Even Dream Boats Can Spring Leaks

For the longest time, I got lost in the realm of the grandiose — those wonderful dream worlds where everything magically happens with little to no work on my end; just a flick of the mental wand and I’d have everything I’d ever wanted.

A big, cool, old house.

Dream house.

Some dogs.

A man.

Constant financial security.

And then I grew up.

And things got hard.

Life sort of takes a meat tenderizer to those dreams, and beats out all of the drippy leavings until you’re left with a damp, bloody cloth and wondering how you’re going to use it to clean up your wrecked reality.

But then, something funny happens. Amid all of the hubbub and disgusting experiences requisite of trying to figure things out comes something great: an idea; a different course; a life-preserver to get through just one more day of a horrible job. You gut up, take a deep breath, and soldier on.

It’s no secret that I’ve been slacking with writing lately. There’s something pulling at me — something I can’t really describe. Whether or not it’s apathy isn’t really the question I’m trying to answer; I think I’m just trying to polish my dream of publishing a book — but I’m using that damned bloody rag and getting nowhere fast.

When I started writing down my everyday musings — from childhood stories to crazy happenings in the day, to glitter bombing my office — I had this end goal of what exactly it was all for. It wasn’t anything major, just something to be proud of and to laugh about; something that’d help propel us forward and onto the next fun thing.

Somewhere along the way, I lost some momentum and remembered that all of that “one day” talk will forever be “one day” as opposed to “here and now” — that is, unless I get my shit together and keep working.

It’s always hard to admit when you stumble, or your dreams don’t quite pan out the way you thought. That degree doesn’t translate to an amazing job; that second glance at a grocery store doesn’t lead to an awkwardly amazing first date; that big risk you took didn’t quite pay off in the ways you’d imagined it would.

The other day, I sort of came a little unhinged and lashed out at a troll who lives in the building next to ours. Granted, she’d upset Andy and the dogs, and I’d just been waiting until I had a moment to tell her what a vile creature she was, and relishing how horrible I’d be to her. And my moment came. And I said some horrendous things — much to the delight of another couple in our complex who’d been in the process of receiving her wrath when I saw what was going down and let my emotional Italian self take over. When the dust settled and I huffed inside, I told Andy what I’d done, and was a little proud of myself.

And then I started thinking about how angry I was, and began wondering why I’d held onto that when there’s been so much going right these days. Amid the intensely horrible things happening around the world — bombings, plane crashes, shootings — Andy and I are starting to make headway toward some of the goals we’d set for ourselves late last year. But still, I chose to hang onto the most negative aspect of a given week and let it fester until I exploded at a complete stranger — who, according to another resident, “got the shit scared out of her.”

I’d stopped listening to myself, to the part of my daily mantra I always repeat on my way to work: “I will not let negative people or any negativity I may encounter today get the better of me.” More importantly, “I will always be cognizant of the fact that I’m incredibly fortunate to have what I have, and to experience the things I experience, and to be able to share them with family, friends, and loved ones.” The latter part, my friends, is the kicker: the smack in the face that I need every now and then to bring me back.

To make me realize that childhood is childhood, and that adulthood can be pretty great.

Things may not have happened in the order I’d planned. But I’m pretty damn happy with how things have turned out so far.

With him.

Wedding Day 106

With them.

Her ladyship. His highness.

And even our little slice of West Hollywood. (Even with the trolls.)

Home.

***

There’s no one way to make lemonade out of the lemons our childhood dreams may have turned into. Hell, sometimes it’s even hard to find a cup to fill. The only thing any of us can really do is hold our heads up, keep smiling, and raise a glass of whatever we squeeze through our mental juicers — pulp and all.

And at least imagine our glass is halfway full.

Don’t Make Me Towanda Your Ass

Have you ever had one of those days where your collective rage for humanity bubbles out just when that last wee straw flutters down from the great above to break your back?

Like this afternoon, after a horrendously long day, I see an unattended, unaltered dog without a collar shuffling along Santa Monica Blvd — you know, just one of the busiest streets in California — when a random passerby stops me.

“Is that your dog?”

“No, I think he belongs to that guy in Hamburger Mary’s.”

A complete and utter oaf stands gawking at his phone while this dog riles up Pearl and Toby. But the passerby isn’t having it.

“Hey, is this your dog?”

