Today, I am officially 55 years old. That’s (still) the legal speed limit in some areas, but I’ve never been interested in sticking to it in terms of living my life. I had to get THERE, wherever THERE was at that moment. Now is an excellent time to think about HERE or where I am today.
I did attempt to stop and look around from time to time, but that just meant having to allow specific thoughts and realities to make themselves known in my head. Demons remain my chosen go-to passengers on this ride and for as long as I can remember. Food. Spending. Status. Validation. Funny, I rarely viewed love and companionship as priorities at the beginning for being too dangerous. Neither stayed very long on the passenger side when it did happen. The demons made sure of that, like damn sure.
Friendship and family remain my favored angels, and thank heavens for them. Otherwise, I would have intentionally hit the cosmic center divider a long time ago. It always seemed like a surefire way to shut those demons down for good. But they’re resilient little fuckers.
Demons sound cute to me in a post-Buffy world, all latex, make-up, and effects. Fear is something, well, scarier. Fear exists as my twin because I LET that happen. I’ve known Fear as long as I’ve known myself. Every fall on the sidewalk, every perceived failure, the bullies I let get in my head and under my skin. These exterior forces which tormented me as a kid were NOTHING compared to what I’ve done to myself over the years as an adult.
But I’m still here and for good reasons.
Not to let the demons share my airtime but to shift focus away from them. Maybe even speed up the breaking up process already. Every minute I refuse to succumb to fear is a significant victory. Choosing not to sleep away the day is a cause for celebration. Cooking a healthy meal on my own and not consuming one designed to keep me sick is a source of jubilation. Trying to find ways to spend ALL of my hard-earned coin to make myself sound or look attractive is a thrill on par with a musical’s overture when the curtain rises.
These are not gifts but the tools to find a sense of balance, contentment, and especially hope. I possess them and more because I’ve learned to understand the importance of such devices. Yet, Fear still distracts me or, more often than not, kills the desire.
As I look around and take in the view of 55, I see all that the demons, Fear, and that annoying cousin Depression seek to absorb and destroy. That cannot be without my help, at least. Do you know those first sparks cast to start a campfire? Writing this feels like that, trying not to let moisture or wind snuff out what can lead to something bright and warm. You fan the embers too much; you smother the flame.
Words, music, films, art, design, and photography are all selfless acts of courage. It still takes courage to be queer, to not be part of the mainstream, to be one’s true self today. To exist as a gay Latino remains an act of defiance, no longer allowing oneself to hide or blend in with the herd of scared masses. We know what Fear can do to an individual in their quest for betterment. We see the power of Fear in a group. Start one lie, and create a mob of terrified people to disavow truth, science, and logic.
Someone sent me a meme with the legend, “I picked a stupid time to be alive.” I laughed at loud. Then again, this is also a time NOT to be stupid. I’m not alone in recognizing how emotional paralysis stems from what we consume in terms of information, social media especially.
It would be easy to live out one’s life like a 21st-century Miss Havisham, hiding amongst souvenirs of a perceived better past. That’s not an option in a world determined to live on the defensive about everything. Why beat yourself up about where you’re supposed to be in this life?
At this moment, I am encouraged by being 55, albeit cautiously. I’m not sure what tomorrow will be like or the day after that. Will I have personal stumbles and moments of shrill assholeness? Probably. Whatever happens next is always up to us. Forward motion isn’t always about avoiding the past. We have to avoid being defined by it. When I find the courage and clarity to stop and admire the view again, I have the hope and excitement that what I see will be different, empowering, and still delightfully the same.
Now, about that one-man show I keep threatening to stage…
At last, the Carreón Cinema Club returns, and it only took being placed in quarantine before a shoot in CDMX to make it happen. Sitting in my hotel room these last few days, the theme of “It Could Be Worse” began its slow development in my brain.
Viewing a large amount of negative content on TikTok and other social media platforms could only add fuel to this fire. The Troll Patrol turned yet another harmless place into a burn book about anything and anyone. Screaming heads dominate social media narratives, another variation of the pundits who ruined mainstream news with their constant diatribes of hate, anger, and “this is why it sucks” vitriol.
If TikTok stood as our only source of information, the unpleasantness and unhappiness of Generation Whine would manifest itself with an algorithm of “content” that wilts one’s ability to believe in hope if you look at it long enough. Couple it with the “woke” and “cancel” threads, and you’re soon freebasing kitten videos to preserve your humanity. Anyone with a phone could use this power for good, not let the alt-right scream at the world with their often libelous and ludicrous dis-content.
Yes, it can be worse unless we stop the flow of misinformation and the endless lunacy of Kamp Karen videos to find reasons to create and not hate. (And, for the record, having a smartphone makes you as much a journalist as a pundit makes you an “expert” on any topic if you’re snarky or loud enough.)
Thus, as I sat in wonderment in my aerie above Paseo de la Reforma in CDMX, I pushed aside thinking over how fucked up we’ve become as a society. Instead, I began to mull over the films that could illustrate just how bad things can get unless we all pull our asses out of our heads long enough to deal with the weapons of mass distraction threatening our ability to evolve positively. Ergo, behold the “It Can Be Worse” edition of the Carreón Cinema Club, starting with the end of the world as depicted by Peter Watkins’s seminal film, The War Game.
THE WAR GAME (1961)
Produced, Written, and Directed by Peter Watkins
Narrated by Michael Aspel and Peter Graham
Once Kate Bush started “trending” thanks to the thieving Cultural Belloqs at Netflix ruining a good thing in the name of marketing, the 1970s and 80s never felt so omnipresent as they do now. Wars, nuclear threats, insane dictators, inflation, the gas crisis, and other nightmares threatened lives on Elm Street, alright. We were ready for the unforgettable fire to descend upon us, a fear ignited and realized with intent by the Mad Max films, “The Day After” and “Threads.”
