Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Fatlanta”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Fatlanta”

 

While I’ve been bicoastal for work, I’ve joked to friends that eating in the ATL is a challenge, that “even the air is fried.” Or, I’d say with the solemnity of confession, “It is impossible to eat healthy in this city.” The truth is I lost all and total control. I acted like a kid who was left off at summer camp with the idea that anything goes now that mom and pops ain’t watching me.

I’ve been watching myself see the scale move up about to the tune of 11.5 pounds of MF’in bloat in a month of unnecessary stress and/or emotional eating. That’s the end result of letting this last month of working in Atlanta get to me. Here’s the rub: I wasn’t even stressed or emotional! In other words, I fell off the food addiction wagon so hard, I literally broke my spirit.

Welcome to Fatlanta.

I spent most of the first day back from the latest trip to Atlanta in a sulk. Sure its mostly sodium intake, but that’s no comfort, dear. Today, I ate two apples, some raw pepitas, hummus and a turkey/egg white scramble, had a latte and just sulked. I can’t even be mad at anyone since no one person or situation put all that food in mouth at gun point. I knew exactly what I was doing, which makes me even feel worse. Wait. Checking my glucose reading the Saturday after my return from this  latest trip clocked in at 200! That does feel worse. It’s triggered The Eeyore Effect again, where I feel heavy, slow, sweaty and incredibly morose.

Fuck me. It’s enough to not feel depressed right now or beat myself to a Waffle House and BBQ sauce-infused pulp right now. I think about those episodes of “Designing Women” when Delta Burke’s weight gain was starting to become an issue for the show. Series creator Linda Bloodworth Thomason would write some of the best episodes of 1980s television around Suzanne Sugarbaker’s weight. A former beauty queen, like Burke herself, the character’s struggle with her weight hit a raw nerve for many of us dealing with the same challenges.

In the end, Burke would be fired from the show in a nasty public split that is the stuff of industry legend. The show never recovered from the loss of such a vivid character. All of the women were remarkable on that show, but Suzanne was the reason many watched with such fervor. (I won’t lie. All four of the original cast are my spirit characters.) Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion, too. (To quote another Southern pop culture queen.) I spent part of the day watching some of the best of Suzanne Sugarbaker’s moments, just as a reminder that this set back is not permanent. Nor does it diminish the achievement of getting closer to understanding why I eat the way I do. The cycle can be broken, which is what I am determined to focus upon after this day of wallowing in self-pity. One day. No more, dammit.

Being in Georgia these many weeks has reinforced the horror and sadness I feel when it comes to the tyranny of food we continue to endure in this country. We sure love our excess as much as we love NOT being told what to do, especially when it comes to our health. With the recent return of Trumpcare and the rollbacks of key legislations to help keep our children healthy, I realize that many of us are being set up to fail. We won’t be told by anyone what we can or can’t do to our bodies! Keep us poor, stupid, fat and consuming everything in sight. That’s what is means to be an American!

Bullshit.

When will we realize that we are being set up to fail, to stay sick and die? We are just being led to the slaughter, fattened by ignorance, greed and pride. We are at the mercy of the privileged few who stand to earn more by just watching us eat ourselves to death. This is where education is so vital! We keep cutting curriculum that can so benefit us from a young age! That “Dollars & Sense” class or home economics courses, why are these considered a luxury today?

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It made me sad seeing how race and income dictated what food was available in every sector of Atlanta I visited. You could find a Waffle House, Bojangle’s or Chik-fil-a on every corner, but a Whole Foods or Sprouts was still relegated to the affluent Buckhead-type areas of the city. Publix and Kroger’s offered some healthier choices, but these options were usually relegated to the back of the store, away from the towering displays of chips and soft drinks that were substantially cheaper. The produce I purchased at several Wal-Mart stores was subpar and not as plentiful or as fresh compared to the Super Target Market offerings outside of the city.

It would be too easy to say, “Well, it’s Georgia!” But, you can’t avoid the same problems in Los Angeles. When I was studying at ELAC with Professor Norma Vega, she incorporated a section on the politics of food in her advanced Spanish class. If the seeds were sown then, perhaps the importance of believing “We are what we eat” still needs to be nurtured in order to flower. At least in my own way of living.

I was weak in resisting the excess of movie set treats during these weeks on location. Even with the tough love of several key friends this week, I still reached for the fried pickles, sweet tea, Magnachos, waffle, grits and corn bread with extra maple butter. Why? I wish I knew. I told myself I can get back on track when I get home, that I’ll just return to my program later. I can lose it, no problem. Going backwards to move forward again is getting old. I knew better and the classic addict behavior displayed only made me realize I have a long way to go to be truly healthy again. That being cavalier is on par with being complicit or silent when people are doing all they can to tear you down in the name of progress or #MAGA.

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Driving through South Pasadena today, I thought about stupid I felt for bemoaning I have too much to eat when countless others are struggling to find their next meal. It is a gross abuse of body, mind and soul. I am beyond fortunate to know that I have the means and knowledge to be healthy and sated. That is no excuse to act like I have all the resources and chances in the world to avoid the inevitable, which is an untimely death. I will take this to heart when I return to Atlanta again later this week. No more side trips to Fatlanta, either. Passage denied.

Part of the struggle of healthy eating is knowing when you’ve had enough. To push yourself away from the table and say, “I will not intake anymore of that which can hurt me.” As we lurch forward through this era of chaos, anger and confusion, focus is essential. In order to be able to object and resist, you need strength and conviction. If you can’t control what you eat, then maybe it is time to get out of the kitchen. More, maybe it is time to take stock of what makes you strong and able and offer that part of yourself with those who are willing to listen and learn along with you.

We are what we eat, just as much as we are who we choose to lead.

Either way, demand better.

