Friday, April 24, 2015

Is this the movie that will finally win Johnny Depp an Oscar?

I love a good comeback. It's right up there with the underdog on the list of things I can't help but root for. I especially loves it when one (the underdog) pulls off the other (a good comeback).

Which brings us to Johnny Depp, a recent underdog who could use a good old-fashioned comeback.

Considering Johnny's current string of critical and commercial misfires, one would be forgiven for forgetting that it wasn't too long ago (a decade or so, to be not so exact) that he was considered the actor most overdue for an Oscar. Flashback, for a moment, to 2011, when Eddie Redmayne was drooling over Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn. Who would have thought that kid would end up beating Johnny to the podium to accept the Best Actor grand prize?

During Johnny's lost years, his What's Eating Gilbert Grape co-star Leonardo DiCaprio has assumed the title of Actor Most Overdue for an Oscar. The tide might not be about to change for Leo (not yet), but I'm expecting a turnaround for 51-year-old Johnny. A career boost would be most welcome, considering all the reports of trouble on the Australian set of the next Pirates of the Caribbean sequel (from which Johnny went missing last week) and in his marriage to the much-younger model-turned-actress Amber Heard, 29.

The source of my optimism: The trailer for Johnny's upcoming film Black Mass (due September 18), which was released today. It's two minutes and 10 seconds of scary, and that's not because it's a horror film. It's a gangster movie with Johnny apparently playing a very bad guy. I'm not a big fan of the mobster genre (I get my fill five days a week with General Hospital anyway), but this one has piqued my curiosity in a way that no Johnny Depp film has since before he became a 2003-to-2007 Oscar darling.

I've long said that Johnny would finally win an Oscar when he stops playing cartoons and assumes the role of a real person. I meant a normal person, like the one Julianne Moore played to perfection (and Oscar glory -- at last!) in Still Alice. Whitey Bulger, described by Wikipedia as "the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston," is hardly normal, but I'll take real as in a real person who actually lived, rather than a cartoonish character. Oscar loves stars playing real-life people.

The only thing Oscar loves more than that is a stunning transformation, and Johnny is unrecognizable in the trailer. I'm not talking Johnny-under-a-pound-of-make-up-Willy-Wonka-Mad-Hatter unrecognizable, but Johnny as a balding middle-aged old blue eyes. He doesn't look like Johnny Depp playing dress-up (again) but like a different actor entirely. He could almost pass for Ed Harris's creepy kid brother.

As for Johnny's performance, it's the main reason I want to see the film. He does most of the talking in the trailer, and his delivery is steady and even throughout, yet it's loaded with nuance. He's menacing without raising his voice or getting up from the dinner table and, dare I say it, dangerous-sexy. I'm truly terrified for what he's going to do to Julianne Nicholson!

Then there's the movie's Oscar pedigree. Like the 2006 Best Picture The Departed, it's set in Boston, which has long been a city favored by the Academy. (Get it, Black Mass as in Massachusetts?) It spans a period of 30 years, which increases its Oscar friendliness, and the trailer includes a very brief apparent Civil Rights-era sequence with a bunch of black kids on a school bus, which would cover the Oscar-bait racial-strife angle.

As for the talent behind Black Mass, it was directed by Scott Cooper, the guy who helped Jeff Bridges finally win the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart. Meanwhile, Johnny's co-stars include 2014 Best Actor nominee Benedict Cumberbatch as well Joel Edgarton, a key player in the recent Best Picture contender Zero Dark Thirty. Peter Sarsgaard, Oscar winner Cate Blanchett's love interest in Blue Jasmine, puts in an appearance, too.

Black Mass is not all testosterone, which might help it appeal to women in the Academy. Among the female cast list is the aforementioned Julianne Nicholson, new It Girl Dakota Johnson and 2014 Oscar MVP Sienna Miller, who costarred with three 2014 male acting nominees (American Sniper's Bradley Cooper and Foxcatcher's Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo). The only thing missing is Eddie Redmayne!

He's busy prepping to be Johnny's main Best Actor competition. Eddie poses a serious threat to take the gold a second consecutive time for playing a transgender woman in The Danish Girl, a film which, incidentally, costars Johnny's wife. If Johnny, Eddie and their movies all end up being next-Oscar-season favorites, there'll be some awkward red-carpet nights ahead for Amber, even if her marriage to Johnny doesn't last that long.

Would Eddie triumph with Amber in his corner? When I went to bed last night, I thought he was the one to beat, and frankly, after what he pulled with Michael Keaton in February, I wasn't too thrilled about by the prospect of a repeat win. Now I have brand new hope, for the 2015 Oscars and for Johnny.

