Wednesday, December 7, 2011

First World Problems

(click on the image above to enlarge)

Pounding the pavement
Paying my dues
Past my prime

Pounding the pavement, starting over
Paying my dues, work my way from the bottom
Past my prime - what is age appropriate?

Pounding the pavement, auditions!
Paying my dues, willing to be in the ensemble, chorus
Past my prime - am I too old to be doing this?

Pounding the pavement, pounding my ego
Paying my dues, learning - again - to deal with rejection
Past my prime . . . when does this start to be too ridiculous?

Where do I draw the line?
(when do I come to my senses?)

And yet

I still have the passion to perform
Still I have the desire

Next audition

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Cheap Skateboard Betrayal

We were runts. We were the squirts at the bottom of the campus totem pole. As eighth graders, we were the lowest grade at our five year high school, the junior high schools having been shut down in the late 70's, due to budget cuts in the city of La Mirada. At 13-years-old, it would be months, even years before some of us reached our growth spurts. The juniors and seniors at the high school seemed to tower over us.

Some days I rode my skateboard to school, if I wasn't carrying my trumpet case to 'zero period' jazz band. It was a cheap skateboard but it worked. It was salmon pink in color, just reddish enough not to look like a girl's skateboard, so the color never bothered me.

It may have been made of compressed fiber glass, I'm not sure. But it looked like it was made of thick plastic, which looked more like candle wax when it got scuffed. My Aunt Pat had given it to me for our first Christmas back in the U.S., after we had moved back from Japan. I was 10-years-old when I received it. I hadn't seen any skateboards as a kid in Japan, so I was happy to have such a very American toy.

But it wasn't a cool skateboard, not for a junior high school student, and especially not at a high school campus. The cool skateboards were much bigger and more expensive. They looked like mini surfboards, almost, made of flat, sturdy wood and lined with black strips of non-skid material. They were true status symbols.

I didn't care that my skateboard was smaller, something that should have been left behind with the other toys from elementary school days. As a runty eighth grader, I had already found acceptance among the other social misfits in the school's marching band. I didn't have to worry about anyone making fun of me for my cheap skateboard, not around the band room, at least. Hanging outside the band room with the other band geeks, during the mid morning snack break and at lunch, was always a safe haven.

Shawn was one of the other eighth graders in band. He played percussion, mostly bass drum which was funny because he was shorter and punier than me. He practically looked like a sixth grader with the giant coin of a bass drum strapped to him for halftime practices in the mornings.

During snack break one morning, Shawn asked to borrow my skateboard. He rode it up and down, short distances, past the band room and theater department, and back again to the gated entrance by the one of the side streets.

"I'm going to the snack bar to get something to eat," Shawn told me. "I'll be right back."

I panicked a little. "Leave the skateboard here. Don't take it with you!"

Shawn must have thought I was worried about not getting it back. "Don't worry! I'll bring it right back!" He rolled away, past the theater department and toward the main quad area in front of the gym.

I'm not sure why I ended up at the snack bar, too, a few minutes later. I almost never went, mostly because there was never enough extra money for a daily Hostess fruit pie or a bag of potato chips. I must have agreed to walk over with one of the other band geeks.

I saw Shawn waiting in line among a crowd of students, most of them taller than us. And most of them cooler than us, if only for the fact that they weren't in band. Some of them had the cooler, bigger wooden skateboards.

I'll never forget the look of embarrassment and slight fear in Shawn's eyes, behind his glasses. Without a word, he kicked the skateboard to me as I approached the snack bar lines. My face heated up with embarrassment as I picked up the salmon pink skateboard. This was exactly what I had wanted to avoid - having people see my stupid, baby toy among all of the more sophisticated skateboards.

Shawn never said a word about it to me later, back in the band room, or any time after that.

One of the reasons I remember this event is that I wrote about it in my journal. For some reason, I wrote that Shawn had run up to me later to apologize, and to thank me for taking on the embarrassment of the situation.

He never did that. But even in my own private journal I felt the need to tweak as much of a happy ending as possible for that entry. I guess I also felt the need to protect Shawn, even if I was upset with him.

This was more than thirty years ago. I am reconnected with Shawn on facebook, now. I have never brought this memory up to him. I'm sure he doesn't remember it.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Die a Little Each Day

It took some effort for me to plod through all four of the 'Twilight' books, but I ended up being glad that I did. The last one was my favorite. I enjoyed Stephanie Meyer's descriptions of the vampires' diamond-hard bodies, and of the marble stone texture that their skin acquired once they had died to their former mortal selves.

I especially appreciated the special power that the main character, Bella, discovered in her new vampire identity - her unique ability to protect her loved ones within an invisible force field, a protective mantle. I thought the author was smart to give her cast of vampire characters different super hero powers, considering her target audience.

I have been trying to apply the same concepts to my own body, even if just figuratively, to have my own human weakness and vulnerability "die" as much as possible in exchange for a harder, stronger self.

I entertain this theory while jogging flat-footed in the Vibrams Five Finger gloves. I run gingerly on neighborhood sidewalks, trying to gently absorb the shock through my non-supportive shoes, focusing on the beating my calves are taking, and visualizing the transformation of rock hard strength that permeates to the rest of my body.

I try to overlap these fictional concepts with the more realistic idea of our bodies' cells completely regenerating every seven years. While jogging I focus on the idea of old cells dying and being carried away as newer, stronger cells replace and rebuild my organs, my bones, and my skin. Part of my motivation to exercise is to deliberately die to my weaker self.

I also try to apply these concepts to my emotional state. If I've been frustrated by a day at work, or if I am angry about old dysfunctional family issues (again), I use exercise as a time of healing, of "dying to my old self," and building a new self in its place, even if just at the cellular level.

That's such a Protestant Christian ideal, thanks to my upbringing. But as people are always saying, it's more on a spiritual level for me than a religious one.

It's the only way I know how to "let go" for now, to move beyond the past with baby steps at an amateur and elementary level. At this point in my life, I don't know if I will ever be able to let go of my grudges and anger before I die. I believe in forgiveness, but not in forgetting.

I'm better now than I was in decades past. I like myself better, now, and I am more at peace with myself. But I still want to put to death parts of my former self. I want to kill off the weakest and most pathetic parts of who I used to be. The challenge is in killing only the weak and bad aspects while still keeping the best of me alive, including childlike innocence and perhaps even naivete.

The good and bad are too intertwined though. The weakest facets of who I am are too intermingled with the few strong parts of me to be killed off separately, it seems. Fallible and vulnerable I remain, not invincible. Playing with these concepts only reinforces the truth of how very human I am.

For now, I will continue to attempt dying to my former self on a daily basis, even if it is a lifelong process. I will stay inside my plastic bubble and reinforce it from within, one layer at a time, perpetually strengthening my own protective mantle.

My bubble is not a coffin: it is a cocoon.

Friday, October 7, 2011

What I Did For Love

I did not get the Christmas caroling job. I am more disappointed than I want to admit, even to myself. I had really wanted this.

For the last month, a small part of me was still hoping that someone would have to drop out, and that I would be called in as a replacement.

And I've been "hiding from myself" because of my disappointment - part of the reason why I haven't been writing new posts for Plastic Bubble World lately . . .

My life is good. I have no real reason to complain about anything. If this is the worst my life gets, then I should just feel thankful - and I am.

I keep reminding myself to focus on the fact that I had a very good audition, good enough to have been invited to callbacks. Also, it's been over a year since I have been to an actual singing audition. It's foolish of me to think I can just automatically book the first gig I audition for, but that's what I had been counting on.

Next year. I'll try again next year, and I'll be better, more prepared.

I got to sing a couple of weeks ago at the annual Autumn Fest, a fund raiser for the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center in Little Tokyo. There are two reasons I enjoy this one night performance so much: I get to work with a small group of fun and amazingly talented theater friends, and I get to write new lyrics for familiar Broadway songs, lyrics to fit the evening's theme of the live auction.

I added another friend from the past on facebook. Dave was our Director/Choreographer for a production of 'A Chorus Line' that we did about a decade and a half ago. He posted a couple of pictures from the show on facebook. Our small, regional production is one of my most cherished memories of performing, so it's been encouraging to see these photos from the show's program again.

So I didn't get the caroling gig. So what? It just means I have to attend more auditions until I am in right place at the right time, again. I am ready to be in a show again.

I think.

