The Last Time I Saw Paris

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Let’s get this out of the way: the following post has nothing to do with the glamorous Elizabeth Taylor film in the title other than the fact I’ve pretty much always wanted my whole life to be an Elizabeth Taylor film. No, the title in this case is quite literal. The last time I saw Paris, I was 20 years old.

While I suppose a blow-by-blow account of a love tinged trip to the city of lights wherein I came of age and not only found a new city but found myself(insert barf face emoji) would be just damn delightful, I have no such recollection. Thanks to the mountain of drugs ingested in the 1990’s I recall very little of that era. I mean if you’re gonna do drugs might as well do so many that you experience memory loss. That’s what I always say. Well, when I remember to say it. Yet what survives from that era is the feeling of who I was. 
The faces, names and places might be gone. But the emotional landscape of Sean Mahoney, age 20 is something I’ve never forgotten. Just a small town gay boy in oversized raver denim, I realize now that that kid had the deck stacked against him. A shook up soda pop bottle of a human, he bounced from place to place and person to person. Panning for gold in goth clubs, raves, bathhouses, gay bars, on stage, he spent a shit ton of time searching for someone to say, “You are alright.” 

So thank god for drugs. I say this a lot in what sounds like jest but I absolutely mean it. See, without drugs I would have never came out of shell or maybe ever came of the closet. Drugs helped moved past my big, gay effeminate self. Drugs connected me to people and gave me friends. Drugs created a better reality than the harsh shitbox one that was always lurking for me when I came down. 
By the time I got to Paris at age 20, drugs had already put me through the ringer. Broken up and gotten back together several times by that age me and drugs were like the aforementioned actress and Richard Burton. I’m Liz in this scenario, just so we’re clear. Coming off my first summer of meth(because it took me two full insanity soaked summers of meth to figure out how much that drug sucks. Some people go to Hamptons every summer. I did meth.) I scooted off to Europe to find myself that fall. I was with a close friend and the trip as a whole, from what I can remember, was good. But somewhere inside of me at that time I knew I was sort of in trouble as far as the whole drugs thing went. The pendulum always swung from fun to problematic pretty quickly in those days. This break was supposed to help figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with my 20 year old self. 

I know now that the idea of knowing who you are and what you want at that age is utter horseshit. I was a lost satellite and dancing and doing drugs at least provided some direction. So I did that in Europe too. But we did all the other Europey things as well. I remember eating gelato in Venice and having my mind blown open. I remember finally finishing Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon on that trip and having mind blow open even further. 

As far as Paris itself goes, it’s more of a fuzzy slideshow that lives on. The smallness of the Mona Lisa, the magazine stands on the Champs Eylsse, the view of the Effiel tower across the river, an old lady yelling at me to take off my hat inside Notre Dame, a croissant here and there. 

What didn’t happen is me finding myself. In fact, I came back more lost than ever. Only gone for a month, life moved quickly among me and rave going, drug doing friends. One group who dabbled in heroin back in May now seemed lost for good in October. Another group who had a meth fueled misunderstanding were now permanently at odds. And me and my friend who I traveled with drifted when we got back. Making things worse was the fact that I was not yet 21 and many of my closest pals were now able to go to bars. I would remain lost in Denver, the city I grew up in, until age 22 when I moved to Los Angeles.

Thus the last time I saw Paris was a blip and blur but luckily I get to see it again! Now nearly 45 years old, sober and married this post comes from you on a plane to Chicago. My decidedly epic travel day will take me from Portland to Chicago to London and finally Vienna where we will be for five cake and museum filled days. Next, we’ll take a two day jaunt to Amsterdam and finally end up in Paris. 
Travel, as I’ve mentioned before, is one of my passions and one I share with my husband. We do it extremely well together. Part comedy act, part reality show, we have found a balance in travel that works and one that is downright enjoyable. I’m traveling with a person who routinely says, “You are alright.” And that is something I didn’t have at age 20. Make that two people.