You read it here first.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Cringeworthy relationship cliches, from the start of a romance to its bitter end

"Love is fair...It breaks everybody's heart." Thank you, Miss Barbara Mandrell, for offering some of the truest words ever spoken, or sung, about love on your 1981 country single. (Sorry, Sade, but "Nothing can come between us" is purely wishful thinking.)

It was a unique assessment with a surprise twist -- and considerably more resonant and dead accurate than all those love, romance and relationship cliches that we generally spout. 

Despite my cynicism, I do believe in love...forever love even. What I don't buy is the florid and hackneyed prose it often inspires. For example...

1. "I've never felt this way about anyone." The current cut is always the deepest...until the next one.

2. "He/she knows me better than I know myself." Deeper understanding on one lover's part or just a complete lack of self-awareness on the other's? While I concede that those closest to me might have special insight into why I do the things I do, no one on earth is more of an expert on me than the guy who has been stuck with me 24/7 for my entire life. 

3. "We're like the same person." So falling in love with myself should be a romantic aspiration? Well, I suppose opposites don't always attract and self-love is indeed a good thing, but falling for myself would make for some painfully superfluous conversations. I'd rather share my life with someone different from me because even if it's not as critical as self-love, variety is the spice of life.

4. "I love you more." While it's preferable to the "Thank you" response to "I love you," if love is already a battlefield, must we make it a contest, too? Can one measure something so intangible that most people can't even define it? "I love you, too" will always suffice.

5. "My other half." A person can inspire me, enhance my life and rock my world, but nobody completes me but me.

6. "My better half." Really? Better? What happened to equal partners?

7. "You can tell me anything." Famous last words...spoken right before the devastating ones that rip a couple apart forever.

8. "Relationships are hard." No, love doesn't have to be a battlefield. Sure, if it's worth having, it's worth fighting for, but I wouldn't kick easy loving out of bed.

9. "You can do better." The precursor to "Their loss" post-split. Has such shameless ego massaging ever actually made anyone feel better?

10. There's plenty of other fish in the sea." Yeah, but a crowded and polluted sea of love makes the perfect filet that much harder to find. Vegetarians might be on to something.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Why do people do that?: 20 everyday head scratchers

Today's subject: mind-boggling behaviour. To each his (or her) own, but still, why do people do the darndest things, like...

Press the button at intersections to get the "Walk" signal -- aren't they automatic?

Press the up/down elevator button more than once?

Walk on the wrong side of the sidewalk?

Walk so closely behind you that they step on the back of your Havaianas?

Stand in the middle of escalator steps so that nobody can pass?

Go "aaah" after downing a glass of water?

Drink coffee after dinner?

Smoke at any time of day?

Eat plain yogurt?

Stand on moving walkways?

Not have any idea what they want to order after waiting in line for five minutes or more?

Still use shower curtains?

Still have fax numbers?

Eat pizza with pineapple chunks on it?

Grab the seat in front of them when getting up on airplanes?

Sell bran and chocolate chip muffins when nobody seems to buy them?

Cite the First Amendment (freedom of speech) as defense against criticism for saying stupid things -- hypocritical much?

Call when texting will do?

Drink carbonated water...or non-alcoholic beer?

Build bathrooms without bidets?

"Like" sad posts on Facebook?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Don't say that!: 12 random words and phrases that make me shudder

The things we talk about during downtime at work.

And no, that list doesn't include Game of Thrones, which is still on my to-watch-for-the-first-time list and will likely spend years there before I do. (I never got around to Weeds until a few seasons after it was off the air!) And no, our on-the-clock conversations don't happen around the watercooler. Those are so Melrose Place '90s. Our purified water at work comes from a tap beside the sink, and I've yet to see a crowd there.

My colleagues and I recently had a fun chat (at our desks, in front of our computers) about things people say that sound like fingernails on a chalkboard...which, truth be told, has never really bothered me at all. I'd much less prefer to hear the sound of high heels clomping behind me, the banging of pots and pans, and slamming doors. (Incidentally, "truth be told," which I never say but often write, was on someone's list.)

One of my best friends used to cringe at the sound of "package," "supper," "meal" and "moist," the latter of which makes my boss want to scratch someone's eyes out. Another colleague mentioned "at the end of the day," which I secretly love because it sounds like something I would say before making one of my casual pronouncements.

While I completely understand why all of the words and phrases that offend my co-workers offend, I'm far more annoyed by the ones below. The next time you see me, feel free not to utter any of them.

