Tuesday, June 30, 2009

SICK & TIRED, PARTS I & II

My name is Jeremy Helligar, and I'm a hypochondriac. This particular psychological malady has afflicted me for as long as I can remember, but it wasn't always such a powerful force. Since I was around 8 years old, my frequent headaches had me predicting my own impending doom, death by a brain tumor that was sitting idle in my noggin just waiting to invade my entire body, or worse, a deadly aneurysm preparing to strike and knock me dead. Instantly. But back then, my gloomy doomy health outlook seemed almost as ridiculous to me as it did to everyone around me. Every time I had a little pain in my head, I became a royal pain in the neck.

Now that I'm 40, the reality of death by tumor, aneurysm or any of a host of destructive maladies seems all too possible. Especially with celebrities, like Michael Jackson, dying young. And in this golden age of the internet, all the tools for self-diagnosis (and prognosis) are just a mouse click away. Got a little scratch in my throat? I do a Google search or log on to Wikipedia to find out what deadly form of cancer is about to do me in.

I know it sounds silly, but I also know that there are millions of people out there who are just like me. I can't speak for them, but for me, it's not so much a fear of death that has me living with black clouds moving in and out of the space over my head like a temperamental weather front. It's a fear of a slow, painful death, or dying alone in my apartment, where my body will be discovered days later, decomposing and smelling up the entire floor of my building. Come on, you single folks who live alone: The thought has crossed your mind too.

Today I went to my doctor with the results of a battery of tests I'd had done about a week and a half ago -- blood work, an EKG, an X-ray of my thorax. (I still haven't figured out the point of the latter, but here in Buenos Aires, doctors order X-rays, like U.S. docs prescribe antibiotics.) Dr. Kaip's verdict: My health is impeccable. I left his office psyched and ready to swim the Rio de la Plata. Unfortunately, it's winter in BA, and I don't know how to swim. Still, I walked home feeling relieved and invincible.

But I knew it wouldn't last long.... Oh!... What's that?... What's that little twitchy feeling I just had in my temple? Oh, no! Here comes that sinking feeling again.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

THE BREAK UP

"So let's leave it alone, 'cause we can't see eye to eye.
There ain't no good guy, there ain't no bad guy.
There's only you and me, and we just disagree."
-- Dave Mason, "We Just Disagree"

What a break-up song! And today particularly, it resonates with me. Big time.

Love is a battlefield. Love is strange. Love is a many-splendoured thing. It has as many meanings as there are people too fall into it. For some, it's enough to know that it's out there. It's enough to know that there is someone, somewhere out there who cares. But for me, that is not enough. For me, the point of being in a romantic relationship is spending time together, sharing experiences, actually logging face-to-face time. I've tried the long-distance thing. It doesn't work.

Unfortunately, he didn't see things my way. Although he lives 30 minutes away by car (with his family, of course -- this is, after all, Argentina, where no one leaves home until they qualify for Medicare), he was fine seeing me once a week, or once every other week. In one and a half months, we saw each other exactly five times, although cumulatively, we spent days talking online. My friends thought I looked kind of sad. A man in love should not look kind of sad. But there I was. My poker face wasn't fooling anyone.

Saturday nights were supposed to be for us. It was our date night. He'd always have to leave before sunrise in order to avoid his mother's nagging questions about who he was with and what he'd been up to. But Saturday nights were ours. Unless something more important came up. Tonight it did. Do I spend my only free night of the week with Jeremy, or do I go to see Transformers 2 with my family? Tough choice? Hardly. Jeremy can wait until Wednesday. Or next Saturday. Transformers isn't going anywhere, but better to disappoint Jeremy, my boyfriend whom I haven't seen in a week, than to disappoint people I see every day.

Two weeks ago, when he told me that he was be going to see Transformers with his family on date night, I was disappointed, but I played good sport (here it comes again: mum mum mum mah poker face, my poker face). I hoped that he'd do the right thing and come up with an alternate day or night to get together. He suggested Friday. But I knew it wasn't to be. On Friday morning, he complained about lingering flu-like symptoms from Monday that hadn't been mentioned again all week -- until now. I got the picture. We wouldn't be seeing each other tonight. He had better things to do: helping his best friend set up her wireless connection at home.

I'm not sure whether it was the result of a lack of interest (despite all of his pretty, ultimately hollow, words, like "I love you with every cell in my body"), or if he just wanted to maintain the status quo at home. Maybe it was both. As important as he said I was to him, I wasn't important enough for his parents, who are well aware of his sexual preference, to know about me -- although he had no problem brazenly referring to his "mum" as "my mother-in-law"). So he sneaked around, making up excuses to come and see me. Who knows if one night a week was enough for him? Maybe he was happy racking up hours of MSN time, talking about how he loved me more and how much he missed me but not actually seeing each other.

But for me, it wasn't enough. I needed to be in an adult relationship (which I now realize was a ridiculous thing to expect with a 21 year old living at home and working for his parents, regardless of his level or maturity). I wanted walks in the park, romantic dinners in restaurants, mornings spent in bed reading, eating breakfast, kissing. I wanted to be with the person I loved, the person who said he loved me. I wanted a grown up, an independent man. But what I got was a little boy with an admittedly beautiful mind.

My life in a couple felt a lot like my life as a single person, only with less company. I couldn't even go out and look for what I was missing at home. So I had to let it go. Sometimes love just ain't enough. Sometimes saying you are in love just ain't enough. Sometimes it's important to show, not tell.

