Friday, November 27, 2015

9 great "Hello" songs that have nothing to do with Adele or Lionel Richie

"Hello Goodbye" The Beatles Along with "Something," this was my favorite Fab Four song for many years…and then I discovered "Within Without You."

"Hello It's Me" Todd Rundgren I'm not saying that Adele nicked her opening line from Runt, but he did go there first (in 1972).

"Hello Love" Hank Snow Here's the genius of Snow's 1974 classic, with which the then--one-month-shy-of-60-year-old became the oldest singer to top Billboard's country singles chart: Is he greeting love love, his beloved, or both?

"Hello Stranger" Emmylou Harris Not the often-covered Barbara Lewis classic but rather a Carter Family one. Emmylou's interpretation provided one of many standout moments on Luxury Liner, my favorite country music album of the 1970s not recorded by Freddy Fender.

"Say Hello, Wave Goodbye" Soft Cell That's right. Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret wasn't all about "Tainted Love." In fact, the 1982 album's closing track went all the way to No. 3 in the UK.

"Hello Again" The Cars The kings of streamlined American new wave totally give in to over-the-top '80s production. Not only has it aged a lot better than I thought it would, but I still prefer it to Neil Diamond's Jazz Singer hit with the same title.

"Hello Darkness" Ric Ocasek "Hello" again, from the Cars frontman on This Side of Paradise, his 1986 second solo album.

"Hello Beloved" Angela Winbush and Ronald Isley Quiet-storm '80s R&B at its most sizzling. To quote '70s Dolly Parton, baby, I'm burning.

"Memory Song (Hello Hello)" Robert Plant I've never been sure what it's about, but I have a feeling if I did, I'd probably cry.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

20 things I have to be thankful for in 2015

Years ago, I celebrated Thanksgiving with my boyfriend Tommy and his family in Queens. Before we ate, we went around the table and listed all the things for which we were thankful. I remember struggling to pull together a list in my head as I waited my turn. It was not one of my finest internal moments.

Either my life has improved considerably in the 17 years since then, or gratitude just comes easier to me now. I haven't actually celebrated Thanksgiving in the United States since 2005, but it's so easy for me to think of things to be thankful for.

Here are the first 20 that popped into my head.

1. A job I enjoy doing.

2. A apartment I enjoy coming home to even more.

3. Old episodes of Casey Kasem's American Top 40 being available to download.

4. That I'm old enough to remember the 1970s (my favourite decade) and where I was and what I was doing when Elvis Presley died. It's the first decade I remember, and sometimes I feel like I dreamed all my memories of it. Reliving the '70s through throwback music, TV, movies and newsreels is almost like turning those maybe-dreams back into reality.

5. My health, give or take chronic headaches, occasional allergies, panic disorder and near-comical hypochondria.

6. Being occasionally mistaken for twentysomething by suitors who were born after I graduated from college. Is the next generation blind or what?

7. My friends all over the planet.

8. and, both of which have been playing such vital roles in helping me to travel around the world for years now.

9. Words -- even when they fail me.

10. At least one family member who has always actively shown me he cares, whether or not I make the first move.

11. Body parts that, for the most part, still work.

12. My five relatively intact senses, The optometrist may have diagnosed me as being shortsighted and having an astigmatism yesterday, but I can still see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles.

13. My iPad. How did I ever live without it?

14. Art.

15. My youthful idealism and enthusiasm. Somehow I managed to avoid hopping on the jaded train that turns so many people my age into bitter middle-aged queens. I'm still excited to take the road less traveled (or any road, for that matter) and hopeful that it will lead to an amazing place.

16. My age. I don't necessarily want to get older, but I have no desire to be in my twenties and thirties ever again.

17. Facebook. I have my issues with social media and the havoc it's wreaked on our egos and communication skills. Twitter and Instagram are all about self-promotion, but Facebook can be so much more. When I think of all the people it's brought back into my life and the ones it's kept there, I can't imagine a world without it. I don't want to imagine a world without it.

18. EZTV. It's why I get to live abroad and still keep up with all the US primetime-TV shows that I watch religiously: Empire, How to Get Away with Murder, Black-ish, Nashville, Veep, Girls, Devious Maids and Episodes.

19. Hillary Clinton. There, I said it. I've been solidly Team Hillary since 2008, and that's not about to change

20. My life. It's far from perfect, but I can't think of anyone else's I'd rather be living.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

One crime doesn't fit all: Why I just can't wrap my head around anti-Muslim rhetoric

One of the most flattering and memorable compliments I've ever received was from a boyfriend who said he admired me because I always root for the underdog. It wasn't a personal quality I'd ever considered before he noted it, as it never required any conscious effort.

I've probably always backed the underdog because as a perpetual outsider, I've always felt a bit like one myself. In some ways (being black, being gay, being the child of immigrants), my outsider status was thrust upon me through no choice of my own. Meanwhile, as an expat for going on a decade, I've been geographically, culturally and sometimes linguistically an outsider entirely by choice. I often feel like an outsider even within the groups that make me one.

I wouldn't have it any other way. Always feeling like I'm on the outside looking in has contributed immensely to my character, building my independent spirit and, to a large degree, making me the loner with reclusive tendencies that I am today.

