Thursday, December 29, 2011

Grown Up Christmas

Christmas felt different this year. I can't really explain why it was different, but it just was. This was the first Christmas that was really all about spending time with and appreciating family. Sure, I got presents but they were secondary to the fun I was having with my crazy family. I think this is what it feels like to be a grown up. When did that happen?

Michele and I drove home on the 23rd and made stops to visit Aunt Honey and Grandpop along the way. We had such a great time - just laughing and talking. Mom and Sam are always really excited to see us. Even Renee was in a good mood. Instead of being focused in what would be waiting for under the tree or anxiously waiting to head back to the city, I really was able to really be in the moment. Decorating the tree was more fun this year than any previous year. I think the fact that Izzy, our aging Rottweiler, couldn't stop innocently passing gas really helped. We were all dying laughing. Another highlight was when I nearly toppled the tree when trying to put the vintage, homemade angel on the top of the Christmas tree. Christmas day, Renee and I sat and played Tanks on the Wii and I even tried Just Dance 3. Maybe it's my SSRI, but I had a lot of fun letting go and dancing like an idiot to a cover of Baby One More Time.

The fact that I really enjoyed spending time with my family doesn't mean that I didn't some fabulous gifts. The best of all was the iPad 2 that Antonio got me (which I'm actually using to write this post). But my family also got me exactly what I wanted - blacks socks, white t-shirts, Apple headphones, new workout shirts, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy and many other great gifts.

We may not have gotten to our usual family activities this year like making the gingerbread house or painting the nativity set, but I think we felt closer than years past. I really saw how much they love me and how I should bet grateful to have such a great support system. It really makes me wants to go home more often and connect with that small town part of myself. I also saw just how awesome my mom is. She's just the coolest and most selfless person I know. I love her.

Best ... Christmas ... Ever!

Posted from my iPad 2

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Talk That Talk

Rihanna's new album, Talk That Talk, is easily the most anticipated album of 2011. It comes hot off the heals of her 2010 release, Loud. What direction will she take? Will she sound like everything else on the radio? Will that Rihanna reign ever let up? Well, she answered all those questions and more when the album dropped on November 20th.

She friggin' killed it! The album opens with her embracing her Caribbean roots on You Da One. It's a fast-paced, love song with spice. She always adds a hint of gritty sexuality to even her sweetest songs. There's a dub-step bridge which is awesome, albeit a little mainstream. Next we have Where Have You Been - an electro-dance-power ballad. It builds slowly and then the European beats kick in and sitting still is impossible. As soon as ask" Are you hiding from me, somewhere in the crowwwwd?" Your shirt is off and you're sweating all over the dance floor. We Found Someone is the lyrically sparse first single. It has taken a really long time for this song to grow on me, but now I can really appreciate the music despite the fact that it feels like there are only a handful of words repeated over and over for three and a half minutes.

RiRi teams up with Jay-Z again on the title track. While Jay's verse leaves something to be desired ("I fly out to Pisa just to get some pizza"), Rihanna's part are solid. It's very tough and commanding, strong with a great beat! Cockiness (Love It) is definitely a contender for the best song on the album. It's just filthy! Rihanna does a little rapping / talk in the verses and it sounds so cool. She starts slow "I want you to be my sex slave" and then quickly add a bratty, abrasive "Anything that I desire...set my whole body on fire". Birthday Cake is only about 78 seconds, but it packs a punch! Another dirty song that would make me blush if I had to listen to it with my parents. Let's just say that she's not talking about cake with flour and sugar.

Midway through the album, she slows things down with We All Want Love and Drunk on Love. Both are good ballads, though her vocals aren't that impressive. Her voice has a distinct raspy, strained-quality that I like. While these songs sound good on the album, I know that I'd be disappointed to hear the live versions. Now let's get back to the sex, please. Roc Me Out is another dirty invitation to spend the night (or at least an hour). She sings naughtily, "I been a bad girl, daddy / Won't you come get me?" It's clear that songs about fucking (not love-making) are her forte. She's no Barry White. Watch n' Learn is the next track. Guess what it's about? Yep, sex! Another fine track. This one is dizzingly busy with a slightly Caribbean beat. The album ends with the epic ballad, Farewell. Is it about Chris Brown? Maybe, who knows? It's the only song on the album that demonstrates some artistic growth.

So that's the end of the standard edition. But who buys the standard edition when a deluxe edition is available? Exactly! No one. Red Lipstick is the first of the three bonus tracks. I've never been to a kinky, sex club that requires you to wear latex. But if I had to guess what a club like that would be like, it would be this song - "Do you right here while the whole world's watching". It's grimy and slow - very sex with a stranger in an alley. Musically, it's amazing. It's strong and confident. Do Ya Thang is a bubbly song about love. It reminds me a little of Nicki Minaj's Super Bass. I like it, but it just lacks the angry sexuality of the other songs. I feel like they could use it for a Pepsi commercial in the summer. Fool in Love is a hauntingly dark love song. This song features the strongest lyrics on the album. It's a perfect closer to a great album.

Is this her best work? No. It lacks the emotional vulnerability and rawness of Rated R. But it's much more cohesive that 2010's Loud. Whereas Loud was all over the place, Talk That Talk is focused. The subject matter is somewhat limited - it's basically love or sex, but it's well-executed! It's catchy as hell and I have no problem admitting that I dance to some songs in my apartment. I like that Rihanna is coming into her own. This album feels like only she could make it. Britney, Katy or J.Lo could not make this album. It feels authentically Rihanna, albeit emotionally shallow. These songs all work because of her voice, personality and style. Talk That Talk is a brash, in-your-face album that begs to be put on repeat. As a member of the Rihanna Navy, I can say for sure that no, that Rihanna reign just won't let up.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Garden State of Mind

Thanksgiving has become somewhat of a deconstructed holiday for me. Long gone are the days of being at home while my parents are in a rush to get the food cooked and table set. Now I go to my sister and brother-in-law's house for a more relaxed holiday. Usually, we make our favorite foods (mine is Michele's buffalo chicken dip) and watch movies or football. This year was a blend of the two styles. My parents and younger sister came up from Pennsylvania, but it was still very relaxed. No formal dining, just great food around an NFL football game. After we all woke up for the inevitable nap, we played all kinds of board games. Balderdash, Racko, and Skippo. We just saw in the living room and LAUGHED! It was so much fun and so casual. On Friday, Kasey and I played Monopoly for at least 2 hours. It's so simple, but so peaceful. I really didn't want to get on the train

Of course it was great to see my family, but I think a huge part of the relaxing atmosphere was the change in scenery. There's something so peaceful about the suburbs of New Jersey. It's not stuffy or pretentious. Sometimes I feel like New Yorkers are stuck-up assholes. The people that shop on Madison or 5th feel so superior to everyone else. It really turns me off to the city. I'm beginning to think that eventually I'll emigrate to New Jersey.

Antonio and I were looking at houses online...just for fun. You can get so much for only $600,000. We could get something with 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms and a big back yard. Who could pass it up? Don't get me wrong. It'll be a few years before I ever cross the Hudson permanently. But I can feel it. I'm losing the Empire state of mind and opening up to the Garden state of mind.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Suburbia

I always love watching House Hunters. It's so much fun to see the types of homes you can buy in different parts of the country. We were watching tonight and were super excited to see it was a gay couple looking for their first home in the suburbs of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. They were so cute! They were fresh out of college - complete with their collection of American Eagle polos from the local mall. They ended up picking a cute townhouse with three bedrooms and a small backyard. The house they picked was in a small subdivision with views of the woods and mountains. I really miss the country scenery!

The part that always makes me chuckle is that they ended up only paying $209,000, which would only get you a studio apartment in Washington Heights (aka the ghetto) in New York. As I was taking the subway back uptown, I was listening to Just Whitney and thinking about that life. I could see myself living in a cute suburb with a hustling downtown area nearby. Sometimes I miss the things I used to do when I was living in Radford. We'd go to Walmart at any time during the day, shop at the Christiansburg mall, and relax by the New River. It's a really simple, yet fulfilled life.

One of the benefits of working for a company with a large parent company is that it'd be easy to relocate. With just a quick search on my iPhone, I found three Coldwell Banker offices in Mechanicsburg. Obviously it's not about the city, but the lifestyle. I still love living in the city, but I'm sure I'll get to a point when I'll be ready to rejoin America and live in suburbia.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Scantron / Licensed

After helping one of our Eastside agents with opens houses on the weekends, I became more eager to get my license. As a licensee, I'd have more freedom to help him and more help means more money. Having finished the course the week before, I was anxious to just get the test over. I felt like I knew the information so I made the decision to take it on October 28th. I bought two, online practice exams to make sure that I was prepared and I passed each exam on the first attempt. I was ready.

