The Perks of Sleepwalking

When I feel nuttier than a peanut, walking cracks my neurotic shell. Endless walks, whether in the snow, rain or heat, relaxes me. I’ve been avid walker, since my teenage hood.

Riverside, circa 1998-

Man-made birds flew over suburban homes, nestled on hills. They hid behind the mountain ranges, but quickly re-appeared. Longingly, I stared into the blue skies, which were tainted with brown from smog.

“If only that man-made bird could sweep me away from suburban monotony.” Soon after, the man-made bird disappeared into a few of the cotton balls, which ravaged the sky. I was not rescued. My feet were still planted on the concrete, which I dread most.

Sulking a bit, I pressed on with my strolls. Birds chirped. Dogs barked. The hazy sounds of cars zooming through the freeway haunted souls. In the midst of serenity, my imagination escaped.

The little houses were capsules of charm. I pictured scenes from a Norman Rockwell painting. Families gathered for a scrumptious steak dinner, with mash potato and apple pie, every night. Senior citizens playing bridge, having (the television show) Jeopardy on full blast. While teenagers listened to No Doubt, contemplating their grand escape into stimulation land.

Strolling in sunny Southern California came with an unexpected perk. There were always plenty of men enjoying the outdoors. It was the land of the hyper/alpha male. Guys fixed their cars. They washed their trucks, shirtless. Football posters hung like fine museum pieces, inside the garage.

I had so much in common with theses burly men (insert sarcasm). Secretly, I wished they were gay or at least had a phenomenal show tunes collection. My gut would tell me, they were more into Tupac Shakur than “A Chorus Line: the original Broadway score.” Regardless, it was excellent motivation to walk and breathe-in tidbits of fresh air. Walking, both relaxed and stimulated my mind. Hello, endorphins.

I enjoyed imagining life as a Norman Rockwell painting. Oh, and shirtless guys aren’t a bad thing, either. Eventually, I was captured by one of those gigantic man made birds. It flew me to the east. I found a quiet nest to call my own in Manhattan.

Walking around New York, I had a more jaded impression of life. I didn’t quite have the Norman Rockwell cheerful outlook, while peering into lit apartment blocks. “What was really behind the fanciful façade?” Despite questioning everything about life, my walks always perked up dreary thoughts.

Then, I fell ill. My zest for walking deteriorated. Crowds were overwhelming. Pavements had terrible effects of stress. Smells of garbage, bakery goods, and fuel disrupted the aroma of pleasant thoughts. I was cooped up in my nest, unable to rid myself of the blues.

While vying for a Sir Laurence Olivier worthy performance, my brain exploded. It exploded with art, naturally. I drew. I wrote. I read many great novels and short stories. The grey clouds met their match. Art transformed my soul. I still needed to force myself out of bed and face the world’s vibrant hues.

By summer, New York was steaming. I made my walking comeback. My legendary long walks had returned. The stimulation further awakened my artistic soul. The gloominess faded faster. Some days were tough, but I eventually regained energy.

I schvitz. I freeze. I don’t ever mind seeing a shirtless guy. More importantly, I get my best ideas, while walking. Whether I’m in a quiet hillside suburb or trying not to loose patience, navigating Midtown (trying not to scream my lungs out from people traffic), a good walk is always beneficial. So let’s all sing Kumbaya, eat granola, and join me on another exciting edition of “I love walking.”

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?

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.

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.

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.

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?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 527 other followers