Monday, August 31, 2009

My Drag Queen Roommate

In the last post I mentioned that the subject of my next post would be the roommate (technically, housemate since we shared a 3-story dwelling and had separate rooms) whose friend brought the LSD.

Even though we lived on separate floors of the house, my 3rd floor bedroom had the nicest bathroom which of course meant that Toney and all his drag queen friends would be using it to get ready for a night of clubbing.

I had seen Toney do a phenomenal Grace Jones once. I finally coerced him into doing a replay just for me and my camera which was surprising given how much time it took for him to make this transformation. I got several photos and then we went for a drive around Little Rock with him still in drag!

Check out those heels!

It's entirely possible Grace is taller than him though!

Out of drag you'd never imagine he could pull this off. He was quite the artist.

A couple of years prior to this was when I was living in London and working at the HMV Shop where a VHS collection of Grace Jones video was played almost daily on a wall of TVs. That was my first introduction to Grace and after the first couple of weeks at the shop, I began to pop that video in almost daily. Some of my co-workers got very annoyed after a few months of that.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

About to Trip

Back around 1986 while living in Little Rock, I had a roommate (more on him in the next post) who had invited friends from Memphis to stay at our house. They brought LSD. It was the only time I've ever dropped acid, despite having the nickname of "Acid Head" back in 8th grade.

I got dressed up for a night of dancing at the gay club and snapped a picture. Too bad it wasn't in color because I was vibrant!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

At the Pinnacle

August, 1978 at Pinnacle Mountain State Park just outside Little Rock. That's Pinnacle Mountain just to the left of my head. It's a nice hike to the top and the reward is an incredible view. This view is not so bad either. God, my fashion sense just rocked back then! LOL...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Brother: 1949

I always thought this picture was interesting on many levels. I'm also fascinated by seeing family pictures before I was born. This picture, sixty years old, seems ancient and yet I would be conceived a mere ten years later.

My parents dressed him kind of funny as well. He looks like an Amish child or something.

On on this day in 1905 our grandmother was born. This is her circa August, 1906, which was almost 103 years ago. That is hard to comprehend.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

konagod on the beach 2

June, 1972

This was definitely Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. That white sand is unforgettable.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

konagod on the beach

It sounds like a cocktail name.

May, 1975

This was probably Ft. Walton Beach, Florida although it's hard to tell because the color is so washed out. Otherwise it would be Padre Island, Texas.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

25 Twenty SIX Years Ago Today... dad died. Hard to believe it's been that long.

It's very hard to find pictures of him from this era since he was the one with a camera fetish. I suspect my mother or my brother took this shot in October, 1965.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Homes: Part 7 - Austin

I will never forget the stress in the final days and hours as we prepared ourselves for the move from Los Angeles to Austin. Samantha had an ear infection and we were concerned about how she might be affected by the flight. The vet had given her a clean health report in case the airline needed it.

I had fretted for weeks about how to get my goldfish transported. A friend of ours at work had given us one of the goldfish not long after txrad started working at the agency. After the Northridge earthquake it slowly began losing the gold color and within weeks or months was completely white.

The evening before our departure I came to the conclusion that the logical thing to do was to take the fish to a pet store and donate it. txrad actually had to do the deed as I sat in the car sobbing. I know it was just a fish but I was attached to it.

Our flight from Los Angeles to Austin was non-stop which was a definite plus with a cat on the trip although that didn't come off without a hitch either. Upon checking in at the airport and being told we could take the cat on the plane with us, we were stopped in the gate as we were boarding the plane and told that the pet carrier was too large and would have to go into cargo. I was gasping for air as they took the pet carrier from me. That 2.5 hour flight was nothing but stressful.

Upon arrival in Austin we were reunited with Samantha who was fine although possibly traumatized. We got everything in a rental car and headed out into the dark night in search of our temporary corporate apartment. After a few wrong turns we arrived after having to stop at a supermarket to pick up a cat box and litter.

This entire ordeal must have caused me to take leave of my senses because I'm sure it was the following weekend that I scheduled a get-away to Orlando to visit Epcot for the weekend. We left on a Friday and returned on Sunday. I suppose I felt like I needed a mini-vacation after all we had been through. For the record, it wasn't much fun, Epcot didn't do anything for me, and I felt guilty for leaving Samantha alone in the apartment after a stressful relocation. When we got home was when Samantha started sleeping on the bed between us.

It was only another week, probably the next Friday, when we were able to close on our house and sign our names to mountains of paperwork. Afterward, the sellers met us here at the house and gave us some tips and pointers on a few things, and suddenly we were the proud owners of a house on a one-acre lot just outside the city limits of Austin.

Our home, photographed December 24, 2008, just moments after completing this post.

To this day, over 11 years later, I still feel the same joy as I stand at the kitchen sink looking out at trees and a rustic street. Unfortunately, as we would soon learn, having an acre doesn't necessarily mean you can garden to your heart's content. There is only about 3 or 4 inches of soil before you hit limestone. I suppose the two pre-existing raised garden beds in the backyard should have been a clue. There are trade offs in life and this was one we had to make.

txrad working in the raised garden.

A big plus was our work situation. txrad managed to get hired at the agency a couple of weeks after we moved here. We not only had a short commute, but we were driving away from the city and therefore against any traffic heading into Austin. We also had a rather unusual work environment.

I mentioned in the LA post (part 6) that the agency here was started by the owner of the agency where we worked in Santa Monica. She was a devotee and a big financial supporter of a Hindu temple which was built a few miles outside Austin, and the advertising agency where we now worked was located on the temple grounds, complete with peacocks. Some of the devotees we knew had previously lived in LA and worked for the Santa Monica agency, then moved here after the temple was constructed. However, most of the employees were not devotees at either agency.

Since txrad and I were both vegetarians when we moved here, it was no big inconvenience for us that no meat products were allowed on the temple grounds which included the office. Other employees who were not content to bring a veggie dish for lunch had to make the 10-12 mile drive to the nearest eateries for lunch! There were occasional brave souls who attempted to defy the rules. But the devotees would routinely perform inspections of the frozen entrees in the company fridge and occasionally an item would be discovered which contained meat or chicken. It would immediately be deposited in the trash -- a tactic which struck me as odd considering there was still meat on the premises; it just wasn't going to be ingested by the person who bought it.

Business at the agency was increasing at a frenzied pace with a bright future for the first 12 months or so. Then the foundation began to quiver. It was not an earthquake. I had been in the advertising business long enough to spot early warning signs. We had too much business and the company infrastructure was not being built as fast as needed to handle the work. Things began to get sloppy. And when things get sloppy in business, especially in the accounting department, the writing is on the wall.

The mantra of any agency in the particular variety of advertising we handled was always "cash in advance" from clients. A couple of clients fell behind or suddenly ceased operations -- a very common thing in our breed of advertising. All it takes is a product that was a good idea, but is manufactured very badly, or one which results in lawsuits, etc.

