Thursday, February 16, 2017

BRIEFLY SPEAKING

I'm a Nasty Pig.

My underwear says so.

I thought I was worse off wearing old Fruit of the Looms with holes all along the elastic waistband. Not intentional extra hole features. I don't think Fruit of the Loom makes that kind. But I'm betting Nasty Pig does.

My Nasty Pig briefs are tame. A simple Speedo-like cut boldly coloured in red and black. According to the picture on the package, I’m supposed to look cut when I wear them. Six-pack abs. That v-line that’s sort of hot but makes me think of starving people. And, best of all, absolutely no muffin-top overhang.

The picture lies. Maybe I’m too old. (Maybe clothing should have age guidelines. That’d put me in long johns and suspenders.) Maybe I just don’t have the right body. (Why can’t I just accept that?) Maybe I’m just a plain white Fruit of the Loom guy.

It’s crushing to discover that I’m a Nasty Pig fraud. If they wanted to protect the brand, they’d have spent less time on the pouch and more time on developing a sensor tag that sounded the alarm when the wrong guy—that would be me—tried to update his underwear drawer. They should have ejected me from the men’s undies specialty shop like Willie Wonka got rid of Augustus Gloop. No fancy (under)pants for you!

Perhaps that would have been for the better. I’m unsure what to do with my Nasty Pig purchase. My momma instilled in me the importance of always wearing clean underwear, but what if I get in a car accident, I become unconscious and I’m transported to hospital and the doctors discover my scandalous Nasty Pig label? Would they refuse to operate, even if my briefs are freshly washed with Tide Mountain Spring-scented detergent? (Maybe they’d dillydally as an Instagram-addicted scrub nurse posts a pic. It’s the end of the world as we know it and it has nothing to do with the big baby in the White House.)

I’m seriously limited in when I can slip on my Piggy apparel. Can’t wear them if I plan on driving, can’t wear ‘em if I go through an airport screening. Security officials would deem me a risk for…something. I’m sure there’s some language that applies on page 152 of the manual under the heading “General Unsavoriness”. (Updated versions will specifically reference imposters sporting sexy undies under a new heading, “Missing the (Marky) Mark”.)

I can’t wear my briefs to the gym either. No way I’m revealing them in the change room. The exposed belly is enough to show I’m not worthy. Why drive the point home any further? ‘Roid boys don’t take kindly to having protein shake decision-making (Extra shots of bee pollen and Creatine?) interrupted by a fit of laughter. ‘Roid boys must conserve facial muscle movements; everything must be channeled to the biceps.

I guess I can only be a Nasty Pig in the presence of my boyfriend. Really, that’s the way it should be. I’ll try not to take offense when he quickly turns the light switch to Off. It seems he has a special sensitivity to glare. Happens when I wear my ol’ Fruit of the Looms, too.




Thursday, February 9, 2017

GHOSTS FROM DATING PAST


OK, so I'm dating. But it’s so much more than that. The connection is uncanny. I’m astounded how it continues to deepen. If I were truly social media oriented, I’d have changed my status on Facebook. Yep, James Gregory is in a relationship. But I’m neither savvy nor self-absorbed enough to think that a Friend I haven’t seen since high school graduation and a Friend who happens to be a former colleague’s ex-wife’s aunt care. (They’d rather see photos of the roasted potato broccoli pizza I ate last night.) So I share my news on an obscure blog. (This one, in case my reference isn’t obvious enough. Glad you found it as a detour on your quest to search “how to fix Trump’s hair”.)

But my non-Twitter friends don’t read my blog. They don’t know about it. I share things that are too honest, too personal for real life friends. (Being un-Friended in the real world stings too much.) For them, I go the old-fashioned route, sharing my take on “The Bachelor” and bemoaning all the shade sugar is getting these days during occasional one-on-one social encounters.

For once, I have something significant to say when a friend asks the obligatory question, “So what’s new with you?” Yep, so glad you asked!

While I’m gleefully giddy, I must do my best to tone it down when sharing the news. I’m acutely aware how sensitive one can be when chronically single. (My last relationship ended in 2004.) Sometimes I’ve felt more hopeful, even inspired, after hearing about someone else’s new love. But that’s fleeting. It always spins back to another rip in my crepe paper coat of armor. What’s wrong with me? No one will ever notice me. I’m destined to die alone. When being single seems like a state of perpetuity, it’s difficult to ignore the hole, the missing connection. Another person’s newfound love can be celebrated, but it also wounds an already fragile lonely heart.

