Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Non-Bucket List: 3 Things I'll Never Ever Do

"I'll do anything twice." That's long been my personal motto. But as it turns out, not everything -- and not even once.

1. I'll never ride in a hot air balloon. For as long as I can remember, helicopters have been at the top of my list of ways not to travel, but I might now have a new No. 1 transportation don't. I'd never even seriously considered going up, up and away in a beautiful balloon until a couple of nights ago. Something about it always seemed so late 19th century to me, so The 5th Dimension, which also was a little before my time. I was probably more likely to go skydiving -- which, due to excellent word of mouth, recently has been bubbling under my bucket list.

Then the other night I was talking to someone who was telling me about the joys of skyriding in a hot air balloon. He even had breathtaking balloon photos from a recent holiday in Turkey to enhance his testimonial, pictures of a multitude of them soaring hundreds of feet above planet earth, hovering over some of the most gorgeous landscape I'd ever seen.

Still, I insisted, pointing to the gorgeous photo on his iPhone, you'd never get me up in one of those things. I'm afraid of heights, and I'd probably be even more so all the way up there with my body exposed to the elements, unlike in an airplane, where I always feel fairly safe and protected. For someone like me with such high anxiety, it's all about being indoors when you're up in the air.

He assured me that in-flight issues in hot air balloons were highly unlikely, and after I considered how infrequently I'd heard about mishaps in them, and that they never seemed to be fatal, I started to believe him. I can't say I was ready to book a hot air flight over Melbourne, but helicopters were in no danger of being nudged from atop my list of no-no travel vehicles.

But only for less than 24 hours. Yesterday afternoon, I saw a TV news report of a balloon explosion during a February 26 sunrise flight in Luxor, Egypt, that was caught on video and by the cameras of passengers in other balloons. As I waited to hear if there had been any fatalities, I remembered a recent story about a couple in San Diego who had gotten married in a hot air balloon and walked away unharmed after it crashed mid-ceremony (an incident that also was documented on tape). Unfortunately, the outcome in Egypt was far more grim: There had been 19 tourists killed onboard the balloon, and the two who survived did so by jumping out of the burning, plummeting balloon, bringing back horrifying memories of 9/11 and what some people were driven to do to get out of the burning towers.

The timing of my conversation about riding in hot air balloons was too eerie to ignore. The explosion and crash had happened around 7am, only hours earlier, making the casualties even more chilling, and strengthening my resolve against hot air balloon flight. Despite the political unrest in Egypt, Cairo and the pyramids of Giza remain high on my bucket list, but when I go, I'll enjoy them both from ground level. Meanwhile, in the future, I'll continue to get my breathtaking aerial views from airplanes, very tall buildings, and other people's hot air balloon photos.

2. I'll never send flowers anonymously. I recently had a conversation with a man who's an even more hopeless romantic than I am. He dated someone for several months before the guy broke some bad news: He already had a boyfriend, and they could no longer see each other. Adding insult to romantic injury, he suggested that they delete each other's numbers from their phones to avoid the temptation of contacting each other again.

Although he was furious at the time, if the narrator of the story was still angry, it apparently waoverridden by gross sentimentality. On Valentine's Day, he spent $100 on flowers to be delivered to his sort of ex, a guy he used to date who already had a boyfriend. Rather than sign his name on the card, he merely wrote "I heart you" (with a drawn heart!) and signed the initials of an artist they both loved. "You really think he didn't know they were from you?" I asked, incredulous. He was certain of it, and that was just as he'd wanted it to be. He said he hadn't sent the flowers for any glory or to score any points with the guy, but rather because he wanted him to get something nice on Valentine's Day -- just in case his boyfriend didn't have that covered.

I wasn't sure if he was the most romantic guy I'd ever met, or the biggest fool in love. I'm not a fan of giving or receiving flowers, and I don't believe I've ever bought them for anyone other than my mom, but in the unlikely event that I ever do, there'll be no question where they came from.

3. I'll never extend a come-visit-me invitation to someone I've never met who lives in another city. Inviting holiday flings to come to your city is risky enough. I went there once before, and it's so much better to go to them (which I've done twice), so that if you need to ditch them (which I've done once), you can do so without guilt. I'd already spent a week abroad with Norbert, a guy from Hamburg whom I met during a 2000 summer holiday in Mykonos, when I invited him to visit me in New York City, not thinking he'd actually take me up on that offer. This was before I learned my hard lesson that most holiday romances should stay exactly where you found them.

I realized I had made a terrible mistake when I woke up in the middle of the night two days after his arrival to find Norbert with my toes in his mouth, declaring his love for me. It all went downhill from there. That's why I secretly feared the worst for my girlfriend in Argentina when she told me a few months ago about this amazing guy in France whom she'd met online. After logging hours chatting with her on the computer over the course of several days, he suggested a trip to Buenos Aires to meet her. Thankfully, my friend was savvy enough to insist that he stay in a hotel.

That didn't stop his time in BA from being a disaster. The other day when recounting the dreadful experience in an email to me, my friend was mortified by her own lack of good judgement. I still haven't gotten the full details of why it was such a nightmare, but I do know this much: Though she let him down easy, she felt like a "bitch" (her word, not mine) for making him travel so far. She felt like "shit" (her word, not mine) for a week because the guy, who she realized was a complete stranger one international flight too late, was so broken-hearted over her rejection of him. And she will NEVER (her emphasis, not mine) do anything like that again.

Sort of makes you long for a good old family visit. At least you know what they look like, and they won't expect anything more than your time.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Luther Vandross's 10 Best Songs That Weren't Covers

Ever since I made the bold assertion a couple of weeks ago that Sheena Easton deserved the Best New Artist Grammy she won in 1982, I've been kind of agonizing over it. I mean, really? Over Luther Vandross?

My justification was that by 1981, Vandross already had been kicking around the industry for the better part of a decade, as an esteemed songwriter, a back-up singer (for David Bowie, among others), and vocalist for at least two groups (Luther and Change, on whose 1980 album he sang two tracks) before he got around to releasing his debut album, 1981's Never Too Much. His winning the Best New Artist Grammy in 1982 would have been a little like Chrissie Hynde finally ditching the Pretenders moniker, releasing a solo album under her own name in 2013, and winning Best New Artist next year.

Okay, well maybe there's no comparison between Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees the Pretenders and Change (of which Vandross was never an official permanent member), but the point is that, unlike Easton, Vandross was a seasoned artist, hardly "new," in 1981. Regardless, few Best New Artist nominees have gone on to leave as large a musical footprint as Vandross, who died in 2005 at age 54. Although he's best known today as arguably R&B's greatest-ever interpreter of song, he had his biggest hits with singles he wrote and produced himself. Some of them even rank among his best work.

For Vandross fans who still have his elegant renditions of "Superstar," "Creepin'" and "A House Is Not a Home" spinning in their heads decades later, I interrupt that program for these equally fierce originals.

