Movin’ On Up. Literally.

We take the turn at 1.5 mph, and hear a bone-chilling clunk-crash-shatter that makes my heart skip a beat. But before we even turn around, Andy and I know what we’ll see.

The project piece we toted across the country, and which has stayed frozen in its “project” state, finally gave up the ghost – shattering to pieces in the back of the car.

I make a feeble attempt to piece it back together, but fail – the broken, newly glued shards slide off a half hour later onto piles of bagged clothes at the thrift store. Instead of slapping them back onto the drawer front, I just turn and run – as if I just lit a firecracker at a gasoline station.

“Go, go, go!”

From the driver’s seat, Andy raises an eyebrow. I jump in.

DRIVE! The drawer fell apart.”

“Chill out. It’s not like they’re going to run after us screaming, ‘How dare you donate something!’”

True. I dust off my hands, but find them sticking together with residual glue.

“Oh well. The albatross is gone. At least we tried to do the right thing.”

We get back to the apartment and find Toby wiggling around, exceedingly thrilled that his car crate is hogging the space the desk had occupied an hour earlier. It’s something ridiculously minor – the absence of a piece of furniture.

But Andy and I know that this is something more – the start of yet another chapter.

I never thought I’d be the type of person who moved around every few years. Mostly because I loathed it, having been forced to do so as a shovel bum for most of my early twenties. But here we are, nearing our two year mark in California – and commemorating it with a move to Seattle.

And I couldn’t be more thrilled.

***

Right before we moved out here, one of our friends told us that her time in California was like a five-year dream. And it’s sort of been true.

I mean, California is beautiful, and LA isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Like any new place, we sometimes let the not-so-great things outweigh the good. It’s a big city – and living in a big, sprawling city can wear on you with its grit, noise, and general impartiality for your feelings. But being homebodies makes doing all the things a little difficult. I mean, I’m all about seeing the sights and visiting everything, but I’m not all about sitting in gridlock for hours to get 10 miles outside the city. And I can only tolerate so many TMZ bus oglers clogging the streets and sidewalks. I know, I know.

Wah, wah, wah! First World Problems!

So instead of pledging that Seattle is going to be our “place panacea,” I’m going to view this upcoming move as what it is: a new experience – an adventure. It could last a year or two and end with us returning to LA, or last five or ten or forever. Who knows? The unknown: it’s the part of the puzzle that drives me nuts in all the right ways, even as I’m literally driving toward it.

Like our move to California, our move to Seattle is a decision we made – not one that was made for us. And one of the greatest things that we learned from realizing our man-infested destiny out here was that we can make big changes and be alright. We don’t have to be comfortably settled to be happy. When that moving itch hits, sometimes you just have to scratch and relish the relief that comes with it.

Leaving a place is never easy.

We’ve done a lot in our short amount of time here: Andy switched jobs, I switched careers, we moved to WeHo, got married, cut up our credit cards, adopted Toby and Pearl, and decided that, one day, we’ll have a kid. Did we make a ton of friends and get ripped and have perfect tans 100% of the time? No. Is that okay? Sure.

What friends we’ve made and what we’ve made of our time here are what count.

Not doing those expected Cali things has taught us a lot about ourselves. We’re homebodies. We like movies, food, antiquing, and playing with our pup. We like being snarky and cynical while also trying to do our best to be good people and give back.

I’m done apologizing for not doing the things I’m expected to do, and I’m too tired to care what other people think about what I actually like to do. I’m ready for a change. And all of the life lessons I’ll learn in the process.

Way, way up there.

[Good?] Grief

We eat cold pizza, heaping half-eaten pieces atop one another from last night’s boxes.

The night the pizza man delivered the pies to our door, he couldn’t have known that we were going to pieces on the other side – not even remotely aware that I’d just woken up from a three-hour long nap following one of the worst moments I’ve ever experienced.

Toby gave a half-hearted bark at the stranger in the doorway, and I shushed him, feeling immediately ashamed as I did.

“I have one, too. Thinks she’s a German Shepherd. But she’s only seven pounds.”

He smiled. I handed him his tip. And shut the door before I fell apart again. His comment triggered the flood of emotion being held back by a mental dam.

I walked the pizzas into the kitchen. I stared at Andy. We opened the boxes. We sighed. We recognized our grief, digested it with our pizza.

Because that’s what we’re supposed to do.

This is loss.

It’s a point in time that reminds us of that thin line between living and dying, between here and wherever our mind decides the hereafter resides. Loss seems like a measurable moment, an action; but it’s like a melting ice cube – it expands with each passing hour, covering everything without any sort of pattern or plan. It just keeps going, and permeates everything.

Like most nights when I can’t sleep, last night found me cleaning and dusting, sweeping and wiping the floor.

Clean, clean, clean. I told myself. This will dull the heartache.

That if I put things in their place, it’ll make it easier to process. That if Pearl’s harness and leash and tags are neatly tucked into a box, this grief can be handled, packaged, and hidden away.

That stowing away her food and water bowls and bed would distance me from collapse – that hiding her stuffed rabbit at the bottom of the garbage would free me from thinking about her.

