Category Archives: Memoir

#MyFirstGayBar Part II… I discover gay bars don’t necessarily have to suck at The Phoenix, NYC

I felt that yesterday’s post about my first time in a gay bar was a bit of a downer, so here’s some words about finally finding a gay bar where I felt accepted.

I didn’t come out until 2000 when I was a whopping 33 years old. This isn’t going to be a tale about me tiptoeing into my first bar (for proper reasons; see above). I had sold pants at Dillards in Austin for a few years during grad school, so I was constantly being dragged to places like Oil Can Harry’s in the name of workplace colleague bonding.

No, this is about finally finding a place I liked. When I came out in Austin, I tried going out to the bars there. My entire circle of gay peers consisted of the sad sacks in my coming out support group, and they hated me because I admitted that drag queens kind of frightened me. I needed friends, and I figured I could meet maybe one or two at any one of Austin’s several gay establishments.

It didn’t work out that way. I hardly talked to anyone basically because I felt so uncomfortable in the Austin bars. They were not for me. My only pleasant memory of Oil Can Harry’s was that night I closed the place and found a nice GAP shirt on the empty dance floor in my size. The Chain Drive, the leather/bear bar in town, had fluorescent lighting.

Fluorescent lighting.

phoenixOne winter break, early 2002, I decided to spend a week in NYC. I found a cheap guesthouse on Second Avenue and 13th Street in the East Village and set out, armed with my Damron guide. I didn’t have to go far –The Phoenix was only two long blocks away. First thing I noticed was the music. I had no idea that gay folk who listened to the same type of music as me existed. To this day, I think The Phoenix had the best-curated jukebox I’ve ever encountered. Continue reading #MyFirstGayBar Part II… I discover gay bars don’t necessarily have to suck at The Phoenix, NYC

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#MyFirstGayBar: I’m a jerk at the Gold 9, Studio City, CA

My first visit to a gay bar was to the now-defunct Gold 9 in Studio City, CA, and it was as awash in closeted homophobia as you can get. You see, this took place a full ten years before I came out. To this day, I worry I was a jerk.

Several of us from my film program at the University of Michigan had moved out to LA late in 1990 to pursue our dreams. We all settled within a few miles of each other in the Valley or in Hollywood proper. To make LA seem a little more like home, one Saturday afternoon we set out to “interview” bars, to see which ones offered the proper mix of drink prices and amenities like pool and darts.

It was going along all very heteronormatively as the six of us walked into Gold 9 on that slow Saturday afternoon. It seemed like a nice dive, nothing out of the ordinary. Two gentlemen were shooting pool so my friend Mark wrote his name on the chalkboard. Beers were obtained. We chatted among ourselves, completely unaware of our surrounding; it wasn’t as though the Gold 9 was awash in rainbow splendor. Continue reading #MyFirstGayBar: I’m a jerk at the Gold 9, Studio City, CA

Don’t touch the Bear there

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The belly in question.

This morning I’m filling out my registration for this year’s Bear Pride, which is to be held over Memorial Day in Chicago. For the uninitiated, the term “Bear” refers to larger gay men who usually choose to sport facial hair. They proclaim that they prefer to gather in groups with other “Bears” to get a little something-something and to fight the stigma of body shaming.

There is a lot of body shaming.

I know I don’t wear flannel shirts and a beard because they look particularly fetching on me. I wear flannel shirts and a beard because flannel shirts are easy to find in XXL, and a beard is really only the socially acceptable way to cover a triple chin, extra jowly.

So I will travel to Chicago for Bear Pride to NOT be nervous about my body and instead judge people on normal things like the wittiness of their quips, or the irony of their t-shirts, or inanity of their WOOF tattoos. [FYI to the uninitiated: Some Bears like to say “Woof.” Avoid these Bears. They are stupid, and this one word will be the extent of their conversation.] Continue reading Don’t touch the Bear there

A review of the Wendy’s at Exit 262 of I-80 in Hazleton, PA…

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Mile marker 262 of any stretch of highway is as good a place stop as any other.

