Quirky in L.A.

The Cranberries, Blur, & Nirvana played on an old car radio. Palm trees swayed with the brutal force of Santa Ana winds. Automobiles nearly collided. Smog paraded merrily along an ideal turquoise sky.

Houses with 50’s American charm were reminiscent of the California dream. Freeways, empty sidewalks, and breezes from the Pacific exemplified a land of wanted boredom. This was L.A. in the 90’s.

Often times, my family and I took day trips there. Growing up in nearby Riverside, L.A.’s Fred Segal was a perfectly packaged representation of la la land.

It was (and still is) the legendary store were celebrities shopped. They did lunch, bought super duper, cool graphic t-shirts, and browsed for hip home décor. My mother would take me to Fred Segal’s for a very important initiation.

“You like donuts, don’t you?” asked, the statuesque Nordic sales lady. I unapologetically shook my head, yes. Unlike most perfectly quaffed Fred Segal clientele, I had a pimples and a tummy pregnant with tacos and chimichangas.

She recommended products to diminish my pimply woes. As she applied the best of Scandinavian skin care products, 90’s alternative rock blasted for the trendy Angelenos. Glaring to my left was the alternative to grunge.

Standing tall was the ideal L.A. man. Perfectly sculpted, handsome and confident, he tried on various graphic tees (in the neighboring t-shirt shop). My teenage soul sank to the ground. I wish I didn’t like chimichangas, so much, I thought to myself.

Lust filled my existence. After my facial treatment, I stared at a face full of red dots. If I get bored, I could always play connect the dots with my zits. Staring at my normal exterior made me a bit disillusioned. However, my interior was filled with art and wonderment.

I wouldn’t grow into a Gucci model, but it didn’t matter. By the teenage years, I knew I would venture east. Everything about New York fascinated me. The East had promises of intellectuality, classic architecture, public transportation, seasons, and a less vain society.

After several years in New York, I found that my city had embraced L.A.-isms, the gym, frozen yogurt, and yoga. Had New York become the new L.A.? In the midst of New York’s great beauties, I couldn’t get a date.

Although, I had a gorgeous complexion, I wasn’t exactly an Adonis either. I spent many nights alone with Chinese food and sitcoms. Alas, a handsome (or any) prince had not yet rescued me from fifth-floor walk-up land.

Were my quirky looks igniting perpetual rejection? Strolling New York, I was quite melancholy. At therapy, a breakthrough arose. “I’m alone,” with those words, I took a giant leap for gays, everywhere.

For years, I brushed off lonely sentiments. Instead, I put on a brave face as independent boy about the world. After therapy, I embraced vulnerability. Maybe, I am not that muscle guy from Fred Segal? Maybe I am not that handsome? However, I returned to the beauty within.

That week rather than focusing on dating apps and outward appearance, I channeled my inner author. Compiling a collection of short stories, I printed out the pages. Musically, the pages spewing out were Mozart to my ears. When the last page arrived, I held it close.

My heart pounded rapidly. In my hands, I held my first book. It was mine. Ideally, my inner art produced outward beauty. The pages were warm and smelled of a pine tree adorned forest. I found my happy moment, even in the midst of loneliness and insecurity.

This quirky boy still longs for a trip to Fred Segal. I’ve haven’t been in years. I loved their Santa Monica outpost. One day, I’d like to linger in their café and play, connect a zit. It’s the game, which best exemplifies my quirky teen years. Luckily, I no longer have the zits to play with.

The Gay Owl

The Hudson River was frozen over. My old brain farted. Below zero temperatures made the humble polar bear, hibernate. Coffee warmed the sensitive soul.

It’s always colder than the New York’s previous bout with the Polar Vortex. Birds of a feather flocked to Miami, Rio de Janeiro and anywhere tropical.

This bird of a feather couldn’t leave the city. Instead, I reveled in the next best thing to a Brazilian holiday, an East Village brunch date. Laughs with my gal pals, bottomless mimosas, and piles of bacon were just as wonderful as sipping Caipirinhas on Rio’s white sands.