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Cha Cha”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Cha Cha”

 

“Come go with me, make you feel alive

This night will last everlasting through the time

Come go with me, have no fears

Bring back the memories

I can take away the misery

Take my hand, we’ll fly away

To our world that we can find today…”

– From “Come Go with Me” (Lewis A. Martineé), performed by Exposé

I’m going to set the origins of this little journal entry to the past on the sodium bomb from the Slurpin’ Ramen Bar consumed in April in Koreatown. (Excellent place, fyi). Yeah, I did feel a little “up” afterwards. Also, I was correct in predicting that my date for the evening was going to cancel on me –again — so it is better to shift focus onto something a bit more joyful and avoid the desire to man bash. I was truly bloated, bothered and bewildered, the perfect state of mind for journaling!

It’s taken me awhile to shape this into something worth reading and I’m still not sure if I’ve cracked the code. I have to give credit where credit it due. Earlier this spring,  my sister NanyG, sister-friend Helen and I were in the midst of another hi-larious confab, this time at the Pico Rivera Shakey’s Pizza, a cherished location located within our shared cradle of youth. It was a carry-over from ANOTHER HelJor outing (as we refer to ourselves), this time with our childhood compatriot, Anne. And yes, if you’re a member of those days at South Ranchito Elementary/Meller Jr. High/ERHS, we probably DID talk about you.

What I love most about our get togethers is the chance to look back with a clearer vision as to what it was to come of age in the 1980s. Some of the focus is starting to slip into a tepid glow as we have move on through our teen years into our sure to be golden era of 50+. (Well, I can’t speak for myself. I remember way too much, but surprised to know how much I never saw what was often going on right in front of me. I see the roots of my self-absorption are very much showing.)

Being a teenager. Oh, that’s a weighty subject. (Zing!) The pudding days of Meller, when I was stout, pimpled and experiencing a woeful state of style were replaced by something a lot cheerier, leaner and taller by the time sophomore year began at El Rancho. Sitting here with my lap top, it makes me smile to understand how the realities of life’s experiences hadn’t yet taught us how to deconstruct or process our motivations. Everything was so AMAZING until your find out years later that it wasn’t. The struggles we deal with as adults are variations of those classic adolescent tropes. We were the last of the Breakfast Club generation, spicier incarnations of the Princess, the Athlete the Criminal, the Brain and the Basket Case. In some cases, we were probably all five.

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Some of us were wonderfully clueless. Others were – and, surprise, remain — mean girls and boys. We had our groups, our nicknames, our juries, our judgments, our hierarchies, our first loves, our first pains. And as divided we ultimately became as life lead us to our chosen paths, for a small group of us, we remained steadfastly united during the 12 years we followed each other to the edge of 18.

The time isn’t ripe yet to pen that “Whatever Happened to the Class of 1985,” but it is starting to germinate. Something happened to me during that transition years of childhood. I first embraced my peculiar sense of being a boy, only to quickly shun it thanks to bullying and the inner shame felt as a teen. I hate that it happened at all, compromising my true self in the vain attempt to be liked and popular.

But that’s a story for another time.

Right now, I want to remember what it meant to be young in Pico Rivera, where youths were a microcosm of the bigger trends happening inside of LA and out. Everyone had their fiefdoms of rule within the school and outside the city limits:

  • The mods were growing in numbers as Madness and The Specials dominated the powerful KROQ playlists, stealing club time at Marilyn’s in Pasadena.
  • The punks were a smaller contingent, but followed X and Black Flag to Madame Wu’s in Santa Monica.
  • Poseur preps, the ones that had turned up collars along with their classist noses had the most money, bigger houses to match their attitudes and Atari consoles.
  • The heshers, most of whom were in band, were a fiercely loyal bunch that sported their KMET and KLOS stickers as badges of courage and pride.
  • Urban surfers held fast to their Jeff Spicoli uniform of Vans, OP and Lightning Bolt shorts.
  • Morrissey. Enough said.

As for the rest of us?

It was a sea of teen dreams and mall made looks. Girls had their fast fashion trends of jelly shoes, bolero hats, plastic purses and other styles culled from department stores or Judy’s, Contempo Casuals and Miller’s Outpost. God, those damn belts that rivaled the WWF championship bling! Some tried to rock the Mod look with tights that had the feet cut off under long tartan skirts and flats, but it rang false. Maybe it was because feathered hair can’t ever replace an asymmetrical bob?

The cookie cutter style of the boys was laid upon a foundation of Levis jeans, tee shirts and jean jackets — then and now. Jocks will never die out if letterman’s jackets are still able to be earned. My memory can’t seem to fill in the blanks here, an era where the Metrosexual, Lumbersexual and Hipster styles would eventually blur the lines of masculinity.

However, one group reigns supreme in my mind when I look back at that time now. I can’t help but smile at these style rebels of my teen years:

CHA CHA GIRLS!

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I’ll never forget these hothouse flowers that found access with fake ID’s to such playgrounds as the Florentine Gardens, the Red Onion, Black Angus, Pepper’s & Wings, as well as private parties and any other place they could hold court to the tune of Exposé, Debbie Deb and Stacey Q. They rolled around in packs, each with their own special markings of bangs, spider lashes, streaks and nail tips. They oozed a female sexuality that was true power, which sometimes moved faster than they could understand or control.

(Fun Fact: Exposé lead singer Jeanette Jurado is a former El Rancho Don! Class of 1983. Represent!)

This is one group John Hughes would never include in his white bread parables of teen life. These girls weren’t always pretty, but they loved pink, the brighter the better. They played fast and loose with the rules of the time, carving out their own niche as the 1950s ideal of adolescence began its hasty decline.

How I loved these ladies, feathered, streaked and war painted, wearing heels that were higher than their standards, all squeezed into Technicolor fabrics that stretched with the blind optimism of looking good! I always viewed the Cha Cha aesthetic as a rebellion against the leading tropes of the era. These Latinas were way ahead of the Kardashian brand of flesh as fantasy and in your face womanhood. They were always named Letty, Lorraine or Denise, Nena, Pebbles or Candy. Sometimes you had a Monica, Yvette or an Andrea. Given the immigrant culture that was the foundation of aspirational Pico Rivera life, you might have a Socorro or Maria Delilah in the bunch, but she was always the one you made call her much cooler older brother or sister when shit got real. (“Shut up, Socorro!” could be heard whenever she offered the single voice of sanity.)

