Sunday, May 30, 2010

TAKING ISSUE

I first learned of the area where I live after reading a newspaper article many years ago. As prices for a home rose, the writer explored places outside of Vancouver to see if she could find other “livable” communities in British Columbia. She had a checklist to ensure she wouldn’t give up some of the simple pleasures she found in the city. Things like finding Thai food and being able to pick up the latest issue of a particular magazine—The Atlantic or The New Yorker, I don’t exactly remember.

I should have paid more attention. I should have made my own checklist.

Facing (another) Saturday night with nothing to do—alas, the hockey playoffs are down to two teams I don’t care about—I drove into town to rent a flick. Almost buried in New Releases amongst the multiple copies of Saw VI and Transformers was a single copy of The September Issue. (Tangent: Ever notice how the New Releases section stretches the meaning of “new”?) I wiped off the thin film of dust on the top edge of the clear plastic cover and checked out the documentary on Prada “devil” Anna Wintour and the process of making Vogue’s most anticipated issue of the year.

Earlier in the day, I’d envied a friend in Toronto who was off to see the new Sex in the City movie on its opening weekend. Alas, that blasted green ogre continues to take up the only two movie screens that I can drive to. But now I had my own fashion film. Thirty minutes in, I could hardly contain myself. I pressed pause and headed back into town. This would be Fashion Night! Despite living where it doesn’t matter, I had the urge to peruse the latest summer and fall collections for men. I scanned the shelves of London Drugs. Alas. Men’s magazines have taken a downward turn. Three publications were shrouded in black plastic wrapping. Esquire had a voluptuous woman yanking down the top of her black dress dangerously close to the nipple zone and the other men’s magazines dealt with cars and stocks and hockey. Nothing even hinted at fashion. (This time of year, hockey is more fashion challenged than ever as scraggly beards complement those damn mullets.)

Where was my GQ? I searched the display racks three times and surveyed the tabloid section by the checkout. Wait…Dennis Hopper did drugs?!

Gee, no GQ. What’s with this town’s aversion to the letter Q? No GQ, no DQ. (Tangent: I struggle with an addiction to Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Blizzards. And the Oreo Mint ones. And…)

I felt another tirade coming whereby I rant against this deceptively pretty Hell Hole and John Mellencamp, he of that taunting “Small Town” song, the only line I ever remember being, “I’ll probably die in the same small town.” Fortunately, a Starbucks decaf—God knows I didn’t need caffeine in my state!—calmed me. I must have looked particularly pathetic as the barista said it was on the house.

I found the apparently elusive magazine at the gas station. I’ll admit I was embarrassed to take it to the counter. More scandalous than Esquire! Some Aussie “supermodel” stared seductively on the cover, anxious to peel off her teeny white bra. What would the clerk think?

No, I am NOT a perverted old man who hasn’t figured out where to find internet porn! I’m just a gay man, desperate to see if suspenders are coming back. And those silky disco shirts!

Turned out to be complete waste of money. GQ was that magazine I subscribed to in high school with a new impossibly chiseled model’s face gracing the cover each month and tips about the correct way to apply cologne and fold a pocket square. Sadly, the current issue has busy, garish ads with race car drivers, a floozy pushing Curve Fragrances and a Gillette one-pager without the customary male model posing shirtless at the sink. There was a shot of an overweight shirtless man barfing in a garbage can, photos of lions and moose having sex and some Playboy-inspired comics of politicians like Alexander Hamilton having sex.

It was yet another near bust of a Saturday night. Thank God I had another hour of The September Issue to browse. And, yes, Madonna—on cassette!—to pay tribute to a fashion magazine with the wisdom to stick to the runway.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

ONE IS (SOMETIMES) THE LONELIEST NUMBER

Took the ferry in to do some writing at the downtown public library in Vancouver yesterday. It wasn't as productive as usual. Got stuck sitting beside an acquaintance on the bus ride from the terminal to downtown. He was running on about his business pitch. My eyes glazed over and I never fully recovered. My brain lacks the capacity for power tools, technology and business. Makes me not a very practical guy. Should have been a trust fund baby but, alas, that didn't work out. Now all hopes are on the lottery.

