my semester in Nashville completely discouraged. I had spent 2 years at Indiana U., 3 years at USC, and a half a year at Vanderbilt, and what did I have to show for it? A M.A., a lot of useless knowledge, a mountain of debt, and no job prospects. What else could I do besides become a college professor?
I took the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory. I read What Color is Your Parachute? And I tried:
1. Spring 1992: Actor. I got good reviews in my college plays, and I had some connections in the industry, like Richard Dreyfuss. How hard could it be to get a job in a sitcom? So I signed up for an acting workshop. My first improv scene was: "Boomer, you're returning from a long trip. Your wife meets you at the door, and you hug and kiss." I ran.
2. Spring 1992: Stand-up Comedian. I was good at telling jokes, so I signed up for a class with Judy Carter, who wrote the Comedy Bible. She said: "Your shtick should be about your relationships. Boomer, are you married?" I shook my head. "Divorced? Widowed? Separated? Living with a girl? Going steady?" Finally I told her "Gay," and she yelled: No! You can't be a gay comedian!" I ran.
3. Summer 1992: Translator. I bought some dictionaries, worked on some sample documents, and contacted a lot of translation agencies. I expected to get assignments translating Rimbaud, Verlaine, Thomas Mann, and Garcia Lorca into English. Turns out, surprisingly, the greatest writers in world literature were already translated.
teach an occasional class in "life skills." Great, except I had to be in the closet all the time. If the boss suspected that I was gay, I would be fired instantly: "We can't have a homo working around kids!"
I endured the homophobic comments from the kids, police officers, case workers, and everyone else for about nine months.
5. Summer 1993: Writer. I tried to write a fantasy novel, but I had a problem with the plots. If you're not walking across the continent to vanquish the Dark Lord by throwing something into something, what else is there?
So I wrote a Gay Guide to Religion, scientifically ranking every Christian denomination in the U.S. by its level of homophobia. My agent hated it: it's a slap in the face of all the conservative Christians!
6. Summer 1993: Architect. Why not? I loved old buildings. It would require going back to school again, but it wasn't hard getting a job as an Architectural Assistant at Gruen Associates, the guys who invented shopping malls. Meanwhile I signed up for some architecture classes at UCLA. Who knew that they would go bankrupt and lay me off after a year?
Ok, I had never been to those places (I would a few years later), and I didn't speak any of the languages, but I figured it was a good niche. Turns out I was wrong. 10 ads in gay magazines, no customers.
8. Fall 1994: Employment Counselor. Most resume services charged $5, but I figured I could charge people $200 each to give them a job test, write their resume and cover letters, and give them interview tips. Surprisingly, this plan didn't work.
9. Fall 1994: Minister. Back in junior high, I thought that God had called me to become a missionary. Maybe He wanted me to become a minister! I called the Metropolitan Community Church, and signed up as a student clergy. It wasn't as glamorous as I expected: they put me in charge of the church hotline, which unfortunately got a lot of questions that weren't related to religion: Where's the best cruising area in town? If I say I'm gay, how much money will you give me? How big is your..."
Seeking a change of venue, we moved to San Francisco in 1995.
11. Fall 1995: Chemist. Maybe I should become a professor, but not in the humanities. Maybe the sciences were the place to be. So I signed up for three introductory science classes at San Francisco City College. I failed calculus and physics, and only passed chemistry by studying six hours a day.
12. Spring 1996: Veterinary Assistant. It didn't require as rigorous a scientific background, there was a veterinary hospital just two blocks away, and I love animals. But not necessarily injured, limping, whining animals in pain. Maybe I should go back to the humanities.
Then one day I was walking across the campus at Berkeley, and I glanced into a classroom and saw the name "John Locke" written on the blackboard. I took it as a sign: go back to graduate school, get your Ph.D., become a college professor. But not in the physical sciences or the humanities. Go into the social sciences.
In the fall of 1997, I enrolled in a fourth graduate program, in sociology at Long Island University. This time I graduated.