Carreón Cinema Club: Who Failed “West Side Story?”

The superb duo of Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler lead the impeccable cast of “West Side Story,” now in theaters.

I’ve been stalling in writing a post-mortem on Steven Spielberg’s emotionally resonant and superbly crafted adaptation of West Side Story. Not only is it Spielberg’s best film in years, but it is also exactly the kind of moviegoing experience that deserves to be championed. Yes, it is THAT good.

It seems trite in the face of the pandemic news cycle and the growing storm clouds of war in Ukraine to offer any analysis. Yet, I’m oddly compelled to weigh in anyway because it is hard not to feel that audiences and studio culture let this movie down.

Revivals on Broadway remain part of its lifeblood in art and commerce. When they connect, they can usher in new generations of theater fans. Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall’s 1993 production of Cabaret remains a marvel of reinterpretation. Susan Stroman’s take on The Music Man in 2000 and Jerry Zaks’s 2017 production of Hello, Dolly! brought out new colors and injected vivid spirit with its star power and inventive theatricality blend. This year, Marianne Elliott’s gender-switched production of Stephen Sondheim’s seminal Company earned love letters from a theatrical community eager to return to the business of entertaining audiences. So why can’t this phenomenon happen for film versions? More, why didn’t it happen for West Side Story?

Were adults afraid to return to cinemas in a pandemic? Sure. But that didn’t stop the recent spate of Marvel films, Dune, No Time to Die, and House of Gucci, from filling seats, which included many adults in the demo mix. Did the post-Glee generation lose interest in musical film? Maybe. Despite its being explicitly marketed to them, audiences avoided Dear Evan Hansen, but that didn’t dissuade releasing studio Universal from greenlighting the international juggernaut Wicked for the screen.  Is it a dying or dead genre? Explain that to Bill Condon’s sparkling take on Dreamgirls, or Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables, the Mamma Mia! franchise, and The Greatest Showman, all of which were fueled by big names and turned out to be major box office in a world before the lockdowns shuttered cinemas brought the moviegoing cultural experience into an uncertain future.

Looking at the recent soft openings of Jon Chu’s stellar adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda & Quiara Alegría Hudes’s Tony-winning hit In the Heights and Spielberg’s West Side Story is perplexing as both films earned some of the year’s best reviews. Neither lived on as museum exhibits, something that plagued Clint Eastwood’s disappointing treatment of Jersey Boys in 2014. Heights and WSS both possess a vitality and freshness that makes going to the movies an absolute joy again, transcending their theatrical roots but not abandoning them. More, seeing real people express themselves beyond the blasts of special effects and neo-classic heroism is true magic. The expert craftsmanship fills every inch of the big screen along with casts, dance teams, design aesthetics, and musical scores overflowing with enthusiasm and possessing an even greater cultural purpose. However, here’s where things get a little complicated, though. Is spotlighting the effort to embrace cultural authenticity and diversity in the filmed arts turning off audiences on both sides?

Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, and Corey Hawkins in “In the Heights.”

As a Latino, it did my heart good to see the talent, sounds, and complex cultural realities of what it is to be from all parts of Latin America. We cannot always see such shows on the stage thanks to economics and the appearance of these works being solely made by and for “gringos” and “wannabe white” gente. That is not a gross generalization, either. While Fiddler on the Roof can pack them in regardless of the year of the production, Latinos are hard-pressed to partake in the Broadway or touring productions of shows that focus on their narratives.  The reality is shows like West Side Story and In the Heights will endure in schools, colleges, and amateur productions for a very long time. Yet, you can’t deny that they still feel like niche audience caviar when blown up for the silver screen. Worse, they are now targets for the woke political machine seeking to eradicate the “whitewash” in terms of representation.

The colorism debate that side-swiped In the Heights was devastating and demoralizing to watch happen in the weeks leading to its release last June, a situation made worse by apologies from its creators and supporters for not trying hard enough. They had no reason to apologize. The works speak positive volumes that cannot and should not be ignored or diminished.  

Months later, notice the campaign mounted for West Side Story, which opted to render the entire cast with the same beige skin tone with an artfully placed red, white, blue, and star flag. Subtle politicking from the liberal elite? Perhaps. But telegraphing “We are making a HUGE effort to tell ALL stories” is not the same as just letting the stories speak for themselves or weaving their cinematic spells without seeking approval or validation for promoting positive cultural representation.

