Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why I'm Not Jumping on 'The Social Network' Bandwagon

To quote a friend who actually was talking about a different film (The Kids Are All Right), I thought that The Social Network was a perfectly enjoyable way to spent two hours. But it didn't follow me around long after the credits rolled -- in fact, I didn't stick around to watch the credits roll. I didn't spend days, or hours even, obsessing over the engrossing story, the unforgettable characters, or the brilliant acting (though there certainly was some of the latter). When it was over, it was over.

So as the movie hogs the critics prizes and collects multiple nominations for prestigious awards, I ask, "How does a well-made movie but one with such a weak emotional core become the year's critical juggernaut, steamrolling its way to a guaranteed Oscar nomination for Best Picture and a likely win?" My only explanation is that the zeitgeisty subject matter -- the creation of Facebook -- is working overtime in its favor.

I don't have a problem with the film's much-discussed inaccuracies. Aaron Sorkin based his screenplay on The Accidental Billionaires, a widely disputed book that was accused of being very loosely based on a true story. So hyper-realism obviously wasn't the movie's goal. Most biopics bend facts anyway. I watch films, even those based on real people or events, to be entertained and moved emotionally or intellectually. If I want just the facts (or the major players' interpretation of them), I can dig up court transcripts, check out old interviews, or read a history book.

My big gripe with The Social Network (or La Red Social, as it's called here in Argentina) is that the story as presented by Sorkin and director David Fincher wasn't strong enough to really suck me in. Because I was never 100 per cent invested in the plot, I wasn't anxious about the resolution. The deposition scenes that framed the movie were outstanding, but since Facebook cofounder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the defendant in two lawsuits, is the youngest billionaire on the planet, there was no real suspense because all of the money that was at stake was only a drop in the bucket for Zuckerberg. Even he seemed uninterested in the outcome.

As for his moral and professional conflict with Facebook cofounder and CFO Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), it was hard to root for either side because Zuckerberg was presented as such a jerk (though one with whom the audience should sympathize -- note the junior lawyer's ultimate assessment of him as a decent guy who tries too hard to be an asshole -- when a full-on villain would have made for a more interesting film), and I never knew enough about Saverin to really care about him. Despite the limitations of the role, though, I think Garfield is the one player worthy of his Oscar buzz.

I wish I could say the same thing about Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg. I still haven't figured out if the problem lies with the performance, the filmmakers, or both. I really loved him in the opening scene (the movie's best), the desposition scenes, and the classroom scene where he walked out of the lecture but not before letting the professor know that he was leaving because he was bored, not because he couldn't handle the material. This is where he let Zuckerberg be as bratty as he wanted to be, the kind of guy who would send anyone running in the opposite direction. In these scenes, everything came together: the acting, the screenplay, the direction. It's easy to understand why his girlfriend would say that dating him is like dating a treadmill. I was out of breath after those first few minutes with him.

I wish there had been more of that guy. Where the presentation of Zuckerberg was lacking was in the scenes about the actual creating of Facebook. He came across as brilliant, sullen and kind of dull. Neither heroic nor villainous, he was so inscrutable that it was never quite clear what drove him to create one of the biggest Internet phenomenon's ever. Zuckerberg himself says that he just likes to build things, but that doesn't easily lend itself to compelling cinema. Since The Social Network's Mark Zuckerberg is basically a fictional character based on a real one, I wish Sorkin and Fincher had taken the creative license to let him be driven by greed, lust for money, power, or sex. None of these things, however, were presented as being particularly important to him.

Was his rejection by the final club the prime motivator? Being accepted by Harvard's student body meant more to Saverin (and Garfield is way too cute to be playing the outcast, by the way) than it did to Zuckerberg, who came across as being more passionate about impressing Napster founder Sean Parker than anything else. And if jealousy over having to watch Saverin get into the final club is why he started to turn on him, the film, which pinned the blame mostly on Parker, offered precious little evidence. Because the plotting against Saverin happened mostly offscreen (he already was being edged out by the time he withdrew his funding, almost destroying Facebook), the film lost what could have been the most riveting element of its Facebook creation theory.

Despite the brilliant irony of the final scene, I didn't buy that launching Facebook was all about a girl either. That's not because the girlfriend in the movie doesn't actually exist, but because the film offered no evidence that the onscreen Zuckerberg's relationship with the Erica Albright character was particularly deep, or that she was worth more than one silly online prank and a weak attempt to get her to leave a dinner with friends to talk to him. I thought the scenes with Albright were strong, but there should have been more of them. The Facebook sequences would have had more impact had they been juxtaposed with a few more personal ones -- Zuckerberg and his family, Zuckerberg and fellow students not associated with Facebook, Zuckerberg being torn up about the break-up with Erica and trying harder to woo her back. The latter also would have given the movie the strong female presence that it lacked.

I'm still on the fence about Justin Timberlake's interpretation of Parker, who became Facebook's first president. I don't know what Parker is like in real life, and I'm not sure why Timberlake played the coke-snorting womanizing party monster as being slightly swishy. Still, it was an interesting performance, and Timberlake really owned every scene he was in. I can see why Zuckerberg was so taken and why Saverin was so threatened, and that's credit to a performance that convincingly brought out the charmer and the snake in a guy who might be just as fascinating as the one at the center of the film, if not more so.

Yes, The Social Network was a perfectly enjoyable way to spend two hours, but a biopic about the founder of Napster is the movie that I really want to see.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Has anyone had a stranger, better 2010 than James Franco?

What a difference 12 months can make? Last year around this time, James Franco, snubbed by Oscar in early 2009 after charming the pants off of Sean Penn's Harvey Milk in Milk, was starring on General Hospital. Everyone watching in Hollywood or at home either seemed to be asking "Why?" or screaming "Career suicide!"

I still haven't figured out what net effect GH has had on Franco's career, or what he was doing in Date Night (or totally lacking any apparent chemistry with Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray; Love, for that matter). For a while, I wondered what had happened to the leading-man-in-the-making who won a Golden Globe for portraying James Dean on TV, starred in three Spider-Man blockbusters and took a well-received detour into comedy with 2008's Pineapple Express. The GH thing did little more than enhance Franco's reputation for being a bit of an unpredictable nutjob, but that didn't stop him from giving GH another shot midway through 2010 and signing up for a third run as serial killer Franco early next year. That's just around the time that Franco the actor will be cohosting the Oscar's with Anne Hathaway.

That's nice work if you can get it, and even if Franco hadn't, he probably still would be invited to the Academy Awards as a nominee. He's practically guaranteed a nod for his one-man show as a trapped mountain climber forced to amputate his own arm in 127 Hours. If former All My Children star Melissa Leo gets her expected nod for her supporting performance in The Fighter, that will be one former soap star and one current soap star nominated in the same year, no doubt an Academy first. Add to that one ex-prime-time TV star: Mila Kunis (That '70s Show), Franco's cameo scene partner in Date Night, is also a likely nominee for Black Swan.

Although some are probably still scratching their heads and asking, "Why?," about Franco's GH return engagement, who's talking "career suicide" now?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Strangest Week Ever

I've been saying it forever: Argentines always come back. Sometimes, though, they do so completely unintentionally and unexpectedly. Such was the case last Friday with Martin, a guy I met five and a half years ago during my first trip to Buenos Aires. Despite the fact that I didn't speak Spanish at the time, and he spoke no English, he and I had a solid rapport. We saw each other on each of my three subsequent BA visits and hung out together several times after I moved here in September of 2006.

Then, suddenly, nothing. As quickly as Martin entered my life, he exited it. An overzealous housekeeper threw away the paper on which I'd written his phone number, and he didn't respond to any of my emails. Over the years, I thought of him often, occasionally checking to see if he was on Facebook. He was one Argentine who didn't come back, and I figured we'd never meet again. That is why I was so startled last Friday afternoon when I was walking down Avenida Santa Fe en route to order blackout blinds and walked right into him (which was kind of ironic, because Martin makes and installs curtains and blinds for a living).

