Thursday, April 24, 2008

Natural Disasters

There are many types of "natural disasters".

There's the "shart", for those of you who haven't seen "Along Came Polly" it's when you think you're going to fart, but you shit a little.

There's that skin flap that forms under a woman's arms sometime in her 50's usually.

There's showing up at a formal event in the same outfit as a woman your friends all refer to as "the ho-bag".

But the natural disasters I'm writing about are the kind involving weather, and the earth. When someone tells me about a disaster, I find it difficult to not want to compete with them for who's lived through the worst natural disaster. I'm not sure my desire to win this particular competition is natural, or healthy, or smart.

And although it is true that many people have lived through disasters much worse than my best or worst, it is possible that I could still win the coveted "Most Freaked Out By a Natural Disaster Award". The awards ceremony for this particular award is fairly small and low key, and currently it is not being televised. The MFOBANDA nominees are often a rag-tag bunch, straggling along a tan carpet into the school auditorium , which was randomly chosen out of a dirty hat for that year's event. They are often hurt, injured, shell shocked, flinching and wincing as they pass by the disposable camera purchased to record the ceremony for posterity.

You see, about nine months after moving to L.A. I had found my own apartment. It was a small studio apartment. It had one large room, and a small kitchen. A hallway went around a corner to the bathroom, and in that hallway was a built in dresser, and vanity. The living room had a Murphy bed tucked behind a pair of large doors. I had furnished the whole thing with "found" furniture, which I cleaned up and improved as much as I could, and things that had been given to me by various people I'd met who felt pity for me. I was very proud of the fact that I had a pretty nice set up, and hadn't spent any money other than a couple bucks on a few yards of fabric to cover a chair.
But I digress. In the middle of the night, I think it was around 4:00am on January 17th, 1994 the Northridge Earthquake struck L.A. This was my first earthquake and it was a pretty big one. I was awakened by the sensation on laying in the bed of a pick-up truck as it flew down a bumpy dirt road. It was pitch dark, it was loud, I was naked! Everything was falling all around me, things were smashing and breaking. It went on for about 20 seconds, which felt like an hour. When the walls and the ceiling and floor stopped moving, it was still pitch dark. Car alarms were going off everywhere, people were outside the building talking in excited and frightened tones. I was afraid to get off the bed, I'd heard things breaking, I had bare feet. I slowly carefully lowered my feet to floor and felt each step before taking it to the light switch. No power, I picked up the phone, no phone. I needed to find clothes and get dressed and find out what I'm supposed to do! I started to panic, because my apartment was on the ground floor, and from the side of the building someone could easily break a window and step right in, and there I was naked, startled, no way to call the police, no lights, no one else in the building to here me scream. jThe thought of this nearly paralyzed me with fear. It sounded like everyone was outside. I thought I should be out there too. I had some candles, I lit a lighter to find them, and thank god I didn't blow up.

You should never light a match after an earthquake, gas pipes break or leak, but I didn't know. I didn't know how to survive here, it hadn't occurred to me before. I finally got some candles lit and looked around at the destruction. I was in disbelief! Cabinets opened and emptied themselves, even the hall closet threw up all over the place blocking the door. I found clothes and it took me a while but I found shoes too. I moved the pile of crap blocking the door and exited the building. Everyone was out in front of the building telling their story. The whole neighborhood was out there talking to each other and assessing the damage, in L.A. neighbors talking is a strange sight indeed.

There were many aftershocks, smaller but still disturbing earthquakes that followed the initial one. Every one of these made me feel a little sick, and scared. You never want to see a building you're standing in move the way a building moves during an earthquake. After a couple of weeks, the aftershocks were getting very small and not that unsettling. I had a very large avocado tree outside my apartment window, and when we had an aftershock I would run outside and pick up the avocados. I'd call my friend and say, aftershock! I'm making guacamole for the game. I put a big nail by the door and hung my jeans with the wallet in the pocket and a t-shirt on it. I put a pair of shoes just below them on the floor so I could find everything in the dark. i had management fix the closet door so it would latch properly and felt a little more prepared, but shortly after that was when the anxiety attacks started.

