Mysterious Swan

1994, I wore flannel, lots of flannel. I listened to cassette tapes, while driving around in my mom’s 1984 Honda. The A/C barely worked. Warm breezes morphed the tiny Honda into an unexpected furnace.

Excessive schvitzing (sweating) was toppled with amazing tunes (thanks to yours truly, playing D.J.). Green Day, R.E.M., Gin Blossoms, and the Reality Bites soundtrack reflected California’s free-spiritedness.

Our favorite family destination was the cinema. It was quite refreshing. Air conditioning, soda pop, and reclining seats, oy, life was grand. Upon arriving at the cinema, one afternoon, I saw a vision.

It was the poster for “Speed.” Keanu Reeves was prominently featured. With his buzzed hair and stern expression, he nearly melted my soda pop’s ice cubes, oh and my heart. The poster left quite the indelible impression.

While sitting through the teen classic, “Camp Nowhere,” I couldn’t stop thinking about Keanu Reeves. I greatly admired his buzz head. Stepping into the daylight, I saw my reflection against the mirror of the malt shop (I know, very 1950’s, but they did serve up tasty cheeseburgers and milk shakes). “Gee, this mushroom cut is very 1993.”

At eleven, I still went to the hair salon, where you received a lollipop, after every visit. I told the hairdresser, “Shave my head.” Astonished, she asked, my mother’s permission, which she surprisingly agreed to. Soon, my mushroom cut was gone. I had a baldhead, but appeared more like Uncle Fester than Keanu Reeves.

Soon, I joined the legions of men, who also had the “Keanu” look (at the time). They were far more attractive. After having a sudden urge to binge watch Adams Family reruns, I patiently waited for my hair to grow back. It took a while.

Unfortunately, it didn’t grow back graciously. Rather than straight locks, curly ones appeared. Soon, I had a full set of hair again. Never again, did I want to shave my head. I learned not to follow hair trends. Over twenty year after the Keanu, one hair trend fascinated me.

I was standing on a Brooklyn bound L train. It was brimming with hipsters. In a sea of beards and black-rimmed glasses stood a man with long raven hair. It was very wet, without much volume.

He grabbed his wet hair and shook it a bit. Strategically, he turned his long locks into a well-oiled man bun. Princess Lea would be proud. The whole process fascinated me.

Like the Keanu, the man bun was taking over New York. From Williamsburg to the East Village, man buns were drinking PBRs, eating bacon, and strolling around with Yoga mats.

If there was an indie coffee shop, a man bun was certain to be in close proximity. It even dominated social media and dating apps. Both sexes were expected to swoon for the mullet’s cousin (which in itself was a party in the back).

I never quite understood the man bun. Was it a trend? Or was it a rebellion against alpha male standards? (Which dictate short hair for men). After surviving the “Keanu,” the man bun made me yawn. It was yet another style for legions of urban men to emulate.

Whether, it’s a faux hawk or man bun, I don’t follow hair trends. My hair is a full ball of curly frizz. I wear that clump of frizz, like a proper tiara. For my man bun readers, just do you. Take Polaroid photos with your man buns (if you can find a Polaroid camera). You and future generations of hair aficionados will greatly thank you.

Weirdo

In high school land, subcultures are everything. Jocks, slackers, theatre geeks, science nerds, cheerleaders, rich kids, emo kids, it’s a smorgasbord of distinct tribes. Where do I belong? In my four years of high school, this question constantly baffled me.

I was the gay kid (insert, surprise appearance) with major gay vocal cords to prove it. My gay voice made Liberace look butch. In the grand tradition of gay kids, growing up in a conservative catholic school, I had stereotypical interests.

You might a psychic, if you guessed the following about me. Hey, Anthony, I bet you were into musical theatre, European travel, Madonna, glittery disco balls and drag queen revues. Congrats, if you guessed these mind blowing facts, friend. I’m just going to file you under, Dion Warwick and the Psychic friends network.