1. "My Sensitivity (Gets in the Way)" (from The Night I Fell in Love, 1985) Luther, you wrote my romantic life!


2. "I'll Let You Slide" (from Busy Body, 1983) If only the sins of all cheaters could be washed away with some good lovin'.


3. "Power of Love" (from Power of Love, 1991) I always resented the cover of "Love Power" for interrupting what would become Vandross's second-biggest pop hit (No. 4), right after his remake of "Endless Love," a No. 2 duet with Mariah Carey from Songs, his 1994 covers album.


4. "The Glow of Love" (from Change's The Glow of Love, 1980) Featuring the musical motif that Janet Jackson (who sang with Vandross on "The Best Things in Life Are Free," one of his handful of Top 10 pop singles) would sample on her 2001 No. 1 hit "All for You."


5. "Never to Much" (from Never Too Much, 1980) The debut solo single that made him an R&B star.


6. "See Me" (from Give Me the Reason, 1986) Mid-tempo mid-'80s R&B at its finest, as only Vandross could pull it off (and which he did with near-equal aplomb on its parent album's title cut).


7. "It's Over Now (from Busy Body, 1983) Though his legend is based on his balladry, as this list shows, Vandross was also at his best when he was full of fire and full of attitude.


8. "The Other Side of the World" (from The Night I Fell in Love, 1985) I can still vividly remember listening to the fade out over and over again in the still of the night, night after night, alone in my darkened bedroom as a romantically challenged teen (some things never change). One of the reasons (along with "My Sensitivity," the single "'Til My Baby Comes Home," the title track, and the cover of Stevie Wonder's "Creepin'") why the double-platinum The Night I Fell in Love was Vandross's best album.


9. "Searching" (from Change's The Glow of Love, 1980) A killer bassline on the rampage!


10. "Jump to It" (from Jump to It, 1982) Not a Luther single but a comeback hit that he co-wrote and co-produced for Aretha Franklin (along with the rest of the album and the 1983 follow-up Get It Right). By far one of the best basslines of the '80s, resurrected on the 2005 club smash and UK Top 10 hit "Your Body" by Tom Novy.



Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Was Michelle Obama's Oscar Appearance a Presidential PR Blunder?

Yesterday, when I watched the 85th annual Academy Awards in the middle of Monday afternoon Australia time, I purposely did so in a bubble. There was no checking out Facebook status updates to see what everyone was saying. When I blogged my impressions afterwards, I didn't want to be corrupted by any outside influence other than my friend Lori's.

Hours later, when I finally started reading through the impressions of my Facebook friends, a few things jumped out at me: 1) I wasn't the only person who was disappointed by the live performances of Adele and Barbra Streisand. 2) Daniel Day-Lewis aside, there was no clear consensus on who should have won in any of the major categories. 3) Seth MacFarlane wasn't as terribly received as I expected him to be. 4) Michelle Obama's co-presentation of the Best Picture winner might not have been the best PR move.

My initial inclination was to disagree with the Obama digs, possibly even comment, but it deserved some more thought. Was it really such a bad thing for the First Lady to so closely align her husband's administration with Hollywood by appearing at the Oscars? Would onlookers take this as a sign that the Obama administration was frivolous, not just in bed with celebrities but basking in afterglow, too?

Hmm...

Hasn't Washington been in bed with Hollywood since John F. Kennedy invited Marilyn Monroe under his covers (a one-time urban myth that's apparently now widely regarded as fact, judging from the last episode of Smash)? My Facebook friends weren't the only ones scowling, though (see what the Washington Post had to say here). It took me less than 24 hours to respectfully dissent and conclude that if people hadn't already drawn this conclusion, why should they start now?

The political times they have a-changed. We now live in a world where its leaders are far more accessible to the general public, if only as living, breathing celebrities -- tabloid fodder. It's a world where a former U.S. Vice-President can narrate an Oscar-winning documentary (Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth), where Presidents and First Ladies can be called "Grammy-winning," where controversy over Beyoncé's performance of the national anthem can upstage everything else at a Presidential Inauguration, where actors and actresses can regularly score Oscars for playing world leaders, where the Queen of England can costar in an Olympics skit with James Bond.

There's no longer any meaningful separation of church and state where the official religion is Hollywood and celebrity. After all, we're talking about the wife of a politician, Barack Obama, who ascended to the most important office in U.S. politics in much the same fashion as Daniel Day-Lewis ascended to the position of the most-important man in movies (a three-time Best Actor!) on Oscar night -- amid rapturous applause and breathless enthusiasm. Obama was the first American rock-star celebrity President.

Years ago when I was an intern at People magazine, I was assigned the task of fact-checking the Managing Editor's annual year-end sit-down interview with the President (then George Bush Sr.). I was astonished and impressed that the magazine I worked for could actually get such access. What did the President have to gain by talking to the magazine that regularly covered all the semi-sordid details of the love lives of Princess Diana and Julia Roberts? I was thinking like a PR queen.

But by that time, the U.S. President already was increasingly no longer seen as a political windbag, trotted out occasionally to throw the first pitch at baseball games. The unofficial start of the President's march toward modern celebrity is open to debate: Did it begin with JFK? Was it when the country's voters hired a former actor (Ronald Reagan) as their 40th President? Was it when Bill Clinton turned the U.S. Commander-in-Chief into tabloid bait by constantly feeding the rumor mill with his alleged dangerous extra-marital liaisons, which culminated with his nearly career-destroying tryst with White House intern Monica Lewinsky?

Wherever and whenever it began, today the limits to what the Presidential inner circle can do in the name of celebrity are being pushed further and further back. We regularly see them on talk shows, hear them weighing in on celebrity scandals (after Kanye West dissed Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, Barack Obama publicly declared him a "jackass"), and not too long ago, I distinctly remember seeing Michelle Obama doing push-ups with Ellen Degeneres on Ellen.

Is co-presenting the Best Picture Oscar with Jack Nicholson (who, by the way, wrongly said it's traditionally a job for one person, as I can recall seeing it being handed out by Kirk and Michael Douglas and Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman in the not-so-distant past) worse than getting down and sweaty with Ellen? One can argue that from a PR standpoint, both were excellent moves on Michelle Obama's part. We always talk about humanizing our political leaders to make them more appealing to the general public, and what is more humanizing than exercising on daytime TV and telling the world that you love watching movies, too?

In a year in which so many of the Best Picture nominees had a political bent (Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, Django Unchained and frontrunner Argo), the timing couldn't have been better -- or worse, depending on how you feel about the controversy over whether the makers of Zero Dark Thirty were given inappropriate access to top-secret information by the U.S. government. But it also was the year in which one candidate -- one that had a far better chance of staging a Best Picture upset -- depicted the 16th U.S. President's quest to free the slaves.

