“50”

“50”

Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age. – Victor Hugo

Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty. – Coco Chanel

Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed. – Charles M. Schulz

“Youth has many glories, but judgment is not one of them and no amount of electronic amplification can turn a belch into an aria.” — Alan Jay Lerner, “The Street Where I Live”

Age ain’t nothing but a number – Aaliyah

Todo lo he hecho a sabiendas y no me arrepiento de nada. Ni de lo bueno ni de lo mano ni de los momentos felices ni de las tristezas. Al final, tengo el alma llena de paz y de tranquilidad.  — Chavela Vargas

Holy fu*k! I’m 50! – Everyone else

I turned 50 today. I figure all that’s left for me now is getting an AARP membership and let those discounts begin! Hahaha. Nah. That’s not how I started my countdown to turning 50 earlier this week. It began by my pondering how I would look with the new Chanel Gabrielle bag in black lambskin. I mean, if it works for Pharrell Williams, who is an elder fashionista statesman of 44, it should look amazing on me!

Masculine. Feminine. It doesn’t matter anymore to me. I am finally settling into loving me as I am today after years of thinking happiness could only be found in constant reinvention or letting perception dictate who I was as a man. Capes. Open-toed shoes. Painted toe nails. And that’s just cosmetics, an expression of my evolving style. It’s on the inside where I am discovering where real beauty lies and I think I can safely say “I am beautiful” now. Maybe not at the top of my lungs, but I can say it, dammit.

Helen says this classic ad for the fragrance named Charlie, starring that golden blonde Shelley Hack and New York cafe society crooner Bobby Short, summed up my 40s. I’d have to concur. It was a decade filled with high-end glamor and high street drama. As I venture into the next 10 years, I think I’m gonna favor a life like a Chavela Vargas song.

I think about where I was 10 years ago. I was preparing for my 40th birthday party in my patio, complete with taco cart, a wide assortment of boozy drinks and a lot of fun people, family, friends, co-workers. I’d reached a personal peak. I was vice president of a content agency. I had a boyfriend that I loved so much. My duplex apartment was the first dwelling of mine to feel like home. The night of the party was soupy warm and full of expectations for the decade ahead. My worlds were colliding again, but I felt confident that it would be a night to remember. And it was.

That was 2007.

It is now 2017. The company I worked for at that time went bankrupt, leading its charismatic owners to an acrimonious and shocking divorce. Most of that crew went their separate ways, starting families, moving abroad or across the country. I love that they are all living exciting new lives today.

I broke up – twice — with my musician BF. In 2010, we stayed apart for good. While communication between us is now sporadic, it is still better than it was during the volatile early years of our split. However, I have yet to be able to call anyone a partner since, much less a steady date.

My duplex remains my chosen sanctuary, complete with pictures on the wall and other examples of a life less ordinary. The occasional screech of wild parrots still makes me smile as they break through the tree-lined quiet that makes this stretch of South Pasadena wonderful.

My family remains a unified front, even though some of us are starting to rebel as we finally make awkward attempts to curate lives on our own. Dad’s struggle with Alzheimer’s has run its inevitable course. While he is still very much with us, the realities of his age (92) and the illness have shrunk his capacity to stay in the moment. His dependency on my mom and sister is at a critical mass and I wonder how much more they can endure. Now I am starting to think about what will THEY need once he longer requires their selfless care.

I am three years in with the most extraordinary – and award-winning – agency. Career remains at a peak and I am surrounded by a constant source of creativity and inspiration. Yes, my political incorrectness does get me into trouble from time to time. However, is altering my unique voice a good thing or is it a means of being oppressed by those who can’t dominate me? Either way, the struggle keeps me alive and bristling with an energy I still possess, no matter how hard I try to obfuscate it.

But the journey since 40 has not been easy and I worked hard at making it unnecessarily complicated, which may be my biggest achievement to day. It can’t be explained away through depression, family loss and a voracious need to be liked anymore, although I continue a mighty battle with them all. What I discovered in the last decade is that I am my own worst enemy and we have reached a moment of “high noon.”

I gave turning 50 a lot of thought and my taking this milestone to Mexico City was the answer. I wanted to step away from all that has given me pause these last few years. I wanted not to worry about my weight, my lack of romantic pursuits, my stagnating friendships, the visits to the nutritionist, the shrink, the anti-depressants, the meds for diabetes and high blood pressure, all of it. I wanted to pay homage to my identity as an American born of Mexican parents. That I remain proud to be parte del mundo hispanohablante. I wanted my parents to know I owed all that I was, more, I wouldn’t be able to even stand before them if it wasn’t for their bringing me into this world. I wanted my siblings to know that they mattered, despite this surprise round of growing pains we are experiencing now.

2017 has been a watershed year for friends. Weeks on the road brought the most wonderful energy to my life, taking me out of my self-imposed inertia because of my forging these new friendships. And the effects, which started out as confusing and frustrating, have evolved into a refreshed perspective on the roles my close circle of friends plays in my life. Loyalty was never an issue here. They are the epitome of tough love and I need them for that alone. More, it was high time for them know how they still make me try to BE a better person. Period.

The weekend’s wine soaked dinners, and there were two, truly became the stuff of a dream. The theme of “Details of Diego and Frida” that was taken too literally by my cousins who drove three hours from Tlanepantla to reach the first dinner. The all-female salsa band that played a theme as I entered the antro at the Sheraton María Isabel. The post-dinner mariachi performance as the “final-final.”

