Playing Photographer

My father and I were driving through Palm Springs. Rather, than heading toward, the town’s main drag. We took an unexpected path. As we went up a side street, kitschy homes from the 50’s and 60’s welcomed us.

Heading to the foothill of the mountains was  glorious. The mountains of Palm Springs are a tall and magnificent sight. However, I’d never come that close. Stop, I exclaimed excitedly. The rocks were imposing hues of brown and black. I was inspired to take photos with my iphone.

As we continued our journey further up hill, the desert town was lush with green palm trees from the slight hill. I kept stopping the car to take photos. Capturing my life via the lens of a camera and mobile has been a significant part of my life’s story.

Abroad, I would walk the streets of Tokyo desperately wanting to have my picture taken in front of the many sights I dreamed of. The only two words, I know in Japanese are konishiwa and arrigato. At first, I was intimidated to walk up to perfect non-English speaking strangers to take my picture. Sometimes, I was shot down. However, most of the time they politely obliged.

I pointed to the camera and they took the photo. Arrigato, I proclaimed. Thanks to the kindness of Tokyoites, I have pictures in front of the Imperial Palace, the fashion frenzy of funky Harajuku and drinking coffee in Ginza.

Than there were the times, I didn’t want to stop people and just took the photos myself. In London, I photographed myself everywhere from Piccadilly Circus to Trafalgar Square. Therefore, I made an art form out of taking self-portraits.

My cameras have captured the grand avenues of Paris, the bohemian chic of Buenos Aires’ Palermo Soho neighborhood and even the austereness of Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid. However, there have been photographers who actually wanted to use me as a subject.

Now, I don’t have any male model like qualities, unless, I suck in my chubby cheeks and pucker up my lips. While walking around New York’s Washington Square Park, I was approached to pose for the New York Times style section. Wow, I was intrigued, although I didn’t love my outfit that day.  After taking the picture, I was told that if they were going to use my image, I would receive an email. Needless to say, I didn’t get an email, but I was very flattered nonetheless.

Photographers I admire include Mario Testino, Wegee and Annie Lebovitz. I especially love the desert photography of Ansell Adams. On my recent trip to Palm Springs, I didn’t plan on taking photos. However, the mountains, rock formations and white sands inspired me eyes. I didn’t want to leave without making a memory of my trip. Although, the desert is inspirational nothing tops grey skies and old buildings.

Eating With Chopsticks

My holidays haven’t revolved around a Christmas tree in almost twenty years. Changing planes at airports for such exciting destinations as Tokyo, Buenos Aires & California were the norm in more recent years. Forget freshly roasted turkey, yams & a pecan pie, my Christmas dinner centered on Panda Express. Chopsticks, orange chicken & chow mien were the Christmas staple.

Sure, it’s not a proper New York Chinese eatery, but when you’re starving at Atlanta airport & changing planes it tastes as gourmet as Joe’s Shanghai’s (New York’s best Chinese eatery, in my opinion). There were the holidays where even having a loaf of bread was a blessing.

My father & I spent Christmas in Rome one year & couldn’t find any open restaurants. Therefore, we kindly asked the hotel to give us whatever they could find. That Christmas, we ate stale bread, while watching CNN International.

Italy proved a whole different animal from our family Christmases in the late 80’s & early 90s. My family, the Alas’ love Palm Springs. My grandparents had a beautiful vacation house in nearby Cathedral City.  We would all gather there & have family time. I always found a way to sneak a peek at my gifts & complained every time; someone gave me clothes as opposed to action figures.

There were truckloads of food. Everyone found a spot to pass out from food coma. My grandma’s famous turkey graced the table. A variety of apple desserts made everyone smile. The Alas family loves apple pie. Sometimes, the reunions felt as humorous as a Neil Simon play, other times they would’ve inspired a Shakespearean style production. However, those were fond memories.

As an adult, I experienced a very foreign concept, spending holidays by myself. New York is the holiday’s capital of the world. Fifth Avenue is decked in flashy Christmas decorations. As always there are remarkable window displays at tony department stores Bergdorf Goodman’s & Barney’s. The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center sparkles with holiday delight. It’s the epicenter of holiday cheer.