Tonight I needed to see him and told him so. But it was all "arranged" (his word, not mine). He had to see Transformers with his family, and apparently, no other night would do. And no alternate plan was suggested, by him, or by me (who, by this point, had kind of lost interest anyway). He made his choice. I, in turn, made mine. Now, he's just another page in my diary.

Friday, June 26, 2009

THE "KING" IS GONE

Yesterday morning I had death on my mind. It was this unshakable feeling that something big and terrible was going to happen. When I returned home from my pilates class, holding my breath and fearing the worst, I checked the internet for news on Farrah Fawcett, who long had been reported to have terminal cancer. Aside from a story about the shooting death of a high school football coach, there was no grim news about the death of anyone whose name I recognized. A few hours later, I logged onto Facebook. The first status update I saw: "RIP Farrah Fawcett."

I immediately told my boyfriend, via IM, about my scary premonition and its outcome. It wasn't the first time one of my death or near-death premonitions have become a reality, and unfortunately, it wouldn't be the last. A few hours later, again talking to my boyfriend via IM, he brought me more bad news: "Michael Jackson has died."

My first reaction was disbelief. Surely this must be one of those celebrity death hoaxes, or worse, the ultimate publicity stunt to drum up excitement for Michael's in-the-works comeback. Sadly, it wasn't. After going into cardiac arrest earlier in the afternoon, the "King of Pop" had died at the age of 50. I'd always figured that Michael Jackson would die relatively young. For some reason, I could never picture him as an old man. But still, I was shocked. Not only because it was the second celebrity death of the day, following my earlier premonition, but because somehow we all tend to think of our icons (Elvis, Diana and of course, Michael) as being invincible. My heart goes out to his family, particularly his mother, Katherine. I hope that Michael was able to mend existing rifts with various family members before his passing.

Although he's gone, I'd like to remember the vibrant life that he brought to pop music with Thriller, as well as his mostly-overshadowed work after that seminal record-shattering 1983 album. I have never been a big fan of the Jackson Five. I recognize the quality of the work, which is notable mainly for the strength of Michael's preternaturally agile vocals, but Michael's truly creative period began when he went solo. Without his post-Jackson 5 work, his death probably wouldn't have totally pushed Farrah's into the background yesterday.

And it's not all about Thriller. Yes, "Bille Jean" rocked, but there was life after Thriller -- lots of it. For me, some of his post-Thriller work, especially 1987's Bad album, is his best. Here are my favorite Michael Jackson moments (on record).

  • "Blood On The Dancefloor" Remix CDs are generally a waste of time, featuring superfluous reworkings of overplayed hits and throwaway bonus cuts. But Michael's Blood On The Dancefloor: HIStory In The Mix (1997) is essential for a handful of new songs -- "Morphine," "Superfly Sister" and particularly this, a No. 1 hit in the UK -- that are as good as any of his post-peak work.
  • "Ghosts" Another brand new jam from HIStory In The Mix that is better than anything on his next and final studio album, 2001's Invincible.
  • "Human Nature" Michael's ballads generally make me cringe -- way too saccharine -- but this one never fails to bring out the romantic fool in me.
  • "Leave Me Alone" Britney's "Piece Of Me" aside, pop's media indictments rarely work, but this does on the strength of Michael's bile-filled delivery and a dramatic musical backdrop that matches his barely contained rage note for bitter note.
  • "Smooth Criminal" Bad, thrilling, dangerous and invincible, it features a complex, tongue-twisted vocal that's as dexterous as his moonwalk.
  • "State Of Shock" Go ahead and cringe, but Michael and Mick Jagger making googly eyes at each other (only on record, of course) is far more intriguing than anything he ever did with Sir Paul McCartney.
  • "Wanna Be Startin' Something" I've never really figured out what he was going on about for most of the song, but for me, this remains Thriller's most thrilling moment.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

PAPA, CAN YOU HEAR ME?

Today is Father's Day in both Argentina and the United States. It's a rare instance of identical non-religious (and non-market driven) holidays being synchronized in both countries. Always second class to the more A-list Mother's Day, Father's Day is usually off my radar (and in the U.S., most everyone else's), but for some reason, this year it's somehow sneaked on. It might have something to do with how porteños make such a massive deal about every holiday, no matter how D-list it is. This morning at the panadería, the cashier even wished me a "feliz dia de papa." Imagine that! I've never considered myself a particularly paternal-looking (or acting) guy, but if I already look the part, perhaps some day I'll learn how to act it as well.

In honor of the Day, here are five of my favorite onscreen dads (in chronological order -- and note the emphasis on my favorites, not on the best). Keep in mind that I'm far more interested in actresses and female characters, so cinematic dads are generally as second-class to screen moms as Father's Day is to Mother's Day.

