“What a week in Spain can do…”

“What a week in Spain can do…”

It was supposed to be a system reboot, a push of the reset button. However, I think my trip to Spain last month may have left me even more unsettled now that I am back home in Los Angeles. It is scary how quickly I fell back into what’s been ailing me this last year and a half. The jet lag may be gone, but that sluggish feeling persists. Don’t EVEN get me started on the election bullshit. I will probably bite your head off. Best to focus on why the journey back to my LA life that is renewing this spiritual “agita.”

I haven’t said much about the Brit (name withheld out of respect), but he’s someone that’s been the most welcome surprise of this challenging year. Our chance online meeting in August flowered into a real friendship, which is why I’ve been purposefully vague about him given the context of how we started out. I might reveal this some day, but not now. It isn’t shame that precludes me, rather, having to explain it to folks who aren’t savvy as to the Gay Way of Meeting and Greeting in 2016. Rest assured, it isn’t some Dateline episode waiting to happen. It’s legit and that’s all that matters.

The Brit is London-based and we’ve spent months doing the whole digital pen pal thing. In some ways, it felt like the plot to “The Shop Around the Corner.” We hadn’t met, but we shared a real kinship with each text that zapped across the globe. Scratch that, it felt like a real life version of “Gavin & Stacey.” (I am sure his eyes would roll with balletic precision over THAT one.)

When we hatched the plan of heading to Spain together, he had just experienced someone breaking his heart in Oslo. It was around the same time I was planning to hit Spain that summer. I surprised even myself when I said, “Join me! Forget about that fool and let’s just have some fun, tapas and whatever else tickles our fancy!” Well, Spain had other plans, interrupting my impending estancia with a rule of having at least 90 validity to my passport. I wasn’t able to board that night and I found myself on the Lyft back to my parents’ house to retrieve my trusty Element and then home with a scowl on my face.

The Brit and I kept talking and we looked for new dates for our Spanish affair, which would now happen in mid-October. As we counted down the days, it was hard not to build any expectations. At least for me. It was such a welcome relief, corresponding with someone who actually COULD communicate with color and guts. What a concept! When the fated day finally did arrive, I wasn’t in the least disappointed.

Having the Brit with me for those nine days in Valencia, Salamanca and Madrid was like a downpour of what I miss about being part of a couple. That constant attention. The great rapport. The banter. The laughter. The warmth that emanates from people who actually care about each other. The looks that say, “I see you, man.” I wasn’t lonely and all that’s troubled me for so many months was falling off in the background. It’s how we compose shots for the interviews I conduct on camera. The subject is sharp and clear while the background is a bit hazy and blurry. All that matters is what is in focus. And focus existed in Spain. Make that focus and inspiration. So, why do I feel so fucking lousy?

Mind you, the Brit and I started this entire venture with a much different agenda in August. When he admitted that he’d started casually dating someone in early October, the trip’s dynamic shifted without warning into the dreaded Friend Zone. He tried to give me an out, saying he’d understand if that changed things for me given the spicier early stages of our interactions. His very British self wasn’t going to allow for any extracurricular activities, even though he’d only been dating said bloke a few weeks. But, as I would discover, the Brit was an “All In” sort of gent. Meaning, his focus and heart were set. I said, “So what? We’ll manage!” I firmly believed the point of the trip was to get away from what ails us. Nothing more.

In a lot of ways, that was indeed the case. But, it was tough to reconcile a clear trajectory of intent. As much as I tried to keep certain feelings at bay, which was quite an effort, imagine my consternation in having the Brit join me in a round of “Why Can’t We Find Someone Who Will Love Us for Us” during one heart to heart we had one late night. That’s why by the end of that week together, I felt nothing but confusion. It stepped up when, by the end of the week, he was texting his new paramour with a fervor that made me feel like an intruder. And when you have had such a stellar time venturing throughout a foreign country without a single fight, imagine how that can complicate more than just your brain.

The rational me knows that my creating anything but a friendship with the Brit would be difficult since he’s in England and I’m in southern California. The whole “Amor de Lejos, Amor de Pendejos” truth of our situation has never been far away from the fantasy of it all. But fuck me. We sparked. At times, it felt so real, this connection. At one point in Valencia, he even said he needed to put blinders on. Why couldn’t this be something more than just two friends having a good time in Spain? I have not wanted to be close to someone like this is such a long time! Six years after I selfishly kicked my bespectacled Ex to the curb, it’s been a mixed bag of really poor choices, cheap sex and a lot of wondering when in the hell the universe is going to take some pity on me! Being with the Brit was so bloody effortless. Was I just being clueless or just deluding myself because of an ideal that has yet to be acheived?

Trust me. I’ve done some work in processing all of this. It was big relief knowing I can be myself with the right sort of gent. He’s a fantastic person with whom to spar, a real intellectual with that classic British wit. Dry as a sherry, but fierce as Thatcher at her peak. More, I felt this incredible calm around him. It remains the one thing I will cherish most about my life with my Ex and it’s the one thing that’s been missing ever since.

As we got closer to the end of the trip, I felt unsteady and possessed by a grim outlook. He’d go home to someone who’d hold him tight. I’d go home to face a new round of the Dating Game. And that just pissed me off. I’d like to squeeze out as much of the Brit’s sincere and warm sentiment into a place that can validate why I am certain I wasn’t misreading the cues. The cold light of a warm LA day suggests otherwise. He was being kind and he needed something different from me. The Brit had been searching for a real friend, someone that understands him and doesn’t possess an ulterior motive that involved hurting him, his one biggest fear. Wouldn’t you know, it’s also a fear that share that with him, among other things.

