Generic: Vin Diesel (2008)

Generic: Vin Diesel (2008)

 

Fun fact: Since 1999, I’ve been hailed around Hollywood as “The Generic Guy.”

Now, in entertainment industry parlance, that means I’m the one studios call to handle their “generic interviews.” These were either fashioned into featurettes or similar “behind the scenes” programming, as well as feature stories planted in specifically chosen print or digital sites. Such a job did have an enviable quality as I would usually get a lot more time than most journalists, as well as travel wherever the talent was best available. Junkets, film festivals, film sets, these interviews were never boring and the best part? It was always an adventure. 

This is no longer the case in 2017 since my focus is strictly placed on creating original content for broadcast, home entertainment and, mostly, online platforms. But those early, palmier years had me interviewing more celebrities than Barbara Walters at her peak. It was like having the jet setting talk show of my dreams, without an audience knowing who the hell was asking the questions.

Being a producer in this capacity fulfilled my biggest dream of becoming a journalist, despite its also being an extension of my career as a publicist. That I was firmly embedded with the International film publicity teams was just one of the many blessings. They were fantastic colleagues and collaborators, all of whom treated me with great respect, care and trusted my ability to do the best job for their films and tv series. Why I was able to last as long as a “generic interviewer” was because I aimed to avoid asking generic or gossipy questions.

I believed then and now in the power of conversation, even in a junket setting, which was can be as in depth as speed dating. The rewards are so much greater when you just relate to the person in front of you. It takes about 30 seconds for most people to either be engaged or write you off. We all get a few talent who prefer to be in lock down mode or rip the mic right off, or just sit there taking up oxygen. Fear of libel prevents me from naming names. I’d rather focus on the positive anyway.

A lot of candid and entertaining chatter has happened over the years and I’ve often thought about collecting the best interview transcripts into a book. I even have a title: Generic. Envision a brown paper cover on the outside, a Hollywood life chronicled on the inside. 

So, why not test run a chapter?

Thanks to Facebook, I was reminded of an August afternoon in 2008 when I went face to face with Vin Diesel. He was promoting the infamous futuristic thriller “Babylon A.D.” What makes this interview interesting was knowing he was about to return to “The Fast and the Furious” after a run of flops that slowed down his momentum as a box office draw. The swagger that was hallmark was tempered a bit, most likely from his also being a new father at that time. Regardless, the ensuing conversation was one I won’t forget as it was referred as a “fireside chat” by the studio’s publicist. Adding, “All that’s missing are the brandy snifters and the velvet smoking jackets.” 

If only.

Yet, we did talk about the fear of building walls at our borders, a key theme in “Babylon, A.D.”  Funny what can happen in nine years. Here’s more of what happened that August afternoon at the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City

No matter the generation, when a film star is launched, audiences can’t wait for a second helping of what sated their hunger in the first place. But, pop culture is notoriously fickle, and people will move on to their next craving without mercy. It is a wonder why anyone wants to be an actor in the first place, but yet, the temptation is too great for some to ignore. And — which one of us can’t resist a delicious fantasy to post on our walls, computer screen – or beam down on us from a big screen at the multiplex?

Enter Vin Diesel.

Since hitting the box office lotto with THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, Diesel has become the ultimate representation of not only macho cool, but the face of a multi-cultural generation finally seeing itself on screen.

Born in 1967 as Mark Sinclair Vincent, Diesel was a product of the Love Generation. Raised in an artist commune in New York, Diesel was determined from a young age to express himself through the arts. Acting since he was 7 years old, he would encounter adult rejection because of his mixed heritage. Deemed either too black or too white or sometimes not enough of either, it was his supporting role in Steven Spielberg’s award-winning SAVING PRIVATE RYAN that would prove to be more than a lucky break.

As a counterpoint to his sensitive voice performance as the robot in THE IRON GIANT, it was Diesel’s brash confidence that proved the “Nos” to fuel such films as PITCH BLACK and XXX. With the box office returns to prove it, Diesel was being hailed as the arrival of a new kind of action hero.

And then the banquet became something less enticing.

For Hollywood pundits, his refusal to return for the FAST AND FURIOUS and XXX sequels was on par with career suicide. Then, the head scratching decision to star anew as PITCH BLACK’S Riddick in the epic CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK with mild success. Perhaps in a bid to stave off further disappointments, Diesel went the route of The Rock in playing rock hard and cuddly with THE PACIFIER. While a surprise hit, Diesel seemed to be enduring an identity crisis on screen.

Seeking real challenges and opportunities to add new ingredients to his own screen recipe, Diesel showed great dramatic prowess as real-life mobster Jack DiNorscio in Sidney Lumet’s FIND ME GUILTY. Despite receiving acclaim for his performance, the film offered disappointing returns – and an uncertain future for Diesel himself.

I sat down with the actor for a one-on-one interview during a press tour for his latest film effort — French director Mathieu Kassovitz’s wildly controversial BABYLON A.D. A bold take on the dystopian future personified by such films as BLADE RUNNER and THE FIFTH ELEMENT, Diesel anchors the film as a soulless mercenary for hire named Toorop. Engaged by a crime lord to escort a mysterious young woman to New York, their danger-filled journey reveals the girl actually harbors the power to save a desperate world from itself.

