Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Malcolm* was cute, and he seemed like a nice enough guy. He just happened to catch me at the wrong time -- 2.30pm on a Tuesday, when the last thing I wanted was love in the afternoon.

What I was looking for was to kill a few hours in Manila between my late 2pm check-out from Antel Spa Suites and my 11.15 flight back to Bangkok. So when he messaged me on Tuesday morning asking to meet up, after a weekend and a day spent avoiding him, I finally relented.

We arranged to meet at 2.30 at the Starbucks in Ortigas Center. What was the worst thing that could happen? He might be a total jerk, but I'd still get to see another part of the city. I arrived at the appointed meeting spot on time, and he was waiting for me outside of Starbucks. We shook hands, and he asked if we could go to his car and talk. Why? Yes, I was wondering that, too. He said his cousin was inside Starbucks, and he was trying not to be seen.

Oh, just what I needed -- another closet case. But that's not the only reason I was reluctant at first. I kept hearing voices in my head. They belonged to my friends, and they were repeating those horror stories about Americans being kidnapped in the Philippines and held for ransom. I looked at Malcolm. What could this baby-faced guy wearing braces possibly do to me? I sat down but kept the car door slightly ajar.

We engaged in the perfunctory small talk. He told me all about Ortigas and the nearby attractions I'd missed by spending the last four days exclusively in Makati and Malate. He asked me about my writing and told me he'd like to read my blog sometime. I wrote down the name and the URL on a piece of paper and handed it to him. He took it from me and reached into his bag and pulled out three stacks of yellow and green pens. The yellow ones read "Prozac," and the green ones read "Cialis." (Foreshadowing!)

"These are for you," he said. "You're a journalist, so maybe you will need them."

Random, but cute. I shut the car door. After a bit more chit chat and a moment of uncomfortable silence, he got down to business. "You know, there are a lot of hotels and motels around here." He gave me that look. I knew exactly what he was getting at.

"Well, I just checked out of a hotel, so the last thing I want to do right now is go back to one," I said with a chuckle. "And it's so nice out today." Indeed, it was the first day since my arrival in Manila that the sun had bothered to come out. I wanted to enjoy it while it lasted.

He seemed to catch my drift, but then again...

"Ah, okay." Pause... "So... do you want to have some fun?"

I struggled to hold in my laughter. I asked him why every guy in Manila talks like that. What was this obsession with "playing" and "having fun." I didn't have a better euphemism for "Wanna fuck?" Still, I would have preferred one that didn't make me think of slides and monkey bars, especially from guys who looked like they were only a few years removed from them.

"Do you want to have some fun?" he asked again, apparently, hoping for a different outcome.

This time I levelled with him. "Actually, no. I only have a few hours left in Manila, and I want to do a little bit of shopping and get something to eat afterwards." I felt kind of like a tease, but it's not like I'd promised him a rose garden, or a roll in one. (Ouch! That would hurt!) I was hoping he wouldn't want to tag along. How awkward would that be?

He was disappointed, but he was such a good sport that I almost considered backtracking. He asked what I'd like to do then. He offered to take me to Robinsons Galleria, one of the nearby supermalls, but he couldn't go inside with me because he has a lot of friends who work there, and they'd ask questions.

"What questions?" I played dumb.

"Like who you are. They know all of my friends, so if they see me with a guy they don't know..."

Yeah, they'd put two and two together. I understood. I've been around my share of closet queens, so this road we were headed down was an all-too-familiar one. He started to back out of the parking space.

"I'm really sorry," he said. "The reason I'm being like this is because I took some Cialis, and I'm really horny and really hard."

"What?" I asked. I'd heard him clearly, but I hadn't been expecting him to say that. I thought it was kind of presumptuous of him to think that I would be a guaranteed score. And furthermore, wasn't he a bit young to be popping Cialis? At least the pens finally made sense.

"Do you have erectile dysfunction? At your age?" I couldn't believe what I was asking him.

"No," he said with a laugh and explained that he'd gotten the pills -- and presumably, the pens -- from a friend who's a pharmaceutical rep. I thought to myself that a nursing student in year one of the master's program should know better, but I held my tongue. I glanced in the vicinity of his crotch to see if there was any evidence -- exhibit E, for erection. Nothing.

"Are there side-effects?" I felt like we were filming an infomercial.

"Yeah, there are some. Like you get a headache. But I'm fine."

I've always wanted to try it myself, and I already had a slight headache. For a split second, I thought, this is my chance. But I wasn't in the mood for "fun," and I knew the libido enhancer would make me want it as much as Malcolm did. And speaking of libido enhancers, I kept thinking of the episode of True Blood in which Jason Stackhouse overdosed on V Juice and ended up critically rock hard in the ER. With my luck, that would be me!

"Well, if you decide later on that you'd like to meet up before your flight, give me a call," Malcolm said, interrupting my inner dialogue.


"Do you think you'll come back to Manila?"


"Cool. Next time you are in Manila, we'll have to go out one night for drinks."

And fun?

He didn't have to say it. After what I'd heard over the course of the last four days, I understood him perfectly.

*The name has been changed to protect the disappointed.

Monday, August 29, 2011


It's confession time again. Until recently, the only things I knew about Manila was that it's the capital of the Philippines, a country that used to be a United States commonwealth, and that Claire Danes, who filmed her 1999 film Brokedown Palace there, once called it a ghastly and weird city that smelled of cockroaches, with rats all over, no sewage system, and people who do not have anything -- no arms, no legs, no eyes.

Why anyone would take travel cues from Danes is beyond me. I trust the opinions of my Australian friends Marcus and Craig a lot more, and since both of them gave Manila rave reviews, suggesting that I check it out during my summer tour of Southeast Asia, I decided to give it a go. I'm glad I did, though I must admit, Manila might not be for everyone.

It has nothing to do with cockroaches, rats or armless, legless, eyeless people, none of which I've seen since my arrival. It rained for most of my first three days in Manila, which made sightseeing difficult. But in truth, in the Makati City area where my hotel is located and where I'd been advised to stay, there weren't so many sights to see. There were lots of five-star hotels, restaurants and malls, but for the most part, I could have been anywhere. The architecture was pretty nondescript, and some of the buildings were bordering on dreary and drab; others could use a good scrubbing and a fresh coat of paint.

Still, as I looked out at the view from my 14th-floor room at Antel Spa Suites by Best Western, I couldn't help but wish I had more than four days here. It certainly had nothing to do with my four-star living quarters. I've learned that four-star hotels in Asia are hit and miss -- usually rising or falling on the quality of the ablution chambers, for which my expectations can be unreasonably high -- and Antel was more miss than hit. The two-and-a-half-star bathroom gave the accommodations the distinct smell of mildew (Note to hotel owners: Shower curtains are done. It's time to replace them with glass doors that actually keep the water inside the tub), and the complimentary breakfast was neither as varied nor as tasty as it had been at my other hotels in Southeast Asia. Memo No. 2: Scrambled eggs should never be served at room temperature!

But why complain? I was too happy to be there -- in Manila, if not exactly Antel Spa Suites. Though my first impression of the city had not been so great since I arrived during peak rush-hour traffic (weekdays from 5 to 9pm), over the course of the next few days, I noticed a lot more positives than negatives. The essence of Manila's appeal, though, remains elusive, a true mystery.

Buenos Aires has romantic faded glamour. London has culture. Rome has history. Milan has style. Melbourne has the intersection of urbane and bohemian. Bangkok has energy. New York City has variety. That's why I love them. But what, in a nutshell, does Manila have? It's hard for me to say, but that doesn't mean its good qualities aren't somewhat quantifiable. The refreshing dearth of European and Australian tourists makes it sort of the Bogotá, Colombia, of Southeast Asia. And despite the traffic jams and incessant horn honking that I convinced myself was more safety precaution than cranky impatience in action, there is less noise and pollution than in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur due to fewer motorcycles and the absence of lumbering city buses. Instead, multiple-passenger jeeps carry people from point A to point B. Hop on and off for only 8 pesos a trip (or roughly $.20).

