42. It’s More Than A Number.

In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 42 was the answer to the meaning of life. The problem was that the characters in the book didn’t know what the question was.

I’m feeling a bit the same way.

I just turned 42 and I’m not sure what to make of it. Birthdays that have a 0 and a 5 in them, really don’t faze me. They are lionized as major events, clicking into a new decade or its halfway mark, heralded by the things people say; “You’re as young as you think you are”, “40 is the new 20”, and my personal favorite, “You don’t look your age at all.” That last one, I secretly love/loathe and find myself fishing for it around blow-out-the-candles time to make myself feel better.

Truth is, I’ve always struggled with birthdays, especially the in-betweenies. The 3’s and the 2’s, the 7’s and 8’s.

I feel like the role is set for you on the 0’s and 5’s. There’s a feeling of shucking off one uniform and putting on a new one. The decade feels abundant and all ahead of you, a cornucopia of possibilities promisingly laid out as you sit with a glass of wine, looking at the last slices of cake left to eat, surrounded by friends and contemplating the decade ahead.

It’s only compounded by the next government form you fill out, when you change the box you tick for age. It feels like a triumph to be in a fresh one, the grass is greener here and waiting to be walked on.

The things you didn’t like about your previous decade you can finally let lay. And the stuff you didn’t get done in the first half of a new decade feel possible all over again at the five year point.

But these in-betweenies… they get me every time.

I know when they started too. I can pin point the moment. In truth I’ve been like this my whole life, but there was a moment where the sound of the ticking clock got Spinal Tapped up to 11.

It was ten years ago and I had just moved back to Australia on my second failed attempt to repatriate. But I jumped in with gusto and had been back maybe three days when I was out at a bar with a friend.

It was my round, so I went to order, when a little 19 year old sidles up next to me and starts getting all flirty. Everyone loves to be adored, so wherever it comes from, it’s a compliment in my books. But then he puts the hard word on me. 19, with the hard word. What do they teach these kids these days?

Kid: So, how bout you finish that drink with your friend, pick me up on the way out and you and I get naked before the sun goes down?
Me: Uh, wow. OK. Listen you’re adorable and all, but you aren’t really my type.

This comes as a genuine shock to him. I doubt I’m the first guy to say no, but when you’re 19, thin as a whippet and have nothing to do but go to the gym all day, it probably doesn’t happen a lot.

Kid: Oh, really? That’s a shame. Because I’m really into older guys like you.

The universe literally begins to unspool, stars crash all around us, the earth rips open. I choke out my next sentence.

Me: Older guys? Mate, I’m 32.
Kid: Right.

The child was completely bewildered by my inability to understand the math. Holy Shit. To a 19 year old, I am the older guy. This was literally the moment when time became the tricky fucker I feel it to be. I always knew it was passing, but this was the first time I felt it passing.

I was him, when he was 6. I think I’ll down both these drinks myself.

So that was then and this is now. Ten years later and I’m on a series of record breaking moments for me. I’ve been working in the same job for 2 years with no anticipation of leaving it any time soon. On my old time clock, I’d be changing countries by now.

I’ve been with Paul longer than anyone else in my life. 4 1/2 years. And I’m anticipating many more. As long as Paul doesn’t kill me. But you know, who could blame him? I can be a lot of work.

I’ve lived in the one city for 8 years. I haven’t pulled this off since Sydney days. Before I left for the first time.

So all is going very well. I’m settled. Yet, I have this inescapable feeling of being quite unsettled at the age of 42.

I moved here to become a screenwriter and did just that. Yet, I still haven’t seen anything I’ve written make it to the big screen. I’m currently on my third close encounter with a film set up at Paramount, but anything could happen and has a couple of times before.

I never thought that I’d be back in full time advertising. In fact, I’m pretty sure I had a Scarlett O’Hara moment where I thrust a fistful of Sharpies at the sky and yelled, “With God as my witness, I will never work in advertising again!” Then I did. And now I dig it.

So even though everything is going well, I have no idea what the fuck is going on. There’s just… this feeling.

I can’t be alone here. It’s this feeling of, I don’t know, just, is this it? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? Is this where I’m meant to be?

And I know in the Sylvia Plath/Buddhist sense of the universe that we are all exactly where we need to be. But I handle it with smiling unease.

This is the point I think where I’m supposed to buy a sportscar and start having an affair with someone from the office. Except that’s not really going to work either. I’ve been trying to buy a sportscar for 20 years. When you’re 6’3” and have size 14 feet, you quickly discover that the legroom, head heights and the footwells of convertible cars are not designed for the likes of you. There’s nothing funnier than the face of a car salesman as he realizes you’re pushing the brake and the accelerator at the same time.

So it looks like I’ll be getting a second LEAF.

And as far as the affair at the office… well, that’s where I have to have a word with HR. I mean there’s a lot of good looking people in their 20‘s at work. And that’s really nice for them. But when your taste swings to Grizzly Adams, Tom Selleck and James Gandolfini, my office is as dry as the Joshua Tree in August.

And to be honest, I have no idea how people mange affairs. I don’t have the time. Seriously? How do you schedule all that nookie on the side? I have a full time job and write screenplays and can’t manage to see my man who I really love and my friends enough, let alone have some clandestine rendezvous under the lamplights.

So that’s that mid-life crisis behavior kiboshed.

As I look around, all my straight friends are having kids. And I wonder, with the amount of time that a miracle like that takes, do they have the same thoughts as I do? Do they have any time to think at all? Is that a good thing? I wonder if all these nagging, time-rattled doubts that circle around my head like goldfish on speed are just some massive form of middle class, self obsessed, me-ness. If I actually had another living creature that was reliant on me for survival, I wouldn’t have all this time to think.

But when I asked the new fathers that I know about what that’s like, they all came back with the same resounding answer; kids amplify all these thoughts. And when they say amplify, they mean Marshall speaker stack. You have a child, then you have to work out what kind of a man you are, and who you are going to be for them.

Once again, hats off to all of my friends with upchuck on their t-shirts.