The soc’s (the popular girls) looked down on the Cha Cha’s as being trashy, but like all things unbridled, jealousy motivated their feelings. Hallway chatter about some of these ladies was nothing short of salacious gossip, especially if their boyfriends were jocks. This could explain why many of the Cha Cha’s of my era opted to date outside of the El Rancho walls.

Every Friday of my first year at El Rancho, or “The Ranch,” was littered with invites to the weekend’s parties. Mass printed flyers, emblazoned with Nagel girls, were events sponsored by mobile DJ’s that called themselves “The Men of Elegance” and groupies of females known as  “The Girls in Freak Position” or worse, names that you know would piss off your parents as they demanded you to “Tira esa cochinada ahorita!” (I wish I kept one of these flyers. If you have one, let a brother know!)

They were the denizens of the house parties and clubs that rocked the San Gabriel Valley, Hollywood and beyond. They were free-style aficionados who ventured to the Mansion, a claque that was strictly “Members Only,” weekend warriors fortified by Shpritz Forté. For some reason, the men were Dippity Do’d and Drakkar’d into shiny and musky sameness. Despite their macho posturing and bantering, they were rather generic in attitude and looks. Most couldn’t grow a mustache to cover their top lip, but it was awesome to see that their girlfriends could!

It was with great delight that I found a short film I created with my one of my best childhood friends, Ed Castellanos. We invaded El Rancho a few years after we graduated, crafted a DIY masterpiece with a VHS camera. Family, friends, students all contributed to this opus, cheekily titled “Fatal Aquanet.” It was meant to be a trailer for a new movie, with audience reactions and testimonials. At 16 minutes in length, we probably could have used some judicious editing.

Our intent was to create something that was fun. The best part were the on-the-street chats with the Cha Cha’s we talked to on Whittier Blvd. one memorable night. This was a harbinger of the life I would eventually lead, of documenting interviews and questions, of capturing the stories of lives in motion with truth and verve.

Our destinies can be revealed at a young age if we just lose the fear. I wish Ed and I went on to document other things together. Who knows?  “Fatal Aquanet” will live forever on YouTube and on this blog for a reason. (Ed, perhaps a reunion is in store for us? I have an idea!)

Since those chats with Nancy, Helen and Anne, I’ve been toying with another idea, of fashioning a series of posts around a fictional group of girls, Cha Cha’s all, representing a chapter in my angry, hungry, fat, gay Mexican life. Perhaps I’ll use this device to frame a larger story, of what happened to the class of 1985 through the prism of one group of friends as their gay single friend approaches 50 and faces the prospect of marriage…to someone younger.

Nothing upsets the herd like a seismic shift in the group dynamic, with the rest of the couples questioning their own choices and relationships. Sometimes when we look back, the consequences have an unexpected on the future. Good or bad, it is always for the best. And it would have great style with a soundtrack to beat any mixtape or playlist you could devise.

I don’t know how that particular story will play itself out, but I only ask that you come go with me and find out.

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 10, Day 68 — “Breathe”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 10, Day 68 — “Breathe”

“At first I was afraid, I was petrified
Kept thinkin’ I could never live without you by my side
Then I spent so many nights just thinking how you did me wrong
And I grew strong
And I learned how to get along…”

— From “I Will Survive” by Freddie Perren & Dino Fekaris

Weight: 238.6 lbs.

Glucose Reading: 126

Lean for Life Program Loss: 24 lbs.

Mental State: Cautious Optimism

Today was my last regular visit to Lindora. I completed the 10-week Lean for Life program, designed to help me combat my Type-2 diabetes. The results? A more realistic loss of weight, a greatly improved series of glucose readings, lowered blood pressure and…? I’m not sure yet. What ever happens next is going to be on me, literally. And I am fuckin’ scared.

When I completed the Lindora program before, the results were always dramatic and euphoric. I was leaner, meaner and looking oh-so chic! (Ironically, that euphoria was also felt whenever I completed one of my late night eating binges of King Taco’s finest.) But like the fast food I returned to court with renewed gusto, the results were never satisfying or lasting. The weight would come back in due time, usually with a few MORE pounds tagging along for the next ride into the Depression City.

It was a truly vicious cycle, one that was particularly self-destructive by late 2015. Never before had the tyranny of food left me feeling alone and suicidal. Never before did I use food as something that could lead me to such a terrifying reality. That is the true power of addiction, when you feel you have no other recourse but to end your journey out of selfish, desperate fear. I don’t ever want to walk that plank again.

“Go on now, go. Walk out the door
Just turn around now ’cause you’re not welcome anymore
Weren’t you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye?
Did you think I’d crumble?
Did you think I’d lay down and die?”

Before I walked away from Lindora this AM, Nurse Maria asked me, “What are you going to do next?” I honestly didn’t have an answer for her. I’ve been dreaming of pizza, nachos and fried chicken of late. Dreaming, not plotting a course. I can’t go back to what I was in late January when I started the program. I can only move forward. Certain carbs, the ones we all love most, will always be a bad crowd for me. I still have to return to Dr. Jason to complete a new A1C panel. The reality is I may never stop taking them to keep the “Sugars” under control.

Wellness and healthier living are meant to be a marathon runs, not sprints. The instability of these last months has been my biggest obstacle. Family is enduring its own trials. Friends have suffered heart and other reminders of our mortality. The world is being used as target practice for Tomahawk missiles, both literal and figurative ones at that.

This revived “Me Generation” defies the selfish, narcissism of the 1970s. We were told to live in the “Now,” but all that’s done is make us think in terms of “hurry up” and “faster.” It is also not dictated by age anymore, nor does it heed the endless cries for living an “authentic life.” No one can seem to even wait for someone to make a turn in front of us, much less wait at a stop light. No one person’s life or time is more important than your own. So many an’t even respectfully slow the fuck down to avoid the red light you’re still going to break the law to cross. Let them all be damned since no one will take the fault for an error anymore, either.  It takes everything in my being to just stop and breathe.

Breathe.

Pondering Nurse Maria’s question anew, I think I have an answer. I’m just going to take this a day at a time. When the mania rises, when I feel the least in control and need to reach for that thing that does me the most harm, I will stop, breathe and think. I will remind myself of the dark mental state that conspired to pull me out of this world out of fear.