  • Dustin Hoffman as Ted Kramer in Kramer vs. Kramer The incredibly selfish and self-involved mom played by Meryl Streep only serves to make Ted look far better than he might have otherwise, but watching him slowly bond with his son (Justin Henry) is thoroughly satisfying, cinematically and emotionally.
  • Jack Nicholson as Warren Schmidt in About Schmidt Granted Schmidt, one of my all-time favorite Nicholson characterizations, is a hot mess. But I'd say his reservations about daughter Hope Davis' choice of husband (a for once memorable Dermot Mulroney, memorably white trashy) are more than warranted.
  • Bill Murray as Don Johnston in Broken Flowers My dad never calls me on my birthday, so it's hard not to admire the tenacity with which Don Johnston searches for the 19-year-old son he never knew he had and possibly might not actually have.
  • Felicity Huffman as Bree in Transamerica I don't care much for the film as a whole, but my favorite thing about it (besides eye candy Kevin Zegers, above, with onscreen mom/dad Felicity Huffman) is how even as pre-op transsexual Bree begins to warm up to the son she never knew she had (yes, that again -- tellingly, a recurring theme in Hollywood fatherhood), Felicity Huffman's thespian approach never lapses into anything resembling sentimentality.
  • Mickey Rourke as Randy "The Ram" Robinson in The Wrestler Yes, he totally sucks as a paternal figure, but despite his shortcomings, it's obvious that "The Ram" truly cares about his estranged, possibly lesbian daughter. (The lesbian part is not explicit, but that is how I interpret Evan Rachel Wood's subtle, delicate performance of an under-written role.)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

CATWOMEN: COUGARS ON THE PROWL... PURR!

Last night I was watching As Good As It Gets on TV and cringing. Not because it's an awful movie -- although it's certainly no masterpiece. As entertaining as the 1997 film may be, I still can't believe how successful it was, or that Helen Hunt actually won an Oscar (over Judi Dench, Julie Christie, Helena Bonham Carter and Kate Winslet, no less) for playing a shrill variation on Mad About You's Jamie Buchman, a role that inexplicably won her four straight Emmys. Equally unbelievable (still): Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, who are 26 years apart in age, as a couple.

Yeah, yeah yeah, I should be used to older men with younger women. It's been commonplace since the dawn of time. At least, 12 years later, women are finally turning the tables. In films and on TV, cougars rule: Sisters aren't only doing it for themselves; they're doing it with much-younger men. Twelve years separate Sandra Bullock and her The Proposal costar Ryan Reynolds. On 90210, Kelly (Jennie Garth, 37 and more beautiful than she was 15 years ago -- above photo, right) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty, 38, center) tussled over Ryan Matthews (Ryan Eggold, 24, left). On daytime TV, perennial One Life To Live supercouple Todd and Blair are played by Trevor St. John, 37, and Kassie DePavia, 48. Meanwhile, Robin Givens, 44, as Robin Givens, wed football star Malik Wright, played by 27-year-old Hosea Chanchez, on The Game (one of my favorite TV shows, featuring a mostly black and beautiful cast). Earlier this year, thirtysomething Kate Winslet won an Oscar for romancing a teenager, even daring to join him in the bathtub, much like Nicole Kidman did with Cameron Bright, then 11, five years ago in Birth.

Legendary TV producer Norman Lear must have been on to something. On both of his seminal '70s TV series, Good Times and The Jeffersons, the central couples were played by actresses who were some 20 years the senior of the actors costarring as their TV spouses. Sure Isabel Sanford and Esther Rolle looked great for their age, while Sherman Hemsley and John Amos didn't (yes, folks, black does crack), but the casting was nonetheless groundbreaking -- though most viewers weren't even aware of the age differences.

Nowadays, it's hard to miss. Demi Moore, the ultimate cougar, might be an incredibly sexy 46, but she still looks old enough to be Ashton Kutcher's, um, aunt. Ditto Madonna versus Guy Ritchie, and every guy she's been with since -- and, for that matter, before (excepting Warren Beatty and Sean Penn). I'm not sure what this all means, but I definitely get it. Younger guys rock. Not only do they drag around less baggage than boys twice their age -- they're fearless, enthusiastic, ridiculously pretty and, as a huge plus to successful women, less prone to ego tripping. Burned by love over and over, vintage guys play it cool. Too cool. Twentysomethings dive right in. I should know. My guy, more mature than any man I've met in years, just reached legal U.S. drinking age three days after I turned 40.

Does that make me a panther?

FOOLED BY A FEELING?

I'm prepared to eat my words -- with a little humble pie on the side. Para llevar! To go, please!

One hour before I wrote the post "An 'Indecent' Proposal" a few days ago, I'd never even heard of The Proposal, the new Sandra Bullock/Ryan Reynolds romantic comedy, which opens today. Since then, I can't seem to escape it. It's all over the internet, and many of the stories about it don't fail to mention Ryan's rather impressive six pack. Hey, if it gets people into theaters. The reviews are coming in, too, and they aren't terrible. The Chicago Sun-Times' Roger Ebert calls it "cheerfully done," without mentioning Ryan's abs, while the Washington Post deems it "as predictable and comforting as a Happy Meal" (like Ryan's abs?). Will it break $20 million this opening weekend? My money's on it (though I won't be actually spending money on it -- it's not out in BA yet). And if it knocks Kate Hudson (last seen in Bride Wars -- see the connection?) off her rom-com high horse in the process, more power to it!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

IN FLIGHT

"We talk about our flight
In this queer dimension
And how we're afraid
To carry on our own
And finish our direction
Flying home"
-- Linda Perry, "In Flight"

The other day I had one of those increasingly frequent deja-vu moments -- where else? -- on Facebook. This particular blast from my past had "befriended" me there awhile ago, and since then, we had exchanged occasional words, but nothing significant. This was our first extended conversation in 10 years.

