“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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“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.

 

 

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

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

 

“Come go with me, make you feel alive

This night will last everlasting through the time

Come go with me, have no fears

Bring back the memories

I can take away the misery

Take my hand, we’ll fly away

To our world that we can find today…”

– From “Come Go with Me” (Lewis A. Martineé), performed by Exposé

I’m going to set the origins of this little journal entry to the past on the sodium bomb from the Slurpin’ Ramen Bar consumed in April in Koreatown. (Excellent place, fyi). Yeah, I did feel a little “up” afterwards. Also, I was correct in predicting that my date for the evening was going to cancel on me –again — so it is better to shift focus onto something a bit more joyful and avoid the desire to man bash. I was truly bloated, bothered and bewildered, the perfect state of mind for journaling!

It’s taken me awhile to shape this into something worth reading and I’m still not sure if I’ve cracked the code. I have to give credit where credit it due. Earlier this spring,  my sister NanyG, sister-friend Helen and I were in the midst of another hi-larious confab, this time at the Pico Rivera Shakey’s Pizza, a cherished location located within our shared cradle of youth. It was a carry-over from ANOTHER HelJor outing (as we refer to ourselves), this time with our childhood compatriot, Anne. And yes, if you’re a member of those days at South Ranchito Elementary/Meller Jr. High/ERHS, we probably DID talk about you.

What I love most about our get togethers is the chance to look back with a clearer vision as to what it was to come of age in the 1980s. Some of the focus is starting to slip into a tepid glow as we have move on through our teen years into our sure to be golden era of 50+. (Well, I can’t speak for myself. I remember way too much, but surprised to know how much I never saw what was often going on right in front of me. I see the roots of my self-absorption are very much showing.)

Being a teenager. Oh, that’s a weighty subject. (Zing!) The pudding days of Meller, when I was stout, pimpled and experiencing a woeful state of style were replaced by something a lot cheerier, leaner and taller by the time sophomore year began at El Rancho. Sitting here with my lap top, it makes me smile to understand how the realities of life’s experiences hadn’t yet taught us how to deconstruct or process our motivations. Everything was so AMAZING until your find out years later that it wasn’t. The struggles we deal with as adults are variations of those classic adolescent tropes. We were the last of the Breakfast Club generation, spicier incarnations of the Princess, the Athlete the Criminal, the Brain and the Basket Case. In some cases, we were probably all five.

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Some of us were wonderfully clueless. Others were – and, surprise, remain — mean girls and boys. We had our groups, our nicknames, our juries, our judgments, our hierarchies, our first loves, our first pains. And as divided we ultimately became as life lead us to our chosen paths, for a small group of us, we remained steadfastly united during the 12 years we followed each other to the edge of 18.

The time isn’t ripe yet to pen that “Whatever Happened to the Class of 1985,” but it is starting to germinate. Something happened to me during that transition years of childhood. I first embraced my peculiar sense of being a boy, only to quickly shun it thanks to bullying and the inner shame felt as a teen. I hate that it happened at all, compromising my true self in the vain attempt to be liked and popular.

But that’s a story for another time.

Right now, I want to remember what it meant to be young in Pico Rivera, where youths were a microcosm of the bigger trends happening inside of LA and out. Everyone had their fiefdoms of rule within the school and outside the city limits:

  • The mods were growing in numbers as Madness and The Specials dominated the powerful KROQ playlists, stealing club time at Marilyn’s in Pasadena.
  • The punks were a smaller contingent, but followed X and Black Flag to Madame Wu’s in Santa Monica.
  • Poseur preps, the ones that had turned up collars along with their classist noses had the most money, bigger houses to match their attitudes and Atari consoles.
  • The heshers, most of whom were in band, were a fiercely loyal bunch that sported their KMET and KLOS stickers as badges of courage and pride.
  • Urban surfers held fast to their Jeff Spicoli uniform of Vans, OP and Lightning Bolt shorts.
  • Morrissey. Enough said.

As for the rest of us?

It was a sea of teen dreams and mall made looks. Girls had their fast fashion trends of jelly shoes, bolero hats, plastic purses and other styles culled from department stores or Judy’s, Contempo Casuals and Miller’s Outpost. God, those damn belts that rivaled the WWF championship bling! Some tried to rock the Mod look with tights that had the feet cut off under long tartan skirts and flats, but it rang false. Maybe it was because feathered hair can’t ever replace an asymmetrical bob?

The cookie cutter style of the boys was laid upon a foundation of Levis jeans, tee shirts and jean jackets — then and now. Jocks will never die out if letterman’s jackets are still able to be earned. My memory can’t seem to fill in the blanks here, an era where the Metrosexual, Lumbersexual and Hipster styles would eventually blur the lines of masculinity.

