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Twenty years ago this August,  I moved to West Hollywood.

I came for a lot of reasons, mostly because I’d lost the life I’d spent years making for myself.  What I found here was life as I’d never imagined living it.  Life here is still hard sometimes.  They still charge rent – too much, if you ask me.  There are lines at the grocery store.   The traffic gets snarled and parking is a pain here, same as everywhere else.  But West Hollywood offers me something I didn’t come looking for because I didn’t know it was on offer.

In West Hollywood, I’m nothing special.

Oh, I’m still my special unique self.  As you might expect from our storied geography, special is the norm here.  There’s tons of movie and TV stars, singers, musicians, directors, writers, poets, rappers.  You name it, we’re all right here.  I love living in the midst of dreams and creativity.  Hollywood’s on one side, Beverly Hills is to the west.  My next door neighbor is Johnny Depp.  The Vanity Fair Oscar party takes place across the street.  When the helicopters were over Paris Hilton’s house, they were over mine.

But more than any of that, you can’t sling a dead cat in this town without hitting gay.  I don’t know if gay people are even the majority in West Hollywood, but there are so many of us here, it’s impossible to stand out just for being gay.  I didn’t get to grow up in a gay home.  I didn’t go to a gay school.  God knows, there’s no gay church.  There was no place where I ever felt like I really belonged.  And, as you may have noticed, there’s been considerable effort over the years to make gay people feel even less welcome pretty much everywhere.

Here, not so.

Here I get to shine for being who I am.  Being gay isn’t really an important or interesting fact about me in West Hollywood.  It’s like being a southerner in Atlanta – still charming but just not that remarkable.  I love it.

West Hollywood has changed my life.  Here, I get to forget about this one relatively minor aspect of who I am that gets made such a big deal of in so many other places.  In West Hollywood, I get to be me.  If people take note or ignore me here, it’s for who I am or am not, for what I do or don’t do, for the choices I make.  Not because of something I had no control over.

With the changes that are happening in the world today, I hope that West Hollywood will spread and that gay people will get to be not special where ever we go and live.

In tribute to this place that has come to feel like home for me in a way that I didn’t even know was possible, I’m starting a series of interrelated short stories based the city, its residents and my time here.  As with the rest of this blog thing, we’ll see how it goes.

I’d thought of calling it 90069, our unintentionally obvious zip code.  But I’ve settled on a different name.  It’s based on my first address here.  Let me know what you think of the name and the stories.  It’s fiction.  But, I hope, it will be an accurate portrait of this city that beckoned me home to a place I’d never been a minute before I arrived.

Welcome to:                        Sweetzer Court

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1 ~ Sans

Los Angeles was everything he’d hoped and less.

It felt like he could breathe for the first time.  The light seemed different somehow.  Perhaps it was the angle.  Maybe it was just not filtered through the haze of bigotry and hypocrisy at the other end of the highway he’d followed there.

I-20 begins in Florence, South Carolina, his home town.  It merges with the 10 in The-Middle-of-Nowhere, Texas and comes to an end in the tawny enclave of Santa Monica on the west side of Los Angeles.

Sanders Aiken Nicholson Santee — Sans to his friends — got on the 20 when there was nothing left for him at home but bad memories.  The journey had been as liberating as it was unplanned.

His life had exploded.  Everything he’d worked for since graduating from college was ripped from his hands.  There was nothing to do but run away.   Although, in truth, he’d been forced to leave.

Los Angeles was the end of the road.  Literally.  He got off the freeway, had a look at Venice, drove east on Santa Monica Boulevard back through Westwood and Beverly Hills.  He stopped for lunch in West Hollywood at a restaurant called The Silver Spoon.

The thing that struck Sans most as he drove into the city was the lack of a city.  There was no there, there.  As he crossed the country he saw city after city, each unique but all the same.  Each sprouted like a nipple, peaked at the center and radiated out to identical edges.  All had the same stores, fast food polyps and housing blemishes.  All were laid out from greatest concentration to least.  Traversing each was the same.  There was more and more and then there was less and less until there was no more, over and over.

But Los Angeles wasn’t like that.  It was all less and then more less.  There was no center.

