In 1998, the great Hilary Clark encouraged me to step into the role of content producer/interviewer. To be honest, it felt more like a dare. I thought our publicity content was rather dated at the time, colorless and flavorless. This was during my tenure as a studio publicist at 20th Century Fox under her invaluable guidance. I took her up on the challenge, hired a crew and went to the Virgin Megastore on Sunset Blvd. to interview composer Mark Snow and television icon Chris Carter about their collaboration for “The X-Files” movie soundtrack. I never looked back. By 1999, I was responsible for the writing, producing, and interviewing of all content created by Fox International Theatrical Publicity. It was an unusual role as most publicity departments didn’t handle this task. They’d hire an agency and that was it. No, this enterprise was the result of vision and it changed my life in the process.
Much has changed over the last two decades, especially in this industry. I’ve changed, too. I used to be caught up in the false notion that I had to be a James Lipton-type. When I finally found my true voice, it was as natural as just saying, “Hi, I’m Jorge.” No adornment or overstating things, just simplicity and honesty. I gush, sure. I’m first and foremost a fanboy for all things motion picture. I was also raised on Regis Philbin, Merv Griffin, and Mike Douglas. I was also nurtured by Linda Ellerbee, Diane Sawyer, and especially, Charles Kuralt. It is a winning combination, where I end up getting hugs more often than annoyance or indifference from the people I interview. I take great pride in that ability.
Sure, I still make the mistake of giving a person the answer in my question. It is true, I never really mean, “Last question.” And, I can’t do a 20-minute BTS interview, not really. It usually ends up going over 40 minutes or more. In fact, the fearless crew on my recent project in New York coined the phrase, “The Jorge 20.” (I’m not offended, I swear.) Even this posting was just supposed to be a “Happy Anniversary” Instagram moment! But nooooo, I had to write a novel about “What it all means!”
I don’t always think I’m the best person for EPK because I have “big emotions” that fight against the rule of this job, which is not being visible. I’m not sitting at video village trying to butter up film producers for that next gig. Yet, I know I am visible when I sit in the chair and begin that next interview.
As BTS producers, we have 30 seconds to let talent know we’re not going to be looking for a “gotcha” moment or engage in any of the other bad behaviors that have been unceremoniously attached to this role. No one likes facing someone who just reads questions off a page. It also enrages me how still others make this process about themselves and NOT the movie or television show. The flip side is no better, where it is obvious the client or studio executives could care less about nuance and humanity. Their only focus is making sure we hit what’s been listed on a marketing brief or remain oblivious to interview at and keep their eyes on the ticking of an iPhone stopwatch.
Still, during these last 20 years, I’ve achieved more than even I imagined in this role. I continue to roam this country and world in search of stories that complement the profiles of some of the best and not-so-best films and TV series. The artists and cultural figures I’ve had the privilege to sit and interview over the years are as diverse and fascinating as I’d hoped, even surprising, too. My journeys have not just been about chatting with actors and filmmakers, either. Nobel Prize winners, best selling authors, pop stars, families seeking asylum, entrepreneurs, and public figures venturing into a different spotlight are all part of this story. Y ahora la narrativa también se cuenta en español.
Red carpets, rooms built out of black duvetyne, junkets at five-star hotel suites on several continents, storerooms, warehouses, falling lights, hurricane-induced blackouts on set, museum offices, desert gateways, hutongs, a Mexican prison with Mel Gibson, legendary and still vital film festivals, jungle spa retreats, jazz festivals, screaming fans, stern publicists pointing at a watch, colleagues bitching over why I have more time, planes, train rides, bus rides, a police ride-along with an armed consultant, noisy soundmen, diva DoP’s, recording studios, snowy man-made villages, busy city streets, country backroads, and everything in between. It’s been the good, the bad, the ugly, and the redemptive. As for my collaborators? They’ve been or become great friends, war buddies, some frenemies, but the numbers of role models, muses, and mentors are greater. Oh, the madness of this town defies anything you think you know or read. You cannot be part of this circus without having some sort of tale to tell.
I always wanted my own talk show and in many ways, this is like having one without people knowing who I am. (Although that dream still lingers.) What still excites me is knowing when I’ve connected with someone and they reveal more than just “the perfect soundbite.” It is when real emotion is present, whether laughter or tears, that I find the ability to want to keep doing this job. These moments of revealed humanity give me hope that we are all not living just for “the show.” These connections DO matter in this job, no matter how we continue to water down all the messages into a square box for 60 seconds or less.
Being a storyteller has been my goal since childhood. I’ve been bouncing back and forth between writing and producing for most of my adult life. It is rather telling that I am now grappling with the effects of a changing media landscape, which has even impacted the entire BTS/EPK medium. In this era of influencers and similar constructs, I worry about my true fate. Ageism is rampant everywhere. I went from Young Turk to Establishment in the blink of an eye. Maturity and experience are viewed by too many people in this industry as being expensive and even irrelevant. It strikes real fear in my heart some days. I do take great pride in knowing what looks and sounds real, though, and I know how to make people not fear the question or the conversation. It doesn’t matter if it’s in English or Spanish, either. It all has to count for something, even in a world where people think “fake news” is a real construct.
When I was recently sent the lead photo of this piece by Dave Nolte of Scratch Creative from a marketing shoot completed last June, I was at a low point. Losing Dad to Alzheimer’s in late February of this year left such a void in my life. I also found myself possessing a need for a second act. I felt so guilty and scared about this, which I’ve coupled with the tangible doubt as to whether I even want to continue this journey as a producer/interviewer. Then I saw the photo Dave sent me and I was instantly reminded of what I am capable of in this world.
Stories need telling by people who truly give a shit about an impactful and engaging narrative. Spin is not enough for some of us, nor is passing off HDR images and excessive font overlays as the “story.” The cynicism of thinking the audience doesn’t care is bullshit. We are in part responsible for feeding them this steady diet of lowest common denominator content instead of elevating them with material that nurtures the ability to pay attention and think!
I was taught and mentored by some amazing people to be a rebel in this town until the end, dammit. I am not the product of Affirmative Action or quotas. No one felt sorry for this gay Latino from Pico Rivera and said, “Aw, let’s give him a chance.” I didn’t complete my journalism degree, nor am I the most technically-savvy producer in the game. To be clear, I am here because I worked like hell to be in the room, even making some compromises that make me wince today. Dad always said the worst thing you can hear is “No.” I heard the negative and other choice words that did little to stop my trajectory.
The people that were a major part of my Hollywood career are no longer part of this industry or are facing an uncertain future, too. “The Jorge Show,” as I call it, has been a shared adventure. Period. I didn’t achieve this life alone. I carry their influence and teachings with me on every project, every interview. As long as people are willing to sit with me without reservation or fear, they will discover that they are in good hands and in the presence of a good heart.
And, yes, I’ll keep getting their attention first by sporting a great pair of shoes.
Here’s to 20 more years of “The Jorge Show” and conversations to remember.
**One of my most treasured moments, meeting Mexican icon Verónica Castro and the incomparable director/writer Manolo Caro for the Netflix series, “La Casa de las Flores” (House of Flowers). This was a true full-circle moment to treasure, the bridging of my American and Mexican selves as a content producer. Gracias a Netflix y Hari Sinn y su equipo por realizar este sueño.
In case you haven’t noticed, being in a reflective mood is a big part of who I am as a person.
I’ll pause for the rolling of your eyes, dear reader.
Yeah, I think too much. I think too much about stuff that is hardly ground shaking anymore. I, too, suffer from that illness of wanting to make myself seem so fucking interesting. So much effort has gone into curating a self that could be deemed “fabulous” or “fascinating” by others that I now question whether it was worth it. Losing Dad last month has allowed for a sense of clarity to take over. Revisiting all of our struggles together, the endless array of pendejadas I’d craft just to piss him off. And for what? He forgot them all due to his Alzheimer’s. However, what took over was something totally real and true. Each time he smiled, I knew we were in a good place. We laughed and lived out some of the best years of our lives together with respect. It will be a gift that will keep on giving.
These many years of trying on and shedding personas were exhausting, for me and everyone around me. The irony? Going back to my OG self now makes the most sense. Take out the chaos and “big feelings” and I have a nice rack of lamb to offer the world. That’s what brought me back to Dad. With him, I discovered that life doesn’t need an excess of adornment. It needs to be tended to with care and purpose. You nurture the best part of yourself and the people you love with sun and air, not artificial light, filters, and the prism of a stranger’s validation. Why it’s taken me so long to figure that out has more to do with what I thought I wanted to “see” in myself and the world.
Born a preemie, I guess I was determined not to fade into the background since day one. I had to see what lurked outside the safety of Mom’s womb! Haha. Once I started going to school, it became apparent that I had a voice and the power to be heard. Shyness be damned, the first person I made laugh in kindergarten was a revelation! I was aware of what made me different from the other kids. In the end, my early interests would dictate much of who I would be as an adult. It happened organically thanks to the people who remain my role models, at home, school, the library that was my second home. Then, I started to doubt my own singularity.
When I think about our mania to be noticed today by being considered an “influencer” or a “public figure” on social media, I can’t help but marvel over how it is also doing us such harm. It’s just a setting, for crying out loud. Creating a false persona took real skill in “my day” and we could not depend on a filter to cover the flaws. To bear witness to the elements of sameness projected by people all over the world today scares the shit out of me. We seem less inclined to break free from the pack to fervently embrace this culture of uniformity. Copycat beauty is not a celebration of individuality, which contradicts a generation’s determination to eschew the context of the past. Many parrot the importance of fluidity in their lives, but they swirl around the contained space of a very specific and packed fish tank.
This concept of curating an authentic life is also just another variation of “keeping up appearances.” And whoever coined the term, “adulting” should be ashamed. We live in an era that invents so many terms and slogans to validate confusion and insecurity. Most people can’t even commit to a simple meet and greet because of their lives being so “hectic.” Yet, they still want to be praised for doing the things you’re supposed to do as an adult! Argh. But yeah, planning and taking photos of yourself at brunch and Coachella will take it out of you. This doesn’t apply only to the millennials, either.
Sigh. I’m rambling here, I know. That I’ve grappled with the same insecurity of being ignored and feeling irrelevant for so long is one of my biggest failures. The trigger point from childhood, when I stopped letting my own true self exist for fear of being labeled “different,” cannot be allowed to be pulled. Opting to create an exaggerated self with the threads of what made me different wasn’t any better, either. Dad wasn’t always enamored of my colorful self, but he admired my voracious need to read, watch films, go to the theater, and articulate what I loved about what I was watching or reading. (Except “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” He tore a companion picture book in half and threw it in the trash.)
Dad believed in the power of words and I have found comfort and solace in recognizing that part of him. I know I won’t fade into the background anytime soon. My will to speak and write is too strong. However, the point is to allow our words to count. Empowerment and courage will forever exist in words, even in a fish tank.
Having the courage and will to express myself is what will get me through this next chapter without him. Nostalgia has also proven a great source of empowerment, lessons that were buried only to resurface as I contemplate my own future. For example, when I was a kid, visiting the family in Tampico, the tíos thought it would be great to get me on a horse. I was about 4 or 5. Tío Paul was so proud to see me ride. Instead, he saw me fall off, which wasn’t unusual for me. Graceful athleticism was left out of my DNA stew.
I didn’t get back on that horse. I often wonder what life would have been like if I just got back in the saddle again. No filter, either. It speaks volumes to me today. I don’t need a horse anymore, but I do know I won’t be staying down if I fall. I’ll just dust myself off and keep on moving forward as my singular self. Witnesses welcomed, but not required.
“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.
“The American people are turning sullen. They’ve been clobbered on all sides by Vietnam, Watergate, the inflation, the depression; they’ve turned off, shot up, and they’ve fucked themselves limp, and nothing helps. So, this concept analysis report concludes, ‘The American people want somebody to articulate their rage for them.'”
— Diana Christensen (as written by Paddy Chayefsky) in “Network” (1976)
“Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path”
— As Tweeted by Donald Trump, “President” of the United States (2017)
“It seems fitting to begin with the end.”
That’s how journalist Harry F. Waters’s cover story on “The Day After” for Newsweek began. I’ll never forget reading that piece, nor that opening line. The publicity machine over at the ABC network had been working overtime. TV Guide featured its own cover story and countless news reports added further momentum, worrying that the highly publicized telefilm’s depiction of the aftermath of a nuclear war on midwestern Americans would be too graphic and devastating for audiences, especially children. Others declared it was merely a leftist polemic for ratings. Yet, ABC did detonate one of the most watched television events ever with “The Day After,” a three-hour telefilm that answered of the ultimate “What if?” question. And more than 100 million people in 39 million homes tuned in one November night in 1983 to find out the answer.
Directed by Nicholas Meyer and featuring an ensemble led by such era heavyweights as Jason Robards, John Lithgow, JoBeth Williams, Amy Madigan & John Cullum, “The Day After” was actually conceived as a two-part event. In the end, audiences would witness a three-hour film chronicling the lives of several Kansas families as they deal with the horrific aftermath of a nuclear exchange.
Whatever its technical limitations, the irradiated images of blast vaporization, flash burns, radiation sickness and the futility of restoring even the most basic of societal structures burned into the consciousness of a generation. President Ronald Reagan, who viewed the film prior to its airing, credits the experience as being the reason why he reversed his stance on certain nuclear arms policies. (Reagan wrote in his diaries how the film was “very effective” and left him “greatly depressed.”)
Broadcasting a political statement as “entertainment” into the nation’s living rooms remains its hallmark. It was polarizing, but we had to watch, my family included. I recall how we sat in the den, my Dad, my sisters, and I. Mom or my younger brother weren’t present. Maybe, maybe not? What I do recall was sitting on the floor, leaning against the sofa and whispering, “Here we go” as the movie began. And our collective nuclear fears hit an unforgettable peak for the rest of the decade.
And we are still here.
In the 34 years since “The Day After,” we’ve seen and heard elected officials, dictators, religious zealots, grandstanding fringe media show hosts and a rogue’s gallery of other malcontents wax lyrical about warmongering. Then America elected Donald Trump.
Flannel shirts. Will & Grace. Roseanne. David Letterman. Fiorucci. Nuclear war! Sooner or later, everything comes back in vogue. Even the end of the world. Or maybe that prospect has never left us?
To those who know me, I am obsessed with apocalyptic fiction. I don’t know where it began, but movies, novels, mini-series, I loved the idea of “the end.” Hell, I even read the endings of books and hit Wikipedia to see how other narratives end. Haha. So, “When Harry Met Sally,” yo. I still joke that such eccentricities were preparing me for the inevitable. I’ve written about this before, stating that I watch films like “The Day After,” “Threads,” and “Special Bulletin” because no matter what we go through today, it still isn’t a nuclear wasteland.
I guess the jokes on us? Maybe?
Seriously, Trump is the quintessential rebound boyfriend, the one that is a huge swing away from the one who treated you well, but you broke up with anyway. He’s that loud mouthed douche who talks a lot of shit but can’t back any of it up. He’s the surprise date your friend brings to dinner and you all wonder, “The sex can’t be THAT good. Why is he with him?” At best, he’ll leave you with a case of crabs, but that can be treated. At worst, he’ll leave you with a scorching case of the uncurable herp. And let’s face it, America, you can’t afford to be left with another social disease transmitted through “fake news” or abject hatred. Bad enough we don’t have the healthcare reform to treat it.
For those of you who lived through the Reagan era, the idea of witnessing a nuclear war was solid enough to kick start the low sweat stage in us all. Yet, how lucky to know we survived to see Trump engage in social media saber (i.e. penis) rattling. Now, I ponder whether “the end” as entertainment is no longer just a scary scenario. Can it manifest itself this time? And what does that mean for us all? It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I don’t feel fine after all.
At times, I wonder if we are better of being dust in the atmosphere, given what we’ve done to ourselves and our planet. Then again, I’m not ready for “The End.” I refuse to give up on my right to dream of a good boy or girlfriend, the one who makes us all think and laugh at the dinner table, the one who believes in justice for all. Let all the haters ride the bomb to oblivion. We can’t allow for stupidity to have its way again.
1. Used to describe someone devoid of defining characteristics that might make a person interesting, extraordinary, or just simply worth devoting time or attention to.
2. Lacking intelligence and unable to socialize on even an elementary level.
3. Annoyingly frustrating because of the above
Oh her? Don’t even worry about her, girl. She’s so basic.
I think I preferred being gay in the 1990s. Well, sometimes I do.
That’s not an admission of not enjoying my gay life today. I enjoy it very much, although I probably hide out more than living out loud. Still, I honestly believe I am not alone in recognizing the limits that exist within the complex reality of the community today. Our tropes have been remixed, rebranded, shaken, and stirred into such a vast panoply of categories, it is no wonder we have begun to lose our connection to each other. It’s the same phenomenon of having too much choice. And while we continue to be political firebrands, I often feel it is hard to a distinguishing voice, one that embraces the entire group. Perhaps that’s an impossible task.
When I was sorting out my gay identity in the mid-80s to 1990s, I will never forget the fear and desperation I felt over what I perceived as a paucity of role models and resources with which to understand being homosexual. Yes, I loved watching old movies, Paul Lynde and broke my mother’s kitten heels as a kid, pretending that I was Ann-Margret in “The Pleasure Seekers.” Yes, I fell under the sway of Gershwin & Porter, Bette Midler, Linda Ronstadt’s “What’s New” and Joan Rivers’ infamous comedy album “What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most?” I wasn’t led to all of these places. Most happened by osmosis. Some of my favorite teachers, who probably felt I needed a little encouragement, steered me ever so gently towards some cultural touchstones. Bottom line, it all felt right, just like the crushes I felt for Han Solo, Steve Austin and Thomas Magnum, private investigator. However, as I poured through the oeuvre of Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, and Jacqueline Susann, their depictions of homosexuality only left me titillated and confused. Man, I had questions and no one to turn to for answers.
As a teenager, you didn’t dare mention anything “gay” for fear of being ostracized or brutalized by the macho fucks who prowled the school hallways. Pretty much anything that did not look or sound like them meant “faggot.” Advanced vocabularies were a secret shame for us chubby, nascent homos. It was all closets, stereotypes, and slurs, as I am sure it was for many teenagers surviving the early 80s. It didn’t help that the HIV/AIDS crisis was being treated like a biblical pestilence by the media. But how else would you view the deaths of 40,000 people between 1981 and 1987 as anything but a genocide? Gomorrah was burning and it was devastating to hear from Anita Bryant and your own friends’ parents that being gay was the match that lit the fuse. Asserting your homosexuality at that time was not going to be like an ABC Afternoon School Special.
As I ventured to UCLA and beyond, I began to discover the resources with which to further define my gay identity. It was about being part of the “gay and lesbian” community, even if only the white gay male narrative was what clearly in focus. I still didn’t see myself in the growing media presence of gay men. Although, we have come a long way in that regard. In many ways, it still is a very white focus, regardless of the gender. Room for progress? Yes.
While I stayed firmly in the closet when it came to my parents, I had no problems letting my gay flag fly elsewhere. After UCLA became an educational Waterloo, CSU Long Beach can take credit for leading me to the artistry Armistead Maupin, Charles Busch, Reinaldo Arenas, David Leavitt, Manuel Puig, Larry Kramer, Keith Haring, Joe Orton, Harvey Fierstein, Pedro Almódovar and so much more. Once I landed at Paramount Studios as an intern, I hit the mother lode (and not that stalwart WeHo bar.) Several of the men I worked with in the studio’s National Theatrical Publicity department presented themselves as being incredibly secure with their bad ass gay selves. It was the first of many safe and illuminating havens I experienced in terms of associating with professionals who were out in the workplace. I was made aware just how gay men and women were the ones to make life and style synonymous terms. In this ACT UP era, it was time to understand we were “fierce.” More, I became hyper aware as to the debt attached to the attitude, parlance, and strength of the community, realities contributed by African-American, Latino and Asian queers. It all made for an intoxicating existence, especially when viewed on display at clubs Circus or Rosie’s or Jewel’s Catch One, where we embraced each other, fell in love on the hour and felt so invincible on the dance floor.
When I started writing this post on being “Basic,” it was meant to be another statement on dating today. That was before I sat down to watch the poignant if erratic “Strike a Pose” documentary. It is a “where are they now” piece that was produced by a Belgian-Dutch team, the film celebrated the 25th anniversary of “Madonna: Truth or Dare,” itself a cultural moment of considerable influence. The documentary regrouped seven of Madonna‘s unforgettable backup dancers, charting the course of their lives, trials, and considerable tribulations in the years since their co-starring in the Material Girl’s iconic 1990 Blonde Ambition tour. That zeitgeist moment, one that influenced so many young gay men and women, had a bittersweet impact on these men’s’ lives. How a defining cultural gift proved so challenging and heartbreaking for these incredibly talented men helped me broaden the context of what I wanted to say about this era of being “Basic.”
I was very much one of those fans who found refuge and pride in a movie theater during that summer of 1991. I instantly re-felt the impact of “Truth or Dare,” despite the difficulties faced by this group of men as chronicled by “Strike a Pose.” It was also like finding being a letter from a long-ago love. Witnessing these men, all nearing 50, still moving to their own music with purpose helped me understand the need to keep moving forward, of re-embracing my own strengths and colors. More, they inspired me to not feel adrift or isolated as a result of being 50 and gay in a world that still caters to the proverbial youthquake.
The first paragraphs on “Basic” were these:
When it comes to 21st century dating between men, two categories remain in play. The first group – or the Exceptionals – are men worth dating, but are most likely paired off or not interested in being a couple at all. This group does not include those who are in open relationships, a social phenomenon that is just more macho-induced “having your cake (or cock in this case) and eating, too. And then we have group two: The Basics. Oh, man.
Created by the internet, this constantly trending crowd thinks it’s redefining our world and perhaps they are with their throwback looks and sway back attitudes. They live for the now, even if they don’t know what that means. It isn’t just millennials, either. Basicdom is spreading to all age groups like a virus as social media swallows the rest of us whole. And what’s in between is a collective of damaged goods spouting mangled psychosexual manifestos and more. It is no longer men you date or men you don’t. What we have today are next level distrust and basic human disconnection.
I couldn’t continue down this path, one I’ve covered before and a Bombeckian take felt trite and unnecessary. Instead, I wanted to focus on how unfunny being labeled “basic” is to those who wield it as a joke or a tone-deaf insult.
While I applaud how millennials have turned up the dialogue to address and give names to the many facets of out and/or queer life, they are still working on variations of a theme long-established. I don’t think today’s young gay men quite understand the debt they owe previous generations, their lives, struggles, deaths and everything in between. Gay is a living, breathing creature, one that can decide the color of its plumage without a care in the world. Hide it, suppress it, oppress it, this creature will fight its way forward to be seen and with even greater radiance. A context to our present is missing today, a respect for history and the sacrifices made for us all to be able to say, “Sissy that walk.”
You will find nothing “basic” about being gay, now or ever. But it pisses me off that we are quick to diminish someone for not possessing whatever trend or ideology that makes them “interesting” or “worth devoting time to” in this world. We all can’t look like refugees from the Electric Company or Romper Room. More, we can’t let striking a series of selfie poses, drinks up and duck lips be what defines our sexual freedom!
We all will get older. We all will find how our experiences can impact the future if take our narcissism out of the equation. How we dare shame those who are poz or act like PrEP is the golden bullet that will keep us young and fuckable. How dare we ignore those who choose a unique brand of queer, or want to unleash their true gender identity, are older or chubbier or a different color or creed? Bad enough religious zealots want us dead, still! We cannot castigate or diminish our own brothers and sisters. Not now.
Homosexuality is a reality that was never about a life style choice because it sparks to life in our very DNA. We should remix “basic” and take the dialogue back to basics when we were all vital human beings living life on our terms: compassionate, honorable, forward thinking and positively sexy.
It’s been another week to upchuck thanks to the now even lower set of public standards established by our “president.” Defended by his equally inept minions as “fighting fire with fire” over media criticism, we are forced to bear witness to the tweeted verbal diarrhea of a school yard bully. Morning show hosts are being called out as “psycho” or “ugly.” He’s approving clips of his taking down the CNN logo like a WWF star. It’s all being done to overshadow a travel bans, dangerous health care laws and other exhibitions of governmental malfeasance now threatening the stability of the country. Hell, let’s make it the world. After years of “scripted” reality shows, we are keep tuning in on “That Crazy Trump!” because so many Americans can’t tell the difference anymore. Besides, it’s so entertaining! He’s keeping it real! He’s giving it to the Left, finally!
Yeah, he’s giving it to us, alright. However, one key difference must be recognized. We are ALL going to wake up with a scorching case of moral herpes. America will be that person other people whisper to you about NEVER dating because “they’re whores.” We are exactly that, whores. Trading our sanity and moral compass for the promise of something, white, rich and devoid of anything that sounds/looks like Barack Obama.
Many people turned to the Trumpian Way because they wanted to go back to the “old days” of when America was great. One of the sadder realities about such sentiments is that Trump does not represent what made this country such a beacon of hope to many. We know that racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia will fight to the end before leaving their places at the table. It is why many have taken up the mantle of resistance for generations. However, this era on “notice me” and “I want it now” has overtaken the important of virtues of shame, accountability, respect, tolerance and inclusivity. More, it is robbing us of the one thing that could bind us to see our way through it: a sense of humor.
The era of “snark and awe” punditry has obfuscated the role of the news person represented by Chet Brinkley, Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw. The columnist and humorist is no less present, either, replaced by bloggers, vloggers and YouTube “personalities,” fueled by a cynical and arch tone aimed at showing how stupid everything and everyone can be today. It is the equivalent of graffiti with punctuation, offering little analysis and said as loudly as possible. All that matters are that these posts make an “impression.”
Making an impression.
Before, it meant impressing the group as they met you for the first time. Now? Social media marketing execs with crow about millions of impressions, but they cannot accurately gauge if it goes beyond just “looking” at the post. Does the audience engage with it beyond just blithely sharing it with their friends? Does it provoke them into acting? Of buying? Of contributing to the cause? Of any of the interactions we did not take for granted decades earlier?
The American columnist once carried such power, a power on par with reach and impact of Twitter today. From Andy Rooney to Ann Landers, from Louella Parsons to Hedda Hopper & Rona Barrett, and from Walter Winchell to Frank Rich, Americans read, listened and watched their way to understanding the political, social, cultural and gossipy effluvia of the growing celebrity age. They could turn the tide on national opinion and they gave it context beyond 140 characters or less. Sure, some of them appealed to the lowest common denominator. William Randolph Hearst makes Steve Bannon look like sloppy kid reporter with pizza stains on his chin. But we had a choice. We had options that catered to something classier. One stood above the fray, whose columns were about our shared humanity in a crazy world, all written to make us feel like we weren’t alone in our flawed beauty. And it made us smile, cry and laugh. Sometimes all at once. We had Erma. Erma Louise Bombeck of Dayton, Ohio.
Friends, she was a wise one. Clever, authentic, and funny AF. It was hella fun playing “Beat the Clock” during those elementary school mornings, the ones where she’d appear on Good Morning America right before the end of the final hour. My mom, who loved Auntie Erm as much as I did, would listen and laugh and then sweep us all out the door to our faithful aqua Beetle and haul ass to South Ranchito. She was so worth the tardy slip.
The inimitable Erma Bombeck, one of the most beloved American humorists of the 20th century. Her “At Wit’s End” nationally syndicated column appeared three times a week in 900 newspapers worldwide, earning a weekly readership of 31 million people at its peak. Bombeck’s columns, books and morning show appearances seduced a legion of fans comprised of women, men and even precocious kids like me. So beloved was she to her readers, it was like she was that Auntie Mame-like tía you couldn’t wait to see on family visits. No one exists like that today, a lost generation replaced by Kris Jenner and Kim K., who are now the criteria to be declared “New York Times Best Selling” writers in this era of Selfie Life as Style.
“They never lost their temper, gained weight, spent more money than their husbands made, or gave viewers any reason not to believe they were living out their lives in celibacy.
Their collective virtue was patience.
It was the age of the God, Motherhood, Flag, and Apple Pie. All you had to do to be a mother was to put on an apron. No one did it better than the prime-time mothers. I was of the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time-mothers.” – From Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession, 1983
Unfortunately, life after Donna Reed, Harriet Nelson and Carol Brady has been a trauma that will never be solved with a warm, homemade chocolate chip cookie and a hug. Aunt Erma was that voice of sanity in the chaos faced by the country in the 1970s and 1980s. While many fought for equality at home and in the workplace, people were still becoming parents and struggling with the many realities that plagued every new mom and dad. Erma was in the trenches with them, offering up a much-needed laugh in the face of what seemed insurmountable. She spoke to us, about us and it gave many of us a sense of security in knowing we were not alone in the changing tide of family dynamics.
Given our current state of angry racial, gender and cultural politics, a new generation may fault the writings of Bombeck as a dusty reflection of that suburban, white reality. Isn’t that what Trump’s legion of “fans” fighting to restore? But here’s the rub. It was never lost, just remixed by the inevitable forward motion of other groups in the land of plenty. Latinos, African Americans, Asians, all groups aspired and succeeded in reinventing the suburban experience in their own image. Struggling through oppression is not the only narrative we can contribute anymore! We have more to offer tales from life on the house on Mango Street or pen the umpteenth take on the “last mama on the couch” play, too.
The impact of Bombeck’s writing was a needed respite, especially after the upheaval of the 1970s. The 1980s were no easier thanks to the barrage of the Phil Donahue/Gail Sheehy/Self-Help Guru/You Can Have It All narratives that we started to ingest. We need a little Bombeck-style love again. We need someone who can write about the themes that are continuing to happen at a breakneck speed, despite the ugly that has exploded forth with Trump.
We continue to be new parents.
We continue to raise children.
We continue to be children.
We continue to see children as parents.
The grass is still greener over the septic tank.
We are still thinking if life is a bowl of cherries, while are we STILL in the pits?
We need a new Aunt Erma’s help to cope.
I say resist the snark and awe. Enough of the screaming. Enough of the blaming or bullying total strangers. No more extoling the virtues of sex tapes, reality stars, impressions and followers. We need to stop thinking our best means of curating an authentic life are those posts that disappear in 24 hours. We need to speak up and share our best insights and humorous outlooks at life today. We need to share those stories when we hear our kids refer to spaghetti as “gasphetti.”
Whatever our political sensibilities, we do share one common reality: we are such flawed human beings. Bombeck wasn’t shy to offer keen insight into her own less than perfect reality, which was a welcome breath of the authentic. As wrote about her family in “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries…”:
“I did not get these varicose veins of the neck from whispering. We shout at one another. We say hateful things. We cry, slam doors, goof off, make mistakes, experience disappointments, tragedies, sickness and traumas. When I last checked, we were members in good standing of your basic screw-up family.
There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.
And how do you know laughter if there is no pain to compare it with?”
We are all enduring the pain of an era we can’t seem to fathom on the daily. Maybe it’s time to take a breath and look beyond the 140 characters. Maybe it’s time for us to champion voices that lead us to feel it all a la Bombeck again.
Hmmm. Maybe it’s time for some tío Jorge realness in our lives? Who’s with me?
“Nobody wants to be alone Everybody wants to love someone Out of the tree go pick a plum Why can’t we all just get along?”
From “Androgyny” by Garbage
It was an unusual Sunday at home in that it was quiet and I was totally alone. I’d just returned from my umpteenth work trip this year to discover that, unlike the gorgeous temperate weather of Vancouver, LA was as hot as Satan’s asshole. While I wasn’t exactly loving making sopa in my Hanes t-shirt, I occurred to me that it I could finally be a puta in my own home! Without hesitation, I reached over to my iPhone, whispering, “You whore,” and ignited the Growlr and Scruff apps with a newfound purpose. That was before I realized I was better off making soup in my undies. Behold this exchange with Bachelor No 1:
HIM: Are you masculine?
HIM: Would you define yourself as masculine?
ME: I find that question rather insulting. What the hell does that have to do with anything?
HIM: It’s just a question. I’ve never had anyone react this way to it before.
ME: People want to see us dead. Why are we wasting time being shitty to other gay men by judging whether they’re masculine or not?
HIM: I’m not responsible for Prop. 8. LOL
ME: Come over, decide for yourself. But I’m not answering the question.
