Are Our Best Days Behind Us?

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I’m reading the short stories of John Cheever right now. Something about his characters and themes taps into traits and inclinations that are at the core of who I am. Cheever had/has a fixation on loss, lost youth, lost money, lost hope.  Yesterday, as I was reading one of his short stories, about a character described, at 40, as a middle aged man, I remembered something I had forgotten.  I am middle aged.  And unless I live to be 95, I am on the downward slope of middle age.  But whenever I get worried about my age, I always think of Sarah Jessica Parker who is three years older than me.  At every age, she is beautiful and fashionable and smart and relevant and the thought of her comforts me.

This morning, I read Cheever’s O Youth and Beauty, about a former star athlete who in middle age has money problems and drinks too much. Again, as I drank my morning coffee and sat on the couch reading, I wondered, are my best days behind me?

I remember that hope we had, I had, in our youth that our adult lives would be filled with an abundance of riches. Not just monetary riches, but certainly including those. We would have many friends, many children, many vacations, many pets, many accolades, many successes.

When I was in high school, I was in forensics, and I was sometimes asked to do monologues or scenes at various womens’ clubs in Independence. A small group of us would assemble in a church fellowship hall and entertain the ladies. My piece was always from God’s Favorite by Neil Simon, always a crowd favorite. Even at 16, I could tap into the Charles Nelson Reilly that was gesticulating within me. We’d put on our little show, they’d feed us cookies and tea and sometimes give us a small honorarium, and then we’d be on our way. I’d drive off in my ratty ’65 Mustang and think this was just the beginning of a rich life. Unlimited promise.

Are all of my best days behind me?

As I walked the dogs a few minutes ago, I asked myself that question. How far back in my memory reserve would I have to go to access a really great day, not just a good day, but a special, think of it for years to come day. Maybe even a remember it on your deathbead, a la Claire Fisher from series finale of Six Feet Under, kind of day.

You can imagine my relief when a fairly recent memory popped into my head, from a mere two months ago. Not surprisingly, I was on vacation. Also, not surprisingly, I was in New York.

Eric and I were in New York but during the day he attended a trade show at the Javits Center. I decided that was the day I would go to Governors Island. I’d never been to Governors Island, when I lived in New York, I do not think it was open to the public.

I took the train to the tip of Manhattan and walked to the Ferry terminal, then took the Ferry to Governors Island. I walked around the island, took pictures, posted pictures to Instagram. I boarded the ferry to return to Manhattan. Took more pictures of both islands. Docked in Manhattan and went to Starbucks and bought a water with a gift card my Mom sent me. I visited a gift store I like where I bought vintage looking dog stickers.

I pondered the possibility of taking the subway back to midtown where we were staying, especially since it was 90 degrees, and also, I developed a stomachache from drinking that water so fast. But I decided I would walk until I got tired and then take the subway the rest of the way. I walked from South Street Seaport through Tribeca and Soho into Greenwich Village then by my old apartment on 15th street. I walked up 8th until about 30th and then I jogged over to 9th Avenue. Somewhere around 23rd, the thought of a flower topped chocolate cupcake from Cupcake Cafe popped into my head. How long it had been since I’d had one of those cupcakes? Ten years? Fifteen? When I got to 9th Avenue, the bakery was not where I remembered it but across the street. Had they moved or had I remembered it incorrectly? I bought my cupcake. I considered eating it at one of the handful of dusty tables, but decided I would take it back to the hotel and eat it there in the blasting air conditioning. I walked up 9th Avenue with the intent to also buy a sandwich at Amy’s Breads but at Amy’s Breads, at 2:30 p.m., the sandwich pickings were slim. So I ambled up and got a turkey sandwich at the French bistro near our hotel. I ate my feast in our room, half interested in an episode of Catfish playing on MTV. I took a shower and Eric texted me to say we would meet for drinks at Soho Grand before our dinner at Balthazar. I had a few hours to kill so I decided to visit a museum on the Upper West Side where an Al Hirschfeld exhibit was ongoing. I walked from our hotel, around Columbus Circle then up Central Park West. I took pictures of some of the more stately apartment building along the avenue. I’d walked by them a hundred times before but I hoped that because I was taking pictures of them now, I would remember the names and the details. Was the Dakota above or below the San Remo?

When I got to the museum, I found that they were closing in less than an hour and admission was almost $20, so I decided not to go in. I’ll never know how many Ninas I might have discovered inside the New York Historical Society. On 81st, I turned to walk west, inspired by the thought that it had been many years since my last visit to Riverside Park. On 81st and West End, I happened upon The Calhoun School, famous because the building itself looks like a giant television. I took a picture and sent it to friends via Facebook. On Sundays, when I lived in New York, I attended a church that had services there. I tagged Yvonne and Tania and Sarah in the picture I posted, I would have tagged Dana but she isn’t on Facebook.

