Friday, December 29, 2006

Sunny California Christmas

What day is it? It seems this San Diego sunshine has turned my brain to mush and I just can’t remember what day it is. Or have I been hanging out with my drunk, mourning friend too much and some of his eccentricities have worn off on me? Who knows. Maybe the mellow life style hasn’t inspired me to blog. Everyone is so happy and laid back here that there’s nothing really to write about. Well here it is Friday (?) I think and while my brother and his brood sleep I might as well get in a few lines before they wake up and throw off my concentration. My mother just woke up and she’ll be reading the paper next to me, commenting on everything I just read which throws me off so let me clack away.
Christmas came and went. I was happy to be around our big, antique dining room table with family and friends, eating off the good china with the good silver. That helps to give the meal special meaning, to think we are eating on a table that goes back two generations and how many generations are around the table. That has more meaning for me than all the gifts under the trees.
I’ve become quite practical (some call it Scroogy) about gifts. Seems like the whole gift giving thing has gotten way out of control and in my opinion, we Americans don’t really need anything. Isn’t it enough to be happy with what you have and who’s around you? Why do you have to mess it up with a bunch of useless crap? Why do children need so many gifts?? They’re over stimulated from all the toys that bog down the family room on 25 December and in the grand scheme of things a kid would be happy with one gift. You know Joan Crawford was right–she gave darling Christina and siblings a choice of one gift and the rest went to other children in need. Let’s have more Crawford Christmases!
My father was the king of useless, tacky gifts. My brothers and I always feared what lurked in those packages he haded to us on Christmas day, all of us thinking "just give me the card with the money". I’ll never forget the year he announced excitedly that he did all his Xmas shopping at a big new store called Shell World. I never knew that shells could take on such life! Well, my older brother Mike has inherited the tacky, yet meaningful, gift giving gene. When he asked me this year what I wanted for Xmas, I told him not to get me anything. Looking at the box of See’s nuts and chews in his arms, I told him if he really wanted to give me a gift, just give me the See’s candy (I never say no to a box of nuts and chews). Cool, a gentlemen’s agreement, right? No. On Xmas morning as we sat opening gifts, I noticed the absence of a familiar rectangular box under the tree. Instead of the See’s, Mike got me some cheesy frames with cat stuff on it, a Chinese cat figurine and a cat toy. HELLO!!!! Did anyone hear my plea/request the day before??? I have three cats and a basement full of crap, why do I need more? (Although the cat toy is going to good use). He means well I know but me the practical person was in a lather. My mom, on the other hand, got it down right–she got me the few things I really need: swim flippers (she also threw in goggles and a bathing cap). I really shouldn’t complain should I? But when faced with lugging things across the country, you don’t want a bunch of crap in your suitcase. Really a nice bottle of wine, good food and conversation, as I’ve said before, is all I need at the holidays to be happy.
Christmas morning in San Diego is always sunny and beautiful. I always hated getting sweaters for Xmas because you never can use them it’s so damned hot. Before driving up to Manhattan Beach to my oldest brother’s house, we popped out to say HI to my dear departed dad in the cemetery at the end of the point. This has become a new family tradition as has me wearing my dad’s class ring from King’s Point Marine Academy. The ring is something he wore all the time and in his last days in the hospital I tried to get him to take it off for fear the nurses would steal it. He refused as expected for the stubborn patient that he was. Anyhow, after he died, I took the ring, my other less outlandish brothers not having any interest in wearing it. I pull it out on family occasions such as Christmas. Before coming here I was frantically looking for it in my basement, not remembering where I put it. I finally found it in a box by my bed that I didn’t put away in storage. Thank God I have trustworthy sublettors!
