Recalling my favorite holidays, part two

The second part of my favorite holidays, which are a bit more adult-oriented.

Another bonus post during my Christmas Countdown, here’s the second half of my fondest holiday memories.

Over the meadow and through the woods…

Come to think of it, this isn’t all that inaccurate a description of regular trips to my paternal grandmother’s place, even if all those meadows and woods happened to be next to the freeway.

She lived in a semi-rural area just north of San Luis Obispo, which is a pretty thriving college town. She and her second husband (but the only grandfather I had ever known) owned fourteen acres which they had retired to in their early 60s, at which time they built a house on it, doing everything themselves except digging the basement and pouring the foundations.

Of course, they did cheat a little bit. They did build the modest front house themselves, which was essentially the kitchen, pantry living and dining rooms, and my grandparents’ bedroom, but the back half was a double-wide trailer that was actually so-well integrated that you really couldn’t tell.

This had a huge salon that I don’t remember anyone ever using — it was always freezing back there — and it had two bedrooms, one bathroom, and access to the amazing basement/root cellar. The basement was my grandpa’s media room, basically, with the most amazing sound system I’d ever heard.

Thanksgiving trips up there were always special, because it meant that my aunt and uncle often came, frequently with their already adult kids and, eventually, their grandkids who, even though they were my second cousins, were actually my age.

These fests also frequently involved half-sister and her kids, same situation. My oldest nephew, second cousin, and I were all born within eight months of each other, with the other two about a month apart.

So once the nephews, cousins, and I got old enough to get into mischief, we certainly did, and we ran all over those fourteen acres, basically being city boys let loose in the country. Not that we were destructive or malicious. It was just that we could see and do things here that didn’t exist at home.

There were farm animals and poultry, a rushing creek that defined the border of the property, my grandfather’s huge field of Irises, outbuildings full of mysterious antiques to explore, and plenty of trails and hills. The neighbors immediately in front had a horse in their yard we loved to visit with.

Of course, after we’d gotten a little older, maybe around 12 or 13, we discovered the box of grandpa’s nudie mags in a shed. They were mostly old Playboys with an occasional Playgirl stuck in there, or one or two that were nastier — Penthouse, Hustler, and worse.

I actually think that they, like the boxes of rock ‘n roll records he would let us ransack, were the rejects from his bulk-buying trips at swap meets and antique fairs. He had a habit of buying things by lots, then weeding out the few treasures and leaving the rest for friends and family.

Out of all these Thanksgiving trips, though, my favorite has to be the one that was my last. I was fifteen, and I remember it being more subdued. I think that my parents and I arrived on Thursday afternoon with everyone else scheduled to arrive the next day.

But that evening, my oldest second cousin’s mother dropped him off to spend the night. We had last seen each other when we were 12 and, needless to say, now that we were both 15, we looked a lot more grown-up.

I don’t want to name him so I’ll use the pseudonym “Three,” because his father and grandfather also had the same name.

We wound up one of the bedrooms in the trailer part of the house — separate twin beds — at which point I learned that he’d really kind of morphed into a bad boy. He smoked, and did so constantly after we’d gotten into our beds before lights out, despite me warning him that was a bad idea — well, smoking and doing it in bed both are.

Um, smoking in bed, not “doing it” in bed.

I refused his offers to take a puff, but we did proceed to entertain each other with our increasingly lewd arsenal of dirty jokes, something that every 15-year-old boy comes equipped with. He also eventually got into recounting some of his sexual exploits with his girlfriend.

At the time, I had nothing to say because I was a closeted gay virgin. It was also all I could do to ignore the fact that he was pretty ripped, and try not to get too aroused about his stories, like the time his girlfriend rode him under a poncho in the rain in the stands at a high school football game.

Well, so he said. Who knows? But he was only my second cousin. Not that it matters if you can’t make babies. Just sayin’.

The next day, his two younger brothers came over, as did an older man they only referred to as Brady, and his grandson, who was also around the same age as Three and I, with the last name Brady.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized that this (older) Brady had actually been married to my grandmother’s youngest sister.

