Saturday, April 30, 2011

Feeling Minnesota: Outsight's Last Waltz

Originally Posted on January 8, 2007

In December, Pride Alive's literary 'zine Outsight rolled out it's latest, and quite possibly it's last, edition. It's not because it has not been successful as a form outreach of by Minnesota AIDS Project's program geared towards gay and bisexual men. There has been some changes in the agency that has shelved this form of outreach for the time being.

I am blessed to be a part of this 'zine as a contributing writer and poet. For this last edition, my poem from The Boy From Reseda, "New Kid in Town", was re-printed for this edition. In addition, I wrote a humorous essay that is self-explanatory by its title: "Feeling Minnesota: How a California Native Can Flourish in Minnesota Without Really Trying".

In fact, you can read it right here...

Many people claim that Los Angeles is indeed paradise. Well, I’m a native Losangelino and I have to beg to differ. No offense to those who love Los Angeles, but there is a reasoning behind how I feel about my hometown.

There is a strange phenomena about those who grew up in Los Angeles and leave and those who come to Minnesota from anywhere in the world. It seems that all of us have a common want of experiencing a completely opposite universe than the one we grew up in. 

Perhaps it’s the flashbacks of certain videos by Richard Marx and Guns N’ Roses. Strapping young men who yearn for the big time only to exit the bus in Hollywood where they meet up with a whole new crazy world never seen “back home.” Just one glimpse at those Angelyne billboards on the Sunset Strip will make you feel right at home. Once these star struck hopefuls meander their way through rejection after rejection from the entertainment industry and the bronzed queens in West Hollywood, they eventually make it…after all.

For the native Losangelino, our jadedness and frustration with traffic, smog, celebrities, freeway chases and television helicopters induces a yearning for a simpler kind of life. After years of trying to locate this “simple life,” I landed in the Twin Cities. You cannot get any two metropolitan areas that are of a strange kinship than Minneapolis-St. Paul and Los Angeles. 

Why should I make this comparison between my birthplace and the place I currently call home? To begin with, there is also a “familiar” feel to The Cities that made my transition to Minnesota pretty easy. For example, there is a freeway system. The network of freeways in the Twin Cities certainly makes it easy to get around for the most part. Then again, there’s the interchange of I-35W and The Crosstown. When I head southbound on I-35W past 36th Street and I see the backup building, I can only think of the 405 at the Santa Monica Freeway. 

The one thing I’ve found interesting is that people in Minnesota simply do not know the art of merging. If you turn on your turn signal, the driver behind you will hold up traffic long enough to let you in. This is a refreshing change from when I learned how to drive on the freeways of Los Angeles. There, the mantra is “merge or die.”

Then, there’s a common behavioral trait among gay men in both Los Angeles and The Cities. Strangely enough, both communities share a certain passive-aggressive form of non-verbal communication that acts as both a self-defense mechanism and a form of self-preservation. If you walk into a bar in West Hollywood, and if you do not look attractive enough for a night cap, one look at you and they will turn up their nose without saying a word. This is called “Attitude.” If you walk into a bar in Minneapolis, the same guy may look at you, introduce himself, walk away and tell his friends “oh…he’s different.” This is prominently known as “Minnesota Nice.” 

The only difference between the two is that native Minnesotans learn this behavior as a tradition that is passed down through their ancestors spoken through church potlucks, recipe exchanges and the routine of shoveling snow from the driveway every winter. Perhaps this is why non-Minnesotans tend to gravitate to each other quite easily. 

So, how does a Californian handle the ever-changing climate of Minnesota? I had years of practice. You travel, and then live in other colder climate areas such as D.C. and Wisconsin. Through trial-and-error you succeed. Sure, you sweat through the summer and hope for an air-conditioned apartment the next time your lease runs out. You learn to skate on icy sidewalks and streets in your work shoes and break a fall when you lose traction. But, does one master the elements while living here? Frankly, I had people amazed that I can. 

Despite the climate, the local customs and the quality of driving, the most important thing about my life in Minnesota has been the wonderful core group of friends here. The gift of the Internet provided an early window on the world as I began to meet folks from all over the world and dream about various booty calls. Then, you travel and meet other people in their natural environment. In 1998, my first trip to The Cities was one of the happiest voyages I’ve ever taken. It was the beginning of some beautiful friendships. Every subsequent trip back here and to other common places where Minnesota bears just happen to be pretty much sealed the deal. 

There are some fantastic people who live here. I am glad that I had the chance to forge those friendships prior to relocating here. They made my transition much easier than anticipated.

After two years of officially becoming a Minnesota resident, I can honestly say that I am having the time of my life. So much has happened during this short time, it made up for the previous forty years wandering in the desert, on the beach, through the wilderness, into the swamp…and so forth! 

Perhaps there is a sign for those who wander into this state from everywhere else on the planet. One can look no further than the corner of Nicollet Mall and 7th Street at the effigy of the star of a hit television series from the 1970’s. As the theme song from that particular series featuring a certain Lake of the Isles resident who once sang: “you gonna make it after all.” 

Incidentally, she lives in Los Angeles.

My personal thanks goes out to Michael Lee at the Minnesota AIDS Project. My congratulations to you, my friend, in your new position.

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