It’s hard not to be awestruck at the photo of little me, the one that is the featured image of this entry. I look at the abject joy in those chubby little cheeks. I was happy to be in this strange world of ours. Somewhere along the way, I let that world turn a different shade, opting to hide from the very people and things that brought me so much happiness before.

My beautiful picture
My beautiful picture

I knew from a very young age I was a peculiar little gent, but it didn’t bother me. It has taken me almost 50 years to return to that point. The destination is a little hazy, but the signs leading me here are unmistakable. I now have a better understanding as to who I was supposed to be. Not total acceptance, mind you, but I am working towards that goal.

I’ve tried on so many different personas over the years, I confused myself, literally losing myself in this panicked desire to be all things to every being that’s ever been a part of my life. I see the folly of this today. It didn’t mean a thing, trying to please my way through this world. Friends came and went, just as lovers and co-workers did, too. The people that stayed demanded nothing of me, but I kept up appearances because I had a warped perception as to WHY they liked me in the first place.

Some people may have their own notion as to who is Jorge. Not George or Coco or MediaJor or The Peach or the Jor or any of the names that have defined me at various stages of my life. Jorge is something unique all unto himself. I am more than the Teflon brother who always gets what he wants, or the gay jester or the “Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican” or the producer/interviewer or any of the things that are part of my persona. I am ALL of those things, though, the masculine and the feminine, sometimes even both at the same time. Instead of running away from all of this, I want to stop forcing myself to fit into a space that is not of my own design anymore. It is time to embrace all of me and stop pretending to be someone I’m not or capitulate to false perceptions.

As I start the next phase of improving my wellness and health, I am humbled by certain truths I’ve uncovered anew. I’ve used my family to fund my ridiculous efforts to cover my weak self up with material goods, to fill this insatiable void of my own making. It has been exceedingly unfair and I will not abuse their unconditional love in this manner anymore. This squandering of resources is on par with the awful food choices I’ve made for years. It’s all one big cover up and I am exposing this crime of emotional fraud once and for all. It didn’t make me happy in the least, not in the longterm anyway. That I ever thought I had the right to repay them with a departed soul is unforgivable.

One chapter of many is closing. This entry is the summation of a not so complex equation, a chronicle of a life that continues to be lived, despite its considerable contradictions and flaws. Samantha, whose embarking on a similar journey to end her habit of smoking, recently said to me, “The training wheels are coming off!” That is indeed true. As I steer myself into territory unknown, I know I won’t be alone. All I have to do to survive is…breathe.

I will survive.
Oh, as long as I know how to love I know I’ll stay alive.
I’ve got all my life to live.
I’ve got all my love to give.
And I’ll survive.

 

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 10, Day 64 — “Failure”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 10, Day 64 — “Failure”

Not a legend
Not ordinary
Not alternative
No position
No religion
F-A-I-L-U-R-E
I might as well be giving up all the time

— “Failure” by The Ting Tings

I ate a basket of bread today. I couldn’t stop myself. I tried to justify it with a joyful, “It’s Sunday Funday. I’ll be good six days a week, but I’ll treat myself to whatever I want on Sunday!”

Yeah. No.

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The fact is I had zero control. Despite the decision to eat a grilled salmon entree with broccoli, I still opted to consume quite a bit of the endless salad with tons of salty Italian dressing and soggy croutons. And then that bloody bread basket. Our helpful waitress literally wore a path from the kitchen to our table as she replenished our warm, flavorful breadsticks. The less said about the marinara dipping sauce, the better.

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Bloody Olive Garden! Is it any wonder why we are enduring a health crisis in this country? I really do think we are given so much choice, Viking sized portions and other reasons to eat in bulk are part of an insidious conspiracy to keep us all fat, lazy and sick since we refuse to be told how to live. Millions sold, billions earned and we are blind to the reality that we are truly lambs being lead to slaughter. Case in point, Olive Garden’s special was offering a second entree dish to go for free! But is anything ever really “free?” The costs are diabetes, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, heart disease and death, all with a generous side of Alfredo sauce.

Mind you, I can’t blame Olive Garden for my mania. It started earlier at my parents’ house, where I consumed hummus, walnuts, papaya, some Pollo Loco chicken, romaine lettuce, cucumbers and, in a fit of inspiration, air popped popcorn with melted Smart Balance butter and Tajín!

¡Joder, tío!

I am ending the Lean for Life program at Lindora this week. Four more days of regular visits to the clinic. Then, I have eight more visits for check-ups to complete on my own time. It can be eight weeks or eight days in a row or any configuration of eight. After that, it’s all on me.

Why I chose to sabotage myself before the very end is so typical! It harkens back that infamous freshman year at UCLA when I sold my books before my finals in one class — and it was an open book test!

Sitting at the table with Anne and Helen that night, our reminisces about the past circled to the bullying we endured or witnessed when we were in middle school. As I write this now, I realize that I’ve been my own worst bully. The difference between then and now? Those guys who knocked my books out of my hand, slapped the back of my head as I walked down the hallways at Meller Jr. High or yelled the most hurtful slurs about my peculiar brand masculinity were left way behind in Pico Rivera. But, I still say and think some of the darkest shit about myself to myself on the daily. I shame myself for my failures and weakness. I reserve the harshest criticisms for myself.

If any of us are to stay on the path towards wellness, bullying ourselves cannot be part of the regimes we attempt to establish. We have to love ourselves even more as we battle the moments of weakness that will inevitably occur again. It may be on a Sunday or some other part of the week that ends in “y.”

I am angry with myself right now, but tomorrow is another opportunity for a reset. I made a choice to be healthier for a reason. I’m still grappling with the concept that failure is just part of the process. Yet, I do know that success will forever stand right next to failure. They are never that far apart, but you do control the amount of distance that remains to be covered when you experience that moment of weakness. I let 17 months go by before I finally stopped my descent into a full blown health crisis. And I’ve had success in making great improvements.