However, one group reigns supreme in my mind when I look back at that time now. I can’t help but smile at these style rebels of my teen years:

CHA CHA GIRLS!

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I’ll never forget these hothouse flowers that found access with fake ID’s to such playgrounds as the Florentine Gardens, the Red Onion, Black Angus, Pepper’s & Wings, as well as private parties and any other place they could hold court to the tune of Exposé, Debbie Deb and Stacey Q. They rolled around in packs, each with their own special markings of bangs, spider lashes, streaks and nail tips. They oozed a female sexuality that was true power, which sometimes moved faster than they could understand or control.

(Fun Fact: Exposé lead singer Jeanette Jurado is a former El Rancho Don! Class of 1983. Represent!)

This is one group John Hughes would never include in his white bread parables of teen life. These girls weren’t always pretty, but they loved pink, the brighter the better. They played fast and loose with the rules of the time, carving out their own niche as the 1950s ideal of adolescence began its hasty decline.

How I loved these ladies, feathered, streaked and war painted, wearing heels that were higher than their standards, all squeezed into Technicolor fabrics that stretched with the blind optimism of looking good! I always viewed the Cha Cha aesthetic as a rebellion against the leading tropes of the era. These Latinas were way ahead of the Kardashian brand of flesh as fantasy and in your face womanhood. They were always named Letty, Lorraine or Denise, Nena, Pebbles or Candy. Sometimes you had a Monica, Yvette or an Andrea. Given the immigrant culture that was the foundation of aspirational Pico Rivera life, you might have a Socorro or Maria Delilah in the bunch, but she was always the one you made call her much cooler older brother or sister when shit got real. (“Shut up, Socorro!” could be heard whenever she offered the single voice of sanity.)

The soc’s (the popular girls) looked down on the Cha Cha’s as being trashy, but like all things unbridled, jealousy motivated their feelings. Hallway chatter about some of these ladies was nothing short of salacious gossip, especially if their boyfriends were jocks. This could explain why many of the Cha Cha’s of my era opted to date outside of the El Rancho walls.

Every Friday of my first year at El Rancho, or “The Ranch,” was littered with invites to the weekend’s parties. Mass printed flyers, emblazoned with Nagel girls, were events sponsored by mobile DJ’s that called themselves “The Men of Elegance” and groupies of females known as  “The Girls in Freak Position” or worse, names that you know would piss off your parents as they demanded you to “Tira esa cochinada ahorita!” (I wish I kept one of these flyers. If you have one, let a brother know!)

They were the denizens of the house parties and clubs that rocked the San Gabriel Valley, Hollywood and beyond. They were free-style aficionados who ventured to the Mansion, a claque that was strictly “Members Only,” weekend warriors fortified by Shpritz Forté. For some reason, the men were Dippity Do’d and Drakkar’d into shiny and musky sameness. Despite their macho posturing and bantering, they were rather generic in attitude and looks. Most couldn’t grow a mustache to cover their top lip, but it was awesome to see that their girlfriends could!

It was with great delight that I found a short film I created with my one of my best childhood friends, Ed Castellanos. We invaded El Rancho a few years after we graduated, crafted a DIY masterpiece with a VHS camera. Family, friends, students all contributed to this opus, cheekily titled “Fatal Aquanet.” It was meant to be a trailer for a new movie, with audience reactions and testimonials. At 16 minutes in length, we probably could have used some judicious editing.

Our intent was to create something that was fun. The best part were the on-the-street chats with the Cha Cha’s we talked to on Whittier Blvd. one memorable night. This was a harbinger of the life I would eventually lead, of documenting interviews and questions, of capturing the stories of lives in motion with truth and verve.

Our destinies can be revealed at a young age if we just lose the fear. I wish Ed and I went on to document other things together. Who knows?  “Fatal Aquanet” will live forever on YouTube and on this blog for a reason. (Ed, perhaps a reunion is in store for us? I have an idea!)

Since those chats with Nancy, Helen and Anne, I’ve been toying with another idea, of fashioning a series of posts around a fictional group of girls, Cha Cha’s all, representing a chapter in my angry, hungry, fat, gay Mexican life. Perhaps I’ll use this device to frame a larger story, of what happened to the class of 1985 through the prism of one group of friends as their gay single friend approaches 50 and faces the prospect of marriage…to someone younger.

Nothing upsets the herd like a seismic shift in the group dynamic, with the rest of the couples questioning their own choices and relationships. Sometimes when we look back, the consequences have an unexpected on the future. Good or bad, it is always for the best. And it would have great style with a soundtrack to beat any mixtape or playlist you could devise.