As we hugged and engaged in brief small talk, I was uncomfortable because I had been taken completely by surprise and because passersby were staring at me even more than usual. (It must have been the sweat running down my face on this unbearably hot day.) Martin gave me a cell phone number and a land line where I could reach him, and we said our goodbyes. Later when I checked the numbers, I realized that the cellular number was missing a digit. Since I'd rather dine on glass a la suiza than call some guy on the phone, I figured that was that and moved on.

Then a few days later, I received an email from one of Martin's colleagues on his behalf. I wondered why he'd gotten his co-worker to write me, and why he had kept my email address all this time without using it. I was confused, but decided to send a text message to the first of the three phone numbers provided in the email. Seconds later, Martin responded: "Jeremy mi amor." Thus began two days of voice messages and texts, each saying one of two things, sometimes both: "Merry me" and "Te quiero."

When he finally managed to get me on the phone, the flashback hit me. I'd heard/read it all before. Martin's ardor had always been over-the-top (within five minutes of meeting me in 2005, he declared his undying love for me), and five years hadn't cured him of that particular malady. Five years ago, I found that extreme Argentine romanticism charming, refreshing, endearing, but now, especially coming from a guy in his mid-thirties who really ought to know better, it just sounds silly. He needs to get some new material.

More strangeness followed the night after I ran into Martin (literally), at the rooftop party of a friend. One moment, I was sitting there being grilled by an attractive, blonde Argentine girl (you know, the usual: "De donde sos?" "Te gusta Argentina?" Yawn), when a guy I presumed was her boyfriend (after all, they'd been getting it on in the bathroom earlier) came towards us, nostrils flaring, and lunged at me.

My reflexes were surprisingly dependable, and I moved out of the way before he could make any significant body contact. In the process, my watch flew off my wrist and landed on the floor. I don't know what surprised me more: that a guy would actually attack me for hitting on his girlfriend (I've never even been taken to task for coming onto someone's boyfriend, though I probably should have been), or that my watch was pretty much undamaged save for a clasp that was missing from one side of the wristband, or that almost as suddenly as he'd come after me, the guy was now apologizing profusely for his brutish behavior.

He spent the rest of the night apologizing and promising to pay for any damage to the watch. I quickly accepted his apology and went on to have quite the wild Saturday night (exhibit A: the photo above this post). The next day, the guy, whose name is Fernando, sent me a text message, apologizing again and once again offering to pay for the watch.

Now I won't bore you with the details of how in Argentina you have about as much of a chance of fixing or replacing a metal watch band as you do of booking a flight to the moon. Fernando offered to either track down someone who can fix the watch or give me money to buy an identical one. (Alas, it's a Storm Qasar XL, see above, available only in the UK). We may not have met under the best of circumstances, but I was taken by his diplomacy and conscientiousness.

And perhaps the grandest irony of the entire week before Christmas is that had I made the first move to chat up anyone at that roof party, it probably would have been him. Next time I'll go with my instincts. The watch I save may be my own.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Nicole Kidman's grieving mom in "Rabbit Hole" hits close to home

Last night while I was watching Rabbit Hole, I couldn't stop thinking about my mom. Like Nicole Kidman's Becca, the bereaved parent in the taut, 90-minute drama, my mother has had to bury a child. I've always heard that there is no greater pain, and after watching the film, I understand why a little better. As close as my mother and I were when I was growing up, she and I never really talked about my sister, who died before I was born. Watching the film made me want to reach out to my mom somehow, but like Becca's friend who never called to offer any kind of consolation, I didn't really know what to say.

Rabbit Hole reminds me of In the Bedroom, another contemplation on loss, because its simple staging and small-as-life performances make you feel as if you're witnessing a real family's private pain. But while Sissy Spacek and Tom Wilkinson's Bedroom characters' son was a grown man murdered by the jealous ex of his older lover, the son of Kidman and Aaron Eckhart's characters was a toddler struck by a car when he ran out into the street after the family dog. 

The film begins eight months after Danny's death, and the movie doesn't automatically reveal exactly what has happened, which adds another dimension to the early interactions onscreen. Why is Becca being so cold to her neighbor? Why do she and her sister (Tammy Blanchard) and mom (Dianne Weist, whose character also has lost a son, but in a completely different way) seem like such intimate strangers? And why does Becca appear to be almost repulsed by a husband as fine as Aaron Eckhart.

What impressed me most about Kidman's understated performance is that when Becca lashes out, she's rarely histrionic. Her barbs and observations are so rational, so calmly delivered and devastatingly on-target that when she finally snaps in the supermarket with a total stranger, it's the film's most shocking scene. There are hints that Becca might not have been a particularly nice person even before her son's death -- though certainly not as full-on bitch as Mary Tyler Moore's grieving mom in Ordinary People or Debra Winger's in Rachel Getting Married. Still, I found myself rooting for her throughout the entire film.

Eckhart's Howie initially comes across as the one who's dealing with the situation in the healthiest way, but bit by bit, we learn that the opposite might, in fact, be true. His trajectory is as interesting as Becca's and perhaps more vivid, though it plays out in less screen time. Meanwhile, although Becca's unexpected friendship with the teen who was driving the car that killed her son reveals another interesting layer of her personality, her level of haunted varies only slightly from start to finish.

In the end, Rabbit Hole offers no easy answers, no neat wrap-up. And I'm still not sure what to say to my mom.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Is a Golden Globe nomination on the verge of becoming a dubious honor?

The 2011 Golden Globe nominations were announced today, and this year more than in most recent years, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association demonstrated why it's largely seen within the film industry as a celebrity-ass-kissing joke. I'm surprised Julia Roberts wasn't nominated for Best Actress, Comedy or Musical, for Eat, Pray, Love. It wasn't a funny movie, but recognizing it would have been less embarrassing than throwing Angelina Jolie into the mix for The Tourist. At least that nomination goof probably provided more of a guffaw than all of the comedy-nominated films put together.

But seriously, the HFPA has some explaining to do. I'll try to keep my list of questions short and relatively sweet, which won't be easy, considering how confounding many of the nominations -- and omissions -- were. And I'm skipping the TV ones because they always bore me. (The awards will be broadcast live January 16 on NBC -- in HD!)

1. In what world is The Kids Are All Right a comedy? Okay, so the HFPA isn't the first group to deem it so, but perhaps everyone saw a completely different movie than I did. The Kids had some amusing moments, most of them courtesy of GG nominee Julianne Moore, but overall, it was a pretty serious film. In fact, I can't recall a single funny word uttered by Annette Bening, the star with the most awards-season traction. Her character was the quintessential humorless, everything-in-its-place-type A pain in the ass, and by God, she nailed her.

2. Speaking of The Kids Are All Right, why wasn't New York Film Critics Circle honoree Mark Ruffalo nominated for Best Supporting Actor? Maybe someday this great underrated actor will get the industry respect he deserves. Look how long it took Christian Bale, finally a GG nominee and an Oscar frontrunner this year for The Fighter.

3. Did Ruffalo's spot go to Michael Douglas for Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps? Maybe it's a sentimental nod for the cancer-stricken star, and the HFPA is praying that Douglas will be well enough to show up. I'm hoping so, too, but the HFPA should have pretended that Solitary Man was funny and nominated him for Best Actor, Comedy or Musical, instead.

4. Ah, yes! There was no room in Best Actor, Comedy or Musical, for Douglas because Johnny Depp is hogging two spots (for Alice in Wonderland and The Tourist). Sure it looks good on paper: two Golden Globe nominations in one year -- and in one category. It's so Meryl Streep in 2009. But how's Depp going to look when he loses to Paul Giamatti (for Barney's Version) and doesn't even score an Oscar nod?

5. Is Halle Berry's Best Actress, Drama, nomination for Frankie and Alice more ass-kissing, or does it mean that she actually has a shot at some Oscar love? I've heard very little about this movie so far, but the trailer is fascinating, and I love the film's poster.