Watching the studios patting their backs for their efforts is insulting enough. Knowing the executive suites do not include our voices in their mix is worse. How can they even begin to gauge how Latino audiences will react without someone from the community in their team to highlight the sensitivity minefields? More, what happens when you take the time to cull materials in Spanish, only to see the footage languish in the can, utterly ignored? This is something that I’ve experienced as a content producer several times, a symptom of tone-deafness that still permeates the marketing offices in Hollywood.

Heights and WSS feature extraordinary Latino talent in front of and behind the cameras. The sights and sounds ring true because we see and hear them from the people who look like and sound like us. Is it a perfect rendering? No. Is it a crime they should exist? Hell no. It is easier for some to process a Coco, for example. Yet, why did Encanto have a more challenging time reaching the same heights, despite its reviews and being a beautiful film for all audiences? Did it play its cultural card too hard? Or maybe its message was too foreign compared to the celebratory nature of Coco? The grey areas are endless here.

What saddens me most about the problems faced at the box office by In the Heights and West Side Story is that the appearance of failure of these high-profile titles will make it harder for other Latino-focused stories to be made or given the big-screen treatment. Director Eva Longoria’s Flamin’ Hot, due in 2022, will be yet another litmus test to raise these issues all over again, adding further pressure to la causa.

It is a curious thing. Thanks to streaming, Latin America is exploding with talent and fresh inspiration, with such boundary-smashing series and films as La Casa de la Flores, El Baile de Los 41, El Juego de las Llaves, Luis Miguel: La Serie, Acapulco, and the upcoming Señorita 89. Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín’s company Fabula and Pantaya, Apple, and Amazon Prime Video are crafting slates of original films and series that rival the best of what the American studios and streamers are offering. Why can’t some of these stories make their way up to el norte, too? We have the talent and the narratives that go way beyond dead rock stars and cholos. We need more faith in their realization and trust from the community beyond The Fast and the Furious-type IP.

Perhaps the disconnect between audiences and critics is the real culprit, a chasm that is as wide as it’s ever been and growing. Maybe the marketing efforts of leaning into diversity and inclusivity feel too much like moralizing, prompting audiences to ignore the “message” titles to just be “entertained.”

Reasons exist why the Marvel tent poles play to all demos. We know what they are before we take our seats in the cinema. Maybe it is time to stop leading the audience with the obvious or safe messages and let the intrinsic quality of a good story and singular artistry lead the way again. One way or another, audiences will find a reason to watch again in a way that makes them comfortable, secure, and inspired by what remains the greatest of art forms.

Writer’s Note: It is important to disclose that as a content producer, I am part of the team involved with the campaign for “In the Heights” and the upcoming “Flamin’ Hot.”

Carreón Cinema Club: Encanto

Disney’s holiday gift of ENCANTO is a charmer, weaving a vivid spell of music, emotion, and family positivity. Thanks to its ebullient voice cast and tuneful score, you’d be hard pressed not to have a better time at the movies this year with this gorgeous swirl of cultural enrichment and entertainment magic. Súper chevere, mi gente. #music #entertainment #encanto #disney #movies

The Madrigal family of ENCANTO.

Quotes, Stephen Sondheim Edition

Quotes, Stephen Sondheim Edition

“I’m interested in the theater because I’m interested in communication with audiences.”

creators_400-6de3622f6822929285dd508c43e44c244a5b3302-s300-c85
Sondheim (left) wrote the lyrics for West Side Story; classical-music superstar Leonard Bernstein (center) was the composer, Jerome Robbins the director and choreographer. The story of the show’s genesis is told in the special NPR series 50 Years of West Side Story.

Otherwise, I would be in concert music. I’d be in another kind of profession. I love the theater as much as music, and the whole idea of getting across to an audience and making them laugh, making them cry — just making them feel — is paramount to me.

The process of putting something down on paper is very important in keeping the stuff alive in your head. You can improvise and think, ‘Wait, that A-flat doesn’t sound right,’ and you change things as you go along, even though you’re just sketching.

From Stephen Sondheim‘s interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” February 16, 2012.