After serving as executive producer on last year’s HITMAN, it appears Diesel enjoyed the chance to engage in the aesthetics of another French auteur. To hear him discuss BABYLON A.D., however, it comes as no surprise that Diesel is a real Showman, as brash and confident as the anti-heroes he’s played over the last decade.

However, I was surprised to find that Diesel is less concerned about trying to replicate any kind of prefab formula. He just doesn’t give a shit as to any labels the industry/media have, as he is content with his life:

He’s a new father.

He’s got a new film that sated both his comfort zones in action and drama.

He knows success and failure and he’s fine if either strike at any time.

I often wonder why every comic wants to be a serious actor, and why action stars want to be more than just brute muscle. I also don’t know why audiences can’t seem to want to see their favorite star recipes tampered with. What I enjoyed in our conversation was that Diesel is determined to give people what they want, but on his terms.

He’s a man of action for a reason.

JORGE CARREON:

You seem to be content with following your own path, despite people wanting to keep you locked into a certain type. Why return to this particular genre now?

VIN DIESEL:

I was talking to my father last night, who was in the screening. I always act like I don’t know what movie he’s talking about when he talks about a movie, ‘cause I want to get as much as I can. I said, “So it was packed with action?’ and he said, “Yes, it was.” I said, “So, Dad, so this other studio wants to move forward on this action film. Would it be too soon? Should I go back to the dramatic thing right now, and then do an action after?” He said, “Vin, your action film audience can’t get enough. “ There’s something about the action film genre. When you’re a fan of action films, you can’t get enough. It doesn’t matter how old you are. And he then went on to tell me a story about the guard that lived in our building. And he said, “Yeah, Vin’s got another movie coming out.” This is a guy that knew me as a child. And he goes, “Is it action?” And my father said, “Yeah,” he said “GOOD! And I’m there!” I probably never considered it as much as I did just last night talking to my father, how loyal and almost fanatic we are about action movies. We need to have them and expect to see them and make an event out of them. When I go to see an action movie, I get that charge, you know? I was raised to study the craft intensely from a very young age. You’d almost think well action movies are action movies. First of all, “action movie” is a new term, okay? Films like THE WILD ONE, GONE WITH THE WIND could be called “action movies” since they were made with the best effects that technology could provide at that time. It wasn’t until the Arnold generation that this title of action movies even came about. So every movie that I approach, every character I approach, I approach with the same conviction and the same attention to the craft, whether it’s a dramatic piece by Sidney Lumet or whether it’s an action piece.

CARREON:

What’s your take on Mathieu Kassovitz’s vision of the future in BABYLON A.D.?

DIESEL:

The thought of this was taking something that had the action component and then string it together if you will all these sequences with this real French auteur style, you know? That’s what the fun of doing this film was and the challenge of doing this film and what was attractive about doing it. I had just come off this incredible experience with working with Sidney Lumet. I was hungry for different kinds of directors. The fact that it was an action piece was a comfort zone. That was the easy part, so to speak. And I was going to go. What was attractive was having a visceral take on an action movie.

CARREON:

Do you have faith? Do you have faith in humanity?

DIESEL:

Yes, I do have faith in humanity. And I will guard that faith against any cynicism to my dying day. But, I’m the son of an idealist. I’m the son of artists. I am an artist! I think by being an artist, you have to have some kind of faith in humanity otherwise you wouldn’t be an artist. You wouldn’t expect anyone to get what you are saying in your art.

CARREON:

Do you have a spiritual faith, or a faith in yourself?

DIESEL:

I have a spiritual faith.

MJ:

That’s interesting in the context of the film because you are a man of blank morality.

DIESEL:

You are so right, you are so right. Fascinating and interesting about playing that role, but the real me? Very strong on the spiritual faith. It’s interesting because part of the subtlety of the Michelle Yeoh character was that representation of that kind of spiritual faith.

CARREON:

Mélanie (Thierry, Diesel’s co-star in the film) was saying, in her mind we are not too far away from the world that is presented in BABYLON A.D. Do you share the same belief?

DIESEL:

I don’t know. I know that when we were making this movie, we were making this movie about a character having to export somebody through borders around Russia. I would pick up the New York Times and you’ve got borders increasing around Russia. Specifically Russia and Georgia and all that. And you see the seeds of something that is scary.

CARREON:

I guess we’re not too far after all, Vin you’re scaring the shit out of me!

DIESEL:

No, I’m just saying in the general sense. I have my own philosophy about how the border thing is working and how it’s…

CARREON:

And how it’s not.

CARREON:

And how it’s not and where we’re going to be in a few years with borders. But everyone might think I’m crazy.

CARREON:

We’ll have to look at this ten years from now and see if you’re right. I hope not.

DIESEL:

It’s a tricky thing because the borders will be increased and strengthened in a way no one will recognize. No one will ever see them being built. The walls of China, so to speak, that are going to divide our world are going to be constructed while we’re not paying attention. What we’ll be focused on is the virtual world where there are no borders. So the physical world is going to build its borders while we indulge further into the Internet, into a world where there are no borders. When you are locked in front of that screen you’ll never see the wall being built.

CARREON:

And they’ll be surprised.

CARREON:

And they’re going to be surprised.

CARREON:

Which did you find more challenging, the physical or the emotional aspects your role in BABYLON A.D.?