But then again, it wasn’t the first time art harnessed the abject horror of humanity, letting stupidity get its way with nuclear bombs. In 1964, the BBC engaged award-winning filmmaker Peter Watkins of “Culloden” fame, a documentary covering the 1746 Jacobite uprising, a narrative presented as a parallel to the ongoing Vietnam conflict. Based on its success, the network turned to Watkins anew to craft an episode for its “The Wednesday Play” series. The innovative filmmaker delivered The War Game, a withering pseudo-documentary film chronicling the effects of nuclear war on Great Britain. Watkins, who wrote, directed, and produced the film, presented his work to a gallery of executives reacting with apprehension and panic, which government leaders also felt. The War Game wasn’t just shelved but censored by today’s standards. It did earn a token theatrical release instead of airing on the network. The BBC stated publicly, “the effect of the film has been judged by the BBC to be too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting. It will, however, be shown to invited audiences…”
Following its presentation at the National Film Theatre in London and several leading international film festivals, The War Game would earn the 1967 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Curiously, the film remained an elusive relic until 1985, when it was televised by the BBC to a mass audience, honoring the 40th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. This time, it would air before an encore presentation of another iconic and harrowing nuclear drama, Mick Jackson’s equally devastating and award-winning telefilm, “Threads,” first broadcast in 1984.
Viewing The War Game today, you will see what unsettled the BBC executives and politicians at that time. Unrelenting due to its brevity, the hour-long documentary spares no one’s feelings or sensibilities in its raw and accurate depiction of the human and environmental costs of a nuclear exchange. Shot with live news precision by Peter Bartlett and an uncredited Peter Suschitzky, viewing the catastrophic effects of detonating missiles in real-time in such a visceral manner gives you pause. People asphyxiate in the heat, their eyes melting, or their homes lit on fire by the proximity of the blasts. Watkins left much of the horror to the viewer’s imagination, using graphic descriptions in the voiceover versus graphic visual effects.
Shot on location in and around the towns of Kent, Watkins chose an ensemble cast of non-actors, adding a sobering layer of emotional power to the verité style of the film. What will make you want to shout are narration scenes recorded by Peter Graham, coupled with Michael Aspel reading the quotations from source materials from actual and fact-based government and religious sources. At times conflicting and surreal, the visual parallels further illustrate how unprepared Great Britain, politically and socially, will only make you wonder if we’ve progressed at all.
As the war in Ukraine rages on with surprising support for the MAGA-inflamed populace, The War Game takes on stronger resonance today, if that’s even possible. Yes, friends, it can be worse if we allow such hateful rhetoric to excuse away the evils that are not ready to leave us alone.
I purchased a VHS copy of The War Game years ago off Amazon to complete my legendary collection of nuclear war-themed movies. You can now buy the Blu-Ray version (coupled with “Culloden”). Also, check your local library or indie video store for the DVD of The War Game, and search YouTube and Vimeo for the full-length presentation.
THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE (1961)
Directed by Val Guest
Written by Wolf Mankowitz and Val Guest
Cast: Janet Munro, Leo McKern, and Edward Judd
Chances are you’ve already experienced the century-mark temperatures baking the nation. Still, think climate change is bullshit? Remember that when cities burn, infrastructures fail, and people die from the heat that’s not showing signs of abating. Yet, the topic of a burning planet is not a new one, either. I distinctly remember watching a telefilm called “Heatwave!” on ABC, chronicling a young couple’s desperate escape to the mountains from the growing heat of a big city. First broadcast in 1974, it was TV’s answer to the disaster movie trend. So, where is this leading? The award-winning 1961 sci-fi classic known as The Day the Earth Caught Fire.
While it’s more a cautionary tale about the perils of nuclear proliferation, it lists why we still argue about what we’ve done to overheat this planet. What happens in Guest’s film is tragic and mindblowing in science and fiction. Yet, hearing people bitching about the heat and the state/energy companies’ inability to keep the power grids from shutting down makes me want to make them force watch what could be worse.
True, the conceit of The Day the Earth Caught Fire is the result of what happens to the planet’s orbit thanks to the US and USSR detonating giant bombs on the same day in both the North and South Poles. But when it starts to get hot, the planet reacts unexpectedly, leaving its citizens scrambling for any relief or survival.
What I love about the film is that it centers around how a group of Fleet Street reporters at the Daily Express break the story in the first place, as well as other believable human drama involving the principals, Edward Judd, Leo McKern, and Janet Munro. More, real news editor Arthur Robin Christiansen is prominently featured in the film, adding a nice layer of honesty to the film. The urgency of visuals illustrating water rationing, the burning of London landmarks, and other tragedies make the film a sobering viewing experience.
Far from being a quaint black and white film of the 1960s, Guest deploys an arsenal of effects and human emotion to give the film its resonance. Even the ending is unexpected by leaving the planet’s fate unresolved. Although, it is humorous that the original US release featured an augmented ending of the sound of ringing bells, indicating that science might have spared humankind from being BBQ’d. By the end, however, you’ll respect the sun’s power.
The Day the Earth Caught Fire is available for rent and purchase on most major streaming platforms.
NUEVO ORDEN (“New Order”/2020)
Directed and Written by Michel Franco
Cast: Diego Boneta, Mónica Del Carmen, Naian Gonzalez Norvind, Fernando Cuautle, Darío Yazbek, Eligio Meléndez
Much of the industrialized world faces a widening gap between its socio-economic classes, leading to erratic and alarming shifts in political ideologies with high consequences with each election. Mexico’s economic chasm is no different and gaining further volatility with the rise of American gentrification in its capital city and other parts of the country. The Mexican-French production Nuevo Orden sought to unleash an uncompromising “what if” scenario with wildly uneven but impactful results.
Following its award-winning premiere at the 2020 Venice Film Festival, earning the Grand Jury Prize, the arrival of Nuevo Orden during a pandemic seemed like outrageous misfortune. The appearance of its trailer, featuring images of POC taking over the white elite enclaves, earned a harsh backlash of racial stereotyping in its home country. Despite its acclaim from critics worldwide, citing the film as being powerful and timely, the film continues to earn negative colorism commentary in its post-release life.