The Best Actor award had just gone to Daniel Day-Lewis for portraying the man who was largely responsible for making Michelle Obama's husband's presidency possible, and having her flanked by decked-out personnel was in keeping with the whiff of cheesiness that dominated the rest of the Oscar proceedings. I wonder how people would have reacted had God Himself ventured down from heaven above to give Best Picture to Life of Pi (speaking of shameless propaganda masquerading as storytelling).

While I can understand the concerns over Washington being too closely tied to Hollywood, it's not like the Obamas made the bed that Washington and Hollywood now lie in together. Zero Dark Thirty didn't even have much of a chance of winning anyway. Furthermore, political pundits and PR experts were possibly the only ones tsk-tsking over Obama's involvement. The rest of us were probably too blinded by the starpower -- hers, not Jack Nicholson's -- what she was wearing, how she keeps her bangs looking so great, to care about the political implications.

And in the end, the grand prize went to Argo, a film that canonized CIA operative Tony Mendez, hailed Canada, and gave no significant props to the American President. If director Ben Affleck was going to leave the U.S. Commander-in-Chief off to the sidelines of the action, how fitting that Michelle Obama would sneak him back toward center stage just in time for the grand finale. I'd call that the most genius PR move of the night.

Monday, February 25, 2013

20 Random Thoughts I Had While Watching the 2013 Academy Awards

1. Seth MacFarlane was looking so nervous and uncomfortable during his opening monologue until William Shatner arrived in time to (sort of) save the clunky routine. I wonder why nobody considered hiring Captain Kirk as host. Or why Shatner didn't stop MacFarlane from doing that terrible song about A-list actress boobs. I love the bit with Sally Field, though -- she looks 10 years younger -- and sock puppets never fail to amuse me, especially when one of them is supposed to be Denzel Washington, drunk and coked-up in the cockpit at the Flight wheel.

2. MacFarlane is charming and clean-shaven (the latter making him a rarity among guys on stage tonight), the kind of person I'd want to talk pop culture with, one-on-one, at a star-studded party. The Griffins on Family Guy, which he created, is my favorite TV modern family, and that Ted (the eponymous teddy bear lead of MacFarlane's 2012 directorial debut) is adorable. But did anyone even know what MacFarlane looks like before he was announced as the host of the 2013 Oscars? I keep wanting to call him Seth McFarland! Who were Oscar producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron hoping to lure by hiring him? Younger, hipper viewers? Was Jimmy Fallon too busy?

3. I'm glad they've done away with those unnecessary A-lister testimonials during the acting presentations and have gone back to just showing the clips.... And the first Oscar goes to... Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained -- just as I expected. This is his second Oscar in two nominations for acting in a Quentin Tarantino film. I wonder if this means they'll be inseparable going forward. Five years ago, most people hadn't even heard of Waltz. Now he joins Michael Caine, Jason Robards, Peter Ustinov, Anthony Quinn, Melvyn Douglas and Walter Brennan -- all legendary -- as a (at least) two-time Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner.

4. What's with A-list guys neglecting to shave and/or cut their hair? Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Hugh Jackman, Jean Dujardin (and several long-haired winners in the non-acting categories)... Few men look good with a full beard, except Anne Hathaway's beaming hubby (who could pass for a less-cute Ryan Gosling), dead U.S. Presidents, and Daniel Day-Lewis as dead U.S. President Abraham Lincoln -- and even Day-Lewis shaved for the Oscars.

5. Is it just me, or do the Oscars seem so cheap this year? From the awkward onstage banter to the old-fashioned set design to the bad Muzak version of "I Walk the Line" that plays as Reese Witherspoon walks onstage to the Jaws time's-up music during long-winded acceptance speeches, it looks and sounds only a few steps above the Critics Choice Awards. I do like the nominee slides and how they are designed to look like movie posters, though?

6. Why is MacFarlane doubling as the pre-commercial break announcer, too, previewing upcoming appearances from Channing Tatum, Jennifer Aniston and others (and not even trying to hide that he's reading off a teleprompter)? Shouldn't the guy who does that be heard and not seen?

7. I wonder if Liam Neeson (who was initially cast as Steven Spielberg's Lincoln) is kicking himself for dropping out because he thought he was too old for the part. At 60, he doesn't look much older than Daniel Day-Lewis, 55, and he's six years younger than Sally Field.

8. Jennifer Garner and Jessica Chastain are such an odd choice to co-present Best Foreign Film (which goes to Amour with surprisingly little fanfare). But then, they did both co-star in 2013 films with Australian Joel Edgerton. I bet Chastain is glad she's not the one who co-headlined with him in The Odd Life of Timothy Green.

9. Watching Jennifer Hudson this season on Smash and performing what is now her signature song, too (sorry Jennifer Holliday -- welcome to the world of joint custody), during the Oscar tribute to recent movie-musical nominees, I'm impressed by how much she's grown as a performer and singer since blowing me away with her version of Barry Manilow's "Weekend in New England" nearly one decade ago on American Idol (which promptly got her booted from the show the following night, by the way).

10. Adele's make-up is flawless (as usual), but it sounds like an off night for her. She's not even trying to reach any of those seemingly unattainable high notes she's become so well-known for. Overall, her performance is not making me care for "Skyfall" any more than I do, which, sadly, is not very much.

11. My friend Lori's sums up Kristen Stewart much better than I can amidst all the Oscar non-excitement: "She is the same on screen as she was just there on stage -- uninterested. And therefore, uninteresting." Exactly. And would it have killed her to run a comb through her hair before presenting with sweet, handsome (and clean-shaven) Daniel Radcliffe?

12. Here comes Barbra Streisand! Take it away, Lori: "Am I wrong, or is this very cabaret? She looks good, but her voice is very thin." I'm disappointed that she's making her segment of In Memoriam all about Marvin Hamlisch, though he did co-write the Oscar-winning song she's singing, "The Way We Were." And where was Donna Summer, the late queen of disco who sang the 1978 Best Original Song, "Last Dance"?

13. I really like Best Original Song nominee "Before My Time" from Chasing Ice. I wish Scarlett Johansson were around to sing it.


14. Best Original Song winner Paul Epworth just called his co-winner Adele Adkins "the best person I've ever worked with." Poor Florence Welch (from Florence + the Machine, whom Epworth has produced)!

15. I don't even know how to explain the Ang Lee Best Director upset. Either the Academy was really taken by the special effects in Life of Pi, or the members were effectively touched by the heavy hand of God -- which Lee wielded so mercilessly in the present-day bookend scenes. I'm going to go with the former. If it hadn't been for the visual spectacle -- the water, the CGI animals, the 3D! -- if Lee had just relied on story, the way, say, David O. Russell had to with Silver Linings Playbook, I wonder if it would have fared as well as it has.

16. Did last year's Best Actor Jean Dujardin go that gray in just 12 months? He would look more distinguished and less old without the beard. Maybe he's still going for the French George Clooney thing.