DIESEL:

Both are challenging in different ways. I become the character. As crazy as that sounds, live in that character and I don’t think of anything as being more challenging than the other. Might not be the smartest thing because when I’m in character I jump off the roof, I jump off the roof. It’s less of a specific thing that’s more challenging. The more you delve deep into a character, the more exhausting it is on you, right? You know, you hear all the time about actors that go and do these really deep performances and than need a year to try and detox and cleanse. Because, if it is done right and done with integrity, becoming a character is a heavy deal.

CARREON:

It ain’t easy.

DIESEL:

It ain’t easy. You live in that space. That’s if you are striving to do something significant in your craft. You end up living in a space and that space ain’t always a comfortable space.

CARREON:

Why do you think the multi-cultural face enhances this move?

DIESEL:

For me, any film that has a multi-cultural face is enhanced, personally. But I think it plays to this movie in a really good way. You know, Michelle Yeoh was originally written in the book as an old French kind of typical nun. And I think by casting Michelle Yeoh in that role, as opposed to the traditional, she was able to bring an unspoken spirituality. A spirituality that you didn’t have to really talk about too much, but she brought it to the screen, she brought it to the role and it helped the overall picture.

CARREON:

And Mélanie is interesting as well.

DIESEL:

So exciting! She’s one of our big finds in the movie. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of Mélanie.

CARREON:

You have a huge vested interest in this. Why?

DIESEL:

I’ve done enough movies now. You reach a place where you realize dreams which is surreal. It’s a surreal experience. I want my work to be significant. I take great pride in the art. I come from artist housing. It was government subsidized in New York, which were basically projects for artists that made less than ten thousand dollars a year. That’s the environment in which I was raised. That’s kind of affected me in Hollywood because sometimes I don’t take the big Hollywood picture payday thing and that causes a ripple because the studio needs that thing and I’m too idealistic. And the script isn’t good! And no one really gives a shit whether I think the script is good or not, but they care when they know I care, that I’m invested in a movie. I’ve had my challenges with that because sometimes I can be too precious and too involved, but I stand by the work that I do and I stand by the films that I do. And my philosophy about making movies is that everybody included in that process of making a movie should feel that way. I feel like the third wardrobe assistant should feel just as accountable for the movie as the director. That’s my own thing.

** This interview with Vin Diesel was conducted on August 20, 2008, at the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City for 20th Century Fox International. It has been edited from the original transcript.

“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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“Beautiful”

“Beautiful”

“Beauty’s where you find it
Not just where you bump and grind it
Soul is in the musical
That’s where I feel so beautiful
Magical, life’s a ball
So get up on the dance floor…”

— From “Vogue” by Madonna/Shep Pettibone

I started this entry with a basic question:

Do you remember the last time you felt beautiful?

It was my intent to deconstruct that specific moment when you knew you could express yourself without fear of being called out for being “different.” It’s that version of yourself that is obfuscated by societal norms or misguided attempts from our parents to “protect” us from a judgmental world. This post was not supposed to be about outward beauty, although that is a prison of different making. As for the rest of us who haven’t scored big at the genetic lottery, we tend to water down the impact of the word “beauty” to its most superficial definition. What do we do with the concept of having a bold personality, of being able to express a powerful sense of verve when we’re young? Why do many of us spend much our adult lives, countless dollars and more trying to coax that child back into existence in the end? Does that qualify as being beautiful, too?

As I discussed this post with my boss and best sparring partner, I found myself unable to defend my position on what I felt meant being beautiful. He kept leading me outside of the boxed context of what I insisted was the point of this piece.  He led the debate beyond what is “pleasing to the senses or mind aesthetically.” Before I could even begin to write about “beauty,” he insisted, I had to dig deeper into the complexity of this word.

Greek philosopher Plato maintained that beauty is a universal construct. We may not always recognize beauty through our senses. Each individual’s reaction can be triggered through a different means: sight, sound, smell, etc. Perhaps when we acknowledge something as being “beautiful,” it is because it is a potent reminder as to how our souls possess a wonderful sense of mystery.

The late English art critic John Berger opined that “seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.” When we do begin to learn how to speak and we start amassing a vocabulary, we also start learning how to use these words to build declarative statements and opinions. These bloom into judgments, influenced and curated by those around us. From that point, how we “see” things in inextricably affected in the end by what we learn and by what we think we “know.”

Bridging Plato to Berger takes a bit more than the foundation I am laying here. Yet, I can see a link to a key moment in my childhood. Addressing the issues of the consequences of being bullied and the body dysmorphia/food addictions that continue to haunt me, which remain a key focus of this diary. So, my initial to my question was:

“I haven’t felt or deemed myself as being beautiful in a long time.”

I reference that hat glorious Spanish summer of 2014. I felt in control of my self and my soul. I felt powerful and limitless, just like I did up until the 4th grade when I became aware of what I saw as being “me” was “different” from the rest of the pack. More, once I understood the hurtful words and opinions hurled at me through elementary school junior high from those who rebuked me mercilessly, I opted to hide much of what made me “me.” And I hurled those same words back to others weaker than me with decided force and intent. My concept of beauty, the image of myself, has never been the same since.