Directed and written by Michel Franco, Nuevo Orden chronicles the lives of an upwardly mobile family impacted by the rise of the underprivileged in Mexico City. The effects of class warfare go from the micro to the macro as the invasion of the family’s wedding event is projected upon a canvas of a violent coup. What seemed to be an explosion of one’s group’s frustration with the status quo is painfully revealed to be the machinations of a government seeking to establish a military rule.
Designed to provoke and challenge the safe and paranoid sensibilities of viewers not paying attention to the current news cycle. Franco’s narrative hits individual buttons by focusing on the destruction of the privileged and entitled classes, leading to why hailed as necessary by many of its champions. Unfortunately, Franco loses control of his narrative with the revelation that the military is behind the coup, undermining the more important message of social divides. Unlike Bong Joon-ho’s groundbreaking “Parasite,” Franco cannot sustain the foreboding tension in this clash of economic classes to a gut-punching finish, despite its many bold attempts otherwise. Regardless, as speculative fiction, however, Nuevo Orden does successfully visualize a world of devastating change that could be possible given our current state of affairs in the US and worldwide. Yes, folks, it CAN get worse if we ignore the signs.
As if 2022 couldn’t double down on the crazy any further, clips of people enraged over what they perceive as media giant Disney or our under-siege educators “grooming” their precious Becky and/or Ken to become members of the LGBTQ+ community have the nation transfixed. I offer this counterpoint-slash-reality check to ill-informed agitators in front of Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and beyond.
I’m a 54-year-old gay male, American-born, and of Mexican descent. I am the second child born of immigrants in California and the country they chose to make their home, leaving their own families behind. Coming to America was their choice, and my siblings and I could not have flourished better under their watch and care as their American-born children.
There. I said it. I’m gay. No one made me “this way.” No one groomed me. I led myself to the LGBTQ+ community through an inherent need to feel safe and visible. First, I reconciled my fears as to what society would think, and, especially, my parents. Devoutly Catholic and structured in terms of their principles, their difficulty in accepting my truth remains a painful episode. However, it is a period that mercifully was made easier by the support of my siblings, turning my parents around in terms of what losing would mean to them all.
I remember my first real conversation with my mom one afternoon after I came out. I took her to lunch and a movie. She was a wee bit subdued at first, but slowly, she’d pepper our conversation with direct questions about my sexual identity. I explained that choice had nothing to do with my sexuality. No one molested me. No one influenced me. It just felt like the most natural thing in the world.
I distinctly remember realizing when I had no attraction to the female gender. It was in 1976 while watching a first-run episode of “The Bionic Woman.” (It was the multi-part “Kill Oscar” storyline that was a cross-over with “The Six Million Dollar Man.”) I want to think something about the image of Steve Austin fighting off the evil Fembots in hurricane-tossed Hawaii wearing nothing besides his mustache and a pair of swim trunks was what made me take notice. His hairy chest was swoon-worthy. Of course, I kept that to myself and spent the next 15 years lying to myself about my sexual identity.
Perhaps that TV memory was or wasn’t the moment. Perhaps I knew I was gay after listening to my Dad’s original cast albums of My Fair Lady and Camelot, both featuring Julie Andrews. (He saw BOTH original productions on Broadway, which still elicits feelings of jealousy today.)
Maybe it was when I discovered Linda Ronstadt’s first and glorious recording of American Songbook classics, “What’s New” in 1983. Maybe it was Maria Callas singing opera or the Burt Bacharach/Hal Davis catalog, genres my father also introduced to me. Or maybe it was my first time watching Rosalind Russell rip through “Rose’s Turn” in the filmed version of Gypsy? All of this happened during my formative years as a kid.
The first film I remember seeing in a movie theater was Disney’s The Aristocats in 1970. Did a subliminal message exist within the song “Ev’ry Body Wants to Be a Cat?” Was it hiding code to turn me gay? Please, I wanted to be a cool cat. However, it did inspire me to have a career in the filmed arts, which began in earnest at the age of 19 and continues to engage and inspire me today.
Oh, and how I can forget the first song I learned by heart as a child! Yes, that honor goes to Petula Clark’s 1964 monster hit, “Downtown.”
Better yet, my identity as a child of Mexican nationals provided a broader selection of art and artists to further inspire and give my life an incredible context. Hearing my mom’s favorite music of her youth meant Lola Beltran, Jorge Negrete, and Pedro Infante would also teach me about the language and spirit of a people that experienced the power of oppression and conquest, too. Assimilation may have won the first battle for my soul, a time when I referred to myself as “George.” Life experiences, maturity, and pride brought me back to Jorge, also the name of my father.
I gravitated to these artists because they inspired me to want to know more about a world that extended beyond my Chicano suburban existence in Pico Rivera, CA. I felt connected to the art and artists that remain my greatest mentors and heroes. Not just because the gay community favors them; instead, they endure because they were pioneers to appreciate. That I’ve met many aficionados who happen to be gay men is the icing on the reality cake, validating that Los Gays possess incredible cultural taste.
The point is that we are ALL influenced by a broad variety of external social, political, and cultural forces in a lifetime. I firmly believe our sexual and gender identities, however, are truly biological, not bids to merely find ourselves “more interesting.” Exceptions exist, sure. But to generalize and marginalize an entire community to fit an agenda? No. When politicians dare to prey on the fears of the weak and uneducated, the results can be irrevocable. The devastating truth about Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill and other such discriminatory legislation is this idea of forcing conformity on young people. Such blind homogenization is both dangerous and damaging in that it stigmatizes what is entirely natural and pure.
Again, during my elementary school life, I knew I was different, but I lacked the awareness and words to understand why. The awareness would arrive much later and it ultimately made perfect sense once I stepped away from the fear. A voracious reader as a kid, my teachers could not keep up with my pace of finishing all the material on their curriculum. These outstanding and dedicated educators resorted to giving me things NOT on the curriculum that would nurture and encourage my ability to process and understand different narratives. It affected how I related to the other kids, most of whom had no idea what I was talking about most days. Hell, my vocabulary alone was enhanced by my reading my parents’ issues of Newsweek, the LA Times, and the LA Herald-Examiner. I had to know what they knew, too, about the world.