Perhaps the greatest moment was seeing Dad literally bolt from his seat at the table at Balcón when he laid eyes on his nieces, that sonorous blast of color and love I’ve grown to cherish so much more in the last decade. Dad KNEW who they were in an instant, Alzheimer’s be damned. The hugs and kisses and tears were a harbinger of things to come, too. Annie G captured the moment, broken ankle y todo, the sweetest gift preserved by one of my best friends, herself a purveyor of honest sentiment and great care.

At each stop that weekend, I offered my thanks to everyone, triggering a series of testimonials that were better than any AFI tribute I’d ever seen. As I faced my family, my friends at the Saturday night dinner at Rosetta in the colonia Roma, I was overcome with such emotion. I felt nothing when we dined at the Balcón del Zócalo on Friday night. I was too worried about having enough seats for everyone. Yet, after a day’s cultural excursion to the Museum of Anthropology and the visit to see the art of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo at the Museo Dolores Olmedo in Xochimilco, I was in a fight to keep the buzz of happy from dissipated too soon. It was all going so fast! I just let the emotion take over. I couldn’t keep it in and I didn’t want to anyway. The hot tears I let fall were wonderful on my skin.

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This was the unification of the two Jorges, the American and the Mexican, and it was ultimately an out of body experience. I looked around the family-style dinner table at this grouping of family, friends, co-workers and more. I could see and feel the presence of those family members and friends no longer with us. Tío Ernesto and Tía Tayde. Aunt Susanna. Melissa Duke. I know they enjoyed a trago conmigo, that was the source of my emotion.

I was reunited with esteemed Mexican film journalist Daniela Michel, herself now a major figure in world cinema. It may have been an absence of 10 years, but the distance in time was quickly shored up the minute I saw her. We spoke at length that night, sharing the details of our lives in the effortless manner that belied the reason we became friends in the first place. Her influence on my life goes without compare and how I’ve missed our epic conversations. She’s a lot like Alan in that she brings out the best in people she trusts in friendship. Walking her through the colonia Roma streets, sitting down with her husband Jim and friends for a quick drink after the dinner encapsulated what my I envisioned my life to be as I enter this fifth decade.  It’s about the power of community, of creating a family that is made of strong ideals, true conversation, and absolute joy.

The next Sunday morning, we staggered through Reforma for an oh-so necessary pozole brunch at La Casa de Toño in the Zona Rosa, I was determined not to cry again. I had to keep some sense of strength and avoid the calling of the chillón. But then I looked over at my Dad, and his face was one of such love that his tears gave the order to allow for my own to march again. I’ll never forget that image, swiftly banishing all that we said and did so wrong to each other as father and son when I was growing up. In it is place was a recharged soul, one that I had let become airless and dull. My father. My mother. My family. My friends. They all brought me back to life. Having them in Mexico City was an affirmation of the following:

I am alive.

I am getting better.

I am looking forward, even as things change anew.

I wanted to wax lyrical in this post. Perhaps the flourish is steeped in the hyperbole that is the curse of being a former publicist, yet it’s something I’ve done since I first penned my first paragraph. Ego dictated that I write the sort of essay that gets quoted and/or added to some basic DIY Pinterest wall with a deep thoughts pic. Instead, I am happier with keeping 50 closer to my heart. The intimacy and emotion of the entire weekend were the culmination of a journey that’s never failed me, even as I failed myself in the process. What I’ve discovered as I start this chapter is that everything changes for the better in an instant when you finally let love take its rightful place within yourself. Once people see that emanate forth, nothing will stop another person’s love from being returned in kind. That’s the gift we are so lacking these days of acrimony and confusion. And we need to fight like hell to restore its place in us all.

“Everything changes
My heart’s at the wheel now
And all my mistakes
They make sense when I turn them around
Everything changes
What I thought was so permanent fades”

— From “Watiress,” score written by Sara Bareilles

The gifted singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles is the Carole King of our moment. I am drawn to her music for its honesty and poignancy. Like Ms. King, she is so cognizant of the universal emotions we experience at any age, at any moment, in life and in love. Her score for the musical adaptation of the film “Waitress” represents some of her best work as a songwriter. Near the end of the second act, the character of Jenna sings about how her view on life has changed because of the birth of her daughter, Lulu. That song, titled “Everything Changes,” resonated like a thunderbolt as I penned this essay. I may not never know the wonderful sense of achievement of being a parent. However, I do understand the importance of being reborn when we begin to shake loose from the torpor of our discontent and fear. Because, as Bareilles writes, “Everything changes. My heart’s at the wheel now and all my mistakes, they make sense when I turn them around. Everything changes. What I thought was so permanent fades.”

I don’t want my past mistakes to fade, but I know they will not represent me, either. And if it takes another half century to right these many wrongs, so be it. Most people forget you 10 minutes after you’ve gone. We don’t own this time on Earth, we pay rent. Don’t you want it to count, to know you were the best you could possibly be while you’re here? Don’t you want to cast aside the standard of mediocrity and narcissism we’ve let define our time? We need to deserve each other again so when the time comes for our departures, all that remains is what was felt with truth and love. That’s my goal for the next 50 years or however many years are left in my narrative.

