Monday, August 25, 2008

Happiest. Place. On. Earth.

A week ago, if I had received a phone call informing me that I had won an all expenses paid trip to Disneyland, my response would have been, "Uh... Could I get the cash equivalent?"

I had no interest in Disneyland. I never went there as a kid. And if my parents had presented to me the option of a vacation for my birthday (something my parents wouldn't have done if they had the means to do so; it was a different time when I was a child), I would have opted for Paris or London or the beach. Disney wouldn't have entered my mind.

But two guys I've met here in Palm Springs are all about Disney. They proposed and I accepted. It seemed like an appropriate way of introducing myself to Southern California.

Thus, yesterday morning, I was leaving my beloved Palm Springs and headed to Anaheim.

On the way, we watched a DVD about Disneyland and listened too a Disney sing-a-long CD. So the pump was primed.

So you go up to the gate and you pay the price of admission and there you are in Disneyland! And sure enough, there was Mickey and Goofy and Minnie. First order of business was to get something to eat. We went to a restaurant on Main Street U.S.A. There were about eight things on the menu, but it took them forever to come up with our orders. What up wid dat?

But after a mediocre lunch, we started in on the rides.

Oh man.

The rides were great.

I had never quite realized how much Disney had seeped into our collective unconscious. Space Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Frontier Land... I knew what the deal was before I set foot in the Magic Kingdom. Space Mountain by far was my favorite of the day, but the Haunted Mansion was also pretty great. When I was a young'n, I had a record called "Disney's Sounds Of A Haunted House." It was basically a collection of sound effects strung together with a narrative. I was enthralled by it. And there I was, listening to it all, and seeing the ghostly figures dancing in the ballroom and the terrified gravedigger and the ghostly bride.

The attention to detail at Disney is incredible. Everything you're seeing is just so well thought out. The plantings are great, the design details are flawless. It was all pretty impressive.

There's this addition to Disney that's only a few years old. It's called Californialand. In the northern part of Californialand, there were pines and ferns and such. And some really cool rides. The elevator ride in the Hollywood Hotel totally rocked, but one of the highlights of the day was Soarin' California. It was basically watching a movie, aerial shots of various places in the Golden State, but it was maginficent. You're suspended in a chair and the photography is magnificent. And while "flying" over the orange groves, you smell oranges. And over the waves of the Pacific (so close!) you smell the salt air. When they showed Palm Springs (golfing? all they could come up with was golfing?), we all gave a little cheer.

At about 9:00 p.m., I had had about all the happiness I could take. We went on a couple more rides, one of which, Splash Mountain, involved me getting wet, and then headed for home. On the way to the gates, I noticed something: Main Street U.S.A. bears a strong resemblance to Doylestown, PA. It apparently was modeled on Walt Disney's home town, but it sure could be the county seat of Bucks County. The implications of that are way too much for my sun-baked brain to comprehend at this point.

Late at night in Palm Springs, the only thing open is Denny's, so that's where we went for dinner. Opening the door of the car in the Denny's parking lot, I felt that great warm air. I was home. Home again. Back from my adventures. Back in the desert.

Getting some food put me in a better disposition. I think I'm starting to have blood sugar issues. And then it was back to my humble abode. The place is still empty, my furniture won't be showing up until about September 12th, but it's the place where I live here in Palm Springs.

As far as I'm concerned, this is the happiest place on earth.

The attention to detail is terrifically impressive.

(Main Street USA = Doylestown)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Implications Are Staggering!


So after I sign the lease at eleven a.m. tomorrow, I'll have a legal address in California. Next stop will be the DMV to get a California driver's license, and put calls in to get cable and have the electric put in my name.

So what it all boils down to is: I'll be a California resident.

Like, officially!

"Hi! I'm from California!"

Wow does that ever not roll right off the tongue.

It'll take some getting used to, that's for sure.

But I don't think that process will go on for very long.

Last night, I was talking to a friend of mine, a native floridian who has lived in San Francisco for a while. He was calling from his cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains. He was waxing rhapsodic about the State: there are so many beautiful parts of California, and so much wonderful about life here. You're really going to enjoy living here.

And I do feel like I'm a part of something. Similar to living in NYC, where I often felt like I was involved in some great project with nine million other people. That said, in my first years in the city, I thought of myself as a simple country boy, and in many ways I was. I think that mostly enabled me to avoid falling into the trap of the whole "because this great thing happened in a burned out performance space in a crack house on Avenue D in 1989 and because I was there that makes me way cooler than you" thing. I always found that to be really unappealing.

But still, living in NYC conferred on me a certain cosmopolitan perspective, but in the best sense of that word. Just because something was novel didn't make it good, but at the same time, it didn't make it bad.

Too, there's the whole September 11th thing. Living in the city through that showed me just how good nine million people can be to one another, and despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary, it has forever convinced me that people--all people--are fundamentally decent and kind.

This fellow-feeling was wholly absent from my time in Pennsylvania, even way back when I was growing up there. There are identities there--philadelphian, Amish, pittsburgher, coal cracker--but the label "pennsylvanian" doesn't confer any additional information about a person. In fact, I don't think I've ever heard the term "pennsylvanian" used by anybody besides various governors of the Commonwealth. I definitely have never heard anyone say, "I'm a pennsylvanian."

But tomorrow, I will become a californian.

California girls. The Gay Marriage state (vote 'No' on Prop 8!). Californication. California, here I come! The Gold Rush. The Golden State. La La Land. San Francisco values. Big Sur.

The list of things that California evokes is almost endless.

"For about a decade, they lived in this place outside LA called Thousand Oaks. And they had this whole California lifestyle that they were living. With the swimming pool and the hot tub and the Ford Fairlane."