About the end – the moments leading up to our parting: The walk down the corridor. The door closing behind us. The moment the first needle went in and she hugged her paws around my neck then slowly slipped out of my arms onto the table as Andy whispered every sweet thing in the world to her. The moment the technician said, “It will be instantaneous,” and plunged the second syringe’s contents, and the light extinguished from her eyes.

But there’s no escaping it. No amount of diversion will help.

Today, we bought a plant and I told Andy that this would be Pearl’s plant – that we had to find her floral equivalent. Something hearty and prickly; something lasting and strong and beautiful.

Now it’s here in our apartment, illuminated by lamplight. But Pearl’s not.

Her absence is startling. I sit down and my lap isn’t immediately filled by her stretched-out, dozing self. I crinkle a bag and turn around to empty space rather than her shifting back and forth from paw to paw while quietly staring.

The stare

The absence, the quiet – these are the avatars of loss that’re the most difficult to process.

But every now and then, between the tears we shed, between the comings and goings and doings, a laugh fractures the silence; a macabre joke. A funny remembrance. A cherished memory.

And we learn something more about grief: that a few dark moments can’t overshadow the best; that our grief illustrates how much she enriched our lives – that the good will supplant the bad, given time.

And we will keep going.

Because that’s what we have to do.

Goodnight, Sweet Lady

This is a new kind of grief. An all-consuming one. It comes in waves, rippling beneath my skin, waiting for a jarring shake – a memory, glassy-eyed looks from those who know – to grow it into a convulsing swell. And then, the deluge – quickly followed by the headaches and sleep-inducing exhaustion, the nightmares and debilitating second-guessing.

Two nights ago, the doctor’s medical jargon rang in my ears as I knelt haphazardly on the cold tile floor in the ER, while Pearl dozed in my arms: “cancer-like,” “tumor nodes,” “bone erosion,” “muscle loss,” “swelling around the brain and spinal cord.” All of this instead of what I was expecting: “pulled muscle,” “plenty of rest and relaxation,” “give it a few days.”

I’d always wanted a special needs dog. Don’t ask me why, I just did. And we unintentionally got one, along with the added responsibilities of constantly monitoring and tweaking her diet; preempting her seizures by detecting that slight leg spasm, or rapidly dilating eyes; frequent doctors’ visits, only to have some new malady added to her thickened veterinary file.

Pearl was a scrappy, cuddly old lady. She detested primped, white poodles more so than squirrels. Save for one large stuffed rabbit, with whom she had a very humpy special relationship, toys never interested her, much to her brother’s delight. And like any older sister, she endured her little brother’s “look at me, look at me” attitude and just went with it, curling into a ball and snoring through his toy chase rampages through the house.

If you sat for a moment, she’d materialize in your lap, slowly fall back, and descend into a nearly immediate, coma-like nap.

Pearl, the cuddlerDaddy time

When I first saw Pearl at one of my company’s shelters, she reminded me of a land-strider from The Dark Crystal – long-legged, tiny head, kind eyes. But unlike those gentle giants, she had an edge that most likely came from living on Lawndale’s less than desirable streets.

After I heard her story, and realized that she’d been a shelter resident for nearly a year – just another overlooked, older brown Chihuahua in L.A.’s glutted canine landscape – I knew I wanted to adopt her.

But then Toby popped up on our radar – another older Chihuahua, whose back-story and toothless smile captured our hearts. So Pearl waited. I hoped and hoped that she’d get scooped up. But time after time, her kennel mate would go to a new home, and she’d remain. A repeat participant in one of my organization’s youth outreach programs, she’d helped a number of kids, and learned many new tricks – she even had the certificates to prove it. Still, she stayed.

Until that day last year when we decided her shelter time was over, and she came home with us.

Pearl's first day home

Every day since has been filled with victories, letdowns, and everything in between. Senior dogs come with a lot of baggage, and I will certainly acknowledge that I was a touch naive about just how much more responsibility they are than their younger counterparts. But they’re worth every bit.

Pearl, the ever graceful

As excruciatingly defeating as the news has been, we also feel relieved. And, in many ways, that’s the most painful part. And is unbelievably guilt-inducing. Now we know what has to be done; the ambiguity is no longer stifling.

Making this decision is one of the worst, most charged we’ve ever had to make. And it’s made that much more difficult when Pearl continues to be herself – excited for treats, ready for walks, always up for a cuddle. There’s a nagging dread of wondering if this is the right thing to do.

Hanging on to that last shred of hope is as dangerous as it is common. It’s completely normal. But it’s also destructive – breaks you down mentally, debilitates you physically. So you just have to let go, and refocus your lens on reality.

Pearl is a trooper. But she limps and hobbles now. And yes, she’s excited for treats, but quickly gets exhausted. And while her sweetness remains, it’s cloaked behind a depressive mood.

So she’s been getting anything she wants – constant rubs, cheese, pasta, eggs, painkillers; because, really, what’s the worst any of it could do?

Hand in paw, we move forward EGGS!

