“How to Be a Hermana Coraje” (or “11 Ways to Destroy a Marriage!”)

“How to Be a Hermana Coraje” (or “11 Ways to Destroy a Marriage!”)

Struck with the fever to clean my online house, I finally got around to deleting some files from my Drafts folder on MediaJor.com. These were unfinished essays that seemed like great ideas at the time but never really flourished for whatever reason. Imagine my utmost thrill to find one particularly glorious remembrance of days past. Oof. I guess I forgot about it or maybe I calmed down enough NOT to get involved in the escalating drama that inspired me to write something. It still makes me say, “Wow.” Reading it again made my skin crawl, particularly since it’s a fetid example of this Age of Rage we are living in. 

This post harkens back to the Fall of 2014, which was when I had the brilliant idea of writing a coda to the now infamous “Hermanas Coraje” series.  Coraje means “angry” in Spanish, itself a joke and a play on a famed Mexican telenovela known as “Los Hermano Coraje,” which I loved watching with Mom when I was a kid. 

The essays were intended to be a means to an end, of dealing with the painful consequences stemming from my aunt’s battle and demise from cancer in 2014. It seemed to help to turn certain relatives into characters in a Mexican telenovela. Adding fuel to the fire was the endless back and forth of these covertly shared texts and Emails from the so-called Coraje sisters, exchanges my warring cousins that personified Latino Drama and then some. I wasn’t at a loss for inspiration to keep this serial going for a while. However, this entire exercise proved to be anything but a laughing matter in the end. 

The essays I penned got angrier and angrier as my family’s situation deteriorated further and further. Each new text or Email was like a bomb going off and no one was spared from the shrapnel. Today, we’re still living with the injuries inflicted on both sides, which ultimately destroyed all of the tropes of the unified Latino family in the process. 

The first coda I attempted to write was an attempt to get away from Ground Zero, one that was a direct result of what became the last secret Email I would receive. I say “last” because the contents of this particular letter filled me with such contempt, I asked to be taken off the CC list altogether. I also decided to end my imagined telenovela on MediaJor.

The real hermanas Coraje were at their conjoined peak of “But we’re real the victims here!,” which was quite a feat since we had already buried my aunt. Make no mistake. These women were the actual instigators, the lead stirrers of one big cosmic pot of rancid menudo. The elder Coraje sister saw it fit to fire off a truly evil Email to her soon to-be ex-sister in-law, a punch thrown so low it hit the family at its lowest point. Our collective grief was turned into absolute rage again.

Given the way most families work, it was a matter of time before the contents of this destructive Email made their way around to the rest of us. We had an inkling as to the involvement of the sisters Coraje in wrecking their brother’s marriage. Their grotesque agenda of revenge and acrimony turned their brother’s wife into a member of our family. Yes, the family split and sides were taken. We sought to at least be a sounding board, but we turned into a means of emotional support as her marriage broke apart. Yet, we really had NO idea just how far the Sisters C were willing to go in ensuring her destruction.

Revisiting this letter, it was obvious that only making grammatical corrections would not be enough. Whether or not the entire family views this essay, it is just smart to only keep the emotional intent of the original note to protect the innocent and guilty and not retain any of the original text. So yes, I did rewrite the entire thing to best fit this essay. Also, note the “countersteps” have been fictionalized, too. While Hermano C’s ex-wife did offer her own rather pointed rebuttals, again, it would not prudent for me to air them out with the rest of the dirty laundry. 

To read the original post was to almost hear the elder Coraje sister slamming the keys on her insidious PC. Each hit nailed a coffin shut, forever keeping out any light, love and all things human from a couple’s union. Vengeance would be mine if I left it as is to give readers a better sense of the epic pendejismo of it all. Trust me, this collection of twisted maneuvers was devised by someone who has been burned by life one too many times.

In the two years since we ceased all communication with the Corajes, I’ve realized theirs is a house built on a foundation of resentment. They’ve done nothing but shift the blame for their imagined woes onto other people. I have zero respect for those who prefer to exist within the Cult of Victimhood. All of this makes me want to subtitle this post as “Own Your Shit!”  But, perhaps ours is a life lesson that can do us all some good, which is what led me to revisit this essay one more time…

They’re baaack. And not without leaving a few commandments behind for good measure. In fact, I should thank Las Hermanas Coraje for the wealth of material they’ve inspired me to compose. They’re web spinners and string pullers, the most cowardly roles to undertake when it comes to fucking shit up. These aren’t people who carry baseball bats to deal with shit. They prefer to do the side step as deftly as Charles Durning in “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas!”

Regardless, no matter how you choose to meddle in people’s lives, wreckage will be left behind. A broken family will find the means with which to pull itself back together, but it is never really mended. The cracks are there to see forever, just like the words used to inflict the most damage possible in this digital age. However, if you still want to know how YOU, too, can be a Hermana Coraje, follow their simple rules. However, the soon to be ex-sister in-law had rebuttals at the ready. Thus, she is reminding us all that for every action you will experience a reaction:

Step 1:”Tell her to get back to work!”

Counterstep: I have NEVER stopped working. I am not sure what your brother, my husband, tells you. He’s probably — and conveniently — NOT telling you that I pay my share of thousands of dollars in household expenses, too. If either of you need a reminder, keep advising him in the manner you seem to think fit. I’ll show you the receipts.

Step 2: “Move your ass and starting talking to the lawyer and find out how you can protect yourself!”

Counterstep: That’s right, let someone else do the dirty work. As if no one will ever notice the stains on your hands.

Step 3: “DO NOT give her permission to exchange ANY information with the lawyer.”

Counterstep: What? Permission? Since you see fit to meddle in our marriage do you think I’m NOT going to know what crap advice you continue to give my husband? For the record, I’m reading this Email, too!

