Wednesday, July 30, 2008
In May of 1982 I went to my first dance audition. I had just turned 16. The audition was for the Broadway department stores (whatever happened to that chain?). The audition notice in the newspaper announced that they were looking for high school age dancers to model their back-to-school line in a local tour. I had had no formal dance training at this point, just a huge desire to dance, fueled by my fanatical enthusiasm for the first season of "Fame," the TV series.
I hadn't even gotten my driver's license yet. My band geek friend, Dee Dee, was one of the sousaphone players in La Mirada High School's marching band. I paid her $5.00 for gas to drive me into Los Angeles for the audition. We made a day of it, driving in from the Orange County area with a couple of the other band geeks. The audition was at a Broadway department store in Century City, right by the 405 freeway.
I didn't have a head shot or resume. I didn't even know about those basic audition tools at the time. I wasn't sure what to wear. I ended up wearing my new Levi's 501's and my purple Britannia polo shirt. I wore a purple bandanna for a head band, figuring it would make me look more like a dancer, at least.
There was already a huge line of dancers when Dee Dee dropped me off. I got behind two girls who looked very professional in their leotards, tights, and leg warmers. I would've felt more intimidated by their confident appearance if they hadn't been so nice to me. They were Claire and Jill from Alhambra, and they did have head shots and resumes, along with their fancy dance wear.
The audition itself was a crowded cattle-call of a madhouse. I remember seeing a few other students from La Mirada High, including my Very Close Friend Erin. She was there with a few of the other LDS girls from her church. Erin looked cute with her long brown hair pulled to one side, held in place with a ribbon bow. She was a talented artist at an early age. At the audition she had worn a hand painted shirt with a calico cat and her name printed in large letters at the bottom. I thought she was smart to make herself stand out like that.
The dance routine for the audition seemed hard. I don't remember the combination, today. I'm sure that whatever the routine was for the first cut, though, would probably look very basic and simple to me, now. But back then, with not a single dance class under my belt, it seemed hard. It seemed like everyone else around me was picking it up while I tried in vain to follow them in the ordered steps.
But I loved it. Even though I couldn't do it, I loved being in the middle of an authentic dance audition. It looked exactly like what I had imagined it to be. It matched the images I had seen on TV about the contemporary dance world.
Dee Dee and the other band geeks came back from walking around the mall.
"God, it looks like 'Fame' in there," Larry, my fellow trumpet player said. And he was right. The packed room was full of young dancers, mostly female, stretching, practicing the dance routine, talking to each other, and waiting for their turn to audition.
Neither Erin nor I got hired for the Broadway's Back to School Tour. I did get a letter from them, though. I could tell right away that it was simply a courtesy letter because it was thin. It wasn't a thick letter full of forms to fill out, like the kind you get when you're admitted to a university. Still, it felt good to be acknowledged, as if they had actually remembered me from the audition.
Twenty-six years later, I am now living only a few miles away from Alhambra. I wonder what happened to Claire and Jill? I wonder what they've been doing for the last quarter century?
Monday, July 28, 2008
They were my mini-fraternity brothers and sisters. They were my Divine Ya-ya Sisters and my League of Their Own team mates all rolled into one. And they still are. They are the first group of dancers that I had worked with on a cruise ship sixteen years ago.
They are part of my Forever Family.
Back in '92, our entire team of eight dancers were cruise ship virgins, all except for one of the male dancers. We were still naïve about many things, including how the corporate world worked. At the time, we didn't realize what a good thing we had with each other as coworkers. We took for granted the incredible chemistry we had together as employees, as friends, and as shipmates.
Three of us were American, including William from East Los Angeles and Dan from Chicago. The rest were from various parts of the U.K., including Jill from Scotland. It took me almost a whole month before I could understand what she was saying without asking her to repeat things two or three times.
Jill became one of my dearest friends during our contract, as my dance partner on stage, and also as the perfect partner for slow dancing in the ship's disco. She knew I was gay, but she was the perfect height for me. Our bodies were like two puzzle pieces that fit naturally and comfortably together.
