Thursday, December 30, 2010

All Look Same! All Look Same!

I used to get called 'Ken' by my coworkers at California Pizza Kitchen. Ken was the other Japanese American server at the time I worked there. I usually don't mind being mistaken for other Asian American guys, especially when they're as good-looking as Ken.

Plus, I'm used to it.

When people attempt to apologize for calling me by someone else's name I try to minimize their obvious embarrassment, because I am that Japanese, with the explanation that I am used to being called by my brothers' names (which isn't exactly true, probably because I'm the oldest).

At work, it's a compliment to be mistaken for our Assistant Director of Admissions, a handsome Filipino guy with a wholesome preppy wardrobe. Sometimes I'll even dress like him on purpose, with a button-down collar and a sweater vest. It makes a few of my coworkers nervous when I walk by their desks, as if I had caught them during a not-working-as-hard-as-they-could've-been moment.

I love being mistaken for the Director of the Computer Animation program which, unfortunately, doesn't happen very often. He is also Filipino, with well-toned biceps, and he is thinner than I am (he smokes, that cheater). His natty dress shirts, ties, and waistcoats influence my work-wear as well, as does his hair which is always freshly cut and gelled to contemporary perfection.

The biggest benefit of looking like my coworkers is that I can ignore other staff members when I feel like it. People that I see on a daily basis don't always say hi to me when I'm walking through the hallways. I think it's because they're not quite sure whether it's actually me or "the other Asian guy."

(The title of the post is stolen directly from Prince, which was his reaction to the photo above)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Have Yourself a Disco Little Christmas

This past weekend I got to participate in another memorable performing experience with East West Players, "A Little Tokyo Christmas."

The show was made up of several traditional and not-so-traditional holiday numbers ("We Need a Little Christmas," "Disco Christmas" . . . "Santa Lost a Ho"), thanks to the many amazing performers who donated their talent and time.
The cast and crew of eighty Asian Americans were professional directors, actors, singers, and dancers. For some of us, it was a heartwarming homecoming of sorts, a reunion with the Family and Community that is East West Players.

And like any family holiday get-together, it was a wonderful opportunity to see how the individual families had grown. Most of the children of the performers were also on stage, singing in their own numbers and dancing in the finale with the entire cast ("I see that this show ignited that familiar gleam in their eyes - a love for performing on stage" one cast member commented).

I was happy and grateful to be dancing again, even in sweet, simple numbers. Sometimes, all I want out of life is to be one of the dapper chorus boys worshipping a single diva on stage, such as in the "Roxie Hart" number from "Chicago," or Marilyn/Madonna in "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend"/the "Material Girl" video.

Saturday fulfilled that wish for me once more, as I got to be one of the chorus boys in "Santa Baby," which was sung by actress Amy Hill. Amy, who has guest starred in many sitcoms, is my hero because she played the lavender-haired babysitter in "The Cat in the Hat" film, and she is also one of the voices for the "Jackie Chan Adventures" cartoon series.

In addition to performing with old friends from years ago, I got to meet many of the newer and younger actors from EWP shows of recent years, including a cast member from Prince Gomolvilas's stage adaptation of "Mysterious Skin."

Prince had gently chided me after seeing the evening show (sold out!). "Why didn't you tell anybody?"

Ha! And I didn't find out until later that was in the audience (that devious sneak!). I didn't tell many people, mostly because I'm still trying to get past the stage of always demanding attention, which is just part of the slowing down process for this aging chorus boy.

Getting to be part of the show was wonderful, and also a little bittersweet. I am never quite ready to give up my dancin' shoes (or hang up my tutu, as one male friend had put it), so I was ecstatic to be part of three dance numbers. And yet, it was eye opening to be around younger dancers again, and it helped me to move that much closer to accepting the fact I just can't be shakin' it as intensely as I used to . . .

But hey, if Kylie Minogue can still do it in her forties, why can't I? I started shaking my groove thang at junior high school dances in the late seventies. And I'm aiming to keep shaking it - as much as I can - well into my own seventies.

The photo above is a group shot with the dancers from the disco number.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Singing, Writing, and Other Good News

This is not an actual post. This is just me checking in and giving a brief update.

I started taking a singing/performance workshop this fall, more of an audition training class at the Academy for New Musical Theatre, in North Hollywood. It's been a wonderful and safe environment for my first attempts to find more age appropriate music (and roles) to sing. We had a combination potluck and recital last month to showcase our work thus far, at the Chew'n'View Revue.

I enjoyed the first session so much that I signed up for the second ten week session where we are learning to put together our own mini cabaret act.

Both the workshop this fall and going back to voice lessons this year have been encouraging. I'm always itching to be in a show, to be performing live again. There is a third session for the workshop, in the spring, so I may wait a few months before actually auditioning and committing to rehearsals for a full musical.

And I still want to write. I still want to blog regularly, documenting the slices of life that make up the current days of my middle age, and I still want to work on completing the first rough draft of my fledgling young adult novel.

But I may have to put any performing goals and completing-first-novel goals on hold for at least a year: my job, at That Film School in Los Angeles, just announced that staff members can now become enrolled in the online degree programs - at cost! Well, we would have to cover the expense of the required laptop and software, but there will be no charge for tuition. After finally completing my Bachelor degree at age 40 a few years ago, I didn't think I would be rushing to jump right into graduate school. But I also never thought I would actually return to an undergraduate program either, so never say never.

I am mostly interested because one of the online options is a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (via our sister school on the east coast). And 'free' is the right price.

I'm going to do it, commit a year of my life to completing it. So what if I have to sacrifice exercise and even some sleep to get through the program? So what if I have to put other activities and goals - and people - on hold for a while? Indeed, in order to go back to being a student I may have to put my social life on standby for a bit, once again, and perhaps even this blog. As I had asked on facebook last week, who's ready to feel neglected?

I'll see you all online again sometime in 2012!

Just kidding. But I am serious about doing the online degree program.

And I am excited about it!

(the photo above is of me getting into character for the song 'I Am Adolpho' from the musical, "The Drowsy Chaperone")

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What a Way to Go

One of the cruise ship stories I'm always telling is about a passenger who had a stroke and didn't survive. It was in the evening, and we were at sea, hours away from our next port-of-arrival for the following morning.

It happened on Big Band night. In our hybrid jobs as dancers and assistant cruise directors, part of our obligatory duties was to dance with the women passengers, just the boys ("drag a bag" was the nickname for that particular duty). The girls had to be there, too, but they weren't required to dance with male passengers unless they wanted to. There were always more women without dance partners than men on board.

Big Band night was usually fun. I enjoyed the 40's boogie-woogie tunes, and I faked my way through swing dancing pretty well. In between songs played by a small combo of musicians, the Cruise Director would ask trivia questions about famous names from that era, usually bandleaders such as Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman.

The older-but-still-youthful passenger who was unknowingly spending the last night of his life answered one of the trivia questions correctly. Dressed in a natty suit and tie, he was perspiring from his own agile dancing, and he was more than happy to accept the chilled bottle of champagne as his prize. We watched as he walked off of the show lounge stage, the spotlight following him to his seat.

He collapsed upon reaching his chair. The ship's doctor was there almost immediately, and the gentleman was carried out of the show lounge on a stretcher, his wife following behind with one of the ship's officers as her escort.

We learned later that same evening that he didn't make it.

We were a little spooked: we knew that ship's morgue was on the deck right above us, above our crew cabins. The body would not be taken off of the ship until we reached port the next morning. Before going to sleep we started talking about ghosts and haunted ships with the Fitness Director and Social Hostess.

Judy, the Children's Hostess, had the best perspective of the situation. "If I were to go, I would want to go like that," she had informed us.
"Sure! He was on a cruise ship vacation, enjoying a night of dancing, and he had just won a bottle of champagne for knowing the right answer. What a great way to spend the last few hours of your life. That's better than just plain dying at home."

It was a little shocking to me, at the time, but I have often thought of Judy's take on that passenger's death.

And she's right. If I am to unexpectedly meet my demise at any moment, then I want to make damn sure that I have taken advantage of every golden opportunity available, on any given day.

I want to make sure that I have danced to favorite music at home, or even in my office. I want to have laughed heartily with friends. I want to have cherished the pets in our home. And I want to have looked at Domestic Partner when he gets out of bed in the morning before I do, and realize how lucky I am to be with him.

I hope I live for a few more decades, but if my life were to end tonight I would be grateful for the many good times and for the memories made.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I Hear You!

