Saturday, September 7, 2013
Grandpa Chuck was a mountain of a man, at least, in my 11-year-old eyes he was. He had a pot belly which, rather than making him look fat, only emphasized his status as an imposing yet gentle authority figure. He was my grandmother's second husband and the primary grandfather figure in my life.
Grandpa Chuck was brave. He had nicked his hand with a knife in the kitchen, once, and there was quite a bit of blood. I was awed and impressed as I watched him pour salt from a round, blue canister into his other hand before pressing it directly into the open wound.
I regret to say that I don't know or remember where Grandpa Chuck was from, originally. But I think he was from the Midwest, maybe. He seemed Midwestern because he was typical of traditional grandfathers from an older generation. He sprinkled salt on his watermelon, which I thought was weird. He took my brother and me fishing, showing us how to impale an earthworm on a hook.
Grandpa Chuck had an amazing tool collection on one side of his garage where he helped me to imprint designs on a leather belt, a craft needed for a Webelos badge. He grew zucchini and other vegetables in the backyard. Near the vegetables were the elevated cages where he raised rabbits. He had only one male rabbit which he gave to me for the asking when our sixth grade wanted to have a class mascot.
He also raised chinchillas for a while, which makes me a little sad to think about now that I know why he was raising them. But as a blissfully unaware 11-year-old I loved going to the middle part of the garage to look at the cute rodents in their stacked cages under the fluorescent lights.
I was surprised to see Grandpa Chuck be vulnerable. I watched this mountain of a man crumble in tears when my grandmother died of a heart attack. This strong, brave, traditional man stood between the dining room table and Grandma's organ and unexpectedly started crying in front of us, the whole family, as a church friend comforted him with hugs.
I haven't seen Grandpa Chuck in over thirty years. After my grandmother died he remarried. Our family get-togethers with him dwindled, being that there were no longer any blood ties. But he remains in my memory as a male role model. Like many "typical men" of his generation, he didn't talk much. But I'll always remember the example he was of a strong man - strong enough to be weak.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
I used to get asked, now and then, if Domestic Partner and I would ever consider adopting a baby. Domestic Partner always disagrees (or doesn't remember) but I would mention how he was the one to bring up the subject, more than once.
"I'm willing to make that commitment," I had told him. "But you have to think about the fact that it's going to be a commitment for twenty to twenty-five years. It won't just be a year or two of having a cute baby."
I asked him to look around the house and picture it covered in laundry and toys. "Oh, no," he countered. "It wouldn't be that bad with just one baby."
"What does your brother's house look like?" I asked.
Domestic Partner has a niece and a nephew. "Oh, yeah," he admitted.
"Your clean and tidy house would be history," I continued. "All of the nice things you have out now would have to be stored away if you don't want them broken. I imagine you never feel caught up on housework, once you become a parent, especially a working parent."
I also asked him to consider the fact that I would only work part time, if at all. I would be the Mom figure if we adopted one or more children. I would be the one driving kids to soccer practice and dance classes. I would be the PTA parent. I would have to learn how to cook and clean better.
I would also have a perpetual pot of coffee ready, 24/7. I think about BFF Kathy staying up later than her husband and kids - the only time where she can get a few minutes to herself to do things such as read - and getting up in the morning before everyone else. I know I would be tired all of the time, as a parent, but I would do it. You do what you have to do.
Domestic Partner made me really angry during a discussion a few years ago. He didn't think I could make the necessary sacrifices in my own life to become a parent. I guess he meant my selfish desire to perform, to sing and dance in shows. I argued that he should know how nurturing I can be from how I treated his dog when I first met him, although I'm going to guess that caring for dogs cannot be compared to the daily care of actual human children.
I didn't argue further. I was still mad but we had already decided by then that we were not going to adopt. There was no point in fighting about it, seething as I was at the time.
Domestic Partner is seven years older than me. I had asked him to think about how old we were going to be by the time an adopted child was college-age, or finally old enough to move out of the house, even if we adopted a child who was in grade school.