So I proceeded with caution in sharing my news with two of my single friends. Over an afternoon coffee, I patiently let my retired teacher friend go through the motions of debriefing me on events of his life in the past few weeks. A bronchial condition. A visit from an ungrateful nephew. A tense encounter in the checkout line at Safeway. (Thirty items is not “Express”.)

Oh, the restraint! Thou shalt not blurt. How many more sad-sack anecdotes before my big news?  Alas, the weather rant came next. Yes, it’s cold and, yes, there’s snow, but it’s not raining. Isn’t that the silver lining in Vancouver? I don’t think Oprah is a jumping-the-shark moment for “60 Minutes” but I’ll nod if that helps us move on. And can’t we both agree that your building manager—whom I’ve never met—is an asshole and a lazy one at that? Was I a cup-half-empty guy too during all those years being single? Hard to recall now that my mug is overflowing.

At last, the focus turned to me. Where to start? Do I take it chronologically? How do I condense twelve hours of glorious anecdotes into five minutes?

“I met someone. I’m in love.”

Oops. I’ve been known to give away movie endings, too. But this proved to be a prudent way to share. I’d said what I needed to say, albeit not as much as I wanted to. I’m in love! I’m in love! I’m in love! My friend was then free to ask as little or as much as he wanted. And, to his credit, he asked enough to stretch out our conversation ten minutes, maybe fifteen. He smiled. He congratulated. He shared in my joy.

And then he said, “I think it’s safe to share this now.” As he searched his phone, he talked about watching an old, old (1980s?) episode of a Canadian game show I’d never heard of while he was confined to the sofa one afternoon—bronchial condition reality. It took several minutes for him to find the video he wanted so he spouted off random rules of the game show, some sort of two-against-two trivia contest with the kind of measly prize payoff that’s typical of cheap Canadian productions. (Box of Tim Hortons donuts, anyone? Maybe a baseball cap with a moose on it.) At last, the video. Two sisters competing against “friends” Tim and Fabio.

Oh, no. Ick. Tim. He was a guy who seemed gaga about me in the summer of 2014. Until he wasn’t. Chucked me like a concrete block into the ocean. Why the f*@k did I need to see the clip? Funny? I responded with a shrug and an eye roll. Five seconds and I’d seen enough. “You’ll be happy to know they lost,” my friend said. “And Fabio’s the only one who got them points.” Why would that make me happy? My new guy makes me happy. Nothing more required.

Later in the day, I picked up another single friend for dinner and, as he got in the car, he rattled off a conversational “agenda” for our meal. (He’s a lawyer, but that’s not a good enough excuse.) Items 1 and 2 were about recent trips of mine but then he added, “And then I’ve got something important I want to talk to you about.”

Naturally, I wanted to go right to what was “important”.

“You’re driving,” he said. “We can wait ‘til we get to the restaurant.” Really? Maybe my friend doesn’t know me that well. It’s only been twenty-one years, after all. But I tried to give waiting a go. As we drove, we chitchatted about the latest highs and lows of his pie pursuits. (Yep, he’s obsessed with the pastry. It’s an endless pursuit for the perfect slice. His most rhapsodic moment came from a particular pecan pie at DFW airport five years ago. Aside from a Japanese women’s church auxiliary apple pie sale one weekend each October, it’s been a disappointing quest ever since. And, no, I’m not making this up.)

Pie talk out of the way, I pressed for him to get to the important topic even though I had ten minutes of driving left. Seems he’d gotten together for dinner a few weeks ago with some friends from our past and my ex had organized the whole thing.

Ugh. My ex. A seven-year mess that began well but devolved into an abusive relationship.

My friend talked about sitting beside my ex the whole time and how nice he was. Was this the “important” news? Was my long-time friend dating my ex?! Didn’t he remember how miserable my ex made me, how much I suffered?

Then he said, “I think you two should get back together.”

Clearly, he remembered nothing. I shook my head, emphatically said no and, as luck and good travel time would have it, pulled over to drop him off to get a place in line while I parked the car. This was a bigger What-the-F*@k moment than Game Show Tim & Fabio. Here I’d suggested we get together for dinner so I could talk about a new man I loved and, first, I would have to recite a series of indignities I’d incurred with my ex. To be fair to my friend, I’d never fully spelled it out before. They’d remained in the same social circles and I didn’t need friends to take sides after the breakup. Besides, I was too ashamed of all I’d endured for so long.

