Saturday, January 17, 2015

The "This House" series begins: "This House", #1

I have decided to try something new with my blog for a while and see how I like it and how well it is received. The idea sprang from my recent walks around my neighborhood--something that I have never done in the 15 years I have lived in this building. It is truly amazing what you see when you are moving at a walking pace, and what I have seen on my walks has inspired me to use my imagination concerning the inhabitants and history of the buildings I am seeing. I am shocked to discover that there are quite a few decrepit buildings within a three block radius, and perhaps that is why there is a buying frenzy going on around here now with 100 year old bungalows being razed to make way for upscale apartment homes and condominiums. To see them side by side is quite the contrast, and I will share some of them with you. 

But that will just be half the story, since those of you who read me regularly know that I like to mix up the personal with the public, and vice-versa, so that will not change. The stories of the buildings will segue into whatever I am thinking about when I write the post. Hopefully the transitions will not be jarring. The point of this new format is to stimulate my imagination, show you the neighborhood, and give me a chance to write more frequent, briefer posts. We will see how well I succeed with the latter! 

And so we're off! And what better way to start than with "my house"...

The apartment building I live in.
One seldom knows where one is going to "end up". When I landed at this Hollywood apartment building in 1999, I was fresh out of my first live-in relationship, and in the middle of the most productive streak of my performing career. I heard about this place from a friend, and my roommate and I were desperate to find an apartment, so once I looked at it and liked it I called him and told him to meet me there with his checkbook.

Even though we were desperate, we fortunately did not have to settle. The apartment was nice, and large, with two bedrooms and two baths. At the time, the rent was $830 per month, an amount that you can't even get a shitty studio for in these parts now. The landlady was a character for sure--an older Polish woman who lived here with her seldom seen and reputedly cranky husband. When she was showing us the place, she spoke with particular pride of the curtains, which she told me she made herself out of old house-robes. Truth!

Shortly after we moved in, the cranky old husband died, perhaps even before I ever actually saw him, and the kindly wife moved back to Poland to be with family. I immediately changed the curtains. We then progressed through a succession of horribly inept managers, who suffered from problems ranging from unemployment to alcoholism to drug addiction and more. For the last dozen years, I have been the manager, and it is one of the best actions I have ever taken. During this time I have lived in a two bedroom, one bath Hollywood apartment with a patio, for NO rent. That's right. As manager, I get free rent in exchange for my manager duties, which are not that time-consuming. Don't call me lucky though, please. Nothing fell into my lap.

Another view. I work hard to keep the plants happy.
This place is now my home, at least for as long as I continue to stay here. I have worked to make the grounds greener, and have overseen many improvements to the units. There are some tenants I would love to see leave, but that goes with the territory. There are 16 units in all between two buildings. In the picture you can just see the building I live in.

1920'S bungalow down the street
Both buildings were built in the 70's, and I hear that they overtook two separate lots that each had a small Craftsman bungalow, just like the ones that are still hanging on down the street. This street used to be all bungalows in the early 1920's when Hollywood was developing, but by the time this building was built, the block had fallen on hard times and was a known drug trafficking area.
The bungalow next door
Fortunately that has changed, and the area is fairly safe, though we do get a lot of nightclub traffic, being just half a block from Santa Monica Blvd. I suspect that within the next 10-20 years all these apartment buildings will be gone and replaced with upscale new buildings catering to all the young city dwellers who want to live "near the action".

All neighborhoods change, all the time, but especially city neighborhoods. It is interesting walking around the area and noticing details I have never seen before.

I notice details.

While we were talking, I took in everything, which is easy to do when talking intently with someone. He has shaggy, curly brown hair, sparkling dark eyes, beard scruff, and from what I can see beyond the lapel and cuff of his tan sport coat, tattoos moving across his upper chest and up his forearm. The nails are natural--not groomed, but not dirty, just natural, which I find attractive in this city of uber-grooming. When he smiled, dimples formed in his cheeks, which was as adorable as it sounds. While talking, he seemed to not have any interest in not talking, and he paid attention as one does when they have an interest in the person speaking.

And then I saw it. At the edge of his right coat sleeve, it stuck out ever so subtly, but it caught my eye, because as mentioned, I notice details. It was the plastic tag from a price label. The label was gone, but the tag remained, there at the edge of his right coat sleeve. And that is when his charm reached overload.

I suspected many things. I suspected that he had just bought the coat that afternoon, which would speak to his intention to set a good impression with a group of strangers. I suspected that he had bought the coat a long time ago, from a second hand store, and neglected to remove the plastic tag. I suspected that he had borrowed the coat and was unaware of the tag being there at all. I suspected that he might wear this coat everywhere, and that there was not much thought about it at all, although I did not suspect this possibility very much, because he seemed deliberate. I suspected that he was there for a similar reason I was--the opportunity to be involved in intelligent conversation with other men about something other than sex. But most of all, I suspected that this plastic label tag was the most important detail of all for me to notice, as it signaled the possibility that this young man is just unself-conscious enough to not notice such details; and from my detail-conscious world, that is just the piece of information to signal possibilities.

I suspect...change is coming in my neighborhood.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

"Happy New Year, Faggot!"

