It’s been another week to upchuck thanks to the now even lower set of public standards established by our “president.” Defended by his equally inept minions as “fighting fire with fire” over media criticism, we are forced to bear witness to the tweeted verbal diarrhea of a school yard bully. Morning show hosts are being called out as “psycho” or “ugly.” He’s approving clips of his taking down the CNN logo like a WWF star. It’s all being done to overshadow a travel bans, dangerous health care laws and other exhibitions of governmental malfeasance now threatening the stability of the country. Hell, let’s make it the world. After years of “scripted” reality shows, we are keep tuning in on “That Crazy Trump!” because so many Americans can’t tell the difference anymore. Besides, it’s so entertaining! He’s keeping it real! He’s giving it to the Left, finally!
Yeah, he’s giving it to us, alright. However, one key difference must be recognized. We are ALL going to wake up with a scorching case of moral herpes. America will be that person other people whisper to you about NEVER dating because “they’re whores.” We are exactly that, whores. Trading our sanity and moral compass for the promise of something, white, rich and devoid of anything that sounds/looks like Barack Obama.
Many people turned to the Trumpian Way because they wanted to go back to the “old days” of when America was great. One of the sadder realities about such sentiments is that Trump does not represent what made this country such a beacon of hope to many. We know that racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia will fight to the end before leaving their places at the table. It is why many have taken up the mantle of resistance for generations. However, this era on “notice me” and “I want it now” has overtaken the important of virtues of shame, accountability, respect, tolerance and inclusivity. More, it is robbing us of the one thing that could bind us to see our way through it: a sense of humor.
The era of “snark and awe” punditry has obfuscated the role of the news person represented by Chet Brinkley, Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw. The columnist and humorist is no less present, either, replaced by bloggers, vloggers and YouTube “personalities,” fueled by a cynical and arch tone aimed at showing how stupid everything and everyone can be today. It is the equivalent of graffiti with punctuation, offering little analysis and said as loudly as possible. All that matters are that these posts make an “impression.”
Making an impression.
Before, it meant impressing the group as they met you for the first time. Now? Social media marketing execs with crow about millions of impressions, but they cannot accurately gauge if it goes beyond just “looking” at the post. Does the audience engage with it beyond just blithely sharing it with their friends? Does it provoke them into acting? Of buying? Of contributing to the cause? Of any of the interactions we did not take for granted decades earlier?
The American columnist once carried such power, a power on par with reach and impact of Twitter today. From Andy Rooney to Ann Landers, from Louella Parsons to Hedda Hopper & Rona Barrett, and from Walter Winchell to Frank Rich, Americans read, listened and watched their way to understanding the political, social, cultural and gossipy effluvia of the growing celebrity age. They could turn the tide on national opinion and they gave it context beyond 140 characters or less. Sure, some of them appealed to the lowest common denominator. William Randolph Hearst makes Steve Bannon look like sloppy kid reporter with pizza stains on his chin. But we had a choice. We had options that catered to something classier. One stood above the fray, whose columns were about our shared humanity in a crazy world, all written to make us feel like we weren’t alone in our flawed beauty. And it made us smile, cry and laugh. Sometimes all at once. We had Erma. Erma Louise Bombeck of Dayton, Ohio.
Friends, she was a wise one. Clever, authentic, and funny AF. It was hella fun playing “Beat the Clock” during those elementary school mornings, the ones where she’d appear on Good Morning America right before the end of the final hour. My mom, who loved Auntie Erm as much as I did, would listen and laugh and then sweep us all out the door to our faithful aqua Beetle and haul ass to South Ranchito. She was so worth the tardy slip.
The inimitable Erma Bombeck, one of the most beloved American humorists of the 20th century. Her “At Wit’s End” nationally syndicated column appeared three times a week in 900 newspapers worldwide, earning a weekly readership of 31 million people at its peak. Bombeck’s columns, books and morning show appearances seduced a legion of fans comprised of women, men and even precocious kids like me. So beloved was she to her readers, it was like she was that Auntie Mame-like tía you couldn’t wait to see on family visits. No one exists like that today, a lost generation replaced by Kris Jenner and Kim K., who are now the criteria to be declared “New York Times Best Selling” writers in this era of Selfie Life as Style.
“They never lost their temper, gained weight, spent more money than their husbands made, or gave viewers any reason not to believe they were living out their lives in celibacy.
Their collective virtue was patience.
It was the age of the God, Motherhood, Flag, and Apple Pie. All you had to do to be a mother was to put on an apron. No one did it better than the prime-time mothers. I was of the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time-mothers.” – From Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession, 1983
Unfortunately, life after Donna Reed, Harriet Nelson and Carol Brady has been a trauma that will never be solved with a warm, homemade chocolate chip cookie and a hug. Aunt Erma was that voice of sanity in the chaos faced by the country in the 1970s and 1980s. While many fought for equality at home and in the workplace, people were still becoming parents and struggling with the many realities that plagued every new mom and dad. Erma was in the trenches with them, offering up a much-needed laugh in the face of what seemed insurmountable. She spoke to us, about us and it gave many of us a sense of security in knowing we were not alone in the changing tide of family dynamics.
Given our current state of angry racial, gender and cultural politics, a new generation may fault the writings of Bombeck as a dusty reflection of that suburban, white reality. Isn’t that what Trump’s legion of “fans” fighting to restore? But here’s the rub. It was never lost, just remixed by the inevitable forward motion of other groups in the land of plenty. Latinos, African Americans, Asians, all groups aspired and succeeded in reinventing the suburban experience in their own image. Struggling through oppression is not the only narrative we can contribute anymore! We have more to offer tales from life on the house on Mango Street or pen the umpteenth take on the “last mama on the couch” play, too.
The impact of Bombeck’s writing was a needed respite, especially after the upheaval of the 1970s. The 1980s were no easier thanks to the barrage of the Phil Donahue/Gail Sheehy/Self-Help Guru/You Can Have It All narratives that we started to ingest. We need a little Bombeck-style love again. We need someone who can write about the themes that are continuing to happen at a breakneck speed, despite the ugly that has exploded forth with Trump.
We continue to be new parents.
We continue to raise children.
We continue to be children.
We continue to see children as parents.
The grass is still greener over the septic tank.
We are still thinking if life is a bowl of cherries, while are we STILL in the pits?
We need a new Aunt Erma’s help to cope.
I say resist the snark and awe. Enough of the screaming. Enough of the blaming or bullying total strangers. No more extoling the virtues of sex tapes, reality stars, impressions and followers. We need to stop thinking our best means of curating an authentic life are those posts that disappear in 24 hours. We need to speak up and share our best insights and humorous outlooks at life today. We need to share those stories when we hear our kids refer to spaghetti as “gasphetti.”
Whatever our political sensibilities, we do share one common reality: we are such flawed human beings. Bombeck wasn’t shy to offer keen insight into her own less than perfect reality, which was a welcome breath of the authentic. As wrote about her family in “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries…”:
“I did not get these varicose veins of the neck from whispering. We shout at one another. We say hateful things. We cry, slam doors, goof off, make mistakes, experience disappointments, tragedies, sickness and traumas. When I last checked, we were members in good standing of your basic screw-up family.
There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.
And how do you know laughter if there is no pain to compare it with?”
We are all enduring the pain of an era we can’t seem to fathom on the daily. Maybe it’s time to take a breath and look beyond the 140 characters. Maybe it’s time for us to champion voices that lead us to feel it all a la Bombeck again.
Hmmm. Maybe it’s time for some tío Jorge realness in our lives? Who’s with me?
“I just want you to love yourself as much as we love you. We all want you to be here. Please do this for you. Please do this for us.”
When you hear a voice that is trembling with tears and emotion, you listen. I took me by surprise, to be honest. I’ve been on this weight loss path many times over the last 20 years. It’s been a journey my friends have supported on as much as they’ve endured my misadventures in dating. But the urgency in my bestie’s voice belied something different. We’ve seen loss, quite a bit of it to be honest, in the last year. We’ve seen what poor health choices can do. Look at George Michael. Luther Vandross. Perhaps it was a colleague or a family member. Many of us have endured the pain of knowing they could have saved themselves from diabetes, heart disease or the effects of high cholesterol.
I have the trifecta of these ailments that are prevalent within the Latino community. I’ve seen their effects and it is painful and scary to know I can succumb just as easily. Yet, I’ve done nothing to combat them in the last 14 months. I’ve had the skills and resources to do something about my health and my attachment to food for 20 years now. It’s been a war I’ve been battling since I was a kid. If buttered toast with jam made me feel better, I had to have four pieces. I can still hear my tearful young self ask my aunt Beba, who was visiting us from Mexico City, for those pieces of bread. And like all good moms, she enabled her “gordito querido” because he was sad.