Sans felt lost and free.  The city seemed to dismiss expectations by not meeting them.

He’d heard of West Hollywood all his life — well, he paid attention since puberty arrived with a surprise package.  Body hair, wet dreams and you’re in love with your best friend, Roy – Surprise! He’d never denied his sexuality; he just never mentioned it.  California in general and West Hollywood in particular loomed like legends.  It was a magical land where people didn’t hate almost everyone and everything in the name of their god of love.

Sans hoped the legends were true.

As he sat alone at this table at The Silver Spoon, he looked around at the other diners.  An old movie star he’d thought was dead, a mom and dad with their kids, two women kissing, two men holding hands waiting to be seated – all were of equal value.  There was no shock.  There were no stares.  Well, other than Sans’.

He peered at the marvelous alien landscape around him over the top of the newspaper he’d bought out front.

“What are you looking for?” the waiter asked, stopping by to refill Sans’ iced tea.

“I’m sorry?” Sans answered, reddening, caught.

“The classifieds?” the waiter said, giving the paper a thump.

“Oh, that,” Sans laughed.  “I’m looking for an apartment.  I’m new to town.”

“Really?” the waiter said with a meaningful grin that Sans missed.  “Well, that’s not how you find an apartment in LA.”

“Oh?”

“The best way is to go to the neighborhood you like and walk around,” the waiter explained.  “Write down the phone numbers from the For Rent signs and call them.”

“What neighborhoods do you like?” Sans asked, looking for the code.

“This one’s great,” the waiter answered with a sly smile.

Could he be? Sans wondered of the waiter.  It was hard to be a part of an invisible minority.

After lunch, Sans tossed the paper into his car.  He set out into the neighborhood in the landscape that rose behind the restaurant.

The Hollywood Hills begin their steep incline just north of Santa Monica Boulevard, the Main Street of West Hollywood.  Sans wandered up the gentle grade for a bit of sightseeing.  He could hardly believe the waiter’s notion.  Ads and rental services seemed a much more sensible way to go about finding a place in a new and unfamiliar city.

It took West Hollywood a little more than two blocks to change his mind.  Up one block, over one and up a little farther, there it was.  The sign out front said “Sweetzer Court, bachelor and 1 br for rent.”

It was a strange building, a little out of place on the block.  It was surrounded by huge glassy modern structures, pocked with balconies.  The one immediately next door was an embarrassing leftover from the pastel and glass block architecture of the Miami Vice era that would have been more at home in South Beach.

Sweetzer Court was a cross between the familiar Victorian architecture Sans remembered from back home in the South and the pictures he’d seen of the Alhambra in Spain.  The asymmetrical profile of the building seemed almost whimsical.  Tile roofed turrets protruded from walls and corners and sprouted on the roof like a fairy ring of mushrooms.   The walls were scored with mismatched windows and sculpted from stucco, not the clapboard he knew from home.

As he stood on the street out front, the building gave Sans the feeling of back lot facade or stage set more than a real place.  The archway that opened onto the street led into a motor court that reminded him of the movie Sabrina.  The circle of narrow ports opened onto a jigsaw of terracotta tile and cement medallions grouted with wide bands of grass.  Above, a gallery lined with windows and numbered doors looked down through clouds of magenta bougainvillea blossoms onto the fanciful car park.

The sound of splashing water beckoned Sans through the second barrel archway.  Flanked with brass mailboxes, set into cracked and gap-toothed blue and white mosaic tiles, the little passage opened onto a second courtyard.  The forbidding iron gate stood open, like a hand extended.  Sans could not resist.

He stepped through into a secret garden, at once frowsy and grand.

Old roses, unkempt and heavy with white blossoms tangled around the pilasters and railings of the double galleries that bounded the plaza on three sides.  The same grass grouted medallions radiated out from a moldy looking tile fountain at center court.  Two cherubs, on the backs of entwined dolphins, spit water onto the tile and lilies below them.  The water drained lazily through notches in the four sides of the central square pool below the angelic pair.  The water collected in a cross shaped pond surrounding the angels set even with the ground.  Gold and white koi flashed against the blue and white tile at Sans feet.