Today is her last day with us. And as cliche as it sounds, I think she knows it. But all that matters right now is that she has a chicken and cheese omelet in her bloated belly, and is snoring in her comforter nest on the sofa.

Happily full

That she’s loved. And will be incredibly missed. But will always be remembered.

So, sweet baby girl, thanks for everything. Thanks for being a friend.

Ethereal baby girl

Bringing Up “Baby”

I don’t know what reaction I expected. But definitely more than a blank stare and half-hearted shrug, punctuated with “So, would you like Jasmine or Black tea?”

My throat, scratchy from the grip of a monstrous sinus infection, croaks out a little fractured air and a tri-syllabic sigh. I stare out the floor-to-ceiling windows, across to the blue blip on the far field where Andy putters around in a fluorescent sweater.

“Jasmine…is…fine.”

My mother mills about the kitchen, banging pots together with an unexpected ferocity.

Maybe she thinks it’s a bad idea.

With the terriers’ muffled snores being the only other noise funneling up to the hobbit home’s domed ceiling, even my internal dialogue seems crushingly, boisterously loud.

Well if Mom acts like this, there’s no telling what Dad will say.

And I’m not disappointed. Well, I am. But not surprised. When Andy returns and Dad blows in the side door, I keep the fading conversation stoked, prodding it along with wheezes and coughs, like blunted fire pokers to dying embers.

“So…I mean, we’re just, you know, in the…beginning stages of course…” I wheeze.

Andy sits upright and relatively motionless, aside from the slight nervous twitch of his feet.

Mom continues to hum along in the kitchen, and Dad dusts off his gloves, and scratches his head.

“…but it’s something we’re seriously considering. Probably in two to three years.”

Dusk is setting in, and the fading light streaming down the solar tubes illuminates my parents, as if they’re on stage, readying for their monologues. But instead of sagacious advice, or a heartfelt, emphatic show of support, Mom chirps, “Well, yes, that’s a lot to think about. And of course the cost.”

As if conditioned by the word “cost,” Dad exits, stage left – down the hall to their bedroom, and closes the door.

The funny part is we’re not even asking for money. We’re just trying to start an ongoing dialogue about us potentially adding a wee biped to our geriatric Chihuahua duo.

Dumbfounded, I stare at Andy. Mom asks if he’d like tea, too. I can’t stand it.

“SO ARE YOU EVEN INTERESTED IN BEING GRANDPARENTS?”

Mom stops abruptly, as if a sheet of ice has popped up in front of her.

“WELL, of course.”

My mouth hangs open – both to breathe, and to add a touch of dramatic flair. But mostly because my mom’s exclamation is not nearly as glass-shattering as I’d envisioned. This whole conversation reminded me of when I came out – no emphatic exultations, no hubbub. Of course back then I was more relieved than anything. But now, I’m sort of pissed.

Isn’t this what most parents want to hear? That their family isn’t just going to die off?

Instead, the conversation dies off amid my wheezes and coughs. And then Mom slams home the final nail in the coffin.

“Oh, honey. Let me get you set up on my nebulizer. Poor baby.”

***

Nebulized yet snotty, I whisper back and forth with Andy as we tuck ourselves in. Especially since he’s about as pleased as I am.

“I just don’t get why they’re being so calculated with their responses.”

“I know. I mean, let’s be honest, I figured it’d be harder to convince your parents.”

But we’d actually discussed it in a surprisingly thorough fashion. Or as thoroughly as you can without having a bun in someone else’s oven. We’d even gathered around their kitchen table for fuck’s sake!

He nods. I snuffle.

“It’s almost like they’re waiting for us to reveal that we already have the kid, and we’ve kept’em in the garage this whole time.”

“I just don’t get why they’re so…noncommittal.”

“It’s sort of their way of doing things. Especially now. Rather than voicing overwhelming support or utter disdain, they just sort of smile and nod, thinking the non-pushy way is best – less smothering. BUT FOR ONCE, being pointed and direct would be fucking helpful.”

I guess what surprises me the most is the fact that I’m legitimately upset, especially since I haven’t always been on board with having a kid. What’s even more amazing is how much this potential child is becoming more like the eventual child. But first, we have to get our footing – and it always helps when you can count on your family to be there for some semblance of support.

We chat back and forth a bit more, and then fume ourselves to sleep.

The next morning, we putter around a favorite antique haunt with my sister, whose support and perspective we always value. She bounces ideas off of us as we half-heartedly sift through hoards of junk for bits of Fiesta, Harlequin, and Riviera.

“Yeah, you know, it’s weird. You’d think they’d be more excited about it.” She holds up a cup and considers it briefly. “But I just don’t get it.”

All we glean is ambiguity. Which is apropos, I guess – because who really knows what in the hell they’re getting themselves into when they start thinking about having a family. It’s all a welter of confusion and intrigue and terror and exhilaration. More so when you have to intensely strategize the kid’s conception and entry into this crazy world.

Regardless, there’s beauty and comfort in the ambiguity.