17. I hope this is the second of many years of Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars. She's so unpretentious and age-appropriate -- the opposite of Kristen Stewart. That she seems so young and awkward accepting her Best Actress Oscar makes her poise in Silver Linings Playbook all the more impressive. And I like that she acknowledged that Oscar day is also Emmanuelle Riva's 86th birthday (though it's too bad that the cameras didn't seem fit to pan to the octogenarian Best Actress nominee to show her response). Jessica Chastain so wouldn't have done that in her Best Actress acceptance speech.

18. I just remembered that when Daniel Day-Lewis won his second Oscar for There Will Be Blood in 2008, presenter Helen Mirren mock knighted him when he arrived on stage to retrieve his honor from the previous year's winner for The Queen. This time, he gets to accept from America's screen queen Meryl Streep, who last year won for playing another British leader (former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady). His joke about their switching Oscar-winning roles is cute, but I wonder why no one has ever thought to cast them both in the same film.

19. Best Picture: Argo, of course! Presented to two of People magazine's previous Sexiest Men Alive -- Ben Affleck and George Clooney, both bearded, as are ex-Sexiest Men Alive/Best Actor nominees Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper. Thank you, ex-Sexiest Man Alive/Best Actor nominee Denzel Washington and current Sexiest Man Alive/Oscar presenter/Charlize Theron dance partner Channing Tatum, for proving that you both deserve to be called Sexiest Man Alive by taking the time to shave.

20. Can they get Best Picture co-presenter (along with a very bloated, odd-looking Jack Nicholson, wearing what appears to be a homeless guy's tux) First Lady Michelle Obama to host next year?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

And the Academy Award Goes To...: Will Oscar Surprise Us in 2013?

For several Oscar seasons and counting, there have been loud complaints from bloggers and pundits about how the Academy Awards have become way too predictable, and for the most part, I'm going to have to side with the gripes. Going into the February 24 ceremony, Oscar's shock value might be at an all-time low.

Although there have been a few instances of suspense among recent races (last year's Best Actress contest, for example, was The Help's Viola Davis vs. The Iron Lady's Meryl Streep, with My Week with Marilyn's Michelle Williams as a possible spoiler, right up to the moment when 2011's oh-so-predictable Best Actor winner Colin Firth opened the envelope and announced Streep's name), there hasn't been a truly WTF Oscar moment in the acting categories since 2003. That was the year in which The Pianist's Adrien Brody snatched Best Actor from the medium-tight grips of Gangs of New York's Daniel Day-Lewis and About Schmidt's Jack Nicholson (an upset I began anticipating somewhere between the showing of Brody's clip and Halle Berry's opening of the envelope).

This year might seem to be business as usual as usual, but look closely. Some of the major categories are more too-close-to-call than you might think. We've become so accustomed to hearing the acceptance speeches of Les Misérables' Anne Hathaway and Lincoln's Daniel Day-Lewis all Oscar season long, that the other categories have begun to seem like foregone conclusions, too. (Oh, if only The Master's Joaquin Phoenix would pull an Adrien Brody, but that's about as likely to happen as Barbra Streisand hitting a bum note in her first Oscar singing performance since the '70s.)

With Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress all but wrapped up, there's still a surprise or two -- and possibly at least one upset -- waiting to happen in the other major categories.

Best Actress: Zero Dark Thirty's Jessica Chastain Vs. Silver Linings Playbook's Jennifer Lawrence Vs. Amour's Emmanuelle Riva

For most of this Oscar season, it's appeared to be a two-woman race between Chastain (who won the Critics Choice Award and the Golden Globe in the drama category) and Lawrence (who won a Critics Choice Award in the lesser comedy category, the Comedy/Musical Globe and the SAG Award). Then Riva came along and grabbed the BAFTA from their whippersnapper grips. Suddenly, the Oscar is looking like it could be any of theirs to lose.

I've been predicting an upset all season in the form of The Impossible's Naomi Watts, and I still haven't completely given up that, um, near-impossible, dream. But if the Academy, for the first time since Charlize Theron's Monster win in 2004, decides to send the Best Actress Oscar home with the contender who deserves it most, there'll be no stopping Beasts of the Southern Wild's Quvenzhané Wallis.

Most Likely to Win: Jennifer Lawrence
But Look Out for: Emmanuelle Riva

Best Supporting Actor: Lincoln's Tommy Lee Jones Vs. Django Unchained's Christoph Waltz

Who would have thought it possible? What is traditionally the most predictable and least exciting acting category, this year might actually be the second-most interesting one. Jones, Waltz and The Master's Phillip Seymour Hoffman have pretty much split the spoils this season (a SAG Award for Jones, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for Waltz, a Critics Choice Award for Hoffman), and it feels like a contest mainly between them (give or take Hoffman, who I'm taking out of the likely showdown scenario). Both Jones and Waltz are in it to win it, and either would be deserving. But I wouldn't completely count out Robert DeNiro.

The Academy's acting branch obviously loves Silver Linings Playbook, or it wouldn't have nominated it in every acting category, and at least one of its four contenders will win. If Best Actress goes to Riva (an outcome I think is more likely than Chastain winning), the movie's consolation acting prize just might go to DeNiro (making him possibly one of two newly minted three-time winners), and why not? His performance might have looked easy on paper, but he made what could have been a throwaway dad role a pivotal one, finding and accentuating both the vinegar and the sweetness in the character. Bonus points for finally coming of age onscreen, too, fully embracing his patriarchal status, wearing his 69 years proudly and never once giving in to youthful vanity, in much the same way Jack Nicholson did in About Schmidt a decade ago.

Most Likely to Win: Christoph Waltz
But Look Out for: Robert DeNiro

Best Picture: Argo Vs. Silver Linings Playbook Vs. Lincoln

I know, I know. It's Argo's too lose. That's probably true. But don't underestimate the Academy's inclination to throw the occasional curve ball and upset the apples and oranges cart. The Best Picture wins of Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan and Crash over Brokeback Mountain, both among the biggest Oscar gaffes since 1990, according to my friend and Us Weekly critic Mara Reinstein (see the rest of her list here), were hardly upsets to me since I could see them coming from at least a few weeks away. They are, however, proof that Oscar likes to occasionally mess with our minds.

I'm expecting a repeat of 1999 when a Steven Spielberg film (Saving Private Ryan that year, Lincoln tomorrow) won him Best Director but not Best Picture. As acclaimed and successful as Lincoln has been (it's a movie that was pretty much made for Oscar glory, and the year's most-nominated film, with 12 nods), it seems to inspire more solemn reverence than the passionate enthusiasm that Silver Linings Playbook incites in its still-growing fan base. And a Best Picture win for indie SLP would make the Academy seem hipper than it has in decades while striking down those accusations of chronic predictability and stodginess.

But considering what The King's Speech did to The Social Network a few years ago, is that even an Oscar aspiration? If, for once, it is, and if Argo isn't indestructible by now, SLP might be the one contender that can still take the wind out of its sails.