So, it never happened. We decided to continue adopting surrogate kids instead, the canine and feline varieties.
I used to think a lot about being a parent when I was in my teens and my twenties. I used to make plans about how I was going to raise them, how I was going to demonstrate love to them, and make them feel safe. During my thirties I realized that part of my desire to become a parent was to compensate for what I felt was neglected in my own upbringing. Once that realization surfaced, the desire to become a parent decreased significantly.
But I still think about it sometimes. I hope I would have had the patience to be a parent, even if I didn't always have the energy. I sincerely think I would have been able to give up what I need to, put my life and goals on hold, and put my family's needs before my own. I would have tried to be a fun parent, dancing and singing with my children in the house while they were growing up. I would have probably ended up being that Embarrassing Parent as they got older, so maybe it's better that we didn't adopt.
Still, if I hadn't met Domestic Partner, I could have dated a divorced dad with kids. I could have become the evil step-monster.
Monday, August 19, 2013
Miss Jay turned out to be the real deal. I decided to sign up for her second package where she works one-on-one with her clients to find a commercial agent. Miss Jay knows what she's doing. She is meticulous about details and very business-professional. Plus, she's been doing this for a few years (She's on a current back-to-school commercial that has been airing every day this month).
The process to actually start looking for an agent took longer than I had expected. I wanted to do everything right, as much as possible, so I was willing to wait. And Miss Jay's objective view of my "look" and how to market me turned out to be gold. Once I submitted my new headshots I started receiving responses within the first twenty-four hours.
Holy crap! Why did I wait so long in life to attempt this?
I had a few meetings with talent agencies this past week. They all told me the same thing: They need my look. They're all getting calls for older Asian males. One even told me that they have trouble finding older Asian males that can speak English without an accent.
Really? I find that hard to believe, knowing the competition that's out there, at least for musical theater.
I have a few more meetings with other talent agents this week. I feel like such a novice - again. So I'm a little nervous about making the right choice. I'm also anxious to get started. I'm hoping for beginner's luck.
I'm not so concerned about becoming famous as I am about finding gainful employment after being terminated last year. Fun gainful employment. I was also fired from Disneyland in the 80's. A few months after that I was hired for my first theater job, dancing and singing on stage, and for better pay. Getting fired turned out to be the best thing that ever happened back then.
It's a pattern I'm hoping to repeat this year but on the small screen. Fingers crossed!
The photo above was Miss Jay's first choice to submit to agencies, which worked like a charm! I am grateful for her expertise.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
We still used the word "hobo" when I was a boy, instead of the word "homeless." Neither word seemed to apply to the old man sitting in the public laundry room. He just seemed out of place in his white robe and simple head covering. Only English-speaking Americans lived in our new apartment complex, as far as I knew. I was seven. My father taught English as a Second Language, and we had just moved to Saudi Arabia.
The old man wasn't scary-looking. I don't remember whether or not he made my mother feel nervous. He was probably just looking for a shady place to rest. His robe looked light, airy, and comfortable: ideal clothing in the oppressive desert heat. The white cloth on his head was shorter than what most civilians wore in the city. There were no black rings to anchor his head covering in place as I had seen other Arab men wear.
His beard and mustache were also white, both neatly trimmed. He didn't seem poor, exactly, just from a different era. He was like my great-grandmother in Japan, who still wore yukata robes and sandals on a daily basis, rather than adapt to western slacks and hard-soled shoes.
Did he speak to my mother, ask her for something? I can't remember. I doubt that he would have spoken much English, and we had not learned any Arabic yet. My mother went into the kitchen and unwrapped a thin square of cheese which she placed between two slices of bread. The old man accepted the sandwich silently and graciously.
We never saw him again, but I have never forgotten my mother's quiet, simple act of kindness.