Of course, having a partner might offset my deficiencies. He could install the new light fixture that’s been sitting in my closet for two years and I could…well, I could thank him. And maybe that glaring imbalance helps explain my recent stretch at being single. What’s it been now? Six years and counting, I think.

Since February I’ve been emailing a fellow from Toronto. There seems to be some potential, but that may be because we haven’t met. He had a birthday recently and I didn’t hear from him for the next ten days. Seems being single and fortysomething put him into a funk. (I’m not a fan of birthdays. Too many of us mark it as an artificial point in time—like New Year’s—in which we reflect on growing older and what we have (not) accomplished. Reflection can be constructive, but when it hits at a time we’re supposed to feel celebratory, it can be destructive.)

When he finally resurfaced, he started opening up about feeling alone. He talked about what having a partner would mean. I especially liked his comment about two people being at a function and mixing with other people at opposite ends of the room and yet still being "together". Lovely thought. I'm a sucker for romantic comedies, even the terminally bad ones, and I even found myself watching "The Bachelorette" Monday night. (Shame.) I take comfort in knowing that others are out there (supposedly) looking for love.

When I can avoid wallowing in my single status, I am able to remind myself that there have been times when I was with a boyfriend in a crowded room and the space wasn't big enough, he couldn't be far enough away. I can remember pulling up to our house and breathing a sigh of relief when his vehicle wasn't parked out front. I recall hanging out at the UBC library until 11 p.m. closing time because the character house that I'd dreamed of no longer felt like home.

I know some couples that should no longer be together. I've sat through many a meal as the third wheel with my head down, staring intently at my mashed potatoes as they tensely discussed a trivial matter, behaving as best they could with a (reluctant) witness present.

I still long for a partner to share my life, to respect and support, to laugh with me when I bang into the cabinets (again), to console me after a bird hits the guest bedroom window—as happened this morning—and maybe even to figure out how to program my DVD—not show me, just do it for crying out loud!

At 45, there are many days when an irritating voice in my head tells me I may have missed out. Sometimes that voice from when I was 15, the one that said I nothing but a repulsive misfit, joins in and says, "I told you so." There are days when, even eating alone, it's best to just stare at my mashed potatoes. Or take the dogs for a longer walk in the trails. Or listen to En Vogue and Alanis tell off the guys that never looked my way in the first place.

Sometimes coping isn't pretty.

Fortunately, that 15-year-old voice doesn't come around much. It's probably off tormenting confused teens in a nearby high school. I no longer ask, "What's wrong with me?" Part of my being single is my own doing—my career, my isolated home environment, my inability to make eye contact with anyone I find remotely attractive. But then part of it is about things just not lining up right. I may think many of the good ones are taken, but they may be bores or brutes in their seemingly blissful longterm relationships.

I can obsess over being single. Heck, when I was 6, I thought I'd be settled down at 20. Didn't happen the way I'd planned/dreamed. My life is different. But it is what it is. I make the most of it. I can get exceedingly frustrated, but most of the time I can find something to laugh or at least smile about.

As I write this sentence, I turn and see one of my dogs, looking up and wagging his tail. It’s a reminder that to him, at least, I’m special.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

NEWSWEEK CAN'T SEE STRAIGHT

Here we go again. I checked my calendar and, yes, it’s 2010. Yet Newsweek publishes a piece by a purportedly gay writer who asserts that Straight for Pay does not work in the acting world. Tony-nominated Sean Hayes can’t play a straight man with a female love interest in Broadway’s “Promises, Promises”. Jonathan Groff can’t play one of Rachel’s love interests on “Glee”. And knowing Rock Hudson was gay reduces his credibility in playing a male romantic lead in his classic movies. (The author cites a single scene: Hudson taking a bubble bath by himself in “Pillow Talk”. Gee, do you think the writer had an agenda?)

