Cactus in the Sun

Baristas make art out of festive lattes. Simple Simon’s delights patrons with sandwiches, which fell straight from heaven. Hikers make the pilgrimage to the top of Mt. Rubidoux. Sprinklers splash grasses of Irish green.

Families enjoy the tastes of Mexico at Little Green Onions. Bookworms dig for literary gold along the charming bookshelves of Downtowne Books. This is Riverside, my hometown.

I travel from New York City, several times a year. My father still lives in the home, where I grew up. It makes for an ideal vacation spot.

Not only do I enjoy quirky cultural surroundings, but also proudly raid dad’s fridge and watch endless hours of cable television. Unexpectedly, the trip took a detour, recently.

This weary traveler ended up in the local urgent care, thanks to chest pains. I grew nervous. As I sat in the waiting room with my father, nerves ravaged me. If this were a Broadway musical, I break into an agonizing song and tap dance.

Nonetheless, we continued to wait. Predictably, I thought about death. How about my love ones? Then I laughed. Sorry folks, all you’re getting from me is a collection of used books. I still love you, though.

The nurse called me into a room. My temperature was high, but blood pressure, normal. I waited, impatiently. Dad was calm, which contrasted my neurotic being. After practically bathing in hand sanitizer, there was a knock on the door.

Hello, handsome man in a perfectly white lab coat with a chiseled face and ginger hair. Thank you for being my doctor. Please be gay. He smiled. I smiled. I stared into his blue eyes. It was more thrilling than unicorns, rainbows, and pecan praline ice cream.

“How would you measure the pain on a scale of 1-10?” he asked. Channeling my inner thespian, I gave him a performance. “It’s a 4.5. It hurts. When I move a certain direction, the pain increases and it really hurts, but comes and goes.” He smiled, after I recited my lines.

My dad was cracking up. He noticed my cheeks turn into a tomato red. “My son is here on vacation for a few days from New York,” dad, said. I gave dad a smile, as he attempted to play Yenta (Yiddish for matchmaker).

The doctor didn’t say much. Then he replied with optimism. “Looks like you have stress or have been sleeping badly. “Do you want a shot or prescription medication?” he asked. With hesitation, I replied, “a shot.”

“It’s going to be in your butt, is that okay?” I stared at my dad. He shrugged his shoulders. “Okay, I’ll take in the butt,” I replied, holding back a giggle. This was the closest I’d get to my sexy ginger haired doctor. I was slightly thrilled. He walked away.

Moments later, there was another knock on the door. Excitedly, I yelled, “Come in.” It was a female nurse holding a needle. “I am here to give you a shot,” she said. I rolled my eyes. Thanks, universe; I am always a bridesmaid, never a bride.

She had me bend over. “Which cheek would you like the shot in?” I pointed toward my right butt cheek. For a split second, the needle penetrated through precious skin. Afterwards, she placed a Band-Aid and I survived. Surprise, I didn’t die.

After leaving urgent care, the chest pain slowly diminished. My gaydar needed work, of course. However, if I had to spend vacation time in urgent care, having a hot doctor, helped.

I returned to my regularly scheduled trip. Celebrating a clean state of health, I enjoyed Riverside’s wonders. Shopping for art supplies, noshing on artisanal sandwiches, and wandering the galleria, it was a Californian’s dream. Who knew an urgent care visit could dazzle the senses? Until my next hypochondriac inspired visit, Riverside, I miss you already.

Bear and the Forest

“I first visited New York in 1973. There was a garbage strike. It (obviously) stunk. I found a hair in my pizza. The subway was gross. It exuded fear. Don’t go, you’ll get mugged,” said, my mother.

She had the same monologue, anytime New York was mentioned. Her heart stayed true to California. Unintentionally, her grim descriptions ignited a life long fascination with New York City. I yearned to ride that filthy subway, observe crazies in their natural habitat, and experience the deafening screeches of car horns.

On a humid day in 2000, my native California tootsies touched New York pavement. I was awaiting a decaying paradise. Instead, I found a cheerful island to (eventually) call home.

Broadway theaters sparkled with camp. The food delighted awe-inspiring taste buds. Sky-scrappers collided with the sky.

New Yorkers were quite friendly. They helped me find that puzzling tourist trap, I yearned to see. Sadly, I returned to suburbia. Naturally, I brought home a suitcase full of Broadway memorabilia. Eventually, I moved to New York City.

Several years, three apartments, and too many bagels later, I found myself lovingly jaded. Everything became second nature. The subways were maddening. Rent kept increasing and favorite haunts slowly closed. I had graduated from that wide-eyed (Riverside, CA) transplant to a jaded New Yorker, with an opinion about everything.

I attempted to keep the love affair burning with flames of passion. Long afternoons at my favorite indie bookshops, museum trips, and coffee shop visits couldn’t mend the jaded heart.

Increasingly, I fantasized about misty Portland. Schlepping my groceries into a craftsman style house, eating bacon with every meal, and gazing into hills adorned with pine trees, it warmed the heart. Longing for the Pacific Northwest, I had to consider it just a fantasy and find a way to embrace New York again. It was a rigorous task.

On a Sunday afternoon, I headed to the Sidewalk Café. It’s a favorite boozy brunch spot in the East Village. I complained about New York and it’s many parallels with Anna. After a mimosa infused brunch, we strolled the East Village. It was cold. The sky had a golden tint.

We headed to the shrine of vintage clothes, Buffalo Exchange (not very hipster, insert sarcasm). Japanese punk music blasted. Quirky fashion delighted my eyes.

I helped my friend pick out 90’s inspired outfits. We laughed. Enthusiastically, I browsed the colorful wracks. Wow, for once, I wasn’t dreaming about bacon and pine trees. I was actually relishing the moment.

