“Really, you don’t look 42?” This used to be music to my ears until I realised it was a backhanded compliment. “Really? That fucking old. Wow.”

In less than two weeks I will reach another milestone–they’re all milestones after forty as far as I’m concerned–43. You know that phrase Black Don’t Crack? Well, Brown Don’t Frown. Yeah I know, it doesn’t have the same ring to it.

As a cafe au lait skinned person, I’m immune to the cracks, wrinkles and blemishes that beset my white partner. Sure, not all we beaners are so lucky. Many of us have to toil away on some godforsaken farm keeping the price of produce low, our skin crackling under the blazing sun. But not this beaner. I just came back from a visit to my local Gail bakery where I was beset with a cappuccino and a dark chocolate scone.

But like it or not, I’m turning 43. And like it or not, my body is beginning to rebel.

First it was my cholesterol. High. That’s right, gym-going vegetarians who watch their diet can have high cholesterol. You know why? It’s hereditary. Thanks Dad! Guess who will shortly be put on statins? Guess who now has to monitor (even more) his intake of dairy, liquor and fried foods? Yours truly.

Gone are the nightly glasses of red wine with dinner. Gone are the gelato cones that thrust themselves into my hand whenever I walk by a park on a sunny day. Gone are the frites that I occasionally allow myself to inhale. Gone are the days of being under 40 and medical problem free.

Second to go was my groin. Now stay with me here. After turning 40 I got myself a trainer because it was becoming harder to see results at the gym. She taught me all sorts of new things, some of it very Abu Ghraib. And closet masochist that I am, I liked it. Well, guess whose boys (balls) started to feel achy and sore? Guess who timidly googled ‘testicular cancer’ in the middle of the night? Guess who is recovering from an abdominal tear? It turns out all those great Abu Ghraib type exercises my trainer taught me contributed to my guts nearly spilling out into my scrotum.

Truth be told, the other contributing factor to my ‘groin tear’ was me playing with my nieces. I’m an adult who enjoys playing with kids because I am a kid at heart. I know people toss this phrase around like a football at a suburban BBQ but it’s true. Other adults monitor play while I’m there in the trenches throwing children around a pool or jumping wildly on a seesaw. To me, playing with children is like a roller coaster or a scary movie. You don’t get that many opportunities as an adult to shout, scream and let loose. You might as well take them.

My groin tear doctor said to me, “I don’t want to be rude, but someone your age (this is when I saw red) cannot be exercising in this manner and expect to be okay.”

He then went on to lecture me about muscle tissue when you are young versus muscle tissue when you are nearly 43, at death’s door, with clogged arteries, your scrotum on the floor.

I kept imagining myself leaping across his desk and slapping him with his stapler. But instead I nodded and said, “Thank you doctor. I agree. I’ll stop all those abdominal and core exercises so that my partner will divorce me and I’ll end up having to pick grapes under the blazing California sun while my skin crackles in the heat.”

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Have you stopped blogging? Are you dead? Abducted by aliens? Held prisoner by a deranged Londoner with chronic halitosis and a peg leg? No. I’m just lazy.

London life is easy. I hate admitting this, but almost too easy. Yes, I loved to complain about life in Tokyo, and to a far lesser extent, Hong Kong, but life in the English capital is pretty smooth. Are there things to complain about? Sure. Pull up a chair. The class thing is alive and well here. It’s almost like Japan, you know, where they sniff each other’s butts to determine rank before they open their mouths to speak. And don’t let me get started on the public drunkenness and resulting debauchery. Christ. Your ideas of the English and their manners would disappear faster than a drug lord in a Mexican prison.

But my partner and I love living here. We love our neighbourhood–I now type the u in neighbourhood because I hate red squiggly lines. Those red squiggly lines make me see, well, red. It’s the computer’s way of telling you that you fucked up. “Hey asshole, red squiggly lines. Learn how to spell you stupid fuck.” My computer has such a foul mouth.

But I digress.

Due to a royal mistake which will be discussed at a later time, we are now fugitives from the law. Okay, not really. I just wanted to type that. Due to an enormous error, my partner and I must leave the country within the next two years for a, I shit you not, “cooling off period.” You see, we were given the wrong visa upon entry into the UK. And now it appears this horrible, horrible mistake can only be fixed by leaving the UK for a year. And moving to Paris makes the most sense.

Given the proximity of Paris to London and thus my partner’s job, Paris is ideal. We only live one station away from San Pancras International, the Eurostar terminus. We know how easy it is to have breakfast in London and lunch in Paris. Should my partner require face to face time in the London office, he could board the train for England and be back again in time for dinner with me in France.

So why not move back to Asia you say? Why not stop this expat adventure altogether and move back to New York? Well because my partner’s job is easier done from London, or this approximate timezone. A move to Asia or the US would be challenging to say the least. He was working London hours right before we moved here from Hong Kong. That was no fun. We were having dinner at midnight. No joke. And me, the perfect mate, would cook as always and wait to eat with him. Me. Gold star. Here.