At first, I felt somewhat awkward, as I often do when reconnecting with someone for the first time in years. Mostly because the person I am is not quite the person I was. Many of my friends my age go on and on about how age is nothing but a number and how they feel the same way that they felt 20 years ago. I've always begged to differ. No one feels the way they felt 20 years ago. Personally, I'm changing every day. I am not even who I was on Sunday.

To quote the opening track on Sinead O'Connor's I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got CD, I feel so different now. Twenty years ago, I did not have to worry about borderline high blood pressure or, for that matter, my waistline. Twenty years ago, I had never had a boyfriend, never been kissed (by a boy), and was still safely tucked away in the closet, far from the maddening gay crowd. Twenty years ago, I had never left the country, barely ventured outside my home state of Florida, and moving to New York City and launching my journalism career there was still two years away. Twenty years ago, I was probably closer to my mother than anyone else, and I couldn't imagine life without us talking all the time. In my mind, anyone who says they feel the same way that they felt 20 years ago must have spent approximately two decades living under a rock.

Any life worth living is about change -- spiritual change, emotional change and physical change. Turning 40 was a kind of scary (I've grown to love it), but I was not one of those people who lied to myself, saying that it's just a number or that you are as young as you feel. You are as young as you are. I challenge anyone who claims to feel, physically, at 40 the way they felt at 20 to pull one all-night party and call me in the morning -- if they can get out of bed. I've changed, and although the blast from my past said that I look exactly the same (I appreciate the ego boost!), I know that I don't. Physically, I haven't changed as much from 30 to 40 as I did from 20 to 30, but now I know that whenever I get carded, someone is simply following the rules.

I was surprised by how much he remembered and by how different he seemed -- older, wiser and maybe just a little bit sad. Perhaps the latter was due to very specific recent circumstances (the death of a close friend), as he is now married and apparently, happily so. I was touched by his generosity, his view of how things went down between us. I'd never felt quite right about it and have spent the past 10 years feeling somewhat guilty for not handling things in the best possible way. I'm not sure that I'm ready to let myself completely off the hook. It could be the perfectionist in me, needing everything to be just right. Perhaps it's the people pleaser in me, never wanting to leave anyone with a bad impression. Maybe his recollection was dead on, and his owning his role in the denouement was a sign of maturity.

It's all water under the bridge now. He seemed genuinely happy to see me doing so well in my life and in my new relationship. I'm happy, too -- in my life, in my new relationship and, at long last, with my memories of the past. The last significant relationship of my twenties finally has its happy ending.

Incidentally, between making my last post and finishing this one, I received a message from my old friend. He had just read "The Violets In The Mountains Have Broken The Rocks," and he quite astutely related the sentiment of the title, an old Tennessee Williams quote, to my new relationship. He advised me to hold on to love, don't let go and enjoy the ride. And he's right.

A happy ending indeed -- and a great new beginning.

THE VIOLETS IN THE MOUNTAINS HAVE BROKEN THE ROCKS

I loved her in High Art, Far From Heaven, Vicki Cristina Barcelona and on TV's Frasier and Six Feet Under, and I'm praying that the Oscar prognosticators are correct about her performance in the upcoming Woody Allen film Whatever Works (that's her, above, at the June 8 Los Angeles premiere). Now I adore the Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning actress Patricia Clarkson even more for something she said two days earlier. Perhaps I'm too close to the gay-marriage issue to really see or speak with 100% clarity, but in her recent speech at a Human Rights Campaign event in New Orleans, Patty said everything I've wanted to say but didn't quite know how to. If you've got 15 minutes to spare, watch this video, which I discovered yesterday on Film Experience Blog, one of my favorite online destinations and required daily reading.

If you think you're too busy, make time (or read the speech here, on The Huffington Post). This is important. My future and the future of so many people I care about depend on the only acceptable resolution to this issue. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, whom I always misguidedly supported (along with his wife), failed us in so many ways, particularly in the insane don't-ask-don't-tell policy regarding gays in the military and by signing the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage in the U.S. as being strictly between a man and a woman. Now it's time for President Barack Obama to right his Democratic presidential predecessor's wrongs and follow through on his own campaign rhetoric and his promise to unite, not divide. As Patricia so eloquently and humorously says, if the former Vice President Dick Cheney (a man she accuses of being "to the left of Vlad the Impaler," who for those of you not in the know was the Romanian sadist who is said to have inspired the character of Dracula) can come around, it's time for everyone else to.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

AN INDECENT "PROPOSAL"?

My how far the stars of the '90s and the early '00s have fallen. Reese Witherspoon, this could be you some day. Anne Hathaway is hot on your tail. While it's nice to see 44-year-old Sandra Bullock romancing 32-year-old Ryan Reynolds onscreen (if guys can do it, girls can too), is a Green Card rehash the career rehabilitation that Sandra desperately needs? At least it's got Betty White, which is always a plus. But what will it do for the always slightly B-list Sandra (forever in the shadow of Julia Roberts, who could use some good luck of her own)? We'll find out after this weekend, when the film opens wide in North America.

I think Sandra needs to stretch a little, go the Marisa Tomei route and take a supporting role in an indie film, something that challenges her and changes the way everyone perceives her. It worked for Marisa in The Wrestler. I'm not convinced that Sandra could pull off such a subtle, devastating performance (her dramatic changes of pace in Hope Floats, 28 Days, Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Crash, while hardly embarassments, were more wooden than golden), but if she continues playing cute as she heads into the second half of her 40s, she might find herself as under-employed as former American sweetheart Meg Ryan, who is probably a flop or two away from a guest arc on Grey's Anatomy.