People in San Diego crack me up. They complain about how cold it is, running around in fleeces, UG boots and scarfs, cranking up the heat, etc. "Honey, you don’t know what cold is" I tell them. Yes the ocean breeze does add a wet chill to the air but I’m sorry when it’s in the 60's and 70's, you just have no reason to go "BRRRRRRRRR!" Call me old fashioned. Everyone here is so nice and friendly, quite the opposite from the cold stone looks I get in Astana. I’ve refrained form divulging lots of information about my work in Kazakhstan just because the majority of the population here can’t wrap their brains around things past the county line so it just leads to frustration on my part. I mean really, how difficult is it to look at a map and get a sense of the world. How hard is it to figure out that Kazakhstan is NOT in the Middle East, is not unstable and that Borat is not from there. Hey Nazarbayev, I’m becoming quite the spokesman for that great and glorious country of yours–maybe we can take this on the road. In conclusion, when discussing Kazakhstan and/or the rest of the world, Americans are stupid!
Christmas in Manhattan Beach was happy as Christmas with kids running around should be. It was hot that day and I was wondering why I didn’t bring my suit for a quick dip in the ocean. The kids rattled with their new PlayStation and other gizmos, and we shoved more food in our mouths. After all that gluttony (well part 1 at least) we took a stroll down to the beach as per tradition. So nice to be out of snow for awhile. Unusually warm for December 25th and I put all my fears of global warming aside and just enjoyed it. Post walk we had some roast beast for dinner, to cap off the ultimate day of gluttony in the American holiday calendar.
Sped out of Straightsville later on to hang out with my dear gay friends Danny and Ruben in Santa Monica. Oh so nice to get back in the fold of gay normalcy! Just an aside, and I don’t mean to offend, but after awhile, being around straight people with children gets a bit tedious. No witty conversation, no ribald, off coloured remarks, no innuendos. I always feel I need to keep a tight lip around the relatives and can’t let loose. So going back into the homo fold is always a sense of relief. Anyway, D and R are fabulous friends I’ve know for almost 20 yrs, as long as they have been together. They are always great to hang with and being movie buffs, I always catch up on my films with them. They were an intermediary point on my big road trip up to see my brother in Mammoth in the Sierra Nevada mountains. In the short time I was there, we managed to see "Dreamgirls" (run don’t walk to see this) and have some good meals.
The trip to Mammoth never happened due to a big snowstorm and 100+ mph winds. As much as I wanted to go be with my brother and his wife as they gave birth to their second kid (a boy–Mazel Tov), I didn’t want to risk my life and limb to get up there (well I did because I love my baby brother) but when he said two semis blew off the road and his friend’s trailer blew off the side of a hill, I nixed the idea of driving in my little rental car up the I5 into treacherous weather. So back to San Diego to hang with the alcoholic I went.
Call me Mother Theresa, I went to tend to the needs of my mourning friend Christopher who grieves the loss of his partner Brian less than a month ago. As angry as I am about his alcoholism and as much as I’ve talked to him about it, all it does is gets him riled up. So, thanks to my wise mother, I took a different approach, I just didn’t bring it up and focused on the day-to-day stuff. His house is a filthy, stinky mess, he has no money since he’s not working and like hell I’m hanging around there while the sun shines. So I took him out to lunch, to the movies (Black Xmas–a slasher film he wanted to see) and provided some support while in town. I so wanted to throw out his 20 yr old couches which stink to high heaven and dismantle his entertainment center but he would have none of it. You can’t rush people I guess. So let him drink his vodka, take his pills and mourn the loss of his boyfriend in his own way.
Think I’m ready now for a change of scene and flying back to NYC for 10 days is just what I need. Blogging in the fresh air, under the sun is nice but I need the verve of NYC to keep me rolling. Plus, there’s not a lot of places here with WiFi. Besides the corner of my mom’s couch(thanks to "tadhome") not many places in SD where I can chill in a cafĂ© and blog, check email, etc. And fuck all these people who put locks on their wireless arrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggg!!! So get me out of this place–back to my home with my cats and friends, my other family. Hello Jet Blue, let’s go!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

