Going and Coming

an excerpt

Chapter One


My fellow committee members and I are seated in a conference room at Hermosa Beach City Hall, waiting, rather impatiently, I might add, for Mayor Pro Tem Michael Di Virgilio and the City Council. The Citizens Advisory Committee is assembled this morning to share our thoughts with Di Virgilio and the council as to the advisability of allowing tattoo parlors in our small beach community.

I can't help but think the Mayor Pro Tem would be aghast if he knew why I had accepted his invitation to join the Hermosa Beach Citizens Advisory Committee. Alas, it was not because I am civic minded or politically inclined.

I am here because of one thing, and one thing only: the irresistible dimples that form on Mike's handsome face when he smiles. Believe me, this would appall the sexy Mayor Pro Tem beyond words. Mike is conservative, heterosexual, married, and he does not know I am gay.

Through Mike's Tea Party brown eyes, it's bad enough that I'm a Past Life Regression therapist. And so, rather than dwelling upon the metaphysical nature of my day-to-day work, Di Virgilio chooses to instead focus upon my doctorate from UCLA, my book, and the celebrity status that comes with topping the New York Times Nonfiction Best Sellers List.

If Mike really thought about the alternative, edgy nature of my work, he never would have asked me onto this committee. Mike and Hermosa Beach are a wee bit too inclined right to accept Past Life Regression therapy as a valid career choice. Eight short years ago I, too, would have agreed.

Back then I was a card carrying atheist, unwilling to accept the Divine Mind we call God, or anything else that my physical senses could not perceive. That was before my introduction to Auntie Diana's Pre-Columbian Kisa Kitsa Itza; it predates my months of experimentation at UCLA's officially nonexistent Parapsychology Lab.

Most especially, my atheist beliefs and total dedication to the realm of the senses came before my work with Ramona Burford, the UCLA student volunteer who had taken me, step by step, from her past life death as Randy Mason, through Randy's afterlife experiences in the spirit world. That incredible metaphysical journey had concluded with the late Randy Mason being reincarnated as Ramona Burford.

Along the way, Randy Mason had introduced yours truly to some "new to me" concepts including the Eternal Now, Simultaneous Time, and the incomprehensible vastness and variety of God's creation. Furthermore, speaking under hypnosis as Randy Mason, Ramona Burford had explained how Creationism and the Big Bang Theory are simply different perceptions of one and the same event.

What I learned from Ramona and her past life alter ego, Randy Mason, had been transformational, turning my life inside out and upside down.

As for the Hermosa Beach Citizens Advisory Committee, here's how I came to be in this City Hall conference room, awaiting the arrival of the elected officials.

During intermission at Redondo Union High School's production of She Loves Me, Mike and I had bumped shoulders in the lobby by the refreshments table. Recognizing me from the author photo on my book's dust jacket, Di Virgilio had introduced himself, and subsequently asked if I would consider coming onto the Citizens Advisory Committee, filling the spot vacated by the late Dr. Israel Ginsberg. After taking one look at Mike's dimples and muscular physique, I murmured, "Oh, yes!" the moment the question left his full lips.

Who am I?

My name is Dr. Minnow Saint James. My family and friends call me Minn. To everyone else, I am Dr. Saint James.

I was born and raised in Beverly Hills, California, amid swimming pools, movie stars, and private schools. My parents are Sheila and Russell Saint James. Father owns and operates Saint James Cadillac, six highly successful Cadillac dealerships in the San Fernando Valley. Mother, known simply as She to one and all, is Lady Bountiful to Beverly Hills at large, conceiving and coordinating many of its most prestigious charity events.

Want someone to coax an antisocial celebrity into hosting a Republican fundraiser? Mother is your go-to gal.

A youthful forty, I now live and work in Hermosa Beach, California, one of Los Angeles County's loveliest South Bay beach cities.

Minnow, now there's a moniker you don't hear every day. That is, unless you happen to be me. Jokes about my first name haunted my school years. But these days, when people speak of Dr. Minnow Saint James, there's no mention of his quirky first name. They talk about my professional achievements. You see, nowadays, I have a wildly successful practice as America's leading Past Life Regression therapist, and I'm also the founder of the Institute for Mental Health Through Past Life Regression Therapy--now an international organization--with my friend and former professor, Dr. Adrian Finkelstein, as the Institute's CEO.