If it could happen to Oscar winner (and three-time nominee) Faye Dunaway, it could happen to anyone.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

FLESH FOR FANTASY


I always feel so left out, totally out of the loop, every time a new fantasy or action Hollywood event movie comes around. Harry Potter. Iron Man. Batman. Superman. Spider-Man. X-Men. Wolverine. Twilight. Lord Of The Rings. Oy vey! I tune out and pretend that I live under a rock, or on another planet, an dream of a holy land dominated by prestige dramas, all starring, among a few select others, Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman or my beloved great K/Cates.

My former colleague Mara and I used to dread the arrival of the latest in the Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings sagas with a vengeance, like one dreads the arrival of a particularly annoying house guest. We grinned, beared it and waiting for them to go away. For us, the three years when Lord Of The Rings was Oscar bait was a particularly challenging time. We knew that it would eventually win Best Picture, and that Oscar season when part 3 was the surest thing since Titanic was pure agony. I knew that it would end in tears.

Wake me when it's over.

After moving to Buenos Aires, I figured that I could finally put my fear of event movies behind me. Surely no one down here cared about a bespectacled British boy fraternizing with witches and goblins (or whatever fantasy creatures go mano a mano with Harry Potter?), or a guy in blue and red Spandex climbing up the side of buildings. Wouldn't they all be obsessed with Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem? Wrong! The event movie is alive and well and kicking in BA.

Now I've even gone and fallen for an Argentine guy who is as obsessed with them as anyone I've ever met. He's read every Harry Potter book, each Twilight tome, in Spanish and in English, and usually in just a few sittings. Last night, I saw a trailer for Transformers, and I just knew that somewhere in Ciudad Evita, a very sweet young man was jumping for joy. I thought I was in the middle of a flashback: Didn't this movie come out a couple of years ago? As I soon found out, this is a sequel (Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, or as it's being called in BA, Transformers 2) that only looks and sounds and is being marketed exactly like the original. (That Shia LeBeouf makes my heart skip several beats -- see the photos above to understand why -- although not enough to inspire interest in the film).

But I was right about my boyfriend. No, he hadn't been watching the trailer, though he was, as I had suspected, practically drooling in anticipation for the next event movie of the summer (winter in BA). His younger brother long ago made plans for a family night out to see the movie on Saturday, 27 June. I smiled when he told me this, thinking it was the sweetest thing I'd heard in the longest time (even though it was going to conflict with our date night). I smiled even wider when I realized that I was off the hook. He has so many people in his life who are into these movies (and aside from Mara and me, who isn't?), that he'll probably never try to drag me kicking and screaming to any of them -- not that I could ever say "no" to him (but shhh, don't tell him I said that).

Come Oscar season, I'll have my day. That's when all of the prestige dramas will finally arrive, peppered by the occasional Harry Potter and Twilight sequel. But as long as I get to watch Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren angling for their next Oscar nomination, all will be perfect in my world. Also on the plus side, my guy does have his limits. I can go on pretending that Kirk, Spock and company never came back to haunt us. He hates Star Trek, and that makes me love him even more.

Monday, June 15, 2009

THE DOOM GENERATION

Great friendships are hard work. They require dedicated attention and upkeep, and for the most part, I'm ready and willing to do the necessary heavy lifting. Many of my familial relationships may be a bust, but I've been blessed with fantastic friendships.

Recently, though, a difficult one with a troubled, early twentysomething girl came to a grinding halt. It had run its year-long course, and after finding out about one particularly egregious lie, I knew I had to move on. I don't mourn the friendship at all, as it had become frustratingly one-sided in its final months, with the person in constant need of attention and doing anything and everything she could (inventing fake pregnancies in the middle of dinner and miscarriages over the phone, lying about the death of a family member, even jumping off a third-floor balcony) to get it. But I was there for her, listening to her, offering advice (usually ignored) and rooting for her.

I have no doubt that this person has deep-rooted mental issues to resolve, and the drugs clearly weren't working. The prescription pills that she was popping day in and day out only served to further damage her psyche and skew her reality. But once she'd faced mortality, spending weeks in a coma hooked up to machines in an intensive-care unit, and the drugs wore off, I was expecting, hoping to witness a glimmer of change. Her family had taken her out of the country to recuperate, and it was possible that I wouldn't see her again for a long time, if ever. I certainly didn't want my final mental image of this friend to be of her being carried out of my apartment building on a stretcher or writhing in agony on a hospital bed.

But there she was mid-recovery, back on Facebook, well enough to be making inane posts but not enlightened enough to make amends for all of the damage she'd done to her relationships. She didn't even have the decorum to communicate via private messages; she had to post her notes and comments publicly so that the world could see that she was back. I wondered, Shouldn't she be retreating for a second, trying to heal? Oh, but she can't, I answered my own question. Her life wouldn't be worth living if she weren't the center of attention. Staring down death, for most, would be life changing, and it would show. But she was treating it like a brutal hangover after a particularly intense drinking binge, still needing to be the life of the party. All eyes on her!

I was turned off, so I tuned out. I knew that I'd eventually reach out to her, but it had to be in my own time. Then a mutual friend revealed her most grand deception of all: lying about the death of a family member to garner sympathy (and yes, more attention) from her friends. She had even orchestrated a fake memorial service for the "deceased" here in Buenos Aires, for which we all put on our black Sunday best and attended, offering strong shoulders for her to cry on. That's when I shut down completely, deciding that I couldn't be friends with someone who would even attempt to pull off such a spectacular manipulation.