One day someone discovered a huge stack of checks payable to television stations but which were never mailed. They were stashed away in the desk drawer of someone in the accounting department. One or more clients were behind and there were not enough funds in the bank to cover the checks.

This situation which had been building for a few months prior was one reason I decided to start drinking again. I'd been alcohol-free for seven years. Having left a great job in Los Angeles to move to Austin and now facing the prospect that the agency might not survive was weighing heavily on me. Not only that, we had specifically purchased our home for the proximity to this employer!

Late in 1998 plans were being made to rename the agency with new management pulled from within, and phase out the old agency name. Needless to say, the rumor mill was running rampant outside our agency as well as inside it. Stations which were owed money were not going to be paid. Surprisingly, this switch-a-roo was pulled off successfully although it not only required changing the agency name, but also involved changing the name of our "street" to make it appear as if we were a completely different agency operating at a completely different address. I was able to keep my position there as did txrad. But the excitement and drama wasn't over yet.

Well into 1999 with new management in place I began to sense that things were not going as well as they should. I took on additional responsibilities and was given a substantial cut in pay. And I learned another valuable lesson in life: Never speak ill of management via company email. Yes, dear friends and loyal readers, my email was being monitored without my knowledge by the management.

One Friday afternoon I was working on a project involving an elaborate Excel spreadsheet which I presented to management and received a big thumbs up for the work in progress. As I wanted to continue working on it over the weekend, I emailed it to my home.

On the following Monday morning in early January I was in for the shock of my life. I was met at the door as I entered and instructed not to go to my desk upstairs, to drop my bag, and go directly to the conference room where I was met with the stern faces of management. Not only was I fired and then escorted out of the building, leaving txrad to gather my personal belongings to bring home later, but I was accused of stealing company property -- i.e. the spreadsheet which I had emailed to myself on Friday.

Although I was stunned, my drive home felt quite liberating. I was gone from the madness at last. A new chapter in my book was about to begin. My advertising career which I could trace back to 1991 under the same lineage had ceased to exist. It was quite odd for the next few weeks as I stayed home unemployed while txrad continued working there.

I don't even remember what was going through my mind during this time in terms of the work I was seeking. I'm sure a relocation was on the table if I got an offer from another agency in another city. In February I received a tip about an agency in another state which did utilize media buyers from their homes. I followed up on the tip and sent my resume to the media director. A couple of weeks went by with no response. The person who tipped me to this possible position suggested I follow up as the media director was quite busy. That did the trick.

This media director lived in Santa Fe, working for the Iowa-based agency. I was flown out to Albuquerque, rented a car and drove to Santa Fe for the interview and then back to Albuquerque for my Austin flight late that same day! The interview went very well and in a couple of days I was offered a position which I accepted. This necessitated me flying back to Santa Fe for a week of systems training with the media director and then the two of us would fly to Iowa over the weekend for another week of hands-on training in Iowa!

It helped that during my career I was comfortable bringing work home and had no trouble with the discipline required to actually do work at home. Although I've heard many people can't handle the isolation and discipline required, I adjusted to it immediately upon my return to Austin. However, the salary was even a tad less than the substantial pay cut I had received at the previous job.

From 2000-2003 I worked from home for this agency, leaving in 2003 because I received another job offer to work at home for a small start-up agency which involved a huge salary increase, putting me back at the level in my 1999 heyday. In addition, this job had an opportunity for txrad and he quit his position to work from home with me. That was actually a wise decision by txrad. That agency where he continued to work after I was fired was in the process of being acquired by another "player" in the industry and his job would have shifted to a location downtown. Not only that, but the entire operation shut down just weeks after the acquisition. Make a mental note of that "player" because he resurfaces later.

Again, this scenario with both of us working at home would be a short-lived euphoria before imploding in early 2005. After that I was flying solo with my own agency with only txrad at my side. Even that died a pretty quick death -- I disobeyed the "cash-in-advance" mantra and spiraled into a nasty crash at the end of 2006. I was in denial throughout the holidays from Thanksgiving until New Year's Day, 2007. On January 2, 2007 I woke up with the stark realization that I was left holding nothing but a company in name only and a ton of debt.

I'm not sure why but I have this trend of being unemployed around the beginning of the year and then rebounding quickly when I least expect it. And thus it was in 2007. Depressed and facing uncertainty, with both of us having no income, I wasn't sure what miracle could bail us out.

Then came an email in late February from none other than one of the managers from the agency which had fired me in 2000, and whose own agency had disintegrated after being acquired by that other "player." Coincidentally, she was also the one who had given us the goldfish back in Los Angeles.

She was now working for a huge traditional advertising agency downtown on an account for a major telecommunications giant (hint: it has an A, a T, and another T in the name and I'll admit that's rather a cryptic clue) and needed a media buyer. Seriously, at that agency and for an account of that stature, I didn't even think I was qualified but I agreed to interview. I had no choice. And one of the people who interviewed me was that "player" who had lost his holdings and was now the department head overseeing this large account at this large agency.

The large downtown agency with the large telecommunications giant client.

I was hired and started on January 29, 2007 in a position referred to as a temporary contract employee. I had no benefits, accrued no vacation or sick time, but it was not without perks. The pay was more than I had ever made, and there was time and a half for any hours over 40 in a week. There were LOTS of extra hours. Most months my overtime pay alone was enough to cover our mortgage!

My primary co-worker was a woman who had also worked at the same agency we worked when we moved to Austin but she had left there around the time we started. She had also worked for the Iowa agency where I worked from 2000-2003 and grew up in the same small town in Iowa where that agency was based. And yet we had never worked together until now.

2007 was shaping up as the best year of my life in terms of career. Always being mindful of how unstable things could be and the fact I was in a temporary position which might last years or only months, I never let any of this go to my head. I began saving as much of this excess money as I could. Also, in May, they had hired txrad as a media assistant, so we had two incomes again! By August I was getting the first whiff that my instincts were correct: the telecommunications giant had decided to put the agency up for review, meaning they were entertaining the possibility of moving the account elsewhere. We were all trying to keep our chins up and hope for the best, but I knew in my core we were going to lose the account to another agency.

By November it was more or less official. There were lots of layoffs in November, 2007 and txrad was one of them. My co-worker and I were to stay on until the end of December to wrap up the last of the 4th quarter media before the account would be moved to an agency in New York. She and I were laid off on December 21.

Once again I was starting a new year unemployed but I had stockpiled a significant savings and txrad and I were both eligible for unemployment compensation, so I wasn't depressed about it initially. I considered going to work for the agency which was awarded the account, but that would have necessitated a move to New York. They would not seriously consider any work-at-home employees. I love my home too much to leave it for New York!

This stretch of unemployment was longer than I expected. I'm not a firm believer in aggressively looking for work. In this industry I've never really had to; it usually finds me. But in 2008 I was getting rather concerned as January became February and February became March. April even passed without a glimmer of hope.