"I hear you! I'm so proud of you!"

These were the words of encouragement used for positive reinforcement when the niece of one of my roommates was going through her potty training.

And the words stuck.

One evening, when the family had gone out to dinner, the toddler girl was in the ladies room with her mother. She had her ear to the closed door of one of the stalls.

"I hear you!" she proclaimed to the anonymous occupant. "I'm so proud of you."

Anonymous giggles came from within the closed stall.

(this real life memory is courtesy of my former roommate, Chuckie B.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Let's See That Again!

Sometimes, vomit is funny.

It was another peaceful Sunday evening in Suburban Paradise, tonight. Groceries had been bought, gym workouts were out of the way, and the pets had been fed. Domestic Partner and I were relaxing on the couch with the pugs by our sides and "All That Jazz" on TV.

We were distracted by a hacking sound. We turned to look at Kitty perched up in her carpeted cat tree. We were just in time to see her open her mouth wide, as if to sing a high B natural, and see a plume of puke cascade five feet to the floor (linoleum, thank goodness). It was so poetic, rather like a rust-colored waterfall, that it was almost beautiful.

I laughed until I was practically hacking myself. After we cleaned up the mess Kitty just remained in her top perch, calmly looking at us as if nothing had happened. That made me laugh harder.

One of the best vomit stories is from my first contract on a cruise ship. During our first week, we observed the group of dancers we were replacing as they carried out their various daytime duties, including teaching dance class to the passengers.

Francesca was teaching the fox trot in the Seaward Lounge. It was a rocky day at sea and, being new to ships, most of our little group was feeling queasy, especially Susanna. Sunlight did its best to filter through a grey, overcast sky above the ocean, and through the lounge windows.

As a newbie, I found it interesting that paper bags were placed around the ship's hallways and public areas of the ship - small, white bags, just like the kind you find in the plane seat's elastic pocket in front of you when you're flying.

The passengers were doing a splendid job of keeping their balance on the swaying ship, as they fox-trotted across the lounge floor. The small tables we sat at were each dotted at the center with a crystal clear glass ashtray.

Without any hacking or any sort of notice, one of the dancing passengers turned around and threw up right into the tiny glass ashtray in front of us. She was an elderly lady with grey curly hair, and I was impressed that she got every last drop into the small ashtray. Unfortunately, Susanna was sitting next to me and got the best view out of all of us.

I felt bad for Susanna, and tried to stifle my laughter along with the other dancers.
But I still laugh about it today, years later.

Sometimes, vomit is funny (when it happens to someone else).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Chocolate Diet

"Gimme some chocolate or I. Will. Cut. You." So said Becky-the-Cheerio in last week's Halloween episode of 'glee.'

Hello, my name is Peter Varvel, and I am a chocoholic.

("Hi, Peter.")

I love chocolate. I would marry it if it were legal to do so ("No on Prop Chocol8!"). Chocolate is sometimes more emotionally satisfying than most of my human relationships, maybe even more fulfilling than my emotional bonds with my pugs.

Maybe . . .

I miss working in Japan. I miss my late night ritual of going to any of the local convenience stores for a fix or two of chocolate. Sure, I can buy chocolate in the U.S. every day, even the Japanese brands. But I'm not sweating it off by dancing in a theme park five days a week like I was in the nation of Hello Kitty.

Ahh, those past Glory Days of Indulgence without Consequence!

Domestic Partner shakes his head in both disgust and disbelief when I am not able to hide my ability to consume an entire package of Nabisco's Chocolate Chunk cookies in the course of half a day. He tsk-tsk's when I am not being discrete about finishing almost an entire bag of fun-size Snickers on my own (I am convinced that heroin must be what makes them so 'fun' . . . how else to explain why they're so addicting?).

"It's like a direct hit to the 'pleasure button' in my brain," I attempt to explain to him. "I'm like a captive chimp in a testing lab. I have to keep pushing that button over and over by repeatedly eating chocolate."

Domestic Partner doesn't buy it. He is a salt-a-holic, so I do not expect him to understand.

Chocolate candy bars and cookies with chocolate - those are my weaknesses. Portion control with the chocolate-and-cookie combinations requires god-like powers and I know it is neither possible nor realistic in my fallible human existence.

But I've found a couple of good compromises.

Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats come in a chocolate flavor. I take a Tupperware container of those to work now (portion control), instead of giving in to the overpriced Kit Kats and Twix Cookie Bars from the vending machine (which also counts as portion control but alas, not budget control). And at least I'm getting some whole wheat with this at-my-desk snack. You can even taste/feel the crunch of the infinitesimal chocolate chips that are in the cereal squares.


I need chocolate after dinner. I need sweet. Dark chocolate has been a surprising happy medium and balance, especially the Belgian dark chocolate bar from Fresh & Easy. A moderate portion satisfies my usual craving, but it doesn't activate the addictive urge to continue eating more until none is left.

And right now is that crucial time, once again - that Annual Crucial Period - when balance and moderation are most dire during this solid half-year of perpetual holidays, that Danger Zone of six months, all the way from October's trick-or-treat candy (marked on clearance!!) to April's Easter chocolate (also marked on clearance, and way past Mother's Day!).

God get me through it one more time, please.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Magic Mermaid Man

Neil was a rebound guy for me. Maybe I'll never forget him because I'll always feel guilty about him.

I was nursing a recent heartache when I met Neil. I had been beating myself up, emotionally, feeling rejected by Mister Extremely Good Looking and Perfect - a handsome, muscular, and very straight-appearing blue collar guy. He was so butch he even had an entire collection of John Wayne VHS movies.

Neil was also handsome, with blond hair and blue eyes. But blue collar he was not. He owned a floral shop and he was one of the designers for a fundraiser known as the Headdress Ball in Anaheim (picture society women in glittery evening gowns and displaying huge fountains of flowers from their heads, like Vegas showgirls for the Rose Parade).

My dance teacher, as choreographer for the fundraiser, had recruited me to dance around one of the headdress wearing participants. I was a shirtless faun, complete with pan flute and horns. The flute and horns were Neil's, as were the fur pants and tail, an old Halloween costume of his. He also offered to let me wear the three inch black stiletto heels that had been part of his costume but they were the wrong size for me (luckily . . . I wasn't that good of a dancer).

Neil was pretty obvious in his pursuit of me. I wasn't interested but I enjoyed the attention. He took me to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. I don't remember much about our date but I must have been my usual self, dominating conversation. Part of why I feel guilty, now, is that I must have talked on and on about myself, including the recent rejection I had been feeling from Mister Extremely Good Looking and Perfect.

And Neil listened.

I can't remember if I remembered to ask Neil questions about himself, even if only as a return of courtesy. Neil must have had the gift of knowing the right questions to ask, knowing how to get someone to open up.

I told him about one of my favorite library books in elementary school, The City Under the Back Steps, a story about two children who shrink and live in an ant colony.

I told Neil about a beautiful and expensive handmade mermaid doll I had seen in a Laguna Beach boutique, in the mid-80's, and how I had always wanted to have one like it.

A few days later Neil gave me a used hardback copy of The City Under the Back Steps. This was in 1994, before the Internet became available in most people's homes, and I was impressed that he was able to find a copy available for sale. The book came in wrapping paper that had a red and white checkered table cloth print, like the ones used in storybook picnics. The picnic blanket wrapping paper even had a few black ants marching across it.

And a few days after that, a large pink gift bag was waiting for me when I went to dance class at my teacher's studio. Inside was a lovely handmade mermaid, with a shimmering, green tail, and pale curly hair the color of corn silk. The mermaid's tail had a few glass beads attached, like glistening dew drops. In her soft cloth hands, the mermaid was holding a pearl.

I still feel guilty about Neil today because he had made such heartfelt effort. I've thought several times about how he truly listened to me. It showed in his gifts.

I couldn't keep the mermaid doll. It didn't feel right. But I couldn't just throw it away, either. It was a labor of love on Neil's part, and I couldn't be cavalier about disposing the beautiful doll.

I gave it to BFF Kathy to hold onto. This made sense because she is the mermaid in my life. After seeing the movie "Splash" in the theater, I felt that I just had to meet a mermaid (it took me a few years to realize that I already had met one, and that it had been Kathy all along - as real as a mermaid can be on dry land).

Neil was not the man I had wanted to meet, but I will never forget him. He included a short, sweet note along with the mermaid doll. He wrote:

Dear Peter, I'm sorry you had to miss the John Wayne film festival.