Step 4: “DO NOT reply to Isela’s email She’s either trying to flirt or dig up info!”

Counterstep: Isela is a friend, a real friend. She’s not part of the Vibora club like you and your sister. She’s just concerned about both of us as this entire situation goes from bad to worse. Honestly, why do you even care?  Or is all of this really about YOU?

Step 5: “DO NOT go to the meeting with the realtor. And for the record, why are you even thinking about going?

Counterstep: We have to deal with the house as that’s OUR home to deal with and not yours. It’s the house where you were welcomed but are now both having to LEAVE because of you.

Step 6: “Stand up for yourself! Move on!”

Counterstep: How can he move on when you’re the one writing the map?

Step 7: “Be a man! Don’t be some little boy doing what mama tells him to do!”

Counterstep: And what is it that YOU’RE doing now with this awful Email?

Step 8: “Tell her you will respond that text from ex-girlfriend. The one we liked.”

Counterstep: Oh, that’s being mature. As if his texting his Ex is going to cause real damage. YOU made this happen, dear. Not me. YOU. Remember that.

Step 9: “Remember that everyone we know and knows you thinks you’re awesome. Just not your wife!”

Counterstep: I never stopped believing he was awesome, until you and sister poisoned the well and ruined us.

Step 10: “The marriage counselor said most of the money from your remaining sessions can be refunded. You won’t face a loss!”

Counterstep: We’ll never know. You took away any real chance for us to find out if we could fix things. All you’ve done is make sure they stayed broken.

Step 11: “She only wants access to your financials to mess you up. Are you stupid enough to just hand this info over to her?”

Counterstep: Spoken like a woman whose never been in a marriage. I have a secret: Spouses are SUPPOSED to know each other’s “financials.”

I really hope you’re pleased with yourself. You’ve prided yourself on being an actress, another lie the family believes. You’ve been nothing but a bit player all these years, always in the background. I never would have guessed the best role of your tiny “career” was to be the lead player in ruining my marriage. Was it worth it taking center stage this way? You always referred to yourself as the big Catholic. Let this weigh heavy on your soul because I believe you will be paid back in full when it’s your marriage. That’s my curse for you.

Since you took it upon yourself to write this list of “steps” for my husband, I will make sure to keep them on hand for the future in case you or anyone in the family needs a “reminder.” Better yet, I’ll keep them in a safe place for our kids so they can read them one day. After all, isn’t what family does best, sharing everything?
You’re welcome.

Your sister in-law under God’s law forever…

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Two years have passed. That note was the last we heard of Las Hermanas Coraje. In the end, this once star-crossed couple lost their house. No one earned a real dime from its sale, so said “financials” were never improved. The ex Mrs. Coraje moved on with their kids to a new home and life.  Meanwhile, the entire bitter lot of siblings are now existing under one deluded roof, just like when their dad lost their business and was forced to move them all  under one roof with the very family they would turn their back on in the most callous manner.

I am loathe to report that they’re still playing their pueblito games, too. So much for growth and maturity. But, I will never forget the elder Coraje‘s parting shot. I still can’t believe the nasty tone and manipulation found in that note. But the worst part? It’s just pathetic to know the Coraje brother’s balls are still being kept by his sisters.

Somehow, I don’t think this is the final chapter. The Resurrection of Las Hermana Coraje? After all, writers are encouraged to “write what they know.” Well, the author of this family’s narrative is God himelf. I suspect even he would need major encouragement to pen a revision.

Wasn’t It Romantic…? o “Las aventuras de un oso viejo y cachondo”

Wasn’t It Romantic…? o “Las aventuras de un oso viejo y cachondo”

Isn’t it romantic?
Merely to be young on such a night as this?
Isn’t it romantic?
Every note that’s sung is like a lover’s kiss

Sweet symbols in the moonlight
Do you mean that I will fall in love perchance?

“Isn’t It Romantc?” — Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Lorenz Hart

I hate to break it to Ella or the Messrs. Rodgers & Hart. It isn’t so romantic anymore to be young — or in my case “mature” — on any given day/night when you’re single in LA in 2016. Those “sweet symbols”of yore have been replaced by emojis and the art of flirting has given way to acts of narcissism, sexting, pexting and a strange paranoia that everyone is going to stalk you if you dare to ask for their phone number.

What happened to the fine art of seduction!? I think I can chart the course of our romantic Titanic to this famed opening from one of Candace Bushnell’s “Sex and the City” columns:

“Welcome to the Age of Un-Innocence. The glittering lights of Manhattan that served as backdrops for Edith Wharton’s bodice-heaving trysts are still glowing—but the stage is empty. No one has breakfast at Tiffany’s, and no one has affairs to remember—instead, we have breakfast at 7 A.M. and affairs we try to forget as quickly as possible. How did we get into this mess?”

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And that was in the 1990s, way before we even reached this intersection of technology and dating that dominates us today.

To be fair, love and sex have always been risky investments and commodities to broker with during any given era. Yet,something changed in us in the 1980s, where we became enthralled with the art of the deal and every relationship could be viewed as a transaction that either paid off (or not) with (or without) financial gain or status upgrades. A pervasive layer of cynicism took root back then and I am starting to think it had an unforeseen consequence on subsequent generations of adults looking for love, sex or whatever passes for intimacy these days.

Behold this lovely message I received on Growlr today:

ROMANTIC

Yup. You read that right. “Love to be in bondage to you, Sir!”

Let that marinate for a minute.