But what exactly is a Past Life Regression therapist? I am in the business of going and coming--that is, going into my patients' past, and sometimes future, lives through hypnotic regression, and coming back with the other life origins of their present life challenges.

My work is cutting edge and evolutionary. Let me put it this way: medical marvels such as artificial limbs, titanium plates and other metal joints, and pacemakers, have already transformed humans from biological organisms into creatures that are biological and technological hybrids.

Similarly the science of psychology will soon come to understand the necessity of treating the individual's entire mental gestalt--including what we think of as past, and even future, lives--in order for the person to be healed.

In my practice, I've been treating that entire gestalt for the past seven years. I'm the future of good mental health, science's better way and brighter tomorrow. But to Psychology Today, and to most of the mental health community, the jury is still out on past life regression therapy, and so they claim my work is not science based.

Nonetheless my success rate, in excess of eighty-five percent, not only speaks for itself, it is the envy of the "scientifically sound" therapies. My services are sought out by people from all walks of life, and from all over the world. My private practice has a six-month waiting list.

Quite simply, while Mother is the go-to woman for charitable Beverly Hills, I'm the guy ya gonna call when you believe the challenges of your current life may be rooted in a past, or future, one. Often my therapy represents the last, best hope of patients who have tried and failed to achieve mental health through traditional treatments.

My work has many perks. For one, it is much easier dealing with other people's issues than with your own. I have a good excuse, if not a good reason, for leaving my own challenges and shortcomings unexamined.

That is how I'm able to avoid pesky questions. Questions such as: Why, at forty-years-old, am I without a spouse, a boyfriend, or even the steady hook-up? I like to think the lack of romance in my life, and the absence of booty in my bed, are products of the spiritualization of my thought, gained in the eight years since my personal transformation. That is what I like to think. The truth may vary.

So I give short shrift to my personal issues and you should too.

But where is everyone? They were due at eleven; it's ten past. Are the Mayor Pro Tem and his council habitually late? I hope not. I hate people who keep others waiting. It's disrespectful and a waste of my precious time.

But rather than fuming over unexcused tardiness, I instead turned my attention to the impossibly handsome face and pistol hot form of young Randal Sherman, my fellow committee member, and the First Son of Hermosa Beach.

Tis a pity that Randal is straight, and probably fifteen years my junior. The youth is irresistible. Just look at him: tight white jeans setting off his tanned, smooth skin, raven black hair cut into a perfect modern pompadour, a straight Greek nose, startling sapphire eyes, and full lips. I call such lush buds ‘Come catch me, kiss me, lips.' Each time they lift into a smile, dimples form on the First Son's cheeks. And you already know I'm a pushover for dimples.

But alas, another committee member--a much less attractive one--Clancy O'Toole was demanding my attention.

"What's your opinion, Dr. Saint James?" she asked, leaning her thin form in my direction.

"My opinion?" I answered Clancy's question with one of my own, as I often do. It has the effect of pulling out more information from others--and simultaneously making it simple for me to reveal less. You see, personally speaking, I tend to be stingy with information.

"About the tattoo parlors?"

I quickly ran a hand through my hair. For some reason of which I'm unaware, this casual gesture seems to endear me to others. "And please call me, Minn, Miss O'Toole."

I won her over, as I knew I would. She smiled warmly, and then quickly swiped the end of her nose with the tip of her thumb. "Thank you, Dr., err, Minn. And you must call me Clancy, or even Clan, if you prefer."

Clan was a familiarity too far; besides it evoked racists in white sheets and hoods. So I announced, "Then Clancy it is!"

"Now about the tattoo parlors?" Her voice came out in a raspy whisper. I strained to hear her.

"On the one hand," I began, unleashing my best smile. "In San Francisco, a federal appeals court struck down a ban on such parlors as a violation of free speech. On the other hand, do we really want Hermosa Beach to become another freak show, like Venice?"

