Monday, January 13, 2014

12 Things I Never Ever Want to Do

Some of this year's big Oscar contenders feature characters doing the darndest things that I never would. So what's new? People in movies and on TV shows (like Two and a Half Men's late Charlie Harper, who really should have known better than to get so wasted that he couldn't even make it to his own bed -- or someone else's) have been crossing the line for decades. Here's my own anti-bucket list with all those undesirable deeds that I'd rather leave to someone else.

1. Fall in love with an operating system (OS). I get the loneliness and feelings of isolation that threatened to overwhelm Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) in Her as much as I understand his desire to just be left alone. I also understand that simultaneous need for solitude and companionship. To recycle and re-spin the book metaphor used by Samantha, Her's operating system/female romantic lead, I'd much rather open a book and join a story already in progress, getting to know the protagonist through his/her past mistakes and triumphs, than meet the same character on a page 1 that has yet to be written. Unless of course, we're talking about a baby, which would hardly be a suitable love interest.

To use another literary connection, I've had friends tell me that what they enjoy most about my writing is imagining my facial expressions and my tone of voice as they read my words. There's so much more to communication than just words, more to people and relationships than mere companionship, more to love than a body, or an operating system, to keep us from being, if still feeling, all alone at night.

2. Sail the Indian Ocean (or any other ocean) solo. Perhaps Robert Redford's unnamed character in All Is Lost could be Theodore in 30 years, drifting mentally, emotionally, physically and possibly fatally. Personally, I'd prefer to book a trip for one to Bang Bao Bay on Koh Chang in Thailand, where a loner can enjoy solitude, nature and a vast expanse of water all from the comfort and safety of dry land.

3. Walk into a body of water with the intention of ending it all. I prefer Julianne Moore's approach to attempted suicide in Magnolia (carbon monoxide poisoning in a car), but I suppose it's not quite as dramatic enough if there happens to be a theater full of people watching. A watery grave might make for a beautifully filmed suicide or attempted-suicide scene (in Interiors, The Hours and Saving Mr. Banks) or kick off a revelatory family reunion featuring Oscar-caliber performances by the actresses playing the surviving ladies of the house (in August: Osage County).

In All Is Lost, the prospect of suicide by drowning allowed Robert Redford's unnamed sailor to do on his own terms what he saw as inevitable, so I'll give him a pass. Considering his considerable will to live, I'm fairly sure he would have taken on the emotional turbulence of all those other suicidal drowners combined for a smooth one-way trip to dry land.

4. Rip someone off. It's kind of amazing to me that I was able to sympathize with Christian Bale's character in American Hustle as much as I did, considering his line of work. Perhaps if I were still living in New York City that might not have been the case. During my 15 years in NYC, a place where I had numerous good people, including one taxi driver, return my lost wallet to me, I can remember only once being swindled, robbed or burglarized. It was by a "friend" who got me to wire him $200 in Miami and then dropped off the face of the earth when it was time to pay me back, not even showing up to defend himself when I sued him in small-claims court and won. (Of course, I never saw my $200 again either.)

Many years passed before I was the victim of a second confidence trickster (in Rio in 2003), another smooth criminal, this one armed with a very powerful sleeping agent. (Read all about it in my forthcoming book, Is It True What They Say About Black Men?) Beginning in Buenos Aires a few years later, I launched my reinvention tour as, among many other things, a semi-regular victim of crime (read all about it in my forthcoming book).

I'm older, wiser, less trusting and definitely more vigilant now. I also understand the brand of desperation that can lead certain criminals to do what they do. (See Captain Phillips, if you're having trouble with that.) They're human, not monsters, but that is where our similarities end. A friend of mine had his pockets picked at DJ Station in Bangkok two summers ago, and he was so upset when he realized he'd been robbed that he threatened to retaliate by stealing from an innocent third party. To me, that momentary lapse of reason was even more unfortunate than the loss of his keys and a few hundred baht (which, at roughly $10 or so, was a lot less than it sounds).

5. Get cosmetic surgery. And God knows my chin could use some work! If I were a straight man, I think I'd go for the natural beauty as opposed to the one who's all hair and make-up, so I'm probably predisposed to reject artifice. I have nothing against Botox. Though I couldn't imagine sticking a needle into my own face, I've seen it in action, and it can work wonders. But the idea of all the slicing and dicing involved in plastic surgery makes me queasy, especially if it were used to make someone look like someone else who looks far worse. That's what Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), the lover of Liberace (Michael Douglas), was going for in Behind the Candelabra, echoing what was perhaps the most disturbing episode of Nip/Tuck that I ever saw.

One good thing to come out of Candelabra's literal hatchet job were more juicy scenes from a stunningly dysfunctional relationship brought back to creepy life by Emmy nominee Damon and Emmy winner Douglas, both of whom, if the film had been released in U.S. theaters last year instead of airing on HBO, would be complicating the hell out of this year's Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Oscar races. In fact, I'd go out on a limb to say that Damon, who was BAFTA-nominated as Best Supporting Actor, would make Dallas Buyers Club's Jared Leto lucky just to be nominated.

6. Try escargot. I've tried frog legs (as a kid in Florida), alligator meat (a few years ago, in Pattaya, Thailand) and an ostrich burger (in Johannesburg last November), but one has to draw the line somewhere, and I've sketched mine at insects and certain mollusks. I once went to L'Express on 20th Street and Park Avenue in New York City on a first date with Adam, a nice Jewish boy whom I was dying to kiss -- until he went and ordered snails as an appetizer!

7. Be a Couchsurfer -- or host one. I have friends who swear by it, but when you get right down to it, it's really not all that different from picking up a stranger in a bar and inviting him (or her) to come back to your place and stay there for a week or two.

8. Sleep outside. I enjoy the great outdoors as much as the next homebody, but when I lay me down to sleep, I prefer to do it under cover from the night, in a four-stars-and-above bedroom where it's more likely that no creatures will be stirring, not a mouse, not a mosquito, and definitely not a big hungry beer.

9. Have another threesome. Enough said.

10. Get into a big-screen franchise. I've never been a sequel (and especially sequels to sequels) kind of guy. To this day, my Rocky and Star Wars experiences remain incomplete as I still haven't seen Rocky 2 or The Empire Strikes Back (or any of the films after the third one in either series), nor have I seen any of the Harry Potter films or any movie that features a Hobbit.

I loved the original Star Trek TV series, but I've never watched an episode of any of the subsequent ones, and the only Enterprise-themed film I ever saw was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which I probably only saw because my family dragged me to the one-screen cinema on Main Street in Kissimmee, Florida, to see it in 1982. (At the time, it was the only movie theater in town.) And now, as my love for Jennifer Lawrence continues to bloom thanks to her performance in American Hustle, I haven't laid eyes on her in either of the Hunger Games films, and I have no plans/desire to feast on/play in any of their sequels.

11. Bike ride around the world. I once had a friend, Andrew, who was doing just that, though with a friend, not solo. He and I met one Thursday night at Wonder Bar on Avenue A and Sixth Street in New York City, where he lived, during a break on his trek in the late '90s. He had excellent calf muscles, great views of the world, and a beautiful 3-year-old son whom I personally never could have brought myself to leave (especially since his mother still insisted on breastfeeding him!). Though I did get to party with him one night in Rome in June of 1999, not once during the course of our friendship, while hanging out with him in person or reading his greetings from the road, did his journey sound like one that I was dying to take.

12. Fall in love with a dreamer. Forget bad boys. I believe when I fall in love next time it may not be forever, but it will be with an uncomplicated pragmatist who is perfectly happy to water my garden and watch the flowers bloom.

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