I set my alarm extra early so I could get ready. Of course, I hit the snooze button and ended up sleeping a little late. Oh well, I still made it to Herald Square with a little extra time. Of course, I wasn't thinking and started walking to 132 EAST 36th Street instead 132 WEST 36th Street. I got to the building at 9:06. Damn! So close to being on time.

I walk up to the building and it seems more like a run-down industrial building than a school. I take the stairs up to the second floor - it was actually much nicer inside. I went to the office and told them I was here to take the exam. Now this is the part that made me nervous, but the girl told me everything was fine and that I could go to Room D and just come back when I was done. Huh? There was no proctor. I just sat in a classroom with all my stuff and took the exam. Now, I'm a decent person and wouldn't cheat anyway, but it would have been so easy to take a quick peak here and there. The questions were worded differently than the online quizzes within the course. Most of the questions were pretty easy. A few were a little tricky, but nothing too hard. The math was challenging (as it always is for me) but there weren't too many math questions.

I made sure that I filled in all the questions, but didn't sit around to second guess my answers. I went back to the office and didn't what would happen next. I'm used to taking exams and then waiting a week to get the results. Nope! The secretary took out the scantron machine and scanned my sheet instantly. I'm shaking and feeling my heart race. "Ok. You passed. Here's your certificate. Good luck". Obviously, it was the news I wanted to here, but it was so anticlimactic.

I scheduled my DOS exam for the soonest possible time - November 9th. I felt a strong sense of confidence. I did well on the practice exam and study guides. I really didn't study much in between the two exams, aside from reviewing some of the trickier concepts. I showed up at the DOS building after brief, unplanned visits to the 9/11 Memorial and the Occupy Wall Street band of misfits (I get lost every time I go below 14th street). The room was the same one I had taken my notary exam. I was shocked at how easy the exam was! Well, I thought it was easy. I was the first person to leave. I looked just to see if everyone else was close to being done. The guy was next to me was on question 16 of 75. Ugh...you guys! This is so easy. After double-checking my work, I walked up and handed in my exam.

The hardest part of the exam process was waiting! I'd check for my score every five minutes even though I knew that it could take up to a week to find out. I finally got my score two days after taking the exam! I had passed! I was so excited that it was hard to contain, especially have taking both exams in secret. Tresa was so happy for me. After some paperwork, it was all official. I am now a license, real estate salesperson. Nothing much will change for now. I can't take listings or take on buyers. But I'll get some good experience! Once I'm ready, I'll be in a great position to thrive.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wedding Magic in Maryland

I'm always happy when my friends get married. I was especially thrilled when I heard that Kristen and PJ were getting married. They stayed with me for a weekend when I lived in Harlem. She's so much fun(always has been - all the way back to our Quest days) and PJ was such a nice guy. I knew he was a keeper when he didn't mind going to Splash with us.

The wedding was this past weekend and it was wonderful! Antonio and I took a leisurely 5-hour drive from the busy streets of Manhattan to the quaint, charming town of Frederick, Maryland. The downtown area was so picturesque that it's hard to believe towns like this still exist. The ceremony was in an old, Episcopal church. I loved it! I feel so many wedding are lavish, over-the-top and border of gaudy. This was intimate and classic. It was a sunny day, which put the beautiful stained-glass windows on display. Kristen looked stunning in her sparkly, white dress (which I feel like I helped pick out months ago) and PJ looked dapper and handsome as ever.

After the ceremony we went back to the hotel to catch the shuttle to the reception. The mansion was a very intimate venue - lots of antique rooms and old-world charm. It was nice to see Mark and Theo were at our table. I will admit that I was surprised that they were the only two from Radford that I knew. The dancing was fun! Lots of old-school *NSYNC and Britney. PJ's dad was the best man and did a great job with the speech. I always get choked up when people get emotional. I loved seeing the mother / son dance! His mom seemed so sweet. I was shocked that Kristen's mom knew all the words to Only Girl (In The World) and was in her element on the dance floor. Definitely a fun family! I'm so happy for them and excited for their lives together.

Earlier on Saturday, I had just happened to check-in on Facebook at Panera. By chance, Brandon saw it and told Lora that I was in Maryland. She texted me and we met up for breakfast the next morning. It was SO good to see her! She's one of those friends that you move away from and don't see for years, but can laugh like old times instantly. It made me think about our Sunday evenings with tacos and Desperate Housewives. Or how we thought gluing puzzles and made beer-pong table was classy! Ooh, we were so silly back then. I would say that the beginning of our senior year was one of the best times of my life.

I have to say that one of my favorite parts of the weekend was the drive home. There's just something so fun about being in the car with Antonio. We're just singing and laughing. Even with two hours of traffic, it was so much fun! I love how we know all each other's inside jokes and can usually finish each other sentences with our favorite quotes from Bravo shows. Overall, it was such a fun weekend! Lots of all love all around.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Kardashian Kontroversy

Halloween delivered a very depressing trick when Kim Kardashian announced that she filed for divorced from husband of 72 days, Kris Humphries. It was a media explosion! the newspapers, blogs, and cable news channels focused on nothing but the impending divorce. Before the ink could dry on the paperwork, people began hurling insults and accusations.

The most common claim is that Kim and Kris married for the money. I have to admit that it's seems possible. It's reported that the couple made $17 million from the E! wedding special and the exclusive wedding photos and magazine interviews. However, I feel like the money is the effect, not the cause. I don't regularly watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians, but have been getting into it recently. From what I saw, Kim and Kris made a cute couple. Were they ready to get married? Probably not, but that doesn't necessarily mean they rushed to the altar to cash in on Kim's fame. Kim is famous for her beauty, her branding and her mother's talents as a manager. The Kardashians are on track to be a $1 billion brand thanks to their clothing, perfume, reality show, etc. $17 million is nothing when you look at the big picture.

Kim tweeted a letter to her fans that made a lot of sense to me. She claimed that she got caught up in the hoopla of the wedding. Even as she began to realize that the marriage was probably not a good idea, it was too late to do anything about it. I kinda see a wedding as a freight train. Once you get on, it's very difficult to get off. Imagine everything she and her family had done to prepare for the nuptials - the invitations, the location, the dress, the food. To call it off at the last minute would be humiliating. Add the cameras, contracts and constant tabloid fodder that comes along with being a celebrity to all the standard stress. I completely understand why she felt that she had no choice but to go through with the wedding, not that it's an excuse.

Critics also use the Kardashian wedding as an example of why it's unfair that straight couples can marry, but most gay couple can't. The opposition to gay marriage asserts that they are trying to protect the sanctity of marriage. Regardless of why Kim got married, divorcing after less than three months does little to protect the sanctity of marriage. Obviously, it goes without saying that I am a huge supporter of gay marriage. Given I'm gay and hope to get married one day, I'm in favor of all gay rights.

That being said, I don't see why people are attacking Kim based on federal and state laws that discriminate against gays. Kim is a gay icon - she's gorgeous, fabulous and very supportive of her gay fans. It's a shame that some gay advocates are using Kim as the poster child for failed, heterosexual marriage. I don't think we should blame Kim for exercising her right to get married. I think we should blame the politicians who create discriminatory laws that prevent equal rights for everyone.

At it's core, Kim and Kris' divorce will be a devastating ordeal for both of them. It's sad occasion and shouldn't be used for covers to sell magazines or jokes on late night TV. No one, aside from her friends and family, knows the real Kim. We, the general public, don't know anything about her life except for what she decides to show us. People claim that she's famous for nothing. Wrong! She's famous because millions of people find her beautiful and interesting enough to watch every Sunday on E! If you don't like her then just stop talking about her.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween 2011

I didn't really intend on celebrating Halloween this year. Antonio and I didn't have costumes and neither did our friends. I figured the holiday would come and go unnoticed. As a surprise, Antonio bought us candy and pumpkins to carve. And by surprise, I mean that I dropped lots of hints. We spent Saturday afternoon scooping out pumpkin guts and carving faces. It was harder than I remember it being as a kid. I'm thinking that my parents must have scooped out the insides. It was a lot of fun! It must be mentioned that while carving pumpkins it was snowing all day. He traced his face, which I consider cheating. Oh well, it looked much better than mine did. Mine was a little lop-sideded, but I liked it. We roasted the pumpkins seeds. They turned out much better than I thought they would. With just a little butter and salt, it was a surprisingly tasty treat. We spent the afternoon eating lunch from Better Burger and watching Scream 4. It was dumb! The first movie in the franchise was good, but this was just silly. It was a little scary, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. It was a nice low key weekend.