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I think about the moment I thought I understood what beauty could mean. Given my middle class life, of course it was built around media. As I discovered much later, I wasn’t alone in my nascent gay self, pouring over Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Interview and New York magazines, drawn to the light of these glossy pages like a pilgrim making the journey to Lourdes. It is no coincidence that I hid here as much as I did in the literary and musical testaments to cafe society that I regularly snuck into the house from the library. Dad worked in textiles, which first opened a window into fashion, then all things New York City, for me. It didn’t take much to to begin whispering the names of photographers, editors, models and designers with solemnity of a prayer during Sunday mass: Avedon. Penn. Elgort. Newton. Scavullo. Saint Laurent. Givenchy. Dior. Lacroix. Lagerfeld. Halston. Versace. Ellis. Dovima. Turlington. Evangelista. Campbell. Tilberis. Vreeland. Wintour. They were all what I deemed as being “beautiful.”

I felt so superior in thinking that no one knew who they were in Pico Rivera. In reality, this world shielded me from those who tormented me in the hallways of South Ranchito and Meller Jr. High. I knew one day, I’d be able to move amongst them, the ultimate smalltown boy revenge. What it really meant was that I had capitulated to bourgeois materialism in the guise of being cultivated.

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Looking back at this now, was this fascination (obsession), really the best definition of “beauty?” Wasn’t this realm of artifice derived from fashion and fashionistas merely examples of what is simply “pretty?” Did it fall under the tenets of beauty attributed to Plato? What did it reveal about me at a young age, chubby, acne’d and peculiar in terms of my own personal code of aesthetics? Was I merely wading into this pool of superficiality, engaging in a clichéd game of middle class rebellion because I hated NOT being one of these people? Perhaps. Oh yes, perhaps. Misguided or not, memorizing the pages of Judith Krantz’s “Scruples” or Jackie Collins’s “Hollywood Wives” left me breathless and eager to get the hell out of the SGV as soon as I could. Needless to say, I sold myself short.

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It is no irony that I became a publicist, that messenger of all things glittering and glamorous. I battled with never being as cool as the message, even at the peak of years at 20th Century Fox. I lived and died at the altar of the Hollywood experience. I needed not have bothered. What we should find is truly beautiful is not always the thing we see outwardly. Yet, we continue to bandy about with words that act more as hyperbole than being catalysts of profundity.

I continue to grapple with long cycles of depression, excess eating and overindulgence, which includes the manner I continue to spend my money on material things. It would be easy to fault a steady diet of glitz and glitter as the source of my demons. I won’t, because I still admire the craft of couture, which is a true art to me. I knew what I was doing then and now. As to when I’ll take firm control of those urges, I won’t ever stop trying to compartmentalize them until they torment me no more. Yet, after the debacle of “Fatlanta,” I am still faced with that blasted question: “Do you remember the last time you felt beautiful?”

Now that this conversation has started, I realize I have much to learn and understand about what is “beautiful.” It is more than my long held ideal of becoming a gentleman in the style of my cinematic hero Cary Grant. As for the current state of fashion and fashion magazines, the joy is less apparent in this renewed era of status mongering and greed. Nor can my definition be something on par of Madonna’s exquisite paean to other icons of film glamour, “Vogue.” But a singular truth can be found within these beats, “beauty is where you find it.”

As I begin to redefine my own standards of beauty, I realize something is happening at long last. I am finding myself again in these discussions that stir my collective senses.  I am learning again thanks to an evolving family of friends who choose and want to think beyond what is accepted or acceptable. This time feels so much like Spain. The arrested development that I’ve allowed to set in has no place in this quest for wellness. Perhaps what makes us beautiful is believing in the desire to grow and to be challenged by a world, even one in flux.

Given our current political state of ugly at the moment, we have to train our eyes to see beyond what lies what ahead or even what we think we’ve learned about people, even ourselves. Perhaps beauty is the possibility afforded by being better and stronger and willing to accept our flaws, to finding the willingness to build them into strengths.

Only when we allow for acceptance and tolerance can we best repel the rhetoric from people who dare keep us asunder in a state of homogenized hatred.

Only when we begin to understand the true nature of beauty will we be able to say, “Life’s a ball!” and just fucking dance already.

We are forever accountable for our journeys and decisions. Perhaps that’s what I’ve come to finally learn:

Be your true self. Be beautiful.

Cary Grant photo by Richard Avedon

Dovima & Ray Bolger photo by Richard Avedon

Kristen McMenamy & Nadja Auermann photo by Richard Avedon

Gia Carangi in YSL photo by Helmut Newton

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Fatlanta”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Fatlanta”

 

While I’ve been bicoastal for work, I’ve joked to friends that eating in the ATL is a challenge, that “even the air is fried.” Or, I’d say with the solemnity of confession, “It is impossible to eat healthy in this city.” The truth is I lost all and total control. I acted like a kid who was left off at summer camp with the idea that anything goes now that mom and pops ain’t watching me.

I’ve been watching myself see the scale move up about to the tune of 11.5 pounds of MF’in bloat in a month of unnecessary stress and/or emotional eating. That’s the end result of letting this last month of working in Atlanta get to me. Here’s the rub: I wasn’t even stressed or emotional! In other words, I fell off the food addiction wagon so hard, I literally broke my spirit.

Welcome to Fatlanta.

I spent most of the first day back from the latest trip to Atlanta in a sulk. Sure its mostly sodium intake, but that’s no comfort, dear. Today, I ate two apples, some raw pepitas, hummus and a turkey/egg white scramble, had a latte and just sulked. I can’t even be mad at anyone since no one person or situation put all that food in mouth at gun point. I knew exactly what I was doing, which makes me even feel worse. Wait. Checking my glucose reading the Saturday after my return from this  latest trip clocked in at 200! That does feel worse. It’s triggered The Eeyore Effect again, where I feel heavy, slow, sweaty and incredibly morose.