It'll be exhausting when the right show and the right part comes along. The opportunities are out there, even at just community theater level, which would be fulfilling enough thanks to the day job. I can now afford to perform for fun. But I already know that I would be constantly exhausted, being at my desk job all day and at rehearsals all night, with fewer hours of sleep in between.

It'll be worth it - I know this from experience. There are pictures on facebook to prove it. I am ready and anxious to create more great memories.

(The photo above is from the recent Autumn Fest event in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, with a few good - and talented! - friends from East West Players)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fantastick Dreams of a 45-year-old

August, 2011:
I have been attempting a Perfection streak, lately. I know I'll never actually reach a status of perfection, whether actual or only imaginary, but the perfectionist tendencies that a therapist had pointed out in me, back in '88, are coming in handy.

Focused, I am trying to stay focused. Goal: to get hired as Christmas caroler this holiday season, a paid caroler. I miss performing, all of the time. Missing the endorphin high of being on stage got me back to voice lessons last year, and led me to an excellent musical theater workshop.

Thank God.

All of last year's investment has turned into useful, tangible tools for working toward this year's specific goal of caroling.

My scooter has been in the shop for over a month, now. Normally, that would upset me because it means having to sit in Los Angeles traffic in my car. Instead, I'm just grateful that I even have a second vehicle to get to work and back. I'm not upset because my weensy smartcar has become my personal plastic bubble for practicing my vocal exercises.

I do warm-up exercises for singing on the way to work. On the way home, I sing along with a favorite musical, either "Little Shop of Horrors," "The Fantasticks," or "Jesus Christ Superstar." I have been exercising when I get home (after a triple shot of espresso), either going to Pilates class or jogging in my Vibrams five finger running gloves.

I'm up to five miles, now! I can't believe it. It's been hard but I'm doing it! I'm doing it!

I'll eat dinner as late as 9:30 pm on some nights. Domestic Partner can't believe it, but I will practice my audition songs around 10:00 pm or after, if that's as early as I can get to it. I ask him, "When else can I fit it in along with everything else?"

I've been averaging about six hours of sleep a night on this current schedule. Normally, this would start to take its toll in less than a week. Maybe I've been okay because it's still summer. Maybe the longer days help.

Recently, a high school friend posted photos on facebook, pictures from my first musical ever, "The Fantasticks." I love that they are in black and white, emphasizing my own nostalgic era that seems to mirror past decades before the early 80's. I even love that my stage make up is both poorly and overly done, highlighting the naivete and inexperience of my 17-year-old self - perfect for playing the role of Matt. What a gift to see these images again, after twenty-eight years.

Damn. Am I that old? It makes me laugh a little and smile. I don't feel "that old."
The pictures are such a lovely and vivid reminder of my original goals, and of the days when I wanted to be like the dancers and singers on the television series "Fame."

Twenty-eight years . . . And here I am, again, wishing and wanting and working to be a performer. I never stopped. Even if I can't be a perfect performer, working toward that status will make me a better and stronger performer.

The problem with perfection is the inherent improbability of it all. I can't do everything. I keep thinking about how I am not able to fit any writing attempts into my schedule of vocalizing and exercising.

I am okay with that, for now. My practice of perfection also doubles as an effort to build up my stamina. If I can stay consistent and strong with singing practice and jogging and other areas of my life, I know I can have the stamina to make regular attempts with my writing as well, hopefully in the near future.

I am practicing Believing in Myself.

Stay tuned for Fall - and Winter! - 2011/2012.

(The photo above is from our high school musical, "The Fantasticks," in 1983. Sharon, my show choir classmate, played Luisa to my Matt.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why I Love 'The Point of No Return'

"I'll take it," Maggie says of the rundown apartment, barely more than a hovel, right on Santa Monica beach. She confirms this as soon as she sees the view from the second story window, of sea and sand and seagulls afloat in the air. The gentle introductory vocals of "Feeling Good" is cued.

Maggie had been trapped, first in the hell of drug addiction, and then in a secret government training facility. Her assassin training completed, she is finally free. Maggie, as played by Bridget Fonda, is quietly contemplative in the window seat of her newly rented digs while Nina Simone sings of freedom, one of my favorite scenes from 'The Point of No Return,' one of many.

I never saw the original French film that it was based on: 'La Femme Nikita.' I'm almost glad that I didn't as I had heard from a few people that it was better. I didn't want to stop loving the American version. Why did I become so attached to this movie about a female assassin?

The songs of Nina Simone definitely played a key factor. It was my first exposure to her music. I liked that Maggie describes it as "so savage, and so wild." I quickly learned to love the raw, almost masculine/gender-neutral quality of Miss Simone's singing voice, especially in the bittersweet melodies of "Wild is the Wind," and "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair."

I also loved that the character of Maggie is a survivor. Even in seemingly hopeless situations, she continues to fight and search for an escape. Early in the movie, handcuffed and sentenced to death in court (a faux sentence) she struggles and attempts to find a way out. Later, while working as an assassin, her instinct for survival helps her to find a way out of more than one lethal situation.

Charm school was also part of Maggie's training, as provided by Anne Bancroft's character. Initially an unkempt and unruly drug addict, Fonda's character is given a makeover, not only in appearance but also in ladylike behavior.

"Always smile when you enter a room, dear." Anne Bancroft advises. "It relaxes others - and, it lifts the features of the face."

With a better hairdo and tasteful, tailored clothes, Bridget Fonda gets to kick ass and fight the bad guys with some pretty convincing martial arts moves. A petite and rather scrawny actress, I'm inspired by the physical strength Fonda's character demonstrates, as well as her mental and emotional strengths.

Maggie walks away from it all at the end of the movie, which is probably the biggest reason why I love it so much - she simply walks away from everything. Fonda's character, for all of her government paid work, does not truly have the heart of a killer, and she wants to leave. She's told that she can't, at first, because it's the price she has to pay for her freedom. She walks away anyway, after waiting for and finding her chance - yet again - to escape.

Maggie survives being assassinated herself. Battered and bruised, she disappears into the morning fog of Santa Monica beach. She is seen, but then she is allowed to continue walking away. I love the symbolism of it.

I miss being able to escape, being able to run away on contract as a dancer, either on a cruise ship or to Japan. Going away on contract meant I didn't have to live in or deal with reality. Or the illusion of it, at least, taking a break from the real world, was convincing enough.

I have very little to run away from nowadays. I can live with myself. But some days I yearn to walk away, even if only on an emotional level, and just disappear into the fog.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Vibrams Running Shoes, a First Impression

They felt like dance shoes, at first, especially when I wore them inside the gym for a work out with weights (you know, to break them in). Like ballet slippers or Capezio jazz flats, the Vibrams Five Fingers gloves seemed to wrap themselves around my feet, almost as if they had been shrink wrapped or laminated, even more so than the way socks feel.

Like aqua socks is more accurate - they weren't as buttery soft as ballet slippers. But they were certainly flat. I might as well have been barefoot, which I think is the point. And like dance shoes, the new Vibrams allowed me to reach a little further in dance-stretches than my usual cross trainers do.

Julie was the sales person who helped me at REI store. She looked like an expert on camping, with her short hair and sporty work outfit of a polo shirt and capri length cargo pants. She asked me if I had already run barefoot before. I had to admit that I had not. She warned me to start with a short distance, only a mile, even, and to build up from there. Only a mile? Pshaw. I've been doing six miles in an hour this summer. I was sure I could do half of my usual jog in my new Vibrams, first time out.

Two young Asian sisters in the store made fun of my new shoes while I was trying them on. "They look like alien feet, don't they?" I asked them. Or frog feet, sort of. What did they know? They were too young, still, to understand the need for shaking things up a bit when hitting a plateau in your normal exercise routine.

Okay, so maybe they were just young enough to not buy into this current fad of weird looking shoes, shoes that appeal to those of us that are desperate to be distinctive.

Julie was right. Today, I aimed for the intersection a mile-and-a-half away from our house, but I cut it short and turned around when I reached the traffic signal that was a half mile closer. It didn't hurt to jog in the flat-footed, no-support-at-all gloves, but it sure felt different, sort of like running barefoot on the beach but without as much of the shock absorbing give that sand has.

The new shoes also slowed down my pace. Songs on my iPod were ending quicker than I was used to before I was able to reach the usual half mile increments. Also, I didn't breathe as heavily as I normally do, even in only the first mile or two, so I don't know if I'm getting a less efficient cardio workout or not.

I'll try again tomorrow. I think I'll be able to reach the mile-and-a-half mark, this time, and complete three miles in my second attempt.