Most Likely to Win: Argo
But Look Out for: Silver Linings Playbook

Friday, February 22, 2013

Burning Questions: The Back in Melbourne in 2013/Matthew McConaughey Edition

Why didn't Matthew McConaughey get an Oscar nomination this year? Was Alan Arkin's work in Argo really more nod-worthy than McConaughey's in Magic Mike? I know Oscar has a bias against actors with matinee-idol good looks, and he generally prefers to honor them later in life (see Paul Newman), but at 43, McConaughey is the perfect Oscar age for actors (the one at which Robert Redford and Warren Beatty finally got theirs, though for directing). I suppose being a contender for a role that plays up those matinee-idol looks and then strips them down to the skivvies probably didn't win him any bonus points with the Academy, but it's not as if Magic Mike's stripper den dad was McConaughey's only 2012 role/performance that was more nomination-worthy than Alan Arkin's movie producer in Argo (see Bernie -- seriously, see it!).

Speaking of Bernie, why wasn't Jack Black ever in the Oscar discussion this year? I know both the movie and Black got good reviews, and he did get a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Actor -- Motion Picture Musical or Comedy category, but it's not like he had much of a chance against Oscar-nominated Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper. I really loved how detailed and carefully measured Black's Bernie performance was, how he played so far against manic type, and how there was just a hint of aggression behind his pleasant facade, which made his act of unkindness not all that shocking. He also nailed the asexual yet obviously gay-but-so-on-the-down-low quality of the character, never lapsing into closet-case parody or cliche.

What's with McConaughey, attorneys and murder cases? And I'm not referring to 2011's The Lincoln Lawyer, which I've never seen. A few nights ago, I saw A Time to Kill (his 1996 breakthrough) for the first time on TV, and last night, I watched Bernie. It was interesting to see McConaughey playing two very different kinds of lawyer (one defending an accused and admitted killer, another prosecuting one) at both sides of his career. Who said he doesn't have range? (Actually, my friend Dave did in December when I dared to suggest he might get an Oscar nomination for Magic Mike!)

Who does Richard Linklater have to sleep with to get some real Oscar love? He's been directing critically acclaimed films for all of my adult life, often along with cinematographer Lee Daniel, not to be confused with Lee Daniels, the Oscar-nominated director of McConaughey's other 2012 film, The Paperboy. (In a cool twist, Zac Efron, who costarred in Linklater's 2008 directorial effort Me and Orson Welles, also costarred in Daniels' The Paperboy with McConaughey). But Linklater's only Academy Award nomination to date has been for co-writing 2004's Before Sunset with his stars, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. I hope this year's sequel, Before Midnight, reverses his fortunes. Such a talented director (one who seems like such a sweet guy -- see the video below) deserves to be in the Best Director running at least once.


Why is it that for a show with some 127 episodes in existence, every time I watch The Big Bang Theory on Australian TV, it seems to be one of the 10 episodes I've already seen? Even How I Met Your Mother, which also seems to be on every night on Australian TV, has finally entered November of 2012.

Isn't wearing headphones tantamount to pinning a "Do not disturb unless it's important" sign on your head? Did that memo not make the rounds in Melbourne? Apparently not, considering how many people (usually workers in Woolworths) make me break Rihanna's cardinal rule -- "Please don't stop the music!" -- just to ask me how I'm going, or if I would like a bag, or if I want my receipt. Do they really think I'm going to walk home carrying frozen goods in my hands? How much paper is a receipt really wasting? Just print it out and leave me be. And attention, lady who gets paid for doing God knows what: Standing beside me and staring, insisting that I fiddle with my iPod to find the off switch (I swear, they keep moving it), only so that you can ask "How are you going?" before offering me a chance to enter a drawing strikes me as customer harassment. I was going fine and out the door until you interrupted me with your foolishness!

Speaking of foolishness, is it bad Facebook etiquette to un-friend someone for sending too many pointless Facebook invitations? I mean, what the hell is Pengle? My mother once told me she had to un-friend my uncle for posting too many photos of Serena Williams, whom she hates. I'm not sure what Serena ever did to turn her off, but mom has spent my life setting an example for me, so why should I stop following her now?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

I Have No Idea Where I'll Be Living Two Months From Now! Does That Make Me the Lucky One?

Last weekend, a friend of my friend Marcus posed a tough question over lunch that unintentionally succeeded in stumping me.

"Where's home?"

I thought about it for a few moments. I had no idea. I'd become accustomed to saying New York City, but since I sold my apartment there three years ago, it just hasn't felt accurate. And now that I'm in the process of selling my place in Buenos Aires, it doesn't feel right to call that home either.

"Home is Melbourne," Marcus offered. "Because it's the place you always come back to."

That was a good point -- and a sweet one, too. For the last two years, it's been the closest thing I've had to home. And I do keep coming back. But as much as I adore Melbourne, and as beautiful as the homes are here, it's never felt like home to me. Ditto, Bangkok. But I felt like I had to say something.

"Home is wherever I'm living at the moment -- so right now, that would be South Yarra in Melbourne," I finally responded, though I hadn't quite satisfied my own yearning to know.

Where is home?

I'd spent nearly five days pondering this question when I found myself talking to Sebastian, a friend back in BA to whom I haven't spoken since my final days in Bangkok last December. In catching up with him over the course of an hour, I never got around to telling him where I am at the moment. Eventually, he got around to it for me.

"Ahora estas en Australia?"

"Si, Melbourne. Hasta Abril."

"Y despues de Abril?"

"No se. Bangkok? Berlin? Nueva York? Sidney? Londres? Sudafrica? El mundo es abierto a mi!"

Que lindo vivir asiiiiiiii!!!!!! Quiero una vida asiiiiiiii!!!!!"

Really? He wants my life? And I had just been thinking how good he has it. Hes a gainfully employed attorney living in one place -- even if it is Buenos Aires! At least he had structure, a regular paycheck and a bed of his own, a few of the things my life has been missing since I left BA.

Shortly after, I got a text message from Nathan, whom I met in Melbourne two years ago. He's been living a life very similar to mine for the past three years, never staying in one place for more than a month. He just returned from Mexico and Guatemala and will be staying in Melbourne for a while. He called himself "blessed to b travellin alot." When I met him he was plotting a trip to East Africa. At the time, I was still set on sticking around Melbourne permanently. East Africa sounded kind of dreadful to me, and Southeast Asia couldn't have been further from my mind. Who knew we'd end up leading somewhat parallel lives?

About an hour later, I ran into Peter, whom I hadn't seen since the "mooning" contest (Don't ask!) at the Laird several weeks ago. He was with a friend, and as he explained my peripatetic lifestyle by way of introducing me, I could have sworn I saw stars twinkling in both of their eyes -- not because of me, of course, but because of the life I lead.

How strange, I thought to myself as I walked away, still blinded by the twinkling. I could have sworn they were the lucky ones, living, working and, if they were lucky, loving in one place. Lately, I've been thinking I'd like to have me some of that again. I've never really gotten used to people viewing my life through their own rose-colored glasses, but it's become increasingly odd since I've taken mine off. Truth be told, those specs have been sitting on the shelf for about a year, and I'm only now not having to squint without them.