And then there are the people. Over the last two months, I've become accustomed to encountering kind and helpful locals all over Southeast Asia, but in Manila, they've turned hospitality into a near-art form. Once I got over my initial suspicion that perhaps they were mocking me, I started to look forward to every encounter with a local and even felt slightly disappointed when they weren't inappropriately over-the-top.

Is it necessary to shout your greeting to incoming customers -- "HOW ARE YOU TODAY?!!!" -- so that everyone in 7-11 can hear you? Probably not. I felt like I was in one of those sitcoms where everyone talks louder to people who are hard of hearing or can't understand English. Eventually, though, I started to give it right back to them, and I made surprising discovery: Being campy-friendly is worth the effort because it actually improves your mood. Note to self: The next time I'm in New York City, share this tidbit with all of those sour-faced drones who work with the public.

I'm still not sure what went down at Bed my first night in town, but judging from the staff's reaction when I returned the following night, it must have been something good. Everywhere I went, they greeted and high-fived me like I was a hero returning from war. After having an onstage flashback, I asked one guy if I had gone up there at any point during the previous evening. "Yes," he said. "But don't worry. You were very cute and funny." Welcome home, I thought to myself.

I know that I've only touched the surface of Metro Manila, and it will take a lot more than four days to see everything that this fascinating area has to offer. Next time (and yes, there will be one), I want to explore Quezon City as well as some of the beaches that the locals keep recommending. My friends in the U.S. have warned me about the potential danger that awaits American citizens in the Philippines (robbery, kidnapping, possible death), but I'm not worried.

Considering that my friends on the U.S. East Coast had to deal with both an earthquake and Hurricane Irene last week, is anyplace "safe"? My Manila motto: Live life to the fullest, remember that all sales are final, and down every tequila shot like it could be your last.


Uh oh! It had to happen sooner or later. No urban adventure would be complete without at least one asshole encounter. Thanks to Nelson, Manila didn't disappoint.

Nelson and I met during my first night in Manila. I hung out with him and two of his friends in Bed, and the next day, after we'd befriended each other on Facebook, he asked if we could get together again that evening.

He came over around 9pm (tediously early -- one hour before I was expecting him), and if that wasn't annoying enough, when I went to the bathroom, I returned to find him stripping down to his underwear. Ugh!

"Is it okay if I get comfortable?" he asked.

"Knock yourself out," I said, hoping that he wasn't counting on gettin' some as well. At least he kept his shirt on.

I was thoroughly turned off, wondering how someone could go from charming to charmless at the drop of a pair of trousers. But I played it cool, pretending like it was perfectly normal for this 21-year-old guy to be parading around my hotel room in his underwear and tried to focus on the TV. After about 15 minutes of channel surfing, I landed on a Cheryl Ladd TV movie from 1990 -- the year Nelson was born! The movie, some non-stop non-erotic cabaret called Lisa was terrible, but it did remind me how much I used to love Ladd, who almost distracted me from the awkward situation I was in.

After Lisa ended with a pool of blood, Nelson and I decided to go out to eat. I told him that I was probably going to meet up with Robby, the friend of my Australian friend whom I hadn't been able to contact the night before, at O Bar. Nelson, thank God, wouldn't be able to make it. He had to report to work at the Adidas store in the mall at 9am, and since he'd only gotten two hours of sleep the previous night and had been at work all day, right up to an hour before he came over, tonight he was going to play catch up.

"Do you want to play before we leave?" he asked.

"Play?" I asked, feigning cluelessness. I knew exactly what he meant, but I felt like I'd been transported back in time and place to the swings and see-saw at Highland's Elementary School in Kissimmee, Florida. I went limp and let him down, too -- gently, of course. No games tonight, but food sounds good. Let's get this over and done with.

We went to a restaurant close to the hotel, where the food was a lot better than the company. He'd seemed so much more interesting the night before, but then tequila makes just about everyone more appealing. After dinner, I paid the entire bill, noting that he didn't even bother to say, "Thank you." Then once we were outside, he did the totally expected: He asked for money for a taxi home. What was I supposed to do? Say, "Walk!"? I actually considered it, but I ended up biting my tongue and handing over 290 pesos (about $7). He hailed me a taxi and told the driver where to take me before getting one for himself.

The next day I was texting back and forth with Robby, and he asked me, "Do you have a friend named Jay? He's texting me."

I had no idea whom he was talking about, and neither did he. Robby didn't know the guy, and he wasn't sure how he'd gotten his phone number.

"Does he know me?

"Yes, he mentioned your full name," Robby responded. "He said he's your friend."

In the next text, he sent me Jay's email address, as if this was supposed to jog my memory. It did. OMG! It was Nelson. I went to Facebook to get more information, only to find that Nelson had deleted me from his list of friends.

WTF! I'm not sure whether he was offended by my refusal to "play" with him. Or if he was ashamed that he had to beg for money to take a taxi home. I also had no idea why he would refer to me as a "friend" after having dumped me from his Facebook. And how did he get Robby's number, in the first place? Clearly, there was something shady about this guy that went far beyond disrobing in the hotel room of a near-stranger.

I wasn't going to let this one go. I decided to send him a message: "Are you serious? You defriended me after I bought you dinner and gave you money to get home? Not cool, dude."

Kind of psycho, too. But frankly, in the general scheme of things, Nelson will be a blip on my radar, good fodder for my blog, but not much more. And it's not like I had any intention of seeing him again anyway. But in the words of my friend Karen, his reaction to rejection was truly "vomitous" -- and so 2011. Facebook as a social weapon strikes again!

Carlos and I never got as far as becoming Facebook buddies. I'm still not sure what to make of him. Apparently, he and I met in Bed, too, my first night in Manila. He called me by name as I exited the taxi that Nelson had hailed for me. He was standing across the street from O Bar, and he said he'd been waiting for me, which confused me more than the fact that he knew my name. But he was cute, so I decided to humor him and play along -- though not in the way that Nelson meant! Maybe he and Nelson were in cahoots, or perhaps that's just how guys in Manila talk, but eventually our conversation took an expected turn: "Do you want to play?"

When did "play" become a euphemism for sex? Did I blink and miss something?

For the second time in one night, I declined an invitation to the playground -- as well as Carlos's offer to give me a message, which, he insisted would be the best I ever had. I told him that I'm not a big fan of massages, and if I wanted to be felt up by a guy, I was pretty sure I could find someone taller who would do it for free.

There'd be no happy ending that night for Carlos (though he promised me one I'd never forget), and he walked away with his cock between his legs. His balls were officially out of my court, and something told me they wouldn't come bouncing back.

Games over!

UPDATE Nelson responded to my admonishment: "I am sorry My settings here change by someone..I will deactivate my account soon." I guess I can let this one slide, but the game is still over.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Hi, I'm Abraham. But you can call me Al.
Pietro was not my first love, but he was someone nearly as notable in my life and times: my first boyfriend. We met in New York City in the early '90s, when I was beginning my journalism career at People magazine, and he was an aspiring model from Italy looking for his big break. Pietro, whom I dated for only a month or two before we settled into a solid friendship, was almost perfect, if not yet almost famous -- sweet, affectionate and incredibly handsome. He was tall with olive skin and piercing green eyes, and he was always impeccably dressed.

If you overlooked the bathtub in the middle of the kitchen in his East Village apartment, there was pretty much no downside to dating Pietro -- except for his name. Not Pietro. I thought it was a beautiful name, and it suited him as perfectly as those eyes. If only he didn't insist that everyone call him Peter. He was so desperate to make it in New York that he wanted an American-sounding name to go along with his aspirations, so he switched from Pietro to Peter, which is sort of like Paulo becoming Paul. Nothing against Peters and Pauls. Both are perfectly fine names if you're born in the U.S.A. (Pietro, Paulo and Maria just wouldn't have had the same ring on the 1960's New York City folk scene as Peter, Paul and Mary), but why go there when Pietro and Paulo are so exotic and sexy?