Oafy plasters on a goofy grin and thumbs through his phone.

And y’all. That’s the straw that makes me go Towanda on his ass, clutching one dog under each arm as I stomp over to him.

“IS THIS YOUR FUCKING DOG?”

“Uh, yeah.” He tries to play it cool in front of his twiggy friends.

“YOU’RE A FUCKING ASSHOLE. TAKE CARE OF YOUR DOG!”

Which is when the passerby stops and stares slack-jawed, and I cross Santa Monica, screaming “ASSHOLLLLLLE!”

***

For fear of sounding like an ancient fossil, I’ll just write that I don’t understand younger generations. (Yes, I fail mightily at not sounding like a fossil.) Mostly in the realm of how many of them are choosing to enter the employment pool. (I know, worst segue ever — but the dog douche was the age of the people I’m writing about. Stick with me.)

Hiring someone takes so much more work than I ever imagined. Reviewing resumes. Setting up interviews. Doing the interviews. Assessing the candidates. Offering the job. So. Many. Steps. And still, you have to do your job.

I’ve found that there’s this insanely bizarre sense of entitlement that I find pervasive and utterly baffling. It’s like early twenty-somethings just expect to flutter to and from some job at a whim when they don’t feel as though their skill-sets are being utilized to their highest potential. They just cut and run without the slightest sense of professional decency.

So, to make myself feel better, I cobbled together my personal do’s and don’ts for job interviews.

(1) Avoid asking basic questions that’re clearly answered in the job announcement. Spending time on those during an interview communicates that you haven’t taken the time to read what you’re applying for.

(2) Never ask about compensation or benefits during the initial phone interview, unless broached by the employer. If you have to ask yourself, or preface a question with, “This may not be the time to ask, but…” go with your gut.

(3) After every phone conversation or in-person interview, always send a follow up thank-you email. ALWAYS. If communication is key to the position (meaning, yes), it is a clear red flag if you don’t thank the interviewer.

(4) Answer questions as succinctly and directly as possible. I don’t care about your life story.

(5) Avoid the overuse of “like.” Unless you’re a Valley Girl. In which case I will give you a tour of our zombie pen.

(6) Extend a hand. I will not allow my dog to bite it off. Unless you’re a zombie.

(7) Dress professionally for your age. Don’t go for “edgy” or your idea of “chic.” Bump Its are never chic.

(8) Avoid being overly familiar. We’re both gay. I get it. Move on.

(9) Avoid pointed questions. Such as, “So what do you do?” You are not interviewing for my job. I will cut you for my job.

(10) Visit the organization website more than once. If they don’t have a website in this day in age, they’re  probably planning to kidnap or eat you.

(11) Always proofread your resume. And pay attention to the file name. “Draft resume.docx” or “LOLresume.doc” does not convey professionalism.

(12) Don’t copy and paste your resume into the body of an email unless expressly requested by the employer.

(13) Cover letters should be doubly proofread. This is where you’re selling yourself. Or sailing yourself downriver.

(14) During an in-person interview, maintain eye. During a phone interview, avoid long pauses. If I have to ask if you’re still on the line, it’s not a good sign.

(15) If you’re wanting to transition into the “nonprofit realm” then expect to make less, regardless of what you do. That’s part of the package.

You’re welcome.

Now, go get hired and stuff. And take care of your dogs.

(And I swear I’ll actual write a real blog soon. Not just ranty stuff.)

Marriage, Symbolism, and Farting Dogs

“Honey. HONEY!

I’m paying more attention to my stubble than my side view mirror. And the Prius pays the price.

*Khrrreachhh*

The sound from the pylon-Prius contact makes me cringe.

I get out to assess the damage, but a nearby imbecile distracts me.

“Don’t worry about it!” he hoots, his over-sized Hawaiian shorts billowing in the wind, “I’m sure your parents will just be happy that you’re okay!”

He follows with a har har har, which is when I reach over, grab his head, and slam it into the car hood repeatedly while screaming, “I’M 30 FUCKING YEARS OLD! MY PARENTS ARE THE LEAST OF MY PROBLEMS!”

Or at least that’s what I wish I did. With the sickening scraping noise reverberating between my ears, I scowl, mutter, and get back in.

Then stare out at the steady traffic and sigh.

“Is this day over yet?”

Andy sighs in agreement and pats my leg.