Now I have not seen “Promises, Promises”. My rural abode is far from the lights of Broadway. But I would posit that, if there is any difficulty in seeing Hayes act the part of a straight character, it is because of his iconic role as the flamboyantly gay Jack on “Will & Grace”, not because Hayes is a gay man. Many actors struggle to be recognized in other roles when audiences continue to see them as a particular character viewed on their TV screens from week to week over a period of years. This is especially true with over the top, comic roles. For many, Michael Richards will always be Kramer. (In his case, that may be a good thing. Best to block out his infamous standup comic tirade.) Jason Alexander has also struggled with the supposed Seinfeld Curse. What can top the role of a lifetime as George Costanza? Candice Bergen has always remained Murphy Brown in my mind. Shelley Long, Delta Burke, Jack√©e, Julia Duffy,…their careers stalled after achieving notoriety as memorable TV characters.

Yes, there are many exceptions. That’s not the point. I am merely trying to get in the mind of a Newsweek writer who may be lacking analytical and self-reflective skills. I don’t mean to bash; all I’m saying is it seems too convenient to completely omit the Jack factor. For some, Sean Hayes will always be “just Jack”. (Add your own jazz hands.)

As for Jonathan Groff on “Glee”, what is there not to buy about him as Rachel’s love interest? I did not know the actor is gay, but I don’t dismiss him now that I know. I am a Gleek and I would suggest that any problem with Groff’s role comes from the fact it is underdeveloped. So far I’ve gleaned that he has a wonderful singing voice, but he hasn’t had much to do in wooing Rachel. He came on strong (and convincingly), but the Rachel-Jessie storyline has been diluted as other characters have been featured more prominently and as the show’s writers have continued to pit Rachel with both Finn and Puck.

I’m not sure that anything more needs to be said about the Rock Hudson point. Pillow Talk”, for crying out loud! I watched it years ago and the whole thing seemed like an innocuous piece of fluff. If John Wayne were in that bubble bath, it would still seem hokey and, in the Newsweek writer’s view, not very macho. Many young (or newly out) gay men like to see the entire world with rainbow-coloured glasses. I dissected George Michael’s songs and easily found all the gay references I wanted before he ever got sloppy with his bathroom habits. When I watched Barbra Streisand in “Yentl”, she was a gay man, not a woman disguised as a man. The gay factor sometimes is more overpowering from a gay person’s point of view than it is for the typical heterosexual male who is too busy ogling over Kristin Chenoweth or Julia Roberts anyway.

The writer also expressed doubt that an out gay actor could have convincingly played George Clooney’s role in “Up in the Air”. That is not the issue. What other actor, gay or straight, could have played that part? I loved that movie, but it was clear to me as I watched that it was the perfect George Clooney part. Once you make the A-list in Hollywood, certain parts are tailor made for you.

I’m done with nitpicking over the flaws in the article’s logic. The bigger concern is the underlying message, especially from my vantage point, living in a rural area where I do not know any other gay men. (Yes, my house is still for sale!) If you can’t be accepted and embraced as a gay man on Broadway, what does that say for rest of us? If your options are limited there, what does that mean for gays struggling to be seen beyond stereotype as sons, friends, teachers, athletes and car salesmen in Peoria, in Moose Jaw and in places rarely designated on provincial or state maps? And if gay men can’t see gay actors as being anything other than gay, how evolved have we become in openly accepting others and in seeing ourselves as human beings with so many other aspects to our identity?

I have to wonder what the editors at a reputable magazine like Newsweek were thinking when they decided to run the article. This will be controversial! This will steal some of Perez Hilton’s buzz!

This. Will. Sell. Copies.

Good for business. Sad for gays.