Rollin' deep in the heart of the I.E. through the gnarled concrete arteries of 60+10+91 east to neon sunsets and Naugles, Taco Tia, the Mad/Friendly/Happy or Lucky Greek,The Menagerie, Spanky's, Butch's Grinders, The Denny's Cocktail Lounge at Hardman Center (in pace requiescat). We spell Paris P-E-R-R-I-S, bitches!


Show Me the Mizithra

After a moment of silence during the holidaze (due in no small part to the obscene quantities of prime rib, turtles and pancetta roasted brussel sprouts I've been shoving down my gullet courtesy of the parentals and the Kangagi's sistah, oh sistah), the Emperor is back to report on our naughty and nice pre-Xmas gaycation with Mr. and Mrs. Trollito in the I.E. Despite the frigid, windy temps--we're talking frozen desert hearts here folks--'twas truly H-O-T-T-T.

Drag Queens and Porn Stars and Grinders, oh my!

In the name o
f research and commerce, we rolled out for an overniter in the land I call home-o, Riverside, CA. The parental abode (see left) is too tiny and over-populated by ersatz kids of the four-legged variety (exhibit A, "Yuki," to the right) to accommodate a gigglesnorting gaggle of husky lezzies and lithe andro hooves, so we decided to enlist our travel agent--aka Priceline-- to score us a room at Riverside's own "historic Mission Inn." Hey...if it's good enough for Richard and Pat Nixon's wedding, it's good enough for a fab "don't call us homo-normy, we're homo-smarmy" foursome apres outlets and queer clubs.

My dad has a regular Thurs-Sat jazz trio gig at the Mission Inn's Presidential Lounge, despite the fact that he's a yellow-dawg Democrat, and Republican presidents are notoriously overrepresented in the presidential portrait gallery flanking the lounge, with the notable exception of JFK. This past weekend, howevs, daddy-o took time off to entertain my Uncle Lee, visiting from Vancouver, B.C. where he's lived since conscientiously objecting to the Vietnam War (that's dodging the draft in jingo-speak). In short, we had the M.I. decked out in all of its gaudy animatronic holiday splendour all to ourselves that night...or so we thought...
(Below: note the noir-ish pool view from our room)

Earlier in the day, our I.E. adventures began when Kangagi and I converged with Mr. and Mrs. Trollito, and fueled up for what was to be a late afternoon of torrid Cabazon consumption at one of the Riv's finest homegrown eateries, D'Elias Grinders. Anyone who's ever spent more than 24 consecutive hours in the Riv knows about this place situated between UCR and downtown. One of the few sincere connections I had with one of my profs in grad skool at Berkeley came about because of D'Elias reminiscences. She came from the Riv (rare for an academic), she went to my high-school (even rarer), and talked about craving D'Elias daily (not so rare).

As Mr. Trollito remarked while we were cruising across town, she was charmed by the resillience of numerous mom and pop shops in Riverside,
an observation often lost in the standard scholarly and journo rhetoric about the stripmalling of southern California's suburbs and exurbs. All it took was a casual jaunt down Magnolia, Market and Uni Aves in Mrs. Trollito's zippy black Mini to bring this point home. We spied premium views of places like the Thunderbird Lodge and Skylark Motel on Uni Ave (both outlasted the ill-fated Hampton Inn, my very own high-school "party pad" where we'd fill the bathtub with bottles of Bartles & Jaymes), and unassuming joints like the family-owned Zacatecas Mexican Restaurant (best mariscos in the Riv), as well as the Kawa Market on Magnolia and Bandini--the first Asian market I ever knew in So. Cal. Kawa is basically a small wood house converted during the early '50s into an Asian convenience shop.

D'Elias Grinders is another one of these mom and pop joints. Founded by a group of Italian brothers in 1959, D'Elias firm yet flaky fresh bread, baked daily on the premises, is nothing short of "sekshual" to use the Trolls' term of endearment. Kangagi and Mrs. Troll were adventurous and sampled the hot meatball sub and BLT grinder, respectively, while Mr. Troll and I stuck to the house classic--the capacolla with everything on it, including the potent, powdery red chili you sprinkle yourself from the mammoth plastic shaker attached with a hefty chain to the condiment station. Yeah-yuh! It had me D'Elias dancing my way out of the joint.