While I try to look on the bright, the shadows loom. I mean, twist my arm. Most people would say, “Hey, it’s Paris. It’s not Mogadishu or Bagdad. You are moving to a city most people could only dream of calling home.” And of course, yes, it’s Paris. But true story, the second to the last time I was there, I turned to my parter and said, “I love visiting Paris but I would never want to live here.”

And wouldn’t you know it? God or Yoda or Joan Rivers was listening and just like that, moving to Paris became a possible reality.

London is home though. We never expected to love it as much as we do but we do. Our plan is to live here longterm, to move back after a year in Paris and settle down more permanently. I never thought I’d want to live anywhere longterm other than New York. I was wrong. I only hope we can fix it to where we don’t have to move. Paris is fine but London is London.

My partner and I boarded a flight to Tokyo at JFK ten years ago last month. And for ten years, we’ve been expats. The plan was always to move back to New York after a few years, settle down, buy an apartment, get a dog, grow organic shit on the balcony, run along the Hudson, pretend not to notice our favourite actor as she walks past us in the Village, you know, settle into a respectable middle-age New York life. But now I’m not so sure.

It bothers me that I prefer London to New York. I feel like I’m cheating on New York as I type this, like I’m turning my back on the city that opened her arms to me as I ran fleeing conservative Texas. “That’s right my little beaner, come running to Mama. She’ll love you. She’ll shelter you. She’ll nurture you.” And she did. I never knew what home felt like until I moved to New York. I remember riding alone in a taxi one evening thinking about this feeling I had. I couldn’t put my finger on it and then I realised it was contentedness. I felt content, and for the first time.

All our friends who have moved back to their respective countries miss living abroad. They’ll reminisce about the good old days wandering Shibuya’s neon maze of alleyways and pedestrian-choked street crossings; or the private junk boat day trips spent downing beers in Hong Kong Harbour, the stretch of skyscrapers and lush mountains as far as the eye can see. It’s real but it’s not. You go to work but you’re on vacation. It jolts you at first and then seeps into you slowly. The formerly exotic becomes mundane. The once imitating outdoor market becomes scouted and explored, the vendor who sells you mixed nuts and dried fruit begins to recognise you, starts to give you a better price because of your loyalty. And with each bit of acceptance and moment of familiarity, you become your adopted home’s citizen.

And then you move. Restart.

We have English friends living in Bangkok who’ve been away from the UK for nearly twenty years. They’ve lived in West Africa, Japan and Singapore among other places. And they have no intention of returning to the UK, planning instead to retire to their home in the South of France.

Most of our friends here in London are expats themselves. Don’t get me wrong, we have English friends too but this is one of the most diverse cities in the world. You’d have to go out of your way not to be friends with someone from another country.

 

In fact, my partner and I hosted a party this past weekend and the majority of our guests were not English, they were Finnish, Indian, Polish, Canadian, Israeli, Swedish, German, Jamaican, Italian and yes, American. And all of them call London home. Some have the desire to return to their home countries one day, others do not. I increasingly put myself in that latter bunch.

I’ve done this three times now. And though I’d like to stay put for the foreseeable future, if the right opportunity presented itself, I would gladly move and start again. That’s the thing about being an expat. You begin to crave the adventure.

 

Mom got sick in the fall of 2010. She started to complain about stomach pain, how it hurt after she ate, how she was trying to determine if she had developed a food allergy or an ulcer. I’d tell her to make an appointment to see a doctor but she’d make excuses, tell me she was getting better, that the pain went away.

I was living in Hong Kong at the time so I could only hear her voice. I was planning on going back to the states for Christmas so I wasn’t too alarmed by her health complaints. Surely, it will pass. I’ll see her and she’ll be well.

By the time I did see her, she was frail and recently out of a two-week long stay at the hospital. The doctor had removed her cancerous ovaries, her appendix and part of her colon. I had never seen my mom like this before. She was gaunt, grey and skeletal. And when I embraced her, I was careful not to squeeze too hard.

The surgery and resulting medication had made her disoriented, forgetful and paranoid. She repeated herself often and accused my dad of wanting to leave her now that she was sick and damaged. To his credit, he didn’t let her words sting that badly. Or at least he didn’t show it.

Weeks past, her appetite returned and her skin became more supple, less grey. I was there to help cook, to make sure she ate well, to act as a son, friend, nurse and cheerleader. She refused to take her painkillers because she said that they made her feel loopy. Her wound hadn’t completely closed so a nurse would stop by once a week to tend to it. The nurse told her that not taking the painkillers would elevate her blood pressure and slow her recovery.

I saw a picture of my mom about a week before she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was skinny, much thinner than she is normally. And this upset me. Hadn’t my dad noticed? Hadn’t my sister who routinely visited them not seen the change? Did they just assume that her body was just changing with age? I only asked my dad once. I was careful not to try to seem like I was blaming anyone for her illness. He said that in retrospect he should have noticed her weight loss sooner, should have made a doctor’s appointment for her, should have not listened to any of her excuses.

Mom is one of those people who doesn’t like doctors. “They’ll just find something wrong with you so that they can charge you more,” she says. But she was also scared that she was sick for real, that her symptoms were the result of something awful, something inoperable, something deadly. She is lucky they caught it before it spread to her vital organs. It was near the tissue lining of the liver. It could have been much worse.