I contemplated not going into Lindora tomorrow to avoid having to see the scale head upwards in the morning after seeing it drop over the last week. I will go in as planned, however. As I write these closing lines, I ponder that law of gravity that keeps our feet on the ground. Whatever goes up, will eventually come down. And down these numbers will continue to drop.

Oh, did I mention I also hit Yogurtland, too?

Update:  The weigh in at Lindora gave me a case of the Mondays. I was up SIX pounds of sodium-induced bloat, reaching 245.8. My glucose reading was at 119. I’ll be drinking a lot of water this week. 

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Cesar Chavez Day”

Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers. — Cesar Chavez

My family’s activism has never wavered since those first steps towards civic awareness, which took shape at home and in our classrooms at South Ranchito Elementary in Pico Rivera, California. I will never forget that moment in 1977, when those first uncertain steps led me to an encounter with the person who envisioned the path many Latinos remain on today: Cesar Chavez. As we honor this great man today, following is a remembrance piece I wrote for Desde Hollywood in 2014, which was timed to the release of director Diego Luna’s underrated “Cesar Chavez” film.

If you were a Latino (or Chicano) child of the 1970s in southern California, chances are you were part of a bilingual education program that was a glorious but short-lived experiment. Today, I can see it as a powerful opportunity to build a bilingual cultural identity. That wasn’t quite the image I had several decades ago. My parents, both Mexican immigrants, were unusual in the sense that they gave their first generation American children a choice. We could either learn Spanish or not. Sadly, I did not take advantage of becoming bilingual until many years later. Yet, I never lost sight that I was part of something bigger. The question became not just about learning the language, but understanding the importance of preserving a multi-cultural identity. Today, many of us face an additional challenge in terms of what role we should assume as Latinos and as Americans with a voice.

As the rising power of Latinos continues to amass in our contemporary culture, it is thrilling to discover the community at a real crossroads. We will dictate the next election. Immigration reform has never been a more prominent and important issue. The national narrative is being re-written, but how do we make sure we get a chance to contribute to these next chapters in American history? It is about taking those first steps forward to achieve awareness, to educate ourselves on the issues that affect us all.

The arrival of “Cesar Chavez” was a significant achievement for many reasons. Some have to do with the hope of a changing film industry that remains in play, but others are decidedly personal. Hollywood loves telling the stories of ordinary people who stare down adversity to become extraordinary figures in history. We’ve witnessed the return of the Great Emancipator; a king’s struggle with speech, the rise and fall of an “iron lady” and the harrowing 12 years lived by an American slave. Yet, something unusual happened when I viewed “Cesar Chavez” for the first time. This time, it wasn’t a performance or scene that stirred an emotional response. To coin a much clichéd tag line, this time the movie was personal.

In 1977, my entire family marched with Chavez and the United Farm Workers on a sunny April day in the Coachella Valley against the lettuce growers. We all knew the importance of Chavez’s actions would remain far-reaching. By today’s standards of political correctness, the teachers at South Ranchito Elementary could have been charged with imposing their own political agenda on their nine and 10 year-old students. Yet, today hindsight reveals a different scenario. These educators were trying to instill in us the value of community and responsibility we shared in preserving its ideals. We were being taught the power of being connected, very much how Chavez himself went out to speak with individuals face to face. It was that connectivity that created the UFW and changed the political future for Latinos in this country.

I am ashamed to admit that the impact of that April day faded too soon. I was living a suburban life of relative comfort by comparison to the young field workers I met that afternoon in the Coachella Valley. They saw the world a lot differently, but they didn’t shame us for not understanding. We were interlopers from classrooms miles away; fulfilling a teacher’s hope the experience would change us in some way. My adult journey did allow for a sense of community awareness, overreacting to hot button issues, as do most of us. But none of this happened in the way my idealistic teachers hoped. I’m an average American who votes, adhering to moderate political views. As I reach middle age, however, I find I am now questioning much in our modern life. And it is spilling into the contributions I am making as a member of the media.

It would be easy to go off on a tangent about how the industry still cannot understand that a multi-cultural audience wants to see itself on screen in roles that aren’t stereotypes. It is no coincidence that instead of watching films about dead rock stars, films like Eugenio Derbez’s “Instructions Not Included” are playing favorably with more than just a Latino audience. But the Latino community showed its strength and they were heard. Now, “Cesar Chavez” the film needs that same grassroots support to sustain what should be viewed as a cultural movement.

After watching the marches and rallies depicted in “Cesar Chavez,” my mind went straight to the details of that hot April afternoon. The dusty walk of the countless supporters who joined la causa, their strong voices unified into a choir of peaceful civil disobedience, the annoying splinter in my right hand from the wood of the sign I held straight up into the sky. Even the hideous tartan pants I wore that day seem to take on a “Braveheart” glow. But most of all, I remember the walk to meet Chavez himself at the post-march rally.

My dad was with me, encouraging me not to be shy. We had been waiting for a break in the crowd, all wanting a moment to speak to him. Finally, we had our chance. I walked with the same purpose of my father, my shorter stride valiantly trying to mirror Dad’s more confident steps. Jorge Sr. spoke first, of course. Then, he introduced me to el señor Chavez. I was shaking the man’s hand, receiving that welcoming smile and a kind word of appreciation for being there that day. He went from being a photo in a textbook or news item into something out of a movie. Cesar Chavez was real and he was a real hero.

In early February (of 2014), I had the opportunity to sit down with Luna to conduct the interview that would be used for the “Cesar Chavez” broadcast press materials. He had just flown into Los Angeles from Washington, D.C., where he presented the film prior to moving on to its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. What should have been an easy 20-minute on-camera exchange for the electronic press kit became a 90-minute conversation that covered more than just the making of the film. The candor and sincerity revealed by Luna could not be tempered by exhaustion. Much is riding on the film and he is fully aware of what its success will dictate to him as he evolves from actor to director.

We are taught as journalists to never become part of the story, but this was a unique situation. It is hard to not see this as a full circle experience. Many people will be introduced to Cesar Chavez for the first time after viewing Luna’s film. It is an artistic risk for the Mexican-born artist, particularly with taking on this most American of subjects.