Clancy nodded seriously. "You make a good point."

Of course I had.

Clancy had been asked onto the Citizens Advisory Committee because she is one of Hermosa's most successful businesswomen--she owns and operates O'Toole Landscape Design, the premier destination for smart Hermosans in need of a singularly beautiful yard.

My instincts and training both tell me that Clancy is a lesbian.

First of all, she's in her fifties, and single.

Also, Clancy wears her thick ginger mane in a dated, tellingly masculine cut, the Duck's Ass, or D.A., for short, which has always been the rage among lesbian women.

In addition, her voice is mannish.

And then there's the little matter of Clancy's housemate--a certain Miss Virginia Pierman, a physical education teacher at Redondo Union High School. A spinster, too, Miss Pierman also sports a Duck's Ass hairdo, and when there are not gym shoes on her feet, they are in penny loafers, or worse yet, flip-flops.

"So, how will you advise the council?" Clancy asked.

I gently rubbed my goatee between my thumb and forefinger. Then I said, "I can't advise Hermosa to continue in violation of our constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech."

She nodded half-heartedly. "I guess not."

After the appeals court ruling in San Francisco, voting against tattoo parlors and free speech would be ill advised.

Eager to gauge the reactions of my fellow committee members--they had been listening to the exchange--I shifted my focus from Clancy over to Gertrude Sherman, who was seated beside her son, the divine Randal.

The woman looked as if she had just smelled something odiferous. This pinched, unsettling look frequently occupied the large, nondescript face of the haughty First Lady of Hermosa Beach. Sixty, if she was a day, Gertrude would endure for at least another thirty years or so. A dowager of substantial heft, but of uncertain heredity, Gertrude's mysterious Teutonic accent came and went, thickening whenever she became excited. At such times, understanding the Widow Sherman required a Zoltan Karpathy.

The Sherman family into which Gertrude had married in the 1970s has been part and parcel of Hermosa Beach since the late 1880s, back when the town and environs were a part of the Rancho San Pedro Spanish land grant.

Gertrude's late husband, Pierpont, had been the grandson of the area's wealthiest landowner.

Widowed for more than a decade, Gertrude and her son, Randal, were commonly known as the First Lady and the First Son of Hermosa Beach. Their beachfront estate was the town's largest private home, and their influence was omnipresent.

Behind her back, and because of her heft, Gertrude was frequently dubbed The Sherman Tank. Like her youth and figure, Gertrude's sense of style was in the rear view. Everything the woman wore unintentionally emphasized her size, and this morning's drab floral frock was no exception.

Making matters worse, Gertrude's deep, booming voice made her sound more like a Port of Long Beach dockworker than a lady.

Lamentably, Gertrude played the role of Queen Bee to the hilt, forever putting her bulbous nose where it did not belong, and where it was unwanted.

"Constitutional or not," Randal Sherman was saying, his sapphire eyes blazing, "tattoo parlors are a blight on the community." The comment was classic Randal Sherman. Our lovely First Son was a highly opinionated, outspoken young man--one who often came off as testy, spoiling for a fight.

"Here! Here!" Reverend Doug McLintock shouted. Obviously he shared the youth's opinion.

Randal was really something else. Other than living in the family mansion, and living off of the Sherman fortune, he is somewhat of a mystery. Rumor says that he is a desperately unhappy young man. As the history of the world has shown us, a life of comfort and privilege, beauty and charisma, can't buy you happiness, and in Randal's case, disillusionment had come early.

Last summer, Hermosa's First Son had been rushed to Torrance Memorial Hospital as the result of an alleged failed suicide attempt.

Gertrude of course, had waved off the incident as "an appendicitis attack."

Mother and son's relationship was a notoriously toxic one. Although she defended Randal publicly, in private, Gertrude was known to call him "that nasty, nasty boy." I wonder why? What in the world could prompt anyone, much less his own flesh and blood, to refer to this heavenly dish as nasty?

Although the First Son may be somehow demon-riddled, he was not one to shy away from controversy. In truth, there was nothing shy about Randal.

In 2011, he had shocked the town's crème de la crème by appearing nude in "The Hunks of Hermosa" Calendar, benefitting the Hermosa Beach Historical Society, of which his mother was president.

