition out west.

I was all packed up for the trip. Feeling like Mr. Cary Grant, I sashayed down my walk-up, schlepping a very heavy carry-on. The thunder persisted, which caused me to make a less than glamorous dash into the car.

As my car drove slowly through the rain soaked Tri-Borough Bridge, the Manhattan skyline was fogged in. From a distance the Chrysler building was adorned with white lights.

Hello Queens, I arrived at La Guardia airport. The road from New York to Palm Springs, would take a detour into Dallas-Fort Worth. By 5 AM, I was already cranky and exhausted. However, grand images of Palm Springs play like great actors on the Broadway stage; the grand mountains with windmills, desert sands, kitschy 50s architecture, pool parties with tons of gays and most inspiring of all, seeing my father, who lives in California.

I successfully reached the gate and was ready to board my flight. “The layover in Dallas was a quick one. I must get my power-walking New Yorker skills into play,” said I, while flipping through the duty free guide. The rain falls into hibernation. I gleefully stare out the window. “Sorry folks, we’re having electrical issues, we will be delayed for few minutes,” said the pilot.

It was like an intense needle scratch on a precious Beatles tune for my ears. “What I can’t be delayed, I have a flight to Palm Springs to catch. I really want to have a burrito at Las Casuelas with my dad. I listened to my most calming golden oldies, while the plane remained stuck at LaGuardia.

By 6:30 AM, the problem had been fixed; the plane took off like a bird headed south for line dancing.  Good-bye New York, see you in four days, said I. Then I closed the window shade on the Northeast. I watched a campy gay film on my laptop. I drank airplane coffee, which has always been a frightening concept.

I re-opened the shade, while flying somewhere over Texas. The land was flat and green. I imagined, Texas to be less green. Slowly the airplane approached the Dallas. The houses were wide and came accompanied with crystal blue-watered pools.

As the plane continued its path, quintessential Texas images emerged. Football fields, water towers, expansive freeways and more large houses. The Dallas skyline in the far distance was in a sea of haze as the expanse

9:05 AM, Finally, the plane made its final descent into Dallas-Fort Worth airport. It landed. I called my dad, to let him know I was halfway to California. Dashing from the plane, I stepped into DFW, which like Texas was sprawling. You could fit several generations of Smurfs and still have plenty of room for more. It was also clean and modern, as opposed to other airports (cough, cough LGA & JFK)

I dashed through the terminal, passing many chain restaurants and weary travelers. “I may have a short window, but I’ll make this flight, I told myself. “It’s right across the terminal, since every airline is housed in one marvelous terminal,” said I. Swiftly, I looked up at the very high escalator with signs directing passengers to distant fairy tale lands. These lands were DFW’s other terminals.

Reaching the top of the escalators, I entered the air train. For once, I too felt like a lost puppy dog. With great confusion, I asked a friendly Texan, “Excuse me, is this the right way to gate D14? She smiled and said, “Yes, this is the right train. It goes in a circular loop around DFW.

Fortunately for me, my terminal was at the end of the loop (not). I listened to melancholy 90’s music. The train looped around every terminal possible. Round orange lights shined brightly every time; the train arrived at another riveting terminal. My New York neurosis levels rose to extreme highs. This was a true fete, which could only be accomplished outside the five boroughs.

“Goodbye burritos from Las Casuelas,” said I. ” Guess, it’s Applebee’s at DFW for me. Oy, airport food,” said I. “

Texas BBQ, sausage, pulled pork, sausage with a beer,” said my brain while speaking gently to my taste buds. “That’s right, if I get stuck in Dallas, I could call my friend, Nicky and head out of the airport for real Texan style BBQ, a foodie’s dream, naturally.

After many commercial breaks, I arrived at my terminal. Secretly, I wanted to get stuck in Dallas, as an excuse to eat really well. So, I walked just a bit slower. My flight just happened to be at the very end of the terminal. When I finally arrived at the gate, my anxiety levels and reality kicked. Shit, I have a hotel in Palm Springs, I must check-in, said I.

As I proceeded to obtain my boarding pass, the agent gave me a stern look. “Did you give away my seat?” I asked. She shook her head, yes. With one nervous gulp, I said to myself “At least, I’ll have a good food coma, if I have to take the nighttime flight.” Miraculously, the travel fairies sprinkled their dust on my head. A seat happened to pop up.

I boarded the flight to Palm Springs. “Sorry Dallas, I didn’t get to explore your delightful culinary scene, but there’s always a sequel to DFW somewhere in my future. In the meantime, it was hello, Palm Springs, ” said I.

The plane took off. I met a wonderful new friend and had an amazing land locked flight. After three hours, I landed and experienced the crown jewel of California summers, dry heat. I was lovingly reunited with my father. As predicted we had a very large burrito from Las Casuelas.