Comfort that stems from me indulging the paternal tugs I feel while seeing some cute kid doing something absurdly endearing with their parents, and even whilst witnessing absolute meltdowns in the grocery store.

Beauty in realizing that my hardened, cynical shell is quickly gladly cracking.

Knowing that I may one day be thinking about all of this while running errands, and then hear a little voice from the backseat squeak out, “Dad.”

Oh, childhood.

Fortune Seeker

The carefully wrapped blue foil crumples away, revealing the fortune cookie – its tip hardened by a thin sheath of white chocolate. Like always, the brittle cookie explodes apart rather than breaking in a predictable way, and the fortune’s edge sticks out awkwardly. I toss half of the cookie into my mouth, the crumbs falling from my hand into the jadeite candy dish on the weathered kitchen table.

Bold pink lettering amplifies the fortune, more so than its capitalized letters.

BEAUTIFUL THINGS AWAIT YOU.

Beautiful things await you

I inhale deeply. For someone who floats in the atheistic end of the religiosity pool, I’ve always read more into these repetitiously contrived sayings than I should – as if the folks shoving these innocuous messages into their baked shells trend into the designation of sagacious seer rather than underpaid, likely mistreated Third World worker.

Though ordinary, the sayings always give me pause – force me to let my thoughts float around in the ether, search for meaning to the words printed across the slim papery slips. This time, the words resonate with the power of a thunderous gong clash.

I look around as the apartment darkens and the lights from our dried-out Christmas tree illuminate the slow rising and falling of Toby’s tummy. And I think about this year. The last few months especially.

***

It’s pretty clear to anyone who reads my digital chicken scratch that things have been a bit off lately. I’m all for blaming it on the weather or busy schedules, or both. But really, the blame rests squarely on me.

This year has been filled with so many great things – especially our marriage. But even the happiest glimmer can be dimmed by my naturally-endowed cynicism. Over the past few months, we’ve been racing about and putting ourselves through our paces, and getting ourselves all stressed out thinking about where we want to be and how far away that nebulous place seems.

I rationalize the stress. But there’s no rationale that really sticks. I’d like to say that it stems from me busily throwing myself into writing – actually nearing the end of the unknowingly long, strenuous path of writing and publishing a book – but, as shown by my lack of blogging, that’s just not the case. With that, I’ve unknowingly flipped a switch to autopilot, hoping that everything will just fall into place. Thankfully, though, I’ve gotten a few reminders that we have indeed made progress. Still, I need to get my shit together.

***

A little more than a week ago, we returned from a foray across the Southeast. We got to see a few friends, and missed seeing more – but reveled in the limited family time we had. We walked around cherished haunts in Sanford, saw how Raleigh had changed. We visited holes-in-the-wall along our track to Alabama, freeing pieces of beloved Fiesta, Harlequin, and Riviera from dusty shelves in warehouses plopped beside I-85.

We let my parents’ woods absorb our stress, the long-leaf pines’ needled tendrils acting as natural sieves for all of the anxieties and worries we’ve carried along with us – letting the residual mess trickle down their barky bases into the micaceous red clay.

Into the AL woods

And as we did in North Carolina, we discussed the possibilities of having a child – a concept I once found completely alien and strange – and envisioned that little being taking in a sunset similar to the fragmented one we watched through the swaying trees.

And during our visit, in typical fashion, my fragile personal ecosystem got disrupted by sinus mess – an acute, almost expected souvenir courtesy of the places from whence we fledged together. So as we flew from Atlanta to LA – our slightly-too-large, Fiesta-packed carry-on’s safely, somewhat surreptitiously stowed from the flight attendants’ view – I watched how veins of lighted life pierced the darkness below, and wondered what life decisions were being made in each and every one of those little bulbs of existence.

Once home, we collapsed in a tired heap and slogged through this past week. Though somewhat welcome, my return to routine sometime carries with it a gray lining – a mapped, limited normalcy. Which Pearl obliterated on Christmas Eve with two seizures and a subsequent race to the vet. As we waited and wondered what our aged little girl was going through, I couldn’t help but wonder how excruciating it must be for parents whose kids are sick. And I thought about how I’d handle it if we actually become parents. My eyes kept welling at the thought – not at the contemplation of parenthood per se, but at the amazing power that the wee (non)existent being already has over me.

After the doctor explained the potential problems, and we bid Pearl goodbye for the night, we watched the card swipe through the reader and returned home to sit in silence as A Muppet Christmas Carol played on. And reconsidered going to our pre-purchased double feature of Into the Woods and The Imitation Game.

And yesterday, while we got updates regarding Pearl’s examinations and continued with our plans – despite our pangs of guilt – I digested all of the messages I gleaned from Into the Woods as Andy talked animatedly about standing beside Brad Goreski and Gary Janetti at the Coffee Bean outside the theater. About how it felt as though we’d come full circle – that two years ago yesterday, we’d been in the exact same place with so many unknowns ahead, rubbing shoulders with the exact same people. But how markedly different everything was as well – that we now lived a short commute away from where we were standing, that we had two furballs in our fold, two new jobs, and more than a few new goals on the horizon.

