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Penned Out Frustration

You know that suggested coping mechanism of writing a letter to someone who’s slighted you, then burning it?

So you don’t look back and regret it.

So you realize that it doesn’t really matter that much.

So you can just let unbridled anger scribble out through your pen’s tip onto paper rather than through your key’s jagged edge into the side of their car.

Well, here at Yellow Brick Missives, I’m all about setting the missives free. Because some people need to know that their antics haven’t gone unnoticed.

That there’s at least one person who can see right through their thinly-veiled bullshit, and have no problem calling them out on it.

***

Now, y’all know that I’m pretty good about letting people know that they’ve been asshats. Like McNutterpants. Or that dynamic duo, Precious and Sir-Drinks-a-Lot.

But since moving to California, I’ve been trying to let that whole zen, let-it-go mentality sink in–coat my neurotic mind like a cucumber mask.

Recently, though, that mask is cracking. And it’s not because of the California sun.

A little fissure broke through when we went to buy new sheets, which ended with me penning this little epistle:

Hello,

My partner and I visited the Restoration Hardware location at 8772 Beverly Blvd West Hollywood, CA 90048 on 5/11/13 to purchase bedding.

Not only were most members of the floor/sales staff rude and dismissive, but it took us nearly an hour and a half from start to finish due to lack of assistance and faulty registers (I was told my card was declined–and was given that “Oh, you’ve reached your limit” look from other staffers–despite the fact that my partner and I heard another member of the sales staff tell our sales staffer that we would have to go downstairs to process card payments, because the machine upstairs did not work).

My partner and I knew exactly what we wanted when we got there, and couldn’t believe how dismissive the sales staff acted–perhaps because we were wearing tee shirts and jeans and we didn’t present as money-makers to them? The service was so horrendous that my partner had to corner a sales associate (after being repeatedly dismissed by others, each of whom called into their headset for someone else), and told her that if we were not helped, we would take our money elsewhere.

Despite the fact that we had to wait for so long, the newly-hired associate who helped us was very polite and tried her best to work within an obviously flawed system to assist us. Her name was — and her employee number is —. She was incredibly apologetic for our wait and the nicest associate with whom we dealt. If the sales associates who snubbed us–four of whom we passed by on our way to the register downstairs–acted as professionally as she did, our experience would have been quite different. Since the four were carousing around the iced-tea counter, I can only assume they had *just* finished with all of their more important “clients.”

On another note, I have never seen such inefficient payment areas in my life: closet-sized register checkouts where patrons have to cram in alongside the associates? Ridiculous.

I am a very easy-going person, as is my partner. We usually go with the flow; but this was the worst shopping experience I have had since moving to Los Angeles. I advise some serious sales associate review if you hope to retain a customer base. In the future, my partner and I will not revisit this particular location, and will think twice about returning to Restoration Hardware for our household needs.

Good day.

And the rest of what remained of that flaky mask blew off yesterday, after I read an email from my former slumlord–we’ll call him Prick. Prick informed me that JackOff, the closeted resident manager who lives in the disgusting basement unit, informed him that I left the apartment in complete disarray. Not only that, but my apparent lack of care for the property would cost Prick nearly $1100 to repair. But out of the kindness of his heart, Prick just plans to withhold my entire security deposit and “call it even.”

Now, I’m all about transparency. Which is why I sent this back to the both of them:

Hi Prick and JackOff, 

To write that I’m floored by this apartment assessment would be a vast understatement; however, I appreciate your straight-forwardness. Clearly, I never would have entertained the idea of receiving or requesting a partial security deposit reimbursement if I felt I’d left the apartment in worse shape than that in which I found it. (And since I’m a Historic Preservationist by profession, I think I have enough background to support my position.)  While I don’t expect anything in return, I’d like to address a few points JackOff made.

(1) Paint/Re-painting. While I do not deny having “spot-removed” paint that had been flaking off (probably heat-induced, especially during the summer when the apartment inside often exceeded 80 degrees even with the A/C units on), I did not do this to intentionally deface the
apartment–merely to stave-off constantly sweeping up paint chips. While this unintentional “antique” treatment may not be desired by future tenants, the current tenant actually mentioned that he liked it, as did others touring the apartment. Moreover, a professional paint job would entail stripping off these layers of paint for the new paint to better adhere to the trim, making the temporary appearance–especially since there’s a locked-in tenant now–a moot point. I think the fact that I re-painted the balcony and replaced and painted the front railing collectively speak to the fact that, during my time on Park Ave, I was interested in the longitudinal longevity of the entire home.
Upon my move-in, the interior walls and trim of the apartment were pock-marked with nail holes, former (discolored) patches, badly patched plaster cracks, gouged-out plaster (which I in-filled), and plywood patches over exposed lathe. I patched all holes I could–including those that were not of my making–and inquired about
re-painting the interior in 2011, but was told not to. Additionally, since we agreed with the current tenant that the apartment was being rented “as-is,” I assumed all parties involved knew what that meant apartment-wise.

(2) The stove. As I have mentioned in our previous correspondence, I had to completely overhaul the stove to make it usable–removing a mouse nest (I’m not kidding), replacing the drip pans, scraping the stove inside and out, treating rust spots inside it, and cleaning underneath the entire unit (where there was broken glass, cardboard, and part of a pizza box)–rather than requesting a replacement. Since the stove appears to be from the 70’s, I cleaned the deep-caked grease stains as best as I could with professional cleaning agents, after move-in and upon move-out. I can’t fathom that a stove from the 70’s could be expected to remain spotless after multiple tenants.