At least Pietro -- whose death from a heart ailment several years later was one of the toughest blows of my entire life -- had the good sense to stay in the same name neighborhood when he was coming up with an Anglicized version of his name. (So did Per, a Swede I briefly dated in the mid-'90s who also went by Peter.) That's more than I can say for Emir and Ephraim, two students from Turkey whom I met in Bed last night. I was excited to talk to them because they reminded me how much I loved Istanbul when I visited last year, but I was disappointed to hear their sour take on Manila. They had nothing nice to say about the city I was slowly but surely coming to appreciate. To them, Manila was nothing to write home to Turkey about and Filipinos were even worse.

That didn't stop Emir and Ephraim from pandering to them, desperately trying to fit in, going so far as to change their names to make it easier on the Filipinos they met. When we started talking, Emir and Ephraim introduced themselves to me as Martín and Sam, respectively. I thought both names were highly unlikely, but after meeting a super-WASPy Brit in Bangkok with the surname Lopes two weeks ago, I knew that anything was possible. It wasn't until about 30 minutes into our conversation that Martín and Sam revealed their true identities.

"Of all the names to choose, why'd you settle on those?" I asked. I was completely perplexed. If I were going to trade Jeremy for something else, I'd at least shop around for something with a bit of pizazz. Nathan? Lucas? I couldn't understand why Emir would go for what must be the most common male name in Argentina, a place he'd never even been to. Or why he was adamant that it be pronounced the accented Spanish way -- Mar-TIN -- as opposed to the common English way -- MAR-tin?

I prefer the Spanish pronunciation myself, but wouldn't the locals have an easier time with Martin? Accents always seem to throw people when they're speaking English. Several months ago, I met an Irish guy in Sydney named Tomás who complained about people always getting his name wrong. (Come on, folks, how difficult can it be? Toe-MAS.) To Tomás's credit, he refuses to settle for Thomas, which would be like Sophia (so Italian!) letting Sophie (how British!) slide.

As for Sam, I couldn't believe that the cute dental student across from me (who did lose a few brownie points for his turned-up collar) wouldn't opt for something with a bit more flair. He didn't even look like a Sam. I would have guessed something hotter and swarthier, like Francisco or Ismail.

I don't understand why they went with the names they chose, but I can relate to their need to fit in in a strange land. For many years growing up, I went by Jerry instead of Jeremy, because I felt it would make my life easier. Coming from the Virgin Islands, which most kids my age had probably never heard of and certainly couldn't locate on a map, and living in Kissimmee, Florida, with my funny accent, I wanted to be like everyone else. Being Jeremy wasn't exactly like being named after fruit or your city of conception or birth (thank you, mom and dad, for not naming me Charlotte Amalie), but Jerry was much more Southern-style.

It wasn't until I was about 16 and working as a bag boy at Publix Supermarket that a colleague named Mike set me straight. "That sounds like a redneck name," Mike said to me when I told him that my name was Jeremy, but he could call me Jerry. "You shouldn't let anyone call you that."

And nobody has since -- though in Argentina, I did allow at least two guys I dated to call me Jeremias, but less to fit in and more because I think the Argentine version of Jeremy sounds pretty cool. I'd like to say that last night was similarly eye-opening for Martín and Sam, but I doubt it. When Ephraim gave me his phone number later on, I noticed that he didn't include his name. Identity crisis or oversight? I'm not sure, but I do know that if I end up calling that number, there's no way I'm asking to speak to Sam.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Photo by Heimo Schmidt
The other day I spoke about my lack of faith in fate and destiny, but after what went down yesterday, I'm thinking about rethinking my stance.

I could have sworn I saw destiny staring me in the face, sitting across the aisle from me in 24G on Kuwait Airways flight 411 from Bangkok to Manila. And contrary to popular belief, destiny wasn't a woman at all. He was a man, and he looked a little bit like Hugh Grant. I first saw him taking a nap in the waiting lounge outside Gate E3 at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. As I looked up from my laptop, I wondered how anyone could just plop down and go to sleep in the middle of a crowded terminal. Luckily for him, I saw no evidence of drool. But still.

I'd forgotten all about Hugh Grant/Sleeping Beauty when I boarded the plane and made my way to my exit-row seat until he sat down in 24G, right across the aisle from me. We pretended not to notice each other, and I focused on the puzzle page of Women's Weekly magazine. As far as I know, the only public napping during the three-hour flight to Manila was my own (oops, my apologies for drooling), but then again, I was feigning unawareness of the guy sitting across from me, so who knows what he was up to? (Well, I do, but he wasn't supposed to know that.)

After the plane landed and we disembarked, he'd completely slipped my mind once again, when boom, there he was -- in the line next to mine in customs. By the time I had made it through passport control, picked up my bag, withdrawn cash from the ATM and gotten a taxi, he was gone and more or less forgotten -- again.

The ride to my hotel was pure torture. Best Western Antel Spa Suites, which the taxi driver annoyingly kept calling "Best Eastern," wasn't very far from the airport, but the rush-hour traffic jam to the hotel in Makati City made what should have been at most a 30-minute trip at least one hour longer. I was starting to hate Manila, and by the time I arrived at my hotel, I had settled into my foulest mood of the last two months. My frown turned to a smile, accompanied by near-uncontrollable laughter, when I was greeted by the over-the-top friendliness of the staff in both the hotel and the 7-11 next door. Were these people for real? As the three 7-11 workers loudly wished me the best evening ever, I was sure they must have secretly been making fun of me.

I was pondering this as I walked into the hotel when whom should I run into in the lobby? Yes, that guy. How odd. Of all the hotels in Manila, why did he have to pick mine? Perhaps this was destiny in action. I considered the possibility. Maybe Hugh Grant and I were fated to meet and become best friends over the next four days. Why else would he keep popping up? My premonition was boosted further when I ran into him yet again on my way out later that night. He and his friend -- where'd he come from? -- got into the lift at the 12th floor or thereabouts. And wouldn't you know it? Hugh Grant wasn't British, after all -- unless he spoke flawless German.

I wondered if they were also going to the corner of Maria Orosa Street and Julio Nakpil Street, which, according to the Utopia website, is the epicenter of Manila's gay night life, Point Zero for the kings of queens. I considered not going at all when the concierge told me that it would probably be a 30-, 45-minute taxi ride from the hotel in Makati to that strip in that part of town called Malate. I was sure that with such similar names, they'd be right beside each other.

The cab driver concurred on the time frame, so I threw my hands up and decided to enjoy the ride. Fifteen minutes later, we were driving through a lively neighborhood, populated by shabbyish houses and revelers roaming from bar to bar. I told the driver to let me out there and walked to the entrance of O Bar, the place on the corner with the most cute guys milling about outside. I paid a cover charge of 250 Philippine pesos (about $6), which was good for three beers. I ordered my first one and took a seat outside to enjoy the nocturnal action.

A few sips later, a man carrying a bottle of tequila and several shot glasses asked if he could join me. I later found out that not only was I on the corner of Maria Orosa and Julio Nakpil, where I'd been intending to go all along, but my new drinking buddy was the owner of O Bar. He explained that although the area is to Manila what Silom is to Bangkok, there are actually only three gay bars there. The rest are more "gay-friendly."

He also told me that Robby, a famous local choreographer who'd promised to take me out in Manila but whom I hadn't been able to contact, comes there all the time, and he might be showing up that evening. Ten shots of tequila later, I probably wouldn't have noticed if he had.

The rest of the night is a bit of a blur. I went to a great club across the street from O Bar called Bed where, unlike Suvarnabhumi Airport, there weren't any comfortable napping spots, but I did meet some really cool people, including a local guy named Nelson who wanted to hang out again the next evening. I'm not really sure if I ran into Hugh Grant again between Bed and bed, but considering my state, I wouldn't have been so shocked if I'd woken up next to him.

If that's my destiny, who am I to fight fate?

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Although I'd like to think of myself as an overachiever, the best that I can be, let's face it: My gay sensibility needs work. Yes, I love soap operas, the Oscars, Lifetime, lists and rooms with a view (don't we all?), but try as I might, I just can't get into show tunes, Paris, Judy Garland or Liza with a Z.

