Eulogy for Kurt

This is a copy of my eulogy for Kurt at his memorial service last night:

“This is an informal event, but I write better than I speak, so I have written my words down tonight.

My name is Chad. After years of trying to cure my homosexuality by being an active Mormon, I came out of the closet just over 5 years ago, and I moved to Salt Lake City as a newly single father of two sons, an ex-Mormon who was beginning to date and experience life for the first time at age 32.

As my family and friends went bonkers over these life transitions, I initially found support and understanding in a group of gay fathers, all who had stories similar to mine. Among them was Kurt Peterson, another ex-Mormon father of 2 sons who came out later in life. I always enjoyed Kurt but it wasn’t for a few years that we started growing close. He read my story on my blog and we began talking, more and more, and within months we had become best friends, together often and constantly in contact. We must have sent a hundred thousand text messages to each other back and forth over the years.

We began traveling together–on hikes, to hot springs, to Denver and Moab and Seattle and San Diego and Las Vegas, and best of all, an epic cruise to Mexico. We could talk forever and never run out of things to say. People often assumed we were a couple, but it was never like that. Kurt and I were brothers.

I share of lot of myself in my writing, but people make the mistake of assuming they know me well. I’m a relatively private person. But Kurt knew everything about me. About my childhood, my family, my hopes and dreams and aspirations, my children, my exercise routine my habits, my daily life. And I knew the same things about him. We quite honestly never had a single fight. And God how we laughed together.

Kurt was a solution finder. He looked at any situation and found hope and happiness. He thought like a builder. He could see the parts and the tools and the process of creation and work on something until it was complete. That may be the greatest skill that he taught me.

Kurt was a very complicated person, but there are some simple truths about him. Kurt was blunt. He was bossy and straightforward. Kurt went out of his way to know the truth about a person. He might walk up to a stranger and, within sixty seconds, be asking them something uncomfortable like ‘why is it you are single?’ Kurt was generous. He was kind. He was funny. It took a lot to make Kurt angry, but when you did he let you know swiftly, then forgave you just  as quickly. Kurt was passionate. He had an ability to make each person he was speaking to feel like they were the only person in the room that mattered.

And Kurt had an incredible heart. He loved fully, in every part of his life. He loved nature, especially the plants of springs. He loved to dance. He loved history and knowledge. He loved his job. He loved people as individuals.

Kurt loved his sons, Zach and Ben, in a way that is difficult to comprehend, and with a capacity that can only be understood if you have children and love them in the way that he loved his. Kurt loved his origins in Iowa, his home and heritage, his mother and father, his siblings, his marriage to Victoria and his raising of their daughters Anna and Emily.

Over the years, I saw Kurt get his heart broken a few times, and he saw the same happen to me. We were there for each other. But in the last few years, something wonderful happened. He met Elias Rios, a Peruvian man two decades younger, a passionate dancer who loved Taylor Swift and gymnastics. It never should have worked, but over time, something happened. They fell in love, the kind of love you only see in fairy tales, hard and deep and fast. Kurt found the love and the life he had been looking for his entire life. Kurt and Elias–I joked and told them their celebrity couple name was Kurtias–They had something I can only hope to find some day.

The future was unfolding for Kurt, with everything he wanted and loved: his home, his yard, his career, his sons, and his soon-to-be husband. He was so blissfully happy.

And then, last Sunday, five days ago, my best friend, my brother, my favorite person…

he died.

And it hurts. He was so happy and had so much life left to live.

I could say a million things more, but I’ll conclude by speaking to Kurt. I have a feeling he’s right here with us tonight.

Kurt Peterson, look at what you’ve done. Look at this room full of people who love you. You’ve changed me, Kurt. You’ve changed all of us. You made me a better person. You saw something in me, and then you helped me see it for myself. And I think that maybe you did that for everyone you have ever come across. Look at this room full of people who love you.

I have a lot of beautiful friends, but you, sir, you were the best of the best. I will miss you fiercely and often for the rest of my days.

Thank you, Kurt Peterson, for changing my life.