The people thus described to me were a fairly sedentary couple living in Westchester County. The response it prompted was, "Really? I can't picture that at all."

And at the time, I couldn't.

But now, I think I can.

Nephtali left me a voicemail message earlier this evening saying, "Where are you? Why can't you pick up my call? You're not in the pool again, are you? You'll shrivel up like a prune!"

I wasn't in the pool; I was watching Project Runway.

But now, as I type this, I'm sitting out by the pool, looking at the moon through the fronds of a palm tree.

Maybe getting a jump on becoming a californian tomorrow.

And It's Joe!

Oh cool!

Joe, the guy I'm rooting for on Project Runway, won the challenge!

Interestingly, Joe, the straight guy from Detroit, shone through in designing a dress for a drag queen. And what's more, Varla Jean Merman is totally my favorite drag queen.

And Daniel got eliminated.

One of the things I love about Project Runway is the almost shakespearean quality: we each carry the seeds of our own destruction within ourselves. (Not that hearing "you're out" from Heidi Klum would count as "destruction" by any definition of that word, but y'know.) But at the same time, the folks who really struggle to find their voices as artists and take risks putting themselves out almost always prevail.

And Joe won.

Can anything not go my way this week?

I swear.

Is it my biorhythms, or what?


Well that was easy.

It was the third place I looked at. And walking in the door, I knew right away.

But c'mon. This was Monday. I hadn't yet been in town two full days. I decided to look at a few more places, and I did that today, for a grand total of six potential apartments viewed before making my decision.

The landlord is himself recently arrived from San Francisco. And we hit it off--to the extent that you can do that in a landlord-tenant situation--right away. It's located in the south end of town, at the end of a cul de sac. The cul de sac ends on North Riverside Drive, which runs along something referred to as "the Wash." The Wash appears as blue on a map, just like the Delaware River would be. And when it rains here every two-and-a-half years or so, the Wash is indeed filled with water. That will be interesting to behold.

There's a Starbucks within walking distance, and it's also a few short blocks from one of the local leather bars which is the site of the annual Palm Springs Leather Thing every November.

My new place (Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee!) is a sweet little two bedroom, one bath. The kitchen is kind of minimal, but it's got great outdoor space. The wall surrounding the outdoor space is six feet high. My landlord explained that you couldn't build a wall that high these days as they can only be five feet by code. Half of it is paved with concrete, and half is hardscape garden with bougainvillea and lantana.

So... Two bedrooms?


Two bedrooms. One of the bedrooms will be my bedroom, and the other bedroom will be my play space. Let's call it the rec room. I like that. My rec room.

For the first time in my adult life, I'll have a specific space for whipping men and chaining them up and sticking them in my cage.

I have so totally earned that.

Interestingly, I'm not sure how much action the rec room will see. With everything I've been through lately, it's just not where my head is at. I don't know that I'm up for recreational SM. I think I'd feel diminished by that experience, rather than sustained. And of course, for the next two years my focus will be on school. And on sorting some stuff out in my head.

And most importantly, my new place (Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee!) will be a perfect setting for that.

It's not officially official yet. Landlord Guy is calling my references (you know who you are!) and unless he hears something dissuasive, I'll go over there tomorrow at eleven a.m. to sign the lease, write out a check, and pick up the keys.

Among my people, it is a tradition that the first things you bring into a new home are bread and salt. The bread is to ensure that you'll always be able to offer hospitality to others, and the salt ensures that you won't know want while you live there.

Oh man.

I think it will work really well.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Big News!


August 29th.

It's a new Vin Diesel movie!

It's been a long time since Vin (Chained At My Feet, Soaked In My Piss) Diesel has had a movie in theaters, so I'd best go over the First Rule Of Singletails.

Now as opposed to some other weblogs you might read, you will notice that here at Singletails, we do not subject you to advertising nor do we have a tip jar. There's only one small thing that you as a reader are asked to do: go see every movie that Vin (Chained At My Feet, Soaked In My Piss) Diesel appears in. And then, when the DVD release happens, you have to go buy the DVD or download the whole movie on iTunes.

That's all that's asked of you.

You see, I am totally obsessed with Vin (Chained At My Feet, Soaked In My Piss) Diesel. For a full four minutes on screen in XXX, he was wearing handcuffs. In Pitch Black, he spends the first sequences of the movie restrained into this frame kind of thing. And then in the Pitch Black prequel, whatever the hell it was called, he was threatened with being turned into an obedient, mindless zombie. All of these work nicely into my fantasy of having Vin chained and helpless at my feet, his face contorted with impotent rage while I douse him with a nice load of my piss. I want to see Vin (Chained At My Feet, Soaked In My Piss) Diesel have a long, long, long career in movies. Especially action movies. (It's okay if you missed the movie where he plays the Navy Seal guy who's being a babysitter since that's not exactly my genre of choice.) But if he doesn't do big box office, he'll be back to working as a doorman which does me no good whatsoever.

Thus, all I ask of you in return for the many pleasures of reading SingleTails is that you sit through 90 minutes of Vin.

So make your plans now for August 29th.

Here. Now.

At 10 in the morning, it was already hot in Phoenix. I can see palm trees outside my window in the lot of the car dealership across the street. Four hours west on Route 10 and I’ll be in Palm Springs.

But it sure feels to me like I’ve arrived.

In ways good and bad.

Phoenix strikes me as a hard-bitten and mean place. A get-out-of-my-way kind of place. It’s North Jersey with cactus.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West is here in Phoenix, or rather right next door in Scottsdale. I think I’ll head there as soon as I have a shower.