Eventually, the silence must have been deafening for her, and without ever contacting me to apologize or at least find out where I stood, she defriended me on Facebook. Good riddance, I thought, but I was angry. On principle. Not because I had any desire to continue the friendship. Once again, she was making it all about her. Rather than reaching out to the people she had hurt, including me, and trying to make amends, all she wanted was more attention. It would have been nice to see her owning her actions, accepting responsibility for them and then attempting to mend her fractured relationships. Isn't that one of the most important steps in recovery from alcoholism? I imagine that it must be essential in her recovering from her own alcoholism and whatever else is ailing her.

But she was too busy covering up her lies with more lies and frittering away her time on Facebook, defriending innocent bystanders in the train wreck that is her life to bother with contrition or self-reflection. If she had any talent (even for self-promotion), she'd probably be a celebrity. She certainly has the disposition of one. I just hope she doesn't eventually die like one, tragically and far too young.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

ABOUT A BOY

It was bound to happen. Sooner or later. Better later than never. After nearly three years of working the field in Buenos Aires, swinging with a succession of players -- some great, some not-so-great, none quite right -- something, make that someone, has gotten hold of my heart.

I first noticed something was off when those sad songs that normally say so much to me started to say less and less. No more somebody done somebody wrong songs. All I wanted to hear was the gooey, sappy stuff. Hey, Mr. DJ. Put a record on. I wanna think about my baby. "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." "Ive Fallen In Love With You." "All Is Full Of Love." Oh, this crazy little thing called love.

To be honest, it's all slightly disconcerting. Suddenly, my head is no longer clear. Someone has moved in, dominating my thoughts. He's far from being an unwanted visitor -- he can stay as long as he'd like -- but he keeps me up at night. And when I fall asleep, there he goes again, invading my dreams. I wake up, he's back again. Other thoughts come, other thoughts go. He sticks around.

He showed up a few days after my birthday. We'd spoken before, sporadically, then he just kind of disappeared. It's like I woke up one day, and there he was again, the biggest best birthday present ever. I fell fast and hard, and to my delight and surprise, the feelings were mutual. There was none of the game playing that I'd come to expect from guys in Buenos Aires. This one laid his feelings out on the line from day one, and let me know that I could do the same.

Unfortunately, physical logistics are not on our side. He lives 30 minutes away by car, and he has a life. But for now, that might be a good thing. It forces us to take things slowly. When romance is first in bloom, we're all tempted to spend every waking moment with the object of our affection. But that's neither healthy nor is it a recipe for longevity. Anyway, I need my space, my alone time, and I've been around long enough to know that nothing worth having ever comes without a little effort -- and a little waiting.

A little waiting. I'm not sure how Hollywood stars do it. Spending months apart, cramming in together time every now and then. What's the point? The whole idea of being with someone is spending time with them. Modern technology allows us to be in contact with the ones we love as often as we want to be, but nothing beats face to face. No wonder A-list marriages rarely last for long. Something, someone's got to give. One career has to be back burnered. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but out of sight, out of mind. As the late great country singer Sammi Smith once sang, "Cheating comes so easy to the woman who spends all her time alone." Of course, the lonely lady in "Cheating's A Two-Way Street" was only giving as good as she got.

I'm not convinced that love had anything to do with it. Here and now, though, love is all around. In the music I play. In the thoughts running through my head. Falling was the easy part (despite spending a good two years out of love). Now how do we keep the music playing? I'm so out of practice. I'm not accustomed to thinking for two. But love or something like it's got a hold of me, making this one challenge that I'm totally up for.

Friday, June 12, 2009

IT'S A MAN'S WORLD


Yes, it's a man's world.

A sad but true sentiment -- and also the title of a 1995 CD by Cher on which she sang covers of songs written by men. Her daughter, Chastity, 40, must agree because it's being reported by Us Weekly that she is in the process of undergoing gender-reassignment surgery. I'm not sure what I think about this (if I think anything), or if what I think about it even matters, but I'm dying to know what Cher thinks. She has said that she had a very difficult time coming to terms with her daughter's coming out, but one presumes that she's since made peace with that aspect. And while Cher was born a woman and continues to be one, it is possible that she has gone under the plastic surgeon's scalpel as many, if not more, times as any gender-reassignment-surgery candidate ever will.

Suerte, Chastity!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

WHO SAID SILENCE IS GOLDEN?

Conversations are tricky things. Especially in this golden age of IM when you can't always rely on facial messages to clue you in on communication subtleties like irony and sarcasm. Unless, of course, you turn on the webcam. Then, if the picture is clear enough and you aren't totally horrified by how hideous you look in that grainy computer image, you can understand the blithe spirit in which comments are made. On the other hand, as you sit there staring at the person to whom you're talking, a 30-second delay in responding to your latest nugget of profundity can seem like forever and several days.

I thought about this recently as I was having one of those slow-motion shit chats. There I was revealing all of the fascinating developments of my manic Sunday, or Monday, or whatever, and waiting...waiting...waiting. For what? Two- or three-word responses or -- worse -- those little IM shorthand symbols that I still don't really understand. This, I thought, is what country great Gene Watson was talking about when he sang his 1978 hit "One-Sided Conversation." And there I was, stuck in one of my own.