1. "cocktail" It sounds like something that comes in a too-tiny glass that you shake so that the ice makes that infuriating tinkling sound. Let's go out for "drinks" instead.

2. "at this point in time" The time is now to start saying "now."

3. "ya" for "you" So forced casual but really, "you" is not exactly wearing a bowtie.

4. "baby daddy"/"baby mama" It makes parenthood sound like something dirty.

5. "bitch" I feel kind of silly every time I say "witch" in lieu of the B word. But when a guy says "bitch," it always sounds to me like he's smacking a woman around.

6. "party" as a verb Do people even "party" anymore? If they do, I'd like to party with J. Cole (the ridiculously cute rapper in the Beyoncé video below).

7. "make love" I have no problem with the idea behind it (more personal than sex), and I'd rather "make love" than "fuck," but the phrase sounds straight out of the bedroom script of a '70s soap heroine. I love this song, though...

8. "Congrats!" If you're going to take the time to comment on someone's good fortune, can't you take the time to say "Congratulations" while you're at it?

9. "Morning" instead of "Good morning" Ever since an ex suggested hidden meaning behind my "Morning," it's taken on a particularly terse tone for me. If it's not actually a "good" morning, I wouldn't hold it against anyone for giving in to the urge not to say anything at all.

10. "whilst" It must be an Australian/British thing because I don't think anyone in the U.S. has ever used "whilst" if "while" will do. Thankfully, I've yet to have to be tempted to edit it out of anyone's copy at work. Keep it up, colleagues!

11. "copy" The journalism equivalent of calling the music that an artist has spent months, or years, slaving over "product."

12. "brunch" A favorite meal of people who live in condos instead of apartments and flats and drink -- ugh -- cocktails. I'll have a feta, spinach and mushroom omelette and just call it "breakfast" no matter what time of day it is.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Why I won't be tossing out this Dolce & Gabbana shirt

"We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one. No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed." -- Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana in Italy's Panorama magazine

First of all, a disclaimer is in order…two of them. The statements above were translated (and poorly punctuated) from Italian to English by The UK's The Telegraph. Having seen ideas get mangled in translation from Spanish to English and vice versa, I would consider this more in the spirit of what the Italian designers said than what they actually said. (If any native Italian speakers are reading this, please help me out here.)

Second, since when are quotes attributed to more than one person? Are Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana two simultaneously talking heads?

All that aside, the part of D&G's interpretation of family that I object to most is the part that rejects gay parents. If the only family is the "traditional" one, then they must oppose single mothers, single fathers, single foster parents, single legal guardians, widowed parents and anything else that doesn't reflect the picture-perfect Norman Rockwell version of family.

It's misguided thinking for sure, but it warrants understanding and communication more than knee-jerk moral outrage. When I first came out and my mother was taking a minute to adjust to having not one but two gay sons, my friends cautioned me to be patient with her and consider where she was coming from. She was a woman born in the 1940s in an ultra-religious society. Should I really have expected her to immediately start waving the rainbow flag?

One could make a similar case for Dolce and Gabbana and some of their more antiquated ideas. Dolce said that procreation "must be an act of love…You are born to a mother and a father -- or at least that's how it should be." Gabbana added, "A child needs a mother and a father. I could not imagine my childhood without my mother. I also believe that it is cruel to take a baby away from its mother."

Italy is devoutly Catholic, so Dolce's archaic view of procreation should surprise no one. And considering the matriarchal bent of the classic Italian family, it makes sense that two staunch Italians would deem a maternal presence necessary to that unit. However, that makes me wonder what they think about lesbian adoption and adoption by straight single men. Note to interviewer: Don't forget to ask the obvious follow-up questions!

I could spend hours poking holes in their views on gay adoption and "traditional" families, but everyone else seems to be focused on their comments about in-vitro fertilization, which are pretty over the top. "I call children of chemistry, synthetic children. Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog," Dolce declared, spurring Sir Elton John to blast him on Instagram for calling his children "synthetic" and vow never to wear their designs again.

Elsewhere people wondered how two gay men could say such things. I asked myself the same question, not because of their stance on gay adoption or IVF but because of the lazy implied link between the two. Who died and made IVF a gay issue? Nicole Kidman, Angela Bassett and Sarah Jessica Parker have had babies via IVF and surrogacy, 51-year-old supermodel Elle Macpherson is expecting thanks to it, and Kim Kardashian's doctor supposedly just told her it's the only way she can have more children. I suspect that half of straight Hollywood uses IVF to become pregnant.