Fuck me. It’s enough to not feel depressed right now or beat myself to a Waffle House and BBQ sauce-infused pulp right now. I think about those episodes of “Designing Women” when Delta Burke’s weight gain was starting to become an issue for the show. Series creator Linda Bloodworth Thomason would write some of the best episodes of 1980s television around Suzanne Sugarbaker’s weight. A former beauty queen, like Burke herself, the character’s struggle with her weight hit a raw nerve for many of us dealing with the same challenges.

In the end, Burke would be fired from the show in a nasty public split that is the stuff of industry legend. The show never recovered from the loss of such a vivid character. All of the women were remarkable on that show, but Suzanne was the reason many watched with such fervor. (I won’t lie. All four of the original cast are my spirit characters.) Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion, too. (To quote another Southern pop culture queen.) I spent part of the day watching some of the best of Suzanne Sugarbaker’s moments, just as a reminder that this set back is not permanent. Nor does it diminish the achievement of getting closer to understanding why I eat the way I do. The cycle can be broken, which is what I am determined to focus upon after this day of wallowing in self-pity. One day. No more, dammit.

Being in Georgia these many weeks has reinforced the horror and sadness I feel when it comes to the tyranny of food we continue to endure in this country. We sure love our excess as much as we love NOT being told what to do, especially when it comes to our health. With the recent return of Trumpcare and the rollbacks of key legislations to help keep our children healthy, I realize that many of us are being set up to fail. We won’t be told by anyone what we can or can’t do to our bodies! Keep us poor, stupid, fat and consuming everything in sight. That’s what is means to be an American!

Bullshit.

When will we realize that we are being set up to fail, to stay sick and die? We are just being led to the slaughter, fattened by ignorance, greed and pride. We are at the mercy of the privileged few who stand to earn more by just watching us eat ourselves to death. This is where education is so vital! We keep cutting curriculum that can so benefit us from a young age! That “Dollars & Sense” class or home economics courses, why are these considered a luxury today?

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It made me sad seeing how race and income dictated what food was available in every sector of Atlanta I visited. You could find a Waffle House, Bojangle’s or Chik-fil-a on every corner, but a Whole Foods or Sprouts was still relegated to the affluent Buckhead-type areas of the city. Publix and Kroger’s offered some healthier choices, but these options were usually relegated to the back of the store, away from the towering displays of chips and soft drinks that were substantially cheaper. The produce I purchased at several Wal-Mart stores was subpar and not as plentiful or as fresh compared to the Super Target Market offerings outside of the city.

It would be too easy to say, “Well, it’s Georgia!” But, you can’t avoid the same problems in Los Angeles. When I was studying at ELAC with Professor Norma Vega, she incorporated a section on the politics of food in her advanced Spanish class. If the seeds were sown then, perhaps the importance of believing “We are what we eat” still needs to be nurtured in order to flower. At least in my own way of living.

I was weak in resisting the excess of movie set treats during these weeks on location. Even with the tough love of several key friends this week, I still reached for the fried pickles, sweet tea, Magnachos, waffle, grits and corn bread with extra maple butter. Why? I wish I knew. I told myself I can get back on track when I get home, that I’ll just return to my program later. I can lose it, no problem. Going backwards to move forward again is getting old. I knew better and the classic addict behavior displayed only made me realize I have a long way to go to be truly healthy again. That being cavalier is on par with being complicit or silent when people are doing all they can to tear you down in the name of progress or #MAGA.

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Driving through South Pasadena today, I thought about stupid I felt for bemoaning I have too much to eat when countless others are struggling to find their next meal. It is a gross abuse of body, mind and soul. I am beyond fortunate to know that I have the means and knowledge to be healthy and sated. That is no excuse to act like I have all the resources and chances in the world to avoid the inevitable, which is an untimely death. I will take this to heart when I return to Atlanta again later this week. No more side trips to Fatlanta, either. Passage denied.

Part of the struggle of healthy eating is knowing when you’ve had enough. To push yourself away from the table and say, “I will not intake anymore of that which can hurt me.” As we lurch forward through this era of chaos, anger and confusion, focus is essential. In order to be able to object and resist, you need strength and conviction. If you can’t control what you eat, then maybe it is time to get out of the kitchen. More, maybe it is time to take stock of what makes you strong and able and offer that part of yourself with those who are willing to listen and learn along with you.

We are what we eat, just as much as we are who we choose to lead.

Either way, demand better.

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Week 6, Day 35 — “Lies”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Week 6, Day 35 — “Lies”

There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity…You can smell it. It smells like death.

— From “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams

Weight: 248.3 lbs.

Glucose Reading: 129

I’ve always been a really good liar. Not #45 good, but close enough. I’ve been carrying this guilt about lying for most of my adult life. Time to dump it all into the cosmic landfill once and for all.

From a very young age, I’ve quite adept in manipulating the truth to my will. It’s this choir boy face of mine, the one that disarms people with a sly twinkle in my eye. It’s the face that says “Confess to me” when I am in an interview situation. Perhaps you won’t even hear me judge you when we speak, but sometimes my will to speak is too great. Other times, it is silent and deadly with a force that even makes me feel shame.

