The Blanket

Truthfully, I don’t think about him very often.

For years, he was not a part of my daily life. He would come up in conversation whenever I would call my mom (or she would call me, trying to keep her panic internal, when he had another fall or was rushed to the hospital with some undetermined chest pain). I would call him around the holidays or an election cycle to check in, laugh, argue, and listen to him go off on a tangent, thrilled to have an eager ear to hear his verbose thoughts that as he got older began to drift to the end of the runway without a destination in sight. At the end of these conversations, I felt like I had been talking to a ghost, one that I was very glad to suddenly discover was still alive. Yes, somewhere in my mind, Grandpa was dead already. I had prepared myself for his departure years before it had actually happened. And I find I have done the same, now, with my Grandma.

Tod was the first person I ever lost. The only person (so far) that has died and left an indelible void in my heart. Which given the aforementioned statement, seems somewhat ironic. Despite the years and miles that separated us, the infrequent phone calls, and my infrequent trips home, this man still had a hold on me. There is something that happens when you lose a grandparent. Not only do they die, but your childhood dies with them.

I am 32 years old. I have not been a child for quite some time. Yet your grandparents keep that child alive. Every trip I made home would inevitably end with a night (or 4) spent at Tod and Betty’s – playing Scrabble, going to Denny’s, watching Schwarzenegger movies, eating Saltine crackers with peanut butter, telling stories, yelling at Betty for being out of breath because she made her way up and down the basement stairs again against everyone’s wishes, helping Tod up from the kitchen floor when he collapsed on his way to the refrigerator, and staring across the dining room table at them both, and then at just one, wondering how many more times we would get to make memories.

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The last memory I have of Tod alive is Christmas 2012 when Julian and I sat around their dining room table playing Raise the Roof, a card game from my youth. It is one of the best nights of my life, sharing two of the people I love most with my favorite person.

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A year later, after burying Tod’s ashes, Betty and I sat across from each other at that dining room table putting together a puzzle for what would be the last time; less than a year later, Betty was admitted to a nursing home and the house was sold.

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***

Truthfully, I don’t like to think about him very often. Because when I do, it hurts too much.  I turn back into this little kid, the one he called Oso, and I remember that I’ll never hear that again. I’m not a very emotional person. Let me rephrase that. I have plenty of Anger, Stubbornness, Contempt, Cynicism, and Arrogance to go around; it’s Empathy, Tenderness, Romance, and Nostalgia that are in short supply. I am a pragmatist and don’t usually see the point of living through rose colored glasses. Yet, when those emotions emerge from the dark, they erupt like a nuclear cloud.

At my brother’s wedding this summer, my Mom and I had a quiet morning in our rented kitchen. The extended family that were staying with us in this cabin in the woods were showering, shaving, shopping, or just off taking a rare moment of silence in preparation for another Saia extravaganza that would last well into the night and become a giant ball of kinetic energy, our synapses firing in a loud, sarcastic, crude, and fabulous synergy.  I can’t remember why, but Mom and I were talking about Tod. I was staring at her, telling a story,  and as I was speaking, my eyes started to well up. “It’s OK,” she said. And with that permission, I lost it. Tears were streaming down my face and I was shaking. I had not expected this to happen. I looked at Mom and she was standing there with this look of understanding on her face. This sympathetic affirmation that told me she had been in this very position hundreds of times over the last year. And that no, it never gets easier. But’s it’s OK.

Two weeks ago, I was in the grocery store, near Halloween, thinking of Tod and Betty, and I walked through the freezer aisle. I spotted a box of Drumsticks and broke down right there in Ralph’s. Drumsticks were one of those snacks Betty always kept in the house for when I would spend the night. Impulsively, I threw them in my cart. As if, foolishly, I could take Tod and Betty home with me.

***

I don’t think of him very often, but there are times when I can’t help it. Like Veteran’s Day. Never without a flag in the yard and frequently with a yellow ribbon ’round his tree, Tod loved America with all his heart. In fact, he even lied about his age to enlist in the military, only to be discovered and kicked out. He later joined the Navy and fought in Korea, which became one of his proudest moments. He would wear that blue hat Mom got him embossed with “Korean War Vet” in yellow stitching, complete with his various pins, whenever life called for a hat. We would sit around that dining room table and debate policy, sometimes getting so heated that Betty thought we were fighting and would try and interject with something innocuous to ease the tension. It wasn’t necessary though. Grandpa and I never really fought. It was all just sound and fury and we knew it. When she would try and “break us up,” Grandpa and I would look at each other and smirk, both kind of thrilled that we got under her skin a little.

I wonder what Tod would be thinking about the state of the world today with ISIS and Donald Trump ruffling their feathers. Despite his Republican leanings, Tod never suffered fools and I highly doubt he would be backing Trump and his bombastic rhetoric. (Although he did feel it was his civic duty to vote and I could never imagine him voting for a Clinton or some socialist so would probably vote for him by default…).

