When I broke up with my last ex-BF about 12 years ago, it took me a long ass time to get over him. I don’t think I really am; it’s just a feeling I’ve learned to put into a different compartment. But, the concussive effects of that first wave of emotion were very new to me. I never understood why people would lose their shit after a breakup, but I learned quickly. My friend John sent me a mix CD labeled “Music for a Bottle of Merlot and a Razor Blade,” featuring such sad singleton hits as “Alone,” “All By Myself,” “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,” etc. We laughed, but I found myself spiraling out of control shortly after.
I kept this little Moleskin notebook during those first months, which I hid a few years later. It reappeared during my Pandemic-induced decluttering of my home when we shut our office doors until further notice. That was about two years ago. (We’ve reopened them since, by the way.) Finding it was like the surprise you feel when you run into an old school friend’s mother during a Target run where you’re not looking your best, gussied up in chanclas and a chorizo-stained hoodie. Reading and revisiting the version of yourself that penned each entry was like being hit by a car driven by a deranged doctor’s wife from Texas seeking revenge. How do we all turn into Janis Ian or Phoebe Snow when boys break out hearts? I was surprised I even was capable of such maudlin displays in the first place, but how could I not? After years of favoring telenovelas and Douglas Sirk films, turning into Natalie Wood in “Splendor in the Grass” shouldn’t be a stretch, right?
So, I am willing to share one choice bit of writing, appropriately titled “Alone.” Put on your favorite heartbreak ballad, wrap yourself up in that warm comforter known as nostalgia, and see if this hits a few emotional notes you recognize!
There’s a strange void in my heart as I look out the window from an empty house. I feel the start of a dream, always the day you first came into my life. I came to you first, though, searching for a gentle man.
You were that dream come true, and I was your saving grace. How did we get to this place?
The first years were unlike any happiness I’d known, yet in the last months, we’ve become strangers, barely able to see face to face. How did we get to this place?
This isn’t about fault. You loved me, then loved another. I can’t believe I’d be so easily replaced. How did we get to this place?
We can count the memories, but that’s just wasted sentiment. We can count our blessings, but that’s just wasted destiny. What I would give to make this day turn a different way. They say time heals everything, but I still can’t stand the thought of losing you.
I didn’t want to tell you how I felt or what I thought I should do. But that won’t stop me from crying an emotion or two.
You walked out the door for the last time. I hope he treats you fine. It isn’t the loss that hurts so much. It’s the silence of this space. How did I get to this place they call “being alone.”
Reading it back now, I think it is safe to say Taylor Swift has nothing to worry about here. (Cue laughter.) But I’m not ashamed about displaying my red scarf in this context. (Swifties will know what I mean by that reference.). If anything, I’m proud of what that experience taught me. I stopped romanticizing the past, choosing to live in the present while respecting the lessons learned from being in a relationship. Whenever that miracle happens again, I’ll be ready.
The start of a new week was designed for mixed emotions, at least for the GSMS. Sure, the cycle of routine had been restarted, but it was also a chance to be better, to do better at everything.
“Work, love, life,” he’d recanted to so many dates at this juncture. “It is all routine when you get the hallowed ground of 52.”
Most of his dates would merely smile as if they agreed, but most likely they didn’t. If they were keeping a checklist for red flags, such grandiose ruminations would be near the top of their cards. Well, if they even knew what “grandiose” or “ruminations” meant. The GSMS did possess strange tastes when it came to men. He had a physical type, sort of. He was drawn by a non-linear list of attributes. Kind eyes. A nice smile. Thick thighs.
“Man thighs,” he’d say to no one in particular. That was a desire saved for his endless inner monologues on the commute to work.
This particular Monday, however, was different. He’d been re-charged of late, feeling the need to tell stories to his laptop. As drove into work this morning, an old Paula Cole track caught him by surprise. While he’d been inclined these last few days to continue his series on the Gay Single Man of Substance, the changing landscape he was witnessing, street corner to street corner, on the way to his office made him broaden the scope of today’s tale. Perhaps it was residue leftover from being stood up last Friday night by the Hairy Beast. The musky promise of a sweaty, libidinous night had already dissipated into the ether now that the weekend was another memory.