Despite a wonderful existence in the city, filled with friends, theatre and delicious bagels, I was bluer than my navy pea coat. Rather than retreating to warmer pastures, I remained in the city.

After writing poetry and watching endless YouTube videos, I took a drastic step for mankind. In the shadow of the Queensborough Bridge, I sat in a therapist’s office. In the words of film school professor, “therapy is a badge of honor, since it’s shows an attempt to make improvements in life.”

While acting out a dramatic one-man monologue, my therapist took notes. My performance was grand. Instead of receiving applause, I was given a surprise. “You have seasonal mood disorder. It’s been common with New Yorkers, since we’ve had the coldest winter in eighty years.” he said.

I smiled. He smiled. Finally, there was a diagnosis to my woes. “ I want you to take up a new hobby, which isn’t writing or reading books. We need to take the angst alleviate it through an alternative channel,” he said with a confident smile.

Instinctively, I yearned to feed my brain’s desire for art. I took up sketching. An owl statue inspired me. I sketched the owl. The first owl was born on a scribbled notebook page. More owls were drawn. Soon, I had owls, which evoked many emotions.

Like a snowbird fleeing for winter, illustration gave me a sense of escapism. I was distracted with sketching owls, which made me forget about the winter blues. With a hoot, hoot, hoot, my hands birthed art.

At last, spring arrived. The Hudson River was re-born. Sidewalks sprung back to life. I sat in a park bench with a coffee. This was my re-ward for surviving, a sunny day, Morningside Park and a notebook full of owl sketches.

I See Dinosaurs

I spend half my days in the (steel & glass) canyons of Midtown East. My desk is adorned with decorative paper dolls, a Rubik’s cube, and vintage postcards.

A portrait of the St. Jacinto Mountains in Palm Springs is prominently displayed. When I stare into the portrait, it takes me back to my native land, Southern California. A great deal of nostalgia follows.

I hate driving. In fact, my hatred of driving drove me to the east where trains are abundant. For years, I delighted in trains, but as I grew older, I longed for my own little cocoon (also known as an automobile). My wanderlust for driving ignited a deep desire for a drive to Palm Springs, one particular trip.

While visiting my childhood home in Riverside, I threw anxiety into the smog filled air. My heart was aching for adventure. I selected my favorite 80’s music and was Palm Springs bound.

The route to Palm Springs is rather scenic. It could inspire everyone from Jack Kerouac to Hunter S. Thompson to write fantastical stories about the quirky towns and environs along the way.

With Culture Club seducing my left-brain, I set sail. Through the track homes of Moreno Valley, signs for a Mexican market, fast food, and Target distract the emotional senses. Quickly, suburban civilization fades into the dust.

A set of narrow mountains magically appears. Rugged and filled with imposing rocks, the road twists and turns with great fury. Anxiety races through my arms. The pangs are similar to great shocks of electricity. Cars tail gate. They change lanes with Superman speeds.

The desert below peeks it’s graceful canvass from the dust filled mountains. They continually rise to the heavens. Smog infused skies fade into a flawless, electric blue.

Automobiles roar alongside fields of yellow grass, roasted by the sun. Commercialism is resurrected. Gas stations, a 24-hour Denny’s restaurant, roadside fruit stands and billboard after billboard re-appear in the boon docks’ nearly open fields.

The 60 freeway merges into the 10. More cars battle for lane space. The electricity up and down my arms dissipates. A very colorful outlet mall rules the kingdom. Discounted cardigans are a distraction. I could see myself, strolling around New York in a beautifully adorned cardigan.

However, I remind myself that I have too many cardigans. I’ll stop by after Palm Springs. Opposite from the outlet mall is the Cabazon casino. It’s gridlocked with traffic and bright lights. The casino’s flashy hotel rises high into the sky. It’s more of an escapee from a lavish city than a desert rat bursting with character.

Mountains rise more triumphantly toward the heavens. They stand in the shadows of Dinosaurs. Here’s where I ask myself? Dinosaurs? I love Jurassic Park. It’s one of my favorite films of all time. I obsessed with Dinosaur everything.