I'll spare the details of our shopping trip, since Cabazon is beyond the borders of the I.E. proper. "All-season Marc Jacobs seersucker" is all I have to say.

No trip to the I.E. is complete without a check-in with the parentals, and they were
kind enough to invite all of us for a late evening re-fuel, family-chain style, at Ye Olde Spaghetti Factory where the Trolls were introduced to the exotic pleasures of mizithra cheese and free spumoni. Fonts of trivia that my dad and uncle are (L-R: Mom, Dad, Uncle Lee sipping scotch in profile), we learned at dinner that the Spaghetti Factory chain was actually founded by Guss Dussin, a retired psychotherapist who originally practiced in Vancouver, B.C. It turns out Mr. Dussin didn't only have a penchant for pasta: he was also a prescient proto-gentrifier whose success as a spaghetti mogul had as much to do with his "flipping" of abandoned historic warehouse spaces (mostly in blighted downtowns like Portland, OR the site of the first Spaghetti Factory), as with his creative applications of mizithra and creamy pesto. To keep overhead costs low, Dussin enlisted his wife to redecorate these massive warehouses with thrift store antiques and collectibles, foreshadowing with his chain of family restaurants what we now refer to in creative class parlance as Bo-Bo, or "Bourgeois-Boheme" shabby chic.

Indeed, Riverside's Spaghetti Factory is a restored citrus packing plant
in a formerly dodgy patch of downtown near the train tracks, pre-Mission Inn rehab and before a fervent citrus heritage revivalism fully seized the city. Now Riverside's Old Spaghetti Factory is designated as a landmark in the City of Riverside's redevelopment plan to convert other historic spaces in the surrounding area. (L-R: Kangagi and Mrs. Troll sinking with spaghetti while Mr. Troll's just burnin' doin' Mizithra dance).

We quickly transitioned from pasta to porn after a brief digestive respite and costume
change in our M.I. digs. Riverside's and (I need to fact-check this) purportedly the I.E.'s oldest gay bar, The Menagerie: "A Unique Lounge," was on our agenda for the night. "The Menagerie" is Riverside shorthand for "queer as a muthafucka," and though I couldn't really hang there until I turned 21 (well after I took off for college), I felt I knew the place because of local legend. Most of the insults kids spat upon the RUSD's schoolyards involved some invocation of that special place-name..."I bet you go to the MENAGERIE every night, you gaylord."

Unbeknownst to us, a local drag queen starlette named Raven was hosting a pre-Christmas spectacular with some special guests in the audience from Kelly "34FF" Madison's porn company, including Ms. Madison herself. At first the crowd was
thin, literally and figuratively, with some scattered indie-hooved college girls, Abercrombie fags, and a stray cholo or two clustered near the massive bar. The Menagerie, like the Old Spaghetti Factory, is a historic space in an early 20th-century warehouse rumored to have been a former bank building. As showtime approached, the room thickened with screaming divas of all varieties--Elvis (Costello) and El Vez wannabes, homiesexual sistahs, Latino hetero-couples cruising for thirds, wizened butch fags, and of course, Kelly Madison's posse cumitatus. (Right: Raven works the stage while an admirer looks on)

After a few $8 pitchers filled with America's finest light lagers, we were rockin' our
front row seats with fistfulls of dollars while dodging (or was it soliciting?) boob-grazes from Ms. Madison. (LEFT: Trollin' it up with "Mr. Kelly Madison," in the pink tie on the far left; RIGHT below: Kelly Madison and Raven toast the night's festivities). As we learned from one of Ms. Madison's minions after she busted a "hubby-and-I-are-looking-for-a-third" move on the Kangagi in the ladies room line--we may be smarmy but we're not that homo-smarmy--Kelly's porn company is based in Corona, CA, another I.E. spot on the cusp of the O.C. called out by the show, The O.C., as a shady spot populated by boozers who might be best described as "poor man's Matt Dillon." See Season 1.

Kelly specializes in "titty-fucking" and hardcore scenarios with her "all natural" 34FF breastuses, but mostly she's an entrepreneur who boasts "DVD quality" downloads from her w
ebsite for reasonable monthly subscription rates. This apparently keeps her and her entire company (coincidentally booked at the Mission Inn that same night) clad in LOTS of Cabazon Gucci. Kelly's husband, who looks a lot like a latter-day Shadoe Stevens, the top-40 DJ best known to Inland Emperors and Empresses as "Fred Rated" from the Federated TV commericals, is her primary partner onscreen as well as off. (Monsieur "Madison" strikes a pose to the left).