I don’t know how that particular story will play itself out, but I only ask that you come go with me and find out.

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 4 — Day 20 — “Persist”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 4 — Day 20 — “Persist”

Are we crazy?
Living our lives through a lens
Trapped in our white picket fence
Like ornaments
So comfortable, we’re living in a bubble, bubble
So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble
Aren’t you lonely
Up there in utopia
Where nothing will ever be enough?
Happily numb
So comfortable, we’re living in a bubble, bubble
So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble

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Leave it to Miss Katy Perry to inspire this return of DAHFGM. Her performance at the Grammy Awards presentation was marked by a singular theme: To Persist.

With the first weeks of #45 leaving an acrid taste in our mouths, or at least in the mouths of the sane, I found myself losing a sense of forward momentum. By week 2, I was wondering if I was stupid for even trying to diet during a time where my emotional triggers were being pulled on the daily. By week 3, I was nearly laid up with a respiratory infection that had me coughing like an old Parisian whore with consumption. It was then that I started not wanting to document a damn thing.

My Facebook page was littered with a constant stream of my own rage against the #45 machine and it was gumming up my inner works. So, I shut down Facebook and I shut down my own train of thought to find some much needed clarity and focus again. In short, I needed to find the means to persist with this choice to improve my health.

It is the start of week 4 and here is the latest:

Weight: 252.4

Glucose Reading: 156

I’ve managed to shed just over 10 lbs. so far. It was 12 as of Friday, but the return from my trip to Baltimore, a side trip to Palm Springs and the brunch celebrating my Dad’s 92nd birthday did prove to have its effects in the end. What it had going for me was my ability to NOT reach for “those foods which will not be named.”

I brought unsalted, raw walnuts, pistachios and pepitas along with dried broccoli florets with me as snacks to Baltimore. I ate fish or chicken, scrambled egg whites and veg for as many meals as possible, filling in the gaps with protein bars and fruit. And water, lots of water. To discover the joys of Nando’s Peri-Peri Chicken in Maryland was enough to make me to click on Lyft for a lunch run on a really cold Thursday afternoon before I started interviews on a new film project. That heavenly steak at the Woodberry Kitchen on the last night with the EPK crew was the stuff of dreams, but also the fast track to feeling bloated for two days. Haha. But it was so worth it.

Saturday was my big, bold, bear adventure to Palm Springs and the IBC events at the Hard Rock Hotel. I jokingly referred to friends as it being “My Big Bear Puta Weekend,” but suffice it to say the only putas were the ones ignoring me and my attempts at being an object of desire. Instead, I was the object of one hilariously drunk senior’s determination to get the attention of the overwhelmed bartender at Hunter’s so I could have a club soda. This is after a young cub from Rochester told me that he was leaving my side to go get his “flirt on” — with someone else.

For a brief shining moment, this super hot gent from San Francisco seemed to prefer me to the evening’s SNL cold opening. Sadly, the thumping bass of 70s disco was the only bump and grind that was going to happen for me that night. SF Guy showed me a text from his ex, who also happened to staying in a different room at the Hard Rock: “I need my boy’s butt.” Needless to say, he and his butt answered the call.

Persist, indeed.

Going home the next morning, I felt a bit dejected and adrift. It was a familiar friend, attempting to road dog with me with a determination that I take pills to eliminate. The pills put up a good fight, though. It ain’t easy being “good and bougie” in a crowd that prefer the exact opposite. I’ve always tried too hard to fit my particular brand of gay into a category that is so decidedly NOT me. Case in point, the first thing I saw when I entered the Thunderdome of the IBC pool party was a portly millennial sporting a tee with emblazoned with this legend: “I’m only here for the gang bang.” Yeah. I wasn’t about to add my own brand of special flavor to the bubbling hirsute smoothie that afternoon. I knew from that moment that this act of persistence was one that needed to be shed along with my obsession with King Taco carnitas burritos with salsa roja y queso cotija.

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Celebrating Dad’s 92nd birthday at this fantastic eatery called Salazar in the Frogtown section of LA restored a lot of good. The tears that welled up in his eyes when we sung “Happy Birthday” were just wonderful to behold. Alzheimer’s Dad was not present. My true Dad was very much with us and cherishing every smile and kiss he received from my family. I couldn’t help but hug him for being the sentimental person he’s always tucked carefully inside his strict demeanor and Old World gentlemanly values.

Palm Springs faded into the past and I returned to my regular life of forward motion. And, eating that sugar free cake, plus the horchata with Stumptown coffee were well worth the splurge in light of the kale salad with grilled chicken, yams and queso fresco I consumed, despite the envy I felt eyeing everyone else’s choices at the table. (Dude, the chilaquiles that Dad enjoyed were TEMPTATION on a plate.)