Soon enough, we’re picking up cupcakes and wedding cake and coordinating a shopping trip that goes slightly according to plan, albeit tinged with a modicum of requisite family drama. But hey, with North meeting South on the West coast, I’m just glad we all managed to survive with someone being shanked (my side doesn’t play, y’all).

Kidding!

The two sides!

By go-time, we’re all gathered in our small apartment and sweating slightly. Our friend Amanda rocks an awesome dress, and holds the iPad with the ceremony proceedings as Andy and I step up to our places.

The dogs are milling about underfoot, and the sun is setting, throwing light behind us. We’re all together — both sides finally together and sharing in a symbolic day that so many take for granted.

And as I stare through tear-welled eyes to Andy, I know that all of the stress and exhaustion and traveling and hard work have been worth it. That we’re damn fortunate to be surrounded by our supportive families in a state where our “I Do”‘s stick legally.

“I do.”

“I do.”

We do!

Then, Toby farts.

Gassy sausage

And everyone’s eyes well with tears.

And then it’s over. We’re husbands — as beautifully alien sounding as it is familiar.

Now, it's time to drink.

***

Dust devils twirl along the plains, whipping up bits of trash and desiccated plant life. We pass a deserted, ghoulish mining hamlet dotted with windowless clapboard shacks and decapitated, dead palm trees. An audiobook version of Deception Point plays as Andy dozes. The landscape around us is like that of another planet, which is fitting given our audiobook choice.

With the pups boarded hours ago, their empty crates rattle slightly from the backseat. We pass Palm Springs, and I wonder if we’ve made a mistake as Arizona draws closer. After all, we’re not even heading to Sedona. Phoenix is firmly fixed in our sights – an unlikely destination for a honeymoon. But we’re not exactly accustomed to doing the expected.

Andy nods awake and smiles over at me. And I inhale deeply, knowing we’re going to have a wonderful time rescuing antiques from the hellacious heat and lounging at the historic resort.

Fiesta time!

***

The drunken man slumping down in the overstuffed eat-in movie seat next to Andy wheezes and grunts before deflating into an intoxicated stupor.

“Muhumf. uhuhahhhh.”

Annoyed, Andy stares at me over his milkshake and inches closer to the edge of his seat. The plushy cushions make farting noises every single time I press the button to recline, drawing attention from neighboring viewers slopping quesadillas and nachos down their vodka-lubricated gullets while wiping their hands across the pleathered arms.

As if sensing the question bubbling to my lips, Andy leans over.

“I wonder if they disinfect these seats.”

I nod, then punch the recliner button one more time.

Pffft.

The opening scene of Tammy reminds me of the time a deer slammed into the side of my dad’s truck on his way out to our property to hunt. With no other humane alternative, Dad returned home with a kill without ever having to fire a shot.

The drunk smacks his lips and adjusts himself, and the teenage attendant asks if he wants anything.

“Lotz ah beeeer,” he slurs.

A heated conversation ensues, during which Andy nearly claws his way over the table rest between our seats. With the teenager gone, the man reclines a bit more.

“Oomphah.” Pffft.

Minutes later, he stands up, turns, and lets loose a yowl as he tumbles headlong down the stairs. No one moves to help him. Somewhere from the back, an inebriated woman sums it all up.

“Well, shit.”

He never returns. Andy relaxes, and we watch one character chastise another about hustling and working your ass off to get to be where you are, and how, as lesbians, she and her partner didn’t have anything handed to them. A row back, a man sighs and smacks his lips is dismay. And I’m reminded we’re not honeymooning in a blue state.

***

Pearl and Toby snore loudly on the sofas as we watch Orange is the New Black and unwrap our antiquing spoils. My ring slips on my left ring finger, and I nudge it back with a smile.

And think about the long, long roads we’ve both traveled to get to this point — and how grateful I am to have learned from the past few years and everything that’s come with them.

And how excited I am to embrace and shape what comes next.

Together

For Whom the Wedding Bells Toll

I’ve learned a few things from attending weddings.

One: Never think an embossing gun is harmless.

Two: Just when you think it’s safe to unwind and eat, you’ll go into anaphylactic shock because you stupidly didn’t pay attention to the very obvious fact that there were sunflower seeds in the broccoli salad.

Three: Decorating is ongoing right up until the “I do.” Which usually leaves you sweaty and gross and covered in thready fabric leavings or glitter or snot from the sticky toddler running around.