I would be on the freeway and traffic would slow to a stop and I'd be sitting their, one car locked in like a puzzle piece with thousands of other cars just sitting there, stuck no way to get out....STUCK. I would start pulling at my clothes because I couldn't breathe and they felt tight around my neck, but they weren't. This feeling, this panic began to extend to any situation where I felt unable to move, being in a large crowd where it was difficult to move or raise my arms, on a bus with people sandwiching me in, anything like that.

You never forget your first earthquake! You never know what will break inside you when you are truly shaken.

MFOBANDA acceptance speech:

First of all, I'd like to thank all the slightly less freaked out people without whom this award would not be mine. I'd like to thank the mental health professionals I've come in contact with for nominating me. Id like to thank the pharmaceutical companies for being there when I needed them, and I'd like to give a shout out to all my peeps who know what I'm talking about!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Playing to Win

Having recently met someone on line who's distance away from me (great), is about equal to my level of interest in her, I have set about the difficult task of trying to figure how to proceed.

The options seem to be:

Thank her for the enchanting email moments, and look for something sharp to throw myself on.

Sell everything netting a huge loss, since home prices have dropped steadily since I bought mine, and show up homeless and penniless on her doorstep.

Win the lottery and fly to her, for, I don't know...maybe three days. See how things go. If they are as good in real life, as they are in glued-to-my-laptop-life, we can do what we want. I 've got millions!

If you're like me, you like the third option best! My dad always says, "Your chances of a freight train falling on your head while you're in the shower are better than your chances of hitting it big in the lottery". I say, good things can happen just as easily as bad things, and people do win. I'm a people, why not me? So I bought three tickets last night. The mega-millions was up to 26 million. I figured I could squeak by on that, so I spent three dollars on a dream. The clerk gave me three separate tickets, instead of 3 picks on one ticket. He said he thought it improved my chances. At least he was on my side! I took that as a good omen. Yep, this time I think I might really win. This could be the one, I can feel it.

They had the drawing last night, and this morning on my way to work I remembered I had those three little tickets in my wallet. I'll check later I thought, because I probably won, and I really do have to finish this job before I go gallivanting off. I'll check later, I don't need the distraction when I'm trying to frame in a doorway. I worked all day, just like one of the common folk, and had dinner with my parents. I didn't really think about the tickets I had tucked away. Tickets, or at least one ticket to a new life, one where I can still build furniture if I want to, but I can do it with all the best tools (like Norm on Old Yankee Workshop) and in a spacious well lit workshop in...Tuscany! When I go, I go big!

I drove home like I always do, singing at the top of my lungs. When I got home I fed the dogs, caught up on all my blog reading, checked my email and then I thought, Hmmm, I should check those tickets! I found the website for the Mega-Millions, I don't have it bookmarked because I only buy lottery tickets 3 maybe four times a year. I got the tickets and put on my glasses, here we go...out of all three tickets, one matching number. Well...maybe next time, why do I think so? I have no idea, and no plans to start wearing my hard-hat in the shower either.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Are You This Bored?

While I am busy trying to come up with a wonderfully witty and entertaining story for my blog, I took this test and these are my results. I stole this test from theweyrd1 at Keen Observer of the Human Condition.
She's a ring finger, so she won't mind. We're like this (tries to desperately to wrap pinky and ring finger around each other).

You Are a Pinky

You are fiercely independent, and possibly downright weird.

A great communicator, you can get along with almost anyone.

You are kind and sympathetic. You support all your friends - and love them for who they are.

You get along well with: The Ring Finger

Stay away from: The Thumb

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Kind Stranger

You come to me shrouded in darkness and pain

The mystery of you fills my head

You shed a magical light that that clearly shows

An innocent and beautiful soul,

But it's a light that a privileged few can see.

That light feels like it's blinding, to me

You don't even know it's there

You sit in the darkness not realizing,

That through miles and miles of cyberspace

I can, and do, touch your sweet face

I taste your tears, I feel your fears,

I reach for you with all my heart

You, still huddled in the dark

I can't make it go away, your pain, my need

They are content to stay

You cannot feel me, but you know I'm there

Such little comfort, wondering why I care

You have your life, and I have mine

And though our paths may never cross

I see your light, and know the truth

Of how the woman you'd become

Was slowly strangled

In her youth.