Unlike Sean age 20, I am no longer lost. I know who I am. I’m not slowly killing myself. I give less of a fuck about what other people think and I even kind of like myself.  This is all excellent news whether I’m seeing Paris again or napping on my sofa. 

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swim toward the light

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Wander around on a dark beach with two sweet ladies from West Texas long enough and you’re bound to find something miraculous. That or you’ll twist your ankle, whatever comes first. Nevertheless, that’s what I found myself doing on Friday night. While most tourists were shaking their stuff at local nightclubs, the husband, the aforementioned Texans, myself and a guide were wandering around a Puerto Vallarta beach in the dark. The task at hand? Sea turtles. Baby ones, to be exact. The husband saw the “awwww!” look on my face when he mentioned a tour that worked with a sea turtle rescue and responded by booking said tour. From July to about December, big mama sea turtles pop up all over the shores of Puerto Vallarta, kinda like American tourists but better dressed. That guy I married and I often say to one another,”It’ll be an adventure.” This can apply to going into a really sketchy looking discount store or waiting in line at the post office or, in this case, helping sea turtles.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: sea turtles who have been doing their thang on the shores of the planet for thousands of years certainly know what the hell they’re doing so why do they need people to help them? Thanks to our polluting and generally destructive asses, sea turtles are in trouble. So if we can make laying more eggs easier, protect those eggs and then help these little infants back into the ocean, we can hopefully grow the species as a whole and therefore reverse a teeny bit of the fuckery we’ve caused these poor creatures by ruining their oceans and hunting them.

Our five person turtle loving brigade walked along a stretch of beach populated by posh hotels and the obligatory white people who come along with them. Our mission? To see if we could find any mammas laying eggs. The tour doesn’t promise you’ll see this phenomenon and wisely so. These mothers are on their own schedule and won’t pop ’em out just so some family from Pomona can snap photos for their Instagram pages. But we optimistically trudged along the sand anyway. It was warm and quiet, the kind of beach quiet you can buy if you’ve got enough cash. I’m more of a hustle and bustle type so we were staying in a part of the city that actually looked like Mexico and less like glamour Burbank by the sea. After no sighting and with one of our Texas ladies exhaustedly taking solace under a tiki covered patio, we started to head back to the nursery. It wasn’t going to be a complete wash. The rescue had set aside a bucket of flapping baby sea turtles that we could release when we returned.

As we walked, we ran into a 40-something Owen Wilson type and his equally blonde girlfriend crouched down in the sand with flashlights. The pair, along with some Solo cup clenching randoms, had stumbled on a hatching nest of baby sea turtles. Hundreds of them, as a matter of fact. Their ingenious but totally uninvolved mother buries the eggs by the dozens in the sand so when they hatch they spring up, in the words of our guide, “like popcorn.” And boy did they. The little guys kept crawling out of the sand, one by one. The minute you thought it had to be the end of this adorable family reunion, a bunch more would show up with sand covered heads and their itty bitty slits-for-eyes just barely opened. We’d pick them up and place them in the bucket, seen below. With their funny flapping arms and soft rubbery shells,  I fell in love about 300 times that night  as I placed them gently in this plastic waiting room before they went out into the world by themselves.

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We were instructed not to use our flash as turtles use the light of the moon to guide them and a bunch of flashing lights could really disorient the little fellas. All on their own and without parents, these babies would learn to swim, eat and come back to shores like this one. It was all instinct and mystery and had nothing to do with me. What our group of five could do was help them out of the bucket. Turtle by turtle, we watched them flap, stumble and march towards the surf like little soldiers. In fact, they were off to quite the battle. Our guide informed us, because of predators, mainly shady birds which we saw earlier in the night nibbling on turtle eggs, only one in one hundred would survive. Our guide stood in the tide holding her flashlight acting as a beacon to hopefully direct turtle traffic into the water.”They’ll swim towards the light,”she said and gosh darn it despite being only alive for a few moments they did precisely that. Waves rushed in and swooped some of them in the water. Others walked with purpose into the ocean. And a few more sort of meandered, taking their time and often required additional help getting near the water. I think we know which group I identified with.