Have decades of broken marriages, absent parenting and a steady diet of reality TV “courtships for the camera” warped or corrupted our ability to love and be loved? Why is it now okay to reveal your junk in the first 15 minutes of a text exchange, but the second we offer up a little sentiment or vulnerability, you shut us down? “Blocked!” Are we so distrustful of compliments that we confuse them with bullshit hyperbole or read them as code for an ulterior motive ? Again, “Blocked!” And don’t forget the ultimate sin of app dating: never ask for and suggest an exchange of phone numbers.

Now, back to the bondage comment.

Nothing exists in my Growlr profile that even remotely proclaims I have a desire for kink, fetish or any other alternative life style variation thereof. So what endgame did this gentleman even hope to achieve? It caught me so off guard, I didn’t even know how to react. Laughter was first, followed by “What the Fuck!” I mean, that text took balls, which I am sure are wrapped up with strips of leather at the time it was sent. Haha. I don’t begrudge anyone their tastes in terms of sex, but you have to KNOW your audience before sending any such missive.

In the days since that text, I can’t stop thinking about how the art of romance seems to be all but D.O.A. these days. I think of the American Songbook classics that have scored many of my favorite films, counterpointing what romance could look and sound like if given the chance. But love and relationships must live in a different world. And like any transaction, you do get what you pay for. So, why do I shop at the Growlr or Scruff store? Good question.

At times, I find myself at odds with the men I do encounter on these sites. The type of men I’ve engaged with, whether via text or in person, have changed a bit since I grew my beard, if you can believe it. Suddenly, my sexual desirability has manifested into something that is marketable and wanted thanks to my facial hair. Go figure. Some don’t seem to be put off by my observations or way of expressing myself. Others have stayed happily put behind their carefully built fortresses of solitude or indifference. I’ve gotten better about moving on and tapering back any level of persistence. If you’re receiving the most generic of comebacks, cease and desist and no one gets “Blocked!”

It is easy to denigrate the app experience as shallow, lazy and dehumanizing. Why take it at all seriously in the first place? Well, it’s replaced our concept of community, like most social networking sites. Since our lifeblood comes with Apple Care now, we have chosen to allow our dependence on smart phones and other devices to bring the world to us on our terms. Here we live in our shining iTowers, hoping to spare ourselves any indignities, awkward exchanges and diminished expectations from the safety of our own private spaces. It can all be deleted as if it never happened. What a marvel!

What a tragedy.

We will continue to swipe ourselves silly, never sure as to what we want, but darn certain as to who we don’t want to bring into our real time fold. In some ways, app life is like the old days of clubbing, where we would meet and dance with that possible Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now but always kept a close eye on the door should a better option walk in.

It makes me laugh still that we were so willing to take the bigger risk of calling those 900 or 800 number “meeting” lines where your prospective honey was only a voice! Now, your destiny is thumbnail size, for those of us who think nothing of posting our faces. (That people still prefer their own version of a closet reveals a lot of the stigma that still exists today for many men grappling with their sexuality.) The animosity against such “faceless” profiles is something to behold. Vehemence is a good word. So much for #strongertogether.

900-454-HULK

I don’t know how much longer I will continue sampling the gay buffet offered by the apps. This perpetual state of “speed” dating is exhausting and not very fulfilling. In all honesty, as I begin my journey towards 50 (and we haven’t even touched on the incredible ageism found on the apps, but next time), I think I am finally understanding that actively looking for love is not how it is found. And that’s okay because despite my reservations, something good has come out of all this Growlr-ing around.

I am able to put together my own community of gay men, men that are engaging and interesting to know as friends. It’s been a slow process, but it feels so great to be social with other men who even share some of my sensibilities. In fact, the line “Las aventuras de un oso viejo y cachondo” was crafted during one exchange with a supremely genteel and appealing Mexicano who just started his first term at FIDM in Los Angeles.

None of this may be romantic, but it is wonderfully human and real. If I had to answer the query, “Dating apps, friend or foe?” I would probably respond with “frenemy.” Like it or not, as with anything in life, it is all what you make of it. As for my woes about the scarcity of romance, I refuse to let go of my ideals in that regard. I’m just starting to love myself again, that’s one romance that’s been long overdue.

It is affirming to discover in small pockets that romance isn’t dead for all of us. For as long as we as gay men cherish the ideals of being treated with respect and care, romance will never be relegated to being a luxury item for the privileged few. Cynics beware, us new romantics are legion and our numbers can only grow from here.

Something tells me the best is yet to come…take it away, Ella.

Knowing when to leave…

Knowing when to leave…

 

“All these memories, too much to lose

No one ever leaves you

I don’t need faith, I don’t need truth

No one ever leaves you…”

At times, I feel like my romantic past is some Spotify playlist I wish I could delete. Bad enough the good, the bad and the ugly of it all gets drudged up with the appropriate cues. Like the Lianne La Havas track, “Good Goodbye,” which I quoted above. It made a train ride last December to see my best college friend a wee bit melancholy, as if the encroaching grey skies weren’t enough proof of my fluctuating emotional state.

Getting over Him has been a less than a good goodbye. Actually, it’s been the longest. hitting its sixth anniversary and threatening to be held over for a seventh. And then I saw that Facebook photo around the time of that train ride south.

Social media is just a Pandora’s Box, really. It’s where memories, the wonderful and painful, fly about with ninja-like precision, triggered to pounce without warning. Hell, NASA should take interest. There they were. Looking so happy, their megawatt grins illuminating what I’ve tried and repeatedly fail to suppress: I’m single. He’s so moved on and I haven’t. That post-holiday tableau, where the Ex (and the Current) were surrounded by three adorable cher enfants, X’s nephews, did catch me off guard. Fuckin’ Facebook ninjas. And without hesitation, they sliced through an already compromised heart.