I had remained in contact with people at the agency in case something else came up. There were rumors and possibilities each month but always ending in another delay and uncertainty. Finally, when I was losing all hope, a position did open up there again in May, and it was a full-time permanent job with benefits which were generous. The downside was that my salary would be about half what I was making last year, and not even enough for txrad and I to meet our basic expenses, and he was still unemployed.

I had to take it. At least I would have my foot in the door again and some income is better than none at all. The job duties were quite different from what I had been doing these past few years and I was actually working harder than I ever had before (and I'll say it again: for less money).

Back in April, before I started the job in May, I had planned to apply back at the agency in Iowa. I really didn't want to backtrack, even though I had left in 2003 on very positive terms. But at least they were by far the most stable agency in my long career. Or until now that had been the case. I found out they had just laid off a dozen or so people! I jokingly told them I was going to send my resume anyway because I had to meet a job search quota in order to continue receiving unemployment checks. That was honestly the only resume I recall sending out during my five months of unemployment because, as I mentioned earlier, jobs tend to find me.

In July, just as I was getting my feet firmly replanted in employment, the media director from the Iowa agency called me. We talked for a bit. He called me a few days later and, much to my surprise, offered me a job! And at a salary level where I could support myself and txrad again. It's not the level of 2007 but it beats was I was making in round #2 at the downtown agency.

I accepted that position and started July 21 -- working from home again. And that guy who offered me the job -- the media director this time around -- is the guy I mentioned back in the LA post who lived in our neighborhood where we bought our first home in the San Fernando Valley, and he worked at the first agency in Santa Monica where my career in advertising first got started.

Crazy, isn't it? I'm not sure if that's just life, or if it's just my life, or if it's just the career I've chosen. But it's fascinating.

In April I was so distraught I honestly thought we might have to sell this house and move. I began using all the funds I had stockpiled in 2007 to renovate. I started with a new roof and new windows since that was critical. Then I had the exterior painted and painted all the interior rooms myself. After becoming employed in July at a livable salary level, I took what was left and spent it on my beloved travertine floors.

Now I love our home as much or more than I ever have and apparently we're not moving anywhere else yet. If and when we do, that will be part 8.

A view to the west -- the towns of Bee Cave and Lakeway -- as seen from the Austin Zoo near our home.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Homes - Part 6: Los Angeles

Leaving txrad behind in San Diego while I moved north to Los Angeles with KD was a strange sensation. My agenda was to find a job as soon as possible and then get my own apartment so txrad could quit his job and join me.

KD had already signed a lease on a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood which had a view from the balcony of an apartment building where txrad and I would later live. KD took the bedroom and I set up my sleeping area with a futon in the living room.

The future apartment.

I wasted no time in starting my job search. Still blessed with an extravagant streak when it comes to spending money on things I didn't really need, I went to Montgomery Ward and paid $400 for a thermal paper fax machine. In 1991 that was quite a deal. Being able to utter the phrase, "I'll fax you," was the height of trendy.

Five days at a time was about as long as I could stand being away from txrad so when Friday rolled around, the job hunting stopped and I hit the road for San Diego. One time I took the train from LA to San Diego and then boarded another train which took me to the suburb east of San Diego where txrad picked me up. These weekend trips didn't make KD very happy since her expectation from this move to LA was that I would forget about txrad.

January rolled into February and the job prospects weren't looking very good. I knew I couldn't just take any part-time fun job like I'd done in previous cities. This had to be for real, and with a salary that would allow me to rent an apartment and actually survive. I really wanted a job in the TV or film industry and obviously the competition was fierce.

I only recall having one interview for an accounting-related position on a movie project which was going to involve being on location in Europe for months. It sounded exciting but that didn't exactly fit my plans.

By the time March arrived I was feeling desperate. I swallowed my pride and faxed my resume to a company in Santa Monica which had a data entry position open. Data entry was always something I could do since I had so much experience but I was not excited at the prospect of falling back into that boring rut.

The phone rang a day or so later and it was a woman calling from that company wanting to set up an interview. She didn't exactly describe the nature of the business very well because I was under the impression I was going to interview at a firm which produced a magazine similar to TV Guide. I got myself dressed up and drove to Santa Monica to a building in what was then a rather shabby area of town, a windowless warehouse actually, next to abandoned railroad tracks.

The interview went well and I learned that the company was in fact an advertising agency specializing in the placement of infomercials on television stations across the US. A day or so after the interview I received a call offering me the position and I started on March 13 at a salary around $18,000. It wasn't much but I knew I could afford an apartment and be united with txrad again. However, he would need a job also for us to make ends meet.

I had my heart set on that apartment building I could see from KD's apartment. It looked so glamorous and was a new construction. I believe the rent was probably around $800 a month which would eat up more than half my income. It was a small one-bedroom but comfortable. And to still be living in Hollywood was a perk. txrad gave his 2-weeks' notice at Wendy's and moved up to join me just before my birthday in mid-April.

txrad on the rooftop deck of our first Hollywood apartment. That's the famed Hollywood sign on the hill in the upper right.

On one level I was in a bit of shock that I was in love, my boyfriend actually quit a job and moved to a new city to be with me, and that I was working to provide for us. I might not have realized it immediately, but I was finally growing up at the age of 31.

Money was tight. txrad was not having any luck finding work and I think he must have been severely depressed for months. I really wanted to find something to do besides data entry work but at least I had a job and it was a fun and casual environment. My boss was impressed with my work and my speed, and other people were taking notice. I had only been in that position a few months when I was given a huge promotion opportunity. The woman who managed the tape traffic department was leaving and someone had the good sense to realize I would be a perfect fit for the position.

I would be responsible for making sure video tapes got to the stations prior to the airdates and it involved working with various tape duplication facilities and coordinating the shipments. I took the position which came with a generous increase in pay and suddenly found myself in love with my job. At the start of 1992 they had a need to hire an office assistant/receptionist. I suggested txrad. He interviewed and was hired. Life suddenly seemed wonderful in a two-income household.

Several vegetarians worked at the agency and this was when I became one. I also quit smoking and quit drinking any alcohol. That would last a grand total of seven years.

After things started settling down and we seemed to have security, we decided it was time to find a better apartment with a bit more space, one not quite so new with a bit of old Los Angeles character. We eventually moved into a 1950s-era building just off Wilshire Boulevard and west of Crenshaw. No longer were we walking distance from Mann's Chinese Theatre but that was fine. Hollywood was loud and dirty and our apartment was more serene with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a larger kitchen, and a balcony overlooking a courtyard. And we could walk to Melrose!

817 South Windsor

Our balcony from the courtyard.

We lived in that apartment longer than I had ever lived in any one place. And I had one unforgettable experience there which happened at 4:30 AM on January 17, 1994. The Northridge quake was a whopper. I bolted out of bed and braced myself in the bedroom doorway and the building rocked back and forth. I remember shouting, "this is the big one."