On another note, the refrigerator was lined with black mold, which I also cleaned. The bathroom tile and toilet interior were caked with urine, pubic hair, and general scum, all of which I cleaned at my expense.

I cared for the apartment as I would my own home, as is evidenced by the fact that 117 B was featured on an internationally known design website twice, and I installed (and left) a $200 A/C unit to better regulate the apartment’s temperature to avoid mold growth, paint-flaking, and other problems. Not only that, but I’ve never heard any negative
commentary from any visitors; on the contrary, I always received glowing praise–including from some of the apartment’s past tenants and from you when you visited (the apartment looks exactly as it did when you complemented me on how “nice” it looked). Countless visitors exclaimed that, judging from the neglected facade, they would never have imagined the building to have such a well-maintained, character-rich apartment inside.

While I could send you countless before/after photos of everything I’ve mentioned above (we took plenty of photos), and the improvements I made, and the condition of the apartment when I took over, I’ll refrain–as I will from recommending any of your properties to friends
and colleagues.

JackOff, on a personal note, I’m incredibly disappointed. You know the state the apartment was in when I moved in (unless you never performed a walk-thru), and the state it was in when we left. I’m not sure what your motivation is, but I think–especially considering the good relationship I thought we had–this assessment is a flagrant, hurtful lie.

If I was a landlord, I’d be thrilled to see my property look as good as this.

Good day,

Matt

Honestly, I think letting the asshats have it is even more cathartic than watching a letter’s fiery demise. Of course, strategy is essential, as is wording. Because you have to have some semblance of tact when sealing a note with kisses and bitch sprinkles.

Still, being honest and forthright mean more to me than any note I could ever write, whether sent or not. Because even sour experiences embolden me, give me a little confidence to keep opening my yap whenever someone needs to hear the truth.

Chances are, Prick and JackOff will continue being asshats; after all, it’s worked this long.

But who knows.

They may just learn a little something, too.

Like never cross a scrappy gay.

Because this kitty has claws.

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The Stay-at-Home Gay

Gays have a lot of hurdles to clear, some of which are planted in place by our Disunited Theocracy; others by A-gays; historically entrenched, ridiculous stereotypes; and Oprah.

Okay, maybe not Oprah.

Still, so many gays aspire to be “rich and ripped,” “beautiful and successful,” “popular and revered”–with a house in the Hamptons, a cottage in the Keys, and a second home in downtown San Francisco.

Adopting two dogs.

And wearing lots of cashmere for good measure.

Why gay men find themselves gravitating to these ideal types–as if they have something to prove–is anyone’s guess. And there’re probably about as many explanations as probable sources–being socially ostracized, having to remain closeted for one reason or another, being excessively fearful of abandonment, being a late bloomer, on and on ad nauseum.

So many of these factors make gay men more highly susceptible to experiences that eventually define stereotypes, which later confine gay men to a rigid, laughably ridiculous set of behavioral criteria. And while we’re all capable of free will, sometimes it’s easier to go with the crowd.

Buy the expensive things.

Wear the latest fashions.

Embrace a bit of body dysmorphic disorder.

Hell, I’ve tried all of the above, and did actually learn some things: (1) Credit card debt sucks, and makes you resent all of the pretty things surrounding you that contributed to it; (2) Even a Michael Kors $250 hoodie can give you man boobs in the most unflattering ways possible; and (3) Food tastes much better than bile.

But figuring out who you are, and how you’re going to deal with life’s ambiguity, requires a lot of self-reflection, tough love, and emotional restructuration. Most of the time, such introspection is triggered by unpacking heavy emotional baggage, which is rarely fun, and often requires a lot of chocolate.

Coming out, and all of the internal dialogue in the process, strengthened my resolve to deal with toxic situations; after all, reconciling a mentally- and physically- abusive relationship with yourself is one sure-fired way to realize how best to cope with all of life’s stressors and characters. Most people don’t ever have such deep, messy, and intense conversations with themselves. Because those are scary. But what’s even scarier is feeling like a fish out of water and not having the slightest clue how to deal with such overwhelming emotions.

Thankfully, I beached myself a while back and have plenty of tools in my kit–from flailing about and baking in the sun–to patch up bizarre or challenging situations.

All of which have come in handy as I’ve found myself becoming a stay-at-home gay–a StAHG. (Ba da bah! Yes, I’m lame.)

***

No one could’ve ever convinced me that I’d one day take on the role of homemaker.

Especially not the woman I met while contemplating the potential financial boon of donating plasma as an undergraduate, who turned to me with her wide, meth-rotted grin and said, “I do this fer a livin’!” (Bless her heart. And mouth.)

I always assumed I’d be employed, even if at a job I loathed.

But as y’all know, I’d played all my cards at my last job, and didn’t have the energy to reshuffle the deck in the hopes of a better hand. And was incredibly fortunate to have Andy agree, and support my decision.

Still, I felt like a big loser–a feeling most freshly unemployed folks experience. And after I waded through all sorts of emotional cesspools, I began to make peace with myself, and realize that as loser-like as I felt, I also felt sort of proud to have acknowledged that something was severely wrong–that I was severely unhappy–and to have done something about it.

But even with that knowledge informing my next steps, and Andy being nothing but supportive, I still felt pressure to right myself immediately–perform some Matrix-esque move mid-fall to swing into another saddle.

But, why?

***

Delving into the proverbial why can be dark and ugly. Because all sorts of unseemly, latent ideas or perspectives can be brought into sharp relief.