I always thought a wedding wasn’t a big deal, and all of the fuss was over nothing. But what I’ve learned from planning a very simple, insanely tiny wedding, is that weddings really are just excuses to make fusses over nothing.

Now, I’m not saying that two people binding themselves together forever is nothing — quite the opposite. What I’m saying is all of the pomp and craziness and general tear-inducing errands and tasks that we put ourselves through in the process really aren’t worth straining your sanity during what’s supposed to be one of the happiest times of your life. You know, next to that dream sequence where Joseph Gordon-Levitt sidles up to you at a pool and offers to feed you some Nutella and grapes Grecian style.

Two weeks from today, Andy and I will have said those two magical words in our living room and we’ll be husbands. We’ll have switched the rings from one hand to another, smiled, and eaten dinner with our families and our wonderful officiant friend — all of whom will have met for the first time 24 hours prior. We’ll wave them all on and be generally exhausted but happy, and return to Toby and Pearl who will look at us expectantly, wondering who in the hell all of those touchy people were and why, oh why, we weren’t already going on a walk.

And then we’ll pack the last few things for our much needed vacation, and wind down with a glass of Merlot. After the dog walk, of course.

Because some things change, and others change less. And there’s happiness and fun to be found in all of it.

Fallible Flesh

Disclaimer: This is about a time in my life when I felt like I had few options; nonetheless, what I did shaped who I am today. It’s not an easy topic, but it’s one that a lot of people condemn and pontificate about without ever wanting to understand it.

***

My skin slices open too easily; I thought I’d be made of sterner stuff.

Blood slowly beads out and pools, coating the spindly, blond arm hair before snaking down to my elbow. The sting seems laughably endurable. So I go deeper, pressing the knife further into my skin and sliding it along an unknown course.

I don’t know why this became my way out, my release. But it’s problematically intoxicating; that much I know.

And yet, I keep going.

Day after day, night after night, my arms become carving slabs. Because as long as they’re coming undone, my mental seams remain resolutely taut — binding in obsessive thoughts, silencing internal, frenetic dialogue.

Everything is controlled. Subdued. Managed.

And I can keep it this way.

***

Self-mutilation isn’t exactly a conversational icebreaker. It makes people uncomfortable — pushing them to dance along the edges of the words, lowering voices to relegate it to the safety of allusion.

Few really delve into the mental processes that inform the behavior. What becomes the focus is the act’s result — a line of ghastly cuts, a reopened scar; jags along arms, or inside legs. And the human canvas is nearly always cast in a fractured, fragile light — like they’re a grotesque, damned being.

I never really thought about cutting. Especially since I always had an aversion to knives, and often got the shakes whenever I thought about a blade gliding across skin.

And still I found myself pressing an X-Acto knife into my arms for over a year, reverting back to that disturbing familiarity when life tipped from manageable to overwhelming. It wasn’t a cry for help, or some enjoyable act. It wasn’t attempted suicide. It became something I had to do to release mental tension, and stave off a crushing sense of utter hopelessness.

What ultimately stopped me was its effects on those I cared about most. I’d been caught a few times — the slightly bloated cuts peeking out, or a rogue blood spot curling around a sleeve’s edge. I didn’t so much care about doing this to myself. But I quickly realized every incision cut to the core of those around me.

It jarred them. Startled them. Unnerved them.

Hurt them.

So I learned to cope with my mental juggernaut — righted my course through a lot of hard work and personal reflection.

I let myself heal, and came to understand that we’ve all been a wounded creature searching for a salve.

That, beneath it all, we’re the same.

Made of fallible flesh.

If Walls Could Scream, Part I

Every place I’ve lived has helped me better understand what I want and need in life to be happy. Some places have been charged with sordid dealings or shattered dreams, or have since been condemned by the health department.

Others have been stopping points — blips on the way to something else. But each place has meant something. They may not have been homey, but they’ve helped me realize what “home” really means to me.

***

The Stalinesque facade makes no effort to hide its true self — no exterior adornment to catch the eye, distract from the bones. There’s no pomp to it, no architectural interest. Just concrete block walls and metal slider windows and plastic columns with absurdly pitched gable roofs.

It’s an impulse rental I make as my dream of earning my PhD begins to crumble away, like a sand castle into stormy seas. And the fact that I’m moving into it during an actual tropical storm makes it all the more fitting.

