Sep 18 2013

Seat 26E

blind-raccoon-with-baby_50411Nice thing about long flights: sometimes you sit next to a 74 year-old man who just drove 52 hours straight, transporting horses cross country (“you don’t stop when you’re carrying horses, just for gas and maybe a sandwich for the road”) who’s now flying to Lihue to see his childhood friend — with whom he rode horses when they were young boys — probably for the last time, because the friend has cancer. He tells you he has three raccoons (two of whom are blind), a parrot, three cockatiel, and a few more you can’t remember. And he makes you laugh and smile the whole time, and you wish your journey together didn’t have to end so soon.

Sep 7 2013


withoutI had dinner with a girlfriend the other night. She and I have a few things in common: We share the same birthday. We’re both writers. We’re both lefties. We’ve both had a shitty past few years. And we’re both getting it together now and feeling good. It was a great seeing her. She was radiant.

After we parted, I took Picard out for his evening constitutional. It was pretty late on a weeknight in the mission district of San Francisco, the only people out seemed to be twenty-somethings weaving their way home from the bars. I saw two young women walking toward me. They were adorable, holding hands, engrossed in a quiet conversation. It felt tender and sweet and intimate. I don’t know if they were lovers or just friends and it didn’t matter; what mattered is you could see there was love between them. It was pure. I was sort of swept away by them.

There were also two young men walking just ahead of me, also, I’m guessing, twenty-something. They were not adorable, just average looking. Maybe less than. Doughy guys. All beer, no gym. Nothing about them was notable, until we they passed the girlfriends — who were too engrossed in their own conversation, their own reality, to notice the guys noticing them. This must have upset the guys, because when we passed, one said to the other, “Probably fourteen year old lesbians.” At that moment, the only thing notable about them was that they were dicks.

I don’t know if they were annoyed that the girls they were noticing didn’t notice them back — and thus they had to cut them down (in their mind), or offer the only “logical” explanation, “The must be lesbians, why else wouldn’t they look at us?”

I do know that it pissed me off. I was caught up in my own “version” of these girlfriends, and these mooks came along and polluted my perfect stolen voyeuristic moment. I didn’t want the moment to end on that note.  So I took the moment back. I went after the girlfriends. I… had no idea what I was going to say, I just knew I wanted to remember that walk in a lovely way, not focusing on the snarky lads with mean things to say about people who they’ve never met and are minding their own business.

withI chatted the girlfriends up (Picard is a great ice breaker when I want to approach a stranger). They were indeed tipsy. They were a little bitchy when I asked to take a picture. But then I said the magic words, because when I told them I’m a writer, they instantly warmed up to me (as usual, Picard had already won them over) and wouldn’t stop talking. The only thing that could have made the encounter more perfect is if my own girlfriend from dinner were still with me for this encounter. That might have been like entering a lovely parallel universe, encountering these younger versions of ourselves (one blond, one brunette) out lighting up the night; still unacquainted with disappointment, but yet to learn that girlfriends only get better with age.

Sep 3 2013

Going Underground: In Praise of Basements


A new environment has the power to change not just what we see, but how we see.

I like basements. I love basements, places where I feel oddly at home. And happy.

We had a basement once, when I was seven, when my parents rented a house for one year in Middletown, New Jersey. Since we were staying only a year, and it was the first time I’d lived in a house that was neither, A) my family’s home prior to my birth, nor B) brand new, we being the first and only occupants; this house didn’t feel like ours. It was someone else’s choice of wallpaper, someone else’s choice of carpet… someone else’s home. But it did have a basement. I’d never seen one before — it was like a secret room!

Only one item was in that Middletown basement when we arrived: a cardboard house. It was gender-neutral, so any child could make it whatever he or she wished. I would play for hours there, in that cardboard house, that kind of play that happens deep within a child’s imagination; existing only in that moment, living in a world completely invisible to everyone else. But it is real.

That was the first (and only) time growing up that we were surrounded by forest (prior to that, it was either the streets of Brooklyn or the desert of Las Vegas). Flora, flora everywhere! The Garden State. I learned to figure skate on the frozen Navesink River. When it snowed, we slid down the street (a slight hill) on sleds, and our father took us to chop down our own Christmas tree. It was all pretty magical stuff to a seven year-old, right down to the hours I passed in the basement.

We moved back to Las Vegas the following summer, where I remained until high school graduation. At seventeen, I couldn’t get out of that town fast enough, get back to the east coast, where naturally I’d decided to go to college. Because I had an opportunity to fly back on a family friend’s private plane, I arrived in New York a full month before classes were to begin, and stayed with my father at his sister Helen’s house in Bayside, Queens (he and my mother had divorced the year before, and being Greeks, family always lives with family). A month is a long time to live with your overly-protective Greek father and his widowed sister in a town where you know no one (and have no car), so I went around visiting relatives: one grandmother, five aunts, five uncles, and ten cousins.

With Georgia and her boys and my brothers in front of Caesars Palace. It's changed since then.

With Georgia and her boys and my brothers in front of Caesars Palace. It’s changed since then.

I made my way to the family home of Georgia, my father’s first cousin, and her family. They had come to see us in Las Vegas years earlier (that’s them, in the photo on the right), and I really liked them. They were a fun family. And calm, compared to the most of the Greek relatives.

Naturally, I stayed in their basement (which I’d decided were indigenous to New Jersey). Theirs was very different than our basement in Middletown ten years earlier: it was their game room, with a pool table, concert and sports memorabilia on the walls, and a vinyl collection that would make Cameron Crowe cringe with envy. It was my last stop before moving into the dorm, so Georgia took me to buy towels and beddings and clothes for an East Coast winter. After shopping, I’d disappear into the basement and get lost in those records, discovering new artists and their stories, new worlds within those songs –while I was  eagerly counting down the days until I was to go off and discover a whole new world myself at SUNY Stony Brook. It was another magical time.

I write this from yet another basement, this one on the west coast, as I dogsit for my beau’s sister in Seattle. This basement, as you can see in the above picture, is also surrounded by lush greenery outside. Inside, hundreds of movies. It’s their movie room. The beau… it’s still a fairly new relationship, less than a year. I moved back to Las Vegas — none of the lush greenery I love so there — to be with him. So it’s an exciting time, another new beginning. And though I’m welcome to stay in the master bedroom while his sister and family are away, I prefer the basement. It just feels right. These basements are the waiting rooms for life’s next chapter. They’re a place where I naturally, optimistically, look forward to What’s Next — which has been harder and harder for me to do as I’ve gotten older. With age comes the ice cold water realization of What’s Not Next — which I’ve been focusing on too much as of late. It’s much better to focus on not only What’s Next, but What’s Right Here, Right Now.

This “naturally, optimistically” part of my brain is still there — it wasn’t just part of me at seven or seventeen — but it’s gotten very little airtime of late, this basement has made me realize. So I’ll be tapping into it now more and more now. Because having a What’s Next is an important aspect of feeling alive, for me. Here in this basement, I see nothing but a life of unlimited adventure awaiting me. It’s not the adventure I expected — but isn’t that exactly what adventure is? Not to mention, what’s Right Here, Right Now is pretty darn good!

Today's "basement."

Today’s “basement.”

I’ll create a What’s Next environment (without the basement, which is architecturally impossible in our second-story condo) when I return to Vegas. Armed with only my imagination, I once turned a cardboard house in a cement-floored Middletown basement into a log castle with a fireplace high on a cliff, waves crashing against the rocks below. I’m curious to see what my view will be out the window at my desk.