And I have a whole lot of writing to do…

 

 

 

“And the world goes ’round”

“And the world goes ’round”

A heaping portion of my favorite people in the world are descending upon Mexico City today. Family. Family of friends. It was my mad, grand idea to celebrate turning 50 this way. A reunion of the clan. It’s the destination wedding that may still happen, but just in case…

Maybe it is the altitude that has me a wee bit wobbly at the moment. Maybe it’s the anticipation and nerves of gathering the essential threads of my life together this way. It’s been quite a narrative these last years. Not just for me. For all of us. I don’t fear turning 50 as much as I fear losing my passion for life and living. And nothing restores one’s faith in the world better that being with the people that love you most.

So, we celebrate more than a birthday. We celebrate our being this unified front, regardless of the changes or struggles we face on the daily. We celebrate all that is us and the lessons we have all lived and learned.

Many years ago, I went to see a musical retrospective of John Kander & Fred Ebb’s iconic work, “And the World Goes ‘Round.” The great Marin Mazzie was featured in the cast. One song stands out then and now, for even more profound reasons. I was in my early, roaring 20’s then. Today, it’s lyrics are eerily prescient. I “get” this song now. It’s about the wisdom gained by life experience, of surviving intact.

“Sometimes you’re happy
And sometimes you’re sad
But the world goes ’round

And sometimes you lose
Every nickel you had
But the world goes ’round

Sometimes you’re dreams get broken in pieces
But that doesn’t matter at all

Take it from me, there’s still going to be
A summer, a winter, a spring and a fall

And sometimes a friend starts treating you bad
But the world goes ’round

And sometimes your heart breaks
With a deafing sound

Somebody loses, and somebody wins
And one day it’s kicks
And it’s kicks in the shins
But the plant spins
And world goes round and round…”

The unforgettable Ms. Mazzie, a cherished Broadway star who continues her fight with ovarian cancer, performed the song recently. It is a plaintive, but determined version. I am reminded as to why we fight to make life better. Of never losing that focus, even when we are faced with physical or emotional challenges. Cancer or depression. Determination matters with any diagnosis or any stage in life. The world will turn with or without us. But while it has us in its thrall, sing that glorious song of being human and alive.

“24”

“24”

The road to wellness is paved with good intentions, a stellar support group, the knowledge gained by introspection and the lessons in courage taught by your doctors, teachers and life experience. We are given so many positive tools and maps to show us the way to being healthy and strong. But without will and desire, all of it means absolutely nothing. In the end, wellness will only be achieved if YOU want it bad enough to make it a priority.

I am sick again. More, I am tired of this seemingly endless struggle with my health and well-being. I am tired of being misunderstood. I am tired of writing on this theme. I am tired of being an issue. I am tired of understanding the source of my malaise. I am tired of having to find new reasons to justify my bad behavior. I am tired of ignoring that which makes me powerless. I am tired of feeling sad. I am tired of being angry. I am tired of the past. I am tired of distancing myself the people that reflect the versions of me that I no longer find relevant or fulfilling.  I am tired of trying to explain my efforts to evolve and be a better me.

I can’t face the future because of the effort it takes to make me deal with the present.

I am tired of being my own worst enemy. I am my own saboteur.

In the weeks since beginning an incredibly fulfilling season on the road, the fizz and laughter of my being with some wonderful colleagues has long dissipated and now I feel so hollow and lost. Why? The hardest part of being away from home was coming back. The epiphanies uncovered on the road required strength to resolve and I cut off my own legs to stop from moving forward because my old nemesis, fear, rejoined my journey. And I let it.

I have so many questions to scream at the universe right now:

Why does it feel like betrayal to those when we try to break away from the pack to curate a life that is entirely our own?

Why do we punish those close to us because we refuse to add to the dysfunction that has become the dominant reality of the group?

Why is it declared selfish to want to find someone to love and be loved in return?

I explode without warning. Easier than before as no fuse is even present to ignite anymore. The insightful truths that took so long to understand have been swept aside with the impatient wave of a hand. You don’t get to say, “But what about how I feel?” or “I feel this way because…”

Instead you hear:

“It is your fault.”

“Get over it.”

“You’re such a drama queen.”

“Everything is about you.”

“Don’t be selfish.”

“Stop fighting”

“Please apologize.”

So, I eat. I eat to stay quiet. I eat to feel better. I eat to find some comfort. I eat to keep steady. I eat to forget. I eat to numb myself. I eat because I can’t do anything else but eat.

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24.

That’s the number of pounds gained since I lost my will. I replaced desire and passion with the desire to consume everything and anything again. Carbs, sugar, salt, material goods, all the old bogeymen from the past that haunt my house.

I am spiraling again. No pair of Gucci slippers can be clicked together into taking me back to my own private Kansas right now. The tightness of my clothes represents that which is strangling my ability to cope and take care of that which needs tending, my health. Yet, the difference from this fall from the healthy place is that I don’t want to die. I have something to achieve here. I still have my voice. And while the words that will pull me out of this morose space may not be within my grasp right now, I can see them. Even as my cowardly self says, “Run. Just run away.”

“No,” I say. “I was here first.”

We can only lead by example, right? I am not expecting to be fixed by anyone but me. As for those grappling with their own struggles, it is important to realize that people can only offer shelter from the storm for so long. Sooner or later, we all step into the healing warmth of the sun and move towards the lives we all richly deserve.

I think about the Irma Thomas song, “Breakaway,” the one that laments being unable to follow through and “leave town tomorrow” to leave a bad love behind.  Earlier today, I felt that all was without hope, that I had succumbed to defeat and resignation. I thought about running away again. But as I write these final lines, I realize that is not the solution. But I do know what lies ahead is going to hurt like hell.