That still makes me smile today.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fantastic First Musical

The first musical I had ever been in was during my junior year in high school. I was not quite 17 when I was cast as Matt in The Fantasticks. Matt was the young boy in the classic story formula of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wishes-he-could-kiss-other-boys.

Okay, maybe not exactly classic-classic, but I was already well aware of my secret feelings, even before high school. By the spring of eleventh grade I was more than ready to take the first of many steps into such musical theater traditions as being openly gay with other drama department students. Norco High was in a small town outside of Riverside, though, and it was still the early 80's. It would be a couple of years before I actually came out to anyone.

At almost-17, I was eager to hide in the make believe world of singing-and-dancing-shows such as The Fantasticks, the off-Broadway hit that ran for more than four decades before finally closing, just a few short years ago. One of the reasons I loved musicals when I was a teenager was that it seemed like you could simply dance and sing your way through any problems. If you didn't solve your problems, exactly, at least you were actively coping with them via fun choreography and rhyming lyrics.

Such a seemingly simple little show and story, this musical. The Fantasticks is traditionally performed on a bare bones stage, usually in a small theater space featuring a cast of eight. When the girl meets the boy, the two think, gleefully, that they are doing so against their parents' wishes. Their respective fathers have built a wall between their homes in a vain attempt to keep the young lovebirds apart. The girl and boy, Luisa and Matt, are not aware that they are falling for the ploys of reverse psychology, that their fathers are deliberately planning and plotting to have the two fall in love.

There is also the narrator character, El Gallo, who, the audience soon realizes, is kind of a puppet master of the little Shakespearean-esque drama.

The music and lyrics are lovely and quaint, at times exciting, and often touching. And timeless, too. It is a good introductory musical, both for audience members and for performers. It is a good way to begin learning the meaning of the word allegory.

I had always hoped to be able to play Matt again some day, in another production of The Fantasticks after leaving high school. Matt and Luisa are good roles for young actors who can play youthful people trying to play at being grownup.

More than a quarter century has passed, though, since I was almost-17. Maybe I'll be able to audition for the role of the narrator over the next decade. I could even audition to be one of the fathers, or for the part of the Mute, the cast member who holds the stick between the two households, the stick that symbolizes the wall.

The Fantasticks is also one of those shows that you understand more as you become older and live through your own life experiences. "The wall" is open to interpretation, and it can symbolize any obstacle that causes you to work and fight for what you truly want. Without "the wall" would we truly make any effort at accomplishing what we want to in life? To me, the wall symbolizes any obstacle that is useful for reminding you not to take what you have for granted.

"The wall" could be, for me and BFF Kathy, the fact that I'm gay. If I wasn't, I'm certain I would have asked her to marry me. Maybe the marriage would have been difficult. Maybe we would have had kids too soon, before finishing college. Maybe our marriage wouldn't have lasted.

With this conveniently built-in wall, we have enjoyed a fun and romantic friendship, ever since that same school year in high school when I did my first stage musical. As friends, we have both helped and held each other whenever one of us had our heart broken. Often, we have held each other even when we were breaking each other's hearts.

In perhaps the most well known song from the show, "Try to Remember," El Gallo sings:

Deep in December in nice to remember
Without a hurt a heart is hollow

One of the main themes that can be interpreted from The Fantasticks is how there can be no growth, no true growth, without a little damage, first, without pain.

At my age, I still have trouble wrapping my mind around concept, even though I have lived through my own version of it, more than once. I think about some of the emotional pain I have survived, and how I eventually grew from it, once I got to the other side of the situation. And yet, if I had been given the option, I don't know that I would have deliberately chosen to have gone through it.

And it's good thing, I think, that it is not an option. Maybe there's a reason we're not given a choice for certain situations. Maybe that right choices are made for us, unhappy as they make us.

And maybe, perhaps, my understanding - and my acceptance - of my own difficult times in the past, will continue to increase as I get older.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Do About It

"Enough is enough."

That was one of my friend's comments on facebook this past week, in response to the recent bout of teen suicides being reported in the media. These specific suicides were the result of teens being bullied because of gay, queer, or transgendered identity, whether actual or perceived.

It always breaks my heart to surmise that each reported incident we hear about represents dozens, maybe even hundreds of unknown and unacknowledged similar incidents across the nation and in the world, for any issue of concern.

"This is terrible."

"We must do something about it!"

These are the heartfelt if typical responses people will usually give before doing . . . nothing about it. But what can we do about it? There must be more specific action that can be taken beyond posting a link to the Trevor Project on your blog or facebook status update.

More specifically, what can I do about it?

Fortunately, I am constantly surrounded by Role Model friends. I need only to look beyond my fingertips on the keyboard to learn from the examples around me.

Noel Alumit wrote a loving, eloquent letter to his 17-year-old self for He assures his Past Self from a quarter-of-a-century ago that he will not forever remain the lonely and sad young man he feels he is, but grow into actually celebrating his sexuality with dance - and laughing and loving and singing - and surrounded by friends.

My friend, Michael, is a teacher at a middle school. He has had a facebook photo of himself and his partner passed around electronically by his students. In the photo, Michael and his partner are kissing. The principal told him that they are trying to confiscate all cell phones.

Michael's response is to ask the principal if he can do an anti-bullying presentation for the students, and to use his own situation as an example of what is happening in every state, every city.

He says these kids are lucky that he's the one they chose to pick on.

Michael does not live in California anymore. I still do, in the greater Los Angeles area. There is so much that I take for granted, being able to be out at work, having so many fabulous, openly-gay friends, and also having significant acceptance from Christian friends who are willing to agree to disagree and still remain friends.

I live a happy life practically free of discrimination, well, at least free of the outwardly blatant kind. I always feel that the battles have already been fought for me, that I live a comfortable and safe life because of those who came before me and fought for Gay Rights in the 80's and before.

I don't always have to be too flamboyant or too outrageously gay - only when it's fun for me to be so. I am able to blend in when it is convenient to go unnoticed. I don't have to put myself at risk when I don't want to.

But obviously there is still work to be done if young people are still killing themselves in 2010 because they are being picked on and bullied for being gay - for being queer or sissy or effeminate, or butch! - and/or for just being different.

The fact that gay youth are still at risk in this day and age feels too much like blood on my hands. My friend is right. Enough is enough, and it's time for me to stop hiding in the safety of my risk-free zone.

I know what it feels like, to be picked on or to be made fun of for being perceived as gay (no matter how involved I was in church and in youth group - and no matter how correct my accusers were about my homosexuality). As a young man I had struggled to find a compromise for my sexuality and my Christian beliefs. At the time it felt like there were no answers to be found, and that the only answer, the only way to deal with this tormenting conflict was to end my life.

I had never even come close being seriously suicidal, but simply entertaining thoughts of taking one's life is disturbing enough.

So. What can I do about it? In an attempt to take small, realistic steps, I will stop censoring my behaviour and speech as much as I used to. I will be more verbal and open about my "actively gay lifestyle" among conservative and Christian friends and stop worrying so much about not wanting to ruffle their feathers.

I don't feel the need to be more flamboyant or outrageous in my speech and behaviour. But what I can do is to flick my "church button" on less frequently. I can be a true-to-life example of a Real Gay Person, even at church, so that anyone who is suffering silently over sexual identity issues, no matter what age, does not have to feel so alone if they cross paths with someone like me or Michael or Noel.

And, yes, I will also click on the link to the Trevor Project and find out how to progress to taking bigger steps, and see what opportunities there are to get involved with locally, to learn what else I can do about it.

The photo above is of my friend, Michael, the middle school teacher, and his partner, Garry.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Leaving the Little Purple Bear

I have had a love/hate relationship with Disney in the past, working for The Mouse off and on. Wanting to become a performer at Disneyland again always felt like wanting to get back together with an ex boyfriend - against my better judgment.

The last time I had tried was almost a decade ago. I had already been through rehearsals for the stage show, "Animazement," which had been performed on stage at the Fantasyland Theatre (formerly known as Videopolis in the 80's). In addition to being cast as a dancing utensil for the "Be Our Guest" number, and as a gazelle in the Lion King section, I was also a dancing starfish in "Under the Sea." I was thrilled to be back at the park as a union dancer.

I had been through my clearance shows but whatever politics that were in place at the time kept me from being scheduled for actual shifts.

A few months later I was told that I would have to audition again.