Then in a scene out of a Woody Allen movie, the weather became slightly neurotic, especially for old Palm Springs. Boom, there was rain with a hint of humidity, followed by rain. “Oy, you can take the boy out of New York for four days, but the shit weather will follow is the moral of this story.

Ma, Where Do Teletubbies live?

When a gay boy leaps out of the closet, the doors open into a modern day Oz. There’s a yellow brick road, which leads into a most majestic land. Purple teletubbies parachute from the turquoise sky.

“Welcome to gay-landia,” sing the four loveable teletubbies. Dorothy, the tin man, lion and scarecrow skip down the yellow-brick road, passing out skittles to the newly out gay. Prince Charming rides into the hilly green terrain on unicorn.

“Hello, I am a gay prince. Marry Me,” says Prince Charming. So, he sweeps the gay off his feet. They ride toward a castle and live happily ever after.

This is the ideal painting for every gay who’s come out of the darkened closet. However, if this were actually true to life, we wouldn’t have so many sad love ballads.

As a gay boy, who loved Rent (the musical) too much, I wondered who would be the Burt to my Ernie (insert Sesame Street reference)? In non-Sesame Street language, it’s called a boyfriend.

“I see you dating a guy with an English accent. For some reason, I can see you two getting dressed up, while cooking omelets in the morning, said my high school friend, Grace. “

While she spoke, I delved into imagination land. More specifically, I saw myself in a kitchen covered in French country style wallpaper with an English chap. We laughed as we cracked eggs; fired up the stove and made gourmet omelets.

“That’s it,” I proclaimed. As I journeyed back to my high school reality, I uttered the following words, “I must meet a boy, who I can make omelets with.

It took a while to meet a boy. Growing up in a conservative town and high school, didn’t exactly equate an enormous pool of eligible bachelors. However, there were cool spots for gay boys, especially arty ones to meet.

One particular night, I went to the local indie coffee shop, Back 2 the Grind. It hosted bands, art and was a meeting place for the town’s alternative and gay crowd. While, sipping on a cappuccino, I spotted my friends.

Unexpectedly, I took a trip down the yellow brick road. He stood there, looking most ideal. Rather, than riding on a unicorn, he walked out from bustling sidewalk.

I found out we grew up close to each other, but had never met. My brown eyes met his blue eyes. My already rosy cheeks were on fire. I could explain the sensation, which followed.

“Wow, these feel like hot flashes. I remember my mom telling me about this. Wait, am I getting menopause? I naively thought to myself. “No, no men can’t menopause, (still debating this one)” I later assured myself.

There wasn’t a Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin-Man, lion or teletubbies, who could save me. “What was going on?” I thought to myself. The electricity ran through the wires keeping my brain intact. I could hear the song, “kiss me” by Six Pence none the richer playing in my head. The sensation went from scary to enchanting.

“Wow, this is better than Oz,” I thought to myself. I cleared the sweat from my brow as I continued talking to the fellow. My friend whispered, “he’s pretty cute right?” Shaking my head “yes,” I bravely continued the conversation.

My face turned from pepto bismol pink to a cherry tomato red. The fellow did not seem too talkative and the conversation turned into blur from my nerves. Like the mighty Lion (in the Wizard of Oz), I gained some courage.

“Can, I get your number?” I asked. “Shit, I really did it,” was my initial thought. He gave me his number. I stared at it a bit before calling. Finally, I just pressed the damn number.

We talked, but he didn’t seem interested. However, we made plans, but he canceled. Eventually, I was rejected.  I am sure he couldn’t make a good omelet. I do have a special intuition about these things.

It was my first foray into the world of rejection. It was more evil than the wicked witch of the west. As time, went on I couldn’t just tap my ruby red slippers and wish it away.

Instead, I developed a thick skin. After all, I’ll always have my own private Oz. It’s that mystical land where teletubbies sing, the rain consists of brightly colored skittles and all the men can make an extraordinary omelet.

Experimental Art

For a few lucky residents in Riverside (CA), their backyard is an old cemetery. It’s not the typical, bland cemetery. Instead, the antique houses face marvelous tombstones and lush green grounds. It screams character and utter quiet. This is an ideal location, if you’re an honorary member of the Addams Family, of course.

Though, I adored the charming neighborhood with it’s creepy views, I didn’t think I would ever have any fascinating memories there. Until, one day, my perception changed. At that time, I was dating a budding artist. We met in art class. I admired his talent. He also had great style. At first, I wasn’t quite sure if he was gay.