The GSMS had already admonished himself as he arrived at his office to avoid writing another personal tale of being ghosted. No, as he took his place behind his pockmarked desk, he let his mind wander in search of inspiration and a bigger story to tell. He closed his eyes, turning into the sounds outside of his office window, of life in flux. Maybe if he paid close enough attention, he could pick through the noise and hear the other tales of the city. The GSMS took a deep breath and listened…
“He didn’t call.”
“I am going to give her one more day.”
“I thought we had a connection.”
“Did I leave the oven on?”
“Fuck it. I’m out.”
“She’s such a dick!”
“He’s an asshole.”
“Tails Nashville, Heads Seattle”
“I’m so ordinary.”
The sounds from his newly minted playlist had broken through his reverie.
For a split second, his brain short-circuited and a cold dread invaded his mental space for a moment. He had to pivot, but man. That word was his biggest fear, being ordinary. The SGMS worked overtime to craft a public image of sophistication, color, and wit. It was a shaky façade at best. His emotional would runneth over to the point to rival the liquid death and destruction of the Johnstown Flood of 1889.
He stood up for a moment and kept his gaze on the sun heating up the day. As the song continued to play itself out, the GSMS took in the lyrics as the track reached its final verses. He agreed with Paula Cole at this moment. Some people are like “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Towering and majestic, the definition of desirable. They are that high note we all strive to hit but always miss. The rest of have to make do with being like “Frère Jacques,” the song everybody can sing because it is easy AF and requires little effort at all.
Later that night, he relayed the day’s events to SkB over a long, overdue dinner reunion.
“That might be the case,” the SkB countered at the GSMS’ thoughts on being ordinary. “I think what you’re really afraid of is having people see the real you.”
Somewhere in the distance, the GSMS thought he distinctly heard someone hit a high note.
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.
The 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.
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!
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?”
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.
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.
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.
Camp, darlings, a second helping
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.
My sister Nancy coined the name “Poppadoodles” way back when. I instantly loved the sound of it, both frivolous and absurd, two words you’d never use when you wanted to describe Dad. He was Big George, Jorge Sr., Tío Jorge, but never Don Jorge, or Jefe. He represented many things to many people.
Dad passed away the morning of Tuesday, February 26 at the age of 94 at our home in Pico Rivera. It didn’t rain that day. The sun was out. He was surrounded by family and our closest friends. Alzheimer’s was also his nefarious companion during the last 12 years of his life. It finally left us alone, but it never fully took Dad away. Jorge Sr. knew where he was and who was the source of the love in that living room space that day.
Writing about him in the past tense makes me want to scream. Thinking about him in the past tense makes me want to cry. That is why I choose to focus my emotion on words these days. Words were my best friend as a chubby, eccentric kid. Words were what kept Dad entertained as he shuttled us all over Los Angeles to meet rock bands at record signings, shows, musicals, sports, everything. A carefully folded newspaper or magazine was also with him when he played chauffeur to the exciteable brood that was us.
I never did ask what he read about or what he even thought about what he read. I just know that when it was time to take us home, he carefully folded the material back up and we’d begin the journey. That slice of peace and quiet was always obliterated by our breathless stories about who or what we saw. He’d smile and listen as we cut through the city with caution because his precious cargo was aboard.
God, I wish I did ask him about those articles in the Herald-Examiner or Newsweek. One time, he even stood in line with my brother and me at Tower Records on Sunset Blvd. We wanted to meet the legendary child known as Boy George. Talk about your culture club. (Boom.) When we got up to meet George, we told him our Dad was a George, too. A huge smile stretched across the Brit crooner’s tastefully made-up face. Wouldn’t you know they launched into a nice little chat? Like neighbors stopping for tea. It was something George did not have time for with any of gallery of nightcrawlers and club kids that were desperate for a similar audience? Dad had no idea who Boy George even was, saying “That’s a nice young man” as we walked away. I wish Steve Jobs had already conquered the world for an iPhone! Imagine the photo, heck, the footage! Still, the memory remains a treasure, regardless, and unfiltered all these years later.