Thank you, my truest friend. And goodbye.

KurtandElias

 

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Condolences

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Ten conversations you have after your best friend dies

One. 

Chad, I’m so sorry to hear about your friend!

Thank you. He meant a lot to me.

Yeah, hey, you’re a therapist, right?

Yup.

I’ve been meaning to ask you. I was dating a guy and he said he loves me but he hasn’t been texting back lately. What should I do about that?

Two.

Chad, I’m sorry to hear about your friend!

Thank you.

He died in a car accident, right?

Yeah, it was really sudden.

Oh man, I had a friend die in a car accident once. He fell asleep at the wheel. I got pulled out of work to be told. It was the worst. 

Yeah, I know how that feels.

I mean, he was the best. It’s been like 12 years and I still miss him all the time. Wish I could say it gets better. Anyway, gotta run, good luck. 

Three.

Chad, I’m sorry to hear about your friend!

Thank you.

It’s been, what, three days now?

 Yeah, it happened Sunday.

Huh, well, you should be over it by now. I’ll see you at the gym some time. Looking good! We should grab a coffee some time!

Four.

Chad, I’m sorry to hear about your friend!

Thank you.

What happened? Tell me everything. I mean, I never met him, but I saw your blog and the news article and everyone is talking about it. What happened? Does his family know? Is his fiancee healing? How are his kids taking it? Was anyone else involved? Who found them? What did the medical report say? Where is–

Whoa, that’s a lot of questions.

I’m just really sad about this!

Did you want to grab some popcorn, or…

Five.

Chad, I’m sorry to hear about your friend!

Thank you.

Are you doing okay? I mean, really. I know you two were really close. 

I’m doing okay, yeah. It’s been tough, but I’m going through the grieving process.

Here, sit down. Talk to me. Tell me how you are.

Ugh, it’s hard to talk about. It just came as such a shock. I mean, I was working and I found out through a text message. It was–

Oh hang on, my phone. I got a text. (pause) Oh god, my roommate’s hilarious, look at this. 

Six. 

Chad, I’m sorry to hear about your friend!

Thank you.

Look, if you get sad, just go to the gym. It’ll fix everything. You just gotta punch it out. Or porn and sex work too. Seriously, it sounds dumb, but those are the best things when you’re grieving. 

Uh, thanks for the advice.

Seven. 

Chad, I’m sorry to hear about your friend!

Thank you. He was my favorite person.

Can I give you a hug?

Absolutely.

Look, I’m here. If you need to talk or vent or cry or just have someone around, I’m here. 

Thank you. Seriously, thank you.

Can I bring you some soup later?

Oh my god, that would be amazing. You’re so sweet!

I know what it is like to lose someone. I’m here for you, I mean it. Your job is taking care of other people, make sure you are taking care of you, too. 

 

**In all sincerity, thank you to everyone for the support on a difficult week. I’m amazingly blessed with loving and incredible people from every area of my life.

We who are left

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Electronic numbers in bank accounts

Archived Email folders

Shelves of books and boxes of keepsakes

Your clothes carefully folded in drawers, except that one batch left in the washer to be put in the dryer later

A fridge full of food

Beloved flowers and bulbs sprouting in the garden out back under the spring trees you loved so much

Photos of you with your love, your children, your parents framed on the walls

Unfinished paperwork scattered across the desk at your office, and a calendar full of appointments

 

The world kept turning

The sun kept rising

All the parts of your life are

Still here

Exactly as they were

When you left us.