From there I kept walking and as I crossed Riverside Drive, I remembered an episode of Naked City that was filmed there. How could the street look almost the same 50 years later? Has there ever been a city as unmoved yet everchanging as New York? I walked into the park. It’s no Central Park, I thought to myself. But I walked south until I discovered the Seventyninth Street Boat Basin. I considered stopping for a glass of wine. I remembered that I’d actually woke up a little hungover that morning. Too much bourbon at Bemelman’s and Robert and the Ritz-Carlton the night before. So I kept walking. I walked down the parkway along the Hudson River, marvelling at the stunning views of the water and the George Washington Bridge and New Jersey. I thought about how growing up (in Kansas) I always pictured New Jersey as an ugly, undesirable state and obviously, now I knew how wrong I was. I grew to love New Jersey decades ago.

I walked south to a new park with a fancy, sophisticated walkway and then I headed back to Columbus Circle. It was 5:30 and after my industrious walk, I was sweaty again. I decided to go back to the hotel to take another shower.

I was a little late to the Soho Grand, but Eric and our friend were enjoying cocktails and Sriracha-coated peas when I joined them. Believe it or not, I did not order a cocktail.

From there we had dinner at Balthazar, which was good. And then I can’t remember what else we did. Did we walk around Rockefeller Center and then up 5th Avenue? Did we go for drinks at the Ritz-Carlton again, then along Central Park South back to our hotel? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. Years from now, I might remember it incorrectly, that we hopped into a cab and sang songs around the piano at Marie’s Crisis or that we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge at midnight. And if that’s the way I remember it, that’s okay. No reason to getted bogged down by the facts.

Besided the hangover, the stomach ache, the pervasive heat, the not getting to see the Hirschfeld exhibit, I also had to contend with moments of melancholy and anxiety throughout this special day. Like a Cheever protagonist, melancholy and anxiety, and self-absorption for that matter, are part of who I am in my core. And yet, I will always remember this day fondly, importantly.

I walked 23.58 miles that day. I know that because I tweeted it that night when I got back to the hotel. I was proud of what I accomplished. I take my visits to New York very seriously, but you already know that.

Already, Eric and I are planning our next visit. I have to wrap this post up in a speedy manner or else I will be late to work. Forgive any mispelled words or dangling modifiers, maybe I’ll go back to fix my errors when I have time.

So off to work, I’ll go. Sometime during my day, I’ll check Kayak for flight and hotel deals. I’ll remember a museum that I wanted to make it to in August and I’ll go to their website and see what exhibits they’ll be showing at the end of January, beginning of February. Maybe I’ll finally make a reservation for us to eat lunch at The Four Seasons or Afternoon Tea in the Palm Court. Still planning a bright future.

We must do what we can to prove that our best days are before us.

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A Whole New World

IMG_3731Eric and I returned from New York a couple of days ago. It was a cold, action-packed 6 days and as much as I enjoyed the adventure, I’m glad to be home. I might fantasize about living in New York again, I probably will for the rest of my life, but, first, I really enjoyed swimming in the 70 degree California sunshine the day after our return and second, our dogs would hate living in cold weather and probably try to pick fights with people and other dogs on their daily walks. Eric and I always marvel that we never see or hear barking dogs when we are in Manhattan. What’s the deal? Is it the water?

Anyway, Tuesday night, our last night, Eric and I tried to stuff as much into an evening as humanly possible. We had burgers at the Shake Shack in Grand Central, then drinks and clam chowder at the Oyster Bar. We walked up Lexington to 58th, popping into the various hotels along the avenue. I wanted to check out the East Side Marriott, formerly the Shelton Hotel, that was once the tallest hotel in the world as well as Georgia O’Keefe’s home from 1925 to 1936. The day before, we saw the painting East River from the Shelton Hotel at the Met and I read about the Shelton and wondered how I’d never heard about the hotel or O’Keefe’s inspired, lengthy stay there. Either way, the hotel is still glamorous and stately, even if a bit Marriott-ized. From there we walked into Bergdorf Goodman’s men’s shop where I could get one last spritz of my favorite perfume, Maison Francis Kurkdijan’s BG exclusive, 754. On every trip, I try to visit every day to spray a little. On Saturday, an employee, perhaps resentful that I wouldn’t try the fragrance she was trying to hawk, sneered at me, “That is a ladies’ fragrance.” “Oh, what’s going to happen to me?” “Nothing, I just wanted you to be aware of it.”