I saw a burst of bright light as a power transformer exploded and then we were in pitch black darkness. I thought the apartment building was going to actually flip over. Then it stopped. It was dark and quiet, except for the sound of the wind chimes hanging in the kitchen which I had bought for txrad as a birthday gift the prior year, and the sound of water dripping on the carpet in the living room. We had an aquarium and I imagined the tank had been knocked to the floor and the fish were flopping on the carpet.

txrad grabbed a flashlight and fortunately the aquarium was intact and still on the table. Water had sloshed out though. Luckily there was no damage to the apartment at all. Then we had an aftershock, and that was followed by many more. This went on for days and weeks although infrequently and much smaller.

This event was to change my personality in a way which still holds true today: I am a morning person instead of a night person as a result of that quake. We learned of the collapse of Interstate 10 which was our route to work in Santa Monica and realized we would be driving streets to reach Santa Monica for months to come. This meant getting up much earlier than usual in an effort to beat the worst traffic.

My work situation continued to improve. I got more promotions and salary increases and was managing two departments as well as working with the IT department to implement programming improvements which enabled us to get more work done and faster while automating as many functions as possible.

In the following year we were discussing something which seemed unthinkable just four years earlier. I wanted to buy a house. We really didn't have any savings built up for any kind of down-payment. We could have been saving money but I was wanting to show txrad the world. Within a six-month period we had taken two European vacations -- once to London in November, and then to Paris the following April for my birthday, with that January earthquake wedged between those trips.

Even before we were financially more comfortable, I had already splurged on a trip to Singapore after finding some really cheap tickets, and we really didn't have enough funds for a decent hotel room, opting instead for a YMCA.

We vowed to start saving money and by 1996 we were looking at homes even though I didn't see how it would be possible since we only had a fraction of what would be required for 20% down. I was finally bold enough to get in touch with a realtor who explained that it would be possible to finance the down-payment separately. How clever!

The most affordable homes at the time were in the San Fernando Valley. We were shown a 5-bedroom ranch-style home between Woodland Hills and Chatsworth in a neighborhood of rolling hills. Although it sounds excessive and we certainly didn't need 5 bedrooms, we felt good about the house. The kitchen was huge although in need of updating, and the backyard was quite large. So we made an offer and purchased the house for $175,000. And now we would be 23 miles from work. This necessitated a continuation of the early morning commute to avoid heavy traffic.

Our first home together, as it appeared on move-in day.

One of our co-workers lived only a couple of miles from this house. He is now my boss at my current agency.

There's something about living in a house and having a desire for pets. We discussed getting a cat although txrad swears it was all my idea. It wasn't long until we had adopted Samantha from a shelter.

One of the first lessons I learned about owning a home is one that I'm still learning today. Ideas for improvements never cease and you can't do everything at once! But those kitchen cabinets were atrocious and needed to be painted. We also had the exterior of the house painted which was a big improvement.

The kitchen had an electric cooktop and we had really wanted a gas cooktop. The fireplace in the den was gas so it was no big deal to call someone and have them install a gas line into the kitchen. In 1997 I bought a really nice gas cooktop as well as a new oven. I honestly can't remember if we ever really got to use either of those appliances because 1997 was the year in which another major event would happen: I was offered a position with a similar advertising agency in Austin, Texas.

We had only been in our home about a year and the dust hadn't even settled yet. But the commute was getting on my nerves, the LA traffic in general was tiresome, and my attitude about the city itself was undergoing a radical change. Reality was settling in. I was in a career I enjoyed which had nothing to do with why I thought I had wanted to live in LA -- to work in the film industry.

All the signs were pointing to another move. The agency in Austin was started by the same person who started the one in Santa Monica. The two agencies were close and shared systems and processes, and some employees had previously left and moved to work in the Austin agency. I had flown to Austin a few weeks earlier to do some consulting work for them.

The head of the agency called me up and asked me if I'd be interested in moving there. He offered me even more money than I was making in LA, despite a significantly lower cost of living in Austin, to do essentially the same work. The idea of being able to buy a better home, closer to work, perhaps even on some acreage where we could garden, was all too tempting.

I contacted a realtor in LA who sized up our house and provided a rough figure of what it might sell for, which was a big concern. I was afraid we might have to take a loss. Meanwhile, txrad and I flew to Austin over a weekend and had a realtor here showing us homes. We must have looked at 8 or 10 over the weekend and they all had pros and cons. If the lots were huge -- 5 or 10 acres -- the houses left something to be desired. Fortunately, we found a house that fit our style. I had a clear picture in my mind what I wanted: a home with rock siding, specifically the white limestone so common around Austin, relatively new, and definitely a short and easy drive to work. The compromise was that the home we selected was on just one acre as opposed to several.

Having made an offer on the house, we flew back to LA with the hope that ours would sell quickly. Things all came together with remarkable ease. A large extended family made an offer on our 5-bedroom home, and we sold it for around $190,000 which was enough to cover the realtor fees and we didn't lose a dime except for what we spent on appliances.

My new employer was paying all moving expenses including hiring movers to ship our stuff and the car. I worked on a Friday at the old job, the movers had collected all our stuff, and the car was in transit. That night we left Samantha alone in the house and we checked into a nearby hotel for the night. The next morning we drove in our rental car to pick up a slightly sedated Samantha, and left our first home for the last time.

We were off to the airport for a flight to Austin. I would be starting my new job on Monday. However, we would not be closing on our next home for about 2 more weeks. A corporate apartment would be our home in the interim.

txrad and konagod: November 1991, somewhere in the environs of Los Angeles.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Homes - Part 5: San Diego

My first few days in San Diego after a crazy move from Denver involving two round trips is a bit of a blur. I was living in a new city where I'd never spent any time and knew no one except KD, a person I'd known for barely a year. But her brother lived there and she knew the city rather well.

KD had found us a small house to rent in Ocean Beach on Brighton Avenue, about half a mile from the end (or the beginning) of Interstate 8. Our house was just about a five-minute walk from the Pacific Ocean, and a short main drag of small shops and bars with a definite rustic beach ambiance.

It was pretty cool to be able to walk to the ocean and hang out at night in the bar with her brother drinking pints of beer and throwing darts, with an occasional game of pool. Sometimes we'd have a fish taco from a nearby shack prior to stumbling back to the cottage.

On the employment front, I remained in the same mindset I had in Denver. Despite the fact that I needed x amount of dollars in order to actually support myself, I found a job doing something easy in a fun environment: cashiering at the bookstore at San Diego State University which was quite a drive east from Ocean Beach down I-8.

San Diego fascinated me with its micro-climates. Where I lived it was mild and usually rather humid thanks to the ocean breeze. SDSU which was -- I'm guessing -- maybe 12 miles to the east was drier with more of a desert vibe. And a few more miles to the east, folks could be scraping ice from their car windows some winter mornings.

4754 Brighton Avenue

KD and I would venture into other parts of San Diego, visiting coffee shops downtown, and nightclubs in the Hillcrest neighborhood which was San Diego's answer to the Castro district of San Francisco. (In a very Republican San Diego kind of way.)

One Hillcrest club we visited a few times was the Metro which boasted a couple of bars, a big dance floor, lights and loud music. I doubt whether we had been living in San Diego more than six weeks when we planned another night out at the Metro. It was late August in 1990. The 24th day of the month to be precise.