April Fool's Day 1993: Conclusion

As I drove by the L.A. skyline all light up, I felt so excited. This is where I would begin a new life. Start fresh, reinvent myself. It was about 10pm. I drove out route 10 towards the coast. When I got to Westchester, I called Jeff, the owner of the house I had arranged to rent a room in, as he had instructed me to. I waited at a Carl's Junior (a fast food joint like Burger King) for him. He showed up and said he has some things to talk to me about before we went to the house. I had Johnny, so we drove to the house, dropped off my truck and Johnny, then went to a small nearby women's bar. We sat at the bar and he bought me a beer.

He said, "Since I talked to you, we've had another house guest move in, his name is Joel, he is renting the other room and he has aids. I didn't want you to get there and be surprised."

I thought it was very nice of him to tell me, but not really necessary. This meant I would be living in a house with three gay men, Jeff, his lover Steve, and Joel. I told him I was fine with that, and thanked him for his desire to make sure I wouldn't be upset.

"And one more thing, there's another guy, Chuck, who's sleeping on the couch in the living room. He'll only be there for the month. It's just temporary." His eyes narrowed as he looked at me to see what my reaction would be.

"Okay." I said, looking around at the first few California lesbians I'd seen. I met a woman sitting at the bar. She was very nice and told me her girlfriend was in a band, and they would be playing at the Palms, a lesbian bar in West Hollywood, on Friday night if I wanted to come. I thought it might be nice, and said I would try.

Jeff and I went to the house, I met everyone, got a tour of the house, and went to my room for a good night's sleep. The next morning, I opened my eyes, looked out the window, and it was a beautiful day. Blue skies, the sun was shinning, it was warm, but not humid, perfect. I walked to the kitchen grinning. "What a beautiful day!" I exclaimed.

"You'll get used to it." Jeff said in a matter of fact tone.

"I'm going the beach to roller blade on the bike path." I said triumphantly, and Steve wanted to go with me. At the beach, on that perfect day, I looked around at the beauty of it all and wondered two things, What took me so long to get here?...and, Why doesn't everyone live here?

It turned out Steve was Jeff's lover more out of necessity than love. It gave him a roof over his head and food etc. but he was bi-sexual, and took a shine to me right away. I made it plain, I was not bi-sexual, and not interested in him at all! He continued to be creepy around me until I finally moved out, about two months later.

My Friday night at the Palms was insane. I'd been in L.A. less than a week, I was sitting in the outside patio of a fantastic bar, meeting people, listening to live music, and in walks kd Lang and her entourage, to see the band. Unbelievable, I almost fell off my stool. I didn't ask for, but was given three phone numbers that night, each woman, beautiful, and I was amazed.

The second of those three that I went out with, turned out to be my first girlfriend in California. I got myself into therapy, with a therapist that worked on a sliding scale through the Gay and Lesbian Center, and really did reinvent myself.

Moving to California on what seemed like a whim at the time, turned out to be the best decision I've ever made. As a result, I am a much better human than I was when I embarked on that journey, and my life is so much richer for it.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

The 7th is my birthday. My family got together today for my birthday dinner. My mother who is an excellent cook makes whatever you request for your birthday dinner, and desert. It's been this way as long as I can remember. On the way to my parent's house my mom called me.

me: "Hi Mom, I'm on my way. I had to get gas."

Mom: "Oh, I thought maybe you'd got caught mediating."

me: "Mediating? Are Laura and Kevin fighting?"

Mom: "Yes, Kevin finally returned Laura's phone calls today...and...well, they both are at fault."

There's more of course, but I won't bore you with the details of what my brother and sister were fighting about, and how my parents got dragged into it.

First one wasn't going to come, then the other...drama drama more drama. They made peace in the nick of time, and everyone showed up for the meal. I was honored of course.

Well, this time for the first time ever, I left the meal up to my mother. "Surprise me!" I said. She made paella, which was wonderful, because she thought it would make everyone happy. My picky meathead brother won't eat a lot of stuff. But she knew he at least liked chicken. She also put in shrimp and turkey sausage, no mussels, I think I'm the only one that eats them. Well, he turned his nose up at it completely. Wouldn't eat any of it! Not even the saffron rice! What a dolt! She made a blueberry lemon cake with white chocolate frosting for desert, which was heavenly by the way. My parents disappeared into the kitchen to get the cake and coffee and when they got back they said they had an announcement to make.