From Bergdorf, we walked along Central Park South to Robert in Columbus Circle. We had drinks in a lounge area that overlooked Central Park and the Upper West Side, specifically Broadway. We took pictures and Instagrammed them, talked about some of the highlights of our trip, the traditions like Barney Greengrass and Central Park and the Met and Mary Ann’s in Chelsea. We talked about the new experiences, discovering a great, new to us, hotel, The Roosevelt and seeing John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, from the second row, no less. We talked about the cheeseburgers at J.G. Melon. We talked about how much we enjoyed the snow. We talked about how much we missed the dogs, or as we call them, the babies.

After Robert, we took the subway down to Grove Street, to Marie’s Crisis, the iconic Greenwich Village piano bar. Several years ago, I did a show where I talked about visiting Marie’s Crisis with my best friend Michele and her new husband Stan. It was a fun, special night and because it’s on YouTube, the evening has had an enduring glow for Michele and me.

When Eric and I walked into Marie’s Crisis on Tuesday night, it was to the accompaniment of 15-20 Broadway loving souls singing Everything’s Coming Up Roses, an apt welcome. We ordered a couple of drinks and found a wobbly table to sit at and enjoyed taking it all in. There was a shift change and the early evening piano player was replaced by a pretty, zaftig woman named Franca who, we came to find out, was enjoying a bit of internet celebrity because a few nights earlier Jimmy Fallon made a drunken, passionate, raucous visit and several people had posted videos from the evening.

There were men and women, gays and straights, young and old. There were boys in their early 20s belting out show tunes and I couldn’t help but think of my own 20 something self. I never went to Marie’s Crisis. I didn’t have the confidence to stand at a piano and croon Corner of the Sky, but I wanted to. Instead, I would frequent Uncle Charlie’s or Splash and stand in a corner and suck in my stomach and wait for someone to come up to me and introduce himself.

Of course, I thought about those nights as I sat there with Eric. It could have been the bourbon, it could have been something else, but I felt an ache for those days of my youth. That ache comes and goes. It’s probably, at this point, directly proportionate to my weight. When I visit New York, and walk down 8th Avenue in Chelsea or 7th Avenue in the Village, I just don’t feel as visible as I once did.

The song after Corner of the Sky was from Aladdin, A Whole New World. I know I don’t write about my sex life here, but I think that even if you are super conservative, you have deduced, at this point, that I am no longer a virgin. Still, if you are related to me, in any way, please skip the next two paragraphs. Don’t get tempted to disregard my plea, just scroll down. I don’t want to think about you having read this while we are feasting on Italian sausage and spaghetti at the next family reunion.

The first guy I ever had sex with was a guy I met at the 23rd Street YMCA. We met and he asked me back to his place and we fooled around and it was very vanilla and after, the two of us lay on his bed listening to music. Aladdin had just come out and the song was getting a lot of radio play. Before we went to his apartment, I had told my new friend, I’ll call him Milton, because that was his name, that I was very new to all of this. As Peabo purred, “I can show you the world, shining, shimmering splendid…”, Milton turned to me and said, “This certainly seems like the perfect song for this moment.” And it did.

My body might have been at 2015 Marie’s Crisis, but my heart was in that one bedroom apartment with exposed brick on one wall on 18th street between 7th and 8th, circa 1993. I knew before we tumbled into bed together, on another snowy New York day, that Milton was not going to be the person I would grow old with, but what he was, still is, actually, was my first. I wish he’d been cuter, I wish I’d been more attracted to him. Because of my upbringing, I suppose there is still, over 20 years later, a part of me that wishes that my first had been my only. But alas, that is not the way the years played out. And that’s okay, probably for the best, really.

After the A Whole New World, Franca played and everyone sang I Dreamed a Dream and I remembered another boyfriend from those early years, an Israeli atchitecture student who was only in New York for one summer. Then, You Could Drive a Person Crazy, then another song from Pippin, Morning Glow. And then, Eric and I decided to call it a night.

Eric and I splurged on a cab to our hotel and I asked the driver to let us off at 6th avenue and 41st, so we could walk around Bryant Park and the New York Public Library. We went to Duane Reade to buy some water and bedtime snacks. And as we walked back to our hotel, bundled up in scarves and hats and gloves, carrying our booty with us, one of us said, “The babies.” And the other said, “I know, I can’t wait to see them.” And we walked on and on, sideways and under, on a magic carpet ride.