I know I will look back at this essay one day and smile, knowing that I did get through it. As will all those around me, the ones who represent all that I love in this chaotic world. I must break away from the version of me that revels in the mire that can only cause sickness and despair. I must not add to the 24.

And I won’t.

“Erma”

“Erma”

It’s been another week to upchuck thanks to the now even lower set of public standards established by our “president.” Defended by his equally inept minions as “fighting fire with fire” over media criticism, we are forced to bear witness to the tweeted verbal diarrhea of a school yard bully. Morning show hosts are being called out as “psycho” or “ugly.” He’s approving clips of his taking down the CNN logo like a WWF star. It’s all being done to overshadow a travel bans, dangerous health care laws and other exhibitions of governmental malfeasance now threatening the stability of the country. Hell, let’s make it the world. After years of “scripted” reality shows, we are keep tuning in on “That Crazy Trump!” because so many Americans can’t tell the difference anymore. Besides, it’s so entertaining! He’s keeping it real! He’s giving it to the Left, finally!

Yeah, he’s giving it to us, alright. However, one key difference must be recognized. We are ALL going to wake up with a scorching case of moral herpes. America will be that person other people whisper to you about NEVER dating because “they’re whores.” We are exactly that, whores. Trading our sanity and moral compass for the promise of something, white, rich and devoid of anything that sounds/looks like Barack Obama.

Many people turned to the Trumpian Way because they wanted to go back to the “old days” of when America was great. One of the sadder realities about such sentiments is that Trump does not represent what made this country such a beacon of hope to many. We know that racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia will fight to the end before leaving their places at the table. It is why many have taken up the mantle of resistance for generations. However, this era on “notice me” and “I want it now” has overtaken the important of virtues of shame, accountability, respect, tolerance and inclusivity. More, it is robbing us of the one thing that could bind us to see our way through it: a sense of humor.

The era of “snark and awe” punditry has obfuscated the role of the news person represented by Chet Brinkley, Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw. The columnist and humorist is no less present, either, replaced by bloggers, vloggers and YouTube “personalities,” fueled by a cynical and arch tone aimed at showing how stupid everything and everyone can be today. It is the equivalent of graffiti with punctuation, offering little analysis and said as loudly as possible. All that matters are that these posts make an “impression.”

Making an impression.

Before, it meant impressing the group as they met you for the first time. Now? Social media marketing execs with crow about millions of impressions, but they cannot accurately gauge if it goes beyond just “looking” at the post. Does the audience engage with it beyond just blithely sharing it with their friends? Does it provoke them into acting? Of buying? Of contributing to the cause? Of any of the interactions we did not take for granted decades earlier?

The American columnist once carried such power, a power on par with reach and impact of Twitter today. From Andy Rooney to Ann Landers, from Louella Parsons to Hedda Hopper & Rona Barrett, and from Walter Winchell to Frank Rich, Americans read, listened and watched their way to understanding the political, social, cultural and gossipy effluvia of the growing celebrity age. They could turn the tide on national opinion and they gave it context beyond 140 characters or less. Sure, some of them appealed to the lowest common denominator. William Randolph Hearst makes Steve Bannon look like sloppy kid reporter with pizza stains on his chin. But we had a choice. We had options that catered to something classier. One stood above the fray, whose columns were about our shared humanity in a crazy world, all written to make us feel like we weren’t alone in our flawed beauty. And it made us smile, cry and laugh. Sometimes all at once. We had Erma. Erma Louise Bombeck of Dayton, Ohio.

Friends, she was a wise one. Clever, authentic, and funny AF. It was hella fun playing “Beat the Clock” during those elementary school mornings, the ones where she’d appear on Good Morning America right before the end of the final hour. My mom, who loved Auntie Erm as much as I did, would listen and laugh and then sweep us all out the door to our faithful aqua Beetle and haul ass to South Ranchito. She was so worth the tardy slip.

The inimitable Erma Bombeck, one of the most beloved American humorists of the 20th century. Her “At Wit’s End” nationally syndicated column appeared three times a week in 900 newspapers worldwide, earning a weekly readership of 31 million people at its peak. Bombeck’s columns, books and morning show appearances seduced a legion of fans comprised of women, men and even precocious kids like me. So beloved was she to her readers, it was like she was that Auntie Mame-like tía you couldn’t wait to see on family visits. No one exists like that today, a lost generation replaced by Kris Jenner and Kim K., who are now the criteria to be declared “New York Times Best Selling” writers in this era of Selfie Life as Style.

“They never lost their temper, gained weight, spent more money than their husbands made, or gave viewers any reason not to believe they were living out their lives in celibacy. 

Their collective virtue was patience.  

It was the age of the God, Motherhood, Flag, and Apple Pie. All you had to do to be a mother was to put on an apron. No one did it better than the prime-time mothers. I was of the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time-mothers.” – From Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession, 1983

Unfortunately, life after Donna Reed, Harriet Nelson and Carol Brady has been a trauma that will never be solved with a warm, homemade chocolate chip cookie and a hug. Aunt Erma was that voice of sanity in the chaos faced by the country in the 1970s and 1980s. While many fought for equality at home and in the workplace, people were still becoming parents and struggling with the many realities that plagued every new mom and dad. Erma was in the trenches with them, offering up a much-needed laugh in the face of what seemed insurmountable. She spoke to us, about us and it gave many of us a sense of security in knowing we were not alone in the changing tide of family dynamics.

