Tom, Get Your Plane Right On Time

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A couple of weeks ago, like two seconds after I emailed my federal tax return, a thought occurred to me that I should make a quick trip to New York,  I popped an Ambien and I stayed up a little late researching flights and hotels.  Many, many times during my year, when I’m feeling blue, I tell myself, if I could just spend two days in NY, it would make everything better. And planning trips to NY are approximately 36% as exciting as being there in person.

I found a flight that sounded reasonable enough. It had my signature redeye departure and ideal midday return flight.  I juggled some things around at work and got a few days. I looked on TripAdvisor for recent reviews of the kitschy, fun and slightly scary Jane Hotel where I have stayed twice before. I fretted over money and what friends I would be able to connect with.  Would it be sad traveling to NY without Eric?  It was my city before it was his, but now, it feels like it’s our city.

I was reading a chick-lit novel at the time about a lost woman in her thirties who inherited a fancy, but broken down Central Park West luxury apartment.  And somehow, this protagonist’s lack of anchor called to my adriftness.  Maybe I could find some truth on this trip, maybe something can lead me in the direction my life is supposed to take. Whatever that is.

IMG_9876I never feel more alive than when I am walking through Central Park and along the West Side Highway and through Bergdorf and sitting at Bemelmans or Barney Greengrass or crossing Manhattan to Staten Island on that aptly named ferry. It’s bliss to me.  And then I come home and pore through my pictures, pore through the memories. I compare the lists, the places I made it to and the places I ran out of time for.  And then I compile a new list, for the next trip. Do you have any idea how many times the Cloisters has been on my LIST?  (And it doesn’t look good for it this time either.) My friends give me suggestions: Thank you Ivy for giving me THE FRICK. Thank you Joel for giving me THE TENEMENT MUSEUM. Thank you Traci for giving us the Museum of Arts and Design and by proxy, one of our favorite watering hole’s Robert on the 9th floor. Thank You Eboni for Levain.

I told my therapist that I decided to go because I’ve been depressed and the thought of planning a trip and looking forward to a trip brought me joy.  I was afraid to tell my parents, would they think I should be visiting them?  And I understand, that’s a risk we take, especially when our parents get older.  But I think about if any two people taught me to love travel, the value of travel,  it was my parents.  Even today, I see an Amtrak or a Union Station and suddenly I am 8 and my Mom and I are traveling in the middle of the night to visit my Grandma and cousins in La Junta.  I taste a pineapple, and I am 12 again, on my first visit to Hawaii, of course, with my parents.  Perhaps a part of them hesitated booking such a grand trip, the costs involved, but ultimately the yes must have been accompanied by the realization that trips mean memories. My Father’s Father joined us on that trip and my parents and I still reminisce about this one week in 1981 that packed so much life into it.  I think I remember every moment, from the confused feelings I felt for some handsome teenage backpackers in the SFO airport, to eating caviar for the first time, to nearly being taken under by the undertow in Maui, the two luaus, feeling like Bobby Brady at Pearl Harbor.  And then the 24 pineapples and many boxes of chocolate covered macadamia nuts we gave away and dined on ourselves in the weeks after our return to Kansas.

 

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I am a little Ambien-y tonight too. So if my words are slightly muddled, please forgive me.  Or maybe pop an Ambien yourself and my prose might become as magical as Pink Floyd’s The Wall.  But life is hard, I know I’m that guy that is always crying about how hard his life is.  A complainer, a victim, easily crestfallen.  But on vacation, I really do find joy.  I laugh, i have more energy.  I’m even nicer. I feel like a vibrant part of the texture of the world we live in. With the earnestness of a young bride whose colors are blush and bashful, I  go around saying things like, “I’d rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.” New York is my 30 minutes of wonderful. IMG_9818

So, yes, I am going to New York in a few days.  It feels like a risk and also, like something I positively must do. These trips. we always bring something back.  Something useful, be it a mug or pastries or an understanding about the world or about ourselves.  And the older I get, travel, leaving home, seeing another part of the world, meeting old friends, remembering what made us safe when we were 8 or giddy when we were 12 or handsome when we were 26, it feels to me no longer a luxury, but rather a necessity.

The Tide is High

2048x2048So, I’ve reentered the workforce. And not only am I back at a restaurant, I’ve returned to waiting tables after a few years away. I feel a little old and a little slow, but I genuinely like the people I work with and for and the food is amazing. Turns out, I like being around delicious food.

There is another thing I like about working in a restaurant, it’s not confined to restaurant environments, but it is a trademark. It’s when you start talking to a person, a customer, a client, a guest, whatever you’re asked to call the person and you start talking about what’s good on the menu and you somehow transition to talking about where you grew up or what you love/hate/love about LA or what are you passionate about.

A few nights ago, I waited on two women. I asked them where they lived, they told me. One of them lives in Venice. “Born and raised,” she told me. I asked her if she’d seen the exhibit about Venice Beach that’s at LACMA right now. She told me she had not seen it and I told her she must. She asked me where I was from. Kansas. Then she asked me when was the first time I saw the ocean.