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Today is Monday, and a few things have rattled my own sense of self, which I don’t want to rehash as there is no point. Numbers were a little up from Friday, but all that rises does fall with little effort when I try. Especially when it comes to losing weight. The power lies in being able to persist.

Bringing this back to Katy Perry’s new track, “Chained to the Rhythm,” it is easy to find yourself trapped in a bubble of your own making. We get safe. We get lost. We free ourselves. We get scared. We return to the safety of the bubble. It is a very easy way to live. And no, we often don’t see the trouble until it is too late.

Last night, I slept in fits and starts, feeling this strange tightness in my chest. I still feel it now. Perhaps it’s one more tape of negative thinking I still need to purge in order to reach a peak of wellness, one that I will sustain for the rest of my life.

I hadn’t felt this sense of loneliness in a while. It’s on par with feeling left behind at times. This roller coaster we’re all on right now is shaking so many of us to our very cores. It is gratifying to see that so many of us are questioning our place in the world. At the same time, many of us are questioning our own journeys towards a revised self-awareness and true enlightenment. We want to break free of the bubble, to persist despite the efforts of many who prefer our silence. So I will continue with these missives, self-absorbed or not.

It should be so damn easy, being able to feel happy, healthy and eager to partake of this thing called life. Why hide? Why lie? Why feel lonely? Why be addicted? Why be the subtle shade of beige? These are truths I seek. Not for myself, but to share with as many people who have the same questions. At some point, I won’t think twice about the things I choose to ingest anymore, either. That is why it is important to persist. That is why it is important to resist.

It is time for the many to be amongst the already woke lions. Myself, included.

 It is my desire
Break down the walls to connect, inspire, ay
Up in your high place, liars
Time is ticking for the empire
The truth they feed is feeble
As so many times before
They greed over the people
They stumbling and fumbling
And we about to riot
They woke up, they woke up the lions

“Signed, The Desayuno Club” or “Vida y Muerte”

“Signed, The Desayuno Club” or “Vida y Muerte”

My optimism seems to be at a premium these days. Singing along with my Burt Bacharach playlist on my iPod in the kitchen? Dancing as if no one’s looking? These are things that I have to muster up the energy to even contemplate, forget about execution. Sure, we can meme our way through the tough times with slogans like “Life Happens.” We all know life happens on its own timetable, without reason or warning. However, what do you do when the “Big Moments” pile up like a Friday afternoon on the interstate? How do you not feel like that F-5 twister purposefully chose to hit your home, skipping over other parts of the neighborhood?

I can’t remember a point in my life where the issue of mortality has been so present. These little earthquakes of truth and emotion are growing in intensity. We are aware that our lives are curated like one big Jenga® puzzle, moment by moment. At some point, a silvery thread of fear begins to weave its insidious way through our consciousness. Some of us will deftly snip it away, while others wither under weight of knowing some force can and will pull that one piece out, sending the whole thing crashing down. It’s not a productive way to live. Based on this sentiment, the events that have occurred to my family and friends of late have left me grappling between wielding the scissors and succumbing to the weight of all this mounting grief. I have reached a point of reckoning, of great questioning. And given my propensity to FEEL things, it is starting to hurt, triggering an agenda of self-destruction that is starting to scare me.

We are about to enter the fourth month of 2016. It’s not quite April and so many of life’s grand themes have found their way into all of our worlds. It’s been a season of births and deaths, peaks of elation and valleys of grief. Parallels keep manifesting themselves. I wasn’t alone in feeling shock over the loss of my childhood friend Anthony Dominguez last Christmas and the concussive effect of his passing has yet to abate.

As if on cue, it was long after Anthony’s death that I received the wonderful news of two friends, who are in fact sisters, had given birth to their first children just weeks apart. The great Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez couldn’t pen this chapter any better. (Well, yeah, he could.)

Life. Death. Birth. Then the lightning round began.

In March, an important and much needed family reunion in Mexico was preceded by the news that the father of my childhood best friend passed away. While in Mexico, we were shocked to discover two close family members were grappling with their own mental China Syndromes. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, a day representative of rebirth and renewal concluded with a terse DM from another key member of my Pico Rivera family of friends.

Steve wrote: “Hi, I have some bad news. Please call me…”

My mind catalogued the litany that’s become all too common, particularly in Latino families. If the phone rings late at night, you need to steel yourself. Someone is gone.

“Was it his father?” I thought.

Blessedly, it wasn’t Mr. Chavez, but my heart still broke after I hung up the phone. The son of another member of our childhood group had lost his life in a car accident on his way back to college.