With my newfound clarity of vision, I've actually begun toying with the idea of going back to New York City and the life I used to lead there. It's not so much that I miss the regular paychecks, having a permanent residence and the comfort of a daily routine (though I could probably use all of the above); it's more what living on the road has done to my perception of time. My life seems to have gotten shorter!

Time flies when you're having fun indeed, but it dashes by even more rapidly when you're more aware of its passage due to weekly rental fees and regular visa renewals. I'm nearly two-thirds through my first tourist-visa cycle in Australia, which is the same as saying I've been here for almost two months. I'm guess I'm tired of looking at it both ways (and always counting those 90-, 60- and 30-day visa cycles, which I've been doing since I moved to BA six and a half years ago). That just makes it seem even more like I just arrived yesterday.

It also means I'm at the halfway point to where I need to decide where I want to be next. More time in Australia? Back to Bangkok? Berlin? London? South Africa? That might make me the luckiest guy in the world to some, but part of me is hoping that wherever I end up laying my hat next time, I can finally call home.

Five Great Songs About What I'm Looking For Now

"Home" Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros


"Home" Leona Naess


 "Home" Stephanie Mills


"Home" Simply Red


"Home and Dry" Pet Shop Boys


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Are Melburnian Gen Y Guys Turning Argentine?

"You, you stuck around,
You stuck around,
You stuck around,
Until you got me
And then, and then, you dropped me"
-- from "Dull Tool" by Fiona Apple

Not too long ago, over the course of listening to "Dull Tool," Fiona Apple's This Is 40 soundtrack contribution, about a half-dozen times, I zeroed in on the lyrics at 0:47 and wondered, has Apple been dating an Argentine guy?

The type of dating behavior she sings about in "Dull Tool" is so Argentine, rampant among both gay and straight guys in Buenos Aires. People from outside of BA, including one from Salta whom I dated briefly in Bangkok last year, swear it isn't an Argentine thing but rather a porteño malady that doesn't exist beyond the Capital Federal city limits. I can't say for sure if that's so, but during the four and a half years I lived in Buenos Aires, I constantly found myself encountering guys who would pursue me with wild abandon only to seemingly lose interest when I offered them the slightest bit of encouragement.

They'd proceed to drop out of my life, then, in an annoying but somewhat gratifying twist, re-emerge unexpectedly at some point in the future. I can't tell you how many "Hola! Tanto Tiempo!" text and MSN messages I received in four and a half years from guys who had pursued me relentlessly, blown me off when I agreed to go out with them, and then disappeared for months. As I used to say to my friend Rob, "Argentine guys always come back!"

I thought I'd escaped that sort of head-scratching behavior when I left Buenos Aires behind two years ago, and for a while, I did. But something strange must have entered the water in Melbourne. Maybe it's the hot-and-cold summer weather that's making guys mimic it. If I had closed my eyes during and after some of my recent boy encounters (see Marty, who chased me for weeks only to spend a quarter of our date on the phone), I might have sworn I was back in BA.

My friend Marcus assures me that it's not so much Melburnian guys turning Argentine as it is a Gen Y thing. (That's what I get for continuing to date guys half my age!) They like to collect men for the ego boost and keep them stacked on a shelf for future use whenever their self-esteem needs a little lift. How lazy and unimaginative of them! Back in my Gen X day, we'd just find new ones to toy with.

I'm not sure if the Gen Y explanation would apply to the actions of Nicholas, the guy I met one Thursday night at the Peel, but I'm more than willing to entertain any other theories. I met him through his girlfriend, who was visiting Melbourne from London. Nicholas and I took a minute to bond, but once we did, we were pretty inseparable for at least an hour.

When I was gone, I was not forgotten. At 4am, he sent me the same text message twice: "It's Nicholas. You are very, very sexy."..."It's Nicholas. You are very, very sexy."

At 4.29, another: "Are you still at the Peel?"

At 4.30, yet another: "I really want to see you again."

I wouldn't read the 4.30 text until five hours later, along with a provocative one he'd sent in the interim. At 8.14, Nicholas had offered a headless shot of himself lying naked on his stomach in bed. I should have been turned off. Normally, I would have been. I've never been good with nudity (for reasons detailed here), and I generally prefer photos that highlight body parts above the waist.

But I was intrigued, and he had been an excellent kisser, so I responded, kicking off a sequence of back-and-forth text messages. He asked if I was on Facebook and added me as a friend. We decided to go out for dinner and drinks the following night. When he texted me later in the evening, just to see how I was doing, I thought, Well, maybe there's more to him than nice lips and a great ass. I didn't even mind that he was only 24.

I had spoken to myself too soon. When I texted him the following afternoon at 1 to make a firm plan for the evening, I expected to hear back from him within the half hour. By 5.30, he still hadn't responded. I decided I wouldn't play games and texted him again.

"So are we on or off tonight? I never heard back from you." I already knew the answer by this point, but I was determined to let the story play out.

About 15 minutes later, he resonded: "Some friends dropped by unexpectedly. I think I might have to take a rain check."

Ouch.

"How nice of you to tell me this so early. Don't worry about the rain check. I'll pass." Send. Delete -- from my phone, from Facebook, from my life.

If things with this Nicholas guy were going to begin so badly, I didn't even want to think about where they might have led. His blase response several hours later to my final text -- "Okay." -- minus any attempt at an apology, and another Facebook friend request two days later (?), told me I'd dodged a deadly bullet indeed.

The only "Dull Tool" I want in my life is the Fiona Apple song.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Happy 50th Birthday, Seal!

Okay, I'll admit it. For the past week, Australia's Nine Network has been showcasing promos for the upcoming second season of the Oz version of The Voice incessantly, and every time I get a glimpse of the judging/coaching panel -- which includes Ricky Martin, Seal, Good Charlotte's Joel Madden and Delta Goodrem, the lone Aussie pop star -- I think to myself, "They couldn't do better than that?"

Joel Madden (center) would have been the coup of coups circa 2002.
In the U.S., The Voice had Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera for the first three seasons until the latter two were replaced by Usher and Shakira for the fourth, which will premiere March 25 on NBC. With the exception of Aguilera, whose last album, 2011's Lotus, became her second to flop, all are contemporary hitmakers, literally. And even Aguilera remains a notable celebrity. Couldn't the Australian producers get one international star capable of topping the pop charts in 2013?

Replacing Keith Urban with Ricky Martin as a judge last year when Urban relocated to this season's American Idol judges table may have seemed like a bigger win for Australia's The Voice at the time, but now I'm not so sure. With Urban offering the most constructive commentary of all the AI judges this season and generally coming off as the sane one (not hard when you've got Nicki Minaj looking like a mad alien, Mariah Carey posing like she'd rather be shooting a music video, and Randy Jackson being himself), and Urban's wife Nicole Kidman pretty much guaranteed to turn up in the audience at the finale, I'd now say the U.S. got the better part of that deal.