This didn’t deter from missing my dad during thanksgiving. I moped around the Village, not feeling super upbeat. When I returned to my modest apartment, there was a special phone call.

My friend Rebecca called. I told her, I’m feeling awfully lonely. She goes ” that’s too bad, I’m at LAX right now waiting for my flight to JFK.” I jumped in excitement; my bitter mood transformed into sweetness only butterscotch could match.

The next day, I woke up in a very enthusiastic mood. Although, Rebecca couldn’t hang out with me till the weekend, I made the best of Manhattan holiday cheer. I went to Central Park that day & walked toward the edge facing Central Park West.  That day was my first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

Of course, I watched it on TV. I’m not really impressed by parades. However, I love the artistry that went behind the floats, the music & just the cheer excitement. My jaded card flew out the window as the Harajuku girls, snoopy & superman floats passed by.

After the parade, I walked around the East Village & noticed many other people were alone too. I didn’t feel so bad. I didn’t enjoy my grandma’s famous turkey recipe that year; instead I had a burger at the diner for lunch. Then, my big thanksgiving dinner consisted of Chinese delights. Like my many Christmases at the airport, I utilized my chopstick skills & made it a great day.

I met up with my buddy Rebecca & we had an amazing holiday weekend of walking around Midtown & enjoying dinner in the West Village. The following year, felt less lonely. My roommate & I hosted a wonderful thanksgiving dinner at our apartment. However, nobody bought a turkey. Our innovative alternative, tacos, enchiladas & other Mexican delights for the big day.

These days, it’s less plane travel on holidays. My dad & I usually hang out by the fireplace. In the past year, we traded chopsticks & turkey for steaks. In the tradition of the Alas family, there’s always a big apple pie & plenty of wine. Even though, I do love having my family close by. The magic of New York during the holidays is truly missed.

Love & The West Village

It happened in the supermarket, one chilly November evening. There I was sneaking in a tabloid, when my eyes looked beyond the latest gossip on Madonna to this handsome guy. I made eye contact with him & even smiled. Casually, I went back to reading the tabloid. I glanced one more time at him. His eyes met my eyes & then we couldn’t stop staring at each other.

Images of high culture dates at Lincoln Center, road trips to Palm Springs & cozy nights at the coffee shop danced in my head. Suddenly his buddy finished paying for the groceries. However, we couldn’t stop the perpetual eye contact. He walked away, reality kicked in.

I was still a teenager, but knew exactly what I liked. That experience motivated me to come out of the closet. During that time, nothing could be more beautiful than what I experienced at the super market check out line. After that I made coming out of the closet into an art form.

Fast forward to adulthood, where copy machines, rent & double shot espressos run free. I was paying 20 bucks a month for my match.com membership. In other words, twenty bucks a month to get rejected. Guess most guys go for biceps & not men in cardigans with coffee cups in every picture. I found it funny.

However, my focus went from finding prince charming to just dating. New York City is the best place to be gay in the world. There’s acceptance & a huge gay population with lots of dating options. I dated everything from the actor/model/waiter/psychic to the guy with the world’s worst music taste. Very interesting people in general.

My buddy Michael invited me to speed dating at the LGBT Center. If anything I would make a new friend. Secretly, I always thought I would make a connection with a guy there similar to my supermarket experience. I took the subway to the West Village on an icy January night.

We all had to pay to get in. When I arrived there was a smorgasbord of guys. Twinks (skinny hairless guys), otters (skinny hairy gay guys), bears (heavy set & hairy) & daddy bears (older bears) were all represented. I met up with my buddies Michael & Dylan. They broke us up into groups. We all wore badges with numbers next to it.

At the end of the night, we wrote down the guys we fancied (indicated by the number next to their name). If we mutually picked each other, a date would follow. Michael, Dylan & I were not feeling it. So, we picked each other as our match. Walking out with two guys, I felt like a Casanova. Feeling happy to be out of speed dating, we headed to the diner. Laughs & story telling commenced over a cheeseburger deluxe with a soda. It was such a wonderful bonding experience.