I believe I was already experiencing the doldrums after a few short weeks. My only friends were KD and her brother. We didn't spend time with him every night so it was usually just KD and me hitting the bars together.

That particular night started off fun, but after a few drinks, KD was dancing and maybe chatting with some guy somewhere, I don't even remember. I was sitting at a table in a dark part of the bar off the dance floor, nursing a beer and facing what appeared to be a black wall. And that fit my mood rather nicely. I was literally sitting there wondering about my life, why I was 30 years old and had never had a long-term relationship with anyone, bored with the music, trying to figure out why I had even come to San Diego, and if there was a reason for it all.

My thoughts were then abruptly interrupted when I noticed my view of the black wall was obstructed by a figure dressed in black standing at the edge of my table. I looked up to see a face looking down at me. My heart skipped several beats. I looked back down at my beer for a few seconds wondering if this was real. This guy was hot and he was looking at me! I glanced back up and he was still looking. Now my heart was racing. I leaned forward on the table, nervously fidgeted with my beer while looking at his hand which was hanging there literally an inch or two from mine.

Normally I would not have been quite this bold unless I was really very drunk (and honestly, I probably was quite buzzed if not drunk), but there was something about this guy which just had me mesmerized already, and there was no way he was going to get away from me without an attempt on my part to reach out, so to speak. And that's exactly what I did. I rubbed the edge of his hand, not quite sure what to expect. He didn't recoil or walk away; in fact, he moved closer.

I took my left pinky finger and hooked it around his left pinky finger. I could feel his grip tightening a bit, as did mine. And so this moment, which lasted many seconds, perhaps for as long as a minute, will never be forgotten by me. It was my first encounter with txrad, and it was filled with passion. Who knows what happened next. I was undergoing an abrupt mood swing from dismal to euphoric within a span of about five minutes.

We exchanged names and txrad introduced me to his friend with whom he had come to the club, a young and Gothic-looking Italian woman I'll refer to as AA. I had completely lost track of KD during all this. When we were getting ready to leave, txrad and I were both drunk, and both agreeing we'd meet up here again. AA, realizing that txrad was showing signs of happiness tonight which she hadn't seen in some time, made damn sure she got my number for txrad and vice-versa. I think she grabbed a pen and paper from inside the bar while we were standing outside about to leave. She rightly sensed this was a relationship which was meant to happen.

While this was probably the most exciting night I'd ever experienced, it was also the beginning of the most difficult and painful 6 or 7 months of my life. KD may have exhibited initial support and enthusiasm for my new fling but that would not last long.

txrad and I got together again in a few days (it may have been as early as the following Sunday night that same weekend) at the same club. And the passion brewed. AA was always his designated driver and while she would still be socializing in the club, I'd lure txrad out to my car and we'd make out in the back seat, fogging up the windows. Later we got a bit more brave and began making out on the dance floor or sitting at the edge of it, French kissing with such amazing intensity that we were once told by a member of the staff to "cool it" or leave.

That was enough to take some of the luster off this club so we began going out together with AA to other clubs, which offered a bit more tolerance to people outside the mainstream. One such club was called Red Tape. The music was strictly hardcore alternative, the club was dark and the colors seemed to be primarily red and black in several rooms with lots of black curtains, and smaller intimate dance floors where we'd dance through the night to songs by the likes of Ministry and Sisters of Mercy in between beers and multiple shots of ice-cold Jägermeister.

A souvenir "membership card" from Red Tape.

At this point I was spending hardly any time with KD except during the weekdays. I had started sleeping most weekend nights with txrad at his apartment in Santee, a gritty eastern suburb of San Diego. This actually worked out pretty well because that area was not too far from where I worked at SDSU.

In retrospect, I look back at this life in San Diego and realize that in some way I was a kind of strange art project for KD, as she attempted to make me into the kind of person she thought I should be. She bought me a skateboard, and one for herself. I'd never been on a skateboard in my life, and had troubles even with roller skates as a kid. I just don't do small wheels very well. I believe she envisioned us as some beatnik hippie best friends, and perhaps more, who were living the beach life. I also got a surfboard during the brief time I was under her spell. After taking a lesson one Saturday morning, I tried catching a few waves for several weeks until I realized I was just a goofy failure.

There are some things which come natural to me. Dressing in black and dancing to alternative music all night was one of them. Riding a skateboard five blocks down to the beach with a surfboard under my arm was definitely not one of them. Both boards soon became unused parts of the decor in the cottage.

KD had perhaps met txrad once, I'm not even sure. But I wanted txrad to come down to our house one night, hang out and watch a movie. I think I still remember what I rented: The Man Who Fell To Earth. I was giddy with excitement, having my boy on the sofa with me in my house for a change, and when KD walked in the door, there was a brief exchange of greetings and very small talk. Then I blurted something out of my mouth, an attempt at humor, which went horribly awry. It was directed to KD and was something like, "Don't be surprised at anything that might happen on this sofa tonight; if that's going to bother you, then you might not want to be here."

It was said in jest, to break the ice in a way, and the response I expected from her, and didn't get, would have been something like, "Oh you two just enjoy the movie, have fun and don't mind me."

No, that was not the response I got in any way whatsoever. And the ice was not broken. In fact, a big chill enveloped the room. She interpreted my remark as, "this is my house and you should leave." We watched the movie, probably not paying much attention to it, and we cuddled, held hands and maybe kissed a few times, briefly. There's not much I remember except The Big Chill, and that's not a movie we rented. I don't even think txrad stayed for the night. And that was the only night we spent time together at the little beach house.

KD began to develop a rather testy demeanor in the following days and weeks. We'd still go down to Tuba Man's some nights, have some fun and throw some darts, but there was definite tension in our friendship. Her mantra, when the subject of txrad would come up, was a terse "He's NOT the one!"

I began spending even more nights during the week with txrad, the two of us sleeping together (for perhaps only 2 or 3 hours some nights) in his twin bed! Yeah, that was comfortable! But it was even more unpleasant when I'd go back to Ocean Beach.
One night KD and I were meeting her brother at Tuba Man's, and we had a lot to drink. Lots of beers and probably some shots as well. Our friendship began to seriously melt away that night. We got into a nasty spat and ended up down at the beach having an argument. We walked back to our house and got into it again. There was lots of yelling, KD threw a dish into the sink and broke it, and then the anger got physical. She wrestled me to the floor, climbed on top of me while screaming into my face, and then shocked the living hell out of me by leaning down and pushing her tongue into my mouth. I quickly got her off me and retreated to my bedroom.

She became even more unstable in the next few days and I remember not being very comfortable with her access to the knives in the kitchen. I don't remember what she said directly or insinuated since my memory was somewhat clouded by alcohol, but I distinctly remember locking my bedroom door, and calling txrad on the phone while huddled under the sheets to muffle my voice. KD was stomping around the house. I was scared shitless and wanted out of there.

