9/11

9/11

Before September 11, 2001:

I spent the better of the year trying to establish a life in New York City. It was a long-held dream, one that came to fruition after I decided to leave my cushy job a studio publicist. Those months from the fall of 2000 to spring of 2001, I lived in the Carroll Gardens area of Brooklyn. The day to salad day experience of it all seems like a hazy dream to me now. However, certain things will forever stand out. Like making these little trips downtown with my brother and his friends to see movies at a cinema in the Water Garden building, followed up by a little trip to Krispy Kreme, then we’d mosey on over to Century 21 looking for deeply discounted fashion treasure or head into the Borders bookstore. I still have that copy of “Left Behind” in my bookshelf. Don’t ask, but I can’t part with it. Because, by that fall of 2001, it was a final reminder of a place that wouldn’t exist anymore.

September 11, 2001:

I was overwhelmed by the complete selflessness of total strangers helping out the many stranded people all over the US after the horrific events of that morning in NYC. I was one of those Americans, away from home in Toronto, unable to locate my brother Ernesto in Manhattan and frantic for any shred of information that could explain such a heinous and tragic act of cowardice and violence. It was a humbling period of time, where national pride hit this extraordinary and wonderful peak. People did what they could to help those who were lost, who lost someone or simply needed help in coping with the concept of such a staggering loss. Like most of you, I will never forget those who assisted my colleagues, my family and I during those chaotic days. I am forever grateful.

September 11, 2017:

I am overwhelmed by how our now warped sense of national identity has been corrupted through wrath, paranoia, mendacity, narcissism, conspiracy and total ignorance. It has been, the definition of what it means to be an American — to be a citizen of this world. And all for a lousy soundbite to be aired like a Boomerang clip over and over again until it becomes truth.

While you take a moment to remember the past, take a good look at our present because it will dictate our future. We’ve changed in the last 16 years, and not for the better. The very men and women charged with protecting us — from the military to local police and fire departments — are not being given the respect, resources or benefits to aid them in their time of need. More, we have gone from being humbled to something so right of center, I don’t know who we are as Americans anymore. Don’t let these homegrown infidels appropriate our future with more of the same. Remember who were and what we lost 16 years. We have so much to gain through optimism and being proactive. Let’s stop playing the blame game in an endless pissing contest for ratings and attention, tweeting and turning our nation into a reality show that undermines all that it is to be a strong nation of honest, true people.

It’s been 16 years since we faced one of the greatest tragedies in our modern history. Life hasn’t quite been the same since. What we’ve lost still hurts, but who knew whatever precious gains achieved would dissipate in the hateful rhetoric that’s led us to a crossroads moment we are facing as a nation today. As we honor the fallen, we owe their memory something more than toxic tweets, societal unrest, walls and other travesties weighing this great nation down. We owe them love, liberty and the pursuit of happiness who call continue to call America home — or continue to risk the journey here. Because that is the American Way.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal…”

#neverforget #september11 #truth

“The End”

“The End”

“The American people are turning sullen. They’ve been clobbered on all sides by Vietnam, Watergate, the inflation, the depression; they’ve turned off, shot up, and they’ve fucked themselves limp, and nothing helps. So, this concept analysis report concludes, ‘The American people want somebody to articulate their rage for them.'”

Diana Christensen (as written by Paddy Chayefsky) in “Network” (1976)

“Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path”

— As Tweeted by Donald Trump, “President” of the United States (2017)

 

11/20/1983

“It seems fitting to begin with the end.”

That’s how journalist Harry F. Waters’s cover story on “The Day After” for Newsweek began. I’ll never forget reading that piece, nor that opening line. The publicity machine over at the ABC network had been working overtime. TV Guide featured its own cover story and countless news reports added further momentum, worrying that the highly publicized telefilm’s depiction of the aftermath of a nuclear war on midwestern Americans would be too graphic and devastating for audiences, especially children. Others declared it was merely a leftist polemic for ratings. Yet, ABC did detonate one of the most watched television events ever with “The Day After,” a three-hour telefilm that answered of the ultimate “What if?” question. And more than 100 million people in 39 million homes tuned in one November night in 1983 to find out the answer.

Directed by Nicholas Meyer and featuring an ensemble led by such era heavyweights as Jason Robards, John Lithgow, JoBeth Williams, Amy Madigan & John Cullum, “The Day After” was actually conceived as a two-part event. In the end, audiences would witness a three-hour film chronicling the lives of several Kansas families as they deal with the horrific aftermath of a nuclear exchange.