The dinosaur park is a Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum for the extinct species crowd. A T-Rex and Brontosaurus strike a pose for flashing cameras. I still long for a Facebook profile picture with the Dinosaurs. It on my bucket list of life goals I need to achieve; alongside publishing a novel and launching a cardigan/sweater line on QVC.

Dinosaurs bask in the sun, but dissolve into pre-historic memory. Tall, white, windmills perfectly are perfectly aligned. They sway, free-spiritedly in the wind. Sands float peacefully. Palm Springs is inching closer.

On a desolate road, the canyons once again narrow. “Welcome to Palm Springs,” the road sign reads. My little automobile is a speed demon. I slow down my speeds. Pink stucco track homes intertwine with blue skies.

Finally, I have arrived in the town’s artery. The 80’s fade into the 90’s, both musically and weather wise. “Groove is in the heart” plays as Palm Springs’s kitschy heart appears.

Palm trees sway in the wind. Mountains rise even further into the cloudless blue canvas. 50’s modern infuses with Spanish architecture. Rainbow flags fly proudly.

For all kids growing in the Inland Empire’s nearby towns, Palm Springs will always be our gay-landia. In the cluster of heroic sidewalks, gay subcultures live side by side. Bears walk with twinks. Senior citizens socialize with one another. Muscle boys roast like chestnuts under the desert sun. A rainbow sorbet of faces, enjoy life.

The pavement becomes buzzier. Cafes bustle. I always park my car on the gay strip, Arenas Road. Merrily, I drift from my car into the pavement. Although, not a lover of the sun or heat, I feel myself fading from New York neurotic, back to California mellowness.

I celebrate my road trip with a burrito at Las Casuelas Mexican restaurant. It’s my favorite restaurant in town. The sprinklers produce mists, which cools down the Hacienda style patio. As I sink my teeth deeper into the burrito, I realize how fortunate I am to have grown up so close to paradise.

The worst part of Palm Springs is leaving. I am city kid, but my heart still lies within those landlocked mountains. When New York gets too noisy, crowded, and smelly, I mentally escape to Palm Springs.

It’s the only place I don’t mind driving too. In fact, the drive is a bit of stress relief. In a world full of blandness, the drive from Riverside to Palm Springs is more delightful than noshing on skittles. Where else could I get dinosaurs, cute gay guys, and delicious Mexican food?

The Enchanted Peacock

Where did all the cardigan loving, coffee drinking theatre geeks go? Am I the only one? In the grand metropolitan known as New York, I found a new life as an introverted singleton.

In the grand tradition of gay spinsterhood, I took a positive outlook to dating woes. Fuck you, Grindr. Fuck you, Tinder. Fuck you, dating apps with false promises of good sex and/or a relationship.

Rather than deleting the apps, I kept them. There was the false hope I could meet a potential prince charming. Like a grand peacock, he would delight me with his colorful shell and dazzling wit.

I met a charming fellow in Portland, during my great bohemian expedition out west. He shattered the walls I built around my own private kingdom. With a simple grabbing of the hand, I was swept off my feet.

Unfortunately, my bearded, Pacific Northwest prince lived too far. So, we couldn’t ride into the sunset together. Thanks to modern technology, we stayed in touch via text.

On a particularly lonely spring morning, I awoke from slumber at 4 AM. For the world’s most non-morning person, this was agony. A minute after rising from slumber, I received a text from the Portland guy. “I miss you,” it read.

The phone rang with great fury. We talked. It was amazing. Together, we indulged in his vinyl music collection. As we drifted into musicale ear pornography, I realized, “oy, he has great taste in music, but lives oh so far.

The conversation grew more intimate. Although, we only spent a week together, the bond had been formed. Had I found my enchanted peacock? The conversation drifted toward its end.

Before hanging up, he played, “So far away” by Carol King. My heart sunk. Why couldn’t he live in New York? Why was there a continent in between us? Will I find another guy with such an extensive vinyl record collection? I thanked the gods of bad sleep for my intriguing early morning.

After hanging up the phone, I felt a little more connected and loved. If my long distance relationship never amounted to anything, but phone dates, we’ll always have Portland.