After a few days of silence, something strange began to happen. She started to warm up a bit and became conversational. She even suggested we make a day trip to Los Angeles, a city I had obviously raved about and a place she had never visited. I love taking someone on a tour of a city I know and love so I was excited to participate.

We drove up to the City of Angels, found a coffee shop on Highland Avenue which was Bohemian and fun, drove around Hollywood and out to Santa Monica. KD fell in love with the city. I had never seen her so enthusiastic about anything. Suddenly she was the old KD I knew from Denver, or so it seemed at the time.

Once back in San Diego, she was eager for another LA trip, so we did a second visit. We popped in at the Highland Avenue coffee shop again, and I mentioned how hot the kid was who was working there. No doubt about it, he was hot. Yes, I was in love with txrad and that was not going to change, but I can still notice another hot guy. That's human nature. But KD interpreted this as an opportunity.

Her theme, or mantra, changed from "He's NOT the one," referring to txrad, to one of "independent," or free to move about the cabin, so to speak. We passed a billboard for a local TV station in LA, KCOP Channel 9, which was simply one word with their logo in red and black: Independent. She seized upon that as a sign that she was right and I was being rehabilitated under her watchful eye. I was quickly realizing she was up to more dirty tricks, and I played along just to placate her and keep her docile and happy. The last thing I wanted was a replay of Knife Night while we were in LA and she had the keys to the car.

It was on one of these visits that I introduced her to a friend of mine from Little Rock, SF, who was now living in LA. You might remember her from my Little Rock chapter of this series, the woman who basically introduced me to gay Little Rock and perhaps initiated this long journey. KD and SF hit it off remarkably well.

KD was in love with Los Angeles and began talk of moving there. This was going on late in the year, probably only four months after we had moved to San Diego! The visits to LA had also rekindled my love for the city and aside from txrad, I had nothing in San Diego tying me there. I hadn't been there long enough to put down roots, and much of the experience had been negative. I had moved on from SDSU to a job at another bookstore at the University of California - San Diego in another very upscale beach community known as La Jolla. It paid better wages, and was a much more interesting environment, but it was still a job in a bookstore.

I also did a short stint at the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club in their accounting department. That was a hoot and this hippie in love with a Goth didn't exactly fit in there. Taking a smoke break out on the veranda in a chair overlooking the Pacific Ocean was nice, but I knew that was not a job I was going to cherish for very long.

So KD plotted the big move to LA, for both of us. In her mind, she was getting me away from txrad and off to a life of so-called "independence" in which I would apparently be allowed and encouraged to have occasional sex with any boy brewing up a decent cup of joe, but I would be living with her and that was all that mattered. In my mind, I had an aid willing to do all the leg work to get me to a city where I was excited about living, and I'd bring txrad up later once I had a job and could get my own apartment. I just didn't say that out loud very often.

Slightly less than six months after moving into the Brighton Avenue cottage, we were ending our lease. KD picked out a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood and we were on the move again in January.

But that's another home and another story. Meanwhile, I was finally in love, for real.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Homes - Part 4 1/2: The Frontier Hotel & Casino

Doing a post solely about the journey to San Diego and the layover in Las Vegas was not my intent, but after I started writing this I realized it needed to be part 4 1/2 of the series.

Even as I was heading out of Denver driving a big U-Haul and towing a piece of crap VW Bug on my way to a new life in San Diego with KD and her cat, I think I must have known I was going to be just about 3 hours from Los Angeles, the city where I wanted to live after leaving London. But I'm not sure I was thinking San Diego was just a short pit-stop on the way to Hollywood. Knowing me, I probably was pondering such a possibility.

Change is always exciting and I was just happy to be leaving Denver behind. KD and I were eager to get this labor-intensive move behind us and spend some time in Vegas. I hadn't been there since I was 14 with my parents and we set up camp in our motor home behind the Circus Circus. Back in those days I think they actually had an RV park behind the hotel.

Driving a big U-Haul into Vegas and parking at the Frontier Hotel & Casino brought back some memories. That was the quick in & out portion of the trip. The real Vegas party would be on the 2nd trip as this move actually involved two round-trips between Denver and San Diego. Once in a hurry with the U-Haul, and a more leisurely paced trip in our separate vehicles, all in the span of a week or so, not counting the lengthy Vegas layover which was to be our treat after the moving frenzy.

The long drive in the U-Haul was fairly uneventful itself aside from one painful incident. It's never a good ideal to allow a cat out of his carrier while driving. KD decided to let her normally docile feline out to roam around the cabin of the truck. The cat kicked over his water bowl and went on a wild clawing frenzy. I was the lucky recipient of the claw action. I'm quite surprised I didn't wreck the U-Haul. We had to pull over at a store and get me some medication because I was actually having chills from the scratches.

While returning the empty U-Haul back to Denver, we pulled into a cheap motel after a long 14-hour drive. I was instructed to park the U-Haul as close to the back side of the motel as I could because the parking lot was full. I did what I was told. I was tired, it was dark and I just didn't notice the overhead concrete walkway on the 2nd floor of the motel. This resulted in a nice sized puncture near the roof of the U-Haul and probably startled a few sleeping motel guests in nearby rooms.

Once we got the U-Haul returned and settled the insurance claim on the damage, we got in our respective vehicles and headed southwest again and looking forward to several days of rest and Sin City relaxation in a lovely room in the new wing of the Frontier overlooking the construction site of a new pool area. Ironically, all of that was demolished awhile back to make room for a new resort.

KD and konagod on the balcony of our room at the Frontier Hotel & Casino

This was my first time in Vegas without my parents and of legal age. KD had been filling my head with enticing ideas like free cocktails while playing slots. What I was unprepared for were some of the other interesting perks to make gambling more fun and addictive, like the slot club cards which were a form of frequent gambler rewards. You insert the card into the slot machine and start playing. After so many plays you earn points and continue. Twenty plays might earn you 20 points. But if you stopped at 18 plays you didn't earn points for that session. Clever way to keep you playing. And needless to say, the dollar slots would earn you points faster than the same amount of money spent on nickel and quarter slots.

You'll notice I had two cards from the Frontier. Why not? I have two hands and two arms both of which can feed the slots simultaneously!

I also discovered a nifty trick -- a bug in the system if you wish -- in which I could accumulate points faster and for less outlay of cash. If the last person playing the slot had walked away after their 15th play, I could insert my card and only play 5 times to get the next round of points. (This "bug" had been fixed by the time I visited Vegas a few months later.)

This became my new game: going from slot to slot looking for easy points. Hitting an occasional small jackpot was just the icing on the cake.

It wasn't just slot club cards getting a workout on this trip. We kept the "cocktail wenches" as KD referred to them, quite busy supplying us with Bloody Marys and Cuba Libres and we would slow down on feeding the one-armed bandits if we knew it was time to move on and were simply waiting on the next round of drinks.