I wasn't very optimistic. I had a feeling that I was being made to audition just as a formality, so that I could be officially dismissed from the show, once and for all.

I was almost 35, at the time, and trying to accept the fact that I was getting too old to dance at Disneyland anymore. I had enjoyed an Extended Adolescence way beyond my due date. I needed to figure out a way to leave my happy childhood and fantasy life, even if just a little bit.

Paul Zindel wrote about performing a "symbolic act" in his novel, Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball. A main character had trouble accepting the death of his father. I felt I had to do the same, figure out a symbolic act to perform in order to help me accept the death of that part of my childhood.

I had a little purple bear, not much bigger than my thumb. It had been given to me along with a birthday card from Domestic Partner, after I had first met him. I had worn purple clothing for twenty years, so this little purple bear was the perfect symbol for my Inner Child.

I had to leave him behind. That decided it. If I didn't get back in the show I would leave the little purple bear at the dance studio after auditioning. I would symbolically leave that part of my youth behind me. And yet, I still really hoped that I would get back into the show.

I did not get back in. Disney did not recast me in the show.

And I couldn't do it. I tried. I actually placed the little purple bear behind one of the stereo speakers before walking out of the dance studio. But it felt too much like abandoning him. It almost felt like just dumping my pug, Caesar, on the side of the road, and I couldn't do it.

I grabbed my little purple bear and put him into my pocket. I walked quickly out of the studio without looking back.

I could never leave my little purple bear, my baby pug, Caesar - my Inner Child - behind. I love that guy, and I cherish him too much to abandon him completely.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Wacky Witch of West Covina

She is the Wacky Witch. At least, that's what I was calling her: the Wacky Witch of West Covina. She's not really a witch, but it was hard not to pretend that she was, even just a little bit, especially before I found out how friendly she is.

She is a sweet, fragile-looking old lady who lives, seemingly alone with her scraggly dog, in a corner house on the next block. Her home is just run-down and neglected enough to look a little spooky. Usually, the front yard is an overgrown jungle of weeds and dried grass. This past spring, a large bare branch came crashing down during a storm. It stayed in her front yard jungle for weeks, reaching for the sky like some giant skeletal claw in rigor mortis.

Now and then her yard gets cleared up, making it easier to spot the half dozen feral cats that are always around, staring at you from behind the safety of the metal fence. Vertical blinds hang from the front window, permanently closed year round except for the two or three pulled away diagonally (to let in a little light, I suppose), giving the house a gap-toothed jack-o-lantern grin.

The Wacky Witch herself can usually be seen outside early in the morning, when I am walking the dogs. No matter what the weather, she is usually wearing little more than an old coat and a pair of galoshes. It seems slightly obscene to have her pale, bare legs in such plain sight. Her legs are almost unnoticeable, though, compared to the bed-head high rise that would give Don King a run for his trademark image.

I have seen her around the neighborhood, walking home from the local market with a blind person's walking stick in hand. On Sunday mornings she goes across the street to sit at the bus stop in front of Hong Kong Plaza, her walking stick resting by her side like a petite bristle-less broomstick. She holds a numbered flip chart in her lap, displaying the three digits of the specific bus she is waiting for.

I have spoken to her. She is lovely, genteel woman. She has a slight accent, something European and Old World sounding. I haven't had the chance to ask, yet, where she is originally from. She is chatty and friendly. She likes to ask about my black pug, Prudence, and she asks if I have any kitties at home like she does. When speaking to her, face to face, I get the impression that she has some vision left, but just enough to be considered legally blind.

She also wears a fluorescent yellow safety vest when walking around our neighborhood, a day glow garment made brighter with vertical reflective stripes.
I wear a fluorescent yellow safety vest with vertical reflective stripes, when riding my scooter on the freeway.

I feel a sort of shared sisterhood with the Wacky Witch of West Covina, a kind of unspoken bond in our concern for self-preservation when we are out, flying about. In my own warped way I, too, am a wacky witch in West Covina.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I was a working dancer-singer-performer, sometimes, and most of the time I remembered to be grateful for it. It was usually easy to remember because I was also the struggling actor type, at other times, and I worked in restaurants between gigs.


The good thing about waiting tables is that you meet a lot of weird people.

The bad thing about waiting tables is that you meet a lot of weird people.

So, I continue to be grateful now that I have a full time, regular job for the first time in my life, no longer dependent on gigs as a server.

I work in the admissions department for a career college, assisting students with the application and enrollment process.

Today I got a phone call from Chicago, from Megan's mom. I had spoken to Megan on the phone before, more than once. She is a 'high maintenance type,' taking up a lot of time, asking question after question about our school program, and without getting any closer to actually applying to the school.

Her mother had the usual questions about length of the program, student housing, and financial aid. Every time I tried to answer one of her questions though, she would interrupt me.

"She's schizophrenic! She's schizophrenic!" she would whisper into the phone, sotto voce.

At first I wasn't sure if it was the mother whispering frantically to me, or if it was Megan on another line, trying to warn me.

The frenetic whispering continued. "She's schizophrenic! She's schizophrenic!"

Paranoia paralyzed my mind for about two seconds as the prospect of demon possession entered my thoughts.

Rational deduction, however, led me to believe that Megan's mother was just going through the motions of asking me the usual questions in an effort to appease her daughter, to make Megan think that she was taking her desire to attend a school in Los Angeles seriously.

"She schizophrenic! She's schizophrenic!" she continued.

I was so very tempted to ask, "Are you telling me that your daughter, Megan, is schizophrenic? Or is it one of your other personalities telling me that you're schizophrenic?"

And here I thought I had left all of the freaks and weirdos behind when I finally stopped waiting tables for good.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

3 Things I Learned About My Mother

Cousin A's mother and my mother are sisters. Cousin A and I were able to catch up on some family gossip when Domestic Partner and I took her to brunch for her birthday today. My mother, who is originally from Japan, is now in her mid-sixties.

Here a few things I learned about her.

1.) My mother had attended a prestigious university in the Tokyo area before meeting my father. She did not graduate. Instead, she married my father and moved to America with him. My Ojii-chan, my mother's father, supported her decision to quit college and get married. Cousin A has worked in Tokyo. She told me that the same university still has a well-known and respected reputation.

2.) If it had been up to my mother, she might have chosen to have less than four children. It was my father who had wanted a large family, after having read "Cheaper by the Dozen." I remember feeling, at age 13, slightly offended when I had learned that my mother had had her tubes tied after my youngest brother was born.

3.) In the early 1960's, there was the possibility that my mother might never meet anyone and get married, according to Cousin A's mother, who had expressed that opinion out loud. I don't know whether she truly thought that or if she was just saying that to her older sister in jest.

But it makes me wonder: did my mother accept my father's marriage proposal because she had feared that was the one and only offer she would ever receive?

Was it both the post-war era and Japanese culture that reinforced my grandfather's support of my mother dropping out of school to get married?

My parents were married for thirty years before my father asked my mother for a divorce.

How much did my mother sacrifice to marry my father? What else did she give up? What if she had contributed less to her roles as a wife and as a mother in order to realize more of her own potential? What if she had been allowed to shape more of her individual identity personally, academically, and career-wise?

Did my mother end up feeling she was held back by marrying my father?

I wonder if I had missed the chance to view my mother even more as a positive role model while I was growing up?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Show Biz Life

Hello, my name is Peter. I am 44-years-old, and I still want to sing and dance.

I am attending a performance/audition workshop this fall, at the ANMT, the Academy for New Musical Theater in North Hollywood. Last night was our first meeting.

It was pretty humbling. The other people in our small group of eight are talented singers and seasoned performers. I felt like such a nobody among them, such a poser, as we used to say in high school.

The bulk of my performing background has involved a lot of very cheesy work in theme parks and on cruise ships. And I wouldn't trade the part of my life for anything. But the list of actual theater credits on my resume is minimal. Who the hell am I to think that I could fit in with authentic thespian types?

I had to make some effort to remind myself that feeling this way is the exact reason for taking a workshop like this in the first place. We had to audition to get into the workshop, so I am also focusing on how fortunate I am to be part of this group.

We took turns singing on stage. Part of the exercise was to brainstorm and suggest other songs and specific roles that would be appropriate for each performer. After I had finished singing Sondheim's "What Can You Lose" (from Madonna's Dick Tracy album, "I'm Breathless"), one of the first roles suggested for me was the Engineer from "Miss Saigon."

I was pleased and flattered. I may never have the chance to even audition for that specific dream role but it felt good to have it suggested and confirmed. I am at an "awkward age" in that I need to work on more age-appropriate songs to audition with, and pinpoint more age-appropriate roles to audition for.

I was also advised to research B.D. Wong's career, and look to musical stage roles he had performed. I never mind playing the Asian card if it will get me a show or a gig. And yay, Linus from "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown!"

Years ago, as I reached my 30's, I started worrying that each show I was in was going to be my last. Maybe it was just paranoia, at first, but the feeling became so frequent that I stopped noticing it, eventually.

Nowadays, I have faith that I will get to perform again, someday, when the right opportunity presents itself. I just have to be patient.

Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Jerk Reaction

BFF Kathy tells good stories. This one time, she and her Then Boyfriend/Now Husband took a weekend desert trip during college. They were with their chemistry professor and a small group of classmates. Everyone slept in the same cabin, in individual sleeping bags.

"Wakey-wakey," the professor instructed when the alarm clock rang. "Hands off snakey-snakey."

Kathy heard her boyfriend and another student swiftly slide their arms up inside of their sleeping bags. In stereo.

She said that their faces got really red.

I don't know. If I had been on that weekend trip, I'd like to think that I would have had the sense not to move a muscle in my own sleeping bag.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Man in the Backseat

BFF Kathy told me about the Man in the Backseat when were in high school. She has been terrified of him for about thirty years, now. I think she first learned about him in a horror/suspense movie, one of those cheesy but fun-to-watch B-movies, probably.

I never saw the film, but from what Kathy said I think the plot had something to do with an unsuspecting woman pulling into a gas station. She was afraid to get out of her car, thanks to the strange man trying frantically to get her attention. She thought that the strange man might be the escaped lunatic she had heard about on her car radio.

It turned out the strange man was trying to get her away from the escaped lunatic that had been in her car's backseat the whole time.

Fictional or not, Kathy always checked for the Man in the Backseat before she unlocked the door to her Ford Pinto, and while getting into the front seat, and then again before taking off.

She wasn't going to take any chances.

Kathy also taught me something else: where she had hidden the spare key to her car. This was in the olden days before we all had car alarms and remotes attached to our key chains.

One night, when I knew she was about to finish a dinner shift at Jack in the Box, I let myself into her Ford Pinto and hid - you guessed it - in the backseat. I made sure to wear all black. Even so, I was sure that I would be discovered right away since she always checked. Always.

Kathy must have had a busy and distracting shift that night.

I kept my head down as I heard her regular key open the door on the driver's side. I made the gargantuan effort not to giggle, thinking she would realize at any second that her worst fears had come true.

I continued to stifle my laughter as I listened to the car's ignition come alive and when I heard the slight crunch of parking lot gravel under the Ford Pinto's tires. Kathy lived less than a mile away and I felt the car take the familiar route to her house, first on a short stretch of River Road, and then a right turn into her neighborhood.

I sat up and looked around at the quiet and empty street, ghost-lit by the street lamps in that peaceful and eerie way. I kept my voice very low.

"Do you ever - ?"

I never got to finish my sentence. The Ford Pinto came to a screeching halt immediately. It felt like Kathy had swerved the car 180 degrees, practically, almost hitting one of the wooden fence posts on the dirt horse trail that served as a sidewalk. Kathy was pounding my chest with her fists and screaming at the same time. Actually, it sounded like she was crying and laughing at the same time, and at a very high volume.

"I'm going to kill you! Do you want me to kill you? Do you want to die? We could've died! I AM GOING TO KILL YOU!"

When we had both calmed down, I realized that her car was stopped at a slight angle, not even halfway over the dirt horse trail. Her emergency stop did not look as extreme as it had felt. Still, we were lucky that there had been no other cars around that night, or pedestrians - or horses!

Kathy loves/hates to be scared. She looks back on that night fondly, sort of. "Yeah, remember?" she'll ask me, as if I hadn't been there. "That was a great night!"

Friday, September 3, 2010

The #1 Rule

I learned The Most Important Rule early in life, thanks to BFF Kathy.
Here it is:

If there are two people, and one of you is the man, it's your fault.

It doesn't matter what the situation was, what it currently is, or what it's going to be - if you're the guy then it's still your fault, and it always will be.

It's a good thing Kathy taught this rule to me before I had moved out of my parents' house and had young women for roommates. At certain times of the month, some of these young women would be on the ground, balled up in fetal position, and clutching themselves in sheer agony from horrendous cramps.

I would panic. "What? What can I do? Do you need aspirin? Should I get you some water?"

"No!" they would scream, spewing venom. "Go away! It's your fault - you're a boy!"

I can only begin to imagine how this rule applies when you are a father-to-be in the delivery room, your wife/baby-mama all demon possessed, however temporarily.

Whether you are married or not, just abbreviate this rule down to the following two syllables, "Yes, dear," and you will save yourself literally hours of useless irrationality over a life time.

An example:
When BFF Kathy and I would go to a party together she would decline the offer of a drink from the hostess. "I'll just have a sip of yours," she would tell me, as if this was supposed to reassure me, somehow. I knew better. "Just bring us two of the same, please," I would ask. But Kathy would insist that one was all that was needed for the two of us - and then proceed to down more than half of the Trader Joe's organic blueberry cocktail juice. And she would feel just as dissatisfied (if not moreso) as I did with my glass-is-less-than-half-full portion.

But that was my fault. Just like when we were in high school and she drove all of us band geeks to the early morning jazz festival competition, cramming six or more of us into her mustard yellow Ford Pinto, and we ended up being late. That was my fault too.

Good thing we won first place that year or Kathy and I would still believe in bad omens to this day, which would also be my fault.

Good thing, also, that I'm gay. Whew!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

When Negative is Positive

I had first gotten tested for HIV about fifteen years ago, back in the old days before oral swabs, when it was still necessary to extract blood. I had started being sexually active ten years before that first test, so I was way overdue. It was 1995 - what had taken me so long?

Fear. Denial. False hope. That's what kept me from getting tested, at first. Or are those last two the same thing? Fear that the test results would confirm a positive HIV status, yes, but also fear of needles. I was 29 by the time I first got tested, but I had still been rationalizing that my fear of needles was reason enough to keep putting it off.

And denial/false hope. I felt healthy and I looked alright, so I must be okay, I further rationalized. Still, I might also be a walking time bomb, I thought.

I am lucky because I had supportive friends, friends who had already been tested. Jilly, my dear friend and dance partner, lived in daily fear after a one night stand until she finally got tested and was confirmed HIV negative. After that she kept encouraging me to get tested, too, "Just to put your mind at ease."

"But what if I test positive?" I had asked her. "Knowing that I am HIV positive will not put my mind at ease." So I continued to put it off, for another three years.

Best Bud Bubba left a note under my windshield wiper when we were both visiting our parents for Easter in '89, a note saying, "I have something to tell you."
BBB had tested positive for HIV. He bought a wok. He started eating tofu and fresh vegetables for the first time in his adult life. He encouraged me to take the first step toward a healthier lifestyle by getting tested, too.

BBB and I had both been in the BDB, the Blue Diamond Brigade, our high school marching band, along with BFF Kathy. Kathy is heterosexual. Best Bud Bubba and I are not. After high school, and after college graduation (for her) Kathy had also been tested for HIV, at the local Planned Parenthood. It was free to get tested there, and donations of any amount were welcome. Kathy added her own gentle encouragement, nudging me to get tested for the first time.

I gave a $40.00 donation, more out of guilt than for reasons of being able to afford it. I think I felt guilty for taking advantage of free services. I went alone to Planned Parenthood when I first got tested.

The results were not to be given over the phone or by mail. A second appointment was scheduled for me to learn about the results in person. I am lucky - did I mention that? - because Kathy and Best Bud Bubba went with me when it was time to learn the results.

They sat in the waiting room while I went into the doctor's office, prepared to receive my death sentence "It's not a death sentence! BBB is just fine and has been living a healthy life for several years, now" Kathy had said. I think she was the one who said that. Maybe it wasn't her. Maybe it was one of the voices screaming inside my head.

I had not always been responsible during that first decade of sporadic sexual activity, a decade interspersed with short Christian-inspired bouts of attempted celibacy. Surely being identified as HIV positive was my due and deserved punishment.