I have several straight female friends who have turned to IVF to become mothers, so I don't see how it's possibly a gay thing. Now that it seems to have become one, however, do I follow Elton John's lead and boycott Dolce & Gabbana? I considered it for a hot second, but what would be the point?

I have gay friends who oppose gay marriage and nobody has ever suggested I boycott them. There are likely plenty of people with whom I do business on a regular basis, gay and straight, who oppose gay marriage, and possibly gay adoption, for whatever reason. It's definitely misguided, but I'm not sure I can automatically equate it with outright homophobia. Do I banish them from my life anyway?

It's interesting that some gay people are quick to defend sexual prejudice within their ranks ("No Asians," "No Blacks," "No whites") as "preference," yet they're unwilling to tolerate ideology that differs from theirs. That's the height of hypocrisy.

As for IVF, I'd be lying if I said I haven't had my issues with it. We take people to task for buying expensive dogs instead of getting a homeless one from the shelter or pound, and one can make a similar case with babies when adoption is an option.

I remember cringing a little when a gay friend of mine described the process he went through to find a suitable egg donor and a surrogate. It sounded a lot like the process of choosing a 15-minute stand on Grindr. But how many people who become parents through traditional means would turn down the option to pre-determine certain baby qualities before conception if it were possible and free of charge? It may not be, for me, the ideal commencement of life, but it's certainly not an invalid one.

So who am I to judge anymore? But just because I've put aside most of my reservations and fully accept pre-natal technology doesn't mean the rest of the world has to do the same.

I considered tossing the one Dolce & Gabbana item in my wardrobe, but I'll be hanging on to it, after all. If I can be friends with Republicans (and I am) and people who'd never date anyone of my color, enjoy entertainment created by artists and performers who embrace different political and religious points of view and live in a country where gay marriage is still illegal (Get with the program, Australia!), I can wear a shirt by designers who are ill-informed enough to call children of IVF "synthetic."

The supposedly "synthetic" ones I've seen look pretty authentic to me. However, looking at them through Dolce and Gabbana's eyes, does being "synthetic" also make one soulless and less than human? That sounds like the basis for future prejudice and discrimination, and two gay men should know better than to stir that particular can of worms. But they're designers, not philosophers.

It's important to call people on their stupidity without dismissing them. As long as they don't express outright racism or homophobia -- the kind that leads to name-calling, rejection and violence, or denying service to gays or certain ethnic groups (Shame on Indiana!) -- I can deal with the unenlightened and any ideas they might be trying to sell.

But one Dolce & Gabbana shirt is probably enough.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The lost art of talking: 11 things I've learned about having a decent conversation

"It's so funny how we don't talk anymore." -- Cliff Richard.

So sang Sir Cliff in his massive 1979 pop hit. I wonder what he'd sing about the state of conversation today.

Talking is such a lost art. Some blame social media and modern technology, which is ironic, since both have improved the expediency of communication exponentially. If they were to add the deterioration of good grammar to the list, I'd say they have a solid argument. But this is not about grammatical shortcomings in a world where the misguided can mistake "conversate" for a heightened command of the English language.

This is about a world in which we're "friends" with strangers we'll never meet on Facebook, and our self-worth is determined by our number of "likes" and "followers," the latter of whom we communicate with through narcissistic selfies and in 140 characters or less (#hashtags included). In this strange new world, people aren't really saying much anymore.

Many 21 year olds are hard to talk to but not because they're young and have nothing to say. They're hard to talk to because they've grown up in a modern world where they don't have to do much actual talking. Texting and tweeting don't exactly allow the gift of gab to flourish.

So if you were born in the '90s or later and struggle with face-to-face communication, or if you're old enough to know better but don't, this one's for you.

1. It all begins with "hi," "hey," "hello" or "howdy." A clever opening is optional...and unnecessary. Some jerks on Grindr insist on being impressed and take issue with certain one-word openers. Personally, even if I were up for "Fun?", I'd prefer "Hi" to some of the crude alternatives ("Horny?" "Looking?" "Hung?").

If you want sophisticated opening prose from a stranger, listen to "All I Want," track one on Joni Mitchell's Blue album. Taking issue with "Hi" makes you seem like a douche before the conversation has even begun. How does the line go? "You had me at 'hello.'" Yup, that's good enough for me.

2. Q&As are for interviews. Maybe it's the grumpy old man in me taking over, but nothing will make me want to end a conversation faster than a string of queries. I know, questions are the cornerstone of conversation, but a good conversation should flow naturally, and it shouldn't be all about the person doing the heavy lifting. Answering boring questions is a lot more work than coming up with them. After asking two or three good ones, start making some interesting declarations...about yourself, not the other person.