The dangerously steep foyer stairway leads down to my “garden style” unit, and I have to duck down on the last few steps to unlock the door. Weeks later, I’ll rip my hand open as I fall down the entire flight with a steel bookcase.

Stepping down from the stairs, the carpeting feels damp, as if there’s a phantom Chihuahua running throughout, piddling here and there every few feet. The bathroom has a drop-down acoustical tile ceiling, and the closet walls are lined with a thin layer of black mold. The one air conditioner faces the kitchen wall. I walk into the living room and look out the glass to the green window well coated with spider webs. I sit down on a cardboard moving box, and reach for the light switch that isn’t there.

And I cry. Sob, really. On a box in a moldy basement apartment as everything around me feels like it’s crashing down. I can almost hear the ink drying on the lease, locking me into the next year.

I’ve made a horrible mistake.

I step out to the back stoop for some air, and sidestep what looks like an exploded Corgi before focusing my attention on the Life Alert sticking partially out of the rain-splattered ground.

For months, drug-dealing neighbors above me draw a constant stream of addicts, some of whom I startle awake every morning on my way to campus. An old woman lives above me on the other side, and I never see her leave. I only speak to her once — screaming through her door since she refuses to answer — when her sink overflows into my kitchen, creating a greasy, soupy mess that slowly spreads across the floor like a melting glacier.

Everything around us is being razed at a rapid rate. And for the first time ever, I hope that I’ll be bought out of my lease and can one day rejoice in the entire complex’s obliteration. But I never get the chance.

Another one bites the dust. But why won't mine?

For the next year, this is my cell — and every night I feel like Fortunato, slowly being sealed in my tomb.

***

A remnant of an American Dream, the small clapboard house’s white paint now trends sooty gray. Rotting burgundy shutters flank the front windows, the sills of which are pocked by nail holes and stained by the staples rusting away and clinging fast to brittle insulating plastic from winters past.

The clayey front yard is littered with glass shards and shattered toys — mixed together and cooked by the sun like cake in an easy bake oven. Only after my repeated whining does the landlord lay a patchwork of weedy, discounted sod that soon browns and dies, shifting constantly in the rain like a toupée on a sweaty man’s bald head.

Charming, right?

The modest forties cottage has had most of its charm flipped out of it. And, according to the property agent Martha, its half-story has been sealed off completely.

What Lies Above...

“They ran out of money, so they just covered up the stairway.”

“Wait. So there’s no second story?”

“‘Fraid not, hun.”

Oh, just you wait.

With visions of a sledgehammer in one hand and flashlight in the other, I let that one slide.

“And what about air conditioning?”

Martha points up to the hallway’s circa 1993 ceiling fan.

“…”

“But if you want window units or central A/C, just let us know and we’ll have’em installed and added to your rent.”

I walk outside, take in everything, and glance back to the large, spacious backyard — a blank canvas for raised beds — and look at the house. A house — all to myself.

“I’ll take it.”

Flash forward a few months. A blade from the lone fan has just flown off, nearly shattering a mirror and sending the rest of the rig tottering violently. Hoards of camel crickets chirp from the cool, damp basement. But I can’t even throw a can of Raid to greet them since the basement door has been covered over too.

All night I watch each candle in my dramatic candelabra slope and bend, forming what can only be described as a poor gay man’s dildo. And I have a fever. Again. Ever since I moved in, I’ve been sick. And the house has stayed a toasty 85 degrees. The box fan in my bedroom isn’t doing much, but it whirs away.

Hours later, my fever is breaking and I’m standing in front of the freezer eating ice cream right out of the goddamned carton and realizing that I don’t remember how in the hell I got from my bed to the kitchen. Much less how I managed to pry out the ice cream and spoon it into my steaming hot gullet.

And then I swivel around, my paranoia peaking with my temperature.

Someone’s in here.

I wield the massive spoon I’ve just bent while trying to pry out the rock-hard ice cream, and inch back to my bedroom.

It must be Vlad.

But then I remember that I’m awake and not in my hallucinatory dream state of running away from the blood-sucking miscreant. That’s what I get for reading The Historian whilst my brain simmers in 102 degrees.

Back in my bedroom, I turn up the fan’s speed and try to knock myself out with my anti-anxiety pills. Which I can’t find. Anywhere.