 

Just a few days ago, I saw you

With that enormous smile, that powerful hug

Later, the light on my phone indicating you had texted me

We bantered, and laughed

Ending with a ‘see you tomorrow’

like we do everyday

 

Your body is ash now

They call them Cremains

A word you and I would have laughed about

“It sounds like something you would serve on a salad” you would have said

“I’ll have the Chicken Walnut with Cremains and Cranberry Viniagrette” I would have quipped back

They will take you and spread the ash far away in a place that you loved

And that warms me

 

You changed me

Showed me so many things about how to live

And believe in myself

And be authentic and kind and straightforward and real and loving and successful

You taught me to look ahead

You taught me to laugh harder

You changed me

And not just me

You changed us all, all who loved you, all who you loved

 

I’ll keep you at my side

That’s what we do, we humans who have lost

We keep you alive next to us, within us

We hear your voices

We feel your presences

We stand you up next to us to remind us of what we were taught

Of who we are, of who you are

 

We will stand together

We who Remain

We who Cremain

And we remember you

my best friend

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“God, Kurt, I love them so so much.”

“Careful, or you’ll make me cry.”

It is a picture perfect San Diego Saturday morning, spring 2013. I woke up in the hotel room at 5 am, unable to sleep any longer, a heavy burden on my mind. I’d gone downstairs to find a cup of coffee, book in hand, so that my best friend Kurt could continue sleeping upstairs. And within a few minutes, I got a text from him asking where I was. He got dressed, slipped on a pair of shoes, and now we were out walking the streets, the sun just coming up, golden and beautiful.

Kurt had come out here on a business trip and had invited me along. We get along famously, he and I. We had spent the long drive down singing songs, telling stories, gabbing about our families and friends. Kurt is nine years older than me, in his mid-40s, but we have been out of the closet about the same amount of time, just a few years each. Being gay after all those years of being Mormon, being married to women that we loved but weren’t capable of loving fully, hiding in plain sight hoping that no one would notice the fact that we were homosexual in a church that doesn’t welcome gay people. These shared experiences bonded us, pushed us together. A bond had formed between us months before. Not a romantic one, but a brotherly one. Kurt and I weren’t just friends, we were brothers.

“My sons, Kurt. I feel terrible. Every time I leave Salt Lake City, I miss them, of course, but I come alive, I feel at peace and open to the world. When I’m there, I love my time with my sons, but I feel broken, I feel a shell of myself. I sleep on the couch and feel trapped and awful and bitter. I just go through the motions. And I hate it because just being with my sons should be enough to make me happy. That should be all it takes.”

Kurt stops walking. I take a few steps, realize it, and turn back to face him. He has tears in his eyes and he looks so sadly serious. I step back toward him.

“You listen to me, mister. We have lived our entire lives for other people. I raised my stepdaughters and my sons. I took care of my parents and my wife. And you, you took care of your mom and sister, your wife and children. No one ever took time to care for us and so we have to learn to do that ourselves.”

Tears run down my cheeks and tears run down his.

“You know me,” Kurt says. “You know how much I love my children. And it kills me, it literally kills me to live so far away from them. We talk and we text and we video chat, but it isn’t the same until they are with me. The summers, the holidays, I count every moment I’m not with them, and I make the most of every moment they are with me. But I had to leave in order to live. I came out here, I built my business, I bought my house, and I do it. I live my life every day.”

“I know.” I look around to see if anyone sees us, two former Mormon gay dads standing on the street crying, but the streets are empty.

“Now if you have to leave, if you decide to move to Seattle or wherever, that will not make you a terrible father. It makes you a brave man. It means you have courage. It means you are teaching your sons to be bold and strong and authentic. And if you go, know that it will hurt, massively, every day. You will ache for them. Trust me, I know. But if the alternative is staying and being sad and miserable, well, that’s a decision you’ll have to weigh out. You know I have your back either way. If you have to leave, you leave. And when you are ready to come, if that happens, then you come back.”

I give Kurt a massive hug and we stand there for a minute, then we start walking. After several seconds of silence, I jab him in the bicep with a finger. “Stupid jerk, making me cry.”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure you started this.”

We are laughing as a group of three men jog by, too handsome for words, and our eyes widen. We look at each other with a ‘holy mother of God, did you see that’ look on our faces, then we both burst out laughing again.

“Which one do you want?” I nudge.

“I’m taking all three! Find your own!”

“Greedy,” I mutter.

He smiles. “You probably need it more. How long has it been now?”

I laugh. “Shut up.”