Like when I acknowledged that I’d long thought stay-at-home spouses were lucky because they didn’t have any real obligations–no set hours to bank, no project deadlines to make. They could just wake up late, lounge around, and throw something together for dinner. And if there were kids, then they had an even easier go of it. Because those poopy, drooly blobs of joy can be blamed for anything–late dinner, stained or frumpy clothes, unconditioned hair.

So imagine my surprise when I found myself pressed for time after running errands, making meals, scheduling appointments, cleaning house, managing finances, and conditioning my hair after waking up at 6:00 AM! And double shockaroo when I threw searching for apartments and handling cross-country move logistics into the mix; conditioning my hair just didn’t make the cut.

Worse still, I didn’t even have a poopy, drooly, furry, three-legged and wheeled blob to foist off some of the responsibility for not accomplishing everything I wanted!

How did I–an educated gay man–fall into this role?! 

And that’s when I realized I was being a ridiculous, whining wretch.

So, as I deservedly cringed at each word of my horrid question, I began to unpack the three most problematic components of my complaint:

Educated. Like a lot of folks, I’ve come to expect a college education and MA to do the heavy-lifting, to beat all of those potential jobs out of the bushes. But these days, in this economy, that’s just not the case. For baby-boomers and millennials alike, times are tough. And I need to really acknowledge that, and not give up after not hearing back from jobs I applied for. Even those awesome jobs I was certain I’d snag. I’ve sung my millennial blues. Time to put my nose to the pulverizing stone and work it.

Gay. With as much bullshit as LGBT’s face, I figured I’d somehow receive some payout from the universe in the form of excessively disposable income, an even tan, and muscled calves. But being gay, or going through a lot of self-discovery, doesn’t translate to a handout or a break from reality. It just means you probably have the life-experience to deal with plenty of foolishness that’s thrown your way, and hopefully excessive empathy to share with others who don’t.

Man. It’s no newsflash: our androcentric, heteronormative society rewards straight white men; they are the golden children. Everyone else has to step it up to even receive a fraction of the entitlements they enjoy. So, just because I’m a white man doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t expect plenty of setbacks, unfairness, and hard times ahead–that I should never think I deserve anything more than anyone else. It’s time to grow up and grow a(nother) pair.

So after I chastised myself and quietly apologized to all of my friends who work intensely hard as stay-at-homes, I began to admit to myself that I shouldn’t be ashamed of being a homomaker (last one, I promise).

That everyone has their own problems, their own demons to wrestle. Yes, including the A-gays who don’t see themselves as good enough, even as they watch their housekeeper (for the Keys) brush their newly coiffed Jack Russells, Mad and Onna.

That we all have growing to do, and joys to love–whether the human, furry, or imaginary variety.

That as my D-gay self tries hard not to become a sad cliche, I can still be proud and work hard toward a more fulfilling, professional future.

That, regardless of how long it takes for any of us to realize our potential, we’ll all have to take our respective leaps of faith to new, exciting adventures.

To do our best to land with both feet on solid ground.

To be grateful for those who act as our rocks.

To act as rocks ourselves.

Even a foul-mouthed, excessively cracked one like me.

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Where the Homosexuals Roam

It’s always hard to find your niche.

And as Andy and I traverse this big, crazy city, we’re trying to strike a balance between professional and personal–that lovely dynamic that, if just slightly off, can throw a big heap of shit into a Vornado blowing our way.

Still, we try.

And know that we’ll figure out what to do and what not to do. Where to go and where to avoid. Who we are and who we want to be.

And as I’m literally flipping back through chapters of my life, I’m stumbling upon some pretty interesting reminders of what was important then, and how I made light of missing the mark more than once.

Because, at some point, we’re all throwing darts in the dark.

And sometimes, we hit the bullseye.

***

Excerpt from The Graduate School Diaries, 2006-2007

Crying in the dark, I suddenly realize the only way I’ll make it through the last hundred pages of Dialectic of Enlightenment is if I have a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels close at hand.

Otherwise, I’ll gouge out my eyes.

The occasional, inspirational I can do it! just isn’t helping me sift through the hundreds upon hundreds of pages of seminar reading tonight.

I need help.

Nestle’s help.

Especially after catching my reflection in my Art Deco vanity’s mirror.

Coupled with Droopy-like bags under my eyes, my haphazardly grown stubble complements my stained sweatshirt, grey sweatpants, and the pièce de résistance: a sock-flip-flop combo.

I epitomize Graduate Student on the Edge.

Skittering from my room like a roach from Raid, I grab my keys and sprint out to my frost-covered car. I can almost taste the salty-sweetness.

But as my windshield defrosts, a terrifying thought crosses my mind: What if someone sees me?

My stomach dismisses such nonsense with a wave of a phantom hand, and I reassure myself that the chances of seeing anyone cute or interesting at Harris Teeter at 10:00 on a Saturday night are slim to none.

Slim to none.

***

Driving the short distance, I turn on NPR and listen to The Nutcracker Waltz ooze out of the speakers. Its holiday-tinged jingle always makes me think of sweet things. Especially chocolate.

I accelerate, make a few turns, then pull into a space.

And hesitate.

The parking lot is a bit more crowded than I thought it’d be. Still, my sweet tooth is horribly controlling.

“Go on, they’re all at China Buffet. You know you want those pretzels,” it sings from the back of my mouth.

I comply.

And immediately regret my decision.

The entrance doors close behind me.