Every holiday season, I find it too easy to get into this fragile state. I joke that the only thing holding my heart together during Christmas is chewing gum and a prayer. God, it drives me crazy. The rational part of me knows that I’m idealizing the past; that it’s not so much about Him as it is missing being consciously coupled. Instead, I let these moments, like seeing this picture, dictate how this once happy and important part of my past looks so much happier without me.

Sensory elements surrounded that train ride down memory lane, from the music I was listening to the smell of warmed up leftover Chinese food and the cheap scents of fragrance gift sets worn by the passengers. Yet it was all overwhelmed by the stench of morose, self-pity. All I thought then was how it couldn’t it have been me in that pic? Just like the one where we went with his sister and brother in-law on a weekend trip to Napa. It was before that couple grew into a family of five. I was part of their narrative, not the short story titled “The Crazy Ex-Boyfriend Who Refused to Be Satisfied.”

It wasn’t such a short story. It was a five-year chronicle. But I wasn’t satisfied. I’m never satisfied. Something is always lacking. Someone is always disappointing me. It’s never enough. It has to be better. He has to be better.

Tomorrow has always been a big word for me. It’s the catch-all to validate all of my bad behaviors; the extended mixes of all my bad tracks. It’s an archive filled with mantras of wellness and awareness. Tomorrow always arrives, yet I still choose to take another plunge into the deep end of stagnation. In reality, being an Adele song works better for Adele. At least she gets paid for her pain. But, dammit, right on cue, I am thinking, “It’s true. Never mind, I’ll find someone like you.”

Someone like “Him.”

 

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In an era where we are able to register an instant “like” for every post we see, why is it that we can’t seem to hit that button for ourselves? All these years of wanting to court a positive state of perception, of being liked, have yet to wane thanks to social media sites. It’s this perfect storm of shit for people like me. Inflating insecurities as you seek the adoring adulation of your “followers.” And through it all, we obfuscate our self-worth. It’s relentless and dangerous. Yet, what’s the solution? Hide your profiles? Take the news feed of your life into real time by being with the people who don’t enable this precarious state of existence?

It helps to put this down on paper. It helps to see what lurks in my brain on this page. I go back and re-read, changing things every so slightly. Yes, sometimes it does last in love and sometimes it hurts. That happens to all of us. Still, I can’t help but scream to myself, “Where is that someone like You?!”

What will You/he think of all this heavy emoting? You’re/He’s gonna notice a pattern of sameness here. If You’re/he’s not going to be the final chapter, will he instead become another entry in this log of self-reproach?

If I could tell Him anything today it would be to say, “I wish I didn’t lose You somewhere between love and death. And I’m sorry I threw you away, because I did do just that. Sucks. I did like You. I loved You, in fact.”

You’d think after holding this fucking torch so long, I’d have better strength to hold it all together when it comes to Him.

“You’d say this is all there is

And every time you’d blink

You’d miss another piece of this wondrous world

All I’d ask is why you’d leave so soon

Everybody seems to

I don’t need faith I just want you

No one ever leaves you…”

No, I just do the leaving. That’s my jam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Signed, The Desayuno Club” or “Vida y Muerte”

“Signed, The Desayuno Club” or “Vida y Muerte”

My optimism seems to be at a premium these days. Singing along with my Burt Bacharach playlist on my iPod in the kitchen? Dancing as if no one’s looking? These are things that I have to muster up the energy to even contemplate, forget about execution. Sure, we can meme our way through the tough times with slogans like “Life Happens.” We all know life happens on its own timetable, without reason or warning. However, what do you do when the “Big Moments” pile up like a Friday afternoon on the interstate? How do you not feel like that F-5 twister purposefully chose to hit your home, skipping over other parts of the neighborhood?

I can’t remember a point in my life where the issue of mortality has been so present. These little earthquakes of truth and emotion are growing in intensity. We are aware that our lives are curated like one big Jenga® puzzle, moment by moment. At some point, a silvery thread of fear begins to weave its insidious way through our consciousness. Some of us will deftly snip it away, while others wither under weight of knowing some force can and will pull that one piece out, sending the whole thing crashing down. It’s not a productive way to live. Based on this sentiment, the events that have occurred to my family and friends of late have left me grappling between wielding the scissors and succumbing to the weight of all this mounting grief. I have reached a point of reckoning, of great questioning. And given my propensity to FEEL things, it is starting to hurt, triggering an agenda of self-destruction that is starting to scare me.

We are about to enter the fourth month of 2016. It’s not quite April and so many of life’s grand themes have found their way into all of our worlds. It’s been a season of births and deaths, peaks of elation and valleys of grief. Parallels keep manifesting themselves. I wasn’t alone in feeling shock over the loss of my childhood friend Anthony Dominguez last Christmas and the concussive effect of his passing has yet to abate.

As if on cue, it was long after Anthony’s death that I received the wonderful news of two friends, who are in fact sisters, had given birth to their first children just weeks apart. The great Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez couldn’t pen this chapter any better. (Well, yeah, he could.)

Life. Death. Birth. Then the lightning round began.

In March, an important and much needed family reunion in Mexico was preceded by the news that the father of my childhood best friend passed away. While in Mexico, we were shocked to discover two close family members were grappling with their own mental China Syndromes. A few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, a day representative of rebirth and renewal concluded with a terse DM from another key member of my Pico Rivera family of friends.

Steve wrote: “Hi, I have some bad news. Please call me…”

My mind catalogued the litany that’s become all too common, particularly in Latino families. If the phone rings late at night, you need to steel yourself. Someone is gone.

“Was it his father?” I thought.

Blessedly, it wasn’t Mr. Chavez, but my heart still broke after I hung up the phone. The son of another member of our childhood group had lost his life in a car accident on his way back to college.

Reunions have been playing out with frequency these last months. In fact, this “Big Chill” group dynamic has alternated between being a welcome distraction to pulling the scabs off old wounds. Not that I’m complaining. It’s giving me license to feel other things, not just a sense of despair.