As Mr. February, Randal's divine body had been fully exposed, except for a red ribbon tied around his waist--it barely covered his private parts. A smaller inset photograph, positioned on the larger frontal picture, revealed Randal's tanned, strong legs that rose to meet two of humankind's most perfect, smooth, muscled butt cheeks.

Looking into the First Son's roguish sapphire eyes, I thought about how frequently I had taken my pleasure, one hand holding his calendar page ogling his nude beauty, the other hand pumping my shaft.

Looking at him now, I couldn't help but wonder hopefully, he has already stripped for sweet charity. So might he take things one giant step forward, and allow himself to be filmed nude and pornographically? How delicious. I shivered at the very thought of this prospect.

But Randal was not the only Sherman who had indulged controversy. In 2007, back when I was still in Beverly Hills, a runaway groom had left Margie, his older sister, at the altar. A few months later, she shocked everyone by eloping suddenly with a social climbing artist from New York--an impoverished, bohemian she barely knew.

Rumor reported that Margie had shed her we-got-married-in-a-fever first husband only to take up with a second undistinguished artist. Today they reportedly shared a one-bedroom Greenwich Village walk-up on Waverly Place.

I forced myself to turn my thoughts away from the Sherman progeny, and focus instead on Reverend Doug McLintock, our fifth and final committee member.

Doug, as he is more commonly known, is the youthful minister at St. Cross Episcopal Church, or St. Cross By the Sea, as its congregation long ago dubbed their seaside church. Listening intently to the pros and cons of tattoo parlors, his sandy blond eyebrows knitted together in concentration.

His relaxed ways, blond good looks, and athletic build evoked our local surf rats more than they did a preacher man, and unlike Gertrude Sherman's, Doug's thick accent was charming, identifiable, and understandable.

A youthful widower, Doug had relocated from Boston to shepherd the faithful of St. Cross last year.

Pity Doug had missed 2011's "The Hunks of Hermosa" calendar. I'm quite sure this bible-preaching babe would have gleefully shed collar, shirt, and trousers for the sake of sweet charity. Regretfully, by the time the reverend arrived, the Historical Society had already been in production with its 2014 calendar, this one dubbed, "Beach Bunnies on Parade."

So here we waited: the Past Life Regression therapist, the closeted lesbian landscaper, the power-hungry Teutonic First Lady, her beautiful, player son, and the Troy Donahue lookalike preacher.

Yes, Hermosa Beach's Citizens Advisory Committee was a disparate bunch--a motley, if high profile, crew.

But the community we served was also an anomaly. California has a wildly progressive reputation, and for the most part, it is well deserved. But there are notable exceptions, several large pockets of conservatism, in the Golden State. California's big central valley is one of them, and, Orange County, home to Disneyland, is another.

In some respects, so is Hermosa Beach. Granted my adopted home is a party town: alcohol, drugs, and heterosexual promiscuity are rampant. But Hermosa's liberalism only extends to heterosexuality and other things of the flesh. When it comes to New Age, metaphysical, and political matters, the town leans decidedly right. Hermosans have no appetite for things gay, or spiritual. Put another way, the community had been "all in" for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but it was ignoring cultural memos by the time The Boys in the Band came along.

That's why being home to America's premier Past Life Regression therapist will never make the Chamber of Commerce brochure. Although the town supports marriage equality in theory, overall, the folk who live in my seaside niche prefer "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," to full disclosure.

That suits me fine. My private life remains nobody's business but my own. I'm free to ogle the male beach babes that walk around Hermosa shirtless and in shorts. And the locals will never guess the dirty, little fantasies I generate about the men of the City Council.

During my interview for this committee I made a wonderful discovery. The Hermosa Beach City Council is packed full of the most delicious men imaginable.

In addition to "Dimples" Di Virgilio, there is Mayor Patrick "Kit" Bobco, with his exotic good looks, seductive smile, and bitchin' beach bod.

Additionally Councilman Howard Fishman is a bright-eyed, classically handsome businessman, with musculature that surges through the form fitting Lacoste shirts he favors.