Slowly and steadily, we all bonded through dance rehearsals in Los Angeles, and during our first days of training on board, in Alaskan waters. We were placed on an old and very small ship. Space was limited, so we were hired to do double duty as cruise staff, supervising activities for the passengers during the day and dancing in the stage shows at night. We were together almost 24/7 and we genuinely enjoyed each other's company.
The corporate office had asked us to extend into the second six-month contract without a break. We had already said yes to them once, extending an additional six weeks in the first contract. We were a strong team. We were happy to comply with the first request, even if it was during the Christmas and New Year's holidays, but not a second time. We were ready for a break, ready to go home, and we stood united as a team.
It wasn't until after we had parted that we realized what a strong, likable team we had. I think most of us assumed that the camaraderie would be just as organic with any other team or cast we worked with after disembarking from the ship. I think most of us eventually regretted not extending into the second contract like we had been asked to. I know I did.
We managed to stay in touch, even if only inconsistently. Thanks to email and facebook we have all been able to reconnect recently, once again. A reunion is being planned for next year, in England. This has colored my days recently, not only through the fun of reconnecting, but also with the joy of anticipation. The happiest part is every one's unabashed enthusiasm for getting together again to share old memories. We're all of us too old to dance anymore, but we are excited about sharing stories and old photos together, and laughing over it all.
Jill is running her own dancing school in Scotland and has three children. All four women have children, and they are all still dancer thin. The four of us boys have put on weight, however, and we've all expressed our desire to slim down before seeing each other again next year.
I guess it wouldn't be a reunion without at least some pressure to lose a few pounds.
Someday, I am hoping to write a novel based on my cruise ship days. Even after only one contract, it was easy to see where the ideas came from for a television show like "The Love Boat."
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Here's another random sampling of the rhymes and chants perpetually bouncing around in my mind:
Hey! Hey! Hey-hey-hey!
Are you straight or are you gay?
It doesn't matter anyway, cuz life is sucky every day
("Is it any wonder I've got too much
Monday, July 21, 2008
I have lived much of my life with blinders on, blissfully unaware and naïve about many of the more unpleasant things, some of them right in front of me. Shemeka had removed those blinders for me, if only briefly, one afternoon.
Shemeka was black but she was not. She had African American facial features, with skin fairer than mine and long auburn braids. We had met while doing menial background work as film extras when I was between gigs.
We met again when sitting in the studio audience for the game show, "Win Ben Stein's Money." I think we had to sit through five shows worth of taping. It wasn't worth the minimum wage, even for a full eight-hour work day. At least we were given a lunch break.
There wasn't much to choose from as far as local eateries in the Hollywood neighborhood. Shemeka and I decided on Little Caesars Pizza since it was cheap, fast, and close to the studio. It was only a take out/delivery place, so we sat on a Santa Monica Boulevard bus bench after buying our single slices.
"Unh-uh," Shemeka said through a bite, shaking her head.
"What?" I asked.
"Those girls on the bus, just now. They were looking at us through the window, shooting daggers with their eyes. You could tell."
I didn't understand. "Why? What's wrong?"
Shemeka put her pizza slice down and sighed. "They were black," she explained. "Because we're sitting together, eating, they think we're together."
I chewed, not answering, and stared at her.
"They think I'm betraying my own kind, that I should be with a black guy."
I was genuinely surprised. This was in Los Angeles, not too many years ago, after the turn of the millennium. I myself am the product of an interracial marriage, so there is a lot I take for granted as far as 'dating outside of your race' goes.
It reminded me of a discussion I had with restaurant coworkers. Most of us thought that interracial marriages and mixed kids helped to diminish prejudice. I'll never forget, though, Nia stating that "you lose your culture when you dilute the blood." I had to agree with her. I can only 'be so Japanese,' my niece even less so, who is only a quarter Japanese.
One of my Disney roommates, Ken, was black and he had only dated white women when we lived together. After a trip to London, he told me how impressed he was to have seen so many interracial couples out in public, limited to the UK metropolitan area as it may have been. I had thought his attitude progressive and refreshing.