Speaking of kids, I believe it’s the job of every generation to complain about the one that’s following it. Especially when they’re 19 and hold up mirrors to you in bars when you’re just trying to have a quiet drink. But the fact that I even have a generation to complain about still shocks me. And with what seems to be the early maturity of the truly young today, I feel sometimes that I have two generations below me. I can discern the cultural differences between people born in the 80’s and the 90’s.

And yet, I know that there are things that I’m brilliant at that they won’t be able to do till they’re around my age. Like not panicking about, well, everything. So I don’t feel any kind of an obsoleteness. There’s a big future as the voice of calm and reason.

If this reads like one of the more schitzophrenic stories that I’ve written, well it should. There is this high speed sushi train of random and often conflicting thoughts of late that career through my brain every time I’m not distracting myself.

I should be an actor, I don’t want to live an actor’s life, I should try painting, I should save more, I want to move to Europe, I’m too old to wear that, this is kids music, I was the oldest person at that concert, I should have been an art director instead, I want to write a novel, I still haven’t climbed a mountain, I have never read buzzfeed, I have no idea what’s going on the world, I know tons, I’m a success, I’m a failure, I want to run away, I don’t have anywhere to run, I’ll be miserable when I get there, my knees are getting creaky, I should do crossfit, I look like my parents taking all my vitamins in the morning, I’m halfway through my life and I think it’s good but I don’t know what it means.

That’s an average morning.

None of this is productive, none of this is helpful, yet I find all of the above floating around in my world and coloring my days like an endless loop.

So I’m on my way to Nashville again for a work trip and I’ve dressed up all my unease in a traveling outfit. At least I can dress well, that’s one thing I know I do right.

I’m waiting to hand in my boarding pass to the security agent when he looks up at me and breaks into a massive smile.

Security Agent: Hello buddy, how are you this fine day?

His goodness is so genuine, it takes me off guard, you don’t see a lot of smiles at LAX. Then I think he thinks that I’m Hugh Jackman.

SA: Karl with a “K”. That’s cool.
Oh, right. He has my driver’s license in his hand.
SA: What is that, German?
Me: Yeah, my Mum always liked the name.
SA: Right on.

He’s not a stoner. He’s not a space cadet. He’s just… happy. Then a work colleague of his comes walking up and she gives him a huge hug.

Colleague: Happy Birthday Raymond! I love you boy! You are my little bit of sunshine everyday.

He hugs her back enthusiastically. There is real affection between them. Wow, who is this guy?

Raymond: Hey sister, I always got a smile for you.
Colleague: You got a smile for everyone.

God, he’s infectious. I’m beaming in his presence. Now the guy behind me in the line is smiling and talking to Raymond.

Guy: Whatever you’re using, you should bottle it and sell it.
Raymond: I just wake up everyday and decide, this is going to be a good day. And then it is.

Me: Don’t you ever get down?
Raymond: What’s the point? It never changes anything. And it all works out. So, why be down?

The logic was kind of irrefutable. But hokey at the same time. When I see the unflappably happy, I often think that they might be a bit simple. Although it’s the state that everyone strives for, when I encounter it I class it as a mental problem.

Me: Raymond, how old are you?

If he says 42 I’m literally going to vomit.

Raymond: It’s not a race, Karl.

I just stood there looking at him, drenched by a waterfall of surprise. I don’t know exactly what he meant by that, but he was right. And then, of course, Raymond smiled. And he turned back and started attending to the other people in line.

As I stood there, loading my bags and shoes through the security check, I had a small revelation.

I spend so much of my time in competition with myself; I beat myself up about what should have happened by now, where I should be, things I should have done, whether I should have chosen a different path, where I went wrong.

And maybe it’s a guy thing, but I think a lot about where I am compared to everyone else around me. And birthdays are the ticking clock that I’m sprinting against.

But it’s not a race. It’s a life.

Thanks Raymond. If it wasn’t for you and homeless people and drag queens, I’d be lost.

Posted in Actors, Aging, Bears, Belonging Somewhere, Gay Men, How LA Works, Hugh Jackman, LA Characters, LAX, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Street People Make The Best Career Counselors

In the time that I’ve been in LA, I’ve had a lot of advice thrown in my direction. Everyone has their take on the town, how to get where you want to be and definitely the way to do it. We Angelenos enjoy sharing career advice almost as much as we like sharing surface street short cuts.

In the time I’ve been here, I’ve been told to write what is meaningful to you/only write what people are buying, don’t stand out with your dress code/don’t change your style to fit the place, be original/give them something they’ve seen before, don’t lose your accent/try to sound more American, go with the flow/be disruptive… it’s maddening.

But there were two very clear-cut moments in LA where the metaphorical clouds parted and I was given some advice that truly changed things for me here in crazy town. And it was from crazy people.

It was 2010 and I was doing some freelance at a design agency near Hollywood. I was living in Westwood and because that’s near UCLA, it’s bus line central. In a city that has an inside joke of a public transport system, you can honestly count on one hand the number of people you’ve met who use it on any kind of a regular basis.

But since there was a stop just one street away from my house, it seemed like a sensible idea to just take the bus into work instead.

So there I am sitting at a bus stop one day, waiting for it to come along and take me home. It’s the oddest feeling to be out on the street in LA and not moving. You hit the pavement only to walk to and from your car. So to sit and just be there as the traffic rolls by is kind of weird.

And it’s odder still when a homeless guy sits down next to you to start telling everything that you’re doing wrong with your life.

When you encounter homeless folks, it’s a strange feeling; wanting to flee, not wanting to seem like a douche, wondering if they are going to rob you or if they’re going to harm you in some way, wishing you were doing this from the safety of a car, wondering how far you could be from such a fall yourself – a mix of heady emotions all thrown into a blender.

He was pretty young actually as homeless people go, I’d say mid 30s, but it’s hard to pinpoint an age when all you can think is that he’s missing a lot of teeth.

And he was clean. This has always fascinated me about homeless people, there are the ones covered in dirt and the ones who showered that morning. I always wonder where they get cleaned up and if they can sleep there.

But I was soon brought back to the moment, there at the bus stop with him, as he began to tell me about my life and where it was going.