Many of these people were the formative friendships of formative years, personalities that have been reconstituted into the myriad of relationships I’ve encountered and nurtured in the 30+ years since graduating from high school. As many of us gathered to celebrate or mourn of late, it’s striking how we easily fall into the roles we played as children and teenagers. We reveal just enough to feel like we’ve closed the gap of time. We laugh, smile and upload pictures to our respective social media sites. Then we make the slow walk back to our cars taking us back to our own lives.

I am coming to terms with the biggest lesson learned in returning to the center square of my life. It hasn’t been said amongst us yet, but it is very much present:

We are mortal after all.

My own emotional state of mind swirls with so much color right at this moment, high dynamic angry color. I see shades of vermillion, red and orange, all in heated tones that make me sweat without even moving. Is it alright to say that I’m sick of having cancer and Alzheimer’s invade my cherished family fold? Since the passing of my aunt Susanna in 2014 to the family implosion the followed and beyond, I’ve been searching for some sort of answer as to why these life events can happen without pause. And when friends say to me, “That’s life,” I just want to scream and have a violent release of some sort: “They don’t understand!” But they do, because it’s happened or it is happening to them, too.

I can’t help but note the irony. I was born into a culture that embraces death, celebrating it with riotous shades of color and the sweetest tasting of candies. While I proudly display my calaveras, Catrinas and other artwork by José Guadalupe Posada at home and in my office, I wonder if its the American propensity to stir up fear that is wreaking havoc with my strength. (I toyed with using the phrase “steel bougainvillea” here, but I thought better of it.)

I knew as I went home the night of Anthony’s rosary service that I was going to write something about the significance of his death. However, it’s been several months since that moment and what started out as a tribute piece to him has taken many strange turns, unleashing a torrent of so many themes. It became about being 40-something, of going from boys to men and the rediscovery how much real life wages a war with us all. Despite my intent, this post read so fake and uninspiring. The altruistic reason to write about Anthony was being smothered by my own narcissism, as if I wanted to show off some incredible power of syntax and phrasing. I was overthinking it. Words would come out in fits and starts, sometimes with way too much flourish, corrupting the emotion in the process. It didn’t help that I would project my state of mind onto whatever I wrote. Worse, it was became apparent that the spirit of Anthony was now lost in all this fancy word play. Ultimately, it became about nothing at all. Just noise. I only wanted to make sure my friend knew I hadn’t forgotten him. What I didn’t anticipate was that I would be adding names to create a list:

Tacho’s father, Roberto.

Anne’s son, Matthew.

It’s hard to keep a linear thread with this post. Since Anthony’s rosary service, I’ve been grappling with a total lack of focus. His loss magnified certain truths about what many of us stand to face from this point forward. News of other friends’ life challenges only cemented this creative block. I just folded all of this helplessness I felt into the depression that was entrenching itself in a way I’ve never experienced before. I wasn’t caring about anything, especially my own health. I only cared about my Dad, whose bout with Alzheimer’s is reaching a new stage amidst all this change.

This post couldn’t be a “Jeremiah” from the ‘mount, extolling the virtues of a cherishing a bountiful life while we can. How could it when a feeling of woe has saturated so much of what we see of this world on the daily? It rendered the spilling of digital ink on a white screen almost impossible. This was supposed to be a tribute, but I am empowered by what it has become in the last days.

I have been ruminating about the moment when we become aware of that thin line between life and death. Is it the loss of a grandparent? Or is it those hurried and emotional conversations you overhear from under your dining room table, where your parents process the news that Nana or Tío are “no longer with us?” Is it better to learn about death when your first goldfish receives that funeral at sea in the family commode? It doesn’t matter the context. In the end, you never forget that shocking wave of hot tears, whether theirs or your own, that leaves a stamp of realization.

As we get older, at least for some of us, dealing with death is supposed to get a little easier, recognizing it as being part of the ebb and flow of life. Sorry, but that doesn’t make the loss any easier to accept. However, honoring a sense of respect for mortality will do wonders for one’s resilience if you let it. You begin to understand that being born is not your only induction into the human race. It’s actually part of a longer process that culminates when you understand your place on this mortal Earth is not permanent.

I won’t forget the catalyst that prompted all this soul searching any time soon. Earlier this year, at Anthony’s service, I joined the growing crowd at St. Hilary on a chilly, damp Monday night. I was heartened by the amount of people waiting to head inside the church. As I walked, shoulders hunched, cold hands seeking warmth in my sweater pockets, I found myself already sorting out a rush of emotions, thinking to myself, “How did this happen?”

In between it all, fragments of the past starting to make their way to the front. All those pieces solidified the minute I heard my name, “George.” No one else but my people from home call me that anymore. And suddenly I was 10 years old again, as the past and present collided with incredible force. The crew was all there, the one that started at South Ranchito Elementary, gained new members at Meller Jr. High before reaching its zenith at El Rancho High School. I stood with these men, weaving in and out of solemnity and laughter from reminiscing. We fell back into the roles we had as teenagers, easily retaking our places as we filed into the church to pay our respects to our friend.

Regardless of the time spent apart since graduating high school, the foundation set all those years ago is still very much present. More, I think of the legacies that were created as a result of our time together:

Anthony was a huge part of my adolescence in Pico Rivera. I was never going to be a jock, but I am forever grateful that he never judged me, or anyone else for that matter. Even if I was sometimes the least skilled member of the teams we were part of as kids, Anthony remained a loyal friend from elementary all the way through high school.