***

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Tomorrow is Tod’s birthday. He would have been 82, which feels so young. I still see him sitting at that dining room table sketching or opening the jar of mustard or anything that takes strength or thought and his tongue is out, like that makes everything easier. I find myself doing this every now and then; one of the many things he gave me. Whenever something really great happens in my life, I still want to call him and talk about. I started a new job yesterday and wish he knew. I’m sure it would dovetail into a conversation about old Hollywood and Red Skelton or a million other things.

I never wanted to call him. I knew it would be a painful experience because we weren’t together around that dining room table and I didn’t know when the next time was I could get back, which made me get lost in a blanket of sadness for a time gone by. It’s part of the reason I don’t like calling Betty. The house is gone. Her spirit is gone. Tod is gone. Her mind is going. And she is this shell of the woman I know and love. Sitting across from her is one thing as we play Yahtzee and she squeals “I got the biggie”; it’s another thing entirely when you try and struggle through a 5 minute phone call, talking about nothing, both trying to not think about how much everything has changed. And that it will never be the same again.

For my birthday this year, Mom made me a quilt. But not just any quilt. As I opened the box and parted the tissue paper, I paused in a rare moment of silence. Julian knows that this means something has deeply moved me. I sit there for a minute trying to figure how to explain this gift to him, a gift that some may think is slightly creepy, but is sort of typical Marge. She has made me a quilt of my grandfather’s clothes. Julian glances at me with a smile and says, “That’s awesome.” I wrap myself in it and instantly Dodger jumps on my lap as if he can smell the man who loved him so much. Tod was a dog person and every dog loved Tod. Even Dodger had his time with Grandpa, after traveling across country, zonked out on Benadryl under my seat on the plane. Grandpa sat there in his chair as Grandma and I played a mean game of Double Solitaire, Dodger asleep in his lap, both as happy as clams.

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***

Truthfully, I don’t think of him often enough. Thank you for everything you’ve given me. I miss you.

2 years later.

‘Cause You’re On Your Own in the Real World

As some of you know, I have spent the past year with O.J. Simpson. Not literally with O.J. Simpson – that would be, to put it mildly, uncomfortable – but working on two O.J. docs that recently premiered on LMN and A&E. I am officially a co-producer with legit IMDB credits and a few people at a major network know my name. Go me. Tact and future dealings preclude me from divulging all I may, but trust it will make a really cool chapter in my autobiography one day.

Last night, I returned to catering, my stalwart source of employment. Throughout this year long excursion into death and celebrity justice, I made sure to stay in the loop at Wolfgang Puck, working a shift every few weekends; no one ever really “quits” Wolfgang Puck. Wolfgang Puck – from management to housemen – is full of actors, writers, directors, producers, singer/songwriters, stand up comedians, and other dream chasers in a series of rotations; this season’s crop of available people in between their projects and new imports to the city; that delicate balance of seasoned vets, too bitter to care, and wide-eyed ingenues too naive to know they are being taken advantage of.

It was a typical event – an easy one, at that; dozens of lemmings feeding an anonymous group of corporate out-of-towners who think they are getting the best meal of their lives.  It was really nice seeing old friends and was even looking forward to the gig; after a year of intense, crazy 12 hour days, dealing with drama, last minute demands, and a desk full of tasks that inevitably became mine, I was eager to show up in a place where I could literally exist on autopilot, making fairly decent money. But 15 minutes before clocking in, I started to get this overbearing sense of anxiety and unrest in the pit of my still good, but no longer 6 packed stomach. I texted Julian my concerns – a man that on top of being my husband, etc. is very much living his own Arrested Development, trapped in situations from which he is feverishly working hard to emerge.

“It’s not where you belong,” he said. As if anyone “belonged” catering. I think I’ve met about five people in all my years of hospitality that actually wanted to be there.

But I knew what he meant. And he was right. I did not belong there. I had seen the other side, experienced what life could be, what I was capable of, appreciated by legends, and now I was back to doing the very thing I had done when I first moved to Los Angeles over 5 years ago. If I had let myself really sulk in it, it would have been a really depressing night.

Surprisingly though, it made me hungrier, starving in fact. Ask most anyone, particularly Julian, and you will know that I have not always been the most driven of people (see my post Little Teeth for a recent reference point). And while I may not “need” to be famous/rich, it sure beats the alternative. But even above being famous/rich, “happiness” – that elusive, yet gregarious paramour – is really what life could be about. And working in catering is not it. Duh. So I need to chase my happiness; 32 years in and that word is finally gleaning some real world definition.

My biggest fear of going back to WP, back to these people that I had “left behind,” was that I would look like a failure. I was really trying to avoid any conversation about Mr. Simpson and my current life. Of course, I was asked the unavoidable question (“I saw your show! What are you doing here? Why aren’t you on to the next big adventure?”), but I’m kind of glad it happened. Among other reasons, it humbled me a little, remembering that all of us are one gig away from “making it” – and completely susceptible to having our lives take a turn and returning us to the start.