Or, in other words, this mystery Brady kid (whose first name I still don’t remember) was actually, surprise, another second cousin and I never knew it because no one bothered to tell me.

The five of us wound up wandering around way down on the bottom end of our (great)grandparents’ place that chilly November morning. Three brought the weed and Brady brought the pellet rifle, so we spent the time getting stoned and shooting at trees.

Yes, I did inhale this time. And yes, we never shot at anything living.

Later that afternoon, Three and I drove down the private road, half a mile up the service road, across the highway and creek, and arrived at a barn. Well, I drove. I was old enough to have my learner’s permit and while, technically, I think I was supposed to have only driven with a licensed adult driver in the car, my parents let me go, because we were kind of in the middle of nowhere, aka farm country where a kid drive a tractor as soon as he could figure out how to put on his own pants, so what the hell did a car matter, right?

Damn — different world.

In the barn, Three and his band were basically having a jam session/rehearsal, and they had a keyboard but no keyboardist, which was awesome because… guess what I played?

I also met his girlfriend who, to be honest, turned out to be kind of… I hate to use the word, but slutty. She tried to get all over me, was drinking beer and tried to force it on me, and all the while Three was there but didn’t seem to be bothered.

It was, to say the least, very awkward.

At least we got some good jam time in, and she couldn’t really molest me while I was playing. We returned back to my grandma’s place, had the family feast, and then Three and his brothers and Brady and grandson left, and I was stuck with just my parents, aunt and uncle, and grandparents for the rest of the weekend.

Still, not bad — my grandparents could tell stories like nobody else, and that alone was worth it.

It was the last time I ever saw Three and his brothers except for a brief moment at grandma’s funeral, although Three and I didn’t speak. It was a few years after he’d been convicted in a gang rape on a beach not far from San Luis Obispo and he’d spent a few years in prison, so he was kind of the black sheep.

I really wanted to talk to him, but it was obvious that he’d only come out of respect to grandma, I could sense the entire crowd tensing up in anger. He hustled his ass out of there as fast as he could, and I got the feeling that I would have been as hated if I’d actually tried to show a single ounce of compassion to him.

What really hurt, honestly, is that it felt like I really couldn’t, because all I  wanted to do was ask him what had happened on that beach, how he got talked into it, and how I might have been able to talk him out of it. That’s it. You know. Family shit.

But I also do count that Thanksgiving long before the funeral as my final transition from childhood naivete to eyes-open adulthood, though.

New Year in WeHo

I lived in West Hollywood as a baby gay for seven years, and for part of those years I was gloriously single, I had a group of friends I’d met online who would get together regularly to hit the clubs.

We had one New Year’s Eve tradition, though. We would gather in a group, and we all sort of had designated fallbacks. That is, if neither one of us had hooked up by midnight, then we were going home together and fucking. It was that simple.

Likewise, if one of us met someone, the other was on their own, no hard feelings — as long as the lucky one let it be known. Of course, when the group did cull itself that way, the rest of us knew each other well enough to just re-arrange the designated fallback combos. Since we tended to start with an even number, we’d wind up with an even number as well, so everyone wound up happy.

When the midnight kiss came, we all knew with whom we were going home, whether it was part of that original group or someone else, and it made for very smooth sailing into the New Year.

Recalling my favorite holidays, part one

Bonus: Memories of my favorite Holidays, part one.

Bonus feature during my Christmas Countdown, here are my favorite holiday memories growing up, part one.

I was originally going to make this about Christmas, but then realized that I really don’t have enough Christmas memories to make up a full article for the simple reason that for most of my adult life, I haven’t really celebrated it. I don’t see the point in decorating, and I certainly don’t see the point in everyone going into a consumer frenzy over each other. I do enjoy using Christmas Eve as the opportunity to get together with old friends, though.