If I'm able to get out of bed, that is.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tempering the Tears

I have been part of staged readings this year, playing small parts in early drafts of new plays and musicals. The chance to be part of these projects came about thanks to the musical theater workshop classes I had been taking at ANMT, and the inherent networking that came with it.

As a former dancer-singer, I have never considered myself much of an actor, just more of a performer for musical theater and revues. But I love to get lost in a good story. I have been an avid reader for most of my life, and I love the escapism that a story can provide. With these recent readings I don't feel as if I'm acting so much - I'm getting to be part of telling tales, bringing pages to life.

This weekend I will be part of a revamped and revised performance of a new musical called "The Angel of Painted Post," a highly emotional project which we had performed once already, last month. As part of the ensemble, I play one of two fathers who have lost their sons in World War II. Even without ever having been a father, it was natural to get lost in the story of a grieving parent. Maybe having lost beloved pets was enough of a resource to provide method acting for my minor part.

It's a good thing that real tears are appropriate for these fictional characters. It is not difficult to "act" my grief in several parts of the show, including when the other father, a lead character, finds out how his son's life ended, and he expresses with great relief, "He didn't suffer! He didn't suffer!"

It has been too easy to cry, in fact, both during rehearsals and in performance. I avoid looking at the other characters directly, during some of the scenes, in order to temper my level of tears.

The character of the other father, played by Stephen, has a second, surviving son. The surviving son's character was played last month by Stephen's real life son, Daniel. This was one of the most interesting aspects of the rehearsal process for me, not only to observe the two playing fictional father and son characters, but to observe what little I could of their real life relationship.

Stephen, who is a little older than me, has more than two decades worth of theater and music credits. Daniel is 17 and already has impressive acting credits on his resume. Watching Daniel, I kept thinking back to when I was 17-years-old, wondering what it would be like to have a father not only involved in theater arts, but also supportive of his son's performing aspirations.

Daniel has just graduated from high school. Having been accepted to a university was only one of his options. He is going to put college on hold, though, with his parents' blessing, to pursue his other options in film & television, and in other stage productions.

I feel lucky: in the past, a situation like this would have filled me with ugly jealousy. Now, I am only envious, in a wistful and even peaceful way. I have mourned my innner teen enough, but watching Stephen's character grieve is still too emotional for me. The tears flowed too easily, especially when Daniel, his real life son, was right there on the same stage.

I know part of me is grieving for the could've-beens. Watching Daniel, I know that part of me is crying for my own younger self lost in an emotional war. Yet, the tears are cathartic, peaceful . . . an inevitable part of the acceptance process.

I can accept the need to put my former youthful self to rest and move on with both my present and my future. Or I can continue attempting to, at least. The fact that there are any tears at all attest to the fact that this may be my own lifelong work-in-progress.

Monday, July 11, 2011

21st Century Mod

Saturday was a good day. It was an arty-farty day, light and enjoyable. It was even a trip back in time, in a wonderfully retrospective afternoon.

I went to see the Tim Burton exhibit at LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I ended up going by myself since my arranged play date had to cancel. I didn't mind. I looked forward to savoring the exhibit by myself, taking as much time as I wanted to, to soak in the details, especially anything that had to do with Edward Scissorhands.

The museum was crowded, and I wasn't the only one meandering alone. I enjoyed seeing a few art student types, with their avant-garde hairstyles, geek-chic glasses, and espadrille shoes. As a forty-something adult, I relish the 80's-inspired fashions that young people are wearing.

As expected, a lot of the art on display was dark in tone, often infused with humor. A lot of it was gory, and violent, even, such as the drawing of spaceships landing (but not from "Mars Attacks!" - that was later on in the exhibit) and aliens spearing human beings on the run. In the same picture, bloody corpses were trapped under giant alien eggs as bloodthirsty creatures were hatching out of them, dinosaur-esque and tentacled creatures.

The costume for Edward Scissorhands was on display, a patchwork of various leather pieces and many buckles. I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I started to tear up when I first saw it. It was practically - and unexpectedly - my own personal Shroud of Turin, melodramatic as that may sound. Seeing the costume so close up and in person brought back the direct connection I had felt to the abandoned, childlike character two decades ago.

I needed to take a moment to step away and then come back to it. I walked into the next part of the exhibit featuring characters and scenes from "A Nightmare Before Christmas," before returning.

Next to Edward's leather bondage suit was a single set of scissor hands. It was under a cube of Plexiglass. I loved being able to examine the detail so closely, seeing that the "thumb" was a closed pair of pliers. Even upon such close inspection the metallic plastic covering the long blades, like Mylar wrapping paper, was still pretty convincing.

LACMA is within walking distance of Molly Malone's, an Irish pub. It was my lucky day: I got to see a small but conspicuous scooter rally gathering outside of the pub, a new generation of stylish mods among their tricked out Vespas parked on Fairfax Avenue. It did my former wannabe-mod heart good to see this specific subculture adapted and re-translated from the 60's to the 80's, and all the way into 2011. The newer mod generation seems tougher, grittier, with their piercings and many tattoos. They still appealed to my Inner Teen, and the young-extrovert-I-used-to-be, so eager to express my rugged individualism via a thrift store wardrobe and a Vespa scooter, circa 1986.

The cherry-on-top of my arty-farty Saturday was seeing a bright purple smartcar parked in the neighborhood. It was a candy-colored shade of purple, like the special edition M&M's you can buy in Las Vegas at M&M world. Like the uniquely accessorized scooters, it must have been a custom job. I would have been more jealous if my twenty year Purple Period hadn't ended a decade ago.

My inner Donny-Osmond-meets-Duckie-Dale reveled in the visual stimulation of it all.
It was a good Saturday.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mid-life Crisis Clubbing

BFF Kathy has two children, ages almost-9 and 6. I love them as if they were my own flesh and blood, but even I cannot fully comprehend the depth of their mother's love for them. And they have been driving Kathy crazy lately, with her usual stay-at-home mom insanity being compounded by school being out for the summer. She needed to get away, even if only for a few hours. I was more than willing to kidnap her.

After their father drove us all to the kids' introductory dinner at Chipotle (they both had pinto beans and shredded cheese on top of rice), we returned to their house to share a raspberry tart from Trader Joe's - a la mode!

The Shark Club in Costa Mesa was only about a half hour's drive away on the freeway. It was Britney versus Gaga night - all Britney and all Lady Gaga music, all night! I was looking forward to some good dancing. And there was no cover charge before 11:00 pm.

Kathy wasn't sure we were in the right place after we had parked. She saw a couple of petite young women dressed in flirtatious and feminine skirts. I pointed to the very tall glamazon standing by the front door, checking people in, and Kathy was reassured.

We got in right away, and right away we felt old. It wasn't the younger crowd - there were a few other people close to or about our age - it was the volume of the music. It was too loud! ("If it's too loud, then you're too old!"). One of the first songs we heard was a mash up of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" and the Human League's "Don't You Want Me." It was a brilliant mix.

There were half a dozen go go boys rotating around the various platforms of the club. Kathy, who used to teach high school chemistry, leaned in close to me on the dance floor to shout, "They seem so young!" I thought so, too. I forgot to ask her if she ever wondered or worried about seeing her former students in "a place like this."

We had a great time, even though Kathy wasn't familiar with any of the songs. Being the perpetual adultolescent that I am, I was in my overgrown glory, dancing with Kathy to la Spears and la Gaga tunes. It felt good to dance and sweat and just let loose, not having to feel inhibited around all of the other extroverts that were there for the same reasons. Like me, the other men on the dance floor seemed to know all the lyrics as well, lip syncing right along.

During one song I didn't recognize, I asked Kathy if she wanted a break. "Are you crazy?" she asked, yelling over the music. We stayed until closing.

We took breaks when the drag queens performed on stage. We thought of Fabulous Friend Eddie, even though they weren't the best or fiercest drags queens we had ever seen ( I told Eddie later - clarified - that their not being the best or fiercest was not what made us think of him). They were still entertaining, though, the Divas-in-training.

We had perspired the night away, and we had only had one drink each when we first walked in (margarita on the rocks/salt for Kathy and a cranberry juice for me). I wanted to refuel after, so we grabbed a quick bite at a 24 hour cafe on Pacific Coast Highway, crowded for 2:30 am. I ordered too much food, and we didn't finish. The night was not long enough. We were both tired but we could have continued talking until dawn.