Someone took them!

Vlad?

Iris, my pot-dealing neighbor who constantly asks to borrow my car?

The dog-fighters two doors down?

No.

It has to be the crack head I’m convinced is living in my attic. He’s probably up there chuckling to himself in a zenned-out, anxiety-free state.

“YOUSONOFABITCH!”

My heart races, and I tell myself to lay down.

This paranoia is getting a little out of control. The world’s not out to get me.

I exhale and stretch out on my bed. Which is when an ant nest gets sucked into the fan and sprayed across the room, landing on my sweating, naked torso.

“OHMYFUCKINGGODITHURTS!”

Now, I’m all welty and sweaty and deprived of anti-anxiety medication. Which approximates the pain and horror of the time I tried to Nair my chest.

Soon enough, I fall asleep.

Days later, I show one of the dildo candles to the property management company and demand that they install central A/C. Oddly enough, they do. And do a half-assed job of it. So much so that the kitchen’s linoleum blows up every single time the air cuts on, making the kitchen floor look like a bubble on the cusp of explosion or a wave constantly on the verge of crashing.

And I wonder how long it — and I — can withstand the pressure, the push. I’ve started to think of every day as one closer to the end of my lease rather than one to spend making this my home.

I step back out onto the porch — an alcove, really — and look out at the same landscape where I’d imagined so much more. And what I see isn’t so much a neighborhood as it is a collection of decrepit cottages peppered across a forgotten half-block, like burnt crumbs in a broiler pan — their stoops and porches heaving under sagging, molding recliners and sofas upholstered with floral fabric.

Just beyond the last crumb, the street ends — no sign, just a tree trunk and broken asphalt collected in an ever sloping pile fronting the woodsy treeline. It’s as though city planners have long known this place is the end of the line in every possible meaning.

I have to get out of here.

Bye, gurl, bye!

This is a place where the sidewalk and the street end. This is the place I have to leave if I want to do more than dabble in happiness.

Dog Daze

“GIVE ME THE GODDAMN CHICKEN!”

Boa-like, Toby unhinges his jaw and attempts to swallow the entirely intact fried chicken breast he’s just scavenged from a throng of bamboo. Like a tiny, voracious panda.

So, here I am. It’s 7:00 AM on Santa Monica Boulevard and I’m performing in “That’s My Chicken!” starring Toby (as McChubberpants), Matt (as Obscenity-yelling Dad), and Fried Chicken Breast (as Delicious Morsel Certain to Give McChubberpants Explosive Diarrhea).

Me: *Unintelligible expletives while reaching into gaping pup maw*

Toby: DISIZBESTDAHYEVAH. TOBYLUVCHIKN *gulp-slobber*

Fried Chicken Breast: I can’t help that everyone loves me. Except the bastard who threw me into this fucking bamboo.

I had these grand notions about adopting a dog. That there’d be bells and whistles and angelic harps when we first brought home our furry child.

Instead, it just sort of happened that we adopted him — a boy no less.

See, we’d planned on adopting two female dogs — naming one Andrea and the other Emily, and at random moments calling out to them whilst channeling our best Meryl-as-Miranda Priestly impressions.

“Emily. Emily. There you are, Emily. How many times do I have to scream your name?”

But then Toby came along, and his name just seemed too fitting to change. Laid back and not so in-your-face as some of the other dogs, he just puttered around the activity yard while we tried to cajole him over with hot dog bits and cheese. Completely uninterested, he set to his primary task: peeing on all the things.

“We’ll take him.”

***

Flash forward a week after he’s come home. It’s midnight, and I’ve bolted upright, thrown myself out of bed, and am already in the living room by the time I actually realize I’m awake. Somehow, our little Houdini got out of his microfiber bed, tossed aside his microfiber throw, ignored his overstuffed bumble bee toy, and decided to wake the dead at the witching hour.

Over the next few days, coffee and stubble complemented dog hair-coated attire as Andy and I made our foray into being daddies. We fretted, worried, went overboard with praise when he shit outside, and couldn’t possibly stay mad at him for doing something horrendous once we heard his doggy snoring and sleep farting. And before we knew it, he was three pounds heavier and hoarding all of his toys.

***

In the end, I declare “That’s My Chicken!” a draw — he’s swallowed a few bites’ worth, but no bones.

