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.

Dream Your Dreams!

1476352_10153534656775128_2017242665_nI just returned from a night out in West Hollywood.  I met up with one of the kids who was in my youth group back when I was a youth minister in Missouri.  He is a gymnastics coach and teacher in San Diego.  I haven’t seen him for a few years, the last time was 2009, but I feel that we have a connection that will always endure.

He posted a picture of us to Facebook with the caption “with my high school youth minister turned West Hollywood gay comedian. I’m being serious.” Several people clicked like and a few commented that you can’t make things like that up. I’ve certainly written about my years as a youth minister before, specifically here. There is a regret that I sometimes feel that I let these kids down by going to New York and leaving the ministry. Some of those kids are still very conservative Christians and others have gone in other directions. Regardless of the path their lives have taken, I love them all and I treasure the time I got to spend with them. I hope I helped them love God and their families and their friends and their selves a little more.

I love so much about Facebook. While scrolling through the messages that Olin and I had sent to each other in the last few years, I came across a picture he’d sent me of an old Christmas card I gave him in 1991. image_1356835853716789
“I know that you will go far in life. Dream your dreams!” And in the 22 years since that Christmas, he has gone far in life and I’d say that he has dreamed his dreams. I’m very proud of Olin and the man he has grown into.

A few years ago, he told me that one of the reasons he became a coach was because of me and the influence I had on him when I was his youth minister. I don’t tell you this to brag, in fact, I’m telling you this to confess just how much his words meant to me when he told me. Maybe I’ve made a few mistakes in my life, but maybe I’ve done a few things right, too.

So, tonight we drank Hefeweizen (him) and Maker’s Mark (me) and talked about California life and El Dorado Springs and parents and men and dreams. I’m not that 23 year old from the Christmas card anymore, but my wishes will always be the same. To Olin, and the rest of you from Park Street: I hope 2014 is a super year for you. I know you will continue to go far in life and always, dream your dreams!