We practically did. Thank goodness for the holiday, and for the three day weekend! I walked back into my own home after 4:30 am. Before I left, I told Kathy that I would probably feel hung over the next day, even though I don't drink.

We're not 37 anymore.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Twister and Crisco Oil

I have the most amazing and wonderful friends - if only for the fodder that their inane behavior and insanity provides . . . Remember Edith, my Famous Fag Hag Friend, from both my Disney past and my church past? She's baaack!

Edith was coming back to town for the Father's Day weekend. So was Anna, our mutual friend from our show choir days at a local junior college (the older, legal age version of 'glee'). They asked me to cajole Fabulous Friend Eddie into a small reunion, to reunite our original warped and dysfunctional foursome.

Eddie was not available. Honestly, I don't think he was that heartbroken about it. The three of us still talked about him, though, over appetizers and drinks.

"Remember the time Eddie took me to the 24 hour supermarket late at night?" Edith asked. "I've told you this story a hundred times!"

Maybe she did, maybe she didn't. "Refresh my memory," I prompted.

"It was just the two of us," Edith continued, a giggly grin stretched across her face, "and he bought three items: a game of Twister, some Crisco Oil, and a box of condoms - just to see the look on the checkout girl's face."

I fell over on my side of the restaurant booth in exaggerated laughter. "No, you never told me that before! I would remember something like that. Can I post that as my facebook status tonight?"

I did post it, but I was careful to use only Eddie's initials, rather than tagging him in the statement with an '@' symbol before his name. I called him today.

"Edith is crazy," I informed him, as if this were new information to him. "She's fucking crazy!"

Eddie set the record straight. "I never did that. I only talked about doing it, how funny it would be to go into a store and buy those things."

That sounded accurate. I told him so. "Yeah, it sounded a little fishy," I said. This was in the 80's, and we were all working at Disneyland? I know what we made.

"I didn't think you would have wasted money on a stunt like that, even just for the shock value."

I was glad I called Eddie. I thanked him for confirming my suspicion about Edith: that she twists the memories of our shared past into much different versions than what we remember.

"Maybe we should give her a break," I suggested. "She told us how she had been on Percocet after throwing her lower back out. It made her crazy and she told us about how she had to wean herself off of it.

"Maybe the medication affected her memory of things. Who knows? She still swears that I went around telling everyone at church that she was my ex-girlfriend - in order to make my desired image as a heterosexual more plausible."

I'm a little crazy, I don't mind admitting, but I have never been that fucking crazy, even back then!

If I ever get off my lazy butt enough to become a published novelist some day, one of my book titles is going to be Christian Fag Hag.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

And the (Bubble) World Still Goes 'Round

So, that Family Radio guy, Harold Camping, was wrong. Well, okay, not exactly wrong, just off by five months, as he has been saying. The world did not collapse in chaos and destruction on May 21st, as some had fearfully believed it might. All of the good Christian people of this earth did not get raptured up to heaven, as some of the Faithful Followers had sincerely expected.

I had forgotten to watch for it. I had imagined it, days before, playing it out in my mind like a scene from the movie "2012." I already knew that I was going to be visiting my Aunt Pat in Palm Desert that day. I had wondered if I would still be driving on the 10 freeway at the moment Judgment Day began, the road crumbling beneath me near the desert windmills before swallowing up my little smartcar with me inside.

I had wondered if we would be caught off guard while at the movies, good and religious people disappearing in mid air - poof! - leaving behind their empty, flat clothing in the middle of a "Bridesmaids" showing ("That's not a very Christian movie to see!"). Would we even notice it in a dark theater, right before the Edward's buildings toppled over those of us Left Behind?

As much as I can let my imagination get the better of me, and as much as I gave the alleged end-of-the-world some thought, I wasn't close to what you could call truly scared or worried. If I were actually concerned, I would fret more about my pets (Did you know that there was a group out there promising to take care of pets post-May 21st if their owners did indeed get raptured? And that they accepted payments before that not-so-fateful Saturday? . . . I wonder if it was non-refundable?)

Oh. But back to my precious old lady pugs, and our darling baby feline. If the very foundations of our paved paradise were going to crack open and swallow us into fiery depths of hot magma, then I would want some sort of euthanasia pill or injection to administer to our furry babies. I wouldn't want them to have to suffer any fear or physical pain simply because their human companions had been blighted for deliberate sin. I can't even stand the thought of our surrogate children suffering a slow demise from hunger and thirst if their two dads weren't able to make it back home from the Judgment Day festivities.

When I returned from visiting my aunt that Saturday night, our house was still standing, and there was music booming from a party in the next block. A live band was playing, with vocalists singing in Spanish. I didn't understand all of the repetitive lyrics, but I heard a lot of 'Hallelujahs.' I suspected that the party had gathered in anticipation of the Rapture. If so, I wondered how disappointed those people were at the end of the night. And the next day.

It was anti-climatic, really. Not that I wanted the world to end. Lady Gaga's new album hadn't even come out yet, before that weekend, and that would have been sacrilege, darling, not getting to experience those new tracks. Have you heard her song "Government Hooker?" So 80's-esque!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Some Parents are Cool!

In the early 80's, Band Geek Friend, Bubba, suggested we go looking for part time jobs. The winter break was coming and we needed extra money so we could do some holiday shopping. We went directly to our local shopping conglomerate that included a Mervyn's, a Miller's Outpost, and a Baskin Robbins. Armed and energized with fresh ambition, and perhaps a bit of naïveté, we aimed to fill out applications in every store until we received the first job offer.

There was also a Clothestime, a trendy clothing store for young women. Since we were there we figured, "What the heck?"

"What . . . ha ha . . . positions are you applying for?" the lady behind the counter asked us.

"Oh, being a rude person like you," Bubba calmly replied before I followed him back out the door.

That was before either of us had come out. Today, almost thirty years later, I received a message from High School Friend, Brenda, who shared an interesting update. Her husband had used a birthday shopping excursion with their daughter as another chance to try to make more sense of the social world in which we live (as she so beautifully described). He mentioned the young, gay men on staff in the women's clothing stores. Their daughter, who had just turned 12, was genuinely surprised. "Really? I thought that they were just really good dressers."

Also, today, my niece's mother asked me if I had seen the new shopping bags for Hollister. I hadn't, so she sent pictures to my phone, pictures of two male models lying next to each other on the beach. I think it's interesting that you can't actually see the whole picture at once, just sections of it on four different sides of the bag so that the models' faces are on opposite sides, although their torsos crisscross in between . . .

"Mom, you know only teen girls and gays shop there, right?" my 16-year-old niece had asked her.

I'm such the proud uncle, proud that she gets it! (Hollister certainly knows their target market) Her 13-year-old step sister's response, however, was "Eww, gross!" My niece's mother used it as an opportunity to teach her that choosing one's sexuality is as realistic as choosing one's eye color.

Too bad Bubba and I aren't young enough to apply for the same part time jobs now in these clothing stores. We were a little ahead of our time, maybe. And Clothestime? I can't even remember the last time it was still open.

Tolerance in 2011 - on sale now!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Welcome to Peter's Retro Discoland!

Part of the problem with getting older is that it becomes more difficult to find a good dance club that plays satisfying music, satisfying to my aging ear, at least. I know: my life is a constant trial! But as BFF Kathy had once said, "I need a place where I know and recognize the songs so that I can enjoy myself."

There are plenty of gay bars/dance clubs to choose from, in and near Los Angeles. So, I am forced to admit that my age is a major part of the problem. There are simply not enough retro nights at bars on the weekend.

There is Oil Can Harry's, close to Universal Studios. On most nights they play country & western music for line dancing. But Saturday nights are for disco night! And age is not an issue there. Yes, most of the patrons have been my age or older on the nights I've attended, but quite a few were much younger. It's about a 35 mile drive from home, though. I can't always get friends or even Domestic Partner to go with me.

I saw a Totally 80's night, for a local club, advertised on facebook. That's specifically what I was looking for! But it's held on a Tuesday night. I could still go, but the Sensible and Responsible Adult that I've finally become is reluctant to risk a lethargic day at work on Wednesday morning.

Lately, I've been thinking that I will just have to bring the dance club to me. I'll just have my own discotheque at home. Years ago (okay, decades ago, literally, even if it's only been a couple . . .) I went dancing with friends at the Coconut Teaszer in Hollywood, when it was at its old location. I loved that they had a huge window in the front of the club, like some one's living room window that you could look into. The exhibitionist in me loved that I could dance behind that window and be seen by people driving by or walking by on Sunset Boulevard.

