When I caught wind that a film I had acted in several years ago, appropriately titled “When The Party Ends” (should be the name of my memoir!) was playing at the LGBTQ+ film festival, “Cinema Diverse!” in Palm Springs, California, I knew I had to go.
I didn’t care if the plane ticket was exorbitantly expensive. I would live off peanut butter and jelly if I had too (yeah, right). Whatever. I knew I had to go because my higher power (Lana Del Rey) told me I needed to go.
She came to me in a dream and said “You’re a desert girl like me. You just don’t know it yet. The sooner you figure it out the better. So get your lonely Manhattan body to Palm Springs, bitch.” She adjusted her flower-crown and brushed her long, wavy, hair out of her large, doe-like eyes—and just like that, dissipated into the razor-thin air.
So not only was I willed to Palm Springs by way of spiritual calling—a place, that despite my on again/off again love affair with Los Angeles—I had never set a platform adorned-foot in, I also went for vanity purposes. I wanted to see my acne ridden face on the big screen, honey! I’m self-destructive like that. There is a very real masochist pleasure I get from squirming around a dark theatre repulsed by the vision of my big pores and puffy face stretched out across a screen the size of a building. (If you’re a narcissist you probably have the same tendencies).
So exactly three days before the “Cinema Diverse” festival, I recklessly purchased a plane ticket online and the next thing I knew I was sipping on a cold (plastic) glass of Sauvignon Blanc en route to Palm Springs via Pheonix, Arizona. I switched planes in Pheonix (where I got a fierce mani by a goth-y looking 20-year old at the airport “express spa” which I believe is the greatest thing to ever happen to the travel industry) and the next thing I knew I was drinking ANOTHER (plastic) glass of Sauvignon Blanc but, this time I was on a Palm Springs bound, tiny plane (is there anything more chic than a small plane? I don’t think so).
I could tell, just by the rainbow-colored vibrations permeating through the static plane air, that I was going to like Palm Springs. Purr. The flight was teeming with ~gay energy~ and anyone knows me, knows that ~gay energy~ gets me higher than drugs (not, that I would know, or anything).
I sat next to a well-groomed gay man clad in a lesbian-style button-down shirt, a sleek designer briefcase dangling from his delicate shoulder. He smiled at me and we shared a silent kinship for the entirety of the forty minute flight.
As the plane glided over gorgeous Palm Springs, I clutched my imaginary pearls and gasped in disbelief. Never in my life, had my mascara-laden eyes borne witness to anything quite like the Palm Springs terrain.
Gorgeous, rust-colored mountains kissed the electric blue sky. Palm trees gracefully swayed in the soft desert breeze. Jet lag lifted out of my dehydrated body the moment I stepped off the plane and took a big, dramatic whiff of that bizarrely clean, dry air. I could feel my frizzy hair suddenly defrizz and a become a smoother, calmer version of its restless self. What was I feeling? Peace? Ease? Both?
When you suffer from severe anxiety and crippling depression like yours truly, feeling at ease is a rare treat. In fact, you don’t even realize how wound up and sad you are, until you’re given a brief moment of reprieve. “Woah, is THIS what normal people feel like?” I thought to myself as my relaxed limbs dragged my suitcase to the taxi line.
I slid into the faux-leather seat of the taxi and braced myself for an abrasive Manhattan-style cab driver and instead was met with a perfect gentleman who attained the infectious charisma of a Broadway chorus boy.
“Palm Springs is a special place!” He sing-songed to me, as he drove me to my Vacation Palm Springs rental (which was otherworldly beautiful, by the way). “I came here 20 years ago and I never left!”
“This is my first time here—in Palm Springs—but I think I might uh, belong here?” I squeaked from the backseat, overwhelmed with some kind of weird desert energy that was making me feel “blissed out” like I had dramatically upped my dose of antidepressants and a slew of newfound serotonin was swishing through my system.
“You have a California smile.” He gently said, his eyes twinkling like Santa Claus, as he pulled into the driveway of my rental house. I thought about his words before getting out of the car.
I grew up in the tristate area. No shade to the tristate area, but bitterness is sort of celebrated, in tristate culture. You’re not cool unless you’re jaded, wary of strangers, and vivaciously eat red meat. I’m not cool. I’m excitable, easily-trusting, and I don’t eat meat. When I was a kid people teased me for being “too smiley.”
“Zara’s a fake bitch!” a girl wearing shiny gold hoop earrings once loudly shouted within my earshot at a high school party. “I don’t know why that fake bitch always smiles at me!”
I didn’t want to be deemed a “fake bitch” (a regular bitch, I could live with, but a fake bitch just wasn’t on brand for me) so I decided to stop smiling. I repressed the smile and tried my best to look at the world through the hip New Yorker’s cynical lens. But hey, that smile just can’t always be repressed. I have resting smile face, it’s genetic and you can’t contain your genetics, especially when they come from your mother. Those female genes are stubborn and deeply rooted into your DNA.
This was the first time, in years, someone actually enjoyed my smile, who wasn’t a creepy man jeering at me, taking my upwardly curved lips as an invitation to verbally harass me, on a public sidewalk.
Maybe I’m meant to live here, where people are kind and there are so many mountains. My inner Angel whispered into my ear, tucking a pale pink flower behind her ear. Shut, up you’re a New Yorker! Don’t betray your East Coast roots, asshole. Now grab a glass of red wine and laugh at all the happy, healthy people. The devil inside of me sneered, lighting up a cigarette staring in judgment at the limber palm trees as they effortlessly bent in the breeze.