I had to rethink that attitude after sitting with Shemeka, though. Ken and I had both grown up in middle-class, mostly-white neighborhoods. We were used to 'acting white' and being 'treated white,' despite our respective appearances. At Disneyland, coworkers teased us for being the 'whitest black guy' and the 'whitest Asian guy' they knew. And although Ken and I have never verbally expressed it to each other, we both know that having a Caucasian significant other somehow makes us more acceptable in white society, at least in our own minds.
As long as we "knew our place," perhaps.
I didn't work as a film extra for very long, and I never saw Shemeka again, after that. But I will never forget her. And I will never be too excited about interracial couples, at least in public, now that I am even more aware of the fact that not everyone thinks it's as wonderful as I do.
(The woman in the photo above is Kenosha Robinson. Go here to read her story on race identity and appearance)
Thursday, July 17, 2008
"We want lips! We want lips! We want lips!"
That was the chant, no the demand made by the movie theater audience at the Tyler Mall in Riverside, right before the film began and the lights went down. The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was a rite of passage common to most drama students, and various social misfits and rebels in high school and college (at least, "in the 80's . . ."), going to the midnight showings often enough to memorize the audience participation lines and perhaps come up with a few of your own.
And it was bad. It was considered bad behavior for a goody-goody Christian boy like me. I was so pathetically goody-goody, I once asked my dad for permission to go toilet papering with some of the other band geeks (he said no). When I asked for permission to go see Rocky Horror my father replied sternly, "No! I heard there are transvestites in that movie." This was a real threat to my conservative Christian dad in 1984.
My band geek buddy, Brent, had been the one to initiate me. We had to figure out some euphemism for the film's title when discussing plans to go see the movie, in front of parents. Rita Hayworth had the same initials, so 'Rita' became the code word.
"So, are we going to see Rita tonight?"
"I have to see if I can borrow the car. It's been almost two months since I last saw Rita!"
I was a goody-goody who didn't even cuss until the end of his senior year in high school. Yelling audience participation lines repeatedly helped me to hone my rookie cursing skills:
RH: Hi! Brad Majors!
Criminologist (reading from the dictionary): emotion - an intense feeling as of love, hate, or despair . . .
Audience member: Too bad you can only read about it, you chicken-fucker!
At first, we would bring all of the props, including water pistols and umbrellas for the scene with rain ("There's a liiiight, over at the Frankenstein place"), and dry toast to hurl into the air when Frank proposes, "A toast."
By the time we were sophisticated enough to be experts in all of the participation lines, we would attend midnight showings with a single prop - balloons that we could rub and squeak when Rocky was playing with Janet's boobs ("Touch-a touch-a touch-a touch me"), which we would then pop at the end of the song when Susan Sarandon would swoon with orgasmic delight.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show helped me to feel a little bit rebellious in a safe, low-risk way. As infantile as the participation may have been, it had helped me to come out of my shy, goody-goody shell. The rules were minimal and there was no need to worry about offending anyone with colorful language. It was encouraged, rather, almost as if it was competition of wit and creativity, and it was all very liberating for me.
And people were very creative. I'll never forget one night when, in the pool scene right before Dr. Frankenfurter kicks a phallic handle that raises a motorized diving board, a young woman had yelled, "Now, kick the dildo and give the pool a hard-on!"
Fierce, confident queens who had grown up in that era owe much to Tim Curry's portrayal of Dr. Frankenfurter. For many of us, even those who grew up to be not-so-fierce, this was our first exposure to any type of drag queen. Although it had taken several years for my overall being to unclench from my Christian upbringing, The Rocky Horror Picture Show helped me to literally take baby steps toward learning how to strut like a fierce, bitchy queen, just by imitating Tim Curry's performance behind closed doors:
"I'm just a sweet transvestite (sweet transvestii-iite), from Transssexual, Transylvaniaaa-uh-huh!"
Okay, so maybe my dad wasn't just being paranoid when he felt threatened.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
As further proof that I have too much time on my hands, here's the opening verse of the Peter Varvel rap:
My name is Peter
I'll do you sweeter
Than any woman can or girl or señorita
My name is Peter
I ain't no cheater
Don't need Viagra yet to pump my centimeters
As we used to say in elementary school days, Thank you, thank you, no applause - just money.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
I was walking the pugs along one of our usual neighborhood routes in the early morning, last week. Three young black women were chitchatting energetically at a bus stop across the street. They are usually there on weekday mornings before 7:00 am. They look young enough to be high school students. The three of them had taken up the larger of the two benches.