Still, the possibility of this cinematic meeting between Chavez and today’s audiences having the same resounding effect as it did with the hundreds of thousands of men and women who stood by Chavez, his family and the UFW is tangible. Therein lies the power of film. The greatest lesson to be learned is not reserved for the immigrants or American-born Latinos who continue to revere him. All of us must understand the meaning and power of Sí Se Puede. It does not belong to any one era or people. Its purpose applies to all those seeking to make change happen.

To illustrate the point further, here are excerpts from my conversation with Diego Luna on “Cesar Chavez,” exclusive to Desde Hollywood:

JORGE CARREÓN: Cesar Chavez was a truly humble man. How would he have viewed this entire process of making and promoting the film about his life?

DIEGO LUNA: He never wanted a film to be made about him. When people got to him and said, “We want to make a film about you,” He said, “No, no, no. I have a lot of work to do. I cannot sit down with you to talk about what I’ve done. I still have a lot to do. So, no films.” He hated the idea of being recognized. If you wanted to give him recognition, an award, he would ask you to do in the name of the union. He hated to be on the front page.

CARREÓN: Even with the industry’s fascination with biographical films, does his reticence explain why a film about his life has taken such a long time?

LUNA: There’s a reason why there’s not been a biopic about Cesar like the ones normally done in this country. If I were going to come and do a film, why would I try to repeat something that also doesn’t belong to me? To the way I see the world, to the kind of films we want to do? I wanted to make a film that for a moment you could say; “Oh is this going to end right or wrong? Is this going to have a happy ending where they win or not?” I hate films that when they start and you know how they’re going to end it. I’m pretty sure that in the course of these 10 years we cover of his life, he woke up many times saying, “This is not going to work.” I wanted that to be part of the film. If I would have shown a perfect man, making just the right decisions all the time, then you know the end. Why would you pay a ticket to see that? The other answer I have, which is not as beautiful as this one, is because you guys never made it.

CARREÓN: How do you hope the impact of “Instructions Not Included” will increase the marketability of “Cesar Chavez” with a mainstream audience?

LUNA: I hope this film works in that way. Before “Instructions Not Included,” every huge success in Mexico was like a niche success here. But that one was unbelievable. Suddenly on both sides of the border people were saying, “I want to see the same film.” That means something. Things are changing. So it makes sense there’s a Mexican telling the story of Cesar Chavez.

CARREÓN: Hard to believe, but you can see how certain sectors of the Latino American and Mexican film communities may have a polarized view of what you’ve done as director of “Cesar Chavez.”

LUNA: We are two different communities and I have to say there’s a lot of prejudice about Mexican-Americans in Mexico. And there’s also a lot of prejudice about the Mexican experience today from the Mexican-American community. Things have changed dramatically in the last 20 years. This film is an attempt to bring that wall down. It’s ridiculous that we’re not connected. That we are not working for each other, feeding each other. I come here and I go to my favorite two places near my house. One is a restaurant. There’s a family from Nayarit that does the best pescado a la plancha that you can get in California. It’s unbelievable that they’re not in touch with those who cook the exact same dish every day on the other side of the border. Why do we allow this world to really separate us? It’s ridiculous. I think we would be strong, really strong if we would be connected, if we would feel as part of the same thing. It’s like what the film says, “You can think it’s all about you and your life is miserable or you can open the door and say, ‘He probably thinks the same and if he thinks the same, if we all get together we might be able to change things.’” It’s time that we see each other as part of the same people. We would be stronger. We would be able to say we want these films to be made. We want more films like “Cesar Chavez” that would represent us, films that are about people like us.

CARREÓN: The reality is many audience members will be introduced to Chavez’s life for the first time. It is a thrilling prospect to see what they will take from this introduction.

LUNA: I think Chavez showed something very simple, but very difficult to actually believe in, which is even though you think that person doesn’t care about you, he does. He does. We have to work that muscle so we don’t lose that ability to actually care about what’s going on with our neighbors. We’re learning to be around so much violence and injustice and we shouldn’t get used to that.

CARREÓN: With the film now being seen by a mass audience, what impact are you hoping the film is able to make? This is a bold move, away from how the industry views you as an artist.

LUNA: I want to inspire people to say, “Why is there not another Cesar Chavez today in this community? What’s going on? We could be that man.” His life was very difficult. Eight kids. Imagine convincing that amount of people to go back to live in the worst conditions in the fields to bring change for a community that you’re not part of anymore? We should be celebrating that this happened and hope this is the first of many films not just about Cesar Chavez but the farmworker experience and the Mexican-American experience. I truly think we just have one chance. If this film doesn’t succeed in the box office, if people don’t actually go watch it, I’m going to have to rethink what I’m going to do in life or where I’m going to do it. This one shot has taken four years of my life. My son was born here. I opened a company in the States. But my heart, my stories, my father and my friends are in Mexico and I need to be able to keep both things happening. The film is about that in a way. I really hope this shows that cinema should be representing this community today with respect. It’s a very complex community and the need of content is huge. Films like “Cesar Chavez” need to exist and it’s just not happening. So let’s hope it starts to happen.

#SiSePuede #VivaLaCausa

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Week 6, Day 35 — “Lies”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — “Week 6, Day 35 — “Lies”

There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity…You can smell it. It smells like death.

— From “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” by Tennessee Williams

Weight: 248.3 lbs.

Glucose Reading: 129

I’ve always been a really good liar. Not #45 good, but close enough. I’ve been carrying this guilt about lying for most of my adult life. Time to dump it all into the cosmic landfill once and for all.

From a very young age, I’ve quite adept in manipulating the truth to my will. It’s this choir boy face of mine, the one that disarms people with a sly twinkle in my eye. It’s the face that says “Confess to me” when I am in an interview situation. Perhaps you won’t even hear me judge you when we speak, but sometimes my will to speak is too great. Other times, it is silent and deadly with a force that even makes me feel shame.

I’ve always been a really good liar to my parents, to my family, to my friends, to anyone that dares enter my world of vivid stories and colorful novela-esque drama. Like the time I told people when I was in junior high that our Thanksgiving dinner was a failure because the turkey blew out of the oven. When that tale made the rounds to my older sister, I was oh-so busted! But it didn’t matter, it wasn’t until the end of the school day that the truth was revealed.