Instead, I started talking about Sex & the City and somehow, he was mesmerized. “Surprise, he came out of the closet.” We spent a significant amount of time together. He always had wild music playing. His room was a tribute to 60’s pop art and colorful collages. He also had pet rabbits, which typically smelled fowl.

At that time, we both lived at home. It made dating rigorous, since his parents didn’t support the gay thing. One day, we decided to go to his favorite make-out corner. He had me drive up a hill. The winding roads led to the old cemetery. I parked the car and we made out. I opened my eyes and there was reality again. The place was slightly eerie, but left a memorable moment.  On the upside, it was a quiet place for a kiss.

I drove him back home. Eventually, we lost touch, but found each other years later. I was happy to know he was dating and pursuing his love of art. As I sit in my New York apartment feeling nostalgic, I giggle. In old fifties films, there was always that make out corner. Mine will always be remembered as the cemetery in Riverside, Ca.

Film School Nerd

Every great civilization and individual, experiences the dreadful dark ages. From this time of recession, a renissance of art & self-expression is typically cultivated. In the dark ages, otherwise known as high school, I underwent my own time of recession.

On a simply gorgeous spring day, my mom uttered the words, which would change my life. “You’re grounded. I saw your report card. Are you daydreaming too much again?” I shook my head. “No.” In actuality, I was jet setting into the land of daydreams, where fashion, interesting people and cappuccinos ran wild.

“No TV, no movies and absolutely no music,” said mom. My eyes grew wide open with fear. What’s my life without a riveting CD collection to keep my right brain in creative/arty mod? I read books, which luckily were not banned. However, I had to find a way to keep my stimulation away from Bermuda Triangle of boredom.

In the common world of American high-school students, I grew up in a cluster of track homes. I took my walks after school along an undeveloped land. It was a little hostess cupcake of nature, until I stared to the left of me. Freeways and more track homes reminded me, ” oh yes, I really do live in suburbia, tear, tear.” As the dust flowed into skies of grey, I decided to say  “Fuck it, I am going to write a movie.”

Not yet acclimated to lap tops, my father took me to the drug store. I bought a pair of inexpensive notebooks and a few magazines. Turning the dull notebooks into a lively piece of art, I cut out high fashion advertisements from the magazines. I then started working on my screenplay.

“Breakfast in New York, Lunch in London, Dinner in Tokyo,” was the title. It was a witty romantic comedy about a journalist doing a story on a jet setting Central Park West socialite. Act I was the typical “boy meets girl” fare. I plugged away with my pen, turning the white bland pages into a world filled with glamour and wit.

While suburban surroundings left me with a lack of stimuli, I turned to my characters’ lives for escapism. There were escapades in Madrid, polo matches in England. Quickly, my characters arrived in ACT II. The story progressed in Paris. In a most cliché manner, the journalist and socialite fell in love with the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower bursting into romance.

By act III, the story hit a less than fabulous speed bump. While digging through my backpack, I noticed act I went missing. It was nothing, but a silly notebook. However, as I writer it was though a body organ had gone into oblivion. I cried and realized the emotional connection I had with my work.

The next morning, I bravely asked my Spanish professor if I had left my notebook in class. He nodded “yes.” Fireworks exploded from my head in joyful glee. By the look on his face, I could tell he didn’t approve of the Versace ad adorning the cover, which made me feel very, very hip. The saga of “Breakfast in New York, Lunch in London, Dinner in Tokyo” commenced.

Act III took place in Tokyo, where the journalist loses the socialite’s love. He regains and they live happily ever after. At the end, they both ride camels into the sunset with a backdrop of Egyptian pyramids. After writing an entire 3 act film in long hand, I considered my fete, a huge accomplishment. I thought it was a film that could be made and change the world, even though it was formulaic romantic comedy.

Eventually, I was let go from being grounded. The whole screenwriting experience led me to film school, where I received a BA in film. I didn’t grow up to be the next Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson or Sophia Coppola. Instead, I found my calling in advertising.

Today, I work in the creative department of an advertising firm, with the goal of becoming a copywriter. I live in my own New York City apartment and enjoy the very stimulating environment. While my teachers and mom complained about my daydreaming, as I grew into a writer, I realized it’s called “being creative.”

Cucumber Sandwiches

Long before, I lived in a walk-up, did brunch in the East Village & took the subway to work in Midtown, there was a place called suburbia. During my teen years, “Varsity Blues,” “She’s all that” & “Never been kissed” were the big films of the day. Culture was experienced through watching endless amounts of TV, everything from Dawson’s Creek to (re-runs of) the Real World: San Francisco took me away from the confines of my modest track home existence.

While Saturday nights, I’d go to Borders and spend countless hours browsing through the art, LQBT, poetry and travel section. My dad would then drive me to Starbucks, where we would talk and blast my music very loud while driving around my hometown. I spent my teenage years in Riverside, CA. Everyday, I’d daydream about living in New York, but little did I know, that charm was all around me.