Tacho and I were from the same neighborhood, cultivating a friendship shaped by the countless walks to the three schools we attended together. His family opened the doors to their home and restaurant to us all without question or reserve. I shall never forget Mr. Baeza, who remains a true caballero in my mind, just like my Dad. It says something that our families continue to have their roots in the same houses after 40 years.

Anne remains this quintessential pixie, albeit with a wicked dash of punk rock. She is still her own person, full of spirit, possessing a singular wit and a brilliant smile. In the photos I’ve seen of her son Matthew, I am heartened to see how much of her is present in his own vibrant smile and the personality captured in those frames. It makes his loss so much more difficult to fathom. My only regret is missing out on so much of Anne’s adult life so I could have shared a little bit of her journey as a mother.

Their narratives are forever interwoven with mine, and vice versa, I hope. We talk so much about how we’re disconnected today, but back then we were the definition of connectivity. It was incredible how widespread this reach was when you think about it. Schools, parks, after school activities, church, Scouts, cheerleading, Little League, Pop Warner, everything and anything social. It was like we were living this John Hughes-penned life but with a lot of added flavor. I mean, we’re talking Tapatío, Tajín, salsa cruda, salsa verde and roasted jalapeños. Because how vanilla was a John Hughes movie in the first place?

This is going off topic, but it occurs to me how much of our lives surrounded food. It was tacos from Mario’s and nachos from Casa Garcia. It was being treated to Sir George’s Smorgasbord, Naugles or Omega Burgers. It was post-game celebrations at someone’s home or at Shakey’s Pizza. Even now, it’s hard to stop this list for fear of leaving things out.

Looking back, I do remember how we expressed our incredulous shock at those who left us before we turned 18. Kathy Esparza didn’t make it to senior year at El Rancho. We paid our respects and we moved forward. The pep rallies continued. From Homecoming to Powder Puff, Prom and Graduation, we kept going through all of the rites of passage on schedule and without delay. The concept of loss wasn’t something we would contemplate much. Loss was just something that happened on the field, on the track or on the court in the gym.

My concept of loss won’t be the same same anymore. Despite the poetry we can ascribe to it as being the closing of a circle, it is still an end. And to be honest, I’ve never been good with endings. These scenes are destined to be replayed again, alas, but they must be met with grace and humility, too. As I begin to compose these last paragraphs, I’m think I can find my way to some peace. I am grateful in many ways for the opportunity to have reconnected with so many people. It speaks volumes to know that these archetypes of what I now want to call The Desayuno Club would gather once more — and without hesitation, too. And I am privileged that so many opted to share a part of their lives with me. They answered the question as to what happened to the Class of 1985? And it proved an inspiring answer.

We worked. We dated. We got married. We had children. We lost lovers. We lost parents. We ended marriages. We lost jobs. We remarried. We started new jobs. We had second families. We got sick. We got better. We will get better. In short, life happened and it continues to happen as these words float across the screen.

As I continue to reconnect with the men and women that played a part in shaping my life, I am secretly thrilled to l see glimpses of what we were: The jocks, the brains, the cheerleaders, the cholos, the cha cha’s, the Oish, the strange, the wild, the calm and the cool, always beautiful and forever young.

But I also see an incredible beauty shaped by resilience, tradition, strength and love. I don’t think who we are and what we represent is ever erased or replaced in life. Yes, we have a shared outcome in this world. But I’d like to think we are just one more layer in a temporal pan of cosmic lasagna. We will all add our particular blend of flavor and spice before a new layer is placed on top of us, all representing every milestone we achieve, layer after layer, pan after pan, for infinity. Despite the context of what brought us together, it’s given me something to feel that’s as close to optimism as I can declare right now. We are not alone. Ever. Therein lies the solace we can offer each other without condition.

You won’t be faulted for saying to me, “Stop your whining and man up!” We all process grief differently, so STFU. However, it is important to say that I don’t want this to be considered a “Woe is Me” post. I’ve taken to writing about these feelings to find a place for them so they don’t diminish the hope, care and optimism that my family members and friends need right now. It’s hard not to go from the micro to the macro in a given moment. For instance, most of us will accept the painful truth that the sooner we accept the truth about mortality, the sooner we can start living. That is, living for the moment and for the one’s we gather around us. No matter our stations in life, our wealth is the sum of our memories, darn it. That is truest and most vital achievement we are fated to accomplish. My challenge now is to continue to believe that, if only to stave off the rage that threatens to dominate my physical and mental self.

I am not sure how to complete this post. It has to mean something for those who read it, especially for the families of Anthony, Mr. Baeza and Matthew. An impact was made by their lives and it will not be forgotten. Maybe I should leave it open, for others to fill with their thoughts and sentiments? All I know is that we are connected again at a time when we need it most. Even if it is just for a moment, one thing remains certain. We will endure.

Because, we are life.

Signed, the Desayuno Club

 

“GoLightly, young man, and grow up in the material world …”

“GoLightly, young man, and grow up in the material world …”

SALLY TOMATO: Some day, Mr. Fred, you take this book, turn it into a novel. Everything is there. Just fill in the blanks.

HOLLY GOLIGHTLY: Would be good for some laughs.

ST: No. No, I don’t think so. This is a book would break the heart. (READS ENTRIES) “Mr. Fitzsimmons, powder room, $50. Less $18, repair one black satin dress. Cat food, 27 cents.”

HOLLY: Sally, darling, you’re making me blush. But you’re right about Jack Fitzsimmons. He’s an absolute rat. but I guess, of course, I don’t know anybody but rats. Except, of course, Fred here…”

From the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” adapted from the Truman Capote novella by George Axelrod

It is a story to break the heart, indeed.

Last night, I had a coffee date with a real life Holly Golightly, author Truman Capote’s famed gamine immortalized by Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Although, as I wake up to write this recollection, I now see shades Lorelei Lee, the famed blonde mantrap vedette from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Either way, I write this of two minds.