Reunions have been playing out with frequency these last months. In fact, this “Big Chill” group dynamic has alternated between being a welcome distraction to pulling the scabs off old wounds. Not that I’m complaining. It’s giving me license to feel other things, not just a sense of despair.

Many of these people were the formative friendships of formative years, personalities that have been reconstituted into the myriad of relationships I’ve encountered and nurtured in the 30+ years since graduating from high school. As many of us gathered to celebrate or mourn of late, it’s striking how we easily fall into the roles we played as children and teenagers. We reveal just enough to feel like we’ve closed the gap of time. We laugh, smile and upload pictures to our respective social media sites. Then we make the slow walk back to our cars taking us back to our own lives.

I am coming to terms with the biggest lesson learned in returning to the center square of my life. It hasn’t been said amongst us yet, but it is very much present:

We are mortal after all.

My own emotional state of mind swirls with so much color right at this moment, high dynamic angry color. I see shades of vermillion, red and orange, all in heated tones that make me sweat without even moving. Is it alright to say that I’m sick of having cancer and Alzheimer’s invade my cherished family fold? Since the passing of my aunt Susanna in 2014 to the family implosion the followed and beyond, I’ve been searching for some sort of answer as to why these life events can happen without pause. And when friends say to me, “That’s life,” I just want to scream and have a violent release of some sort: “They don’t understand!” But they do, because it’s happened or it is happening to them, too.

I can’t help but note the irony. I was born into a culture that embraces death, celebrating it with riotous shades of color and the sweetest tasting of candies. While I proudly display my calaveras, Catrinas and other artwork by José Guadalupe Posada at home and in my office, I wonder if its the American propensity to stir up fear that is wreaking havoc with my strength. (I toyed with using the phrase “steel bougainvillea” here, but I thought better of it.)

I knew as I went home the night of Anthony’s rosary service that I was going to write something about the significance of his death. However, it’s been several months since that moment and what started out as a tribute piece to him has taken many strange turns, unleashing a torrent of so many themes. It became about being 40-something, of going from boys to men and the rediscovery how much real life wages a war with us all. Despite my intent, this post read so fake and uninspiring. The altruistic reason to write about Anthony was being smothered by my own narcissism, as if I wanted to show off some incredible power of syntax and phrasing. I was overthinking it. Words would come out in fits and starts, sometimes with way too much flourish, corrupting the emotion in the process. It didn’t help that I would project my state of mind onto whatever I wrote. Worse, it was became apparent that the spirit of Anthony was now lost in all this fancy word play. Ultimately, it became about nothing at all. Just noise. I only wanted to make sure my friend knew I hadn’t forgotten him. What I didn’t anticipate was that I would be adding names to create a list:

Tacho’s father, Roberto.

Anne’s son, Matthew.

It’s hard to keep a linear thread with this post. Since Anthony’s rosary service, I’ve been grappling with a total lack of focus. His loss magnified certain truths about what many of us stand to face from this point forward. News of other friends’ life challenges only cemented this creative block. I just folded all of this helplessness I felt into the depression that was entrenching itself in a way I’ve never experienced before. I wasn’t caring about anything, especially my own health. I only cared about my Dad, whose bout with Alzheimer’s is reaching a new stage amidst all this change.

This post couldn’t be a “Jeremiah” from the ‘mount, extolling the virtues of a cherishing a bountiful life while we can. How could it when a feeling of woe has saturated so much of what we see of this world on the daily? It rendered the spilling of digital ink on a white screen almost impossible. This was supposed to be a tribute, but I am empowered by what it has become in the last days.

I have been ruminating about the moment when we become aware of that thin line between life and death. Is it the loss of a grandparent? Or is it those hurried and emotional conversations you overhear from under your dining room table, where your parents process the news that Nana or Tío are “no longer with us?” Is it better to learn about death when your first goldfish receives that funeral at sea in the family commode? It doesn’t matter the context. In the end, you never forget that shocking wave of hot tears, whether theirs or your own, that leaves a stamp of realization.

As we get older, at least for some of us, dealing with death is supposed to get a little easier, recognizing it as being part of the ebb and flow of life. Sorry, but that doesn’t make the loss any easier to accept. However, honoring a sense of respect for mortality will do wonders for one’s resilience if you let it. You begin to understand that being born is not your only induction into the human race. It’s actually part of a longer process that culminates when you understand your place on this mortal Earth is not permanent.

I won’t forget the catalyst that prompted all this soul searching any time soon. Earlier this year, at Anthony’s service, I joined the growing crowd at St. Hilary on a chilly, damp Monday night. I was heartened by the amount of people waiting to head inside the church. As I walked, shoulders hunched, cold hands seeking warmth in my sweater pockets, I found myself already sorting out a rush of emotions, thinking to myself, “How did this happen?”