But I didn't come here just to be snarky. I came to offer birthday props to Seal, who turned 50 today. Though he lost the 1992 Best New Artist Grammy to Marc Cohn, at one point in the '90s, he seemed more likely to still have a formidable chart career at 50 than most of his contemporaries. Though he's better known these days for his marriage and then un-marriage to supermodel Heidi Klum than he is for his recent tunes (none of his last three albums, including 2011's Soul 2, produced anything resembling a hit single), no one can call him less than qualified for his current TV gig.

If I bother to watch Australia's The Voice, I'll be on Team Seal, which already won the first season. (Ricky Martin, handsome as ever at 41, has always oozed too much smarm to make me root for him, on or off the charts.) And if I don't watch, I'll be listening -- if only to Seal, via his tunes on my iPod.

The Top 5 Seal Songs on My iPod

5. "Amazing (Thin White Duke Main Mix)" (from System, 2007)


4. "If I Could" (from Seal, 1994)


3. "Human Beings" (from Human Being, 1998)


2. "Killer" (from Seal, 1991)


1. "Violet" (from Seal, 1991)

Monday, February 18, 2013

May Ten Thousand Angels Carry Mindy McCready to a More Peaceful RestingPlace

"Oh, Romeo
Who would lay down her life?
Swallow the poison, pick up the knife?
Maybe I'd cry
Just a teardrop or two
I would not die for you
I would not die for you"
-- from "Oh Romeo" by Mindy McCready

From the autumn of 1997 well into the summer of '98, "Oh Romeo" was one of several tracks on Mindy McCready's sophomore album, If I Don't Stay the Night, that remained in heavy rotation on my CD player. I admired the protagonista of the song (whose remix became a surprise minor pop hit in the UK, peaking at No. 41 in 1998). She was a woman willing to let love make her weak in the knees but determined not to let them buckle in its throes. She wanted to live -- with or without him.

Sadly, the woman singing the song, then-22-year-old rising star Mindy McCready, who died on February 17 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, lacked both that strength, resolve and determination to survive. Her career started promisingly, with a double-platinum debut album, 1996's Ten Thousand Angels, which spawned a trio of Top 10 country hits, including the No. 1 "Guys Do It All the Time." She was the Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift of her day -- the distaff future of country music, Shania Twain for the Seventeen set.


But something happened on the way to superstardom. Her albums sales slipped and so did her airplay. It didn't help that her private life became a soap opera of demons and delirium that ran for nearly a decade, until her death. There were failed relationships (including an engagement to actor Dean Cain), domestic abuse (at the hands of another ex), suicide attempts, substance abuse, a sex tape, arrests and myriad legal problems, culminating in the January 13 shooting suicide of her boyfriend, record producer David Wilson, the father of one of the two sons that she left behind.

As has been the case with too many tragic talents before her (since the early '00s, she'd been like the country-music version of Amy Winehouse), McCready seemed destined for implosion. I, for one, still hoped that she'd be able to halt her long sad slide, turn her life around and pour her pain into great music. Once again, we'll never know what could have been.

Three Reasons Why If I Don't Stay the Night Is One of My Favorite Mainstream Country Albums of the '90s

"Oh Romeo"



"If I Don't Stay the Night"


"Only a Whisper"




Sunday, February 17, 2013

With Friends Like These...: 10 Songs, 10 Backstabbing Anthems

"A few of your buddies, they sure look shady
Blades are long, clenched tight in their fist
Aimin' straight at your back
And I don't think they'll miss"
-- from "Back Stabbers" by The O'Jays

You may not be able to choose your family, but thank God you can choose your friends, right? Well, that would depend on your skill as a judge of character. The option of picking friends might be a comforting privilege for those bogged down by familial discord and dysfunction, but sadly, the right to choose doesn't always yield a positive outcome, especially in country, pop and rhythm and blues. Inspired by a live performance I saw on TV last week of Rick Springfield performing his breakthrough '80s hit about a pal with his eye on the wrong prize (see below), I've curated a YouTube videologue of the worst friends in the best songs.

"Back Stabbers" The O'Jays The sentiment of The O'Jays 1972 hit has always struck me as bordering on paranoia, but you never know whom you'll encounter on the love train doing God knows what for the love of money.


"Losers, Weepers (Part 1)" Etta James The Sweetest Peaches wasn't so sweet (more like a sour old prune) on her best single (No. 94, 1970), which, in my book and on my iPod, sounds even better than "Tell Mama," "I'd Rather Go Blind" and her signature "At Last." Granted, the woman she's singing to sounds like a piece of work who probably doesn't deserve romantic bliss, and one wonders why anyone would want to be her best friend at all. But if you're going to accept the gig, and you feel compelled to point out the errors of her deceitful ways, must you scoop up her discarded man while you're at it? Isn't that against the girlfriends rules or something?


"That's What Friends Are for" Barbra Mandrell If you (like me) found the 1985 single of the same title that Dionne (Warwick) and Friends took to No. 1 too sickeningly sweet, get a load of Mandrell's 1976 take on the titular concept. She'd score bigger hits on both sides of a cheating situation ("The Midnight Oil," "Married, But Not to Each Other," "Woman to Woman," "[If Loving You Is Wrong] I Don't Want to Be Right" and "One of a Kind Pair of Fools"), but what a beautiful victim of love she made when the one that got away ended up with her BFF.


"Friends" Jody Watley I don't know who inspired so much venom from Watley on her 1989 Top 10 hit. Maybe the woman who dared to take her place after she dumped that cad in "Looking for a New Love." Whoever she was -- and of course, it was a she -- one good thing came from her backstabbing: It gave Watley her greatest hit.


"So Called Friend" Texas To get an idea of just how not-so-influential-yet Ellen Degeneres was in the early '90s, consider this: When this 1993 single moonlighted the following year as the theme song of Degeneres's first TV sitcom (initially called These Friends of Mine), it still wasn't enough to break Scotland's Texas in the U.S.


"Friend of Mine" Kelly Price She cried ugly in the video, but Price sang so beautifully on her 1998 debut single (the original album version, not the remix, which became a No. 1 R&B and No. 12 pop hit), a tour-de-force R&B saga of love and betrayal. Am I the only one who thought Price would go on to be a much bigger star?


"Don't Waste Your Time" Yarbrough and Peoples I suppose that all is fair in love and war and friendship when you're coveting your best friend's man, as Alisa Peoples was doing on this 1984 No. 1 R&B single, which I used to own on 45. I've never been completely convinced that her poor reviews weren't tainted by her own agenda. "Are you sure?" for sure.


"Friends of Mine" Duran Duran Despite the obtuse lyrics of its penultimate track, whose video I didn't even know existed until today, I still say Duran Duran's 1981 eponymous debut was one of the best albums of the '80s.