As a result, my cultural references were not things that mattered in my classroom or playground. It felt worrisome to me, so I suppressed certain parts of my personality to “fit in” or conform with the larger group. It remains my biggest regret to this day, this desire of being ignored or left behind. Censoring myself to stop the bullying and social isolation meant killing the part of me that brought me such joy and pride. I saw the bigger picture, and I knew it would lead me away from the suburbs to find the place that would understand and encourage me to be the best version of myself, not just my sexual identity.
Our young people desperately need advocates and champions, not a group of red hat-wearing pod people from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” telling them they’re invisible. We need a greater understanding of sexual and gender identity, not criminalizing what remains a real struggle for so many innocent people. Choosing not to care or recognize the importance of gender and sexual identity is reckless and can be dangerous, even deadly, for those who have no emotional support. We have to find a middle ground, not promote a mantra of “grooming,” which is frustrating and sickening.
I can’t understand how people like DeSantis think forcing people to subscribe to ONE point of view cannot be considered an act of “grooming.” How is indoctrinating generations to espouse every “ism” found in the fear-mongering GOP playbook a civil and just act? This demented cry of “Beware Woke Culture” features once-benign terms appropriated and weaponized, again, by the right to conjure up yet another Boogeyman of panic, this time in the shape of Disney.
Fighting Disney is nothing more than a malignant weapon of mass distraction launched by a party that only deals in regression, not progress. It wasn’t so long ago that people chastised Disney for being extraordinarily slow in creating works that genuinely reflected the diverse faces and cultures of the world. Today, kids – and adults — can see and hear themselves in many of their favorite films and TV series, something denied to countless generations.
How dare Gov. Ron DeSantis and his rabid-mouthed ilk think they can legally force so many of our youth BACK into a closet with acts of stigmatization and fear. How does that serve the greater good of our evolving society? What scares his acolytes more about the presence of people who do not conform to sexual or gender norms? They label us all pedophiles and purveyors of dangerous liberalism when leaders like DeSantis wrap themselves in a divisibility cloak of evangelicalism, shielding their abject ignorance and cruelty.
DeSantis knows what scares people who do not care or want to possess a broader worldview. His brand of anger is nothing new, but he’s learned to refine such a message thanks to the internet and a media complex incapable of stopping coverage of the clown cars driven by people like Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), and Matt Gaetz (R-FL). Oh, let us not forget the Grifter Dynasty of Donald Trump, a debacle that led to an insurrection and the proliferation of several “Big Lies” extending beyond the 2016 and 2020 elections.
Full disclosure, I am proud of my time as an employee at Disneyland, learning much about people and storytelling thanks to the countless amount of guests that felt comfortable sharing a little piece of their lives with me as they waited in line to board a ride. That comfort level drives my career as a producer/interviewer of studio-produced content today.
I worked for Disneyland while attending California State University at Long Beach from 1989 to 1991. I spent those two years working primarily in Adventureland and Frontierland as a Jungle Cruise skipper, Tiki Room host, and on the Big Thunder Mountain and Mark Twain crews. Perhaps I took a photo of your parents as kids enjoying the day. Maybe they took a picture with me, smiled and laughed at my jokes, or even teased me for working at the park. Either way, not one guest knew much about me or any cast members on site that day. Fate brought us together to exist in the same space. All we had in common was being at a place designed to make good memories.
I still see the looks of relief and comfort when I would speak to a guest in Spanish, establishing a connection to the park in a way they could understand and interact with on a personal level. I will never forget creating the wheelchair section for the disabled guests, many of whom had never been to the park before, like many children and adults visiting that day. During the Main Street Electrical Parade, that combination of light, music, and their favorite characters elicited so many good and positive emotions two times nightly. Again, my crewmates and I did all we could to ensure our guests had a good time and did not feel judged for their disabilities. We would often receive a handshake, a “Thank You,” or a squeeze on the shoulder for jobs well done.
That is the power of the Disney experience. You don’t have to share in it, but don’t ruin it for people, either. The key design feature of the Disney universe is to be a home for everyone, regardless of their views or backgrounds. Is it perfect? Nothing in the world can make that claim. But it matters to millions of people around the world, nonetheless. We must look like savages to them, which saddens and angers me. The message of being the “Happiest Place on Earth” is taken seriously by its many employees, past and present. Because that’s what matters first – the ability to make sure you are happy and safe in that space for however long you visit.
Projecting all this perverse hate and bile onto that sentiment to serve someone else’s ego is a slap to the many of us who gladly made sure YOU were a satisfied guest. Why should any of you care what we do in private? I can guarantee you that is the last thing on our mind when facing a guest. Nor is anyone looking for converts, a grotesque and ridiculous notion. It is the same in any business; you focus on the company and clients to make sure they return.
I want to think education can help stem the tide, but not in this climate of turning back the civil rights clock and the banning/burning of books that could illuminate the path to tolerance and respect. No, the river of America churns and roils with anger, fear, and desperation thanks to people who feel it’s their duty and God-given right to stop a world they feel no longer belongs to their kind. Revolutions start with exhausted masses no longer willing to be force-fed a steady diet of lies, contradictions, and hatred for those who want to make the world a better place. If they only knew people like DeSantis don’t care how they get their votes to win. They only care about keeping their positions in power to fulfill their agenda of authoritarianism.
I can only offer this poem from Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), a respected Protestant clergy who dared to speak publicly against Adolf Hitler in public. His dissension led to his spending seven years in concentration camps. This poem, written in 1946, continues to reverberate with even greater power today.
FIRST THEY CAME
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
What makes any of us think Generation Blame, Whine, and Hate will not turn against the rest of society, refusing to conform or subscribe to their violently ignorant agenda? You’re deluding yourself if you think keeping them in power will improve your life. On the contrary, as history has proven, it is just the beginning of something so much worse.