The dynamic dog duo

And we wondered where we’d be in two more years. That if so many things have happened in such a short amount of time, the possibilities for the next few years are endless.

Now, with both pups home and relatively healthy, I have a new, permeating sense of optimism overriding everything else. Because I’ve reminded myself that fortunes aren’t made – they’re created. Experience by experience, goal by goal. One infinitesimally small step for humankind, one giant leap for personal salvation. They’re neither measured by the number of zeros on a check, nor a large home. Each is a treasured secret that is gradually brought to fruition through measured, calculated gains and fortuitous happenstance.

And the journey to make inroads to it starts with the most basic step of all.

Living: it’s all a beautifully delicious kind of disorder.

Please Have Your Breakdown Somewhere Else. I’m Trying to Be Antisocial Over Here.

Pearl halfheartedly side-eyed the screaming man as he slung horrendous accusations at his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend.

“YOU CAN’T EVEN LOOK ME IN THE FUCKING FACE CAN YOU?! CAN YOU?”

The woman crossed the street and yelled some unintelligible riposte. Which is when Toby retracted his face into his three chins, and gave them both a healthy fat-eye.

The infamous Toby fat eye!

And I muttered about how nice it’d be to walk the dogs in a post-apocalyptic world where the streets would be deserted and the only fuss I’d hear would be anguished, short-lived cries from a fellow survivor being eaten by disease-plagued zombies.

Oh, to dream.

I had a similar thought as I walked home earlier that day and passed a woman perched on her bicycle seat who narrowed her eyes at the sewer drain as she screamed into her phone.

“…then WHERE ARE YOU? No. NO. YOU’RE NOT AT THE GODDAMN LIBRARY. YOU’RE AT THAT BITCH’S HOUSE, AREN’T YOU?!”

I shuffled past slurping my long-drained coffee, and looked down at my nonexistent watch.

If I learned nothing else from engaging my crazy K-town apostle-stalker, it’s that it’s best to always have something immediately within reach that can occupy your full attention at a moment’s notice – for instance, when you see your stalker, but he doesn’t see you, put the phone to your ear, or get yourself suddenly engrossed in your book, or pound back that completely drained coffee. It’s your escape, your camouflage.

It’s not as though I’m trying to become less invested in social interaction – it’s just sort of happened, and I’m not entirely certain I want to make a concerted effort to stop the process. Now, it’s not as though I’m backsliding into my misunderstood goth years when the World, in all its Unfairness, decided to rage against Me (and when I decided every other word in my angsty journal entries had to be capitalized). I guess I’m entering that phase of my life where I give much less of a damn about what anyone thinks, and acquiesce more easily to my internal 800-year-old grandpa — who demands I be in bed by 9:30.

And I’m fine with it.

***

It comes as no surprise that, lately, I’ve been a little out of touch. Not only with my writing, but with everything and everyone in general. I’ve felt like crap, am getting burnt out at work, and have had a litany of health stuff crop up – most of which is due to fatigue and my genetic predisposition to inherit every horrible trait I possibly can.

But there’s something else I’ve realized, too. As fun as the past year in WeHo has been, I’ve let myself become a cliché – running to work and home and the gym in some sort of masochistic cycle that leaves little to no room for fun, much less spontaneity.

That, though, has come to an end. I’ve intentionally thrown a wrench into the entire working system of cogs and gears that’ve collectively ground me to a pulp. And even though I’m building more cake mass than muscle mass lately, I’m much happier. Because, together, Andy and I are reclaiming our weekends, and have started a little routine of our own: a non-routine road trip every weekend. Whether it’s to Sierra Madre or Pasadena, we’re setting out on our own terms and reminding ourselves why we moved here.

And while our first road trip involved Toby barfing all over the backseat, we found great Fiestaware haunts and plenty of fun, fascinating places along the way. Which is why we’re starting to get that moving itch again. And no, it’s not pushing us to scratch outside state lines. Just a little northeast – to Pasadena.

Walking around and taking in Pasadena, we reveled in everything that this smaller LA suburb has that we crave:

Historic, thriving downtown. (Y’all, it means more than you know. At least to me.)

A wee bit of downtown Pasadena.

Historic, financially accessible neighborhoods. (Holy shitballs. We may actually be able to buy a house one day! MAYBE EVEN A CRAFTSMAN.)

Reasonably priced antique malls. (ACTUAL good, fair priced stuff. Not that crappy chair grandma died in that’s now retailing for $5,000 because it’s “vintage.”)

A $2 movie theater…among other theaters. (Okay, so LA and WeHo have plenty of theaters, but they don’t have the $2 one.)

Tons of local eateries sans trash-talking twinks. (Yes, there’re good, local eateries almost everywhere. But at least in Pasadena, there’re fewer asshats sitting around carping about calories.)

Now, I know what you’re thinking: WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS WANTING TO MOVE THE SECOND YOU’RE FINALLY STABLE?