We walk a few blocks. Kurt admires the flowers and plants, like he always does. I watch the people interacting and wonder about their stories, like I always do. We both get coffees and take a seat on a small park bench.

He looks me right in the eyes. “Whatever you decide, you have incredible things in store. You’re going to write a book. You are so talented, Chad, you have no idea. You are going to write a book and you are going to change lives.”

I look down, knowing he believes it, but not sure if I do. “Maybe some day.” I whisper.

“Mark my words. And I’ll be the first in line to congratulate you.”

__________________________________________________________________

This blog is dedicated to the memory of my best friend, my brother, my biggest support, Kurt Peterson, who died in a car accident yesterday afternoon. Kurt, thank you for your amazing and limitless friendship. You changed me. You made me believe in myself. And you will be with me, in my heart, for all of my days. Rest with the angels, my truest friend. I will go on being authentic like you taught me.

Kurtt

Remembering Natalie

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Natalie Wood had that dangerous gleam in her eye. The smallest change of intention can be seen there in her movies. With one glance and no words, she could turn from playful to flirtatious, sexual to bored, casually interested to deeply hurt.

And that laugh. That delicious, almost childlike laugh of hers, whole body behind it. And she could definitely turn on the tears.

And, my god, her figure, her small-waisted perfect figure.

Natalie Wood was a powerhouse.

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In her movie career, she would play Native Americans and HIspanics and Puerto Ricans, but her ethnicity was actually Soviet. Natalie’s parents both hailed from Russia, and her birth name was Natalia Zakharenko. Her parents (though it is believed the man who raised her wasn’t her biological father) fled from Russia after violent political conflicts that had deadly consequences for both sides of the family, came to America, and started a family, changing their name to Gurdin. Natalie Gurdin had an impossible stage mother, Mara, who pushed, prodded, screamed, and manipulated to get Natalie roles in films in Hollywood.

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And so the studios started casting little Natalie in movies, using the last name Wood to make her more accessible. And so she spent her childhood sometimes a regular kid in a regular class, and sometimes on movie lots, working long days alongside Fred MacMurray and Bette Davis and a hundred others, going to school on a lot. She made duds (Tomorrow is Forever and Father Was a Fullback) and she made classics (The Star and the Ghost and Mrs. Muir), but she became immortalized as the practical monkey-faced girl who learned to believe in Santa Claus in the Miracle on 34th Street.

As a teenager, Natalie sought to claim life as her own. She discovered alcohol and sleeping pills, rebellion against her overbearing mother, and how to use sex, even to get roles if needed. She made films that were iconic for her time but that have been nearly forgotten now, like Marjorie Morningstar, and she made sure she would never be forgotten when she played the female lead in Rebel Without a Cause at the age of 16. The following years were hard. She lost friends to tragic deaths, fell in and out of love, struggled through medcical emergencies, had her heart broken and broke hearts, dabbled with substances, even attempted suicide.

But those eyes… those eyes just kept showing up in role after role. And that laugh. That smile. That figure. That soft voice that could carry weight. Bob and Carol and Alice and Ted. West Side Story, yet another iconic role. Splendor in the Grass. The Great Race. Gypsy. They wouldn’t let her sing in West Side Story, she just wasn’t ready for that, but she did her own songs in Gypsy. Various moments in her adult life were immortalized in Hollywood as you watched her grow from child to mother.

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Natalie ha one great love, the actor Robert Wagner. But after her marriage to him failed, she tried again with actor Richard Gregson, and had a daughter, Natasha. She married Wagner again and had little Courtney. And she loved being a mother. She had years off screen when she wasn’t acting. She traveled the world. She had lovers and friends, straight and gay, in Hollywood and around the world.

Natalie died far more tragically than many realize. She grew up deathly frightened of dark water. Her mother had received a warning from a fortune teller about dark water, and Natalie herself had had a frightening experience as a child, nearly drowning in dark water on a movie set. She told friends about her fear her entire adult life, refusing to swim unless the area was well lit. So when she boarded a boat in her early 40s with her husband Robert and her movie costar Christopher Walken, and had far too much to drink, mixing it with sleeping pills, and argued with her husband that night… well, her body was found the next day, drowned, floating in dark water. Controversy and opinions about Natalie’s death still make tabloid headlines, and the investigation into her death is still ongoing, even 31 years later.