I spent the latter part of Sunday trying to figure out what I'd wear for the Corcoran Spooktacular. I thought that I could just do what I did last year - sexy soldier. That seemed like a cop-out. It would have been cheap - no inspiration. I had the idea to be a hipster. I joke about Brooklyn in the office a lot so it'd be funny. Finding everything I needed for my costume was a challenge. I found a pair of size 29, gray, straight-leg Levis. It was quite a squeeze and I couldn't zip or button them. But that's hipsters wear. They just don't have as much booty as I do. LOL. I had the white shirt and vest. I just had to go up to Urban Outfitters for the hat. I got the glasses at Ricky's. I was so happy that it all came together and I must admit that I actually kinda like the way it looks. As a hipster, I can't get too excited about it though.

Most people came in dressed up at work. Jackie was an spot-on impersonation of David Bowie from Labrynth, Martha was a hockey player, Mike was a golfer, Connie was the girl from Black Swan and Andy was a blood-thirsty Wall Street banker. It was a lot of fun! We paraded around the two other Corcoran floors in our building. Some of the agents laughed, but most were just confused. We had pizza and cake and most people had candy at their desks. Martha did a great job organizing everything. I love that I work for a company where they understand that these little things make such a big impact. Everyone loves working here because there is such a positive atmosphere.

While I didn't plan on doing much for Halloween this year, I ended up having a great time! Now I've got to head to the gym to make up for the pizza and candy corn. Stomach fat and love handles are the scariest part of Halloween.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Kelly Clarkson - Stronger

Kelly Clarkson consistently releases amazing albums. Her fifth studio album, Stronger, is no exception. Kelly has evolved and changed with every album, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Thankful was her R&B, soulful debut. Breakaway was a powerhouse of pop/dance inspirational anthems and ballads. My December, with its hauntingly beautiful lyrics and pop/rock/punk arrangements, remains my all-time favorite Clarkson album. All I Ever Wanted felt a bit uneven - like a mixture of My December and Breakaway. It felt like she had to redeem herself from the commercial disappointment of My December. She really could go in any direction her latest release.

A few weeks ago, several tracks that were rumored to be from her new album hit the internet. I heard them and fell in love. As the October 24th release date drew closer, I became more and more excited. When I happened to turn my computer on around midnight on the 23rd, I was shocked to the album was automatically downloading in my iTunes queue. It's taken me almost a whole week to get through the album. It's not that I don't like it. It's just the first six songs are so amazing that I have them all on repeat. But I've finally heard them on and ready to deliver my review.

First of all, Kelly does and always does sound absolutely amazing! It is so refreshing to hear a beautiful voice without autotune and all the blips and beeps that usually accompany today's pop music. The arrangements are cross between My December and All I Ever Wanted. Nothing too pretty and poppy, but also not so dark and gloomy. Some tracks are calm and ethereal, while others are fast and fun. The only part of the album that is lacking are the lyrics on certain songs. Some are so beautiful and then some feel like they'd be more appropriate on a Hilary Duff album circa 2002.I also know that Kelly had writing credits on almost all the tracks on My December, but has had a lot more help with this album. I think there is a loss of authenticity when there are so many writers. It feels, at times, like a collection of songs and not a personal expression. The lyrical quality varies - there are some songs that make me want to cry because they are so vulnerable and raw. Others make me shutter and just dance along for the ride.

Let's break it down.

1) Mr. Know It All - This was probably not the best lead single. It's good but never quite revs up. It's like a big anthem that never hits that climactic note. It's definitely a good song, but just not what I'd expect her to pick to kick off the era.

2) What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger) - This is, by far, one of the best tracks on the album. It's got that feel-good, take on the world, post-breakup anthem feel. Her voice is so powerful that you know she means business. She's over some guy and ready to strut down the street.

3) Dark Side - This was one of the songs that I'd heard when it leaked online. I love it! It's poppy, but still poignant. It starts out like a lullaby and then quickly kicks the roaring chorus. I love the message - I have a demons. Can you love me, the real me?

4) Honestly - This track reminds me of Sober from My December. It's quiet and painful. It has an achingly beautiful quality. This is definitely one of the best ballads on the album. "All I see are stepford-like lives / Needles and knives / Beautiful lies" - that line is sheer, introspective perfection.

5) You Love Me - If you think this song is about romance then you don't know Kelly. It's a powerful breakup anthem. I love the line "You didn't let me down. You didn't tear me apart. You just opened my eye while breaking my heart." It makes me think of a dysfunctional relationship where the guy twists everything around to make it seem like the other guy's fault.

6) Einstein - When I say that some of the songs lack lyrical maturity, I'm talking about this song. "Simple math, our love divided by the square root of pride / multiply your lies plus time I'm going out of my mind". Whew, that's rough. I feel like I'm back in math class in middle school. Lyrics aside, the song is actually really good. It's a little cheesy but it's fun and sassy. "I may not be Einstein, but I know dumb + dumb = you".

7) Standing in Front of You - This is a departure from the previous track. It's a quiet, almost whisper and it's soft like a cool pillow. I've heard others describe it as having an Imogene Heap feel. It took me some getting used to, but now I really appreciate it.

8) I Forgive You - Wow! First Oprah talks about forgiveness and now Kelly has a song about it. There's a line that really resonates, "I forgive you. We were just a couple of kids / Trying to figure out how to live / Doing it our way". It makes me think of Brian and all the times that I blamed him and he blamed. We both made mistakes and handled things poorly. Forgiving him is for both of us. It was a time in my life. I'm happy to have had it, but am also so incredibly happy where I am now.

9) Hello - There are times when I feel insignificant and as if no one is listening. This is why I love this track. "My heart concern is bleeding /Is there anybody, anybody? / Hello, hello/ Is anybody listening?" It's a great upbeat song that is just tinged with angst.

10) The War Is Over - Another great forgiveness track. It's about letting go and knowing when it's not worth it anymore. I remember that feeling of just thinking, "Wow. Yeah, this is over". It's a great song and has a strong, dignified tone. She's not laughing in the guy's face; she's just standing tall and walking away.

11) Let Me Down - If you don't want to take the calm approach to ending to a relationship, you could do it the way she does on this track. This is rocky, angry breakup song. I love this song.

12) You Can't Win - This is one of the most lyrically personal and sassy tracks on the album. It's a fun song but does have a good message. "If you're thin - Poor little walking disease / If you're not - They're all screaming obese / If you're straight - why aren't you married yet? / If you're gay why aren't you waving a flag?". She's really putting herself out there and I like that. The arrangement of the song isn't my favorite, but like the message.

13) Breaking Your Own Heart - A good closer to an amazing album. It's about blocking the things you want because you won't allow yourself to have them. You don't let people in, you're just breaking your own heart. I bet Oprah has a quote from Maya Angelou that would fit perfectly with this song.

Bonus Tracks

14) Don't You Wanna Stay - Country music isn't much a reach for Kelly. This duet with Jason Aldean is lovely. This is a love song and just doesn't quiet fit. The rest of the album is very post-breakup. It's weird to hear her sound so lovey-dovey.

15) Alone - She's back to her usual strong, angry self on this track. It's clever and fun! I picture her driving down the road in a convertible with the wind blowing her hair. This song is freedom personified.

16) Don't Be A Girl About It - Hmmm....this song seems borderline offensive to me. It's fun, but also makes it seem like girls are weak and emotional. I'm still on the fence about this song even though she does some smooth vocalizations that I've never heard do before. It's fun

17) The Sun Will Rise - This is another country-esque song. It's an inspirational duet with Kara DioGuardi. I'll need to give it a few more listens, but I could see it making me feel better on a rough day.

18) Why Don't You Try - With this song, we're right back where we started - Thankful. This is a soulful, slow jam! It also sounds a lot like Where Is Your Heart from Breakaway.


This album is a triumph for Kelly. This album is a good fusion of all her styles. It's got a little bit for everyone. With wonderful vocals and real instruments, it's hard to go wrong. While the lyrics on some tracks leave something to be desired, the album is solid. The soul of the album is what makes it so radiant and enjoyable.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Toddlers, Tiaras, and Trauma

On Friday, Anderson Cooper featured the mothers and daughters of Toddlers and Tiaras. I must admit that I had pretty much made up my mind before he even invited the guests on stage, but I give him credit for remaining as objective as possible. The mother's presented their view that their daughter's love to perform and wear costumes. They discounted the arguments that beauty pageants sexualize children or attract pedophiles. They made a somewhat compelling point that parents push their kids in any activity, whether it be pageants, gymnastics, spelling bees, etc. The audience, which included a psychologist, pretty much let the parents have it for a seemingly oblivious view of the negative consequences of the kiddie pageant circuit.

I can see both sides of the argument. I would imagine that lots of little girls like to play dress up. I have no problem with that. I would also bet that the mothers' argument that pageants have very tight security. There are no random creepers in the audience; just authorized friends and family. I have no problem there either. While some parents may be living vicariously through their children, I'm sure it's not the case for all parents. Even for the parents who are pushing their kids, it's not really different from making them study hard in school or practice in sports. It's not necessarily a good thing, but it isn't isolated to only pageants.