6. What happened to Lesley Manville, already a precursor frontrunner for Another Year? Maybe the members of the HFPA still haven't seen Another Year or True Grit, also curiously missing from the GG noms.

7. Do the Critic's Choice and Golden Globe nods of a certain former That '70s Show star mean that the Academy might be into her, too? I recognized Mila Kunis as a potential Oscar nominee for Black Swan early on, but I didn't expect anything to actually come of it.

8. Since it's so unashamedly star-baiting anyway, couldn't the HFPA have tossed Cher a little consolation bone for Burlesque? At least if "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me," a Best Original Song nominee, makes it to the Oscars, we might get to see Cher perform it live and in the flesh -- or even better, baring much flesh.

9. Not that it means much, but do Christina Aguilera and Carrie Underwood really get to call themselves Golden Globe nominees now? Aguilera is listed as a cowriter of Burlesque's "Bound for You," and Carrie Underwood had a hand in Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader's "There's a Place for Us," but the extent of either singer's involvement in the songwriting process of either song probably should be open to debate.

10. Does Katie Holmes feel even a twinge of jealousy towards Michelle Williams? Surely the actress, who announced the nominees with Josh Duhamel and Blair Underwood, isn't crazy about the fact that the movie career of her former Dawson's Creek costar, up for Best Actress, Drama, for Blue Valentine, is going so much better than hers.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Rules of disentanglement: Is it possible to let him down easy?

To dump or not to dump, that is the question.

And once you decide to give him the old heave ho, how do you go about it?

My friend and I had a lively debate the other night, trying to determine the best way to let someone know that you're just not that into them. I've always done unto others as I'd have them do unto me, and in my break-up book, there's no line worse than "Hey, I'm not really feeling you. Can we just be friends?" -- or some variation on that basic get-lost theme.

It's actually the polite thing to do, come clean with the person who's constantly texting or calling or emailing or sending instant messages. (Damn, there are so many ways to be stalked these days!) Fortunately, I've rarely been on the receiving end of such brutal honesty. I field rejection as often as anybody else, but I'm a smart guy, and I pick up on disinterest easily. One unreturned text, or phone call, or email, and I'm outta there. Moving right along. If you seem bored on a date, it's because you probably are. I won't ask, and please don't tell. Have a nice life!

Unfortunately, many of the guys I have met in Buenos Aires haven't seemed to see things the same way. Either they don't take hints very well, or they are hopeless masochists who thrive on the sting of flat-out rejection. Whichever it is, something about my friend's argument -- that the only honorable way to make a good, clean break is to be as straightforward as possible -- swayed me. I decided I would have to tell Mario how I really felt.

Mario and I hadn't even been dating. We'd gone out exactly one time, and never made it to first base. I'm not really sure what he saw in me. I wasn't particularly "on" the night we'd hung out. I'd been tired, and I had a lot on my mind. And yeah, I'll admit it, he bored me a little. A lot. He asked so many questions, none of them particularly original, that the date felt more like work than play. He was one of those people who is uncomfortable with silence and tries to fill it with chit chat. I was surprised when he asked me flat out the next day what I thought about him. He sensed my disinterest, and called me on the fact that I'd occasionally get very quiet and stare off into space as if I wanted to be somewhere else.

I gave him points for his intuitiveness. I should have been honest with him and told him that I wasn't interested, but I'd been down that road before. Guys here don't know what to do with rejection, and I wasn't in the mood for battle. So I used that old tired "I was tired" excuse. He bought it, and in the days that followed, began to pursue me with total abandon -- or what passes for total abandon in Buenos Aires. Every time I turned on my computer and logged into MSN Messenger, there he was. Sometimes I responded, but usually I didn't. He started to get the hint, and even asked why I was ignoring him. I didn't answer, but he was not about to go gently into that good night. It was as if he was daring me to man up and dump him.

So I practiced my kindest rejection line. I told him that because I will be leaving Buenos Aires in a couple of months, I didn't want to start anything new with anyone, which is actually the truth. Unfortunately, Mario was undeterred. He was okay not starting anything serious, if only he could get to first base, and possibly beyond. My skin crawled at the thought of being bored to tears by another round with him, or having him spend hours looking at me, expectantly, as if he had paid top-ticket price to the greatest show on earth. Who needs that kind of pressure?

Was he doing all this just for the nookie anyway? If so, why was he acting like I was his only hope? Surely a smart, nice-looking guy like him had other options. I probably would have indulged him had I been even slightly attracted to him, but I wasn't. And the whiff of desperation wasn't doing him any favors.

As I stood my ground, he stood his. He called me selfish, wished he had had never met me, and threatened to delete me from his MSN. It was all very Days of Our Lives! I thought he was overreacting (and overacting), but I'd been down this road many times with guys in BA. Part of me felt badly, because I don't like for anyone to think the worst of me. Another part of me, the one that realizes that life is not a popularity contest, felt relieved. He was justifying my desire not to have anything further to do with him.

Before I said something cruel that I might regret, I beat him to the punch and deleted him. A few hours later, he sent me a text message reiterating that he wished he'd never met me. I was tempted to tell him that the feeling was mutual, but I figured why start responding to his theatrics now? Sometimes the best rule of disentanglement is to simply press delete and never look back.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Soap opera villains: Building the perfect beast

Everybody loves a bad boy. They're hot, they're sexy, and they're a lot more fun than Prince Charming or the white knight on a steed. Ditto fictional villains. Not only does watching dirty deeds being done dirt cheap (or at great financial cost) make for super televised or cinematic entertainment, but it's cathartic, too. I like to think of myself as one of the good guys, and since we generally finish last, sometimes it's fun to root for the bad guy, put myself in his shoes, and imagine myself, for once, coming in first.

As I've mentioned many times before, I'm addicted to daytime soaps. And what would my beloved stories be without villains? I don't tune in to see love in the afternoon. (I've never been much of the voyeur type -- I even hate porn!) I tune in to see what the town pariahs are up to, and, of course, to see good eventually triumph over bad. But only after a long, hard, entertaining struggle.

The other night as I was watching good-girl-gone-wicked-witch-of-Llanview Marty Saybrooke terrorize Natalie Banks on One Life to Live, I began to daydream. What if I went on my own reign of terror in my hometown, plotting revenge on everyone who's ever done me wrong? My daydream didn't last long because A) I'm not a person who's particularly driven by revenge, and B) aside from the occasional romantic rejection, or hurtful words spoken by friends and acquaintances in anger, or in ignorance, I can't recall anything ever being done to me that warrants taking a walk on the dark side.

I've never been framed for murder, or parentage, never had a child be kidnapped or switched at birth, never been assumed dead, or had a loved one come back from the dead, never been pushed down a flight of stairs. My parents are really my parents, and there are no repressed memories of molestation or incest. Though I feel like I spend way too much time complaining that woe is me, I have it a whole lot easier than most of my beloved soap characters. I mean, I'm not sure how I would survive if someone buried me alive. I can barely make it from my sixth-floor apartment to the ground floor in my apartment building's elevator!

But the main reason why I would never really go there is because every dog has his day, and I wouldn't want mine to end in jail, or in some even worse place, or state. As fun as it is to watch the misdeeds of fictional bad guys -- and girls -- it's even more enjoyable to see them finally get their due. Over on Days of Our Lives, Vivian Alamain spent what seemed like months in a sarcophagus (thanks to Brady Black, a handsome hero turned slightly sinister and frequently toasted), which made watching her eventually shove her intended buried-alive victim, Maggie Horton, into the tricked-out casket for two weeks, bearable. Naturally, Vivian will get off scott free, but at least she suffered, too. And everyone in town hates her.

It's the same with Nicole DiMera. She gets her way -- sometimes -- but she's a hopeless drunk with few friends and no respect, so it's okay to watch her steal babies and try to pass them off as her own because we know that eventually she'll get caught. But I'm still waiting to see some fallout from her framing of Arianna Hernandez for the Salem muggings. Arianna might be recently departed, but boy would it put a crimp in her rough-sex romance with Brady if he discovered that Nicole was directly responsible for his falling off the wagon.

