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?

Kangaroo in the Wild

“Oy, I just don’t look like me,” said I. While on an exodus in California, I happened to pack a New York friendly fall wardrobe. Hence, I was roasting in the roaring California sun. Rather than buying brand spanking new t-shirts and shorts, I took a drastic step.

For years, I always avoided my father’s closet, since we have dramatically different fashion sensibilities. With sweat dripping from every direction, I took my father on his offer.

When we headed to lunch, the two of us had almost matching outfits. I finally caved in and borrowed my father’s clothes. He thought I looked dashing in his red polo shirts. Rolling my eyes, I declared, “of course, I look dashing to you. I’m wearing your clothes.”

On a warm Friday afternoon, we had a Mexican lunch in Palm Springs. My California retreat was drawing to a close. I look forward to returning to New York. Unfortunately, I was returning to Manhattan, unemployed. Nerves sprung from the soil of my brain.

I missed my old job and life in New York. However, life tossed me a blank canvass. I had to cleverly decide if I wanted to turn my blank canvass into pop art, impressionism or even cubism. My brain harvested the seeds of my anxiety.

After lunch, an oak tree grew from my head. It leaves fell, anxiously. My father sensing fear took action. Since I was a kid, one place cheered me up in the midst of purgatory, also (commonly) known as adolescence. “Anthony, we’re going to the Palm Desert mall,” said dad. I lifted my head and clapped in utter enthusiasm.

There was always a bit of nostalgia with malls. Somehow, my oak tree shed its dead leaves. Beautiful branches jutted out. I grew giddy, once again.

As we walked along the 1980’s nostalgia, I took in a deep breath. I pictured myself merrily walking in the East Village, in my own clothes, holding a coffee cup, while reading a good book. Hello, positive thinking brought to you by the American mall.

We returned to my father’s house. I packed up for the return to New York City. “Everything is going to be just swell. Goodnight, California” said I. Upon, waking up, my heart nearly pounded out of my chest.

Going back to New York City seemed more nerve wracking. My dad and I were equally dazed. “I’m not nervous, he said, while driving in circles at Ontario airport.

Finally, we reached the terminal. I took my sweet time checking into the flight. It was painful to leave my father in California. Like an astronaut heading into the deep abyss of space, I put on my best brave face and said, “goodbye.”

After changing planes, I was on a red-eye to JFK. The plane landed and I was off to my apartment, uptown. I was far too tired to think about the worrisome unknown.

Instead, I arrived at my apartment and fell asleep to the unexpectedly soothing sounds of sirens and honking cars. A few hours later, I woke up alone to grey skies.

Instantly, my anxiety returned. That morning, I made plans to have a birthday brunch with friends. Quickly, I slipped into my fall wardrobe, which consisted of a cardigan, buttoned down, and navy trousers. While staring into the mirror, I proclaimed, “at least, I look like myself again. Oh, I love my New York friendly wardrobe.”

The city with its brownstones and tenements was exotic, after ten days in Southern California. I headed toward my neighborhood coffee shop. “Wow, we haven’t seen you in a while. Where have you been?” asked the friendly barista with a smile. I replied, “California.” She sounded excited to hear that word, and warmly, responded, “welcome home to New York.”

“It really is home here, nothing to be scared about,” said I, feeling revived after hearing those simple words. I walked toward the subway. Everything lost its scary monster on the subway seats feeling.

Fall had arrived in Gotham. The weather was refreshingly crisp. Fourteenth Street turned into an enviable fashion catwalk. Coffee cups promenaded alongside a concrete backdrop.

As I hopped off the crosstown bus, my feet touched the East Village. “Heck, I don’t remember there being so many hipsters,” said I. Merrily, I walked toward brunch on Avenue A. I was greeted from the warm smiles of my friends at the cafe. With laughs and hugs, I knew I could make it through this obstacle known as life.

My paintbrush finally touched the blank canvass. I didn’t know what my beautiful painting would look like. Inwardly, if it didn’t come up with anything, Andy Warhol worthy, that was ok. With hands thrown in the air, I proclaimed, “fuck it” and enjoyed a whisky on the rocks with my urban family.

 

 

The Blossoming Wallflower

Live from my modest New York apartment, it’s another trip down memory lane.

Through the darkened canyons, I drove. 80’s music blasted. I was a man on a mission. Along with my gal pal, Holly, we took the spontaneous voyage to Palm Springs, where gay happens.

The eerie darkness of the canyons gave way to a scattered city lights. Mountains were hidden in the darkness. Signs for Target, fast food restaurants and a casino, reminded us, that indeed this is not the barren desert. Windmills boogied to the rhythm of the wind. After another round of darkened canyons, we arrived in kitschy, Palm Springs.