Homeless Guy: So what is it ya’ll do?
Me: Advertising. But I also write movies.
HG: Uh huh. How’s that movie thing going?
Me: Oh you know.
HG: That bad huh? I was in the movies.
Me: Really?
HG: Yeah, I got a star outside that Chinese place.
Me: Really?
HG: What you think?

Then he started laughing at me. Well, I’m pretty gullible.

He then launched into a whole thing about the movie industry and the people in it and all the usual stuff that you hear. I guess this guy had something to do with it at one stage. And there was something oddly comical about having an industry chat with a guy that was wearing a sleeping bag. But he made some good points; how stupid agents are, how producers are vampires, and all actors are narcissistic motherfuckers. He has a lot to say about all that.

Change his outfit and give him a cell phone and this chat would have been totally at home at the Soho House.

HG: What do you do in advertising?
Me: I’m a writer.
HG: Anyone love your ads?
Me: I guess some of them. They don’t really get reviewed.
HG: So you don’t know.
Me: Well, if the stuff I’m advertising sells, then I guess people like the ads.
HG: Sold a lot of shit lately?
Me: I don’t know.

Being check-mated about my professional career wasn’t really in my plan that afternoon and I found myself wishing this guy and his mirror would go away. Can’t we go back to the vampire producer thing? That was funny.

But then he zeroes in on my scarf. For those who know me, it’s no secret; I’m usually wearing some kind of neck adornment. A scarf, a neckerchief, a silk pocket square rolled up or a cravat. I can’t remember what I was wearing that day, but he was fixated on it.

HG: This one ain’t doin’ you no favors.
Me: I like this one.
HG: Yeah, yeah. It’s pretty and all. But that shit ain’t got no magic. Ain’t got no power.

Then he looks me squarely. There’s a joke that you should never look at the homeless right in the eye, it’s the green light for a conversation. But since we were way past that point, I didn’t turn away as he burrowed down deep into my corneas looking for something.

Then his face changed. He found it.

HG: Purple. Yeah. Purple, that’s what you should be wearing.
Me: I don’t have a purple scarf.
HG: Then get one bitch. Yeah I see it.

He starts flicking a mimed scarf around his neck. He really gets into it. Kind of goes half lidded. He kind of trances.

HG: That’s your power right there. That purple. Get that on, walk into a room and own that shit. Get that power on, wrap youself up in that purple and you be like Superman.

Fun fact: there are psychics all through my family. Everywhere in the world that I’ve traveled and lived, I always seem to attract them like a magnet. And I always take it as a sign. So while he had my interest before, he really had it now.

And of course, this is right when my bus arrived. I contemplated staying there more to talk to him, but I also got the feeling that my package had been delivered. A message like this always arrives by an unseen hand, a kind of cosmic postman, who let’s you know that this is as many letters as there are for you today coming through this psychic post box of a person in front of you.

So I get up, thank Homeless Guy for the conversation and head for the bus, purple scarves swirling in my brain as I step inside the bus. Then, at the last second, I stick my head back out.

Me: Hey mate, what’s your name?
HG: Oh, I’m Jesus.

Nice to meet you Jesus.

So when you meet the son of God and he delivers you a word from high, the only thing you can do is act on it. Or not. I, of course, chose the latter.

Fast forward to one year later. I’ve taken a full-time job at TBWA, I’m doing a stretch where my life has been taken away from me and I get home at that really weird time of 9:00. It’s too late to go out, it’s too early to go to bed. I wrestle with the crushing need to do something, anything so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on… on… I don’t know… everything.

Me: Paul, put on a jacket, we’re going out.
Paul: Where?
Me: I don’t know, anywhere.
Paul: Um, OK.
Me: Santa Monica Blvd. Drive to Weho.

I actually don’t like Weho that much at night. I don’t go out there. It’s fucking Tuesday. Nothing will be full or interesting, but I just needed to see my own kind and feel normal.

So we drive up the neon lit strip of SMB and I look forlornly out the window at the 20 somethings and try to remember when I felt that care free. Suddenly I see the Yoghurt Stop. It’s one of those self-serve yoghurt places and there’s always queens sitting outside, eating yoghurt and judging the passers-by. Perfect.

We park, we fill up some tubs, and we sit outside in silence. It’s a little thing, but it just feels so good to not be at home or at work and sitting with my man; that night the Yoghurt Stop was like the French Riviera.

And then the Drag Queen rolled up. Or maybe it was a tranny. I don’t know. You see, newly minted transexuals usually end up going through a kind of pubescent phase that they never had. They buy lots of makeup and girly clothes and indulge this part of them that they kept hidden in a box. The woman will come later, right now the princess has to play.

This however, can look a lot like a Drag Queen who didn’t have a lot to spend; K-mart mini skirt, sparkly eye shadow, a chiffon offcut as a hair ribbon.

So this drag queen drops in on a table just nearby and starts reading one of the patron’s palms. Oh my god, just what this night needs, a charlatan transdrag psychic fleecing the fairies of the forest.

But of course, it’s a night where I need the psychic postman to drop by, so I hope that she does/n’t come over to where Paul and I are sitting. Thank God she does.

Trans Drag: Hello babies, how are you tonight?
Me: Good thanks.
TD: So you want to get your palm read?
Me: Sure.

I wasn’t expecting much to be honest. Visually, she definitely deteriorated on approach and as she sat down, fluorescent lights caught her pancake. It was thick and a little crackly. But hey, it’s Tuesday night on Santa Monica Blvd and I’ll take a hint of a miracle in whatever form it comes.

And did the postman ever come knocking.

She started to trance out, and immediately I was pulled in. Oh, OK sister, you do have the goods. She held my palm, looked down and then launched into a psychic sermon.

TG: Oh, no, no, no… No sir… this new job you got… baby you gettin’ pushed around… fuck that… you gotta put your foot down. Yes, yes, you gotta put your foot down. Somebody come tell you how it is, kick that bitch. Kick with your foot and then put that foot down. They taking all kinds of your time. No, no, no. Put your foot down baby, put your foot down.

I can’t go into all the details of it here, but she then starts to talk about things going on at work, jobs that I’m on, people I work with – she’s in full tilt.