On the eastbound trip along I-80 into NYC, one knows there’s only fifty more miles of Pennsylvania. Better start prepping your mind and your bladder for the descent into the City.

On the westbound journey, one pulls over to steel themselves in the face of the 262 miles of Pennsylvania that lies ahead.

“It’s sooooo long,” people you talk to always seem to know the exact mileage, “311 miles!” And it not just any 311 miles of Pennsylvania, it’s 311 miles of Pennsylvania laid out as to avoid major population centers. You’ll pass by such landmarks as State Game Lands Number 331 and State Game Lands Number 54. The cruel joke here is the original name of the highway was the Keystone Shortway. “You want the shortest way through Pennsylvania? Well, it’s 311 miles. Fuck you. Call it the Shortway, you rest stop fouling bitch!”

“Shortway…” you grovel.

“Good. That’s how Pennsylvania likes its motorists.” Continue reading A review of the Wendy’s at Exit 262 of I-80 in Hazleton, PA…

Open letter to the friend who broke up with me because he thought I was too much of a suicide risk…

Dear _____________________,

First of all, I would like to point out the not-inconsequential fact that it’s two and a half years later, and I’m STILL HERE. I am not dead. I did not do myself in. Obviously, this must be a bit of a surprise for you, considering how close you must’ve thought I was to… to…

Just how did you fantasize I was going to do it? It’s still an odd feeling that someone besides me was contemplating my demise. How far along in the planning stage were you. There has to be some point where thinking about someone else’s upcoming suicide turns into plotting their murder.

Especially when you turn your back. Suddenly. After eight years of friendship.

I still remember that night you cast me out. Things weren’t going so well for me: I had just spent a week on a disastrous vacation that I thought would relax me but turned out to be basically was one long, extended panic attack, and also I just found out that I was in real danger of being evicted from the apartment I loved. I had had a therapy appointment that evening. The therapist, realizing I was in a fragile state, told me to call a friend to talk when I got home –just to stay connected.

Before I left her office, she made me write out and sign a sheet of paper stating that I would not harm myself. I know that might sound stupid to you, but making a promise to someone in writing really makes you step back and think about offing yourself. She also made me promise that I would call a friend. She asked me whom I could call. Yours was the first name I said.

That’s how much you meant to me. You meant so much that I felt I could actually call and talk to you. On the phone. With voices.

I’m not sure you remember the message I left. It was nothing special, just something along the lines of “Hey, it’s me. Had a really rough therapy session, and she said I should call someone to stay connected. Could really use to hear a friendly voice tonight.” Something like that; I can’t remember the exact words I used.

I ordered some pad thai and waited for you to call. When you can’t talk to someone, occupying your mouth with pad thai is the next best thing.

You never called. I went to bed, taking an Ambien to make the day go away.

Then, just as I was drifting off, you TEXTED back. Texting to return a phone message is always a bad sign. Right off the bat, I knew it was bad: “I don’t think I can do this any more,” you wrote. After going on a bit about how I was shiftless and lazy –“At least get a job at a grocery store! Do something!” –you got to the corpse of the matter. “I think you’re going to end up killing yourself, and I can’t be around for that.”

Well, I know you can’t be around for my suicide. That would be sick, just sitting by and watching as I… seriously, how did you imagine this would go down? I bet you were thinking pills. I’ve always have had a lot of pills hanging around because of my Bipolar II condition.

I know you thought you knew all about Bipolar because of that one friend you had who experienced the manic episodes. Not to diminish her suffering, but she has Bipolar I, a disease as different from Bipolar II as Diabetes I and II are from each other. But no matter how often I tried to remind you of this fact, you always insisted on telling me that she had it a lot worse than me.