Oh, how I miss talking to people face to face, where awkward silences either indicate some dramatic plot development or perhaps a complete lack of chemistry. I remember as a kid how frustrated I'd get watching characters interact on daytime soaps. There was the one time on All My Children when Phoebe Tyler showed up unannounced on the doorstep of her daughter-in-law Tara Martin -- to do what, I've long since forgotten. But it must have been something huge. This was a 1977 Friday cliffhanger so juicy I actually missed the first day of third grade the following Monday so that I could see what happened. (Car trouble also played a role, but I didn't push the transportation issue, this, after all, being pre-VCR, TiVo and YouTube.) When Tara finally opened the door on Monday at 1pm, instead of spilling immediately, Phoebe just stood there staring at her for dramatic effect. Tara must have felt like I did last night waiting for my conversation partner to say something/anything.

I can't really recall what followed, although it couldn't possibly have been worth waiting all weekend for and missing the first day of school. But I'm sure it ended the way so many phone and face-to-face soap opera conversations do. People are always hanging up without saying goodbye or abruptly leaving the room after dropping some juicy bombshell or hurling some delicious bon mot. Nobody, apart from the very rude and/or the very diva-like, actually does that in real life -- unless they're IM'ing. I thought about this as I sat in front of my laptop the other day, waiting what seemed like eternity for every non-response. Finally, I gave up. But I wasn't going to go gently into that good night without a word, soap-opera style. I was going to have my parting shot.

"THIS CONVERSATION," I wrote in all capital letters (the IM language of anger, or annoyance), "IS OVER." Erica Kane would be so proud.

Monday, June 8, 2009

THE JOKE'S ON YOU, WILL!



How could this happen? A summer comedy with no big stars does more than twice the weekend business of a new Will Ferrell movie, in fewer theaters! That's precisely what happened this weekend as The Hangover, starring non-marquee draws Bradley Cooper and a fourth-billed Heather Graham, took in $43 million at the North American weekend box office and a No. 2 placing (behind second-week champ Up), while Will's Land Of The Lost had to settle for a measly $19.5 million at No. 3. (Neither film has been released in Argentina, and I wasn't even aware that either existed until about an hour ago when I checked the weekend chart on Box Office Mojo).

Everybody knows that rave reviews, which The Hangover actually received, doesn't really bring bodies into theaters on opening weekend. So was it the film's clever above-the-title marketing tag: "FROM THE DIRECTOR OF 'OLD SCHOOL'"? Considering that Will Ferrell was actually in that movie (Old School), probably not. Stay tuned for Bradley Cooper, who, after He's Just Not That Into You, is batting 2 for 2 in '09, to be deemed the next next big thing. Or not -- the stars of his two follow-up films are the quietly fading Renée Zellweger and Sandra Bullock.

As for his first headlining hit, maybe we'll never know how a little comedy that could actually did and steamrolled over Will in the process. But if anyone has anyone ideas, I'm all ears.

LIFE, LIBERTY & THE PURSUIT OF A SAME-SEX SPOUSE


"Equality
Justice
Inclusion
Solidarity
Diversity"

-- Rosario, Santa Fe (Argentina), 6 June 2009

California, it's time to get a clue.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

THE LATE LATE EARLY SHOW


I now officially know what it feels like to be over the hill. I'm in Rosario -- the third largest city in Argentina and a place I've long been dying to check out -- for a weekend break, and last night my plan was to hit Gotika. It's a club highly recommended by my friend Luciano, whose taste I trust explicitly, despite being slightly turned off by the fact that minus an H, the place shares its name with the title of Halle Berry's first post-Oscar leading-role film (a dismal harbinger indeed).

After napping -- or rather, tossing and turning -- in my hotel room for an hour or two, I headed out shortly after 11pm for dinner, leaving all my valuables, including my cell phone, my only portable time piece, behind. (We're still in Argentina, where everything is done super late and in super slow motion, and tourists are better off safe and clueless about the actual time than sorry.) After what seemed like hours of waiting for my food, eating it, and flip-flopping on whether I had the energy to go anywhere but immediately to bed, I headed to Gotika, hoping that it was at least 1am, opening time there.

Apparently, it was, though judging from the sparse crowd, barely. I made an embarrassing trip to the women's loo (they really need to put visible gender indicators on these bathroom entrances), ordered something called an Isla Bahaman that tasted suspiciously like Nyquil, sat and waited. And waited. For what, I wasn't really sure. I had no interest in meeting anyone, as my undivided attention recently has been bestowed solely on someone whose name also begins with Go- but is thankfully otherwise unrelated to any recent Halle Berry projects, and who is currently on a business trip in China. You may recall reading about him in the previous post "Everyone Says 'I Love You.'

The music was a typically cheesy Argentine mix of electro dance music and '80s pop, including at least one Britney Spears medley, and the crowd apparently mostly under 20. After fielding the same old questions from a procession of curious Argentines, I decided that the time had come for me to say goodbye to Gotika. After all, it must be almost sunrise by now. Time flies when you're not having so much fun. In my mind, it's still a toss up as to why I just wasn't that into it: travel exhaustion, the man on my mind, or just being over the whole nightlife thing. Since my 40th birthday four weeks and two days ago, I've turned down all but two invitations to party, preferring to spend my evenings on the sofa.