It is fitting that Dad made his living as a textile engineer. The yarn spun on the daily at the factory was no less important and as strong as the family ties he weaved at home. It never frayed. Even when it was pulled to maximum tautness, we didn’t break. Sometimes the words I exchanged with Dad were in anger, punctuated by the slam of a door or the start of a car engine. Even our silences carried the weight and text of our thoughts. That wasn’t the case once he began his travels with Alzheimer’s. I’d be damned if I’d let that bastard of a disease rob me of my time with Dad. I fought against the ALZ hard with smiles, laughter, and talks, real talks. It started out in English and then transferred to Dad’s native Spanish when his mind placed me in that category of awareness.
I have no regrets. I only possess this incredible want to have him here for a little while longer. I was able to say what I carried in my heart to him way before he left us. It is my most treasured moment with Dad. It happened at the Arboretum in Arcadia early last fall. Walking was tough for him, so I got him a wheelchair. We ventured around the gardens. It wasn’t a particularly beautiful day. In fact, it was grey and humid. The grounds were going through some pruning and renovations. The only added color that day was the famed peacocks, which were plentiful. I chose to tell Dad that I loved him and that he was right about so much. That I was sorry for all the hell I put him through. He was quiet for a moment, then, he asked if it was alright if he pushed me around the gardens, that I’d done enough. I said, “I don’t mind.” He answered, “Okay.” Then he started to comment on the peacocks, saying they don’t do anything. Just walk around and show off. I laughed. “Dad,” I said. I can’t believe you’re arguing with a peacock.” He just smiled and folded his hands on his lap. “I want to go home,” he said. So, we did.
Dad’s burial services were on a sunny Tuesday morning in Pico Rivera. I had the task of speaking, along with my brother. Writing his eulogy wasn’t easy, but when I started to write it, the words didn’t fail me. As my dear friend Ann said to me as my grief was in its upswing:
“He may be gone, but please know, as someone said to me when I lost my Dad, “The conversation continues.”
And it does…
A Eulogy for Dad by Jorge Carreón, Jr.
When you’ve been blessed to live a life as long, rich and vivid as Dad’s, the brevity of a eulogy seems cruel and unfair. Six paragraphs and out. I couldn’t do that. You only have to stop, pause, take a breath and take a look around a room like this and see the emotion and extent of the impact one life can make. You take comfort in knowing that this speaks volumes to the character and respect generated by Jorge Ramirez Carreón. Words were his power, and words are the inherited power we wield today.
I remember the day after my big performance in a high school play when I asked Dad what he thought of my “star” turn. He said, “Mijo, you’re a lot of things, but you’re not an actor. Write. It is what you do best.” He was “right,” for lack of a better word. He was pretty much always right about things.
I’ve been staring at a blank screen for days, crafting this message of remembrance and goodbye for Dad. All I could hear in my head are messages like, “Is this going to be enough?” followed by “I can’t do this.” When I finally sat down to put these words up on a laptop screen, it was surrounded by his spirit at our family home in Pico Rivera. Flowers, his favorite slice of nature, were everywhere. Music, the songs inspired by his varied tastes, provided the underscore. It made sense to me here. He made sense to me here, the house that raised my siblings and me.
My brother has composed a fitting testimony to his life, the details and achievements of a life less ordinary, but extraordinary. He ventured from the security of his home and living in Mexico to venture into the unknown territory of the US. He met Mom, married, had four children; he built the life of their dreams. The palm tree that graces the center of our home in Pico is that perfect symbol of our family history. It stands taller than ever before. It has bent with strong winds, never breaking, even when it felt like life was too much. It is the summation of who we are as his people, his family. You find a piece of who we are with each frond. Lil’s maturity and leadership as the firstborn. Nancy’s devotion and selfless protection of us all. Ernesto’s poetry and introspection. Mom’s love of life and strength. It is resilience incarnate.