And I’m left, dumbfounded. (And talking to myself.)

When in the hell did Saturday night become Mo Night at Harris Teeter?

Flushed with shame and sweat, I dart behind a shelf of baguettes. From there, I watch in agony as droves of gay men and their painfully attractive partners sashay to and fro, gingerly dropping Silk, Kashi cereal, and vegetables into their carts.

The only thing that’d be gayer would be a gaggle of them exchanging guffaws and laughing at Mother’s Day cards.

“Look at this one! Mom will just love it!”

Then, like realizing you’re wearing hot dog shoes at a weiner dog convention, it hits me: Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.

Oh. Shit.

I panic. At any moment the Fab Five will pop out from behind an apple bin and immediately revoke my gay card. Unable to speak, Carson will point to my clothes and collapse into Kyan’s chest.

But I can’t stay behind the baguettes forever. I take a breath and step out into full view.

“Get this Party Started” doesn’t skip off track, and no one drops their Rice Dream.

I charge for the pretzels, all the while quietly humming “Beautiful”—the beginning’s “don’t look at me” line being painfully poignant.

But as I mentally belt out “I AM BEAUTIFUL, NO MATTER WHAT YOU SAY!” and pass a cabbage display, he turns the corner and comes right toward me: He who rides the bus and to whom I never work up the gumption to speak.

My heart lifts when there’s visible, momentary recognition on his part. But my cat lady attire contorts his smile into a grimace. He looks away.

My face burns as bright as Rudolph’s goddamned nose.

My pretzel order doubles. Almost there.

By the time I see the Buy One, Get One Free! sticker beneath the pretzels, I don’t give a damn and scream a little. Because, by now, I’ve acknowledged that I might as well have a sign plastered to my forehead reading, “Desperate? So am I! Grab a bag!”

While I stand on my tip-toes to pilfer the last few bags from the top row, I can only think about running to the nearest self-checkout.

But then I realize I have to get a Mother’s Day card.

Detouring a few aisles over, I scan the selection. I channel my inner magpie, reach for the brightest, most metallic card possible and cringe at the oh-so-perfect, saccharine sentiment inside. With the Technicolor Raincoat Card and two massive pretzel bags now in-hand, I head to the registers.

But then, like some well-orchestrated ballet version of musical chairs, all of the gorgeous couples begin making their way to the checkout counters en masse.

Must. Go. Now!

After scanning my spoils, I halfway expect the receipt to print out an extra message next to my VIC Card Savings that reads: “Pathetic. Good luck with all that.”

But I have no time for such an automated dis. Asparagus, extra-virgin olive oil, salmon steaks, and Tofuti-Cuties are being scanned on neighboring registers.

More importantly, I begin to feel the stares, hear what sound like gasps from the gays who’ve nearly lost hold of their Edamame Crisps upon seeing me there alone—fluorescent Mother’s Day card in one hand, two bags of chocolate-covered pretzels in the other.

I snatch my receipt and retreat to the welcoming, nonjudgmental darkness outside.

***

I don’t bother turning on my apartment lights, and rip into both bags, smothering my sorrows with enough sodium to make a salt-lick block blush.

Still, it’s hard not to wax philosophical in moments like these. So I ask myself, Should I take Mo Night as a sign that the Culture Industry works in mysterious ways, to perpetuate stereotypes and alienate others?

Meh.

Instead, I resolve never to go hungry again, provided that, next time, I’ll shave, rest up, and wear something suitable when I venture back there.

Where the homosexuals roam.

Where I want to be.

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On My Honor

It’s cold.

Below freezing, actually. And I’m outside, in the Georgia mountains, peeing off a cliff. Later, my frantic parents will tell me that today is the coldest night on record in 50 years. Right now, though, I can’t stop shaking.

I totter down the slope toward camp, and am nearly frozen in place by a few frigid wind gusts. Passing the cold fire-pit, I duck down into the tent I share with my two fellow scouts, Jack and Dillon. Two breath clouds filtering from nearly enclosed sleeping bags are the only evidence of where exactly they’re laying.

Now that I’ve voided the only warmth in my body, I envision myself dying of hypothermia like this kid I saw on an Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode, haunting people like he did, whispering ghoulishly, “I’m colllld.”

But before that vision’s realized, a warm light emanates outside the tent. Maybe I did die up there on the hill, hand frozen to dick.

Jesus, is that you?

Nope. Not unless Jesus is a ginger.

Gary, another scout, has thrown some toilet paper onto the fire-pit’s pitiful embers. Like blood to sharks, the fleeting heat beckons everyone’s frigid bodies.

Everyone extends numbed limbs. No one speaks; we just watch the paper wad curl into a charred ball and disappear. And like the embers’ heat, the momentary glimmers of hope we saw in each others’ eyes soon fade until there’s only darkness.

Something’s got to change. We’re not prepared.

***

At dawn, Troop Leader Barstow tells us to line up. He has a plan.

But before he gets to the point, Dillon—tall as an elm tree at age ten—sways and falls backward, laid flat by the cold. Leaves gust around him as he lands, and we all just stare in stunned silence.

While Barstow and the older scouts help Dillon up and keep him conscious, I step behind a large oak tree and cry. But before I fall back in line, I wipe away the tears and snot with my toboggan-wrapped hand.

Don’t ask.

When I get back to the group, I hear something about backtracking down one of the trails. Before I know it, camp’s deconstructed and we’re humping it down a mountain trail.