Higher Love

Higher Love

 

The Gay Single Man of Substance or GSMS sat in the Honda Customer Service lounge staring at the crush of humanity packed into a small space. It was another toasty Saturday in the San Gabriel Valley. It took visits to three different Honda dealerships before he found the one that could handle an oil change.

“I think everyone got the message to get lubed today,” he said to himself with a smirk. “At least their music is amazing!”

It was a classic 80’s Top 40 pop playlist. Madonna. Billy Ocean. Bangles. Phil Collins. Belinda Carlisle. Deep Laura Branigan and Carly Simon cuts. Forgotten Mr. Mister and Billy Vera & the Beaters tracks. Steve Winwood!

“Hello, Yacht Rock,” he laughed.

For the duration of his estancia at the Honda of El Monte, he was a bit loathe to admit that most of these hits were lifted straight from the soundtrack of a youngish life oh-so-long ago. It was Winwood’s “Higher Love” that made him take pause.

GSMS didn’t date much as a teen. If anything, he was already the “gay best friend” before he even knew he was a beacon to fag hags the world over, a term that was still a few years away from his vernacular. (Side note, he always felt Rupert Everett eventually fucked it up for all gay men who never seemed to escape from the dreaded “Friend Zone.”)

The Friend Zone. That’s where GSMS set up residence at a very long age. Save for a few detours with the Crazy Comanche and the Ex; he always found his way “home.” Hell, he was entrenched, way beyond settled.

“What the hell do you tell guys on your dates,” asked a Co-Worker.

“I never mention the past,” GSMS answered. “I never tell them my brother lives with me, either. I don’t want to scare them off.”

GSMS used to bemoan it was his wearing the Mask of Desperation on his face that would send suitors running for the hills. It was evident that he wanted to be in a couple too much. Before he could get too caught up in that downward spiral, the Expose dance classic “Point of No Return” began to spin over the Honda PA.

“Oh, to dance at a house party like that again!” he thought. As he rubbed his peach fuzzed scalp, reminding him of years of mousse abuse, Sebastian Shpritz Forte (never AquaNet), and relaxers robbed him of his “Welcome Back, Kotter” coiffure.

The only dancing he’d engaged in of late was sidestepping reality. It was easier to say he was being cock-blocked by his brother. Worse, he became accustomed to using his late father being afflicted by Alzheimer’s as a reason to quit working on his self-esteem and focus. Truth? He’d crafted a litany of excuses as to why a relationship, much less a better sense of self, was out of his reach.

It was a small collective of medications. No, it was a lack of personal time away from a demanding job. The GSMS was adept at adding to the list, after all, he’d been writing it since he was 15. The painful reality stemmed from his origin story, a trifecta of “overs,” eating, spending, stimulation by superficial distractions. They all laid the foundation to a fortress designed to protect himself from the outside world. The GSMS was a master of self-sabotage now.

“Aw shit,” he grimaced. “I’m in that downward spiral mode. No one gives a shit about this self-pitying blah blah.”

He was hitting the Delete key when his attention turned to a young Asian boy dancing to Fine Young Cannibals’ “Good Thing.” It was a sight to behold, his cherubic face glowing and smiling as he moved to the retro beat. He had no idea anyone was looking at him, nor did it matter. Even Mom was oblivious to the maximum joy expressed at that moment.

“Look at him go,” The GSMS marveled. “Go on with yourself! Dance it out, baby!”

Maybe the GSMS needed this reminder. It was time to move, and just because his car was ready. As he gathered his things to retrieve his now-lubed vehicle, he reminded himself of the day’s mission statement. What he needed was what Mr. Winwood was crooning about, a little higher love.

It was time to bestow his own slivered heart a little care, too.

 

I am so ordinary…

I am so ordinary…

The start of a new week was designed for mixed emotions, at least for the GSMS. Sure, the cycle of routine had been restarted, but it was also a chance to be better, to do better at everything.

“Work, love, life,” he’d recanted to so many dates at this juncture. “It is all routine when you get the hallowed ground of 52.”

Most of his dates would merely smile as if they agreed, but most likely they didn’t. If they were keeping a checklist for red flags, such grandiose ruminations would be near the top of their cards. Well, if they even knew what “grandiose” or “ruminations” meant. The GSMS did possess strange tastes when it came to men. He had a physical type, sort of. He was drawn by a non-linear list of attributes. Kind eyes. A nice smile. Thick thighs.

“Man thighs,” he’d say to no one in particular. That was a desire saved for his endless inner monologues on the commute to work.

This particular Monday, however, was different. He’d been re-charged of late, feeling the need to tell stories to his laptop. As drove into work this morning, an old Paula Cole track caught him by surprise. While he’d been inclined these last few days to continue his series on the Gay Single Man of Substance, the changing landscape he was witnessing, street corner to street corner, on the way to his office made him broaden the scope of today’s tale. Perhaps it was residue leftover from being stood up last Friday night by the Hairy Beast. The musky promise of a sweaty, libidinous night had already dissipated into the ether now that the weekend was another memory.

The GSMS had already admonished himself as he arrived at his office to avoid writing another personal tale of being ghosted. No, as he took his place behind his pockmarked desk, he let his mind wander in search of inspiration and a bigger story to tell. He closed his eyes, turning into the sounds outside of his office window, of life in flux. Maybe if he paid close enough attention, he could pick through the noise and hear the other tales of the city. The GSMS took a deep breath and listened…

“He didn’t call.”

“I am going to give her one more day.”

“I thought we had a connection.”

“Olvídalo, ‘mana.”

“Did I leave the oven on?”

“Fuck him!”

 “Fuck me!”

“Fuck it. I’m out.”

“She’s such a dick!”

“He’s an asshole.”

“Tails Nashville, Heads Seattle”

“I hate.”

“I love.”

“I’m scared.”

“I’m so ordinary.”

The sounds from his newly minted playlist had broken through his reverie.

Ordinary.

For a split second, his brain short-circuited and a cold dread invaded his mental space for a moment. He had to pivot, but man. That word was his biggest fear, being ordinary. The SGMS worked overtime to craft a public image of sophistication, color, and wit. It was a shaky façade at best. His emotional would runneth over to the point to rival the liquid death and destruction of the Johnstown Flood of 1889.

He stood up for a moment and kept his gaze on the sun heating up the day. As the song continued to play itself out, the GSMS took in the lyrics as the track reached its final verses. He agreed with Paula Cole at this moment. Some people are like “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Towering and majestic, the definition of desirable. They are that high note we all strive to hit but always miss. The rest of have to make do with being like “Frère Jacques,” the song everybody can sing because it is easy AF and requires little effort at all.

Later that night, he relayed the day’s events to SkB over a long, overdue dinner reunion.

“That might be the case,” the SkB countered at the GSMS’ thoughts on being ordinary. “I think what you’re really afraid of is having people see the real you.”

Somewhere in the distance, the GSMS thought he distinctly heard someone hit a high note.

 

Try…

Try…

Maybe it was those pink suede skater shoes that pulled him in. Or perhaps it was the horn-rimmed glasses? The combination of scruffy beard and the thick chestnut color hair that reminded him of James MacArthur on the original “Hawaii 5-0” series? Hell yes! And, that burly chest was absolutely a significant draw. But in the end, it really was the pink suede Vans that sealed the deal.

The Gay Man of Substance (GSMS?) was feeling desire again.

Screen Shot 2019-09-06 at 12.14.22 PMThe specter of the Ex, who was 15 years his junior, did give him pause. After all, Skater Boy (or SkB?) was about 22 years younger. The divide would be enough to trigger a lot of responses from GMS’ friends, single or otherwise. It surprised him to know that even those who would proudly crow “Love is Love” could have surprisingly myopic opinions, which is why he kept them to himself this time. No reason to hit them with, “He’s not like the other men he’s met over the last year.” Truth be told, the situation was just real enough for him to whisper this tale of longing into the ear of his most trusted confidante, his laptop. He was inspired to write about him, a bad sign indeed.

From the film
Steven Weber and Patrick Stewart in a scene from “Jeffrey.” Photo: Orion Classics

The arrival of Skater Boy was prescient, though. Their night out of museum roaming and coffee was not just the usual job interview exchange reserved for first meet-and-greet situations. No, they covered topics from the personal, which were honest and unrestrained, to how they viewed being gay today. This era of Basic Masculinity had worn them both down. The uniform of sporting a beard, super-luxe trainers, tattoo sleeves, and distressed Japanese denim may define 2019, but it was still a uniform. That proved more distressing than the artfully placed rips on those snug ball holders posing as trousers. Imagine having this era give off a sense of wistfulness to the days of when sentiments like “Masc for Masc; No Fats or Fems” were the standard. Of course, GSMS had to mention how his brand of “gay” was not in favor anymore. Sweater Queens were a thing of an Armistead Maupin or Paul Rudnick-documented past.  That’s how GSM saw himself. For him, the dividing line was once so clear as to what was desirable amongst los gays. He knew where he stood, but surprising how the community has not lost in penchant in making you feel like shit for not fitting in with the right group!

Screen Shot 2019-09-06 at 12.38.30 PM
From Rolling Stone article. Peter Dovak died in November 2017. Photo: Peter Dovak

GSMS was off and running now.

“Such mindfuckery preys on so many, even today,” he said to SkB, who nodded.

“Toxic masculinity remains supremely poisonous,” GSMS continued. “Not so long ago, you weren’t visible without a tan line, a gun show, or a rack of abs to mirror the cover of Honcho or Blueboy Magazine.

Maybe SkB understood the references, but he knew GSMS had not reached his peak yet.

“The bear community was once so much more accepting way back when. Beefy and hairy isn’t much of a subset anymore, but it, too, as evolved into a more airbrushed version these days! And what the hell is this gainer trend? Bigger is not better, especially if you have to inject yourself with tire sealant and cement to satisfy your body dysmorphia! What the hell are we doing to ourselves?”

Screen Shot 2019-09-06 at 12.42.32 PM
Selfridges 2015 ‘Agender’ campaign

SkB just took it all in. He knew the narrative was going to hit the current alphabet soup of gender nonconformity next.

“With the flood gates of gender fluidity now open wide,” GSM continued, “the deluge has muddied the criteria further. While the homosex community can wield its growing list of labels with fervor, it all feels so superficial and false when projected in the world of social media. It’s even worse on the dating and hookup apps. We may be able to let all of our unique brands of sexuality run free, but it has only exacerbated what we don’t want to court or seduce either. If we don’t look like the men we want to fuck, what’s the everloving point?”

SkB was transfixed by this aria of middle age uncertainty and bias. Yet, he couldn’t leave. Something kept him seated on that metal chair. As the couple’s coffee cooled, the conversation only heated up further. SkB found himself determined to give as good as he was getting. It was beautiful, this connection between people who listened and had no fear to answer back with equal aplomb and truth. It took so little effort for them to exist in this state of “Try.”

Had it been so long since GSM felt the need to make an effort to understand another man? Even more, that it was in a context that wasn’t part of his job description? He made his living asking questions, of getting people to reveal themselves just enough to exhibit a sense of humanity that could be shared with others.

GSMS was terrible at removing that interviewer’s voice in a dating situation. No one ever likes an interrogation in any form. Skater Boy didn’t even flinch. He was curious, too.

“The truth is I made a point to leave a specific life and self in the Midwest behind,” SkB confessed. “I knew what I had to do to become the creature I always meant to be, and it brought me here to Los Angeles.”

GSMS understood and applauded how SkB saw a dark fate and turned on a dime to walk into the light of maturity and self-accountability that is the cornerstone of sobriety.

“I have no intention of turning back,” SkB added. “That’s what fuels my art. I have to keep on creating, to not stand still.”

At that moment, a reflection of the kinetic heart, his signature design, that SkB displayed without fear made itself known; separating him from the pack. To look at the surface, yes, SkB was of this modern generation. Ah, but underneath GSMS saw something magnificently different. He had a soul.

As this odd duo sat at a local cafe, sharing a pastry and coffee-fueled truths, the night continued to offer more revelations and confessions. It ultimately held the promise of a friendship, which sometimes is all that can manifest itself in such brief-ish encounters. The world was oblivious to their chatter, which was just as well. It made them both appreciate the random nature of such meet and greets, of real-life occurring just under someone’s nose. Most of the patrons at the cafe were stuck in polite silences or milling about on the sidewalk. It felt as if all of them were waiting for anything to happen.

Le Bonheur De Vivre by Henri Matisse

In the weeks since that first encounter, GSMS  made a point to maintain a constant dialogue with SkB. The polite soul that he is, the Gay Single Man of Substance was contented by the manner in which it was being reciprocated. GSMS was well aware of SkB being a visible man, balancing a life of art, travel, commissions, networking, and more creativity.

“The man has his fans, too,” he thought to himself “Boy, does he have fans; that’s okay.”

All artists need a muse, one that can drive you towards surrendering to inspiration. As the modernist Henri Matisse said, “Creativity takes courage.” True. Then again, it doesn’t hurt to include a pair of pink suede skater shoes, either.

As GSMS completed his latest draft of a story, he couldn’t help my smile. The process felt as natural as ever, writing his feelings down. Looking out the window towards a new weekend that approached, the obvious struck him. No matter the intent, whether crafting a new piece of art, making a new friend or just letting your heartbeat loud enough to be heard by someone you like, all you really have to do is to just try.

 

The song remembers when…

3988b98d9821861a70eb5adc05458923_lucid-2.png

Sometimes he’d sit at his desk and listen to old Barbra Streisand songs. He’s not even a real fan. He’d play and replay tracks like “I Stayed Too Long at the Fair” or “When in Rome” or “Gotta Movie” because he’d feel transported. Inspired, really. Those early tracks, when La Streisand was only starting her journey to becoming the multi-hyphenate “Barbra,” underscored his own life as a single gay man of substance.

It sounds so grand, being dubbed a “Single Gay Man of Substance.” Somewhere Barbara Taylor Bradford is probably rolling her eyes with lady-like grace. Apologies to Ms. BTB., but “substance” does read better than “of a certain age.”

Music is supposed to be able to cure what ails you, or at least give you a respite from whatever malady you’re hosting on a given day. He believed in having a soundtrack for life, creating and endlessly revising playlists from his iTunes account. He couldn’t get down with Spotify or Pandora or Apple Music. He felt such sites were for the cheap and lazy to curate a library of dearth and nuance. No, he’d pour over his favorite tracks endlessly. Naming the playlist was the first step.

IMG_6142Vuitton Mix

Camp, darlings

Camp, darlings, a second helping

bougieassBeatz

I’m Driving Here!

Their names were variations of themes, tracks, and fragments of triggered memories. The songs always remembered when he couldn’t bear the weight of a certain romantic memory. Lately, the music was giving him reasons not to feel so scared to put himself out there again, of falling for someone else again. Still, every dating failure was like hitting a cue and he was back at square one.

Had it really been nine years since the break-up, of which two splits occurred, with the Nashville Boy, the dreaded Ex? The distance between went from goodbye to wide chasm in the end. They rarely spoke anymore. A void existed where love and affection were once traded without conditions or struggle. It all happened so fast. Were they ideally matched? Probably not? He couldn’t even answer that question with any certainty. If you want to continue the thread on distance, 15 years of life experience, or a lack thereof, separated them from the beginning. He’d spent a lot of the years since their break-up picking that song apart, a deep cut in more ways than one.

That life seemed like an eternity ago. A musician himself, the Ex hovered over him like a track you can never get out of your head after someone else hums it aloud. He’d even written lyrics about him, but like their relationship, the melody seemed discordant and unstable. He couldn’t find them now if he tried, but every so often he would make that effort. He’d scour email addresses, old and new, shuffling through email monikers and profiles that once fit so well so long ago, too, but were ultimately ghosted and discarded.

It is strange, searching for threads to hold your own narrative together. People have been force-fed this idea of keeping track of one’s life together in an authentic fashion. What do you do when you see your life as a constant re-write? What do you do when even you tire of your narrative and opt to settle into a period of writer’s block? That’s how he felt these days. Blocked. Or, finding the needle stuck in a particular groove, unable to even skip to the next track. Perhaps the song does remember when, but at what point do you allow yourself to forget it altogether. Maybe the narrative will shake loose with his next playlist. He had the perfect name already: Playlist de basura.

Act II

Act II

Being a child of the 80s, the message of having it all seemed so easy to process. You went to school. You received a degree. You landed that dream job. Life was set. Easy peasy. Right?

Sort of?

I went to three schools, no degree. I did land a dream job, several. Life has been rather complicated thanks to my lack of financial restraint and other demons I have yet to truly conquer. But I’m trying, dammit. I’m trying.

I made a comment to my boss about making it only to “the middle.” Of course, he was annoyed that I am inferring that all of my hard work as a producer since 1999 only carried me as far as his company. That’s not why I meant. Not in the least. I’ve never felt more creative or expressed myself as well as I do as an interviewer these days. Hell, I tend to get a hug after every interview these days. Even from the men.

So what the fuck? Why do I feel like the sky is falling every damn day?

I’m single. Who isn’t?

I’m fat. Who isn’t?

My dad is dying.

Is it too late to change careers? Am I lying to myself thinking I can set up shop at the Vogue offices of London or Mexico City?

Can I go back to school and finish that damned degree once and for all?

My dad is dying.

And no one in my family has been able to think about life after Dad yet. Not even me, but the task is something I am grappling with now. I have questions, too. Is it going to feel like a house of bricks crashing all over us? Will it be followed by a sense of relief? Will it be followed by the sound of siblings running to the four corners of the world? Will we finally be able to be civil with each other and not let our toxicity spoil the soup? Is it all too late for that to happen?

I hear their not so hidden anger in the constant stream of critiques and judgments that dominate our dinner table. I sit and marvel these days, thinking, “These are the people that have my back?” Still, how can we shield ourselves from any sort of attacks when most are happening from within our own house? Dad wouldn’t want to see us this way. Mom doesn’t like it either, but she’s ground zero at times.

Our entire narrative has been penned with our Dad as the central figure. We do our duty, giving Mom a much-needed break where we can. Yet, how is it possible that I feel guilty for not wanting to be around any of them, that I am kind of hanging on to a thread of sanity right now. I should go back into therapy, something to diffuse the atom bomb that I carry in my brain right now. I am eating to stay silent, but I feel my body is in full revolt right now. It is literally slowing down. Every move, every reaction, it’s life in forced perspective.

And that’s not supposed to be the Mexican way. Oh no, we’re supposed to that warm, united front of good humor and great food. Allow me to dispel that concept. It is total BULLSHIT. You had to be that group when the family lived in the hacienda, where great swaths of land dividing us from other families and communities. You know what makes the Mexican family survive? A lot of us drink and eat… to forget the lives we can’t seem to leave. While it feels great to see that sentence, yes, it is followed by a strong wave of guilt.

I think about putting such distance between me and my LA life a lot now. It seems like I want to pioneer a life that doesn’t require facing the past or a present that only makes me wince.

So, what’s going to be the narrative of my Act II? It starts when the lead character, Me, reaches out for help. That’s what I am doing, reaching out for help and guidance. I can’t do this alone. No one can. The time does arrive when you have to release the side of yourself that stops you from harming yourself and others in the wake of the blast of an emotional bomb.

It’s here.

 

A Report On A Few Days in Springtime

A Report On A Few Days in Springtime

The woman crossing Atlantic Blvd. on the cusp of East L.A. smoking a cigarette. Did I mention she was pregnant?

The sounds of Dad shuffling across the living room to get a good seat and listen to the family chisme being dished out in big, heaping soundbites.  He’d call this “the Beautiful Noise” in life B.A. (Before Alzheimer’s).

Nancy starring as the G’rilla from Manila at the BBQ rig for our last-minute family brunch.

Neto acting like he had Dengue Fever, but oh-so awake and eager to contribute to the chisme and chatter on such topics as “Why the new Roseanne series is ‘relevant’ or a ‘piece of shit.'”

7B155C21-C5B7-42AB-9492-CF7C786EC38C

Buying a foulard at the Versace boutique in the Design District in a bid to honor the great Gianni while having the clerk whisper to me that he is also an actor and model.

Being asked at Estefan Kitchen in Miami if I had a reservation for a late lunch even though entire place was nearly empty.

Discovering after interviewing great Nicky Jam that we have a lot more in common, like our battles with being members of the clean plate club.

Reuniting with Gin-Gin and getting ridiculous at Versailles in Little Havana over plates lechon and picking up where we left off, the true mark of a touchstone friend and savior.

Meeting two teen girls from NJ at LAX before our delayed VA flight to NYC and chatting like we were BFF’s while being surrounded by soap opera legends from GH heading to NJ for a fantasy weekend. It was no BFD for the girls yet it was for their moms as they texted them with pics, OMG!

