Yawn, Otter, Yawn

Fuck, shit, fuck, a tragedy just rocked my campy existence. With tears streaming down, I glanced at the vertical mirror. “Hola, muffin, muff top, that is. For half a decade, my weight had stayed consistent. Finally, bagels, pizza, and nachos had taken their revenge.

Leaving the dressing room, traumatized, the inevitable persisted. I caved in and bought a gym membership. The Treadmill became a major yawn. Power walking and jogging ignited a yearning to eat carbohydrates, drink coffee, and read books.

Rather than dying of boredom, coffee shop culture made a surprise cameo on the treadmill, sans the coffee, or treats. Indie rock, a classic novel and the “infamous” Batman journal sustained a tolerable (working-out) experience.

Glancing around the gym, muscles, six packs and pecs were as common as sweat and germs. The guys had the cheesy,” hi, I’m a Chippendale’s dancer” look. Secretly, I wished to have similarly sculpted features.

Alas, in the gay galaxy, I belonged to the bear tribe. Bears could eat as many burritos as possible and still get dates. Chub and fur were the only pre-requisites.

Confidently, I stepped off the treadmill. Basking in my bit of bohemia, an inevitable interruption serenaded gay eardrums. It was the “Scruff” app notifying me of an interested fellow. “Hello, looking for a nice guy to date,” read the message.

Jaded from past disaster dates, I rolled my eyes. However, after a week of feeling rejected by one’s own trouser size, a date would elevate self-esteem. “ Otter seeking bear,” were very persuasive words (Otter is a hairy, but skinny gay guy.).

We chatted; I sent him sexy pictures of yours truly wearing dazzling cardigans. He showed off his colorful tattoos. As expected, I asked him out on a proper date. Being a man of great taste, he naturally accepted.

Meeting at Simple Simon’s (a cool deli in Downtown Riverside), we locked eyes. If you thought, Barbara Streisand came out of the bushes to serenade two gay stereotypes, then you’re somewhat wrong. An awkward handshake greeted me, upon meeting.

His brightly colored personality was a distinct grey in real life. Sitting a table by the window, we ate. Conversation was forced. Diagnosing myself with a slow death from boredom, I threw random and funny topics to gab about. Drinking was one such topic. He was disturbed. “Drinking is stupid.” Geez, in all of California, I find the one gay, who hates booze.

Observing him eat a croissant sandwich served as the only excitement. Finally, hitting the wall of boredom, he took a last bite. The date ended. We parted ways. Like many mature acting gay guys, I immediately deleted him from Scruff. “Going on treadmill for five hours would’ve been more delightful, rejection loomed.

Upon returning home, dad observed sadness. I confessed everything and told dad, “He doesn’t drink alcohol. ”Dad smirked, “never trust a man, who doesn’t drink.” As the old cliché goes, “father really does know best.”

Recovering from chronic boredom, I delved back into my coffee-centric/book-centric life. Most surprisingly, I returned to the treadmill and had burrito daydreams, like a good bear should.

Six Floors to Hell

Living in a material world and I’m a material girl.

 

-Madonna.

 

These lyrics were sung at my last New York performance. After numerous glasses of wine, liquid courage drove me to the musical edge. At my going away party’s after party, my friends and I ended up at Uncle Charlie’s, a well-known piano bar in Midtown East.

Thanks to the grapes of California, I delighted the crowd with my Madonna tribute. Of course, I couldn’t remember singing at the piano, but this was just another fun filled day in my last month as a New Yorker.

After almost a decade (on and off) living in New York City, this California native was trading in island living for the hills without eyes. With naïve thinking, everyday would feel like a delightful piano bar kind of day. Unfortunately, one major obstacle stood between campy bliss and myself.

Arising from slumber, I took a look at my studio apartment, which would stand as a memory, within weeks. Books, records, clothes, linens and old US Weekly magazines littered the pre-war grandness.

Jitters arose from a typically perky demeanor (well for New York). This apartment had to be emptied out, cleaned, and everything shipped to California in a limited time. On the excruciatingly hot day, I packed all my belongings.

Like most urban dwellers, my apartment was a fifth floor walk-up, no elevator. Bravely, I carefully made my way down the stairs with goods being moved to Riverside. After hailing a cab, I headed to the UPS store.

Successfully and expensively, the goods were en-route to the left coast. Taking the long way home, Harlem’s temptations were inevitable. Coffee shops, bakeries, and parks to sit down and read. Displaying great discipline, the allures of park benches, coffee, and croissants were dodged.