Truth.

I know the truth about my lies. I’ve never possessed a great poker face. I may think my lies achieve their assigned tasks, but my inner truth is always on display. It’s one of the many walking contradictions I possess. For those who are attuned, and maybe even those who are recklessly dense, you will most likely be able to read me like an alternate selection from the Book of the Month Club. I have never been able to truly hide the panoply of insecurities that motivates me to skirt the truth:

Fear of not being accepted.

Fear of being unloved.

Fear of being left behind.

Fear of being invisible.

Fear of being ordinary. 

Fear. Just plain fear. 

This slow journey to better health has some real pitfalls. Shedding layers of my physical self is revealing a lot of what I’ve attempted to keep buried. Facing these truths also means having to apologize to a lot of people for the litany of untruths and manipulations I’ve spun better than Charlotte on her web for much of my life. I say to you all, “I’m not proud of being duplicitous, but I am glad you have stuck by me no matter what.” However, of all the lies I’ve told, the worst are the ones I tell to myself.

Lying is on par with keeping a secret or withholding information. The stupid truth is that no matter how hard you try to keep things hidden, the more certain they are to be revealed in the end. Yet, so many of us keep making that decision, certain the consequences will never materialize. That we’re untouchable. And no one will get hurt. But it’s wrong. Someone always gets hurt. Sometimes it is whoever is closest to the blast zone when it detonates. It could be someone you love, but really, the biggest damage is done to yourself.

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The lies I’ve told to myself vary in size, from tiny to epic. Thinking about it now, the size really doesn’t matter. A lie is a lie. I think about how I’ve lied to myself every day:

I’ll diet tomorrow. 

I’ll exercise this weekend. 

I’ll go to King Taco one last time. 

I’ll eat these nachos one last time before getting serious about eating better. 

I do love myself.

I do care about my life.

I do matter.

These last two days have been tough. I’m fuckin’ tired. I’m tired of carrying all of this weight around, literally and figuratively. This eternal struggle of constantly having to find new spaces for the pounds I keep gaining and losing is getting to me. I feel the struggle in a much different way and it’s a feeling that not even the Lexapro can quell.  I just can’t spin any more lies.

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At one point today, I just let my feelings spill out in front of my boss. I just had enough: The drive to Lindora, the drive to work, racing to get from one point to another. The sad drop of just .3 of a pound, despite the booster shot. The copious handfuls of walnuts I couldn’t stop shoveling into my mouth last night. The guys I’ve met on Scruff and Growlr who don’t seem to want to respond back to texts or DMs on the apps anymore, despite their initial interest. The shit show in DC that is giving lying a whole new allure to a country that refuses to acknowledge how the weight of an idealized, racist past is NOT the way to go.

Sigh. A run on sentence of emotion. A purge. Truth. Real truth. I know I will get through this intact. I took a walk after my sensible lunch. I started to write this post, to get these feelings out into the open before their toxicity triggered the mania that makes me reach for food I don’t need.  And so far, I’ve held it together.

Man, at some point, I know I am going to like myself enough to not punish myself with these thoughts anymore, that I won’t punish my body with these mad lapses in greasy, salty and fatty foods. It’s ironic, being this people pleaser, always striving to make the rest of the room feel great. I have never been able to do that for myself. Worse, I’d invent false personas with which to keep people around happy and engaged enough to keep me as their friend. Really, I just wanted to hide the deficiencies I saw in my physical self.

Food never judged me, which is why I consumed so much of it since I was kid. Shoes and all the other material goods didn’t judge me, which is why I spent so much money I didn’t have amassing so many things. It’s amazing what we tell ourselves to feign the feeling or project the image of happiness. And for what? I’ve made myself sick in ways I thought would never happen to me. But they did. I want to get better. I want to be well. I want to be no longer afraid. I want to be honest with not only the world, but myself.

I knew this return to Lindora would be different than my previous experiences. What I didn’t anticipate was such introspection as a result of what would be dredged up in the process.  I’ve never lost weight this slow before. Then again, I’ve never been so affected by the necessity of no longer being under this tyranny of food.

Driving home tonight from work, my iPod shuffled to play Sara Bareilles’s “The King of Anything.” At one point she sings, “Waitin’ for someone to tell me it’s my turn to decide.” The decision to be healthy and strong has been made. What needs to happen next is to accept a vow of truth and stop the lies that have resulted in nothing but pain and fear.

All my life
I’ve tried
To make everybody happy while I
Just hurt
And hide
Waitin’ for someone to tell me it’s my turn
To decide. — From “King of Anything” by Sara Bareilles

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 5, Day 27 — “Like Me, Love Me”

Diary of an Angry, Hungry, Fat, Gay Mexican — Week 5, Day 27 — “Like Me, Love Me”

 

Weight: 249.6

Glucose Reading: 123

“Worry
Why do I let myself worry?
Wondering
What in the world did I do?”

— From “Crazy” (Willie Nelson)

I truly do feel crazy of late. Even this post takes a turn due to current events, so hang on.

I am crazy for being so lonely, despite the good that surrounds me at the moment. While my social media posts of late are of the #45 trolling nature, I actually do feel rather good about a lot things. My weight is down, dropping at a rate that is healthy and realistic. Sugar is WAY down from its epic high of the 400’s earlier this year. My eating habits are starting to adjust to what makes sense to eat at the moment as opposed to just eating all the things that numb my feelings away. Creating that soft blanket of armor is something best left on my bed.

So, why the unease? I’m tired of fighting these gusts of loneliness. It doesn’t help that our days of rain and road rage have colored the city a less appealing shade of grey lately. One drought may be in the midst of being repaired, while my dating drought seems to be holding on a bit longer.

