When it comes to life encompassing black holes of depression and despair, it’s helpful to have a benchmark. It’s helpful to have a moment so damn bleak that nearly everything in comparison feels like a Smurfs cartoon. It’s helpful to remember these periods in your current life too so you don’t take it for granted or mistake temporary blahs as the end of the world. I’m lucky, and use that word with a wink and a shoulder shrug, that my 30th year on this planet was one of two personal benchmarks when it comes to despair.
The story goes like this: On November 30th, I turned 30 accompanied by the most over-the-top alcoholic birthday party ever stacked to the gills with drag queens, live bands, cocaine, family members and a trip to Disneyland. It was a happy weekend but that’s where it pretty much ended. By mid-December, I slipped into a depressive state so easily that I didn’t even know it at the time. Okay, okay. I was drunk 7 nights a week at this time so trying to figure out what was depression and what was just the remnants of the daily hangover was darn near impossible. Nevertheless, I was depressed and numb and incapable of feeling my life and when I did it felt like shit. I was working at the big theater complex in downtown Los Angeles at the time and thank god. I’d hide out and watch the LA Opera or listen to the philharmonic and cry in my usher uniform. I watched the touring production of 42nd Street so many times, I feel like I could still perform a one-man-show abridged version of it for you today. 42nd Street in Less Than 40 Seconds! In addition to the drama I watched on stage, there was plenty to be had in my real life. Unable to pay my bills, fighting with my boyfriend and generally being a hot drunk mess took up a lot of time and energy. The ongoing blahness of my life was so commonplace at this time that it was hard to remember when I felt anything else. Yet there are pockets of time that I remember, moments where I was giving it the old college try to feel better or at least feel something.
One such moment was Gay Pride weekend in 2003. By June, drinking and working at the the performing arts complex were all I really did. The social part of my alcoholism floated away with the birthday balloons and now it just served the purpose of erasing my days and knocking me out. Yet when it was announced that Cyndi Lauper was performing at Pride, I woke up. I HAD to go. Cyndi Lauper was everything to me as a kid. She sent me a message in videos like “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and “She-Bop” that it was okay to be a big, loud colorful weirdo and to be myself. I credit her for letting me follow the beat of my own drum at an early age. Therefore, my attendance at her performance the night before the parade was mandatory.
As sworn Eastsider who avoided West Hollywood at all costs, I sucked it up for Cyndi. I worked a matinée that day and then hopped on a bus from downtown LA. I stopped at the liquor store for a mini-bottle (or two or three) of vodka before entering the festival. While waiting for Cyndi to go on and my friends to show up, I wandered around drinking and watching random second stage acts. I distinctly remember being impressed by the Mary Jane Girls. By “Mary Jane Girls” I mean like one of the originals– the talented JoJo to be precise, along with a few new girls. “JoJo and Some Other Bitches” just didn’t have the marquee value of The Mary Jane Girls though. Nevertheless, I thought they were amazing. I mean if you could survive both Rick James and the blistering midday sun all while nailing a performance of “Candyman”, you deserved all the applause possible.
By the time the sun went down, I found my people. I know there was more drinks involved. I know Cyndi looked incredible. I know we were sort of bummed that most of her set was remixed super-gay dance versions of her most popular songs. I know we left and drank more. But as far as the other details of that night, I can’t help you. That’s a another bi-product of a year spent under the blankets of depression: the precise moments seem to melt into one blob of ickiness. What I am sure of today in 2017 is that I felt let down by the moment, overall. At the time, I thought it was all the gay pride hoopla and circumstance that left me feeling flat. Gay Pride in West Hollywood is always more of a corporate affair that could rub even the most optimistic homos the wrong way. Of course, now I know it wasn’t gay pride. It wasn’t West Hollywood. It sure the hell wasn’t Cyndi. It was me.
The combo platter of raging alcoholism and depression made everything feel like a bummer. There wasn’t enough cocaine, tequila, glitter or 80’s music to make me better. Yet somehow, I hung onto this life of despair, in varying degrees for another 6(!!!!) years. Things got a whole hell of a lot worse before they got better, as is usually the case. I never made it back to gay pride in West Hollywood which had more to do with the headliners than any resentment towards the festival. More depressingly, I haven’t seen Cyndi Lauper again in concert. I feel like I owe myself a Cyndi amends for sure. But as far as feeling and really getting this idea of Pride? I think I know it now more than ever.
Being sober, HIV positive, married and expressing myself like I always wanted to as a kid is a life I could have never imagined. I feel freer at 44 on zero drugs than I ever did bombed out of my mind in my 20’s. I’m actually proud of myself as a gay man and sobriety has truly helped me get there. Not sure if that’s what Cyndi had in mind when she sang, “Your true colors are beautiful like a rainbow” but that’s certainly what it means to me today.