Huffing and puffing my way up to the tenement building’s top floor, I entered my apartment. “Shit, there was still stuff to ship. I forgot how miserable moving could be.” Even with the air-conditioning running, the extreme humidity bogged down energy.

More stuff was left over than expected. Laying spread eagle in bed, anxiety filled the cranium. “Shit, fuck, shit, I know, I should clean out this apartment in one day, but I’m going out for wine.”

With glorious procrastination, I traded wine and pizza for the hellish joy of moving boxes and cleaning. It was a grand decision. A week later, it was back to moving. Only, my apartment had been filled with more stuff than expected.

Many trips were spent going up and down six stories (the trash bins were in the basement) to thrown belongings and trash out. Sweat formed on my t-shirt, in the shapes of kangaroos, Japan, and apples. It was an exhausting journey.

Everyday moving stuff out, I’d discover a new cabinet filled with more old mail, magazines and clothes. It was more horrific than any Twilight Zone episode. What was anticipated as a single-day move, turned into a week long cry-a-thon of boxes, stairs and man-boob sweat.

With only a few days left in Manhattan, the joyful thought of old Riverside kept motivation up. By the final evening, the temperatures were hotter than a fire-breathing dragon’s tummy. I was still throwing out stuff. Not everything fit in my luggage, either. Stress took over. My car to LaGuardia was to arrive at 4:30 A.M.

Past midnight, stuff was still being thrown out. At 4 AM, I made the last trip to the basement, showered and dashed to the airport. Crossing the RFK Bridge into Queens had a greatly liberating quality. The “Great Move of 2016” was over.

Although, my apartment wasn’t completely empty, it was empty enough. Goodbye, hellish move, hello, California. The plane took off at 7 AM. Below, I glanced at the gridlock below. Cars were rushing into Manhattan, as I had left the island for a new beginning in old California.

Leaving New York didn’t fill me with emotion. Moving out proved a frustrating and mentally exhausting experience. Once, the plane flew past the bustling George Washington bridge into the Mainland U.S.A., aka Jersey, I was officially heading home.

After a layover in Dallas, this California boy made his cheeky comeback. With bags under my eyes, skin, which mirrored Chrysler building greyness, and a tote filled with dreams, I braced myself for a new career in education and suburban living.

Staring at my records, books, and posters, I’m reminded of the struggle, which it took to ship. It makes me cry every time. With a newly minted fondness for Southern California, I reveled in drinking countless glasses of white wine and singing “Material Girl,” in the privacy of my own track house.

It’s Raining Glitter

“Mama, I’m not pretty enough to be a drag queen.” Much to my school and family’s shock, I didn’t grow up to be a drag queen. Pretty heels, fluffy dresses and lavish wigs didn’t quite appeal to a boy, who digs for his wardrobe in a pile of wrinkles clothes.

Predictably, the idea of drag queens remained fun, energetic, and admirable. While at the Strand bookshop (here in NYC), I found holiness. “Howdy, RuPaul. It was a miracle, a RuPaul prayer candle. It would be perfect to ship over to dad’s house, as a care package.”

Giggling, I (mentally) time traveled back to Christmas time at our family home in California. Father and I have opposing tastes on television shows. He prefers news and the History channel. Old sitcoms and reality shows (yes, I’m embarrassed to admit it) keep me flying across the country to watch television.

Our TV tastes reflect are diverse personalities. Dad is a marine, level headed and not neurotic. Yours truly is a bit eccentric, neurotic, oh and gay, very gay. When daddy and I agree to watch a TV show together, a drag queen gets her wings.

It did happen on a fateful and very starry night. “That’s a real lady. I don’t believe that’s a drag queen,” proclaimed, dad. The film credits to John Water’s “Polyester” bursting into the screen. Divine (one of my most famous drag queens and an icon) was the star.

As a huge John Waters fan, I found it humorous to expose daddy to a raunchy and very campy cinematic experience. Daddy repeated those faithful words, “I don’t believe she’s a drag queen. She a lady, look at her.”

“Daddy, it’s Divine in the starring role. She’s the most famous drag queen of all.” After a few glasses of wine, he glared into the screen, “oh shit, you’re right. She’s so convincing.” Laughing hysterically, culture shock rocked our family room. Daddy was enjoying John Waters’ filthy humor as much as his gay son.

Proudly, he became an instant John Waters fan. Months later, I stood in front of the RuPaul prayer candle. $18 for this? Do I really want to buy it? Convinced by dad, it was purchased. A few days later, it was shipped to California, along with a Rubik’s cube, paper dolls, and Andy Warhol knock-off portraits.

Gladness bestowed a glittery heart. I loved home. While other boys had to pretend to love football, I could watch campy films with dad and not hide my oddities. Normal is boring. A bloke in high heels and lavish wigs is not.