I admired his pluck and honesty when he hurled statements like, “I don’t want to work to sustain myself. I want someone else to take care of me. My mom did that. So did my grandmother. I guess it runs in the family.”

I am also saddened by the harsh reality of his worldview. It was disconcerting to see how a darker shade of self was hiding beneath those incredibly green eyes. Yet, moments occurred during our two hour conversation where it was apparent said eyes could turn icy blue with determination.

God, he was beautiful. He had this classic Pepsodent, that all-American, clean cut look reserved for those who are the physical manifestation of manifest destiny. He knew he had the power to pillage and conquer souls and grab all the riches of the land. It would happen without him ever having to do or give anything in return, a fact he made quite clear.

I was never one of those boys. I never had that power. I was the friend. The confidante. The one that went with you shopping. The one that would hold your hand and console you when you would cry or rage over the one you’d rather be with treated you wrong.  I don’t know what it’s like to wield a sexual power so strong, that men would become automatic teller machines to sustain even the most tenuous of connections. I was never the boy who looked like a teenage dream.

During the course of our time together, I had visions, strong sexual ones. How could I not? I recognized the signs from day one. His careful banter, always appealing, almost demure, was seductive. But as our conversations, or rather marathon text narratives, evolved, an edge was starting to make itself known. Sitting with him at this Starbucks at Downtown Disney, it became apparent to me he knew what he had to say to draw a man in. Shrewd sincerity always wins in the conquering game.

It was fitting that our meet and greet happened at a place where artificial beauty runs rampant and costly dreams of fun and adventure are sold. This temple of cartoon consumerism only compounded my resolve not to engage with this boy again. Clarity hit as I drove by the 605 freeway on ramp. The role models provided by Holly Golightly and Lorelei Lee haven’t lost one iota of their potency.

But I shouldn’t be surprised.

Madonna’s seductive and telegenic anthem “Material Girl,” itself a variation and homage to these archetypes, has never been more resonant than today, where a generation refuses to do the hard work or take pride in making their own success. It’s about the instant gratification of it all, of getting and wanting all you desire.

Bartering with sex is nothing new. From the moment we learn to covet, we will find the right selfie angle with which to succeed of obtaining our heart’s desire. Yet something else is in the mix when you’re beautiful of face and body. I’d like to think a high cost exists to trade one’s souls to appease a hunger for Vuitton.

Lorelei Lee exalts near the end of “Gentleman Prefer Blondes” how “a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn’t marry a girl just because she’s pretty, but my goodness, doesn’t it help?”

It does help, Miss Lee. But when all you can do is show your price tag like I was shown last night, I realized the cost would not just be a monetary one. I don’t have the funds to become a sugar daddy for someone who may just walk away when a fuller bank account comes into play. I would never want to pay to make someone love me. I want parity. I want equality. I want to share whatever I have with someone who understands the importance of giving back and not just in a financial way.

Want to know the greatest irony in all of this? He worked at a bank.

It took me a while to fight my way to the middle in this world. I am not going to be a rich man. I’ve pretty much squandered most of the riches of my perceived Hollywood life anyway in a lifetime of unbridled spending. That emotional void I’ve fought most of my life is no closer to being filled, although I recognize the danger of giving it power. It’s a hollow space. Period. What surrounds it, however, is something that keeps me from falling in.

I tire of this app fueled world, where you swipe by thumbnail portraits of the desperate and the damned. It’s a virtual Serengeti. Here, a generation of men, predators and game, roam the space in search of something that can stave off the inevitable, even it’s just for a moment. It’s a network for the anti-social, where you trade innuendo and salacious photos in acts that approximate connection and intimacy. No one ever really wants to go beyond the chat box. Somehow, that’s just inviting the danger and risk of having to actually relate to somebody. (Side note, maybe we ain’t talking, but a lot of us are still fucking the pain away. Which may account why STD and HIV infections are on the rise.)

For a moment, I thought, “Maybe. Just maybe.” He was softening a bit, opening up more and more about his family life, later showing me pictures of his mom and sister on Instagram, which was unexpected. It was the most real aspect of our conversation, the only time I didn’t hear cynicism and contempt. Calculated, perhaps. Yet, an urgency could be heard in his voice, which would fall to a whisper. “This man,” I thought, “is lonely.” Despite the romanticism of a fireworks show in the distance, it was the spark of an iPhone 6 Plus screen that illuminated the truth — and path for my exit strategy.

He joked that he couldn’t live without his phone, a trait that goes beyond generations at this point. And quite a bit of life was happening while we sat together. He’d text and talk, talk and text. I eventually had to sneak a look, only to be rewarded by the sight of a distinguished, smiling gentleman with a beard. Older, like me. Smiling that smile of “Notice me, please,” like me. It was obvious that the Teenage Dream was hedging his bets alright. I was one of a group.

One final boom filled the sky and we began our walk back to our cars. He said he always loses his car in the Disneyland parking lot. Once found, we hugged and he allowed for three tender kisses on the lips. As he turned away, he asked, “Text me” in a voice laden with promise of future heavenly delights. Or maybe it was just polite indifference, the voice we use when we know won’t ever speak again.  Either way, I couldn’t really listen anymore.

This “date” cost me $29: $18, parking. $11 for two lattes, one with sugar and one without. But one thing is certain: his story will ultimately break his heart.

Mine won’t.

Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor on Sunday, December 13.

“Of spare parts and DREAM acts…” — #lavidarobot

“Of spare parts and DREAM acts…” — #lavidarobot

— With the real Oscar Vazquez and his wife Karla on the New Mexico set of “Spare Parts” in November 2013. Carlos and Alexa PenaVega portray the couple in the film, now playing.