That consumer frenzy part is what I most remember from my childhood Christmases, really, and being an only child from a somewhat well-off middle class family, there was many a Christmas morning that I’d be buried in presents, a few of which were exactly what I had asked for in my letter to Santa, but a lot of which always felt like “Mom saw it at the toy store and threw it in the cart” because she had a some kind of “gift quota” to hit with me.

Some of those presents were awesome, and I don’t remember getting clothing ever, even not as I approached adulthood. But the ultimate lesson there is that they were just stuff, a lot of it probably meant to keep me busy and out of the way (q.v. “only child”) while Mom tried to do housework, and all of it has long since vanished into the past.

I can’t think of a single childhood Christmas present that I still have, but that’s okay. The point is that watching this holiday buried under the weight of materialism really put me off traditional celebrations of Christmas.

Want to make me happy for the day and beyond? Here’s a hint. Don’t give me stuff. Give me your time and company and conversation because those are more valuable and lasting than any material thing.

With that said, here are my favorite holiday celebrations so far.

The Spelling Christmases

These happened for the years that I worked at Spelling Television on several shows. They would always take place at some amazing venue, and would include the entire cast, crew, everyone SOs and family, and a lot of invited celebrity guests.

Okay, they always included a lavish dinner and extravagant gift, but I can only remember two of this. One was a mountain bike with Melrose Place branding on it and the other was a 7th Heaven lunchbox.

The back tire on that bike went flat almost immediately and I didn’t have a lot of incentive to get it fixed, so I left it behind when I moved. As for the lunch box, I still have it, sealed in the original plastic. I think there’s a thermos inside, too.

But the great part about it was getting to hang out not only with my immediate co-workers, but to spend time with the crew from up at the studio that only some of us occasionally got to spend a couple of hours every six weeks with in a strictly working capacity. This included the cast as well, and for the most part they treated us as peers and made us feel like real people. The only ones who seemed aloof were execs from the production company and studio, but this may be because they never interacted with the crew directly.

Well, except for me. I was on the phone arguing a writer’s case with Standards and Practices (the network censors) all the damn time. That was part of my job.

The Cesar Christmases

I had the most of these of any company Christmas party — 10, in fact — but three of them stand out; The first one, the one at exactly the half-way point, and the last.

The first was an elaborate party and feast that we had in our offices and spent all day setting up for. I had only been there for five months at the time, only about two of those after having been promoted from temp to full-time staff. So it was a great opportunity to really get to bond with my coworkers, and a lot of those people are still friends to this day.

Not long before, when I was working for Warner Bros. and making really good money, I’d bought a video cam that used DV tape — that is, digital video — because I could finally afford it. This was in the days when cell phone cameras were still potato quality, but not long before smart phones came along and even the earliest cameras out-performed anything this one could do.

But I spent the day of set-up and night of the party shooting endless footage, including interviewing my co-workers, just getting artsy random shots, and so on. I cut it together into a pretty extensive video and posted it to YouTube.

Unfortunately, at some point that video got deleted due to copyright issues. Meanwhile, the edited copy I had on my hard drive had gone out of sync anyway and the original editing files that basically told the software which shots to take from what files and put where were gone, so there was no easy way to reconstruct it.

On top of that, with my next computer change, the camera was no longer modern enough to be compatible, so I couldn’t even load footage from it. I’m sure that I can get a DV cassette to USB adaptor and load everything onto my computer again.

One video from the year after that with a lot of the same people lives on though, and comes from an office trip to the L.A. County Fair — an experience I’m glad I had once for free and will never repeat. Here it is in all of its 240p glory: Deep Fried Everything.

The halfway party with Cesar was after I’d worked there for five years. It was held in the parking lot at our second office space — after Cesar’s company had split form the Dog Whisperer production company — which meant that it was enclosed within four walls but open to the sky.

That year, I decided to write a couple of Dog Whisperer-themed Christmas Carol parodies, so asked my boss, the CEO, for a budget, which he gave me. I repurposed the lyrics to two songs, hired six actors to come to the party and sing them, and they did.