In between it all, fragments of the past starting to make their way to the front. All those pieces solidified the minute I heard my name, “George.” No one else but my people from home call me that anymore. And suddenly I was 10 years old again, as the past and present collided with incredible force. The crew was all there, the one that started at South Ranchito Elementary, gained new members at Meller Jr. High before reaching its zenith at El Rancho High School. I stood with these men, weaving in and out of solemnity and laughter from reminiscing. We fell back into the roles we had as teenagers, easily retaking our places as we filed into the church to pay our respects to our friend.

Regardless of the time spent apart since graduating high school, the foundation set all those years ago is still very much present. More, I think of the legacies that were created as a result of our time together:

Anthony was a huge part of my adolescence in Pico Rivera. I was never going to be a jock, but I am forever grateful that he never judged me, or anyone else for that matter. Even if I was sometimes the least skilled member of the teams we were part of as kids, Anthony remained a loyal friend from elementary all the way through high school.

Tacho and I were from the same neighborhood, cultivating a friendship shaped by the countless walks to the three schools we attended together. His family opened the doors to their home and restaurant to us all without question or reserve. I shall never forget Mr. Baeza, who remains a true caballero in my mind, just like my Dad. It says something that our families continue to have their roots in the same houses after 40 years.

Anne remains this quintessential pixie, albeit with a wicked dash of punk rock. She is still her own person, full of spirit, possessing a singular wit and a brilliant smile. In the photos I’ve seen of her son Matthew, I am heartened to see how much of her is present in his own vibrant smile and the personality captured in those frames. It makes his loss so much more difficult to fathom. My only regret is missing out on so much of Anne’s adult life so I could have shared a little bit of her journey as a mother.

Their narratives are forever interwoven with mine, and vice versa, I hope. We talk so much about how we’re disconnected today, but back then we were the definition of connectivity. It was incredible how widespread this reach was when you think about it. Schools, parks, after school activities, church, Scouts, cheerleading, Little League, Pop Warner, everything and anything social. It was like we were living this John Hughes-penned life but with a lot of added flavor. I mean, we’re talking Tapatío, Tajín, salsa cruda, salsa verde and roasted jalapeños. Because how vanilla was a John Hughes movie in the first place?

This is going off topic, but it occurs to me how much of our lives surrounded food. It was tacos from Mario’s and nachos from Casa Garcia. It was being treated to Sir George’s Smorgasbord, Naugles or Omega Burgers. It was post-game celebrations at someone’s home or at Shakey’s Pizza. Even now, it’s hard to stop this list for fear of leaving things out.

Looking back, I do remember how we expressed our incredulous shock at those who left us before we turned 18. Kathy Esparza didn’t make it to senior year at El Rancho. We paid our respects and we moved forward. The pep rallies continued. From Homecoming to Powder Puff, Prom and Graduation, we kept going through all of the rites of passage on schedule and without delay. The concept of loss wasn’t something we would contemplate much. Loss was just something that happened on the field, on the track or on the court in the gym.

My concept of loss won’t be the same same anymore. Despite the poetry we can ascribe to it as being the closing of a circle, it is still an end. And to be honest, I’ve never been good with endings. These scenes are destined to be replayed again, alas, but they must be met with grace and humility, too. As I begin to compose these last paragraphs, I’m think I can find my way to some peace. I am grateful in many ways for the opportunity to have reconnected with so many people. It speaks volumes to know that these archetypes of what I now want to call The Desayuno Club would gather once more — and without hesitation, too. And I am privileged that so many opted to share a part of their lives with me. They answered the question as to what happened to the Class of 1985? And it proved an inspiring answer.

We worked. We dated. We got married. We had children. We lost lovers. We lost parents. We ended marriages. We lost jobs. We remarried. We started new jobs. We had second families. We got sick. We got better. We will get better. In short, life happened and it continues to happen as these words float across the screen.

As I continue to reconnect with the men and women that played a part in shaping my life, I am secretly thrilled to l see glimpses of what we were: The jocks, the brains, the cheerleaders, the cholos, the cha cha’s, the Oish, the strange, the wild, the calm and the cool, always beautiful and forever young.

But I also see an incredible beauty shaped by resilience, tradition, strength and love. I don’t think who we are and what we represent is ever erased or replaced in life. Yes, we have a shared outcome in this world. But I’d like to think we are just one more layer in a temporal pan of cosmic lasagna. We will all add our particular blend of flavor and spice before a new layer is placed on top of us, all representing every milestone we achieve, layer after layer, pan after pan, for infinity. Despite the context of what brought us together, it’s given me something to feel that’s as close to optimism as I can declare right now. We are not alone. Ever. Therein lies the solace we can offer each other without condition.