Believe me, I ask myself that all the time. And as much as I’ve enjoyed putting down roots in LA and WeHo, let’s face it, they haven’t really taken hold, much less thrived. It’s partly due to a lack of trying, partly due to the gritty grind of LA, and WeHo’s super young thumpa-thumpa demographic.

I never thought I’d write it, but I actually want to move to a suburb. But not to a little box on a hillside: somewhere that’s moderately clean, that has stuff to do, and where if I walk to the store in slightly worn jeans and a plain white tee I won’t feel quite as many judgmental stares from gym bunnies.

It’d also be great to get away from the hipster couples with kids who’re flocking to our neighborhood. If I have to hear one more damn conversation about how little Rainforest just can’t have his soy snacks anymore because his sister Daisy-Greenhouse can only eat things that taste like chalk, I’m going to put an add out for Twisty the Clown’s removal services (y’all, I love some American Horror Story, but that damn clown is flippin’ terrifying).

So, here’s my First World conundrum: I don’t want to be around a bazillion club-hoppers that’d probably kill a prize-fighter for a sandwich, but I also don’t want to be around a bazillion hipsters, even though we’re sort of hipsterish. And I certainly don’t want to be around a bunch of bubbas.

Perhaps the solution is the same one my parents came to when they retired: move out to the middle of goddamn nowhere. That way, if anyone does visit, you can shoot them, drag their body to the pond, and let the gators do the rest.

Or, we can stick to our guns, hunker down, and start saving money for a house while living somewhere that has what we want, at the scale that we want. Like, say, Pasadena.

As maddening as it is to realize, it’s actually freeing to know that what I want to do in my free time revolves around a few hobbies: being with our little family, watching movies, eating good food, exploring historic areas, being artsy and writerly when I can, and antiquing for ALL THE FIESTAWARE.

Oh, Fiesta.

That’s it. That’s what I do.

I don’t need to live in the heart of Boyztown to feel as though I’ve “made it,” or that it’s the only place I can feel at home. I don’t need the glitz and glam of Hollywood, and I couldn’t give two healthy shits about celebrities. Now, is it cool to see Jane Lynch waiting in line at the grocery store? Sure. Is it necessary to be happy with where I live? Hell naw.

Of course, I’m not saying that everyone who lives in WeHo lives here for those reasons. WeHo has a ton of great stuff happening, and a lot of great people. But most of the activities are geared more for people who don’t have regular jobs, or have crazy scheduling flexibility during the week. And as much as my former Goth self would hate to hear it, I’d prefer to be somewhere quieter and more subdued, where we can have a little more space without having to sell our kidneys to make rent.

Sort of like how Mary-Louise Parker’s character in The Client got that little white house with a walk-in closet, and how Diane Lane’s character pushed open that iron gate and claimed that amazing Italian villa in Under the Tuscan Sun.

Sans murder-witnessing and slighted romance.

The hardest part in all of this is figuring out what it is you want to build on the foundation you lay. And, right now, our foundation is pretty rock solid.

It’s just time to start building again.

If I Could Turn Back Time…I Wouldn’t

As the geriatric Chihuahua’s disproportionately large penis sticks sloppily to my arm, I survey the crowd at the boarding gate and wonder where everyone’s going; why one man keeps gingerly massaging the guy one seat over, who may or may not know him; and if the mousy woman watching some raunchy sex scene montage on her iPad has actually ever had sex.

It’s inching close to 5 AM at LAX, and my sleep-deprived mind realizes something.

I’m 30. Thirty. 3-0. 15×2. 6×5.

It was inevitable. Like sneeze-farting in public.

And then.

I wonder if there’s a Starbucks around here?

I hopscotch right over what’s supposed to be a horrendously awful milestone and skip it across some unseen reflecting pool — as if I haven’t been panicking about this day for the past few weeks, despite my best efforts to play it cool and be all “Turning thirty is no big thing, y’all.”

Turning 30 is a big deal. It’s the point where the last vestige of adolescent immaturity is hung up for good, like a raincoat on a California hall tree. Where those sometimes ill-fitting “I’m an adult!” clothes become more tailored, with less wrinkles. And when you really start coming to a gut-wrenching, yet bizarrely cathartic understanding of “This is who I’m going to be. For the most part.”

Of course, none of this happens smack-bam immediately. For me, it’s sort of been like playing a game of Jenga-Tetris: figuring out where all of these seemingly disparate elements of my life dovetail, and how I’ll make them interlock on a semi-balanced plane.(Okay, fine. I was never great at Jenga!)

Lately, Andy and I have talked/argued/mused about the importance of balance — of keeping ourselves in check and how exactly that will translate to reality. Because, like most people, we have big dreams that must sometimes be re-imagined; goals that we want to achieve, but whose timelines need to be more accurately re-adjusted (ahem, book deadline); hobbies that need to be dusted off and revisited. Balance is what I want most out of my thirties, and with enough patience and gumption and support, I’ll get close to having it.

Because this is the first decade I haven’t stumbled into; it’s something that’s been looming on the horizon and something for which I’ve prepared — at least somewhat.

And with what I know now, I’ll view every bit of what dawns with it as less of a mystery and more of an experience.