Were she still alive, Natalie would be in her 70s now. Her life would undoubtedly have had more heartbreak, losing friends through the AIDS crisis, struggling to find roles in her older life, likely struggling with alcohol and depression still. But she would have seen her daughters grow, and she would have met her grandchildren. And she would have definitely made at least a few more classics to be remembered alongside the others for hundreds of years to come.

And she still would have had those dangerous and alluring eyes. Those eyes…

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the Gay Library

I’ve been researching LGBT history for several months now. I read biographies pretty constantly, generally chosen at random–in fact, I’ve read about 100 of them now, and I’m consistently inspired by the stories that I learn. It was a few years ago when I started realizing that LGBT people show up in nearly every story, nearly every facet of society. Natalie Wood was surrounded by gay friends, Oprah Winfrey had a gay brother, Richard Nixon interfaced with gay reporters and politicians, J. Edgar Hoover himself was believed to have been gay and a cross dresser. Facts kept showing up again and again and again.

In many cases, the stories of LGBT people were ones I should have been taught in school. Bayard Rustin, a prominent leader in the Civil Rights movement, was gay. Barbara Jordan was a black female lesbian senator in Texas, and she investigated Nixon after Watergate. Sally Ride, first woman in space, was gay. Playwrights, singers, artists, performers, activists, world leaders. All names that I knew, just never taught that they were gay. These stories needed to be told.

And so I launched a YouTube channel, after months of planning and research. Every name that I looked up taught me about another 3 or 5 or 10 people I needed to research. I compiled lists of hundreds of names. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, allies and enemies, and the history around them, including works of fiction and government policies. I started sharing the stories online, one per day with enough to last years. The research was all out there, I just had to dust off the right resources, one at a time, to make it happen.

So when I went to Los Angeles, for a little head-clearing adventure away, I learned of an entire library devoted to LGBT topics, and I knew I had to see it. Yet another long bus ride across town (the transit is not great), I finally wound up on the campus of USC (University of Southern California) and entered the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries.

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ONE magazine was formed by a group of brave queer activists in 1953 and ran for several years, making information available to the public about LGBT lives, theories, and studies, beginning to normalize LGBT lifestyles in the public eyes years before it was customary to do so. The magazine eventually closed down, and now the Archives were named for it, complete with a large framed wall piece with all of the magazine’s dozens of covers featured.

The space inside was small and very well organized. Shelf after shelf, row after row, all dedicated to LGBT books. Periodicals, art books, coffee table pieces, biographies on famous LGBT individuals, LGBT fiction, erotica, novels and short stories, almanacs, research compendiums. Upstairs were framed photos celebrating past activists from the area.

I talked to the woman at the front desk for some time, asking about the history and organization of the place, and told her of my current projects. She was kind, interested, and helpful in orienting me to the space.

I walked down the long rows almost lovingly, overwhelmed by the entire space. I contemplated my upbringing, not even knowing the word gay, and when I did learn it, I knew it was something bad and immoral, something to be scorned and avoided. But to be here, seeing it all archived, compiled, celebrated… it was thrilling, moving, and awe-inspiring.

I pulled out books at random, scanning through their contents and enjoying every word. I chose a few and spent a few hours perusing. There wasn’t nearly enough time. It would take a lifetime to read every book. I purchased a few small ones that I could carry home, thanked the librarian, and headed outside, where I sat in the sunlight and thought of this part of the world’s history that has become a new quest, grateful to know there are resources out there I wasn’t aware of previously.

the coexistence of Christianity and homosexuality

I didn’t expect this, not at all.