65B7A7F5-C45B-47DD-BBD0-9B07AD452220

Watching a sumptuous revival of My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center, feeling emotional at listening to this glorious score by Lerner & Lowe, thinking how Dad saw the original production with Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews during his life as a young man in the U.S. and understanding why he loves theater as much as me.

Sitting watching Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, desperately trying to suppress the emotion swells as Harry and his son Albus fought their way to understand each other, just like how I fought with my Dad.

Sharing some of the most important parts of my life with Nan in NYC, hanging with Karen and Stevie and hearing her effortlessly become one of this group storied group of friends who mean the world to me.

8370A2C9-05D2-4CCC-8BE1-C169EC1C8C1E

Powering through sleep deprivation and jet lag and failed not to “fag out” before interviewing several of my screen heroines on a Sunday afternoon in Hollywood, especially the wonderful Candice Bergen.

Even as life deals you some difficult moments, you have to stop and look around you to acknowledge the wonderful that still occurs. And that’s good enough in a world that is all about the hustle and flow.

Be good enough. And laugh when you can, dammit.

Are we all turning into Trump?

Are we all turning into Trump?

“Whoever has provoked men to rage against him has always gained a party in his favor, too.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

“People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.” —  Will Rogers

I’ve gone from labeling 2017 as a “dumpster fire” to a “Trumpster Fire” instead. And it shows no signs of abatement in 2018.

The cruel ineptitude of the Trump Administration and the monster that functions, barely, as our president, has revealed we possess no real limit as to the amount of rage we contain as a public today. It’s permeated even the banalest of conversations between friends or strangers anywhere in the world. It clogs our social media feeds. It can be seen out in the world as people unleash unholy hell in viral videos captured on planes, local markets or city streets. We race through red lights in complete disregard of the consequence of a car crash.

We yell out our frustrations to ourselves or each other. Many of us take to the social media sites to commiserate, castigate, or simply troll others with this remixed brand of hatred.

No more.

Rock icon David Byrne of the Talking Heads wrote:

“Facts are simple and facts are straight.
Facts are lazy and facts are late.
Facts all come with points of view.
Facts don’t do what I want them to.
Facts just twist the truth around.
Facts are living turned inside out.”

But we aren’t patient or even interested enough in any of the facts anymore. We Tweet, we react, we pass judgments that only stoke the fires of a pitchfork mob. We turn “fake news” into a rallying cry. We turn lies into truths. We let pundits twist facts around like our favorite licorice candy, chew, spit, or shit it out into oblivion. And we pat or stab ourselves in the back with validation for being a “good American.”

I fear we are all turning into a version of Trump now, whatever our sensibilities, affiliations or political beliefs.

I don’t look good in orange. No one does.

We are a society being corralled into dark spaces by bots unleashed, all paid by the highest bidders so we can exterminate ourselves. And personally, I’d rather limit my interaction with trolls to the ones played by Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake in that animated film.

What really scares me is my growing intolerance for white privilege, for people who consider racism, homophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia as a return to “core values.” Hijabs are a beautiful, cultural tradition, not the headwear of terrorists, no matter what the media whores of oligarchs like Alex Jones, Tomi Lahren, Jeanine Pirro, and Sean Hannity love to scream out loud as if they’re having an orgasm of rancid ideology. No, American-born white terrorists wear Ralph Lauren Polo shirts, buy their guns at Wal-Mart, and blame anyone and everyone who is not like them for the selfish woes. They extol the virtues of being white as if it was blackwashed by eight years of the Obamas, but really, it is just an excuse to be racist, ignorant, and selfish assholes who are seeing their own decline in real time.

We have nowhere to go but up, but love is our new four-letter word. It refuses to penetrate those who are holding on to our shitty past before civil rights like a wino holding on to a cheap vintage. I don’t want to be angry anymore. I know many people don’t either. But too many of us continue to congregate around a water cooler of rage, particularly in sites like Facebook.

Trumpists, the ones with the money, of course, want the remaining parts of America to stay fat, stupid, lazy, sick, old, and ultimately dead. And they’ll charge us along the way. Remember that the next time you feel the need to turn orange about how shitty your life was under Obama.

Remember, orange doesn’t look good on anyone unless they’re the devil himself.