“Gays, so many gays,” I declared. The sweat ran down our faces, even at night. However, the liveliness of Palm Springs was simply invigorating. The restaurants were bustling. There were plenty of interesting art galleries and shops selling knick-knacks. We had a most splendid dinner, at my favorite Mexican restaurant, Las Casuelas.

We skipped dessert, in favor of quality time with my people on Arenas Road. Cher impersonators, senior citizens and gym bunnies come together on the town’s main gay drag. Want a new speedo or the latest gay news? Arenas Road has it. The music was thumping, especially at Hunter’s nightclub, which is the grand dame of Palm Springs nightlife.

Only one obstacle stood in my way. “Shit, I am not twenty-one yet,” said I. Rather than sobbing, I asked Holly, ” Hey, I wanna meet a guy. Can you let me know how much approach is?” Officially, she became my love therapist. “But, which fellow should I approach?” asked I.

Predictably, I found two handsome fellows, who converged on the sidewalk. One guy was blond and classically handsome. The other fellow was a raven-haired Adonis with a slight resemblance to Zachary Quinto. I swooped in with Holly was my wing lady.

“Hi, I am Anthony, nice to meet you,” I said. They politely made conversation with us, but seemed disinterested. Rather than call defeat, I kept the conversation going. Holly seemed less than impressed with the boys. I was too, but they were so cute.

“Oh, this is I, improving my self confidence. I get nervous meeting guys, but here I am,” said I. Holly gave me an awkward smile. “You did alright to me,” said the blond guy with a cold expression. “We’re going to Toucan’s. Nice meeting you guys, enjoy Palm Springs,” said, the raven-haired Adonis.

“You shouldn’t tell a guy, that you lack self-confidence,” said Holly. “You’re right, I messed that one up,” said I. “They were kind of cold. You could do better,” she said with a smile. We headed back to Riverside (where I lived at the time).

That night in Palm Springs taught me a lesson, not typically grasped in musical theatre. Indeed, one must not put a hot guy in a pedestal; we must value our own self worth first.

Although, I’ve been rejected a ton, I still look on the bright side. Stories on rejection are often times more interesting and relatable, since it delves into the very core of our own insecurities. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go back to finding dates on Tinder.

 

 

Playing Photographer

My father and I were driving through Palm Springs. Rather, than heading toward, the town’s main drag. We took an unexpected path. As we went up a side street, kitschy homes from the 50’s and 60’s welcomed us.

Heading to the foothill of the mountains was  glorious. The mountains of Palm Springs are a tall and magnificent sight. However, I’d never come that close. Stop, I exclaimed excitedly. The rocks were imposing hues of brown and black. I was inspired to take photos with my iphone.

As we continued our journey further up hill, the desert town was lush with green palm trees from the slight hill. I kept stopping the car to take photos. Capturing my life via the lens of a camera and mobile has been a significant part of my life’s story.

Abroad, I would walk the streets of Tokyo desperately wanting to have my picture taken in front of the many sights I dreamed of. The only two words, I know in Japanese are konishiwa and arrigato. At first, I was intimidated to walk up to perfect non-English speaking strangers to take my picture. Sometimes, I was shot down. However, most of the time they politely obliged.

I pointed to the camera and they took the photo. Arrigato, I proclaimed. Thanks to the kindness of Tokyoites, I have pictures in front of the Imperial Palace, the fashion frenzy of funky Harajuku and drinking coffee in Ginza.

Than there were the times, I didn’t want to stop people and just took the photos myself. In London, I photographed myself everywhere from Piccadilly Circus to Trafalgar Square. Therefore, I made an art form out of taking self-portraits.

My cameras have captured the grand avenues of Paris, the bohemian chic of Buenos Aires’ Palermo Soho neighborhood and even the austereness of Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid. However, there have been photographers who actually wanted to use me as a subject.

Now, I don’t have any male model like qualities, unless, I suck in my chubby cheeks and pucker up my lips. While walking around New York’s Washington Square Park, I was approached to pose for the New York Times style section. Wow, I was intrigued, although I didn’t love my outfit that day.  After taking the picture, I was told that if they were going to use my image, I would receive an email. Needless to say, I didn’t get an email, but I was very flattered nonetheless.

Photographers I admire include Mario Testino, Wegee and Annie Lebovitz. I especially love the desert photography of Ansell Adams. On my recent trip to Palm Springs, I didn’t plan on taking photos. However, the mountains, rock formations and white sands inspired me eyes. I didn’t want to leave without making a memory of my trip. Although, the desert is inspirational nothing tops grey skies and old buildings.

Eating With Chopsticks

My holidays haven’t revolved around a Christmas tree in almost twenty years. Changing planes at airports for such exciting destinations as Tokyo, Buenos Aires & California were the norm in more recent years. Forget freshly roasted turkey, yams & a pecan pie, my Christmas dinner centered on Panda Express. Chopsticks, orange chicken & chow mien were the Christmas staple.