As Pastor Niemöller concludes in his poem:
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out for me.
The start of a new week was designed for mixed emotions, at least for the GSMS. Sure, the cycle of routine had been restarted, but it was also a chance to be better, to do better at everything.
“Work, love, life,” he’d recanted to so many dates at this juncture. “It is all routine when you get the hallowed ground of 52.”
Most of his dates would merely smile as if they agreed, but most likely they didn’t. If they were keeping a checklist for red flags, such grandiose ruminations would be near the top of their cards. Well, if they even knew what “grandiose” or “ruminations” meant. The GSMS did possess strange tastes when it came to men. He had a physical type, sort of. He was drawn by a non-linear list of attributes. Kind eyes. A nice smile. Thick thighs.
“Man thighs,” he’d say to no one in particular. That was a desire saved for his endless inner monologues on the commute to work.
This particular Monday, however, was different. He’d been re-charged of late, feeling the need to tell stories to his laptop. As drove into work this morning, an old Paula Cole track caught him by surprise. While he’d been inclined these last few days to continue his series on the Gay Single Man of Substance, the changing landscape he was witnessing, street corner to street corner, on the way to his office made him broaden the scope of today’s tale. Perhaps it was residue leftover from being stood up last Friday night by the Hairy Beast. The musky promise of a sweaty, libidinous night had already dissipated into the ether now that the weekend was another memory.
The GSMS had already admonished himself as he arrived at his office to avoid writing another personal tale of being ghosted. No, as he took his place behind his pockmarked desk, he let his mind wander in search of inspiration and a bigger story to tell. He closed his eyes, turning into the sounds outside of his office window, of life in flux. Maybe if he paid close enough attention, he could pick through the noise and hear the other tales of the city. The GSMS took a deep breath and listened…
“He didn’t call.”
“I am going to give her one more day.”
“I thought we had a connection.”
“Did I leave the oven on?”
“Fuck it. I’m out.”
“She’s such a dick!”
“He’s an asshole.”
“Tails Nashville, Heads Seattle”
“I’m so ordinary.”
The sounds from his newly minted playlist had broken through his reverie.
For a split second, his brain short-circuited and a cold dread invaded his mental space for a moment. He had to pivot, but man. That word was his biggest fear, being ordinary. The SGMS worked overtime to craft a public image of sophistication, color, and wit. It was a shaky façade at best. His emotional would runneth over to the point to rival the liquid death and destruction of the Johnstown Flood of 1889.
He stood up for a moment and kept his gaze on the sun heating up the day. As the song continued to play itself out, the GSMS took in the lyrics as the track reached its final verses. He agreed with Paula Cole at this moment. Some people are like “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Towering and majestic, the definition of desirable. They are that high note we all strive to hit but always miss. The rest of have to make do with being like “Frère Jacques,” the song everybody can sing because it is easy AF and requires little effort at all.
Later that night, he relayed the day’s events to SkB over a long, overdue dinner reunion.
“That might be the case,” the SkB countered at the GSMS’ thoughts on being ordinary. “I think what you’re really afraid of is having people see the real you.”
Somewhere in the distance, the GSMS thought he distinctly heard someone hit a high note.
In case you haven’t noticed, being in a reflective mood is a big part of who I am as a person.
I’ll pause for the rolling of your eyes, dear reader.
Yeah, I think too much. I think too much about stuff that is hardly ground shaking anymore. I, too, suffer from that illness of wanting to make myself seem so fucking interesting. So much effort has gone into curating a self that could be deemed “fabulous” or “fascinating” by others that I now question whether it was worth it. Losing Dad last month has allowed for a sense of clarity to take over. Revisiting all of our struggles together, the endless array of pendejadas I’d craft just to piss him off. And for what? He forgot them all due to his Alzheimer’s. However, what took over was something totally real and true. Each time he smiled, I knew we were in a good place. We laughed and lived out some of the best years of our lives together with respect. It will be a gift that will keep on giving.
These many years of trying on and shedding personas were exhausting, for me and everyone around me. The irony? Going back to my OG self now makes the most sense. Take out the chaos and “big feelings” and I have a nice rack of lamb to offer the world. That’s what brought me back to Dad. With him, I discovered that life doesn’t need an excess of adornment. It needs to be tended to with care and purpose. You nurture the best part of yourself and the people you love with sun and air, not artificial light, filters, and the prism of a stranger’s validation. Why it’s taken me so long to figure that out has more to do with what I thought I wanted to “see” in myself and the world.
Born a preemie, I guess I was determined not to fade into the background since day one. I had to see what lurked outside the safety of Mom’s womb! Haha. Once I started going to school, it became apparent that I had a voice and the power to be heard. Shyness be damned, the first person I made laugh in kindergarten was a revelation! I was aware of what made me different from the other kids. In the end, my early interests would dictate much of who I would be as an adult. It happened organically thanks to the people who remain my role models, at home, school, the library that was my second home. Then, I started to doubt my own singularity.
When I think about our mania to be noticed today by being considered an “influencer” or a “public figure” on social media, I can’t help but marvel over how it is also doing us such harm. It’s just a setting, for crying out loud. Creating a false persona took real skill in “my day” and we could not depend on a filter to cover the flaws. To bear witness to the elements of sameness projected by people all over the world today scares the shit out of me. We seem less inclined to break free from the pack to fervently embrace this culture of uniformity. Copycat beauty is not a celebration of individuality, which contradicts a generation’s determination to eschew the context of the past. Many parrot the importance of fluidity in their lives, but they swirl around the contained space of a very specific and packed fish tank.
This concept of curating an authentic life is also just another variation of “keeping up appearances.” And whoever coined the term, “adulting” should be ashamed. We live in an era that invents so many terms and slogans to validate confusion and insecurity. Most people can’t even commit to a simple meet and greet because of their lives being so “hectic.” Yet, they still want to be praised for doing the things you’re supposed to do as an adult! Argh. But yeah, planning and taking photos of yourself at brunch and Coachella will take it out of you. This doesn’t apply only to the millennials, either.