I first realized that my gayness was somewhat lacking about a year and a half ago on the way out with a friend in Buenos Aires. He was griping about another friend and his alleged crimes against social and fashion etiquette. It was bad enough that our buddy was high-maintenance, but did he have to be so clueless, too? How dare he not know Chanel from Givenchy, or what Louboutins are?!

I nodded in agreement and held my tongue in shame. I didn't want to admit it, I didn't know how to admit it, but he wasn't the only one. Sure I knew that "Louboutins" was the name of a failed Jennifer Lopez single, the song she was lip-syncing when she fell on her ass while performing at the American Music Awards in 2009, but truth be told, not only do I have no idea how to say it (Lou-boo-TAHS?), but I wouldn't recognize a pair of them if they fell out of the sky and knocked me upside my head.

It's not that I'm sartorially challenged. Au contraire, I clean up pretty well, and nothing warms my heart and my torso like a soft John Varvatos sweater-shirt. But any metrosexual male would say the same thing. Gay or straight, we all love good grooming (though, in another strike against my gayness, aside from Kiehl's Facial Fuel, I couldn't care less about products) and a great sale on the men's floor at Sak's Fifth Avenue.

It's when I get to the women's department that my attention starts to waver and wander. I wish I could be the perfect "GBFF" (gay best friend forever, a concept and term coined on a recent episode of Hot in Cleveland), the guy who accompanies my gal pals on shopping trips, giving them sound tips on what not to wear. But the truth is, when it comes to womenswear, I'm as clueless as I am uninterested. It's probably why weddings bore me. Bridesmaid dresses may come in a variety of unfortunate colors, but to these eyes, bridal gowns all look the same.

While all my friends were tuning in to the recent royal wedding to see what everyone would wear, I couldn't be bothered. As many photos as I've seen on the covers of magazines from Australia, the UK and the U.S., I couldn't describe Kate Middleton's wedding dress if my life depended on it.

It's the same way on the red carpet. I cringe every time an Oscar nominee is asked what she's wearing. I love Joan Rivers, but I don't really care about her views on fashion -- or anyone else's for that matter. As much as I adore a good list (so gay -- as are italics for emphasis!... and exclamation points), I have zero interest in best-and-worst-dressed ones. If I were to get any kicks out of E!'s Fashion Police (another series that I've yet to check out on the Kardashian network), it probably would be because of Rivers' irreverence, the way she'll cut anyone down to size, regardless of where they fall on the A-to-Z list (ah, yes, another list), which, I suppose, couldn't be more gay of me.

When I think back on my childhood, and all the clues I dropped for my mom regarding my sexuality -- my obsession with Miss Universe, Charlie's Angels and Olivia Newton-John -- I suppose I can see how my lack of interest in what they were wearing might have thrown her. I recall our weekly trips to Colonial Plaza Mall and Fashion Square Mall in Orlando, Florida, and being bored to tears as I watched her scour the racks at Jordan Marsh, Belk Lindsey and Burdines, looking for the perfect fit. Though I relished the time spent hanging out with mom, I could never wait for the browsing to end.

Too bad mom didn't have my friend David along for the ride. A couple of weekends ago, he took me on a shopping excursion of his own through Platinum Mall in Bangkok and the various bazaars that surround it. He was looking for a long blonde wig with loose curls, and a few other items to play dress-up doll with one of his female friends. I tagged along gamely, but as great as the company was, I couldn't fake interest in hair pieces and ultra-feminine frocks (which, as David explained, is the current Bangkok style).

As David searched, I summed up the common relationship between men, women and fashion in my head: Straight men want to get women out of their clothes; gay men want to dress them up. So, it seems, do the bulk of major fashion designers, gay and straight. I once met the shoe designer Steve Madden, who, as far as I know, is straight, and I asked him why he doesn't make men's shoes. "They're so boring," he said dismissively.

It's a response that's been echoed so often by gay male design students I've met over the years that when a friend who studies design in Melbourne recently told me that his dream was to create his own men's line, he actually took me by surprise. His work suddenly became 100 times more interesting. I suggested he try out for Project Runway, another show that I've never watched. The only thing I actually know about it is that its host, Heidi Klum, is German, and she's married to my doppelgänger Seal.

It's not that I think dresses and shoes and handbags are dull (although I sort of do). It's just that when I look at my female friends, or pretty much any woman, the last thing I usually notice is what they're wearing. Yes, I'm as much a sucker for a pretty face as I was during my Olivia Newton-John phase, but the ability to dress yourself or look amazing when someone else does is low on my list of desired qualities. I admire women more when they're brilliant and clever, great talkers (having nothing to say is as unappealing in women as in men), and even better listeners. It's the ones who are fabulous -- or, worse, trying too hard to be -- who get on my nerves. It's probably why I always secretly hated Carrie on Sex and the City. Miranda, smart and sensibly dressed, was more my speed.

My female friends would probably be surprised to hear me say this because to most of them, I'm the perfect Will, the next best thing to Rupert Everett in My Best Friend's Wedding, offering sage advice on life, love and outfits.

But when it comes to the latter, chances are, I'm totally faking it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Though I like to think of myself as a free spirit with an appetite for adventure (if not quite destruction), wanderlust aside, I'm pretty much a creature of habit. My brother once described my life as being "like clockwork," and I hated to admit that he was right. When I was living in New York City and Buenos Aires, my food cravings were so predictable that whenever I called any of the three places from which I regularly ordered delivery food, whoever answered the phone could usually recite my request before I had a chance to. Yes, that's right. I'll have the grilled salmon -- again.

It's not that I'm boring (at least, I hope not); I'm just consistent. Take my nocturnal habits. If my friends were looking for me on a Friday or Saturday night in New York City, they knew they could find me at Starlight or, later, at the Cock (yes, the Cock). To a large degree, my moving to Argentina was a stab at smashing the clock into a thousand little pieces, but even without a regular 9-to-5 commitment in Buenos Aires, it was so easy to fall into a regular routine yet again (up at 6am for a few hours of writing, Pilates at 10, siesta from 1 to 3pm).

When I went out at night, I was a regular at Sitges and Glam before trading Glam for Ambar la Fox toward the end. In Melbourne, I was a fixture at Sircuit and the Peel, and now in Bangkok, if you see me on a weekend night, you're probably at DJ Station or G.O.D. (My preferred nighttime venues always come in twos.)

Last night, my friend Poon finally got me to break out the test tubes. We began the evening at a swanky restaurant/bar called Hyde & Seek, where the cocktail standards were high, and so were the prices (more than $20 for a martini!). Then we went to Castro in RCA, one of Bangkok's main bar-hopping drags. It was nice to be in a place where I wasn't stumbling over tourists (I think I saw only one non-Asian guy in the entire club), but I'm still not sure what to make of the drag queen who seemed to be doing her very best Celine Dion impersonation.

Even before we ended the evening, predictably, at G.O.D., as I watched the action unfold in new settings, the same thoughts I've been having for weeks now kept popping into my head.

1. When did fabulous abs become such a dime a six-pack? After hours -- actually, weeks -- of watching hard, shirtless bodies being flaunted on platforms and dance floors, I'm having trouble telling them apart. Does everyone around here spend hours a day doing crunches? As I watched beautiful torsos flexing all around me, I realized that great abs are to average Joes what make-up is to plain Janes. From a distance, and especially on a body that's swaying to the music about a meter above ground level, they can make the homeliest person look hot, but they're really just window dressing.

2. Does Adele really need a processed beat? I've heard so many bad dance remixes of "Rolling in the Deep" since I first arrived in Bangkok, and they each just make me want to hear the original, which, in my opinion, is more than good enough to dance to. Oh, that reminds me, if you're going to have the balls to spin "By the Way" by Red Hot Chili Peppers in club (a curve ball for which the G.O.D. DJ deserves all the praise), the least you can do is let the music play for more than one verse before segueing into yet another anonymous electronica loop.

3. Guys here can be so touchy-feely. And not in the sensitive-soul way. I know the meat market is packed, and everybody seems to be walking back and forth to nowhere, but is it really necessary to to poke me in the back while walking behind me? Is that going to magically transport you from point A to point B any faster? At least no one grabbed my crotch last night!