The main thing that this O.J. experience has really taught me – or I guess made blindingly obvious – is that nothing is out of reach, yet everything requires hard work, determination, and passion. And that nothing will ever be handed to you, ever. If I want to be done catering, I have to apply myself. I have to have a plan, an end game. The flame must always be slightly lit. It helps that I have people to throw logs onto the dying embers, but it is always up to me to strike the match.

Here’s to the next bonfire.

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Lost in Translation

Torn between the rain and the dust,
there are some things I feel I must
explain to you.

I find myself wanting to say
the thing
that thing
that others will not understand
but we do

Yes we do.

We feel the same, He and I
about the future
and though he holds the reins
sometimes he lets me drive the carriage.
So I put on my spurs
and crawl into the saddle
and ride
yes ride to the footstep of your door.

Separated by space and language
I fumble for the best way to seduce

Torn between my love and lust
There are some things I feel I must
Explain to you

But I guess I don’t need to.
I guess I don’t need to.

Little Teeth

While scrolling through the iTunes albums charts to check on Rebel Heart‘s current ranking – something I do more than once a day – I came across, at #155, Fatboy Slim’s album The Greatest Hits (Why Try Harder?). The irony of having a Greatest Hits collection subtitled “Why Try Harder” was not lost on me. Nor was its price. All those years of blood, sweat, and tears ended up being worth $5.99.

On paper, I have a lot of ambition. When I close my eyes, I imagine winning awards, publishing books, traveling the world, cutting records, and smoking weed with Erykah Badu. It is a Hollywood life, but one that is steeped in “keeping it real” – whatever that means. But the older I get, the more I realize that in order to really achieve these goals, there is an inordinate amount of work that must go into them. The ones who “make it” spend their lives always looking around the next corner, planning their next adventure, staging their next coup, and like a feral locomotive, are constantly adding wood to the engine to keep the blaze afire. And I am starting to wonder: Is that me? And is it all really worth it?

I’m 31 years old and for the first time in my life I am actually doing what I love to do for a living. While I am precluded from sharing the intimate details of my job – oh those pesky NDAs – I can share that I work full time as a television producer working on a true crime documentary. Not only that, but one of my bosses is the legendary photo journalist Lawrence Schiller, the man who as he once put it to Larry King has “sat with kings and queens, murderers, and rapists.” He has been intimately involved in most of the major crime stories of the 20th century, most notably responsible for conducting the numerous interviews with Gary Gilmore that became Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Executioner’s Song. The man is 78 years old and still hustling, taking a lunch with Annie Leibowitz to discuss a potential project or needing to call me back because Barbra Streisand is on the other line. He prides himself on “getting the story that no one else could” and he has, sitting for jail house interviews with Jack Ruby, Susan Atkins, and OJ Simpson; photographing the famous nudes of Marilyn Monroe in that swimming pool; and  picking up an Oscar and some Emmy’s along the way for his directorial work. To think that a year ago I was fired from Judge Judy and am now working for him on a project I love is kind of insane.

For the majority of my adult life, I have been hustling. Not necessarily for my dreams, but for my dinner. As dramatic as that may sound, for most of the past decade, I have skirted the poverty line, taking any job I could just to get by. I have always had two jobs, sometimes three. Even now, with a relatively nice sized paycheck from my day job, I refuse to ever quit Wolfgang Puck because as Judge Judy taught me, work can end at any point without warning. So once or twice a month on Saturdays, I’ll pick up a catering shift just to keep myself in the rotation in case shit ever hits the fan again.

The great thing about working for a small independent production company is that there isn’t some corporate hierarchy constantly looking over your shoulder, complete with their fake smiles and the way they try and pretend you are an asset to the team even though you are really just a cog in their billion dollar wheel. Our company is comprised of ten people and though I am a “nobody,” my thoughts and creative opinions are valued, listened to, and yes, even sometimes used. With such a small team, it also means more demands are put on my shoulders since everyone is crossing over and multi-tasking. In the eight months I have been here, I have been an accountant, an archivist, a travel agent, a researcher, a writer, a salesman, a developer, a Time Warner negotiator, a transcriber, an editor, a footage guru, the resident encyclopedia, and a sounding board for the inevitable internal drama that happens when so few people work together under such high stakes. And with the demands of production, work doesn’t necessarily stop at 7pm on Friday night. It is easily the most challenging – and rewarding – job I have ever had.

The bad thing about working for a small independent production company is that once the project is over, you are back on the market looking for a new job. My boss is ever vigilant about this reality, reminding me the words “Wolfgang Puck” in a playful tone as a very real consequence to not selling another show before our contract is up. He is constantly encouraging me to work hard(er) and keep us in business. To which I usually just politely grin or on a day where I am really feeling motivated and inspired, actually consider the possibilities. That is if it isn’t TOO much work. I am willing to work hard, just not sacrificing my free time to do it.