I fit many gay stereotypes, which led to a life oozing with arty experiences. After graduating from film school, I followed my tribal heart to New York City. It’s the ultimate right of passage for gay men. I found a fantastic urban family. Surprisingly, I struggled to find my own tribe within the gay scene.

There’s always been a hierarchy of beauty within the gay male community. Here’s what the ideal man sounds like: Hi, I’m a perfectly sculpted, six-figure earning, handsome, well endowed, twenty-something, gay male living in Chelsea, love me.

For us alternative kids, this can be a freighting expectation to stride for. Many of us value individuality and no obeying by stringent standards. This leads to the philosophical question of the century. Is adulthood, just an extension of high school with rent payments and broken hearts?

While at one of my many boozy brunches, I complained to my gal pals. “Where are all the anti-establishment, alternative, bagel loving, granola eating, anti-gym bunny gays at?

Kelly suggested, “join a gay book club.” The bacon strip nearly slipped from my mouth. “Wow, a writer’s group, that sounds most satisfying.”

As a self-proclaimed bookworm, I have an extravagant book collection. Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, Gertrude Stein, Langston Hughes, Isabelle Allende, J.D. Salinger, Jorge Luis Borges, their books line my shelves. Every day, I glance through the titles with great pride.

A day after brunch, Kelly sent me the link for a gay book meet up. I joined. The book chosen didn’t tickle my fancy. In fact, I procrastinated. I was too busy finishing up “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.” The weeks approached and I still put off my reading assignment.

On a humid, Sunday afternoon, the book club was meeting within hours at an indie bookshop. So, I rushed to Barnes & Noble, found the book and attempted to skim through it. With the turn of every page, I proclaimed, “Gee, I wish I was a speed reader.”

To my surprise the book was an okay read. It’s nothing I would buy or long to have in my collection, but not terrible. Feeling confident, I dashed toward the book club meeting. Every granola gay from the East Village to Upper West Side was in attendance, along with our lesbian friends.

We sat around in a circle and discussed the book’s many euphemisms and metaphors. My brain farted. I couldn’t remember a damn thing I read. As the circle went around, they picked people at random to discuss an aspect of the book. Predictably, my brain was still gassy.

It reminded me of the time; I skipped reading a chapter of (George Orwell’s) 1984 and had a pop quiz. That same sensation crippled any intellectual functions. Time was ticking and boom. Our group’s designated meet up time had ended. I was obviously relieved.

Even though, I didn’t quite finish the book, I still had a “gay old” time (gay in the happiest use, possible). It was thrilling to know, I wasn’t the only granola, book-loving gay in town.

It was satisfying to know, there many gays more interested in flexing their literary muscle, as opposed to biceps. I found a possible tribe, to call my own.

Adulthood is very similar to high school. There are the popular kids, cliques and oh, so much drama. Fortunately, detention or fears of being stuff in a locker are not part of the experience. Oh and sans the pop quizzes on Animal farm.

I once dreamed of being tackled by the football team. These days, I seek something different. That’s right, I yearn for a geeky man and his huge book library. Since merging our collections could mean further literary grandeur. Life would be swell and filled with interesting nouns, adjectives and verbs.

Parental Advisory

In the 90’s, record shops were the axis of cool. Digging for the soundtrack of one’s youth was exhilarating. Top 40, soundtracks, the golden oldies, and of course, alternative rock, they were travel companions on Memory lane.

One force threatened my musical euphoria. “This album cover says, parental advisory suggested. Nope, I am sorry. I can’t have you listening to dirty music in the house,” said, my mother. She sure took the fun out of artistic expression.

Since I am a genius, I’d convince dad to take me to the record shop. He didn’t look at labels. He didn’t care. Even when I blasted my Madonna and Beastie Boys cassette tapes, dad would just nod his head. The words, fuck and shit didn’t bother him.