Given our current state of angry racial, gender and cultural politics, a new generation may fault the writings of Bombeck as a dusty reflection of that suburban, white reality. Isn’t that what Trump’s legion of “fans” fighting to restore? But here’s the rub. It was never lost, just remixed by the inevitable forward motion of other groups in the land of plenty. Latinos, African Americans, Asians, all groups aspired and succeeded in reinventing the suburban experience in their own image. Struggling through oppression is not the only narrative we can contribute anymore! We have more to offer tales from life on the house on Mango Street or pen the umpteenth take on the “last mama on the couch” play, too.

The impact of Bombeck’s writing was a needed respite, especially after the upheaval of the 1970s. The 1980s were no easier thanks to the barrage of the Phil Donahue/Gail Sheehy/Self-Help Guru/You Can Have It All narratives that we started to ingest. We need a little Bombeck-style love again. We need someone who can write about the themes that are continuing to happen at a breakneck speed, despite the ugly that has exploded forth with Trump.

We continue to be new parents.

We continue to raise children.

We continue to be children.

We continue to see children as parents.

The grass is still greener over the septic tank.

We are still thinking if life is a bowl of cherries, while are we STILL in the pits?

We need a new Aunt Erma’s help to cope.

I say resist the snark and awe. Enough of the screaming. Enough of the blaming or bullying total strangers. No more extoling the virtues of sex tapes, reality stars, impressions and followers. We need to stop thinking our best means of curating an authentic life are those posts that disappear in 24 hours. We need to speak up and share our best insights and humorous outlooks at life today. We need to share those stories when we hear our kids refer to spaghetti as “gasphetti.”

Whatever our political sensibilities, we do share one common reality: we are such flawed human beings. Bombeck wasn’t shy to offer keen insight into her own less than perfect reality, which was a welcome breath of the authentic. As wrote about her family in “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries…”:

“I did not get these varicose veins of the neck from whispering. We shout at one another. We say hateful things. We cry, slam doors, goof off, make mistakes, experience disappointments, tragedies, sickness and traumas. When I last checked, we were members in good standing of your basic screw-up family.

There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.

And how do you know laughter if there is no pain to compare it with?”

We are all enduring the pain of an era we can’t seem to fathom on the daily. Maybe it’s time to take a breath and look beyond the 140 characters. Maybe it’s time for us to champion voices that lead us to feel it all a la Bombeck again.

Hmmm. Maybe it’s time for some tío Jorge realness in our lives? Who’s with me?

“Gender”

“Gender”

“Nobody wants to be alone
Everybody wants to love someone
Out of the tree go pick a plum
Why can’t we all just get along?”

From “Androgyny” by Garbage

It was an unusual Sunday at home in that it was quiet and I was totally alone. I’d just returned from my umpteenth work trip this year to discover that, unlike the gorgeous temperate weather of Vancouver, LA was as hot as Satan’s asshole. While I wasn’t exactly loving making sopa in my Hanes t-shirt, I occurred to me that it I could finally be a puta in my own home! Without hesitation, I reached over to my iPhone, whispering, “You whore,” and ignited the Growlr and Scruff apps with a newfound purpose. That was before I realized I was better off making soup in my undies. Behold this exchange with Bachelor No 1:

HIM: Are you masculine?

ME: What?

HIM: Would you define yourself as masculine?

ME: I find that question rather insulting. What the hell does that have to do with anything?

HIM: It’s just a question. I’ve never had anyone react this way to it before.

ME: People want to see us dead. Why are we wasting time being shitty to other gay men by judging whether they’re masculine or not?

HIM: I’m not responsible for Prop. 8. LOL

ME: Come over, decide for yourself. But I’m not answering the question.

I sat there, annoyed, sticking to my guns as he continued to insist I define my level of masculinity. I know it is a part of this era of people seeking guarantees so they don’t waste on anything like being committed to a single choice. No one takes a chance, but they extol the virtues of being on PrEP. They’ll list “Daddies” as a like, but won’t even acknowledge you if you’re really age of true Daddyhood. They say they hate douches who judge or have a long list of criteria, but ignore you if you dare to “Woof” them.

As we continued to volley back and forth with the texts, my anger stared to refine itself. Heat be damned, I was sticking to my original point. It IS a fucking stupid question. If you’re gold star homo who enjoys sucking dick and engaging in butt sex, how can that make you LESS of a man?

ME: I paint my toenails and I am skilled enough to tackle you hard.

(That brief period of playing football at Meller Jr. High and ERHS had its benefits after all. Thanks Coach Peterson!)

HIM: So, you’re masculine then?

ME: For fuck’s sake. Yes.

HIM: I’ll be over in 40 minutes.

So, how was he in person? Like any other friend of Dorothy’s I’ve met and nowhere near my chosen example of “All That is Man,” otherwise known as the great porn star Zak Spears.

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The experience left me quite pensive after he – mercifully — left. It wasn’t anything like the incredibly gratifying experiences I recently had in NYC and Vancouver of late. Both gents could not have represented the evolving gay identity of today’s homosexual any better. Confident and honest, they were very much in tune with their sexual selves, proving themselves fantastic lovers as a result.  So, why are some of us determined to make these distinctions of what qualifies as the measure of masculinity? It annoys me as much as that current vogue of telling people you’re being a grown up or “Adulting” or whatever the hell that means.

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I can joke that we are barely over the period when Metrosexuals jammed the “gaydars” for many of us – and women. That we’ve gone from playing Gay or European to Gay or Hipster!