Meanwhile, anti-heroine Sami and anti-hero EJ go back and forth. This week, he's the winner. Next week, it's her turn. (I'm firmly on Team Sami, because, as played by Alison Sweeny, she's more sympathetic than EJ, whom James Scott brilliantly plays as 100 per cent smarmy, unlikable and borderline irredeemable.) Then there is Kate Roberts Kiriakis Brady DiMera. (Did I leave out any surnames?) I love watching her because at fiftysomething, Lauren Koslow, the actress who plays her, is one of the sexiest women alive. And anyone who goes out jogging dressed to the designer nines and fully accessorized has got my vote. But just once, it would be nice to see her pay for her crimes against humanity in Salem.

David Hayward, Pine Valley's sole dark prince, recently risen from the dead after trying to frame Ryan Lavery, the ex of his wife Greenlee, for his "murder" on All My Children, is tolerable because he loses more often than he wins. Oh, and everyone hates him. Ditto One Life to Live's Dorian Lord and Todd Manning. And over at General Hospital, Lisa Niles is finally getting a little bit of comeuppance. Though she gets away with attempted murder too often, it was nice to see her put on probation at work and have her operating-room priviledges suspended by Chief of Staff Steven Webber, the hunkiest daytime doc in serious need of his own story. Stat!

Which brings me to Clint Buchanan over on One Life to Live. Watching him turn into his late dad Asa is one of the most enjoyable things happening on OLTL at the moment, and Jerry Ver Dorn has seamlessly negotiated the transition from upstanding to downright wicked. And I can see how losing his wife Nora to his brother Bo, who also happened to be Nora's ex-husband (and now current one), turned him into a bitter, broken guy. But I'm tired of seeing him win all the time. For months now, he's been getting away with everything, and the people he loves love him right back.

It's no fun watching a villain whose only enemies are the people with whom the hate is mutual. David Hayward is interesting because he has two Achilles heels: Greenlee, who loves Ryan and not him, and his daughter Marissa, who despises him. Dorian's Cramer girls are always butting heads with her, putting her in her place, as is most of Llanview. And at least one of Todd Manning's kids are usually at odds with him, or he's got a wife battling a fake brain tumor, or someone's beating him within an inch of his life. He suffers enough.

I say it's time for Clint to get a nemesis who can stand up to him -- whom he also loves and respects. I want to see him get punched or slapped. Rex Balsom, the son he doesn't want anyone to know he has (for reasons that I'm still not buying hook, line and sinker), can do the honors. Or Viki Banks. I say it's time for Viki to remove the rose-colored glasses and see her ex-husband for who he's become. Now that's a showdown that would keep me on the edge of my seat. I'd be cheering on Viki on the outside, of course, but deep deep inside, I'd be rooting for Clint to keep me entertained with his dirty misdeeds.

Bring it on, big daddy!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Waiting for a star to fall: When celebrities tumble onstage

Years ago, my mom and I were walking and talking in downtown Atlanta during one of my regular visits to the city where my mother had moved shortly after I left home for college. I was doing most of the talking (about what, I can't quite recall), and when the time came for her weigh in, there was silence.

I waited. Not a word. I looked over my shoulder and realized that my mother was no longer walking beside me. I turned around, and there she was, about half a block behind me, sitting on the sidewalk, looking up at me. Her eyes were saying, "What is wrong with you, boy?" She'd taken a nasty spill, and I had been to busy yakking to notice.

I ran back and arrived just in time for a lady to help mom off the ground and say, "God bless you," before walking away. I felt terrible that my mom had fallen, and I had been too engrossed in telling my silly story to notice. Had anyone shown up at that moment and started laughing at her misfortune, God knows what I would have done to them. (I'm not sure if my mom remembers this incident, but the other day, when I received an email from her with "Still Standing" in the subject line, I breathed a sigh of relief.)

Fast forward more than a decade later, and my friends and I are at a restaurant in Buenos Aires, laughing at YouTube videos of divas falling in concert. First Mariah Carey. Then Beyonce (mid-"Ring the Alarm," a song that requires total control, both vocally and physically, to work). Both falls looked painful and painfully embarrassing, and falling, which can be quite hazardous to one's health, is no laughing matter.

When we see someone fall on a bustling sidewalk, it's not necessarily side-splitting stuff. During my many years living in big cities, I've seen countless people take nasty spills in transit (usually women), and not once do I recall even cracking a smile. And God knows, I've had my share of public wipe outs -- trudging through iced-over snow in New York City; jogging in Buenos Aires; dancing, drunkenly (natch!), on a platform in Alibi, a club in Milan; wobbling, inebriated (natch!), down the stairs in Heaven, a disco in London -- and I've never seen anyone bust out laughing.

But I'm still chuckling to myself at the mental image of Jennifer Lopez tripping while performing on the American Music Awards last year. And I'm not sure how Naomi Campbell, or any model for that matter (Remember Carrie Bradshaw's catwalk disaster on Sex and the City?), can show their faces in public again after toppling over on the runway. When you think about it, it's bound to happen at some point to anyone who makes a living negotiating complicated movements on a stage. Unfortunately for them, in this age of YouTube, the pain my go away, but the image of the falling star lives on in infamy.

Of the two superstars at whose expense my friends and I were laughing on Saturday night, Beyonce's trip was by far the most spectacular because there were steps involved and, unlike Mariah, she wasn't pregnant, so the laughter wasn't punctuated by pangs of guilt. I'm still not sure how Beyoncé managed to quickly get back on her feet and continue performing without any evidence of physical pain, but I guess that's what super troupers do. The show must go own? Haven't got time for the pain? (Feel free to insert your own relevant song title here).

Meanwhile, the rest of us die laughing and look forward to the next fallen star.

Mel Gibson's latest load of crap and other Hollywood developments that are making me say, "Whoa!"

Most of us have known for a long time now that stars say and do the most ridiculous things. But in the last few days, there seems to be an epidemic of crazy spreading through Hollywood. Some of the celebrity news is leaving me scratching my head and sort of speechless -- though not speechless enough not to toss my two cents into the ring.

What is wrong with Mel Gibson? Now he's saying that he didn't punch his ex, Oksana Grigorieva, with a closed fist, but he merely slapped her with an open palm -- not too hard -- in order to calm her down and stop her from hurting their baby, which she was carrying at the time. Personally, I'm over Mel vs. Oksana. She's no more sympathetic in their media war than he is, but she has the benefit of not having been in my face, annoying me and making absurd declarations, for the last quarter century.

As for his assertion, I don't believe a word of it. And even if I did, since when is it okay to smack your girlfriend, even to calm her down? And are there not ways to restrain a hysterical woman that don't involve physical violence? Another question for Mel: Is slapping an emotional woman who is holding a baby not endangering the baby further? I've never been a Mel Gibson fan, but now I wish he'd just go some place far far away never to be heard from again.

Do famous people know how to be single? Nick Lachey gets engaged to Vanessa Minnillo, so what does Jessica Simpson do? She says, "I will," to NFL player Eric Johnson, a guy she's been dating only since May. A source told People magazine that the timing is only a coincidence, but considering that Jessica hasn't spent more than a minute single since splitting with Lachey some five years ago, and she's always got to be the one in the spotlight, I'm almost certain that after Nick proposed to Vanessa, she approached her jock with a proposal -- er, demand -- of her own: "If you like it, then you better put a ring on it." It's Beyoncé's line, but apparently it works for Jessica, too.

Meanwhile, a little more than a year after LeAnn Rimes dumped him for Eddie Cibrian, her ex, Dean Sheremet, is ready to try marriage again. I suppose a year of mourning is long enough, but his engagement comes too close for comfort to denied rumors that Cibrian had popped the question to Rimes (though I suspect that when it does happen, it will be the other way around). It's almost like these stars think there are only two sides to romance: marriage and divorce. Dating in Hollwyood: It's so passé.