On the downside, when you're a minority outsider, in the eyes of many on the inside (the supposedly superior majority), you become less an individual than a symbol, an archetype with a checklist of characteristics assigned to your minority group. As a gay, black man, I've spent my entire life being shoved into two boxes, having immediate assumptions made about me that most in the supposedly superior majority (i.e., straight white men) never have to worry about.

If you're a straight white man, you'll rarely be identified or described as such. Chances are you're just a man -- your own man. The actions of extremist white groups like the Ku Klux Klan, or white supremacists, or neo-Nazis, have never been seen as reflective of all white people. The sins of several are theirs alone.

Sadly, as the aftermath of last week's Paris attacks have reminded us all, this hasn't applied to Muslims since September 11. The actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, terrorists who hide behind their religion, in the minds of too many, have become representative of the entire religion. So what now? Do we start feeding followers of the Islamic faith to the lions as the ancient Romans did with the Christians, or do we send them to concentration camps as the Nazis did with the Jews last century? Hasn't history taught us anything?

The other day, I saw a very touching video of a CNN reporter being interrupted by a young Syrian boy while giving a live report in Greece. They exchanged a few sentences in Arabic, and the boy was on his way. The end. I was extremely moved by the video, perhaps because in times that are so fraught with tension, it was such a simple and honest moment.

I cringe a little because as the video went viral, it became all about the reporter's gesture of "humanity" toward the young boy. How condescending. That interpretation of the brief encounter suggests that she was, in some way, superior to the boy, who may or may not have been legitimately "human." It's such a patronizing white-savior narrative.

To me, the video was noteworthy less for the reporter's gesture than for the boy's. He could be a kid from anywhere. He underscores the common thread in children around the world. Syrian youths are, in many ways, just like our own.

The boy in the video reminded me of my interactions with Arab children three summers ago when I spent time in Jerusalem and Palestine. I was touched by how warm and welcoming they were. The Syrian viral video star had the same cheeky charm as many of the children who approached me as I walked through the Arab quarter in Jerusalem, just to greet me and make me feel welcome in their neighborhood.

My moment of sweet reflection was interrupted when someone made a most offensive comment, presumably speaking as the boy in the video: "I want to grow up to be a suicide bomber."

I couldn't believe my ears. So now because members of a terrorist group happen to be Muslims and use their religion to justify their murderous actions, every Arab child wants to grow up to be a suicide bomber? ISIS does not equal Iraqis or Syrians any more than the Nazi Party equaled Germans during World War II.

A racist murderer descends upon a black church in South Carolina, killing members of the congregation. White cops routinely brutalize and sometimes kill unarmed black men and women. Does anyone assume that every white American child wants to grow up to brutalize and kill black people?

Of course not. But why does it only seem to be straight white men who follow mainstream Western religions that get the benefit of the doubt? If we won't make knee-jerk connections for all of them every time a straight white man acts up, why are we so quick to make them for pretty much anyone who falls outside of that racial/religious/gender demo?

Perhaps it's my lifelong outsider status that makes it easier for me to see people as individuals rather than representatives of specific groups. I'll probably never know what it feels like to just be me in the eyes of most people and not "the black guy," or "the gay guy," or "the American." I'll probably never know what it feels like not be on the outside.

But I'd rather be stuck out here with some degree of enlightenment than on the inside and totally in the dark.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The art of rejection: how I got the one I didn't want to go away

"Lukewarm acceptance is more bewildering than outright rejection." -- Martin Luther King Jr.

"Rejection is the greatest aphrodisiac." -- Madonna

I recently went out twice with a perfectly nice guy who didn't exactly rock my world. If, as Cher sang in her 1990 hit, it's in his kiss, the one at the end of our second date was too tepid and tentative to make my knees buckle.

Maybe I'd pashed someone else because he clearly had a different experience. Within five minutes of our parting ways, he texted me to tell me how hot the kiss was and to ask me out on a third date.

Now this is where my fear of rejection kicked in -- not so much receiving it as giving it. I have such a hard time saying no, especially to a perfectly nice guy. Better to lead him on a little and give him false hope than to bluntly turn him down and hurt his feelings, which is hardly honorable, especially since I do it as much for me as I do it for him.

I hate being the dating villain, the one who doesn't return texts, emails, or phone calls. I also find it almost impossible to say, or write, "Not interested." Sometimes I figure I'll just keep the temperature at lukewarm and the person will eventually get the hint and leave the room.

After all, I always do. I know a blow-off when I get one, and I never go back for seconds. I'm the kind of dater who would rather someone go radio silent on me than tell me "I'm just not that into you." Isn't the radio silence basically saying just that without leaving behind words to be replayed in your head for weeks?

Unfortunately, not everyone dates like me. When I don't want the one I can have and I can't for the life of me just come out and say no, he's either a glutton for punishment or convinced he can break me down. In the latter cases, he can probably tell I'm the ultimate people pleaser, afraid to say no because I don't want a perfectly nice guy to think I'm a terrible person.