It’s hard to tell someone they’re lucky when they’ve been diagnosed with cancer. I kept telling her stories of friends whose parents had not been so lucky. I would share stories of people who had beat the odds, had made a complete recovery after the Big C came knocking.

I was also angry at her for waiting so long to visit the doctor. She was lucky it hadn’t spread, yes. But she could have been “luckier” if she had gone to see what was wrong sooner. I vividly remember the call I received in Hong Kong after my parents had returned from the doctor’s office with the results. Both ovaries. Malignant. Surgery scheduled in a couple of days. It was BOOM. POW. SMACK. I didn’t cry until I hung up the phone. I stayed positive. I said that I was glad that they were taking them out, glad that they seemed to catch it in time, glad that they were able to operate so soon.

I was going to move my flight up to an earlier time but Dad said that Mom would be in the hospital for a couple of weeks and wouldn’t be in the best shape mentally and that I should instead stay longer so that I could help in her recovery and the lead up to her first chemo.

The doctor had already said that after surgery she was to take six rounds of chemo. I was going to be in town for that. Again, to be the cheerleader, the shoulder, the son. Her first chemo was about a month after she was released from the hospital. She blocked it out, pretended it wasn’t going to happen. She said she felt well and didn’t see the need for the treatment.

The day we went to see her oncologist to determine the chemo schedule was one of the hardest days of my life. It was fine in doctor’s office. It was just a schedule. I stayed strong. I reminded my mom that we knew the chemotherapy treatment was coming. The doctor had to be sure the cancer had been eradicated. It wasn’t until we were shown the chemotherapy treatment room that I lost it. I had to excuse myself and go to the men’s room. I didn’t want my parents to see me cry. I locked the door to the bathroom and sobbed uncontrollably. I slapped myself hard repeatedly, pinched my left palm with my right hand., threw water on my face and made sure I looked as presentable as possible before returning to the treatment room.

We had lunch God knows where, the elephant in the room screaming. We’re a family that talks a lot. I tried to make conversation but we were all just mentally and emotionally exhausted. When we got back to my parent’s home, I went up to my room and tried to nap.

My parents live in the San Antonio Hill Country. It used to be very peaceful but the city has crept up I-10 and now there are too many chain restaurants popping up, too many housing developments and a lack of city or state planning to accommodate all the resulting traffic. Still, on a nice day, you can look out at the hills, the blue skies and the trees and pretend it will last forever. I went out on the balcony and took it all in. “We’ll get through this. This will pass,” I said to myself.

On the first day of chemo, Mom had Ethel as a nurse. In the subsequent treatments, she requested and always got Ethel. My mom’s name is Lucy so she thought it was a sign. If you don’t know what I’m referring to then go youtube I Love Lucy immediately. You’re welcome.

I kept things cheerful during the first chemo. If you know me, or have read my blog, you know that I like to make jokes and laugh a lot. When Mom was finished with her first treatment, we went out to eat and were all very chatty. Mom had lots of energy. She said she felt great, was happy it didn’t hurt. I said, “Mom, you look great! Hell, we should all have chemo. Sign me up!”

The next morning, Dad took Mom for the shot to boost her white blood cell count. When they got back from the doctor’s office, Mom didn’t feel so well. She went to bed and stayed there for about five or six days. The side effects from both the chemo and shot were starting to kick in. My dad and I were on hand with water, popsicles, Ensure, Boost, iced water, blankets. If you’ve been through this, you know the drill.

Mom had one treatment every three weeks. She was down for the first week and then fully recovered by the third before “they poison me again.”

I can see that I get my drama from my mama.

I returned to Hong Kong and my partner. I missed him and the routine of our life but we were now in the process of moving to London. There was a lot to get done. I phoned my parents regularly, phoned my sister to make sure she was heading over to San Antonio as much as possible during her weekends.

I flew back to Texas to celebrate the last chemo a few weeks after it was administered. We went to a nice restaurant and mom was rocking the Burberry scarf I got her with a chic pair of Chanel sunglasses. Mom is not a fashionista by any stretch of the imagination but she wanted to cover her bald head and mask her eyebrow-less eyes with something. I guess she figured, “Hey, why not go for broke?”

Mom’s hair eventually grew back. Her straight, long black hair replaced by curly, black locks that reminded me of Barbra Streisand do in the mid ’70s. I have the album to prove it.

Soon things returned to normal. Christmas in London. Then the following December, Mom came back to the UK on her own so that we could celebrate her continued health on her birthday by taking her to Paris. We had a great time. Four days and nights walking the city streets. My partner and I took Mom to all of our favorite haunts. We visited a few of the main sights too but this trip was more about walking, exploring. I took this one picture of my mom on the bridge connecting Ile de la Cite to Ile Saint-Louis. It was on her birthday, a gorgeous, crisp, cloudless early December.

Mom must have known something was wrong on that trip. She must have noticed the lump or felt out of sorts again. When she got back to Texas she went to her quarterly visit with the doctor. Her numbers were up. Something was wrong. More tests. The lump that magically appeared. Mom must have known it was there. How could you not notice some strange mass near your navel?