"All future birthday meals will be eaten out at restaurants." You'd have thought the world just ended. My sister actually started to cry. My poor mother, she'll be turning 7o this year. She deserves a break. She knocked herself out on this meal and Little Lord Fauntleroy wouldn't eat any of it. What did they expect?

Since my sister was already in tears, my dad decided it would be a good time to give her career choice advice. She's always so open to suggestions, and currently between gigs. This went over like a lead balloon.

My brother bailed almost immediately, took his cake to go. I was saying my thank yous and goodbyes. My mother hugged me, and said, "Happy Birthday." I said, "You're kidding, right?"

We laughed, and I left with a whole quarter of the birthday cake. I drove straight to the home of the two skinniest lesbians I know, and presented them with the cake. They were happy to get it, I was happy to get rid of it, and we had a nice visit. Happy Birthday after all.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Short Rant!

My 3 year old Vaio died in December, and I bought a new one. The new one came with Vista software. A LOT of the software I own will not load onto the new laptop. It's all compatible with Windows98, 2000, and XP, but not Vista. Why on EARTH would Bill Gates do this to me? I'm sure he doesn't get that money doesn't grow on trees, but I expected to go buy all new peripherals now? A new all-in-one, because HP software won't load properly, a new GPS, new photo-shop, new website software, new Microsoft office, new palm pilot, I mean...WTF?

I spent a couple of hours a few nights ago, locating and sifting through old photos, to go with my April Fools/Move to California post, and I found 'em. Pictures of Johnny, of the truck all packed up, the scenery along the way...and Vista won't let me use my scanner!

Suck It Bill Gates!!!!

Friday, April 4, 2008

April Fool's Day 1993: part 2

First a little about my traveling companion, Johnny. A friend of mine had a roommate who'd adopted Johnny at the pound. I'd gone over to their place a few times, and when I did, Johnny would always come to where I was sitting and put his chin on my leg. He'd sit like that as long as I'd sit in that chair. They would always joke about how he was in love with me. I guess it got to the guy, because one day he asked me if I wanted him. I did. He had some issues, but we worked them out, and he was great company and made me feel safe sleeping in the back of the truck with me.

On with the trip. We left Virginia and we headed through West Virginia on our way to our first stop, Columbus Ohio. I had an old Army buddy living there with her girlfriend and planned to spend that night in a comfortable bed. While we were passing through the mountains in W.V. storm hit us. It was raining like crazy. A car passed me on an incline and the passenger pointed up at the roof and shook his head. Huh? What the hell is that supposed to mean? I wondered. I looked in the rear view at the roof. My bike, where was it? I pulled over and got out. No bike, it was gone. Oh my God! That bike was my only mode of transportation for two years. This truck wasn't going to last, I need that thing, and loved it. Huge 18 wheelers were flying up the mountain, I had this sick feeling I'd find it completely destroyed. I got in the truck and backed down the shoulder, all the trucks blew their horns at me, I didn't care. I kept going, then a transportation dept. vehicle with his yellow light flashing pulled up behind me. He was all dressed yellow rain gear from head to foot. He told me I shouldn't be backing down the shoulder, it was very dangerous. I told him I knew that, but my bike fell off, and I needed it. He smiled, I picked it up for you. He went and got it. It was alright. It hadn't been run over. The forks were bent from the fall, but I could get that fixed! I was so happy, I hugged him, and he laughed. I put the bike in the back, in my sleeping space, and decided I'd let it ride there instead. At night I could move it to the cab.

The rest of the drive to Columbus was comparatively uneventful. When I got to Pat's house, she was happy to see me. I met her girlfriend, we went out to dinner and then to a women's bar for a beer. It was my first time in Columbus, I liked it. In the morning I set out for Memphis.

I didn't stop to see any sights along the way. I only stopped for gas, restrooms and food, usually taking care of all three at the same place, or at least the same exit. All I remember about Memphis, was I found a hotel parking lot, slept on the plywood in a sleeping bag, and it was uncomfortable, and I was cold! The next day I made it as far as Amarillo, when I hit some snow flurries. I didn't want to mess with it so I found a fleabag hotel, the most rundown cheapest place on the planet. I took a hot bath, and sprawled out on the queen size bed and had one of the most restful and peaceful nights I can remember. It felt like sleeping on a cloud. The next morning it was off to New Mexico where I planned to spend the day, and the night.