I still get sad. A lot. And I keep reaching for that bread or nachos or carnitas burrito or any of of the salt bombs that could detonate without warning. Why? I stopped caring about my future. I couldn’t be bothered. If I’m going to go, I was going to go big. But as I started the new year, I just couldn’t justify that course of self-destruction anymore. (I think it is the Lexapro doing its job.)
I’ll admit I was a bit cavalier when I posted an image of my sullen face on Facebook, which made this simple decree:
Today is my first day back on @leanforlifelindora. I am still processing my emotional attachment to food, something that continues to hurt me as much at 49 as it did at 19. I know I’m not alone in this struggle. As I approach 50, I have set one goal for myself during these next 18 weeks of healthy eating, counseling and exercise. “I want to see 51 and beyond.”
The reason my friend called was to offer support on that statement. It was happenstance that one of her colleagues advised her that a friend of theirs was found dead over the weekend. He was overweight, suffering from diabetes. He succumbed to illness at the age of 63. She called me in tears to urge me to take better care, to take charge. I was humbled and rattled at the same time. Because, that’s what it is about for us all, right? We must take care and control of selves, to fight that which could adversely affect us in more way than just our health.
I went back to Lindora and was given this mantra: “Carbs are not your friend. They turn to sugar. They make you sick.”
Not all carbs, I know. But the carbs that I tend to favor are not good for me. Apathy is not good for me. Depression is not good for me. A slow death is not good for anyone. I do want to see 50 and 51 and as many years as I can count so I can still be part of this dialogue for change. As I told my friend, I will be here. Too much is at stake. And, you know, I think I actually mean it this time.
Glucose Reading: 213
This is the point where you tell yourself, “It’s not a sprint. It’s not a race. It’s for life.” I have to admit that I wasn’t thrilled to see not even a little drop in my weight this morning. Instead, it went ever so slightly in the other direction, dammit.
It’s been a struggle to engage with my rational sense of optimism today. All the white noise of our new president’s administration turning us into a Margaret Atwood novel is keeping me from focusing on what really matters right now. I can’t seem to focus on much else but post these angry missives on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It’s like I want to reach out and slap the shit out of every idiot who thought Trump was the right choice. And don’t get me started on the former classmates who follow me on Facebook, who fill their pages with “We need to respect the President” or “We need to pray to God to help Trump show him the way.” Better yet, “I’m so tired of all the negative on my feed.”
Fuck you. Wait until we have to put our backs up against the wall, then tell me how God will deliver us.
I’m a fat, hungry, angry, gay Mexican right now. But through this haze of red, I can say thanks to Protein Day #1, my sugar was down a whopping 62 points. More, the famed Lindora Ketosis stick had some real color. Fat is going somewhere. I think it was the jeans I keep wearing as nothing else fits right now. Hahaha. Tomorrow, I’m wearing gym shorts for weigh-in. And the numbers will go down because I can do this. I even did a 1.86 mile walk around Hancock Park today. However, I can safely say during the next 18 weeks I doubt you will find me writing like Little Maria Sunshine.
It was supposed to be a system reboot, a push of the reset button. However, I think my trip to Spain last month may have left me even more unsettled now that I am back home in Los Angeles. It is scary how quickly I fell back into what’s been ailing me this last year and a half. The jet lag may be gone, but that sluggish feeling persists. Don’t EVEN get me started on the election bullshit. I will probably bite your head off. Best to focus on why the journey back to my LA life that is renewing this spiritual “agita.”
I haven’t said much about the Brit (name withheld out of respect), but he’s someone that’s been the most welcome surprise of this challenging year. Our chance online meeting in August flowered into a real friendship, which is why I’ve been purposefully vague about him given the context of how we started out. I might reveal this some day, but not now. It isn’t shame that precludes me, rather, having to explain it to folks who aren’t savvy as to the Gay Way of Meeting and Greeting in 2016. Rest assured, it isn’t some Dateline episode waiting to happen. It’s legit and that’s all that matters.
The Brit is London-based and we’ve spent months doing the whole digital pen pal thing. In some ways, it felt like the plot to “The Shop Around the Corner.” We hadn’t met, but we shared a real kinship with each text that zapped across the globe. Scratch that, it felt like a real life version of “Gavin & Stacey.” (I am sure his eyes would roll with balletic precision over THAT one.)
When we hatched the plan of heading to Spain together, he had just experienced someone breaking his heart in Oslo. It was around the same time I was planning to hit Spain that summer. I surprised even myself when I said, “Join me! Forget about that fool and let’s just have some fun, tapas and whatever else tickles our fancy!” Well, Spain had other plans, interrupting my impending estancia with a rule of having at least 90 validity to my passport. I wasn’t able to board that night and I found myself on the Lyft back to my parents’ house to retrieve my trusty Element and then home with a scowl on my face.
The Brit and I kept talking and we looked for new dates for our Spanish affair, which would now happen in mid-October. As we counted down the days, it was hard not to build any expectations. At least for me. It was such a welcome relief, corresponding with someone who actually COULD communicate with color and guts. What a concept! When the fated day finally did arrive, I wasn’t in the least disappointed.
Having the Brit with me for those nine days in Valencia, Salamanca and Madrid was like a downpour of what I miss about being part of a couple. That constant attention. The great rapport. The banter. The laughter. The warmth that emanates from people who actually care about each other. The looks that say, “I see you, man.” I wasn’t lonely and all that’s troubled me for so many months was falling off in the background. It’s how we compose shots for the interviews I conduct on camera. The subject is sharp and clear while the background is a bit hazy and blurry. All that matters is what is in focus. And focus existed in Spain. Make that focus and inspiration. So, why do I feel so fucking lousy?
Mind you, the Brit and I started this entire venture with a much different agenda in August. When he admitted that he’d started casually dating someone in early October, the trip’s dynamic shifted without warning into the dreaded Friend Zone. He tried to give me an out, saying he’d understand if that changed things for me given the spicier early stages of our interactions. His very British self wasn’t going to allow for any extracurricular activities, even though he’d only been dating said bloke a few weeks. But, as I would discover, the Brit was an “All In” sort of gent. Meaning, his focus and heart were set. I said, “So what? We’ll manage!” I firmly believed the point of the trip was to get away from what ails us. Nothing more.
In a lot of ways, that was indeed the case. But, it was tough to reconcile a clear trajectory of intent. As much as I tried to keep certain feelings at bay, which was quite an effort, imagine my consternation in having the Brit join me in a round of “Why Can’t We Find Someone Who Will Love Us for Us” during one heart to heart we had one late night. That’s why by the end of that week together, I felt nothing but confusion. It stepped up when, by the end of the week, he was texting his new paramour with a fervor that made me feel like an intruder. And when you have had such a stellar time venturing throughout a foreign country without a single fight, imagine how that can complicate more than just your brain.
The rational me knows that my creating anything but a friendship with the Brit would be difficult since he’s in England and I’m in southern California. The whole “Amor de Lejos, Amor de Pendejos” truth of our situation has never been far away from the fantasy of it all. But fuck me. We sparked. At times, it felt so real, this connection. At one point in Valencia, he even said he needed to put blinders on. Why couldn’t this be something more than just two friends having a good time in Spain? I have not wanted to be close to someone like this is such a long time! Six years after I selfishly kicked my bespectacled Ex to the curb, it’s been a mixed bag of really poor choices, cheap sex and a lot of wondering when in the hell the universe is going to take some pity on me! Being with the Brit was so bloody effortless. Was I just being clueless or just deluding myself because of an ideal that has yet to be acheived?
Trust me. I’ve done some work in processing all of this. It was big relief knowing I can be myself with the right sort of gent. He’s a fantastic person with whom to spar, a real intellectual with that classic British wit. Dry as a sherry, but fierce as Thatcher at her peak. More, I felt this incredible calm around him. It remains the one thing I will cherish most about my life with my Ex and it’s the one thing that’s been missing ever since.
As we got closer to the end of the trip, I felt unsteady and possessed by a grim outlook. He’d go home to someone who’d hold him tight. I’d go home to face a new round of the Dating Game. And that just pissed me off. I’d like to squeeze out as much of the Brit’s sincere and warm sentiment into a place that can validate why I am certain I wasn’t misreading the cues. The cold light of a warm LA day suggests otherwise. He was being kind and he needed something different from me. The Brit had been searching for a real friend, someone that understands him and doesn’t possess an ulterior motive that involved hurting him, his one biggest fear. Wouldn’t you know, it’s also a fear that share that with him, among other things.