I’m suddenly transported back to the bus stop and comparing the tranced out face that’s in front of me now and Jesus, wrapping that phantom scarf around his neck, with the same half lidded expression on his face.

The postman rang twice.

I don’t really know what it meant. Maybe nothing. Maybe it’s another brick in the empire I hope to build, but it felt important. And not for nothing.

So I thanked her for her time, pressed a tenner into her hand, and Paul and I marveled all the way home; the precision might have been hazy, but the timeliness couldn’t be questioned.

It was a turning point for me. I stopped biting my tongue at work and saying what I thought at the time when I felt it. I tried to organize the place into something more ordered than it was. And most importantly, I bought a purple scarf a month later.

I wear it on the days when I need to gather my spiritual army. And I always think of Jesus and that Trans Drag Queen as I knot it and head out the door.

To me, it’s a reminder that the smallest moments can mean something. I can’t say that I rate a fortune cookie, but I think that when the universe finds a way to speak to you, sleeping bags and bad make-up aside, try to listen.

It reminds me that the smallest actions you take can amount to something greater. Truth is an undervalued commodity. But a piece of truth is like a brick; it’s real and when you utter it, you feel stronger for it. And you don’t ever have to think about what you should have said, after the fact.

And the biggest thing that that purple scarf tells me, is that I don’t have to be afraid. Of what might happen, of what will never happen, of what will happen in its own good time, not when I think it should.

I hope your purple scarf finds you all.

Posted in Fashion, Making It In LA, Psychic Stuff, public transport, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Life Legacies And The Luck Of Green Lights

When I look back on this blog, I smile at the young 34-year-old me that moved to LA. I was full of it, and completely sure that I was going to conquer the world of screenwriting. I was going to write films that touched people, moved them and made them think.

My greatest hope was that one day I would be in a bar and overhear a conversation between two people about a movie that I wrote; that both had seen it, loved it for different reasons and talked about it incessantly as I listened on, a gleeful fly on a wall.

And who knows, that may still happen. But in 1996 it was the only thing that could happen that was going to bring any happiness to my life or give it any meaning.

I actually used to play this stupid game; if I was heading for a green light a long way off and I made it before it went red, it was a sign that this was my year. Three of them in a day meant an Oscar. Don’t ask me where or how I cooked up these rules. I blame my superstition on a lack of religion as I grew up.

But this is a harder game to play than you would think. The traffic lights in LA aren’t synched. So your chances of catching a green are seriously low. Driving home 5 years ago down Venice Blvd at 2am is all the evidence you need to prove this savagely poor piece of urban planning.

Anyway, lights aside, back to the meaning of life. So from 1996 – 2011 I had to be able to point at a flickering screen and say, “See, I mattered.” Nothing else was important, nothing else could be considered.

Nowadays, I have a broader view of it all. Which is to say that I have no idea of what that flickering screen is that I’m going to point at. I had something of a breakthrough, an evolution thanks to Paul, who always seems to play the more sensible side of my head.

While I was railing against the injustices of the job at Chiat that I had taken on, accusing it of every crime under the sun that it could inflict on an artist; they hijacked my life, they’re stifling my creative soul, they’re putting me through a machine etc etc . I came to the conclusion that it was one big fucking red light.

Paul was the one who pointed out that I had taken the job of my own volition. And that I stayed. So I actually, really, in some way, deep down, I wanted to be there.

After I sulked in the corner for a few hours to consider this undeniable truth, Paul also pointed out that maybe this job was a gift. Maybe it was the thing that I’d been waiting for all this time. Maybe this job or what this job could turn into was the whole reason I came to LA with a suitcase of clothes 8 years ago.

Maybe it was a metaphorical green light.

And in that stupid “catch a green” competition I played against myself, I did notice that I’d been catching more greens in the last few years. Maybe Paul was right. The lights certainly were.

2013 was actually the first year since I landed in La-La that I hadn’t had my dark April 4th celebration/flagellation. That was the day I set foot here for the first time in 2006, and it’s passing was a time to think about what a failure I was that I hadn’t had a single movie made. Like Scarlett O’Hara holding a handful of earth to the sky, I’d promise myself by April 4th next year I’d be shooting something. But despite my best efforts, April 4th would roll round to laugh at my empty-handed self again. Because the thing that I’d been waiting for hadn’t happened. Every April 4th was red light day.

This year however, it came and went unnoticed, as unremarkable and remarkable as a normal day can be.

So now I stare into the depths of the future with a warm, patient reserve; I’m on the right path, I don’t know where it goes, but to be OK with the not knowing makes me feels more like I am in control. Fuck the lights, I don’t have the wheel.

Now that I’m in my 40s, I do wonder though, what is the thing that I’m going to leave behind? I’ve heard a lot of my straight male friends talk about having to go through this process when they have their first kid, or when a parent dies. Neither’s likely to happen to me anytime soon but at what might be close to the halfway point of my life, I wonder when I’m gone if anyone will know that I was here. Maybe that’s an orange light.

So here’s a story about a legacy.

I know a man called Ed. I don’t know him well. I only met him once. But he was a great friend to Paul, something of a father figure. And in our early days of dating, Ed was a man writ large on Paul’s past and present as we revealed all the ugly secrets about ourselves to each other and the people who helped make us better versions of ourselves. I loved Ed before I ever met him.

Ed had been a brilliant computer designer. In fact something that you’re using right now might have a lot of Ed in it. He was in Silicon Valley working with Microsoft. He was a Jobs or an Ive before being a computer guy was cool in way, shape or form.

The other thing that he excelled at was drinking. He was kind of a genius at it. And like all brilliant drinkers, it was the thing that derailed him.

You’ve heard this part of the story many times before; loses his job, loses his family, loses his house, loses his friends, loses his clothes, loses himself. Ends up living under a bridge, drunk on anything he could get his hands on. I’ve never even seen a red light like that. I don’t even know what it looks like. And I hope to God that none of you ever have or ever do.

But then he got sober, got a place to sleep, got a job, got friends, got a life.

If I’d been through that, just the fact that I was breathing and looked like I was normal again would have been enough for me. Maybe I’ll be someone in my next life.