The true stars of the show, of course, were the drag queen
divas of the I.E. Their performances were driven by a sort of urgency I haven't seen in awhile, especially in some of the big-city revues that don't seem to encourage as much paw-y audience mingling, and offer little sympathy for performers with heftier backsides. (RIGHT: Ladies, give yourselves a hand). The set-list was eclectic to say the least, with some strong moves and sweaty writhing to Avenue D's "2D2F," followed-up with a requisite I.E. nod to Depeche Mode and a wet n wild Def Leppard finale..."Pour Some Sugar On Meh....."
Hoarse with enthusiasm and drained of all our singles (we noticed KM's crew were droppin' Jacksons instead of Washingtons), we managed to fumble our way to the indoor/outdoor patio after the show, where we tried our best to absorb all the BL's and free MGD's courtesy of Ms. Madison's minions with the Menage's house popcorn. I'll spare the details of how we got our groove on (I'll let the pictures paint a thousand words), but I do want to send a shout out to the Menage's bouncer, Rambo, a sweet and charming dude beneath an intimidatingly beefy Brooklyn exterior (see below). He tried to explain how he landed in the Riv to sweep up the spilled popcorn on the Menagerie patio (Rambo: "It's a great paying gig and they treat me good"), but most of that explanation was lost in the excitement over his revalation that his true baby is something called ExtravaGangsta Radio, an internet radio station featuring hip-hop and reggaeton by undiscovered artists, with some experimental sounds, rare cuts and preview tracks from mega-acts like Diddy, Kanye, Sean Paul, etc. for good measure.

The stumble home was truly precious, if mostly because we only had to walk about a block through downtown Riv. In what must be an I.E. first, we managed NOT to have to drive drunk. Also, in a shocking stroke of kismet surely to be filed under the "blessings can be curses" category, one of the porn couples was booked in the room next door. We already jokingly insisted on the "silence is golden" rule when we discovered this while hob-nobbing with the pair at the Menage, but drunken deals don't hold, so we were treated to the refrains, first of fighting:
W: "You're nothing but a big loser!"
M: "Don't call me a loser, bitch. I'm not a loser!" [door slam]
r re-opens]
M: "I love you baby,"
W: "Oh baby..."
And then...well, you know.
..(moan, grunt, headboard, shriek, etc.) With all of us sharing a room for our overnite gaycation, the shrieks of excitement emanating from our space were reserved exclusively for the 24 hour room service and our apres clubbing club sammiches. (Right: Mr. Trollito misses out on our version of an after-hours club).

The next morning was pleasantly uneventful--we
sauntered to the pool with our lesbo appropriate sporty swimming attire, and narrowly avoided a morning booze relapse into mimosas and bloody marys. We only frightened a few unaccompanied euro-children playing in the jacuzzi along the way. Yeah-yuh! To paraphrase the Go-Go's: Gaycation all I ever wanted...gaycation had to get away...
I suppose sometimes gaycation also means coming home(o).


This DeBarge Called My Back

My mom cultivated my "analytic listening" skills, pre-Baby Einstein daze, by making me transcribe song lyrics for the parental pop gigs. I felt like the real Song Hits scribe, or at least the knock-off version Pasig stilez. SH was published by Charlton Pubs and originated in the south back in the 1930's (I think). Its Pinoy incarnation, the one with which I'm most familiar, featured glossy covers that encased pages of smudgy, folio-sized newsprint covered with tablature and song lyrics from the hot 100 like--"Abra Abra Cadabra...I wanna reach out and grab ya..." (Steve Miller band, baby).

Song Hits (SH) wasn't readily available in the I.E. back in the late-early 80's, although the Alpha Beta grocery on the corner of California and Monroe Aves. boasted a shockingly awesome selection of Brit teenybopper mags like Smash Hits. SmH occasionally included song lyrics (mostly Wham!). More on the Anglophilia of So. Cal Inland Emperors and Empresses in a later installment.