“You know, you’re going to have to shape up when your sister gets here.”

Toby sniffs himself, then looks down the street.

Making the decision to get a second dog only six months after Toby wasn’t one that we made lightly.

With Toby, we have a routine. We know what to do — what he likes, despises, and how we can use the latter to our advantage. And his bedding and toys and other accoutrements don’t fuck up our design aesthetic.

Having dogs doesn't mean sacrificing design!

All around, it’s a win.

But then we started looking around our apartment and thinking that we have just enough resources to make a difference in one more dog’s life. And that’s really what it comes down to in the end — effecting change, whenever we can.

So, Pearl came home yesterday.

The new addition!

And sure, she’s going to need plenty of help getting acclimated to her new life with a new little brother and two fathers obsessed with making her comfortable. There will be ups and downs and moments of us wondering what in the fuck we were thinking.

But there will also be moments of pure bliss.

Like yesterday, after we brought her home. She scampered around, and occasionally peed on things while I hurried after her spraying Simple Green all over the place. Toby, slightly amused and slightly disgusted at the whole situation, surveyed from his perch before surreptitiously stealing most of Pearl’s toys. Adoption detritus layered every surface — bags here, toys there, a leash or two draped over furniture. Sunlight filtered through the curtains and the air conditioner sputtered on. And everyone started to settle.

Oh, Pearl.

Toby, the toy hoarder.

Sleepy dad.

I looked around and took stock of it all. And smiled.

It’s not the perfect life. But I never wanted to be perfect.

My Buddy and Me

I’m inside a refrigerator. 

Caricatured milk bottles and eggs and heads of lettuce stare me in the face. The plastic smell is inescapable.

I’m trapped.

This is my first memory.

***

I’m dressed in a blue sequin two-piece, and watch enviously as Saved By the Bell’s Zack Morris marries some random woman in the ocean. But everything about this moment bleeds into the background, and all I see is Zack’s chiseled form.

This is my first dream journal entry.

***

Laura and I are walking our dog past our old middle school when she stops me.

“Well, I have plenty of straight friends and plenty of gay friends. But I don’t have any bisexual friends.”

“Well, I am.”

“Hmm. Well, whatever. Alright by me.”

This is my turning point.

***

I’m two meters underground — skimming layers of soil with disturbing precision. Amanda is shoveling behind me. We’re talking about guys. I say one is hot. She stops and turns. I stop and stare.

“I like men.”

“I know.”

A snake burrows through the wall and falls into the unit. We scream and jump out.

***

“I. Am. Gay.”

Three words strung together. Superficially, that’s all they are. And yet, they’ve reached into my gut, my heart, my mind and pressed puree. With my mental blender whirring loudly, I watch my mouth sync these words to my reflection.

I’ve known this phrase, but never sculpted it through audible language. Though whispered at first, the words seem to melt into the darkness of my apartment, permeating every atom with the spoken truth.

“Gay,” I murmur louder, my lips contorting a little less than before. The whirring stops.

I look back into the mirror and see myself for the first time.

This is my freedom.

***

He looks like a Russian poet. That’s what I tell him. He finds it endearing. We drink a bottle of wine. He makes lasagna. And the next morning, the sun fills the room, and glances off his torso. I turn over and smile into the sheets.

This is my first time.

***

I stare hard into the antique dining table’s surface, so much so that my vision blurs. Then I look up, right across to Laura. And there she sits: solid, unmoving, protective.

A few tense seconds of silence pass; they seem like months. Mom’s voice shatters them to pieces.

“Well, I hope you know this doesn’t change how much we love you.”

This is acceptance.

***

The air conditioner sputters uselessly. His leg rests on mine. We’re hot and tired and bored. We’re together. He looks up from his book and smiles.

This is love.

***

He’d always been there of course – a passenger of sorts, riding along but never engaging. But he had to be given a voice. My voice.

This is me.

Where memories are made.

Will Lap Dance for Luxury

I can’t dance.

If I learned anything from being called to the front of my ninth grade Physical Science class by a perverted coach-teacher and made to perform the chicken dance so that my team could earn extra credit on the next test, it was that.

Not that my team cared. After all, my tragic display gave them just enough time to tear apart my notebook whilst copying my homework.

Go team!

Anywho…

Now that Andy and I live in a big city, it’s hard not to have our daydreams of owning a home almost forcibly ripped out of our heads by cray-cray real estate prices.