With Dad’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s 12 years ago, the first impulse was to think life was over, that he’d forget us all quickly, that the damage to his mind and body would be relentless. We were scared he’d never be able to partake in our lives most crucial moments as adults. We were cursed and doomed. Yet, in the end, it was a gift. My father getting lost in the haze of this infernal disease allowed me to find him again. It is a personal detail that I will never let go.
My family mobilized upon the Doctor’s word. Nancy and Ernesto led the charge in researching every facet of treatment programs, medications, insurance allowances, anything, and everything to make sure Dad would live his best life with us beside him. That he was with us for as long as he was, glowing with color and filled with energy, is a testament to everyone’s role in keeping Dad healthy and alive. We involved him in all aspects of our lives. He wasn’t “sick” Dad. He was chingón Dad for us, for everyone he’d offer a smile. That’s the lesson of his life. Don’t fear the illness; make it fear YOU.
Like many Latino men, we like to live in our memories, tasked with the preservation of our family lore. Being Jorge is not just sharing the same name. Being Jorge means living as the chief chronicler of my family. You should see the epic collection of slides that remain encased and boxed, dutifully scanned by my sister Nancy with Smithsonian-like care. That is why I was compelled to record all that is Us before Dad’s mental files were purged entirely of data. My family and I will never forget the outpouring of emotion felt by many of you who never had a chance to meet Dad in person but were witnesses to his life in other manners.
My name now carries a stronger aura of poetry and romance. Yet, Dad is singular, the original creation. My task is never to let his memory fade, preserving that beautiful handprint in my heart, in all of our hearts.
Back to the power of words. Dad era creyente, a devout believer. He was a voracious reader, informed, an elegant debater who loved a good match of wits. I ask you all to take a moment at some point today to think of a word that personifies what Dad means to you. Share it with us today, tomorrow, whenever inspiration strikes.
As for us? Let me tell you: Dad is adventurous, sage, loyal, devoted, humorous, strict, careful, silly funny, lover of the song “Guantanamera,” classical music and Lerner & Lowe showtunes, Howard Stern-listener, admirer of Trini Lopez, Willie Nelson & Glen Campbell, damn good long haul driver, world-traveler, Christmas card address monitor, abstract pancake maker, mistaker of wasabi for guacamole, Nescafe drinker, eater of canned tuna fish in Italy, church leader, Eagle Scout motivator, industrious, a textile engineer, cultivated, Catholic, mustached, bald, native son of Celaya, Caballero, Mexicano, husband, father, tío, hero. He is forever our Poppadoodles.
We love you, Dad. Te queremos mucho, Pa.
**This is a video produced by my brother Ernesto for his Mateo & 8th line of home decor. We played it during the rosary services in honor of Dad. Hearing his voice sound so confident was shocking for a moment, then, restorative and calming. I hope you give it a view.
***Please consider making a donation to one of the following charities:
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?
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.
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.'”
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!
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.
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.
If you know my family, you’ve probably heard the tale of “The Adventures of Dad, Jorgito, and the Golden King Tut Ticket of 1978.” It remains one of our favorite stories because it has everything, laughter, drama, realizations about a child’s true nature, and mummies. It makes sense that it includes mummies since most Latino families embalm all sorts of moments they can drag out from their tombs now and again. It usually happens at a family gathering, especially during the holidays.
But I digress. First, a little context to our Tut connection.
From 1976 to 1979, the treasures found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb toured seven U. S. cities, including Los Angeles. The exhibition was a wild success, to put it mildly. “King Tut Mania” was the only pyramid scheme destined not to bankrupt the regular folk. It was as if a Cecil B. DeMille film had come to vivid life, seeing images of these treasures. The mystery, the glamour, the history! All of it was on display, centuries of history and wonder behind glass. Angelenos lost their minds when the tour arrived at the L.A. County Museum of Art. About eight million Americans made the trek nationally to the “Treasures of Tutankhamun” when it hit their chosen cities. More than one million visitors were tallied in Los Angeles alone. And I represented two of those entries at LACMA, which is a family legend today.