The oncologist removed two masses and again part of her colon. She was released from the hospital a few days early. I flew back to Texas to be the cheerleader, the shoulder, the son. Ethel was still working as a nurse in the chemo treatment room. I brought her a couple of tins of tea and coffee from Harrods.

Mom’s treatment had been altered due to a study out of Japan. Eighteen rounds of chemo but at a lower dose and spread out over eighteen weeks. And because my mom’s health was good overall, no damn shot to boost her white blood cell count. She was still down after the chemo but only for a few days. Her hair fell out in patches but she was spared her eyebrows. I got her another scarf.

During Mom’s second chemotherapy treatment I saw a guy in his 30s coming out of an office with tears streaked across his face. He walked quickly towards the exit of the treatment room. I remembered the time I excused myself to visit the men’s room, knowing I was going to lose it, three years ago and in the very same room. My parents didn’t see him and I didn’t say anything about it.

Mom’s last chemo was a few weeks ago. She sees her oncologist tomorrow so that he can assess her health. Her numbers have been good and she has been active, her taste buds only recently returning to normal, somewhat. She has a CT scan later this week. We’re all hoping for continued good news.

I’m thankful I still have my mom. I’m thankful that new research effects treatment even within a three year time span. I’m thankful the doctor caught the cancer’s return before it spread to any vital organs. I’m thankful that when I call my parents later this afternoon, I’ll be able to hear my mom’s voice. I’m thankful for the time we have to spend together enjoying and celebrating life. When your life has been touched, slapped, by cancer, you’re thankful for the time you have because you never know if and when it will return.

I’ve spent a long time hoping, praying it would never return. Every time I pick up a leaflet about ovarian cancer or start to read something about it online, I stop. I just can’t. It’s too daunting, too upsetting. There are a lot of cancers you can get. This is not one of the better ones. That much I know. I choose to remain hopeful in my ignorance, to be the cheerleader, the shoulder, the son.

My partner and I spent a week in Paris in April. You know. Like the song? April in Paris.  Someone forgot to remind Paris it was April because spring had not yet arrived. It was cold, rainy and overcast for most of the week. We live in London so we’re used to this kind of weather. You just don’t want it following you to fucking Paris.

Many years ago, my partner lived in Paris. He was studying French at the Sorbonne. He lived in a house in Montparnasse owned by a kind, elderly lady who opened her home to foreign students. He became a friend of the family and is still in touch to this day.

Paris helped define my partner. It was his first big city, real city. He grew up in suburban Florida so you can imagine. I’ve learned not to roll my eyes when he over pronounces French to be funny. I imagine that had we known each other back then, I’d have slapped him or made fun of him. I hate pretentious people. That’s why few of my friends are gay.

But I digress.

My partner and I have taken to exploring cities as if we lived there. You know how you spend your Saturday afternoon exploring more of Brooklyn or heading up to north Chicago just ’cause? You try a new restaurant, pub or go back to the place where they know your name and pretend you’re not a raging alcoholic. We did this in Rome last year, Istanbul in February and Lisbon in May. Christ I’m lucky. Why am I always so high-strung and tense?

Most days in Paris were spent exploring, urban hiking as I like to say. We did our best to avoid touristy areas and museums. We both love Luxembourg Garden and the Saint-Germaine-des-pres. I love Saint Sulpice Cathedral. That square in front is just wonderfully local and urban.

Our friend’s flat was in Belleville near Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Nice park. Great views of the city. Very few tourists. Belleville is a middle-class neighborhood filled with immigrants from the Middle East, North Africa and China. A lot of observant Jews too. Artists and hipsters are sprinkled about. It’s kind of like the Lower East Side before it became saturated with people who use summer as a verb.

Four days into our trip, I was getting the impression that my partner wasn’t enjoying himself all that much. He kept giving me mopey face, kept saying that next time we visit we should plan ahead more. Incidentally, “we” means “me” as I don’t work and have time to “plan more.” I reminded him that “we” didn’t want to plan, that the idea was to just wander and explore, find new restaurants, parks, streets, neighborhoods.

“Yeah, I know, but…I just feel we haven’t really been doing anything.”

It was clear Mopey McMopster needed some perspective.

“Didn’t you tell me you had one of the best meals of your life two days ago? Have you not had fun trying to look nonchalant as we breezed through those sketchy neighborhoods? That shirt you bought from the nice girl at that Italian shop wasn’t good enough for you? That cafe with the best people watching not fun enough? All those stretched faces, spoiled kids, stilettos, rich daddies and nanny’s on the verge of suicide not hilarious enough for you?”

“I feel like Michele from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion where she tells Romy that she didn’t know high school wasn’t fun until she told her. I’m having a blast in Paris. Think of all the things we’ve done? And we still have three more days! What? Do you want me to take a picture of you wearing a beret, a black and white striped t-shirt with a baguette under you arm and a glass of red in your hand? So we didn’t make dinner reservations at places ahead of time. Big shit. I didn’t want to. So we didn’t know what exhibits were in town. We didn’t really want to go to museums on this trip anyway. We were going to live like a Parisian. You know?”