But Ed didn’t stop there. A man as smart as that made his intelligence and bluntness felt everywhere. Paul met him around this time and they forged a friendship that I can only say I admire. To say that you came to this earth, crashed and burned, and then rose to be loved again, that would be enough. For me anyway, I wouldn’t want to ask for anything more, I’d be too afraid.

So, one day Ed was waiting for a friend at a government office somewhere and to pass the time, he took an aptitude test that was kicking around.

He filled it out, handed it in, picked up his friend and thought nothing else of it.

Until the phone rang one day.

It was a guy from the government. Apparently Ed had scored off the charts. Literally. No one had every made the score he made. Not even the smart people who designed the test.

He was offered, make that begged, to take any problem he saw with the city and fix it up.

Ed chose the traffic lights.

Ed sat down, took the whole of the county’s and different cities’ grids apart, wrote entire new algorithms to connect them all and reprogrammed LA’s traffic system. An old guy who’d been living under a bridge.

Now LA’s a bitch. And even he complained that he couldn’t make all of it fit together the way he wanted. But when the city pushed the button on Ed’s programming about 5 years ago, LA flowed better for it.

Millions of people all over this strange little city by the sea woke up one day and got to work easier, didn’t have accidents, felt less stress, spent more time with the people they loved.

Ed’s the reason I caught more greens. Ed’s the reason I met the man I live with. Ed’s the reason that everything is just a little bit better in LA.

If you asked Ed when he was inventing computer systems at aged 25 what his legacy would be, I don’t think revamping the world of traffic lights would have been his first thought.

But it’s been the most lasting.

Catching all those greens made me a lucky man. Maybe lucky enough that something I haven’t even conceived of yet might touch a few million people and make their lives better.

So as you’re driving around LA enjoy that next green light, tip your hat to Ed, and know that you’re going to leave something important behind too. Probably the last thing you can think of.

Posted in Aging, Driving, Freeways, How LA Works, LA Characters | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Cultural Similarities: LA and India

In my life I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to a lot of different countries and experience many different cultures. Then I arrived in LA where to the naked eye, it appears that there is a distinct lack of culture. But you only have to scan the everyday life of our strange little city by the sea to find there are practices of the most spiritual kind happening everyday. Things that you would normally expect to see only in countries whose cultures we hold in high regard.

In India, just about the best thing you can be is a cow. Life is so good as a cow it often beats being a human. For starters, you’re revered as a highly spiritual animal, the most sacred in the kingdom. To be reincarnated as a cow is a goal many aim to achieve.

The other great thing is that no one eats you. Which is really good. Just ask any chicken.

And you can go wherever the hell you want, whenever you want. If you feel that you need to stand in the middle of the street and just, you know, hang out, it’s your right as an Indian cow.

I don’t know if you’ve been to India, but the road rules are like, well, it doesn’t seem like there are any. People just kind of make them up as they go along. And then lean loudly into their horns to let everybody know that their version is the definitely the best one.

Obstacles on the road are dealt with loudly and with purpose. But if there’s a cow sitting tight on the double yellows, there’s a universal shrugging of shoulders and putting your car into park. The traffic will move again when the cow does.

Which started me thinking about the cultural equivalents here in LA. What gets to wander around wherever it chooses and worshiped at every turn. Well, it’s not so much what, as who.

Blonde girls.

In a currency exchange program, blonde girls are the sacred cows of LA.

I mean, anyone can wander into the middle of road here, nonchalantly dawdling along, safe in the knowledge that motorists will do anything to avoid a lawsuit. It’s to the point where pedestrians are like a bunch of mental patients who’ve all just taken their lithium/zanax milkshake and been let loose from the asylum. Zombies move with more purpose.

Anyway, the point is that when you encounter an Angeleno casually strolling into oncoming traffic, we all slow down and wait for them to get to the other side. Brunettes, redheads, bottle goth blacks… we sit and check our messages on our phones as they breeze by.

But a blonde girl, well that’s different.

You always watch them. You can almost hear the temple bells as they wander along. What is that weird pull that they have? What is this black magic that they work? I don’t even want to have sex with them and I still find myself looking.

If a flap of blonde hair on a breeze gets in my peripheral view, I will always turn my head to see the creature in all her sundress-ed glory, floating gazelle-like down the sidewalk.

They just touch the divine in some way. I think Jesus was probably blonde, even though he was an Arab.

So why or how is this interesting? Well, India has turned the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment into an industry. People flock there from all over the world to find their higher consciousness and people pray to every deity imaginable in the attempt.

LA isn’t really much to look at; strip malls, OKish beaches, freeways and way, way, way too much bad stucco. And it’s hard to mount a case against the charge that the place is morally bankrupt. So perhaps we could take a leaf out of India’s book and turn those truisms around.

If we say gathered all the blondes we could find in the city limits and let them roam in packs around the place willy nilly, it could be just the shot in the arm that LA needs.

For the locals, it gives you a great get out of jail free card. Call the office and tell them there’s no way you can get to work today, Olympic is cut off at both ends by blondes who’ve been dazzled by a couple of sales. Two packs that just don’t seem to be dissipating anytime soon.

If you’re smart you can check the Blonde report on NPR before you leave home. No sense in getting stuck in all that hair, you can work from home. For the truly dedicated, I’m sure Waze can find you a path around the blonde-jams, but hey, no one’s going to blame you if you’re a no-show.

As for the Tourists, I’m sure they’d flock; who doesn’t want to bask in the glow of a Cali girl? We’ve been watching those mythical creatures in films since we were able to breathe.

Special Land Rover built tour busses could roam the streets listening for reports of where the wild packs of blondes are. Up near the Hollywood sign? Not a problem, we can four-wheel drive up there and catch those blondes in the wild, near the sacred site.

And as the tourists get photos with the blonde girls, traffic motionless all around, the hills stretching off into the background, we locals can proudly point and say, See? LA has culture.

Posted in Freeways, How LA Works, LA Customs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Straight People, Gay Turf, Sanctity Of Marriage And The New Scourge Of God

When you’re gay, there are several things that you get for free; you always look ten years younger than you are, you travel a lot more than the average human to fabulous locales, and you are absolutely having the craziest sex of everyone you know.