4. Taxi drivers here are such divas. I've never been in a major city where cabbies are so quick to exercise the right to refuse a fare. Every time I hail one, it's a toss up whether he'll take me to my requested destination, or if he'll do so without trying to jack up the price. It took Poon at least five tries before he was able to convince a driver to take us from RCA to Soi 2 in Silom, which are all of 10 minutes apart. And the other night, I shared a taxi home with a guy from Sydney, and the driver arbitrarily announced that he would only make one of the requested stops (thankfully, it was mine), though they were less than five minutes apart. I hope the Aussie made it back to his hotel okay.

5. Am I really having this much fun, or is it just the cheap booze? It's probably a lot of both. Despite having to brave poking, cranky drivers and terrible remixes, good times and low-cost cocktails (unless you're chasing a martini buzz at Hyde & Seek) keep motivating me off the couch and out the door. So if you're looking for me later on, you'll know where to find me. I'll once again be admiring the hunky, shirtless scenery in the house of G.O.D. Those great abs may be a dime a six-pack, but they never get old.

Friday, August 19, 2011


I've always considered my life to be somewhat charmed. Not necessarily any more so than the next person's, mind you, but when I think of all the terrible conditions I could have been born into -- poverty, sickness, stupidity -- I have to chalk up my relatively easy existence to more than just random good fortune. There must be something slightly mystical about it all. God, perhaps? (No, let's not go there.)

But is it our destiny to be one of the lucky ones born with limbs, eyesight and hearing in tact, as well as parents who love us? Does fate have anything to do with it? And if so, would it be cruel to suggest to a blind person that blindness is his or her destiny? Or that it's fate in action when a baby is born HIV positive. Would I be a total asshole for suggesting that might be the case?

I've always found pondering such weighty concepts as destiny and fate to be far more useful and interesting than trying to figure out the meaning of life, and it was the highlight of a memorable conversation my friend Deirdre and I once had with Darren Hayes. It was back when he was in Savage Garden, and we were at a dinner party in New York City. Considering that at the time he was best known for over-the-top musical declarations of love and affection like "Truly Madly Deeply" and "I Knew I Loved You," I wasn't surprised when our discussion landed on matters of the heart and the role that destiny and fate play in love.

I was going through my cynical phase, and Darren was trying to convince me that love, fate and destiny were driving forces of life. He said that fate had brought him to his Savage Garden partner Daniel Jones, to his then-wife, to dinner that night. It was all destiny, irreversible, meant to be. Darren, who has since come out as gay, was still in the closet at the time, but I knew. "Fate must have terrible gaydar," I said to myself, chuckling. "It led you straight into the arms of a woman when it should have found you a man."

I was impressed by his passion but unmoved by his argument that destiny and fate play such major roles in lives and loves. "I believe in love," I told him, "but not for me." As for fate, well, it's easy to look at anything in hindsight and call it destiny. But what about those little isolated moments in life, random encounters that exist only in a specific time and place? Is that fate in action, too?

And when relationships go sour, was it still destiny that brought you together, or just one big cosmic fuck-up? Don't we always tend to use words like "fate" and "destiny" to describe positive things? It's fate when you meet the man of your dreams, but something else entirely when he cheats on you. Who'd call that fate? "Sorry that your husband dumped you, dear, but it was your destiny." Slap!

Darren and I agreed to disagree on the subject of fate and destiny, but he wasn't budging on the question of love. "You will fall in love," he promised me. "I'm going to see you in five years, you're going to tell me how in love you are, and I'm going to say, 'I told you so.'" Love, he concluded, was my destiny.

We only saw each other once after that night, a few years later at a party in L.A. By then, Darren was divorced, but he hadn't given up on love -- for him or for me, though I sadly informed him that both my romantic state and romantic outlook had remained unchanged since our last meeting. Of course, love has come and gone and come and gone and come again several times in the years since, but for me, it's always been too fleeting, or too complicated, never quite enough to bet your life on.

Is that my destiny? I prefer to call it simply the way things are, not necessarily fate because that would imply that my future is all laid out before me, and I have no control over what happens next. Or that someone who never finds the right person is destined to be alone. Is destiny so cruel that she only picks certain people to be happy? (Yes, destiny has to be a she!) My niece is named Destiny, and I've always assumed that my brother and his wife chose that name partly because they hoped that it would influence hers in a positive way.

I prefer to use words like "fate" and "destiny" to describe simpler things, those happy coincidences that we don't see coming. That's how I explain running into my college friend Christian years ago on the Charles Bridge in Prague. Or once bumping into my ex-boyfriend and his then-current boyfriend in a train station in Florence when I was on my way to Pisa. Or when Cara, someone I'd never met who had become friends with my friend Dave after I left New York, moved to Buenos Aires and just happened to end up living in my apartment building. Or when Zena came to Buenos Aires on vacation and unknowingly rented an apartment right across the hall from me. Or the last 48 hours in Bangkok, during which I've run into two people I know from Melbourne.

Someone once told me that things like that happen with people who are meant to be in your life. In the case of Cara, fate led to a deep and important friendship. Christian and I were already friends and remain friends to this day, so in that case, fate didn't lead to anything in particular. It's just made for an excellent story that we both still recount whenever we're in the same city. I haven't seen my ex in the better part of a decade, but I'll be sure to keep an eye out for him the next time I'm in Italy.

As for those two guys from Melbourne, I wouldn't be surprised if I never see them again. But I'm pretty certain that I will. And that, dear readers, has nothing to do with fate or destiny. That's just life.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.

So the saying goes, and I'm inclined to concur. I apologize in advance for returning to the scene of yesterday's whine, but these are the times (middle age and thereabouts) that try men's souls.

Before you ask, I'm not in the throes of some midlife crisis. I had mine five years ago when I uprooted my entire life and moved from New York City to Buenos Aires. It was the best move I ever made, but what was I thinking? These days, I'm undergoing more of an existential crisis, wondering about the meaning of life, why we're here, and how it will all end. But I won't bore you by dwelling on any of those things.

Right now, I just want to know this: Do you know anyone whose life hasn't defied their expectations? Though I've never taken any kind of official survey, nor have I even casually brought up the subject with any of my close friends, I've always assumed that nobody's life turns out the way they expect it to.

Mine certainly hasn't. Not that I ever had a life plan all mapped out for myself, but I'm pretty sure that 20 years ago, I never imagined that I'd one day live in Argentina, or Australia, or be spending a significant amount of time in Southeast Asia. Hell, I distinctly remember saying just a few months ago that I had no desire to ever visit Asia period. I'd always been far more interested in Europe, South America, Australia and Africa. Travelling to Asia was someone else's dream. But look at me now. Here I am, and they can't seem to get rid of me.

I'm not the type of person who sets long-term goals (I like to keep my goals short-term and sweet), and I've never had a five-year, or 10-year, or 20-year plan. But if I had, it probably wouldn't have included four and a half years in Buenos Aires, a half-decade away from 9-to-5, a tattoo, and a two-month stopover in Bangkok. That, of course, is the beauty of life. It's what happens when you're busy making other plans.

This morning my friend Mara left a funny message on my Facebook wall referring to an episode of Sex and the City that we always used to make fun of when we worked at Teen People. It was the one in which Carrie took Berger to task for writing a book with a female character in Manhattan who wore a scrunchie in her hair. (It's probably best known by everyone aside from Mara, my friend Cara and me for its soon-to-be-infamous catchphrase "He's just not that into you.") "A scrunchie!" I used to walk around the office shrieking, hamming it up even worse than Sarah Jessica Parker did in the worst bit of acting of her entire career.

Mara was watching the scrunchie/"He's-just-not-that-into-you" episode on TV and wanted to tell me that it always reminds her of my SJP imitation. Her sister Shelley chimed in with an interesting observation of her own. She derided not only SJP's acting in that particular scene but Carrie Bradshaw and company's entire mid-thirtysomething way of life. "Rewatching these episodes," she wrote, "I feel like the women are pathetic -- dying to go the Hamptons and Bungalow 8 at the age of 35."