Sure, it’s not a proper New York Chinese eatery, but when you’re starving at Atlanta airport & changing planes it tastes as gourmet as Joe’s Shanghai’s (New York’s best Chinese eatery, in my opinion). There were the holidays where even having a loaf of bread was a blessing.

My father & I spent Christmas in Rome one year & couldn’t find any open restaurants. Therefore, we kindly asked the hotel to give us whatever they could find. That Christmas, we ate stale bread, while watching CNN International.

Italy proved a whole different animal from our family Christmases in the late 80’s & early 90s. My family, the Alas’ love Palm Springs. My grandparents had a beautiful vacation house in nearby Cathedral City.  We would all gather there & have family time. I always found a way to sneak a peek at my gifts & complained every time; someone gave me clothes as opposed to action figures.

There were truckloads of food. Everyone found a spot to pass out from food coma. My grandma’s famous turkey graced the table. A variety of apple desserts made everyone smile. The Alas family loves apple pie. Sometimes, the reunions felt as humorous as a Neil Simon play, other times they would’ve inspired a Shakespearean style production. However, those were fond memories.

As an adult, I experienced a very foreign concept, spending holidays by myself. New York is the holiday’s capital of the world. Fifth Avenue is decked in flashy Christmas decorations. As always there are remarkable window displays at tony department stores Bergdorf Goodman’s & Barney’s. The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center sparkles with holiday delight. It’s the epicenter of holiday cheer.

This didn’t deter from missing my dad during thanksgiving. I moped around the Village, not feeling super upbeat. When I returned to my modest apartment, there was a special phone call.

My friend Rebecca called. I told her, I’m feeling awfully lonely. She goes ” that’s too bad, I’m at LAX right now waiting for my flight to JFK.” I jumped in excitement; my bitter mood transformed into sweetness only butterscotch could match.

The next day, I woke up in a very enthusiastic mood. Although, Rebecca couldn’t hang out with me till the weekend, I made the best of Manhattan holiday cheer. I went to Central Park that day & walked toward the edge facing Central Park West.  That day was my first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

Of course, I watched it on TV. I’m not really impressed by parades. However, I love the artistry that went behind the floats, the music & just the cheer excitement. My jaded card flew out the window as the Harajuku girls, snoopy & superman floats passed by.

After the parade, I walked around the East Village & noticed many other people were alone too. I didn’t feel so bad. I didn’t enjoy my grandma’s famous turkey recipe that year; instead I had a burger at the diner for lunch. Then, my big thanksgiving dinner consisted of Chinese delights. Like my many Christmases at the airport, I utilized my chopstick skills & made it a great day.

I met up with my buddy Rebecca & we had an amazing holiday weekend of walking around Midtown & enjoying dinner in the West Village. The following year, felt less lonely. My roommate & I hosted a wonderful thanksgiving dinner at our apartment. However, nobody bought a turkey. Our innovative alternative, tacos, enchiladas & other Mexican delights for the big day.

These days, it’s less plane travel on holidays. My dad & I usually hang out by the fireplace. In the past year, we traded chopsticks & turkey for steaks. In the tradition of the Alas family, there’s always a big apple pie & plenty of wine. Even though, I do love having my family close by. The magic of New York during the holidays is truly missed.

Love & The West Village

It happened in the supermarket, one chilly November evening. There I was sneaking in a tabloid, when my eyes looked beyond the latest gossip on Madonna to this handsome guy. I made eye contact with him & even smiled. Casually, I went back to reading the tabloid. I glanced one more time at him. His eyes met my eyes & then we couldn’t stop staring at each other.

Images of high culture dates at Lincoln Center, road trips to Palm Springs & cozy nights at the coffee shop danced in my head. Suddenly his buddy finished paying for the groceries. However, we couldn’t stop the perpetual eye contact. He walked away, reality kicked in.

I was still a teenager, but knew exactly what I liked. That experience motivated me to come out of the closet. During that time, nothing could be more beautiful than what I experienced at the super market check out line. After that I made coming out of the closet into an art form.

Fast forward to adulthood, where copy machines, rent & double shot espressos run free. I was paying 20 bucks a month for my match.com membership. In other words, twenty bucks a month to get rejected. Guess most guys go for biceps & not men in cardigans with coffee cups in every picture. I found it funny.

However, my focus went from finding prince charming to just dating. New York City is the best place to be gay in the world. There’s acceptance & a huge gay population with lots of dating options. I dated everything from the actor/model/waiter/psychic to the guy with the world’s worst music taste. Very interesting people in general.

My buddy Michael invited me to speed dating at the LGBT Center. If anything I would make a new friend. Secretly, I always thought I would make a connection with a guy there similar to my supermarket experience. I took the subway to the West Village on an icy January night.