Ironically, in the weeks since our return, the Brit has reached out in moments of real emotional turmoil as the paramour seems to be on a different page. I understand that very much, the overanalyzing of situations that are never as bad as you think. But it happens and I offer my own support while keeping my true feelings at bay.
I am aware that I keep setting myself up for this these types of situations, though. Prior to the trip, an endless drought of solitude had left me wondering whether I have much to offer anyone anymore. A week in Spain was living proof I did. I wish it was more of a consolation, knowing that I’m not entirely without the means of being with someone on “that” level. Perhaps it was just a practice run? Was it a reminder of what I’ve gained in terms of being an adult when it comes to establishing a healthy relationship? Maybe. But, caught between the lines of lucidity and maturity are slivers of jagged insecurity. I feel the presence of my old nemesis, the one that loves to reiterate: “You lack the total package for him, that’s why it didn’t catch fire.”
I should be content with being the friend, but when that single look caught my eye during our second night in Valencia, I couldn’t help but feel all buzzy inside. A dear friend even noticed it on that following rainy Saturday in Madrid. Her first words were, “How light you look! So handsome! And the beard!” She witnessed the version of me that I’d kept under wraps for the better part of a year. I did feel good as the rain fell over the Plaza del Callao. I felt better than good. I felt not sad.
My powers of imagination are truly reckless at times. In my mind, his time is going to be spent building up a life around his new job and new boundaries with his beau. I’ll be that crazy American who will help lighten the day when things get challenging, like all good friends do. But we’ll always have Spain, and possibly, a chance to storm another group of cities, too.
This is probably a good moment to insert a chorus of: “He lives in another country, dude! What the hell did you expect? Are you loco, ese? He ain’t into you because you live in ANOTHER country and doesn’t want to run the risk of being hurt or worse. It’s easier and safer to stay local for him. Wake the fuck up! Chingao, already.
I know! I know! It isn’t going to do me any good to act like a Charlie Puth song. My reserve of “Better Luck Next Time” is just a wee bit low right now. Trust me, I am focusing on: “Does this mean that someone remains behind Door No. 1504?” It is saner to keep an open mind. But hells bells, I don’t relish the task of having to meet new gents and going through this process. Again. Me da hueva, caray!
I do know that my friendship with the Brit is one I intend to nurture for as long as we both want to share in its possibilities. Truth be told, people like him are rare to find in a world determined to keep us everybody apart from each other. These feelings will abate with time. Of course, this makes it all so damn annoying! To be so close to the prize. Yeah, I feel like I’m about to hold a torch again. At least I can see the upside to that, too. After six years, it is a relief to know that I can finally shift it to the other arm.
So, want to know what a week in Spain can do for anyone? I’ll tell you. It will make you feel so much alive and very much a part the world. Now, the task remains the same as it was during that summer in 2014 when I took that first huge step toward defining my true self in Salamanca. I still have to learn to make Spain happen wherever I go, especially at home. As for the rest? Universe, don’t let me down…but can he wear glasses and make me laugh while watching YouTube clips all night long?
Struck with the fever to clean my online house, I finally got around to deleting some files from my Drafts folder on MediaJor.com. These were unfinished essays that seemed like great ideas at the time but never really flourished for whatever reason. Imagine my utmost thrill to find one particularly glorious remembrance of days past. Oof. I guess I forgot about it or maybe I calmed down enough NOT to get involved in the escalating drama that inspired me to write something. It still makes me say, “Wow.” Reading it again made my skin crawl, particularly since it’s a fetid example of this Age of Rage we are living in.
This post harkens back to the Fall of 2014, which was when I had the brilliant idea of writing a coda to the now infamous “Hermanas Coraje” series. Coraje means “angry” in Spanish, itself a joke and a play on a famed Mexican telenovela known as “Los Hermano Coraje,” which I loved watching with Mom when I was a kid.
The essays were intended to be a means to an end, of dealing with the painful consequences stemming from my aunt’s battle and demise from cancer in 2014. It seemed to help to turn certain relatives into characters in a Mexican telenovela. Adding fuel to the fire was the endless back and forth of these covertly shared texts and Emails from the so-called Coraje sisters, exchanges my warring cousins that personified Latino Drama and then some. I wasn’t at a loss for inspiration to keep this serial going for a while. However, this entire exercise proved to be anything but a laughing matter in the end.
The essays I penned got angrier and angrier as my family’s situation deteriorated further and further. Each new text or Email was like a bomb going off and no one was spared from the shrapnel. Today, we’re still living with the injuries inflicted on both sides, which ultimately destroyed all of the tropes of the unified Latino family in the process.
The first coda I attempted to write was an attempt to get away from Ground Zero, one that was a direct result of what became the last secret Email I would receive. I say “last” because the contents of this particular letter filled me with such contempt, I asked to be taken off the CC list altogether. I also decided to end my imagined telenovela on MediaJor.
The real hermanas Coraje were at their conjoined peak of “But we’re real the victims here!,” which was quite a feat since we had already buried my aunt. Make no mistake. These women were the actual instigators, the lead stirrers of one big cosmic pot of rancid menudo. The elder Coraje sister saw it fit to fire off a truly evil Email to her soon to-be ex-sister in-law, a punch thrown so low it hit the family at its lowest point. Our collective grief was turned into absolute rage again.
Given the way most families work, it was a matter of time before the contents of this destructive Email made their way around to the rest of us. We had an inkling as to the involvement of the sisters Coraje in wrecking their brother’s marriage. Their grotesque agenda of revenge and acrimony turned their brother’s wife into a member of our family. Yes, the family split and sides were taken. We sought to at least be a sounding board, but we turned into a means of emotional support as her marriage broke apart. Yet, we really had NO idea just how far the Sisters C were willing to go in ensuring her destruction.
Revisiting this letter, it was obvious that only making grammatical corrections would not be enough. Whether or not the entire family views this essay, it is just smart to only keep the emotional intent of the original note to protect the innocent and guilty and not retain any of the original text. So yes, I did rewrite the entire thing to best fit this essay. Also, note the “countersteps” have been fictionalized, too. While Hermano C’s ex-wife did offer her own rather pointed rebuttals, again, it would not prudent for me to air them out with the rest of the dirty laundry.
To read the original post was to almost hear the elder Coraje sister slamming the keys on her insidious PC. Each hit nailed a coffin shut, forever keeping out any light, love and all things human from a couple’s union. Vengeance would be mine if I left it as is to give readers a better sense of the epic pendejismo of it all. Trust me, this collection of twisted maneuvers was devised by someone who has been burned by life one too many times.
In the two years since we ceased all communication with the Corajes, I’ve realized theirs is a house built on a foundation of resentment. They’ve done nothing but shift the blame for their imagined woes onto other people. I have zero respect for those who prefer to exist within the Cult of Victimhood. All of this makes me want to subtitle this post as “Own Your Shit!” But, perhaps ours is a life lesson that can do us all some good, which is what led me to revisit this essay one more time…
They’re baaack. And not without leaving a few commandments behind for good measure. In fact, I should thank Las Hermanas Coraje for the wealth of material they’ve inspired me to compose. They’re web spinners and string pullers, the most cowardly roles to undertake when it comes to fucking shit up. These aren’t people who carry baseball bats to deal with shit. They prefer to do the side step as deftly as Charles Durning in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas!”
Regardless, no matter how you choose to meddle in people’s lives, wreckage will be left behind. A broken family will find the means with which to pull itself back together, but it is never really mended. The cracks are there to see forever, just like the words used to inflict the most damage possible in this digital age.
That said if you still want to know how YOU, too, can be a Hermana Coraje, follow their simple rules listed below. As for their ex-sister-in-law, bless her for having rebuttals at the ready, reminding us all that for every action you will experience an often equal or even stronger reaction:
Step 1: “Tell her to get back to work!”
Counterstep: I have NEVER stopped working. I am not sure what your brother, my husband, tells you. He’s probably — and conveniently — NOT telling you that I pay my share of thousands of dollars in household expenses, too. If either of you need a reminder, keep advising him in the manner you seem to think fit. I’ll show you the receipts.
Step 2: “Move your ass and starting talking to the lawyer and find out how you can protect yourself!”
Counterstep: That’s right, let someone else do the dirty work. As if no one will ever notice the stains on your hands.
Step 3: “DO NOT give her permission to exchange ANY information with the lawyer.”
Counterstep: What? Permission? Since you see fit to meddle in our marriage do you think I’m NOT going to know what crap advice you continue to give my husband? For the record, I’m reading this Email, too!
Step 4: “DO NOT reply to Isela’s email She’s either trying to flirt or dig up info!”
Counterstep: Isela is a friend, a real friend. She’s not part of the Vibora club like you and your sister. She’s just concerned about both of us as this entire situation goes from bad to worse. Honestly, why do you even care? Or is all of this really about YOU?
Step 5: “DO NOT go to the meeting with the realtor. And for the record, why are you even thinking about going?
Counterstep: We have to deal with the house as that’s OUR home to deal with and not yours. It’s the house where you were welcomed but are now both having to LEAVE because of you.
Step 6: “Stand up for yourself! Move on!”
Counterstep: How can he move on when you’re the one writing the map?
Step 7: “Be a man! Don’t be some little boy doing what mama tells him to do!”
Counterstep: And what is it that YOU’RE doing now with this awful Email?
Step 8: “Tell her you will respond that text from the ex-girlfriend. The one we liked.”
Counterstep: Oh, that’s being mature. As if his texting his Ex is going to cause real damage. YOU made this happen, dear. Not me. YOU. Remember that.
Step 9: “Remember that everyone we know and knows you think you’re awesome. Just not your wife!”
Counterstep: I never stopped believing he was awesome until you and your sister poisoned the well and ruined us.
Step 10: “The marriage counselor said most of the money from your remaining sessions can be refunded. You won’t face a loss!”
Counterstep: We’ll never know. You took away any real chance for us to find out if we could fix things. All you’ve done is make sure they stayed broken.
Step 11: “She only wants access to your financials to mess you up. Are you stupid enough to just hand this info over to her?”
Counterstep: Spoken like a woman who’s never been in a marriage. I have a secret: Spouses are SUPPOSED to know each other’s “financials.”
I really hope you’re pleased with yourself. You’ve prided yourself on being an actress, another lie the family believes. You’ve been nothing but a bit player all these years, always in the background. I never would have guessed the best role of your tiny “career” was to be the lead player in ruining my marriage. Was it worth it taking center stage this way? You always referred to yourself as the big Catholic. Let this weigh heavy on your soul because I believe you will be paid back in full when it’s your marriage. That’s my curse for you.
Since you took it upon yourself to write this list of “steps” for my husband, I will make sure to keep them on hand for the future in case you or anyone in the family needs a “reminder.” Better yet, I’ll keep them in a safe place for our kids so they can read them one day. After all, isn’t what family does best, sharing everything?
Your sister-in-law under God’s law forever…
Two years have passed. That note was the last we heard of Las Hermanas Coraje. In the end, this once star-crossed couple lost their house. No one earned a real dime from its sale, so the said “financials” were never improved. The ex Mrs. Coraje moved on with their kids to a new home and life. Meanwhile, the entire bitter lot of siblings are now existing under one deluded roof, just like when their dad lost their business and was forced to move them in with an uncle, the very family they would turn their back on in the most callous manner.
I am loathed to report that they’re still playing their pueblito games, too. So much for growth and maturity. But, I will never forget the elder Coraje‘s parting shot. I still can’t believe the nasty tone and manipulation found in that note. But the worst part? It’s just pathetic to know the Coraje brother’s balls are still being kept by his sisters.
Somehow, I don’t think this is the final chapter. The Resurrection of Las Hermana Coraje? After all, writers are encouraged to “write what they know.” Well, the author of this family’s narrative is God himself. I suspect even he would need major encouragement to pen a revision.
Isn’t it romantic?
Merely to be young on such a night as this?
Isn’t it romantic?
Every note that’s sung is like a lover’s kiss
Sweet symbols in the moonlight
Do you mean that I will fall in love perchance?
“Isn’t It Romantc?” — Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Lorenz Hart
I hate to break it to Ella or the Messrs. Rodgers & Hart. It isn’t so romantic anymore to be young — or in my case “mature” — on any given day/night when you’re single in LA in 2016. Those “sweet symbols”of yore have been replaced by emojis and the art of flirting has given way to acts of narcissism, sexting, pexting and a strange paranoia that everyone is going to stalk you if you dare to ask for their phone number.
What happened to the fine art of seduction!? I think I can chart the course of our romantic Titanic to this famed opening from one of Candace Bushnell’s “Sex and the City” columns:
“Welcome to the Age of Un-Innocence. The glittering lights of Manhattan that served as backdrops for Edith Wharton’s bodice-heaving trysts are still glowing—but the stage is empty. No one has breakfast at Tiffany’s, and no one has affairs to remember—instead, we have breakfast at 7 A.M. and affairs we try to forget as quickly as possible. How did we get into this mess?”
And that was in the 1990s, way before we even reached this intersection of technology and dating that dominates us today.
To be fair, love and sex have always been risky investments and commodities to broker with during any given era. Yet,something changed in us in the 1980s, where we became enthralled with the art of the deal and every relationship could be viewed as a transaction that either paid off (or not) with (or without) financial gain or status upgrades. A pervasive layer of cynicism took root back then and I am starting to think it had an unforeseen consequence on subsequent generations of adults looking for love, sex or whatever passes for intimacy these days.
Behold this lovely message I received on Growlr today:
Yup. You read that right. “Love to be in bondage to you, Sir!”
Let that marinate for a minute.
Have decades of broken marriages, absent parenting and a steady diet of reality TV “courtships for the camera” warped or corrupted our ability to love and be loved? Why is it now okay to reveal your junk in the first 15 minutes of a text exchange, but the second we offer up a little sentiment or vulnerability, you shut us down? “Blocked!” Are we so distrustful of compliments that we confuse them with bullshit hyperbole or read them as code for an ulterior motive ? Again, “Blocked!” And don’t forget the ultimate sin of app dating: never ask for and suggest an exchange of phone numbers.
Now, back to the bondage comment.
Nothing exists in my Growlr profile that even remotely proclaims I have a desire for kink, fetish or any other alternative life style variation thereof. So what endgame did this gentleman even hope to achieve? It caught me so off guard, I didn’t even know how to react. Laughter was first, followed by “What the Fuck!” I mean, that text took balls, which I am sure are wrapped up with strips of leather at the time it was sent. Haha. I don’t begrudge anyone their tastes in terms of sex, but you have to KNOW your audience before sending any such missive.
In the days since that text, I can’t stop thinking about how the art of romance seems to be all but D.O.A. these days. I think of the American Songbook classics that have scored many of my favorite films, counterpointing what romance could look and sound like if given the chance. But love and relationships must live in a different world. And like any transaction, you do get what you pay for. So, why do I shop at the Growlr or Scruff store? Good question.
At times, I find myself at odds with the men I do encounter on these sites. The type of men I’ve engaged with, whether via text or in person, have changed a bit since I grew my beard, if you can believe it. Suddenly, my sexual desirability has manifested into something that is marketable and wanted thanks to my facial hair. Go figure. Some don’t seem to be put off by my observations or way of expressing myself. Others have stayed happily put behind their carefully built fortresses of solitude or indifference. I’ve gotten better about moving on and tapering back any level of persistence. If you’re receiving the most generic of comebacks, cease and desist and no one gets “Blocked!”
It is easy to denigrate the app experience as shallow, lazy and dehumanizing. Why take it at all seriously in the first place? Well, it’s replaced our concept of community, like most social networking sites. Since our lifeblood comes with Apple Care now, we have chosen to allow our dependence on smart phones and other devices to bring the world to us on our terms. Here we live in our shining iTowers, hoping to spare ourselves any indignities, awkward exchanges and diminished expectations from the safety of our own private spaces. It can all be deleted as if it never happened. What a marvel!
What a tragedy.
We will continue to swipe ourselves silly, never sure as to what we want, but darn certain as to who we don’t want to bring into our real time fold. In some ways, app life is like the old days of clubbing, where we would meet and dance with that possible Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now but always kept a close eye on the door should a better option walk in.
It makes me laugh still that we were so willing to take the bigger risk of calling those 900 or 800 number “meeting” lines where your prospective honey was only a voice! Now, your destiny is thumbnail size, for those of us who think nothing of posting our faces. (That people still prefer their own version of a closet reveals a lot of the stigma that still exists today for many men grappling with their sexuality.) The animosity against such “faceless” profiles is something to behold. Vehemence is a good word. So much for #strongertogether.
I don’t know how much longer I will continue sampling the gay buffet offered by the apps. This perpetual state of “speed” dating is exhausting and not very fulfilling. In all honesty, as I begin my journey towards 50 (and we haven’t even touched on the incredible ageism found on the apps, but next time), I think I am finally understanding that actively looking for love is not how it is found. And that’s okay because despite my reservations, something good has come out of all this Growlr-ing around.
I am able to put together my own community of gay men, men that are engaging and interesting to know as friends. It’s been a slow process, but it feels so great to be social with other men who even share some of my sensibilities. In fact, the line “Las aventuras de un oso viejo y cachondo” was crafted during one exchange with a supremely genteel and appealing Mexicano who just started his first term at FIDM in Los Angeles.
None of this may be romantic, but it is wonderfully human and real. If I had to answer the query, “Dating apps, friend or foe?” I would probably respond with “frenemy.” Like it or not, as with anything in life, it is all what you make of it. As for my woes about the scarcity of romance, I refuse to let go of my ideals in that regard. I’m just starting to love myself again, that’s one romance that’s been long overdue.
It is affirming to discover in small pockets that romance isn’t dead for all of us. For as long as we as gay men cherish the ideals of being treated with respect and care, romance will never be relegated to being a luxury item for the privileged few. Cynics beware, us new romantics are legion and our numbers can only grow from here.
Something tells me the best is yet to come…take it away, Ella.
David W: You and everyone. We are all just cucumbers and anxiety.
How many of you want to admit that you’re a garden variety neurotic these days? Yes? No? I know I’m guilty of trying too hard in documenting a life and style that looks “oh-so-good!” It didn’t begin with the advent of the social media age, either. I’ve spent a life time fostering a gallery of false personalities. Not even my tried and true selves are able to mask my insecurities, which are plentiful and terribly obvious. I’m haven’t fooled anyone since 6th grade in that regard, something I am only now starting recognize.
Yet, these last months have been different because this depression really set in with a vengeance. I’ve fought this constant struggle of weight and my compromised health before. What’s different is that I’ve never felt so defeated and pessimistic about myself and the world we live in. It’s been a long, continuing stretch of days filled with apathy, malaise and half-hearted declarations of “Tomorrow, I’ll be better” and it has exhausted me. I am out of excuses for choosing to remain in a state of stagnation and useless, selfish woe. This narrative is long overdue for a major rewrite. Thanks to these weeks of therapy, I do feel something stirring in this conflicted brain of mine. The question is how to take this self-awareness and move myself forward? I don’t know what the steps I’ve taken reveal, but these choices have put a few things in motion without my having to take a running leap.
I grew a beard. Ergo, I’ve become a man again. Haha. No, really. It seems this clichéd symbol of virility has given me a different facade with which to join the rest of my gay brethren. My added bulk has also pushed me into a different category, too. Yes, officially I am a “bear,” despite my best efforts to avoid such a label. (And if you need a refresher as to my bear bias, read this: https://mediajor.com/2014/10/29/why-im-not-a-bear-nolabels/
Yeah, the attention has been darn nice. I’ve been meeting men, hanging out with them and more. I may have lost the hair on my head to baldness, but the hair around my face is more than making up for that bit of genetic chaos. Papa Hemingway to some, Papa Smurf to others. So what? If it’s a case of “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” so be it. I’ve been this hermetic crab for too long and the palpable loneliness is only going away if I join the living. I don’t have to conform to the group mentality. If anything, it’s given me the power to adjust my own way of thinking of what it means to be a gay man, to edit my own brand. And yes, I’ve always had an affinity for plaid. Does this mean I’m chucking the capes? No. Hell no.
I am days away from my 49th birthday and the introspection it has triggered has surprised me. The second best decision I made was to deactivate both Facebook and Twitter for a while. Social media anxiety has prompted me to stay away from my Facebook and Twitter feeds. Enough of the mob mentality, yellow journalism and manufactured looks into lives that are just as ordinary as mine. I’m still digging my heels in terms of other things, like getting this carcass to the gym. I don’t know what fuels this fear. It isn’t the work involved. It’s the mindset that I won’t make a single difference. Still. That’s probably the most self-defeating aspect of this entire journey to date. While it helps to have an outlet to work this out in my head away from Dr. Burke’s office, this blog can’t function as just a more public means of the same excuse making, either.
I keep looking for signs of change and strength everywhere. In some ways, I do feel the universe is being a cheerleader — or maybe optimism is manifesting itself out of my own strong desire to be stronger and healthier. For example, I was spending a Saturday with my colleagues at their home in Temecula. The kids were doing their thing. The grown-ups were having their own conversations. I took my place on the sofa. While I was feeling a sense of much-needed relaxation, for a moment, I wanted to exist in a bubble. Again, the introspection takes hold whenever I feel still enough.
I picked up an old issue of Vogue off their coffee table, idly flipping through pages all heavily scented with Armani’s new fragrance. I hope my own eyes didn’t look as dead as Kendall Jenner’s at that moment. Here I was, surrounded by the people who sincerely want to see me rally through this state of depression. For a moment, I felt lost in the din of children playing, adults mixing pineapple and rum drinks and the whirring of the food processor creating homemade chimichurri. It wasn’t sadness I felt, though. My hosts (and bosses) would call out to me from time to time, even calling me the “anti-social butterfly” at one point. It wasn’t the pages of luxury brands and beautiful people that had me stay away. What I couldn’t tell them was that I was mulling over the disappointment of knowing I keep making the same damn mistakes with food, with money, with people. Again.
I eventually put that magazine down, trust me. But I did spend a lot of that afternoon (and evening) contemplating the mistakes I keep making in life, most of which are so damn fixable! I may have been covered in sun block, but a lot of other mental X-rays kept breaking through as I sat by the pool, marinating in my own sweat and sentiment. That issue of Vogue, however, did something and it happened on on page 312.
An article by writer Stephanie Danler caught my attention. She’d contributed a piece about her father and his battle with drug abuse. It was a compelling article, ladened with these gems of insight, each one more ornate than the ones advertised by Tiffany & Company:
“I come from a long line of charismatic liars,’ I might say. ‘The dinner parties are beautiful. Our main currencies are epiphanies and promises, highly inflated, though we ourselves remain completely bankrupt…'”
Everything kind of stopped in that moment. All I could hear was this click in my brain. Was it recognition? Was it ignition? I had to continue reading.
“When I look at him, I see a man in pain,” Danler continued. “What he inherited — what he was born with — is what I call a black hole. It sit behind his heart and has been threatening to swallow him in darkness his entire life.”
Bingo. That fucking black hole that threatens to consume so many of us dealing with depression and false selves. I concur with Ms. Danler. It is easy to love a charming liar. You are charmed by us, while our loved ones possess a gift of suffering in silence, until one day they will tire of it all and just walk away. That is what makes therapy so vital. This is how we all learn to make boundaries, walls with which to stave off that which threatens to take us all down.
“It’s through boundaries,” Danler wrote, “that we create ourselves. I wrote it all down: what was acceptable and what wasn’t. I wrote down the consequences. I developed rituals of self-care. I cut toxic people from my life, the ones that drained me…
…I learned to say No.”
These words were heading into my psyche as if on a conveyor belt. I needed to read this now. I needed to process it then and there. I tried to explain this to the group, who saw me furiously adding these quotes into my WordPress iPhone app. I needed to capture it unfiltered and as real as possible at that moment. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have had the desire to continue exploring these thoughts in writing. I understood Ms. Danler’s ultimate admission that loving a charming liar is a disease for which there is no cure.
“Any system of recovery is flawed because we are flawed, inconstant beings. We have to manage it completely by ourselves.”
We do have to manage our insecurities and addictions ourselves, yes. But it takes a support system you don’t take for granted to get you there. As I pondered this idea, my boss’ youngest daughter appeared before me with a toy first aid kit. She wanted to check to see if I was okay. Vital signs were fine. I wasn’t dead, she pronounced. Then she checked my temperature.
“You’re not sick,” she counseled. “You’re happy.”
Maybe, Dr. This anxious cucumber is still showing signs of old illnesses gone untreated. But, I think a remedy is on the verge of reality.
At times, I feel like my romantic past is some Spotify playlist I wish I could delete. Bad enough the good, the bad and the ugly of it all gets drudged up with the appropriate cues. Like the Lianne La Havas track, “Good Goodbye,” which I quoted above. It made a train ride last December to see my best college friend a wee bit melancholy, as if the encroaching grey skies weren’t enough proof of my fluctuating emotional state.
Getting over Him has been a less than a good goodbye. Actually, it’s been the longest. hitting its sixth anniversary and threatening to be held over for a seventh. And then I saw that Facebook photo around the time of that train ride south.
Social media is just a Pandora’s Box, really. It’s where memories, the wonderful and painful, fly about with ninja-like precision, triggered to pounce without warning. Hell, NASA should take interest. There they were. Looking so happy, their megawatt grins illuminating what I’ve tried and repeatedly fail to suppress: I’m single. He’s so moved on and I haven’t. That post-holiday tableau, where the Ex (and the Current) were surrounded by three adorable cher enfants, X’s nephews, did catch me off guard. Fuckin’ Facebook ninjas. And without hesitation, they sliced through an already compromised heart.
Every holiday season, I find it too easy to get into this fragile state. I joke that the only thing holding my heart together during Christmas is chewing gum and a prayer. God, it drives me crazy. The rational part of me knows that I’m idealizing the past; that it’s not so much about Him as it is missing being consciously coupled. Instead, I let these moments, like seeing this picture, dictate how this once happy and important part of my past looks so much happier without me.
Sensory elements surrounded that train ride down memory lane, from the music I was listening to the smell of warmed up leftover Chinese food and the cheap scents of fragrance gift sets worn by the passengers. Yet it was all overwhelmed by the stench of morose, self-pity. All I thought then was how it couldn’t it have been me in that pic? Just like the one where we went with his sister and brother in-law on a weekend trip to Napa. It was before that couple grew into a family of five. I was part of their narrative, not the short story titled “The Crazy Ex-Boyfriend Who Refused to Be Satisfied.”
It wasn’t such a short story. It was a five-year chronicle. But I wasn’t satisfied. I’m never satisfied. Something is always lacking. Someone is always disappointing me. It’s never enough. It has to be better. He has to be better.
Tomorrow has always been a big word for me. It’s the catch-all to validate all of my bad behaviors; the extended mixes of all my bad tracks. It’s an archive filled with mantras of wellness and awareness. Tomorrow always arrives, yet I still choose to take another plunge into the deep end of stagnation. In reality, being an Adele song works better for Adele. At least she gets paid for her pain. But, dammit, right on cue, I am thinking, “It’s true. Never mind, I’ll find someone like you.”
Someone like “Him.”
In an era where we are able to register an instant “like” for every post we see, why is it that we can’t seem to hit that button for ourselves? All these years of wanting to court a positive state of perception, of being liked, have yet to wane thanks to social media sites. It’s this perfect storm of shit for people like me. Inflating insecurities as you seek the adoring adulation of your “followers.” And through it all, we obfuscate our self-worth. It’s relentless and dangerous. Yet, what’s the solution? Hide your profiles? Take the news feed of your life into real time by being with the people who don’t enable this precarious state of existence?
It helps to put this down on paper. It helps to see what lurks in my brain on this page. I go back and re-read, changing things every so slightly. Yes, sometimes it does last in love and sometimes it hurts. That happens to all of us. Still, I can’t help but scream to myself, “Where is that someone like You?!”
What will You/he think of all this heavy emoting? You’re/He’s gonna notice a pattern of sameness here. If You’re/he’s not going to be the final chapter, will he instead become another entry in this log of self-reproach?
If I could tell Him anything today it would be to say, “I wish I didn’t lose You somewhere between love and death. And I’m sorry I threw you away, because I did do just that. Sucks. I did like You. I loved You, in fact.”
You’d think after holding this fucking torch so long, I’d have better strength to hold it all together when it comes to Him.
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.
When imagining Argentina, superficial references to the tango, polo playing and the pop culture legacy of Eva Perón may apply for some. But the reality is you cannot define Argentina in such limiting terms. Its place within Latin America is as complex and contradictory as its neighbors, existing as a country rife with history and invaluable contributions to world history. Yet, to take a closer look at Argentina is to gaze into a mirror that reflects the best and worst of human nature.
From award-winning director Pablo Trapero (“Carancho,” “White Elephant”), THE CLAN is an unflinching depiction of the consequences wrought by Argentina’s dictatorship through the prism of the incredible true story of the Puccio family. A narrative spun with equal parts suspense, action and intrigue, THE CLAN offers an unrelenting chronicle on the manner with which this seemingly normal middle class family afforded its comfortable lives through kidnapping, extortion and murder. With laser-like precision, Trapero carefully and without embellishment ensnares and provokes the audience to think about what they’ve witnessed long after the credits roll. At what point do we lose our sense of morality and ethics? How can people, especially those of a privileged status, allow themselves to be persuaded to commit such atrocious acts in the name of protecting the greater good, like a family’s well being?
Released in Argentina in August 2015 to great acclaim and record breaking box office success, THE CLAN not only reignited interest in the Puccios’ life story, it has been acclaimed for offering a potent cautionary tale for a new generation to process. For the second time in 30 years, the Puccio clan succeeded in rocking the nation with their secrets and lies.
Chronicling a series of abductions that occurred between 1982 and 1985, the film is at once a riveting drama to view in the present and a searing indictment of Argentina’s past. Viewing THE CLAN will lead many to ask the universal question asked whenever monsters are revealed to exist in the most unexpected sectors of society: Why?
It is not enough to say the family simply acted on the father’s wishes to protect their way of life. Sons, daughters, friends, all participated in these crimes willingly, despite the very real possibility of being caught. Even as their moral conscience would sometimes break through, they continued with these deeds without ever their neighbors’ awareness. The lack of a definitive answer as to why the Puccios’ resorted to such wicked deeds may frustrate those seeking a black and white closure to their narrative on screen. And, any clear answers remain with the late Arquímedes Puccio, who maintained his lack of culpability to the end.
Sometimes real life can truly be stranger than fiction. However, in the case of the infamous Puccios, the mind reels. In preparing for the North American release of THE CLAN, director Pablo Trapero, producer Matías Mosteirín, legendary Argentinian film star Guillermo Francella and rising star Peter Lanzani sat down to contemplate several questions about the legacy of the Puccio clan. It wasn’t enough to simply recreate the period details of the era. The filmmakers and cast were charged with a challenging task: to bring humanity and truth to the people and events that defy most sensibilities. In the conversation that follows, it is evident that the commitment shared by the entire production was resolute. EL CLAN may not be a documentary. However, if they learned one thing in bringing Trapero’s vision to life, it is that the reality of the Puccio family retains an all-too-tragic relevance to the time we are living today.
JORGE CARREON: What do you remember of the Puccios’ era in Argentina? How did that color your efforts in creating THE CLAN? Did you start with wanting to make a statement about Argentina first or capture the essence of the Puccios’ extraordinary story?
PABLO TRAPERO: When I first heard the news of the Puccios, I was 13 or 14 years old. The Puccios were a family that seemed like any ordinary family. Even within their neighborhood, people could not believe they could have responsible for such crimes because the family seemed so normal. Many years later when I was preparing my film “Leonera” in 2007, I started thinking about making a film based on the actual Puccio case, but I only knew the superficial details about the family, nothing else. There wasn’t a lot of information, especially how it related to Arquímedes within the context of the time. During this research process, I began to realize this intimate story was absolutely universal. However, I would also be able to tell the story about an era in Argentina’s history that is not so well known. There have been many films about the dictatorship, those dark years that are part of Argentina, like “The Official Story,” which won an Academy Award® and spoke about the early years of the democracy. And there have been other films, too, that have depicted the years before and after, but not the transition. That step was very painful for the country. For many people, it represented the hope of something new, but also that hope was very weak. Because our past history was so hard, it felt like it was conspiring against it. That’s something I remember from when I was a kid. We felt so much euphoria over the arrival of democracy, but also the fear that it wouldn’t last. There’s even a line in the movie where a character is asked, “How long will this last?” and he responds, “Two years.” That best represents the era and the spirit of some people who were very skeptical about whether the democracy would work. At one point, late in the process, I decided to start with Alfonsín speaking about “Nunca Más,” a statement on how we as a country can never repeat the past again. The case of the Puccio family was a symptom of a sick society. The shift in government is also a symptom of that time. That shift is what brought the Puccios’ story to an end. Hence, there isn’t the role of an investigator in the film because it was not so much the will of someone in particular to catch the family. The political changes are what brought the era of the Puccios, and other people like them, to an end. They became known as “the hand of unemployed labor,” meaning they were individuals who worked for the military who lost their “jobs” once the democratic government was brought in. They began to improvise these privates businesses to continue what they had done for the previous regime. There were several cases like Puccio, but none so extreme because they did not involve their own family members. So, it all happened in reverse. I realized that the film could stand as a testimony to this era in Argentina’s history when I started to understand and investigate the intimate details of the family.
CARREON: Given the fascinating psychology of the Puccio clan, why not make a documentary about the family?