Friday, June 7, 2013
There was a time when I believed I would never be able to do it. My body just wasn't shaped right. I would never be able to do wide second splits in dance class, no matter how much I trained. I was forever doomed to be merely hunched over, with my legs spread out and my back curved, hovering pathetically several inches above the floor. I didn't think I could ever "pancake" my upper body flat on the floor the way my dance teacher and some of the women could.
As I got older and started lifting weights more, I learned to use my increased body temperature and warm muscles to increase my flexibility. Certain weight lifting exercises put significant stress on the lower back (and no, I don't wear a weight belt). So, wide second stretches turned out to be a great way to relax the lower back and calm my strenuous breathing.
There was also a time when I was embarrassed to do dance stretches on the weight floor, especially dropping down to touch my toes for a hamstring stretch - as if I was "presenting" to anyone behind me. I had written about that before, when I had first started blogging. Funny how writing about certain fears and insecurities helps to diminish them, once you see it in print.
"Live here," I tell myself while in certain stretch poses. Not forever, just for now, just to give myself some patience to take enough time and stretch slowly. I would picture the girl from the 1980 movie, "Fame" (pictured above), the one who was effortlessly in the same warm up stretch during the dance audition scene. She was relaxed and casual, and so flexible that she could prop her elbows on the floor. I wanted to be like her.
Going to the gym regularly has taught me that it helps to pretend to be other people when I am feeling too weak or limited. Lat pulls are especially hard for me, but I've gotten better at them by pretending that I am Jackie Chan or Jet Li. In certain Pilates poses and exercises, I am Jane Fonda from the 80's. (Have you seen her lately? I'll take being Jane Fonda from this decade!)
I will always have role models, it seems, no matter how old I get. When I feel discouraged, when "being Peter Varvel" isn't good enough, I put on a persona, someone who inspires me, whether they're real or imagined. Just for now, until I can absorb it enough to feel better about myself.
I'm putting on costumes, playing different characters, even when I'm not on stage.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Granny Tranny is real! I thought I had made her up but she does exist! I met her a couple of weeks ago.
One of my close friends is a church choir director. He and is wife enlist me sometimes for the choir's special events and performances, to provide choreography or simple movements for the singers. They gave me the heads up about one of their new choir members, a senior citizen who cross-dresses by stuffing rolled up shirts underneath a regular tee shirt.
They knew that I would be neither shocked nor surprised. They had both been at my graduation ceremony when I had completed my undergraduate degree in Gender Studies. I don't think I had ever told them, though, about a character I had included in one of my final papers. I had written in Granny Tranny as a special guest on the fictional television show, "The Gender Kids Club." It was a show where kids could learn about the varying degrees of femininity and masculinity, and a place where they could fit in any place they wanted to along that spectrum, where they could just be their natural boyish and/or girly selves.
I described Granny Tranny as an elderly African-American wearing a salt-and-pepper wig underneath her church-going hat. She favored gloves and purple polyester suits as her signature look. She addressed the kids as "duckling" and "lambkin" rather than trying to learn all of their names.
The Real Granny Tranny was dressed more casually when I met her. She had rolled up her jeans for the 50's theme night. Her tee shirt did indeed look overstuffed despite the fact that my friend, the choir director, convinced her to reduce the double 'D' size she had originally sported. Her bosom still resembled a lumpy, uneven pillow.
I had met her on a good night, apparently. I was informed that the usual stench of body odor was absent that evening. I said a simple "Hi" to her during the microphone sound check, same as I would greet any other choir member.
My friend's mother-in-law was in town visiting, so she was able to attend the performance. She liked the fact that someone such as Granny Tranny was quietly accepted in the choir and church, that there was no open hostility expressed toward her appearance or private protests expressed to the pastor and church staff. I agreed.
I later told Domestic Partner about the Real Granny Tranny. When I described her appearance, he told me that he had seen her on the Metro Link trains and buses in downtown Los Angeles. She is a homeless person, which explains her usual body odor I suppose. It made me happier that the church was willing to let her in their doors on a regular basis.