But I only see the sheer drop-offs on either side. The sight of them makes me grab my abdomen, bruised from crashing down a steep slope and through a rotted tree trunk during last night’s Capture the Flag.

I stare ahead. Everyone’s exhausted, but we slowly amble on.

And here I thought that time I was nearly drowned by a rapidly sinking, swamped boat while trying to earn my Rowing merit badge was bad.

We reach a rushing stream that we never passed on our way in. So much for backtracking. But at least I now know I’m not the only one who barely skated by on my Orienteering badge. Then again, that’s not really comforting right now, especially when my feet are submerged up to my ankles in hypothermia-inducing stream water. Nathan, Bartow’s second in command, has us trudge across the stream, and then back through it to the original trail. I’m scared to look at my feet. Surely, there’re only stumps left.

If only I’d actually learned something from earning my Wilderness Survival badge. Well, other than never leave your only food source—a rotisserie chicken from the local Piggly Wiggly—with the scout who has a glandular issue. Suffice it to say, as he sat stuffed with chicken and the rest of us fought over the accompanying soy sauce packets, there was nearly a remake of Lord of the Flies. And another thing: sucking on rabbit-tobacco buds is nothing like cigarettes, and it’s no substitute for food.

Where was I?

After a ridiculously long, painful trek down every possible trail, we finally emerge into a campground—a real one, with an actual picnic table.

Sleep-deprived, cold, and hungry, I have no idea how much time passes before I see an absolutely beautiful sight: a navy blue Chevy Caprice slowly pulling into the clearing where we all sit collapsed over our backpacking supplies.

Soon, we’re piling into the back of the heated car and gorging ourselves on Almond Joys.

We’re that much closer to home.

***

Drinking coffee and mentally scrawling this recollection in my head, I have to smile at Laurel.

“As an organization, Scouts is just creepy. Like Santa Claus. I mean, when you think about it, who’d send their kid into the wilderness with someone who’s basically a stranger with a guidebook? It’s like putting your child up on some costumed stranger’s lap.”

I choke on my mocha.

“And that’s not even touching the anti-gay sentiments,” Arielle adds.

It’s true. Boy Scouts’ religious-infused credos and honor codes have an underlying subtext: I will be a good, God-fearing Christian man with a wife and at least two kids.

Okay, maybe not the two kids, but definitely a wife. And I’m not being paranoid. I think the popcorn’s Kool-Aid-infused.

Even after our troop’s close call with death, as we gathered in the same cramped room in the local Methodist church and recited the Scout Pledge, there was still that collective emphasis on the line “I will be…morally straight…”

Never mind that we almost all died, just as long as we were all saved, forthright, God-fearing lads who liked the Girl Scouts in that way.

Maybe they were prepared to die like that. I sure wasn’t.

So, while they rattled off The Oath, The Pledge, The Allegiance to God and Country, I synced along with them, but was really thinking about how badly I wanted to earn my Woodworking badge with a particular Eagle Scout.

Maybe, just maybe, he’d be as morally straight as me. Or, maybe not.

Either way, I’d be prepared.

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Another Dei-ty in the Neighborhood

Shortly before I’m mistaken for Jesus by a coke addict claiming to be my disciple, I silently conjure a minor pox upon the woman whose unwavering, deadpan stare is making our Pinkberry experience a bit unnerving.

It’s one thing to cast a passing glance.

It’s another thing entirely to turn and stare. Especially with such a quizzical, judgmental air.

Sure, we all stare–make people slightly uncomfortable, intentionally or not.

Like the time when I was four, standing in a hot dog line with my mom, staring doe-eyed at a fairly rotund man in front of us.

I pointed directly at him.

“Mommy!”

My cherub-like red cheeks coupled with my a golden fro, and my chubby, outstretched arm allegedly attracted the attention of several others in line.

*Everyone stares, rapt in my cuteness.*

“He’s faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat.”

*Collective facepalm*

I don’t get a hot dog.

***

Now.

As any big move goes, there’s a lot to learn about your new home.

And I’m trying to keep up.

So, to help me keep track, here’re a few things I’ve learned:

(1) People stare. Hard. I could be Josh Groban. Or Jesus.

(2) Everyone runs traffic lights. So don’t expect to go immediately after the light turns green.

(3) Pinkberry is basically amazing.

(4) Coffee Bean is doubly amazing.

(5) Parking is a nightmare. Which is why it pays to confirm your apartment either has parking nearby, or has a space included with your rent.

(6) The weather is glorious. It’s sort of like Groundhog Day, just with sunshine in lieu of Bill Murray. Every single day.

(7) DO NOT GO ON THE 110 DURING RUSH HOUR.

(8) Don’t think you can breakfast in Koreatown, antique in Sherman Oaks, walk on the beach in Malibu, and still retain your sanity. Pick a few things to do within close proximity of each other every weekend.

(9) Act like you know where you’re going. Even if you’re hopelessly lost.

(10) Don’t succumb to Big City Snobbery and avoid speaking to people. (Except coked-out Disciple of Jesus.) For instance, I had a perfectly lovely conversation with a man in line at the bank. I have no idea what he said, but he smiled a lot, and so did I.

***

It’s hard to believe we’re actually living here now. It just hasn’t clicked yet.

Back to Malibu!

Because it wasn’t that long ago that we were just visitors.

California is where we want to be.

But with every new lesson we learn, we’ll slowly find our way.

And begin to call this place home.

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Between the Sheets

Y’all remember when the amazing Katie of Domestiphobia came by and did an Apartment Therapy photoshoot of our beloved Raleigh apartment?