Since then, I have always wanted to live in a house like that.

Our current home is in a quiet, suburban neighborhood. It's not the most ideal location for building dance hall dreams. But maybe some day, about the time I have my fourth novel published, and the film rights optioned, and a stage musical adaptation for one of them, then I'll be able to build a dance club in the front part of our dream home! I'll be able to sync up the iPod to play an infinite play list of my favorite dance tunes from the last five decades, and have a dance club the way I want it.

And you will too, the way you want it - you'll be invited! And I will take requests. There will be food and drink, and plenty of guest rooms for you to crash in and spend the night. It may take me another couple of decades, but keep your boogie shoes ready . . .

Monday, May 2, 2011

How to Make Your Partner Mad (or, Midlife Crisis #8)

I almost left. I was going to quit my job. There is nothing wrong with my job, not really, except for me. The pay is good. I genuinely like my coworkers, and I know that's not always easy to find in a work place. And the stress, consistent as it may be, is at a pretty minimal level.

But my numbers have not been as high as my boss would like them to be, for more than a few months now. I am weary of being so ineffective, and I was ready to leave. I came very close to announcing my two weeks' notice.

I wanted to give notice right after I was offered a sales position with a solar panel company. I also had an appointment for a job interview with a famous weight loss company (Kirstie, Valerie, Sara, and even Jason have been their celebrity spokespersons), just in case.

I hadn't said anything to Domestic Partner about it, not until the first job was offered and the appointment had been made with the second company. I opened up the conversation with, "I need your advice about something."

He was not pleased. His first response to me was, "I don't think you would do well, trying to sell solar panels." He became even more upset when I told him that the pay was commission only. I told him that was why I had an appointment with the famous weight loss company. He was not appeased by my back up plan.

I told him that if I was single, I would have jumped at the chance to take either job. I would take the risk without giving it much thought. But since I'm not single, and since I had to consider how the consequences would affect us a couple, I wanted to know what he thought.

Be careful what you ask for.

Domestic Partner told me, not unkindly, that he feels he has been carrying me for the last dozen years or so. That was not the first time I had heard him express that feeling. He just hasn't said it in a few years.

When we first met, I wasn't even employed. I had just been fired from my server job at the Olive Garden. I was performing as a Kit Kat girl in drag, in the musical "Cabaret," and I was making $7.00 per show. This was in the mid 90's.

Why did he want to continue dating me? Why did we stay together? I secured better, more consistent employment after "Cabaret," including another restaurant job and a Disney gig for their sports entertainment (cheerleader!). But I also went away on contract as a dancer, more than once.

Why does someone, knowing what you are and what you are not, want to stay in a relationship with you only to try and change you?

Now I'm just ranting . . . the changes that Domestic Partner wanted/wants for me have benefitted me. He is good for me. If we weren't together I would not have even gone back to school. My pending retirement would be even more pathetic than it already is.

As I have said before in this blog, he is my stability.

I asked him why he was so upset, why he was taking my proposal to change jobs so personally. Domestic Partner is only 51. He may have the opportunity to take early retirement in five years, so he is still waiting for me to catch up to him financially (and in other ways) so that he can afford to take early retirement.

So that he can afford to stay in a relationship with me.

Our conversation ended well. He said that when he retired in a few years, maybe we could consider moving to Hawai'i, as we have been talking about for a while now, and just rent a small place. If I want to change jobs, I should just wait until we move to the islands.

That made me feel very happy. It was a wonderful consolation prize.

Instead of giving notice I went to work the next day and told my boss, without going into detail, about the previous night's conversation. I told him that I had renewed commitment for my job responsibilities.

I turned 45 this past weekend. Maybe it's having another birthday that has been making me want to do something impulsive. So, instead of quitting my job, I got a haircut (I also bought my first smart phone, my birthday present to myself, after using the same flip phone for the last seven years).

I still think I would have rocked as a sales person at the famous weight loss company.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Always With Me

It doesn't seem to matter how old I get - I feel as if I'll always remember so many individuals from the past, especially those who have influenced my identity. Jay was someone I hero-worshipped in high school. I wanted to be like him.

I had met Jay in church when I was 16 and our family had moved to a new town. He was a year older than me and a straight-A student. Immediately, I looked up to him. He went to UCLA after graduating as the class valedictorian. He had also been the school mascot, dancing and jumping around at football games in a cougar costume, like a giant, cuddly stuffed animal. I thought that was the coolest thing.

But best of all, Jay was a dancer, or at least, more of a dancer than me. He had taken some classes, and he knew the different ballet positions and French terms. He knew to turn out his foot while pointing it, and he could do split-leaps in jeté.

During the summer break, when I was still the new kid, Jay told me about "New Generation," the show choir he was in at school. It was the local version of 'glee' and I was desperate to become part of the group. After months of pining to be like the kids on the TV series "Fame" I finally had the chance to become a singer-dancer!

I also wanted to develop more of my rugged individuality, taking advantage of a fresh start at a new school. No one knew the old Peter from before, the band geek who was still afraid of taking a chance to stand out from the crowd. At my new school, people would take for granted any unique expression I used as part of my outward appearance, including the bandanna headbands I wore on a regular basis.

I loved being in "New Generation." I loved singing in four part harmony and wearing the same show choir outfit as the rest of the guys. Once, on a Sunday, Jay and I agreed to wear our matching pin-stripe shirts and knit ties to church, looking like twins. I had longed for such camaraderie as a teen, and I reveled in the solidarity.

I applied to UCLA (and didn't get accepted, initially, before appealing my rejection) because Jay was at UCLA. I pledged the Christian fraternity on campus because Jay was already a member.

Our friendship didn't last much longer after my freshman year. I dropped out after being put on academic probation (I had been cutting my math class to attend dance class instead). I also did not get accepted into the conservative fraternity, even after toning down my rugged individual ways. Part of not keeping in touch with Jay was that I felt ashamed, probably, for being a college dropout and a fraternity reject.

I wasn't able to keep up with him, on more than one level. I wasn't able to be like him after all.

Jay had always wanted to get away from California. In the yearbook, under senior goals, he had listed "To live and work in New York!" Even as a junior I had already felt abandoned by Jay, saddened by his future departure.

A couple of decades after high school, a mutual friend ran into Jay in New York. It was pure dumb luck running into him on a busy public sidewalk, years after having no contact. Jay didn't seem thrilled by the impromptu reunion, my friend told me. He made no effort to provide a phone number or email address, no mention of wanting to stay in touch or even meet up later to catch up.

Jay is not on facebook, as far as I can tell.

I kind of get it. In a strange way, I respect Jay's desire for wanting to get the hell away from everyone. Jay came out of the closet before I did, in the mid-80's, even while he was still a member of the Christian fraternity. Since I had always looked up to him as a big brother figure, I really thought that it would make us closer, and that he could continue to be my role model. But it only seemed to diminish our friendship, maybe because we had always been such good, Christian boys while growing up.

I think the increased distance between Jay and I, from coming out, was part of his overall defense system.

I would like to be in touch with Jay today, to tell him how much he influenced me in a positive way, and to tell him that I eventually became a dancer. I want to share with him that I got cast in a production of "A Chorus Line" once, the way we had always dreamed about in high school.

But I understand his need for maintaining distance from his old life, and the need to escape from all of the disapproval we came to expect from our parents and church and society while growing up. Even though I wasn't as accomplished as Jay was, I understand wanting to get away from all of the expectations of being the perfect student, and of being the well-behaved son . . . being the perfect, blameless Christian man.

Hopefully, Jay feels he is finally free of all of that, now, living and working in New York. Hopefully, he has been reveling in the fact that he accomplished his high school goals.

The photo above was taken during a rehearsal for New Generation in the choir room. Yes, that is me on the far right, the dork in the headband. "Let's get physical!"

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

So Pretty!

Carlos was a natural brunette, like me. But when we worked together in Japan, what was left of his shaved-head haircut was bleached blond. He was my idol because he had performed with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male drag ballet corps

We would have dance classes between shows at Ocean Dome theme park, thanks to some of the other dancers who would volunteer their instruction. Madeleine was a skilled ballet dancer and teacher, as well as a fun dance partner in our cheesy little stage shows. During one of her classes, she demonstrated an intricate warm up exercise at the barre, a pattern that included rapid frappés with the feet in en croix formations.