Coffee and Prozac

In high school, my trousers would never fit correctly, which, created a wedgie, a terribly obvious wedgie. I could throw a coat over it during winter, but my bum was unavoidable. The terribly cruel kids in high school nicknamed me, “the never ending wedgie.”

Wedgies were out of style by 1999. However, days of fantasizing about graduating high school and being an accepted freak of nature never died out, passed 1999. Uncovering my tribe became a monumental dream. I’d be the toast of the art world, an Oscar winner and Pulitzer Prize winning author.

Fast forward, if you attempted to find my art at the cinema, a museum or indie bookshop, then disappointment would engulf your soul. Although, I wrote many stories and even written the first draft of a novel, I still struggled to get my art into the world. In fact, as a thirty year old, feelings of awkwardness and aloofness never left.

More surprisingly, I was feeling out of place in New York City. Twas the geographical location, I ran away to not be an outsider. As my thirties progressed, not only was it rigorous to develop a writing a career, but change was needed, and inevitable.

New York’s stifling sidewalks were suffocating. Therefore, escaping became the dream. After failed attempts at moving to Los Angeles and Portland, escaping disappointment came in reading books.

Randomly, I sought to find the right career path. Reading and writing were the only hobbies, which tickeled my fancy. How could I make a career of that? Then, I remembered high school and the fine literature digested. Randomly, I decided to become a high school English teacher. Along with academia, I decided to make a bold step, geographically.

Upon taking my morning breakfast of a coffee, bagel, and Prozac, I checked on my frequent flyer miles. Bravely, I researched how many miles would be needed for a one-ticket to Southern California.

Having more than plenty of miles, I booked the one way ticket from New York La Guardia to Ontairo, CA. By June 1st, New York would be another chapter in lie, albeit, a very interesting chapter. Soon, Riverside would become my bohemian enclave.

With only two months left in the Northeast, I brainstormed a bucket list of experiences, still needed to be had in the city. After living in New York, on and off for nearly a decade, there wasn’t much left. Coffee shop adventures, book shopping sprees and walks in Harlem were more thrilling than a visit to the top of the 30 Rock.

Waiting out the move proved most difficult. In many ways, I was stuck in my old life, but change loomed nearer and nearer. Impatience hindered enjoyment, but attempted to be a happy (as happy as a cranky New York resident could aspire to be).

Escape through the written word became most beneficial. Would I survive the next few months of waiting? of course. Ironically, the place and institution I desired to escape turned itself into the dream of the late 2010’s. Only, I would avoid all trousers, which gave me never ending wedgies.

Witch on a Broomstick

Ideally, I would like to be a witch. Flying around in a broomstick, oh, it’s the dream. It would also be great fun to scare the little shits and ride around with black cats as sidekicks. Having a flying broomstick would mean, I wouldn’t have to step foot in another airport.

My last airport visit made me really want that flying broomstick. While bolting toward the coffee line, an evil hipster mombie (when a mom meets a zombie) aggressively pushed her stroller in front of me.

“Hey, I was in line before you were.”

“No, you looked down right when I got in line,” said, hipster mombie, adjusting her leather jacket, which looked tawdry, but cost a fortune, probably.

Grumpy Anthony (yours, truly) wanted to yell and put on a magical theatrical performance.

“You think, you have special privilege with that fucking stroller, using it as a fucking weapon to cut in line.”

Steam practically floated from my ears, in the tradition of porcelain teapot. Shock trembled through her soy latte sensibilities. However, she didn’t say much. Her baby picked his nose, merrily. She went about her hipster business and didn’t budge.

After savoring in the “Neurotic New Yorker special, “coffee+ bagel + happy pill. I strolled over to the gate, for boarding.

“Hey, your carry-on is too big. You must check it-in,” yelled the stiff, gate agent.

“I paid, specifically for group one, to not check-in my luggage.”

“We need to measure your luggage, sir.”

Placing my carry on the baggage, measuring template, it didn’t fit.

“Sir, we need to check-in that bag.”

“Dallas is where I connect planes. I’m going to California. Honestly, you people are going to loose my bag,” I am not checking it in.

Zipping open the carry on, I flattened it. Finally, it fit into the measuring template. My friend, the gate agent wouldn’t budge. She was determined to check-in my carry-on.

Thanks to my theatrical side, Dallas bound passengers received a free off-off-off-Broadway performance. Taking out my bottle of happy pills, I walked over to her.

“I’m very ill, and must board this plane.”

Trying to avoid a lawsuit or bad Yelp review, the gate agent allowed me to board the aircraft.