I paused. Although it’s not a question one often gets asked, suddenly, I was 12 years old, on my first 747, seeing the ocean from my window seat as our plane prepared to land at San Francisco Airport, a stop on my family’s trip to Hawaii. As I told this to these ladies, the hair on my arms stood up, reliving one of the most exciting moments in my life up to that point.

Memories flooded back. I told them how Blondie’s The Tide is High was playing on the airplane’s radio playlist and I couldn’t figure out if the synchronization was random or orchestrated. To this day, I still don’t know, but every time I hear The Tide is High, I think about that sight.

I live 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean. I sometimes see it several times in a week. It’s also not rare for me to go months without seeing it. But every time I go through that tunnel that drops you onto PCH and I see that beach and that water, it thrills me. I just never get tired of it. I tell myself, one of these days, I’m moving to the beach. And maybe I will, maybe I won’t.

When I lived in New York, I lived near the Atlantic Ocean, blocks from the Hudson River and I would see the water almost every day. During my San Francisco days, I could run from my apartment, through Golden Gate Park, all the way to Ocean Beach.

I don’t have to see the ocean every day, but I like knowing it’s there. When I go to Kansas, I actually get a little nervous, a little itchy thinking about how far I am from the ocean. Weird, I know, but it’s the truth.

I’m not the only land locked Midwesterner who followed the siren song of the ocean to a coastal city. Los Angeles is full of people like me. It’s even full of waiters like me. As much as I feel that tv and movies and that Hollywood illusion called to me from my living room floor, eyes and heart glued to the tv set, there is something about the geography that beckoned me too. Like the end of Inside Daisy Clover, when Natalie Wood barefooted it down the beach after her shanty exploded in flames. Or Jim Rockford’s trailer in Malibu. And even though we never saw them go there, except in the opening credits, we knew that Jack and Janet and Chrissy’s apartment was mere steps from Santa Monica Beach. They did not have to actually go there, for us to know it was there.

Which brings me back to my relationship to it. I probably won’t see the ocean today. Work, traffic, minutiae, they all can keep me from making the time to make the trek. But soon, Eric and I, or maybe I’ll go by myself, either way, I’ll get in my Jetta and head west. Maybe the traffic near the 405 will make me curse a little, but I’ll keep going and inevitably, I’ll take that little dip on the 10, into the tunnel, and spill out on the other side. I’ll see it, my enduring friend. I’ll try to keep my eyes on the road when all I’ll want to do is gaze to my left. And up the coast I’ll go, California dreamin’, a sunshine day, the tide high…

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.

10 Goals for 2014

I am sitting at the American Airlines terminal at LAX waiting to board my flight to New York. If you’ve read even one of my blog posts, you probably know how much I love New York.

A few months ago, on January 2, I wrote a note to myself on my iPhone titled, 10 Goals for 2014. It’s somewhat revealing that I only managed to write down six goals before I lost interest or got distracted.

Number 3 on my list, just under “book and shoot a commercial” I wrote “visit New York twice.” Eric and I try to visit New York every winter/spring. This year we joined our friends Michael and Kim there in February. And now, here I sit, next stop JFK. If all goes well, I’ll be in New York in just a few hours.

I don’t say all this to brag. In a way it’s comical, 2 visits to New York in a year has been my resolution for about 10 years now, so it’s not like I’m, like, unstoppable, when I put my mind to something. I’m stoppable all right, plenty stoppable.

But this time, it looks like my goal will come to fruition. Not completely unrelated side note: I’m also on track to complete my goal of swimming 365 miles this year.

And this really isn’t me bragging. I’m so much more comfortable talking about my failures. There are just so many of them. I always feel like it’s more accommodating to be self-deprecating.

So I am a guy who seldom achieves his goals, but today, I hope to achieve one of those 10, I mean 6, goals for 2014. And I have to let it give me hope that before 2014 is over, I might also lose those 25 pounds and book that commercial. And if I can do it, by all means there is so much more hope for you!

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San Francisco Stories

I love a used book store. I love uncovering a treasure, a biography of an actor that I never knew existed or a great novel by an author I’ve never heard of. But also, I love that every book tells a story, many tell more than one.

I am on the plane back from New York as I type. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that I’ll be blogging about the trip for days to come, but this is not necessarily a New York story. Yet, New York plays her role here, too.

I was browsing in Mid-town along 8th avenue and popped into a thrift store that I like to visit when I’m in NY. I found a book, San Francisco Stories, a collection of pieces written by famous writers about San Francisco, a city I love and a city where I once lived. I vacillated about buying it until I saw the inscription inside the jacket:

Michael-
Here’s thanks for your many kindnesses. I had some fun with this book. I hope you will, too.

10/26/92

Steve K******

It’s a simple inscription, clearly Steve was thanking Michael for something. He actually wrote his own short story in a collection of short stories and in some ways, so far anyway, it’s the most captivating. I want to know who Steve is. Will I learn more about him by reading this book? Maybe. Steve thought enough of it to buy it and gift it.

And then there is the mystery of Michael, did he hate it or perhaps even hate Steve and that’s why it ended up in a thrift store? Did he deposit it here because he moved away? And because I am gay man living in a certain time in history, I do wonder if Michael, or Steve for that matter are even still with us. I hope so.