Before I began pulling a weekly salary from a job with a (fairly) consistent schedule, I was all over the map. This is the nature of catering. You work Tuesday at 5 am, Fridays at 4pm, and Saturdays, especially in LA during award season, usually means that you’ll be at Hollywood and Highland way into the early hours of the morning stacking chairs in the ballroom or going on a trash run to the bowels of LA Live. I used to get frustrated with Julian that he didn’t want to do anything on his days off. Days off were just that: days off. He would put on his bathrobe, curl up on the couch, and fall asleep to a basketball game, while I was itching to at least go to the movies or when I was really feeling antsy, go to the beach or out dancing. My job was mindless and meaningless and I needed to go out and find “meaning.”

Now I cannot wait for Fridays at 7 when I rush to my car and drive home as fast as I can to get into my pajamas where I hope to remain for the next 48 hours. The previous 5 days, 40-50 hours per, have been spent working on a project I love. A project that is exhausting physically, mentally, and emotionally. It seems everyday there is a new fire to put out and sometimes it ends up putting out my own. Sometimes that ambition on paper is crumpled up into a ball and thrown out on Ventura next to the discarded hubcap that no one has bothered to remove all these months, day after day getting run over by unsuspecting motorists. It isn’t just a Friday activity where I look forward to getting in my car and driving home as fast as I can.

When I was catering, there was a very real desire to get up, get out, and do something. But truthfully, I didn’t really. This production job sort of fell into my lap because I knew the producer – welcome to Hollywood. It wasn’t (just) nepotism though; I have definitely proven myself over the years to him to be passionate, talented, and driven. To be a man who wants to go places. I think he sees a little of himself in me. But now that I have “arrived,” I want to enjoy the party. So much of my life has been about struggling and chronic analysis, self-doubt and ridiculous obsessions, always wondering “what if” and “how to get there” – wherever this apocryphal there is. But now I’m at a place in my life where I want to live in the moment. To take everyday as it comes without constantly worrying or plotting or dreaming about tomorrow. To just enjoy NOW.

I realize this is not the attitude of a legend. To become a legend, as I’ve claimed I’ve always wanted to be, one must always be worrying and plotting and dreaming about tomorrow. My boss always has his eye on more films, more series, the next big thing. How do we get there? Julian is in a very similar place. He is working incredibly hard to quit his job and achieve his dreams of being a writer. He is working incredibly hard to have the body he wants, getting up at 5:30 every morning to do Insanity. Not some punk faux-work out plan, but the hardest one there is. And me? I quit working out after five days. I spend most of my free time talking with friends about Rihanna’s taunts of a new album or the brilliance of American Horror Story’s writing instead of sitting holed up in our guest room (surrounded by clean laundry from two weeks ago that I haven’t put away) working on a script, writing a pitch for a new show, or figuring out what is the best way to finagle myself into jail to see Ashton Sachs. I feel like I am a disappointment sometimes to my boss and my husband because I am not willing to throw my entire life into chasing a dream like they are. And the funny thing is that they will achieve their heights and I won’t. And I’m kind of OK with this. Today. Tomorrow I may stay late at work and crank out a new pitch for a series that would keep us all employed for years. But I probably won’t. Tomorrow is Monday and RuPaul’s Drag Race is on at 8.

Everything in life is a balancing act. Pros and cons. This outweighing that. The older you get, so many things come into perspective. You see yourself more clearly:

I know now that I am a narcissist. There are very few people I actually care about in this world. Sometimes I am OK with this; other times I wish I were kinder and cared more.

I know now that I am a hedonist. Most of my life revolves around my id, maximizing my happiness and eschewing tasks that bring about frustration and struggle. This obviously explains my love of drugs and sex, but more importantly it boxes my dreams – at least the long term ones – into a corner, making me choose to fight back or allowing them to beat me. I am also a masochist so you can guess which one I usually choose.

And I know now that I am a nihilist. I used to think that the “meaning of life” was being famous or at least being loved by everyone. But what it actually boils down to is being loved by someone. Or more accurately, having someone to love. Yes, the self-help books will preach to you about loving yourself – hell, even my RuPaul preaches this – but for all the joy one gleans from applause, validation, awards, being remembered, being “important” and anything else that makes one strive for success, I have found that there is nothing quite like the way I feel when Julian looks over at me from the couch with his marijuana glazed eyes. Or the way Dodger, our little terrier pup, smiles that huge grin and flashes his little row of bottom teeth.

I’ve always scoffed at women who say all they want to be is a mom or I’ll roll my eyes at the simplicity of the hippie jargon that “love is all you need.” But maybe they’re on to something. As Margo Channing says in All About Eve: “And in the last analysis, nothing’s any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is.” Maybe this is all a big excuse, a rationalization for my “laziness”. But for the first time in my life, I feel a sense of serenity, like I’ve taken a giant sigh and realized that life is really not that serious. All of that worrying and analyzing was…for what? All of the desire to be…something…is…for what? Deep inside, I hope that someday I’ll get my shit “together” and achieve these far-fetched dreams. To actually put the work into what it takes. To be inspired again. To be obsessed and hungry again. Or maybe, just maybe, I never really have been. Things have always come easily to me. I am talented and have charisma, but I gave up on performing when I realized the realities of the hustle. Something I love deeply. Writing has always come naturally to me, but now that I have a job where I am getting paid to write and be creative, the independent desire to write my film about Jonestown or even my blog has gone by the wayside. It’s all just too.much.work. Have I always been lazy and just never realized it? I guess I’ll figure it out tomorrow. Or not. But today, I’m stoned and playing with my dog. And I’m OK with that.