It’s just what you know, and how things are. These unalienable truths are what keep the planets aligned and the earth spinning on its axis. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy regaling stories of wild abandon and open relationships with my straight male friends who look on with 10,000 yard stares, wondering how it might be to have the freedom of us seven percenters.

The other thing you also have is lots of wonderous friends who live in far-flung places. Like Tokyo, Paris and New York. And San Diego.

Some very good couple friends of ours live down in the SD and we like to make a trip down there at least a couple of times a year to say hi and see their two lovely toddler children.

As we were lining up the trip, Paul and I were talking with San Diego Jay in the car one day, sorting some details.

Jay: Great, so we’ll see you Saturday round lunch.
Me: Excellent, can’t wait to see you.
Paul: Been too long.
Jay: Oh, this is great! Yeah, you’ll be able to meet my girlfriend.

Paul and I laugh.

Paul: Uh, yeah. Looking forward to it.
Jay: I’ll let her know. OK, see you Saturday.
Us: Bye!

We hang up.

A quarter mile goes by.

Me: He said Girlfriend right?
Paul: Yeah.
Me: That’s a joke right?
Paul: Must be.
Me: I mean, Amy? She’d be totally down with that.

We laugh. That Jay, what a kidder.

Amy, Jay’s wife, is something of a force of nature. She loves hard and fiercely. When you are on the in, you bask in the glow of her smile and hugs. When you are trying to make your way into that light, you discover it’s protected by machine gun turrets, minefields and the odd rocket launcher.

When Paul and I first started dating, once I had entered the “Introducible To Friends” stage, Paul and I took a spin down to SD to meet Jay and Amy for the first time. I’m pretty good in a room. The accent, the stories, the jokes… I generally don’t find it hard to win people over. But Amy took a little more convincing than most.

At one point we were both alone in their kitchen and that’s when Amy decided to level me the question she had been waiting to ask all day.

Amy: So Karl, what are you’re intentions with Paul?
Me: Oh, you know. 50% lewd, 30% untoward, 15% selfish and about 5% good.

Oh God, I’m hilarious. The numbers even added up to 100. Genius.
Amy smiled politely as I beamed back at her. Hmm, that’s strange. My powers don’t seem to be working…

Amy: I’m being serious.

She shot me a look that ripped my vaudeville act in two, reached deep inside and pulled out my damaged soul so she could inspect it first hand.

Me: Oh, um, ok. I really like Paul. Uh, I’m not dating anyone else.

She waited patiently, arms crossed. I could see more was required. I was sweating.

Me: He makes me laugh a lot.

That seemed to be what she wanted to hear. And wow, I really wanted to say the right thing.

Amy: Ok. Good.

It was clear from this conversation that I was being watched, assessed and a decision would come later. As Paul and I got more serious, I prayed that good reports were being dispatched to Amy.

That’s how she is when she’s evaluating you as a friend. For an enemy, and you might think she’d have motive with Michelle… well, I can’t even fathom.

So Paul and I are winding our way down to SD. Something about the nuclear reactors we pass remind me about our conversation with Jay. It has to be a joke.

We arrive at their house and come on inside. For years, the two of them have sponsored German au pairs to come and stay with them. We knew they had a new one who we hadn’t met yet.

Yet, we were still surprised to see a dark-haired woman, covered in tattoos sitting with their two kids. Wow, they breed them cool in Germany. And hot. This girl had dangerous curves and a cheeky smile.

She looks up and sees us.

Michelle: Oh hi guys, I’m Michelle.

Weird. No German accent.

Us: Hi.
Michelle: You must be Paul and Karl. Jay is out the back. (yelling) JAY! (back to us) Do you guys want a drink or something?

She plays the perfect host and clearly knows her way around the kitchen. Jay then arrives in the room. Hugs all round. Curious glances on half the faces here, namely ours.

Jay: So I see you met my girlfriend, Michelle.

This is the point where I feel like I’m in some science fiction film where everyone’s had their memories wiped and the aliens are swapping us all around.

I can see Paul thinking the same thing as we blink like goldfish at each other, scrambling for what to say next. Michelle then puts her arms around Jay and they kiss a little kiss.

Weird just left the building and something much weirder came in its place. I wonder if this is a practical joke. Is there a camera crew behind us?

Me: Girlfriend?
Jay: Yeah, about…
Michelle: Um,… 4 months I guess.
Jay: That sounds right.

It all looks like the first throws of lust and hormones. Then I have another thought… AMY COULD COME HOME ANY SECOND!!!!!

Jay: We haven’t talked in a while, have we?

Jay then proceeds to tell us that he and Amy have opened up their relationship. Amy is exploring a few things with another guy that she met. By things, I mean corsets, S&M, Sub/Dom, groups… you know. Things.

Jay on the other hand is more into the one guy/two girl philosophy and is just looking for a steady girlfriend. Covered in tatts. Who likes kids. The ones, he and his wife are raising together.

In the gay world, opening up your relationship means you get to bang on the side. You might allow regulars. But you sure as hell aren’t up for “boyfriends”.

And Amy has gone, by the sounds of it, from spreadsheets in her 9 to 5, to spreading it on any sheets 5 to 9. I believe the term “whoring out my wife” came up a few times.

People who know me well, know that I’m seldom lost for words. But my mind could barely keep up, let alone crack a one liner.

Then Paul and I hear a car pull up in the drive. Amy gets out and we watch her walk to the porch. As she cracks open the front door, everything goes slo-mo. I wonder exactly how I’ll explain to the police officer what transpired in the Tarantino’ed living room of their house.

The slo-mo continued as Amy walks in, sees Michelle, makes a b-line for her, puts up her fists, and pulls Michelle in for a hug. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened, I was peeking through the gaps between my fingers.

They give each other a big hug and kiss hello, the kids run over to say hi to Mom, and then Amy turns to us.

Amy: Hi boys. So you’ve met everyone then?

You know those moments where you’ve nearly been hit by a car? Or almost fallen off a cliff? In the time immediately after, you have this heightened awareness that these normal things you’re doing now, seem surreal.