It was one of those times when taking a chance changed my life for the better.

Cesar was blown away and asked our CEO, “Who did this?” he pointed me out, and by our next work day, I was suddenly removed from the world of product manager and promoted to Head Writer (or ghost writer or content creator or whatever), which is what I did for the rest of my time there.

The last party was very bittersweet, because it happened about three months after I’d been laid off and changed to freelance — and this after a lot of other people had been laid off or quit in anticipation. The company was dying. It was obvious that this was our last gasp.

I hadn’t even been invited, but had gone by the office the afternoon of the party, more to hang out with my friends working there than anything else. The CEO asked me if I was going and I told him that I hadn’t been invited, to which he replied, “Of course you’re invited,” so I went.

It was at a very fancy Korean BBQ in, of course, Koreatown, and was the last chance to hang out with the gang. Of course, of the current gang, only two of them had been at the original Christmas party and had taken the entire ride with me.

Oddly enough, one of them, who had been the old company’s first employee, was responsible for getting me my current job about a year ago — and he had gotten the position that allowed him to hire me from… the former CEO, so it’s kind of like a small remnant of that whole time remains.

Halloween in WeHo

Then we come to what are known as the Gay High Holy Days — Halloween week, which is an even bigger deal in West Hollywood (and other gayborhoods) than even Pride week.

Again, I lived in WeHo for seven years, and I was a half-block walk north of Santa Monica Boulevard in the heart of Boys’ Town, which is the East End of the city. This meant that I didn’t have to worry about parking and could just stroll down the street and into the thick of it with no problems.

Of course, Halloween, like Pride, started to become really commercialized, especially after corporations discovered the shocking truth: “Gays and lesbians have money!” That, and the early 90s were also when straight people started to turn out in droves.

They did this for two reasons. One was to be supportive allies. The other was that it was safer than the straight celebrations in Hollywood.

But here’s a bit of advice to so-called allies: If you’re going to invade gay spaces en masse while bringing your opposite-sex partners/spouses and showing PDAs or, worse, bringing your kids to events that are supposed to be queer-safe spaces, then you’re not being an ally.

So, please — no more fag-groping bachelorette parties at gay bars, no more Nuna baby strollers rolling your infant crotch fruit past the S&M tent at Pride.

The Halloweens I experienced before this, though? Fantastic. And, actually, the last one I did pre-COVID was also pretty awesome, because I was able to take public transit from home into WeHo, then meet up with a friend who lives in the city and venture out with a group to stroll the streets.

We didn’t go into any clubs or bars because we didn’t feel like paying an arm and a leg for the cover and then another limb per drink, but that was okay. It was enough to wander the streets. Oh, and taunting the hell out of the Westboro Baptist Church morons face-to-face was worth the price of admission.

All that, and I got to crash in WeHo and take the bus and subway home in the morning. Maybe, someday, after this damn virus, I can do it again.

To be continued…

Friday Free-for-All #74: Cute animal, wild animal, proportion, this or that

Here’s the next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.

What animal would be cutest if scaled down to the size of a cat?

There are a lot of possibilities here, but I think the winner would have to be a brown bear. A polar bear would have been my choice, but they prefer colder climates and living on the coast in the Arctic, so short of keeping the bathtub constantly filled with cold water and floating blocks of ice, they’d be hard to keep.

But brown bears are cute as it is — other than the fact that they can kill you. So cat size would be good. They’d probably be less inclined to be aggressive toward humans, especially if raised from cubs, and would probably manage a job equal to cats of getting rid of various vermin.

Plus there are bonus points: brown bears kind of look like dogs, so taking your cat-sized bear on a walk could get some interesting reactions.

“Oh, that’s so cute. What kind of a dog is it?”

“Brown bear.”

“Really? I’ve never heard of that breed.”

“That’s because it’s not a dog.”

“Then what is it?”

“I told you. It’s a brown bear, but it’s cat size.”

“Really? Where can I get one?”