Also, it occurred to me that since I lived in Manhattan in 1992, I might have known them or passed by them on the street. Maybe we frequented Splash or Uncle Charlie’s on the same nights or shared a lane at the Carmine Street Pool or ate at cramped nearby tables at MaryAnn’s. Maybe we auditioned for the same plays or NYU student films? Who knows?

It’s humbling and comforting that a book can live on after we lose interest or even perhaps pass on from this earthly plane. It can travel from hand to hand and touch soul after soul. Obviously, all art is like that.

So, I don’t really know how many of these San Francisco stories I will read, but I’m glad I bought the book. It seems like it’s already brought me $4 worth of joy. And maybe some day it will find it’s way into the hands of another, and I hope that person will appreciates it, too.

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Undiscovered New York

35mm_10292_061cLast night I dreamed I was walking around on the Upper East Side and I remembered that I wanted to find Sutton Place. It’s a neighborhood where William Inge lived and I’ve added it to my list of places I want to visit when I go to New York in a couple of weeks. Anyway, as I was looking around, trying to get my bearings, I noticed an escalator leading up to something. I didn’t know where I was headed, but thought to myself, hey, I’m on vacation, let’s see where this goes. It carried me up several stories where I found myself in a waiting room of sorts. I talked to the other people there for a while. I texted my friend Eboni seeing what her schedule was so we could get together. I found in my pocket the deposit I needed to deposit to a Chase Bank from the new job on the Upper West Side that I’d just started earlier in the dream. As I sat wondering where I was going to find a Chase, one of the people in the room with me told me that we were actually on a tram car and at that moment, I realized we had departed Manhattan and we were traveling to an island, in a thunderstorm, I might add. “Are we going to Roosevelt Island?” I queried. “Not Roosevelt Island, but similar,” someone answered. The tram deposited us in a desolate area that consisted of 2 Holiday Inn Expresses and 2 gas stations and nothing more than wide open parking lots. This doesn’t look like Roosevelt Island to me, I thought. I asked the cashier at one of the gas stations where the nearest Chase was, he told me it was 10 minutes away. If he meant by car or by foot, I never learned. The next thing I knew I was walking the halls of an apartment complex or perhaps one of the Holiday Inn Expresses and I came across Eboni. She lived there. We laughed and hugged and that’s all of the dream I remember.

I dream about New York frequently. And though different things happen, there is usually a recurring theme: the dream begins with something familiar, like the Upper East Side and then I turn a corner (or get on an escalator) and discover something new, some place that had been there all along and I didn’t know about it. In my dreams I’ve uncovered New York watering holes and mansions and swimming pools and hotels and other secrets. Just last week, I discovered an entire enclave of beautiful, palatial homes, also on the Upper East Side, the most notable being one shaped like a giant skull. (What does that mean?)

In my conscious moments, I love reading about New York history or watching Naked City, filmed on location in NY neighborhoods in the 50’s and 60’s or traveling about on Google Earth, so it only makes sense that I should investigate the same territory in my dreams.

Why New York? I don’t know. Would I dream about LA in the same way if I lived in New York? I doubt it. And I do love LA. Perhaps it’s just that New York will always be my first love. The escape I dreamed of when I was growing up in Kansas. Who knows really, though.

I do know that while there is something vexing about these recurring dreams, I’m comforted too. It’s a shame we don’t accrue frequent flier miles for all the distance we travel in our dreams. We could take a trip around the world.

“I Went to the Stork Club!”

One of my favorite William Inge characters is Irma Kronkite in Picnic.  She’s a school teacher who lives with her mother and every summer, she leaves Independence to go to New York where she studies at Columbia in hopes of completing her Master’s degree.  In every one of the few scenes that she’s in, she talks about the things she did in New York, at one point, excitedly sharing that she went to the Stork Club with a fellow (male) student.  “It was nothing serious,” she tells her friends.  “He was just a good sport, that’s all.”  I love her because I get the sense that her reality is those precious weeks in New York and during her long months in Kansas, she is merely marking the days until her return to the place where she is the happiest, where her life is the richest.

Eric and I have started planning our yearly New York trip and I must say, I kind of feel like Irma.  In the next weeks, I’ll scour the internet for hotel and flight deals.  I’ll make notes about exhibits or shows I’ve read about in New York magazine.  I’ll find popovers with strawberry butter, John’s pepperoni pizza and La Bella Ferrara’s cannoli making guest appearances in my dreams. I’ll remind Michele that we’re going back to Eataly, now that we’ve figured out how best to navigate it.   I’ll Google Earth Manhattan neighborhoods, make a list of streets that I haven’t been to in years, promise myself that this time, for sure, I’ll finally make it to the Cloisters.

I’ve talked about my years living in New York and it’s the only city that I know I’ll always feel like both a local and a visitor, it’s ever-changing and ever-constant.  The New York that Irma Kronkite visited was probably a little different from my New York, or Alicia Keys’ New York, but I’m sure if she heard Alicia sing: “these streets will make you feel brand new,
big lights will inspire you” she’d think, oh yes, that’s where I belong. And she wouldn’t be alone.