But I don’t care. One day, we’ll own a cute little house. I just know it.

And I hope it looks something like this Craftsman that we drool over every single time we’re en route to Runyon Canyon.

I LOVE YOU.

It’s the last former rental in a now thriving pocket neighborhood — full of beautiful, insanely well-maintained bungalows and cottages. I mean, I love this house so much that if it was a halfway handsome man, I’m pretty sure we’d have a threesome.

I mean, check out these stone…piers.

I love rocks.

And that wood..work.

Hello, handsome.

Okay, I’ll stop. You get it: I want a house. And I know we’ll have one.

Until then, I’ll be more than happy with our apartment — a fortuitous find on a nice, quiet street in the heart of West Hollywood.

And sure, I’d love it if we had a little outdoor space all to ourselves. Like a lovely balcony that we could flood with light at night to showcase to the envious gays lurking in the darkness listening to us laughing about how rich and wonderful we are.

Romeo, Romeo. Where in the fuck did you get that balcony?

Not that I lurk. *Creepy giggles*

But don’t we always want a little more?

Poor, cute, doomed duplex.

Just one more big ass slice of that American Dream pie that we’ve been forcing down our gullets for so damn long? We always want something bigger and better and generally amazing.

Infilled grossness.

Rather than the simple beauty right in front of us.

Like one of my anthropology professors once said, it’s all about learning to see — and see what’s really important.

It’s looking around at what we have, and what we’ve accomplished — being proud of that.

Home sweet home. For now, it's perfect.

And working toward our own definitions of success and happiness. Be they made of mortar and wood and stone, or paper and ink and fond memories.

The Wonder Year

The retail clerk looks at me with such horror that I wonder if I momentarily blacked out and smacked a bunch of orphans before running off with their milk money.

“You know, the cute shorts the gays are wearing.”

He straightens his intensely starched suit and pulls his collar to the side, as if he has a puff of cartooned steam to ventilate. Then slides the slim bag across the counter with a “Sorry, no.”

Which is when I realize that I haven’t changed that much since moving to California. That I’m still the most embarrassing person to be around. Ever.

***

Not long after moving here, Andy and I started fielding inquiries from well-meaning family members — specifically about how we shouldn’t let ourselves get sucked into “the scene” and to always “be true to yourselves.” Which translated to “Don’t get hooked on drugs and lose everything and become an asshole who stops talking to your family and friends.”

But I’m already horrible about keeping in touch (sorry, y’all), and the closest I get to drugs is when I walk past one of the bazillion legal pot dispensaries along Santa Monica Blvd. I’m too old to give a damn about the thumpa thumpa going on in West West Hollywood, and I’m much more enthralled with the quiet, in-bed-by-nine East West Hollywood.

It wasn’t until our gay, man-infested destiny was realized that I learned how much people equate such a move — especially to a big city — with going off the rails and absolutely ruining your life. Granted, it does require a little insanity to drop everything and move — but it’s not necessarily symptomatic of a deep-seated issue.

For us, this whole crazy journey has been about self-discovery and starting anew. Of course, we miss our friends and family at the Center and across North Carolina, and the Boys Clubs at The Borough. But we keep ourselves centered here, in our new home. Because everyone shifts from place to place as they make their way in the world and figure out who they are in this moment and who they’re going to be. And each revelation and stride is tinged with a bit of heroism.

***

Getting settled is hard. After almost a year, we’re just now starting to settle down — the dust isn’t quite as thick, and we can breathe again.

But a year ago, we were moving.

Andy had a job. I didn’t.

We had a tiny, closet-sized apartment waiting for us in Koreatown.

And we wondered if we were going to make it.

But we started gaining steam. I got a job.

We started saving and dreaming and working toward our goals.

And then we moved again. To a place we both love.

And adopted our furry son.

And started acknowledging that we need to give ourselves a little slack — that rebuilding a social network isn’t going to be easy. But it’ll happen.

And that our dreams outside the daily grind can be brought to fruition — that they’re still there, regardless of context.

So as we creep up on the anniversary of our move, we’re finding ourselves just as energized and scared and hopeful as we were a year ago.

The roads we travel, the journeys we take.

And just as we were then, we’re charging headlong into it all — reveling in the ambiguity, and cherishing the experiences to come.

The here and now.