28 July 2009

The Past and Stuff

It's not exactly nostalgia that I experience when I look at the trinkets, old pictures, strange objects, and stray pieces of clothing that I have packed away over the years. These artifacts of my yesteryears don't incite a wistful longing for times gone-by as much as they remind me of how easily I forget. Whole memories that are seemingly completely gone surface each time I encounter these objects.

I've been thinking about the past a lot because I went to my 10 year high school reunion over the weekend. The reunion was in Oklahoma. Every time I go there I stay in my old room, which hasn't changed since I left. The beautiful thing about reunions--reuniting with old friends or family, reuniting with an old room, or reuniting with memories--is that they don't always mean a return to the past; sometimes a reunion is just a chance for the past to meet you in the present for a brief bit of fun. Sure, there's a whiff of nostalgia, but if you do it right it can be more like sharing a drink and a cigarette with an old part of yourself.

I love my past, but I don't want to go back there. Luckily there are a few things that decided to meet me halfway:

My old backyard. That camper has been there for longer than I can remember. I'm not sure what's in it. At one time there's was bee's nest in it, but it's gone now. This backyard has seen the passing of many a pet: Old Yeller, Charlie (the dachsund, not the brother), Zebulon, that one Siberian Husky, and Bear - those are just the ones in my lifetime. The backyard is now home to a momma cat and her 4 kittens (they form the tiny little black and white spot to the right of the camper).

The football field at my high school. I went to every Moore High School football game they played my senior year. Most people who know me now would not be surprised by this - I have a thing for straight guys in uniforms.

Clothing that I should have gotten rid of ages ago. The white dress was a holdover from the drag show I did in New York with Seth and Leslie. I kept it thinking maybe we would reprise the roles. I never thought about the possibility of replacing the dress with an updated costume in the event of a revival.

The brown shirt and the cardigan belonged to my grandfather. That's all. I have no memory of him wearing either item - I just kept them because they were once his. For a very brief period I had shoulder length hair and when I wore that cardigan people said that I looked like Kurt Cobain. The only other "famous" person people said I looked like was the blonde kid from Step By Step.

And finally, an old picture of me that I found tucked away in my desk. What can I say? I was a little bit country, a touch gay, a healthy amount of nerd, and wanted to travel the globe. Blondes have all the fun.

22 July 2009

Is it the cyclonic action or the smell of new plastic?

My birthday has come and gone. Yesterday was a time of reflection and obsessive profile checking. With the advent of Facebook, my usual modest though reliable stack of cards has been whittled down to two (not that I'm counting or anything). I spent most of the day thinking about birthdays past, and have to admit the slightest twinge of longing for cakes with far fewer candles and parties with goodie bags and gifts that incited squeals of excitement. Oh, I often compare the sounds I made as a boy to those of a pig only because...I was fat.

But lo and behold, yesterday's musings of my inner fattie-child became today's reality, for today I got my new vacuum in the mail! The Whisper, manufactured by our good friends at Hoover, boasts the marvelous usage of CYCLONIC ACTION. Bagless and sleek, with a shimmering sky-blue exterior and sassy upright design, the arrival of this baby had me smitten. I tore into it as soon as I got home from work.

I took my time opening it, savoring every scrap of tape and chunk of styrofoam. The smell was intoxicating. There is nothing like fresh factory plastic. We're conditioned to love that chemical aroma from the beginning, as everything from the juiced up pectoral muscles of action figures to the ugly, Winston Churchill + scrotal skin faces of baby dolls bursts with that wonderful perfume when they are released from their cardboard and twist tie packaging prisons. It saddens me to think about the dwindling sales of toys in our country. Kids don't realize what kind of high they're missing.

All at once I was taken back in time, filled with the heady elation that accompanies a new treasure to hoard, keep from my siblings, and discard or lose two weeks later. For the first time in a long time, I got what I wanted for my birthday.

The only feature that struck me as off-putting was the semi-translucent hose and collecting canister. I'm not a big fan of being able to see various toenail clippings, stray pubic hairs, and sundry other nasties being sucked up and collected by my Whisper. It started to really bother me. The very thought of it was appalling, wretched, and obscene. Like giving a little boy or girl a sex toy. "Happy birthday Gabe. If you want to return that 'King Kong' dildo for another color, I have a gift receipt". Even the name contorted in my mind into something salacious. Whisper.