Something to enjoyably behold and mold as I see fit. (Sans Chihuahua penises.)

Paper Weight

It’s hard to understand how something so thin can become charged with such power and weight. But I only have myself to blame.

I spent a large portion of Labor Day with paper rather than a plate of barbecue or a poolside drink: accordion files full of bills and pay stubs and leases and doctors’ visits and every possible thing imaginable from the past few years. And I ripped each apart, over and over and over again until my hands cramped.

I ripped through two years of our life together. From when we first met, to our frenetic scribbles back and forth with property management companies on the other side of the country — ardently attempting to convince them that, yes, we were both gainfully employed and that, no, we were absolutely not trying to pull a fast one.

Some more sentimental people would keep a lot of that; and I’ve kept some of it. But most of it had its place, and now its place is with tofu leavings and congealed grease. It’s time to move on and away from that shaky beginning.

***

We’ve lived in our current apartment for almost a year. A year. I can hardly believe it. Mostly because it seems like just a few weeks ago that we could barely move with the cardboard boxes — even when flattened — nearly reaching the ceiling. It was an exhilaratingly terrifying time.

Would we be able to make it?

Is this our next step?

Where does this all lead?

And, very occasionally, blips of hope penetrated that tornadic activity — and we sought them out and acknowledged them. Knowing all too well from our journey to those exact moments that we could easily stumble and see it all fall to pieces.

So as the confetti fluttered down to the floor, a certain catharsis rippled through me — all the way down to my ink-smudged, paper cut fingers. And I wondered.

What’s next?

As I lifted the two massive garbage bags out of the apartment and lugged them down to the dumpster, I couldn’t help but marvel at the weight — at just how much these relatively scattered, mostly meaningless pieces of our lives have added up to so much. And how much of a burden they can be.

That’s when it hit me: the burden.

It’s no secret I’ve been struggling with figuring out what’s next with writing my book. I thought I was finished a little while back. But it only took a week of distancing myself — having a wee break — for the creepy-crawlies of anxiety and second-guessing to get me editing out whole chapters and scraping pages by the handful.

Now, though, the heap is beginning to resemble a manuscript again — those fluttering bits pulled back in and twisted into something quasi-intelligible. But rather than frighting away from the weight of the whole thing — the experience of writing it, the uncertainty of what comes next — I have to remind myself that I’ve been carting it all around with me for years. And now, it’s time that I reach for that finish line, knowing full well that it doubles as a starting gate.

And that I should get ready to sprint — enjoying the rush, the wind pushing against me, and the race around the track, regardless of where the next finish line may lay.

Neverland

Is this happiness?

Asking that age-old question is never easy — whether of yourself or others. Because it usually bubbles to your lips during a spat, over the course of draining a few vodka tonics, or after returning home at the end of a long, frustrating workday to a pile of Chihuahua shit.

But as most adults know, happiness isn’t some state of being. Not some odd plane of existence where the sun always shines and butterflies dance along the tops of lilies. Rather, it’s a nugget we unearth here and there as we excavate through a gray matrix of pestilence and anger and hard work that often compose our loud, loud lives.

It’s something to cherish and remark about, and enjoy in the moment — because it can be gone in an instant.

***

With another year inching closer, I’m incredibly frustrated — more so than I usually am around my birthday. There’s just something extra pulling me down, like a wool coat in a cold, icy pond that Macaulay Culkin pushed me into. But right when I feel like I’m dipping below the surface, one of those nuggets appears — a calming hand on my back, a wet dog nose against my cheek — and the all-consuming drag isn’t as severe; and I can breathe.

Less than a month from today, I leave my twenties behind. And all I can do is clap my hands and yell, “Good goddamned riddance!” Because the same idiots in high school who said “These are the best years of your life!” are of the same ilk as those who declared “Your twenties are your best years!”

Save the past few years, my twenties sucked. Mostly because they went a little something like this:

20: OMFG…IMSOOLD…OMGAHHHH…IHAVEACELLPHONE…IMOLDDDDDDDD.

21: I CAN DRINK! This is so cool! I just threw up. I’M GRADUATING SOON. 

22-23: Grad school is hard. I can do it. I can’t do it. I hate it here.

24: So much for that Ph.D. This motel-hopping whilst writing my thesis and defending myself against angry Travelodge prostitutes is getting old. 

25: FINALLY. Grad school is almost over. Oh hey, what’s that bump on my face? Cancerous lesion? Fab.

26: Seriously, these motel prostitutes are really irritating. The Great Recession? I’m sure it’ll blow over. Why am I so broke? Wait, is this my life now?

27: Goodbye motels, hello military installation? Never saw that coming. Time to move. I LOVE GETTING DRUNK ON PORCHES. Wow, my job sort of sucks. Time to move for me. Oh hey, other LGBT people! Cute guy! I HAVE A BOYFRIEND!

28: HE MOVED IN! IHATEMYJOBIHATEMYJOBIHATEMYJOB *Glitter bomb* Let’s get the fuck out of here. HE GOT THE JOB!