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Enter Crying

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There are some people that you feel will never die. My grandfather was one of them. Despite his numerous surgeries and bouts with illness, his spirit was indomitable. He was a survivor armed with a smile and a life lesson about hope and determination. And when he lost this will to live, Tod West died. He was 80.

Joan Rivers was 81 and you would never know it. Not because of the cosmetic surgery, but because of her intense/insane energy. Joan was never going to go down without a fight. When most people are retiring or shuffling off to nursing homes, Joan remained busier and more lively than people half her age. On television, her reality show Joan and Melissa: Joan Knows Best had been renewed for a fifth season and she had two talk shows going strong, Fashion Police (her long standing fashion criticism program on E! that had been on and off the air since 2002) and In Bed with Joan, where she would interview celebrities from her home, that was well into its second season. In print, she had just published her 12th book, Diary of a Mad Diva. She continued to hock her jewelry on QVC, tour the world doing stand-up, and hit every late night spot she could secure. For anyone who has seen her incredible documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010), you know her need to work fueled her spirit to live. Like Woody Allen, it was a distraction to keep her from thinking about aging and the inevitable. And to continuously prove that, goddamn it, you like me. You will like me. It was as if she was constantly needing to prove Johnny Carson’s belief in her: “You’re gonna be a star, kid.” She would do anything to stay fresh, relevant, and vital including (winning) The Celebrity Apprentice, ads for Geico, and starring in her own play in Europe. She even joked that she would do diaper and Viagra commercials if anyone offered them to her. She hated looking back. Hated thinking about being an “icon.” “Oh, Miss Rivers, you broke down such doors for women.” Joan was always quick to remind us, “Fuck you. I’m still breaking down doors.” If Joan had had her way, she would have outlasted George Burns and Bob Hope, yelling at us from the footlights at 107. But instead, people from all over the world are chiming in on what a “legend” she was. I can see her giving us the finger right now.

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It’s ironic that a routine surgical procedure would cause her demise. Joan was no stranger to the surgeon’s knife and spoke out on the joys – and the necessities – of staying youthful in a young person’s business. This was a visceral metaphor indicative to her zest for life, her continued obsession with remaining current. To add even more irony to her untimely end, Joan was having surgery on her vocal chords: her livelihood, her trademark, and the very thing that made her legendary. Without Joan Rivers’ voice, her unmistakable cadence, the conduit for her irascibility, there would be no Joan Rivers. It’s fitting that this would end her life.

We latch onto celebrities for a variety of reasons. They speak to our personalities, our dreams, and serve as the voice we wish we had in the culture. Joan Rivers was one of the few – along with Larry Kramer, Roseanne, and John Waters – that I felt was an actual kindred spirit. Someone that spoke for me. Someone that represented who I wanted to be. A no-bullshit, take charge, tough-as-nails motherfucker who left a lasting impression on everyone she met, unafraid to speak her mind, regardless of how she would be perceived. She lived in the moment, lived to make others laugh, and was constantly searching for a happiness within herself. 

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There is always an outpouring of affection when a famous person dies. When people I respect die, I usually go about my day only slightly fazed, saddened that they are gone, but not truly, deeply touched. I didn’t know them. And they didn’t know me. They exist in this strange, amorphous universe called Celebrity where nothing is real. True, there have been some rogue examples over the years (The Golden Girls, Elaine Stritch, and Roger Ebert come to mind…) who left me heavily affected, but no one has reached the personal level of Joan Rivers. A woman I have treated as my own grandmother and felt, like my own grandfather, that she truly would never die. Now, I’m sitting here at work, drafting letters trying not to cry. Trying not to cry for a woman I didn’t know, yet knew so well.

I met her about 5 years ago. I saw her perform at The Bitter End in New York, a dingy club where she tried out new material for years. Being a homosexual, the audience wrangler put me in the front row. Joan spotted my ridiculous grin and talked to me about St. Louis. Joan Rivers spoke to me. About my home town. I had never felt so close to her. After the show, I combated the crazy drunk girls who were falling over themselves in embarrassment to speak to Joan. I waited my turn, album in hand, to get her signature and thank her for a great show. To thank her for everything. My memories are vague of the moment – I have a similar haze of meeting Bea Arthur – but it was pivotal for me. We had connected in a way I never thought possible. I had met my hero and was pleasantly surprised. She was kind and charming and warm, something that gets hidden in her public persona. When I need to hear a familiar voice, I play that album and am taken away to that moment when Joan, wrapped in her fur jacket and yes, looking great up close, signed my album and shook my hand.