Doesn't Bill Clinton have more important things to do than a cameo in The Hangover 2? And yet another mystery: Couldn't the former U.S. president have picked something a bit smarter in which to make his film debut? First, George Bush reveals that the darkest moment of his presidency was being called racist by Kanye West (I wonder how he thinks Taylor Swift feels), and now this. Forget separation of church and state. I'd say it's time for a decisive separation of state and Hollywood.

I was going to write something about People magazine's latest main cover line -- "KIM KARDASHIAN AT 30: I THOUGHT I'D BE MARRIED BY NOW" -- but I'm still trying to figure out what exactly Kim Kardashian does or why anyone cares about her.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why I'll never go under the knife looking for perfection or the proverbial fountain of youth

Yesterday a friend of mine dropped a WTF bomb on me. He's fed up with his imperfect midsection, and he's determined to do something about it. Liposuction to the rescue!

I felt like a liberal parent whose kid had just come out as a Republican. I thought about Dr. Kevin Brenner, a Beverly Hills-based plastic surgeon to whose blog my friend Lori recently introduced me. Despite my general wariness of plastic surgeons, Brenner seems like a decent, upstanding guy, the kind of doctor who first would do no harm. I remembered his post on body dysmorphic disorder in which he suggested that with the late Michael Jackson, who suffered from BDD (an obsession with real and imagined physical flaws), his addiction to plastic surgery and prescription drugs may have been linked.

I grabbed my friend's middle just to be sure that he wasn't under the influence of BDD. It's not just that I think my friend, who is the most dedicated gym-goer I know, has a perfectly fine body, but God knows what could go wrong during the lipo process. Didn't Kanye West's mom die on the recovery table after a routine tummy tuck and breast augmentation, and didn't one of James Brown's wives also expire after some form of reconstructive surgery? I began to imagine every worst-case scenario possible.

Aside from the potential complications, I've always thought that a fabulous body earned the natural way -- through diet, hard work, or, for the lucky few, genetics -- was the only kind worth being proud of. I've recently softened my hard-line stance toward Botox after seeing it work wonders for a female friend of mine -- though I still cringe at twentysomethings and their preventative Botox sprees -- but I still can't totally get behind liposuction, tummy tucks and most elective cosmetic surgery. It's one thing to fix a massive honker in order to make it more visually compatible with the rest of the face, or breast reduction to ease back pain, but I draw the line at fake boobs (unless made necessary after a mastectomy), chin, cheek and lip implants, and the sucking out of fat or the rearranging of it.

To me, it's a little bit like cheating on a test in school. You may get an A, but who cares, if you didn't earn it? The same goes for physical beauty. It's so much better when you're born with it, or you earn it -- not when you pay someone to carve an approximation of it onto your body or face. And few people I've seen look better after being nipped and tucked. I glance around the streets of Buenos Aires, one of the nip-and-tuck capitals of the world, and see so many faces that have been pulled within an inch of their lives, and I wonder how much more beautiful they'd be if they were allowed to age gracefully and naturally.

Liposuction may not leave one looking like an alien clinging for dear life to fleeting youth, but just the very idea of someone sticking any kind of instrument into my body and sucking out fat cells makes me sweat. My friend, who is one of the most practical and pragmatic people I know, came up with a convincing argument why his decision is a sound one, and after he told me a bit more about his background (his parents were both bodybuilders, and he once was dumped by a guy for putting on weight), I stopped giving him my WTF look. He might not get the six pack he's always wanted, but for US$2,400 (in cold, hard Argentinian cash), he could finally have the flat stomach he craves.

As someone who was overweight until the age of 18, I know how exasperating the fight with flab can be. No matter how thin and toned I get, I'll always be the fat kid whose siblings used to call him names like "fat pig," "tightwad" (because of the way my clothes clinged to my husky form), and "leviathan," the one who couldn't get a date and the one who always was picked last for team sports (though that may have had as much to do with my general clumsiness and lack of coordination on the sports field). Today, whenever someone compliments me, or when I get hit on in a club or bar, I still look around to make sure that the person is actually talking to me.

When I look in the mirror, like most people, I don't love everything I see. But through a lot of hard work -- almost-daily runs, weight training, pilates -- I'm probably in the best physical shape of my life. When someone tells me that I have a great body, I still think they might be pulling my leg, but I do know that whatever it is they see when they look at me is 100 per cent real.

No matter what the results of my friend's date with lipo turn out to be, I doubt that it'll ever end up on my own to-do list. Neither will plastic surgery of any kind. When I tell people my age and their jaws drop and they tell me that I look like I'm still in my 20s, I'm flattered and grateful that, it's all due to exercise, genetics, good luck, and Kiehl's. Ponce de Léon never did find the fountain of youth, and neither will anyone who thinks they will stay forever young by going under the knife. I'll skip all that and continue to age -- or not age -- gracefully and naturally.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Why my mom should have suspected that her 10 year old might be gay

Of all the reactions to my coming out of the closet at 23, the one that sticks out most in my mind is my sister's.

"You know you're completely taking me by surprise," she told me over the phone. "I had no idea."

"Seriously?" I asked, wishing I could see her face for a sign that she wasn't screwing with me. Months later, when I broke the news to my mom, she had a similar reaction. To this day, I'm not sure whether they were being honest or ironic.

Sure, growing up, there had been a few red herrings. From third-grader to tween, I'd had crushes on female classmates (all of them out of my league -- maybe subconsciously I was shooting for the unattainable so that I'd never actually have to date one of them), and at the eighth-grade banquet, I spent all night sobbing into my punch after Kim LaRose turned down my invitation to dance. But now that I think back on it, would a heterosexual-in-training really have behaved like such a drama queen? Even without shoulder pads, I could have taught Alexis Carrington and Erica Kane a thing or two about over the top.

No, I never walked around in mom's high heels, admired her dresses or experimented with her make up -- but young gay boys generally only do that on TV and in the movies. Though my interest in charts, the Oscars and The Golden Girls wouldn't flourish until my teens, and the Lifetime years were more than a decade away, there were early signs. I couldn't be bothered with fast cars, playing catch with my brother, Pete Rose or Farrah Fawcett. Which brings me to the first of six hints that I'd grow up preferring Ken to Barbie (though I never played with dolls).

I was a Jaclyn Smith kind of guy. Boys wanted Farrah, girls wanted to be her -- or at least accurately simulate her flip hairdo. In a sense, she was on everyone's lust list but mine. I had my eye on another one of Charlie's Angels. Sweet, refined and beautiful in a wholesome kind of way, Jaclyn Smith was more my style. Unlike Farrah and Suzanne Somers, the top-two TV bombshells of the age, she never sold sexy. She was the kind of lady whose hand you could spend all night holding and never have to go farther than first base.

Actresses rocked my world. Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood and Sylvester Stallone were the major movie stars of the day, but I was too focused on the queens of the small-screen -- Smith, Lindsay Wagner, Victoria Principal and Jane Seymour at night, Bewitched's Elizabeth Montgomery and I Dream of Jeannie's Barbara Eden in afternoon reruns --  to care about the tough guys. I don't remember much about the moment when I found out that Elvis Presley died (other than that I was watching Star Trek), but I vividly remember every single emotion that swept over me when I heard the news that Grace Kelly and Natalie Wood had passed away.

I was obsessed with beauty pageants. I mean anything I could get my eyes on: Miss America, Miss U.S.A., Miss Universe. To me, Miss America host Bert Parks had the best job in the world. I still remember prancing around the living room as if I'd just won the lottery when Janelle Commissiong, Miss Trinidad and Tobago, was crowned the first black Miss Universe in 1977. By the time Vanessa Williams became the first black Miss America in 1984, I'd lost interest, but beauty pageants and I had a good run. When I came out, one of the first things my mom said was, "But you loved beauty pageants so much as a kid!" Exactly.