Yet, gender fluidity continues to spill over into fashion, with men wearing skin tight jeans and even just plain ole tights as their daily uniform. As many men explore once feminine tropes, today’s younger generations continue to take great pains to redefine their sexual or gender identities, eschewing the use of traditional pronouns. He and She have given way to Cis, Latinx and a list grows with each year as these “woke” beings lead the vanguard as to what defines sexuality and identity. It’s hard to keep it all “straight” anymore! (I know, low hanging fruit.)

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I spent the better part of my adolescence and teens being subjected to a litany of slurs that were just variations of one word: “faggot.” The damage caused followed me into adulthood. I still bristle at the mere suggestion of anything that diminishes my sense of masculinity. I like being a man very much. I am out, proud and part of a community that has so much to teach the world. Yet, how is it, despite all the prejudices and intolerance that want to see us eradicated off this earth, gay men can be their own worst enemy?

We slut shame, even though we proudly crow being in “open relationships.” We femme shame even though we love watching those divine queens serve up glamour realness on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” We poz shame as we brag about being on Truvada, ignoring that the rise of STD’s that is not slowing down or that our brothers of color are experiencing an unspoken genocide because of HIV/AIDS in certain parts of our country.

We are still playing that stupid “straight acting” card, despite the great strides taken since Stonewall. I wonder, is it because we want to protect ourselves from the grotesque hatred against our sexual selves? Is it self-loathing about being a cocksucker or buttfucker? I wish I had an easy to qualify answer. I know the space between who we desire and what we fetishize is rather small indeed. We want to fuck who we want to fuck. Period. But if we homogenize ourselves into being one type, we ignore the incredible diversity that populates our community, itself such a disservice.

We can choose a lot of things in this life. How we look on the outside. What we think we know about the world. Who we want to love or make love to in those moments of blissful carnality. But we cannot change who we are on the inside as men and women of the LGBTQ community. That is not a choice. That is our reality. We are truly born this way. If we are ever going to move forward as a group, like the greater section of our woefully ignorant society, we need to stop shaming or disavowing those who don’t fulfill some outdated criteria many of us had NOTHING to do in establishing.

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I get ignored on these stupid apps on the daily for a variety of reasons and I’ve let that beat me down to the point where I feel that awful sense of being invisible again. I will be leaving them soon. But, it is important to note that I know what I can offer a man and it has been appreciated. And it will happen again. So, if a quasi-queer, but butch in bed, sweater wearing, Chanel Le Vernis sporting, Phil Donahue-era and book smart homo is your thing, you know where to find me.

By the way, I forgot to mention Bachelor No. 2, himself a Latino. After a few texts, he wanted to know if my voice was “very very masculine.” At first, I played it flip and responded by saying I was a “raging, but awesome queen.”

Of course, he wrote, “Really?”

I responded, “Actually, no. But I’ve been told I sound really white.”

I didn’t hear from him again.

 

“Ordinary”

“Ordinary”

Alright you big city gays. Tell me if you ever had a day like this:

He was a family physician of Lebanese/Pakistani descent, based in Hollywood. It was a Tuesday morning. I was walking on the last temperate day in June to the location of a marketing photo shoot. As I gathered up my best publicist persona together to brave the Hollywood types ahead, I heard the all-too familiar “ping” from Scruff, instantly breaking my stride.

At last, a gentleman caller!

I was pretty sure that you could see the spark of hope firing up and surging to my brain at this moment.  Ever since I shaved my beard, I’ve heard that Scruff ping less than 0.00 times. Just like that, I went from extraordinary Dad Bod Man to….ordinary.

The exchange was rather easy. He didn’t have a photo attached to his profile, a HUGE no-no in app etiquette. Most men won’t even consider responding to you without a photo. Sometimes, the snark in these profiles about not having a pic is enough to make you leave app life altogether, but stay with me here.

He sent one pic, looking slightly like Robert Foxworth in “Airport ’77.” Just slightly, mind you, but it was rather sexy.

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The chat escalated to from the “Hello, why no pic?” to “Are you on the down low?” to flirty innuendo to “Let’s meet up!” Nothing unusual here as it was the standard trajectory of most of app-based conversations. Half the time they’re just wanting to play a game of naughty show and tell before disappearing into the ether altogether. However, things were looking promising with the Doctor. Then we had this exchange:

HIM: Are you submissive?

ME: Psh. Fuck. No.

HIM: “Crickets”

End of communication.

Yeah. That’s how we meet, greet or run in 2017.

I can’t help but think about the famed “network” scene in the 1970’s cult movie “Logan’s Run,” where the hedonistic denizens of a futuristic domed city put themselves on a network to indulge their sexual whims and appetites. Yeah, it’s a lot like LA living, where everyone is forever young until they hit 40 and they are promptly cast aside.

When it comes to the gay dating apps, the airbrushed glory of being abs-olutely buffed, bearded and butch remains the standard. Yet, given the frequency with which you see the same faces on these grids over and over again, it appears that no one ever seems to be any closer to becoming paired or even connected. Add the insidious ageism of a culture that led the charge on being “The Body Beautiful,” it is a challenge to remain marketable if you are single. More, with many homosexual tropes now appropriated by heterosexual men, some of us are playing “Gay or Hipster” to pass the time — or stop from crying as to why no one is looking our way. Of course, I exaggerate. But since the digital age has turned the Thunderdome of dance clubs into a distant memory, I have to ask. As we swipe ourselves into a dehumanized oblivion, is it time to start championing being ordinary?