I shivered.

Then I thought about being at work a few hours before. I had gone down to the mailroom to pick up my prize, and, as is often the case with me, I got to chatting with a few people about the vacuum. As I explained its various features, one of them interrupted me with her recognition: Oh yeah, that's the one that has that awesome colonic action". I hadn't the heart to correct her.

Colonic. Cyclonic. Never the twain shall meet. Or, at least, I pray to God they never do.

With that final recollection the ephemeral joy I had happened to catch in the air retreated, leaving me with this unsightly contraption, this never used yet somehow hopelessly filthy thing before me.

I've since taken a shower, done the dishes, and written this blog entry. It's still standing there in the middle of my den-silent, erect, waiting. I'm going to move it to the corner of the room. Soon. Definitely before I go to bed. Or first thing in the morning.

Nowadays the toys don't even last for two weeks.

14 July 2009

Even if I Gave a Shit, I’d End Up Being Ambivalent

Some highlights from my recent life in Los Angeles:


During the summer I have Fridays off, and use most of them to act like a stay at home mom. I do the laundry, go to Target, get the car serviced, do housework, and of course, go grocery shopping. This past Friday I made my way to Super King, our nearest “supermarket”. I thought that arriving at 8am when they opened would ensure an easy in/easy out situation, only to find a line of people waiting for the doors to open. Upon entering the store, I was faced with a ravaged produce section replete with old men flinging eggplants into the air and women with screaming children thumping and sniffing melons. Everything was covered in a fine layer of corn silk and onion skin.

I managed to white-knuckle my carriage (that’s what real east-coasters call a shopping cart) about 15 feet further into the store when I had to stop short. An immense woman blocking my path was leaning over a bin of plums. As she rifled through the fruit, her pendulous breasts lightly swept to and fro across her discards. I broke out into a cold sweat, knowing something was coming. Sure enough, she caught a twinkle in her lazy right eye and stretched out to snatch a deep purple prize from the opposite corner of the bin. Without fully standing upright, she took a deep bite out of the plum, pursed her lips, wiped a dribbling line of nectar from her chin, and THREW IT ON THE FLOOR. Considering an escape, I hesitated in front of the sign advertising a sale on tomatoes.

I engaged autopilot and the rest of my shopping was a blur. I think I sold my soul for 39 cents a pound. 39 cents a pound!


That same day, I accompanied a friend of mine to a number of apartment buildings downtown. The prize for the day went to The Grand Promenade, not for their claustrophobic layouts, nor their dumpy exterior, but for the brutal olfactory assault one experiences upon entering the lobby.

We crossed the threshold of the building and our discovery of a quaint if dated indoor marble fountain was undercut by the pervasive odor of Febreeze, Tom’s of Maine deodorant, and this varicose vein tincture I once used in college (it’s a long story I’d rather not go into right now). But that was only an introduction, an amuse nez if you will. The main course was presented to us when we took the elevator up to the Management Office, and the doors opened into a hallway filled with what I can only describe as a mixture of feces and cheap cologne. I was assailed by the immediate image of a man performing a home enema with Old Spice. The smell was, no doubt, due in large part to the public “restrooms” (much like the Super King “supermarket”, these terms seem…less than apt) located directly between said elevator and the office.

The vision of that old man and his secret spicy perversion haunted me throughout our visit/tour, and was only kept at bay by my full concentration on breathing through my mouth.


A few days later Taylor and I decided to brave the Rose Bowl flea market in Pasadena to continue our nesting campaign at the new place. We arrived at 9am to find things in full swing. The clientele was a regular spring salad mix. The most visibly irksome individuals were the occasional flea market shoppers/hipsters out to score anything that can be remotely construed as “vintage”. Glasses, clothing, kitchenware, etc. “Yeah, come over and bring some cocaine and PBR. I want to show you these vintage forceps I bought last week”.