They Can’t Take That Away From Me

1558465_10152687343022755_4171630263640324445_nIn my first few hours in Manhattan, I wondered if this would be the trip where I learned that I’d aged out of New York. After a frustrating three hour Super Shuttle experience from JFK, when I finally checked into The Jane in the Meatpacking district, I felt like New York City’s oldest, most out of the loop visitor.

I had actually hopped out of the Super Shuttle with the second to last customer whose hotel drop off was a trendy hotel on 16th and 9th avenue. Chelsea was my old neighborhood so I definitely felt safe walking at night from there to my hotel. As I maneuvered from Chelsea through the Meatpacking district, I passed a world of 20 and 30 something’s, enjoying their Saturday night in the city, dining al fresco at expensive restaurants, spilling out of loud, expensive night clubs, walking around in expensive, impractical footwear.

After a quick check in and shower, I was out on the streets, looking for a place to eat something easy and inexpensive. I walked down Hudson to Christopher, then up 7th Avenue. Eric called me as I was grabbing a slice of pizza at an old pizzeria I sometimes visited back when I lived in the neighborhood. A little lonely and missing Eric and the dogs, I talked to him while I ate my slice, watching the cool, young people walk up and down 7th Avenue, to and from their youthful adventures. After I ate, I walked up to 15th, past my old apartment and then up 8th Avenue to 22nd before I turned around and headed back to the hotel. Back in the room, I watched a little tv and had a somewhat restless sleep.

I awoke at 8:00 a.m., unadjusted to the time change, but my first thought was, let’s get going, make the most of your time here. I put on my shirt and shorts and tennis shoes and hit the streets, stopping to get a cafe Americano from the hotel’s Cafe Gitane.

When I was a New Yorker, my favorite time to roam the city was Sunday morning, before the crowds woke up and I felt the city was all mine. I walked up to Chelsea Market and bought a Grilled Cheddar and Ham Biscuit from Amy’s Breads. As I sat there enjoying this old favorite, sipping my coffee, too, I felt a restoration begin, maybe New York was still mine.

After my meal, I walked over to the High Line, new since I lived there but not new for the locals. I walked along the path, taking pictures, enjoying the momentary quietness of a favorite tourist destination. It started to sprinkle and it was just the right amount of rain for me to enjoy walking in it. After the High Line, I walked southward down the Westside Highway paths, looking out onto the water and New Jersey and beyond. The sun came out and continued shining as I walked back to my hotel through Soho and the West Village.

And that morning, as I took my shower, preparing to leave the hotel, to move uptown to the hotel where Eric and I would be staying for his work, I was giddy from my long, adventurous walk, revisiting the old, discovering the new.

I covered a lot of ground in my 5 days in New York. I had my Metro Card, too, but mostly I explored the Upper East Side, Roosevelt Island, Midtown, Lower East Side, Little Italy, Wall Street, Chinatown, Upper West Side, Hell’s Kitchen, Time Square, Chelsea, Greenwich Village and Central Park by foot. Every time a New York friend commented that I still walked like a New Yorker, I blushed and beamed. They can’t take that away from me.

New York is something different for me than what it once was. I am not a cute young hayseed in cutoff shorts and tight white t-shirt and flip flops anymore. Eyes don’t fall on me and linger with the same frequency as when I walked around Chelsea and the Village back in my glory days. I actually can’t even wear flip flops anymore. For the duration of my trip, I tsked my way through Manhattan thinking, you children need to take better care of your arches!

So, I wore my sensible Adidas and I soldiered along, with a spring in my step and a song in my heart. And that song was They Can’t Take That Away From Me. Time and again, I would find myself humming or quietly singing it as I walked the streets. A Gershwin tune, made more famous by Frank Sinatra, it was an apt companion. Because here I am, aging faster than I want, fatter than I wish, remembering to take my blood pressure medicine every day, but I could still behold the beauty that is New York at a fast clip because I had my strong legs and feet to carry me. And New York is no longer mine, not really, but even separated by physical distance, my memories will always remain.

And maybe someday, I won’t even have my strong legs and fast clip. Maybe someday, I won’t even have the opportunity to get on a plane and fly to New York and take a three hour Super Shuttle into the city. Maybe someday, all I’ll have is my Instagram pictures and my Manhattan skyline dishtowels from Fishs Eddy. But, hey, it’s nice to know that even if all I one day have of New York is my memories, it’s still mine. She’s still mine. They can’t take that away from me.