Whatever its technical limitations, the irradiated images of blast vaporization, flash burns, radiation sickness and the futility of restoring even the most basic of societal structures burned into the consciousness of a generation. President Ronald Reagan, who viewed the film prior to its airing, credits the experience as being the reason why he reversed his stance on certain nuclear arms policies.  (Reagan wrote in his diaries how the film was “very effective” and left him “greatly depressed.”)

Broadcasting a political statement as “entertainment” into the nation’s living rooms remains its hallmark. It was polarizing, but we had to watch, my family included. I recall how we sat in the den, my Dad, my sisters, and I. Mom or my younger brother weren’t present. Maybe, maybe not? What I do recall was sitting on the floor, leaning against the sofa and whispering, “Here we go” as the movie began. And our collective nuclear fears hit an unforgettable peak for the rest of the decade.

And we are still here.

In the 34 years since “The Day After,” we’ve seen and heard elected officials, dictators, religious zealots, grandstanding fringe media show hosts and a rogue’s gallery of other malcontents wax lyrical about warmongering. Then America elected Donald Trump.

Flannel shirts. Will & Grace. Roseanne. David Letterman. Fiorucci. Nuclear war! Sooner or later, everything comes back in vogue. Even the end of the world. Or maybe that prospect has never left us?

To those who know me, I am obsessed with apocalyptic fiction. I don’t know where it began, but movies, novels, mini-series, I loved the idea of “the end.” Hell, I even read the endings of books and hit Wikipedia to see how other narratives end. Haha. So, “When Harry Met Sally,” yo.  I still joke that such eccentricities were preparing me for the inevitable. I’ve written about this before, stating that I watch films like “The Day After,” “Threads,” and “Special Bulletin” because no matter what we go through today, it still isn’t a nuclear wasteland.

I guess the jokes on us? Maybe?

 

Seriously, Trump is the quintessential rebound boyfriend, the one that is a huge swing away from the one who treated you well, but you broke up with anyway. He’s that loud mouthed douche who talks a lot of shit but can’t back any of it up. He’s the surprise date your friend brings to dinner and you all wonder, “The sex can’t be THAT good. Why is he with him?” At best, he’ll leave you with a case of crabs, but that can be treated. At worst, he’ll leave you with a scorching case of the uncurable herp. And let’s face it, America,  you can’t afford to be left with another social disease transmitted through “fake news” or abject hatred. Bad enough we don’t have the healthcare reform to treat it.

For those of you who lived through the Reagan era, the idea of witnessing a nuclear war was solid enough to kick start the low sweat stage in us all. Yet, how lucky to know we survived to see Trump engage in social media saber (i.e. penis) rattling. Now, I ponder whether “the end” as entertainment is no longer just a scary scenario. Can it manifest itself this time? And what does that mean for us all? It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I don’t feel fine after all.

At times, I wonder if we are better of being dust in the atmosphere, given what we’ve done to ourselves and our planet. Then again, I’m not ready for “The End.” I refuse to give up on my right to dream of a good boy or girlfriend, the one who makes us all think and laugh at the dinner table, the one who believes in justice for all. Let all the haters ride the bomb to oblivion. We can’t allow for stupidity to have its way again.

“Basic”

“Basic”

As defined in the Urban Dictionary:

1. Used to describe someone devoid of defining characteristics that might make a person interesting, extraordinary, or just simply worth devoting time or attention to.

2. Lacking intelligence and unable to socialize on even an elementary level.

3. Annoyingly frustrating because of the above

Oh her? Don’t even worry about her, girl. She’s so basic.

I think I preferred being gay in the 1990s. Well, sometimes I do.

That’s not an admission of not enjoying my gay life today. I enjoy it very much, although I probably hide out more than living out loud. Still, I honestly believe I am not alone in recognizing the limits that exist within the complex reality of the community today. Our tropes have been remixed, rebranded, shaken, and stirred into such a vast panoply of categories, it is no wonder we have begun to lose our connection to each other. It’s the same phenomenon of having too much choice. And while we continue to be political firebrands, I often feel it is hard to a distinguishing voice, one that embraces the entire group. Perhaps that’s an impossible task.

When I was sorting out my gay identity in the mid-80s to 1990s, I will never forget the fear and desperation I felt over what I perceived as a paucity of role models and resources with which to understand being homosexual. Yes, I loved watching old movies, Paul Lynde and broke my mother’s kitten heels as a kid, pretending that I was Ann-Margret in “The Pleasure Seekers.” Yes, I fell under the sway of Gershwin & Porter, Bette Midler, Linda Ronstadt’s “What’s New” and Joan Rivers’ infamous comedy album “What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most?” I wasn’t led to all of these places. Most happened by osmosis. Some of my favorite teachers, who probably felt I needed a little encouragement, steered me ever so gently towards some cultural touchstones. Bottom line, it all felt right, just like the crushes I felt for Han Solo, Steve Austin and Thomas Magnum, private investigator. However, as I poured through the oeuvre of Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, and Jacqueline Susann, their depictions of homosexuality only left me titillated and confused. Man, I had questions and no one to turn to for answers.