I sat there, annoyed, sticking to my guns as he continued to insist I define my level of masculinity. I know it is a part of this era of people seeking guarantees so they don’t waste on anything like being committed to a single choice. No one takes a chance, but they extol the virtues of being on PrEP. They’ll list “Daddies” as a like, but won’t even acknowledge you if you’re really age of true Daddyhood. They say they hate douches who judge or have a long list of criteria, but ignore you if you dare to “Woof” them.
As we continued to volley back and forth with the texts, my anger stared to refine itself. Heat be damned, I was sticking to my original point. It IS a fucking stupid question. If you’re gold star homo who enjoys sucking dick and engaging in butt sex, how can that make you LESS of a man?
ME: I paint my toenails and I am skilled enough to tackle you hard.
(That brief period of playing football at Meller Jr. High and ERHS had its benefits after all. Thanks Coach Peterson!)
HIM: So, you’re masculine then?
ME: For fuck’s sake. Yes.
HIM: I’ll be over in 40 minutes.
So, how was he in person? Like any other friend of Dorothy’s I’ve met and nowhere near my chosen example of “All That is Man,” otherwise known as the great porn star Zak Spears.
The experience left me quite pensive after he – mercifully — left. It wasn’t anything like the incredibly gratifying experiences I recently had in NYC and Vancouver of late. Both gents could not have represented the evolving gay identity of today’s homosexual any better. Confident and honest, they were very much in tune with their sexual selves, proving themselves fantastic lovers as a result. So, why are some of us determined to make these distinctions of what qualifies as the measure of masculinity? It annoys me as much as that current vogue of telling people you’re being a grown up or “Adulting” or whatever the hell that means.
I can joke that we are barely over the period when Metrosexuals jammed the “gaydars” for many of us – and women. That we’ve gone from playing Gay or European to Gay or Hipster!
Yet, gender fluidity continues to spill over into fashion, with men wearing skin tight jeans and even just plain ole tights as their daily uniform. As many men explore once feminine tropes, today’s younger generations continue to take great pains to redefine their sexual or gender identities, eschewing the use of traditional pronouns. He and She have given way to Cis, Latinx and a list grows with each year as these “woke” beings lead the vanguard as to what defines sexuality and identity. It’s hard to keep it all “straight” anymore! (I know, low hanging fruit.)
I spent the better part of my adolescence and teens being subjected to a litany of slurs that were just variations of one word: “faggot.” The damage caused followed me into adulthood. I still bristle at the mere suggestion of anything that diminishes my sense of masculinity. I like being a man very much. I am out, proud and part of a community that has so much to teach the world. Yet, how is it, despite all the prejudices and intolerance that want to see us eradicated off this earth, gay men can be their own worst enemy?
We slut shame, even though we proudly crow being in “open relationships.” We femme shame even though we love watching those divine queens serve up glamour realness on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” We poz shame as we brag about being on Truvada, ignoring that the rise of STD’s that is not slowing down or that our brothers of color are experiencing an unspoken genocide because of HIV/AIDS in certain parts of our country.
We are still playing that stupid “straight acting” card, despite the great strides taken since Stonewall. I wonder, is it because we want to protect ourselves from the grotesque hatred against our sexual selves? Is it self-loathing about being a cocksucker or buttfucker? I wish I had an easy to qualify answer. I know the space between who we desire and what we fetishize is rather small indeed. We want to fuck who we want to fuck. Period. But if we homogenize ourselves into being one type, we ignore the incredible diversity that populates our community, itself such a disservice.
We can choose a lot of things in this life. How we look on the outside. What we think we know about the world. Who we want to love or make love to in those moments of blissful carnality. But we cannot change who we are on the inside as men and women of the LGBTQ community. That is not a choice. That is our reality. We are truly born this way. If we are ever going to move forward as a group, like the greater section of our woefully ignorant society, we need to stop shaming or disavowing those who don’t fulfill some outdated criteria many of us had NOTHING to do in establishing.
I get ignored on these stupid apps on the daily for a variety of reasons and I’ve let that beat me down to the point where I feel that awful sense of being invisible again. I will be leaving them soon. But, it is important to note that I know what I can offer a man and it has been appreciated. And it will happen again. So, if a quasi-queer, but butch in bed, sweater wearing, Chanel LeVernis sporting, Phil Donahue-era and book smart homo is your thing, you know where to find me.
By the way, I forgot to mention Bachelor No. 2, himself a Latino. After a few texts, he wanted to know if my voice was “very very masculine.” At first, I played it flip and responded by saying I was a “raging, but awesome queen.”
Of course, he wrote, “Really?”
I responded, “Actually, no. But I’ve been told I sound really white.”
Alright you big city gays. Tell me if you ever had a day like this:
He was a family physician of Lebanese/Pakistani descent, based in Hollywood. It was a Tuesday morning. I was walking on the last temperate day in June to the location of a marketing photo shoot. As I gathered up my best publicist persona together to brave the Hollywood types ahead, I heard the all-too familiar “ping” from Scruff, instantly breaking my stride.
At last, a gentleman caller!
I was pretty sure that you could see the spark of hope firing up and surging to my brain at this moment. Ever since I shaved my beard, I’ve heard that Scruff ping less than 0.00 times. Just like that, I went from extraordinary Dad Bod Man to….ordinary.
The exchange was rather easy. He didn’t have a photo attached to his profile, a HUGE no-no in app etiquette. Most men won’t even consider responding to you without a photo. Sometimes, the snark in these profiles about not having a pic is enough to make you leave app life altogether, but stay with me here.
He sent one pic, looking slightly like Robert Foxworth in “Airport ’77.” Just slightly, mind you, but it was rather sexy.
The chat escalated to from the “Hello, why no pic?” to “Are you on the down low?” to flirty innuendo to “Let’s meet up!” Nothing unusual here as it was the standard trajectory of most of app-based conversations. Half the time they’re just wanting to play a game of naughty show and tell before disappearing into the ether altogether. However, things were looking promising with the Doctor. Then we had this exchange:
HIM: Are you submissive?
ME: Psh. Fuck. No.
End of communication.
Yeah. That’s how we meet, greet or run in 2017.
I can’t help but think about the famed “network” scene in the 1970’s cult movie “Logan’s Run,” where the hedonistic denizens of a futuristic domed city put themselves on a network to indulge their sexual whims and appetites. Yeah, it’s a lot like LA living, where everyone is forever young until they hit 40 and they are promptly cast aside.
When it comes to the gay dating apps, the airbrushed glory of being abs-olutely buffed, bearded and butch remains the standard. Yet, given the frequency with which you see the same faces on these grids over and over again, it appears that no one ever seems to be any closer to becoming paired or even connected. Add the insidious ageism of a culture that led the charge on being “The Body Beautiful,” it is a challenge to remain marketable if you are single. More, with many homosexual tropes now appropriated by heterosexual men, some of us are playing “Gay or Hipster” to pass the time — or stop from crying as to why no one is looking our way. Of course, I exaggerate. But since the digital age has turned the Thunderdome of dance clubs into a distant memory, I have to ask. As we swipe ourselves into a dehumanized oblivion, is it time to start championing being ordinary?