Like all of us drinking sodas and talking about the Poly Amorous Community that Amy and Jay have got involved in.

The conversations weave from how they talked about opening up their relationship, how they talked about what they wanted were into. Then what they were “Craigslist” into. Then that they both thought that was pretty hot.

Then his seduction of Michelle online, her reluctance to get involved with a married man, then her eventual interest when she found out the whole scenario with Jay and Amy.

Amy meanwhile has taken subterranean dives into the sexual abyss; whippings, fetish wear, subbing out to Dominant role playing men, group explorations etc etc and a long list of etc.

I’ve even seen photos of what her ass looked like after a particularly brutal spanking session. She proudly displayed them off her iPhone.

Me: Um, yeah. That’s pretty awesome.

And it kind of is. Those are some impressive marks. Easter’s coming, there’s a hot cross bun joke in here somewhere. Meanwhile the kids ran around, none the wiser to the extremely adult conversation.

Me: So the whole girlfriend thing…?
Amy: Oh yeah, that. Well, we just decided to put all that jealousy stuff away and just enjoy ourselves.

Not even a whiff of jealousy. Wow. This is apparently, is the new normal.

Now, I take my hat off to anyone willing to fess up to what they really want and go after it. Times ten when it’s a couple. But there was one thought that just crept over me during the day and that is…

WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED, GAY MEN! I MEAN REALLY, WTF!!!

While we had our eyes on that marriage prize, straight people took over our entire turf. WE are the ones who have crazy monkey sex, WE are the ones that chat about it with our straight friends like we’re talking about the price of lettuce, and WE are the ones that make everyone else question how much freedom they have tossed away.

By the time the day was over, I felt J Crew catalog dull. No, LL Bean. No wait… fucking Sears. I’m fairly sure I blushed more than once.

So gay men, it’s time to throw down the gauntlet. Either we one up this shit and get into gas masks, bunkers and animal sex or go for Plan B. I vote Plan B, by the way.

We get marriage legalized all over America and we set to task to have every single one of these immoral heterosexual lifestyle people thrown out of it. The International Homosexual Conspiracy needs a new mandate: it’s no longer cocktails for breakfast and recruitment drives. No, my friends, it’s fucking war.

We start the day with Folgers, fruit and prayers and then get straight into the Supreme Court to get the Constitution amended.

How am I supposed to marry my same-sex partner when the very sanctity of marriage is being destroyed by these heterosexual hordes who want us to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman and his girlfriend and her Dom and these randy guys on Craigslist and that dude in the rubber suit and this foot fetishist and this role play group sex collective and this poly house party and these masters looking for a female servant and and and….?

Posted in Gay Men, Sex, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Anxiety, Addiction And Apocalypse Of Getting My Tonsils Out

There are some things that are supposed to happen only when you are a child. Acne, mumps and for me, bad eighties fashion. You do it when you’re younger, you get a little older, you have older person problems and those trifling little childhood mishaps and diseases are left behind you like pacifiers and homework.

Thanks to American Apparel I feel like bad eighties fashion will never be over, but that’s another blog entry.

So for the past ten years, I’ve had a sore throat, blocked ears and a constant post nasal drip. After finally going to see an Ear Nose and Throat doc, I’m informed that my tonsils have to come out.

Yes, my tonsils. I’m 41, not 14. But here I am, late-blooming and scheduling a day of outpatient surgery. Cue Anxiety, riding in on nervous, skittish horse.

I research how many people die when they are under anaesthesia or however the fuck you spell it. I hear all kinds of stories of people getting infected larynx after their tonsils are removed. I contemplate how long before I can eat corn chips again.

And then there’s the embarrassment of feeling like I’m having puberty in mid adulthood. It’s like telling people I still play with crayons. But after I get over all of that, I’m relieved and excited to get these damn things cut out of me and on to the yellow brick road to health.

So the operation itself was relatively simple; go to an outpatient facility, put on a gown, go under, wake up, agonizingly swallow and get driven home.

But it’s what they send you home with that you’re just not expecting. And that little something is Liquid Vicodin. And this is where the addiction part of our story begins.

Liquid Vicodin. OMFG. Bliss. See, after you’ve had half your throat cut out and seared with a hot poker, the last thing you feel like is swallowing anything. Certainly not a jagged little pill.

So Liquid Vicodin is like manna from heaven. Oh, and popsicles.

Anyone who knows me, knows I love a good list. Nothing thrills the anal retentive librarian in me more than the joy of writing down and ticking off tasks. I’m also pretty famous for savagely underestimating the amount of rest, idle time and sleep I need.

So my plan for the week is to have a working holiday. I’m gonna do my taxes, I’m gonna catch up on emails, I’m gonna finally categorize every post on this blog.

But Liquid Vicodin had other plans.

Liquid Vicodin is sweet. Liquid Vicodin is warm and fuzzy. Liquid Vicodin got what you need. And Liquid Vicodin is not interested in lists. LV is interested in the couch and semi consciousness. Mmm… LV. LoVe.

Basically my week turned into a state of semiconsciousness, barely watching the TV, drooling onto the t-shirt I’d been wearing for days, LV always within reach. It was like Trainspotting but with a nicer backdrop.

I don’t need solid food. I can’t swallow it anyway. LV is my friend. Another episode. Give up all ambition. Don’t need that phone, can’t speak anyway. Just need the LV. Friend. LV. LV. LVZzzzzzzz….

And that list just gathered dust in my notepad, as I’d wake up thinking about my next treacle-ish acid yellow hit.

All good things must come to an end though and by the next Monday after I’d wrung every conceivable drop out of that bottle, I sighed for the absence of my thrice daily anti-thrill. I’d done the cold turkey and was ready to go and hit the office again.

Cue the Apocalypse. It was not the easiest thing in the world to head back to work after such a block of time away. I’d got used to silence, peace and rest. Basically everything that the office isn’t.

Back in the deep end of the pool, I was tired everyday. Every meeting was a marathon, every briefing a wringing out of my soul. Not to mention the fact that I could barely manage more than a loud whisper.