"Okay," the young woman in the medical assistant smock started as she opened my thin and unremarkable looking file. She paused briefly. "Your test came back negative."
I looked at her and waited for her to go on. "Do you have any questions?" she asked.

"No," I replied. "I'm kind of surprised by the results, and I had lots of questions for if I had tested positive."

That was it. Short and sweet. I had been pardoned, at least for now, I had thought.

I walked back to the waiting room where Kathy and Best Bud Bubba received me with hugs and open smiles.

What I remember from walking out of Planned Parenthood that day are the smiles from the front desk staff, smiles for the obvious friendship and support I had in these two people walking out of the waiting room with me.

I already mentioned that I am lucky, right? It bears repeating, especially to myself.

Thanks, BFF Kathy and Best Bud Bubba. Blue Diamond Brigade band geeks 4-EVA!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Remembering Auntie M

Tomorrow I am attending a memorial service/celebration for my late Auntie M.
Cousin A, her daughter, told me it has been therapeutic for her to arrange this, finally, since she had been putting it off for a few years - this third and final part of her mother's funeral after the original service and cremation nine years ago.

Auntie M is originally from Japan, as is her sister - my mother. I thought it was a loving and lovely idea, Cousin A wanting to scatter a portion of her late mother's ashes from the shores of Japan, as well as from the California coast. It seems such fitting symbolism to lay her mother to rest at either end of the vastness that bridges our dual heritage.

It must have been overwhelming for Cousin A to go through the funeral service twice, in two different countries. I can't blame her for wanting to take a break, even for more than a few years. She is an only child. She lived with Auntie M after her parents had divorced. To Cousin A, her mother alone was her family.

I feel lucky because I have so many good memories of Auntie M from before Cousin A was born, and also from after.

I was three when I had first lived in Japan with my family, in my mother's and Auntie M's childhood home. We stayed in my Ojii-san's (grandfather's) house near Tokyo, with Auntie M and her two cats, Pipi and Gohn-chan. I remember the two tiny goldfish that had been won at a summer street festival. I remember thinking they were exclusively mine. Auntie M had put them in a shallow but wide dish for them to swim around in. The fish were easy pickings for Pipi and Gohn-chan.

The second time our family lived in Japan, I was 8-years-old. Auntie M took me and my siblings to the circus in Tokyo. I remember that day because my aunt and I discovered then that we had a love of garlic-flavored potato chips in common.

There are photos of Auntie M and Cousin A's father from the day they took us kids to the Tokyo Zoo. And I was a huge Snoopy fan as a kid, so I will never forget the time that Auntie M took us all to see "Snoopy Come Home" at the movie theater. As an American kid who was sometimes homesick, it was a special treat to watch a movie in English.

Auntie M had a very memorable laugh. Truth be told, hers sounded a lot like the laughter of Arnold Horseshack from "Welcome Back Kotter," a kind of repeated honking sound that was half grunt and half gasp. This was way before the first season of that television show. Maybe the actor, Ron Palillo, stole it from Auntie M.

"Why don't you have any babies, yet?" I once asked her (this was before Cousin A was born).
"Becaus-zu," she answered in her heavily accented English, "I hav-oo you and-o you and-o you and-o you."
She said this while pointing to each of us in turn, me and my three siblings.

My favorite memory of Auntie M is how she would lengthen my name by three extra syllables whenever she was exasperated with me. It wasn't deliberate. She would just accidentally begin saying my siblings' names first, starting with the youngest:
"Teh -Ah -Dah - PEE-TAH!"

My middle name is Tadashi, after my Ojii-san, so it is fitting that Auntie M would inadvertently lengthen my name to a form of "Tad Peter."

Thanks, Auntie M, for the great memories, and for spoiling us kids, before and after Cousin A was born.

Monday, August 23, 2010

You Would So

Before I got my cute lil' smartcar two years ago, I was mostly getting around the freeways of Los Angeles on my Suzuki Burgman scooter. Oh, I had a car back then, too. It was a used '94 Saturn sports coupe. I hastened its demise, though, in less than a decade by tripling the mileage that it had already accumulated.

My cousin, Kousin K, said the funniest thing to me. "It's a good thing you're with Domestic Partner," she had told me. "If you were dating right now you would so need a new car."

"Hey," I protested. "The scooter is the new car."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Totally Teetotaler

I don't drink. I have been of legal drinking age for more than twenty-three years now, and I have never been drunk. I don't feel as if I've missed out on anything.

Maybe it had something to do with being a band geek in high school. Or maybe I was just that much of a goody-goody while growing up. I never had to deal with that kind of peer pressure (or in this case, beer pressure). But I have never liked the taste of any alcoholic beverage, not even wine coolers or champagne.

"You've never been drunk?!" Steve was incredulous. He was the DJ on the first cruise ship I had worked on. "We've got to find something you enjoy drinking, and get you drunk for the first time."

It's almost a shame that I didn't drink. As crew members, we were given an alcohol account to get drinks for free on the ship. The purpose of the account was to get us to socialize more with the passengers, to offer them a drink on the house, in any of the ship's bars and dining areas.

The account had a set limit, though, and was renewed every month. My coworkers came running to me regularly. "Can I put my drinks on your account? I've maxed out mine." They knew that I was barely using up my minimum, even when getting drinks for passengers, with the juice or soft drink beverages I was ordering for myself.

Back home, on land, my roommates loved me. "Let's go out!" they would suggest, knowing I would be more than willing to drive. Even though I didn't drink, I loved to go out dancing, any night of the week. "Okay!" I agreed. "You guys drink and I'll make sure to get us all safely back home!"

"You don't drink?" the Japanese would ask me when I worked in Kyushu. "And you don't smoke? You're not Japanese." No, I am not. Well, I am only half, on my mother's side, but I knew what they meant. I am American through and through when it comes to the cultural norms of social drinking in Japan.

In a small attempt to assimilate, I would have one glass of shou chu (or chu hai ) whenever I went out to dinner with friends in Japan. It is a very mild, clear alcohol, usually mixed with a fruit-flavored (artificially flavored) concentrate. My favorite flavor with shou chu was "Calpico," a high fructose soft drink that is kind of milky and lightly citrusy at the same time, kind of yogurty, really. I learned to love it when I spent part of my childhood in Japan.

I could make a Calpico shou chu last throughout an entire meal. On some nights, during special occasions, I would get really wild and order a second drink - a Kahlúa and milk, which tastes like flan pudding to me. Yum!

Drinking wine is supposed to be healthy for you, even having a glass a day. But I still don't drink. I have never been drunk, not even once. So, tell me: what's the fuss all about? What am I missing?

Sunday, August 15, 2010


I was Purple Peter for twenty years. From 1981 to 2001 I wore something purple every day. On most days the display of my favorite hue was blatant and obvious, such as when wearing my bright purple Levi's 501's, thanks to Rit dye. But on some days it would just be purple socks or a purple watch. Or purple underwear.

"Where's your purple?" people would ask me on days that my trademark was more subtle.

"Why not just get a tattoo in purple and be done with it?" someone else had asked. That would have ruined the fun, I thought. That would have made the game of perpetually being the guy-who-wore-purple rather moot.

After twenty years I was done.

That was the same year I had my hair bleached platinum blond and started wearing a lot of reds. And yellows, and greens, and shades of royal blue.

My hair is back to its natural color (my sister, to my amusement, was suspicious that I am now using dark hair dye). Now, I implement many bright (and not-so-bright) colors in my daily life:

I wear red to work when I am stressed out, frustrated, and angry.

I ride an orange scooter to work and back.

I drive a yellow smart car on the weekends.

I look for bright green shirts to go with my half green/half blue Adidas high tops.

I get compliments when I wear my royal blue dress shirt to work.

I wear purple when I get together with old friends and/or attend reunions, just for old time's sake.

I used to avoid brown. Now I embrace rich, chocolaty shades in my wardrobe.

I wear a black dress shirt to work when I am feeling apathetic.

I love to wear charcoal grey when I am feeling fashionable and confident.

I am not afraid to wear pale pink or even bright pink shirts.

I love to wear white, even though it's so hard to keep clean.

And when I was in high school, my entire bedroom was decorated in rainbows.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hey, Do You Get Yours?

One of the more memorable passengers from my cruise ship days was a young woman named Trish. She was in her mid-to-late twenties and she had slight mental retardation. She was like an outgoing grammar school girl, and she was one of the more ardent fans of the stage revues. She soon became a familiar face, sitting near the front row of the show lounge, right on the carpet, no matter what the scheduled dress code was for the evening.