In addition to my slot club card staying quite warm, my credit cards were being fed into ATMs for generous cash advances to keep this frenzy going. I was like an unsupervised child in a toy store, having a vacation the likes of which I'd never experienced. Unsupervised and intoxicated for several days. Think Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, only without the other drugs. We might start gambling at 10 AM and, after losing track of time, would decide it was time to "hit a new casino." Upon exiting this casino I was shocked to see it was dark outside already. As in evening!

Time to find another cocktail -- a shrimp cocktail for 99-cents -- and then resume the search for the loosest slots on the strip. The cheap shrimp cocktails were usually to be found down on the sleazy end of the strip, in the Circus Circus area and this always necessitated swinging through Slots-A-Fun for a frozen daiquiri and some quick slot action.

I never needed an excuse to "detour through casino."

We stumbled around like this for days, carrying our cocktails from casino to casino, barely able to walk by nightfall. I'm speculating we were there from a Sunday through Thursday when the rates were cheap at the hotels. By the time we packed up and left for San Diego I had accumulated enough points on my Frontier slot club card for a "free" night or two with a room upgrade. And boy, did I work hard to earn it. Best of all, it only cost me about $3,000 on credit. You gotta love Vegas!

KD had never been to the Grand Canyon so we made one detour which wasn't "through a casino" and it was the better deal financially. For some reason I only had black & white film in my camera at the time, but it makes the photos seem just a bit more surreal.

Just a couple of hippies roaming the desert. Summer, 1990.
Or Mickey and Mallory Knox.

konagod at the Grand Canyon looking rather Bohemian... a young James McMurtry perhaps.

KD looking rather Janis Joplinesque.

Yes, the desert can be windy.

I was having such a blast on this trip with my new best friend, and obviously having no clue as to what would transpire in the coming few weeks as we settled down in San Diego.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Homes - Part 4: Denver

After spending a few months in southeast Arkansas, Denver was an abrupt change of pace. JH had rented a loft apartment on 16th Street in downtown Denver in a building which had at one time housed a large department store. It was a small one bedroom adjacent to a fairly spacious kitchen and a living area which became my "bedroom." Actually I got the better deal because I had two huge windows looking out onto the bustle of Denver.

Being responsible for half the rent, I had to find a job. Soon I was working just a few minutes walk down the street at a bank in their credit card payment processing department. It was about as thrilling as it sounds: pulling checks and payment stubs from an envelope and running them through a processing machine which would read the data and post the payment to the customer account. Then repeat. And do this thousands of times a week.

The weather in Denver was also a bit unpredictable. I'll never forget waking up one morning and putting on a t-shirt for my short walk to work. At noon I went out for lunch and it was a beautiful day, sunny and mild temps suitable for my attire. When I left work at 5:00, it was breezy and about 2°F.

Then there was the afternoon around Memorial Day when I went to the movies and came out to find five inches of snow on the ground.

The nice lofty kitchen.

Denver didn't excite me for the job. But the job provided for me to have a fun nightlife, dancing at clubs until the wee morning hours and/or lingering in a smoky coffeehouse called Muddy's until the wee-er hours. What better way to spend a cold winter's night than huddled with friends around a table clutching mugs of hot coffee, smoking cigarettes, and watching the snow fall outside.

Cassanova getting ready to go seduce the boys.

It was during one such night when I became friends with a woman I'll call KD. This was a friendship which clicked immediately and built into a close bond. Sometimes those last and sometimes they flicker after awhile and burn to a cinder. This friend would prove to be the latter scenario.

My Toyota Corolla was grossly mismatched to the climate and altitude of Denver. I was prowling various car dealerships looking for a replacement when I spied what was probably a 1978 BMW 530i, silver with red leather interior. The owner was there trading it in on a jeep and I bought it that day for $3,300. As you might expect, it had high mileage. I seem to recall 133,000 being the number. But it drove wonderfully and had a sunroof which worked if you coaxed it correctly.

As nice as the downtown apartment was, I needed my own space after a few months. I searched around and finally decided on a "penthouse" apartment in this building which backed against Cheesman Park, a very gay-friendly Denver neighborhood. (In the same sense that San Francisco is gay-friendly!)

It wasn't exactly luxurious. It was just a studio apartment, no separate bedroom. But the kitchen was ample and my futon was on the living area floor next to a sliding glass door which lead onto a small balcony.

That's my futon covered in a red blanket in the foreground. There was a small closet in the back which did house a washer/dryer combo (very nice!) and a small bathroom to the right.

While Denver was a blast, it was becoming obvious to me after a year that I was merely at a temporary stopping point on a longer journey. I had already quit my job at the bank and begun working as a cashier in a nearby university bookstore. That really wasn't paying the bills but the people were more fun than those who worked in the bank.

The relationship situation wasn't working out either. I had a notable slut-puppy episode which makes me laugh to this day.

I was out at a dance club one night. They had a slightly elevated stage at the back of the club which on that particular night had a white curtain drawn across the front of it. I would occasionally see the silhouette of someone dancing behind the curtain. In my slightly intoxicated and horny state, I decided to go back there and check this guy out.

He was most definitely sizzling hot, and dancing alone holding a beer between his legs very suggestively. A konagod has gotta do what a konagod does best. I thought it might be a treat to provide the other club patrons with a shadow show behind the curtain. I slid down on my knees in front of this hottie while he was holding the beer bottle fully "erect" from his crotch, and I slid my mouth several inches down the neck of his bottle. Then he put his thumb over the bottle mouth, shook it, and sprayed beer in my mouth.

Apparently that was just enough to get us hot to trot, and trot we did... right back to my futon for some unbridled passion and a rather awkward unsuccessful attempt at sex, which abruptly ended around 5:00am when I realized he car was in danger of being towed from where he parked on the street. After telling him he had to get dressed and go move his car, I never saw him again.

There were other strange things going on. Like the guy I met who took me to his place and wanted us to bathe together in his big tub by candlelight. He also had a lot of amulets he was waving around to ward off bad spirits and to "protect us." Wow, I was kind of happy to get away from that one.

KD was encouraging me to purchase a VW Beetle. It would suit my style better than that BMW she insisted. So we shopped around and finally found an orange one which I purchased for around $600 from a woman who seemed very nice. She needed to get her hands on the title and promised she'd have it in the next day or so. Her demeanor immediately went from nice to completely insane within the span of 48 hours. She would be hostile when I called to inquire about the title. I think she said she was going to call the cops and tell them I was harassing her.

This stalling for time went on for a few weeks and KD would call her as well. KD's brother in San Diego was a lawyer so I think with some veiled threats, the woman finally caved in and said she'd fork over the title. I hired a notary willing to travel to her home to collect the title rather than go there myself. When he showed up at my place with the title, I was so relieved to have this ugly scene behind me.

The car was a piece of crap. I kept the BMW for the days when the VW wouldn't start or had a flat tire or dead battery.

During the final few months in Denver when that was going on, I was also having a different type of relationship with a guy named Hank who played in a band. It was different in the sense that it wasn't based on lust or love, more of a convenience situation, and the fact that it went on for the better part of a year was surprising to me. Hank needed to get very drunk in order to be very gay. I was feeling trapped and not sure how to end this. We weren't really friends at all. We got together when we needed to get off. He'd twist the top off a bottle of vodka and then we'd end up in bed. Then I'd drop him off at work the next morning.