He laughed and agreed. I got off my soapbox and ordered him to order us another glass of wine. Can’t let his French get rusty.

The next day, we left the hovel on the 5th floor and checked into charming Hotel des Nations Saint Germain on Rue Monge. It’s located near the Sorbonne. My partner enjoyed showing me around his old stomping ground. We stumbled into theme bars (think teddy bears) and into an open mic night at a jazz venue. I was too tipsy to attempt Sinatra or Holiday but will return one day. You’re backed by a live trio! Just put a glass of scotch in my hand and I’m a cad or a diva.

Was it a perfect trip? No. But it was Paris. It was April. And we had a great time.

Tips:

Hotel Des Nations Saint-Germain: Slightly nicer than your average three star hotel and soon to be remodeled. The friendly staff is helpful and attentive. Some rooms are bigger than others. We had a smaller room but faced Rue Monge and had a juliet balcony. Nice.

Le Bonaparte: Elegant corner cafe in Saint-Germain with friendly waiters (odd for Paris) and zero attitude. I ate the best omelette I have ever had there (the one at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi is a very close second). This cafe is a great people watching spot so do yourself a favor, order a bottle of red and linger.

Le Square Trousseau: My partner had one of the best meals of his life there. Great public square too. Urban. Local. The restaurant had zero tourists. Our waitress was friendly and there were vegetarian options for me. We lucked into this place but I would make a reservation, especially if you plan to visit on the weekend.

First, I want to say, announce, declare, hell shout that I enjoy being an expat. Love it actually. Ever since my partner and I started on our adventure nearly nine ago, I’ve had the privilege of travel and all the opportunity and experience that allows. I’ve been places I never thought I’d see. Sure, many people would travel around the world to visit Sydney or Beijing but Kuala Lumpur and Seoul? Living in Asia for over seven years meant all these cities were relatively easy to get to. And I can assure you, all those places are worth a visit.

Now that we’re in London, I’ve been able to easily revisit Rome, Genoa and Nice and explore new places like Lisbon an Istanbul. It’s a dream come true really. So what’s the problem you ask? Every home is no home.

There is no such thing as a citizen of the world (Who came up with such a pretentious phrase anyway?). In the end, you have to live somewhere. Maybe it’s a hotel room in Singapore or a serviced apartment in Buenos Aires, but you collet your mail somewhere. And if you are lucky enough to have several homes, you consider one of them your primary residence.

I used to think of New York as my adopted home town. I still do somewhat. Mostly. OK, maybe not really anymore. But that’s not true. I feel like I’m losing my identity. I envy my friends back in states. They’re New Yorkers or Chicagoans or San Franciscans. Friends I met while living in Tokyo or Hong Kong are back in their original cities whether that’s Sydney, Cape Town or elsewhere. They bought property, built homes or returned to old ones.

And maybe this is the problem. We don’t yet own a home. I don’t have a primary residence. Sure I live in a flat in London but it’s rented. And I didn’t grow up in the UK. I always felt like a drifter in Tokyo and Hong Kong because I knew my time there was limited. Now that we’re in London and loving it…well maybe it’s time to put down roots.

I feel like I’m cheating on my hairstylist here in London if I’m back in New York and get my haircut elsewhere. I feel the same way about New York. Even admitting that I love London and in some ways more than New York makes me feel guilty. As if New York would shake me and cry, “Is that mushy peas on your collar? Do I smell vinegar!? How could you goddamn you!!! How could you!?”

Christ, I make New York sound like an overacting suburban woman from a bad 1970s melodrama. And she most certainly is not. New York was the city that called when I was a gay kid and living in nowhere Texas. I longed for big city life, to dance and party with all those people I saw on TV. Crime? Yes. Trash on the streets? Please. Time Square hookers? I’ll take a dozen. The New York I longed for when I was a kid, was the New York of the 1970s. My parents would ask me why on earth I’d want to live there and I’d answer “Because it’s not here.”

And now nowhere is here. I’m lost. A gym bunny gone mad. A house spouse whose primary responsibility is to cook, decorate, shop, run errands and plan trips. I even have a housekeeper for God’s sake–a Russian with animal print bras. She doesn’t speak English and smiles a lot. We’re constantly smiling at each other, like we’re high on Zoloft together.

But I digress.

I’ve played Lady MacBeth for too long. Not that I don’t enjoy strategizing with my partner, helping him with his career. He always thanks me for my “vindictive, conniving, calculating Mexican advice”. Believe me, we take that as a compliment. But maybe I need more than a thank you. I don’t want to work right now because I enjoy tagging along with him when he travels for work. I’m thinking about volunteering again. I love the roaming but I need a rudder, my own rudder. My partner always steers while I look ahead and point. Maybe I need to do some of my own steering for a while. Take command of this boat. Hell command of this goddamn metaphor before I run it into an iceberg (ground).

And maybe write more in this blog that was so important to me when I was losing my mind in Japan.

OK, I’m tired of waiting for that bloody phone repairman! Yes, I said bloody. Where the hell is he? Has he got his knickers in a bunch? I’ve been in my gym clothes for three hours now, waiting for his ass. I need to get to the gym. And it’s sunny! Finally. I need to go to Whole Foods. And as if on cue. Wow. Love when stuff like that happens. Must buzz him in.