I’ve always been a really good liar to my parents, to my family, to my friends, to anyone that dares enter my world of vivid stories and colorful novela-esque drama. Like the time I told people when I was in junior high that our Thanksgiving dinner was a failure because the turkey blew out of the oven. When that tale made the rounds to my older sister, I was oh-so busted! But it didn’t matter, it wasn’t until the end of the school day that the truth was revealed.

Truth.

I know the truth about my lies. I’ve never possessed a great poker face. I may think my lies achieve their assigned tasks, but my inner truth is always on display. It’s one of the many walking contradictions I possess. For those who are attuned, and maybe even those who are recklessly dense, you will most likely be able to read me like an alternate selection from the Book of the Month Club. I have never been able to truly hide the panoply of insecurities that motivates me to skirt the truth:

Fear of not being accepted.

Fear of being unloved.

Fear of being left behind.

Fear of being invisible.

Fear of being ordinary. 

Fear. Just plain fear. 

This slow journey to better health has some real pitfalls. Shedding layers of my physical self is revealing a lot of what I’ve attempted to keep buried. Facing these truths also means having to apologize to a lot of people for the litany of untruths and manipulations I’ve spun better than Charlotte on her web for much of my life. I say to you all, “I’m not proud of being duplicitous, but I am glad you have stuck by me no matter what.” However, of all the lies I’ve told, the worst are the ones I tell to myself.

Lying is on par with keeping a secret or withholding information. The stupid truth is that no matter how hard you try to keep things hidden, the more certain they are to be revealed in the end. Yet, so many of us keep making that decision, certain the consequences will never materialize. That we’re untouchable. And no one will get hurt. But it’s wrong. Someone always gets hurt. Sometimes it is whoever is closest to the blast zone when it detonates. It could be someone you love, but really, the biggest damage is done to yourself.

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The lies I’ve told to myself vary in size, from tiny to epic. Thinking about it now, the size really doesn’t matter. A lie is a lie. I think about how I’ve lied to myself every day:

I’ll diet tomorrow. 

I’ll exercise this weekend. 

I’ll go to King Taco one last time. 

I’ll eat these nachos one last time before getting serious about eating better. 

I do love myself.

I do care about my life.

I do matter.

These last two days have been tough. I’m fuckin’ tired. I’m tired of carrying all of this weight around, literally and figuratively. This eternal struggle of constantly having to find new spaces for the pounds I keep gaining and losing is getting to me. I feel the struggle in a much different way and it’s a feeling that not even the Lexapro can quell.  I just can’t spin any more lies.

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At one point today, I just let my feelings spill out in front of my boss. I just had enough: The drive to Lindora, the drive to work, racing to get from one point to another. The sad drop of just .3 of a pound, despite the booster shot. The copious handfuls of walnuts I couldn’t stop shoveling into my mouth last night. The guys I’ve met on Scruff and Growlr who don’t seem to want to respond back to texts or DMs on the apps anymore, despite their initial interest. The shit show in DC that is giving lying a whole new allure to a country that refuses to acknowledge how the weight of an idealized, racist past is NOT the way to go.

Sigh. A run on sentence of emotion. A purge. Truth. Real truth. I know I will get through this intact. I took a walk after my sensible lunch. I started to write this post, to get these feelings out into the open before their toxicity triggered the mania that makes me reach for food I don’t need.  And so far, I’ve held it together.

Man, at some point, I know I am going to like myself enough to not punish myself with these thoughts anymore, that I won’t punish my body with these mad lapses in greasy, salty and fatty foods. It’s ironic, being this people pleaser, always striving to make the rest of the room feel great. I have never been able to do that for myself. Worse, I’d invent false personas with which to keep people around happy and engaged enough to keep me as their friend. Really, I just wanted to hide the deficiencies I saw in my physical self.

Food never judged me, which is why I consumed so much of it since I was kid. Shoes and all the other material goods didn’t judge me, which is why I spent so much money I didn’t have amassing so many things. It’s amazing what we tell ourselves to feign the feeling or project the image of happiness. And for what? I’ve made myself sick in ways I thought would never happen to me. But they did. I want to get better. I want to be well. I want to be no longer afraid. I want to be honest with not only the world, but myself.

I knew this return to Lindora would be different than my previous experiences. What I didn’t anticipate was such introspection as a result of what would be dredged up in the process.  I’ve never lost weight this slow before. Then again, I’ve never been so affected by the necessity of no longer being under this tyranny of food.

Driving home tonight from work, my iPod shuffled to play Sara Bareilles’s “The King of Anything.” At one point she sings, “Waitin’ for someone to tell me it’s my turn to decide.” The decision to be healthy and strong has been made. What needs to happen next is to accept a vow of truth and stop the lies that have resulted in nothing but pain and fear.

All my life
I’ve tried
To make everybody happy while I
Just hurt
And hide
Waitin’ for someone to tell me it’s my turn
To decide. — From “King of Anything” by Sara Bareilles

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 5, Day 27 — “Like Me, Love Me”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 5, Day 27 — “Like Me, Love Me”

 

Weight: 249.6

Glucose Reading: 123

“Worry
Why do I let myself worry?
Wondering
What in the world did I do?”

— From “Crazy” (Willie Nelson)

I truly do feel crazy of late. Even this post takes a turn due to current events, so hang on.