Meanwhile my friend KD was plotting a move to San Diego and had been trying to convince me to move out there with her so we could split expenses. She wanted to be closer to her brother. She loved the city kept telling me I needed to get out of Denver, with her, for a new life.

Having always been drawn to the west coast, I decided this was the move I needed to make. And because I knew for some odd reason that my best hope of finding a real partner in life was there. So I quietly began packing my stuff, gave notice of my intent to vacate my apartment, and on moving day, I simply left. No farewells to many of my friends, or to Hank. I just disappeared.

Certainly there are other ways to get out of a dead-end relationship, but this was at least clean and easy. And I was on the road again, with a U-Haul full of KD's stuff, and her cat, as well as what few things I owned, and my orange VW Beetle in tow. I'd have to fly back later and pick up the BMW which I did. And I haven't been back to Denver since.

A lot happened in that city in a short span of time. I moved there in January, 1989 and was out of there in the summer of 1990. And it was a fun time, aside from the time I was knocked head over heels off my bicycle by a car. That still hurts to think about.

Next up: Road trip to San Diego with a lengthy blistering hangover in Las Vegas!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Homes - Part 3: Floating Around for Awhile

Being ejected from England on a visa violation was a blow. It was also an exciting opportunity as I did not have a clue what was to come, but at least I had the power to make the decision.

It was pretty obvious I had to return to the US where I could legally work. I considered moving to Boston because the city was like London in some ways with an excellent subway system and public transit. I wouldn't need the burden of a vehicle. Miami also crossed my mind because it would be a drastic change and also I'd be warm again after a year in London.

In the end I opted for the familiarity of Los Angeles, a city I had visited when I was 14 and which had always pulled me magnetically. I can't remember how much cash I had when I arrived at LAX but it was probably not even $2,000, and in an expensive city I only had a week or two in which to find an affordable place to live and some form of employment.

A so-so hotel along Sunset Boulevard in the West Hollywood area offered weekly rates at a few hundred dollars and that was my home for the brief time I'd be in that city.

I awoke in the middle of the night with a strange light in my eyes. I quickly realized the door to my room was wide open. I quickly got up to close the door and was wondering what happened. Then I noticed my wallet was missing from the table next to the bed. My world suddenly collapsed.

I had no cash, no credit cards, no identification. and was alone in a city 1,500 miles away from anyone I knew.

Much of this experience is a blur. My mother probably wired some money and I was soon on a flight bound for Arkansas. I spent some time with my mother and then eventually moved back to Little Rock and enrolled in college again to finish my degree.

As I look back on the chain of events, it's as if everything was happening to steer me in a direction which would ultimately connect me to the thing I wanted most: a loving relationship with a life partner. I'm not suggesting the events were divine in nature or merely my subconscious knowing where I needed to go to find that which I was seeking.

At the time, from 1985 until 1990, it seemed to be an eternity. To realize now what happened in a span of only five years is quite mind-boggling.

Having been openly gay in London for the first time in my life, I was feeling a bit more secure with myself closer to home. And my friendless life in Little Rock was about to be blown open by a woman with whom I worked at a yogurt store.

She recommended a band I should see at a cavernous club known as SOB. It was an enormous restaurant by day serving shrimp, oysters, and beer -- hence the name. At night it was converted into a live music venue with plenty of room for dancing. I hadn't been out to see live music since I lived in London and obviously my expectations were low. It would not be Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Psychedelic Furs, or the Cramps I'd be seeing in Little Rock. And it didn't matter. I needed a social life on some level.

I met two young women who seemed to have no problem with the fact that I was gay. One of them began to introduce me to her circle of friends. She also sensed that I needed a little assistance in getting exposed to other gay people and offered to take me to a gay bar. Soon I was a regular fixture in the Little Rock nightlife, dancing until closing time at SOB, and frequenting the gay bar where I was developing my own circle of friends. And that was not without some weirdness and odd relationships.

There were a series of love interests in which I thought I was in love, only to have my hopes dashed within two weeks or so. The first such "boyfriend" had just broken up with his boyfriend who it turned out was someone I'd just met and we were developing a friendship. Yeah, that was odd. Not quite as odd as the morning I woke up in bed with a red-headed boy after taking LSD the night before, and feeling horrible guilt for "cheating" on the guy who didn't want to be in a relationship anyway. I got up, dressed and drove to his house to confess my deeds while sobbing.

I was also fired from my job at the yogurt store that day for failing to show up.

JH was another friend with whom I developed a tight bond. We spent a lot of time together and through that friendship I actually got a job at the gay club handling the light show over the dance floor and well as for the drag shows in another room of the club. That was quite a lot of fun for me but I eventually quit because I was tired of the sexual harassment coming from the DJ.

Honestly, I could write a book about this short span of time in my life. What you are getting is the bare minimalist version. It was finally a time of normalcy for me in the sense that I finally had friends and a social life, queer as it was. I also had several different apartments in that span of a few short years and before I left the city, I had evolved into a person with more eclectic views and desires, thanks to hanging around artistic people.

(There was a summer spent in Dallas during this time which I may come back to in another post.)

In the final few months in Little Rock, I had finished my BA degree in liberal arts, I was living in an older apartment with character downtown in a historic district, just steps away from my friend, JH. I had also fallen in love again, this time with someone not from my tight social circle, per se, although I was introduced to him by a woman in my clan. This was also not meant to last. If I thought I was still confused and trying to figure out where I was going in life at 28, this 18-year-old with whom I had a brief steaming-hot romance was worse.

JH was also going through a break-up with his boyfriend and was toying with the idea of moving to Denver to get a fresh start in life. I was also frustrated and heartbroken that every relationship I had seemed to fizzle in 14 days. JH was uncertain about the prospect of moving to Denver alone and tried to convince me to go with him so we could split expenses. I didn't feel ready yet for such a move and was still trying to salvage something from this latest boy toy who kept breaking up and then coming back for more.

In the early autumn of 1988, my best friend in the world packed up and went to Denver. After it became clear I was no longer in a real relationship with a very confused boy who was about to pack up and move away to college himself, I moved out of my apartment and went back to southeast Arkansas to spend some quality time with my mother.

It was also a time for me to disengage from my wild life of booze, experimentation with drugs, and all-night parties under disco lights. I painted several rooms in my mom's house (serenaded by k.d. lang on CD whom I had just discovered) and had a pretty quiet and easy life until December when it became obvious to me I was racing toward my 30s with no job, no future unless I wanted to work at Wal-Mart, and no friends.

Just before the holidays, I called up JH in Denver and said, "I've decided I'm coming out there."

I packed up my decade-old Toyota Corolla (complete with Grateful Dead bumper sticker), which I had purchased in Little Rock for $575, and embarked upon a journey which would ultimately lead me to where I sit today: home.

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