A total history buff, my Dad was absolutely caught up in the Tut-related fervor. A factory beside his was manufacturing swag to cash in on the rabid demand for merch. He’d bring home such replicated artifacts as Tut’s funeral mask, a small statue of the goddess Isis encased in a lucite pyramid. Yes, these were factory rejects, but so what? It was so rare to see Dad get excited by such things, but his pragmaticism meant he was obsessed with science and history. He loved truth and facts versus the fantasy and abstract represented by fiction.
Talk about your golden tickets. Even Willy Wonka would have raised an eyebrow in surprise. Reaction to the tour’s stop in L.A. was so intense and swift that NO ONE could get access after the lots were released and sold to the public. You’d think the Beatles reunited to play Dodger Stadium. One good thing that occurred was how some of the participating museums put together special programs for local schools, making free tickets available to groups of students. Dad was muy proud when I was chosen as one of the fifth graders from South Ranchito Elementary to visit with the Egyptian boy king at LACMA. It meant something to him that at least one of his family members would bear witness to this glorious exhibition of rarely-seen history, and it did not disappoint when my classmates and I made our way out to the museum on the day. It was better than any movie I’d seen about Tut or Egypt. All that imagery, long archived in history, was finally real and part of our time in the world.
A few weeks later, as the exhibition prepared for its departure, Dad had this wild notion of heading down to LACMA to see if we swing two tickets. As he always said, “The worse they can tell you is ‘No.'” So, we jumped into our aqua blue V.W. Beetle and made our way to the west side of L.A.
Dad had no problem sending me to the box office – alone – to see if any cancellations were available. (I don’t think any parent would do that today. I was 11 years old, and Wilshire Blvd. was still a mega-busy thoroughfare, even then. But it stands as a lesson in encouraging independence and resourcefulness in my mind.) Unfortunately, my inquiry at the box office did result in a not-surprising “No, kid.” Dejected, I returned to the assigned curb where I was to wait for Dad, who’d been driving around the block the entire time.
As I kept a vigilant eye out for our family Beetle, I felt someone tap my shoulder. I looked up to gaze at a handsomely dressed woman. She smiled this congenial smile and asked, “Are you trying to get tickets for Tut.” I didn’t think this was a “Stranger Danger” moment as she looked like she’d been to Bullocks Wilshire, the storied department store, which mattered to me back then. Haha. I think I said something like, “Yes, ma’am. But there aren’t any tickets.” She reached into her pocketbook and pulled out one of those Golden King Tut tickets.
“My friend isn’t able to make it, so why don’t you take it,” she said.
You could almost hear an angelic choir at that moment. I went from a “No” to a shocking “Yes!” Fortune favors the child left alone on a busy street, dammit!
I wish I remembered more of that exchange because I can only hear my saying, “Thank you, ma’am!” I couldn’t stop staring at that ticket, which is how Dad found me as he pulled up to the curb. I stepped into the car and yelled, “Dad! I got a ticket. Look!” He smiled this huge smile.
Then I said, “I’ll be right back. I’m going back in!” And boom, I was off!
Oh, how my family and I have discussed that moment of total selfishness. The lack of awareness. The utter glory of my young self-absorption! For years! Reflecting on that moment, I know my Dad would have never left me in the car while he walked through the exhibition. Although, he did leave me to my devices at the ticket office. Whatever. The important thing was for me to say, “Dad. Here’s the ticket.” For him to decline would be a lesson in how we sacrifice our needs and feelings. (See, Catholic guilt does start early!)
I don’t remember what I wore or even ate that day. I can’t pull up any descriptive details of our lives in 1978. I remember Dad’s dejected look as I turned and sprinted away. I didn’t spend as much time looking at the exhibits as I did the first time. I was painfully aware of Dad waiting outside by himself, which did make me feel a little self-conscious. Maybe I did realize what I did was pretty lousy. Despite the packed crowd gaping and crowing about the artifacts filling the galleries, it was a hollow victory because I was seeing them without my father. Maybe I didn’t know how to articulate these feelings then, but my early elation felt less strong as I walked briskly through the museum and out the door to meet up with Dad. He asked if I enjoyed it all the second time, and all I could say was, “Yes.”