When I would return home, I’d play my filthy music when mom was watching television (at full blast). Only once did I get caught listening to a filthy music. It was Nine Inch Nails. She snuck behind me and demanded the cassette tape, which was yanked into inevitable death.

Music wasn’t her only target. I was forbidden from watching cable television. For the first twelve years of my life, I watched television through the infamous rabbit ears, aka an antenna.

I made the best out of living without a cable box. Fortunately, there were breaks from monotonous television viewing. As a kid, I really looked forward to it.

Momentous road trips were a staple of growing up in California. Motion sickness always kicked in on those long drives from Riverside to Santa Barbara. However, I always had the same reaction. “Oh, look, ma. It’s the Pacific Ocean. It’s so pretty. Look, surfers. They look hot. Help, help, help, I have to puke. I hate the back seat. “

After hours of dizziness, Smashing Pumpkins, and spontaneous photo-ops, we would arrive in Cambria. It’s a seaside town characterized by pebble stone beaches and an air of small town America. Of course, we stayed at a delightful inn.

Rather than jumping in to the Pacific, I indulged in cable television land. “Anthony, I don’t want you watching MTV, all day. That stuff is filth,” my mother would yell, sternly. It didn’t matter much, I could choose from a variety of exciting cable programming. It didn’t have to be MTV. I really wanted to watch Beavis & Butthead, though.

Upon returning our hotel from dinner, my parents fell asleep. Sneakily, I took the control from my father hand. I switched it on and lowered the volume down. Predictably, I switched on MTV. Wow, Beavis & Butthead was on. It was the episode where they forget how to pee.

Holding back giggles, I heard a ghostly sound. Giggles, where are these giggles coming from? It couldn’t be my mother. She was as humorous as a guard at Buckingham Palace. The giggles intensified.

In the darkness, I could see mother trying to hold back laughter, too. She noticed me. “That’s hysterical, they forgot how to pee. Then they flooded the classroom in piss, funny right?” she said. My face was stunned. After years of unnecessary stiffness, Beavis and Butthead finally broke down her rigid walls.

Two days later, we returned to Riverside. Inevitably, her rigid walls were resurrected. Within months, she caved in. Our (then) new cable box was installed.

Finally, we could all enjoy endless hours of music videos, news, and cooking shows. Of course, mom always scolded me for my love of music videos and Real World viewership. In turn, I reveled in my unlikely status as media rebel.

After endless re-runs, Real World casts, and sneakily watching Queer As Folk, I reached adulthood. Surprisingly, I grew into an adult, who lived without television. “The humanity,” my father would proclaim.

Cable television didn’t fit into my budget. Naturally, I spent considerable time reading books, lots of wonderful books. These days, I stare out my window at the flashing lights (from tenement buildings across the street). I feel wanderlust. “Wow, they must be watching E! Television shows and endless hours of CNN.”

Even this bookworm misses the endless stream of television channels. One day, I shall relive the 90’s. I’ll buy a house; pump up Nine Inch Nails, and DVR every interesting program. The American dream, it’s alive and living in a Harlem walk-up.

Skylar

Before Tinder, Grinder and whole lot of selfies, there was Interactive Male. Late night on cable television, perfectly tanned, buff, and handsome guys appeared. “I met my man on Interactive Male.” His equally handsome look alike appeared on screen. They smiled.

Quickly, I jotted down the number. Wow, its toll free, I am so going to meet a man on there. He’s going to look just like the buff hunks on the television ad. Naturally, I called the number.

Here’s how interactive male worked. You called the number and recorded your message for eligible bachelors. Mine went like this:

“Hi, this is Anthony. I am eighteen, aspire to attend film school and have been to Europe, twice. I live in Riverside and looking to meet some men.”

After recording, you could listen to other guy’s doing their best butch male voices and decide, who sounded sexiest. No faces, of course. I scrolled through the list of voices. One voice seduced my queer senses.