"Layla" Eric Clapton Based on the true story of Eric Clapton's then-unrequited love for good friend and sometime musical cohort George Harrison's then-wife Patti Boyd, who later also became Clapton's wife and ex-wife. The electric 1971 original is a rock & roll classic, but it's the 1992 Unplugged version that still makes me want to go out and fall for a good friend's significant other (of course, not daring to break the bro code by getting involved with him, even if it's after my friend has left the romantic picture) just so I can say I know exactly how it feels.


"Jessie's Girl" Rick Springfield It was Springfield's first and only No. 1 hit, he recently performed acoustic on the couch when he was co-hosting The View. Though it wasn't my favorite Springfield hit by any stretch (an honor that would go to 1983's "Affair of the Heart"), it holds up surprisingly well. But Jessie's best friend doesn't come off any better unplugged today than he did 32 years ago.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Are We Stupid in Love for Patiently Waiting on Delayed Devotion?

Today I've got rejection on my mind. Not so much outright rejection as romantic indifference from a person who is just not that into you. Or vice-versa: harboring romantic indifference for someone who doesn't quite make your heart go bang.

I have friends who have been on both sides of this equation. I've been on both sides of this equation. When I'm on the wrong side (and I disagree with the school of philosophical thought that claims the only thing worse than not having what you want is having what you don't want -- it's always much worse to be the one who's not really wanted), I never stay there for long.

My mother says I give up on people too easily, and she's right. In some cases, maybe it's pride, or maybe it's impatience, or maybe it's just my human nature. I've never been much of an unrequited love kind of guy. Part of what makes me fall for someone is the fact that they've fallen for me. Flattery will get you everywhere but only for so long. The way to my heart is to show me love.

I prefer my love stories to begin with two-way fireworks -- the loud boom of lust or love or a crazy combination of the two -- or I might fall asleep in the middle of the first chapter. I'll never be the guy who's able to stretch out and wait while someone decides if he wants me, too -- even someone who's perfectly good to me while declaring his lack for feelings for me. But then I'm the guy who spends Valentine's Day dateless, drinking white wine and being hit on by married closeted men. My way is not necessarily the smart way.

Old habits, especially ones that have pretty much defined your approach to dating, are so hard to break, though. The moment I notice you wavering, I'm out the door, or you are. It's protected me for most of my life from prolonged heartbreak, but sometimes I wonder what I'm missing out on. "What about your pride?" I ask myself while watching someone wait for someone else to show some emotion, fall for them the way they've already fallen. But is having a surplus of pride pretty much a guarantee that you'll end up alone?

I know a man who recently won the woman of his dreams after spending years waiting patiently for her to fall for him. He may have taken her no for an answer, but he didn't take it for her final answer. He stuck around, as a friend without benefits, until he eventually turned into something more.

His patience was a virtue that led him all the way to the altar. If he were a woman or a gay guy, his girlfriends and gay friends probably would have said, "He's just not that into you. Dump him." As a straight guy, though, he probably didn't have to worry about a Greek chorus hissing its disapproval. In fact, he probably scored points with innocent bystanders: "Oh, how romantic!" they must have gushed. He certainly did with me, which would not have been the case if he had been a woman, or gay.

Everybody loves a straight man who is patient enough to wait, but a woman is considered weak and stupid if she sits around waiting for a guy to put a ring on it. (A gay guy would likely be told there are plenty of other sexy fish in the sea -- or on Grindr.) I applaud Duffy every time I listen to her tell a previously indecisive lover who finally comes around where to put his ring in "Delayed Devotion." A guy who is patient in love, however, is hailed as the ultimate romantic. Who doesn't cheer on Bruno Mars when he pines for a girl who doesn't even deserve him in "Grenade"?

The woman who's strong enough to leave gets to take her pride and high self-esteem to bed. The guy who sticks around just might get the girl -- and another No. 1 hit in the process.

"Delayed Devotion" Duffy


Friday, February 15, 2013

"How Do I Tell My Wife of 33 Years and Our Kids That I'm Gay?"

Last night I had another Blanche Devereaux moment -- which, once again, was unexpected because of all The Golden Girls girls, I'm a lot more Dorothy Zbornak and Sophia Petrillo. Don't worry. It didn't involve peaches and cream or sex toys. Remember the Valentine's Day episode when Blanche unknowingly counseled a gay man on how to propose to his boyfriend? Well, last night I had the same experience in reverse.

It began when I went to Pinocchio, the Italian restaurant down the road from my apartment in South Yarra, to celebrate the end of V Day with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and the man who loves me better than anyone else: me. Before long, I had company. I found myself deep in conversation with a somewhat inebriated man who appeared to be well into his 60s, though he was claiming only 50.

He'd just arrived in town on business from Perth, where he's been living for the past 16 years. That was how long it had been since he was last in Melbourne. He marveled at how much everything has changed. Not so much in the two and a half years since I first came here, but I took his word for it.

He wanted to know about the nightlife. Would he, as a 50-year-old guy, be too old to hang out at any of the bars or clubs in town? (He prefaced this particular question by saying, "I'm sure you, being such a young guy, wouldn't have any reason to even think about this," which immediately won me over to his side.) And where would he go anyway?

Not being much of an expert on Melbourne nightlife, I tried to assist him as best as I could. I told him that I'm not much younger than him (going along with the 50 ruse), and I'd never felt out of place anywhere in Melbourne, even in bars and clubs packed with early twentysomethings. I started tossing off the names of some of the hot spots I know, throwing in a few gay bars for effect -- and to test my gaydar. I was getting a vibe. He perked up at the mention of them. Apparently, he was talking to just the guy he was looking for on this lonely (for him) Valentine's Day.

He went on to reveal (totally off the record) that he's been married for 33 years to a wonderful woman, and they have four great kids, between the ages of 22 and 32. He loves his wife and his children, too, but there's one big problem: He's gay. He said he's known for years, although he'd never acted on his sexual impulses, and he's ready to come out of the closet.

But how?

It all felt very Christopher Plummer in Beginners -- only without a little naked gold man (Oscar!) at stake (though there's no doubt somewhere in Melbourne where he could have found one!). I wasn't sure how to answer him. Everyone has to come out in his or her own way, but when there's a wife and kids involved, it complicates matters in a way with which I have had no experience. From what I've seen on the Fran Drescher sitcom Happily Divorced -- not to mention the episode of The Golden Girls in which Blanche's recently divorced brother Clayton came out of the closet -- the best way to do it might be to just blurt it out.

He said he didn't want to diminish his devotion or even his attraction to his wife, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to continue living his old life while ignoring his rising desire, the burning yearning to be with a man. After buying me another drink, he asked if I would be interested in putting out the flame.

I politely declined. Like Blanche Devereaux (but alas, unlike Dorothy Zbornak), I'd never knowingly hook up with a married man. Rather than passing judgment, though, I told him that he owed it to his wife to tell her the truth -- and before he even considers finding someone to douse that flame. The life he'd save would be more than just his own.