“You can’t, actually, because I just made this one up for a Friday Free-for-all article.”

“Oh. You’re that guy…”

They slowly back away and I continue the walk with my cat-sized brown bear, now thinking about all of the ways it would probably still make a really bad pet.

What’s the coolest animal you’ve seen in the wild?

Well, it wasn’t exactly that “wild,” at least not in nature terms. Oh, there was plenty of wildlife in that neighborhood, but it was mostly of the human variety.

Still, it was about the closest I’ve ever gotten to a truly wild animal and it was kind of amazing.

I was living in West Hollywood at the time, over on the west end of the city in the part known as Boy’s Town, since a lot of the bars and clubs were right down the hill and ran a few blocks to the west from where I lived.

I was in a third-floor studio with a balcony that faced west and was standing out there one night when I looked over at the condo building next door and closer to the street — my apartment building had been constructed around an obvious hold-out. There was a single family home taking up the footprint in the L-shaped building I lived in.

Anyway, this condo had these big red Globes on the top corners as decorative features — it was tossed up in the 90s, after all. And on top of one of those globes that night was something that, in silhouette, looked exactly like a cat.

Well, a slightly large cat, but it was the right shape and had pointy ears. I wondered how it got up there, because the globes themselves were bigger than the bases they were sitting on. Just as I was wondering this, the cat turned toward the edge of the globe and started leaning, as if it were going to jump off.

I just stared in terrified fascination because there was nowhere for this cat to land between the top of that globe and the pavement below and the cat was the equivalent of about five stories up. But it was too late. It leaned over, jumped off of the globe… and then spread its wings and soared to the across to the front southern corner of my building.

It wasn’t a cat. It was an owl. A pretty big owl at that.

Now I was fascinated and really wanted a closer look, so, remembering that owls like to eat rodents, I started to make what I thought sounded like mouse noises.

It must have worked, because all of a sudden that owl took off, flew over and landed on the branch of a tree only a few feet from my balcony, giving me an intense once-over.

It startled me so much that I stepped back inside, but then I thought, “No — an owl isn’t going to attack me, especially once it realizes I’m not food,” so I went back out, and the owl and I considered each other for a bit.

It was a truly majestic creature and also seemed genuinely curious. It was probably wondering, “What the hell is this human doing way up here in this tree? Can this son of a bitch fly?”

But then, after what seemed like long minutes but what was probably more like thirty seconds, the owl flung itself into the sky and flew off.

It wasn’t the last owl I’d see in West Hollywood, and I still hear them all the time in my current neighborhood in the Valley. And something that people not from L.A. don’t realize is that despite being a huge city in the most populous county in the U.S., the place is full of wildlife.

In the county, we have owls, woodpeckers, crows, coyotes, mountain lions, (full-size) bears, raccoons, opossums, rats, deer, skunks, rattlesnakes, roadrunners, lizards, and on and on living here — and probably a lot I haven’t listed because they’re in other parts of the county.

n my lifetime, I think that I’ve seen every one of these in person at least once except for mountain lions, bears, and rattlesnakes, but I’ve seen most of the others multiple times.

That owl in WeHo, though, was probably the most up-close and personal I’d ever gotten with one of the many resident critters in these parts.

What has been blown way out of proportion?

Short answer: Everything. We’re suddenly living in an age where absolutely everything becomes a source of drama. I think, to some extent, the media is to blame, although it’s been to blame for a long, long time. The phrase “If it bleeds, it leads,” goes back to a 1989 article on broadcast media by Eric Pooley, published in New York Magazine.

If you ever do watch broadcast news, you’ll see that the biggest disaster of the day or the moment tends to be the lead story, and it takes up a lot of time. “Local school bus crash claims 17 lives!” screams the graphic behind the news anchors at the top of show.

Never mind that a landslide the same day killed 250, with a hundred more missing. That happened in Bolivia, so the audience here doesn’t care.

So the local bus crash gets blown out of all proportion to the landslide in a far-off country.