While standing in the crowd in the restaurant lobby, it only took a minute of listing terrible experiences for my friend to say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I’m sorry.” But I went on. I needed to be clear that my ex had caused real damage despite all my efforts to block and repress the vial that spewed with each left-field rage. Never again.

More apologies. My friend was mad at himself. Not his fault. Thankfully he had a pizza menu to peruse before shifting to the truly IMPORTANT topic of the night: new love, better love.

And so, after a couple of unexpected detours, I’d managed to share my news. The ghosts from dating past were most unwelcome, but they served as a reminder of how far I’ve come. I’ve struggled mightily in recent years. I spiralled from alone to lonely to bleakly desolate. Somehow I rode out the worst times and survived by merely existing when that was the most I could muster. I got better—not completely but enough to feel again and enough to want to risk sharing myself with another. I’m with a man who gets me. I believe he won’t ridicule me. He makes me feel cautiously confident. He makes me want to be well and to be invested. I’m one of maybe three people on the planet who hasn’t seen a “Ghostbusters” movie of one gender focus or the other so my pop reference may be off, but I’m feeling deserving this time around, I’m experiencing things fully aware and this time I’m determined that nothing’s gonna slime me. No more being spooked by ghosts and, if I’m lucky, no more singlehood. May status reports be a thing of the past!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

MISSING MARY

The news of the death of Mary Tyler Moore has left me shaken, not because it was necessarily unexpected, but because Mary proved to be a seminal cultural pillar in my life. This post is the first in a series, "Chasing Mary", I originally published in August and September 2015 as I set out to walk through the old haunts of Minneapolis news producer Mary Richards.

Mary will continue to turn my world on with her smile. 


I suppose it began with “Sesame Street”. A crucial episode when M was the letter of the day. It helped me overcome a key sticking point in my learning. I could spout off the alphabet in a familiar singsong voice, but I’d thought the fast part in the middle, LMNOP, was the name of a single letter. Bert and Ernie et al. set me straight. That breakthrough proved huge. My phonetic awareness grew—m is for mom, m is for monkey.

What a cool letter!


And I became conscious of environmental print—my street name began with M and then there was the big yellow M for McDonald’s. But the fast food sign could not compete with the block, typeset capital M on the wall of a sitcom apartment set. M was for Mary. Was and is. Mary Richards, portrayed by MTM, Mary Tyler Moore.

There was always something about Mary. She visited my living room every Saturday night and, being as that was never a school night, I had the privilege of staying up “late” and seeing her navigate the newsroom and the homefront in a tiny apartment where everyone popped by. I got used to Mary’s place long before Jerry’s. Loopy people dropped in at will. She always had the time or was too polite to say otherwise. No wonder she remained single.

Even as an eight-year-old boy, I identified with Mary. She was my role model. Always gracious, always fighting to remain unflappable despite all that flapped around her. Mary taught me that the world was beyond my control. It was best to hold on to my convictions and greet the onslaught of oddities with a shrug and a smile.

Countless times growing up and throughout my adulthood, I’ve been deluged by other people’s problems. I am an established dumping ground. And as my own beloved Ted Baxters and Rhoda Morgenterns go on at length about a current conundrum, I find myself drifting off, if only for a moment, and saying, “Hello, Mary.”

And so it was only a matter of time before I set out to find Mary Richards. While my colleagues planned summer getaways in Italy and Nicaragua, I set my sights on Minneapolis.

I know I am no better than my eleventh grade classmate who showed up at school on a random, i.e., non-Halloween, day dressed as Darth Vader. Perhaps I am no further evolved than the four-year-old boy I recently saw in full Spiderman costume—just because—or all the little girls at Disneyworld in princess regalia. I do know Mary Richards is not real and she is certainly neither princess nor superhero; still, there is reality in her character due to the fine writing of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” staff.

I also know that the show has, as one online source described it, only a “tenuous” connection with Minneapolis. The show was always shot in a studio in L.A. But the opening and closing credits of the show solidly placed it in Minnesota’s largest city. As Sonny Curtis sang “Who can turn the world on with her smile?” we saw Mary Richards driving to town, naïve yet filled with aw-shucks anticipation. We saw a balcony restaurant and the opening ended with that iconic scene surrounded by pedestrians as she tossed her hat in the air, a hurrah, a Let’s-make-a-go-of-this. Indeed the optimism evolved in the theme song, with a second season lyric change from “You might just make it” to “You’re gonna make it.” After all, this was Mary Richards. Human, not superhuman. Indefatigable despite mishaps, hard-knocks and humiliations. As far as I could see things, how could one not want to make a pilgrimage to a veritable City of Hope? Yes, Minneapolis.