Night Blooming Jasmine

securedownload-1When I moved to LA from New York several years ago, I went about 8 months without having a car. I bought a car for $800 and it broke down irreparably three weeks later and I scrapped it for $120 which means I lost $680, not counting the money I spent to get it smog checked. But this story is not about a bum car or even about foolish decisions. Well, maybe it’s a teeny bit about foolish decisions.

It’s spring in LA and it seems everywhere I go, I smell the night blooming jasmine. I’m not an olfactory expert, I wouldn’t know how to describe the fragrance to someone who doesn’t know it. Pretty? Flowery? Springy?

There are a copious amount of jasmine plants in Southern California and I love walking down a sidewalk and catching a whiff of it before I even see the distinctive plant and flowers.

And every time I smell jasmine, night blowing jasmine, I think about my first few months in LA, when the town was new, new to me, anyway.

I moved to LA from New York, where everything was outside my door. In New York, how do I put this delicately, I sometimes frequented watering holes that catered to a gay male population. Trust me when I say, it was a lot of me standing in the corner, watching the room, futzing with my bottled water, hoping someone would come over to talk to me. And I’m not going to lie, sometimes guys, some handsome, some not, would make their way to me to start a conversation. And most nights, I would head home from Uncle Charlie’s or Splash or The Break unattended, my safety assured by the many others who were also walking through the streets of Chelsea and the Village at the same time, regardless of the hour.

And then when I moved to LA, to Detroit St and Wilshire, the nearest gay bars were 3 miles away in West Hollywood, 2 different bus rides away. And because I did not have many friends at this point, I would go to West Hollywood by myself. I’d take the bus, two buses, to go to Revolver and Rage and Mickey’s. And for the most part, the results were the same: I would stand in a corner, bottled water in hand, hoping someone would come over to start a conversation. And sometimes they did, but mostly they didn’t. And before I knew it, it would be 2:00 a.m. and I’d have to weigh my options of how to get home. A $20 cab ride was not an option. A few times, I took the bus, but that took over an hour, with long waits at each bus stop. So eventually, I just started walking home, from Larrabee and Santa Monica to Wilshire and Detroit.

My routes would vary each time, sometimes I would walk along Willoughby, other times I’d take Waring. I learned the street names, like Sweetzer and Spaulding and Martel and eventually, I’d unwind my way back home. I’d dream about living in homes or fancy old apartment buildings I’d pass by. I’d dream about being a working actor and finding my way. I’d dream about making enough money to afford a $20 cab ride. And also, I’d dream about falling in love. That hope of meeting someone special was what called me to those places in the first place, I understood that much.

And the entire walk, in the middle of the night, through the heart of Los Angeles, the night blooming jasmine was my constant companion, my accompaniment, my pomander. And finally, I would make it to 649 S. Detroit, unlock the door and go inside. I’d lie in bed, the jasmine permeating my apartment through an open window.

Last night, as I walked along Melrose to meet Eric and a friend for dinner, I passed by block after block of jasmine. I breathed it in, took the above picture and went on my way. As I continued walking, I remembered those late night walks. Oh my, how things have changed. And yet, a part of me will always be the Kansas boy discovering a new city for the first time and with every inhale discovering that Los Angeles can be his.

Longtime Companion

LONGTIME COMPANION

When I was 22, I was a youth minister in a small Missouri town and the highlight of my week was when my new issue of Entertainment Weekly came in the mail.  I first learned about the movie Longtime Companion by reading it’s review in EW.  It wasn’t until a few years later, when I was living in New York, in Chelsea no less, before I saw the movie for the first time.  It’s one of my favorite movies.  It’s a movie about AIDS, but it’s also a portrait of my people at a specific time in history.  I watch the movie now and it reminds me of outfits and hairstyles I wore, but more importantly, of friends I had in the early 90s when I was discovering what it meant to be a gay man.  Some of those friends are dead now, but I also think of friends that I’ve simply lost touch with or that I only see on facebook.  I’ve posted my two favorite scenes from the movie.  The first is the character Fuzzy (Stephen Caffrey) dancing and lip-syncing to Dreamgirls.  As gay men, we are conditioned that masculinity is sexy and it was the first time I watched a gay guy dancing like a gay guy that I thought, hey, that is sexy, too.  My other favorite scene is the end with the haunting song by Zane Campbell, Post Mortem Bar.  That moment where they look up to see a herd of men running down the piers to the beach, it makes me cry every time.  Just a few days ago, several people posted on facebook a link to an article about AIDS being curable “within months.”  It’s unimaginable, really.  Living with the specter of AIDS is all I’ve ever known, but as Willy (Campbell Scott) says at the end of the movie, I just want to be there.