In 2005, writer Joshua Davis penned an extraordinary article for Wired Magazine chronicling the lives of four undocumented teen boys from Arizona. What made them unique? They bested universities such as MIT and Harvard to win a robotics prize at UC Santa Barbara. Titled “La Vida Robot,” Davis’ meticulously written story of Cristian Arcega, Lorenzo Santillan, Luis Aranda and Oscar Vazquez’s journey to victory was truly the stuff of Hollywood films. A decade later, that film has arrived.

“Spare Parts” benefits from the momentum of this DREAM Act era, where the Latino voice has never been more urgent in terms of the national narrative. While the film relies on the “feel good” tropes of the underdog story, it doesn’t shy away from the fact that these “illegals” are not the enemy in this paranoid era of fear mongering and reactionary politics.

I had the privilege of meeting Davis and the real boys of Carl Hayden High, interviewing them and their cinematic counterparts for Pantelion Films. Along with producer and star George Lopez, they expressed the importance of the Latino imprint in terms of mainstream films. Not only does the film entertain, it illuminates an area still unfamiliar to many Americans.

“Spare Parts” opens in theaters this weekend, so I hope you give it a chance. In the meantime, take a moment to watch the featurette produced by Monkey Deux, Inc., edited by Steve Schmidt and Drew Friedman, for Pantelion Films.

#ICanIDid #spareparts #lavidarobot

“My brother…” — #JeSuisCharlie

“My brother…” — #JeSuisCharlie

My first post for 2015 is one written in solidarity with those who extol the courage and virtue of maintaining our freedom of speech.

Today, we are inundated with so many outlets with which to express ourselves. As a result, we are more vulnerable to attacks against one’s character or opinion. Worse, the price we are again paying with is our mortality.

To express a thought that can illuminate our global condition as a journalist is not a privilege. It is a necessity, but one that carries great responsibility. Journalists are meant to inform the greater public, not just entertain. This is how we keep ourselves and our leaders accountable for all acts for and against us.

Perhaps we have been keeping to close an eye on what people are wearing or celebrity-driven gossip for too long? How else could we miss the signs that the disenfranchised or the marginalized are plotting to silence the media with calculated acts of violence so extreme, they shake the world to its core?

Something has to shift. We have always known words and images are power. We cannot let our ability to question be silenced. Nor we should we temper our thoughts out of fear of reprisals from those who hide behind a cowardly shield of piety to justify their murderous agendas. We need to reaffirm that it is man, not GOD, who is the purveyor of violence and rage.

The tenuous connections that bind us all have always been ideal at best. It is like a large family, where varying temperaments and ideologies make for often volatile gatherings at the table. You will never be able to make certain people in the group love you. In the greater context of the world we live in, you will never make certain people in the world agree or care about you either.

But killing that person is not an option. Not over a comment, a novel, a film or a cartoon image.

French filmmaker Luc Besson offered a heartfelt plea, not only for the Muslim community, but for all of us who feel like vulnerable outsiders. It is this impassioned letter, first published in Le Monde, that prompted me to offer my own thoughts on the wide-reaching consequences from the tragic events at Charlie Hebdo. Because, now, we are truly Charlie, too. And we must take our power back from those who dare to use fear and destruction against us.

“My brother, if you knew how badly I hurt for you today, you and your beautiful religion that has been so sullied, humilated, and singled out. Forgotten are your strength, your energy, your humor, your heart, your fraternity. It’s unfair and together we will repair this injustice. We are millions who love you and who are going to help you. Let’s start at the beginning. What is the society we’re offering you today?

It’s based on money, profit, segregation and racism. In some suburbs, unemployment for people under 25 is 50%. You are marginalized because of your color or your first name. You’re questioned 10 times a day, you’re crowded into apartment blocks and no one represents you. Who could live and thrive under such conditions?

Profit comes before all else. We cut and sell the apple tree’s branches and then are shocked there’s no fruit. The real problem is there, and that’s for all of us to resolve.

I call on the powerful, the big bosses and all leaders. Help this youth that has been humiliated and which asks only to be part of society. The economy is in the service of man and not the reverse. To do good is the greatest of profits. Dear powerful, do you have children? Do you love them? What do you want to leave them? Money? Why not a world that’s more fair? That would make your children the most proud of you.

We cannot build our happiness on the misfortune of others. It is neither Christian, nor Jewish, nor Muslim. It is just selfish and it leads our society and our planet straight into a wall. This is the work we have to do beginning today to honor our dead.

Terrorism will never win.

charlie

And you, my brother, you also have a job to do. How can you change this society that’s being offered to you? By working, by studying, by taking up a pencil rather than a kalishnikov. That’s what’s good about democracy, it offers you the noble tools to defend yourself. Take your destiny in hand, take the power. It costs 250 euros to buy a kalishnikov but not even three euros to buy a pen — and your response can have a thousand times more impact. Take the power, and play by the rules.

Take power democratically, helped by all your brothers. Terrorism will never win. History is there to prove it. And the beautiful image of the martyr walking in both directions. Today there are a thousand (assasinated Charlie Hebdo journalists) Cabus and Wolinskis who have just been born.

Take the power and don’t let anyone take power over you. If those who are presumed guilty of this tragedy really are, know that these two blood-spilling brothers are not yours, and we all know it.

It would at most be two weak-minded individuals, abandoned by society and then abused by a preacher who sold them eternity… Radical preachers who play on and make your misfortune their business have no good intentions. They use your religion only to their advantage. It is their business, their small business. Tomorrow, my brother, we will be stronger, more connected, closer. I promise you. But today, my brother, I cry with you.” — Written by Luc Besson.

#JeSuisCharlie

#NoFear

#ICanIDid

 

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