"Are there any questions?" she asked.

Carlos was busy primping his hair in the mirror's reflection, his gaze and his fingertips on the 1/8 inch long platinum locks.

"Yeah, do you think I'm pretty?"

"Yes, Carlos, you're beautiful," Madeleine deadpanned before turning to the rest of us. "Are there any questions about the exercise?"

That was over a decade ago. I am always tempted to quote Carlos's answer every time I hear someone ask if there are any questions.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Pity: Party of One (or, I Am Fat Goldie Hawn)

I allowed myself to indulge in some mild depression this past weekend. It was too easy to just stay in bed all day, Saturday, and watch movies on Starz and Encore, uselessly channel-flipping the day away. I have nothing to be seriously depressed about, but I wonder sometimes if it's just an inevitable part of my family's emotional legacy?

Usually, I consciously choose to fight my alleged legacy of clinical depression in any way that I can, even if it's just dancing to Britney Spears in my kitchen. I would rather drain that particular aspect of the gene pool before drowning in it.

I am lucky. I haven't had one of those get-nothing-done-because-I'm-depressed days in many years, not since I've met Domestic Partner. Even so, I remind myself on a regular basis that if I ever get to feeling sorry for myself I need to remember that there are those around me who are going through much worse.

Who am I to feel sorry for myself?

I remember a bout of self pity I had in 1994, at a time when a friend was losing her father to cancer. Another friend, a woman in my dance class, had just lost her grandmother. Her pain was made worse by her family's fighting over material property. Even our dance teacher was hiding her sadness over a miscarriage, bravely keeping her perpetual smile and motivation for her students in the studio.

Who the hell was I to feel sorry for myself?

Cheryl over at bread and bread is dealing with a fairly recent emotional roller coaster, a seemingly cruel ride of joy, at first, expecting twins - and then losing them early in the first trimester.

And a Disney friend recently posted a heartfelt note on facebook about how surprised she was to hear that her life was perceived as 'charmed.' In a flash, before verbalizing a response, she thought about how both her parents had died after years of living with the pain of cancer and other illnesses. Her young song was born with a rare genetic disorder, which she has often dealt with on her own while her husband was away on more than one tour of duty. She titled her facebook post 'Perspective' because that is what became clear to her when she looked at her loving and supportive family and their history through the objective eyes of her friend.

But I still hurt for her, and I hurt for Cheryl. I appreciate their willingness to share their pain so honestly, their willingness to be vulnerable so publicly. I appreciate the perspective they are providing.

Man. I have wasted a lot of my life feeling sorry for myself, and unnecessarily so. Did I mention that I'm lucky? (I know I've done so in previous posts - not just this one). I feel lucky because even on my worst days I can usually get to the point of laughing at myself, at how ridiculous I am being over petty problems. When I think about giving up, I immediately go to the extreme, and I picture myself turning into Goldie Hawn, the Fat Goldie Hawn in "Death Becomes Her." If I succumbed to self pity and depression, I know that would be me: 300 pounds and living alone in a small, run-down apartment, save for the twenty-three cats living with me, and eating cans of frosting as meal substitutes.

My worst year in life ever was 1995, when I was wasting time feeling sorry for myself, all but destroyed by Mr. Heartbreaker. I think of that time in my life every time the Fat Goldie Hawn scene opens with her bent over, a close up of her giant rear-end right in front of the camera. It always knocks me right into providing my own perspective, the one I need.

Even luckier still, I know I can never afford to spend too much time in self pity. I'm 45 this year, which means I have even less time than I used to, to work toward becoming Radiant and Ravishing Goldie Hawn in the scene of the book signing party, the one in which she's wearing that gorgeous, figure-hugging dress.

Yes, I'm a guy. I'm still inspired by Goldie Hawn, inspired by both images of her in that one movie. In a few years I'll be Fifty - and More Fabulous!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Eating Myself

The photo above has always been one of my favorites - just a random, posed shot taken in Japan when friends and I happened upon a small and random theme park in Kagoshima.

High-school-theater friend, Margaret, said that the head looks like the Caucasian version of me, to which I replied, "I'm eating myself!" She thought that was deep. I'm sure she was being tongue-in-cheek facetious, but I liked the symbolism of that: "white-me" consuming "Japanese-me."

From my perspective, I've always thought that the statue of this giant boy's head bursting from out of the ground looked very Japanese, including the color of the eyes and the shape of the eyebrows. But the skin tone may be too alabaster-white. Nobody is that pale, even the two albino people I used to know.

Growing up in Southern California, I never felt "white enough" or "American enough." I never felt good enough, even if that was only my own perception of myself. I knew I could never hide or disguise how Japanese I looked, no matter how American I felt or acted - or no matter how much I assimilated back into American culture after our family moved back from Japan when I was a fifth-grader.

Returning to Japan as an adult helped me to more easily embrace my Japanese identity, which helped to increase self-acceptance of myself (even if it also emphasized how Japanese I am not). The symbolism in this photo would actually be reversed in that my Japanese self helped to eat up the white self I was trying to perpetuate, the self that I was trying to make the larger part of my identity as a young man in the U.S.

Yes, you could say I'm all mixed up, but in a good way. Good Friend Ben used to love quoting an audience member he overheard after she saw my head shot before a show: "He's a mixture, isn't he?"

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Farewell, Sweet Feral Friend

Domestic Partner and I are a little sad this week. We lost one of the feral cats that had been born in our backyard, the one we simply named Brownie. She hadn't been living in our yard lately, but we would see her now and then while walking the dogs. She would meow at us, as if in recognition of the humans and canines associated with the backyard buffet of daily kibble.

We found her rain-soaked body in a far corner of the yard, next to the brick wall that separates us from our neighbors and under our pomegranate tree. A bit shocking to see was her rear end split open, just underneath her tail, as if she had exploded from within. It was a wide but clean opening, revealing a lot of pink inner flesh but with hardly any gore. The rest of her body was intact, including her hind legs, so it didn't seem that she had been attacked by a dog or possum, or even hit by a car.

We wondered if maybe she had been poisoned.

It made us sad to find Brownie like this. We also wondered if there was anything we could have done to prevent her unnecessary and early death. She was just eighteen months old. I knew it was Brownie by her tipped ear, the point of her right ear having been nicked off by the FixNation clinic when she was spayed for free, so that if she was ever caught by animal control they would recognize the symbol for an already fixed cat.

Brownie was almost ours, which is why Domestic Partner and I were upset to find her dead. She had been a friendly feral kitten, even allowing us to pick her up when she was about a month old. Her fur was such a pretty golden brown, with distinctive stripes along her torso and legs. Smaller stripes formed the classic letter M design on her forehead. But we had already taken in her weaker, runty sister, which their mother had abandoned. Brownie was healthy and already socially outgoing, so we figured she would have a better chance surviving as a feral cat.

Now, we regret not having taken the chance to prolong her life.

Brownie was never really ours. She was skittish as an adult, and she would dart away if we got too close to her. We know that we can't save every needy animal out there, even in just our neighborhood, but we are still sad about losing Brownie, we're not quite sure why. It's just that she could have been ours. We almost took her in to be vaccinated and domesticated. That friendly little kitten could have been safe and happy inside our house as an adult, honoring us by placing her trust in us.

And I guess we betrayed that potential trust, that bond that could've been that Brownie wasn't even aware of. I think that's what hurts a little, useless as it is anthropomorphizing any animals, even friendly felines.

We buried Brownie in the backyard dirt, under the branches of the pomegranate tree, branches that are already turning green from spring's rebirth.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Japanese Me

My American-born cousin is much more authentically Japanese than I'll ever be - not just because she's full-blooded, her parents both being Japanese nationals - but also because she's much more fluent in what is her first language, despite her California upbringing, and fluent enough to have worked in Tokyo without any American coworkers or translators.

She has been back home in America for several years now. Last week, she described how inspired she has been by the can-do attitude of people in Japan, after the recent earthquake and tsunami disasters. She told me it sparked something inside her, almost a reminder of what it means to be Japanese. As American as I must admit to being (if not always typically so), I understood, at least to a small degree, the pride she was feeling, of the graciousness people demonstrate to each other in Japan, even in times of crises.

Or maybe, especially during crises.

I am almost finished reading Honor Thy Children, the tragic true story of a Japanese American family that had lost all three of their adult sons. Two of them, the oldest and the youngest, had died from complications from AIDS. The story chronicles the graciousness and love that the parents gained for their sons and for each other, although via some of the harshest, hard life lessons and heartache.