I will admit to waffling. I’d planned on Minneapolis last summer after feasting on Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s delightful book Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, a behind-the-scenes confection about the show. Maybe “feasting” is the wrong word; I consumed the book in bite-size pieces, overjoyed with each passage, needing to set the reading aside to savor the anecdotes.

I doubted the trip. As I incurred too many expenses in the spring—a higher mortgage for a teensy Vancouver condo, car payments for a teensy new car (a Mini Cooper)—I knew the responsible thing to do would be to spend summer at home. What’s not to love about Vancouver in the summer?

But as soon as school let out, I felt restless. Minneapolis was personal business. It had been my destination since I was that eight-year-old, sitting on a sofa in the den of a brick house in Hamilton, Ontario.

I’d put off Mary long enough.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

TEMPERED EXUBERANCE

I’ve been single for most of my time living in British Columbia. There were seven and a half years when I navigated the ups and downs of coupledom and codependence, but the rest of my twenty-two years have been overpriced ready-made meals for one at Whole Foods and go-nowhere coffee interviews. (They say they want a boyfriend but they’re not hiring.)

For whatever reason, single people seem to gravitate toward single friends. We commiserate. We judge less. (Yes, it’s always his fault. What’s wrong with all of them?!) We have established routines when we get together, running through the latest false starts, bemoaning the pervasive flakiness of gay men, offering hollow words of encouragement.

Keep looking. Unless you need a break. Yes, breaks are good. They say you’ll find him when you’re not looking. Just like that American quarter I picked up on the sidewalk at 14th and Main.

You’re a catch. Really! Not for me, of course. (Let’s not get awkward.) But, yes, you deserve a break. One of these dates will finally lead to something. Besides, I heard on the radio yesterday that coffee is good for you. (It came right before the Starbucks ad.)

Single friends never make the offensive suggestions of those rogue attached friends who still sit down occasionally for a rushed get-together. (The car needed an oil change. Gotta kill forty-five minutes somehow.) Attached friends show their impatience as you launch into the first of what was supposed to be a series of anecdotes with the working title “Woes of the Single Man”. They’ve had better luck. (Yes, it has to be attributed to luck.) They’ve forgotten what it’s like to be single. They interrupt and say things your mother says before you abruptly hang up on her.

Maybe you should join a bridge club.

Maybe you should stop walking with your head down.

And then, worst of all, Maybe you’re being too picky, which to the overly sensitive, chronically single gay man translates as, “You’re not all that deserving. Settle. Lower your expectations.”

Ouch. Thank goodness for single friends.

The greatest danger to the friendship between two single people is the possibility—however remote—that one will fall into a relationship. It’s the beginning of the end. Sure, there’s initial joy. High fives. I told you it would happen. I’m so happy for you!

But it hurts. Being single suddenly feels lonelier. Maybe not all gay men are flakes. What’s wrong with me? Yep, self-pity crashes the celebration.

And your relationship status with the formerly single friend changes as his dating relationship deepens. Saturday brunch gets canceled. (“Dwayne and I are doing the Run for Vision-Impaired Peruvian Tree Frogs. And Sunday’s no good either. We’re canoodling. Have I mentioned he’s a great canoodler?”) Weeks go by. (“Dwayne’s cousin’s in town.” “Dwayne and I are going to Open Houses. You know, just for fun.” “Dwayne needs me. He has an infected toenail.” F*@king Dwayne.)

The rare get-togethers now involve seating for three and, while it’s clear The Boyfriend is the one who’s changed the dynamic, you’re the third wheel. Sometimes you’re the fifth wheel as another couple elbows its way in. (“We met at Charades Night at the community center.” Charades? Really?! When did that become more fun than a bitchfest over coffee?)

Your friend has moved on. You’ve been squeezed out. It’s time to lick your wounds, cough up that hairball and call your other single friend. The one who talks too fast, forgets to swallow as saliva builds on the sides of his mouth and makes too many connections to Pokemon characters. It’s all too clear why he’s hopelessly single. You question why you’re having coffee with him thirty seconds into his first monologue. But he’s available. No canoodling. No weekends wasted hypothetically wondering how a kitchen reno will make that overpriced townhouse in the suburbs livable. This default friendship is all Dwayne’s fault.