As we wished them well on their journey, it struck me that really none of our odds are very good but somehow some of us make it. If you’ve beat cancer, you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve come back from the brink of mental illness, you know what I’m talking about. And if, like me, you’ve somehow managed to stay sober you know what I’m talking about. Over the last nearly eight years, I know I’ve had tons of people help me out of metaphorical plastic buckets, brush the sand off me and guide me towards the light. My chance for survival if I try to do anything alone are not very damn good.  Hobbling along alone in the dark, whether human or sea turtle, fucking sucks. Sure, instinct will help a turtle out but we people? We need one another.

2016 has felt like a never-ending process of me swimming towards the light. Despite darkness, difficulty and a brain that really wants to uses drugs and drink until it explodes, I’ve somehow kept swimming. From job stuff and life stuff to Orlando and the election to the recent death of my grandmother, the battle to fend off depression and addiction and alcoholism has kept me on my muthafucking toes this year. Any more time on my toes and the damn Bolshoi will be calling me. Yet it’s all part of the gig called life. A gig I’m lucky to have.

Our trip back to the nursery got delayed–twice. The not-guaranteed-but-wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if sighting of a mother turtle laying eggs happened! Two gals, one successful and one who sort of fell asleep during the process and didn’t really seal the deal (again, I identify), laid eggs. Just like that: more little lives, more daunting odds and more trips towards the light were set in motion. The whole journey humbled me and my own does too. It puts a lump in my throat when I think about how many people have held up the light for me. Inexplicably, dozens of folks in person, online and even people I don’t know have lit the way and told me to keep swimming. If you’re reading this, you are probably one of those people. Thank you for that. Seriously. I cannot do any of this alone. I’ve felt so much love in the most trying and horrible times of this year, it truly knocks me out. Like those little guys on the beach in Mexico, I could do it by myself but your help makes it a fuck ton easier.

And just so you know, I’d gladly stumble around in the dark and hold up the light for you too.

vamos

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Leaving is supposed to be my specialty. Getting the hell out of Dodge is something that I am naturally programmed to do better than the average person. As a Sagittarius, shooting my arrows in the air, the ability to pack up and bounce at a moment’s notice should be second nature. Yet there’s a part of me that’s decidedly cozy and likes to stay put. I hesitate to use words like reclusive or sedentary but yeah I will fully channel my human mushroom, if given the chance. Sometimes, my idea of an exotic destination is a new position on the couch as I binge watch a ridiculous reality show for hours on end. Not moving or going anywhere sounds really damn appealing a lot of the time. It also sounds a lot like another word. The “I” word. You know the one they caution against in rehab and therapy sessions and 12 step meetings? Isolation. Isolating is a big time no-no for folks like me who have the my flavor of mental health specialness. Therefore I gotta keep it in check. Admittedly, living a life under a pile of cats and blankets after the few weeks I’ve had is an incredibly appealing idea. Oh but the Universe, the tricky little vixen that she is, has other plans.

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In May, the husband, the ever diligent researcher and deal hunter, found amazing flights to Mexico. We didn’t think twice about it and we booked a trip to Puerto Vallarta for October. The thought was we’d probably need a little fall break. That turned out to be a really fucking great thought. As many of you know, my grandmother died last week. It was a heart wrenching but beautiful time that left me utterly exhausted. So much family, so much sorting through old cabinets and boxes, so much crying. So much. While I don’t know how someone feels after dying (I’ll be sure to write a blog post about that when it happens) I do know that it sure is an emotional marathon for everyone else. The weirdness around all of it alone is sure to wear a person out. Each day brings about a new WTF conversation and series of revelations that,while oddly entertaining,are certainly trying. Death creates some kind of twilight zone of emotions where the grieving say and do really odd things. It’s all okay because grief is happening and it is all part of the process. Needles to say however the process can really make your ass tired. So me and my tired ass are really excited to step on an airplane on Tuesday morning. If sun, sand, a trashy book, tacos and time away won’t recharge my batteries than I’m not sure what will.