It is my last day in Los Angeles and I want an adventure, but a quiet one. I’ve been walking the streets, reading, thinking. The biggest thing I needed from this trip was just the opportunity to be anonymous, to be lost in a sea of people. I didn’t need dancing and adrenaline, fancy food or beaches. I needed fresh air and a sea full of people to quiet my brain and balance my spirit. I have been walking streets and following the directions of my heart strings for a few days. My feet are blistered and my shoulders knotted, but I feel wonderful and quiet and at peace. And now I have one day left.

And so I considered my options and chose the Getty. After a long bus ride (well over an hour to go just 10 miles or so), I rode a long shuttle up to the top of a hill and a collection of ornate white buildings and gardens form the J. Paul Getty Museum, an art gallery that is free to the public. Set up in 1954, it has houses variable galleries for people to walk through.

I step away from the crowd’s direction off the shuttle, wanting to be alone with my thoughts. I walk over a cactus garden, look at outdoor sculptures, and get a cup of coffee and a sandwich at an outdoor vending station. It is a picture perfect April day in California, with hills rolling in every direction, dotted with large and opulent homes, and the busy cluster of Los Angeles far in the distance.

After a time, I make my way inside. There are people everywhere. I see college students, families with young children, mothers and daughters, grandparents, gay couples, straight couples, lesbian couples, people from varying ethnicities many not speaking English. They move through the Getty at varying speeds, some stopping to talk in the center of rooms, some staring for ten minutes at one painting, some taking a photo of everything they pass, some speeding through and never looking up from their phones, some asking the staff detailed questions about the works of art.

I spend a long time in a series of galleries devoted to art work from the 1400s through the 1600s, most of it dedicated to the life of Christ. Many of the paintings are extremely explicit. The virgin Mary holds the Christ child with one hand and squirts milk out of her exposed breast into his mouth with the other hand. The devil stands over a group of humans who are engaged in a full on orgy, complete with exposed genetalia. A man slides a hand under a woman’s robe as it falls off of her, baby cherubs flying in the sky. Christ lies on the cross with open wounds, blood draining from his hands and side and head and feet as a group of women sob beneath him.

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I spend two hours in this first gallery, contemplating history, and wondering on the impact of Christianity on the lives and societies of humans, forming churches, pressing morals, setting trends, and influencing governments. I look at this detailed art, its rich and beautiful history, the textures and talents of it all, and feel overwhelmed.

I move into the next bustling gallery, full of photographs in black and white. It’s a startling shift. The images are beautiful. A powerful black male in profile. A stunning naked woman, arms stretched to the sky. A close-up on a drifting sheen of smoke. The photographs hang in every direction, and I wonder about their origins.

I find a sign that tells me all about the photographers/artists, Robert Mapplethorpe and Sam Wagstaff. It tells of their origins, their art and photography, their careers. They were lovers in New York City, it says, until Wagstaff died of AIDS in 1987 at the age of 65, and then Mapplethorpe died of AIDS in 1989 at the age of 42.

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My mind was spinning. I turned back around and saw the gallery with new eyes, the black and white stills framed in every direction. The same people buzzed through every which way. Couples, straight and gay. Grandparents, adults, children. They gave the gallery every bit the attention that the did the Christian arts and the gardens. My ears perked up, trained to be ready for people muttering about a gay couple getting their own gallery, about the immorality of it all. I wait for someone to be disgusted. And no one is.

What has Utah done to me, I wonder. I remember seeing a ballet just a few weeks ago with two women kissing in the number, and many in the audience turning away, scoffing in disgust, refusing to clap. I remember walking around town holding hands with a guy I was dating and people averting their eyes or giving looks of shock and disgust.

And then I stand here in this spot, in between the arts of Christianity and still photographs. Both galleries have nudity. Both are considered art. Both tell the stories of their painters. These two worlds that Utah tries to balance, art and art, Christianity with homosexuality, and yet here families and children walk through comfortably without notice.

I breathe in deeply, my heart full, and feel a few small tears in my eyes. This is what I needed, a chance to see life here, like this.

It is a feeling I will carry with me when I return.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big man in Little Armenia

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I know nothing of Armenia.