(If you didn’t, CHECK IT OUT. Now. Seriously.)

Well, the biggest embarrassment we listed has now been addressed.

Y’all can go back to your lives. (You’re welcome.)

Because, now, we have nice sheets.

Time for a change!

Sheets?

Yes, sheets!

***

Sheets are very important.

You should have a good relationship with your sheets.

Because they know you.

They really know you.

*Creepy giggles*

And yet, we don’t give’em their due.

I certainly didn’t. Which is why I had black sateen sheets.

(I WAS MISUNDERSTOOD AND LONELY. Gah!)

But, kittens.

The lengths we went to get some nice, ungodly expensive sheets were, well, ungodly.

***

It all started at the West Hollywood Restoration Hardware.

I know what you’re thinking.

Cliche!

First World problems!

And you’re right.

But we’d been eyeing these sheets for months and months online, and had told ourselves that we’d get them if we made it out to California. So we sort of had to get them or we’d really have failed ourselves, and we can’t do that, right?

Right.

So, we were ready to drop some serious money for some serious bedding.

We walked in and I assumed we’d be attended to.

Not only were we completely snubbed by the headset-wearing, snobbish poseur-employees, but we couldn’t even figure out where in the hell to find the actual bed sheets.

I mean, I get it. These folks work in a nice place. They have a certain clientele they cater to. And I guess tee shirt-wearing guys like us don’t fit that bill.

But you know what? The pregnant lady who came in 50 minutes after us, who kept demanding to see someone about her immediate need for bath towels in some god-awful baby poo brown, shouldn’t trump the two mo’s desperately trying to politely flag down an associate.

This is where Andy’s no-nonsense New York approach totally won out. After he cornered a newbie (bless her heart) and told her that we were about to walk out, and how that might be bad because she’d probably get a really nice commission, we suddenly got helped!

(Y’all, it was like watching a lion go after a baby gazelle. I was so proud!)

Nearly an hour after the absurdity commenced, we walked down this ridiculously dramatic staircase to the register, past an oddly placed iced tea station where one of the flakes that shrugged us off sat sipping and laughing with two coworkers.

What I really wanted to do was slap the tea out of her hand, scream “THAT SHIT AIN’T REAL ICED TEA!” and sashay away.

But I smiled anyway. Because that biznitch didn’t get the sale.

Now, we both had misgivings about dropping substantial money on sheets.

But we did.

And you know what?

They’re totally worth it.

They’re comfy.

They breathe.

They look nice.

They look adult. (Not that kind of ‘adult.’)

And I’m okay with that.

We're so grown up!

Because you have to love what surrounds you.

And since our living space has been downsized by nearly 700 square feet, we definitely have to pick and choose wisely what stays and what gets stored.

So, there you have it.

Love your sheets.

Roll around in them.

Give’em some love.

Wait.

Er.

No.

[Yes.]

Posted on

It

The day is dark.

Something’s wrong; the ominous silence almost screams it out. I watch my parents look warily at the sky. Time for school.

Fifteen years later, the sky is startlingly similar. Brushing aside a throng of briers, the view opens up. I’m nearly to the river.

I wave on my mother and join the other kids. Everyone’s craning their heads back, staring slack-jawed.

“It gonna come up here?” one of them murmurs.

“Dunno,” responds another.

I keep looking up, searching for an answer. The bell rings.

Walking the halls, there’s an electric vibe—palpable, uneasy excitement. We’re ushered into classrooms to learn about monarchs and prepositional phrases.

Wind blasts from the river and choreographs a whimsical burlesque of leaf litter around me. I fight to keep my footing. The ground vibrates. Then rumbles.

An announcement. Students surge through the hallways and cheer about early release. Teachers exchange knowing looks over our heads. Then grab their bags to leave.

I freeze.

The woods explode in front of me—branches and vines blow apart from the wind and something else. I stumble back and shield my face.

Two deer break their paths around me, their hooves pushing them full-tilt, away from the river.

Laura gets home. Dad drives up. We’re all together. We’ll be okay. But the living room looks like a refugee camp from my history book.

An eerie green glow melds with the growing darkness. Across the river, lightning streaks to the ground. Overhead, droves of squirrels jump down from limbs breaking beneath them, then make frenetic zigzags along the deer trail.

Rain sheets horizontally. Pecans pound the tin roof. Nature’s music is cacophonous.

Three armadillos wobble past: my cue to run–through the breaking forest, in the direction of where I remember the road to be.

Lightning illuminates the wind-tousled trees as they twist violently and succumb. Like strobe lights in a haunted house, the flashes show the fiend getting closer, closer.

Then, boom, in your face.

Thunder crashes overhead, and rain pounds my face. Branches break across my chest as I launch myself over downed trees. I fall out of the woods onto red clay: the road.

I fear light is gone forever. Radio announcers spew garbled reports over fractured airspace. I wish for algebra and seventh period.

I pull myself up with a resounding schwak from the saturated clay. Others run past. We hemorrhage loose equipment. No time to go back.

Trees are leafless. Yards are treeless. We bail water. We’re losing.

I jump into the driver’s seat. The sliding door slams shut. No need for directions.

We empty buckets into the blustery darkness. Branches crash down. Laura screams. Dad pulls her inside. Back to the wet.

I punch the accelerator to the floor. The van’s tires cut down through the clay. Forward.

Sleep evades us. A low, continuous creaking. Laura and I stare at the living room ceiling. Thwack, whoosh, KABOOM! Our feet barely touch the floor. Back to the basement.