I’ve lost a lot of single friends to Dwaynes. We’re down to passing waves as the two of them walk their three Chihuahuas in the park and I rush to fit in a 12K run before the next Vancouver rain. (Must lose the belly blubber. Maybe then someone will notice me.) And so it is with trepidation that I’ve arranged to meet a single friend for coffee and another single friend for dinner. I have news.

I’ve found a Dwayne.

Only better, of course. Much, much better! (I stubbornly refuse to punctuate with multiple exclamation marks—it’s redundant—but picture seventy-eight of them prior to this parenthetical aside. In fact, picture them in a bubble font, with hearts replacing the dots. I’ve officially become a tenth grade girl.)

But I can’t get too excited as I tell my single friends. It’s not that I feel a need to be cautious in what I say about him. Sure, I have a clear track record of dating failure, but I’m confident this time around. I know we fit. I’m elated. I’m giddy. I have an urge to blurt, “He’s the one!”

I am eager to share my news but I’ve got to show restraint. Casually insert “kinda” and remove exclamation marks and ALL CAPS as I gush about him. He’s kinda amazing. (You have no idea how hard it is to leave the preceding italicized sentence. Sometimes understatement is tantamount to a lie.) I don’t want them to feel discouraged. I don’t want to say goodbye to my friends—we’re not really huggers—and leave them to head back to their one-bedroom apartments in that Maybe it’s me downward spiral. I can still ascribe to the pervasive flakiness of gay men. Well, most of them. The single ones, my own friends, and the fine, enlightened readers of this blog, excepted.

I won’t abandon my single friends. I won’t stop listening to their struggles and frustrations. I’ll be there when they find their own Dwayne. If ever. I’ll listen and encourage. Knowing this, I can adjust to a gradual release of all the gleeful feelings and moments of this astonishing journey with my Dwayne. (To be clear, his name is not actually Dwayne. It’s way better. Naturally.) Despite the fact I know my life is changing, I’m determined for some things to stay the same.








Sunday, January 1, 2017

GOLD DIGGING


I’ve been working out for almost three decades. I’ve belonged to nine gyms and dropped in to countless others. But I’ve never gone to Gold’s.

It’s not my kind of place. I’m muscle-lite and they’re muscle-max. We don’t mix. That’s why they have their very own gym. Keep the scrawny dudes out.

But I’m out of sorts. Vacations will do that, mostly in good ways. (Yep, I have no idea what day of the week it is.) The problem is that I have to work off my holiday donut fat—please don’t tell me you can get them all year—and my feet are blistered out from a string of jogging days. So I needed to find a gym.

Gold’s was a three-block way. Convenient. But convenience is when you need a Slurpee. (I’m trying to tell myself I never need a Slurpee.) A gym requires more thought. It’s where I’m vulnerable. Exposed chicken legs. Bad form lifting (sorta) heavy objects. Endless stream of sweat dotting my t-shirt. If I get noticed at the gym, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

No Gold.

I Googled “Venice gyms” and that damn Gold’s popped up again, along with a handful of yoga places. My official line is that yoga isn’t real exercise. In truth, I can’t do it. I was the kid who always bent his knees when having to touch his toes in kindergarten. I can’t even keep my balance doing the Hokey-Pokey.

Definitely no yoga.

So I found L.A. Urban Fitness and located it on Google Maps. Close enough. But then their website revealed it was only a store for vitamin supplements and protein powders. And downing two gallons of chocolate-banana protein smoothies won’t even begin to cure my donut gut. Even if I vomit the chalky concoction.

So I had no choice. I’d be the fool at Gold’s. I mentally rehearsed my entrance as I left the hotel. Go forth with confidence. You have every right to do your workout. Just say no to steroids. You will never see these people again.



I remained composed, even as I saw a cluster of motorcycles near the entrance. Harleys? (Is there another brand?) Gang members? Would they swarm me inside and taunt me with some aggressive bicep flexing? Okay, so I dwindled to semi-composed. I blame my parents. They instilled a fear of motorcycles and people with tattoos. (My father was an ER doctor. He’d often come home from work, sit down for dinner and gravely say, “I never want to see any of you on a motorcycle.” Maybe he’d seen dead people. Maybe he just didn’t like the noise on the commute. My mother was more concerned about ink infections and bad grooming. “Those beards! Oh, if I could just take my scissors to them.”)

I forked over my $25 drop-in fee. (That’s got to be about $400 Canadian.) My parents also taught me to get good value for my money. Now I couldn’t leave.