We all want to be the prince residing in the tower serenaded by a handsome man. Of course, that fluff only happens in gay fairy tales. However, we’re so busy looking for love that we forget about the wonderful people in our lives. Dates come & go, but friends & family will always be there. As will my memories of love at first sight & speed dating for that matter.

Pea Coat Wonderland

Pea coat season, also known as “soup season” is the only season that makes me want to moon walk for joy. Technically, it’s winter, but chilly days also occur in the autumn. During this most lovely time period, peacoats come out to play. Whether it’s the tube in London, New York’s Madison Square Park or Tokyo’s neon playground, the peacoat is synonymous with the cold & staying chic.

Of course, observing the different variations is what I adore. Thanks to the art of people watching, I can see the same grey pea coats look bohemian on one person & business like on another. People watching is both a skill & leisure activity. It’s more entertaining than an opera. The characters are more enticing than a book & it rarely gets boring.

I have many fond memories of just enjoying a bench or sidewalk cafe, while being immersed in people watching. I also take much inspiration from this activity. Seeing how other socialize & studying mannerisms sculpts my thinking & perception of the world. Here are some of my favorite memories & places when people watching seemed more interesting than ever.

Madrid’s La Zarzuela is Spain’s very old comedy opera. It’s performed in the lovely Teatro de La Zarzuela. In the Spanish capital, it’s freezing in the wintertime. Outside the opera house, it’s a sea of fur coats. In Madrid, fur coats are not only very fashionable, but highly desired especially for the winter. Castilian accents accentuate the Madrid fashion staple outside the opera house. Also, it’s lovely seeing all the young people intermingling with the old people. Everyone there has a common goal, to see a Spanish operatic tradition.

In New York, I adore taking the 86th street/crosstown during the day. The old people taking the bus are adorable, all dressed up, going to the market & lunch. It’s amazing & shows people can be stylish regardless of age. I love Tompskins Square Park in Alphabet city with its mix of homeless, wannabe hipsters & yuppies. There’s always a crowd gathered to watch a musician or a magician.

However, nothing beats the gay pier also known as Christopher Street pier in the spring. It’s a gathering place for gay guys. Everyone having a great time, lots of speedos & some kitsch added. The gay pier also feels like a small retreat in the middle of Downtown. Hanging out on the deck, watching the Hudson is euphoric. Seeing the New Jersey skyline reminds one that yeah this is nowhere near a vacation spot.

Paris’ cafes, it’s a French institution, which made people watching into an art form. Sure, the most cliché way to watch people is in a Parisian cafe. Even I’ve been guilty of watching people traffic from a cafe in the Champs Elysees (doesn’t say tourist at all). Le Marais, which is an eclectic mix of Jewish families, gays & tourists is my favorite place to people watch in the city.

Palm Springs, this is a special mention. Yes, I go to places, which aren’t covered in fog & clam chowder, sometimes. I love driving into Palm Springs with its very distinctive white windmills & mountains, which rise like skyscrapers from the ground up. Watching the world go by at the pool is entertaining. Poolside is not the catwalks of Paris or New York. It’s interesting to see the body art. Lots of tattoos, body types & loud music blaring, served with Jameson on the rocks & it’s wonderful free entertainment.

The Ginza district & Harajuku both in fashion forward Tokyo. Ginza is moneyed. All the Japanese ladies in their finest black designer outfits sip coffee. Some even stroll around in kimonos. While men in very expensive looking suits & ties play on smart phones.

Harajuku is the youthful funky, fun loving cousin to Ginza. Musically Ginza is Pavarotti, while Velvet Underground & Bowie symbolize Harajuku. Lots of crepe stands & everyone wants to rebel against the system in Harajuku, the fashion is more over the top than anywhere else. Grab a crepe & watch a different kind of neon parade go by.

People are like pea coats. Similar styles, sometimes matching colors, but regardless that exact look is different on people. Six continents & living in two coasts has been a blessing. I’ve been exposed to a social hotchpotch of cultures & best of all amazing opportunities to people watch.

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