My issue is with the potential for damage in the future. Oprah did an episode of Life class recently on aging and that harm caused when people base their self-worth on their self-image. These little girls are so cute! I'll admit it. They're adorable. I can't help but think that the winners and losers of these pageants eventually all wind up losing. The ones who lose the pageants must not be good enough. But they didn't lose a chess match or a volleyball, they lost a beauty pageant. What does that do to their self-esteem?

So the girls without the crowns lose, but the winners can also lose. Some would argue that it's great for their self-esteem. But I'm thinking about what happens later. Puberty and adulthood causes about a whole host of challenges. Acne, crooked teeth, weight gain, wrinkles are just some of the many things that teens and adults deal with. What happens to a child who was raised in an environment where their appearance is so highly valued? How do they cope with the changes? I think this is one of the dangers of pageants. Developing a healthy self-image is hard enough for average people. When you combine the already difficult challenge of being confident in yourself with an upbringing that associated winning with beauty, it has the potential for disaster.

I also wonder about what the children are being taught at the pageants. On Anderson, we saw a video of one of the mothers telling her to smile and pose for the judges. They are learning to seek out the approval of others. If they want to win, they need to look cute and put on an act for others. I'm thinking of when they're 17 and dating a boy who wants to have sex. They have already learned they need to impress people in order to succeed. I could see a dangerous pattern of unhealthy choices in order to please other and attain their approval.

Who knows what is right? Only the parents can make these decisions for what is right with their children. I just hope parents can make objective decisions without getting sucked into the glitz and glamour.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Test Time

I finished my real estate course in what feels like lightning speed. I started it on Sunday, September 18th and finished it yesterday, Thursday, October 20th. Learning 75 hours worth of information in about a month is astonishing. The crazy thing is that I really feel that I understand the concepts and remember most of the information.

I had spent so many hours at home and work learning all the necessary information. I'm actually a little sad that it's over. The course, offered through NYREI, is so well designed. The mini quizzes, video lectures, and detailed outlines made learning the information easy and fun.

Now comes the part that scares me. I have to take the school's exam and get a certain score in order to receive permission to take the actual licensing test through the Department of State. Of course the exams themselves are going to be stressful, but it's what comes after the exam that has really got me nervous.

In what may have been naivety on my part, I didn't realize that I can't be "staff' and an "agent" at the same time. It's one or the other. That was kind of a big monkey wrench in my plan. I love my job and the people with whom I work. I've only been here for seven months. I can't just quit, nor do I want to! The thought of not having a steady paycheck is terrifying, especially since my emergency fund only has $300. I'm going to stay put for quite some time.

But, the nagging thought is there. What is going to happen? Will I be successful? When will I finally make the jump and start doing what I think / hope I will love? What if I don't like it?

There was a certain safety net while I was going through the course. I felt like I could say, "well, I'm still studying so it'll be a while before I become an agent." That roadblock is gone, though I am going to heavily review before I take the exams. I'd like to avoid failing the first time (like I did with my learner's permit). But it's really all up to me now. My future is in my hands.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Enlightened Men

It seems like gay bashing and bullying is at an all-time high. It's tragic how LGBT youth are teased, assaulted and occasionally driven to take their own lives. It's easy to feel hopeless. Some could chalk childhood bullying up to ignorance or the old adage "kids will be kids". It's harder to justify such behavior in adults; the juvenile rationale doesn't work anymore. The reason adults bully and discriminate is simple - hate. And it's easy to become jaded as adult. Adults don't see the world as a trusting and happy place like the way children do.

It's hopeless, right? I don't believe that. I see a new generation of people who see sexual orientation as something as unimportant as eye or hair color. Working at Corcoran is such a rich experience. It's an environment where everyone works together and celebrates each others' differences. The ladies I work with seem to prefer gay men to straight men. I'm constantly being asked my opinion on dresses and shoes. They always know that I'll keep them up to date with the latest celebrity gossip. But it's the males at Corcoran that really surprise me. Andy routinely talks about having dinner with his gay friends. He freely talks about how he likes his friend's boyfriend. Sexuality is a non-issue.

Mike is the biggest surprise. If there were two people that were least likely to become friends, it's he and I. He likes beer and sports and I like sweet, fruity drinks and watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. But we've become really good friends, even though we joke about how much we hate each other. He saw that I was reading an article about a recent Republican debate. He asked what it was about and I explained the story. A gay soldier asked if the Republican candidates would undo all the progress gays had made in the military. The crowd booed the soldier and Rick Santorum (insert joke about his last name) agreed to reinstate DADT. Mike said it was stupid and that he was sure I could shoot a gun just as well as he could.

He also told me of his college orientation. A girl, who just happened to be a lesbian, was his orientation leader. He just happened to say, "that's so gay" and she heard. She told him not to say it. It happened again and she pulled him aside and more sternly told him that he'd better knock it off. He told me that he then realized that, those innocent, it did hurt peoples' feelings and he hasn't said it since.

It's a great story because it shows me that there are regular, all-American guys who are enlightened enough to realize that we're all the same. We just want to be treated as equals. The more people I meet that have a modern, enlightened perspective, the more hope I have for future generations.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

NYREI

Finally! I finally stopped procrastinating! I've been putting off starting my real estate classes for far too long. I've always used money as an excuse. I rationalized that it'd be best to start studying once I paid down my credit card or had more money in savings. That thinking works if I wanted to buy a new outfit or something that I didn't really need. But what I realized is that this online course is an investment! It's just the first step on the road to creating my empire.

I'd originally thought I'd do formal, in-person classes. I felt that they were "real" as opposed to online classes. But the more I thought about, the more I realized that online classes would be a more convenient and expedient option. As the weather cools to a chill, I'll be less motivated to trek downtown to sit in a classroom for 3 hours at a time. Plus, the online version would allow to study at the office, at home or anywhere else I get online.

So, tonight I finally bit the bullet. I paid the $440 registration fee and began my real estate education through the New York Real Estate Institute. The 75-houre course consists of 23 modules. I did the first module - introduction to real estate. It was so interesting! There were a lot of terms that I'd heard of, but never really understood. I think it'll be fun to do a few lessons a night, take notes, study. It'll just like being back in college.

Let the journey begin...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bitch Face

Two agents stopped by our pod on Friday. Both were the stereotypical, mean gay guys. They were essentially older versions of Regina George - pretty, catty and deceptive. They were nice, albeit fake, and made small talk when they found out the person they wanted to see was out of the office. But once they left, someone instant messaged me and said, "Please don't be like that when you grow up." That got me thinking.

I felt somewhat intimidated by him. He seemed like a total catty bitch. While it's not a great technique for making friends, it does seem to be a deterrent to becoming a victim of bullying or a doormat. Is he really mean or is it a defense mechanism?

I often think that I'm too nice and that I let people take advantage of me. Would it be better to be meaner? Sometimes I think that I'd be better off if I used my bitch face more often. Here's a perfect example of when it worked. Antonio and I went to see Contagion this past weekend. The theater was packed! We got good seats but then four whores walked in and decided to next to us in the aisle. They reminded me a lot of Sammy from Jersey Shore (short skirts and ditsy aka whores). They were talked like Valley Girls, which I could ignore during the previews. But then it continued as the movie started and people started dying. It was getting annoying. I'd glance over at them and roll my eyes, but they were really getting the message. Eventually, I couldn't take it anymore and I leaned over and sternly said, "Would you guys shut up!” They apologized and piped down for the rest of the movie. It felt great! Being shy and quiet and polite just wouldn't have had the same effect.

Is there a happy middle? It's there a way to be nice and a bitch so that no one messes with you? If you have to choose, which is better?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Escape to Mohonk Mountain

I love New York City. It has an intoxicating atmosphere of excitement and glamour. But every once in a while I need an escape. Antonio and I decided to go on hiking this weekend as a way of getting out of the city. We decided to drive up to Mohonk Preserve, which is about 2 hours north of the city. I felt like I was back in college because I was wearing cargo shorts with sneakers and using my Quest 2006 backpack. We each left with different goals - I wanted a good workout and he wanted to enjoy the scenery and recharge.

We figured the trails would be really easy to navigate. Hmm...not so much. A lovely woman named Linda explained the entire park to us. She showed us a map, highlighted the trails and explained everything. She was so friendly! It was such a welcome surprise to meet genuinely nice people. After practically becoming Mohonk cartographers, we set off on our hike. The first part was the toughest. It was a very steep, rocky climb just to get up the connector trail. Once we got up, it was smooth sailing. The views were amazing!