“What the fuck is going on?!” someone yells.

“This is bad. HURRY!” screams another.

We barrel off sloppy clay onto asphalt. The van fishtails, its screeching tires blending with the raucous wind and rain.

I feel rain. Wind howls behind me: a hole where house used to be.

We crest a hill. Ahead, the funnel slowly twirls back up into the rumbling sky.

“HOLY SHIT!” My foot hovers over the brake.

GO!” Amanda points to a side road.

We careen away.

***

Morning: silence and stillness reign.

The house: hole-pocked, a shattered roof. Across the street: another roof smashed by another tree; a deck, a boat, a car—all flattened; a 500 year-old oak splintered across three yards.

It has passed.

I grip Laura’s hand—something familiar in this alien landscape.

Amanda puts her hand on my soaked shoulder. I exhale.

Ahead of us: sun and stillness, a quiet brightness.

Every storm must end.

Posted on

Californian-esque

With a jumbo pack of Scott Extra Soft tucked under my arm, I fumble to stuff the Walgreen’s rewards card into my wallet, crammed full of coffee receipts and a Post It reminder to pay a parking ticket.

It seems my welcome to California will cost us $68.00.

“Hey, it could’ve been worse. You don’t have your California plate yet. And she could’ve cited you for blocking the fire hydrant.”

Andy’s spot-on.

Especially since I’ve just asked the ticketing officer exactly that.

“So, just for my own information,” I ask, kicking an imaginary leaf and looking down at the cracked pavement like a chastised child, “is this for double parking or for blocking the hydrant?”

The weary officer adjusts her iPod earbuds and prints out the ticket from her holster machine. I wonder if the road cracks are from earthquakes.

“Double parking.”

“Oh, I see. Well, I’m sorry.”

“Well, I’m sorry I have to give you the ticket. But I’d already recorded your plate when you came outside.”

I’d been so close to escaping. Yet so far.

The workmen sanding down our building’s now exposed hardwood floors stare on from their battered Previa across the street.

The wind gusts just so, rattling the tall palms, making their lanky trunks swagger a bit–like the legs of skittish Landstriders.

And it also happens to blow the ticket right out of the ticketer’s outstretched hand.

Like a silly country mouse trying to impress my city mouse friend, I make a go for it–hoping she’ll think, Wow, what a standup guy. I’ll cut him a break.

“Don’t worry about it. I can print another.”

Foiled!

I begin to say, “But, that’s littering.”

Then think again.

“Oh, okay.”

The second time’s the charm. (Damn.)

I take the ticket and watch her Prius motor on, then jump into my car–full to the brim from yet another run to the storage unit in Gardena, a fifteen minute drive south on I-110 if I miss rush hour.

That’s when Andy calls.

And while I inform him of my parking maleficence, I take a breath and look around.

A very pregnant woman emerges from our building and dumps bags full of diapers into the already overflowing dumpster, while pulling along the toddling author of said diaper deposits.

A hipster couple down the block disappears into a nearby restaurant, the sign overhanging the entrance spelled out in Korean.

A tattooed man walks on the other side of the road, letting his coned poodle–shaved a bit on the side–pop a squat on a well-manicured, tiny patch of grass fronting a neighboring Art Deco building.

A beautiful day in the neighborhood.

So, this is city life.

***

Two days after arriving at our 450 square foot studio apartment in the heart of Koreatown, Andy and I meet the movers at the Gardena storage unit. And watch as a 28-foot U-haul pulls up to the facility’s side entrance.

As does a pickup truck close behind, with a few unmistakable pieces of furniture in its bed.

The whole rolling shebang, including the truck bed’s contents, is ours.

And while we’re both shifting slightly uncomfortably with the idea that all of our stuff couldn’t fit into such a massive U-Haul, we can breathe a little easier since we snagged one of the largest storage units the facility offers.

Double-plus bonus: it’s right by the massive side entrance.

Had we not nosed into this exact unit on our way out the day before, then requested that one instead of the painfully small units we’d been previously assigned, we’d have been, well, fucked.

And as we watch box after box, chair after chair, sideboard after sideboard get unloaded from the truck, that sentiment is reaffirmed.

Just enough space.

“Can you imagine what we would’ve done if we hadn’t gotten th–”

“Let’s not. It’ll give me a panic attack.”

Because, honestly, I’ve sort of underestimated how much stuff we have. I mean, sure, everyone usually does so–at least to some extent–during a move.

But this hasn’t just been a move. This has been a game-changer: A move that has not only required excessive overpacking on the movers’ parts, but stalwart emotional stabilization on our parts.

This move hasn’t been easy.

But it’s gradually sinking in that we live here now.

That realization began creeping into my mind as we sat watching The Great Gatsby last Saturday–the first night we spent in our new apartment. Because we’d intended to see this movie on our first cross country trip. While we were entertaining thoughts of one day living out here.

And now we are.

***

Having been here for nearly a week, we just now made our last run to Gardena for a while.

The apartment is no longer piled to the ceiling with boxes. (And when I write ‘piled to the ceiling,’ I’m not being sarcastic. I mean this little apartment was so piled full of furniture and boxes that the heat the cardboard retained was absolutely sweat-inducing. And the risk of embarrassment so high that we coordinated our leave from the apartment so that no other residents could peek into and see how disturbingly close a candidate this place was for Hoarders. Because the look on the maintenance guy’s face while he checked the gas line for leaks–there was one, by the way [hooray!]–was humiliating.)