Pat's girlfriend's mother lived in Albuquerque and she offered to put me up for the night when I came through. I had a short drive day. By lunchtime Johnny was running around in a park in Albuquerque, and I was sitting on a picnic table enjoying blue skies and a beautiful day eating my lunch AL fresco. I traveled up to Santa Fe and spent the afternoon and into the early evening there. I loved it there, all the art, the restaurants, the people were pleasant and happy. The Coyote Cafe was there. I was so excited to actually see it, I had the cookbook and it was one of my all time favorites. I thought about staying, not finishing the trip. That night I met up with Alice, she was gay just like her daughter. We had dinner at her house, we talked and I really enjoyed her company. She loved Johnny. I told her about my inclination to stay, and she told me employment was really tough in that area.
"Basically, you have to wait for someone to die, to get their job, and you'd better like it." she said. I decided to stick to the original plan, besides I'd already sent money to Jeff. The guy who owned the house I was renting a room in.

I was getting close, I would arrive at my new home tomorrow night! I was excited. The next morning I headed out over the mountain, through Flagstaff and then down the other side towards LA. That night, when I got close enough to see downtown Los Angeles all lit up, I couldn't stop smiling...almost there.

To be cont.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

15 Years Ago Today

My truck looked like this one, only without the shine, and add a big ugly camper shell.

On this April Fool's Day in 1993, my dog Johnny and I, set out on our journey to California. I had a beater pick-up truck that I bought for about $400 and then put another $400 into it to make sure it would make the trip across the country. I built a false bottom up above the wheel wells in the bed. The bottom was packed with clothes and keepsakes. The top was where I planned to sleep. It had a camper shell on it, and a roof rack up on top of that, which I strapped my plastic wrapped bicycle to. The front wheel of my bike was in the small space between the bench seat and the back of the cab. It was a dull dark grey Mazda that looked like it had been through hell and back.
In a condensed version, the events that had lead up to this day were, after I finished my active duty in the Army, I decided to stay in the DC area, which was where I'd been for the last couple of years. It wasn't because it was such a great place to live, it was because that's where my girlfriend at the time was from, and all of her family was there...blah blah blah. I lived in that part of the country for nine of the most miserable years of my life. A friend of mine from Cape Cod was visiting me one day at the restaurant where I was a sous chef, and asked, "Why do you choose to live here?" I looked at her blankly. She rephrased, "You could do what you do anywhere in the world. Why, of all places, have you decided to live here?" I hadn't really thought about it quite that way before. Things had long since ended with the local girl I'd been involved with, why was I here? That was the seed being planted. I didn't think about it again for quite a while.

A year later, my job was eating my life, and I was frustrated with the total lack of balance. I was at work from 10am to midnight five days a week. I had just enough time between lunch and dinner to shoot home and walk my dog. I lived nearby. I had Monday and Wednesday off. No one else has those days off! I had to work weekends and holidays, always. I had no social life at all. I loved the job itself but the hours were killing me. The faces at the restaurant bar were the same day after day, night after night, drinking and having ridiculous arguments, while we watched their faces slowly sliding off of their skulls. It was horrifying. One day I was having a particularly rough day, and casually in conversation, I said, "I should just chuck it all and move to California." I don't know what made me say it, but when I heard myself saying it, it hit home. "Hey, I could actually do that? Why not! There's nothing for me here. I've always wanted to go. If I'm going to leave my job and look for a new career, that's as good a place as any to do it." I had never been to California, but ever since I was a little kid, I've always thought I'd like to live there. It was decided, just like that.
I found a roommate matching service, and they hooked me up with a room in a house that met my 2 requirements, I could have my dog there, and it was within walking distance of the beach. Done! I gave my five weeks notice at the restaurant, sold all my furniture, and everything else that wasn't absolutely essential, bought the truck and said my goodbyes. I'd worry about a job once I got there. I was so happy with this decision, that when I went out with friends, women started coming out of the woodwork. I met a few really nice women right before I left. It's funny how being happy in public attracts people, too bad I was happy about leaving!

The Trip and The Arrival: Next installment.