3. Speaking of lame lines of questioning, "What's up?" and "What's doing?" are not conversation starters. I really never know how to answer those ones. They make me feel like I've got to deliver some vicarious excitement. "How are you doing" never gets old, though -- especially if the person asking really cares.

4. Look at me when I'm talking to you. I was recently chatting in person with a 20 year old who spent most of our conversation messaging his friend on Snapchat. I let it go because he did offer some interesting information about the driver's licensing system in Australia. (There are fewer requirements to run for President of the United States than there are to become a full-fledged Australian driver.) Good thing it wasn't a date, though, for if it had been one, he would have been breaking my cardinal rule of dating, which is...

5. Put your phone away! Answering one's mobile at the dinner table is the No. 1 date killer. Don't do it.

6. Acronyms should be used sparingly in writing and never in oral conversation. I admit "YOLO" might look kind of cool on paper, or onscreen, but "LOL" takes more effort to say than simply laughing, which sounds infinitely more sincere.

7. Don't stand so close to me. If I can smell what you had for your last meal, we have a problem. Lean back!

8. It's OK to ask someone how old he or she is, but if they don't want to divulge a number, let it go. No matter how often people say age is just a number, it's not. It's so much more than that. For better and occasionally for worse, I'm not the man I was at 25, or 30, or...well, we'll just stop right there!

Age matters, and if it didn't, people wouldn't ask. Not everyone is comfortable with big numbers, so take the hint if someone declines to reveal theirs, and just drop it. If it does matter to you and you must know, move on. The world is full of people who have no problem revealing their true age.

9. Just drink up. Toasting, though harmless, is pretty pointless...and it often results in unnecessarily spilled booze. It's extra-annoying when the person insisting on toasting acts like making eye contact when the glasses clink is the height of courtesy. Making eye contact when you're actually talking -- and listening -- is far more important.

10. Don't say a word when the other person is talking...unless it's to interrupt them. Yes, I'm totally fine with people getting passionate and talking over each other from time to time. Raised voices mean people care. I'll take that and the occasional (occasional) interruption over quiet indifference. That said, there's no need to pepper someone else's monologue with "yeah...yeah...yeah." When people do it to me, it makes me think they're in a hurry for me to shut up.

11. Be respectful of conversations of which you're not a part. I've rarely had someone interrupt a conversation of mine for something that couldn't wait. If you have to ask "Am I interrupting?", then you already know that you are, so why even do it?

Now talk, drink and be merry!

Monday, March 30, 2015

In defense of change

Change is good.

Or so the old saying goes. I must have heard that one a thousand times, but the instance that sticks out most in my head is when an old colleague used it on me. I had just announced my plans to leave Teen People to take a job at Us Weekly, and I was feeling nervous about my decision. This particular colleague dropped by my office to wish me well, and I ended up unloading my misgivings on him.

He wasn't a big fan of mine, and I knew he was glad to see me go. For him, any old cliché probably would have done if it ended our conversation as quickly and painlessly as possible. I'm pretty sure he pulled that one out of his ass. He probably had no idea what an impression he made.

He was right...sort of. Change can be good, and in this professional instance it was not only good -- it was essential. But change can also be not-so-good. There's a lot to be said for stability, predictability and the dreaded routine. Change for the sake of change only is often just a waste of time.

When I was younger, one of my relatives came to live with us for a while. One of my most vivid memories about him (among many vivid, unpleasant memories) was that he used to change undershirts several times a day. Every time I think of him, I also think of his white V-neck t-shirts flapping in the wind on the clothesline in the backyard like blank flags at half-mast.

As I can't recall him ever doing anything more strenuous than thumping his Holy Bible, I had no idea why he needed to change his t-shirts so often. Maybe it was because my mother did all of the laundry, so why not? Change for the sake of change may have been good for him, but it was a burden for my mom. Though I've fully embraced change in my recent adulthood, I've remained suspicious and maybe even a little afraid of it too.

But now I'm beginning to see change in an entirely different light. Even when it's not-so-good, or just for its own sake, it can end up having a net positive effect. Hannah Horvath on Girls would probably agree.

The fourth season of Girls won me over after a kind of hum-drum third season, and I think it was all because of change. There was so much of it. The biggest one: Hannah moved to Iowa (albeit briefly) to attend grad school, which set off a chain of unfortunate events for Hannah but fortunate ones for this viewer.