Part of this mentality is fueled by the “Chicken and the Egg” mechanics of dating and meeting people today. A lot of it is driven by apps, something that already makes me wonder where the time went while I busy inventing the MediaJor persona. Forget about the chat rooms and Craig’s Listings of yore. We are even going beyond Scruff and Growlr. Now we have “MeetUp.” It is on my queue of things to try this year and I am sure the experience will inspire a diary entry or two. The existence of this app fascinates me while pulling the trigger on one my most defining insecurities.

I’ve always considered myself a very social person. Well, let me rephrase that. I was a very social person, completely secure as to what made me unique as a kid. That ended around third grade, which is when I took a major detour once I became hyper aware of the social hierarchies of adolescence. At first, I didn’t really pay attention to the awkward reality of being that Cole Porter kid in a sea of Chicanos with totally different interests. I thought all kids loved movies, musicals and books as much as me. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that wasn’t at all the case.

When reality kicked in, I bid a retreat from what made me “Jorge” and tried to turn it around by being “George,” seeking acceptance and feeling devastated when I still remained a background player. Then I would couple my voracious appetite for popular culture with two or three more helpings of whatever Mom made for dinner. I see where I kicked off the chain of events that would be one of my biggest challenges to overcome: maintaining a healthy body image.

As a gay man, I know I am not alone in living with that vicious cycle of self-flagellation over how we look to the world. If having abs and a gun show didn’t matter, gyms would go out of business with our mass exodus. I still obsess over my appearance and how people perceive me. Any shortcomings were covered up with being more of a “personality” since I wasn’t so secure in my being a “person” people could care about, much less desire. God, this era of trolling for “Likes” is just a more insidious means of finding acceptance and validation, one that preys on the weak and insecure like a plague. It is so fucked up, seeing men turn into teenage girls. It’s all tattoos, jock straps, duck lips and mirror shots that are so filtered, even Doris Day would go, “It’s not supposed to be like looking through cataracts, dear!”

How do we inoculate ourselves from this virulent form of narcissism and self-absorption? I’m guilty of the selfie ritual, almost to the point of ridicule from people close to me who can’t bear to see the pics clog up their Facebook feeds. However, part of the process of reconciling an emotional connection with food includes restoring a positive image of yourself. That’s something I haven’t really had in over four decades of living.

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When I step down from this wheel of “Oh, I am so lonely” long enough, I recognize the truth about what it is that draws people to the eye. Yes, aesthetics play a role. We’re a visual society, more so than ever. But it does matter to strike that inner spark of contentment, the one that is born from being secure with your true self. This is nothing new and it goes beyond the memes and magazine-speak that makes obvious pronouncements seem profound. Hell, even RuPaul has a version that drips with sequins and glitter, but it is true. “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love somebody else.”

Better living through chemistry, rather, the pills I am taking have helped a lot in beating back the darkness that’s shrouded me for a long while. These last weeks of eating better and making better food choices have also returned some vim and verve in my step. But, lurking in the corners, like dust bunnies clinging for dear life, is that woe of being alone.

In speaking with a friend this week, whose own travails with matters of the heart are complicated enough to make me want to take a vow of celibacy, I found myself offering advice that I should heed myself. He isn’t ready for the relationship he is in at the moment. His BF is a very social creature who enjoys many of the trappings of gay life that my friend  can barely tolerate, if at all. More, his own insecurities about being left and deemed unworthy have triggered a few flashbacks of from my own dating life. 

I am reminded of what I did to my own Ex during and after our two splits. Seeing my Ex appear on the gay apps like Growlr hasn’t helped me much, either. It’s just another track on the “Being Left Behind” hit parade. This friend and I are kindred spirits in this regard and we both have grappled with finding the love for ourselves. I think I am making progress in the sense that I do love myself enough to want to be healthier, to release myself from the tyranny of food and take charge. As for the crazy love for another part? It does always read better on the page or seen on the big screen, so my focus is shifting to the rational on that front now that I’ve purged a little of this angst in this diary entry. But I don’t want to relinquish the crazy just yet. Hear me out.

Author Paolo Coelho stated, “I prefer to crazy and happy rather than normal and bitter.” We’re moving past bitter these days. Normal was never a word I’d ever choose to describe myself. Crazy is a given. Happy? I think I’ll continue to dine on that possibility for as long as it does my body, brain and heart good.

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While composing this entry, it was announced that #45’s administration withdrew the protections implemented by President Obama on transgender bathroom use in public schools. I’ve never felt skilled in dealing with the political because my focus was too narrow and even superficial when it came to this blog. However, I find I can’t just sit in this space of looking inward without addressing what I see outside this bubble.

This diary on food and self-awareness began with a simple question:  “Is my life worth saving?” In the current climate, where protections for the queer and transgender communities are being removed as we speak, it is trivial to sit here prattling on and on about the lack of love in my life. I can’t follow a linear course with my thoughts of late. I don’t think anyone can, particularly with the frequency with which #45 is systematically turning the US into a Russian outpost of hate.

Love is not something I lack, that’s obvious. But, the pressures of conformity are now coupling with the incredible fear that many in this country have to contend with on a daily level. Many are losing that battle, taking their lives because death seems like a better option over continued persecution. The question I find myself pondering is fast becoming, “Are all lives worth saving in America.”

I think about what it felt like being the chubby kid who wasn’t like the other boys. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I’ve been able to face the consequences of those years. It’s bad enough the body politics that rule within the gay community are discriminating enough. That’s a topic for another rant. However, I do recognize just how lucky I was to NOT be ostracized or isolated in college or the workplace.  But that isn’t the case for many queer or transgender youths today, despite the progress that was so hard won and now faces a regressive era that defies basic human rights.

No one should ever want for love in this world. No one should ever want for acceptance and respect despite being “different.” But for change to happen, we must change ourselves from within. I recognize the power in shedding that which does nothing but harm me. Imagine if that same power can be shared with others in shedding that which does nothing but harm our way of living.

It is important to recognize that the loneliness I feel will be just one more layer that will be stripped away with the rest of that which ails me as I continue this journey to better health. What will be found underneath remains to be seen. However, the strength gained must be put to good use. Truth matters in a fight. And the lines are being drawn as I write these words. Because if we’re aiming for crazy and happy as a society, it will take vanquishing those bitter souls who dare decide what is “normal” today.

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