As a teenager, you didn’t dare mention anything “gay” for fear of being ostracized or brutalized by the macho fucks who prowled the school hallways. Pretty much anything that did not look or sound like them meant “faggot.” Advanced vocabularies were a secret shame for us chubby, nascent homos. It was all closets, stereotypes, and slurs, as I am sure it was for many teenagers surviving the early 80s. It didn’t help that the HIV/AIDS crisis was being treated like a biblical pestilence by the media. But how else would you view the deaths of 40,000 people between 1981 and 1987 as anything but a genocide? Gomorrah was burning and it was devastating to hear from Anita Bryant and your own friends’ parents that being gay was the match that lit the fuse. Asserting your homosexuality at that time was not going to be like an ABC Afternoon School Special.

As I ventured to UCLA and beyond, I began to discover the resources with which to further define my gay identity. It was about being part of the “gay and lesbian” community, even if only the white gay male narrative was what clearly in focus. I still didn’t see myself in the growing media presence of gay men. Although, we have come a long way in that regard. In many ways, it still is a very white focus, regardless of the gender. Room for progress? Yes.

While I stayed firmly in the closet when it came to my parents, I had no problems letting my gay flag fly elsewhere. After UCLA became an educational Waterloo, CSU Long Beach can take credit for leading me to the artistry Armistead Maupin, Charles Busch, Reinaldo Arenas, David Leavitt, Manuel Puig, Larry Kramer, Keith Haring, Joe Orton, Harvey Fierstein, Pedro Almódovar and so much more. Once I landed at Paramount Studios as an intern, I hit the mother lode (and not that stalwart WeHo bar.) Several of the men I worked with in the studio’s National Theatrical Publicity department presented themselves as being incredibly secure with their bad ass gay selves. It was the first of many safe and illuminating havens I experienced in terms of associating with professionals who were out in the workplace.  I was made aware just how gay men and women were the ones to make life and style synonymous terms. In this ACT UP era, it was time to understand we were “fierce.” More, I became hyper aware as to the debt attached to the attitude, parlance, and strength of the community, realities contributed by African-American, Latino and Asian queers. It all made for an intoxicating existence, especially when viewed on display at clubs Circus or Rosie’s or Jewel’s Catch One, where we embraced each other, fell in love on the hour and felt so invincible on the dance floor.

When I started writing this post on being “Basic,” it was meant to be another statement on dating today. That was before I sat down to watch the poignant if erratic “Strike a Pose” documentary. It is a “where are they now” piece that was produced by a Belgian-Dutch team, the film celebrated the 25th anniversary of “Madonna: Truth or Dare,” itself a cultural moment of considerable influence. The documentary regrouped seven of Madonna‘s unforgettable backup dancers, charting the course of their lives, trials, and considerable tribulations in the years since their co-starring in the Material Girl’s iconic 1990 Blonde Ambition tour. That zeitgeist moment, one that influenced so many young gay men and women, had a bittersweet impact on these men’s’ lives. How a defining cultural gift proved so challenging and heartbreaking for these incredibly talented men helped me broaden the context of what I wanted to say about this era of being “Basic.”

I was very much one of those fans who found refuge and pride in a movie theater during that summer of 1991. I instantly re-felt the impact of “Truth or Dare,” despite the difficulties faced by this group of men as chronicled by “Strike a Pose.” It was also like finding being a letter from a long-ago love. Witnessing these men, all nearing 50, still moving to their own music with purpose helped me understand the need to keep moving forward, of re-embracing my own strengths and colors. More, they inspired me to not feel adrift or isolated as a result of being 50 and gay in a world that still caters to the proverbial youthquake.

The first paragraphs on “Basic” were these:

When it comes to 21st century dating between men, two categories remain in play. The first group – or the Exceptionals – are men worth dating, but are most likely paired off or not interested in being a couple at all. This group does not include those who are in open relationships, a social phenomenon that is just more macho-induced “having your cake (or cock in this case) and eating, too. And then we have group two: The Basics. Oh, man.

Created by the internet, this constantly trending crowd thinks it’s redefining our world and perhaps they are with their throwback looks and sway back attitudes. They live for the now, even if they don’t know what that means.  It isn’t just millennials, either. Basicdom is spreading to all age groups like a virus as social media swallows the rest of us whole. And what’s in between is a collective of damaged goods spouting mangled psychosexual manifestos and more. It is no longer men you date or men you don’t. What we have today are next level distrust and basic human disconnection.