The brutality of perception and appearances within the gay community is not lost on many of us who came of age chubby, in love with showtunes and trend-setting fashion. We never really fit quite in with the greater pack, but we were also counted upon as that “funny friend” who made the Beautiful Ones feel human and cherished. For the longest time, I felt the Bear community was the most inclusive, a hirsute den of outsiders who eschewed the “WeHo” culture, a safe haven from the self-adoring Narcissuses of Santa Monica Blvd. But even the Bears have their own standards of hyper-realized beauty in an era of being a “Bearbie” or a “Bearlebrity.” Worse, as we dare to live our free, out lives in an America that want us to hide in our closets again, we have taken self-loathing to a new level. Take a look at this old insult, now available for purchase.
No Fats. No Fems.
Yeah, it pays to advertise your own biases these days, even “ironically.”
As I face turning 50 in a few weeks, I find myself wondering why the fuck I even try to make Scruff an option to make my way out of the “Single” column anymore? But there isn’t a Sweater Queen site, dammit. Haha. But the idea of size shaming and ageism is very real to many of us. The criteria as to what makes a man is just as challenging whether you’re gay or straight, more so than ever, I’m afraid.
Desire is a powerful motivator and beauty means different things to different people. But as we mass market ourselves on Instagram to garner attention, we have yet to learn how to truly cultivate a sense of individuality or identity. It’s hard enough to see what tricks young people implement on social media to not upset the herd. It is even more disturbing to see the middle agers subscribing to the same agenda. The many filters employed by all are a desperate attempt to stave off looking unpretty or appearing old, ignored and not liked.
What is wrong with not looking like a “Bearbie” or a “Hadid” or any of the icons that speak for our era? For such a “woke” age, why are we still holding on to the labels, both material and socio-cultural so hard? What are we afraid of? Being left behind? We have bigger issues to face as a society right now than not “fitting in” or being datable or even fuckable at this point.
We’re all just looking for connection
Yeah, we all want to be seen
I’m looking for someone who speaks my language
Someone to ride this ride with me
Can I get a witness? (witness)
Will you be my witness? (witness)
I’m just looking for a witness in all of this
Looking for a witness to get me through this…
— From “Witness” by Katy Perry
It is a human necessity to being seen and heard by someone who cares. We all want a witness to our lives. While the motivational speakers will pontificate on how we should start by loving yourself, embracing our flaws, to grow with love, et. al., the reality is that many of us are tired of being made to feel invisible. Many of us DO love ourselves or else we would never be connected to friends or family.
As for those who truly feel alone, that goes beyond the parameters of this thesis. I was once in that category. Alone, desperate and pondering to remove myself from this space altogether. I credit the therapy and anti-depressants I take to help me find the focus as to what it is I am capable of doing as a singular, ordinary person. I have a voice and a strong desire to articulate that which ails me. Because I know I am not alone in the pursuit of life, love and happiness in this fucked up world. Because I am proud of the man I’ve become. It may not be the man that’s in demand in the marketing sense, but then again, I once didn’t care about following the pack, either. Being socialized did that to me and I would remedy that in a heart beat if given the chance.
Yes, it sucks being single. For me. And I still think the possibility of being paired up again is very real. What is also real is the possibility of not finding that partner in life and that’s okay, too. A second act to my life is slowly revealing itself to me, a narrative of my own design that may not always make want to jump for joy some days. However, it is not keeping me eternally morose either. It is exciting knowing you can change, that you can evolve into a better version of yourself if you just pay attention.
Perhaps “Ordinary” is not the word for people like me, because we aren’t really. Even the moniker of being an angry, hungry, fat, gay Mexican is more about humor than a political statement. Perhaps a word doesn’t exist for us at all. It is more of a feeling of being empathetic, of giving a shit about people, despite their ridiculous flaws and hubris. But, f I had to choose a word or two? I’ll just say “I’m Jorge” and let that speak for itself.
– From “Come Go with Me” (Lewis A. Martineé), performed by Exposé
I’m going to set the origins of this little journal entry to the past on the sodium bomb from the Slurpin’ Ramen Bar consumed in April in Koreatown. (Excellent place, fyi). Yeah, I did feel a little “up” afterwards. Also, I was correct in predicting that my date for the evening was going to cancel on me –again — so it is better to shift focus onto something a bit more joyful and avoid the desire to man bash. I was truly bloated, bothered and bewildered, the perfect state of mind for journaling!
It’s taken me awhile to shape this into something worth reading and I’m still not sure if I’ve cracked the code. I have to give credit where credit it due. Earlier this spring, my sister NanyG, sister-friend Helen and I were in the midst of another hi-larious confab, this time at the Pico Rivera Shakey’s Pizza, a cherished location located within our shared cradle of youth. It was a carry-over from ANOTHER HelJor outing (as we refer to ourselves), this time with our childhood compatriot, Anne. And yes, if you’re a member of those days at South Ranchito Elementary/Meller Jr. High/ERHS, we probably DID talk about you.
What I love most about our get togethers is the chance to look back with a clearer vision as to what it was to come of age in the 1980s. Some of the focus is starting to slip into a tepid glow as we have move on through our teen years into our sure to be golden era of 50+. (Well, I can’t speak for myself. I remember way too much, but surprised to know how much I never saw what was often going on right in front of me. I see the roots of my self-absorption are very much showing.)
Being a teenager. Oh, that’s a weighty subject. (Zing!) The pudding days of Meller, when I was stout, pimpled and experiencing a woeful state of style were replaced by something a lot cheerier, leaner and taller by the time sophomore year began at El Rancho. Sitting here with my lap top, it makes me smile to understand how the realities of life’s experiences hadn’t yet taught us how to deconstruct or process our motivations. Everything was so AMAZING until your find out years later that it wasn’t. The struggles we deal with as adults are variations of those classic adolescent tropes. We were the last of the Breakfast Club generation, spicier incarnations of the Princess, the Athlete the Criminal, the Brain and the Basket Case. In some cases, we were probably all five.
Some of us were wonderfully clueless. Others were – and, surprise, remain — mean girls and boys. We had our groups, our nicknames, our juries, our judgments, our hierarchies, our first loves, our first pains. And as divided we ultimately became as life lead us to our chosen paths, for a small group of us, we remained steadfastly united during the 12 years we followed each other to the edge of 18.