I hearted Olivia Newton-John. Unlike many gay men of a certain age, it had nothing to do with Grease. In fact, to this day, I've never even seen the musical. My love of ONJ began in 1979, just as she was shedding her good-girl image with "A Little More Love." It was love at 25th sight, though I was more enamoured with her music than her sex appeal. I never got into Judy Garland (too tragic), or Barbra Streisand (too Broadway), or Madonna (too raunchy), and I was a bit late to the Kylie Minogue party, but to this day, my heart skips a beat whenever I hear "Xanadu."

I was addicted to soaps. Most people around my age remember being sucked into daytime soaps at some point as a kid because their mothers were hooked. I was no different. Some of my fondest pre-kindergarten memories are watching Love of Life, Search for Tomorrow (I'll never forget the sight of a young Morgan Fairchild, who played Jennifer on SFT, throwing herself through that glass door) and The Young and the Restless with mom every weekday afternoon. Nothing too out of the ordinary there. But surely mom should have suspected that she had a future diva on her hands when I insisted on missing the first day of third grade because I had to see the resolution of All My Children's Friday cliffhanger. If only we'd had VCRs, TiVo or YouTube back then!

I was a suburban metrosexual. Other boys my age were going to the Boy's Club, or playing football and baseball, but I couldn't be bothered with such manly pursuits because dirt and sweat repulsed me. I was more concerned with the crease in my straight-leg Toughskins (boot-cut and bell-bottom hems made me look fatter), and spent too much time frowning at myself in the bathroom mirror, warding off pimples, and patting down my hair, trying to get the Afro just right. I'm no longer quite so high-maintenance, but I'm hooked on Kiehl's, and I never go to bed without flossing.

Mom, if you're reading this, don't despair. Your gaydar may have been out of service for years, but at least you raised a son who's well-groomed and loves women.

"I love you": The saddest words in pop?

Love and happiness.
They are, as Al Green sang in his 1972 classic of that name, "something that can make you do wrong, make you do right." They also seem to bring out the best and the worst in us -- in life and in song. Maybe it's because both joy and romantic love are generally fleeting, and we know it.

Sort of like fantastic weather. The other day, I was listening to "Blue Skies," the first single from Jamiroquai's excellent new album, "Rock Dust Light Star," when it dawned on me: Like love and happiness, blue skies bring out the worst in singers and songwriters. Willie Nelson crooned Irving Berlin's gorgeous "Blue Skies" (same name, different song) on his 1978 album "Stardust" as if his emotional forecast actually called for pain. Listening to Jamiroquai's Jay Kay singing about sunny weather ahead on his "Blue Skies," I almost expect a thunderstorm to break out mid-song.

It's unclear what's got him sounding so, well, blue, but I'd venture to blame it on love. Songs about love come in every kind of mood, but those three words, "I love you," seem to bring so many singers and songwriters down. Mary J. Blige, Sarah McLachlan and Faith Evans used them for the title of songs; Stevie Wonder just called to say I love you. But if love is such a beautiful thing, why don't any of them sound particularly overjoyed singing about it. (Martina BcBride, in an interesting break from pop tradition, sang her biggest hit, 1999's "I Love You," like she really meant it.) No wonder Annie Lennox declared on her 1994 hit "No More I Love You's."

I recently went through a '70s love song phase, and as I backtracked to Phoebe Snow's "Poetry Man," Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You" and Karen Carpenter's "All Because of You," I couldn't help but notice that as gorgeously sung and poetic as these songs were (and are), none of these women in love sounded like they were in a much better emotional space than Dorothy Moore on her tear-jerking 1976 hit "Misty Blue."

But that's the thing about love. When it sneaks up on you, fear and insecurity are never far behind, and heartbreak lurks in the shadows. It's the most complex state of being, and if it doesn't end in tears, singing about it is almost certain to bring on the rain.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Where's my stray cat strut?

I've always hated cats, but there was a time when I could say, with a completely straight face that I had cat class and I had cat style. It was an indisputable fact: I was cool for cats. Like those cat people in the David Bowie song, I spent my free time putting out fire with gasoline. No wonder he and I got along so well.

If the scary cat references haven't given me away ("Dog Days Are Here," according to Florence + the Machine, but not for me), let me spell it out for you: I'm no longer the crazy cat I used to be. MC Skat Cat has got everything on me. I'm officially not cool for cats.

Moving right along from the cat thing (which is either a sign that I've done lost my mind, or I'm turning into a lesbian cliché)...

It's been exactly three weeks since my return to Buenos Aires from Australia, and I'm still having a hard time getting back into the social groove. I've been more prolific with my writing than I've been in months (though I don't spend nearly enough time updating this blog), and I've been ridiculously dedicated to my running, Pilates and workout routine, skipping only one day of intense physical activity since my return.

What I'm missing on a near-daily basis, though, is social activity. I've met three friends for brunch, two for dinner, and I ventured out for drinks with a few of the guys last Friday night (which thankfully, did not end up like Katy Perry's song of the same name), but I've otherwise been in reclusive mode. I'm not sure if it's just a phase, if my age is finally catching up with me, or if mentally, I'm still stuck in Melbourne and getting too chummy with BA might snap me out of it.

I'm doing the MSN Messenger thing a bit more than I had been in Australia because that's what folks do here in BA. The conversations are still not particularly interesting, and I haven't gotten any better at coming up with excuses why I can't meet up for drinks later that I'd believe if someone were using them on me. I think some of the guys are catching on, and they've stopped writing. If only one of them were named Lucas -- I could never resist a Lucas!

The good news is that my best friend in New York City, Lori, is finally on MSN Messenger, so we can talk everyday in real time. Still, I know that I can only hide out in my apartment for so long. Eventually, I'm going to have to go out into the BA nightlife again. I'm plotting my return to Melbourne for February or March, so I've got a few months left to enjoy BA -- or not. I'd rather enjoy, and although I've been writing non-stop for the various blogging networks to which I contribute, I'm itching to add some new outrageous personal stories to my collection.

I do have one new one for which I didn't even have to leave my couch. Last night my friend Rob, whom I met last year through this blog, went to a Halloween party at Palacio nearly a week after the fact (Halloween), and he was approached by a guy from the U.S. who said to him, "Oh my God, are you Jeremy? Do you write a blog?" It gets better: This guy is the roommate of a friend of mine named Roberto (no relation to Rob), and he doesn't even know it. Hopefully, I'll get to meet him eventually and thank him for reading me. I'm still in awe -- and extremely grateful -- that anyone does.

But first, I'll need to snap out of this reclusive thing and start getting out more. All work and no play makes Jeremy kind of a dull boy -- and gives him precious little to write about by way of personal experiences -- but at least I'm probably in the best physical shape of my life. And after spending a small fortune in Australia, my current hermit-like existence has been good to my bank account.

My friend Felix, whom I met at a birthday party I threw for my then-BFF Shane four years ago, shortly after I moved BA, was supposed to arrive today from Atlanta, but he was flying stand-by and didn't make it onto the plane. So who knows when he'll get here? I was hoping that he would help pull me up out of my BA malaise. Maybe he will. Or maybe I'm beyond hope. Just in case I am, I've got the rest of the fourth season of How I Met You Mother ready to go.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why I'm hooked on "How I Met Your Mother"

Goodbye (for now), Golden Girls. We had a long run. Sex and the City, Absolutely Fabulous, Lucille Ball: Thanks for the memories. I'll be back. For sure.

Right now, a new TV obsession has grabbed my undivided attention and refuses let go. I'm not sure what took me so long. It's been on the air forever -- currently in its sixth season -- and my friend Cara has been raving about it for nearly as long. What am I going on and on about? How I Met Your Mother.

Now I'd seen the show before this past weekend. I'd watched several episodes on international flights this year, and I even caught one or two on TV when I was in Melbourne. But since it doesn't air in Buenos Aires -- at least not to my knowledge -- I'd never become a regular viewer. Then a couple of weeks ago, while I was still in Melbourne, I accidentally knocked my laptop to the ground.