Leaving and getting the fuck out of here is a recurring theme right now for me. Not only did my grandmother beautifully find the right time to say, “Adios!” But other things are leaving too. As if it wasn’t enough that we live on a planet wherein both Bowie and Prince left and are not coming back, other things are hitting the road too. The Obamas are days away from packing up their shit. The leaves are falling off one by one. And some of my old mental garbage has, thankfully, skipped town too. 2016 has forced me to get the hell over myself. Being obsessed about what people think or fighting change at every turn are just worn out patterns at this point that are serving me little or no purpose. Last year at this time I was in the hospital. A skinny and nearly dying bag of bones whose butt had been spanked hard by pneumonia, I had to think long and hard about what I wanted to change and what I want to hang onto. What I came up with is some of my crap needed to be left behind if I wanted to be happy. I couldn’t turn into a human Netflix-watching statue even though I really wanted to.

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Thus here I am. All of the writing of the last few months, all of the travel, all of the “holy shit this is different” life changes have dropped me in this moment. A moment where I’m leaving for Mexico in two days. A moment where even bigger life changes waiting for me when I get back. The truth is my romanticized human mushroom existence isn’t actually something I want. When I first got sober, I’d hear people say that their lives got bigger. That sounded incredible. My life was so tiny and depressing at the end. I wanted things to be bigger and to be able to leave and experience life, even the shitty parts. Well, I got the big life I wished for. Sometimes it’s so big that it feels like my life is Marmaduke and I’m the sadly drawn stressed out family just trying it reign it all in.

Yes, I am leaving in 2 days and will back in 8. This blog, my podcast and my life where I currently feel like I need a seatbelt, will all be back too. My grandmother and so many others who have left this year, sadly, will not be back. I guess it’s easy to feel abandoned. The heartbreak around that is authentic and appropriate. But the truth is we all leave. The trick is: what do we do until then? How do we savor every second of this massive life in between times of coming and going? I have no idea but I do know sometimes you just have to leave.

Long Train Running (or not)

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This is a train story.

This a travel story.

This is a horror story.

This is a love story.

This is a train story.

We, the husband and me, decided we needed to get the hell out of Dodge. Okay we don’t live in Dodge and I’m too lazy to look up where that expression comes from. But we needed to leave town. Not because we’re on the lam or because we accidentally murdered someone. We  simply needed to GTFO of Denver for a few days to breathe. A couple of months ago, we booked a train to go up to the mountains. Me the lover of old movies and reader of books has always romanticized the train in my mind. I have ridden trains in the past and somehow I always forget their kind of sketchy, sort of smell bad and pretty unreliable. My mind, instead, shoves trains into some unrealistic Ingrid Bergman Movie folder. Just hand me a magically never-ending cigarette and a jaunty hat and I will be on my way. All aboard!

This is a travel story.

In this, our fifth year of marriage, we made a decision to travel more. The thought hit us last winter when we were freezing our asses off that maybe we should go somewhere warm. Since then, we’ve made it a priority. Or more of a priority, shall I say. Travel has always been a part of our relationship. When we first met I was living in Los Angeles and he was living in the town I was born in Denver. After a few months of mutually bouncing back and forth between the two towns, we decided we had to make a decision. We picked Denver because of my family being here as well as Michael’s job and because of the ridiculously cheaper rent in comparison. From New York and San Francisco to Santa Fe and several times back to my old stomping grounds in Los Angeles, travel has continued to be something we love to do together. I mean without tooting our own horn (blowing our own train whistle as the case may be) we’re pretty good at the whole travel thing. We don’t yell at each other in airport terminals. We know when to shut up and let the other one read or nap. We keep each other sane during some of travel’s more mundane and annoying delays.  And during this train ride, we needed to pool all of those talents to hang onto our sanity.