I had been hoping to find the film documentary of this family's story, a DVD copy, but the family did not approve its release after it had been shown at film festivals. Domestic Partner told me that entire audiences who viewed the film had been in tears. But I found the book online, instead, written by Molly Fumia. Two of the brothers had hidden their homosexuality, at first. Their heterosexual brother, the "normal" one - the one that their parents had placed all their hopes on for marriage and grandchildren - had been killed by gunshot.

The Youngest Son, the last one to be lost, was handsome, outgoing, and charismatic. I had expected to read the book and realize a new role model in him, specifically, a gay Japanese American role model, even if he is no longer alive.

Being a true account, the book describes honest, human portrayals of the family members. So far, I haven't been liking a lot of who he was, the Youngest Son, who he used to be. The opening of the book includes a detailed tour of his wardrobe, and how perfectly organized all of the brand name clothes are, especially Ralph Lauren's Polo brand. In the book, the Youngest Son seems shallow and materialistic, a clothes horse who lives for the next wild party.

But I can't deny the significant amount of AIDS awareness he was able to accomplish in a small space of time, as documented in the book. During his last few years, in the late 80's and early 90's, his public speaking and seminars for high school students helped young people to realize that everyone, gay and straight, needs to be aware of the risk of HIV, whether they choose abstinence or safe sex. His work helped to open up dialogues about sex between parents and their teens.

And I cannot completely dislike this young-man-who-has-passed-away. He briefly discusses his attempts to be "less Japanese" by perming his hair and wearing blue eye contacts in the 80's. I never wore blue eye contacts myself, but I remember wanting to. I remember, while growing up, also wishing that I looked less Japanese, and "more American" so I could fit in better.

The book also covers some of the family's time in Hawai'i, and the Youngest Son's realization of feeling pride in being Japanese, or being Japanese-from-Hawai'i, as he puts it. I'm lucky I was able to return to Japan as an adult and work there for as long as I did. I'm feel fortunate that being in Japan meant I was finally able to view other Japanese men as attractive. Through that attraction I was able to achieve more self-acceptance and stop viewing myself as so inferior because I look more Asian than Caucasian, despite my interracial background.

I am like the Youngest Son in that respect, shallow like him in that I get too caught up in outside appearances. But I was in Japan long enough to learn a little bit about the graciousness of the people there, and of their spirit. I hope I can keep that spark lit and fan the flames of that Japanese spirit in my American self, especially as I get older and my looks fade.

I almost feel as if I owe it to a young, gay Japanese American man who didn't even get to live long enough to become middle-aged.

(The photo above is of me with my third grade P.E. class in Japan. Yes, I am the one pinching himself, I mean the one with his mouth hanging open.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Britney Pants

Nothing makes me feel more "politely Japanese" than when I'm trying to make someone feel less embarrassed than they already are.

I had a phone call from a potential student over at that film school I work at in L.A. He asked me about financial aid, a standard question.

"What is your email address, please?" I asked. "I can send you the link for the online application."

The caller, a guy in his late 20's, seemed reluctant to tell me. He stammered a bit before telling me that it was 'Britney pants at xmail dot com.'

"Oh, that's nothing," I said, attempting to reassure him. "Believe me, we've gotten a lot worse" (such as 'nunsgivehead at xmail dot com' - true story).

I was tempted to ask him, "Is that 'Britney pants' as in she breathes heavily? Or as in 'I'm wearing my special Britney pants today!'?"

Friday, February 25, 2011

Leaving Never Land

Part of why I have felt so lucky for most of my life is that I have been rich in friendships since I was in elementary school. As an adult, during my involvement with ex-gay ministry, I didn't know if I would ever get married to a woman some day. It didn't bother me because, strangely, I was comforted by the fact that I knew who I would ask to be my groomsmen if I ever were to get married.

Ben, Eddie, and Tedd are friends that I have known for over a quarter of a century. I met Tedd when I first went away to college. After dropping out of college, Ben and Eddie quickly became two of my closest friends when I started working at Disneyland.

I realized early on that I usually bonded over shared memories of 70's children's shows and cartoons with those who became my close friends. Tedd, for all of his advanced academic status (he was a college freshman at age 16) and overachieving ways, still loved many of the same cartoons that I did, such as "Super Friends."

"Wonder Twin powers - activate! Form of ... an icicle! Shape of ... an orangutan!"

Backstage at Disneyland, Eddie and I used to ride the tram together from wardrobe to the step off point for the Electrical Parade. I'm sure we annoyed our fellow Cast Members with our hyperactive renditions of songs from the New Mickey Mouse Club, circa 1976.

"Surprise Day! Surprise Day! It's Mouseketeer Surprise Day, anything can happen and it usually does!"

Ben and I were roommates in three separate abodes. We were thrilled when the Sid & Marty Krofft shows came out on VHS tape, singing along to the opening theme songs for "Lidsville" or "Sigmund & the Sea Monsters," and of course, Witchiepoo's big stage number on "H.R. Puf'n'Stuf" - 'Oranges P'oranges!'

As I got older, I became suspicious that the Peter Pan syndrome was the consistent, common denominator among my friends, myself included. My own tribe of Lost Boys had organically formed itself in the early years of my young adulthood.

My time with ex-gay ministry gave me interesting and different perspectives. Part of the therapy we learned pointed out how emotionally stunted I was. My friends and I relished being overgrown boys, even if somewhere in the back of our minds we knew that we might be somehow stagnating. Who needed girlfriends or wives or marriage? We were young, and too busy having fun!

At 44 I don't feel old. But I become more aware of how much we've aged when I get together with these good friends (and not as often as I would like) and, as usual, we can look back and discuss over two decades of memories.

Eddie is not the wonderfully spastic boy he used to be, which is good and appropriate, now, but part of me mourns the young man who always seemed to be bouncing off the walls from a sugar rush (which, at times, I'm sure he was on, high from an overdose of Pixie Stix and Kudos bars).

Tedd is married and has three children. We can no longer be the big kids at heart as much as we used to be now that there are actual children in his house. Our extended adolescence was over-extended. We had a good run, and we can now look forward to being little old, energetic Asian men together.

My friendship with Ben has been the one that's most bittersweet to me when it comes to accommodating our middle age, adjusting to it. It was a few years ago when, after a day off of enjoying lunch and a movie, we couldn't fall into the same social patterns that we used to as roommates. Normally, as younger men, a day off would extend into more than one movie and maybe more than one meal out, or at least renting videos and ordering takeout pizza. Instead, I had to get home to feed and walk the dogs, and get dinner started for Domestic Partner and myself.

I felt a bit like I was abandoning Ben that day, even though it had been years since we were used to seeing each other on a daily basis as roommates.

I hadn't counted on the fact that getting into a long term relationship would mean leaving behind the support network that I had always enjoyed and maybe even took for granted. I have married friends, of course. We all do. Friendships do not end because of marriage, not all of them. I know it's normal and natural for a committed relationship to take precedence, but still . . .

Tedd gave me the honor of asking me to be his best man when he got married. Ben and Eddie are still single. I will grow old with Domestic Partner but we will probably never marry each other (why fix what ain't broke?), which is good. I wouldn't be able to decide which of my super friends I should ask to be my best man (or maid/matron-of-honor, as it were).

Not even if I could combine them all into one Super Friend: Beteddie! Form of ... Lifelong Friendship!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Fosse Feline

Remember my Dangerously Sexy Diva friend, Terra? She's the one who has portrayed Velma Kelly in "Chicago," not only on the Great White Way and in national tours, but also in Paris (in French!). She's back in town, again, singing and slinking her way on stage as 'Bombalurina' in "Cats" with Musical Theatre West.

I had never seen "Cats" performed live on stage, so I was looking forward to experiencing it for the first time. I loved it! The dance productions and the familiar music had me smiling throughout much of the performance. As tempting as it may be to consider the signature song trite and tired, the soloist who sang "Memory" gave the audience a new, powerful interpretation of the song. She brought more beauty and depth to the notes than I had ever heard before and I teared up a little.

The entire cast was marvelous and it was very fulfilling to see this show . . . almost thirty years later.

In the early 80's, my aunt had planned to take me to see "Cats" as a gift for my seventeenth birthday. It was playing at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. It had opened only two years before in London.

I am told that my father objected to the idea. "No, don't take him to see this musical," he protested. "He'll come home wanting to take dance lessons, and I want him to go to college."