Luckily for me, my friend Marcus is an IT god. After I spent a night tossing and turning and worrying about the future of my poor beloved laptop (though not before I'd enjoyed a memorable night out on the town), Marcus came to my rescue. He rebuilt my hard drive, made it better and faster, and also copied seasons 1 to 3 of Mother, along with several other shows (including five seasons of Doctor Who), to my desktop.

I don't know why he thought I might enjoy the show. We talked about a lot of things while I was in Melbourne, but if my memory is serving me well, Mother wasn't one of them. Maybe I said something about how much I love sitcoms that are based in New York City. Or mabye I told him that I'd much rather spend a lazy afternoon watching half-hour sitcom blocks than devote one hour to some high-concept drama with a convoluted plot. Whatever his reason, I'm glad he did it.

The names of the characters still don't roll off my tongue, but they're starting to feel a little bit like family. This weekend, in lieu of going out, I watched season one, episodes 1 to 18, and I sort of can't believe I'm taking a break to write this. You see, Ted just almost slept with Robin, his long-time crush, after lying to her that he'd broken up with Victoria, only to have Victoria call from Germany while he was in the bathroom with Robin's phone. (He had accidentally left his phone in Robin's living room, and Robin answered it). It sounds kind of, um, convoluted, but it was executed smoothly with minimal fuss. And I love a good cliffhanger!

I'll get back to them soon. But first, let me explain why I've fallen so head over heels for Mother.

I don't have to hate the stars because they're too beautiful. Most people knew Neil Patrick Harris (Barney) and Alyson Hannigan (Lily) before How I Met Your Mother, from Doogie Howser, M.D. (Harris), and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the American Pie films (Hannigan). The other three leads I'd never seen before Mother. All are solid performers, with good comic timing, and they're all attractive. But not distractingly so, in a way that's likely to make us mortal viewers feel resentful. It's hard to imagine any of them growing up to be Jennifer Aniston.

It's a solid ensemble. That's not to say that everyone in the cast is created equally. There's a concept-dictated focus on Ted. And Harris gets the Emmy nominations and the bulk of the press. But why shouldn't he? He's freaking Doogie Howser! Though Robin occasionally drives me bonkers with her bitchiness (which the actress bravely doesn't always play for laughs), I enjoy watching the show because of all the characters/actors. The show would suffer without any one of them, which is the mark of a great ensemble. With characters/actors this entertaining, I've even stopped wondering about the identity of the titular "mother"?

It's so gay. When did TV comedies become so gay? The easy answer would be Will & Grace, or maybe even Sex and the City, but since the days of Friends and Frasier, sitcoms have been featuring male leads who often skew equally masculine and feminine and just as often find themselves the butt of gay jokes. Consider, for a moment, Two and a Half MenScrubs, The New Adventures of Old Christine. If you're a slouchy guy married to a hot girl, or if you're a straight guy who easily could be mistaken for a gay one, you can be the typical sitcom male.

It's great escapism. Friends, the vintage sitcom that Mother most resembles, never managed to nail single life and dating in New York City, and neither does Mother. The guys and girls that come in and out of the single characters' lives are too attractive, well-groomed, well-dressed and well-educated, and anyone who has lived in the Apple knows that one inevitably kisses as many frogs as princes there. That's just the way it is. And of course, the apartments are too nice and too big. But if I wanted to see people living in shoe boxes and kissing sketchy guys, I'd go back to New York -- or stay right here in BA. When I turn on the TV, I want to see attractive people (but not too attractive -- see No. 1) living in beautiful homes with unrealistically huge bathrooms.

Neil Patrick Harris. I think the guy who plays Marshall is just as deserving of Emmy's attention (for proof, check out his dance routine in the season 1 episode where he jumps out of the bathroom window and goes to the VIP club), but the Mother-launched NPH revival touches me because it proves that 1) Child TV stars can become adult TV stars, and 2) A gay actor can play a metrosexual womanizer as convincingly as a straight actor can sell the sex in homosexual. May his career live long and prosper for totally side-stepping typecasting.

And may Mother, like Friends, survive to its 10th season and some day earn the right to be called, as NPH's Barney would say, "Legendary!"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Did I shower, shave and log on just for this?

I'm still not sure how or why Jorgé entered my life. One day I was on my laptop minding my own business, when suddenly, his name popped up in my MSN Messenger. Soon after, I was drowning in waves of IMs from this guy back home in Buenos Aires whom I'd never met. He wrote to me practically every time I logged on, as soon as I logged on, while I was in Australia, which wasn't often, as Australians tend not to be as Messenger- and Facebook-focused as Argentines and Yankees (at least not the ones I met).

Thank God, the 14-hour time difference meant that occasionally, Jorgé probably was asleep when I was online. But if the timing was right, there he was, requesting my undivided attention. Sometimes I responded, but usually, I pretended not to be around.

He was persistent and consistent, that's for sure, but I was kind of moved by how polite he was. He said he wanted to meet me when I returned to BA from Australia, and I played along because A) I have a hard time saying no, and B) Because a good friend once told me never to penalize someone for being interested in you.

So what that he never really had anything to say, and his beso emoticon (crazy red lips that looked like they were fashioned after Lisa Rinna's pre-reduction pucker) were a little bit creepy? I really had no intention of meeting him anyway. He was cute but not really my type (too groomed and kind of short), and I'm so over meeting up with complete strangers and feigning interest over Sprite Zero. I figured that eventually he'd sense my lack of enthusiasm and move on.

No such luck. Jorgé wasn't going anywhere. I'm not sure what got into him yesterday. Maybe he was drunk, unbelievably horny, or just ready to show his true colors. Out of the blue, this guy who, those scary red lips aside, had never floated a single sexual innuendo by me, finally went all to way and sent me an R-rated message.

"Activo o pasivo?" (Top or bottom?)

That's always been my second-least favorite question (and one I've only been asked by Argentine guys), and posing it pretty much guarantees that you'll never find out, but I was slightly bored and looking for a little bit of trouble.

"No 'Hola, Como estas?'" I responded, forgetting that sarcasm doesn't play too well here in Argentina, and it doesn't quite translate in Spanish.

"Bien. Vos?" he responded, totally clueless.

I decided that our virtual "friendship" had run its course and didn't respond, but Jorgé wasn't going to go quietly. He then began sending a series of images of naked guys going at it and one of what I presumed was his own wide-open anus. I wasn't sure what he was getting at or what he was trying to accomplish.

"Te gusta ver el porno?" he asked. (Do you like porn?)

Well, since you asked, not really. But I maintained my vow of silence. I considered blocking him, but I'm trying to be nicer, not so much the grumpy old man I'm slowly turning out to be. Anyway, without guys like him, I'd have so much less to write about. Eventually, he got the message and went away. I know he'll be back. Maybe in a few months, maybe in a few weeks, maybe in a few days, maybe in a few hours, maybe before I finish writing this post. Guys in BA always come back.

Welcome home.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The end of the affair?

I'm back in Buenos Aires after six weeks in Australia, and once again, I'm doing that thing I do where I idealize a vacation way too hard immediately after the fact. It's exactly what happens when a beautiful romance ends too soon. Never mind that your now-perfect ex snored, dropped crumbs all over the apartment and pissed on the toilet seat every single time. Suddenly, he's the best man in the world.

This time, though, I think that my idealized recollections are pretty dead accurate. Yes, a few nutcases entered my orbit while I was in Melbourne, and Sydney was no better the second time around, but my love of Melbourne is strong and undying. It's Saturday night in Buenos Aires, and I have no great urge to go out, unless it's to the Peel (which is in Melbourne). Sunday is supposed to be one of the most beautiful days in the history of weather, and all I can think about is Windsor Castle (natch, in Melbourne!).

Yeah, I've got it bad.