Or maybe he's just hopelessly delusional. Perhaps this particular perfectly nice guy thought my typing "Sure, why not?" was tantamount to shouting "LET'S DO IT AGAIN!" Despite that tepid, tentative first kiss (and my tepid, tentative acceptance of his third-date proposal), it looked like we were going out again the following week.

When the appointed time for our third date came and went and I didn't hear from him, I was relieved. Maybe this will be the end of our awkward dance, I told myself.

Of course, it wasn't. Several weeks later, the perfectly nice guy popped up again, messaging me by WhatsApp. His timing couldn't have worked more in his favor. I was at a Moet Chandon party at Sydney's Randwick Racecourse, so when I agreed to a date one week from that day, the bubbly was talking, not me.

When the second appointed day for our third date came and went without a peep from him, I was once again relieved. After more than a month of further radio silence, I was convinced my lukewarm acceptance had finally made its point. But clearly it hadn't: Last weekend the perfectly nice guy was back again, leading off with small talk.

"Boo" (followed by a ghost icon) -- I'm not kidding.

I ignored his first four messages (one of which was an apology for not contacting me sooner -- clearly he was aware of his previous missteps), but true to Madonna's words, my silence only seemed to make him more determined to get a response.

Once he got one -- "Hey man. All good. How are you?" -- he soon asked me out yet again, offering several choices: Wednesday or Friday (It was Monday), "Newtown or up your end"?

As I've recently made it my mission to expand my social circle in Sydney (i.e., not spend so many nights parked on the couch), and I still suck at rejection, I took the bait: "Definitely my end...I'm not a Newtown fan...I'm not up for making Friday night plans on Tuesday, especially since they probably won't happen."

His response told me he'd caught my drift, though he obviously still didn't "get it":

"I've noticed it's always me asking. You shouldn't act too upset when you're always expecting me to make the effort.

"If you want to hang at the comfort of your neighbourhood, when you're most free, at places you like -- then don't be so hard on me."

I didn't have the energy to explain to him that if he offers anyone a choice between close to home and far from it, anyone will pick what's most convenient for them.

I didn't have the energy to explain to him that if he leaves it up to the other person to decide where the date will happen (as he'd done for our first two outings), he shouldn't be surprised if the other person picks something that's more convenient for the other person. (In other words, prepare to commute, mate.)

I didn't have the energy to explain to him that if you initiate a specific date with someone ("next Saturday night" as opposed to "sometime next week"), the onus is on you to follow up on the appointed day.

I didn't have the energy to explain to him that if someone is truly interested, you won't always have to be the one who does the asking out. But if you continue to do the asking out, the invitee is under no obligation to reciprocate.

So I kept it simple: "I'll pass. Take care."

He responded with a few sentence fragments expressing disappointment while trying to save face. I let him have the final words because I was more certain than I'd ever been that those would be the last ones I'd hear from him.

Even a perfectly nice guy under the influence of the aphrodisiac that is rejection (or, apparently, lukewarm acceptance) knows he has to eventually let it go.

Friday, November 13, 2015

8 more things I just don't understand

Donald Trump as a viable U.S. Presidential candidate

Come on, America. Are you for real? The average voter probably doesn't give a damn about those Hillary Clinton emails that are following her candidacy around like a bad penny. Meanwhile, Trump gets to be both a punchline and a viable Republican Presidential candidate (which might actually say more about the Republican Party than it does about Americans).

If a Democrat had Trump's checkered celebrity past (he's a former reality TV star, for God's sake) and his gift for almost always saying the wrong thing, he or (especially) she would be laughed off the flight to Washington D.C. before their candidacy could even get off the ground.

"Do you want coffee?"

Sydney's coffee culture/obsession perplexes me. Must everyone always announce when they're about to get a cup? Does anyone offer to get me water when they're going to the tap?

You'd think that if the folks at my favorite breakfast place know that I want a feta wrap before I even order, they'd have figured out by now that I never want coffee to go with it. If I did, why wouldn't I ask for it? Do Australians not want coffee unless it's offered to them?

Enough with the coffee, everybody.

"I'm sorry if I offended you"

The first rule of apologizing: Be sorry for your misdeed and not just its effect. And definitely don't do it through your publicist…in a carefully worded statement…delivered on 20/20. Damn, Katie Holmes.

After the former The King of Queens star Leah Remini publicly accused the ex-Mrs. Tom Cruise of being a mean girl to her during their Scientology days, Katie's response was swift, concise and dismissive: "I regret having upset Leah in the past and wish her only the best in the future."

If you're going to offer the lamest apology ever - Was that an apology to Leah, to 20/20, or to the world? - you might as well not even give the person a chance to reject it.

"I'm sorry for your loss"

I've never actually heard anyone say this in real life, only on TV and in the movies, and no matter who says it, it always sounds awkward, impersonal and kind of insincere. "I'm sorry" - period - has such a nice ring, yet they seem to be the hardest words. Charley Pride, Chicago and Sir Elton John certainly weren't alone.


Yes, I know, to forgive is divine, but if you haven't forgotten, have you really forgiven? Even if you resume your relationship with the person who has wronged you, doesn't the dirty deed continue to hang over your heads, waiting to be dragged down whenever the person who has wronged you dares to do so again?

"Down to earth"

It's a pretty condescending concept if you think about it. Despite the fact that Taylor Swift only seems to have A-list friends and date A-list guys and she travels in a private airplane, is she down to earth because she likes cool music and, unlike Justin Bieber, she gives the time of day to the people beneath her (the adoring fans)?

And what does it mean when non-celebrities - say, like guys on Grindr - describe themselves as "DTE"? It implies a hyper-awareness of their elevated status, which, if you think about it, isn't so down to earth at all.

And what are they really saying anyway: that they're rich but act poor, that they're rich but happily slum with the poor, that they're rich but fly economy, or that they're simply not assholes? Well, why not just be "nice" instead?

The continuing hullabaloo over "cultural appropriation"

Doesn't everyday life pretty much revolve around so-called cultural appropriation? And what's wrong with that? It's in the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, and the food we eat. It's the reason why when we travel, our food options include more than just the local cuisine.

Mocking other cultures is never acceptable, but borrowing from other cultures only seems to be unacceptable when white people do it. If a white person is wrong for wearing dreadlocks or cornrows, does that make black women wrong for straightening their hair, or wearing blonde wigs?

Speaking of blonde, for a while in the '90s, I went there and it didn't go over well with one family member who accused me of wanting to be white. Huh? I didn't understand what that had to do with anything. I did it because at the time it was trendy, and I liked the way it looked. It infuriated me that she made a simple style choice into a racial thing. Let's stop making everything about race.

Why the ones you don't not want but aren't particularly crazy about keep coming back

Even the ones we once obsessed over only seem to return after we're over them. Don't you get the feeling that the guy Adele is phoning in "Hello" is screening the call? He's so over her, and of course, that's when she chooses to document her return in the biggest song of the year.

At least the success of "Hello" is something I do understand. The song is a masterpiece. We've all been there…on the other side…done that…from the outside.

Monday, November 9, 2015

How to get away with a TV heroine who will break every commandment but one

"How do you sleep at night?" - a sex worker just acquitted of poisoning her lover, due to some questionable courtroom tactics by defense attorney Annalise Keating, to Annalise Keating on How to Get Away with Murder

"Alone, on very comfortable sheets. I like expensive bottles of vodka." - Annalise Keating

As portrayed by Emmy winner Viola Davis on How to Get Away with Murder, Annalise Keating is the new Emily Thorne… only not quite so noble… and with a fiercer wardrobe.

For those who have forgotten about the anti-heroine of the dearly departed Revenge, let me remind you of one of her key characteristic: For all the asses she kicked (and names she took while she was at it), not once did Emily ever actually kill anyone.

She pointed this out to her half-sister Charlotte in one episode when Charlotte pegged Emily as an old hand at murder after she herself had killed someone. And her non-killing ways was a major plot point of the series' denouement: Emily was about to off Victoria Grayson, but her father David showed up and did the dirty deed instead because he didn't want his little girl to be haunted forever by having human blood on her hands.

Unlike Annalise, however, Emily's general motive was a lofty one: She wanted to avenge her father by seeking revenge on the people who had framed him for a crime he didn't commit. Though the body count was high by the end of Revenge, Nolan Ross aside, Emily was ironically the only main character who never killed a single person... or shot someone several times in the abdomen with intent to kill (take a bow from the grave, Daniel Grayson).

As for Annalise's overall goal, she just doesn't like to lose. To the brilliant defense attorney, winning is everything, and to get to that end, she'll frame innocent people, tamper with evidence, lie, cheat and steal. But up to now, she's drawn the line at the one crime for which she defends her clients.

In one interesting storyline twist, the terminal wife of Annalise's ex-extramarital lover Nate asked Annalise to help her kill herself. I spotted the dying wife's ploy a plot twist away. Of course, she wanted Annalise to help her kill herself so that in death she could bring down her husband's former lover.

Maybe Annalise saw it, too, but that's not why she didn't do it. "I'm not the woman you think I am," Annalise said when the dying wife, as Charlotte had with Emily, assumed she was an old pro at killing people.

The greatest irony of How to Get Away with Murder is that as the series progresses, Annalise is close to becoming the only major character who actually hasn't gotten away with murder. (For the record, the woman who asked her how she sleeps at night was also guilty as sin.) Nate's wife eventually got him to do what Annalise wouldn't, making him the latest in the main cast to kill.

Yet, somehow, all of these characters with blood on their hands peg Annalise as the monster. I suppose their hypocrisy allows them to sleep at night. Maybe they don't sleep at night. No one has asked. And if someone did, I doubt they'd have as amazing a comeback as Annalise.

I can't think of a TV character since Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls who's as skilled at comebacks as Annalise. Here are two from the November 5 episode:

"Me not paying attention to you is the best compliment you could ever get. 'Cause that means I don't have to worry about you. Now go back to the office and stop being needy."

"Sharon hates you, Dale. You're a stalker, you're pathetic, and you're fired."

Although Murder can be maddening (for one of several things, the manic non-linear approach feels gratuitous - Revenge also tampered with time but only sparingly), Annalise never is. Her sartorial eloquence, her occasional flashes of vulnerability, and her quick wit are the main reasons why I can't not root for her.

But most of all, I'm solidly #TeamAnnalise because she's a flawed, tortured, complicated, bisexual (yes!) anti-heroine who knows that one should always deliver the punchline right before walking away.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Writer's block, trailblazing, and not keeping up with the Kardashians

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." 
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you've been paying attention, you may have noticed that I've gone a bit AWOL lately. No, I haven't dropped off the face of the earth, as my work colleagues, who are probably enjoying their Jeremy-free weekend, well know. I've just been hit by the worst writer's block I've had since I started writing for fun and not just for work in the middle of 2008.

At first, I was reluctant to call it writer's block. After all, I've been operating at full writing capacity at work, churning out copy on a daily basis. But that's just it: "Copy" says it all. It's functional, impersonal, and non-personal - all about people and things that have nothing to do with me. It's the more introspective and confessional stuff that's been stumping me.

But why? Did I actually have writer's block, or was I just too worn out after work to string words together in any meaningful way? Or was it simply a lack of inspiration? Were the words always there, just waiting for a trigger, a new tale to tell.

Right now, it hardly matters because for the moment, the writer's block - or whatever - has passed. The floodgates have temporarily opened, and all it took was the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote above. Who said Men's Health isn't good for anything...well, besides those hot Liam Hemsworth photos in the UK December edition?

Getting back to Ralph, his words made me consider  my own life...and life in general. Was he onto the true meaning of life - or rather, the purpose of it?

One of the things I love most about the quote is the distinction between a path and a trail. I'd never thought of it before, but paths are typically shallow, almost lightweight. They're easily blown away. Trails, on the other hand, are deep, closer to permanent. They have a certain indelible gravitas, from the Cherokee Trail of Tears to k.d. lang's "Trail of Broken Hearts."

In my own life, I've certainly ventured where there is no path, particularly during the past decade, minus this last year in Sydney. But am I trailblazing? Do I inspire others to follow me - not in the Instagram/Twitter sense, in a way that actually matters,

One can inspire in a number of ways. Of course, there's the artistic sense and the motivational one, but you can also inspire others to face demons or difficulties by being open about yours. You can inspire people to fight racism, homophobia, sexism and other forms of discrimination through words and deeds. You can inspire someone to want to be a better person, which some call the true meaning of love.

Inspiring doesn't have to be done on a large scale. The best compliments I've received in my life have been the ones from people who tell me that my words have touched them in some way. That makes the labor of love that is writing for minimal financial compensation so worth it and, in many ways, more valuable to me than the writing that pays the bills.

Maybe that's why I've felt so off these past few weeks. Writing for me is like therapy, as much as running is. I took a detour from my trail and got a little bit lost. It's good to be back.


One of the places I wandered into during my detour was Rebel Wilson's head. I can't stop thinking about a comment she made this week during an interview with Australian radio hosts Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O. She said that MTV asked her to present an award at the VMAs this year with Kendall and.Kylie Jenner, but she turned them down because, "Their careers aren't based on talent."

She said a lot of other really uncomplimentary stuff, but you've heard it all before. Hell, you've likely thought it all before. Although Rebel didn't break any ground or blaze any new trails with her comments, I was kind of surprised that she went there.

I have my issues with the Kardashians, and before I took my current job, I never felt the need to keep up with them. To date, I've watched only one episode of their show. That particular one, which I saw on Bali TV three years ago, revolved around Kim vs. Rob, a familial dynamic that overlaps my own brother-sister experience. As semi-compelling as Kim vs. Rob was, I never felt the need to tune in again.

My issues with the Kardashians aren't just about the Kardashians, though. I actually have issues with all reality-TV stars. Their wanton pursuit of fame feeds into the idea that you're worthless if you aren't famous, They're a symbol of our selfie society where your value is determined by Facebook "likes" and  Twitter and Instagram "followers."

But the Kardashians have become such an easy target that we often forget that the youngest ones, Kendall and Kylie, are 20 and 18, respectively. We judge these young girls the way we judge grown ass people. Do you know anyone their age who has grasped the meaning of life, or its purpose?

How many 20 year olds do we know who even have careers? Or discernible talent? What were we all doing at 18 or 20? Not everyone can be a legitimate child performer, or start out as Stevie Wonder...or Lorde.

Furthermore, MTV has actually been celebrating the talent-free for decades now, via the VMAs, via the network's own reality shows, and via music videos (back when MTV played them). Some might even dump Rebel into the talent-free box. Where are her Oscar-caliber performances? At least there's social commentary in Amy Schumer's schtick...and she has an Emmy.

But talent is in the eye of the beholder. And the Kardashians are famous because of talent. It takes a certain level of talent to become famous for doing nothing. No, the Kardashians and the Jenners (including, at this point, Caitlyn) will never give Julianne Moore or Cate Blanchett a run for their credibility, but neither will Rebel.

And let's not kid ourselves: The VMAs aren't about talent anyway. They're about self-congratulation, self-promotion and looking good. So if the Kardashians don't belong there, they don't belong anywhere.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Dr. Feelbad and the raging hypochondriac

I was preparing myself for the worst…again.

Two nights before, an air bubble had taken up residence near the top of my throat for several hours, refusing to pop. I convinced myself I was in the throes of what would be a fatal heart attack. Who would find my corpse? I live alone.

I got dressed and walked around the block several times. If I collapsed in public, at least my decomposing remains wouldn't have to wait until the next day to be found, after I failed to show up for work.

I survived to see the next morning, when a sudden migraine jab on the left side of my head at the beginning of my 5am shift had me preparing for the worst for the second time in less than 12 hours. A stroke? I braced myself for one side of my body to go numb. An hour or two later, it hadn't, so I went about my day, cranial discomfort and slight nausea be damned.

The following morning at 5.30am, I tried to ignore the sharp pain below my right armpit extending to about halfway under my rib cage. It had started creeping up on me the night before. I was being productive at work, but in the corner of my mind, I was once again preparing for the worst…which brings me back to the beginning of this post.

Three days, three death watches. It was time to stop preparing for the worst (again) and take action.

I tried to make an appointment with Dr. Rawlings, the first doctor I've had since leaving Buenos Aires four and a half years ago who makes me feel like I'm in the hands of someone who cares. It might be an act, but that's pretty much all you need when you're a hypochondriac like me. Go through the motions. Touch me with your stethoscope. Look down my throat. Then tell me I'm perfectly healthy and I'll die another day.

Unfortunately, Dr. Rawlings wasn't in, so I was given an appointment with Dr. Way. I was assured by Susannah the receptionist that I'd like him. She knew about my previous unpleasant experience with a doctor there who was not Dr. Rawlings. I can't even recall now why I'd seen him. The only thing I remember is that he called me the Aussie slang word for hypochondriac. I laughed it off at the time, but on the inside I was seething.

Dr. Way didn't call me any names, but he made me feel a lot worse before I started to feel better. When I walked into his office and he asked me what was wrong, I explained my symptoms and added that I thought I might be having a heart attack. I knew how ridiculous I was being. A heart attack is faster on its feet - it would never wait overnight and through half of the morning to catch up to you. But the bottom line was fear. What the hell was wrong with me?

Dr. Way looked dubious. He stood up and pressed my upper right torso in a few places. Then he laughed.

"You're fine," he announced. "But since you're already here, if you want me to find something wrong, I can keep looking."

I was shocked. It wasn't that I was actually expecting a dire diagnosis, but I had anticipated at least some semblance of an examination, followed by a good reason why I felt like shit on my right side, from the neck down and abs up.

When I pressed, he at least gave me a name. I had something called costochondritis, which is an inflammation of cartilage in the chest area. He printed out a few sheets of paper and handed them to me. I wasn't having a heart attack but the assumption he had ridiculed me for hadn't been so off.

According to the costochondritis literature he gave me: "It might feel like you're having a heart attack. If you are in doubt, see your doctor as soon as possible…"

So there.

"But if you were having a heart attack, I hope you'd go to the ER before coming to me," he said.

Then the lecture began. On my previous visit to Dr. Rawlings two weeks earlier for an assortment of ailments (some real, some possibly imagined, none serious), we had talked about the panic disorder I was diagnosed with before I left New York City nine years ago. She recommended treatments that didn't involve taking potentially addictive sleeping pills.

Having looked at my chart, Dr. Way had apparently done the math. He deduced that I was a raging hypochondriac before I even entered to room. Dr. Rawlings' notes in my file about those panic attacks aroused his suspicions, and one minute with me confirmed them.

Yes, my name is Jeremy Helligar, and I'm a hypochondriac. So what?

I may not have been dying, but I had something. I wanted answers.

Instead of giving me any further details about the diagnosis he had handed to me - what brought it on, how to ease the pain, how long it would last - he started to lecture me about being a hypochondriac. He told me a story about a lifelong hypochondriac who, on his deathbed, said, "See, I told you I was sick." The implication was that I would go out in a similar fashion.

Maybe I would, but what about the pain I was actually feeling and the diagnosis he had given me? I wasn't there for a therapy session. I was there for physical relief from discomfort that I definitely was not imagining.

I may not have been having a heart attack, but I was suffering from something. I wasn't crazy. Should I have gone about my business wracked with pain, not sure what was going on, when there was clearly something - albeit something non-threatening - ailing me?

He agreed, but I could tell I had lost him. He wasn't going to take me seriously. I felt like Dorothy Zbornak in the "Sick and Tired" double episode of The Golden Girls. She was feeling ill and doctors kept dismissing her until one finally diagnosed her with chronic fatigue syndrome.

As with my costochondritis, there was no specific cause of her ailment and no cure, but just knowing that what was wrong with her had a name made Dorothy feel better.

I felt better, too. And I felt worse. The diagnosis was worth the trip to the doctor, but I felt my $85 would have been better spent had it come with compassion and maybe the motions of a routine check-up…you know, just in case something else was wrong.

The irony: Dr. Way's lecturing and hectoring will probably result in more anxiety during future bouts of hypochondria. Now every time I feel any strange physical sensation, I won't only be preparing for the worst…again. I'll also be terrified about what the doctor might say if the doctor isn't Dr. Rawlings.

I hadn't had a female doctor before, and at first I was a bit wary of having one. But when I returned to work and explained what had happened to my colleagues, one of them warned me about male Aussie doctors. They had a habit of being breezy and dismissive, she said.

That's not the treatment any hypochondriac needs. We need reassurance without ridicule. I've always embraced a certain gallows humor, but when it comes to my health, I laugh alone.

The last thing I need in my life is more fear. That was the highest cost of my latest doctor visit. Sadly, my insurance (which pays less than 50 percent) can't reimburse me for that.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The gay problem: Why did Days of Our Lives kill off Will Horton without a fight?

Death becomes great actors. Kassie DePaiva has been proving that week in, week out for weeks now, ever since the daughter of her Days of Our Lives character Eve Donovan Larson died at the hands of the show's latest serial killer. Now the murderer has struck again. Victim No. 3: the beloved legacy character Will Horton.

Will's death, predictably, has led to impressive grief scenes from pretty much the entire cast, especially Deirdre Hall, Camila Banus and Alison Sweeney, who has returned to the show to offer a grief-stricken coda to her exit storyline last year in which her character Sami Brady, lost her husband EJ DiMera to a day player's bullet. In show time, Will's death was exactly one year after EJ's demise, and Alison's performances since her return have been flawless.

But are wonderful performances and a few weeks of storyline worth the loss of someone with ties to nearly every person on the show, not to mention one of daytime TV's few gay characters? The soap blogosphere has been seething because in killing off Will Horton, they've not only effectively ended daytime's first gay supercouple -- Will and his husband Sonny Kiriakis -- but it feels like they've undone all the LGBTQ progress they made over the past several years, first with Will's coming out story and then with Will and Sonny's wedding, daytime's first gay nuptials.

It would be especially stinging if killing off Will was the result of homophobic viewers and advertisers who didn't want to see such supposed sinfulness on their TV screens (the same ones who don't have a problem with serial killers on TV because they're not as bad as gays). The show recently changed its head-writing team, and during the transition process, WilSon (as Will and Sonny are affectionately called by fans) had already been effectively ruined. Wasn't that enough?

Sonny left town to take a job in Paris after portrayer Freddie Smith left the show. And Will, who had turned into a nasty, scheming bitch boy after cheating on Sonny with Sonny's former flame Paul Narita, pretty much disappeared for weeks. They dragged him back out of the closet (pun intended) only a few days before stuffing him back in there (permanently, in a body bag).

After grieving for a week or so, Sonny will exit again, leaving Paul, mostly MIA for weeks until a few days after Will's death, as the only gay in Salem because, well, gays and Days just don't mix.

OK, maybe that isn't fair. Honestly, I have no idea why the powers that be at Days decided that Will had to die. In real life, everyone has to go sometime, and death, like shit, happens all the time in soaps. I made my peace with that and moved on shortly after the rumors surfaced that Will would soon be a goner.

My problem isn't so much that Will was killed off but how it happened. He was strangled by Ben Weston, a lame character whose previous victims had all been women. One of his intended stranglees, Deirdre Hall's Marlena Evans, happened to be Will's grandmother. She was saved from certain death by Chad DiMera, the guy that most of the town thinks is the serial killer.

The interesting twist is that Marlena, who must be pushing 70 like her portrayer, put up one hell of an impressive fight. That's a lot more than I can say for Will. In a scene last week with Will's mother Sami, Marlena talked about how she was initially in a state of denial after finding out about her grandson's death. The killer had been targeting women only, and Will was young and strong. Surely he'd put up a fight. Right?

Exactly. Only the writers let Will go without much of a fuss from him on his own behalf. He struggled with Ben for a few moments and fell and hit his head. When he came to. Ben was choking the life out of him. The end.

As I watched, I thought about a recent murder/suffocation scene on How to Get Away with Murder where both the victim and the killer were women. The former was tied up at the time, which made the latter's task a cinch. We know why the victim didn't put up much of a catfight. But why didn't the writers let Will at least have that?

Was it because they think all gay men are weaklings? Do they believe that a gay man isn't a real man and can't fight back? Eight and half years ago, shortly after I moved to Buenos Aires, I was attacked by three burglars in my apartment. I fought like hell on the bathroom floor, and for a while, I was winning. I even managed to get what I thought was the intended murder weapon -- a screwdriver! -- away from the robber who was waving it in front of my face.

I'd never been much of a fighter before that fateful Sunday afternoon, but that bathroom scene proved that I was willing to give as good as I got when my life depended on it. I know Will wasn't meant to survive, but couldn't they at least have let his final scenes alive be colored by an emotion other than fear?

It's possible they weren't even considering Will's sexuality when they wrote his wimpy exit. And if that's the case, shame on them. A good writer knows to consider things from all angles. Perception can be everything, regardless of intent. When writing for minority characters -- gay, black, or whatever -- it's important to consider all the possible implications of how their scenes play out.

But without consciousness, there's no awareness. I keep hoping that the writer's will let Will come back as a ghost. He'd taunt Ben, maybe even slap him around a little. Wait, make that punch him around a little. It won't bring Will back for good, but at least in a way he'll finally get to go out fighting.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A belated 30th birthday tribute to The Golden Girls: It really WAS the new Maude

In one of the early episodes of The Golden Girls -- even possibly in the 1985 pilot -- Dorothy Zbornak said something that's stayed with me all these years. She and her BFFs Blanche Devereaux and Rose Nylund were sitting around the kitchen table (of course) talking about the trials of getting older. I don't think Dorothy's "ma" Sophia Petrillo was in the room for this particular declaration.

Dorothy acknowledged that she was at an age (55 when the series began, though Beatrice Arthur, the actress who played her, was closer to 63) when 40 actually seemed young. I never thought I'd reach an age where I'd understand exactly what she was saying.

In honor of The Golden Girls' 30th anniversary this month, I've done far. I couldn't think of anything I could do that every gay blogger under the sun hadn't already done...until now. As I was thinking of Dorothy's take on 40 this morning, I remembered a blog post I started writing about two years ago when I began revisiting old episodes of Bea's pre-Golden Girls series, the groundbreaking '70s sitcom Maude.

As I started watching those old Maude episodes during a trip to Johannesburg in 2013, I noticed some interesting similarities between not only the shows but also the characters Bea played in them, Dorothy and Maude Findlay. Yes, there were major differences: Maude, unlike Dorothy until the Golden finale, was married...sometimes happily. She was also less restrained and less gullible than Dorothy. Remember that haughty author that Dorothy befriended and Blanche and Dorothy hated? Maude would have had her number from the first sentence.

But one look at Maude's kitchen, and I noticed that it looked almost exactly like the one in which Dorothy offered that memorable take on 40. That's when I started to realize that if you replaced Maude's husband Walter with Stanley Zbornak, The Golden Girls could have been a kinder, gentler Maude's life after divorce and a relocation from New York to Miami. Remember, Dorothy was from New York, too.

Were Maude Findlay and Dorothy Zbornak the same person in different decades and zip codes?

Among the similarities and overlaps between the shows and the top-billed characters...

1. The biggest one is the presence of Rue McClanahan, who played Maude's bestie Vivian, who often came across as Rose in Blanche's body.

2. Both Maude and Dorothy pronounced "despicable" DES-pic-able.

3. Maude performed "Hard-Hearted Hannah" is season 2 episode 10, as did Dorothy in the final Golden Girls season when Blanche was consumed by jealousy after Dorothy became the hit of her favorite watering hole.

4. Two episodes of Maude were dedicated to Maude getting a facelift. Dorothy once admitted to having had her eyes done.

5. The polygamist that Blanche almost married in The Golden  Girls' pilot was played by the same actor who played the older man that almost married Maude's daughter Carol. Incidentally, both Blanche and Carol got involved with younger men over the course of their respective series.

6. Season 2 episode 11 of Maude featured an appearance by the actor who played the man Sophia met in the personals whose dying wife wanted Sophia to replace her.

7. The actress who played wife of the guy who died of a heart attack in Rose's bed appeared in the third episode of Maude's fourth season, "Maude Gets a Job."

8. "What fools these mortals be." That's a Shakespearean line Dorothy once pretentiously quoted, as did Maude in the ninth episode of the second season.

9. Remember when Rose announced that she always sang the song "Over There" when she was scared and the gang broke into it as Blanche was being wheeled into the operating room to have a pacemaker installed? Well, Maude also sang it in season 2 episode 14.

10. In season 3 episode 1 of Maude, the one with a guest appearance by John Wayne, Maude uttered the line: "I for one, intend to question Mr. Wayne on the important issues of the day." Dorothy said the same thing about President George Bush when she learned he'd be coming to their house.

11. Both Maude and The Golden Girls devoted an entire episode to a supposed UFO sighting.

12. There was an episode of Maude in which one of Maude's friends was fighting with her daughter over an inheritance that the younger woman's deceased dad had left her. A similar scenario played out between Rose and her daughter over Rose's late husband Charlie's estate.

13. A character by the name of Miss Devereaux popped up in Maude's "Business Person of the Year" episode. Eerie, right?

14. Both shows had amazing theme songs. Maude's was sung by the late Donny Hathaway, who had Top 40 hits with Roberta Flack in the '70s. Meanwhile, The Golden Girls' "Thank You for Being a Friend" was written by the late Andrew Gold, who had a Top 40 hit with it in the '70s.

15. In addition to the aforementioned double-dipping guest stars, a number of others appeared in episodes of both sitcoms.

Edward Winter appeared in the Maude episode "The Ecologist" and later as the blind guy Blanche dated.

The actor who played with fire when the girls were held hostage by Santa on Christmas Eve in the help center where Rose worked also appeared in the Maude episode "The Gay Bar."

Herb Edelman, who had a recurring role as Dorothy's ex-husband Stanley, was in "Maude the Boss," season 3 episode 11 of the earlier series.

Conrad Janis who played the host of Beat the Devil in the Maude episode "The Game Show" (sounds a bit like The Golden Girls' game show Grab That Dough, no?) was also the dance-off emcee in "One for the Money" on The Golden Girls.

And the winner is...all of us! Maude and The Golden Girls were two of the best sitcoms of all-time, and Bea Arthur remains a national treasure. We're lucky to have had her as a regular in our homes...twice.