Sigh. I’m rambling here, I know. That I’ve grappled with the same insecurity of being ignored and feeling irrelevant for so long is one of my biggest failures. The trigger point from childhood, when I stopped letting my own true self exist for fear of being labeled “different,” cannot be allowed to be pulled. Opting to create an exaggerated self with the threads of what made me different wasn’t any better, either. Dad wasn’t always enamored of my colorful self, but he admired my voracious need to read, watch films, go to the theater, and articulate what I loved about what I was watching or reading. (Except “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” He tore a companion picture book in half and threw it in the trash.)
Dad believed in the power of words and I have found comfort and solace in recognizing that part of him. I know I won’t fade into the background anytime soon. My will to speak and write is too strong. However, the point is to allow our words to count. Empowerment and courage will forever exist in words, even in a fish tank.
Having the courage and will to express myself is what will get me through this next chapter without him. Nostalgia has also proven a great source of empowerment, lessons that were buried only to resurface as I contemplate my own future. For example, when I was a kid, visiting the family in Tampico, the tíos thought it would be great to get me on a horse. I was about 4 or 5. Tío Paul was so proud to see me ride. Instead, he saw me fall off, which wasn’t unusual for me. Graceful athleticism was left out of my DNA stew.
I didn’t get back on that horse. I often wonder what life would have been like if I just got back in the saddle again. No filter, either. It speaks volumes to me today. I don’t need a horse anymore, but I do know I won’t be staying down if I fall. I’ll just dust myself off and keep on moving forward as my singular self. Witnesses welcomed, but not required.
While I’ve been bicoastal for work, I’ve joked to friends that eating in the ATL is a challenge, that “even the air is fried.” Or, I’d say with the solemnity of confession, “It is impossible to eat healthy in this city.” The truth is I lost all and total control. I acted like a kid who was left off at summer camp with the idea that anything goes now that mom and pops ain’t watching me.
I’ve been watching myself see the scale move up about to the tune of 11.5 pounds of MF’in bloat in a month of unnecessary stress and/or emotional eating. That’s the end result of letting this last month of working in Atlanta get to me. Here’s the rub: I wasn’t even stressed or emotional! In other words, I fell off the food addiction wagon so hard, I literally broke my spirit.
Welcome to Fatlanta.
I spent most of the first day back from the latest trip to Atlanta in a sulk. Sure its mostly sodium intake, but that’s no comfort, dear. Today, I ate two apples, some raw pepitas, hummus and a turkey/egg white scramble, had a latte and just sulked. I can’t even be mad at anyone since no one person or situation put all that food in mouth at gun point. I knew exactly what I was doing, which makes me even feel worse. Wait. Checking my glucose reading the Saturday after my return from this latest trip clocked in at 200! That does feel worse. It’s triggered The Eeyore Effect again, where I feel heavy, slow, sweaty and incredibly morose.
Fuck me. It’s enough to not feel depressed right now or beat myself to a Waffle House and BBQ sauce-infused pulp right now. I think about those episodes of “Designing Women” when Delta Burke’s weight gain was starting to become an issue for the show. Series creator Linda Bloodworth Thomason would write some of the best episodes of 1980s television around Suzanne Sugarbaker’s weight. A former beauty queen, like Burke herself, the character’s struggle with her weight hit a raw nerve for many of us dealing with the same challenges.
In the end, Burke would be fired from the show in a nasty public split that is the stuff of industry legend. The show never recovered from the loss of such a vivid character. All of the women were remarkable on that show, but Suzanne was the reason many watched with such fervor. (I won’t lie. All four of the original cast are my spirit characters.) Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion, too. (To quote another Southern pop culture queen.) I spent part of the day watching some of the best of Suzanne Sugarbaker’s moments, just as a reminder that this set back is not permanent. Nor does it diminish the achievement of getting closer to understanding why I eat the way I do. The cycle can be broken, which is what I am determined to focus upon after this day of wallowing in self-pity. One day. No more, dammit.
Being in Georgia these many weeks has reinforced the horror and sadness I feel when it comes to the tyranny of food we continue to endure in this country. We sure love our excess as much as we love NOT being told what to do, especially when it comes to our health. With the recent return of Trumpcare and the rollbacks of key legislations to help keep our children healthy, I realize that many of us are being set up to fail. We won’t be told by anyone what we can or can’t do to our bodies! Keep us poor, stupid, fat and consuming everything in sight. That’s what is means to be an American!
When will we realize that we are being set up to fail, to stay sick and die? We are just being led to the slaughter, fattened by ignorance, greed and pride. We are at the mercy of the privileged few who stand to earn more by just watching us eat ourselves to death. This is where education is so vital! We keep cutting curriculum that can so benefit us from a young age! That “Dollars & Sense” class or home economics courses, why are these considered a luxury today?
It made me sad seeing how race and income dictated what food was available in every sector of Atlanta I visited. You could find a Waffle House, Bojangle’s or Chik-fil-a on every corner, but a Whole Foods or Sprouts was still relegated to the affluent Buckhead-type areas of the city. Publix and Kroger’s offered some healthier choices, but these options were usually relegated to the back of the store, away from the towering displays of chips and soft drinks that were substantially cheaper. The produce I purchased at several Wal-Mart stores was subpar and not as plentiful or as fresh compared to the Super Target Market offerings outside of the city.
It would be too easy to say, “Well, it’s Georgia!” But, you can’t avoid the same problems in Los Angeles. When I was studying at ELAC with Professor Norma Vega, she incorporated a section on the politics of food in her advanced Spanish class. If the seeds were sown then, perhaps the importance of believing “We are what we eat” still needs to be nurtured in order to flower. At least in my own way of living.