As we walked to the car and started the journey home, I remember the long silence as he drove. I knew I hurt him a little. Once home, I also remember hearing Mom and Dad talk about my impulsive nature, my incredible luck, and my impulsive nature again. It was followed by laughter, but I knew I had disappointed them. (Hell, I’d live to disappoint them again and again, but this episode remains my favorite since it carries a better layer of charm and innocence.)
In the end, Dad and I would share a Tut experience in 2005 when “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” appeared at LACMA. This time, the entire family made the trek to Wilshire Blvd. Of course, that adventure is marked by Mom loudly saying in the museum foyer, “Hmmm. This all looks smaller than the exhibition your father and I saw in Cairo. You know, in Egypt.” (Hahaha. Yes, we’re THAT family.)
That’s the upshot to the original Tut tale. My globe-trotting parents ventured to the land of the Pharaohs, experiencing an unforgettable view of the Tut treasures and more in Africa. As much as I envy them, I am also proud of my parents, who took their vacations in places far and away. They were our first adventurers, showing us how to explore the world without fear or hesitation. We were tasked to leave our backyards and see what lies beyond a museum brochure or a movie screen. As a result, we’ve also created our brand of history as a family.
Tut would dazzle us a third time in L.A. It’s been 100 years since the discovery of Tut’s tomb. This extensive collection of artifacts, the largest assembly of its kind, will be touring the world to honor the occasion, perhaps the last time they will ever be seen outside of Cairo. Naturally, the city of Los Angeles was selected by the Cairo Museum to host the world premiere of “King Tut: Treasures of the Golden Pharoah” at the California Science Center. Of course, members of my family and I made the journey yet again, and yes, the day is sold out. However, Dad won’t be able to make the trek to the California Science Center with us due to his current health issues. Mom and Neto were also down for the count due to having colds.
My family and I know we don’t need a reason to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “The Adventures of Dad, Jorgito, and the Golden King Tut Ticket of 1978.” It is a bummer to note that the glorious golden mask can no longer leave its home in Egypt. It means our spirit of adventure will have to take us to the heart of the Nile to see the pyramids and Sphinx and give them our best from our parents who stood there in awe and joy many years ago.
What a powerful full circle moment nonetheless, one I will share with Poppadoodles when we return from our visit with El Rey Tut. I am reluctant to write more now as I feel tears building up. I have so much more to say to Dad, from “Remember when?” to “Thank you” to “You were so right!” I’m afraid that conversation has to happen sooner than later and time is no longer on our side.
As my family and I take in these treasures anew, I can’t help but be reminded of the beauty of history. Wherever these essays may rest long after I’m gone, I hope people will appreciate the love and respect that remain hallmarks of my Dad as a parent and a human being. What I hope is unearthed years from now is that our history as father and son, and as the Carreon Family as a whole, was a precious one indeed.
I wanna fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle
‘Till I’m free
Oh, Lord, through the revolution
— Lyrics from “Fly Like an Eagle” by Steve Miller Band
The buzz of optimism that started out my year is morphing into something closer to pessimism and sadness. It isn’t as dark a place as 2016 or 2017, where I was systematically killing myself with food and rage. What I feel now is different as I do want to embrace the beauty and goodness that is still very much a part of the world. But I want to take my leave, to escape to a space that is nurturing and not so damn empty and cold.
I’ve written about that sinkhole that is my solitude at times. It widens and closes up in an instant, usually at my command. It can let it edge me to the brink of being swallowed up whole, like a sleepy Florida suburb. Yet, somehow, I always manage to move far enough from its reach in the nick of time. Perhaps it is my will to witness the good that is still possible, of never losing the hope that things are never as bad as they seem.