After nine and a half years of committed, monogamous bliss and servitude, guess who finally got hitched? After eight years of living abroad, guess who finally took care of some loose ends on a recent trip back to New York and finally got married? That’s right. Me. Us. We. Just don’t call it gay marriage.

My partner and I have been married in our minds for years now. He has had to endure my near breakdown when we were living in Tokyo. I’ve had to endure the way he eats his cereal. He has had to endure my strict adherence to time and obsessive compulsive nature. I’ve had to endure his being late for everything and sloppiness. This is marriage. And there is nothing gay about it–except the couple.

You see, I’ve come to really dislike the term gay marriage. Hate is too strong a word here. For example, I hate Rush Limbaugh, the Ace of Base and reality TV shows (don’t get me started on Toddlers and Tiaras) but I dislike the term gay marriage. Do we say straight marriage? No. It’s marriage.

Adding gay in front of marriage, simply and unfairly classifies it as something other than a traditional marriage. I’m typing this on the sofa, half watching the Metropolitan Opera’s production of La Traviata on cable. I’m sick but I still managed to get my ass out of bed to make it to the supermarket and the dry cleaner. I’ll have dinner on the table when my partner gets back from work. Tea lights will be lit. Jazz will be playing. Wine will be opened. If there is anything gay about this marriage, it’s that every night is like this. I make coming home a production, a low-key production of a relaxing evening at home. Hell, if I made the bacon and he played pampered expat housewife, you’d better believe I’d expect nothing less of him.

I told my partner that I wanted to wait until New York state legalized marriage equality. Growing up in South Texas, I always knew I wanted to leave my home state and move to the big city. New York City has meant a lot to me. It was the first place I ever really felt at home–and I moved there when I was 24. Screw Vermont and Connecticut, I was going to get married in New York.

The recent presidential election, however, sped the process along in a big way. My partner has been following Nate Silver for months now so I knew Obama was ahead in the key swing states. But still, I was worried. What if Mittens pulled it off? What if an amendment to the constitution was passed denying me of my legal right to marry my partner? What if we had had all this time to close the deal in New York state and blew it. Our relationship would not be valid in the eyes of the law. We wouldn’t even be in a legal gray area, married in one state, overruled by our government. And so on my partner’s recent business trip back to New York, I followed as I often do, but with a goal in mind.

The day of the ceremony, one of our best friends (and our witness) arrived with boutonnieres and a camera. As always, she went above and beyond what was expected of her. I wanted her signature and a pair of eyes, she brought a mini party. My partner, as always, was constantly checking his Blackberry. He had arranged a meeting with colleagues after the ceremony. This annoyed me and I made a joke of it but I got it. We were already married in our head. This was just a formality. Years from now, we could laugh that he went to a meeting directly after our wedding ceremony.

When the city clerk who would marry us called us into the east chapel, I smiled. When she had us stand before the podium, I giggled. When she had us face one another, I thought I’d break out laughing. It was all so formal, this ceremony. I get church giggles so anything formal or ceremonial always puts me over the edge. But then something happened. My eyes started to tear. Here, in front of me, was the man I was about to commit to, officially, for the rest of my life. I recently turned 40. If I’m lucky, I’ll have another 40 years, and with this man in front of me. I said I do. He said I do. We kissed. He ditched the meeting and the three of us took a cab to the Algonquin Hotel for a drink. He even got us a last minute reservation at one of our favorite New York restaurants, Union Square Cafe.

We surprised most everyone on facebook when we posted a picture of us in front of the podium. We kept our plans under wraps, surprising both family and friends. I’ve never received so many warm electronic messages. People cheered us from Switzerland to India, Japan to the UK. People wrote that they had teared up, been caught off guard, completely surprised. Pictures of champagne glasses in our honor appeared. I received an email from his mom welcoming me to the family. But wasn’t I already family? Weren’t we already married? No. We weren’t.

So that’s what marriage is all about in the end. Maybe you know you are married in your mind. Maybe you don’t care for the government to acknowledge your relationship, certify it, validate it. Maybe on principal you think it’s wrong for the state to get involved in what is very much a highly intimate and personal relationship between two people. And maybe you’re right. I just know that after I said “I do” I’ve had a newfound appreciation for our union. It’s official. We’re official. Our friends and family, strangers, see it as official. Hell, it’s a political act for some people. But for me, it’s time to start dinner.

Twenty one years ago I made a promise to my two best friends in college that we would turn 40 in style. Mission accomplished.

I chose Nice because it covered most of the bases: beach, architecture, food, gambling, culture, vistas. We’d later find out gambling was a bit of a bust but the beach. The beach!

I told my friends that their gift to me would be the cost of the flight to Nice. My partner and I would rent the flat. American Express recommended Riviera Holiday Homes. I took one look at the pics of the selected flat online and said done. It was a gorgeous four bedroom penthouse with a wrap around balcony, high ceilings, big windows, a table that seats eight and a baby grand piano. It was so nice not to have to eat out every night of the week. I mean, my two best friends from college were there with their partners–it was always going to be about playing Hearts at night anyway. We’d play Hearts back in university because if you were too drunk or stoned to play your hand, you’d only hurt yourself, not your partner like in Spades.