About two hours into our hike we stumbled upon the most beautiful hotel we've ever seen - The Mohonk Mountain House. At first, it seemed like a mirage. It reminded me of the castle in Beauty and the Beast - just stunning. From that point, we had another 30 minutes until we finally reached the Skytop Tower, the top of the mountain. The walk to the top was tough, but so worth it. We sat down on a bench right on the edge of the mountain and ate lunch. The view was indescribable! Looking out and seeing for miles was so calming and peaceful. Since I l live in a city that is constantly on the go, it was nice to just sit and be still, to listen to the wind, and take a chance to breath.

Then we realized that we had to walk 2 1/2 hours back to the car. We stopped at the gardens of the Mohonk Mountain House and enjoyed (stole?) some lemonade left from a wedding earlier in the day. We took a longer trail back so we could have a different view, but it was hard to see the mountains through all the tress. We joked that they should cut down some of the trees so we could see the forest in the distance. There were a few moments when we were out of the sun and close to the rocks that the temperature instantly dropped at least 10 degrees. I loved it! There was such a calming presence to just stand on the trail in silence. We'd listen to birds, breeze in the trees, and water from the stream. It was inspiring. At one point, we heard a rustling just off the trail. I took a few steps back and there was a deer laying down just off the trail. She looked at me and I looked at her. It was very raw. It was two living creatures observing each other. It's weird but I felt like we were equals in that moment. I didn't want anything from her and she didn't want anything from me. But we were somewhat over it once we hit the long, straight stretch of trail. Our feet were starting to hurt, but we were like steam engines - once we started, we couldn't stop. We just pushed through it. We made it back to the visitor center right before they closed.

Now that I'm back in my apartment in the East 70s, I can sit down and reflect. We had to drive through the town of New Paltz, New York to get to the preserve. I loved it! It reminded me a lot of Radford - it was small-town, quaint and relaxing. I began to imagine packing up a U-Haul and moving there. It's an unrealistic thought because my life and career are all in the city. But sometimes I wish I had a simpler life. Sometimes I get tired of cramming onto the 6 train in the morning, having a tough exterior and always being in a rush (even when I've got all the time in the world). I think it's funny how many so people come to New York for vacation and so many New Yorkers escape to the Hamptons or country homes every weekend during the summer.

It was funny that I wanted a workout and Antonio wanted to commune with nature. I felt like there were times he he was sprinting up the mountain and I was trying to keep. He wanted to get back to nature but it was me who wanted to see the animals and tried to make a connection to the forest. We're planning on going hiking again once the leaves start to change colors in the fall. I really hope that escaping to Mohonk is something that we can do more often. I could really use a frequent escape to the country.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Surrogates

Imagine being not just yourself, but the most perfect version of yourself. That's the premise for the mysteriously forgotten, Bruce Willis movie, Surrogates. The movie takes place about fifteen years in the future. Most people now live their lives through surrogates, which are life-like robots that a person controls with their mind. It's a futuristic concept based around robotics and virtual reality. It was a thrilling action movie that subliminally asks some serious questions about society.

In the movie, Bruce Willis' wife refuses to let him see her when she is not using her surrogate. It made me think about how I don't like people to see me when I first wake up. My breath smells, my hair is all messed up, I haven't shaved. I like people to see the public consumption version of myself. I can understand why his wife locked herself away and only allowed people to see her surrogate self. Why let people see you when they can see you the way you wish you were?

There are small groups of humans in each major city that only live as themselves. They feel that humans were not meant to live through robotics. While they are militant in their opposition to surrogates, they are happy. The live, work, go to school, and play all within the confines of their compound. It's weird to me that they could be so happy without achieving, or at least working towards, perfection. They just are who they are and they're happy with it. I'm constantly going to the gym to improve. While I'm happy with the growth I've seen, it's only temporary. I revert to an insecure, skinny shell when I see a hot guy who's bigger than me. How can you be happy if you're not working towards being better? Can you be happy with stagnation? Or worse - deterioration?

In the movie, people were using robotics to achieve perfection. But it made think of all the other things people do now in attempt to be perfection. Plastic surgery and Botox are designed to fix what's wrong with us. The people usually ends up not looking quiet like themselves; they look plastic. It raises the question - is it better to be a regular person with flaws or a medically-enhanced, physically perfect person lacking the indescribable human quality.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Post-Quake / Pre-Irene

Wow! An earthquake in Manhattan is such an oddity. But that's exactly what we got earlier this week. I remember standing at a urinal in our bathroom and someone coming up next to me and asked I felt the rumbling. First of all, please don't talk to me when I'm going to the bathroom. I have to concentrate with others around. Second of all, no I didn't feel anything. They are renovating the lobby of our building so I figured that it was just part of the construction. But to my surprise, my colleagues tell me that there was an earthquake. And I missed it. Aw shucks. I was a little disappointed.

So I missed one minor natural disaster. Now we're preparing for Hurricane Irene. I never really get excited about hurricanes. They seem like a Floridian problem. Yeah, sure we get some rain and wind, but it's never anything major. That's what I thought until about four hours ago. From reading the NY Daily News and talking with my co-workers, I've learned that this is going to be a historic storm. Now, I'm conflicted. I'm a little excited because there's a certain adrenaline rush with all this impending doom. But I'm also nervous. I highly doubt there will be any damage, but I do have two big windows and a non-removable, window A/C unit. I'm just picturing the glass breaking and ruining my $850, LG flat-screen or relatively new furniture. I'm also nervous for my friend, Jackie, who's leaving for vacation in Spain Wednesday. I would feel so bad for her if her flight were to be delayed or cancelled. After worry about the improbable scenarios, I begin to realize that I'm not really prepared. I don't have enough canned food. I am almost out of toilet paper. I've only go three bottles of water. I don't have flashlights (necessary in a studio?), batteries, matches, radio - nothing, though I feel most of these items are more appropriate for an excursion in the wilderness rather than my little apt in the eat 70s.

Still, it's hard to look off my boss' terrace, see the clear sky and imagine that the world is going to end in about twenty-four hours. I guess I'll just prepare for the worst as best I can. I'll just take Britney's advice and "keep dancing till he world ends"

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Patience / Out of Sync

Sometimes life's lessons are vague and hard to see, but last night I got a lesson that was crystal clear. Be patient! Everyone says that patience is a virtue - it's become a platitude, something that's printed on fortune cookies. But I feel that this message is so important, especially for New Yorkers. Life is so rush, rush rush and we want what we want and we want it now. But last night really made me step back and think again.

I had connected my iPhone to my computer so I could play the music through our wireless speakers at work. It was a little after 6:00 and I was ready to leave, but it was taking so long to sync that I just pulled the plug. I noticed as I was getting on the elevator that my library was empty. It was weird; I could cycle through my music by clicking "now playing" but couldn't see any of the music that was in my library. I figured that I'd just sync it when I got home and that'd fix the problem. If I had just been patient and waited for it to finish, this wouldn't have happened. I could chalk that one up a minor inconvenience. I hadn't learned anything yet.

I got home and turned on my laptop to sync up my iPhone. I was prompted to update to the latest version of iTunes so I did that while syncing. It didn't work the first time - I assumed because I was updating iTunes. So I Ctrl-Al-Deleted iTunes so I could stop the installation. This, which I should have known, would mess up all the files in the iTunes folders. Great! Now I had to re-install iTunes. I just knew that all my songs would be gone and I'd have to repopulate my library. All my play counts, play lists, everything be gone.

Luckily, the library was still there. Everything was just how I left it. I reconnected my iPhone and everything synced properly. The only last effect was that I got to the gym about an hour later than I wanted. If I had just taken an extra 10 seconds to finish syncing at work, the whole situation could have been avoided. And if I had just taken an extra 10 minutes to install the new version of iTunes, even more time could have been saved. It was like a double whammy! It really made me sit and think. A little patience goes a long way.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

War Horse

Antonio and I went to see War Horse at Lincoln Center for his birthday. I feel like an experience is always a good present. It's something that one remembers much more vividly than a gift that sits on a shelf or in a corner. I was surprised that I was able to get tickets because it was the "it" play of the season. I'm glad that we were able to see it on his actual birthday.

It was really nice. We just grabbed dinner from a cart outside the theater and sat at a table across the street. It was relaxing. The Upper West Side has a cool factor that you would expect in TriBeCa, but it also has an elegance that personifies Uptown Manhattan. It was clean, breezy, trendy. If we do end up moving in together, I'll be pushing hard for an apartment on the UWS.

The theater was actually very small. The seats were very close together - no leg room, but it did give a sense of intimacy. There were no bad seats. The show was absolutely amazing! The puppetry of the horses, birds, ducks was incredible. I felt myself becoming attached to the horse (Joey) because his movements were so realistic. The story was good, but it was definitely the production that made War Horse such a huge hit. The staging, lighting, simple (and at the same time sophisticated) visuals were all impeccable. I found myself jumping from the explosions and gunshots and crying from the reunion of the Albert (boy) and Joey (horse) at the end.