The brutality of perception and appearances within the gay community is not lost on many of us who came of age chubby, in love with showtunes and trend-setting fashion. We never really fit quite in with the greater pack, but we were also counted upon as that “funny friend” who made the Beautiful Ones feel human and cherished. For the longest time, I felt the Bear community was the most inclusive, a hirsute den of outsiders who eschewed the “WeHo” culture, a safe haven from the self-adoring Narcissuses of Santa Monica Blvd. But even the Bears have their own standards of hyper-realized beauty in an era of being a “Bearbie” or a “Bearlebrity.” Worse, as we dare to live our free, out lives in an America that want us to hide in our closets again, we have taken self-loathing to a new level. Take a look at this old insult, now available for purchase.

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No Fats. No Fems.

Yeah, it pays to advertise your own biases these days, even “ironically.”

As I face turning 50 in a few weeks, I find myself wondering why the fuck I even try to make Scruff an option to make my way out of the “Single” column anymore? But there isn’t a Sweater Queen site, dammit. Haha. But the idea of size shaming and ageism is very real to many of us. The criteria as to what makes a man is just as challenging whether you’re gay or straight, more so than ever, I’m afraid.

Desire is a powerful motivator and beauty means different things to different people. But as we mass market ourselves on Instagram to garner attention, we have yet to learn how to truly cultivate a sense of individuality or identity. It’s hard enough to see what tricks young people implement on social media to not upset the herd. It is even more disturbing to see the middle agers subscribing to the same agenda. The many filters employed by all are a desperate attempt to stave off looking unpretty or appearing old, ignored and not liked.

What is wrong with not looking like a “Bearbie” or a “Hadid” or any of the icons that speak for our era? For such a “woke” age, why are we still holding on to the labels, both material and socio-cultural so hard? What are we afraid of? Being left behind? We have bigger issues to face as a society right now than not “fitting in” or being datable or even fuckable at this point.

We’re all just looking for connection
Yeah, we all want to be seen
I’m looking for someone who speaks my language
Someone to ride this ride with me
Can I get a witness? (witness)
Will you be my witness? (witness)
I’m just looking for a witness in all of this
Looking for a witness to get me through this…

— From “Witness” by Katy Perry

It is a human necessity to being seen and heard by someone who cares. We all want a witness to our lives. While the motivational speakers will pontificate on how we should start by loving yourself, embracing our flaws, to grow with love, et. al., the reality is that many of us are tired of being made to feel invisible. Many of us DO love ourselves or else we would never be connected to friends or family.

As for those who truly feel alone, that goes beyond the parameters of this thesis. I was once in that category. Alone, desperate and pondering  to remove myself from this space altogether. I credit the therapy and anti-depressants I take to help me find the focus as to what it is I am capable of doing as a singular, ordinary person. I have a voice and a strong desire to articulate that which ails me. Because I know I am not alone in the pursuit of life, love and happiness in this fucked up world. Because I am proud of the man I’ve become. It may not be the man that’s in demand in the marketing sense, but then again, I once didn’t care about following the pack, either. Being socialized did that to me and I would remedy that in a heart beat if given the chance.

Yes, it sucks being single. For me. And I still think the possibility of being paired up again is very real. What is also real is the possibility of not finding that partner in life and that’s okay, too. A second act to my life is slowly revealing itself to me, a narrative of my own design that may not always make want to jump for joy some days. However, it is not keeping me eternally morose either. It is exciting knowing you can change, that you can evolve into a better version of yourself if you just pay attention.

Perhaps “Ordinary” is not the word for people like me, because we aren’t really. Even the moniker of being an angry, hungry, fat, gay Mexican is more about humor than a political statement. Perhaps a word doesn’t exist for us at all. It is more of a feeling of being empathetic, of giving a shit about people, despite their ridiculous flaws and hubris. But, f I had to choose a word or two? I’ll just say “I’m Jorge” and let that speak for itself.

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“This is America”

“This is America”

“This is America,” acclaimed sushi chef Atsushi “Art” Hayakawa said with emphasis a second time. “This country gave me a life. A wife, a family, a restaurant. I want to give something back.”

I’ll reveal as to what was that gift back to the country he now considers his home because it was one of the many surprises of an unforgettable night in Atlanta, GA. Like the glorious meal of Japanese sushi delights my camera team and I enjoyed with relish and smiles, this chance dinner at a sushi restaurant tucked away in a strip mall off Buford Highway had all ingredients of a dish you never forget.

It was the manner in which Chef Hayakawa said “This is America” that made me listen with such respect. In an era where our elected leaders are determined to dictate as to whom they feel should be deemed an “American,” this accidental meeting nearly brought me to tears. It was that emotional.

Chef Hayakawa’s journey began at the age of 14, when he shared a sushi meal with his father. Like the potent wasabi that burned his nostrils and other senses, he knew sushi would be his life, a culinary art that would be his passion. At 15, he left school to study with a sushi master and for nine years, he studied and refined his craft with commitment and drive. At 24, he left his native Sapporo, Japan for the United States, much to the chagrin of his sushi master, who chose not speak to former student in response to his departure.

In 1991, Chef Hayakawa landed in the southeastern part of the country, beginning a new journey in Atlanta. He paid his dues, earning the sponsorship that would lead him to a green card, that time-honored golden ticket to the American Dream. In 2008, Chef Hayakawa opened his own establishment, Sushi House Hayakawa. In 2017, as the restaurant hones in on its 10th anniversary, the affable Hayakawa, is now considered to oversee one of the 12 most authentic sushi restaurants in the United States. And tonight, several cultures clashed in a communion of conversation, laughter and happy tears brought on by his trademarked wasabi bombs. (For the record, we ate three orders. He gave us one with an extra layer of that potent green goodness as a gift.)