Anyway...a lyric-transcription memory I can't seem to forget (for no apparent reason) inolves El DeBarge's solo smash"Rhythm of the Night." The words were easy enough to pick out, thanks to El's earnest readerly delivery. Listen and he sounds almost like a kid working his way through an enchanted storybook for the very first time. Nevertheless, a few lines remained breathily elusive, so I had to listen to the song over and over and over again. Cue synth-steel drums and stocky bass line. To this day I know every word by heart. ROTN was penned by powerhouse movie music composer, Dianne Warren. It provided the theme for the Reagan-era studio flick, The Last Dragon
(Columbia TriStar/ Motown, 1985), which some regard as blaxploitation-lite. Must be because Vanity stars in it.

One could call El's solo smash the poor-man's "All Night Long," but there's just something so sweet, lite and scamper-scamper andro-hooves about it--like the world is all unicorns, cummerbunds and scraggly tranny moustaches. Come to think of it, El's attire for his "live" Solid Gold performance of the hit back in '85 provides the template for some of the more spectacular forms of urban andro-lesbo, post-millenial, post-bisekshual, post-Le Tigre's-major-label-debut style. "Lesbians to the Rescue" indeed. I'm pretty sure that plenty of these art-burn white girls are completely clueless about the fact that their "ironic" fashion bravado has everything to do with a bizarre but important moment in Black pop culture.

El, this one's for you and your afro-andro charms...for all that time I spent listening to your 45 (notice I ain't calling it a 7"), and for my momma who wore her own sequined cummerbund for shows. INLAND EMPEROR would also like to send a special shout-out to this week's special guest star la Balance (the 'day known as "Tyne" back in tha day). An Inland Empress in exile, we hope she comes back to us for keeps


I.E. on "The O.C." (Media Alert!)

Hot off my Tivo (lesbionic belatedness part deux): The O.C. strikes again with some playful, if snarky references to The Riv--or is it The 'Side?--in this week's "Chrismukk-huh?" episode. Of course it revolves around Riverside's first official primetime vixen, Julie Cooper-Nichol-Just Cooper again, thank you very much.

In the opening sequence, an unusually sedate Julie tells her younger daughter Kaitlin (first introduced as a replacement mini-Mischa, yet infinitely more amusing than her wan and affectless older "sister") to hustle and load the car up for Christmas dinner with the maternal grandfolks.

Kaitlin: "I don't wanna go to the ghetto for Christmas."

: "It's not the ghetto--it's Riverside [dramatic pause] and that's where our family lives, so hurry up."

Later in the show, Julie delivers a delicious quip about "Riverside" and "Wine Coolers," but I can't find a video clip or a fansite dilligent enough in these, the show's purportedly waning days, to post a full-script recap. I'm pretty certain the joke would be lost in my attempt to reconstruct it. Planet Claire promises a full script transcription by 8pm, but who knows when she made that promise. Suffice it to say, I'll do my best to follow up with an accurate citation someday, somehow, somewhere.*

For now, I don't have much more to add about
this Riv cameo in The O.C., although you can bet I'll have volumes to say about the OC--show and place--in future posts. After my inaugural post, I do have to admit to feeling as if I should clarify a couple of quick things about my relationship to the OC. As much as I will, in this blog, gladly trade upon the presumed whiteness, plasticity and conservatism of our neighbors behind the Orange Curtain, I'm well aware that there is a (dare I admit it?) Riv-like socioeconomic and cultural complexity to the make-up (and we ain't talkin' MAC) of our OC neighbors. North County vs. South County, Brown conservatives, Fundies and Catholics, Jews and Gentiles (Sandy Cohen is not entirely a figment of Josh Schwartz's imagination)...

My OC I.Q. shot up thanks to time spent in the belly of the beast, in The 'Vine's QLC (UCHRI's "Queer Locations Collective") in 2004 with one of my suburban studies soulmates, Glen Mimura. To invoke the wisdom of Nu Shooz, "Ooooooooh...I Can't Wait" to see more of his project on "The Brown O.C."

Stay tuned for next week's dispatch direct from the I.E. as my Kangagi and I take a Riverside gaycation with Mr. and Mrs. Trollito! Any emperors or empresses up for a few drinks Thursday nite 12/21 at The Menagerie or The V.I.P (aka "Very Important Phag") hollerz over email. We'll be hitting up both spots before the night is through.

'Til then, in the spirit of "Chrismukk-huh?," a glimpse at our the right, to the right...

