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Corbin Bernsen Checked Me Out

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I spent last weekend in Los Angeles visiting my buddy Brian in his new digs, a condo building on Laurel near Sunset Blvd. It had a beautiful tiled inner courtyard with a pool, like Melrose Place, though I preferred to think of Mulholland Drive instead. Friday night we sat out by the pool talking, enjoying the warm night (which we never get in San Francisco). I sat on the edge of the pool, my feet submerged. The pool was lit from within, and my feet looked pale and thick below the surface of the water. I told him about the last time I had sex. Liquid patterns of light and shadow played against the underside of the palm trees within the courtyard.

The next day we swam and lay in the sun. A few of his neighbors were there as well, lying on the deck chairs reading. I swear to God that half of them had scripts in their hands. The other half were reading either People or Us. I kept dropping the word “industry” while talking to Brian to show how cool I was, but nobody paid any attention to me.

That night we went to the Arc Light, a state-of-the-art movie theater where you can literally reserve seats ahead of time. The little planner that I am, it was an exciting experience. As we looked for parking in the nearby ramp, I noticed a rather large family walking back to their car. I immediately scoped out the Daddy, and then I gasped “Oh My God, is that Corbin Bernsen?”

“Where?” said Brian. “Oh, yep, that’s him.”

“Wow. Corbin Bernsen.”

“He’s totally checking you out.”

“Shut up.”

“Maybe he’s gay.”

“Maybe he wants to see the person who still recognizes Corbin Bernsen.”

Later people applauded the car chase in the Bourne Supremacy. And half the theater stayed for the credits. On my way out I passed two guys, one of whom was saying, “…yeah, I normally don’t do those kinds of films, but Nancy Travis’ husband is a friend of mine…”

Thanks to everyone who responded to my adolescent-girl-outburst regarding my new apartment, especially those of you who’ve told me of nearby coffee shops and delis. I still can’t believe I get my own studio. I feel like I could just maybe handle New York now.

It’s official. I bought a one-way ticket for August 15th, smack in the middle of New York’s balmiest month. At least the city won’t be so crowded then. Luckily I can crash with Jennie till the movers arrive with my stuff. I have an appointment to sign my lease on the 16th, after which I’m sure I’ll be running around the city picking up things I’ve forgotten to pack. I realized over the weekend that I haven’t lived alone in about ten years, and there are so many things, like kitchen stuff, that I don’t have, since I’ve always used my roommates’ stuff. I’m spending a lot of money right now; thank God I may have found someone to buy my car.

I like moving about as much as I like getting a root canal. This may have something to do with my childhood, when my parents had joint custody of me and my little brother. For some reason, instead of choosing a more normal schedule like, say, a month at Mom’s followed by a month at Dad’s, our schedule was more like Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays at Mom’s, Thursdays at Dad’s, with weekends alternating at each house. I was scarred for life. I have an overpowering need for a quiet, stable home. And I need to have everything in one place or else I get anxious.

I have a little less than two weeks to pack, which is plenty of time since I’m already halfway done (see “little planner” above). I have four shopping bags full of books to sell or give away, and my room smells like cardboard. I got a little emotional yesterday, sitting on the floor surrounded by piles and piles of boxes I had pulled from storage. My need to streamline runs smack against my sentimentality. I have stories and poems I wrote in grade school, report cards from the eighth grade, notes I passed in junior high, press clippings from every article that ever mentioned my name back when I was a poetry slam champ. I have copies of the literary magazines that published one or two of my poems and rejection slips from all the rest. I have every journal I’ve ever kept, except for the one that I left on a bus in Minneapolis. I have old xeroxed photos that I hung on the wall of my college dorm room, the year I came out of the closet. My favorite is of two skinheads, one is drinking a Bud while the other gives him head. I have scores of old photos and stacks of old letters, nearly all from people I’ve forgotten. I picked up one, a letter that I never sent, and was depressed to see that my problems with men haven’t changed much in ten years.

Maybe it was just the physical condition of my room; everywhere I looked was another pile demanding attention and categorization, and I knew how little space I’d have in New York. Maybe it was old memories. But I sat back and sipped from my bottle of water, looking around my room, and I didn’t move for nearly an hour.

My own apartment! No roommates! West 112th and Amsterdam! No roommates! Around the corner from The Cathedral of St. John the Divine! (wait, is that a good thing?) Across from a post office! And a bookstore! No roommates! A couple blocks from campus! No roommates! (This is where telling the housing office that you are a recovering drunk and drug addict and you don’t want to live with anyone who drinks or does drugs in the house helps out.) My own room. In New York City. Anytime in August. Damn, this is happening.

I Dwell.

My poor, neglected website. Like a withered houseplant waiting for my return from vacation. I’m blaming it on the move. My personal narrative, the ongoing story I tell myself, has unraveled. My head can’t thread anything together; everything is reduced to a series of to-do lists.

1. Moving estimate. Done
2. One-way ticket to New York. Not done.
3. Change of address form. Not done.
4. Etc. Not done. (Anybody want to buy a great car? 2003 Subaru Forester X. Less than 10,000 miles. Email me.)