Quite the drive yesterday. I started out in Tucumcari and headed west. Ever onward to the West. Is there any part of New Mexico that isn’t so strikingly beautiful? If there is, I haven’t seen it. The red rocks, the pale gray-green of the sage, and the dark green of the juniper and piñon are just incredible. And everywhere these incredible mesas. With a wee bit less self-control, I would have left my car at the side of the highway and hiked off to climb to the top of a mesa a hundred times. Mountains don’t have that effect on me, but mesas sure do. What’s there? What’s at the top? Who else has been there? Did they leave any sign for those who would come after them?

I had lunch in Albuquerque, which is a much bigger city than I remembered it to be. My preconceived notion was to settling in to local fare in the mission-y old town of Albuquerque, but instead I ate at a kind of mall that seemed to be part of an attempt to start developing “Uptown” Albuquerque. While I ate, I watched the U.S. Olympic Baseball Team take on Cuba. I was in an airport in 2000 waiting for a connecting flight and saw the same match-up. It was the best baseball game I’ve ever seen. On the U.S. team were a bunch of kids just starting out and guys--some of them in their forties--who had spent their whole lives in the minor leagues and never made it to the Big Leagues. They were taking on the best baseball players that Cuba had to offer, and the pitcher was consistently throwing 93 mile an hour sliders. But giving it all they had, the U.S. team managed to squeak out a win. I especially felt for those older guys on the U.S. team: it was their last shot at glory and they pulled it out.

The current team didn’t seem to be so lucky. In the tenth inning, the cubans had two men on base when I left to get back on the road. I sometimes run into problems watching baseball in public. The pressure and the emotion and the drama get to be too much for me. I sit there choking on sobs, a mass of tics and spasms. But if I hear that the U.S. team won, I’ll be really sorry I left before the proverbial overweight woman sang.
Heading west from Albuquerque brought more beautiful landscape, with the addition of beds of these black, volcanic rocks. A lot of them together and you get mal pais, badlands. It’s a strange lunar landscape that the anasazi--the ancient inhabitants of New Mexico--looked upon with fear and reverence.

And I crossed the Continental Divide. As if the other demarcations of this trip weren’t enough--leaving Pennsylvania, crossing the Mississippi--now all the rivers are flowing in the same direction I’m headed, to the Pacific coast.

I made it to Flagstaff for dinner. I guess I should have known that Flagstaff serves as the south entrance to the Grand Canyon. But I didn’t. When I want to see the Grand Canyon, I’ll take a drive up from Palm Springs and spend some time with it. I wonder what role the Grand Canyon plays for people who live here in the West? I wonder if it’s akin to the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty for new yorkers: a place where you take friends and family visiting from out of town if you go there at all. I went to the top of the Empire State Building with my church youth group when I was eleven or twelve, but not once during the fourteen years I lived in the City. Not that I want to knock it! From what I hear it’s pretty cool. But it’s hard to determine to go somewhere that theoretically you could go anytime you want.

Dinner in Flagstaff was to be had at this great mexican restaurant. I knew it was going to be good because I had trouble finding a place in the parking lot. And it was good.

But after dinner, I checked Google Maps on my Blackberry (Mr. Pibb’s plus Red Vines = Mad Delicious!) and decided that I would be spending the night in Phoenix. Oh that I could rethink that. Interstate 17 between Flagstaff and Phoenix is apparently very scenic and makes a great drive. But at night when there’s a rain, that twisty, turning decent is a wee bit harrowing for unfamiliar drivers such as myself. I was thrilled to see silhouetted against the night sky those cactus (Sonoran? Segurro?) that I’ve really only seen in cartoons. And the almost-full moon looked beautiful over the mountains. But mostly I-17 was pretty harrowing. My hands were cramped from gripping the steering wheel for dear live.

But I did get to Phoenix and I did manage to find a Motel 6 to spend the night. Albeit a pretty crappy Motel 6. And in the morning light, I got a very bad impression of Phoenix, “the New L.A.”.

But the one sight along the way I decided to interrupt my journey for was located next door to Phoenix in Scottsdale: I wanted to visit Taliesin West.

And I’m glad I did. Now I guess I could get all guide-booky and wax poetic about Frank Lloyd Wright’s western partner to Taliesin in Wisconsin, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that Wright did a really great job when he himself was the client. So many of his ideas just made so much sense. Even to the crowd of people around me whose homes didn’t look much like Taliesin West.

After archi-tourism, I found a Starbucks and a burrito, then hit the road (this time I-10, my final interstate highway) and headed west.

Next stop: Palm Springs, California.

West of Phoenix, the Arizona desert gets kind of bleak. The drive was only four hours, but seemed to take forever, so great was my anticipation.

In the back seat of my jeep was my 120-year-old christmas cactus, the gift of an elderly friend of my Aunt Helen when I was about then years old. (The cactus was then 90.) When I had a consultation with my mover, I asked him how best to pack a live plant for a six day road trip. He told me that I might have trouble bringing it into California. They had a lot of rules about what you could and couldn’t bring into the state.

“Yeah,” I said, “But it’s not like they have a checkpoint at the border, right?”

Guess what! California totally has a check point at the border. And the nice young man in the uniform grilled me about the provenance of my christmas cactus. When I assured him that it was a houseplant and that it was in potting soil, he waved me through the gate. I breathed a sigh of relief. What the hell would I have done if he had confiscated my christmas cactus? I’m not sure. But it would have been ugly. I probably would have cried some.

For just about the first time the whole trip, I was pressing my luck with the speed limit, going four or five miles-an-hour over. And finally finally finally, after driving for six days straight, there was the exit for Palm Springs.