I originally envisioned this vacation as more of a cultural tour. You know, a tour of this church, that museum, this vineyard, that scenic village. But mid/late September is still beach weather in the South of France. And with those clear blue waves lashing at the stoney beach, how could you not want to just dive in? Or at least wade in. The waves were rather cold and I have a fear of the water, Jaws and turning into shark poop.

The first full day we headed to the beach. Now that our median age is approaching forty, the six of us opted for a private beach. Managing hard, round stones only armed with a flimsy beach towel is fine when you’re 20, not so fine when you are 40. The first private beach we chose was Castle Beach, at the far left side of the beach. There was some loud competition taking place on the boardwalk and we wanted to be as far away from the noise as possible. Good reason. Lousy result.

Castle Beach is the beach I think gays go to thinking that because the service is brusk if not rude, and the lounge chairs only somewhat comfortable, that it’s somehow chic. The eccentric hostess with the cute dog should have tipped me off. They nickel and dime you to death. Because it was the last beach until you hit the rocks, getting into the water was tricky. We saw one older couple call for help when their soggy bathing suits threatened to weigh them back into the surf. It’s more dangerous than you think. You’d go from ankle deep to shoulder deep in one step. Not my kind of beach. And at 110 euros for six people, not worth the money.

We went to the beach on our second full day too, this time at Hotel Plage Beaux Rivage. Much better. Much! At 105 euros for six people it was slightly less than Castle Beach but the lounge chairs were big and comfy, the wait staff was mostly attentive, the beach was easier to access, and that catty gay attitude was nowhere to be found.

As a gay man, I really dislike that whole attitude thing. It’s old. Tired. Of the six of us, four of us are gay. One is bi and the other is a straight guy. There is a reason my two best friends from college are women and not men. Attitude. Sure, I can dish it out when needed but ugh. Why bother? I’d rather stick to gay women and straight men. Little attitude, better drinks.

We got some looks on the beach. None of us is shy about being affectionate, not that we do anything more than hold hands occasionally or give a quick kiss. You’re on an exclusive private beach in the South of France for God’s sake. I guess it’s not everyday that a gay couple, a lesbian couple and a mostly straight couple holiday together. But I digress.

We went back to Hotel Plage Beaux Rivage three more times. Again, Nice became a beach holiday. We did the Matisse museum one afternoon. I Love Matisse. And we took the train to Monte Carlo one day for lunch. The ride was nice, but Monaco was not for me. It was very cold and soulless after Nice. It’s like where the super wealthy go to flaunt being super wealthy. No real street life, all cars, cliffs and narrow corners. We were happy to get back to Nice.

For my birthday dinner, we went to L’Univers de Christian Plumail. It has one Micheline star and was reviewed as not pretentious, not super expensive and spot on for the value. It was fantastic. They easily accommodated my vegetarianism. Some courses were left as is, some were tweaked and my main was a delicious improvisation of seasonal vegetables, garlic and mushrooms. I even got to blow out a candle in my dessert after the host serenaded me with the Happy Birthday song. Normally, I’m not a fan of this sort of thing but you only turn 40 once. I really wanted to live it.

The night before I turned 40 was one of the nights we ate in. We played Hearts at the table, drinking wine, vodka or beer, munching on baguettes, cheese and fruit. My friends had secretly bought several pastries earlier that day and when the clock struck midnight, we had a mini fiesta. I blew out my improvised birthday candle and took in all the love. I know I’m a cynical bastard, but I’m also gregarious, friendly and kind. I like to think that’s why I’ve gotten so damn lucky. My health, a great partner and amazing friends. What more does one need?

My favorite memory from the trip will be us in the surf, shoulder deep, laughing and talking about the past, the future, the afternoon sun reflecting off the water, the hills and peaks in the distance, the taste of salt water in my mouth.

Yesterday afternoon while shopping for linens and bathroom accents I held up a soap dish and said, “Ten pounds for this? It’s a small fucking piece of metal.”

The other day at my local Waitrose supermarket I announced, “Do we really need more salad onions? And they’re scallions. Salad onions.”

I talk to myself when I’m alone. It’s a bad habit I developed when we were living in Tokyo. I’m not sure how it developed, I only know that is was soothing and reassuring to hear the sound of someone speaking English, even if that someone was me.

Tokyo was all neon signs, moving billboards, bicycle rings, happy commercial jingles and background chatter. That relentless background chatter. Even with the Japanese I learned, I couldn’t process it. It was a sea of murmuring that threatened to overcome me as I shopped for tofu.

This bad habit was like having a wing man back in Japan, a friend. It was a sarcastic traveling companion, the honest inner voice, my sassy sidekick. The token gay male friend for white women, or straight black woman for gay men. “Girl you know you know nothin’ about cookin’ them Japanese mushrooms. Martha Stewart you ain’t. Best put them back”.

I did as the voice instructed but eventually learned how to prepare maitake mushrooms.