*It turn's out Planet Claire came through after all. At 8pm CST, she posted the following exchange between Kaitlin and Julie. Picture this: Kaitlin plops a bottle of chardonnay into an oh-so-Riv Igloo ice chest and the following conversation ensues:

Julie: Oh, now honey I told you my family only drinks wine coolers.
Kaitlin: We're having a very Britney Christmas, mother.
Julie: Yes. Watch out. I might put you on my lap while we drive out there.


The Emperor is Dead. Long Live the Emperor.

It seems appropriate, given my recent ruminations on suburban dyke "belatedness," that I begin a blog now after everyone on the planet's already started one or several, and maybe even abandoned a few along the way (like the extra bags of tealights, eastern-bloc inspired digital alarm clocks, and splashy cocktail napkins sprinkled atop the massive impulse-buy-bins leading up to the IKEA cash register). Oooh...I even mustered up a lesbionic endorsement of IKEA (aka DYKEA). Note to self: immediately consult craigslist ETC job listings about how to score ad bucks by adding a blog link to the IKEA website.

To continue with the themes of belatedness and "temporal drag" inspired by the fantabulous Beth Freeman's (affectionately known as "Gletha the Goat Lady's") work on the subject... this Inland Emperor is both burdened and motivated by the spirit of procrastination instilled in me by my hapa-configured family (Pinay mom, Anglo So. Cal hippie step-dad). My mom and grandma in particular eschewed model-minority narratives about hard immigrant labor and American-style pluck & determination, choosing instead to luxuriate in the spoils of a "blue-light special" lifestyle in Rivers
ide, CA. Don't get me wrong--they sure worked hard for the money in the very places they ended up spending their dough (Mamang gigged hardcore her first few months in The States guarding game tokens in "The Vault" at the Castle Amusment Park near the Tyler Mall, and Mom's first non-musical gig was working the jewelry and camera counter at the big K before it was called The Big K). But leisure time in the way of glorious consumption--from scrumptious fastfoodstuffs, to hours of televisual programming (and at that point in our lives, it was TV and not HBO)--was treasured above all else save perhaps music in our household.

Unlike our fancier neighbors to the west, in the counties we call Orange, spa treatments cut with valium and other prescription delights weren't an option in our leisure culture. Nevertheless, I still managed to learn in our little cor
ner of the I.E, tucked between the Riverside Municipal Airport and Ramona High School where I suffered through band camp in 110 degree heat. I learned a lot from the thrill ride of manic labor followed up by long stretches of spiritual and mental recovery. I learned a lot from the overworked, underpaid and righteously brilliant teachers in the R.U.S.D., all the way through R.C.C. (aka Ramona Continuation College). But I digress...

I'm gonna try to refrain from
too much "navel-gazing"--a phrase I only figured out how to use properly in grad school--in this blog. INLAND EMPEROR is "that thing" I'm using to get the proverbial juices flowing so I can write the book that will hopefully get me tenure someday. Suffice it to say that this little blog is meant to be the the space where I can experiment with ideas while at the same time celebrating, in the extradiegetic song-stylings of Barbra in The Prince of Tides, "Places that Belong to You"...and to me. More than just a repository for the archival tid-bits, mental digressions and nascent formations meant to accompany and ultimately flow into the as-of-yet-untitled book project on queer of color suburban imaginaries, INLAND EMPEROR will offer reflections on the spaces, times and (sub?)cultures of that vast expanse we call the I.E., from new reviews of old places, queer reviews of straight places, old reflections on new places, queer reviews of queer places, brown reviews of pale places, pale reviews of dark places, new reviews of new places, and alot of other crap in between, both related and un.

DISCLAIMER TIME: as I was navigating my way through all the blogger options and templates, I came across another blog called "
The Inland Emperor" with the url But I noticed that my imperial predecessor, who is of a decidedly more red-state stripe, hadn't posted anything since 2003. His header reads: "It could be worse...I could be in Los Angeles County," and his last post heralded the impending arrival of King George the II to one of the "Inland Empire's greatest treasures"--presumably the Mission Inn--during the election season of fall 2003. In short, I feel no qualms about deposing The First Inland Emperor and taking over the moniker for my dyke-of-color immigrant brethren. I mean, aren't the orange polka-dotted TROPKA napkins yours if you're the only one who has the heart to rescue them from the reject bin enroute to your own IKEA checkout?

The Emperor is Dead. Long Live the Emperor!