On most nights, before we had reached the end of our live performance, Trish was usually stretched out on the show lounge carpet, snoring away,

Trish seemed excited to recognize us during the day time, walking throughout the ship's corridors or up on the outer decks. "Hey! Hey, you guys!" she would eagerly call. "Hey, you guys! What are you doing?"

During Trish's cruise, I got dressed in my tuxedo to greet the passengers at the Captain's Cocktail hour, as we did every week on the first formal night. I got on one of the ship's elevators with a couple of the other dancers, Graham in his tux, too, and Jo in one of her cocktail dresses. An elegant and elderly couple were already in the elevator, dressed to the nines.

The three of us greeted them politely, asking the usual questions: Where are you from? Are you enjoying the cruise so far?

The elevator stopped at the next level and Trish stepped in, unaccompanied, wearing a very ruffly, blue party dress.

"Hey! Hey, you guys. What are you doing?" Trish looked pointedly at Jo. "I just got my mennis-stray-shun. Do you get mennis-stray-shun?"

I don't know how we managed to keep from bursting with laughter. I had to look away from Graham and Jo. We didn't want to behave rudely in front of our senior citizen guests, or even in front of Trish.

We waited until after we got out of the elevator and then hooted like loons with the other dancers when we told them what Trish had said in front of a couple of passengers.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pack-rat No More

Domestic Partner loves to watch the television shows about hoarders, people who live in houses crowded with possessions towering to the ceiling. It's humorous to me how fascinated he is by this topic since he is the exact opposite of a hoarder. He doesn't even like leftovers to stay in the refrigerator for more than a day or two.

I am kind of a hoarder. I believe leftovers are still okay to eat a week later, as long as nothing smells bad when you lift the Tupperware lid. I watch the hoarding shows, sometimes, but not as intently as DP does.

Hello, my name is Peter and I am a former pack-rat.

I used to save everything while I was growing up. I have several Memory Boxes that I started while still in high school. I saved everything because I wanted to remember everything. For example, I saved the empty plastic bottle that contained the blue dental rinse from my orthodontist. At 13-years-old, I wanted to remember the time and process of getting braces and wearing head gear.

For whatever reason.

So, living with Domestic Partner has been good for me. I have learned to, every so often, get rid of clothing that I never wear (or no longer fits). My dresser drawers no longer contain old socks and underwear as "emergency back-ups." I got rid of my bike shorts from the 80's and 90's, despite the off chance that I might some day need them for dance class.

I am pretty good about cleaning up the family room table that serves as my desk and work space, periodically getting rid of receipts and old bank statements.

Although my pack-rat-itis has diminished, I still have to make an effort to keep it in check. Last month, I finally donated a pair of powder-blue Ugg boots to Goodwill, a pair that I had bought five years ago because they were on clearance. I never wore them, not even once. Every winter, the old classic-tan pair of knock-offs (Emu brand) still feels more comfortable.

Erin was my First Girlfriend in junior high, about the same time we both had braces. We remained close friends after high school. Erin is the kind of Good Friend who will keep you company while you take seven hours to clean up your bedroom. I'll never forget the lesson she taught me years ago, in the difficult decision process of To Hoard or Not to Hoard.

"Just go through your stuff and consider one item at a time," she advised me. "If the item makes you happy, keep it!"

I no longer have the empty plastic bottle of dental rinse.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Butch Queens and Motorcycle Dykes

She looks like a petite K.D. Lang disciple, from the subtle pompadour of her D.A. hairstyle to her sturdy biker boots. Her classic black leather motorcycle jacket tops her practical and faded jeans, in the recognizable, retro look. Two platinum blond streaks arc over her boyish cut, like racing stripes.

She could be a short, cute boy with a skinny build. So, how do I know she's a woman? It's the helmet she clutches, as she wanders among the tall shelves of Borders bookstore: her motorcycle helmet is bright pink, metallic, and glittery.

Still, this is Hollywood, and even a young man would proudly protect his skull with such flamboyant headgear in this town. On the rare occasions when I venture away from my office, I get a front row seat to the way people in Los Angeles create and express their gender.

I'll never forget my Bestest Gurlfren' Eddie commenting (in the 80's) about all the "butch queens who ride bikes," such as the tall, blond dancer at the Orange Coast Repertory Ballet Company. He rode his classic and expensive-looking motorcycle with the same masculine grace and balance that he displayed while rehearsing his leading man roles in the studio.

And there was Evan, one of the parade dancers at Disneyland who always got good parts because he was so tall and talented. He also rode a motorcycle, which seemed to both clash with and complement the effeminate personality we came to know and love backstage.

And then there was me, with my small, used Vespa scooter. Eddie was forever rescuing me when my scooter broke down, coming to save the day with his construction worker father's huge pickup truck ("I feel so butch!" Eddie exclaimed when he got behind the wheel, sitting five feet above the pavement).

As a kid who never felt butch or like a "typical boy" while growing up - and who also felt inferior about it - I thought that riding a Vespa scooter would help me create a more masculine image, or at least be a good start. Maybe that's why Evan and the Orange Coast ballet dancer also rode motorcycles, to overcompensate, even, for their graceful dancing skills.

And more than twenty years later, it seems to be a deliberate and wonderful construction of masculinity for the motorcycle rider with the pink, glittery helmet that I get to see in Hollywood.

Like Disneyland, Hollywood often has its own street parade of costume get-ups and costumed characters. I work on Sunset Boulevard, a few minutes' walk away from the Mann's Chinese movie theater. Sometimes the superheroes and cartoon characters busking in front of the theater take a coffee break in the Borders book store next to my office building.

Did you know that Spiderman is really African American?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Identity on the Catwalk, Part 2

One of my problems with being a performer/actor-type in Los Angeles is that I am easily starstruck. It's difficult for me, sometimes, to let well known actors just be regular people if I get the chance to meet them.

Mr. T was one of the male models in the fashion show fund raiser for Nisei Week. He is a prominent actor and director, and a standout celebrity in the Asian American acting community. A highlight of his impressive career was winning the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short, Visas and Virtues, in which he starred, directed, and co-wrote.

He is an obvious role model for Asian American men, as much for his good looks and physique as for his accomplished career.

I had met Mr. T before, at other fund raisers and theater events, but only briefly. It had been years since I had last seen him, and I doubted that he would remember me. I was happy that we would have the chance to work more directly together, even if for only one afternoon.

Theater friends had told me that Mr. T is "a nice guy" but not very sociable. Even having been forewarned, I was still disappointed when he wasn't very responsive to my attempts at small talk with him. During a lunch break with the other models, Mr. T seemed content to stay out of conversation and let his gaze wander elsewhere.

I was sorry that the chance to be buddy-buddy with Mr. T did not organically occur.

Mr. T reminded me of an alter ego I had invented as a kind of defense mechanism exercise: "Tad Tokunaga." Where in real life I am sometimes too emotional for my own good, the fictional Tad is stoic and aloof. In my mind, Tad is full-blooded Japanese (I am only half) and very Asian looking. He is the silent type, non-responsive in general, and rocker-thin. And he smokes.

Tad Tokunaga is everything I'm not, and it helps, even if only a little bit, to focus on who he is when my feelings get hurt and I want to not care about it.

It was strange to recognize that Mr. T was a good true-to-life example of who I imagine Tad Tokunaga to be. I don't know Mr. T's stage and film roles well, but after last month's fashion show, I'd guess that he saves most of his emotional expression for his acting career, and maybe for those he is closest to.

Maybe he is just a very private person.

Even though I was disappointed not to have the chance to be chummy with him, I still admire him. I still hold Mr. T up as a role model, especially as we both progress through middle age (he is still a sexy and attractive man at the end of five decades). If I am too emotional, I can use the inspiration he provides to balance my own real life persona.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Identity on the Catwalk, Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, I got to participate in a fashion show that served as one of the fundraisers for the annual Nisei Week in Little Tokyo. I was happy to be one of the volunteer models, anticipating the automatic sense of community I feel whenever I attend a Japanese American event.

I knew I would be one of the older volunteer models, wearing the casual and sporty Georg Roth shirts, and serving as a live mannequin for the Asiatic Citron designs. But I was still relieved when I arrived at the Biltmore Hotel and saw that I was not the oldest model.

I am not the tallest or handsomest guy, even as a volunteer in a community event. But I am a bit of an Attention Whore, still, and I know how to ham it up. I know how to fake confidence, if needed.