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I’ve been anticipating this moment for the past few days. Wondered what I would say, how I could convey my deep love for this woman. This celebrity. I’ve been starting my days catching up on episodes of In Bed with Joan, produced and co-hosted by her daughter Melissa – the Carrie Fisher type figure that has been a huge part of her career and public life for the past 25 years. To know Joan is to know Melissa. Again, when famous people die, even famous people that I love die, I am ambivalent for their family members. I am caught up in my own “grief” and gloss over the very real world circumstances of the people who actually knew them. But not Melissa. Melissa feels like family. The deep bond they shared was obvious and real. And I feel sorry for her and her son, Cooper. I hope they are not forgotten in the public’s outcry for Joan.

Thank you, Joan, for filling my life with such joy and laughter. You are missed already. Take care.

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Faggot on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Swallowing anger like a vitamin
Strengthening this disconnect
Taking a breath and counting to ten
no longer has any effect
If it ever did
I would bid my last drink
For a moment of calm and peace
But it’s all bullshit
So I take another hit
And for an hour the voices cease.

For an hour I’m free
to just be the me
that the others would worship
if they only could see.
But blocking His path are
The Legion of Shame
The vicious
The cruel
even the meek and the lame.
The Mother, the Father
The Boys in Bowties
The failure
the fear
the hope and the lies.
They pull and they prod and they pinch and they bite
I try to push through but it’s a hell of a fight.

Afraid to face me
so I blame you.
It’s easier that way
Living askew.
So I dive ass first
in a world of servitude
begging that it will change my
Attitude.

But the world goes on
and I’m somewhere in between
never knowing how to act
without feeling so mean.
“Just think happy thoughts” –
Well, here’s one for you:
Go fuck yourself.
And your Mamma too.
If it were that simple,
don’t you think that I’d do it?
Instead of strangling this bitch who keeps telling me
to screw it.
“Screw all the dreams, and the art, and the fame
Just get to work on forgetting your name.”

So tonight, you win,
you ruthless cunt
Tomorrow I’ll smile
and put on a brave front.
but inside I’ll be screaming
wishing I would drown

Just a faggot on the verge
of a nervous breakdown.

Unknown

The Boys in their Bow Ties

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The Boys in their Bow Ties
Whisper in the dark.
Unaware of their taunts,
They flaunt their
Youthful
limbs

Suddenly, I am there
in the halls of the past,
waiting for him to turn the corner.
He kisses her cheek
and brushes her hand
while I bask
in my
Masochism.

***

The Boys in their Bow Ties
SHOUT
their desires
Yet
remain the envy of all

while the boy in his blue jeans –
the pair he cut up the side himself,
thinking it made him sexy;
the boy in his Marilyn Manson t-shirt –
with safety pins galore
and an oversized attitude he thought made him edgy…
…this boy watches
and wishes
in
SILENCE
begging for the chance
to one day know
the choke of a clasp
and the embrace of acceptability

***

The Boys in their Bow Ties
are beautiful.
Yes,
B e a u t i f u l.

Suddenly, I am there
on the corner of 8th Avenue,
waiting for The One that doesn’t exist.
He kisses my cheek
and brushes my hand
then ravishes me
as he should.
In the heat of the night,
the morning is cold

and I’m back at the party again.

***

The Boys in their Bow Ties
dance the night away.
Their coy sophistication
catches my sentimental eye.
The DJ plays “Kiss,”
but I want “Diamonds and Pearls”;
I guess it’s just a “Sign O’ the Times”…
But who needs a Prince when there’s a Pharaoh in your bed?
So I put my Lust away
And pull my Heart out instead.

Forgetting all my Humbert dreams
and Annabel Lee fantasies,
I resume my place in the real world
and remember how far I’ve come –
how far we’ve come –
and I smile.
And I smile.

***

The Boys in their Bow Ties
still whisper in the dark
and I guess they always will.
Yet the Men in their Pajamas
sing the sweetest lullabies…

How lucky I am to have found You.

In the Good Old Summertime

It’s a strange, strange feeling
this dance we do;
Loving Him,
But missing You.

We live in the Bubble
Playing our games,
Creating these characters
with funny names.

He’s everything I’ve hoped for –
the warmth, the burn…
But there’s this springtime sadness
when I think of your return.

Your touch
Your smile
Your mysterious ways.
Your distant power
makes me count the days.

It’s a strange, strange feeling
this dance we do;
Needing Him,
But wanting You.

Free-Beach-Sunset-Wallpaper

‘Cause You Got to Have Friends

The best part of marriage is the insular universe you create. The secret jokes. The unspoken understandings. The living-in-your-underwear-on-the-couch-ordering-take-out-watching-reality-TV-and-playing-with-the-dog nightly rituals. The characters you become during sex. And the comfort to actually be the most authentic version of yourself you are capable when another person is present.