PT: I chose not to take the documentary route. The family’s story is incredible and it was tough even writing a script at that time. Would people even believe this story, much less accept them? They would have said, “Trapero has gone crazy and just wrote whatever he wanted.” It was something we talked a lot about with Matías. How much of this incredible story could be credible to the public. The simple truth is I’ve always believed in it as a narrative film and never as documentary. Still, to make this movie, we completed a lengthy period of investigation. The case was well known in niches, but it was not something that people talked about on the street. Those who would talk to you about the case were usually from the previous generations. A book has since been published, just before the premiere of the film. But we have a lot of research material, interviews, conversations, all of which had no place in fiction. Maybe some day we will use it for a documentary material again.
CARREON: Was it a challenge to distill the information you gathered to create a narrative script with impact, but without distorting the essence of the Puccios?
TRAPERO: It was a big challenge for me because it’s the first time I’ve made a film based on a true story. It’s the first time the characters in the film have the names of real people. That’s a major responsibility. The families of the victims will hear their real names. The question became how do we work with and process something that is based on their real lives? For most of the people who see this film, it may seem like a work of fiction but it is based on a true story. It was so helpful to speak with the families of the victims, especially with Rogelia Pozzi and Guillermo Manoukian. We also spoke to the judges on the case, journalists who investigated the story during that time. We also spoke to psychologists who could give us some idea as to the pathology of the case. We went to the neighbors that lived in the San Isidro district. Alejandro’s teammates at the rugby club gave us a perspective as to who he was. In reality and in the film, it was this group who remained the most skeptical that Alejandro could be guilty. They still think it was a gross error.
PETER LANZANI: It’s a really dark story. They did all of these things not only for money, but for power. I think the most sinister thing about them was that they would kidnap people they knew, their own friends or Alejandro’s friends that played rugby with him. It does reflect the decade that Argentina lived during the dictatorship. I didn’t live through it, but I studied it. I know too many people that lost family members or friends.
MATÍAS MOSTEIRÍN: Immediately after the Puccios were arrested and jailed, many people of their status felt they were falsely accused. It took a long time for people to accept that this family, which appeared to be a normal family, of good standing and social mobility, with great moral authority, could even be capable of creating this inferno of intimidation in their own home. Pablo is a very respected cineaste in Argentina and his films are greatly appreciated. Because no one had ever sought to review this story with a fresh perspective, I think his reputation helped in obtaining the cooperation of the people willing to offer their testimonies.
TRAPERO: They offered their most intimate knowledge, people who had been in the Puccios’ home for dinner while they had someone in captivity.
MOSTEIRÍN: The film then began to unfold for us. What usually happens with projects based on real stories, the adaptation process requires many changes. We clearly saw a visible pattern of what could be the movie. Pablo made the correct decision to respect the facts of the actual case and shape them naturally while building the narrative of the film. Because the script is based on court records and testimony from the relatives of victims, and the testimony of lawyers and judges, the film does not try to deny the truth. We did not have to resort to falsehoods.
TRAPERO: Of course we did not have transcripts of the conversations between Alejandro and his father. But we did have letters; we did have an idea as to how communicated. We did not have video, because these were the 80s, before we entered this culture of filming everything. However, we had access to lots of photographs, which were incredibly helpful, not only for the writing process but for the actors, too. They could study and analyze how they stood, how Arquímedes looked at his son. It was a great process, but in reconstructing these lives, we remained as respectful of the elements we had close to us.
CARREON: Why do you think the families and people involved in the research wanted to offer up such intimate details with you?
MOSTEIRÍN: I think for the pain, the need for this story to be recognized.
TRAPERO: They’ve carried many years of great loneliness. Behind this story are many people who sought justice in very difficult circumstances and it cost a lot to be heard. This is a case that eventually proved the criminal responsibility of these people. It was important to have this testimonial. Some people were very uncomfortable with the film being made, which speaks to how difficult it remains for many people, like the rugby club and the San Isidro neighborhood, to face the facts.
CARREON: The Puccio family dynamic is frighteningly normal to view on screen. It certainly magnifies the intensity with how the characters of Arquímedes and Alejandro interact with each other on screen. If one was the monster of the family, the other is depicted as something decided more human, certainly conflicted, but possessing a conscience.
MOSTEIRÍN: The kids had no real future, but Alejandro had a great future ahead. He had a great talent and the prospect of a successful career in the world of rugby. He was also an attractive guy, seductive, greatly loved by his peers. He was someone who had plenty of opportunities in life to develop, which made him privileged in that sense. Yet, instead of taking all these options before him, he chose or could not remove himself from the criminal path traced by his father. We were very interested in why he decided to be a part of what ultimately condemned him to ruining his life.
LANZANI: I think Alejandro knew what he was doing was wrong. No one with common sense would think that kidnapping your friends is a good idea. He was really ambitious. I think it was his decision to make. He was 24, 25 years old, which means he could make his own decision. He couldn’t stand up to his father. He didn’t have the ability to tell him that he didn’t want to continue. Alejandro carried this baggage for the rest of his life. When he tried look back at his past, he was really upset by the fact he betrayed what he wanted for himself.
MOSTEIRÍN: Despite all the information we had at our disposal, we were never going to know the minute-by-minute, day-to-day aspects of their family life. But they had a life of routine like any other, with the same relationships and feelings and moral commandments like all families. It was very important to Pablo to establish that the Puccios’ family dynamic was identifiable to any other. Another important character was the mother, Epifanía. The level of psychological manipulation, emotional and moral subjugation imposed by Arquímedes on his children is evident. However, the mother was much more subtle. She allowed for her children to fall under the mandate of the father. There is a sacrifice here, which makes the mother such a tragic figure in the classic sense. However, if one wants to think today as to how this story is inevitable, you need to think about the double standards of this family. How far can we sustain appearances while living with a secret? All societies create monsters, which appear from one day to the other. And we will always say, “How could this happen?”
TRAPERO: There is a saying in Argentina, “You can not cover the sun with your hands.” There is a time when reality is so strong it is very difficult to pretend that things do not happen.
MOSTEIRÍN: Or maintain all is normal.
TRAPERO: I think the film allows the general public, both inside and outside Argentina, to attend an allegory. When a society does not face or covers up the problem, the problem goes somewhere else. Audiences in other countries will confront a shared reality it depicts that has nothing to do with the Argentina of 30 years ago or the Argentina of today. But there is something in the relationship between the context and this phenomenon that generates these events, which unfortunately keep repeating in various societies.
CARREON: Once THE CLAN went before cameras, how did the knowledge of having the survivors of the Puccio clan’s abductions relive such painful events affect the manner in which the film was crafted? The film has a noir-ish aesthetic, but remains quite emotionally charged as an intimate family drama. And many already know the outcome.
TRAPERO: It was a great challenge, because at times the narrative was very extreme. However, if that intimacy is achieved on the scene, you accept it. Every family has a story it wants to hide. Stories exist behind closed doors. I think that also helps the audience feel a connection to the family because it is something we all share. Still, it was a challenge to make a thriller into a melodrama, or maybe it is a melodrama inside of a thriller. I only know that creating just a melodrama was not what I wanted. And there have been plenty of thrillers that are just about kidnappings. The challenge was this crossing of genres. Even at some point there are elements that might be identified as being from a horror film. There is a lot at play here in relation to what the audience will feel. From getting the audience excited, to being entertained, to feeling anxiety and reflection. All of these things happen when you see a film and that is what motivates me to make them. When it came to THE CLAN, I did think about how I could surprise people start to finish, but not feel so disconnected from the family that they are not emotionally involved because what they do is so extreme. Finding that proximity was really a challenge, but I am glad people are having a strong emotional reaction to the film while being terrified by the history. People do identify with the victims and feel fear towards people who come across as real on screen. These are not actors simply acting. I wasn’t sure if the film would land right or not because of these contrasts, like seeing Arquímedes in an act of violence or being a dutiful father teaching mathematics to his daughter. These are very extreme situations that work to create these shocks of emotion contained throughout the film.
MOSTEIRÍN: It’s a proposition built for the senses. The film has staged scenes. Decisions were made on lighting and what type of lens to use. The production design, the sound, the specific style of editing was also a bit extreme in terms of what we’ve done before. However, I want to emphasize that when we started to make the film, although it is about a very specific case, which happened during a very specific political context relating to our country, we always wanted the film to mean something to viewers around the world. That was always a goal, and one of the things we had clear was that the narrative had to be as universal as possible. Audiences are able to have an emotional relationship with the film that goes beyond Argentina’s history, beyond the real case, so that people could feel like they are inside this family. After seeing the finished film, the viewer is inside the home, in the car, they are very close to them. That was a nice challenge to meet.