The ride was supposed to be a little over six hours with a nice view of the mountains and little towns on the way up. After a delay, leaving the station downtown we were off to a slow start chugging slowly through train yards and downtown outskirts. I hadn’t been on a train in a while but it didn’t seem like this old fella was running at full capacity. But what the hell did I know? My actual knowledge of trains existed only in fiction.

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My instinct was right. Something funky was going on with our train. About two hours into the ride, around 11am, we stopped. Stopped like completely stopped moving. An announcement, the first of thousands, came on to inform us that something with the engine went kaput. We were going to have to wait for someone from Denver to come up on another train to bring a new engine. Shouldn’t be more than an hour or two. At this time, I’d like to direct you, dear reader, to the photo at the top of the page. That’s my husband looking at the pile of rocks and mountain scenery we would be staring at for the next 6 hours.

This is a horror story. 

Somewhere around hour five when the girl in front of my was picking unknown matter out of her arm with turquoise colored tweezers, I feared I had lost my mind. We left our house at 6am and it was now 5pm. The other passengers marched around the train cars like the undead from some zombie movie. I’m vague with the reference here because I’ve never seen a zombie movie. No, really. I haven’t. The concept of zombies just doesn’t scare me. Things that could actually happen like getting killed by a freak who escaped from a mental institution while you’re babysitting on Halloween or a shark eating you or aliens killing everybody but Sigourney Weaver. Or getting trapped in a train with no cell service. Those things scare me. Zombies? Not so much. But I digress. The point was people walked aimlessly from train car to train car. Some passed so many times we wondered if there was more than one of them, like twins or clones. Like the white guy with cornrows who must have done the Amtrak equivalent of a half marathon. The idea of multiple white guys on the train with cornrows was hysterical to Michael and I. But then again, everything was funny after looking at the same pile of rocks for hours on end. The never-ending announcements for dining car reservation were hilarious. Ditto the guys with bowl cuts and carpenter jeans and suspenders who were clearly having a walking competition with Cornrows. A kid outside on a scooter, who we joked rode all the way to Denver and back while we stayed in the same place, was also comedy gold. Even for our sad face selfie, I couldn’t stop laughing.

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I had to rally,accept our utter stuckness and lean into the ridiculousness of the day. I mean if the really angry guy behind us with the perm, mustache, jorts and Pink Floyd t-shirt could keep it together, so could I. With no cell service and the inability to tweet (the horror!) we had to laugh and lean on each other in lieu of totally mentally collapsing. Somewhere around 7pm-ish, our luck started to change. The engine from Denver showed up! We finally made it to our first stop! And the amazing full moon and sunset were happening just as well pulled in. As the smokers who looked as if they were ready to murder someone puffed away furiously, I snapped this picture.long train.jpg

We finally got to Glenwood Springs at 1am. We were supposed to get there at 2pm. Our sense of humor saved us as did our ability to adapt but mainly I was saved by being stuck with my favorite person on the planet.

This is a love story. 

Being ninja travelers, we know shit like this happens. We’ve been stuck in airports and bus stations. We’ve had to not just move to plan B but like plan H or plan Q. Yet Michael is such excellent company, I didn’t mind. Sure, the train started to stink and I worried that the walking zombies would soon revolt but the guy next to me made me laugh or held my hand at all the right times and that’s all that mattered. Once we arrived at our destination, we collapsed and our hotel. We spent the next 3 days soaking in hot springs, eating and generally loving each other’s company, just like we did trapped on the train. It’s safe to say our three spa days melted away the stress of travel. It might have also melted away my romance with trains too. But my romance with travelling with my favorite person? Very much alive and better than ever.