Loved, loved, loved it! We left the theater around 11:00. It was gorgeous - cool, calm, quiet. I really like the feeling that I had. I felt like this could be my life. I could have a real life with Antonio. We'd live in a fabulous glass tower on the UWS, go to restaurants, eat organic food, be patrons of the arts, etc. Just something I think about from time to time.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Femme Fatale Tour

I always purchase tickets to Britney Spears at the last minute. I wanted to see her most recent tour but figured that tickets would be sold out and then re-sold online for 10x the price. I was pleasantly surprised when I found floor seats to her show in East Rutherford for only $200 each. Antonio and I thought it'd be fun to go. Just like that (with very little planning) we were going to see Brit Brit!

Last Friday arrived and we set off for the show. The shuttle from the Seacacus train station was like a party bus. Everyone was excited, singing - it was comical and fun. We got the stadium and went to find out seats, but our tickets weren't scanning. They said to go around to the box office on the other side of the arena and they'd take care of it. I tried having them scanned at the entrance and they still didn't work. Hmm...now I'm getting worried. We walked up to the box office representatives only to hear the worst possible news. They told me that they'd seen the name of the my tickets before and that the tickets were fake. They told me that there was nothing they could do. It was like someone punched me in the stomach and then the face. I had no idea what to do. She suggested that I called Stubhub (where I bought the tix) and see if they could do anything.

Antonio's never really seen me mad, but he got a glimpse. We walked outside so I could get a signal and I called them. They were apologetic and said they'd instantly refund my entire purchase. That's great, but doesn't change the fact that I'm less than 100 yards from the stage. It's like being so close and yet so far. The woman on the phone asked me to hold while she transferred me to her supervisor. He supervisor then put me on hold for about 10 minutes. I had already bit all my nails, so I was now gnawing on my cuticles. She got back on the phone and said that they had a pair of tickets that we could have and that a guy in a green hat was going to be outside the box office. He called while I was talking to her and I could see him. I walked up and he just pulled out two tickets and handed them to me. The whole thing was a little shady.

We walked up to the ticket scanner and was like, "let's see if these ones work." They did and we were in! It was such a great feeling. We wanted to get to our seats before buying t-shirts, getting food or going to the bathroom. They had people stationed every couple feet to help direct people to their seats. They kept telling us to keep going. We didn't stop until we were in the section in front of the stage. Our seats were right on the end. There was nothing separating us from the stage except a thin, metal walkway that had to be kept clear for the security guards. It was absolutely surreal. It was a roller coaster. I was so excited on the bus, devastated when I was told that my tickets were fake, and then brought back to life by refunding my money AND getting two, front-row tickets($350.00 each) for FREE!

I got my t-shirt, which I was really excited about, and then we went back to our seats. Nicki Minaj had already started her set and she was amazing! She did her hits and then the verses she has on all the hits she's done with other artists. I was surprised! For her first tour, it was very elaborate and the staging was precise. The video screens, dancers and props were all on point. After Nicki Minaj the countdown began. We had thirty-five minutes until Britney was scheduled to take the stage.

Just like the last time I saw Britney (The Circus Tour in 2009), she really blew me away. She didn't sing, but her dancing was better than her last tour. A Britney concert is never really about the music. It's about the spectacle. There were strobe lights, sexy dancers, confetti, video screens. It's like a overload for the senses. The music was great - all dancing, all the time (except for one ballad). What made me the happiest was that SHE seemed happy. It looked like she was really enjoying herself. The theme of the show was a little confusing, but she seemed to dressing up like femme fatales throughout history. My favorites were her Egyptian remix of Gimme More and Marilyn Monroe-esque version of If U Seek Amy. She ended the show with the remix of Till the World Ends featuring Nicki Minaj. She flew over the audience while wearing angel wings as confetti rained down. It was pure ecstasy.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Fire Island

One of the best parts of my job at Corcoran is that it allows me a whole new world of experiences. This past weekend was one of those experiences. Ernie, one of our managers in the Hamptons, invited Antonio and I out to his house on Fire Island. I was skeptical and a little nervous at first. I wasn't sure what to expected, but I worried when the shuttle driver gave me an ominous warning. As I got off the shuttle at the ferry dock, she looked at me and said, "Good luck!".

We took a quick ferry ride over to the island and were greeted by hundreds of people dancing in the club above the dock. Ernie met us at the dock and walked us back to his house. It's an interesting island - there is one main, dirt road. There are boardwalks that expand out from the main road. That's it! There are no cars, no fancy stores. Ernie's house was gorgeous! It was a 6 bedroom home on the ocean. It was impeccably furnished with a beautiful pool. Our room had a view of the ocean - it was like a resort.

Our weekend was really relaxed. We had dinner with Ernie and his friends on Friday night. It was spectacular - in taste and presentation. When gays put their minds to something they rarely do it half-assed. After dinner, we went down to the beach. It was a clear night. It was amazing to hear the waves crash and see the moon and the stars. We had breakfast that next morning at Jim and Jerry's house. They are Ernie's neighbor and they are the definition of fabulous. They lead these incredibly cultured and extravagant lifestyles. They were artistic and witty...and hot! Who knew old men could be so sexy? Antonio and I joked that we could see the power of self-loathing and low self-esteem. Being comfortable with yourself leads to complacency. We laughed as we said this, but kind of feel that neither of us were joking.

We spent all day on Saturday - either on the beach or by the pool. It was so much fun! We watched the sexy guys play volleyball, enjoyed the sun, walked along the water. It was so relaxing because it was completely comfortable. Fire Island is primarily a gay paradise. Guys will hold hands, kiss, dance and there are no disapproving stares. We went to Tea that night. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I figured it wouldn't be like an afternoon in a British home. The bar was packed! It was so crowded, but still fun. We saw Rodney from The A-List New York and no one cared. On Fire Island, he's just another hot guy. We went upstairs and saw Lena T - a transgendered DJ. She was great and the crowd loved her. The deck was shaking with all the jumping up and down and dancing. Lastly, we went to the Pavilion. It was a hot, sweaty mess. Every current gay icon was blasting through the speakers - Britney, Ke$ha, Katy, Gaga, Beyonce. We had a wonderful dinner complete with organic, home-grown veggies and delicious pasta. This morning, we got up and spent some time at the pool before we left to go back to the real world.

This mini vacation will stick out in my mind because it was such a departure from my comfort zone. I was nervous because everyone I met was an alpha male. I felt that I was being judged. I knew that I was the palest person on the beach and also not the most muscular. It's hard to be comfortable with yourself when everyone else is so attractive and carefree. But we did see plenty of people who were...a little too comfortable with themselves. I saw so many old, naked men! Good for them! When I'm 60 and wrinkly, I hope that I have the self-esteem requisite to walking around the beach with so many hot, young guys around.

I also found the weekend inspiring. Ernie and all his friends are the best in their fields. They were so glamorous, regal and fun! It felt like a movie. It made me want to go out, work hard, get my real estate license and buy my own place on Fire Island. Okay, let's start small. I'll start with a quarter-share on the island. It was a vision of what is possible. It's interesting because the island (specifically, The Pines - where we stayed), have both an intense sexual and innocent feeling at the same time. There are times when everyone seems focused on their bodies and judging everyone. There are also times when people were just concerned with play volleyball or dancing. It's a weird dichotomy. Some of Ernie's friends would walk around naked, but it didn't feel sexual. It felt like a very free-spirited place.

I'm glad to be back in the city. I like the hustle and bustle and ability to go anywhere and get anything I want 24/7. But I'll also miss the lazy, island relaxation. It's like the entire island is simply concerned with having a good time. I feel like this weekend was an initiation and I feel like I passed the test. I can't wait to go back. I am so grateful to Ernie and everyone I met this weekend. Everyone was incredibly warm and welcoming. Maybe next time, I'll come back a little less...crispy. Ooh, this sunburn is going to suck tomorrow.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Untied

I just finished Meredith Baxter's new autobiography, Untied. It was a sad, yet hopeful (and frustrating at times) memoir of a woman who seems to have finally found peace. I found myself wondering why she stayed with so many men who mistreated her. It was her introspective look at her childhood and own experiences that finally lead her to clarity. It may have taken her over fifty years, but she seems to finally comfortable in her own skin. It may seem odd but I can really relate to her story. Of course, I'm not a middle-aged lesbian, but her story being completely self-centered while and simultaneously lacking a shred of self-worth resonated with me.

Meredith grew up in a cold and distant household. Her mother and father-figures gave her everything except love and attention. At a young age, she began to feel that there was something wrong with her. She reasoned that her mother's emotional absence was her fault. Her childhood shaped the relationships she formed as an adult. When her now ex-husband, David Birney, would belittle and denigrate her, she felt she must have deserved it. She wouldn't question the abuse because she believed that her perceived faults gave others the right to treat her that way.