I immediately went to the cables. No one was on them. A coup, I thought. They’re always busy at my gym. But then I glanced around between sets. And it dawned on me. These guys don’t do cables. Free weights only, man. A few sets in, someone joined in at the lat pulldown cable beside me. A woman. With biceps twice as big as mine.

Three decades at gyms. You can do this.

I’d expected a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack. Jimi Hendrix. Metallica. That guy that eats bat heads. But perhaps I was confusing steroid gyms with small town facilities. It was hard to hear the music but rap seemed to predominate. Angry. Motivational?

Sit down and shut up.

I don’t give a f*ck about nothin’.

This is me crushin’.

Shut up. Shut up.



When I finished my cable work, I couldn’t find the 65-pound barbell to do curls. Searched and searched. And then another epiphany. They don’t stock 5s. What’s the point? Increase by 10 every time. Like the big boys. (I stuck with 60. This was not the place where I wanted to scream in pain over a muscle cramp.)

Last time I was worked out in Los Angeles, it was at L.A. Fitness. They had palm trees painted on a wall. The subliminal message: If you exercise hard enough, you may be able to go to the beach and shed your turtleneck. But Gold’s doesn’t mess with subtleties. The walls were covered with photos of Speedo-clad Mr. USAs or Mr. Worlds. I may never wear a swimsuit again.

I tried not to stare at people. But I had no wifi on my phone as I didn’t want to pay international roaming charges. (Again, my parents taught me to get good value for my money. I couldn’t justify any urgency to reading about Trump’s latest tweets.) Glancing at Mr. Worlds had caused enough damage and it got boring staring at the time on my phone so I turned people watching into a little game. Like counting blue cars or state license plates, I tried to entertain myself by searching for someone scrawnier or flabbier than me. It was tougher than the New York Times Saturday crossword, but it prompted me to wander into other rooms at the gym. And I dared to look closely at a couple of muscle men. One short, stocky guy’s bald head showed off a maze of protruding veins. I wondered what a Venice fortune teller might read into his noggin. You have a long love line. But I see lots of turbulence. I mistook another bald man as wearing a blue-gray swim cap. And then I realized it was a mass coating of ink. It fascinated me. Only a square area that included his eyes, nose and mouth was tat-free. Where did he work?  What does his mother think? Does he go through extra screening at airports?

These wonderings helped pass time between sets. I grew more comfortable. I gave up the need to find someone scrawnier. I even said, “Excuse me” to a guy leaning on the leg press machine I wanted to use instead of meekly deciding to skip legs for the day. I watched as many guys worked out with a partner and yakked too long between sets. Just like at my gym. I noticed one workout buddy videotaping the other. Okay, not like my gym.

I realized these guys were possibly as messed up as I am, spending way too much time exercising. They just had more to show for it. I don’t ever want the kind of bulk where I can only fit my legs in pajama bottoms and sweatpants—not that that’s even in the realm of possibility—but I had to give a nod to the dedication of these men. They had their own goals and I’d say they were meeting them. I’m sure that some of them will never be satisfied, always comparing their bodies to someone “better”, always being hyper-focused on a millimeter of flab on the big toe or slightly asymmetrical calf muscles, but much as I like to be dismissive, they weren’t born with six-pack (twelve-pack?) abs and biceps bigger than my thighs. They achieved something.

And so did I. I spent ninety minutes in a gym with several dozen men I’d never be able to look in the eye. And I left being slightly less defensive, a tad less judgmental and a trace more connected.

I didn’t firm up my pecs or trim my tummy, but I maybe I got something more out of my Gold-en opportunity.  






Monday, December 26, 2016

BYE GEORGE

This is feeling like a trend. Bowie. Prince. And now George Michael. I’d add Natalie Cole to the list as well. (I’m just glad Joni Mitchell seems to have pulled through.) So now it’s time to end the trend. Let passing away be passé. Lionel Richie, Madonna, Phil Collins, you’ve got to live until you’re ancient. No one will remember you. Except other ancient folks and, when these other ancients reminisce about you dancing on the ceiling and pretending cones were your breasts, the young ‘uns will just think they’re having a delusional moment. Morphine and memory challenges will do that.


But back to George. His death may not come as a surprise. He’s had problems over the years. Maybe he was never supposed to have the spotlight solely on him. Maybe Andrew Ridgeley served a purpose after all. I think the Brits followed his problems more than those of us on the other side of the water. Here, he went from scandalous to a joke to obscure. We moved on. This is the land where we need to know about parking tickets issued to neighbors of fifth cousins of those Kardashian sisters. (Don’t ask me to name them. I’ll only sidetrack you with an analysis of Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Inception”. You won’t be able to argue. But we’ll go back to normal talk, disparaging Starbucks while nonetheless slurping down our caramel mocha half-sweet non-fat frappuccinos.)