The school’s housing office is taking its damn sweet time assigning me an apartment. I have no address, no move-in date. I’m practicing patience and consoling myself with small markers of the passing time. I now have a Columbia e-mail address, and I’ve been receiving announcements of literary events and readings in New York (which, of course, I cannot yet attend. But I feel better, just knowing they are there.) I pre-registered for the fall semester’s classes: a workshop, a “Writer as Teacher” seminar, and a lecture in 20th Century Literary Nonfiction. I’ll pick an elective when I get there. This weekend I’ll get a couple of passport photos taken for my student ID.

This is the longest goddamned good-bye of my life. I was accepted to the program on March 12th. Four months later, and I still have a month to go. If one more person asks me when I am leaving, I’ll just…I’ll just…have to deal with it.

Last weekend I flew to D.C. My father was retiring after thirty years with the government, and since he and his partner are moving to the Tahoe area about the same time that I head to New York, it seemed a good time to visit before we once again switch coasts. I tried to hold my own, making small talk with his co-workers at the retirement party, balancing a cup of fruit punch and a paper plate with a slice of sheet cake in my hands. It was kind of sweet, actually; people got up and made speeches about my dad; giving me a glimpse into a side of his life that I’ve never really known. Later I helped him carry a few boxes of personal belongings out to the car. I think he was a little sad; that weekend he kept referring to his job in the present tense, and his partner would correct him, using the past tense.

That night I took the Metro to Dupont Circle and met up with a few good men; Jimbo and Chris and Bob. We went to a restaurant that had a waterfall for a urinal. It intimidated me, so I used the toilet. Bob had the Atkins burger. It came wrapped in lettuce. I’ve been trying the low-carb thing, but it mostly makes me sad. So I had curry chicken. With rice.

Later we squeezed into the Green Lantern just in time for the shirtless drink specials. At ten the bartenders pulled off their t-shirts and tank tops, followed quickly by the entire bar. Except me, of course. I was self-conscious about the last five pounds I can never seem to shed, probably because I keep ordering rice dishes. Plus it had been five whole days since I last hit the gym. I told myself that I kept my shirt on because I wanted to save my nakedness for someone special. But that was a lie. Mostly.

I can get stubborn. One night, back when I was bartending, a drunken customer kept insisting that I take off my shirt. When I refused he started offering me cash. Five dollars, ten. I think he got up to thirty before he quit. I kept my shirt on. By that point it was the principle of the matter, something that won’t get you very far as a bartender.

Next day I grabbed coffee with Bob and we talked for about four hours. Later he walked me to Mimi’s, where I met up with my dad and his partner for dinner. Someone started playing the piano and each of the wait staff took a turn serenading the entire restaurant with old Cole Porter songs. Some of them had better voices than others. I picked up the tab, which I think kind of embarrassed my dad and his partner. But I insisted. Again with the principles. “Happy Thirty Years,” I said.

During my visit I learned of some bad news. The kind of news I could write an entire book about, if it didn’t hurt so much. It hit me like a truck. I did my best to be a good son, but unlike my dad I don’t hide my sadness very well. They tried to distract me, dragging me to the new WW II memorial and later, to Spiderman 2. But I don’t distract easily. I sat with the sadness, twisting it around like a puzzle, as if there would be a solution, some intricate combination of moves that would separate each color from the others; everything in its place. After the movie I went up to the guest bedroom, closed the door, and climbed in bed, where I lay in the dark for three or four hours. I don’t distract. I dwell.

Later I emerged, a bit of my energy restored, just in time for Wheel of Fortune. “Pat’s hair has gotten bigger”, I said, which broke the tension a bit. My father solved every single puzzle with only one or two letters revealed. I thought I was good, but he blew me out of the water. He was an editor for thirty years, as was my mother’s father, so I must have inherited something from both sides of the family, though my father tells everyone that I am the “creative” one, a word almost as suspicious as “interesting”.

Later that night I had a total Woody Allen moment. I’ll admit it now: I had an hour phone session with my therapist, who was back in San Francisco. It was that kind of night.

The trip home, two flights and a layover, lasted about nine hours. I suppose it’s an indication of my mental state that I only read about ninety pages of Portrait of a Lady. I probably could have used Stephen King, but I’m trying to gear up for the Ivy League. Now whenever someone asks I can say “Ah, yes, Henry James…”

When I got home there was an email from my dad:

I’m forwarding a message from Hank B-, who was the bearish looking man about my age who came to my retirement party late and talked to you near the end. He’s visiting New York in a couple of months and asked for your e-mail address, and I didn’t want to be the one to give it to him. You can decide whether to or not (and I told him that). I don’t know Hank really well, but my sense is, well, that he’s a letch! I don’t think you’d have any reason to want to spend time with him, but if you want to, you can send him your e-mail address.

Sometimes having a gay dad is cool.

Recently my student dentist gave me a book when he graduated. “For being such a good patient,” he said, meaning I was a damn good guinea pig. He gave me Eats, Shoots & Leaves, a title that reminds me of a boyfriend I had in college.

And thus the long good-bye continues. One more week of work (rock!) then I’m headed down to LA for a weekend to see my buddy Brian in his new digs. My jet-set life glimmers like cubic zirconia.