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I couldn’t wait to get back to my hotel room tonight to document this evening in some fashion. And while I know this reads like, “Dear Diary, guess what happened to me tonight?” I don’t really care. Today was a good fuckin’ day to be alive, despite the current events on Capitol Hill as we enter a new political era that was only on view on “House of Cards” or “Veep.” I can’t help but burn with anger over a coterie of privileged “leaders” determined to turn their backs on the many men and women from overseas who have contributed mightily to the American Way. How can we disavow what is the true face of the American, a nation built on the backs and with the blood of so many immigrants?

But I digress…

How did we find Hayakawa? It was chance. We had wrapped a great day of interviews on the set of a film in its last days of principal photography. It was nearing dinner time and I declared sushi was in order. My audio tech conferred our digital oracle, The Google, and Sushi House Hayakawa was deemed the closest place. Little did we know we’d be heading for Tokyo, Japan in the process.

Instead of the usual Sapporo-fueled meal of spicy tuna rolls and tempura, we were treated to an experience that has a devout cult of loyalists, from Japan and elsewhere. An intimate dining spot of few tables and modest bar, Sushi House Hayakawa is an expert study of tastes, flavors and a near religious adherence to the art of sushi. Cell phones are not allowed. Reservations are requested. This is meant to be a personal experience to savor and enjoy without distractions or noise.

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Photo: Men’s Journal

Chef Hayakawa’s crisp white uniform was punctuated with a red terry cloth slash of read from the towel wrapped around his head. His hands had the delicacy of touch reserved for piano masters or surgeons, so skillful was his preparation of each piece of sushi. Our incredibly knowledgeable waiter, young, precise and absolutely American, treated us with respect and care. Yet, it those damn wasabi bombs he recommended that made us reach out to Hayakawa with a boisterous “Thank you.” His response? In addition to telling us the now-trademarked menu item was borne out or a prank, he gave us one more round with even MORE wasabi. Once dinner was over, I asked our waiter to see if Chef Hayakawa would pose for a picture with us. And this culinary master, who promised not to break my camera phone, posed and laughed and opted to stay with us for nearly an hour after closing time.

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I love telling stories for a living, but the narrative Hayakawa shared with us had us wrapt in attention. That wonderful crooked smile. His self-deprecating wit. His not knowing that he was serving Harrison Ford one memorable night. Or the bittersweet encounter with a smiling Paul Walker one week before his untimely death in a car accident. He was a trove of anecdotes, all delivered in a heavily accented, but warm voice that had us in his thrall.

Our meeting Chef Hayakawa reaffirms the incredible fortune one is gifted when they take to the road for work. We see and hear so much as we move from location to location, meeting a gallery of folks that represent all that can be wonderful in this world. Chef Hayakawa’s loyalists go back to his restaurant because he endeavors to give them an experience unlike any other. The demands of populist sushi cuisine were excised nearly two years ago from his menu. Gone are the California Rolls and other Americanized offerings found elsewhere. (And no, the spicy tuna roll is NOT a Japanese tradition.) Tucked into this mini mall, surrounded by Korean-owned establishments in the traditional American south, we found a true Japanese experience. It was a rare chance to be part of a narrative that was spun organically and without expectations.

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As we prepared to leave, Chef Hayakawa asked us to offer our support of his new, full-time sushi chef, a southern American named Terry. We noted that we were surprised to see Terry behind the bar. He told us he’s worked with several different Asian apprentices from all over, but Terry was truly unique. He “got it” and after a year and a half, he’d promoted him to full time not too long ago. But it was his saying, “I don’t see race” that caught our attention, too. Because “This is America” and he wanted to give something back. It would be Terry who would now benefit from his teachings, taking his art further into the world in a new way.

What a privilege meeting Chef Hayakawa tonight. I’ll never forget how he ran out to us in the parking lot with cold bottles of water. He was worried since beer was consumed, we would be subjected to the strict DUI laws of the area.

Now, about the sushi master in Japan who refused to talk to Chef Hayakawa for over 20 years? The former student, who makes a point to go back to Sapporo every two years, would call on his master each time to no avail. But five years ago, on one particular trip, master and student were reunited. He showed at the appointed hour and for 45 minutes, no one spoke. They sat in total silence…until the moment the master pulled out a bottle of sake and poured two glasses. “Drink,” he said in a gruff tone. Drink they did. And then he said to his former student, “Good job.” He’d been made aware of Hayakawa’s success in the U.S. The student cried, nose running, tears flowing. He was overjoyed. As for his master, he merely added, “Drink” in the same gruff tone. And drink they did.

I think of my father and mother, Mexican immigrants who also designed and curated their own version of the Dream. far from home and without the resources of family or government assistance. I think of the many immigrants who continue to work their guts out to ensure a better life for those in their care. I think of our often painful history in treating those we have labeled “The Other.” How can we reward these legacies with walls, internment camps and ideological terrorism? All we need to say to those who have made such a difference in so many lives is simply, “Good job, my fellow American.”

None of us know what’s in store as we venture into dark and uncertain territory. But tonight, four disparate lives were brought together in the name of friendship. New loyalists were born and we hope to bring back friends and family to Chef Hayakawa’s restaurant without hesitation. As to those ignorant many who need to be reminded of the beauty of such occurrences, I say:

This is America.”