As though in a trance, I headed west on Vista Chino. After getting lost because I mistook Sunrise for Indian Canyon, I found my way to the Chaps Inn.

I had arrived.

Not too long ago, I saw that great movie set in Southern California, The Graduate , starring Dustin Hoffman. I’ve always been struck by the ending, y’know, after Ben interrupts Elaine Robinson’s wedding by pounding on the door and she makes a break for it and he locks everyone up in the church by putting the big cross through the bars on the door and they jump on a bus. But then, while Simon & Garfunkle sing in the background, there camera just watches their faces. I always thought that ending was so perfect. All along, you’re rooting for Ben and Elaine, and then, the boy gets the girl.

End of movie.

Roll the credits.

But no.

The ending, Ben and Elaine on the bus, begs the question: what the hell are they going to do now? They had barely had a conversation up to that point. What was to become of the romanticism that drove the plot? Would they find a J.O.P. and get married? Would they just live together? Would Elaine go back to Stamford? Would Ben get a job? Where would they live? Would they have kids?

And so, the end of the movie isn’t the ending at all. It’s just the beginning.

And that’s how I felt sitting in my jeep outside of the Chaps Inn. This isn’t the end of the journey; it’s just the beginning.

What happens next?

Well, what happened next was I went inside. The place was crowded. Bunches of guys sitting around on the deck chairs. It turned out that The 15, a leather club in SF, was having their annual sojourn in the desert that weekend. And omigosh! There was Peter F.! Peter is a man I first met at Inferno, although we didn’t quite meet then and there because as by reputation he was a man I revered, I fled from him. But over time, he and I developed a nice acquaintance with one another. It was wonderful to find him here waiting for me.

I stayed up talking for a bit, and then unloaded my jeep. Not just my overnight bag for a change. All of it. For the first time since Monday, I’d be staying in the same place more than one night. I would be here at the Chaps Inn for a while. Until I found an apartment, the place where I will live for the next two years here in Palm Springs.

The next morning, when I got up, everyone was already up and about. A few of the guys were locals, but most had come down from San Francisco. I told them all about moving to Palm Springs. It turns out that Peter spends the winters here. About eleven o’clock, I announced that I was hungry, so I was going to go take a shower and head out and find something to eat. I went into my room, crowded as it is with my worldly goods, sat down on the bed, laid back on the bed, and woke up five hours later.

At points, I would sort of wake up, and chide myself: what the hell? you had a good night’s sleep! you don’t need a nap! get the hell up and go get something to eat!

This happened three or four times, until I answered myself: this isn’t a nap. this is about you shutting down. this is a stress reaction. you take all the time you need.

When I finally woke up and got out of bed, I considered what had just happened, trying to discern what brought that on.

And I have a pretty good idea.

There I was, playing in the pool. Swimming underwater, turning summersaults, a casual lap here and there, looking up in the palm trees, letting myself drift into dreamy aquatic reverie. “It’s so beautiful here,” I thought, “Imagine: it’s a place people come for vacation, and I’m going to be living here.”

Uh oh.

Is that a good idea ever? I mean, you go to Disney and have a great time, but it probably wouldn’t be good for your soul to live the rest of your life in the Enchanted Kingdom, right?

Those misgivings faded, but they didn’t quite leave me.

I mean, I don’t think it’s totally off base. And moving to Palm Springs isn’t everybody’s idea of a great thing to do. Nothing much happens here. I don’t think there’s a Type A personality within a hundred mile radius. It’s not without it’s flaws and blemishes.

But I think after the past seven months five years seven years fourteen years or so, this could be the place where for two years anyway, I can take The Big Time Out.

I’d like to find a therapist. Or maybe a pastoral counselor.

I’ve got some stuff to work out.

What’s with these lingering resentments I still bear towards my Ex? Why does he loom so large? And that Dark Night Of The Soul I’ve been through job-wise? And man, do I still have some grieving to do about my father’s death. And losing Faithful Companion. And my sister, way back in 1999.

Maybe that five hour nap wasn’t about misgivings I had picking up and moving to Palm Springs. Maybe, now that the decks are cleared, now that I’m here in the desert, the place for reflection and self-evaluation, all my birds have suddenly come home to roost.

Best I get to know them while I can.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Land Of Enchantment

Well good morning from Tucumcari, New Mexico!

Quite the day I had yesterday!

--interesting. For a minute there I couldn't remember where I spent last night. I know, not the first time, but usually the circumstances are different. But indeed, it was in Oklahoma. I was smiling to myself wondering how many other people in Oklahoma were tuning in to Project Runway. Anyway--

I left Tulsa yesterday morning and decided to try my hand at following Route 66 rather than I-40. This worked well for about an hour, and as the speed limit on 66 is 65 m.p.h., I made pretty good time. But 66 goes through little towns rather than around them. This made it interesting. I took bunches of pictures of Chandler, I think it was. And that perhaps was my downfall. I came into Chandler on Route 66 but when I came out of Chandler, after driving for about twenty minutes I realized that I was going South, not West. And that I hadn't seen a highway marker. It seemed to me the easiest thing to do would be to make a right so I was going West again.

And so I did.

Onto something called, if I recall, 990 Road.

What started out as a substantial looking road paved with cement slabs became less and less substantial with every mile. Soon, I was on a dirt road, going up hill and downhill. The clay on the roadbed was a beautiful shade of red. Now and then there would be a little farm house, but there definitely seemed to be a lot more cattle than people in this part of Oklahoma.

I consulted Google Maps on my Blackberry. (Mr. Pibbs plus Red Vines equals Mad Delicious!) Well actually, no I didn't. I had no signal, no wireless, no nothing. I was on my own.