On the smaller bench that morning were two young white guys, also in conversation with each other. Standing in the middle of the two benches was a quiet Filipino teen. Neither group was including him in conversation, nor was he attempting to make small talk with them while waiting for the bus. The mere fact that he was standing up only seemed to reinforce his social isolation, as did his stoic expression and silence.
The sight of him and his position in this tableau brought me back to my former identity as a painfully shy and insecure adolescent. I remember waiting for the school bus for what must have been only a few minutes, trumpet case at my side, but it seemed tortuously long as I huddled inside myself among the bubbly conversations around me.
I was lucky. Those few minutes were bearable because I only had to wait until I walked into my first morning band class, whether it was Jazz Ensemble, Marching Band, or Concert Band. Then I could click on and relax into my Outgoing Band Geek self.
I wondered: Does the Filipino boy also relax and open up, once he arrives at his destination? I have always been amazed at the different people we can be, depending on who else is around us, and what activity we're engaged in, etc.
I still think about a Japanese American girl in the first grade, how shy and quiet she was in the classroom, and how her forehead would scrunch up when called upon by our teacher, Mrs. Fukushima. My classmate became a completely different person when walking home from school with friends and siblings - talkative, laughing, and with her brow completely smooth and relaxed.
Maybe this is part of what it means to be an Asian American kid, that you have these Jekyll and Hyde levels of shyness and friendliness. Maybe that doesn't apply to all Asian American kids, and I know it is not exclusive to certain ethnic groups. But it's a shame that society can still be so "ethnically isolated" today, just as much as some of us felt it was twenty or thirty years ago.
I am not worried about that young Filipino man, though. It looks as if he is able to stand on his own, both literally and metaphorically, and that will serve him well whether or not he becomes more socially at ease as he gets older.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
It happened much sooner than I had thought it would - I became "one of those people" that prefaces everything he says with a specific time reference, one of those older people.
Kenny kindly pointed it out to me during rehearsals for a Knott's Berry Farm show a few years ago. "You know, every story you tell starts with 'In the 80's.'"
Kenny was in his early twenties. I was stunned. It was as if he had pants-ed me on stage in front of a family audience. In church.
I knew immediately what he meant. I used to laugh when people were made fun of for doing that (referencing a past era, not pantsing someone). But it had been over a decade since I had heard Freddie T., in yet another show rehearsal, do his Gwen Verdon impressions:
"In the 60's, when I was sharing an apartment with Shirley MacLaine, and she always out on the balcony trying to channel someone from outer space . . . "
"In the 60's, when choreography was still fresh and new - not ripping off older styles like you kids do today . . . "
"In the 60's . . . in the 60's . . . in the 60's"
I have postponed and postponed my real adulthood, so referencing the 80's had become a natural and regular occurrence for me when working with and going to school with younger adults.
"In the 80's, I was still skinny enough to wear my younger brother's clothes and I would wear his parachute pants to school."
"In the 80's, my cousin had all of the Strawberry Shortcake dolls, including the Purple Pie Man."
"In the 80's, I paid $125.00 a month for my own bedroom, in a house full of roommates when we all worked at Disneyland."
"In the 80's, I used Pazazz hair color to make my hair and eyebrows a blackish purple. I looked like Eddie Munster."
"In the 80's, it really did take only twenty minutes to get anywhere in Los Angeles."
I think the decade you most often refer to depends on when the core years of your youth occurred. The 90's were great, but I don't know if I'll be saying with as much frequency, "In the 90's . . . " as I get older.
What were you doing in the 80's?
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
This is one of my favorite photos of my siblings and me, in 1992. I'm on the left, with my legs in the air (as usual, some of you might say), then the youngest brother, Tim, Alyssa, and Danny, who looks like he feels left out from the main part of the bench.
This is Tim on his wedding day last year, right before the ceremony. Apparently, he was doing the "bend and snap" from 'Legally Blonde.' At least, that's what it looks like to me.