And on a side note: Never compare one person’s mental illness to another’s, especially when they are different types. You will look like a fool, and will make at least one of the ill people feel even worse.

That’s what sucks about Bipolar II: It doesn’t have the spectacular manias of Bipolar I. Instead, it has a guy sitting on the couch in his underwear watching an Ancient Aliens marathon. I spend a good chunk of my days praying for just a sliver of mania. That what hurts so much about you wishing I would just pull myself together. You don’t get it… That’s the main symptom of Bipolar II –not being able to pull oneself together. Sorry it, and I, wasn’t exciting enough for you.

But I’m used to friends breaking up with me over it, though none have ever done it as cruelly as you. Mostly they just got sick of my whining or whatever. “You’re so passive,” said one. “You lean on me too much,” said another. I could go on and on. Yet, however horrible I feel these guys may have been at the time, I know they would’ve stuck around long enough to make sure I didn’t slit my wrists. (I have a funny feeling you think I would’ve slit my wrists. I don’t know –you just give me that vibe.)

Now, after two and a half years, I still trust people just a little bit less. I had always felt that most of my relationships were on a knife’s edge –that’s just the way it goes with mental illness –but what you did to me intensified that tenfold. I felt I had a special relationship with you, that I didn’t need to sugarcoat what was going on. It may sound weird, but it’s like we shared responsibility for the friendship. Listen, I know it’s hard being friends with the mentally ill because we don’t do normal things. But I like to think that at least 51% of those not normal things are somewhat charming and more than make up for the other 49%.

However, apparently I did need to sugarcoat. Looking back, it seems to me you were you silently judging me every time we hung out for those eight years. I still hardly trust anyone to know what’s really going on mental-wise out of fear that they will throw up their hands and say, “No màs,” the way you did. I have a very small circle of friends left, whom I cherish, but thanks to you, I’m constantly expecting THAT text. And that’s not fair to them.

That night I texted back, “Just wanted to talk to a friend.” That was the last time I’ve ever had any communication with you.

But I’m still here. I’m slowly learning to trust again. And I want to thank you. Not for the trust stuff. You can rot for that.

I wanted to thank you because each time I have a suicidal ideation –and with Bipolar II, they come fast and furious –I know that NOT killing myself would be the biggest “fuck you” to you imaginable. And that “fuck you” is a huge incentive to keep going.

 

Pledge Dance, 1986: Trying to take a nice Greek girl to “Mexico” for the evening…

Joining is important, especially when it comes to alliterative Border Bashes.

The other week I scribbled about how I felt a health care provider with Bob Jones University memorabilia all over his office wall might not provide me with the best care if he found out that I had the gay. Basically, I was stereotyping this poor guy; I had no way of knowing how he would react if he knew I was the gay. Of course, I had not felt comfortable telling him that fact. So, it’s pretty much a wash.

Then yesterday morning, I read about a “Bronx is Burning” themed rave thrown in some warehouse in the South Bronx that will soon be the site for luxury condos. The party featured flaming barrels and bullet-ridden cars. It featured celebrities like Naomi Campbell, Adrien Brody, and one of those Kardashians who’s actually a Jenner. And the biggest household name of all of the lot, cocaine. Needless to say, the social medias are hopping mad. And rightly so. How can people be so tone-deaf?

Which brings me to the esteemed 1986 Beta Border Bash. I went puerco entero in stereotyping the entire nation of Mexico. If I tried to pull this shit now, Gawker would be all over the story. I am certain our Charter would be pulled, and I would still be attending sensitivity seminars to this day.

In my defense, how I sort out my karma for that evening is the price I paid at the time. For a 19yr old addled in hormones, sexual orientation, and general addledness, it seemed like the entire universe was punishing me. Continue reading Pledge Dance, 1986: Trying to take a nice Greek girl to “Mexico” for the evening…

Stigmata by notecards

stig·ma /ˈstiɡmə/ —from the Greek, a mark made with a pointed instrument.