Now Oklahoma isn't that complicated. It's basically two main roads bisecting the state, one north-south and one east-west. Go in one direction long enough and you'll hit something. So that's what I did. And sure enough, in no time at all (three hours), I was back on I-40. Since Route 66 runs alongside I-40, I could keep an eye on it without having to find my way through wee little towns every fifteen minutes.

My sister used to have a handy saying: Let's not and say we did!

It comes in handy.

On I-40, Oklahoma went by pretty quick. Soon enough, I was crossing the border into Texas. The welcoming sign that let me know this also pointed out, "We're proud of our President, George W. Bush."

I flashed back to going to Inferno in 2005. I refused to stop for gas in Ohio, running on fumes to the Indiana border. It was there fault that we had four more awful years of that idiot so I was intent on boycotting Ohio. Unfortunately, I didn't fill up before leaving Oklahoma--O that I had since they're only paying $3.37 a gallon there--and I couldn't boycott Texas.

Took me forever to get to Amarillo. And Amarillo was my goal, because that's where the Starbucks is. I was thinking lunch in Amarillo, but I hadn't had breakfast so hunger got the better of me. I decided to stop at the much advertised Cherokee Trading Post Restaurant, having been prompted to do so by countless billboards littering the highway. (I thought Lady Bird Johnson took care of that when she was first lady. Did Texas get some kind of a reprieve? Or is it just that they don't care? Assholes.)

The Cherokee Restaurant was a huge mistake.

Worst. Lunch. Ever.

And the worst roadfood I encountered on this trip.

I sat at the counter for about fifteen minutes before one of the waitresses saw an opportunity for a tip and took my order. And the place was dead mind you. It might have been confusing for them because none of them had bothered to bus any of the people who had left, so I was sitting at the counter surrounded by dirty dishes.

I ordered a Rueben. That's always safe. It's difficult to screw up a Rueben.

But at the Cherokee Trading Post Restaurant, they seemed to have found a way.

As we all know, a Rueben is corned beef, saur kraut, and russian dressing on rye, grilled, with mustard served on the side. That "we" does not include the staff of the Cherokee Trading Post Restaurant, who only got the corned beef, saur kraut, and the grilling part. My sandwich was slathered with mayonnaise and topped with american cheese. The really awful kind of american cheese. For sustenance, since after having to sit in a restaurant for forty minutes before I got food put in front of me, I was fucking starving, I had to extricate the corned beef from the sandwich and just eat that.

At the cash register, I was posed the question, "So how was everything today?"

When I said, "It was pretty awful," the reply came, "Well that's nice! You come back and see us again, y'hear?" and one of those sweet southern smiles. That brief interaction summed up everything I hate about the South.

"That's pretty unlikely," I said, and headed out the door.

Headed for Amarillo, and Starbucks.

On the road to Amarillo, I ran into some weather. As in pouring rain and hale.

When it broke, I was on the phone with Naphtali (you all got the memo that the Baron will henceforth be known as Naphtali, right?), and he was encouraging me in the strongest possible terms to take it easy for the next two years after all I've been through in the previous five and just concentrate on going to school. When he asked what was behind all of the Aaaahhh's and Omigod's on my end and I told him about the biblical weather I was driving through, Naphtali said that was God sending out a big What He Said so I should pay attention.

I informed both Naphtali and my Creator that this is indeed the plan.

In my musings way back when about After, one of the thoughts that occurred to me was to find a nice monastery somewhere and retire from the world and just be quiet for a while. Although this is not quite that, I'm using it for much the same purposes. I have earned at least two years of kick-back time.

The storm let up some, and I got back on the road again. The landscape had become much drier, wildflowers giving way to sage brush and such. And of course, the desert after the rain is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen, those beautiful colors all coming to life.

In due time, I reached the outskirts of Amarillo, although I'm not convinced that Amarillo is anything but outskirts, since I didn't see a mass of tall buildings anywhere and it's pretty flat in those parts. And pretty easily, I found the Starbucks.

I got my venti iced quad no-ice latté and a Vivano and settled into one of the available comfy chairs. I thought about sitting out on their porch, but decided against it since the view offered was a Big Lots parking lot and a I-40. I looked up just in time to suddenly see all the porch furniture--tables, chairs, umbrella stands--suddenly swept to one side of the fenced in porch by a strong and sudden gust of wind.

I mean, it was like they were all just brushed aside by a giant invisible hand.

Huh. I'm in tornado alley here, right?

Just how memorable will this stop at the Starbucks be?

I saw in my mind's eye the Hollywood version of my journey westward, and how we'd all be stuck in that Starbucks in the middle of the Big Lots parking lot during the Mother Of All Tornados or something. There would be shattered glass as we all cowered behind the counter. Someone would almost get sucked out but we'd manage to drag them back in. We'd have to tie the green Starbucks aprons together to form a tether so we could rescue a child clinging for life to a utility pole out in the Big Lots parking lot.

And I have to say it came close, but not quite.

When the wind and rain abated for the second time that day, I headed deeper into Amarillo in search of dinner. And whaddya know? I found a nice little thai restaurant! Chicken pad thai is one of my don't-have-to-think-about-it foods: even when it's bad, it's not that bad, and the difference between bad pad thai and good pad thai is pretty negligible.

After dinner, I found my way back to I-40, which was a lot more complicated than it seemed it needed to be, and got back on the road with one goal in mind: get the hell out of Texas never to return.

And seventy miles later, I crossed the border into New Mexico, the land of enchantment.

I love New Mexico. It is, of course, the new home of my Ex of the awful seven-and-a-half years, and I'm not supposed to be here. But if you are able to visit and spend some time there, I encourage you to do so. It's beautiful and the people are great. Don't miss Acoma and Cañon de Chelly.