The Late 70's
When I wrote in my journals during my grade school years, I didn't know the basic rules about keeping one. I didn't know there were any actual rules (I still don't, actually), so I just wrote about whatever my day consisted of, including meals.
I would share my journals now and then, with a few close friends and even one or two English teachers. One teacher laughed, lightly, not in a mean way, when she read what I had eaten for dinner. I didn't know that writing about what I ate was "weird." It's interesting to me, now, to read over what my mother used to make us for dinner - fried chicken or pork chops, baked potatoes, burritos with ground beef, tempura, enchiladas, navy bean soup in a crock pot - or what my siblings and I used to snack on during summer vacations when we weren't taking swim lessons - tomatoes, cold cereal, potato chips, iceberg lettuce rolls dipped in dressing, an entire package of bacon from the freezer . . . ("No wonder your little brother is always so hyper!" my youth minister's wife had exclaimed when I admitted this part about our home-alone diet).
Today, for breakfast:
-half fat-free milk and half chocolate soy milk tempered in the microwave to chase down my multi-vitamin
-a slice of multi grain toast with Skippy peanut butter
-a Boca brand meatless chicken patty
-a packet of instant oatmeal, apple and cinnamon (those kid's portions are so small!)
-coffee and creamer to chase down my glucosamine tablet
For snacks at work:
-cut up watermelon and green grapes
-three scrambled egg whites with a chopped up Morningstar veggie patty mixed in, and yogurt
For dinner? Not sure yet. I'm going to my writers' group meeting tonight, so hopefully I'll be able to figure out a semi-healthy alternative among the Baja Fresh's and KFC's around the neighborhood where I work.
Last night, after jogging around our neighborhood, I enjoyed a healthy dinner of stir fried bean sprouts, green beans, and Morningstar meatless beef strips. Domestic Partner makes this quick and simple meal once a week, usually, and I never get tired of it.
I am not all that noble and healthy about diet and exercise, though. Not always. Just to give you an example, after that tasty and guilt-free meal, and after Domestic Partner had already retired to the bedroom to watch repeats of "Fraiser," I stood in front of our open pantry and ate almost half a bag of Hershey's Kisses with almonds, one of my most impossible-to-resist favorites. I think it took me the length of about three songs to eat that much, songs from Prince's "Batman" album which I had playing in the kitchen to listen to while washing dishes and cleaning up.
The bag of Hershey's Kisses was on sale for $1.37 at Fresh & Easy this week, a price that's just as hard to resist as the sweet treat itself.
Monday, July 7, 2008
I cannot whine without feeling guilty, especially when I whine publicly. So, I feel the need to make a retraction, at least to You, my Small and Faithful reading audience.
So, as Emily Littela used to say on SNL, "Never mind."
I don't mind admitting that I'm a pretty simple guy. I am very grateful that my life is mostly uncomplicated and stress-free. It is simple things that I am grateful for on a daily basis.
A good day is when I pull into my neighborhood on my scooter and realize that I have arrived home safely, once again, in one piece.
A good day is when I don't get pulled over by a cop, when I don't get a ticket, and when I don't have an accident or even a minor spill on the road. A good day is when I don't hit or run over a child or a small animal (not that I ever have, knock wood).
A good day is when I still have my wallet and cell phone and keys, when nothing is lost or stolen.
I am grateful for my pets and for Domestic Partner. I am grateful that my health is so good that I take it for granted most of the time. I am grateful to be employed, and I am grateful for my past work experience. I am grateful to have a roof over my head and more than enough to eat (to the point that I worry about my weight).
I am grateful for close friends and family members.
I often think that if I were to die tomorrow, I would be grateful for the life I have lived, so far. But I sure hope I get to live for a few more decades.
Simple? Yes. Boring? Maybe. A life with almost no conflict does not give me much fodder for interesting writing.
Thank goodness for fiction.
I am worried about turning into a cranky, old man. The most trivial and stupid things have been annoying me, lately.
I am worried about becoming more like my father, one of the most negative and critical people I have known in my own life.
Last week, I saw a neighbor leave a shopping cart on our street after taking out the grocery bags to carry for the remaining half block to his own home. I asked him not to leave the cart on our street, but to push it to his own house. He pretended to do so before pushing it across the street to abandon on someone else's driveway.