See what I’m doing? I’m straying. Because I’m not sure what to make of George’s death. I didn’t know him. I wasn’t part of his circle of friends. I wasn’t even a neighbor of a fifth cousin. I never had a backstage pass to allow me to forever tell every acquaintance my one takeaway: He said hi—well, not to me, but to a hotter looking guy beside me—and I swear he had a distinct scent of green tea, scotch and pot on his breath. (Or maybe it was just Hubba Bubba watermelon.) No, all I knew was the George of MTV and awards shows and of one particular cassette that I’ll always consider a classic. (If only I could play it. Bought it twice as all that damn ribbon had a tendency to unravel in my car radio system.)

I got much more from George than the nickel he got from me in royalties. I had a little crush on that handsome, blond-streaked bopper who first emerged looking way too happy in a CHOOSE LIFE t-shirt. At the time, I thought Wham! was another one-hit wonder. Like Kajagoogoo. And Haircut One Hundred. Oh, those pretty pretty Brit boys. George’s debut act—was it even a band?—didn’t deserve continued success, not with an exclamation mark in its name (just wrong!) and an odd song with a “Go Go” tagged on the end. (Another tangent: I always thought Jane Wiedlin should’ve had as much solo success as Belinda Carlisle.)

But Wham! lived on because the lead singer had more than good looks; he had a voice. And despite “Everything She Wants” and the solo hit “I Want Your Sex”, I always felt there was a sensitive man wanting to emerge, wanting vocals to matter in the pre-Adele era. “Careless Whisper” gave us a window to something greater. I always felt “A Different Corner” and “Jesus to a Child” would never have been released as singles if George had been a lesser pop star.

I will admit that I enjoyed seeing him shake his stuff in those faded jeans in the “Faith” video as much as anyone else. And I enjoyed all the gay chatter. Is he?! But what about Brooke Shields? He was a master at feeding us an infectious hook, from the dopey “I’m Your Man” to the slick “Fastlove”, from the cheery “Freedom” with Wham! to my favorite single, his solo “Freedom ‘90”. These were the songs I danced to in gay clubs between Madonna, Janet Jackson and Bananarama videos. George gave us a good time. Over and over again.

But he went from pop icon to artist with the release of “Listen without Prejudice, Volume 1”. “Praying for Time” haunted against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis. The song begins with a plea for charity but ends in the kind of uncertainty that fit the period:

It's hard to love, there's so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it's much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time.



“Freedom ‘90” represented an artistic shift in its absence of the singer in the video, something that must have given record execs ulcers even as they dropped hundreds of thousands into a delicious fashion video with the supermodels of the day. (My roommates were obsessed with models at the time and we argued playfully (?) over which model was supreme. Being the prideful Canadian, I always went with Team Linda.) Behind the gloss of the video and the groove of the music, the lyrics begged for us to see George as he truly was:

Heaven knows I was just a young boy,
Didn't know what I wanted to be.
I was every little hungry schoolgirl's pride and joy,
And I guess it was enough for me….


But, today, the way I play the game is not the same;
No way.
Think I'm gonna get me some happy.
I think there's something you should know.
I think it's time I told you so.
There's something deep inside of me.
There's someone else I've got to be.

But nobody—other than the gays—wanted George to be anything different. And, really, George already had the gays in his denim pocket. I’ll always believe “Listen” was grounded in a real relationship with a man but no one wanted to see that. Or maybe I wanted to see that too much.

The album didn’t get the sales or the recognition it deserved, perhaps because its songs demanded that the listener actually think, perhaps because he didn’t want his ass or even his face to be a part of the promotion, perhaps because his record label wanted to teach him a thing or two about corporate conformity.

When news broke of George propositioning an undercover police officer in a Beverly Hills park bathroom, I took perverse pleasure, not in seeing a star humiliated—at least not that much—but in finally having confirmation that Georgie Boy was one of us. Hell, he could be mine! If only he’d look beyond urinals or bathroom stalls in public restrooms. (I don’t have a clue where exactly the propositioning occurs. I’m more concerned with there being soap and a hand dryer that works even just a little. (They never work beyond “just a little”, do they?))