My bad habit died down a bit in Hong Kong. If I were in a large expat supermarket or upscale international shopping center, my sassy friend usually kept quiet. But if I ventured outside central Hong Kong, especially into Kowloon and the New Territories, Sassy would return.

“Where the hell is this bus going?”

“Where the fuck am I?”

“Oh my God I need a drink”.

“Do we need more tomatoes. I should get more tomatoes”.

“HA! It’s Captain Crunch!”

Now that we’re in London, it’s time for Sassy to go home. She’ll be there in my head of course, but it’s time for her to shut her mouth.

The last time I woke up next to someone I didn’t know was back in the spring of 2003. He was a lawyer from Boston who had recently moved to New York with his firm. After teasing me because I couldn’t remember his name, he began complaining about having to come out to his conservative Irish Catholic parents. I wanted coffee and eggs, not a sob story. He was handsome enough. Thank God. You never know when picking someone up blind drunk. But that Irish inch thing was certainly true in his case. Besides, I had recently moved back to New York and didn’t want to be tied down to a nub with mommy issues. We said our goodbyes, I promised to stay in touch and he became one of the many men I now hope to never run into again.

I turn 40 next month. 40. The virgo in me wanted a count, a log of all the men, so I started to make a list of all the guys I had ever slept with. I broke it down by cities. Austin, New York, Chicago and all the other cities and holidays in between. Let me tell you, I needed more than one sheet of paper. And it’s not even a complete list. I find myself shampooing my hair thinking, “Oh yeah! That guy from that bar.” or “How could I forget about him?” and “What was his name again?”

Now after over nine years in a committed, monogamous relationship (I met my partner shortly after the Angry Inch), I look back at my whore years with a mix of nostalgia and shame but not regret. OK, maybe a little regret. I regret that I didn’t sleep with certain people, regret that I slept with others, and regret the way I treated some of the guys who really fell for me.

I also regret falling for a certain olive-skinned, big-footed, MBA student from Columbia University. He had family money, rugged good looks, a cat and the biggest dick I’d ever seen. I suffered through cat allergies for that dick! In the end he was my poetic justice. Karma sucks.

I slept with some people to get back at others. I’m Mexican. Revenge is in our blood. I never regret those tricks. I’ve even slept with men just to upset guys I didn’t like. So and so likes so and so but that so and so likes me. I hate so and so…so BAM. On my college trip to Europe, I slept with a Spaniard, an Englishman and sucked face with an American at an Italian bar after way too many drinks. I briefly dated a Russian attending grad school at Columbia–that school churned out some fine men let me tell you.

My college ex was nine years older than I was. He worked for the university I attended. No, not as a professor, as a tech guru of some sort. I like to blame that turbulent relationship for subsequently treating men who fell for me like crap, but that’s not true. I was immature, selfish and sometimes cruel on my very own.

One night stands were fun but if anyone I dated fell for me, I could be mean, really mean. Of course, the two men I fell for were mean to me. Karma. That and I obviously needed some serious couch time with a therapist. I actually thought about seducing him too.

There is one guy I very much regret hurting. At the time, I didn’t realize what a good but troubled catch he was. He had some type of social anxiety disorder but was kind, intelligent and caring. He had this cheerful, fun-loving (yes, I said fun-loving) family from Long Island. I couldn’t break his heart so I made him break up with me. The following day when he wanted to discuss reconciling I refused, said he was right to break up with me in the first place. Nice guy though. Hope he ended up with someone who values him.

I don’t regret leaving the ex Mormon/practicing narcissist doctor from Utah or the alcoholic/Doogie Howser lookalike doctor from Texas. I lived with both of them. One for six months. The other for over three years. Doctors are one troubled group of people. And I say this as one troubled soul.

I remember the really good kisser I never slept with. He was too cute. I prefer handsome, not cute. I remember the Cuban I seduced while his partner was out of town. In their own bed no less. In my defense, I thought they had broken up until he told me they were still together. He kept saying, “But I’ve got a boyfriend” as he kissed me and began taking off his shorts. I remember the former porn star/bartender, the former coke head/Vegas hound and the former Baptist/singer songwriter. The trick who played his guitar and sang Mexican boleros, the one night stand who used to work with Jim Henson and showed me his Muppet collection. Now, I love the Muppets but that shit was creepy. The economics PhD fuck buddy, the Peruvian friend with benefits, the kind but queenie doctor  I had the affair with while I was still living with the drunken Doogie. All the secret meetings were hot. But his voice!

My list is not quite at 100. Not quite. At least I don’t think it is. I need a few more shampoos to get all the tricks out. Looking at the list I’m reminded of how reckless I was and how fortunate I am to be disease free and alive. I could have ended up at the bottom of an elevator shaft in a one star Mexico City hotel, or in a jail cell in Chicago. Hell, my list might have been cut short.

I’ve said “I love you” to six men but only meant it with two of them. That’s a short list. And I’m with one of those men now. He was a good boy during his whore years. I think he only had a whore year or a whore season. He has always been very focused on work, reading and learning more about the things he’s reading. He’s a good guy. I’m very lucky. If karma gave him to me, maybe I wasn’t that bad after all.