It was a place of magic and it held its new visitor in its thrall.

“Hello.”

Sans cried out.

The cough tinged laughter was deeper and more elegant than the voice that had given Sans such fright.

“I’m so sorry,” Sans apologized, ever the southerner.  “I didn’t mean to intrude.  I just couldn’t resist.  Such a perfect place.  ”

“You must be the new tenant,” the man said drawing nearer.  The panama hat he wore cast a shadow over his face that made it hard to make out his features.  There was a grandeur to his manner that put Sans at ease in the way that knowing the words to a prayer gave him a sense of his place in the universe.

“I’d love to be,” Sans said, taking the hand that was offered.  “I’ve only just gotten here.  I saw the sign and, well, here I am.”

“Georgia?”

“South Carolina,” Sans blushed.  “Mouth full of grits?”

“I love southern boys,” the man smiled.  He looked past Sans though he still held his hand.  “That accent.  I had a beau from Savannah, a sailor.  Drove up from San Diego so he could come out without getting found out.  But that was more than your lifetime ago.  I’m Randolph, welcome to the Sweetzer Court.  I’m sure you’ll be very happy here.”  He gave Sans’ hand another little shake, more an embrace, with both of his.

“No, I’m not the new tenant,” Sans said.  He laughed nervously.

“Dear boy, I’ll decide that,” Randolph said, releasing Sans’ hand.  “You’re looking aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir,” Sans nodded.

“Sir,” Randolph laughed.  “You’ll make me feel old.”

“Sorry, sir, I mean . . .”

“And you like it here don’t you?” Randolph spread his hands to include their exotic and homely surroundings.

“I love it,” Sans grinned, nodding.

“Then welcome home,” Randolph said, lacing his arm into Sans.  “I’ll make us some tea and you can tell me what you can afford.  I’m sure that we’ve got something in this rambling old heap that will suit.  I’ve got a sense about these things.”

 

To be continued . . .

 

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Words are how I enter the world.

I actually thought I was going to be an actor.  I still do a little bit.  I miss it a lot.  When I was a baby, before I could sit up on my own, I would recite poetry.  I did a particularly stirring Owl and the Pussycat, I’m told.

I loved the power of words from the start.  I could talk at six months but didn’t walk until I was three.  Why get up when you can just ask for it?  But alas, I could not seem to learn to spell or punctuate and still don’t know which sides the knife and the fork go on or which way is west with consistency.  And so I fell in love with the power of the spoken word.  Stage left and camera right never change no matter which way you’re facing, so I felt at home there.

It was acting that brought me to writing where I discovered the power of creation that exists there as nowhere else.  Writing brings whole new worlds into existence and invents the future through collective dreams.  There were no submarines when Jules Verne wrote 10,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea or pocket communicators when Gene Roddenberry put them into the hands of Captain Kirk and his crew.  Today we’ve been to the bottom of the Marianas Trench and our pocket communicators have become so ubiquitous they are arguably our single greatest addiction issue.

Still, writing is sort of an accidental career for me.  When I was in college I got a part time job as a writer.  Given my abilities or lack thereof,  I’d never pursued it.  I took one writing course in college because they made me.  I couldn’t diagram a sentence, still can’t.  I can’t even think why you’d want to.  It just never occurred to me that I might be qualified to write.

So, when everyone else in school was getting a job waiting tables — I tried to get one, too — I found myself in need of employment and short of employable skills.  In the free time that unemployment offered, I auditioned for a production of Wild Oats that was being mounted near my college.  I got cast.  The director, who owned an ad agency, hired me.  I wrote copy, ran errands and answered the phone often, as it turned out, at the same time.

I’ve been writing ever since.  Writing for advertising and public relations lead me to writing plays of my own — some for client trade shows, some just to live in my bottom desk drawer.  I began writing an arts and entertainment column for the Free Times, a local entertainment tabloid.  My words there got me hired to do arts and entertainment reporting on-air for the local NBC affiliate WIS with my own weekly feature Backstage with Eric Shaw Quinn — catchy right?