Next is Peter Johnson. He still sports the pouty, bad boy looks and spiked hair he had in 1989, as the most winning quarterback in the history of Redondo Union High School.

And finally we have Bill Brownell, a smallish, but sexy, bookseller whose trust fund makes it possible for this brown and gray-haired imp to keep God's Little Acre of Books, the family book store on Pier Avenue, open more than a full decade after it last turned a profit.

An accented, frostbitten voice snapped me out of my reverie. It belonged to Gertrude Sherman.

"You'd think the mayor and his council could afford watches," she intoned icily, impatiently tapping her fat foot. "Or haven't they learned to tell time?" The Sherman Tank paused to glance at her own wristwatch. "Well, I never! Fifteen minutes late, and not one word."

Hermosa's First Lady did not mince words about city officials, nor did she hold them in high esteem. As she had told Easy Reader, Hermosa Beach's weekly newspaper, in the article that announced her appointment to this committee: "I've seen mayors and city councils come and go. I've been here for six decades, and I intend to stay put for at least six more."

"Calm down, Mummsy," Randal said in his warm, velvety baritone. "The Mayor Pro Tempore and his councilmen are busy people."

Gertrude sniffed haughtily. In a voice brimming with self-importance, she added, "I'm busy too. I've things to do--other people to see. I don't spend my days standing around, scratching my stomach, for lack of purpose."

In this instance, I agreed with The Sherman Tank. Fifteen minutes late. They could have phoned or texted. They are paid city employees; we are unpaid volunteers--three of us with businesses to run. "I must confess that I agree with your mother," I told Randal, smiling. "Common courtesy dictates as much."

Randal shot me a disapproving look; it somehow made him all the more appealing. I shrank back. Not even for the sake of being dead right did I want to endure this young god's censure.

But Gertrude rewarded my agreement with a smile. If winning her approval were as simple as uniting with her on such trivia, then I would have little difficulty in wrapping Hermosa's meddling First Lady around my well-deserving finger.

Ah, you have just learned something crucial about me, reader--my words do not always reflect my feelings. Why should they? It's often in my best interest to say what someone wants to hear, rather than what I believe to be true.

Just then, Shirley, the beautiful, young City Hall receptionist, flew through the conference room door. She was pale and aflutter.

"Excuse me, all. I've got news," she said, her voice quavering. "Horrible news. There's been an accident." The words left her mouth in short, anxious bursts. "The Mayor Pro Tem has been rushed to Little Company of Mary."

Well, that explains it. An accident has landed "Dimples" in the hospital.

Randal ran an anxious hand through his raven hair, but Gertrude seemed unmoved. Clearly she preferred Di Virgilio injured and hospitalized than late and ill-mannered.

"Will he be all right?" Clancy asked quickly.

"I don't know," Shirley answered, her voice shaky. "A car ran a red light. He's in IC."

Reverend Doug rose. After clearing his throat, he announced, in his clerical bass, "Our prayers are with him."

Gertrude scowled. With some difficulty, she rose to her feet. "As it happens, we've been waiting for Godot." She smirked.

Randal got to his feet. "What now?"

Shirley sighed, and apologized with an anxious blast of words, "I'm so sorry. We'll reschedule after we know more."

Clancy lumbered over to me, swiping the tip of her nose with her thumb. "Minn, have you time for a Caramel Latte at Bonaparte?"

I nodded. "Absolutely."

She smiled. "We really should know one another better. We may be birds of a feather, you and I."

Clancy's words had been said in a warm, conspiratorial tone, but to my sometimes paranoid ears, they sounded threatening. Shivers swept through me. Anxiously I blinked.

Imagining the manner in which Clancy believed us to be similarly feathered, my head reeled. I'm fairly certain she's a lesbian. I'm forty and single. Has she done the math--figured out that I'm gay? What else could she be thinking?

"I'll meet you there," she said, still smiling. Or was it a knowing smirk?

"No problem," I told her. The words flew out of my mouth. But it could be a big problem, ruining everything. If Clancy has guessed my sexual orientation, this "Don't ask, don't tell," life of mine would come crashing down.