At the same time, she was completely self-centered. Everything was about her. Over the course of three marriages, she had five children. She loved them all, though her dedication seemed questionable at times. She would use her career as an actress to get out of the tense household for weeks at a time while filming movies on location. She would leave her children with David and nannies because she simply needed a break. She wanted to get away from him and would do it by any means necessary, even if that meant not protecting them from David’s judgmental and hard parenting style. She started drinking casually on the set of Family Ties, but it escalated over time. Eventually, she was driving home from tapings with a tumbler of wine in between her legs. She began drinking even more heavily after divorcing David after fifteen years of marriage. She would drink to the point that she would black out and be unable to care for her children. She was living her life with only regard to her own pain. Eventually, she started attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and began going to therapy to work out her emotional scars.

I can relate. There are times when I feel so small; so insignificant. I'm just one person - do I matter? I don’t really see anything special about myself. I’m average. I think both Meredith and I have issues with self-worth. Her's stemmed from a troubled childhood and I'm beginning to see that mine is tied to an unrealistic body image. The roots are different, but the feelings of unworthiness are the same. At the same time, I feel that everything is about me. When I walk down the street, from machine to machine at the gym, or around the office at work, I feel that people are judging. They are looking at me and picking out my flaws. It's ironic that I feel so small and insignificant and yet think that I garner the undivided scrutiny and attention of everything that sees me. I am self-centered. Where do I go from here?

I am grateful that Meredith wrote her story. It gave me a new perspective. With deeper thought and examining of my own issues, I think I can avoid being a sexually confused, alcoholic TV mom. Her sharing her own pain will definitely help others. I am happy for her. She seems to have finally found contentment with her partner, Nancy. It’s been a long road of healing and she deserves nothing but happiness, as do we all.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Beyoncé - 4

Some of my favorite albums are ones that critics and the general audience don’t really like. I loved Kelly Clarkson’s My December and Madonna’s American Life, which were both commercially unsuccessful. I even enjoy Christina Aguilera’s Bionic, which was dismissed as a cheap ploy to copy Lady Gaga’s style. It should come as no surprise to me that I really enjoy Beyoncé’s new album, 4. It’s much different that her previous albums or her work with Destiny’s Child. It feels mature and thoughtful. It’s obvious that she did some introspective soul-searching before stepping back in the studio after her previous album, I Am…Sasha Fierce. Let’s break it down, track by track.

1) 1+1 – This is not a radio-friendly song and a poor choice as the 2nd single. It’s a slow ballad, but Beyoncé sings it beautifully. She can really hit the high notes. Couple her beautiful voice with simple melodies and deep lyrics.
2) I Care – This is another slow song about love. It doesn’t really stand out in my mind, though I listen to it as I go through the album.
3) I Miss You – I LOVE this song! It’s so simple and ethereal. Her voice is haunting! She really nailed this one.
4) Best Thing I Never Had – This has the potential to be a mildly successful single. I like it, but feel like it’s a poor man’s Irreplaceable. It sounds a little dated and the flow of the song just doesn’t appeal to me.
5) Party (Feat. André 3000) – Beyoncé doesn’t really have the urban sound like she’s used in past albums. Party feels like a smooth groove that is fun without being the trashy, drunken escapades by the likes of Ke$ha. André 3000 does a great job, though there are times I mistake him for Kanye.
6) Rather Die Young – This song is a slow burn. I’m just envisioning her singing in a room surrounded by candles and sheer curtains. It’s a great love song.
7) Start Over – This is when I recognized that love is the theme of the album. I love the chorus and it’s sung beautifully.
8) Love On Top – To me, this song sound like a total throwback to the early 90s. It’s got a very upbeat and innocent feel. I could definitely see Whitney Houston sining this song back in her good years. I like it, but it’s the next few songs that really make the album fantastic.
9) Countdown – This song is as gangsta as Beyoncé gets on the album. The chorus is a little hard to understand but it’s still pretty cool. It’s fast and fun!
10) End of Time – Anyone who knows my musical tastes would know that I love marching bands. It’s just one of the sounds that resonate with me. End of Time is a great love song with that marching beat.
11) I Was Here – MY FAVORITE!! This is such a deep and meaningful song. It’s about wanting to leave your mark on the world and being remembered. I think anyone can relate to this song. The sweeping instruments and flawless, powerful vocals are perfect!
12) Run The World (Girls) – This was the first single and only a moderate hit. I didn’t like it when it was first released but came to love it, especially after she released the video. I actually downloaded an MP3 of the video version because I love that gritty introduction. It’s definitely more like something that Katy Perry would released, though it still has a little urban flair.

The cover of the standard edition is horrendous. She looks trashy wearing a fur without a shirt. She has deep smoky eyes and greasy, dirty hair. It’s just not her. What is surprising is that the image does not match the album’s tone at all. I prefer the cover from the deluxe edition. It’s much more regal and classy.

Overall, I really like the album. It’s not great for the gym or any occasion that requires a lot of energy and electricity. It’s a sultry, graceful progression in Beyoncé’s career. It may not be a blockbuster like her previous albums, but I think it’ll go down as her most meaningful.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bad Luck

OMG! Someone please get me a rabbits foot, horseshoe and anything else that can bring me some good luck. I don't like to complain because I do realize that I'm blessed. I have a very good life and I should be grateful for everything that I have. I can't help but have this intense feeling that things are just not going my way lately.

Last week, UPS refused to deliver my soap.com and Target orders to my apartment. Soap.com had to send out an entirely new order to my office and I had to go all the way to 43rd and 11th to the UPS warehouse to pick up my Target package. It was just a headache and completely avoidable. I ended the week with two more kicks in the pants. I get this stern email from someone - totally left me what I'm now calling my "bitchface". And to end the day, I turn on the TV only to watch 5 minutes of Suits before my DVR dies.

The week began with me noticing that the trash bag in my kitchen trashcan had a hole in it. Ah, 10 egg yolks were now covering the bottom of my trashcan. Wonderful! Next was the appointment to get my DVR fixed. Time Warner called me at 4:15 to say that I was next on the list for the repairman. He should have arrived around 4:30. Over the next 2 and a half hours, I had to call Time Warner more than 4 times to figure out where the hell the technician was. Everyone was really friendly, but still inept. I come home from the gym to find that my relatively new Metrocard is missing. I don't know when or where it fell out of my bag, but I know that it's gone. $104 down the drain! And to cap off the evening, I bake my chicken in the oven for 35 minutes and sit down to enjoy my dinner while watching the premiere of True Blood. I take one bite and spit it out instantly. It was horrible! It must have gone bad, so it smelled like it was in a hot dumpster for a week. So...no dinner. I can't! I just can't!

But, I have to realize that it's just small stuff. Gay marriage is now legal in New York. I have a great job that pays enough to afford me a large TV with Time Warner cable sans roommate. It's just been a rough few days. I just keeping repeating Shania Twain lyrics in my head, "Up! Up! Up! Can only go up from here!"

Monday, June 20, 2011

Meredith Baxter / Performance

Oprah may have ended her show, but I continue to learn from the re-runs. I remember seeing the original airing of her explosive interview with Meredith Baxter. She played the mother of Family Ties back and recently came out as lesbian. Shockingly, her sexuality was not the main topic of the interview. She discussed the struggle with alcohol and an abusive marriage to David Birney. The relationship, while violent at times, was more emotionally devastating.

The relationship began to take its toll on her and she started drinking. One thing that resonated with me was that she was so good at hiding it. No one would ever have guessed how painful her life was off the set. She never wanted anyone to know that something was wrong. Even her dearest co-star, Michael Grouse, never knew there was such dysfunction in her home.

I can relate to that. Now let's be clear, I had a very good childhood and wonderful parents. But I can also see now how my parents' divorce affected me. If something was wrong with one parent, I would never want the other to find out. One New Year's Eve I was staying with dad and step-mom. He told me that I could stay up until 10:30 and they went to bed before that. I remember crying. I'm not really sure why - it may have been because I missed my mom, it may have because I'd miss the ball drop. I'm don’t really remember. But I remember that my dad woke up and let me call my mom. When I got home on Sunday night, my step-dad asked me if everything was okay at my dad's that weekend. I lied and said that everything was fine, even though I'm sure my mom told him the whole story.

I feel like I had to become a peacemaker very early. I wanted everyone to be happy. I didn't want there to be drama in the family despite the divorce. I needed to protect everyone and wanted everyone to get along. I feel like that's something I still do. I feel that I keep my feelings to myself in hopes of making everyone's lives easier. I remember doing it in college all the time. When people would ask about Brian, I would say that everything was fine. I can honestly say that it was never fine and I was never fully happy, but I felt that need to protect him and put on a happy face. I feel like that it's something I still do today. Body image is such a struggle for me (as I'm sure it is for most gay men), but I have to play it down. There have been times when I felt like my life was like a performance. When I walked out the door in the morning is the like the raising of the curtain at a play. Meredith Baxter also mentioned wanting to please everyone and not wanting people to think badly of her. I know exactly what she means.