Others were a bit more professional. I dubbed these "seasoned flea marketeers". One such fellow was a morbidly obese man whose dark sweatpants had all the right perspiration stains in all the wrong places. He came fully equipped with a collapsible metal cart AND a Bluetooth headset. He was there when we arrived, there when we left, and definitely in attendance for the long haul.

Then there were the real pros, the veterans of the flea market circuit. My favorite of the day was a woman of perhaps sixty, with a breezy white top, classy straw hat, and those confusing sunglasses that are either BluBlockers or those meant for the legally blind. I spied her poring over some Fire King glass. It was her stately “Queen of the Garbage Heap” demeanor and a silver-tipped cane etched down one side with the phrase “Lady Bubba” that tipped me off to her status as a big fish in a little shitty-costume-jewelry-and-broken-Super8-camera-infested pond.

It was only a while later when, passing an old full-length mirror adorned with ratty animal print scarves that I got a good look at the piranha staring back at me, so taken with the bloodlust that accompanies the widespread ridicule of others that he doesn’t realize he’s eating his own kind.

We left shortly thereafter, and all the way home in the car all I could think about was whether or not I’d have “Countess Bubba” carved onto my collapsible metal cart, or my gnarled imitation oak walking stick.

06 July 2009

Balancing the World on a Pile of Cat Shit

Today I finally stopped moving. That is, today was the first day my brain wasn't completely bogarted by thoughts of wine glasses wrapped in newspaper and where to store that huge box marked "Special DVD's". Today I let it go, and where did my newfound mental freedom lead me? Cat shit and a barefoot transsexual prostitute.

Both were major players in creating the ambiance, the "local charm" of our previous apartment near MacArthur Park (formerly Westlake Park, once called the Champs-Elysees of LA, later dubbed Needle Park, site of the May Day Melee...just go to the Wikipedia page).

The thickly-foliaged area behind our building was home to a feral cat colony. Don't be misled by the terminology. There weren't any cat trading posts to promote commerce with the locals, no cat missionaries were out there teaching indigenous heathen cats about the power and the glory of Christ.

My first brush with this slice of Los Angeles fauna was at two or three a.m. one night. I awoke to what I thought was an elderly woman being raped in my driveway, only to realize it was the plaintive cries of a cat in heat. These persistent moans at night, the acrid smell of cat piss, and the piles of shit constituted overwhelming circumstantial evidence of shady feline dealings close by. One of their favorite dump spots was a mere 6 feet from our back door, so I took to cleaning up the mess, or at least kicking the cat shit to a more discreet location.

The occasional rustling of trash was a less reliable indicator of a feline presence, as the barrels behind the building were frequented by a variety of neighbors, aside from the "colonists". One of the most memorable was a bleary-eyed vagrant tranny who "lived" around the corner. Though Taylor and I had brief conversations with her on the street, we never got her name, so I'll call her Lil' Whitney (she had something of a voice, which she'd showcase while digging for cans in our garbage).

Lil' Whitney wandered the block with a rolling suitcase, a surprisingly tasteful black dress, chestnut wig, and sunglasses. Alas, she never had any shoes (it's those little touches that make a woman a lady). Her chapped and callused feet traipsed over sidewalks covered in broken glass, chicken bones, beer cans, and all manner of other refuse, while she cheerily tossed aside Taylor's microwaveable pizza boxes to retrieve my empty Coke Zero bottles.

Despite this obvious display of self-sufficiency, I was suddenly struck by an overwhelming sense of concern for Lil' Whitney this afternoon. It's only a matter of time before the colony's "deposits" accumulate, spread, and overrun the back of our old building. And without my watchful eye and stiff-soled hiking boots to keep them at bay, it's only a matter of time before Lil' Whitney's ass ugly and unsuspecting dogs fall victim to these defecatory land mines.

Maybe it'll happen tonight. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe it already has. It's not about the feet, or the's that I won't be there. I won't be able to stop it. And I don't think I care. And then I can't stop thinking about it. And out of nowhere I'm so angry at the cats, myself, Lil' Whitney, everyone. And everything feels unsteady.

Maybe whoever replaces us in that place will take up the cause and keep the balance. I hope so.

I'm too busy looking at dining sets on craigslist.