“Happy fucking holidays,” I shouted and ran to my seat. Delighted, I flew to Dallas. Upon arrival, I practically hugged my carry-on, whom I almost lost in airport oblivion/hell. Eventually, I was on a plane to California’s Inland Empire.

On an unseasonably frosty afternoon, I was back in my motherland, California. Reunited with my father, we laughed at my ordeal and great theatrics. Glancing into the cloudless blue skies, I proclaimed, “Shit, somebody really needs to come up with a flying broomstick. It would eliminate grumpy passengers at the airport.”

Amor y Un Burrito

Grey skies devoured the sun. High-strung winds blew through the quaint pavements. Trash floated majestically, like confetti on New Year’s Day. This bit of monsoon madness happened unexpectedly in Riverside. It’s Southern California’s beloved architectural gem.

Predictably, I was enjoying the spectacle from a coffee shop’s comfort. After basking in my soy latte’s last droplet, I ran to my car. I knew rain was on its way. Driving home (to dad’s), rain flooded every road. Sitting in traffic, I sang with Hall & Oates. Impatience rioted my New York sensibilities.

In fact, I was supposed to go on a red eye flight back to JFK, that night. With a smile, I glanced over at the torrential rain falling eloquently on bright and delicious orange groves. If this weather keeps on, I’ll get stuck in Riverside. That means more time with daddy, my DVR and more opportunities to raid his fridge. Mother nature certainly loved me, but shock ran through me, a few hours later.

“Daddy, you’re missing the exit. Daddy, we’ve been driving in circles for ten minutes, Daddy, look that’s a parking structure, please park. As predicted, my flight didn’t get canceled. Dad and I were lost and bewildered at Los Angeles International Airport. Eventually, we found a parking lot and spot.

I had to make the grand voyage (back) to New York City. After hugging my dad, goodbye, I went into typical Anthony mode. Being Mr. Pushy pants, I bolted through check-in and security at the airport.

Although, I’ve always loathed flying out of LAX, the person watching is a treat. All L.A. stereotypes were in grand form (at the American Airlines terminal). Then, I commenced singing, “the shit show, shit show, everyone loves a good shit show song.”

I sat across from a flight heading to JFK (it was the flight before mine), reading another collection of short stories. Typically, on flights to New York, everyone battles to board the flight, first. Not this time, everyone was patient, very patient.

A most unusual creature strolled through the terminal toward the gate. Curly black hair, white t-shirt, shorts, and ragged sandals; he epitomized the hippy dippy ideal. He had a boarding pass in one hand, burrito in the other.

He smiled at the male flight attendant. “Excuse me sir, I’d like to eat my burrito before boarding the flight. I glanced up from my book. “Of course, sir, enjoy your dinner,” the friendly flight attendant, said.

Mr. Hippy Dippy took a seat and kicked off his sandals. Slowly and enjoyably, he ate the burrito. A few late passengers dashed toward the gate and checked in. He still enjoyed his dinner, unaware of time or a flight ready to take off.

Minutes went by, he sipped some soda and reveled in the every taste of California’s favorite treat. “Ladies and gentleman, this is the final boarding call for this American Airlines flight to New York’s John F. Kennedy,” said the voice of the airport’s intercom. It didn’t rush Mr. Hippy Dippy, the burrito was only half eaten.

More minutes went by. The burrito was down to his final bite. He was beyond disappointed. Taking the last bite, he really savored it. For a moment, he was psychologically in some Mexican cantina by the sea, rather than a busy international airport.

Finally, he gulped one last time. Eventually, his sandals were placed back on his feet. With great patience, he tossed his trash and handed the boarding pass to the flight attendant. He was on his way to easy going, New York City, where burritos and time are of great abundance (sarcasm, included, of course).

All the type A personalities must’ve loved him on the flight. The plane took off with one very satisfied hippy dippy man. His patience was culture shocking to me. However, it also made me miss California’s laid-back nature. The state’s culture always advocated savoring the moment, especially when it comes to delicious Mexican food.

I made it back to New York, in one piece. Sitting in traffic en route to my Manhattan apartment, I nearly fell asleep in gridlock traffic (while in the cab). When New Yorkers and Angelenos complain they are nothing alike, one only has to sit in a highway/freeway in either city, traffic is similarly hellish.

A rainbow appeared over Queens’ row houses and highway. I smiled and proclaimed, the sky is gay and I’m home again in the East. I mourned the loss of good Mexican food, but celebrated my return. A bagel and coffee made revitalized my jet-lagged soul. I savored it, patiently, like a good-natured, Californian.

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?

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