I was weak in resisting the excess of movie set treats during these weeks on location. Even with the tough love of several key friends this week, I still reached for the fried pickles, sweet tea, Magnachos, waffle, grits and corn bread with extra maple butter. Why? I wish I knew. I told myself I can get back on track when I get home, that I’ll just return to my program later. I can lose it, no problem. Going backwards to move forward again is getting old. I knew better and the classic addict behavior displayed only made me realize I have a long way to go to be truly healthy again. That being cavalier is on par with being complicit or silent when people are doing all they can to tear you down in the name of progress or #MAGA.
Driving through South Pasadena today, I thought about stupid I felt for bemoaning I have too much to eat when countless others are struggling to find their next meal. It is a gross abuse of body, mind and soul. I am beyond fortunate to know that I have the means and knowledge to be healthy and sated. That is no excuse to act like I have all the resources and chances in the world to avoid the inevitable, which is an untimely death. I will take this to heart when I return to Atlanta again later this week. No more side trips to Fatlanta, either. Passage denied.
Part of the struggle of healthy eating is knowing when you’ve had enough. To push yourself away from the table and say, “I will not intake anymore of that which can hurt me.” As we lurch forward through this era of chaos, anger and confusion, focus is essential. In order to be able to object and resist, you need strength and conviction. If you can’t control what you eat, then maybe it is time to get out of the kitchen. More, maybe it is time to take stock of what makes you strong and able and offer that part of yourself with those who are willing to listen and learn along with you.
We are what we eat, just as much as we are who we choose to lead.
Why do I let myself worry?
What in the world did I do?”
— From “Crazy” (Willie Nelson)
I truly do feel crazy of late. Even this post takes a turn due to current events, so hang on.
I am crazy for being so lonely, despite the good that surrounds me at the moment. While my social media posts of late are of the #45 trolling nature, I actually do feel rather good about a lot things. My weight is down, dropping at a rate that is healthy and realistic. Sugar is WAY down from its epic high of the 400’s earlier this year. My eating habits are starting to adjust to what makes sense to eat at the moment as opposed to just eating all the things that numb my feelings away. Creating that soft blanket of armor is something best left on my bed.
So, why the unease? I’m tired of fighting these gusts of loneliness. It doesn’t help that our days of rain and road rage have colored the city a less appealing shade of grey lately. One drought may be in the midst of being repaired, while my dating drought seems to be holding on a bit longer.
Part of this mentality is fueled by the “Chicken and the Egg” mechanics of dating and meeting people today. A lot of it is driven by apps, something that already makes me wonder where the time went while I busy inventing the MediaJor persona. Forget about the chat rooms and Craig’s Listings of yore. We are even going beyond Scruff and Growlr. Now we have “MeetUp.” It is on my queue of things to try this year and I am sure the experience will inspire a diary entry or two. The existence of this app fascinates me while pulling the trigger on one my most defining insecurities.
I’ve always considered myself a very social person. Well, let me rephrase that. I was a very social person, completely secure as to what made me unique as a kid. That ended around third grade, which is when I took a major detour once I became hyper aware of the social hierarchies of adolescence. At first, I didn’t really pay attention to the awkward reality of being that Cole Porter kid in a sea of Chicanos with totally different interests. I thought all kids loved movies, musicals and books as much as me. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that wasn’t at all the case.
When reality kicked in, I bid a retreat from what made me “Jorge” and tried to turn it around by being “George,” seeking acceptance and feeling devastated when I still remained a background player. Then I would couple my voracious appetite for popular culture with two or three more helpings of whatever Mom made for dinner. I see where I kicked off the chain of events that would be one of my biggest challenges to overcome: maintaining a healthy body image.
As a gay man, I know I am not alone in living with that vicious cycle of self-flagellation over how we look to the world. If having abs and a gun show didn’t matter, gyms would go out of business with our mass exodus. I still obsess over my appearance and how people perceive me. Any shortcomings were covered up with being more of a “personality” since I wasn’t so secure in my being a “person” people could care about, much less desire. God, this era of trolling for “Likes” is just a more insidious means of finding acceptance and validation, one that preys on the weak and insecure like a plague. It is so fucked up, seeing men turn into teenage girls. It’s all tattoos, jock straps, duck lips and mirror shots that are so filtered, even Doris Day would go, “It’s not supposed to be like looking through cataracts, dear!”
How do we inoculate ourselves from this virulent form of narcissism and self-absorption? I’m guilty of the selfie ritual, almost to the point of ridicule from people close to me who can’t bear to see the pics clog up their Facebook feeds. However, part of the process of reconciling an emotional connection with food includes restoring a positive image of yourself. That’s something I haven’t really had in over four decades of living.
When I step down from this wheel of “Oh, I am so lonely” long enough, I recognize the truth about what it is that draws people to the eye. Yes, aesthetics play a role. We’re a visual society, more so than ever. But it does matter to strike that inner spark of contentment, the one that is born from being secure with your true self. This is nothing new and it goes beyond the memes and magazine-speak that makes obvious pronouncements seem profound. Hell, even RuPaul has a version that drips with sequins and glitter, but it is true. “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love somebody else.”
Better living through chemistry, rather, the pills I am taking have helped a lot in beating back the darkness that’s shrouded me for a long while. These last weeks of eating better and making better food choices have also returned some vim and verve in my step. But, lurking in the corners, like dust bunnies clinging for dear life, is that woe of being alone.
In speaking with a friend this week, whose own travails with matters of the heart are complicated enough to make me want to take a vow of celibacy, I found myself offering advice that I should heed myself. He isn’t ready for the relationship he is in at the moment. His BF is a very social creature who enjoys many of the trappings of gay life that my friend can barely tolerate, if at all. More, his own insecurities about being left and deemed unworthy have triggered a few flashbacks of from my own dating life.
I am reminded of what I did to my own Ex during and after our two splits. Seeing my Ex appear on the gay apps like Growlr hasn’t helped me much, either. It’s just another track on the “Being Left Behind” hit parade. This friend and I are kindred spirits in this regard and we both have grappled with finding the love for ourselves. I think I am making progress in the sense that I do love myself enough to want to be healthier, to release myself from the tyranny of food and take charge. As for the crazy love for another part? It does always read better on the page or seen on the big screen, so my focus is shifting to the rational on that front now that I’ve purged a little of this angst in this diary entry. But I don’t want to relinquish the crazy just yet. Hear me out.
