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!