It's a Wonderful Life-Part 1

I love Sundays because I do absolutely nothing or basically whatever I want. No ESL, no students, no TOEFL–utter peace to roam the city, do art, cook, etc. As tradition has it here in Astana, every Saturday night I get together with my friends Walton, Asel (his wife), Chris and Irina (his wife). We found each other through our blogs back in October and have been meeting practically every Saturday night since (I think we’ve missed two since 28 October). Either we go out to a restaurant or to each other’s house to eat, drink and be merry. Now Saturday night without Walton, Asel, Chris and Irina isn’t a Saturday night.

Last night we went out to "Samovar" the Russian restaurant last noted in my blog as the place where my colleague asked loudly what "YEB TVOYU MAT" means. We went to the other "Samovar" on the Left Bank by the enormous KazMunaiGas building–a monolithic structure that looks like something out of the last Star Wars film. Chris is off to England next weekend for the holidays and counting the hours, yesterday it was 206, don’t know what it is today, so this was our Christmas dinner together before we part ways for the holiday. After a whole afternoon of teaching, I was starving and ready to gorge myself with delicious Russian food and have a few shots of vodka. Herring, mushrooms, salo (pork fat–don’t tell Dr. Vail), salads, delicious entrees, chocolate bliny, fresh delicious black bread. Put that together with a few bottles of vodka and you got a pretty good party. The shot glasses clinked like bells pealing "Merry Christmas" and toast after toast we realized how special our Saturday nights have become.
A few weeks, Walton and Asel hosted the Thanksgiving party with chickens and manty (homemade meat dumplings), Chris and Irina have hosted a party so when we all get back, it is my turn to have everyone over. I may have to borrow furniture from the neighbors but I’ll put on a good dinner party.

After our feast at "Samovar" we took a stroll along the grand promenade toward Baiterek, the giant tower with the gold ball on top, the Eiffel Tower of Astana. After 2 bottles of vodka, it was warm enough to walk around the freezing streets of the new part of town. Irina was looking so fucking fabulous in her new red fur hat. I love it and want one just like it. A big puff of red fur like an enormous pom pom, it makes quite a statement here in Astana. She let me try it on last night but it just made me look like Martha Raye in "The Bugaloos".
Irina is fabulous. So much fun and a good sense of humor to boot. So refreshing for regimented, uber-serious Astana. We were feeling good enough to flop around in the snow making snow angels. I don’t know how they turned out but we had fun waving our arms and legs back and forth to leave our mark in the snow.

Afterwards we made a trek to Walton and Asel’s for some tea to warm up before we headed home around 2:30 am.
Walton and Asel got a fake tree (I guess fresh trees are banned because people have been cutting down trees in parks and selling them) which was sparsely decorated. I may make them some ornaments today in my free time. Asel recently went to South Korea for a business trip and brought back "It’s a Wonderful Life". AAAHAHAHAHAH!!! I want to watch it so bad. That’s like a must for me during the holidays. They haven’t watched it yet so I resisted from asking to borrow it. Anyway, I’ll be doing my "It’s a Wonderful Life" bit in Brooklyn when I meet up with some NY friends and neighbors on the 21st at BBQ in the hood, so I can wait to see it later. Walton also had downloaded some Xmas tunes from Itunes so we had some apropos music as we sipped our tea late into the night. Aaaah the holidays, simple celebrations like these make them so special.
I love being here at Christmas time for many reasons. The cold and snow of course but mainly because you have the city decked out for the holidays and no crazy commercialism that wears me out in America. People aren’t frantically running around buying useless crap for each other or waiting in line for the latest gizmo for their spoiled brat kids. Closer to the 31st, things will get crazy but mostly at the food and liquor stores as people stock up for New Year’s Eve dinners. Gift giving is not a huge overwrought process here and it is so refreshing. For me, all I want for Christmas is to snuggle with my cats, see Pete and Jackie and my other NYC friends and have a nice meal with my family in California. I don’t need anything else (oh well maybe some flippers for swimming and another pair of long underwear).
OK, I promised Irina, my fabulous Astana friend, I would post this before 12:00 because she’s going to read it at 12:01 so I better move my ass. Dial up takes a little time. Ho Ho Ho!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

In memorium

Got word yesterday that my close friend Chris’ boyfriend Brian has died in San Diego. 35 yrs old, drank himself to death. Died on a couch that used to be mine 20 years ago. Sad really that a person with so much potential and talent can sink so low. Alcoholism like any addiction is a nasty thing and no matter how much you try to help someone, they really can only help themselves recover. I don’t know what will become of my dear friend from high school now that he’s alone to drink and sit around watching television all day. Hard to watch someone you love sink so low, especially when they are so stubborn and defensive when you bring up AA, 12-step programs and getting help. I’m sure part of my Christmas vacation in San Diego will be spent hanging out with Chris. Maybe I’ll get him out of the house for some healthy activities. If I can at least convince him to throw away the couch and maybe steam clean the carpets, I’ve made some progress. So Brian, wherever you are, may you be at peace.