I walked into the beautiful house, stared at the beautiful teal pool (that matched my hair), and I knew, intrinsically, in that moment, that something inside of me had shifted. I realized that despite coming from generations-old New York Jewish stock, I’m actually a massive California girl. (For the record, I’ve been told this my entire life, but that was the first time I actually accepted it).
So what happened next? Well, let’s just say a series of life-changing events happened to me in beautiful Palm Springs of the course of the next three days. Both at Cinema Diverse and whilst exploring the gorgeous desert oasis itself. Here’s what happened:
I got dressed up and went to a restaurant called “Tropicale” a retro, peachy-pink, tropical-themed haven, all by myself. I made friends at the bar (which I never do), which happened to be teeming with civilized gays, pretty lesbians, eccentric straight women, and giddy bachelorettes, alike.
I ate the freshest jumbo shrimps I’d ever tasted and sucked back Coconut Mojitos like I was going to the electric chair.
I ate strawberry shortcake for breakfast and tossed back an organic bloody mary at the cutest breakfast place to ever exist (Cheekys).
I walked on the red carpet of Cinema Tropicale and leaned up against the Revry TV signage, proudly (I love my friends at Revry TV!).
I watched “When The Party Ends” the powerful movie I had the pleasure of acting in, that was directed by the one and only, KT Curran, produced by SOURCE Productions, on the ~big~ screen at the super cute Camelot Theatres.
It wasn’t even painful to watch! In fact, it was actually kind of amazing and surreal. (For the record it’s a movie about a group of gay friends and examines HIV in queer party culture, I play a druggie party girl named “Didi” you can watch now it on Revry TV!).
The audience seemed very moved by the film! I laughed until popcorn flew out of my nose and cried my mascara off. (Check out the trailer below!)
I partook in a talk-back with other awesomely queer indie filmmakers. I watched a slew of LGBTQ films, some covered serious topics like HIV and identity, others were hilarious, tackling the subjects of threesomes and falling for straight women.
It was a shockingly inclusive festival: Lez representation, gay boy representation, trans representation, bisexual representation, and just general queer representation was ever-present in both the audience and the movie selection. In short: it felt really damn cool and refreshing to be surrounded by members of my community who want to make art and move people, viscerally, not fight semantics over twitter.
At all the after parties, everyone was super kind, friendly and open. I exchanged about ten thousand or so business cards. I made friends that felt like family at a gay bar called “Hunters.” They had a giant unicorn float at the entrance, that I, naturally lept on as my girlfriend/Instagram Husband snapped pictures.
I went to this amazing hippy-dippy (but also glam) resort called “Two Bunches Palms” and swam in natural mineral HOT SPRINGS and took a mud bath that smelled like rotting mushrooms but left my skin feeling like vintage velvet and cured my chronic insomnia for two whole nights. Apparently, it’s where Al Capone used to hide out back in the day.
By the time Monday rolled around, this native New Yorker was hugging trees and contemplating the meaning of her life.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt so at home anywhere,” I blabbed to anyone and everyone who would listen.
“That’s how most of us ended up here.” Everyone collectively gabbed back.
“How am I going to move to Palm Springs? What am I doing with my LIFE? I’m a California girl trapped in the city! What do I do?” I asked my girlfriend Meghan, who is from the Bronx and is a die-hard New Yorker, but was also having an existential Palm Springs identity crisis.
“We’ll figure it out, babe.” She coldly answered, staring into the dusty, desert abyss.
The last day I saw an Angel Card reader (yes, I’m aware that I’m getting more and more annoyingly West Coast by the minute, but I’ve been repressing this side of me 20+ years, so please let me live). “You need to be less like an Oak tree and more like a Palm Tree.” She told me.
“What does that mean?” I asked, even though I knew exactly what she meant.
“It means you need to be more flexible in life. Go with the flow. Stop being so hard on yourself. Stop being so rigid in your thoughts.”
“I hated Palm Trees until this trip. Now I can’t stop staring at them.” I confessed, giving in to the new age vibe.
She smiled, one of those mystical, evolved, spirit-goddess smiles and collected her deck of Tarot cards.
On the plane ride home I was sad. I was leaving behind the desert! And just like Lana Del Rey predicated, I’m a desert girl! You know when you go away and you have a holiday romance, that’s passionate and full of kinky sex, and you’re just like incredibly depressed on the way home? That’s what happened to me. I had a love affair with Palm Springs and I grieved my loss the whole way back to New York.
There is something about the rawness of the desert that I’m drawn too. It’s got some crazy creative energy. It’s a little wild west. A little gay. A little hedonistic. A little literary. A little crazy. And lot beautiful. It’s a wild juxtaposition of so many contrasting things and I’ve always related to wild juxtapositions of so many contrasting things.
And the people I met along my impulsive adventure are people I will never forget. From cab drivers to bar-goers to filmmakers to hippies to drag queens to drag kings, I connected with more people in three days, than I do in a whole year in the city. I don’t know why babes.
So now, I’m back in the city and it’s been a real test. A firestorm of stress. But through it all, I’m trying to visualize fucking palm trees. Swaying. Flexible. Thriving in the sun. Rooted to the earth but also moving with the goddamn wind.
So you know what I’m going to do, babes? I’m going to tattoo a Palm Tree on my inner arm so I can carry the amazing desert energy with me, through my gorgeously flawed city of New York.