I couldn’t continue down this path, one I’ve covered before and a Bombeckian take felt trite and unnecessary. Instead, I wanted to focus on how unfunny being labeled “basic” is to those who wield it as a joke or a tone-deaf insult.

While I applaud how millennials have turned up the dialogue to address and give names to the many facets of out and/or queer life, they are still working on variations of a theme long-established. I don’t think today’s young gay men quite understand the debt they owe previous generations, their lives, struggles, deaths and everything in between. Gay is a living, breathing creature, one that can decide the color of its plumage without a care in the world. Hide it, suppress it, oppress it, this creature will fight its way forward to be seen and with even greater radiance. A context to our present is missing today, a respect for history and the sacrifices made for us all to be able to say, “Sissy that walk.”

You will find nothing “basic” about being gay, now or ever. But it pisses me off that we are quick to diminish someone for not possessing whatever trend or ideology that makes them “interesting” or “worth devoting time to” in this world.  We all can’t look like refugees from the Electric Company or Romper Room. More, we can’t let striking a series of selfie poses, drinks up and duck lips be what defines our sexual freedom!

We all will get older. We all will find how our experiences can impact the future if take our narcissism out of the equation. How we dare shame those who are poz or act like PrEP is the golden bullet that will keep us young and fuckable. How dare we ignore those who choose a unique brand of queer, or want to unleash their true gender identity, are older or chubbier or a different color or creed? Bad enough religious zealots want us dead, still! We cannot castigate or diminish our own brothers and sisters. Not now.

Homosexuality is a reality that was never about a life style choice because it sparks to life in our very DNA. We should remix “basic” and take the dialogue back to basics when we were all vital human beings living life on our terms: compassionate, honorable, forward thinking and positively sexy.

 

Key Photo: Art by Keith Haring

“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.”

 

“Wear Sunscreen (or Graduation Day)”

“Wear Sunscreen (or Graduation Day)”

Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much
Or berate yourself either
Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s

— From columnist Mary Schmich‘s essay for the Chicago Tribune, June 1997

Finally, a reason to write an essay about being proud and happy. I’m hitting the “Pause” button on my ravings to concentrate on an experience shared by many of us: the day we graduate from high school.

It goes without saying that we are never really ever out of school. Classrooms are either ground zero for inspiration and imagination or a repelling force that hurtles bodies into other stratospheres of life. I will never judge those who deem the classroom as their Waterloo, either. Valuable lessons can only be learned if we’re open to them, whether out of a book or experience. But the act of graduating, of moving forward, is such an empowering reality.

I’ve never been good about letting go of things or moving forward. Hell, I didn’t even graduate from college. But that’s another story. It’s just too easy to choose the safe confines of avoiding confrontation or making decisions that can alleviate all that ails or stagnates us. But, sooner or later, you get your PhD in courage and strength. You walk, head held high, smiling at all that you’ve accomplished. You’ve shed that extra weight, that 10-ton magilla of emotion and/or fear, and you move forward.

It was a glorious day to see the photos and videos of my godson graduating from high school in June. He was the first grandchild of my aunt and uncle to graduate from high school. I know my cherished aunt, his forever Nana, was smiling that glorious smile the moment he made his way down the aisle to receive his diploma. Lord knows the family has endured some trying times, but my godson has grown into one of the most sincere, intelligent, genuine and decent human beings on this planet. We need more like him and that’s a testament to his parents’ upbringing, my divine cousin and her husband. I admire their tenacity, more, I admire their ability to remain a unified front against that could tear them asunder. They were not destined to life an acrimonious life of arrogance, keeping up appearances and regret like Las Hermanas y Hermano Coraje, That in itself is a lesson for all of us to uphold and appreciate.

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It is going to be exciting to see what happens to my godson next. And rest assured, we will all be there to cheer him on to his next achievements. That goes for all of the grandkids, because that’s what family does. Whether by blood or choice, you stay together through the challenges, emerging stronger and more united. Even if it seems like the pain and emotion will never subside, you will survive intact, and most of all, loved.

I recalled the famed Mary Schmich piece for the Chicago Tribune as I was writing this essay. Immortalized by producer Baz Luhrmann as a surprise pop hit, “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen),” it is the perfect commencement speech. It is a delicious slice of life advice that any columnist worth their Pulitzer Prize would like to represent their abilities. So, in a rare bid of optimism, I am concluding this essay with a special address to the Class of 2017…and anyone else who is taking a step forward into becoming the person they were meant to be.

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Wear Sunscreen

By Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97: Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blind side you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Sing.

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.

Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.