Granny Tranny looked pretty cleaned up on the night that I met her. I admired the fact that, rather than wear a wig, she had grown out her own natural, silver-streaked hair. It was combed neatly from the top, curling softly on the ends, like a chorus girl from the 1930's. She had about a day's worth of stubble, white and prickly on her chin and jawline.
I later learned that the Real Granny Tranny still goes by her birth name: Joseph.
Monday, May 27, 2013
I went to Disneyland last week with my Aunt Pat and her granddaughter, four-year-old Marlow, who calls me Uncle Peter. Never mind that she is my cousin's daughter. She's like a niece to me, in the fun and playful closeness that we already share.
I was happy to experience the Disney parks through a fresh pair of eyes. We started our day at the newer theme park, Disney's California Adventure. Marlow immediately wanted to go on the bumper cars in A Bug's Land. She loved Heimlich's Chew Chew train in which the overweight caterpillar-shaped vehicle eats his way through giant-sized vegetables, fruits, and desserts (um, does Eric Carle know that Disney basically ripped of his book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar?).
I quickly learned that tunnels were not an option. Marlow did not want to go any ride that took passengers into a dark and scary tunnel, including the new Little Mermaid ride. She waited outside with her grandma while I rode Ariel's Undersea Adventure by myself and took pictures (I was surprised not to hear a recorded announcement forbidding flash photography or use of recording devices). When I showed Marlow the photos, she was particularly interested in Ursula, the scary sea witch, and she kept asking me to page back to that picture.
Taking turns watching a four-year-old while she napped turned out to be an advantage. Aunt Pat let me go first in the single riders line of the new Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land. It only took me ten minutes versus the 45-minute-wait in the regular line. I loved the new ride, and I knew Aunt Pat would love it too, when she took her turn. Marlow had a long nap, so we also took turns going on Soarin' Over California, the hang glider flight simulator.
Marlow loved the Pixar Play Parade in California Adventure. But the best part of the day was when we went into Disneyland park to watch the Soundsational parade. Marlow was bouncing and dancing to the music playing on the speakers before the first float arrived. At one point, when she saw the princess float coming down the parade route, she dug furiously through the items in her stroller, as if she were looking for a camera. When the float passed by, she waved to Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Belle.
What had Marlow been looking for? And where were Mulan and Pocahontas? Where were the princesses of color? Oh, well. Each year, as the cast of characters continues to grow, I know it's not possible to include every Disney favorite in one parade. We continued enjoying the parade.
Once again, Marlow dug wildly through her stroller after seeing the next float coming down the street. She tossed items over shoulder, unknowingly hitting the people sitting next to us. Finally she found what she was looking for: her tiara from The Princess and the Frog.
Marlow had recognized Princess Tiana on The Princess and the Frog float several yards away, before it reached the spot where we were sitting. She was so excited! She wanted to show Princess Tiana that she had the same crown that she did. They were the same! Luckily, when the float passed by, Princess Tiana took a moment to acknowledge Marlow and wave at her.
Marlow is four. Her adoptive parents are both white. I think she understands at her age, already, the joy of identifying with someone in the media, someone you admire and want to emulate. The little Japanese boy that I used to be/still am silently rejoiced with Marlow. I spent part of my childhood in Japan, enjoying animé in the 1970's, so I don't think it bothered me as much when we returned to the states and I didn't see any television characters who looked like me (Does "Arnold" from Happy Days count?). Still, it felt like retribution when the Jackie Chan Adventures cartoon series first started airing.
When The Princess and the Frog first started playing in the theaters, my coworker took her half-Jamaican daughter to see it. Her daughter was about Marlow's age at the time. My coworker told me that her daughter stood up on her seat and announced to the audience, "Look, everyone! There's a Disney princess and she looks like me!"
That made me tear up a bit, as well as smile.
As Marlow grows up, I hope she continues to find positive role models in the media to identify with and look up to. It's her turn.