He was correct. I would have wanted to go to dance class. I had already wanted that a couple of years before when I became fifteen. I still wanted it after turning eighteen - and I went after it as soon as I had moved out of my parents' house, as soon as possible.

But I had always wondered: How much more directly inspired might I have been if I had been able to see "Cats" when I was seventeen? How much more aggressive would I have been in my pursuits to become a real dancer? How much more courageous would I have been about my goals?

I know it's pointless to consider what could have been, but I can't help doing so, every now and then.

It was fulfilling to finally see a complete and professional production of "Cats." I'm too old, now, to be as nimble and fluid as the gymnasts and ballet-trained performers I watched on stage. Surprisingly, I felt neither jealous nor bitter. As a spectator, I reveled in their youth and their agility, and in their pure joy of dance and performance.

Terra, as always, was flawless in her performance. As 'Bombalurina' she was a very sultry feline, both as a featured vocalist and in her kitty choreography.
It was wondrous to watch her Fosse trained body roll a shoulder, pose with the trademark broken wrist, and undulate in waves through her torso and limbs. She was the Fosse Feline. Even just the way Terra casts her gaze downward always reminds me of Ann Reinking.

I think part of why I enjoyed the show so much is precisely because I am older. I knew about the character of 'Grizabella,' the tragic, older, dying cat, but I hadn't expected to relate to her, even just a little. Gone are "my days in the sun" as a young performer, brief and modest as they might have been. In an attempt to embrace a more age appropriate lifestyle, I am ready to be lifted up to "the heavy side layer" - not in actual death, just to the next level of my life.

No, I am not dying, neither literally or even symbolically. But I do cherish the 'Memory.'

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My First Cabaret

I got to perform live once again, in front of an audience this past Wednesday night. We had reached the culmination of our second session in the Performers' Workshop: our cabaret acts. It was a session I truly enjoyed since I'm always making up new lyrics for well known songs, just for the fun of it (too much free time inside my head, perhaps). For our class assignments we were asked to journal about our current lives, to recognize and choose the recurring themes, and then write original lyrics to songs from musicals.

And to sing about it in public!

My classmates are talented and seasoned performers. It was interesting to hear more than one of them talk about how nervous they felt, having to exploit and expose their own lives and personalities. The recurring theme among the different singers was that it was much harder to perform as yourself than it is to hide in or behind a character, whether as part of the chorus or in a leading role.

I relished it. Call it the narcissist in me, but I rather enjoyed the process of choosing what to talk, write, and sing about. Plus, I'm always jonesin' for attention (why do you think I blog?). Not that I wasn't nervous, but I was also on a high all day Wednesday, before the performance, and even the day before. I relished the anticipation of performing live again, getting the chance to sing and even tap dance a little for an audience.

I talked and sang about getting fired from the Character department at Disneyland, my dependency on caffeine, and the desire to still have and do it all, both the day job and more performing gigs, despite my waning youth and energy.

I was the last to go on stage in an evening featuring ten singers. The singer before me was a woman I came to adore as a classmate and friend very quickly. She had honed her own cabaret style and act for several years in Chicago before coming out to Los Angeles. As a performer, she understands the importance of balancing the brassy and bawdy with heart wrenching ballads, the light with the dark.

So, it was easy to see why her act was saved for almost the end. I should have felt intimidated, having to follow someone such as her. Instead, I was flattered that I was chosen to go last.

It was a long evening. The audience was friendly and enthusiastic, at first. By the time we got to the second-to-last act, the energy in the room felt subdued as I watched my friend sing flawlessly on stage.

It was a one night only performance, and we were sold out. So what if the energy had died in the room? This was my one shot for this particular and personal show, and it's been a while since I last performed, so I was determined to make the most of it.

I didn't wow and delight the audience with every facet of my ten minute act, as I had hoped. But I got a couple of genuine laughs, including when I ad libbed the line, "I'm not into that" when I talked about being tickled while working in costume at Disneyland.

I am grateful for the experience, grateful for the learning gleaned from the creative process. Would I be willing to perform in future cabarets? I hope I get the opportunity. Would I be willing to write new material? Certainly.

But for now I'm glad it's over. I need a break. As I had joked to the audience in the act, "Grandpa's tired!" As grateful as I am to enjoy the luxury of being myself, it can be exhausting!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Luxury of Being Yourself, Part 2

Even before I went away to college, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to dance.
I wanted to sing, and act, and perform. I wanted to be like the students at the high school of the arts, on the television show "Fame." I wanted to be like the dancers and singers I had seen on stage at Disneyland. I wanted to be like my friend, John, who was one of the performers in Donald Duck's 50th Birthday parade.

And eventually, I did. I became a singer in a dinner theater revue. I later got my first job as a dancer on a cruise ship. Before going away to sea, I also got involved with ex-gay ministry, attending a weekly support group for Christian men who no longer wanted to identify as homosexual. It was another version of the religious leash I still felt I needed in order to be tethered.

One of the jobs I had as a dancer was for a Vegas style show on the island of Guam, which is a tiny rock of an island, south of Japan. The contract, at the Sandcastle Show Lounge, was to be for nine months.

I'm not sure why, but the other dancers in the Guam show assumed I was straight, and I just let them. After two or three years of being in the ex-gay support group, I suppose it seemed like the right thing to do. I didn't try to fake a straight identity, but neither did I confirm a gay identity in my behavior and personality.

It's strange to think that, in the atmosphere of dance rehearsals, and being backstage and in the boys' dressing room, other dancers would perceive me as straight. Entertainment people aren't as easy to fool when it comes to sexuality.

I missed Kathy and talked about her a lot. It was difficult for both of us, being apart. That was the truth. But I didn't refer to her as my Best Friend Forever. Omission of the Complete Truth may have been deceitful on my part.

I learned something during my temporary not-perceived-as-gay status: the young women in the show were friendly to me, but there was a barrier, an invisible wall they were putting up that I wasn't used to. It was as if they felt the need to be on their guard with me, even if only a little bit, as long as they thought I was straight.

I didn't like that. I wasn't used to it. Growing up, my closest friends were usually girls. I missed the physical and emotional comfort that female friends felt with me, those who knew that I was gay.

I was unhappy on Guam. Part of it was being away from Kathy, a big part of it. After only two months, I told my bosses that I wanted to go back home. Fortunately, there were a couple of male dancers that had been in the show before who wanted to come back. I was allowed to return to California without fulfilling my nine months contract.

It wasn't until after I had left Guam that I realized another major reason for my unhappiness: I hadn't been honest about who I really am. I had contributed to the walls and barriers that I felt amongst the other dancers by not being my authentic self.

I did not immediately start being more myself, right after that. It took a few years of practice, and it took letting go of my insecurities, little by little. It was not easy to let go of my religious ideals and face the fact that I was just plain lonely. I wanted to do what was right, but I did not want to deliberately choose to be alone, either.

I allowed myself to start dating men again, in my late twenties. I made some foolish choices and mistakes worthy of a seventh-grader. My attempts to date and pursue relationships with men were emotional disasters that were more fitting to a 19-year-old.

Oh, well, only about a decade behind.

I included the recent photo above because it disturbed one of my relatives (ironically, it was a relative who accepts me wholly for who I am). This had been my profile photo on facebook last month until my relative asked me to please change it.
I was surprised by the request. But it was a nice marker for how far I'd come in the last couple of decades, as far as what I can take for granted now, including the freedom to be as fabulously flamboyant as I want to, when the mood strikes.

It took a few years of emotional struggle as well as some trial and error, but I don't worry as much as I used to about receiving the approval of others. I don't feel I have to justify who I am, like I used to in the past. I have the comfort and luxury of being able to be myself without having to worry what others think.

If people don't like me, then that's too bad. It's my loss but I can live with it.

I know who I am, and it is sufficient.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Week's Notice

Howdy, Plastic Bubble Peeps!

I'll be performing a ten-minute cabaret act next Wednesday night, Feb. 16th, at the M Bar in Hollywood.

I'm still jonesin' to get to the Part 2 post of 'The Luxury of Being Yourself,' but I wanted to give you a heads up about the performance next week since I had sorta' promised Cheryl over at Bread and Bread that I would.

I'm the last performer to go on, which is quite the compliment, but it means I won't be on stage until after 10 pm - on a school night!

I'll be singing/talking a bit about when I got fired from Disneyland. (and I'll be wearing those bunny feet above, as part of the act)