Now, though, I just turned off the portable A/C unit because the apartment is cold. (An A/C unit that’s been a lifesaver, even if its purchase triggered a not-so-fun fraud alert from our bank [yay, for not informing them of a ‘travel hold/relocation’!])

And Andy’s on the assembled bed, reading a book from the assembled bookshelf, and drinking water from an unpacked glass stored in an organized cabinet in an uncluttered kitchen free of gas leaks.

And I remind myself to double check about getting the June parking permits from the parking deck operator. Because, despite its grunginess and the verbal spats we’ve already had with The Fast and the Furious-inspired valets working for a nearby restaurant that uses the same deck, having available parking just a few buildings away makes the transition to city-living a little bit easier.

And, all the while, the city hums.

A pop rings outside.

“Was that a gunshot?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

Andy goes back to reading his book.

I type away.

We’re home.

Posted on

Doing It

There isn’t anything particularly poignant about the moment.

We’ve just taken a circuitous route back from the only Starbucks within the vicinity of my parents’ hobbit-esque home in the middle of the Alabama woods.

The Alabama Hobbit Hole, aka The Mirarchi Homestead

(Meaning, we’ve just driven 30 minutes in the opposite direction of California. Never underestimate the power of The Starbucks on two deprived gays.)

The sky is overcast and the wind jostles the loaded-down car a bit, causing momentary white-knuckling. It’s been an unseasonably cold past few days in Alabama; but, hey, there’s no such thing as global warming or climate change, right?

Right. (Insert eye-roll here.)

But in this moment, I realize something.

We are actually doing this.

I turn and squeeze Andy’s leg.

“We’re moving to California.”

He turns and smiles.

“I know.”

"We're moving to California."

***

Not to beat a dead horse into an Alpo can, but the past few weeks have been nuts.

Just to recap:

There’s what I’ve come to call the Ten Minute Moment: ten minutes during which Andy resigns from his job, then gets the offer from his CA job.

Followed by a series of Academy Award-worthy ugly cries. (Mine.)

Then, a few days later, a completely unexpected relocation offer from said CA job.

Followed by more joyous, ugly cries. (Me again.) And the transport of Andy’s Prius onto a car carrier.

All of which inform the direction of a professional move, during which I answer the movers’ questions whilst they indirectly box me into the back room Cask of Amontillado-style. (I become ravenously hungry, and slightly claustrophobic.)

Home no more

And three days of sleeping on hardwood floors, with only three extra duvets as bedding. (Yes, we’re so gay that we had three extra duvets laying around.)

So, before we know it, we’re cramming the last of our things into our remaining hatchback, including five incredibly fragile Art Deco mirrors that we should’ve let the professional movers crate.

And piercing the 6 AM Saturday morning silence with our car horn, bidding adieu to the wankers next door–who’d celebrated the end of finals all night long.

***

A visit to Alabama comes and goes, and I’m reminded of how lucky I am not to have a normal family.

(Because I think it’s completely normal to leave the dinner table right after a conversation about finding a rare Mexican scorpion in bed with you, only to sit back down to a conversation that ends with, “So I’m still trying to figure out what marketing has to do with falconry.”)

More importantly, though, I’m reminded that we’re doing this.

We’re making this happen.

We’re not on another road trip.

We’re not going to have to worry about traffic on the way back.

Because our path is going to end just before the Pacific.

And the road we’re taking to it is wide open.

The grass is greener and full of color

And the grass on either side is slightly greener.

Bursting with color.

Posted on

What’s in a Year?

Time flies by at such a rapid clip, it’s often hard to pinpoint exactly what’s happened in a given year.

Sometimes, you want to forget things that’ve happened.

But there’re also plenty of moments that demand to be remembered.

And this past year has been chocked-full of both.

So, kittens.

It’s time for a 1990’s-esque flashback.

*Cue the wavy screen*

***

A year ago tomorrow, I was looking a hot mess and prepping for OutRaleigh, the LGBT Center of Raleigh‘s annual fundraising event. There’re pictures to prove how messy and sweaty and generally gross I looked, and how apparent it was that I’d gotten approximately twenty minutes of sleep prior to running around and orchestrating the KidsZone.

Little did I know that I’d meet a particular mister that crazy, rain-filled day. And that a year to the day that we met, we’d be leaving to start our lives in Los Angeles.

Between the time we made it official and now, we’ve gone through a lot.

We negotiated the ever-stressful process of merging households, but were pretty happy with the result.

We suffered through ridiculously long commutes to horrific jobs.

We realized how much said jobs and their respective stressors filtered into our lives and jeopardized our happiness.

We made the decision for me to leave my job.

We traveled across the country to escape, and to entertain crazy plans of one day moving to the West Coast.

We made it there and back again, all the stronger and happier.

We started making strides to realize those crazy plans, and endured a long, agonizing process of job-searching and waiting.

We made the decision to go for it, even though we had no idea if job prospects would pan out.

We slashed our plans down to dollars and cents to make it work.

We screamed and cried and repeatedly questioned if it was all worth it.

And then we screamed and cried when we realized it was.

***

With our remaining car packed to the gills, and Andy’s last day of work upon us, we’re camping out on the hardwood floors of our Raleigh apartment one last night before we start to truly follow our gay, man-infested destiny to the “left coast.”

It’s been a crazy ride, and it’s certain to have even crazier moments as we learn our way around a massive, expansive city. But we’re ready to learn, and eager to explore.

So, kittens. Hold on to your hats.

Because we’re just getting started.