The time isn’t ripe yet to pen that “Whatever Happened to the Class of 1985,” but it is starting to germinate. Something happened to me during that transition years of childhood. I first embraced my peculiar sense of being a boy, only to quickly shun it thanks to bullying and the inner shame felt as a teen. I hate that it happened at all, compromising my true self in the vain attempt to be liked and popular.
But that’s a story for another time.
Right now, I want to remember what it meant to be young in Pico Rivera, where youths were a microcosm of the bigger trends happening inside of LA and out. Everyone had their fiefdoms of rule within the school and outside the city limits:
Poseur Cali Preps
The mods were growing in numbers as Madness and The Specials dominated the powerful KROQ playlists, stealing club time at Marilyn’s in Pasadena.
The punks were a smaller contingent, but followed X and Black Flag to Madame Wu’s in Santa Monica.
Poseur preps, the ones that had turned up collars along with their classist noses had the most money, bigger houses to match their attitudes and Atari consoles.
The heshers, most of whom were in band, were a fiercely loyal bunch that sported their KMET and KLOS stickers as badges of courage and pride.
Urban surfers held fast to their Jeff Spicoli uniform of Vans, OP and Lightning Bolt shorts.
Morrissey. Enough said.
As for the rest of us?
It was a sea of teen dreams and mall made looks. Girls had their fast fashion trends of jelly shoes, bolero hats, plastic purses and other styles culled from department stores or Judy’s, Contempo Casuals and Miller’s Outpost. God, those damn belts that rivaled the WWF championship bling! Some tried to rock the Mod look with tights that had the feet cut off under long tartan skirts and flats, but it rang false. Maybe it was because feathered hair can’t ever replace an asymmetrical bob?
The cookie cutter style of the boys was laid upon a foundation of Levis jeans, tee shirts and jean jackets — then and now. Jocks will never die out if letterman’s jackets are still able to be earned. My memory can’t seem to fill in the blanks here, an era where the Metrosexual, Lumbersexual and Hipster styles would eventually blur the lines of masculinity.
However, one group reigns supreme in my mind when I look back at that time now. I can’t help but smile at these style rebels of my teen years:
CHA CHA GIRLS!
I’ll never forget these hothouse flowers that found access with fake ID’s to such playgrounds as the Florentine Gardens, the Red Onion, Black Angus, Pepper’s & Wings, as well as private parties and any other place they could hold court to the tune of Exposé, Debbie Deb and Stacey Q. They rolled around in packs, each with their own special markings of bangs, spider lashes, streaks and nail tips. They oozed a female sexuality that was true power, which sometimes moved faster than they could understand or control.
(Fun Fact: Exposé lead singer Jeanette Jurado is a former El Rancho Don! Class of 1983. Represent!)
This is one group John Hughes would never include in his white bread parables of teen life. These girls weren’t always pretty, but they loved pink, the brighter the better. They played fast and loose with the rules of the time, carving out their own niche as the 1950s ideal of adolescence began its hasty decline.
How I loved these ladies, feathered, streaked and war painted, wearing heels that were higher than their standards, all squeezed into Technicolor fabrics that stretched with the blind optimism of looking good! I always viewed the Cha Cha aesthetic as a rebellion against the leading tropes of the era. These Latinas were way ahead of the Kardashian brand of flesh as fantasy and in your face womanhood. They were always named Letty, Lorraine or Denise, Nena, Pebbles or Candy. Sometimes you had a Monica, Yvette or an Andrea. Given the immigrant culture that was the foundation of aspirational Pico Rivera life, you might have a Socorro or Maria Delilah in the bunch, but she was always the one you made call her much cooler older brother or sister when shit got real. (“Shut up, Socorro!” could be heard whenever she offered the single voice of sanity.)
The soc’s (the popular girls) looked down on the Cha Cha’s as being trashy, but like all things unbridled, jealousy motivated their feelings. Hallway chatter about some of these ladies was nothing short of salacious gossip, especially if their boyfriends were jocks. This could explain why many of the Cha Cha’s of my era opted to date outside of the El Rancho walls.
Every Friday of my first year at El Rancho, or “The Ranch,” was littered with invites to the weekend’s parties. Mass printed flyers, emblazoned with Nagel girls, were events sponsored by mobile DJ’s that called themselves “The Men of Elegance” and groupies of females known as “The Girls in Freak Position” or worse, names that you know would piss off your parents as they demanded you to “Tira esa cochinada ahorita!” (I wish I kept one of these flyers. If you have one, let a brother know!)
Liquid Gold on a budget
They were the denizens of the house parties and clubs that rocked the San Gabriel Valley, Hollywood and beyond. They were free-style aficionados who ventured to the Mansion, a claque that was strictly “Members Only,” weekend warriors fortified by Shpritz Forté. For some reason, the men were Dippity Do’d and Drakkar’d into shiny and musky sameness. Despite their macho posturing and bantering, they were rather generic in attitude and looks. Most couldn’t grow a mustache to cover their top lip, but it was awesome to see that their girlfriends could!
It was with great delight that I found a short film I created with my one of my best childhood friends, Ed Castellanos. We invaded El Rancho a few years after we graduated, crafted a DIY masterpiece with a VHS camera. Family, friends, students all contributed to this opus, cheekily titled “Fatal Aquanet.” It was meant to be a trailer for a new movie, with audience reactions and testimonials. At 16 minutes in length, we probably could have used some judicious editing.
Our intent was to create something that was fun. The best part were the on-the-street chats with the Cha Cha’s we talked to on Whittier Blvd. one memorable night. This was a harbinger of the life I would eventually lead, of documenting interviews and questions, of capturing the stories of lives in motion with truth and verve.
Our destinies can be revealed at a young age if we just lose the fear. I wish Ed and I went on to document other things together. Who knows? “Fatal Aquanet” will live forever on YouTube and on this blog for a reason. (Ed, perhaps a reunion is in store for us? I have an idea!)
Since those chats with Nancy, Helen and Anne, I’ve been toying with another idea, of fashioning a series of posts around a fictional group of girls, Cha Cha’s all, representing a chapter in my angry, hungry, fat, gay Mexican life. Perhaps I’ll use this device to frame a larger story, of what happened to the class of 1985 through the prism of one group of friends as their gay single friend approaches 50 and faces the prospect of marriage…to someone younger.
Nothing upsets the herd like a seismic shift in the group dynamic, with the rest of the couples questioning their own choices and relationships. Sometimes when we look back, the consequences have an unexpected on the future. Good or bad, it is always for the best. And it would have great style with a soundtrack to beat any mixtape or playlist you could devise.
I don’t know how that particular story will play itself out, but I only ask that you come go with me and find out.