Why does this bother me so much?
At the gym, people have been standing right in front of weight racks to do their arm curls or shoulder shrugs, often blocking access to the exact pair of barbells that I want to use. Sometimes they even stand right in front of me, blocking my own reflection in the mirror while I am in the middle of my own set. At least, then I can move to one side.
What is wrong with me that I am so easily irritated by behavior such as this? (As Margaret Cho says, "And if gay men had a period . . . what do you mean 'if?'")
As usual, there are several people around me with problems that are much bigger than mine. A blogger friend is surviving on the outskirts of the flooded areas in Iowa. A coworker has a nightmare of an alcoholic baby-daddy that is causing a lot of emotional damage to both herself and her daughter. A good friend has been in the hospital for the past week because she's been having labor contractions twenty-four weeks into her pregnancy. My own Domestic Partner was in pain all holiday weekend from a neglected tooth and his cheek was swollen from the infection.
So, as usual, I have no real reason to complain, and yet I feel very whiny. I don't even know, at times, if I can even attribute my negative moods to anything other than genes, my "emotional legacy," God help me.
Is this all a normal part of feeling a mid-life crisis? Or is this the person I'm going to be for the rest of my life? I certainly hope not. Minor as my problems are, I continue to make attempts at being proactive as an overall preventive measure. I went jogging last night. I went swimming today. I will continue working on my writing goals this week, slow as that has been lately. I know that I need to make more of an effort to spend time with friends in person, rather than continue to indulge in my addiction of online detachment.
I fervently believe that things could always be better and that we should make a constant effort to bring that about. But I also believe that things could always be worse, too, and that we should we should be grateful for how good things are.
I choose not to permanently stagnate, even if I have to take a break now and then.
That would be too much like giving up.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
His name is Alvin. He introduced himself to me this week. He is an elderly gentleman that I see almost every day, at or near 24 Hour Fitness gym on Sunset Boulevard, during my lunch break. He is shorter than my 5'8" height, with wispy, silver hair on top and a trim mustache under his prominent nose. He must be in his sixties, at least, or even in his seventies, maybe. He seems gentle, unassuming, and friendly.
Alvin lives in the Triangle Square apartments in Hollywood, a block behind where I work. Triangle Square is an "affordable community for elder gays and lesbians," as listed on the Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing web site. I have seen Alvin through the window, once or twice, sitting in the lobby. One time, I had walked by Triangle Square and I saw a crowd of senior citizens huddled outside on the street corner across from the main entrance, and across from a parked fire engine. They had evacuated the building for a fire alarm. Several of the tenants had pets out on the sidewalk, including dogs with greying faces to match their owners' greying heads.
If I don't see Alvin at the gym, I'll see him walking the two blocks to or from the gym. He walks slowly, with a slight gimp, pulling a small carry-on suitcase on wheels. Inside the gym, I'll see him at the indoor pool, or in the showers, sitting on the bench of the handicapped stall as he bathes. His skin, saggy and a bit mottled, is not unpleasant to look at. As an elderly man in his swim trunks or less, he looks both vulnerable and dignified.
When I think of gay men who are middle-aged or older, I usually think of those who live Palm Springs. But when I think of the gay community, in general, I almost never consider those in the retirement age category. I should, now that I'm able to look back on more than twenty years of adulthood. The next twenty years will go by that much quicker, from what I hear.
I have to be very anti-social when I go to the gym so that I can get in an actual work out and be back at my desk in time. So, my normal chatty self is turned off during my lunch break when I run across the street to swim or get on the treadmill.
I should make time to chat with Alvin, though. I'll bet he has some interesting stories to tell. He's from the generation that battled heavily for gay rights. The fights had been fought for me already, before I became an adult and came out. There's a lot that I take for granted as a gay man who lives with almost zero discrimination in our current society, at least, here in the greater Los Angeles area.
But even without having gotten to know Alvin, he's given me a lot to think about. His mere presence gives me optimistic visual cues of how I might turn out as a little, old gay man in a couple of decades.
It's a good feeling.