As usual, the best, most memorable parts of my time in Melbourne were the beginning and the end. The first cut is the deepest, and who could forget their first brush with any great city, or love, when everything is new, and it's all there for you to explore and conquer? Melbourne was one of the few times in my life when I plopped myself from the future and allowed myself to be in the moment, if not fully so, almost. I realized that I was having an important experience as I was having it. Normally, that realization kicks in hot on the heels of hindsight.

The middle part of the trip was real life. Once I got those pesky must-see sights out of the way (and as in BA, there aren't too many in Melbourne, thank God), I lived the way I live in Buenos Aires. I slept, I wrote, I ran, I watched TV, I drank, I ate, and, well, you know what else. The "what else" aside, this doesn't necessarily make for non-stop compelling stories, but in some ways, it was the most satisfying part of my time in Melbourne. There was still a lot to discover, but as I finally more or less had my bearings (I'd be discovering shortcuts from point A to point B until my moment of departure), everything wasn't a total confounding mystery.

Then there was the end. I hate this part. But I love it, too. I hate it because I know the fantastic voyage will soon be over (unless the voyage is not so fantastic, which does happen from time to time). I love it because once you no longer walk and talk like a tourist, the crazy experiences and wild characters that make any vacation truly memorable come pouring in. This was my final week and a half in Melbourne. Most of it is not fit to detail on a family blog (though Tyler, who provided what were perhaps my most X-rated few hours in Melbourne, ironically lived in a house that looked like it was plucked off of Sesame Street), but let's just say that the people who made the biggest impression on me in Melbourne, the ones with whom I expect to keep in touch and whom I would like to see again someday, sooner rather than later, are the ones I met in my first and final weeks.

Though I know better than to fall too hard for anyone I meet when I'm thousands of miles away from home, I'm a hopeless romantic who can't resist a foreign affair worth writing about. I spent four of my final five nights in Melbourne with someone I met six days before I left. I was already in love with Melbourne before he and I met, but I wonder how my final impression of the city would have differed if he'd never crossed my path on that Thursday night. Or if he'd never sent me that titillating must-reply-to-this-immediately text message at 8.30 the following morning.

I've travelled extensively on my own, as there are few people who share my vacation ethic (activities and sightseeing are okay, if you're into that sort of thing, which I'm sort of not, but it's the people you encounter who make a city), so I'm good without a wingman. Apparently, I'm in the minority here. When I told people that I was travelling alone, some reacted with surprise, some with horror, some with pity. Maybe he doesn't have any friends, they seemed to be thinking. Only a few seemed to be truly impressed. I'm single and independent (some would say too much so -- single and independent), and I live most of my everyday life alone (by my own design), so it's not so much of a stretch for me to travel alone (by my own design), too.

Spending four out of five nights with someone is, however, a huge stretch. It was particularly challenging because it's been years -- a decade, to be exact -- since I've been in a relationship that was serious enough to warrant my spending two consecutive nights with someone. Sleeping single in a double bed is a way of life, my life. I'm already a hopeless, frequently sleepless insomniac who talks, vibrates and sniffles while falling in and out of slumber. Who needs someone around to witness all of those digusting noises?

I'm always a little relieved when a one-nighter hits the road before dawn, and when he doesn't, I normally wouldn't even entertain the notion of entertaining him for a second consecutive night. But when you meet a local whom you deeply dig, why not go back for seconds -- and thirds and fourths? It's fun, you know there's an expiration date, it makes you feel even more connected to the place, and, well, it's fun?

Plus, I'll always remember exactly what I did my last few nights in Melbourne. I'll never know what my final opinion of the city would have been if I'd spent those nights differently. As previously documented right here on this blog, my opinion of Melbourne was already right up there. Maybe it would have climbed even higher had I gone out and lived it up, added a few more outrageous tales to the ones I'd already collected. A part of me regrets not squeezing in that final Monday night at the Prince of Wales, but maybe by quitting while I was way ahead, I spared myself the possible misfortune of having some hideous encounter that forever would have marred my impression of Melbourne. And I never might have discovered that the guy who dared to send me that crazy text was so f***ing cool. He introduced me to Family Guy, too. Cool show.

I'm happy with the way things turned out. I know this overly romanticized memory of my vacation won't last, and that's okay. For now, I'll just enjoy the afterglow of a holiday home run and hope for another chance at bat in the near future. Not that those football- and horseracing-obsessed Aussies would really get that baseball reference, but I love them anyway.

Next time I'm down under, schooners of Pure Blonde are on me.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Four reasons why I prefer Melbourne to Sydney

The average tourist doesn't know what he/she is missing. When visitors come from the U.S.A. to Australia, they generally pounce on Sydney, spreading so much hype about Oz's unofficial epicenter. When I told people I was planning a month-long adventure down under, with an emphasis on Sydney, those who'd been to the city told me I'd fall fast and furiously in love so overpowering that I'd want to stay for longer than a month, if not forever.

But what do they know? I've never been quite in sync with popular opinion when it comes to cities. Paris, arguably the most overrated city on the planet, bores me. I prefer Madrid to Barcelona, Sao Paulo to Rio, Munich to Berlin. And how I despise Florence! Once again, I'm challenging popular opinion by declaring Melbourne the far superior Australian metropolis, so much so that four days in it was not enough. Neither were two weeks. When I depart on October 13, I will have spent a total of five weeks falling deeper and deeper for its charms.

The weather can be capricious, and it's been more often cloudy and/or rainy than sunny, but London is my favorite city in the world, so clearly sunshine is not my priority.

My friend Lori, via her colorist, just made the perfect comparison of the two not-so-twin cities: "I talked to Bryan my colorist about it on Saturday, and he says Sydney is the lifestyle (i.e. beach, chill-out) city; think Orange County, Calif. Explains why you don't love it. Meanwhile, he says Melbourne is very European -- which explains why you love it."

Here are four more reasons.

Melbourne's got soul.
Consider "Ain't That a Shame," a 1955 hit co-written by Fats Domino and later turned into a No. 1 pop single by Pat Boone, who, laughably, wanted to retitle it "Isn't That a Shame" in order to appeal to a larger (i.e. Caucasian) audience. Wouldn't that have been the shame? Boone's version is white, clean and neat, so perfect for mainstream consumption that at the time of its release, it overshadowed Domino's version on the charts. It's Sydney. Domino's rendition is darker and grittier. It may not be as pretty on the outside, but there are far more layers underneath. It's the version people with good taste in music think of when they think of the song today. That's Melbourne. It may not grab you as immediately as Sydney (though it did me), but it leaves more of a trace.

Melbourne boys are hotter.
When Marcus compared Sydney's Los Angeles to Melbourne's New York City, he was talking about the overall feel of the two cities, and he nailed it. But that comparison would also apply to the guys in both cities. The boys of summer in Sydney are bronzed, polished, styled to within an inch of their work- and image-obsessed lives. They're a dime a dozen, and with one tall, blond exception, I honestly can't recall a single one I saw the entire seven days I was there. That's so L.A. There's definitely the overly bronzed, overly polished, overly styled element to the Melbourne boy scene, but for someone like me, who likes his lovers artsier, messier, with a bit more rock & roll, Melbourne delivers. Just like NewYork City.

Melbourne looks cooler.
Take away the Opera House, which is far more spectacular in photos than in reality, and the harbours, and Sydney is like any other city. Well, actually, like five or six other cities. It becomes wholly generic. Melbourne doesn't have that one landmark to reel visitors in, but look around. There's beauty everywhere -- in all the glass facades and glass balconies, in the various light displays that break the night with color, in the undulating terrain, which makes it challenging for runners but won't leave pedestrians as breathless as Sydney's frustratingly steep inclines. Melbourne is that stunningly beautiful girl who's still stunningly beautiful without a stitch of make up and nary a nip nor a tuck.

Kylie Minogue
Yes, the lady is from Melbourne. Could it get any better than that? And to quote la Kylie on Aphrodite's closing track, can't beat the feeling of strolling through St. Kilda (my adopted neighborhood), or Fitzroy, or down Chapel Street, or Hardware Lane. At least not with anything in Sydney. So why bother trying?