We all had to pay to get in. When I arrived there was a smorgasbord of guys. Twinks (skinny hairless guys), otters (skinny hairy gay guys), bears (heavy set & hairy) & daddy bears (older bears) were all represented. I met up with my buddies Michael & Dylan. They broke us up into groups. We all wore badges with numbers next to it.

At the end of the night, we wrote down the guys we fancied (indicated by the number next to their name). If we mutually picked each other, a date would follow. Michael, Dylan & I were not feeling it. So, we picked each other as our match. Walking out with two guys, I felt like a Casanova. Feeling happy to be out of speed dating, we headed to the diner. Laughs & story telling commenced over a cheeseburger deluxe with a soda. It was such a wonderful bonding experience.

We all want to be the prince residing in the tower serenaded by a handsome man. Of course, that fluff only happens in gay fairy tales. However, we’re so busy looking for love that we forget about the wonderful people in our lives. Dates come & go, but friends & family will always be there. As will my memories of love at first sight & speed dating for that matter.

Pea Coat Wonderland

Pea coat season, also known as “soup season” is the only season that makes me want to moon walk for joy. Technically, it’s winter, but chilly days also occur in the autumn. During this most lovely time period, peacoats come out to play. Whether it’s the tube in London, New York’s Madison Square Park or Tokyo’s neon playground, the peacoat is synonymous with the cold & staying chic.

Of course, observing the different variations is what I adore. Thanks to the art of people watching, I can see the same grey pea coats look bohemian on one person & business like on another. People watching is both a skill & leisure activity. It’s more entertaining than an opera. The characters are more enticing than a book & it rarely gets boring.

I have many fond memories of just enjoying a bench or sidewalk cafe, while being immersed in people watching. I also take much inspiration from this activity. Seeing how other socialize & studying mannerisms sculpts my thinking & perception of the world. Here are some of my favorite memories & places when people watching seemed more interesting than ever.

Madrid’s La Zarzuela is Spain’s very old comedy opera. It’s performed in the lovely Teatro de La Zarzuela. In the Spanish capital, it’s freezing in the wintertime. Outside the opera house, it’s a sea of fur coats. In Madrid, fur coats are not only very fashionable, but highly desired especially for the winter. Castilian accents accentuate the Madrid fashion staple outside the opera house. Also, it’s lovely seeing all the young people intermingling with the old people. Everyone there has a common goal, to see a Spanish operatic tradition.

In New York, I adore taking the 86th street/crosstown during the day. The old people taking the bus are adorable, all dressed up, going to the market & lunch. It’s amazing & shows people can be stylish regardless of age. I love Tompskins Square Park in Alphabet city with its mix of homeless, wannabe hipsters & yuppies. There’s always a crowd gathered to watch a musician or a magician.

However, nothing beats the gay pier also known as Christopher Street pier in the spring. It’s a gathering place for gay guys. Everyone having a great time, lots of speedos & some kitsch added. The gay pier also feels like a small retreat in the middle of Downtown. Hanging out on the deck, watching the Hudson is euphoric. Seeing the New Jersey skyline reminds one that yeah this is nowhere near a vacation spot.

Paris’ cafes, it’s a French institution, which made people watching into an art form. Sure, the most cliché way to watch people is in a Parisian cafe. Even I’ve been guilty of watching people traffic from a cafe in the Champs Elysees (doesn’t say tourist at all). Le Marais, which is an eclectic mix of Jewish families, gays & tourists is my favorite place to people watch in the city.

Palm Springs, this is a special mention. Yes, I go to places, which aren’t covered in fog & clam chowder, sometimes. I love driving into Palm Springs with its very distinctive white windmills & mountains, which rise like skyscrapers from the ground up. Watching the world go by at the pool is entertaining. Poolside is not the catwalks of Paris or New York. It’s interesting to see the body art. Lots of tattoos, body types & loud music blaring, served with Jameson on the rocks & it’s wonderful free entertainment.

The Ginza district & Harajuku both in fashion forward Tokyo. Ginza is moneyed. All the Japanese ladies in their finest black designer outfits sip coffee. Some even stroll around in kimonos. While men in very expensive looking suits & ties play on smart phones.

Harajuku is the youthful funky, fun loving cousin to Ginza. Musically Ginza is Pavarotti, while Velvet Underground & Bowie symbolize Harajuku. Lots of crepe stands & everyone wants to rebel against the system in Harajuku, the fashion is more over the top than anywhere else. Grab a crepe & watch a different kind of neon parade go by.

People are like pea coats. Similar styles, sometimes matching colors, but regardless that exact look is different on people. Six continents & living in two coasts has been a blessing. I’ve been exposed to a social hotchpotch of cultures & best of all amazing opportunities to people watch.

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