I'm fascinated by her story. Tonight, I went out and bought a copy of her new autobiography, Untied. I'm excited to see how she struggled and overcame her demons.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sun's Dry Cleaning

It's rare to find someone who really enjoys their job and puts everything they have into doing their job well. I met one of those people today. I dropped off my laundry for the first time at my new cleaner. A good dry cleaner is priceless in New York, so I was a little apprehensive. I was pleasantly surprised to get a very detailed itemized receipt and to learn that I could use my debit card. But the best part was the woman working there. She told me that she would have laundry ready in the evening and the pressed shirts and pants the next day. That was fine and what I expected, but then she said that she'd have it already today.

I felt a little bad because I didn't need to have it rushed. I felt even worse when I realized that I probably be able to pick them up in the evening because I had running club with people from work. After our run through Central Park, I took my time and enjoyed my walk home. I was surprised to see that Sun's was still open - it was past 8:00. She was so friendly and told me to come in. I was my normal, Pennsylvania self - making conversation and smiling. As I was walking out, she told me that if I was running late that I could call her and she'd wait for me.

That shocked me! I was instantly so happy and grateful. It's so rare to find someone who will go above and beyond, especially for something I'm sure she's not being paid too much to do. It really brightened my day - it's the little things that really make a big difference.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Unpacking

After all the anticipation of moving, reality sunk in. I found myself standing in what seemed like a tiny room while surrounded by countless boxes. Last Friday, I moved into my new apartment. It was a crazy day - the movers came and loaded all my stuff into a truck in under and hour.

Once I was finally in my new place, I felt overwhelmed. Where do I start? After a thorough scrubbing, I began to unpack all my kitchen stuff. I quickly filled my cabinets only to discover that I had a lot more stuff than I had cabinet space. Oh well. Who really needs multiple cake pans? I then cleaned the closet, unpacked my clothes and then got on my hands and knees to make sure the floor was clean enough to eat off of (important because of the 5 second rule). Thank you Mr. Clean.

Slowly it began to look like a storage unit and more like my new home. Antonio helped put together my TV stand. We make such a good team. By the end of the weekend, I really began to feel comfortable. There is a lot more work to do - still need to buy some furniture and hang my Madge artwork. But it's mine! I love coming home at the end of the day and relaxing without having to accommodate a roommate.

When I think about it, this whole experience is remarkable. I moved from Radford where I was paying $290 a month for my share of a 4 bedroom apartment to New York City. Now I'm paying $1450 for a studio apartment. While it may seem like I'm getting a raw deal, I see it as a huge accomplishment. To come so far in such a relatively short amount of time isn't lost on me. If I were keeping a gratitude journal (like Oprah suggests), this would definitely be a big part of it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Packing Up / Moving Out

Reality is really starting to set in. In less than 48 hours, I will be in my own apartment. It's such an accomplishment, especially in New York. I'm incredibly excited, but also a little nervous. Am I going to miss Spencer? No. But I think it doesn't have anything to do with him. I am ready to not have a roommate at all. I'm ready to be on my own. I wish him the best - he and I just weren't compatible to live together. That type of forgiveness is something I've learned from Oprah :-)

Like I mentioned, the time is drawing close. My bedroom is a labyrinth of moving boxes, packing tape and bubble wrap. As if I didn't have too little space before, I just added a 42 inch TV to the clutter. They could either deliver it a week after I moved in or I could drag it from Best Buy on my own. I put it in a cab - the driver seemed really confused when I told him I only wanted to go 1 block. But he was really helpful.

I think things are really coming together. I've got the ConEdison and TimeWarner accounts set up. I'm picking up the keys tomorrow. I think that I'm ready for anything. Let's just hope things run smoothly.

The only thing that scares me is being alone. Don't get me wrong - I am glad that I won't have a roommate anymore. I just worry that being completely on my own is going to be a little lonely. Spencer and I don't talk much but I kinda like that idea that he's there. He's not a bad person, so I know that I could talk to him if I needed something. I'm sure these types of butterflies are typical. One thing for sure is this train is moving full steam ahead. There's no turning back now.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Farewell Oprah

I started watching Oprah towards the beginning of the end. I began watching because Antonio described her show as incredibly inspirational. I know that I have a tendency to be pretty impressionable. I tend to pick up gay icons like playing cards. But I could tell that there was something genuine about Oprah. Her show really touched me. At times I laughed, while others made me "ugly cry". I always felt better at the end of each episode - she always posed a new idea. She has such compassion and empathy for people. I would be proud to use her lessons as the model for me life.

In the short months that I watch, I really began to examine my life. She had one guest whose boyfriend shot her in the face. While she survived the attack, her face was permanently and heinously disfigured. Now, she gets up every morning and tries to help others. I thought how ridiculous it is that I feel sad and worthless because my muscles aren't big enough after watching her story. There was an update on one of Oprah's favorite guest - Mattie Stepanek. He had a rare form of muscular dystrophy and was confined to a wheelchair. He was so wise and took everything in stride even though he was just a little boy. Though a work in progress, that show inspired me to be more grateful for the life I have been given.

Last week was her last episode. It was a very sad moment for me. I felt like a child who was prohibited from going to school all the while wanting nothing more than to learn. I feel like Oprah has done so many great shows that could have shaped my life had I been watching during my formative years. I feel this intense sense of playing catch up. Luckily, her final show was a beautiful monologue of her the lessons Oprah has learned over the last 25 years.

I know that OWN is going to be full of programs that teach and uplift so I know that I will continue to grow.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I'm Back / Big Changes

I originally started blogging to remember all my important memories. I wanted to be able to look back and remember exactly how felt at a specific time in my life. For the past few months, I've been so busy. There have been some really big changes, but I've been too busy living my life to sit down and write about my life. I think it's time for a recap.

Work is going so well. I feel so fortunate to go to work every day at a place that I love. Martha has become a good friend. Jackie is so funny and sweet. Mike (I finally got his name right) and Andy are such cool guys. I love that we seem to have a really tight group. Connie, the help desk manager, also really surprised me. You'd think IT people are awkward, but she's fabulous and always makes me laugh. Tresa is more like a mother / friend than a boss. I feel lucky to be working with and learning from such a great woman. I think I've figured Pam out. She's a person, just like everyone else. I think that once I stopped being terrified of her and started being myself, things started to click. My personality is one of the main reasons they hired me, so why not let it shine through?

My new job has afforded me many new opportunities. One of the most exciting is the ability to move out on my own. Living with Spencer (or any roommate for that matter) is just not for me. I need to be on my own. After a relatively short search, I found a really great studio on 76th and 3rd. It's small, but it'll be my own. No more cleaning up after someone, no more feeling stuck in my room. It'll be total freedom and I really can't wait. I move in in about two weeks, so I'm busy taking care of all the boring stuff like logistics and the fun stuff like buying furniture and a new TV.

There are so many big changes going on, but I'm going to try to do a better job at keeping my blog up to date.

Monday, March 21, 2011

First Day at Corcoran

Today was my first day at Corcoran. I feel like it was a whirlwind. There was so much going on and so much to learn. At the same time, there was little for me to do. It'll take me some time to get the hang of everything. At Sinai, I knew all the assistants, the extensions, the locations. Now I have to start all over. That's scary! There were moments today when I second guessed myself. There were times when I thought that maybe I should have stayed at Sinai because it was comfortable and familiar. I know that these feelings are common. I also know that you need to challenge yourself in order to grow. It'll just take time.

The people are great so far. Tresa, one of my two bosses, is amazing. She has a very calming presence. She's a firecracker and has a great sense of humor. I think it's going to be great working with her. Nora, my other boss' full time assistant, seems very nice. I think she and I will work well together. Martha and Jackie are the two girls that sit in my area. Martha does event planning and Jackie does PR. They both seem great and very sweet. I'm hoping that we become friends. Wow, that sounds dorky. There are two guys that sit in my area - Andrew and Matt (Mike?). They're fun, but they mostly do their own thing. Lastly, Ann also works in PR. She's a little bit older, but seems very nice. She reminds me a lot of Susan Alter, so I think we'll get along. I feel a bit like an outsider, though I’m sure I felt that way when I first started at Sinai. Pam, my other boss, was out today. She's obviously the one that I really need to impress, so I'll be intimidated for quite a while.

I hate this feeling of “newness”. I want to know everything and be great right away. Feeling unsure and uncomfortable is not fun. I feel like I’ll be asked a million questions and unable to answer any of them. But that’s normal, right? I just need to take it one day at a time. I’m still very nervous, but also very excited. I think (and hope and pray) that this is the start of something great.