I thought Shelley was being a bit harsh, but I didn't disagree. And I wondered what exactly that made me. If you're 35 and married with children, Bungalow 8 is probably not the place to be, but if you're single and childless (which some of those who are married with children would probably qualify as having a serious case of Peter Pan Syndrome, but I say to each his or her own), what then? I'm past 35, and though I was never a Hamptons or Bungalow 8 type of guy, some would say a man my age has no business dancing shirtless onstage at G.O.D. in Bangkok -- no matter how much time he spends in the gym working on his abs! Who do I think I am? Zac Efron? Taylor Lautner?

If there's anything that wouldn't have been in my life plan had I had one 20 years ago, that would be it. I remember hanging out with a friend in London when I was 29, telling him that my 30th birthday would be my party swan song. After that, I'd stop drinking, clubbing and bar-hopping. He tried to talk me out of it -- "You're only as old as you feel," he said, or maybe it was some other similar cliché -- but I didn't want to be one of those people who spent his 30s and 40s desperately clinging to youth.

Yet, more than 10 years later, I'm still holding on, dancing on the ceiling with the vigor of someone half my age. I do it more for love of the game (it's fun) than as some misguided stab at remaining forever young. Shelley insists that what made Carrie Bradshaw different from me was her desperation. You may find me most weekend nights on a dance floor in whatever city I happen to be in at the moment, but you'd never see me waiting in a long line outside of the hot new joint (I hate hot new joints!), hoping to get past the velvet rope, or angling for a spot inside the VIP section.

In fact, you generally wouldn't catch me in a place with a velvet rope and a VIP section at all, and models are for catwalks and the pages of fashion magazines. I don't need a perfect view of them from the dance floor or on barstool mountain. I prefer places with more of an egalitarian feel. I associate velvet ropes and VIP sections with insecure youth and the need to be accepted into hallowed spaces to feel better about yourself. Give me a bar stool or a dance floor where everyone is welcome -- and equal -- and I'm in.

No, the party's not over yet, but I'm starting to think about last call. Right now I'm considering 45 as my possible cut-off point. But who knows what will happen between now and then? My recovery time gets longer with each passing week, but dreadful hangovers aside, I can still pull it off.

I must have been doing just that a few weeks ago when a 40-year-old Parisian I met at DJ Station described me as "elegant." It was probably the best compliment I'd ever received, especially coming from someone from the land of ageless, eternally graceful beauties like Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche. Sure I still have my sloppy moments, but if I can down tequila shots with beer chasers while still looking "elegant," I must be doing something right.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


They say youth is wasted on the young. So, I'm afraid, is Bangkok when the clock strikes midnight. Everywhere I look, I see perfect skin, perfect hair and perfect bodies, barely touched by the passage of time.

Damn the passage of time! Not only does it constantly remind us of our mortality and destructibility, but it's constantly coming up with new ways to make us feel, well, old.

When I look in the mirror, I see the same face I've been looking at for my entire life, though I'm aware it's mostly because I've looked at it every day of my life. Aging is sort of like weight loss. It's easier to notice on a person whom you don't see every day. Luckily for me, I'm told by people who don't see me on a daily basis, that I've held up pretty well, and I'm inclined to believe them. But I haven't forgotten that one of my best friends in Buenos Aires (she's 26) used to date a guy a few years older than me whom she affectionately called "gramps."

One of the great things about meeting people in bars and clubs is that the lighting works in your favor. I get "25,26" a lot when people I meet on the floor under the strobelights try to guess my age. Otherwise, I generally have to settle for early to mid-30s, which, is really nothing to write home -- or blog -- about, but when I consider the alternative, like being called "gramps" or, worse, being mistaken for your son's grandfather, how can I complain?

Actually, that happened to my dad once. When I was born, he was 38 years old, which is relatively young by today's Hollywood baby-daddy standards, but that hasn't always been the case everywhere. I remember going to my 10-year high school reunion and being shocked to catch up with former classmates who already had several kids at 27 or 28. Still, even outside of Hollywood, saying, "I'm a dad again," at 38 is hardly age-inappropriate.

But there was that time back in high school when I was at Dairy Queen with my dad, and we ran into a classmate of mine who worked there. After greeting me, she looked at my dad and her face lit up. "Is this your grandfather?" she asked. So much for black not cracking. I cracked up, she was mortified, and my poor dad, who certainly didn't look old enough to be my grandfather, was not amused.

The youth gone wild (a rear view) in Phuket, Thailand
Now I sort of know how he felt. Last night, I was walking with my friend David down Silom, one of the major highways in Bangkok. It's where people are up at all hours of the night, selling food, selling clothes, selling knick knacks, selling bodies.

"Do you want young boy?" a man asked us. I was shocked because usually they try to sell me ladies -- or lady boys. I swear, sometimes I can't even tell them apart. Later on, a girl who was chatting me up at DJ Station handed me her driver's license to prove that it was her 30th birthday. I must have had one too many Singapore Slings because it took me an entire minute to realize that the photo on her license belonged to a guy. Though she was far more attractive as a boy, I never would have known!

But I digress. Getting back to Silom, David pulled me closer to him and jokingly said, "I already have my young boy."

"I have much younger," the guy replied.

Much younger?! He may as well have called me "gramps."

I'm not sure which I found more insulting. The fact that to him I must have looked like a dirty old man, on the prowl for someone less than half my age, or the fact that he was trying to lure my fake boyfriend away with the promise of young -- younger -- nubile flesh. Though I knew that I'd probably meet several guys less than half my age before the night was over, I certainly wouldn't be looking for one. The older I get, the more they seem to flock to me. It's not like I generally approach them.

David said that it's probably because they see me as being experienced, and they probably assume that I know what I'm doing in life and in bed. I considered this for a while, and then I realized that if he's implying that my level of maturity is noticeable to the naked eye, then for the second time in less than five minutes, someone had basically said that I'm inching my way up and over the hill.

But maybe not. When you're 18 or 19, or even 22 (which seems to be my lucky number these days), 26 or 27 (the age that they generally guess me to be) must seem pretty vintage. If only they knew. I'm like a fine wine -- from 1969, the year that also brought us the Jennifer Aniston Merlot and the Jennifer Lopez Pinot Noir. So I'm in good company.

Still, I've learned to stop letting them in on my dirty little secret, and to always leave before the lights go up.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Illustration by JoAnne Salmon
Lately, I've been having some f**ked up, throw-your-pillow-away, crazy dreams.

They started a few weeks ago, around the time that my best friend recounted one of hers in her Facebook status update. The storyline went something like this: She was the surrogate mother for Nick Lachey and his new wife Vanessa Minnillo, and in the climactic scene, she gave birth to a baby who practically walked out of her womb. He was born walking -- not crawling, walking. Do status updates get any stranger?

It seems like since the morning when I spent a full 15 minutes laughing as I pictured the scene in that delivery room, my dreams have gotten just as offbeat -- though, thankfully, none of them have involved my carrying the spawn of C-list -- no, D-list -- celebrities. Aside from all those weirdo stream-of-consciousness dreams that are more a series of disconnected images and vignettes than actual stories (it's like dreaming an anthology of very short shorts directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, John Schlesinger, and Stanley Kubrick), my nightmares and not-so-nightmares have featured all of the usual suspects: collapsing buildings (a recurring night vision in the 10 years since I saw the second tower go down live on September 11), falling and not being able to get up, being chased, being nude in public, and being a soap-opera character (usually on One Life to Live or Days of Our Lives, my two favorites).

Then of course, there are the celebrities. Some see dead people; I see famous ones. But these days, only in my dreams. Not necessarily after I've watched a particular movie or spent all day listening to a certain album. Most of the celebrities who drop by and hang out in my subconscious when I'm asleep are totally random. They're not always A-list. Some of them wouldn't even qualify for Dancing with the Stars or Celebrity Apprentice. I'm still not sure what Sarah Jessica Parker was doing in my dream last night (read all about it here), but the fact that she was acting more like Miranda Priestly than Carrie Bradshaw tells me that it had everything to do with tough bosses and working 9-to-5.

