top of page

VOL 017: following the Xmas TranStar 

    Having sort of graduated to jet-and-twin-prop-setter status, my senior year seemed to fly by. I had trips to take. Settled in San Diego – Mira Mesa, specifically – Dad and Robin invited me out for Christmas. Again, I would impress the adults with my fare-finding acumen.


    The reward for my hunt was a very low-cost itinerary on TranStar Airlines. Was there a catch? Well, it was hardly direct. TranStar had me bouncing from Tampa to San Diego with a stop in New Orleans, plane change in Houston, and two more stops before San Diego, if I am recalling correctly. A very bouncy itinerary. I was coming to realize that cheap fares came at a price beyond dollars. Though, as a teenager, it was hardly a consideration. As a limber young person whose “dad bod” days were well ahead of him, flying in the baggage hold would not be beyond consideration. Still, valuable lessons were being learned.


    I was also discovering that I preferred seats in the rear of the plane. On TranStar, it was likely an MD-80 in a cozy 3-2 configuration. That back section seemed quieter, calmer. The lavatory was convenient. As with school buses, it had some “cool kids” allure. It’s also where the smoking happened, giving the back of the plane a more festive airborne-lounge atmosphere. So, feeling festive – it was holiday season – cigarette in hand, I tried to order a beer aboard TranStar. After all, I’d certainly downed my share of Milwaukee’s Best in Pasco Co., Fla.





    “You don’t look 21 to me,” the attendant said with a smile. I responded with nothing but my own embarrassed, sheepish smile. As she moved on to other passengers, the man sitting next to me – too late to do any good – told me I should’ve had him order the beer for me. Later, with my attractive seatmate long gone, I wondered if he might’ve actually been flirting with me. Although I obviously prided myself as petite sophisticate of the airways, I was still a kid, slow to recognize adult machinations.


    Landing in San Diego, finally, Obie drove me back to Mira Mesa. Things seemed a little tense between he and Robin, though Casey was growing healthfully and happily, best I could tell.


    More arresting than any family dynamic was the décor. We’d always lived with artifacts of Obie’s postings. Cambodian lamps and ceramic elephants were dotted around the Springfield homes, even after the divorce. But as Obie’s professional postings became more prominent, the residences became a bit more grand, as did the variety of foreign exotica within. With retirement, the residential trend reversed, while the mementos remained. So much of Tunisia and Belgium had been squeezed into a house that, while perfectly comfortable, was tiny relative to the embassy-affiliated overseas offerings. This cute house in the desert was bursting at the seems with intercontinental accoutrements. Ed and Dora’s retirement taught me about downsizing, but they simply didn’t have quite as much to display. Nor were they particularly sentimental about holding on to everything. That little wooden display rack of tiny spoons Ed brought into our household, hanging on the wall of our second-family kitchen, for example, did not make it to Florida.


    Not everything in the Mira Mesa house, however, pricked memories of past travels. The velvety oyster stew Dad prepared for Christmas Eve was entirely new to me. I’d had a few oysters in my 17 years, but never so delicious. With copious amounts of butter and cream, anything can be sumptuous.






    After that indulgent dinner, we settled in for a little bit of TV. After an hour or so, I noticed an unusual warmth coming from the tops of my thighs, where my multi-hued Chess King jeans hugged my legs most tightly. I went to the bathroom to pee and inspect. I pulled my pants down to my knees and discovered blotches of red skin, plateaus of slightly raised rawness, across my thighs. As I ran my fingertips across this ailed skin, a swollen numbness gave way to itching. I continued my inspection and found more red patches. I reported back to the family that I seemed to be having an allergic reaction, presumably to the oysters. Oysters had never troubled me before. Skin irritation, though, had. Years prior, during Dora’s stint as an Amway peddler, the last year of her marriage to Obie, I had a similar reaction to Amway laundry detergent. Dr. Dora prescribed a day home from school covered in calamine lotion.


    I excused myself to go to bed. Maybe I could sleep through the histamine holiday? During the night, I would wake on occasion because I was wheezing. The reaction was taking a minor toll on my bronchial tubes. In the morning, I lifted the sheets to find my skin was back to normal. That was that! But no. In the bathroom, preparing to shower, I was disappointed to catch a glimpse of my back, covered in red hives. The reaction had merely migrated. Robin got me to a 7-Eleven to secure some allergy meds, which worked with clockwork efficiency. A few minutes after I would down one of the four-hour pills, all the hives would dissipate – for three and a half hours. 


    Within a couple days, the hives retreated and I was back to normal. Dad, Casey and I took a quick road trip, hitting Universal Studios and Knott’s Berry Farm, spending the night with Uncle Vick, a retired American Airlines pilot, in Sherman Oaks. Walking through the parks, I worked hard to spot other gay boys. With family at my side, I was protected from both follow through or blow back. It was a prime opportunity for practice cruising. Through the amusement park crowds of kids, I’d look for the guys who were relatively manicured. Sometimes we’d lock eyes. We were old enough to be interested, and to also know that what we were doing in 1986 was taboo. Most of us, I still think, were also novice enough that we weren’t ducking into public bathrooms with dreams of glory holes.


Flirting with Frank at Universal Studios, ignoring Casey’s judgmental glare. I was not responsible for the Universal photographer giving Dad the pole.

    Along with adolescent forays into flirting, I also enjoyed vastly superior radio. KROQ actually played The Cure and English Beat and The Smiths – all my underground favorites in Florida.


    I spent New Year’s Eve with Obie and a bottle of champagne in the kitchen. He was distant. He would read and sort of ramble. At moments, the ramblings delicately hinted that he and Robin were not getting along well. Though the divorce was a while away, that visit marked the last time I’d see Obie and Robin as a married couple, Casey as the kid in a two-parent household.


    Based on the two experiences with hives, maybe I was actually allergic to Dad’s marriages ending.


bottom of page