CARREON: Actor Guillermo Francella delivers an unforgettable performance as Arquímedes Puccio. Audiences have seen him in dramatic turns, but he’s also one of the revered comedic talents of his generation. How did you gain his trust and confidence?
TRAPERO: Before I had a finished the script I needed to have confirmed actor. We had a meeting with Guillermo and I told him, “I want you to do this character. I do not have the finished script, but I want you to tell me if you want to do it. Not only will it be a dramatic character, but your first villain, a guy who terrifies people. Your fans will hate you.” Not all actors have that sort of relationship with the public because it is a difficult one. But that trust and bond with an actor is important to me. My wife is an actress and we have made several films together. That relationship of trust and risk shared by an actor and director in creating a character is one thing I enjoy most about making a film. I knew I wanted Guillermo for the film and from there we established a bond. It was very demanding and very intense.
GUILLERMO FRANCELLA: I have a strong opinion because I also have lived during the time of the Puccios. I was very informed about their story. When Trapero offered me the role, I knew exactly what he was talking about. I lived in that area of San Isidro, I walked by their door of the hundreds of times, never knowing what was happening in there. We were able to construct bit by bit who Arquímedes was with all the information gathered from people who knew him, how we behaved, how he conducted himself, his manner of speaking, his posture, his physical being. It was a very interesting process.
CARREON: Guillermo, what proved the main catalyst for your being able to inhabit the skin of such this polarizing father figure?
FRANCELLA: The rehearsal process was extremely useful. During pre-production, once the cast was in place, we had many meetings. It was very helpful to get to know each other because were had to generate a sense of chemistry beyond what was written in the script. The rehearsals were essential because there wasn’t much video research material on Arquímedes or the family to properly observe their behavior together. Still, once we were all together, it became very clear what each of us had to do. I worked closely with Trapero on Arquímedes’ calm manner, his cold stare. We tried to make sure he never blinked during a conversation. He had an intimidating stare. We crafted a certain attitude that was affable, sociable, educated and respectable. There wasn’t much in his transition from being the man who helped his daughters with their homework, helping them with their tasks to executing the most atrocious kidnappings. He was a very relaxed person. To find that contrast when he lost his composure, like the shooting in the car because Alejandro would not complete his task? Grabbing him by the collar and slamming him against the dressing room wall at his shop, as well as the argument in jail were the two hardest scenes to complete.
LANZANI: Guillermo had a look that was like from the Devil itself. Pablo understood Arquímedes as being the Devil, not the patriarch of a family.
CARREON: Peter, this is your first major film role. What proved essential for you in building your understanding of Alejandro?
LANZANI: It wasn’t easy, but I really wanted to try. I love movies and this is my first one and it was difficult, but Guillermo and Pablo helped me a lot. I think the harder the challenge, the better for me so I can learn more. The psychology of Alejandro was the most difficult thing to create, you know? He’s must have been pre-occupied with so many things. The guilt he carried, of having his father always telling him what he had to do and never having the courage to stand up to him. He exposed his soul to do these terrible things and lost himself forever. The intensity this generates in some of the scenes was difficult. It’s a story with a lot of impact. We tried to do our best and work from the details we had at hand. These were clues we needed so people could see the movie like a documentary about the Puccio family.
CARREON: The final minutes of THE CLAN may surpass the violent crimes depicted earlier in the film in terms of impact. What proved the bigger challenge? Was it the climax of the final scene in court or the recreation of the Puccios’ crimes?
TRAPERO: The ending. But it was a challenge to write and it was also a challenge to stage. I worked again with (Julián Apezteguia) my director of photographer on “Carancho.”I proposed to the entire crew that we create a physical sensation for the audience, to bring them as close to the characters as possible. That is why when the camera is inside the car, you are also sitting in the car. When someone is in the bathroom one, you’re positioned right there next to them. In the script there were several long sequences written, like the kidnapping of Manoukian. All of kidnappings were envisioned as sequences that turn you into the victim. The film is primarily told from the perspective of either Alejandro or Arquímedes, except during the abduction scenes. But the final scene is about deciding who is the victim here? Is it Alejandro or Arquímedes? It plays with that sensation, because you’ve seen the two sides of Alejandro. It was always written this way in the script, but it was a very difficult shot to create. It took many days of filming to complete and some FX work, too.
CARREON: Music plays a key element in THE CLAN, often functioning as a counterpoint to the action on the screen. In some moments, it even provides a layer of dark comedy. How were these classic rock songs of the era chosen?
TRAPERO: Many are songs are of the time, but not others, like Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Kinks. It was all music that was banned in Argentina during the period of the military. Interestingly, from the time of the Falklands, music in English was banned. But families of the middle class did not listen to music in Spanish. It was trendy to listen to music in English, so that speaks a lot of the time. Some tracks were chosen to represent the era, like David Lee Roth was big in 1985 and Serú Girán was a well-known band in Argentina around 1982. Virus was another Argentinian band that represents 1983. We also have Ella Fitzgerald, Creedence, The Kinks, especially with “Sunny Afternoon” (1966), because the lyrics were ironic.
CARREON:No one likes to have their dirty laundry aired, particularly within a fiercely protective community. Yet, THE CLAN was a massive hit in Argentina. Why do you think the film struck such a chord with audiences?
FRANCELLA: We are experiencing “Pucciomania” in Argentina at the moment. Everyone is talking about them. In the media, police investigators, everyone.
TRAPERO: It was great to see the film do so well in Argentina. This can mean that the public will accept movies that do not follow certain formulas. I am very pleased that the public is encouraged to look at these types of stories, to reflect and to leave the theater and discuss with their families what they’ve just seen, to talk about the history of Argentina. The film allows people to reflect on the present, on the internal lives of every family. It was heartening to see in Argentina that the public had the maturity to deal with issues that are disturbing. We all know that Argentina is known for the tango and its constant reflecting on the past. Interestingly, the country has one of the highest amounts of therapists per inhabitant, but I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. For me, the success of THE CLAN is a good sign for these types of films, because it means we can continue making more of this kind.
LANZANI: I think our movies should show the things that happened in our country. The dictatorship was the worst thing. We have moved on away from that period. At least, I hope so. I only want my country to be happy, to be at peace and for the world to be at peace. It’s not so easy, but we will try.
CARREON: What can be said of the surviving Puccio family members today? Were they part of the process? How have they reacted to THE CLAN?
TRAPERO: We tried to reach out to Epifanía, but she would not speak to us. We also tried to speak with Maguila via Skype because we were able to speak to friends of his and Alejandro’s. However, we were unsuccessful. An interesting thing did happen with Arquímedes. THE CLAN was first announced in 2012. I was working on another project at the time, but after the film was released, Arquímedes reached out to the media said he wanted to meet “Trapero because I’m going to tell him the real truth.” When I returned to Argentina to begin THE CLAN, he had died. If I could have spoken with him, I imagine he would have said what he said until the day he died: He was not guilty, that he had nothing to do with these crimes and that he was a victim. But the real question that I would have liked to have asked is why did he do this to his family? Because when you see the movie or even when we were doing research, one can understand that he loved his family in a very special and very crazy way. Everything he did was for his family. But at one point he makes a decision, as you see in the film, that affects them all.
CARREON: Guillermo, do you think you have a greater understanding of Arquímedes Puccio today?
FRANCELLA: No, I’ll never understand him. Never. Even after seeing his testimony. Before his death as an old man, he was already free and living in La Pampa, a province in Argentina. He remained with that arrogance, denying his role in the crimes without any remorse. I hate him more as a result. I’m sure if I were given a chance to speak with him, it would have been a very sterile conversation, without emotion because there is nothing that would make him want to reflect on the past. He worked for the secret service; he fought against progress. When the democracy came, he continued his “line of work” for personal ambition. These kidnappers were shitty people, if you pardon the expression. He spoke of divine justice, but he was already old and crazy. I don’t think I would want to cross paths with him today.
CARREON: How have the families of the victims reacted to THE CLAN?
MOSTEIRÍN: Several have come to the premiere.
TRAPERO: Matías insisted that many of them came to the premiere. A few said things that shocked me, like they felt they “saw” the real Arquímedes on film. That impacted me. But they also felt the film exists, in a silent way, as a tribute to the families and the victims. It is a different way of doing justice. The Puccios preyed on people, denying all reality in their behavior. There was never a moment to apologize to the families, which sometimes happens in these cases. So I think it helped the victims to have a sense of moral compensation, beyond the court. Everyone in Argentina, and throughout the world, can now speak of the cruelty of this family and how the victims suffered the madness of these people.
From 2oth Century Fox International, THE CLAN is now playing in select theaters.