Riverside could’ve fit perfectly into any John Hughes movies, whether it was Sixteen Candles or Pretty in Pink. There were the obvious signs of suburbia in my town. Teenagers would carpool from school to the local galleria. They window shopped at Nordstrom’s, ate at Hot dog on a stick and constantly talked about the world outside Riverside.

The houses were quite quaint, ranging from Victorian to Craftsman. There was the old fashioned Italian family restaurant, the Mexican diner and the gourmet sandwich shop, which welcomed everyone from the ladies who lunch & golf to the large families armed with mini-vans. In this town of strip malls and green grass, I met some of my best lifelong friends.

Growing up, an only child, I gravitated toward friends with big families. They always welcomed me as the son, they never had. My best gal pal growing was Elizabeth. She always invited me on outings with her family. The Densmores consisted of five girls. Everyone was lovely, perfectly dressed and well mannered. Going over to their house meant, that freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and watching indie films (on TV) was inevitable.

Elizabeth invited me over to her grandma’s tea party. Like many parties to come, I was the only boy. I was excited to meet Riverside’s ladies who lunch (secretly don’t we all want to be a lady, who lunches?). We arrived at her grandmother’s perfectly appointed home, which was in the upwardly mobile community of Victoria. She answered the door and welcomed us in.

I’d always been a coffee drinker, but decided to try out tea. It was delicious, actually. However, I was met with a food group, very foreign to me and quite frightful, the cucumber. For years, I couldn’t eat a cucumber. The texture didn’t agree with my palate.

Instead of passing up the beautifully presented miniature sandwich, I bravely took a bite. Since, it was thinly sliced and came with cream cheese inside, I didn’t mind much. As the tea party progressed, a sea of very glamorous women and equally glam daughters arrived.

Surprisingly, I had a couple more cucumber sandwiches. A vegetable, which scared the living daylights, became my friend. After eating half of the desserts at the tea party, I once again tried to conquer my food phobia.

Till this day, I don’t like cucumbers. It’s still the texture. I must say, thanks to the tea party, some food phobia was lost. I ate more foods, which I would typically not bravely eat.

Gay Cowboys Never Get The Blues

In my junior year of high school, I hosted a senior citizen’s dance. It was for school credit and counted toward community service hours. Every Wednesday, I’d gather up with my fellow teenyboppers and come up with exciting ways to entertain the geriatrics crowd. We came up with a 50’s theme dance.

In a church hall, a bevy of old people gathered. We dressed in our most spiffy 1950’s attire. Being a certified wallflower, I didn’t want to dance. Instead, I volunteered to myself as the master of ceremony. I watched the young at heart strut their stuff to the sounds of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper & the Platters. Nothing wooed the crowd more than the sounds of country music. Albeit, the old people got tired of swinging each other and wanted a little line dancing.

Somehow, I was talked into joining in the Yee-haw fun. At that moment, my Madonna/Brit pop/80’s new wave heartbeat did a two-step to the sounds of country music. I smiled and really enjoyed myself. The music stopped and I didn’t listen to country music for over a decade.

Years later, I re-visited line dancing. While attending Judy’s birthday party at a country themed restaurant on Long Island, I was once again reunited with the sounds of states far from my New York bubble. Judy wanted to line dance and insisted I join her on the ride.

I kept tripping over my feet, as I swayed to the sounds of Martina McBride & Shania Twain. Like my sixteen-year-old self, I refused to show that I was enjoying all the dancing. Unlike years before, I had an excuse to enjoy all the most foreign style of dancing.

There in the midst of the two stepping arrived cowboys. They were Long Island cowboys. So, I decided to line dance a little better, just in case one of the fellows was gay. I also realized how handsome a guy could look in a most delightful cowboy hat. After my country infused weekend on Long Island, I returned to the city. Little did I know cowboy boots and a whole lotta Yee-haw followed me into the pop & hip-hop infused canyons of Midtown.

After a fancy event at a rooftop in Hells Kitchen, my gal pals decided to take me to a country music gay bar, the Flaming Saddles. Like any gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen, there were a bevy of perfectly manicured gay men. However, missing were the dance tracks often heard in the gay meccas. Country music filled the dodgy walls of the gay watering hole. Nothing could prepare me for what happened next.

As I finished the last drop of Jameson, the gay cowboys started dancing on the bar. The crowds hooted and howled as the sexy bartenders did one amazing and perfectly choreographed two-step. It hit me. “This never happened at the senior citizen dance I helped organize.” I am sure if it did happen, there would’ve been more grandpas questioning their sexual orientation.

 

 

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