As a result of the stint in Iowa, she lost Adam, and upon her return, even more change was in store. She took a job as a substitute high-school teacher and her friends became a less prominent presence in her life. Hannah spent more time with Adam's new girlfriend Mimi-Rose in episode 7 than she did with Marnie, Shoshanna and Jessa the entire season! If that wasn't enough life upheaval, her father also came out as gay. That's a lot of change for a 10-episode season.

(As an aside, I love the juxtaposition of her dad announcing he's gay to her mother getting tenure, which, in academia, is the antithesis of change, as Loreen "I never have to move again" Horvath clearly realizes.)

The move to Iowa was one of the best developments that the series writer and star Lena Dunham has come up with yet. It took Hannah out of the orbit of her annoying New York circle, none of whom, with the exception of Adam and Shoshanna, I could possibly care less about. The Iowa episodes were some of my favorite ones of the season, partly because her New York crowd were barely in them. But most of all, I loved them because the change of scenery and Hannah's ultimate failure in Iowa were the catalysts for the first signs of true emotional growth we've seen in her yet.

I don't think she would have been able to be so supportive of her father and not make his coming out all about her without the Iowa experience. And look at how she remained in the background during the water-childbirth scenes, not grabbing center stage as old Hannah surely would have done. Had she not let go of so many illusions about herself, about her life, about life in general after Iowa, she probably would have taken Adam back in the season finale rather than seeing that they simply didn't work anymore…if they ever actually did.

I'm thrilled that Hannah is starting to evolve, but I'm glad that she hasn't completely changed her irritating ways. Her interaction with her student Cleo offered much-needed assurance that old-school Hannah is alive and well. Some might find her insufferable, but I love her despite her flaws… because of her flaws.

I get Hannah. Maybe it's the writer in us. We're a strange, complicated, contradictory breed. I hope friends and strangers don't feel about me the way people do about Hannah, but I wouldn't be too surprised to find out that some of them do. It's not like I've never picked up and left everyone I cared about behind for far less clear-cut reasons than Hannah's motivation for moving to Iowa.

I'm sure more big changes (some just for the sake of it) are in store for both Hannah and me. Maybe they'll bring about continued evolution and make us more palatable to the people around us. Perhaps, as it did with Hannah, change will finally put me in the orbit of a guy who might actually be good for me and not just provide more fodder for my writing.

I like Mr. Parker. He's cute and he totally nailed Hannah in just a couple of episodes. I'm curious to see where they go in season five. I love that he called her on her thirst for drama, but I hope she doesn't bend like Carrie Bradshaw did with Aiden when she tried to give up smoking for him on Sex and the City. Hannah's dramatic tendencies are a large part of what makes her and Girls interesting.

The last thing she (or I, a once-again thoroughly entertained viewer) needs is change in the form of a sexy new guy swooping in and altering Hannah or her maddening ways. I love them just the way they are.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

5 great NSA anthems (or 5 reasons why Christina Aguilera deserves to be a major pop star again)

Although she never gets credit for it, Christina Aguilera deserves major props for perfecting the squeaky clean-to-untamed and sexy pop makeover. It seemed a lot more natural and effortless than Miley Cyrus's, and unlike the twerking queen, whose hits are as cheap as her image, Christina offered a quality soundtrack for her sexual coming of age.

She deserves to be on top...again.

1. "Dirrty" So raunchy it gets two R's.

2. "Get Mine, Get Yours" "I want your body, not your heart." Along with "Dirrty," the line that earned Xtina her "skank" rep in the early '00s.

3. "Candyman" The narrative takes place over the course of an actual date, but this full-course meal is really all about dessert, and in a world with so many flavors, variety is the spice of sex life. Morning-after leftovers probably aren't on the menu.

4. "Woo Hoo" That Christina and Nicki Minaj make it sound even remotely appealing rather than simply appalling is a major pop miracle. Alas, my anaconda still don't want none.

5. "Your Body" If you can't beat 'em, just screw 'em.

In defense of NSA ("no strings attached")...sort of

They're probably my three least favorite letters in gay life: NSA, aka "no strings attached."

Even if I wasn't completely over acronyms, I'd probably never actually use this one in everyday conversation. In the gay lexicon, it's something considerably colder and less romantic than the straight version of NSA that inspired the Ashton Kutcher-Natalie Portman rom-com No Strings Attached, which was not about puppet love.