I’ve been thinking about the ways in which people stigmatize people with mental illnesses a lot in the past few days. This is not because the idea got stuck on the Mobius Strip in my brain, and I can’t let go of it. Eh, who am I kidding? Of course that’s that reason. But at least I had a couple good catalysts.

First of all, a friend of mine in San Antonio was going on a Walkathon for NAMI, the National Alliance of Mental Illness, a group dedicated to fighting the stigma of mental illness. She’s a good person, and it was heartening to learn she was doing this.

The second reason was a flood of pictures on Facebook from a former friend’s birthday party. Each time a picture of a current beloved friend embracing this ex-friend came down my feed, and before I could delete it, I wanted to scream, “How could you betray me? Don’t you know how awful this [person]* was to me? I see your embrace of him as a rejection of me.” Then I would jump up and down, pointing and screaming at the computer, “J’accuse! J’accuse!”

[*Trust me, I came up with some pretty good, really descriptive, devastatingly cutting epithets for this person, but upon editing they all seemed as petty as him. So, I just reduced him to generic “person.” Trust me, if I could find something more boring I would.]

Luckily, I had the wherewithal all Sunday afternoon to practice my Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. While the immediate response going through my head may be that these friends of mine must obviously hate me as much as this [person] hates on me, the more rational response is that people like a party; that they don’t know how this [person] rejected me overnight in the coldest manner possible; and that people can’t be expected to take my warped and crushed feelings into account every time they pose for a picture.

Yet, the stigma of people being assholes towards the mentally ill is not the most insidious kind of stigma. Trust me, I could write volumes on how this [person] (and his boyfriend) erased me from their lives because they thought a coping mechanism of mine –when stressed I find a quiet place to shadow box a wall, a very private action –was directed at them. Or I could write about how another ex-friend –God, I so want to name names here –shut me out of his life after I called him on the phone looking for a friendly voice to talk to during a period of heavy stress, saying that the had to cut me off because he was worried I was too much of a suicide risk. Or, heck, I could talk about the guy a bar last week who, after asking why I was wearing long pants on a warm night, got flustered when I answered him honestly: “My cargo shorts were covered in deadly Cheetos dust.”

“I don’t know how to respond to that,” he said as he backed away like I was stroking a king cobra.

No, the worst stigmatizers are the ones who think they are helping you. Continue reading Stigmata by notecards

This day in September: Five memories of my dad and the Twin Towers

Just trying to add something positive to balance a negative day. September 11th doesn’t need any more maudlin.

I need to reclaim my memories of those buildings.

1…

I had just woken up and was engaged in my morning ritual of removing my stuffed animals from the grocery bags where they spent the night. This was serious business; the animals needed to bagged every night because if there was a fire, they could be evacuated with less fuss.

My dad stuck his head in my room. My eight-year-old self was slightly startled; he normally was on his way to the train by now. Was I in trouble for bagging my animals again? It was normally my mom who took issue with this completely normal and in no way morbid ritual.

His eyes were wide. “Hey Chris-popples, you need to see this!”

The use of the “-popples” suffix always meant fun was afoot.

We hurried down the stairs to the master bedroom. Our house on Long Island was a split-level. He pointed to the dresser. “Look at that!” The black and white Bradford television, the one that took an eternity to warm up, the one I got to watch when I was sick, the one with the necessary vertical hold knob, was tuned to the Today show.

Some dude was walking a tightrope between the Twin Towers!

I sat on the edge of the bed while watching the spectacle unfold in glorious black and white, breathing in the in smell of the English Leather that my dad slapped all over his face after he shaved.

The Twin Towers will always be monochrome and reek of that cologne you brought your dad for Father’s Day every year.

2…

My dad got to go to some sort of business-guy function in an upper floor of one of the Towers. He told me that the building was so tall, the rain was “falling” upwards. I didn’t know whether to believe him or not. After all, this was the same man who spent the better part of my life trying to convince me that Suzanne Pleshette had a wooden leg. Continue reading This day in September: Five memories of my dad and the Twin Towers

Manners maketh the hump.