You see, 20 years ago today, I kicked off my professional journalism career as a reporting intern at People magazine. It's been a wild, crazy, trippy two decades since. I've worked with real-life Miranda Priestlys and Carrie Bradshaws, and even once met Sarah Jessica Parker backstage at Late Night with David Letterman. (She was a lot nicer than she was in the dream.) My brushes with celebrity have dwindled since I left New York City for Buenos Aires in 2006, but only during the daytime. Though I still dream about famous people, when I'm awake, there's so much more to my life and my work now than celebrities.

But I'm still not sure where all of that time went. My brother says I'm just getting warmed up. My latest dream, which hopefully, will prove not to be so elusive, is that he's right.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I'll be honest. There are few forms of physical exercise that I actually enjoy. I hate sports -- team and non-team, watching or playing them -- so what's left? Dancing comes immediately to mind. But dancing with or without the stars is such fun because booze is often involved, and getting down can lead to getting it on, another physical activity that can be a blast, solo or with a partner. The best part: You don't have to leave home, or even get out of bed, to do it -- unless you want to.

But is there anyone out there who gets a rise from going to the gym? I can deal with being there; it's the getting there that's always a problem. It's somewhat easier to find motivation once you're on the gym floor, surrounded by beautiful people talking on their cell phones, staring at their muscle tone in the mirror, and occasionally, actually making their workouts count. But going to the gym seems like something we always complain about having to do. I don't know anyone who bounds out of bed in the morning, smile in place, and announces, "Ooh, goodie, I'm off to the gym! Can't wait to get there!"

I'm certainly not one of them. And isn't the best part of a great workout finishing it? I go running, preferably outside of the gym, because it's therapeutic. (I've put my beloved Pilates regimen on hold since I left Buenos Aires, which has made for slightly darker days.) Even if it had no noticeable effect on my body, I'd probably still do it because it helps me clear my head and feel at one with the great outdoors. It's also an excellent way to get to know a city.

But I go to the gym because, well, at my age I have to, if I want to continue passing for twentysomething, which I think is such a stretch. Still, I appreciate people saying it. Recently, I was talking to a 19-year-old (now 20!) who thought he was face to face with a 24-year-old. I blamed excellent lighting, Kiehl's and a strict work-out regiment. Notice that I didn't mention diet. I eat what I want to.

Getting back to the gym, which I do grudgingly, as always, it's a necessary evil. No pain, no gain, and without the gain, why bother?

I suppose there is a positive side that has nothing to do with body image. As my muscles work, my mind works harder. Sometimes I plan out the rest of my day, have imaginary conversations with friends and lovers, or write articles in my head. Nothing that's playing on my iPod ( the Yeah Yeah Yeahs cranked to 10, Queen's "You're My Best Friend" on repeat, or my self-mixed 20-minute non-stop dance mix credited to DJ Jezza) can ever completely drown out that inner dialogue, which this week, seems to be on repeat, asking myself the same question after question after question. (Get ready for a list of three!)

Can this really be good for me? Every few years I read horror stories about death by treadmill. I think I read something about a twentysomething athlete collapsing and dying while on the treadmill the other day. And when Issac Hayes suffered a fatal stroke in 2008, wasn't his body found close to a still-running treadmill? Though I try not to think such morbid thoughts as I watch the clock count down (or up, but down makes the time go by much faster), sometimes it's hard not to wonder about the state of your heart when you're out of breath and you can practically hear your heart pounding over "Heads Will Roll."

And now that I think about it, those mice don't look so good.

Should I really have taken a taxi here? As I've already said, going to the gym is murder. Still, for years, I didn't see the point of driving to your work out. No matter how far I lived from my gym, I'd always try to get there by foot. I wouldn't even take the subway there or back when I lived in New York City, unless a torrential downpour (rain or snow) was stopping me from travelling the hard way.

But in Bangkok I've thrown that particular rule right out of the window. You see, as much as I love this city, it still intimidates me. There's so much traffic (according to the taxi driver who took me to Fitness First the other day, 8,000 new cars hit the streets of Bangkok every day), mazes of roads going this way and that way, red lights that take forever to turn green (and vice-versa), and a dearth of Walk/Don't Walk signs. The major highways -- which include Sukhumvit and Silom, my main Bangkok stomping grounds -- have numerous overpasses to make crossing the street easier, but after climbing up and going down just to get to the other side, I often forget where I was going in the first place.

I'm accustomed to living in cities that are laid out like grids, and you can take the boy out of the grid, but he probably won't know how to get anywhere. So when I signed up for my temporary Fitness First membership last week, I began taking taxis to the gym, which is only a few kilometers from where I live. Every time I tried to walk home, I'd get lost, and after an hour of aimless wandering, I always ended up in another taxi.

So imagine my surprise when, after nearly one week, I finally managed to find my way home in under an hour, and I only got lost twice. The next day, I didn't get lost at all. I was so confident that I decided to walk there the next morning. Of course, the thought of battling Bangkok's 90°F mid-morning heat makes the getting there even less appealing.

Do personal trainers practice what they preach? At Fit N Fast, my gym in Melbourne, they do. I've seen these men -- and ladies -- at work. And even if I hadn't, their perfectly sculpted bodies would give them away. But at Fitness First in Bangkok, I began to doubt my trainer from the moment he ordered me to stand on the scale and announced that my body fat was a whopping 21.3 per cent. I pulled up my shirt to prove him wrong. He was impressed but stood uncorrected. He also said that at 79 kilos (and 1.86 metres), I'm five over my target weight. He lost a lot of credibility that day.

It's not that he doesn't look the personal-trainer part -- though he sort of doesn't. And I didn't get the sense that he was hiding anything scandalous under his baggy training gear. But as he was encouraging me to squat and rise, squat and rise, while holding a 10-kilo weight in each hand, with one leg bent behind me so that my toes were touching a bench, I felt like saying, "I'd like to see you pull off four sets of 15 reps of these!" But I guess being a personal trainer is a lot like cutting hair. You don't have to be a walking advertisement for what you do in order to get results.

And no pain, no gain, right? Next set. One, two, three...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


The other day I came across an email from my friend Karen. She'd sent it to me a few days before I left Melbourne for Southeast Asia, and in it, she issued a stern warning: Do not, under any circumstances, set foot in Cambodia. You can only enjoy it from the comfort of five-star accommodation, and the men are "sexual predators."

It was interesting to read her take on the place in hindsight, especially since Cambodia ended up being my favorite stop on my summer of 2011 tour of Southeast Asia. Britney Spears' "Till the World Ends" road trip might not make it to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, but I'm glad mine did. I'm thankful that I'd somehow overlooked Karen's message until it was too late, but I must say, she had a point -- or two.

The first part certainly turned out to be true, though at my age, I can no longer settle for dingy pensions like the ones I called temporary home in Madrid, Barcelona and throughout the South of France when I first visited Europe in 1994, and hostels where you're assigned one of six rock-hard single-person cots in a room. (I've never actually stayed in a hostel like that, but I've heard a lot about them, none of it enticing.) The wrong sleeping quarters can ruin just about any city. But when you can get five-star accommodation for less than $50 a night, as I did at the Tara Angkor Hotel (which is technically a four-star joint with five-star trappings, like one of the most amazing breakfast buffets, featuring dinnertime options that I normally wouldn't dream of devouring first thing in the morning), cost doesn't present a problem.

Unfortunately, Karen was right about the men, too -- at least many of the ones I encountered after sundown. As I previously detailed on one of my other blogs, they couldn't have been nicer to me, but they sure like to use their hands. It's one thing to say crude things to hot passersby. As I've always said, "Say it, just don't spray it." And "look but don't touch." In Cambodia, though, the men like to watch -- and touch.

I'm a guy, so I can hold my own, but for all the single ladies considering visiting Cambodia, proceed with caution when venturing out at night. Put a ring on it (to help ward off unwanted advances by pretending you're married, or engaged), and grab a friend. While I didn't actually notice anything worse than I used to see in Buenos Aires (guys on the street corner, by the bar, on the dance floor, ogling every woman who walked by), I'd never had so many touchy-feely encounters outside of a gay bar. I can only imagine what the women were going through. And that was just in Phnom Penh!