Author Paolo Coelho stated, “I prefer to crazy and happy rather than normal and bitter.” We’re moving past bitter these days. Normal was never a word I’d ever choose to describe myself. Crazy is a given. Happy? I think I’ll continue to dine on that possibility for as long as it does my body, brain and heart good.
While composing this entry, it was announced that #45’s administration withdrew the protections implemented by President Obama on transgender bathroom use in public schools. I’ve never felt skilled in dealing with the political because my focus was too narrow and even superficial when it came to this blog. However, I find I can’t just sit in this space of looking inward without addressing what I see outside this bubble.
This diary on food and self-awareness began with a simple question: “Is my life worth saving?” In the current climate, where protections for the queer and transgender communities are being removed as we speak, it is trivial to sit here prattling on and on about the lack of love in my life. I can’t follow a linear course with my thoughts of late. I don’t think anyone can, particularly with the frequency with which #45 is systematically turning the US into a Russian outpost of hate.
Love is not something I lack, that’s obvious. But, the pressures of conformity are now coupling with the incredible fear that many in this country have to contend with on a daily level. Many are losing that battle, taking their lives because death seems like a better option over continued persecution. The question I find myself pondering is fast becoming, “Are all lives worth saving in America.”
I think about what it felt like being the chubby kid who wasn’t like the other boys. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I’ve been able to face the consequences of those years. It’s bad enough the body politics that rule within the gay community are discriminating enough. That’s a topic for another rant. However, I do recognize just how lucky I was to NOT be ostracized or isolated in college or the workplace. But that isn’t the case for many queer or transgender youths today, despite the progress that was so hard won and now faces a regressive era that defies basic human rights.
No one should ever want for love in this world. No one should ever want for acceptance and respect despite being “different.” But for change to happen, we must change ourselves from within. I recognize the power in shedding that which does nothing but harm me. Imagine if that same power can be shared with others in shedding that which does nothing but harm our way of living.
It is important to recognize that the loneliness I feel will be just one more layer that will be stripped away with the rest of that which ails me as I continue this journey to better health. What will be found underneath remains to be seen. However, the strength gained must be put to good use. Truth matters in a fight. And the lines are being drawn as I write these words. Because if we’re aiming for crazy and happy as a society, it will take vanquishing those bitter souls who dare decide what is “normal” today.
So, I’ve hit my first brick wall, the dreaded plateau stretch. It’s the phenomenon that occurs when you just can’t seem to drop another fuckin’ pound. Of course, maybe it would help if I moved a bit more instead of just rising from bed, going to work, returning home and going back to bed. It’s taken a lot of my will to just do the Lean for Life program. The idea of regular exercise is just that, an idea. When I’ll start to do more than walk a few miles is something I grapple with daily. But, I then remind myself, “It isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon.” Then I want to punch the wall itself, wondering why I embarked on this journey again in the first place. It’s a dance I know all too well and even my sturdy legs are starting to resist the choreography a bit. To bend, but not capitulate. That’s my truest self.
I guess I have been a wee bit on edge of late. Temptation is staging a sit-in on the steps of my brain. I keep mulling overeating behaviors that I know are bad for me. I dream of pizzas and orange tabby kittens. I dream of cheeseburgers and those solitary runs to King Taco. I recall when I would wake up and see the empty wrappers and bags from the items I would consume during these food binges that would last for days at a time. The feeling of being an addict would then seep into my already beaten down conscience. I would chastise myself endlessly, determined to not do it again, but it would without fail that same night. I could never help myself. It is like daring myself to reach the lowest possibly point, just to see if I could.
Rotating through this vicious and destructive cycle is on par with total madness. The number of lies you will tell yourself to validate an addiction will mount exponentially to the point that you can no longer tell the difference between delusion and truth. You fail to see the damage you’re causing since it isn’t necessarily visible, but it is being done without mercy. The full impact of consequence is only felt when you reach a crisis point. Sometimes you can turn it back and be saved. Sometimes it claims you.
I think about the tyranny of a society that preys on the weak who grapple with issues of perception and maintaining a certain social status.
I think about the tyranny of a media culture that preys upon the insecure by shaming their body types or finding fault with their ability to cultivate an “appearance.”
I think about the tyranny of an administration that prefers lies to the truth to keep their tenuous hold on our country, callously deconstructing our hard-won democracy under the cynical guise of “Making America Great Again.”
The temptations we face, both with our bodies and minds, are an eternal struggle for many. It is a real tragedy that our places in the social hierarchy dictate what we are able to consume. Fast food exists because it is cheap and easy. It is consumption at its worst, disregarding the basic rules of nutrition because it knows people won’t fight for something better. That takes knowledge. That takes real money. Good health requires certain resources and patience to sustain and a lot of us can’t be bothered to look away by the quick fixes and band aids we seek to make our lives easier.
Fast food is a lie. We know the truth about what will elevate us and what will kill us in terms of what we put into our bodies. I’ve accepted this lie for years, giving it strength because I was weak to face it with any resolve. Tyranny takes many forms and after years of bubble and self-absorbed living, we are finally using terms like “resist” and “persist” again. And meaning it.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s daughter, Bernice King, recently posted a list of things we can do to counterpunch the tyrannical regime of #45. It has been making the social media rounds and it is being picked up by certain media outlets, too. In some ways, the rules apply to all things that dare tear us asunder:
We are complicit in our silence. We must feel the power that comes from the support of people we love. We must avoid helpless and hopeless talk. We must keep our messages, the ones we say to ourselves and to the people around us, positive. This is the power to be found in resistance and rebellion, to eschew the rhetoric that is not good for anyone. This is how we push through the plateaus of complacency and stagnation that do not allow us to shed the weight dragging us down. This is how we emerge strong, victorious and healthy in the purest sense of these words.