What if I run into my Ex? What would I say to him?

I thought about that on my drive into Tucumcari.

Isn't it interesting how the mind only seems to record injuries and insults in the memory? Remember that perfect day you had last October when the weather was beautiful and everything went great and you got a lot done and everybody you dealt with was pleasant and thoughtful? Of course you don't. It's gone. We never remember that. Memory is like an old Techni-Color movie, where the blues and greens--all the sweetness and tenderness and kindness--fade to gray, but the oranges and reds--the hurt and pain and misery--remain vivid. Probably the result of evolution, since remembering the sources of pain for future reference is a good way to stay alive.

And so it is with my relationship with my Ex. It was bad, but it couldn't have been that bad. There must have been times with him when it was just perfect and beautiful and I felt loved and cherished.

But they're all gone.

No doubt, he has much the same story to tell about me, although from a slightly different perspective. His narrative would be about betrayal and deception and cruelty. The me that lives in my memory would no doubt be unrecognizable to me. Just as the him that I carry around with me is a distorted version of the genuine article.

(Although let's remember: he's the one that dug up the cremains of my cat and sent them to me scattered in with a bunch of old clothes and papers in a garbage bag. Who does that??)

Well, enough.

Onward through New Mexico.

I was planning on spending tonight in Albuquerque, but I'm thinking I might press on to Arizona. It's Friday, and my reservation in Palm Springs at the guest house where I'll be staying doesn't start until Sunday. So it seems I have a day to kill.

Where will the road take me? I'm interested to find out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Where The Wind Comes Sweeping Down The Plain!

...and where eleven year olds seem to have taken over the State Department of Transportation.

Greetings from Tulsa, Oklahoma!

I'm very excited. By my calculations, there are 1,320 miles behind me and 1,320 miles ahead of me. In other words, Tulsa sits halfway between Point Pleasant and Palm Springs.

But driving here is totally whack. The speed limit signs read as follows:

No Tolerance

A minimum speed of 50? I was afraid to replay songs on my iPod lest it make me drop into the low speed danger zone. And I'm guessing that the "No Tolerance" thing means that they're So Cereal.

I was hoping to be spending the night a bit farther down the road in Oklahoma City, but it was not to be. As I was passing through St. Louis, I wanted to spend some time with my old friend GlovedTop. GT was one of my only internet meet-ups that worked, all those years ago when I was living in Jersey City. We had a standing date to go to the beach on the Sunday between Session A and Session B of Inferno, although that hasn't worked out so well in the past few years as he and I never seemed to make Inferno at the same time.

One of the absolute hightlights of my visit with GT was the tour of his amazing dungeon. boys, if you are ever in St. Louis, or if it's at all possible for you to get to St. Louis, then spending some time in GT's dungeon--like maybe chained up in his cell or lashed to his St. Andrew's Cross--will sure make your trip memorable in ways that seeing the Gateway Arch or having a cement from Ted Drewe's won't.

There was one fly in the ointment, though. When I pulled up outside of Stately GT Manor in Compton Heights, St. Louis' up-and-comingest up and coming neighborhood, it occurred to me that parking my Jeep Liberty on the street overnight packed with my most valuable possessions would not be a great idea. After consulting with GT, he made some phone calls and we were on our way to the new home of Mark, yet another talented handsome sadist living in St. Louis. Mark was just back from visiting his boy in Seattle. The three of us repaired to a diner--possibly on Euclid, as I recall from previous visits that's the street where things are hap'nin'--where I had a really nice porkloin with gravy.

The next morning, GT went to the local AAA office and picked up several pounds of information on following historic Route 66 on my westward journey. I'm torn between wanting to make that trip and wanting to get to Palm Springs as quickly as possible, but my AAA Trip Tick book will definitely be put to use at some point. I am SO going to join AAA at the first available opportunity.

Finally, I managed to hit the road. I wasn't exactly following Route 66, but for most of the trip down I-44 through Missouri, it was right there, off to my right. I wanted to get to Oklahoma as soon as possible. (How many times have those words been strung together in a sentence? I'm betting not many.) But y'see, I've been through Ohio and Indiana and Illinois and spent some time in Missouri--once almost losing my life on a canoe trip in the Ozarks--and Oklahoma represented the first place on my westward journey where I had never been before.

And here I am. I stopped for dinner at a Pizza Hut in Vitalia, a town that smelled like a cow barn. Which was a good thing! I love cow barns! And grasshoppers seem to be everywhere. I've got a pretty thick coating of them on my windshield.

Anyway. I had a good night's sleep and I'm off on the road again.

Next stop: Albuquerque!

I am keenly aware on this leg of the journey that I've been banned from New Mexico. I lost it in a divorce. When I left my Ex of seven and a half years, he moved to New Mexico, a place where we had spent a memorable vacation, although it was probably memorable for each of us in different ways. (I remember him screaming at me--again--when after a long day of driving I didn't want to jump up and go visit Georgia O'Keefe's Ghost Ranch fifteen minutes before they closed; and I remember getting a phone call letting me know that my sister had died and that we'd have to cut our vacation there short.) He told me that he was moving to New Mexico in part to get away from me, and threatened that if he ever found me there he'd kill me.

So let's hope that he's home watching television tonight.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Indiana's Early Morning Dew

Kudos to you if you can identify the pop cultural reference in the title of this post! And if you can, I wouldn't admit to that if I were you as it's sure indication that back in junior high school, you were as big a freak as I was.


So I'm on the road.