Then something like this happens:
From cunt attitude…
… to fat loser
… to fat bitch.
Mind you, I did laugh at the exchange pictured above as I was in the middle of a pedicure. Backstory: I rejected someone I met on the dating app Chappy because the texting went from benign to odd and ultimately profane when I began to feel a lack of compatibility. In the end, this individual lost the lid to his cookie jar of insanity, going from zero to “cunt attitude,” “fucking asshole,” and “fat bitch” in a matter of minutes. I blocked him and continued to read my news feed of the day.
As I reflect on this moment, I don’t seem to feel anything, just “Oh, well. That’s gay dating in L.A. for you!” Many of my gay brethren have this story and more to tell. Yet, I can’t help but feel that my time in Los Angeles is coming to a close. The city reminds a lot of New York in the 1980s when being rich or poor were the only way to properly have “The Experience.” It feels like Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles has abandoned her mission and is only catering to the young and beautiful and desperate to be noticed and in the “know.” Wasn’t that me 25 years ago? Did I mature my way out of “The Experience?”
I think of escape now as a means of taking back the adventurous spirit that was so much a part of my youth. I used to dream big, but now I’ve downsized said dreams into what makes sense in my life today at 50. I used to want to run away from what troubled me. It didn’t work. As we all know our troubles will follow you until they’re reconciled and purged from your self.
Some of my on demons have been banished, but not all. What dominates my mind now is the reality I won’t have the chance to engage in another long-term relationship. It’s been eight years since I broke up with my last significant other. Despite some interesting yet unsatisfying interludes, a new fella just hasn’t made his appearance yet. Some relationships I sabotaged myself, but it’s been quiet these last few years. And, yes, it is possible he may not show up at all. Would that be the end of the world? I don’t know anymore since the era of polyamorous and open relationships has gained striking momentum and acceptance within the gay male community. My own rigid thinking on this reality is starting to waver a bit. As much as I am not a fan of the “cake and eat it” lifestyle, what other recourse do we have? The man waiting room now feels like the one from the end of “Beetlejuice.” Will my options improve elsewhere? London? Mexico City? Sheboygan? Albuquerque? Maybe? Probably?
Time does feel a wee bit different to me now. Its speed is faster than FloJo at her peak, man. And, I spend so much time looking back, I’m always crashing into things that could have been avoided in the first place. Looking ahead, I really just want to accomplish one more good dream. I don’t need to change the world, but I do want to add one good thing before it’s truly over.
Escape isn’t always about moving to a new destination. It can also mean to leave the space you’re emotionally inhabiting, too. Best part? The ticket is free.
When I’m feeling weak
And my pain walks down a one-way street
I look above
And I know I’ll always be blessed with love
And as the feeling grows
She breathes flesh to my bones
And when love is dead
I’m loving angels instead
“People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.” — Will Rogers
“There’s so many things that are hard to hear every day that you do want to have some Oreos, Like people say, ‘what do you invest in during the Trump era?’ I feel like, Hostess Cakes. Most of us are just scared and eating ice cream.” — Judd Apatow in a New York Times interview published on January 14, 2017. “
My turning point towards breaking up with the Sad and Bad Me arrived when I went from labeling 2017 as a “dumpster fire” to a “Trumpster Fire.” As I reflected on how #45 has wreaked havoc on too many people around the world, it magnified the cruel ineptitude of the last three years with the monster I’d become. It was that depressed and self-absorbed version of myself, revealed I possessed no real limit as to the amount of rage I could contain. It became woefully apparent that said rage has permeated even the banalest of conversations between friends or strangers anywhere in the world.
Many of us have seen how it continues to clog our social media feeds. People have no problem unleashing an unholy hell, all captured on our phones and converted into viral videos set in planes, local markets or city streets. Maybe you’re one of those people who chooses to race through red lights in complete disregard of the consequence of a car crash. It doesn’t help that we have a leader who fuels this state of disrespect and divisiveness with a single, expertly composed and timed Tweet. To think this is not all linked to 45’s equally cruel ineptitude is more denial.