But perhaps the oddest thing that marked my return to the real world were the comments that people said. There are three that I’ll hold dear.

The first was from my friend Marty, who has a unique ability to always say something fantastically unexpected and inappropriate like, “Well, now you’ll have a bigger throat.”

Think about it.

There. You got it.

It took me a second too. Thanks Marty for reminding us that laughter is the best medicine. Except it still hurts to.

The second comment came from a young lady who works at the agency. She’d had her tonsils out a couple of years before, in her early twenties. Upon my return, I was touched that she sought me out in the agency to see how I was doing.

With nothing but concern and sincerity she asked me how my recovery was going, “because I heard that it’s a lot harder for people who are older.” That hurt about as much as eating dry crackers.

However, the oddest and funniest comment has to go to my mother. When I was skyping with her and told her that I was having an operation, she was immediately concerned until I clarified that it was my tonsils being removed.

Then she broke out laughing and then said, “Your tonsils? Isn’t that something you have done when you’re a little kid.”

“No Mum, that’s something you have done, when I’m a little kid.”

She had to concede that I had a point there.

So if you’re thinking about having your tonsils out, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I feel so much better since I’ve had it done. But if you do go for the chop, remember to save a little Liquid Vicodin to take the pain out of the comments later.

Posted in Drugs, Family, Food, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hugh Jackman Is Not A Douchebag

Every week I am reminded by how unfamous I am when I’m mistaken for Hugh Jackman.

Regular readers will know that this started about 6 years ago and hasn’t stopped since. We’re the same height, both from Australia, I bear more than a passing resemblance but most importantly I live in a city of people who are desperate to see celebrities.

And I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t used it to get tables in restaurants, attention in stores and getting to the top of wait lists. You don’t have to say anything, the person in front of you will do all the presumption and the work. Profiting off the hard work of other people has its benefits, that’s for sure.

But here’s the odd thing. Though raised with no religion, I seem to have inherited a Catholic/Protestant/Jewish work ethic/guilt/shame thing and feel that somehow these fringe benefits I get are undeserved. Which, of course, they are. But rather than simply enjoying the strange genetic lottery that fate has thrown my way, I feel that I need to work for it.

So, I consider myself something of an ambassador for the man.

Paul coined a wonderful term, “You’re getting Hughed,” to alert me to when someone is mistaking me for that all-singing, all-dancing, all-helping-Jennifer-Lawrence-up-from-her-fall-at-the-Oscars, all-round nice guy. And when such a moment is happening, if I am a douche, then people will think Hugh is a douche. And this is where I can do the smallest amount of payback.

Given that the Oscars has been just recently, the Hughing cycle is kicking into high gear. So Paul and I were recently at the Grove getting things for the house. I had to dash to the loo for a pee and being a fancy-schmancy place like the Grove is, there’s a bathroom attendant guy working there.

I get Hughed before I’ve even had time to unzip. I get the nod, the smile, the OMG internal moment, the act natural recovery and the loud silence. I’m suddenly conscious of how loudly I pee. And I’m like a Russian racehorse with all the water I’ve been drinking in this heat. Just me, and the guy, and my pee.

God, this pee is long.

Really long.

Bit more.

There.

Finally done, I wash my hands, and chat to the guy.

Me: G’day mate, how you goin’?

I see the Australian accent confirm my Hughness for him. He is writing a tweet in his head.

Guy: Awesome man, how are you?

Me: Great, you know. Getting things for the house.

Guy: Cool.

He hands me a towel. I wipe up, hand it back to him with a smile and open my wallet to give him a tip.

Not everyone tips this guy. I think they should, it’s a tipping culture and he’s providing a service. I’d happily drop the guy a single, which is the standard tip per drink that you order in a bar. But to him, I’m not Karl, I’m Hugh. So, here is the dilemma. I probably should be more generous… a fiver is nice. But is that ostentatious? Is that cheap? I don’t know any celebrities, what do they tip? Somehow the math of celebrity tipping resolves with a “more than normal, nothing stupid” result of a fiver. And, I did dodge that wait line at that restaurant last week.

I then discover that all of this is a moot point because my wallet is empty. I always swore I’d never be one of those Creative Directors that never has money on them, yet there I was, cashless. I am scarlet with embarrassment. I’m such a fucking Angelino sometimes.

Me: Oh man, I’m so sorry, I haven’t got a cent on me.

The guy is seriously disappointed but hides it well.

Guy: Oh, yeah, that’s cool. You probably… yeah no problem.

I have no idea where he was going with the, “You probably… ,” thing. You probably have people who follow you around and pay for things. You probably don’t have to carry cash. You probably haven’t had to carry a wallet since X-Men. Whatever it was, I was feeling like a douche. And that makes Hugh a douche too. And the Catholic/Protestant/Jewish thing was making my temples pump with shame. That tweet he was writing in his head just turned into a twat.

Me: I’m sorry…

And he makes the “everything’s cool” motion with his hands as I scurry away into the daylight.

And this is where it gets really dumb. I run to find Paul.

Me: Babe, I need some cash because the attendant in the bathroom thinks I’m Hugh Jackman and I have no money to tip him with.

Paul doesn’t even blink, he just looks at me for a microsecond before reaching fishing out his wallet and handing me a single.

Me: More.

He grabs another single.

Me: Five.

He gives me a look. I give him the, “C’mon just don’t… ,” look. He hands me a five.

I race back into the bathroom. The guy’s face lights up as he sees me swing back in with his tip and drop it into his crystal tip bowl.

Guy: Oh dude, thanks man.

Me: No worries.

He beams and goes for the bro-shake and I of course, comply. He can see that I need to go, not because I have anything movie star important to do, I just need to escape the crushing awkwardness of this moment.

And on my way out the door, when I know I’m scott free, I can’t help myself…

Me: Hey mate, go see the movie!

Guy: I will!

Mr Jackman, your ambassador to West Hollywood would like to report that all is well with your reputation and a good story shall ensue. And that fiver is making its way back to you in a ticket sale. Ten if he takes his girlfriend.

Posted in Actors, Australia, Celebrities, How LA Works, Hugh Jackman, Money Problems | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments