Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Spotify playlist: New wave 1985-1990

A Spotify playlist: New wave 1979-1984

Losing a friend: Judging the way I live my life pretty much guarantees you won't be a part of it

This week I had to let a friendship go.

The falling out took me by surprise because it had absolutely nothing to do with Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump, which seems to be the cause of most of the social contention in my life these days.

The friendship is collateral damage from, in the words of this former so-called friend, "how wrong I live my life"...and, well, my temper. You see, racism, homophobia, and Hillary Clinton-bashing aside, nothing gets my blood boiling like challenging the way I live my life. You'd think gay men would know better, but they don't.

In fact, I can trace the last ending of one of my friendships to the last time someone challenged me on the way I live my life.

"But don't you get bored?" that other ex-mate had asked, questioning my sabbatical from the 9-to-5, a hiatus that lasted eight glorious years, up until I moved to Sydney two years ago to take an editing job with ninemsn (now known as nine.com.au).

I knew as soon as he asked the question that our friendship was a goner, not because of the question but because of the way he had asked it (the way you'd ask someone dressed for a wedding in his Halloween clown costume: "Are you really going to wear that?") The implication was that my days (and by extension, my life) were less significant because I wasn't spending them slaving away for pay.

Sadly, my re-entry into the rat race doesn't mean I no longer have to defend the way I live my life. Several days into my holiday return to Bangkok, my latest ex-friend was questioning my life without a two-year plan. He already has 2017 mapped out, and he can't understand why I don't.

There are two years to go on my Australian visa, and he wanted to know what I plan on doing if my employer doesn't renew my sponsorship and I'm kicked out of Australia.

"I have no idea," I said, listing relocating or applying for residency as two possibilities. "I guess I'll figure it out when the time comes."

"Are you serious?" He was looking at me like I had sprouted an extra head.

"Yes," I replied. Why should I start planning that far in advance? After all, I could be dead in two years."

Or maybe I'll get a job somewhere else, or maybe I'll get another job in Sydney, or maybe I'll fall in love with a hot Israeli guy and go back to Tel Aviv (or better yet, Jerusalem), or maybe I'll return to the U.S. Did I really have to figure it out before the arrival of my shawarma entrée at Shoshana, the Israeli restaurant where we were having dinner.

He stared at me, frowning.

"I mean, I could get hit by a tuk-tuk while crossing the street tomorrow." I tried to break the tension with a joke. We were reunited in Bangkok, the city where we met roughly four years ago, so I figured a little geographical humor was in order.

My ex-friend then proceeded to call out my "negativity." He thought I was living negatively and recklessly. No wonder I didn't have a boyfriend. I couldn't commit to anything.

This is when I started to lose it. After informing him that the tuk-tuk comment had been a joke, I told him that my reluctance to commit to a two-year professional plan, or the fact that I had no idea whether I would stay in Sydney or leave in two years, had absolutely nothing to do with my relationship status.

Being wary of commitment in one aspect of your life doesn't necessarily make you wary of commitment in every aspect of your life.

The more he stared at my extra head, the more passionate I became. The more passionate I became, the more I raised my voice.

"You're pissing me off because you're judging me," I said, when he commented on my volume. I felt like a gay kid trying to explain his "lifestyle" to his parents.

And like the gay kid, I'm hardly much of an anomaly. Surely I'm not the first person to approach life this way. I didn't invent the concept of "one day at a time" or "living day to day."

My brother Alexi once commented that I lived my life like "clockwork" and that I was a "man of the firm." Back then, he was right. I was tied to my career trajectory, my life in New York City, my schedule. I gave that up when I left New York City for an uncertain future abroad.

Several years ago, I found myself having to justify that decision in another friendship-ending conversation. Now here I was doing it again under completely different life circumstances. I have a full-time job, daily deadlines, and a new one-year lease on my apartment. I'm not running from anything, yet I was being accused of being afraid of commitment, of being negative, of being a curiosity because I don't have my entire future mapped out.

"Why can't you live your life your way, while I live my life my way? I mean, we're two different people. Your way isn't the only way."

I didn't mention that having all of his 2017 vacation days planned was thoroughly anal, because I was well aware that's how some people roll. It's the reason why some people lay out tomorrow's outfit the night before. There's nothing wrong being a planner, if that's your thing. Embracing spontaneity should be equally acceptable.

But my ex-friend continued to gasp in horror at my recklessness, even when I quoted the first line from my book: "You get what you're not looking for." Obviously, he hadn't read it. It would be almost hypocritical of me to schedule my entire future after writing that opening line.

The conversation continued to crumble. He continued to look at me with that horrified expression, and the more I felt his judgment, the louder I became. Other customers were beginning to look at us, annoyed.

I'm not sure how we got there, but before long, we'd wandered onto a new topic: family and my rather strained relationship with mine.

I feel that family members should be held to the same standards as friends, higher standards even, because family demands so much more from us. He feels family should get a free pass for pretty much anything. Fair enough. He's not the first person to voice that opinion, and I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with that approach.

"To each his own," I said, trying to move away from the uncomfortable subject.

"But your family knows you better than anyone else. I can't imagine ever having the kind of relationship you have with your family with my family."

"That's OK. We're living two completely different lives, and we're two completely different people."

"I know."

"So what's your point then? Why are you judging every aspect of my life. I don't need your judgement...or your lecture. It's not like you're saying anything I haven't thought – or been told – before."

"If you don't fix your relationship with your parents, you'll regret it later."

"But who lives life without regret? No matter what kind of relationship you have with your parents, you're going to have regrets when they are gone."

He wasn't budging, and neither was I. The difference was, I wasn't critiquing his life. But I was stuck defending every aspect of mine. It was probably the most one-sided conversation I'd ever had.

Nothing was resolved that evening, and we parted as friends, and I put the entire uncomfortable episode behind me. Then two mornings later, I received a private message from him on Twitter while I was having breakfast at my hotel.

After informing me that he'd arrived safely in Ho Chi Minh City, he called me out for being "aggressive and defensive" that night at dinner. I called him out for being judgmental. After some ugly back and forth, during which he called me lonely and bitter, he wrote: "Give yourself a good look in the mirror and you will see how wrong you live your life."

There, he said it. The night before I had accused him of being judgmental. He said he was only asking questions and sharing opinions. I pointed out that there's a difference between "asking questions" and "questioning" – and unsolicited opinions about one's life are rarely welcome. With that one sentence – "Give yourself a good look in the mirror and you will see how wrong you live your life" – he proved me right. He'd been judging me all along.

"I suppose I am a failure then," I wrote back. I was totally over it...and him.

"Please do not ever contact me again. I have absolutely no interest in you, your life, your 'opinions,' or your judgment.

"In other words, fuck you."

And I took my lonely bitter ass back to the breakfast buffet for another serving of mini-pancakes, happy to be enjoying this meal in silence, in solitude, and in peace.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

This is what happened when I clapped at Cher's Donald Trump takedown

I've never been much of a clapper. I have very vivid memories of Sunday morning song services at church when, try as I might, I could never quite get the rhythm of the Holy Spirit down.

Occasionally, I've clapped along at concerts (more-than-once again, generally just missing the beat) and before and after speeches and rah-rah announcements. But I've always felt a bit awkward putting my hands together.

So I don't know what possessed me to clap this past week during my showbiz segment on Nine News Now's mid-afternoon broadcast. I was talking about Cher's spectacular moment at a Massachusetts fundraiser when she compared U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump to Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin.

"Preach it, Cher," I said while clapping awkwardly at the end of the Cher portion of the segment.

"Preach it, Cher"? 

Who told me to say that? Amber, the newsreaders seemed amused, which is always a good thing (LOVE her), but really, "Preach it, Cher"?

It wasn't long before I got a second reaction to my "Preach it, Cher"? This one wasn't as positive as Amber's. It was from someone who shared my first name and who thought I deserved to be out of a job for my gross misconduct.

But it wasn't the clapping or the "Preach it, Cher" that he objected to. It was the fact that I had clearly shown my disdain for Donald Trump.


"You are a terrible reporter and a bias one! I hope Channel 9 wakes up and fires you!" he wrote underneath some pro-Trump propaganda.

Now I have received my share of hate letters, hate emails and hate comments over the long course of my journalism career. That comes from the territory when you write about such divisive tops as race, sexuality and celebrities. But in a country (Australia) where I've yet to meet a single person who gets Donald Trump, I certainly wasn't expecting a simple "Preach it, Cher" to get such a vitriolic response.

I wonder what he thought of the clapping.

video

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Work(out) from home: Going to the gym is the worst part of going to the gym

In the immortal words of Saturday Night Live's Roseanna Roseanadana (RIP Gilda Radner), it's always something. If it isn't one thing, it's another. That's been the case pretty much every place I've lived over the course of the last decade.

In Argentina, it was the obsession with bureaucracy, which made pretty much everything, from ordering a drink in a nightclub to selling your apartment, an unnecessarily drawn-out process. Oh, and it was also the crime, often within the very halls of the bureaucracy.

In Thailand, it was the enforced patriotism, which made it compulsory to stand in cinemas while the national anthem played before movies. It also made publicly uttering a negative word about the king a punishable offense.

In South Africa, it was the segregation. A city as colorful as Cape Town was still so black and white.

In Australia, it's the rules and regulations that govern practically everything you do. Big Brother is always watching and waving his finger. You can be fined up to $200 for jaywalking and up to $500 for cursing in public or "offensive behavior."

In inner Sydney, you can't legally purchase alcohol from a bottle shop after 10pm, buy a shot after midnight (in those bars that are still open!), or enter a nightclub after 1.30am. No wonder they call it a nanny state… though the nanny is more like stern, humorless George Banks than Marry Poppins.

Here in Sydney, even an everyday workout can be ruined by rules, regulations, and a rigid, by-the-book attitude (the three R's) that contradicts the carefully manufactured carefree Aussie image.

That's precisely what led me to write the complaint below to my gym, Anytime Fitness.

Hello. I have been a member of Anytime Fitness for almost exactly one year, and up to now, I have been relatively happy with your services. But this morning, around 4am, I went to the Hyde Park Sydney branch for a workout, and it was an absolute disaster.

First of all, the music was blaring so loudly that I couldn't hear myself counting my reps in my head, and there was no way to turn it down... or off. Second, unlike the other Anytime gyms I've been to, there was no sign informing members of the WiFi code. No Spotify playlist for me!

But the part that really infuriated me is that when it was time for me to leave, my locker code would not work. I have been using the same code for an entire year, and it always worked before. I don't know why it didn't this morning, but I'm certain it was not because I'd forgotten or incorrectly inputted a combination of numbers that I've been using since the dawn of time.

I had to call the after-hours service and pay $70 for someone to retrieve a key from the office a few metres away from the locker. This is unacceptable. There are signs all over the gym governing the conduct of members. But where is your accountability for your own equipment?


Normally I probably wouldn't even have used a locker at 4 in the morning. But a sign on one of the boards warning members of an intruder who has been stealing from Anytime branches put the fear of robbery in me, so I secured my belongings.

I know you pretty much wash your hands of responsibility for anything that happens outside of regular business hours, but that doesn't seem appropriate for a gym whose prime selling point is its 24-hour access. As for the lockers themselves, if a branch is going to hold members responsible for any difficulties in unlocking them outside of normal business hours, the least that branch can do is provide lockers that allow members to use their own locks rather than a built-in coding system that is not infallible.

I am seriously considering cancelling my membership after my experience today. But first, I'd like to discuss how we might be able to rectify this situation.

Jeremy Helligar

I spent most of the day after sending my complaint mentally debating whether I wanted to go back to that particular branch while waiting for a response. I'm glad I decided to return the following morning around 4am. When I walked in I saw the night patrol guy who had opened my locker the previous day. He was doing the same for another member. A rush of vindication swept over me.

"Did you have trouble opening your locker?" I asked the annoyed member, who was Asian and spoke very broken English.

"Yes, I did," he replied, nodding, as the patrol guy shot me a look of recognition.

"The same thing happened to me yesterday. Did you have locker 69? That's the one I couldn't open."

"No, I had locker number 71."

"I guess they're all undependable. I've already filed a complaint with management."

"So will I. I can't believe they charge $70. That's enough to buy a t-shirt in Australia!"

After he walked away, I decided to check my Facebook page to see if anyone else had had after-hours locker issues. Surprise!...


Clearly someone's been sleeping on the job. Here comes the wake-up bomb.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

My Australian TV debut

On Monday, May 30, 2016, I made a comeback of sorts while breaking new ground. For the first time since leaving New York City nearly 10 years ago, I filmed a TV spot. It was also my first appearance on Australian TV (discounting the Janet Jackson E! True Hollywood Story from ages ago that apparently still occasionally runs down under).

I was invited to discuss the breaking celebrity news of the day on Nine Network's afternoon news show, Nine News Now. It wasn't just a random appearance. The entertainment website I edit, TheFIX, and Nine Network, are both owned by the same company, Nine, so it all came together in a perfect storm of synergy.

Although my performance received excellent reviews (I've been invited to return two times next week), I know there is plenty of room for improvement. It was only the second time, I've ever taped a TV spot alone in a room (the other time was when I did a point-counterpoint segment for Fox in New York City after the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake Super Bowl XXXVIII Nipplegate scandal in 2004).

So if you notice I keep looking off to the side, it's because I was focusing on the camera where the anchor was visible rather than the one straight ahead (a common rookie mistake, I'm told), and of course, there's the issue of my voice. Does anyone ever love the sound of their own voice once they've heard how other people hear it?

Oh, well. We live and learn and improve...hopefully by next week.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Croatia, land of a thousand Ivans

Names are funny things... and I'm thoroughly obsessed with them. These tags that are assigned to us shortly after birth often end up becoming pivotal to our personalities and in some cases, a kind of aphrodisiac. There's nothing sexier than a sexy moniker.

Have you ever noticed how some people actually possess certain characteristics associated with their names? Is a Victor or a Victoria ever a loser? Is an Elizabeth ever less than regal...or a Katherine/Katharine/Catherine/Kate/Cate? Have you ever met a Ryan, a Brendan, a Matias, a Federico, or a Nathan who wasn't hot? Is Alex (male or female) ever a dummy?

I once dated another Jeremy in New York City when I was in my early twenties, and I was convinced we wouldn't work because we were too much alike. We didn't.

I've been sizing up names for much of my adult life, but I'd never given much thought to Ivan...until last week. Although Ivan was my favorite character in The Brothers Karamazov, I can only remember meeting one in real life, shortly after I moved to Buenos Aires. It was a good date, and he was certainly cute, but he was no Matias or Federico.

The name was most significant to me as an Eastern European equivalent of John, Juan, Ian, Sean, Shaun, Shawn, Shane, Giovanni, Gianni, Jan, Johann, Hans, and Jean. Then I went to Croatia and everything changed. After my first encounter with an Ivan (who quickly pointed out the "John" connection), it seemed like I couldn't get out of bed without meeting another one. Soon it became a thing. I'd walk up to random guys and ask if they were named Ivan.

Often the were. The only other name I stumbled upon as frequently was Ivica (pronounced like Evita Peron's first name with an extra S: Evitsa). One Ivan worked at Sky Bar in Dubrovnik, our final destination on my birthday night. After describing Ivan as "the most common male name in Croatia," he introduced me to two of his colleagues with the same name (and an Ivica or two).

When does that ever happen? Three Ivans were working in one nightclub, all cute, all sweet, and all, sadly, straight - the latter of which applied to every Ivan (and Ivica) I met in Croatia. #Tears

Croatian Ivans and me: A photo album

Ivan No. 1 and me


Uni Ivan and me


"Skipper" Ivan and me


Toto's Ivan and me


Sky Bar Ivan No. 1 and me


Sky Bar Ivan No. 2 and me


Sky Bar Ivan No. 3 and me


Saturday, April 23, 2016

My second Spotify playlist: Prince and the divas

The untimely passing of Prince this past week has inspired countless countdowns and ruminations on the iconic artist's most unforgettable hits. My personal Prince playlist has been on repeat in my head since I learned of his death on April 21 at his home in Minneapolis at age 57. It includes some of the usual suspects ("1999," "Raspberry Beret," "Kiss," Sign o' the Times," and "Cream"), as well as some less obvious purple fare. Among them: "4 The Tears in Your Eyes," "Mountains," "I Wish U Heaven."

But if I'm being completely honest, the Prince songs that have been popping into my head most are the ones by other artists that he wrote, produced, performed on and/or financed...particularly the ones sung by fierce ruling divas. Those are the oldies but goodies that make up my second Spotify playlist.

Sadly, some of them are as elusive as the man was himself. You won't find them on Spotify, so I've left them off my second Spotify playlist and included them at the bottom of this post. Enjoy!

https://open.spotify.com/user/22lx2wfkekdhp2mtixdvc36oq/playlist/2fa6gLdvkePOg2tu7oMW1T


"101" Sheena Easton



"Time Waits for No One" Mavis Staples



"Nothing Compares 2 U" Sinead O'Connor



"On the Way Up" Elisa Fiorello




"Elephant Box" Ingrid Chavez



"I Hear Your Voice" Patti LaBelle



Sunday, April 17, 2016

My first Spotify playlist: Great underrated songs from the 1970s




https://open.spotify.com/user/22lx2wfkekdhp2mtixdvc36oq/playlist/5B5grKx4EanFuUi2UiyoQr

Things people say when they really don't care if they never see you again

If decades of living have taught me anything, it's this: People find a way to do what they really want to do, come hell, high water, or jam-packed schedules. I've known this for sure since my friend Nancy flew thousands of miles from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires in 2009 just to see me for a few days.

I'm not saying I require that level of devotion from all my friends - or any of them. What I am saying is if you can't see me, or don't want to, fine. You don't have to. Just hold the lame excuses. I'd almost always rather be alone than be in the company of someone who's not truly psyched to be there.

But if we both want to be in the same room (preferably one that's empty to underpopulated), and distance isn't keeping us apart, more than a few days certainly won't.

Maybe I'm alone in this, but I doubt it. It's OK if you don't really care whether you ever see me again, so there's no need to drop hackneyed excuses. My bullshit detector has become infallible over years of lame excuses, partly because I've been guilty of going there myself.

But I've learned to say "Hello/ Goodbye" and move on without phony, platitudinous commentary, and I'm working on how to graciously and firmly decline invitations without falling back on any of the old excuses of which I've grown so weary.

Yes, I know non-committal when I hear or read it. Here are 8 of the more egregious, obvious, and annoying examples...


1. "When am I going to see you?" I feel the same about this as I do about "Can I kiss you?" - a question, by the way, that someone actually placed to me several weeks ago, as if we were in a 1960s black and white movie, or he was "Sash" propositioning Sam Frost on The Bachelorette Australia.

If, you have to ask, well, you've already got your answer...and it's not "Yes," or anytime in the immediate future. A real man (or woman) just makes these things happen.

My friend Zena recently sent me a surprise email proposing some dates when she can fly from Chicago to Australia to hang out with me (the weekend after I return form holiday in Croatia - i.e., more good times ahead!). And that, folks, is how you show someone you really care.

2. "Where have you been hiding?" In these days of social media, everyone knows exactly where everyone has been hiding and what they've been doing there. If you're truly interested, you wouldn't have to ask.

3. "I hope I see you soon." Because that's the sort of thing over which we have absolutely no control. "Soon" - as in "Talk soon!" - is the kiss of death for hopes of any future engagement.

4. "Things are crazy right now."/ "I'm really busy over the next few days/weeks/months/years." This hasn't been a valid excuse since the time Phil Collins played two Live Aid concerts on two different continents in one day. People make time to do the things they're dying to do.

5. "Let's keep in touch." So quaint, so pre-Facebook. Nowadays, you don't even have to try... hard. So if you still have to suggest it, you probably know neither one of you will likely make the effort.

6. "Text/ Message me." The millennial version of "Give me a call." And in 2016, the implication remains the same as it was in 1996: When someone leaves the ball in your court, it's there for a reason. Game over.

7. "I have a birthday dinner." Right up there with "The dog ate my homework" in the pantheon of lame excuses. It's so Buenos Aires, and, sadly, so Sydney. Yes, these things happen. But if they happen all the time, then how deep and meaningful are these friendships? Will your absence really be missed by one of a million mates? I have a theory: The more birthday dinners you "have to" go to, the fewer you're likely required, or even expected, to attend.

8. "Take care" - or as they say in Buenos Aires, "Cuidate!" "Have a good life"... without the animosity.