29: California is beautiful and weird and scary and fun. I GOT A JOB THAT ISN’T AWFUL. GERIATRIC PUPPIES! HUSBAND!   

Okay, so 29 wasn’t horrible. It’s just been crazy-busy. And even though I feel old and curmudgeonly sometimes, I’m not going to fright away from a new decade. I’m welcoming all of it.

True that.

Because I really, really, REALLY need this to be a decade full of more good things than bad, more happiness than heartache. And I think it will be.

***

I think one of the main reasons why I’m so all over the place lately is that I feel close to a really important goal of mine — something I want to achieve by my big 3-0 — but am absolutely terrified that it’s not going to pan out.

That’s part of the whole life package though, right? Everything doesn’t always work out the way we want.

But I can try my damndest to make it happen, to make real my Neverland — where youthful dreams and fun and potential greatness remain alive and well.

So, while I may not be able to fly, I’ll keep flapping my arms mightily. Because, who knows, I may blow by Peter Pan and surprise myself.

After all, I’m no longer a Lost Boy.

Partly Cloudy, With A Chance of Testicles

Like most people, I leave the house every morning completely expecting to be killed – by a runaway car, falling airplane engine, wiener dog stampede – and so everything must be orderly and spotless beforehand. No sofa cushion is left slumped, no dishes in the sink – nothing that I can be posthumously mortified about.

And if I’m not killed, I assume I’ll be asked to disrobe so that the bank robbers, pirates, or Animorph can use my clothes as a getaway disguise. Meaning, I must always have on nice underwear. Or at least underwear I’m not ashamed of being seen or interviewed in. Because if I’m not killed during the holdup, afterward news anchors will assuredly ask me about the whole ordeal, while I’m standing there in my underwear screaming, “It sounded like a freight train, y’all!”

Today, though, is laundry day. Which means I have on the most hideous pair of underwear I own.

Utter. Disaster.

All of this completely rational thinking came screaming into sharp relief this morning. Right before I stepped in front of a news camera.

***

Five minutes before, the pet of the week is running circles around my legs, the leash wrapping around and around as I try to woo the wily Chihuahua with treats. But before I succeed, the Tom & Jerry situation is fully realized, with me tipping slightly toward a hard fall. Thankfully, right before I face-plant, I catch myself; the skinny jeans, however, aren’t having it.

The rip nearly makes my heart stop. I look between my legs, like some My Body, My Self infomercial, and see a gaping hole with my underwear peeking through.

Goddammit!

The pup playfully jumps up, and I cringe and inch up to the melody of ripping fabric. The hole grows wider. This whole situation is like the beginning of a porno. Minus the dog. Now all I need is a tall, swarthy lighting tech with a handlebar mustache to saunter up with, “Do you need to be helped backstage, sir?”

Sonofabitch.

But there’s no time to freak out. It’s showtime.

The meteorologist recites the forecast, and I mentally interject my fears.

“It’s partly cloudy with a chance of…”

Testicles.

“Wind.”

I do feel a slight chill. But I’m pretty sure that’s the air conditioning billowing through the studio and across the polished concrete floor into my pants.

Saucy air conditioner.

And then we’re on. The meteorologist crouches beside me, and I control the dog while kneeling as awkwardly as possible to avoid an on-air wardrobe malfunction.

I nod wildly at everything he says, even completely false, incorrect statements.

“And she just loves to play with unicorns!”

“Why yes! UNICORNS ARE HER FAVORITE! DON’T LOOK AT MY CROTCH!”

Okay, so he didn’t say anything about unicorns. I don’t think. Eventually, the camera angles away and I skitter into the darkness with the dog.

***

On the drive back, a rickety car with a massive Hello Kitty logo flaking off the back windshield nearly sideswipes me. Which causes me to shift and throw my mom arm across the pet carrier.

Which is when I hear another rip.

Motherfucker.

An exit later, the dog is back and I reverse course. But not before stopping to gas up, where I’m treated to a squabble between the gas station clerk and a clearly delusional man waving a chicken sandwich.

“I want this warmed up, goddammit!”

He motions to a defunct microwave tucked beside a fly-covered condiment station.

“Next in line!”

“Yes, hi. I need my receipt for Pump 6.”

“It didn’t print out there?”

Yes, but I really wanted to hear more about this sandwich.

He prints it without waiting for a response, and I inch past the befuddled man.

“WARM! I WANT IT WARM!”

The clerk groans and mops his brow, clearly used to dealing with this particular character.

“Yes, fine.”

Exceedingly pleased with himself, the man turns and smiles at a rack of wrapped candy.

“And imma take one of these.”

“Sure.”

He reaches out a calloused hand and gingerly selects a Kit Kat.

Wise choice.  

He holds onto it with a mighty intensity – so much so that I hesitate before leaving completely.

I consider him for a moment, and think of how easily we gloss over the little victories every single day. And realize how monumentally important a tiny detail can be – the smidge of courage to ask a question, to be bold.

Like a thread, a little victory can mean the difference between calamity and bliss. Even if we’re threadbare, our resolve as thin as paper.