People sometimes accuse me of being overly obsessed with manners. I have my reasons.

Table_SettingI was reminiscing the other night with my friend Chloe. Her birthday was the next day, and I brought up celebrating with her back in 2005. A bunch of us sat on grass next to the East River in Brooklyn, watched the sun go down over Lower Manhattan, and drank copious amounts of wine. I brought a bottle of Smoking Loon Viognier. That day Chloe was turning 23; I had turned 39 three months earlier.

I remarked how wonderful it was that I was able to become such long-term friends with someone so much younger than me. Well, the fact that she was dating and eventually married one of my best friends certainly helped. However, I would have gladly been friends with Chloe regardless of that. (Though that would have probably involved a 39yr old man hanging around the Pratt campus).

“I just wasn’t into the typical college bullshit,” she said.

“True. I remember telling someone I had found a 35yr old 22yr old friend.”

“Yeah, I didn’t do crap like fuck in front of my roommate.” Well, that was out of nowhere, but I understood.

It’s all about manners, and nothing says ill breeding like fucking in front of one’s college roommate. College is the first time many people are away from the manner-enforcing mommies, and sometimes they go insane with improper etiquette.

Manners exist for a reason.

During my first term at Wittenberg after transferring in, they existed for the very necessary reason that I needed to be able to walk into my dorm room or fall asleep without seeing my new roommate Sheldon and his girlfriend Denise having sex. Continue reading Manners maketh the hump.

A necessary palate cleanse with groundhog and Klonopin

Wherein some things are too close to write about, but you gotta write anyways…

klnohogIt’s odd, but in the middle of a panic attack, even the worst one in seventeen years, one is still capable of a lucid thought or two or three. A couple of weeks ago I was at a new psychiatrist’s office attempting to get my meds refilled. However, Dr. Bela Agabalyan thought I was an alcoholic whose only purpose for being in her office was to score Klonopin. You know, because the three-hour nap Klonopin brings on really gets a party going.

She refused to listen to me, even when I pointed out that I didn’t need the Klonopin refilled anyways, and could we please talk about my bipolars. “I see two diseases here: bipolar and excessive alcohol use!” she snapped. It should be pointed out that according to the info available to her I drank three times a week for a total of five drinks a week. I’m really not much of a drinker. My interaction with her proved that weird corollary that the more one says they don’t drink all that much, the more people think you have a flask of Beam strapped to your thigh.

Nothing is more frustrating than when people who are wrong don’t listen to me. And when you don’t listen to me, your reward is a panic attack. Usually, these consist of me storming out of a room in a huff, but I needed my meds. I was trapped. Trapped in a room with a stupid person gets you a doozy of a panic attack. I might even punch a wall (or in this case a Purell dispenser). Trap me in a room with stupid person the same day I receive the news that I’m wildly diabetic and a few days after my beloved stepmom dies, Katie bar the door.

Literally bar the door Katie, because I’m going to start beating my head into it. Which is what I did, well over a dozen times. Yet, even though I was having by what any standard was a psychotic break, I was still capable of some lucid thoughts…

  • This has got to look bad.
  • Why isn’t Dr. Bela Agabalyan telling me to stop? People always tell me to stop banging my head. What is her problem?
  • I’m lucky I don’t need the Klonopin filled because she’s never gonna fill that scrip now, is she?
  • I’m gonna get some good writing out of this.

That’s the solace I take out of whatever misfortune, real or manufactured, life hands me: I can always write about. The universe didn’t give me many gifts when it came to dealing with the world, but it gave me the ability to describe my feelings thru stringing together words and sentences in a pleasing manner, hopefully funny, that helps me understand what went on. And hopefully it helps others, too. Continue reading A necessary palate cleanse with groundhog and Klonopin