I thought about this during the cab ride back to the hotel and wondered how my sofa was doing. Once I was safely back in my room, I went to the computer to see how few hours I had before I had to wake up to begin my exploration of Rosario. Time: 2.25am! Early, even by New York City standards. On the Buenos Aires clock, still an hour or two away from prime time. Some fine porteño I've turned out to be! Exactly four weeks ago, at my birthday party, I was just getting started! Ah well, I thought to myself, both shocked and relieved as I sleepily began to floss and brush my teeth, so this is what it feels like for a 40-year-old boy.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

GOOD THINGS DON'T ALWAYS COME IN TWOS


Random question alert: Is Cate Blanchett's relationship with Oscar doomed?

Today I was thinking about Cate (for no particular reason -- as I often do), wondering if she'll ever get her coveted leading-actress Oscar. Earlier this year, that other acclaimed Kate (Winslet) finally got hers, but so far, Cate with a C has had to settle for a supporting-actress statue for her fascinating impersonation of quadruple Best Actress Oscar winner Katharine Hepburn in 2004's The Aviator. Surely "the new Meryl Streep" must have a statue for a leading role in her future, right?

Wrong.

The odds are actually a little bit against her. And not just because her only upcoming role of note is as Lady Marion in the billionth remake of Robin Hood. Blame it on her 2008 double nomination -- and double loss -- for Elizabeth: The Golden Age and I'm Not There. Sure, being nominated twice in one year in the acting categories should mean that you'll probably go home with at least one prize: It happened for Jessica Lange in 1983, for Holly Hunter in 1994, and for JamieFoxx in 2005.

But not every double threat has been so fortunate: Sigourney Weaver, nominated for both Gorillas In The Mist and Working Girl in 1989, was the first double acting nominee ever to go home Oscar-less (despite winning Golden Globes for both Oscar-nominated performances), and since then, she has never again been invited to the Academy Awards as a nominee.

That's also been the case for more recent double loser Julianne Moore, Sigourney's costar in the 1999 drowned-baby drama A Map Of The World, for which at least Sigourney should have scored a Best Actress nod. Since being recognized for both Far From Heaven and The Hours in 2003, Julianne has see her Oscar clout all but fade away.

Of course, Cate's fortune could turn out more like Emma Thompson, a 1994 double nominee (like Holly Hunter) and loser (unlike Holly). She'd already won her first time at bat the previous year for Howard's End. Despite her 1994 losses, she rebounded two years later and was twice-nominated again, this time for Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay for Sense & Sensibility, taking the latter award.

I think Emma's uncited-by-the-Academy take on the free-spirited eponymous artist in love with her best friend, gay author Lytton Strachey (the egregiously overlooked Jonathan Pryce) in the 1995 biopic Carrington would have been more deserving. Carrington features one of my favorite performances by Emma, who, since 1996, has only made sporadic appearances onscreen. The nude scene was shocking indeed, but even more so was the film's wordless denouement, which, disturbingly, made suicide look almost poetic. See for yourself below.

video

Monday, June 1, 2009

MEMO TO SUSAN: TAKE IT LIKE A MAN!

Now here's an interesting turn of events? Once upon a time, being cruel to the press (or hotel employees) and acting like a sore loser would put a celebrity in the doghouse faster than you can say "Russell Crowe." Sean Penn and Johnny Depp, for instance, only became beloved and Oscar bait once they cooled their heels and their tempers and began to put on a happy face in public. And Kanye West had to learn to take those Grammy losses in stride or risk killing his career momentum.

But not Susan Boyle. She reportedly lost it with reporters and swore at them days before last weekend's Britain's Got Talent finale, and when she ultimately came in second place, she is said to have run down a backstage corridor shouting, "I hate this show!" Afterwards, she was escorted to a private clinic to be evaluated for what People magazine called an "emotional breakdown." Not exactly the soft-spoken spinster we had come to love -- apparently, unconditionally. Our collective response: Ah, poor baby! Yet, we snicker when beautiful people are treated for "exhaustion": During her own trip to the loony bin way back in the early '00s, Mariah Carey probably would have killed for half the sympathy we're pouring on Susan.

Yeah, poor Susan Boyle -- all the way to the bank. If I see one more Facebook post extolling Susan and her supernatural ability to move mountains with her voice and mourning her BGT defeat, I think I'm going to scream. Aaaaahhhhh!!!!! Some loser: Susan stands to earn millions when all is said and done. Not bad for someone who supposedly never cared about fame; all she wanted was to be a "professional singer," she modestly pointed out at the beginning of her first BGT appearance. But she didn't seem to have much trouble dealing with the fame part when she was photographed in all those "makeover" outfits, striking the cheesiest possible thumbs-up poses and even getting to hold court with Oprah.

I understand that becoming suddenly famous takes its toll, but surely Susan is old enough to realize what she was getting into when she signed up to sing on a national TV show. If Adam Lambert can take his second-place finish in stride (all while being scrutinized by the media for something as private as his sexuality), so can Susan. She now she stands to clean up financially, all for being homely (admit it: that's a huge part of her appeal -- loving her makes us feel less shallow than we really are) and having a decent voice that wouldn't be nearly so remarkable to her fans if she were twentysomething with the face and body of Leona Lewis, who, let's face it, would mop the floor with Susan in a vocal showdown.

Makes me wonder where Lindsay Lohan's career would be today if she were twice the size and half as attractive. Beautiful people behaving badly are nuts. Homely people behaving badly are just, well, sad and misunderstood, so we root for those underdogs because it makes us feel like better people.

Poor Susan Boyle?

Pardon me while I play the grand piano.