I’ve read that George never embraced his coming out. He didn’t want to be the trailblazer. And who can blame him. His career in North America dried up after the bathroom incident. No more U.S. charting singles, even with the buzz-generating “Outside” video. Sam Smith et al. have no idea what homophobia was like back in 1998, particularly for an artist whose sexy looks were part of the draw.

And so a mega-star with ten Number 1s and twenty-three Top 40 singles flamed out. But I continued to have my “Listen Without Prejudice” binges. It was part of the soundtrack to many of my road trips and, just two weeks ago, I spent a Saturday night playing my own George Michael marathon, even discovering a new gem, his Rufus Wainwright cover, “Going to a Town”. Admittedly, I have less than stellar weekends, but there was renewed joy and appreciation in listening to the man sing.

We’ll always have that. It’s unlikely that he would have had any kind of musical resurgence. The real tragedy is for those who knew him personally. I don’t know how he died but I hope it wasn’t at the hand of one of his demons: drugs, depression or a combination of the two. George Michael helped define my days of coming out and the years that followed. He added feel good moments to the process. I’m not sure he ever gave as much to himself.

I’m still listening, George. Without prejudice, but for now with great lament.  






Tuesday, December 13, 2016

THE OUTING SHRUG (aka THIS IS WILLIAM)


Oh, how the times have changed. It used to be that a “Yep, I’m gay” moment for a TV character was an end-of-episode shocker. (Sadly, Ellen lost its funny after the big reveal. Suddenly the sitcom had a responsibility beyond making people laugh.) There was a time when a show created extra characters for the sole purpose of filming a kiss between two men and risking an advertising boycott. (I loved thirtysomething!) That was a safer way to play the gay card. These random characters could be written off after the Very Special Episode. (On thirtysomething, the characters Peter and Russell appeared in four episodes each, only two together. Financial losses from the gay kiss on thirtysomething had a chilling effect on televised displays of affection. On Will & Grace, the first kiss between Will and a date did not come until the third season.)

A character’s gayness can still be a source of dramatic tension (Empire) and some misguided plot points. (What do you mean Jamal slept with Alicia Keys?!) But we’ve moved on. Gay TV characters can exist safely beyond the set of Will and Grace (and Jack and Karen). They can reveal themselves and expect little more than a shrug or a half-raised eyebrow. My god, their coming out moment doesn’t even take us to commercial. The viewer doesn’t need to catch his breath. The surprise is not dramatic enough.

Such was the case when we learned that Randall’s biological father, William, is gay (or bisexual) on last week’s airing of This Is Us. Sure, that’s news. The fact William has a thirty-six-year-old son tells us he had sex with a woman at least once. (I’m proud of that “C+” I got in Sex Ed.) I had not thought William was gay. I made an assumption that I’m sure 100% of the viewers made. I hadn’t thought much about William’s life beyond Randall’s house. Really, my one persistent worry was, Who’s taking care of his cat? Adding an unexpected character element didn’t so much as shock as open up another story line. It merely gave William something to do other than show mild discomfort over stomach cancer and spout words of wisdom about accepting your slice of pie. Now he has a life-before-(and-beyond)-the-Pearsons.

If anything, my only reticence in the William Is Gay (or Bisexual) revelation was that his (ex?) partner aired his grievances over being abandoned in a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. It was a semi-cryptic public shaming. While Jessie may be bitter and feel jilted, his speech gave me a bad first impression. Don’t accuse William of being indirect in abandoning you and then be indirectly confrontational in return. Maybe I’m just overprotective of soft-spoken, kind-hearted, life-of-hard-knocks William. He’s a poet. He was denied connection to his son by Mama Bear Rebecca. He’s got a terminal disease. Kid gloves, Jessie. I don’t want to see William on his deathbed this season. (I just might have donated to the Canadian Cancer Society to try to save a fictional character.)

I can get past Jessie’s poor form at the N.A. meeting. I didn’t have anything invested in him to start with. As he made is grand speech, I didn’t yet know what the point was of this seemingly random Narcotics Anonymous heckler. My mind even wandered to wondering if Kate’s Weight Watchers group might meet down the hall in the same building. Maybe she and William could carpool next time. (Anything to give Kate more screen time…with a character that doesn’t give a crap about her weight.)

So William is gay (or bisexual). I greeted the news without the “hooray” of old. Been there, done that. More of a restrained “oh” followed by a pensive “hmmm”. I do look forward to seeing how William navigates his numbered days between his newfound family and Jessie. Let the drama play out as messed up and endearingly as the rest of the story lines. Let William be a fully realized character. Let him deal with more of the dysfunction that is indeed life.