Last night, I drove Naphtali back down to Chestnut Hill the C'hill, then came back to the Ol' Homestead. After watching Mad Men (did you see Don Draper wipe his hands with his napkin after he fingered Bobbie???), I puttered a bit then went to bed. Save for the bed, the house is all but empty. Just me, knocking around in there alone.

I woke up this morning and loaded up the car. Everything I wanted to take fit, and I still have good sight lines looking out the back windows. Even my 120 year old Christmas cactus is snug and secure, although I don't doubt that it will be pretty stressed by the ride. (And in that, the Christmas cactus is not alone, huh?)

So. Nothing to do now but hit the road.

I said a brief prayer, asking for safety on the road, no rain, that kind of thing. But somehow I wasn't quite ready to take my leave. And then, I was inspired.

I went back to the bedroom that had been my father's smoking room, the walls freshly painted (over a couple of coats of Kilz). I opted for a nice parchment color, which is a little inside joke where I'm the only one on the inside: y'see, it's roughly the color the smoke from my father's cigars had turned the walls. I knocked on the open door.

"Hey Dad, I'm heading out now. Not sure when I'll be back."

That little scene had played itself out hundreds of times over the past five years. Whether I was going to work, to NYC, to the SuperFresh StoopidFresh, or off to Inferno for a week.

My father's inevitable reply: Do you have to go? Delivered mock pleadingly, but not too mock. He was serious.

And so I answered. "Yeah, Dad. I do have to go. It's time for me to go."

I paused.

"But Kathy, Kathleen, Ruby, Mother, Nana and Pop will keep you company. You'll be alright."

I choked up at the mention of my deceased sister, my stepmothers and mother, and his parents.

With tears in my eyes now, I headed out into the hallway and towards the kitchen. I called out to Faithful Companion, and shouted encouragingly, "Cartrip!"

He knew that word. He loved that word. A ride in the car. Off to smell New Smells and explore New Places and maybe meet New Dogs and New Places. Very exciting for my little brown eyed boy. I always loved his eagerness to be piled into the back of my jeep and head out to parts unknown with me.

I wasn't going to leave him behind. I had promised him that he'd come with me to the desert. That he'd have the chance to prick up his ears listening to the howling of the coyotes. Since I collected them from the vet when I returned from my trip back in June, his cremains (what an awful neologism) have been sitting in the back of my car. I wasn't going to forget about my boy-boy.

I could almost see him, standing there in the kitchen, tail wagging, looking up at me with those black eyes of his.

And so we set off.

How to get to the Pennsylvania Turnpike? I had thought to go out Ferry Road to 309 and pick it up at Fort Washington. But as I headed out the driveway, I changed my mind. Instead, I went through Doylestown. I drove by Wuperior Soodcraft, recognizing half the cars in the parking lot as I went by. The guys had just headed back in from the morning break at 9:30. And I stopped at Starbucks to get an iced quad venti no-ice latté to speed me on my way. And there on the porch, by an amazing coincidence, was a crew of people I've been hanging out with for the past five years.

"Drew! You're still here?"

I'm heading out as we speak. This is it for me and Starbucks.

Best wishes and good luck all around.

Then it was down 611 and onto the Turnpike at Willow Grove, heading West. I passed Reading and Harrisburg and all those little towns with names I've never heard of in Western Pennsylvania. I was on my way, stopping to replenish the latté at various Service Plazas. I cut south on I-70, and crossed the Monongahela and then the Ohio. And that was it for Pennsylvania.

Ah, the broad, green Ohio Valley.

Dinner the first night was great. When traveling on I-70, be sure to take Exit 66 and stop in South Vienna, Ohio, at the barbecue place. You make a right at the end of the ramp and it's right there on the right hand side, just past the Hardee's. Their pulled pork was awesome. And so were the potato salad and the collard greens. And the sweet tea was perfect. Somehow the sign over the door saying, "To God Be The Glory" was my first indicator that I was in for a treat. A half-and-half combination of their sweet sauce and their hot sauce, in the yellow and red squeeze bottles respectively, were spot on.

After barbecue, I ran into some construction back on I-70, and traffic slowed to a crawl. I noted wryly that no one was cutting ahead by driving up the shoulder as would drivers would be doing in droves in and around NYC. But then I thought too soon. Up the shoulder came a grey-green Buick Le Sabre. He came to parallel with me and put his turn signal on. I wasn't about to let him cut in. I kept my jeep inches from the bumper of the car in front of me. But I realized that Mr. Buick LeSabre was still cutting in. His car was just inches away from mine. He was going to hit me. I swerved into the gravel and relented. And laid on the horn to let him know I was pissed.

He had New York tags.

At this point I'm furious. Only the fact that I was in the Mid-West, where people in passing cars had cordially nodded "hello" to me as we crawled past each other kept me from full-blown roadrage. I wanted to position my left headlight so it would be shining right in his side mirror and put the high beams on but worried that I'd annoy other cars ahead of me. I wanted to continue to lay on the horn, but how annoying would that be? And so I just snarled and cursed with the windows up.

After we passed the construction, he hit the accelerator and swerved in and out of the trucks that are limited to 55 m.p.h. by Ohio's split speed limits and lost me.

It took me a while to calm down. Reminding myself that I was going to live in a place where I would leave encounters with behavior like that far, far behind did the trick.

I passed the time thinking up slogans for my adopted home town...

Welcome to Palm Springs! It's beautiful, and nothing much happens here.

Welcome to Palm Springs! Experience Life in the Slow Lane!

Welcome to Palm Springs! That sun really wears you out so don't try to do to much.

Welcome to Palm Springs! It's a friendly town, but don't expect much more than that because we can't be bothered.