As I sipped my primary-colored drink at Linga Bar in Siem Reap, I tried to avoid eye contact with the guy whose eyes were burning holes into me from across the table. His English was barely intelligible, so after a while, I gave up trying to communicate with him and just prayed that he'd get the message and go away. For a long time, he didn't. He begged me to take him back to my hotel room. He wouldn't try anything, just give me a massage. "How old can this guy be?" I asked myself, placing his age somewhere around barely legal.

I decided to ask. "How old are you?"

"Thirty-two." He had to be kidding. I said he didn't look a day over 16.

Finally, I got the truth out of him. He was 21. I wouldn't reveal my age, but I did tell him that I was old enough to know better than to mess with guys his age, which, given my track record the last few years, is pretty laughable. It's not that he was unattractive (although he was a little too much on the dainty and petite side). I just couldn't deal with the way he was staring at me. At least he kept his hands to himself.

I didn't believe it possible to have such a great time in a "gay-friendly" straight bar until another local guy brought me to Temple Bar a little later. It was full of tourists, expatriates and natives. I met people from all over the world -- from Ireland, from Amsterdam, from Scandinavia, from pretty much every corner of Europe. There was even one beautiful black girl from Saint Martin, the Caribbean island where my dad is from. How often does that happen? Like, never.

The booze was cheap (pitchers of beer, or of whiskey and coke, for $2.75!), and so were the thrills. The local boys just couldn't keep their hands to themselves. Had I blacked out and woken up on the dance floor at Plop in Buenos Aires? Every time I turned around, I seemed to be swatting away another pair of hands. Some wanted to check out the tattoo on my right arm. Others wanted to compare their hands to the animated one on my t-shirt. (Too bad it didn't say, "Put your hands where my eyes can see"!) Several wanted to see what was going on just south of halfway down. In general, I hate to be touched by strangers, but whiskey has a way of removing my inhibitions and my boundaries. At some point, I stopped pulling away and just went with it.

A couple of days later I traded Siem Reap for Bangkok, and when I arrived at DJ Station nearly one week into my return engagement in Bangkok, I was completely sober, so my inhibitions and my boundaries where right were they should be. I ran into two Cambodian guys I'd met in Siem Reap who had come over for the weekend. One of them had taken me to Temple Bar; the other had tried to take me home from Temple Bar. Well, to be honest, they both tried to take me home from Temple Bar, but for me, a little bit of hard-to-get goes a long way.

Inviting yourself back to my hotel within one minute of meeting me is never the best way to get past the velvet rope into my VIP area. Neither is a cupped hand to the crotch. You would think they'd have learned that lesson In Siem Reap, where they both had been roundly rejected. Yet there they were in Bangkok, waving with one hand and reaching for my crotch with the other. I smiled and tried to be polite. It was hard when all I wanted to do was slug them. I've dealt with forward guys before -- in Buenos Aires, at Plop and Ambar, they sometimes literally throw themselves at you to get your attention -- but isn't grabbing a guy's crotch in a bar like walking up to a woman and squeezing her breasts?

I suppose the rules of bar conduct are different when you're dealing with men and women. For me, this is a funny story to blog about now and tell the grandkids later. If I'd wanted to, I easily could have taken those guys down. For a woman, who's likely smaller and weaker than her sexual predator, it's a holiday nightmare. The morning after my Temple Bar experience, I read a frightening article about several recent cases in which intoxicated women had been raped by taxi drivers in Melbourne and Sydney. Now there's something that would never happen to me -- and God knows, a few cabbies, like the tuk-tuk driver who had dropped me off at my hotel the night before, have had the opportunity.

I can deal with a hand on my crotch, if I don't have to worry about coming to with some big burly cab driver standing over me, zipping up his trousers. Is this really the sort of thing that women have to live in fear of? It's bad enough that in crowded bars, perfect strangers try to reach out and touch them there, but if they make it to last call in tact, they still have to worry about remaining that way during the ride home. I used to think that maybe women overreact to the threat of horny, desperate men, but now that I have some small insight into what it feels like for a girl, I'm not so sure.

No wonder there are always so many of them seeking haven at DJ Station. If anyone's getting touched inappropriately there, it's probably gonna be me.

Monday, August 8, 2011


When I moved to Buenos Aires from New York City almost exactly five years ago (September 15 will mark the half-decade point), I couldn't believe my eyes and ears. Yes, the native populace was impossibly and improbably thin and attractive, but that wasn't the only thing that left me in perpetual state of shock and bewilderment. It was about what I saw on TV and heard in da club. So many channels were dedicated to shows imported from the U.S., and everyone was dancing to Britpop and U.S. pop, singing along to lyrics that they didn't really understand.

I thought about this last night at DJ Station in Bangkok as I listened to a Thai guy wearing skinny jeans and an asymmetrical punk haircut (in all honesty, they were so wearing him) mangling the lyrics to Katy Perry's "T.G.I.F. (Last Friday Night)" as only someone who doesn't speak a word of English can do. In fact, several songs later, as I was on the dance floor jumping up and down, shouting the lyrics to "If We Ever Meet Again" by Timbaland and Katy Perry, I noticed that people were staring at me. They looked confused. Either I was making a total ass of myself, or they simply had no idea what I was going on about.

Frankly, I'm perplexed, too. I've been back in Bangkok for exactly one week, and I'm still trying to figure out the pop culture. On TV, it's a strange, interesting mix of east meets west. Flipping though the channels, I come across Thai telenovelas featuring cheap-looking special effects and beautiful men and women overacting badly, several English-language news stations all over-covering the U.S. credit-rating drama (more overacting, this time from anchors feigning economic expertise), MTV (boy bands are still hot here!), and HBO.

Apparently, HBO doesn't travel so well. In the U.S., subscribers get Boardwalk Empire, True Blood and Entourage. Here, they must make do with I Spy, Maid in Manhattan and Valentine's Day. Does anyone care about The Making of Syriana in 2011? I know George Clooney won his Oscar for Syriana, but that was six years, two acting nominations, and a likely third (for the upcoming The Descendants) ago.

Last week, HBO ran a Rocky marathon. One Rocky film per night. On Wednesday, I caught bits and pieces of Rocky III, and I was surprised by how little of it I actually remember. Oh good, It's Complicated comes on after Get Him to the Greek. It's a guilty pleasure. The Meryl Streep comedy, not the Russell Brand one. Who are you to judge me?

At the Irish pub where I had lunch last week, the playlist was a lot better than my cheese omelet. And eclectic, too. "What's Up" by 4 Non Blondes. "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys. "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears. "Creep" by TLC. "Wake Up Alone" by Amy Winehouse. How bizarre, I thought, wondering what genius had dug up this great, under-played Back to Black track. And how bizarre that I heard "How Bizarre" by OMC, too. You never hear that one anywhere anymore. May Winehouse and OMC's Pauly Fuemana rest in peace.

At night, the musical selections are a bit more predictable. Everywhere I go, I seem to hear or see (via video) the same old songs: "Run the World (Girls)" by Beyoncé, "The Edge of Glory" by Lady Gaga, "Till the World Ends" by Britney Spears, "S&M" by Rihanna, and remixes of Jennifer Lopez's "I'm Into You," Bruno Mars' "Grenade" and Adele's "Rolling in the Deep."

At DJ Station, all of the drag queens want to be black divas. Last night, one was Whitney Houston lip syncing to "A Song for You." Another was Lionel Richie impersonating Diana Ross cooing "Endless Love." A Ciara lookalike did Paula Abdul's "Straight Up." As I watched her clunky dance moves, I wondered why drag queens don't seem to care about Donna Summer. "She World Hard for the Money" should be a drag anthem!

But the bigger question is how the queens can so perfectly mime English lyrics when the music is playing, while barely being able to string together a complete sentence in English when it's turned off. Then it hit me: That's the power of music, of entertainment. It crosses borders, uniting people from all over the world all over the world. Politicians would kill for that kind of power. Lady Gaga and Katy Perry already have it.