While I consider myself a relatively well-educated person, constantly seeking to learn more, I have very little knowledge of the overall world outside my small spheres of influence.

So, when I took an impromptu four day vacation to Los Angeles, I booked a small Airbnb in an unfamiliar neighborhood, crashing on a stranger’s couch so I could have some adventures in a new city. And I wound up in a small section of LA proper, just off of Hollywood Boulevard, near a confluence of other sections of the city. Little Armenia.

Cities have a strange way of breaking up into little sections. Safe and unsafe spaces. Spots to congregate. Businesses pile up here, artists there, tourist traps in another spot. There are hidden gems in any area of any little city. And Little Armenia didn’t disappoint.

One city block was vibrant with new businesses, in a strip mall format. Asian noodles on the corner, a barbershop and nail salon next door, a “Thai massage” spot one over from there, and a cute Asian bistro next to that. I stumbled on this block my first day in the city, exploring the area, and I thought, well, why not.

I entered the haircut salon first. A middle-aged woman named Nona greeted me with a wink and a smile. With few words, she sat me in a barber’s chair and got out her scissors, prepared to give me one of the most inefficient haircuts I’ve ever received. Nona had her hair bobbed up, short and sort of curled outward, like something from America’s past. She made a few cuts, surveyed me in the mirror, and nodded. “You are a very handsome American white boy,” she said in a thick Middle Eastern accent.

As Nona cut my hair, she told scattered stories, not related to each other. I barely spoke, happy to just listen and enjoy the experience. She kvetched about her adult daughter, always wanting to use the car, and beamed about her daughter in high school, successful and going places with her future. She talked to another woman in the parlor, wondering if some of their favorite clients would be coming in today. She wondered if she had made enough dinner.

I looked up at the wall, seeing a map of Armenia, a small country whose shape reminded me of a bird, wedged tightly between Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Iran. I intuited that there were likely wars there, women’s rights issues, as exist in so many countries in that region. I looked up at Nona and wondered what she had experienced to get here. I wondered if she missed home. I wondered about her family and her life in America. She looked happy. I could have asked a hundred questions, but instead I smiled, thanked her, and gave her a five dollar tip (she called me handsome, after all).

I walked next door with my new bad haircut and found a seat at a hardwood table. A single fresh flower stood in a small glass filled with water, its petals a light purple, and I started at it, contemplating its origins, as the waiter put in my order of crispy pork over glass noodles. The meal was simple and spicy and delicious, and during it, I remained within myself. I didn’t listen to other conversations or even look around the place. I just wanted to be there, me and my food, in Little Armenia.

I planned to keep walking after that, and to think and contemplate my space in life, but as I walked by the massage parlor, a gorgeous Armenian woman stepped outside. She was small, petite, with long shiny black hair down her back. “You want a massage? I offer discount.” She was grinning. I looked inside the place and assessed it wasn’t some seedy back parlor joint with threats of police raids and extra services offered for tips. It was actually quite beautiful. “I’m Mari. You want massage? $40 for one hour.”

I nodded, smiling, and entered the parlor. That’s a great price, and who am I to turn down fate on vacation? Soon I was in a back room with a massage table. I slipped on a pair of shorts made from a material that felt like gauze, and tied a cord around my waist to fasten it since three of me would fit in the shorts. I laid down on the table and soon Mari entered.

The massage was fantastic. Relaxing and soothing at times, deep and abiding at others, with sharp shocking slaps on large muscles to release tension. When Mari climbed on my back (no really, she climbed on my back) and used her knees and elbows to work different spots, it was heaven. Toward the end, I flipped over on my back and she worked on my feet. I felt my head drop back and I fell into an immediate sleep, awakened only by my own sharp, dehydrated snores a few minutes later.

Just minutes later, I stood on a street corner, under a large palm tree. The sun was perfect, warm but through a light breeze of ocean air mixed with city air, 70 degrees out. I closed my eyes. I could smell the massage oil on my skin, the sweet spice of the nearby noodle shop, and they mixed poorly with the concrete and urine smells of the city streets. There were almost too many sounds to individually distinguish them. Buzzing of electricity, motors and horns from the nearby freeway, busses and voices, loud loud loud.