You won’t be faulted for saying to me, “Stop your whining and man up!” We all process grief differently, so STFU. However, it is important to say that I don’t want this to be considered a “Woe is Me” post. I’ve taken to writing about these feelings to find a place for them so they don’t diminish the hope, care and optimism that my family members and friends need right now. It’s hard not to go from the micro to the macro in a given moment. For instance, most of us will accept the painful truth that the sooner we accept the truth about mortality, the sooner we can start living. That is, living for the moment and for the one’s we gather around us. No matter our stations in life, our wealth is the sum of our memories, darn it. That is truest and most vital achievement we are fated to accomplish. My challenge now is to continue to believe that, if only to stave off the rage that threatens to dominate my physical and mental self.

I am not sure how to complete this post. It has to mean something for those who read it, especially for the families of Anthony, Mr. Baeza and Matthew. An impact was made by their lives and it will not be forgotten. Maybe I should leave it open, for others to fill with their thoughts and sentiments? All I know is that we are connected again at a time when we need it most. Even if it is just for a moment, one thing remains certain. We will endure.

Because, we are life.

Signed, the Desayuno Club

 

“GoLightly, young man, and grow up in the material world …”

“GoLightly, young man, and grow up in the material world …”

SALLY TOMATO: Some day, Mr. Fred, you take this book, turn it into a novel. Everything is there. Just fill in the blanks.

HOLLY GOLIGHTLY: Would be good for some laughs.

ST: No. No, I don’t think so. This is a book would break the heart. (READS ENTRIES) “Mr. Fitzsimmons, powder room, $50. Less $18, repair one black satin dress. Cat food, 27 cents.”

HOLLY: Sally, darling, you’re making me blush. But you’re right about Jack Fitzsimmons. He’s an absolute rat. but I guess, of course, I don’t know anybody but rats. Except, of course, Fred here…”

From the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” adapted from the Truman Capote novella by George Axelrod

It is a story to break the heart, indeed.

Last night, I had a coffee date with a real life Holly Golightly, author Truman Capote’s famed gamine immortalized by Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Although, as I wake up to write this recollection, I now see shades Lorelei Lee, the famed blonde mantrap vedette from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Either way, I write this of two minds.

I admired his pluck and honesty when he hurled statements like, “I don’t want to work to sustain myself. I want someone else to take care of me. My mom did that. So did my grandmother. I guess it runs in the family.”

I am also saddened by the harsh reality of his worldview. It was disconcerting to see how a darker shade of self was hiding beneath those incredibly green eyes. Yet, moments occurred during our two hour conversation where it was apparent said eyes could turn icy blue with determination.

God, he was beautiful. He had this classic Pepsodent, that all-American, clean cut look reserved for those who are the physical manifestation of manifest destiny. He knew he had the power to pillage and conquer souls and grab all the riches of the land. It would happen without him ever having to do or give anything in return, a fact he made quite clear.

I was never one of those boys. I never had that power. I was the friend. The confidante. The one that went with you shopping. The one that would hold your hand and console you when you would cry or rage over the one you’d rather be with treated you wrong.  I don’t know what it’s like to wield a sexual power so strong, that men would become automatic teller machines to sustain even the most tenuous of connections. I was never the boy who looked like a teenage dream.

During the course of our time together, I had visions, strong sexual ones. How could I not? I recognized the signs from day one. His careful banter, always appealing, almost demure, was seductive. But as our conversations, or rather marathon text narratives, evolved, an edge was starting to make itself known. Sitting with him at this Starbucks at Downtown Disney, it became apparent to me he knew what he had to say to draw a man in. Shrewd sincerity always wins in the conquering game.

It was fitting that our meet and greet happened at a place where artificial beauty runs rampant and costly dreams of fun and adventure are sold. This temple of cartoon consumerism only compounded my resolve not to engage with this boy again. Clarity hit as I drove by the 605 freeway on ramp. The role models provided by Holly Golightly and Lorelei Lee haven’t lost one iota of their potency.

But I shouldn’t be surprised.

Madonna’s seductive and telegenic anthem “Material Girl,” itself a variation and homage to these archetypes, has never been more resonant than today, where a generation refuses to do the hard work or take pride in making their own success. It’s about the instant gratification of it all, of getting and wanting all you desire.

Bartering with sex is nothing new. From the moment we learn to covet, we will find the right selfie angle with which to succeed of obtaining our heart’s desire. Yet something else is in the mix when you’re beautiful of face and body. I’d like to think a high cost exists to trade one’s souls to appease a hunger for Vuitton.