Interesting. I'm going to Palm Springs to work, but in a way, I'm going there to retire. But retire from what exactly? I'm still going to be filling my days and nights with stuff that I already do and enjoy doing. I've even agreed to load down this hot muscle-y boy of a guy I had breakfast with back in June once I get settled. And once my 200 pounds of chain arrives courtesy of Allied Van Lines. I think the difference will be that I'll be totally mellow and chill and relaxed about the whole thing.

Or that's my hope anyway.

And tonight, here I am at a Days Inn in Richmond, Indiana, just west of the Ohio state line. Tomorrow, after a good night's sleep, I'll get on the road again and head to St. Louis, where I'll be paying a visit to my buddy GlovedTop, with whom I spent a Fourth of July weekend riding on the back of his Harley a few years ago.

So it's happening. I'm Moving To California.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Five Days And Counting


My life is in boxes. Everything all stored away. Tomorrow the movers come to put everything I'm not taking with me in my Jeep into storage until the haul it cross country to my new place in Palm Springs.

The Baron has been staying with me for the past week to help out with the moving. Given that the Baron has some Very Strong Opinions and Firm Beliefs about moving and packing, as he does about many things, this has been taxing at times. But slowly but surely, box by box, To Do list item by To Do list item, things are falling into place.

It is, of course, bittersweet. This can all be summed up in terms of sweet corn: I can't believe I'm moving to Palm Springs just as sweet corn is coming into season!

Ah, sweet corn. The paramount experience of Summer. There is nothing better than sweet corn, a dozen cobs of Silver Queen, glistening with butter and salt. It's been hot a dry this summer. The corn is a little bit behind. The local rule of thumb is "knee-high by July," and it wasn't. But something tells me this will be a good year for sweet corn.

And I don't doubt that sweet corn will be available at my local Von's in Palm Springs. But I'll pass it by. Just like I did sweet corn at the D'Agostino's in NYC and the StoopidFresh (SuperFresh) in Jersey City. If that's the only sweet corn you've ever had in your life, than I have nothing but pity for you, you pathetic sonofabitch. You have truly missed out.

Because you see, the instant that ear of corn is plucked from the stalk, the sugars in the corn start converting into starch. So every moment it goes by, it becomes less and less sweet. When sweet corn isn't sweet any more, around these parts it gets fed to livestock. But not people. And not served up on the table with butter and salt.

My stepmother had the phone numbers of all the local corn farmers. And they had her number. And they'd give her a call: "Mrs. Kramer, we're bringing in corn tomorrow morning. We should be coming in off the fields at about eight o'clock." And when they came in, there would be my stepmother, waiting with the trunk of her car open. After it was loaded and payment was made, she'd drive home like a bat out of hell. My father would be waiting, with every burner on the stove holding a big pot of boiling water. When she got home, they'd set to work, shucking the corn and getting it on the boil as if lives were at stake. (As soon as it's boiled, the sugar-to-starch process stops.) After it boiled for about seven-and-a-half minutes, it would go into the sink, filled with ice water, and then they'd cut it off the cob and it would go right into the freezer.

When the call came in the afternoon, that would mean we'd have corn for dinner. During the season, this would go down sometimes six days out of the week. Sweet corn is not something you get tired of. My stepmother would put away a mere six ears, and my father and I would finish off about a dozen each. And the corn in the freezer assured that often throughout the year there would be corn fritters with applebutter, chicken corn soup, corn chowder, corn as a side dish, corn relish, corn with succotash.

For the past five years, I've done my best to keep up my family's obsession with sweet corn. On my Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter tables, there's always been corn that I put up the previous Summer. And even though my father could only eat a half dozen ears, we would have it for dinner during the season as often as I could get it fresh.

I wouldn't be surprised if as I drove down to get on the Pennsylvania Turnpike heading west, I passed a sign outside of Helrick's Farm that announced "First Corn Of The Season!!! White and Yellow. Yes! We Have Silver Queen!", just to remind me what I'm missing out on.

All my life, I've taken it for granted that I'd have sweet corn in the Summer. And so this Summer, sweet corn has come to represent everything I'm leaving behind. The Jersey Shore, TastyCakes, Rosenberger's Iced Tea, Queen Anne's Lace and cornflowers, spring peepers, maple leaves, the Delaware River... All those things that I barely notice because I've been seeing them my whole life.

In the desert, everything will be new, I'll be seeing it all with fresh eyes.

And one more thing.

When I find an apartment, one of the first things I plan to do is go out and get myself a kumquat tree. Or bush. Or whatever.

When I was young, for a few years I went to a local Mennonite Church. One Sunday, some members of the parish had recently returned from a trip to Florida, and they brought with them several crates of kumquats. The kids gathered around, "What are they?"

We were not put at ease upon learning the name, which sounded to us like something profane and dirty. And we were even more tentative when it was explained to us that you don't peel kumquats, you put them in your mouth whole. And there was a trick to eating them: if you took a little bite, you'd get all of the bitterness of the skin in your mouth. Rather, you put the kumquat back in your mouth between your upper and lower molars and bit down hard. I was one of the first to take the plunge. My mouth filled with tangy sweetness.

I liked kumquats. Weird and exotic as they were.

A lot.

When I visited my friend John in San Diego last year, there out by the garage he had a kumquat tree sitting in a big pot. And kumquats were in season. And I spent a lot of time standing there, picking off kumquats and plopping them in my mouth, calling to John when I got a really good, sweet one.

At my home in Palm Springs, I will have a kumquat tree.

And so, I'm trading sweet corn for kumquats. Life offers its little compensations to us, no?


Just got a call from the movers. They'll be here between 9:30 and ten o'clock tomorrow morning.