But one of the downfalls of marriage is that same insular universe. The friendships you once had transform for the lesser if they don’t all but disappear. The feeling of self shifts from an I to a We. The what-should-we-do-tonight-I-don’t-care-what-do-you-want-to-do-tonight ping pong game that results in neither of you really doing what you want to do because you feel an obligation to hang out even though maybe you just want to read a book. The characters you become (in spite of yourself) during sex. And the old baggage you sometimes have to actively remember to forget.

Last night, Julian‘s basketball team had a game some 2 hours away and wasn’t going to be home until late. Finally! This was my chance to be alone. To hang out with someone else! To not have to consult about what to do. To make the decision MYSELF. I was not going to waste this respite. But what to do? And with whom?!

I knew I wanted to do something interactive. No wandering around the bookstore or going to the movies or listening to albums on The Rolling Stone 500 for me. This behavior was getting stale. Most of my days – Hell, most of my life – is spent inside my head, alone with my books, my movies, or my music. Or online “talking” with “friends.” Or with Julian. Or the ever adorable, yet silent Dodger. I needed some old fashioned human connection. A conversation. A face to face encounter.

But who the hell was I going to call? My longest friends, Joshua (the one with whom I volley relationship drama) and Trevor (the one with whom I trade texted quips), live hundreds of miles away. The smatterings of people I could imagine spending an evening with and not feeling like immense amounts of catch up would be involved were either busy or non-responsive (this is what you get trying to make plans the afternoon of…). Then there was the fear of the ever important balance of personalities and egos crucial to assembling a group of strangers. Would her loquacious nature be overpowering to his stoic grace? Do I assemble a group of burners or drunks? And if someone doesn’t do either, would that be awkward? Where do I want my own presence to situate? Center of attention? Or passive observer? And would people from the Valley really drive to LAX during rush hour? A very small list developed. And as usual, Maureen came to the rescue.

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Maureen and I met back in my Party Staff days, catering to the stars for our measly $11 an hour. I was drawn to her bubbly personality that seemed to balance out my work persona of Fuck These People and This Party. She is the person I count on to bring me out of whatever funks I’m in because she is relentlessly chipper, borderline obnoxious. She reminds me that somewhere in here I am kind. And maybe I shouldn’t pretend so hard that I am not a nice person. (Incidentally, one of the new executives at work, also named Maureen, recently complemented me on my work ethic and its accompanying smile; maybe I am not as self-aware and calculating as I think…). When Maureen #1 is sober, she reminds me of my mom when she is drunk, the good time Sally who wants everyone else to have a good time; when she is lifted, she plays like the sister I never had, listening to my (drunken) bullshit with an attentive ear and opens up my heart to things I usually wouldn’t let in without inebriation. So naturally we got drunk as soon as possible last night.

Since I so rarely am around other people – and I mean really around other people; the niceties of water cooler conversation don’t count… – there is usually this adjustment period. This jolt to remind myself, “Hey. Focus! Exist in the real world now.” I must find my way on how I want to relate, how I CAN relate, and how I probably should relate. Which is where booze and weed come into play.

This drunken relaxation, this sigh of relief, is not specific to my interactions with Maureen; they are indicative of my interactions with everyone. I would always choose to be drunk or high if I could. And when Julian and I are home alone, we are usually stoned. I can’t speak on what this does for him, but for me this helps box the ever-present anxiety into a corner and allows me to enjoy the moment in the moment instead of worrying about what the moment could mean. It helps expedite the aforementioned transition from Cerebral to Tangible and makes me a lot more willing and able to participate at a jovial level.

Maureen and I had a nice time, watching Rocky Horror complete with a running quotation commentary. Neither of us had seen the film for a long time, but some things just stick with you; we also tried to remember the Nicene Creed and actually got most of it – some things REALLY stick with you. We talked of family and work and it felt really nice to connect with someone who was not my husband. I wish we had had more time. Maybe next visit the transition will be shorter. Or the drinking will come sooner.

But quite early in the evening, almost from the moment I picked her up, I started wishing…that Julian was going to be home when we got there. All the excitement of having an evening to myself, a friend to myself, to momentarily enjoy the I instead of the We suddenly flew out the window and my full blown addiction to my husband started to creep into withdrawal stage. I needed my fix and I needed it now. Needed the way he pulls his green hoodie over his long hair. Needed the way he pauses the TV when a contestant says something incredulous. Needed the way he sings to himself with all those Lauryn Hill-isms and I join in and change the key. Needed his “Breakfast Can Wait” dance.

It reminded me that he is indeed my best friend after years of scoffing at the idea that your lover is, could be, or even should be. But what is a best friend if not the friend you like the best? And if you are going to marry your friend, making a commitment to be friends until you die, you better like him more than everyone else. Julian is the one person that I need to talk to every day, the one person that has seen the incredibly ugly creases and is still around, the one person whose presence, even on the bad days, still fills the room with hope and wonder. The one person that can make me swoon and sweat and scratch and claw despite almost six years of looking at his face.