In the cinematic version of NSA (and, by extension, the straight one), there's more of a human element. It's a lot like the "friends with benefits" thing also documented in a movie (starring Justin Timberlake, whose former group NSYNC once released an album called No Strings Attached, and Kutcher's future wife and Portman's Black Swan costar, Mila Kunis).

Gay NSA is generally less personal or personable, at least as I understand it in Grindr-speak. Size (Hung?) and preferred position (Top or bottom?) are far more important than pesky details like names. Yes, it's as incredibly unsexy as it sounds, but when you wake up horny craving sex for breakfast, it's a pretty expedient way to satisfy morning hunger.

I presume the reason why the old, antiquated phrase "one-night stand" doesn't apply is because the peak NSA hours tend to be right before and after dawn when gay men seem to be at their horniest. "Anonymous sex" is apparently also passe, probably because it sounds too brutal and unfeeling, and "casual sex" sounds like you're watching a ball game at the same time. "NSA" may be direct and a little lazy (which doesn't necessarily bode well for the sex), but it's vague enough to almost pass for something people do in polite company.

I spent many years being wary of NSA under all of its names, and I still cringe a little every time I see those three letters on Grindr. Would it kill guys to pursue it without spelling it out? Shouldn't it be understood that if you have sex with a stranger there won't be strings attached?

What un-deluded gay man is dreaming of a white picket fence and mentally picking out matching wedding bands while riding home in a taxi with the boy he just met. Even in Buenos Aires, where porteño guys would often drop "Te quiero" (I love you) before the cab reached its destination, I knew better than to ever take them seriously.

All that said, I used to pride myself on never hooking up with anyone I wouldn't be open to seeing again, even ones I met on holiday -- or ones who were on holiday when I met them. Paolo, one of the two great loves of my life, was visiting New York City from Milan when he and I met. That our relationship (doomed as it was) ended up unfolding on three different continents over the course of nearly a decade is proof that anything can happen between two strangers in the night if both are open to it.

Then one depressing birthday (incidentally, the one after I saw Paolo for the final time), I decided to throw caution and moralizing to the wind and take the NSA plunge. I'm terrible at names anyway, and I rarely remember them, so would it kill me to not bother asking?

The experience itself was unmemorable, but I'll never forget the way it made me feel -- not cheap and dirty, as I was expecting, but strangely liberated and, well, clean. There were no messy emotions. I was able to turn off my brain in a way I couldn't before when I was half thinking about the future. If I was never going to see him again, who cared what he thought about me? I could go way out of character for once and just live in the moment.

But once the moment was over, there was nothing, no future prospect, not even afterglow, which has always been my second favorite movement in the extended sex suite (my favorite being the dance leading up to the first kiss). That's the downside of NSA, and as a cuddler/spooner, it's a pretty major one. I was proud of myself for giving it a go, and I could finally say I understood why people do it, but it wasn't really me.

It's still not, but I have an even better understanding of it today than I did right after that mind-opening birthday. I think that for some, NSA is almost a form of armor, especially in a city like Sydney where, to quote the guy at the 2:19 point in this clip, nothing means anything. If he's just a body, not a person, he can't hurt you.

And if you're after instant gratification -- and in the Grindr age, nearly everyone seems to be? -- NSA is the uncomplicated way to get it. You can turn off your mind and just enjoy now. Who cares if you don't remember it an hour later? There'll be another new NSA session soon enough, if you want it, because there's always another hot guy "looking." (And "hot" is key to NSA because if personality isn't going to be a factor, the NSA prospect has only the physical to work in his favor.)

It'll probably never be my thing because my brain is too pivotal to my turn-on process and living in the future is just part of my character. But now that I understand NSA, it's easier to live with it. And if I do decide to go there, I know I won't have to worry about making awkward conversation or how to delicately usher him out the door in the unlikely event that I want to skip afterglow.

By the time I think of an excuse why he can't stay, he'll probably be already gone.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Why clothes no longer make the man for me (as long as both are clean)

If I could turn back time and change three things about my much-younger self, I know exactly what they would be: 1) I would have come out sooner (during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at the University of Florida); 2) I would have cared less what others thought about me; and 3) I would have rethought my entire approach to footwear. The latter could have cost me meeting Mr. Right much earlier in life.

In my twenties, bad footwear was my public enemy No. 1, and I had the most ridiculous sartorial rule about it: I wouldn't date anyone who wore running shoes when he wasn't running. It didn't matter what he was wearing on the rest of his body -- his feet had to be perfectly attired.

That's not to say I'm a suit-up kind of guy. I've never been one, and thank God, it's never been required of me. But I had my clothing hang ups, which had more to do with level of stylishness than degree of formal. I kept them until my last year few years in New York City.