Lorelei Lee exalts near the end of “Gentleman Prefer Blondes” how “a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn’t marry a girl just because she’s pretty, but my goodness, doesn’t it help?”

It does help, Miss Lee. But when all you can do is show your price tag like I was shown last night, I realized the cost would not just be a monetary one. I don’t have the funds to become a sugar daddy for someone who may just walk away when a fuller bank account comes into play. I would never want to pay to make someone love me. I want parity. I want equality. I want to share whatever I have with someone who understands the importance of giving back and not just in a financial way.

Want to know the greatest irony in all of this? He worked at a bank.

It took me a while to fight my way to the middle in this world. I am not going to be a rich man. I’ve pretty much squandered most of the riches of my perceived Hollywood life anyway in a lifetime of unbridled spending. That emotional void I’ve fought most of my life is no closer to being filled, although I recognize the danger of giving it power. It’s a hollow space. Period. What surrounds it, however, is something that keeps me from falling in.

I tire of this app fueled world, where you swipe by thumbnail portraits of the desperate and the damned. It’s a virtual Serengeti. Here, a generation of men, predators and game, roam the space in search of something that can stave off the inevitable, even it’s just for a moment. It’s a network for the anti-social, where you trade innuendo and salacious photos in acts that approximate connection and intimacy. No one ever really wants to go beyond the chat box. Somehow, that’s just inviting the danger and risk of having to actually relate to somebody. (Side note, maybe we ain’t talking, but a lot of us are still fucking the pain away. Which may account why STD and HIV infections are on the rise.)

For a moment, I thought, “Maybe. Just maybe.” He was softening a bit, opening up more and more about his family life, later showing me pictures of his mom and sister on Instagram, which was unexpected. It was the most real aspect of our conversation, the only time I didn’t hear cynicism and contempt. Calculated, perhaps. Yet, an urgency could be heard in his voice, which would fall to a whisper. “This man,” I thought, “is lonely.” Despite the romanticism of a fireworks show in the distance, it was the spark of an iPhone 6 Plus screen that illuminated the truth — and path for my exit strategy.

He joked that he couldn’t live without his phone, a trait that goes beyond generations at this point. And quite a bit of life was happening while we sat together. He’d text and talk, talk and text. I eventually had to sneak a look, only to be rewarded by the sight of a distinguished, smiling gentleman with a beard. Older, like me. Smiling that smile of “Notice me, please,” like me. It was obvious that the Teenage Dream was hedging his bets alright. I was one of a group.

One final boom filled the sky and we began our walk back to our cars. He said he always loses his car in the Disneyland parking lot. Once found, we hugged and he allowed for three tender kisses on the lips. As he turned away, he asked, “Text me” in a voice laden with promise of future heavenly delights. Or maybe it was just polite indifference, the voice we use when we know won’t ever speak again.  Either way, I couldn’t really listen anymore.

This “date” cost me $29: $18, parking. $11 for two lattes, one with sugar and one without. But one thing is certain: his story will ultimately break his heart.

Mine won’t.

Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor on Sunday, December 13.

“Of spare parts and DREAM acts…” — #lavidarobot

“Of spare parts and DREAM acts…” — #lavidarobot

— With the real Oscar Vazquez and his wife Karla on the New Mexico set of “Spare Parts” in November 2013. Carlos and Alexa PenaVega portray the couple in the film, now playing.

In 2005, writer Joshua Davis penned an extraordinary article for Wired Magazine chronicling the lives of four undocumented teen boys from Arizona. What made them unique? They bested universities such as MIT and Harvard to win a robotics prize at UC Santa Barbara. Titled “La Vida Robot,” Davis’ meticulously written story of Cristian Arcega, Lorenzo Santillan, Luis Aranda and Oscar Vazquez’s journey to victory was truly the stuff of Hollywood films. A decade later, that film has arrived.

“Spare Parts” benefits from the momentum of this DREAM Act era, where the Latino voice has never been more urgent in terms of the national narrative. While the film relies on the “feel good” tropes of the underdog story, it doesn’t shy away from the fact that these “illegals” are not the enemy in this paranoid era of fear mongering and reactionary politics.

I had the privilege of meeting Davis and the real boys of Carl Hayden High, interviewing them and their cinematic counterparts for Pantelion Films. Along with producer and star George Lopez, they expressed the importance of the Latino imprint in terms of mainstream films. Not only does the film entertain, it illuminates an area still unfamiliar to many Americans.

“Spare Parts” opens in theaters this weekend, so I hope you give it a chance. In the meantime, take a moment to watch the featurette produced by Monkey Deux, Inc., edited by Steve Schmidt and Drew Friedman, for Pantelion Films.

#ICanIDid #spareparts #lavidarobot