They say that the new year is a time to start fresh, but upon even a cursory shake of the head, one can see that the reality is just more of the same, one day later. So why do we insist on marking this day so outrageously? My theory is that we do this because we can't live easily without the concept of "new beginnings". Even though life is a running through-line, we do better with sudden starts than we do with slow builds. The interesting part of this for me is that sudden starts are rarely lasting or effective--it is the slow build that yields the greatest and longest lasting results.

Everyone is familiar with the idea of the New Year's resolution and its comical track record of failure. I gave up making resolutions for myself many years ago, remaining content with reviewing progress on the slow builds, and occasionally suggesting resolutions for others that would make my life better. One of the areas of slow build that I continue to monitor is how I deal with my own anger, particularly when it springs from the effect of others' narrow-mindedness. Since the world is still overwhelmingly narrow-minded, you can imagine that I have spent a lot of time in the anger zone, mostly to my own detriment. However, by attending to the slow build, I am happy to report that I am much better at responding to narrow-mindedness, and as a result I am less at the effect of such.

The key ingredient to my progress in this area is the strengthening of the idea that the majority of narrow-minded behaviors are not about me. They are, rather, all about the initiator, and I find that a better use of my time is to worry more about what my response will be, and less about whether the behavior is right, fair, or should be happening at all. Some times I am better at this than at other times, as you can imagine. That is called being human, not perfect.

For me, the importance of the slow build places a different emphasis on the significance of New Year's. Rather than looking forward at what I hope to do more and less of, I prefer to look back and review what I have done more and less of, and make mental adjustments as needed. This results in less self-criticism, and more appreciation. As I always say to my clients in the therapy room, the best way to know if you are making progress is to see if you behave differently around the same circumstances.

This New Year's Eve I had a couple of close friends over for a home-cooked "fancy" dinner, and we had a wonderful time. As a good host, I naturally provided horns and noisemakers to be used at the appointed hour to usher in the "new" year. Right before midnight, we huddled in the cold on my patio and prepared to unleash a sonic celebration, which we did at the stroke of midnight. We blew our horns, we cranked our noisemakers, we screamed "Happy New Year", and we reveled in the sound of near and far fireworks and similar celebrations. New Year's Eve is one of the few times when it seems that everyone is on the same page, and it is not entirely inappropriate or unwelcome to wish complete strangers a happy new year. What my friends and I got, however, was far from a welcome return greeting. Fifteen seconds into the new year, we heard someone from the apartment building across the street yell out the door. What he yelled was, "Happy New Year, faggot!"

Happy New Year.

If you are gay, and perhaps even if you are not, you know the toxic sting of that word, loaded with painful history as it is, and it is easy to think that in 2015 we are in a "post-faggot" world. Alas, this is not any more true than the idea that we are living in a "post-racial" world. And yet I do notice that as the voices of ignorance and hate get louder, they more closely resemble dying gasps than they do war cries. It does seem that when the oppressed are actively oppressed, there is little reason for the oppressor to defend or assert the oppression in the open. Lately, as the barriers to equal rights continue to fall, I hear dying gasps all around me. Funny, that classification does little to comfort me, all the same. Last night, when our celebration was pierced with the sound of homophobic ignorance, I saw red.

What I wanted to do was walk across the street and confront the young man who had made the offensive remark, and I wanted to do this in front of his family and ask them what could possibly make them think it was acceptable for this to be yelled out the front door. I wanted to ask them why they place so much emphasis on community in their own family and circle of friends, but find it okay to treat their longtime neighbor like an unwelcome stranger. I wanted to tell them that this was not to be repeated, and that they owed us an apology. I wanted to scream at them, slam my fist into their door, spit on their window, hurt them. But I did none of these things.

At one point, not five minutes into the new year, I found myself benefiting from the progress of the slow build. I realized that what I knew was that someone had yelled out their front door, and that they had used the word "faggot". What I didn't know was why they did this, or if it was directed at our group at all. I thought that perhaps our noisemaking had awakened this person, and that he had responded to that interruption; but it didn't matter what the story was, because whatever it was, it was not about me, and I was not interested in starting my new year off with a confrontation. Those who know me know that I am not one to shy away from conflict, but there is a difference between letting someone walk all over you, and stepping out of the way. The former is making someone's actions about yourself, the latter is making it about them. Stepping aside is not the same as lying down. My decision to not engage was a way to keep the power of choice in determining my experience. I choose not to ruin the evening by making someone else's bad behavior about me. The anger dissipated like a mist, and we went on to enjoy the rest of the evening, though not without some effect.

I am a faggot, I am a queer, I am attracted to men and have been for as long as I can remember. This is just how it is, and there are many more like me, and this is nothing new. Same sex attraction is not a "sin", and we are not ruining anything, and for those who continue to think this way, you are approaching the day when you will have to admit that your god is prejudice.

The world is always waiting right outside for us, in fact I never really forget this fact, and last night it didn't take 15 seconds for the world to remind us that it is "more of the same, one day later". But my friends and I made the choice to continue celebrating regardless, because we have much to celebrate, and because the slow build reminded me that I have a choice. Last night we chose to step aside, rather than taking the punch or turning the other cheek. It worked, but not like a magic charm--this is the real world after all, and I do have tears on my face as I write this.

But it's progress. The slow build continues. More than I can say for the young man across the street, who may have a long life of shattered illusions ahead of him. Let's hope--both for his sake and for mine.