But it doesn’t mean that he should be my ONLY friend. The We is wonderful, but so often I feel like I am letting the I get away from me. That I need to make excuses for myself. To defend my dissenting opinions. For those who only know me as bold and brash, there is a very equal part that is timid and terrified. I need to remember to reassert Jonathon. To not get so lost in the bliss that I can’t find my own way. And this means making human connections with other people. Stopping to listen. Waiting to care. Allowing others to be flawed. To collect different styles of friends to enlighten and expand and energize my own journey. To be a better friend to myself.

And then to come home, stronger, to the arms of my best friend.

The Heterodox Homo and the Time His Husband Got Homogeneous

While reading up on cults – a semi-regular ritual of my days – I came across a word I didn’t know. Heterodox. Thinking it had something to do with sex, naturally I looked up its definition:

Heterodox (adj.) – not conforming with accepted or orthodox standards or beliefs.

So I was kind of right.

It seems funny that the very definition of my life, the very mantra by which I try and exist, was so perfectly encapsulated in a word I had never heard. And it seems all the more fitting to learn today, Valentine’s Day; a day that has never really meant all that much in the Saia/Michael household; a day that is met with eye rolls and feigned bouts of nausea; a a day for suckers who need to buy into the consumerist crap in order to say I Love You; a day for other people. Not us. Not these trailblazers.

One of the things that bonds Julian and me is our desire to live individually. We don’t really have friends in the traditional sense of hanging out or even purging our souls; we kind of just got each other. And the dog, but he’s not a really great listener. We value the unexpected, the unconventional, and spend most of our time in one way or another, analyzing the ideas of Right and Wrong, Black and White (literally and figuratively), and forging our own path through the woods, sexually, emotionally, and creatively.

So this morning when Julian asked me out to dinner for Valentine’s Day, I was of course surprised. This from the man whom when I mentioned the “holiday” off-handedly last week pretended to swallow imaginary vomit. We laughed, thought nothing more of it, and went back to watching Scream Queens. Our first Valentine’s Day – well, actually not our first Valentine’s Day; our first Valentine’s Day was when we met on gay.com and I tried to sleep with Julian, but he turned me down; something about trying to not sleep around anymore or whatever…it wasn’t until we were together a year that he reminded me that April 29, 2008 was not the first time we had spoken… – anyway, our actual first Valentine’s Day together as a couple was kind of awful – I was going through some serious bullshit – and ever since, we’ve never really done much of anything. Except that hot air balloon ride. That was pretty cool. So I thought, what the hell? Let’s go out.

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All my life I obsessed over Valentine’s Day. My mother was always my Valentine – I think that tells you something about our dynamic and my childhood – because when I was into girls (and there was a period I was into girls) they would do bullshit things like promise me a kiss and then give me a piece of Hershey’s and when I realized I was really into boys, no one was digging on me; to wit, my first crush’s birthday was February 13 so Valentine’s Day during high school was a dramatic event fit for a late-career Bette Davis. So without fail, Marge would give me a gift and a card and an array of my favorite candy (5th Avenue is my jam) way beyond the point where this would be considered “acceptable” – she even texted me this morning, 30 years old and married. I think she does it because we are bonded on this day, indicative of our symbiosis that has lessoned but will never completely disconnect, for better and for worse. It reminded me of the best note she ever gave me. Knowing that I was having a hard time in high school, lonely and afraid that I would never find love and acceptance, she wrote: “Happy Valentine’s Day. Someday this will be a very special day for you. Love, Mom.” Seems simple, but given the time and the emotions in our house, it was huge and inspirational.

And of course the sentiment came true. I found love in the form of Julian Gerard Michael, friend, partner, jokester, artist, puppy whisperer, teacher, sex machine. And now Husband. I am thankful everyday that he is mine. I don’t need some stupid consumerist holiday to prove it! Screw Hallmark and See’s and FTD and Kay’s. My man and I see right through your chicanery. And don’t need any of it.

Or do we? Do we show each other our appreciation “enough”? And what does that even mean? I’m not going to buy him some goddamn bear the size of our couch. Your commercials are ridiculous, Vermont Teddy Bear Co. And no, woman on the side of La Brea. I’m not going to buy your big pink heart shaped pillows or your bouquets of roses. But I’ve got to do something, right? The feelings of guilt and fear come over me, the feelings psychologists at ad agencies prey upon: I must show my love in material ways. But then I take my deep breath, the one that years of Blue Dreams have shallowed, and remember what this “holiday” is supposed to be all about. It’s about checking in. It’s about being present. It’s about getting off the couch and out of your pajamas. It’s about taking the time between dreams and distractions and dishes and the never ending drudgery of work to say, “Hey there. Remember me?” Of course, we don’t need a special day to do this. We should always be there for one another and listen and care and love and laugh. But we aren’t. We get complacent. Or caught up in our own bullshit. So I guess, against my heterodox nature, sometimes it’s nice to go with the flow, to engage in society’s traditions. No one says you have to do them like everyone else, that they have to mean the things we are told they should mean. Valentine’s Day, like love, is myriad. And specific to the one’s experiencing it.

So tonight I’m putting on my tie – and my new pair of underpants – and stepping out with my Valentine.