Afterwards, we left the shop, a little hipper and happier. Donuts, coffee and a crosstown stroll, my jaded heart melted. It was a temporary relief. The next day, my jaded heart stayed happily intact.

Throughout my years, I learned being jaded is a wonderful thing. It’s a badge of honor. Mostly, it says, I’ve lived life, seen quite a bit and questioned everything.

Although, New York has become more predictable, it still retains thrilling moments. Awaiting a Broadway performance, good conversation at the local dive, and enjoying Tompskin’s Square Park will always brighten up my day. It’s almost as wonderful as a touching New York pavement for the first time.

The Little Bookshop

When I blew the candles on my eighteenth birthday cake, obvious life changes followed. It was my last year of high school. I had my first kiss ever. I also received my SAT results, which made me cry in agony.

In the midst of life changes, I opened myself up to new life experiences. Literature was a retreat from the mundane. Naturally, I gravitated toward independent bookshops. One bookshop in particular garnered my attention, Midnight Special.

I visited the old Santa Monica bookshop on trips to L.A. It had exposed brick walls, a maze filled with books, and a distinctly bohemian vibe, in the midst of yuppies and chain stores.

The travel section was my favorite. London, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Amsterdam and Paris, I traveled to all of them, without leaving the cozy bookshop confides. While en route to the Eiffel Tower, I stumbled upon the gay and lesbian section.

My only exposure to LGBT literature had been through magazines. I glared at the books and picked one. The author had signed it. Enthusiastically, I read through each page. It spoke to me.

Raw desire, guilt and camp, my eyes delved into every word. I picked a desolate corner and reveled in finding a relatable novel. I wanted to buy the book. Nonetheless, as an unemployed high school student with a conservative mom, it wasn’t going to happen.

On each trip to L.A., I delved further into the novel (I couldn’t find it at my local bookshop). It was my first lusty affair.

I wanted to buy it, while my mom wasn’t looking. As we reached Santa Monica on a blue-skied day, I anticipated more queer literature. Excitement reached my fingertips. Enthusiasm serenaded a rainbow stripped heart. My eyes longed for word porn.

Mother and I made our way through the Third Street Promenade, packed with tourists. I longed to read my book in a dark little corner, invisible to the eye. Suddenly, my mouth widened in shock.

Midnight Special closed to make way for an Apple Store. Worst of all, I couldn’t remember the novel’s name. The lusty affair ended. I suffered a great loss. My mother couldn’t understand why I appeared upset. I never told her. Time passed and I never saw that book again.

Through my voyages to Midnight Special, I came to appreciate literature more. As an openly gay adult, bookshops became miniature retreats. When life in New York (where I’ve lived for years) became too hectic, I found a little dark corner at the Strand (bookshop) and escaped. Inevitably, I still experienced lust with the written word. It had the same electricity. It was grand.

Geekdom

Before pimples, braces, film school, New York and coffee addiction, there was Garden elementary school (in Riverside, CA). It produced well-behaved and impeccably mannered private school children. Inevitably, I was the lone rebel.

Staring at brick walls, detention, and infamous phone calls with my parents remained a mainstay of elementary school memories. Nothing symbolized my zany brain like my desk.

Fridays were known as feather duster day. Our principal would tour the classrooms. The class with the cleanest desk would win the feather duster and receive additional recess time.

When the class would lift their desk’s interiors, books and paperwork became a shrine to organization. Nervously, I awaited her reaction when she peered into my desk.

Books from Charlotte’s Web to Fudge-A-Mania were scattered. Crumbled paper work, broken pencils and cassette tapes representing 90’s grunge were a shrine to childhood disorganization. Her eyes widened in disgust. “Mr. Alas, your desk is a mess,” my principal would proclaim.

Naturally, the well-organized future lawyers and doctors of the class were displeased. They gave me the death stare. I shrugged my shoulders and threw more crumbled up paper planes into my desk.

Eventually life took me to Geekdom. It’s what I lovingly call my New York City apartment. It remains a shrine to geeky living. The Star Wars theme played on repeat.

Like Mars, it was desolate. I had always been the only inhabitant. It’s served as an ideal retreat from the annoyances of Manhattan’s glittery existence.

Aliens, dinosaurs, and unicorns paraded freely as figments of my imagination. Geekdom resembled my elementary school desk perfectly. It was cluttered.

The closet and kitchen cabinets had been filled to the brim with linens, books and old paperwork. Wall Portraits were lopsided. My bed hadn’t been made. I was drowning in a sea of clutter.

Everyday, I walked in and declared, “today, I will organize my apartment.” When I actually arrived in my home, nothing was actually cleaned. The tiny hills of paper work, clothes and books threatened to obstruct my sanity.

I laughed off my disregard for organization. Lovingly, I declared it, “creative chaos.” With the embrace of chaos, I grew tired of dramatic expeditions to find a missing Isabelle Allende novel or that black cardigan.

I grew tired of digging. On a spectacularly spring morning, I uncluttered Geekdom. The man made hills were flattened. Exotic novels discovered. Sanity emerged from the rubble.

Geekdom was resurrected for my alien, unicorn, and dinosaur friends to stroll freely (without tripping on random boxes). I was delighted, too. Shockingly, I grew to enjoy the perfectly organized closet and book collection. It brought continued peace into my unconventional existence.

However, I wouldn’t take a one-way trip to Type-A personality land. I still needed that one cabinet filled with crumbled-up paper work and magazines. Disorganization exudes comfort. It reminds me of my childhood and chaos, which remains inspirational.

No feather duster days here. I was proudly disorganized. Even in a Type-A world, I stayed true to my Type-B self. No brick walls to stare at, just art formed in the hills of used books, sneakers, and cardigans. It was home. It was Geekdom.