When the male models lined up backstage to go on for the actual show, any slight nervousness or insecurity faded away as soon as I heard the plucky opening notes to Duffy's "Mercy." It was the perfect struttin' music.

"Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" Duffy's vocals came clear and confident through the speakers as I focused on taking strong, measured steps. This wasn't a paid gig, so what did I have to lose? I put one foot right in front of the other, a la Bob Fosse, all the while adding just the right amount of sassiness to my walk - not too much.

And the women were screaming. They started screaming from the audience as soon as the first male model appeared on the catwalk. Without looking directly into the spotlight, or at anyone in particular I remembered to play to both sides of the house, as well as to the center, just as I had been taught in my early years of dinner theater.

I paused at the end of the runway to pull the corners of my collar up while shrugging my shoulders in a forward roll (hammy). I stole a few more seconds of stage time and lowered my sunglasses just enough to peer above the lenses at the audience before making my sassy way back upstage (hammier).

And it wasn't about me. I was relaxed because it was about the men's shirts as well as the women's fashions. It was more about the contestants for the Miss Nisei Week pageant, who performed their own dance number to Michael Jackson music.

And of course, it was about the Nisei, which literally means "second generation" and refers to the Asian Americans that were born to immigrant parents.

I'm proud to be my own small version of nisei, having been born in California after my father brought his Japanese bride from overseas. It is a privilege to be one of the many faces in this specific and many-faceted community. I feel lucky to be able to actively participate in life this way, even if just for a brief afternoon of fantasy role playing.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New Songs

Last week I went to my first singing audition in over a year. I almost chickened out, too. I had actually cancelled my audition appointment, but then I was cajoled to show up anyway, just for kicks and giggles.

I had nothing to lose, so I went and sang. We even danced a little at the audition, which was for a revue at a dinner theater. The audition went well and I realized that I had panicked for nothing.

I did not get the show. I was a little disappointed but more relieved. The time commitment was pretty grueling, with night time rehearsals going until 11:00 pm. Not bad when you're a struggling actor waiting tables and can sleep in, in the mornings. Not a good choice, though, when you need to stay awake forty hours a week at a day job.

I will wait for the next audition, for the right opportunity.

Last week I had my first private voice lesson in forever. That went well, also. I asked a friend to recommend a teacher and the instructor turned out to be exactly what I was looking for - someone with an extensive background in musical theater and one who is able to guide me to songs that are age-appropriate for me.

My new voice teacher recommended "I Am Adolpho" as a good comedy piece for me. The song is from "A Drowsy Chaperone" (look it up on youtube - it's a hoot!). I found a reasonably priced collection of vocal selections from that musical on ebay.

The new instructor also pointed me toward, a web site where you can pay to download music and print it out, for an average of about $5.00 a song - and all legally, too! I am amazed at the Age of Instant Gratification that we live in (and I am, perhaps, a little too easily impressed).

I made my first music purchases online tonight: George Michael's "Kissing a Fool" (to replace the copy I had bought more than twenty years ago and have since misplaced), and Nick Gilder's "Hot Child in the City" (youtube that one, too, if you don't know it!).

Lately, I have been doing vocal warm ups during my scooter ride into work, working on increasing my range, both with the lower bass notes and the higher falsetto notes. I have noticed an improvement in my breathing capacity, something I have practiced and benefited from in recent jogging and swimming.

I look pretty youthful for my age, but I will never again be cast in a young leading or supporting role. I can never be one of the teenagers in "Grease" or "Hairspray" or "Bye Bye Birdie." I will never be able to play Jack in "Into the Woods," one of my dream roles.

But I may still have time to get cast in a production of "The Full Monty" some day, or maybe land a featured part in "Little Shop of Horrors." I may be too old to ever play Matt in "The Fantasticks" again (my first musical in high school), but I could get cast as one of the fathers or maybe even El Gallo. Even just thinking about the possibilities is enough to perk me up.

I need to get new head shots!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Congratulations - It's a Gay!

"Mom? Dad? There's something I have to tell you. I'm gay."

For the second time this year, a friend told me that their young adult child had just come out to them. I was asked for advice, even. As much as I am willing to share (over share?), I first emphasize that I am not a parent, so I don't know if I can offer proper advice.

That never stops me, though.

If your daughter or son tells you that she/he is gay, here are a few pointers based on when I had come out to my own parents:

1.) Don't try to place any blame, especially on yourself. It is not your fault, nor is it your child's fault. It is a waste of time, mulling over the last eighteen years or more, trying to figure out what you could have done differently. To me, that would be equivalent to trying to determine why your child ended up in a heterosexual marriage and produced biological children.

2.) Don't ask, "How could this happen to me, in my family?" This is not about you - this is about your child. Ironic as it may seem, this is not something to take personally. How could this happen to you? Because it is not a terrible, horrible thing - the earth will continue to rotate. It is a normal situation, more common that you may originally think. Plus, it's damaging to displace any perceived negativity onto your child's self esteem.

3.) Do be willing to listen. Gay or straight, most adult children are squeamish about talking to their parents about sex in general, let alone their sexuality. As I had said to my friend this weekend, try to see your child's coming out as a means of opening the lines of communication. If you can tell your parents you're gay, you should be able to talk about almost anything!

4.) Avoid the despairing and initial gut reaction of, "But you'll never have any children of your own." There are also straight people who are not able to have children of their own. And just as despairing is the fact that there are too many children in this world who will never have any parents of their own. This can be an opportunity, not a limitation.

5.) Do continue to accept your child. If demonstrating acceptance is not part of your normal family routine, then what better time to start practicing?

I also advised my friend to focus on the resources that are available today, both for young adults who are newly out of the closet and for their parents, such as looking online for the nearest PFLAG chapter. I wish I had had such information available - and so privately - in the pre-Internet days when I was struggling internally with my sexuality.

I also asked my friend if it would be appropriate to offer my congratulations. As Ellen DeGeneres memorably asked in her sitcom, "Why can't we say, 'Good for you!' when someone comes out? Why shouldn't our reaction be, 'Good for you - you're gay!'"

Thursday, May 20, 2010

World's Oldest Chorus Boy?

It's hitting me again, that old and familiar urge to perform, the drive to find some musical theater show or project in which I can sing and dance. And no small surprise, either, with the weekly indulgence of "Glee" episodes, and the daily playing of the "Glee" CD's.

But it's not just the young people on TV (I'm old enough to be their father, some of them). I'm also wonderfully influenced by seeing so much live entertainment lately - shows featuring friends my age. I'm both happy for my friends, enjoying their performances, and jealous of them, too, wanting to be up on stage with them in "Miss Saigon" and in "Chicago."

It's hard for me to relegate musical theater to just being a spectator sport.

Last weekend, I went to see a show choir called "Live it Up!" perform in Palm Springs. It was my third time being in their audience. It was also the third chance I had passed up to be part of the performance. The director/choreographer is a friend and former coworker. Since starting this group, he had been asking me to join rehearsals and performances. He is usually short a male performer or two and is often on stage himself.

My director friend had tried to give up performing completely, as well, becoming a bona fide adult and successful realtor. But he could only abstain for so long (he is insanely talented and I was a little disappointed when I heard he had stopped). He is forty, now, and he looked great under the lights (sans makeup, even)!

So, what's stopping me?

It is difficult for Domestic Partner to become the Performer's Widower when I get busy at night with rehearsals and performances. Now and then, I can find the right show that is short term and close to home. It doesn't happen often.

But enough is enough. I told Domestic Partner that I will be looking for a show to get into, especially if it's a paid gig. I argued that the extra money will help me to reach my short term financial goals more efficiently, which would get me closer to reaching our long term financial goals for retirement.

He wasn't happy about it, but he said he wouldn't stop me. It's not as if I'm going out of town again, to sing on a cruise ship or dance in Japan (I keep trying to justify - if only to myself).

I'd like to say that the urge to continue performing means that I am called to sing and dance. But, honestly, I don't think it's that profound. It's just something that I truly enjoy doing, and I miss it. Performing live on stage is definitely among the times when I am happiest.

Maybe this latest desire to dance and sing again is not so much a calling as it is just another midlife crisis, my eighth one, I think, at the rate I've been going.

Did'ja see "Glee" this week? Did'ja catch that old balding guy dancing to "Safety Dance" among all the young performers inside the mall? What little hair he had was gray, and he was fat.

And he could move. That could be me!