And then I looked inward. Shoulders relaxed, stomach nurtured, feet sore with blisters, breeze on my skin and in my ears, lungs full, heart steady, head clear. I felt a patch of sun on my back, and I turned toward it.

This moment right here, this moment and any moment after, this was what I needed here.

the night sky

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I recall wishing once to be hard in all my soft places

those supple and diaphanous systems within me

that had searched so valiantly, so militantly, for things that cannot exist without. 

 

Then…

After the one who could have been there and wasn’t, 

And the one whose needs filled the room to bursting, 

And the one who used fists, 

And the one who made unkeepable promises, 

And the one who used up all the natural resources and kept farming for more, 

And the who was there and then wasn’t, 

And the one who could only see himself, 

And the one who could never answer (because he didn’t exist), 

Then…

 

After the sun set, 

I stood under the stars, 

right where I had always been standing,

and I looked up, hard and jagged and careful within, 

reliant more upon that beautiful night sky

than I ever had been upon the clouds. 

 

Interview with a Hollywood wedding planner

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Basically it’s my job to make sure everything is perfect. 

And how do you figure out what is perfect?

I ask a lot of questions. Weddings are very personal things, very stressful things for people. The color scheme of the cake and the dresses and the tablecloths, the music, the timing of every specific event, the china, the types of flowers, the spacing of the tables, the backdrops, the available parking outside, the guest book, the refreshments or meal, the bar and alcohol, the seating tables perfectly spaced, the dance floor. The details are endless. And most of the weddings I do are what we call destination weddings, so I help set up the lodging, the transportation from the airports, everything. 

That does sound supremely stressful. Why do you do it?

Well, I like doing it. I like setting up events like this. I like the chaos of it all. I don’t just do weddings. I do coming out parties, like for new celebrities here in Hollywood making their debut. I do themed parties. I do retirements, anniversaries, birthdays. But weddings is what I’m best known for. I like individualizing it all. This one wants swans, that one wants a perfect pink sunset, this one wants strawberry-creme dressing over vanilla, that one wants vanilla over strawberry. Americans subject themselves to the absolute worst kinds of stress in order to celebrate their lives. It is a delicious kind of irony. 

What kinds of destinations?

I’ve been to Hawaii a few times, Athens, London, some of the islands, Montana, Phoenix. It could be anywhere. You have these people here who have a lot of money, and they want the best, and I’m the best. I get to go to some of the most beautiful places in the world. I fly there, scout out locations, form contracts with local vendors, get it all mapped out. Then sometimes I go back with the bride or the couple and we look at things together. Then I go out again before the event itself, sometimes by a week, and work hard to get it all prepared for the big day. I travel most of the year in the good seasons. 

What are the worst parts of the job?

The ego! I can’t name names, but I have worked with some of the biggest names in the industry. When I first came out here years ago, I remember being enchanted by the celebrity thing. Now I hate it. Everyone here is connected to the movie business somehow. This guy is a cameraman, that guy walk’s an actor’s dogs, this one mows lawns for some director. Anyway, I work hard for the people I work with, and some of them come in with this attitude that I should be happy to work for them. 

Give me an example.

Well, I can’t name names, like I said, but let’s pretend Marilyn Monroe is getting married. She hires me, I get everything perfect and work for weeks on it, then I give her the bill, and she shrugs and says, ‘Oh, I thought you might just give me the service for free. I mean, working for me must be good for your business.’ And I just smile and say, ‘Nope, you gotta pay me.’ I mean, she has a hundred million or whatever and she’s upset about paying for a service that she requested in the first place. It’s exhausting dealing with egos of that size. 

You sound like you really love what you do, overall.

I really do. It’s the best job in the world, at least for me. I love this job, even with all of the craziness. I get to dive through the mess and make people happy, and I get to go to the most beautiful places in the world to do it.