“Hi, my name is Skylar. I’m blond hair, blue eyes and twenty-years old. I’m not exactly out of the closet. So, I’d like to meet a guy, discreetly.” Skylar had the stereotypical gay voice, with a touch of shyness.

I was fascinated and left him a message. The next day, I was flooded with messages. Eagerly, I pressed the digits to access my voice mailbox. Alas, I couldn’t access it, without paying an extra fee.

“What’s this? The number said, toll free. If I pay extra for Interactive Male, my parents will throw me to the dungeon. They’ll think I’m calling the sex hotline for dirty chat.”

I always wondered if Skylar had left me a message. Was he my soul mate? For years, I forgot about Skylar and Interactive Male. Then after a 90’s revival concert, my friend and I reminisced about the good old days. Mentioning Interactive Male, I told her about Skylar. We laughed.

Inside, I wondered, what happened to that awkward boy over the phone? Did he come out of the closet? Or did he delve deeper into the dark abyss, where fabulous frocks were replaced with Tommy Bahama shirts? Skylar would always remain an obvious mystery.

Nowadays, I see faces, lots of faces. Dating apps have taken over. No way of hiding the dad bod, these days. So, I proudly strut myself. I do miss the mystery of Interactive Male.

Lack of visuals made the men more enticing, especially if they had a sexy voice. Somewhere in the galaxy, Skylar is laughing about his Interactive Male days, who wouldn’t?

Town Hamlet

Earthquakes strike. Elves bolt through a patchwork of tiny village houses. It characterizes the town hamlet. A Fire-breathing dragon attacks with fury.

An Earthquake erupts. Imposing bean stocks spring from the soil, corrupting the precious cobblestone roads. This scenario exists in my head. In fact, this is my head on stress.

Here’s my head, while reading a good book. Somebody cue that song, Mellow Yellow (by Donovan). Elves cheerfully dance along fields of green. Jellybeans fall from a cloudless blue sky. Even the fire-breathing dragon is happy. He morphs into a sassy drag queen with killer heels and a blonde wig.

Back in New York (aka, reality), I didn’t see dragons in drag or merry elves prancing down First Avenue. Instead, I always find my own pot of gold, at the end of sparkling rainbow.

Across (approximately) 2,000 miles of Middle America, the Rocky Mountains, and the Hudson River, it arrived. Naturally, the pot of gold came in a standard UPS box. “Oh, my god. It’s my care package from dad.”

I opened the box with great enthusiasm. Books upon books were haphazardly piled on each other. Don Quxiote, Valley of the Dolls, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Emma & Three Lives were a few of the delightful titles. In the grand tradition of care packages from dad, he left many pairs of socks under the literary grandeur.

“Hello, stress relief.” The first book I read from the pile was “Engulfed in Flames” by David Sedaris. From coffee shops to park benches, I reveled in it’s witty humor.

Since I have a long subway commute to work, reading a funny novel always provides a nice kick. While indulging in espresso-like inspiration, handsome man sat next to me on the train. In a very New York style, I avoided him and concentrated on the words of Mr. Sedaris.

From the corner of my eye, I could see him casually glancing at the book. Soon, his eyes wouldn’t deter from the page. There was a certain connection in sharing the book together.

The elves in my head sent a signal, “talk to him, you, yutz.” A certain earthquake erupted inside of me. “Hello, anxiety.” Palms were sweating, leaving wet marks on delicate pages. More pages turned, his eyes still glued to every word. The train was closer to approaching Times Square.

Alas, I glanced at him, quickly. Unfortunately, I didn’t build up bravery. The elves sighed in misery. I left the train, without uttering a word to my literary lover. At least, I had a nice train ride. I can’t say that every day.

Books are my stress relief. I read many. They delight me. I admire authors and dream of having my future novel sold everywhere from Powell’s Books to the Strand. In the mean time, my town hamlet remains a peaceful utopia for elves and that fire-breathing dragon, who adores heels and blonde wigs.