If only Kevin had stuck around that long. He's the ex who dumped me in the spring of 2003 because he wanted "a t-shirt and jeans kind of guy" (his words). I wonder what he would have thought of "Casual Weekend Jeremy," the alter ego who started emerging twice a week toward the end of my time in NYC. Whenever my best friend Lori saw me on the weekend, she'd marvel at what I had on (frequently a t-shirt and jeans or track pants) because it was so unlike the trendy and sometimes flashy business-casual designer attire that I favored the rest of the week.

"I love Casual Weekend Jeremy," she once said, coining the moniker that she still occasionally drops. I'd smile, knowing that he'd soon go away for another five days.

After I moved to Buenos Aires and no longer had an office full of people to dress to impress, I spent the next eight years looking like Casual Weekend Jeremy 24/ least when warmer weather permitted it. When I flew from Cape Town to Sydney last September to be interviewed for my current position at Ninemsn, several of my friends asked me what I was going to wear because they couldn't imagine me dressed up. Dov said he'd never even seen me in a shirt with a collar and couldn't imagine me wearing one.

On the day of the interview, I dressed like it was a Tuesday morning in 2005. I wore black slacks, a brown button-down Hugo Boss shirt and $800 black John Varvatos boots. When one of my future bosses commented that I looked too fresh to have just arrived after a billion-hour flight, I knew I'd passed the dress test.

Now that I have the gig, I don't dress up every day, but I've yet to wear track pants, shorts or flip flops to work unless it's my once-a-month Sunday shift when there is no one there to see (and judge) me. I do miss Casual Weekend Jeremy, though, especially since he once again only surfaces on weekends -- and sadly, not always to great reviews.

You'd think Casual Weekend Jeremy would be a smash in Australia, a land where board shorts and Havaianas rule, but I may have miscalculated Aussies...we all may have miscalculated Aussies. They have a worldwide reputation for being so laid back, and in some ways they are, but there's another side, one that's anything but easy.

I find that as a general rule, they're cool, calm and collected mostly in presentation. Truth is, I've never lived in a more micro-managed society. It's in the strict adherence to rental rules, the unyielding customer service, the lockout laws and the dress codes. Yes, dress codes. I never had an issue with them until I moved to Australia, and Casual Weekend Jeremy was just as under-dressed in Buenos Aires, Bangkok, Cape Town and everywhere else I've been since I left New York City.

To date, I've been denied entry into three nightspots down under for not dressing up to sartorial code -- one in Melbourne and two in Sydney -- and they weren't fancy blazers-required establishments. Wearing running shoes on a Saturday night in Melbourne and Havaianas on two separate Friday nights in Sydney led to my being turned away from places with dirty sticky floors where people who looked far worse for wear than I did were being admitted.

Several months ago, my friends and I couldn't have lunch at one of my favorite places on St. Kilda Beach in Melbourne because, according to the host, who could have used with a bit of grooming, my shorts could pass for gym wear. Never mind that it was a blistering summer day, and the restaurant was right on the beach. Was I expected to show up red-carpet ready?

Things might be about to get worse. I recently read that Qantas Airlines will be imposing a strict dress code in its airport lounges because, well, looking good is apparently more important than feeling good during a billion-hour flight. Considering those micro-managing Aussie tendencies, I wonder how long it will be before the new requirements extend to long- and short-haul Qantas flights.

The writer of the pro-Qantas dress code editorial was thrilled by this development because "Thongs, bad shorts, trackies and sloppy singlets fill up terminals and airport lounges to the point where we're seeing better-dressed bodies on bus and train trips." Not in the airports that I frequent, and even if they did, bad body odor and terrible breath are far more frightening to this frequent flier than what that writer perceives as lapses in good fashion sense.

Telling fliers that they can't be as comfortable as they want to be in-flight is as unfair as twentysomething me expecting my boyfriends to look sharp from head to toe 24/7. I love flying Qantas, and I hope the dress code backfires because I want to continue to love flying Qantas.

Clothes don't necessarily make the man nor do they define travelers, who can be annoying and revolting dressed to the nines. A friend of mine recent posted a Facebook status update where he slammed the woman sitting beside him on a flight for snoring, farting and picking "parts of her body that ended up in her mouth." Yuck. I thought he was a bit harsh, but to his credit, he never mentioned what she was wearing.

On a packed airplane with crying babies, too little legroom, lousy in-flight entertainment, farting, snoring and picking, board shorts and exposed toes really should be the least of everyone's problems.