Too many of us are taking out our frustrations on other people. At times, if I give in to the news cycle of DC’s newfangled swamp things, I become resolute in believing this nation exists in a state of siege. It became fucking overwhelming, toxic, really. It was time to take stock and ask where my relationship with myself was heading. It was clear something had to be done. If too many of us hate ourselves first, left unchecked, it will spread like cancer to those we care about around us.
That’s what these last years have felt like, at least for me. Once the grief of my aunt’s death from cancer subsided, the lingering anger manifested itself in my punishing myself first, calling myself “fat,” “lazy,” unhappy,” “ugly,” and “unworthy.” I went on to annoy my closest champions by voicing that stagnant reel of complaints on a loop. Worse, I abandoned people altogether, hiding behind my work and family as an excuse. I don’t regret the time I chose to spend with my Dad because Alzheimer’s is enough of a reason to fight for the good that is still a part of him. Yet, my penchant for taking extreme swings left or right is very much at play here. I’ve always been about the “All or Nothing.” I love extremes because I have BIG feelings. As 2017 came to a close, I exhausted myself at last.
I’d exhausted myself as much as I’ve run out of excuses NOT to stay on a healthy track and find the jubilation that comes from being healthy, emotionally and physically. I’d exhausted the well of “Woe is Me,” the one that makes me feel like Eeyore. I never felt like I hit rock bottom, but I did fall close enough to place my palm on its surface. That scared me enough to take action. Again. So, at the behest of my bestie, I joined Weight Watchers. I felt ready to rein in the madness of the last few years and change trajectory. But first, a few admissions:
It isn’t about achieving the Revenge Body (if that’s even thing, no matter what E! Television and Ryan Seacrest may think).
It isn’t about winning back an Ex.
It isn’t about showing my high school friends on Instagram and Facebook how awesome I look on the outside, covering up what ails me most about still being single on the inside.
It isn’t about curating a better social media presence or trolling for more ‘Likes.’
I don’t want to take meds for diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol anymore
I don’t want “the Sugars” to claim my eyesight or other body parts like it has with other people I care about.
I don’t want to have a heart attack or stroke like it happened to other people I care about.
I don’t want to feel slow and unable to cope with anything anymore.
I don’t want to die before I have a chance to make good on the many goals I still have ahead.
I don’t want to be skinny.
I want to be healthy and let in a bit more joy and keep the rage from infiltrating every other part of myself.
As I start walking towards being 51 years of age, I accept that the most toxic relationship has really been with myself. It would be so easy to blame the world or even 45. But that would be lying. The choice to eat bad food, overspending, to not exercise and other crutches were all efforts to impress that miserable side of Me. It would be all too easy to change course. What would I be left with to complain about to the world? It is not enough to like the bad boys, we have to be our own reckless suitor in today’s “Fuck It and Fuck You” world, too?
Every Saturday, for as long as it is feasible, I will join my fellow Weight Watchers to learn how not to let life go to “waist.” I will track what I eat, how I move, and how the good choices will impact life for the better. I am breaking up with the bad Me, dammit. He doesn’t get to dictate the terms of what good I can achieve in 2018 and beyond. Deep down, I know it’s not me, not the truest part, that has sequestered my best self in this room of fear. Time to let go of that angry version of Me and step out into what matters most: joy.
Yes, life is going to be that much more complicated and grey. But, we don’t need to add any more rage to the atmosphere. We have enough. Time to add something good, the best part of ourselves that brings out the best in others. That’s how you start a revolution, by forgiving ourselves for being sad, angry, and unfocused. Most of us want to do something good in the world, but it can’t happen by ignoring what is perceived as “depressing” or thinking “What’s it going to matter?” It matters. A lot. Too many of us are hanging by thread. We need to take control of our own joy. Let it inspire you first, then others will follow. That’s a trickle-down theory that can work. Besides, when it comes to struggles, being healthy means having the strength to face the tough spots with grace.
And know this: Healthier, informed people means more of us can fight the good fight to take back what I know matters to many of us: life.