I am crazy for being so lonely, despite the good that surrounds me at the moment. While my social media posts of late are of the #45 trolling nature, I actually do feel rather good about a lot things. My weight is down, dropping at a rate that is healthy and realistic. Sugar is WAY down from its epic high of the 400’s earlier this year. My eating habits are starting to adjust to what makes sense to eat at the moment as opposed to just eating all the things that numb my feelings away. Creating that soft blanket of armor is something best left on my bed.

So, why the unease? I’m tired of fighting these gusts of loneliness. It doesn’t help that our days of rain and road rage have colored the city a less appealing shade of grey lately. One drought may be in the midst of being repaired, while my dating drought seems to be holding on a bit longer.

Part of this mentality is fueled by the “Chicken and the Egg” mechanics of dating and meeting people today. A lot of it is driven by apps, something that already makes me wonder where the time went while I busy inventing the MediaJor persona. Forget about the chat rooms and Craig’s Listings of yore. We are even going beyond Scruff and Growlr. Now we have “MeetUp.” It is on my queue of things to try this year and I am sure the experience will inspire a diary entry or two. The existence of this app fascinates me while pulling the trigger on one my most defining insecurities.

I’ve always considered myself a very social person. Well, let me rephrase that. I was a very social person, completely secure as to what made me unique as a kid. That ended around third grade, which is when I took a major detour once I became hyper aware of the social hierarchies of adolescence. At first, I didn’t really pay attention to the awkward reality of being that Cole Porter kid in a sea of Chicanos with totally different interests. I thought all kids loved movies, musicals and books as much as me. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that wasn’t at all the case.

When reality kicked in, I bid a retreat from what made me “Jorge” and tried to turn it around by being “George,” seeking acceptance and feeling devastated when I still remained a background player. Then I would couple my voracious appetite for popular culture with two or three more helpings of whatever Mom made for dinner. I see where I kicked off the chain of events that would be one of my biggest challenges to overcome: maintaining a healthy body image.

As a gay man, I know I am not alone in living with that vicious cycle of self-flagellation over how we look to the world. If having abs and a gun show didn’t matter, gyms would go out of business with our mass exodus. I still obsess over my appearance and how people perceive me. Any shortcomings were covered up with being more of a “personality” since I wasn’t so secure in my being a “person” people could care about, much less desire. God, this era of trolling for “Likes” is just a more insidious means of finding acceptance and validation, one that preys on the weak and insecure like a plague. It is so fucked up, seeing men turn into teenage girls. It’s all tattoos, jock straps, duck lips and mirror shots that are so filtered, even Doris Day would go, “It’s not supposed to be like looking through cataracts, dear!”

How do we inoculate ourselves from this virulent form of narcissism and self-absorption? I’m guilty of the selfie ritual, almost to the point of ridicule from people close to me who can’t bear to see the pics clog up their Facebook feeds. However, part of the process of reconciling an emotional connection with food includes restoring a positive image of yourself. That’s something I haven’t really had in over four decades of living.

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When I step down from this wheel of “Oh, I am so lonely” long enough, I recognize the truth about what it is that draws people to the eye. Yes, aesthetics play a role. We’re a visual society, more so than ever. But it does matter to strike that inner spark of contentment, the one that is born from being secure with your true self. This is nothing new and it goes beyond the memes and magazine-speak that makes obvious pronouncements seem profound. Hell, even RuPaul has a version that drips with sequins and glitter, but it is true. “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love somebody else.”

Better living through chemistry, rather, the pills I am taking have helped a lot in beating back the darkness that’s shrouded me for a long while. These last weeks of eating better and making better food choices have also returned some vim and verve in my step. But, lurking in the corners, like dust bunnies clinging for dear life, is that woe of being alone.

In speaking with a friend this week, whose own travails with matters of the heart are complicated enough to make me want to take a vow of celibacy, I found myself offering advice that I should heed myself. He isn’t ready for the relationship he is in at the moment. His BF is a very social creature who enjoys many of the trappings of gay life that my friend  can barely tolerate, if at all. More, his own insecurities about being left and deemed unworthy have triggered a few flashbacks of from my own dating life. 

I am reminded of what I did to my own Ex during and after our two splits. Seeing my Ex appear on the gay apps like Growlr hasn’t helped me much, either. It’s just another track on the “Being Left Behind” hit parade. This friend and I are kindred spirits in this regard and we both have grappled with finding the love for ourselves. I think I am making progress in the sense that I do love myself enough to want to be healthier, to release myself from the tyranny of food and take charge. As for the crazy love for another part? It does always read better on the page or seen on the big screen, so my focus is shifting to the rational on that front now that I’ve purged a little of this angst in this diary entry. But I don’t want to relinquish the crazy just yet. Hear me out.

Author Paolo Coelho stated, “I prefer to crazy and happy rather than normal and bitter.” We’re moving past bitter these days. Normal was never a word I’d ever choose to describe myself. Crazy is a given. Happy? I think I’ll continue to dine on that possibility for as long as it does my body, brain and heart good.

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While composing this entry, it was announced that #45’s administration withdrew the protections implemented by President Obama on transgender bathroom use in public schools. I’ve never felt skilled in dealing with the political because my focus was too narrow and even superficial when it came to this blog. However, I find I can’t just sit in this space of looking inward without addressing what I see outside this bubble.