This idea wasn’t limited to just news media, though. Take it to entertainment media, and it’s the same thing: The train-wrecks get the attention. One Britney meltdown or Lady Di car crash is worth five hundred stories about celebrities doing charitable work or rescuing people from landslides in Bolivia or generally doing good things.

Then there was Reality TV — the worst thing to ever happen to that medium — in which case every single thing because dramatic as hell and got blown out of proportion. We largely have MTV, after it decided to stop playing music, to blame for this one.

I’d argue that the “M” in “Music Television” went from what it meant to what it currently is now: “Mindless Television.”

But those early reality programs, like all the incarnations of Big Brother, were the epitome of blowing tiny shit out of proportion. “Oh no. Eight young, beautiful people living in a house together and on camera 24-7. Whatever will we do if one pair has a slight disagreement?”

That’s right — lose our collective shit over it.

And so the drama and overblown nature of things continued to grow and percolate and then along came the internet, and it threw all of this shit into hyperdrive, so that average folk could now get in on the drama-queening and the overreacting and the blowing everything out of proportion, from the most minor of verbal gaffes to some celebrity admitting that they don’t do things like most people.

Wh-wh-wh-whaaaat??? No, we can’t have that. Take them to the court of public opinion.

It’s all gotten rather tiresome. I mean, when everything is blown way out of proportion, all perspective vanishes until we all just become voices screaming into the void.

Stop it. Stop it now!

Speed round: More “This or that?”

Okay, a few easy ones to end with:

  1. Hamburger or Taco?

I do love me some (American style) Mexican food, but given my choice, I’d go for the hamburger any time. Well, as long as it’s a cheeseburger, at least half a pound, cooked medium rare, and ketchup gets nowhere near it.

  1. Couch or Recliner?

There’s something to be said for both, so while the well-appointed living room should have at least one couch, if not a corner sectional, and a recliner, it really depends on what’s going on. If it’s just me alone, gorking out in front of some streaming entertainment while also futzing around on my pad, laptop, or phone, then it’s definitely a recliner. And if I’m having friends over for movie night or just to hang out, then it’s couch. But no reclining sofas, thanks. With a group, that can just get…


  1. Passenger or Driver?

I’m a very nervous passenger, so I’ll take driver every time, at least if we’re talking passenger vehicle. Seriously, if I’m a passenger, and especially if I’m riding shotgun, I can’t keep my foot off of the invisible brake pedal on the right side of the car. I think this all stems from the time that my mother’s mother was visiting us and my dad took us on a tour up in the winding canyons between the Valley and L.A. proper. Because I was a little kid, maybe six years old, I couldn’t really see straight out the windows that well, so from my point of view, it looked like we were right on the edge of a cliff and ready to go over. No thank you. Once I was old enough, I tended to always take the wheel.

  1. Tablet or Computer?

Generally speaking, computer, because I have yet to meet a tablet that I think would be better for anything. I don’t do a lot of work that involves a touchscreen — I try to use keyboard shortcuts as often as possible and avoid the mouse unless absolutely necessary because, being a writer, moving my hands off of the keyboard really interrupts the flow. And tablet keyboards generally suck. They’re too small for my giant hands, the keys are way too shallow, and they don’t give any kind of haptic feedback at all. I may reconsider if I get back into video editing or graphic design again, but those are two fields where the keyboard confers no real advantages.

  1. Most important in a partner: Intelligent or Funny?

Intelligent, hands down. I’d rather have a kind of straightforward and boring partner who was very intelligent than a life of the party who was stupider than a stick. Then again, I tend to gravitate toward very intelligent friends, and it wouldn’t be fair to bring a partner into that kind of situation, even if they had supermodel good looks. It doesn’t matter what they look like if their response to most of the conversations you have with others in front of them or try to have with them end up being met by nothing but blank eyes and a slack-hawed stare.

“Have you heard of Einstein’s theory of relativity?”

“Hey, I heard that the dude married his cousin.”

Sorry. Next!

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