With the three jobs and continuing to act and direct, I found myself with Saturday mornings free.  An idea came to me one day born out of my own vague attempts to grow up — I’m still working on that one.  I’d always considered that being gay was more incidental than significant and I just figured that I’d have basically the same experience as everyone else save that it would be me and another man rather than me and a woman, but the rest of the details, I assumed, would be the same.

But when I didn’t meet him in college and marry him after graduation as I’d planned, I began to see that it really was different.  I wondered about some of those other details, not the least of which: children.

Would I? And if I did, what would that be like?

I began to explore those ideas on paper.  Yellow pads and pilot razor points, one page at a time, it became my first novel Say Uncle, the story of a gay man raising a child.  Given the prevailing political climate, it was some time before it was published.  But when it happened, the time was right.  I actually got my first movie deal with Propaganda Films before the book came out.  I even got hired to write the screenplay.  I got the chance to work with the legendary director John Schlesinger and to collaborate with the sublime Lewis Colick and the sublimely funny Amy Heckerling on the script.  Several drafts and several years later, with Amy stepping in to direct and Billy Crystal ready to play the lead, the studio was sold and my beloved Say Uncle was delayed in coming to the screen.  Someday.

The book was a critical success, but it was the readers that really made it worth the wait.  People came to my appearances to get their books signed and to ask me parenting questions! I could not have been more surprised or delighted.  Probably my favorite moment from the book so far came rather anonymously, in line at the San Francisco airport several years after the book’s publication.  I had been E-ticketed and presented my driver’s license to the man working at the desk.  Noting my name, but without any other explanation or a mention of Say Uncle, he began telling me the story of how he and his partner had adopted and were raising a little boy.

Imagining a future into being.

When I wrote the book, courts were taking people’s actual children from them because they were choosing to be true to themselves and live as out gay people.  Today “Gay-bies” are as common as tight tee shirts in the gay community.  I don’t think that Say Uncle caused that, but I hope it helped to.

With the movie deal off and my editor departed from my publisher, the sequel to Say Uncle languished.  Don’t Ask Don’t Tell had made bigotry a bumper sticker and there were growing numbers of people who called themselves Christians but who spoke mostly of hatred and intolerance.  My father, in an effort to help me see that there was maybe room in the tent for all of God’s children, pointed out to me the stories of the books of Samuel and the verse that inspired me to write my next original novel.

And it came to pass that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David

and Jonathan loved him as he loved his own soul.

Then Jonathan and David made a covenant,

because he loved him more than he loved his own soul.

1 Samuel 18:1 & 3

It has taken some years to complete this rather ambitious project, I knew nothing of 10th Century BC Israel, let alone the bible.  I’m not even Jewish.  So there was a lot to learn.

In the interim, I worked with the producers of the television series Queer as Folk to write two original novels based on the early lives of the show’s characters, Never Tear Us Apart and Always Have Always Will.  My work on those books brought me to a new publisher and the racy content caught the attention of my next collaborator.

I was driving home from the gym one day when the cell phone rang and a young woman asked me if I was available to meet with Pamela Anderson’s manager.  Well who could say no to that?

One thing led to another and before you can say “boob job” I was sitting across the lunch table from Pancho, Lefty and the girl they’ve taken along for the ride, Pam.  I wrote my next two books the hit Star and the unfortunate Star Struck based on a series of breakfasts with the then most famous woman in the world.  I was supposed to work as a ghostwriter, but Miss Anderson said no one would believe she had written the books and she did not have room in her closet for any more secrets.  She outed me on Jay Leno and very generously took me on a book tour quite unlike any I’ve experienced so far.  So, if you read Pam’s books and thought they were hot and sexy, that’s me.  In the end it wasn’t my favorite experience.  Still, I’m a New York Times best seller now, so there’s that for the obituary at least though by then I fear no one will remember what the New York Times was.

After the Pam project subsided, shall we say, I found myself with that pesky free time again.  It was a new century but despite huge cultural changes for gay people, civil rights were and are still not among them and the bible is regularly used to justify bigotry and worse.  That verse from Samuel came back to me and the time seemed right.

It’s several years later.  Star Crossed is written.  I know way more about the bible and the laws of Leviticus and ancient Israel than I’d ever thought I would.  What will happen next? I can only imagine.

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