This diary on food and self-awareness began with a simple question:  “Is my life worth saving?” In the current climate, where protections for the queer and transgender communities are being removed as we speak, it is trivial to sit here prattling on and on about the lack of love in my life. I can’t follow a linear course with my thoughts of late. I don’t think anyone can, particularly with the frequency with which #45 is systematically turning the US into a Russian outpost of hate.

Love is not something I lack, that’s obvious. But, the pressures of conformity are now coupling with the incredible fear that many in this country have to contend with on a daily level. Many are losing that battle, taking their lives because death seems like a better option over continued persecution. The question I find myself pondering is fast becoming, “Are all lives worth saving in America.”

I think about what it felt like being the chubby kid who wasn’t like the other boys. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I’ve been able to face the consequences of those years. It’s bad enough the body politics that rule within the gay community are discriminating enough. That’s a topic for another rant. However, I do recognize just how lucky I was to NOT be ostracized or isolated in college or the workplace.  But that isn’t the case for many queer or transgender youths today, despite the progress that was so hard won and now faces a regressive era that defies basic human rights.

No one should ever want for love in this world. No one should ever want for acceptance and respect despite being “different.” But for change to happen, we must change ourselves from within. I recognize the power in shedding that which does nothing but harm me. Imagine if that same power can be shared with others in shedding that which does nothing but harm our way of living.

It is important to recognize that the loneliness I feel will be just one more layer that will be stripped away with the rest of that which ails me as I continue this journey to better health. What will be found underneath remains to be seen. However, the strength gained must be put to good use. Truth matters in a fight. And the lines are being drawn as I write these words. Because if we’re aiming for crazy and happy as a society, it will take vanquishing those bitter souls who dare decide what is “normal” today.

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Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 4, Day 21 — “Plateau”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 4, Day 21 — “Plateau”

Weight: 252.2

Glucose Reading: 137

So, I’ve hit my first brick wall, the dreaded plateau stretch. It’s the phenomenon that occurs when you just can’t seem to drop another fuckin’ pound. Of course, maybe it would help if I moved a bit more instead of just rising from bed, going to work, returning home and going back to bed. It’s taken a lot of my will to just do the Lean for Life program. The idea of regular exercise is just that, an idea. When I’ll start to do more than walk a few miles is something I grapple with daily. But, I then remind myself, “It isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon.” Then I want to punch the wall itself, wondering why I embarked on this journey again in the first place. It’s a dance I know all too well and even my sturdy legs are starting to resist the choreography a bit. To bend, but not capitulate. That’s my truest self.

I guess I have been a wee bit on edge of late. Temptation is staging a sit-in on the steps of my brain. I keep mulling overeating behaviors that I know are bad for me. I dream of pizzas and orange tabby kittens. I dream of cheeseburgers and those solitary runs to King Taco. I recall when I would wake up and see the empty wrappers and bags from the items I would consume during these food binges that would last for days at a time. The feeling of being an addict would then seep into my already beaten down conscience. I would chastise myself endlessly, determined to not do it again, but it would without fail that same night. I could never help myself. It is like daring myself to reach the lowest possibly point, just to see if I could.

Rotating through this vicious and destructive cycle is on par with total madness. The number of lies you will tell yourself to validate an addiction will mount exponentially to the point that you can no longer tell the difference between delusion and truth. You fail to see the damage you’re causing since it isn’t necessarily visible, but it is being done without mercy. The full impact of consequence is only felt when you reach a crisis point. Sometimes you can turn it back and be saved. Sometimes it claims you.

I think about the tyranny of a society that preys on the weak who grapple with issues of perception and maintaining a certain social status.

I think about the tyranny of a media culture that preys upon the insecure by shaming their body types or finding fault with their ability to cultivate an “appearance.”

I think about the tyranny of an administration that prefers lies to the truth to keep their tenuous hold on our country, callously deconstructing our hard-won democracy under the cynical guise of “Making America Great Again.”

The temptations we face, both with our bodies and minds, are an eternal struggle for many. It is a real tragedy that our places in the social hierarchy dictate what we are able to consume. Fast food exists because it is cheap and easy. It is consumption at its worst, disregarding the basic rules of nutrition because it knows people won’t fight for something better. That takes knowledge. That takes real money. Good health requires certain resources and patience to sustain and a lot of us can’t be bothered to look away by the quick fixes and band aids we seek to make our lives easier.

Fast food is a lie. We know the truth about what will elevate us and what will kill us in terms of what we put into our bodies. I’ve accepted this lie for years, giving it strength because I was weak to face it with any resolve. Tyranny takes many forms and after years of bubble and self-absorbed living, we are finally using terms like “resist” and “persist” again. And meaning it.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s daughter, Bernice King, recently posted a list of things we can do to counterpunch the tyrannical regime of #45. It has been making the social media rounds and it is being picked up by certain media outlets, too. In some ways, the rules apply to all things that dare tear us asunder:

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We are complicit in our silence. We must feel the power that comes from the support of people we love. We must avoid helpless and hopeless talk. We must keep our messages, the ones we say to ourselves and to the people around us, positive. This is the power to be found in resistance and rebellion, to eschew the rhetoric that is not good for anyone. This is how we push through the plateaus of complacency and stagnation that do not allow us to shed the weight dragging us down. This is how we emerge strong, victorious and healthy in the purest sense of these words.

This is how we save ourselves.

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