Ironically, in the weeks since our return, the Brit has reached out in moments of real emotional turmoil as the paramour seems to be on a different page. I understand that very much, the overanalyzing of situations that are never as bad as you think. But it happens and I offer my own support while keeping my true feelings at bay.

I am aware that I keep setting myself up for this these types of situations, though. Prior to the trip, an endless drought of solitude had left me wondering whether I have much to offer anyone anymore. A week in Spain was living proof I did. I wish it was more of a consolation, knowing that I’m not entirely without the means of being with someone on “that” level. Perhaps it was just a practice run? Was it a reminder of what I’ve gained in terms of being an adult when it comes to establishing a healthy relationship? Maybe. But, caught between the lines of lucidity and maturity are slivers of jagged insecurity. I feel the presence of my old nemesis, the one that loves to reiterate: “You lack the total package for him, that’s why it didn’t catch fire.”

Bitch.

I should be content with being the friend, but when that single look caught my eye during our second night in Valencia, I couldn’t help but feel all buzzy inside. A dear friend even noticed it on that following rainy Saturday in Madrid. Her first words were, “How light you look! So handsome! And the beard!” She witnessed the version of me that I’d kept under wraps for the better part of a year. I did feel good as the rain fell over the Plaza del Callao. I felt better than good. I felt not sad.

My powers of imagination are truly reckless at times. In my mind, his time is going to be spent building up a life around his new job and new boundaries with his beau. I’ll be that crazy American who will help lighten the day when things get challenging, like all good friends do. But we’ll always have Spain, and possibly, a chance to storm another group of cities, too.

This is probably a good moment to insert a chorus of: “He lives in another country, dude! What the hell did you expect? Are you loco, ese? He ain’t into you because you live in ANOTHER country and doesn’t want to run the risk of being hurt or worse. It’s easier and safer to stay local for him. Wake the fuck up! Chingao, already.

I know!  I know! It isn’t going to do me any good to act like a Charlie Puth song. My reserve of “Better Luck Next Time” is just a wee bit low right now. Trust me, I am focusing on: “Does this mean that someone remains behind Door No. 1504?” It is saner to keep an open mind. But hells bells, I don’t relish the task of having to meet new gents and going through this process. Again. Me da hueva, caray! 

I do know that my friendship with the Brit is one I intend to nurture for as long as we both want to share in its possibilities. Truth be told, people like him are rare to find in a world determined to keep us everybody apart from each other. These feelings will abate with time. Of course, this makes it all so damn annoying!  To be so close to the prize. Yeah, I feel like I’m about to hold a torch again. At least I can see the upside to that, too. After six years, it is a relief to know that I can finally shift it to the other arm.

So, want to know what a week in Spain can do for anyone? I’ll tell you. It will make you feel so much alive and very much a part the world. Now, the task remains the same as it was during that summer in 2014 when I took that first huge step toward defining my true self in Salamanca. I still have to learn to make Spain happen wherever I go, especially at home. As for the rest? Universe, don’t let me down…but can he wear glasses and make me laugh while watching YouTube clips all night long?

 

 

 

 

We will rise up or #StandWithUs

We will rise up or #StandWithUs

When the silence isn’t quiet
And it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe
And I know you feel like dying
But I promise we’ll take the world to it’s feet
And move mountains
Bring it to it’s feet
And move mountains
And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you…

I, like many, woke up on Sunday morning with the news of another mass shooting. And, like many, I was moved to tears. As the news of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida dominated the media, those tears mixed with absolute rage. I am angry over the loss of humanity, the loss and wounding of so many of my brothers. More, I am furious over the continuing loss of sanity and compassion in a world that refuses to let people live their lives in peace. We don’t deserve the ground we walk on or the air we breathe if the evil few continue to have to no regard for the greater good in a world that houses us all.

The truth is I don’t fear the terror of a group determined to keep us in fear. I actually fear the ignorance still to be heard and felt in so many other ways in my own country. This just didn’t happen at a “gay club.” This event happened to all of us. We must stand together, even if others prefer to keep us apart.

My heart is heavy now, but my mind burns with rage. As far as I am concerned, organized religions and groups promoting an agenda of “traditional values” are just purveyors of organized hate.

I am not losing sight of the families and loved ones left behind. I know I am not alone in saying that we hold you all in our hearts. We are with you in spirit. You are not alone in your sorrow.

However, as race-baiting, hate-mongering blowhards like Donald Trump have the narcissistic gall to make this tragedy about themselves, I can only make room for more rage. We are now hearing a call to action to stop those so-called arrogant, bilious men and women in certain sectors of privilege that dare to think of themselves as being worthy of leading this great nation. They all have blood on their hands…again. How dare you appropriate the Pulse Tragedy in Orlando as validating the very agenda that makes us all targets of hate. How dare you disavow their sexual orientation, or worse, citing being gay as reason for such an act in your toxic rhetoric!

Fuck the terrorists. They will meet their fate. A special place in hell exists for those who believe in Donald Trump as being our great deliverer. When will they all realize that focusing our hate on one group or groups is not the answer? When will they realize that easy access to weaponry that belongs on the battlefield, that arming ourselves against a neighbor doesn’t promote true freedom? It promotes cowardice, violence and a final outcome that will rob of us hope.

And here’s one sobering reality — the thing about walls is that they can be climbed. Walls can be brought down. Walls keep nothing out, but keep paranoia, fear and ignorance woefully in place.

We cannot be rendered afraid or silent by the sins of the few. We must not let those who dare tear us asunder, at home or abroad, to render us powerless or apathetic anymore. Countless innocent men, women and children have met their bloody fates thanks to arms purchased in THIS country.

So many thoughts and feelings are running through my mind right now. I stand with the victims of the Pulse nightclub tragedy. Their lives, like those lost at Sandy Hook, Aurora, San Bernardino, Virginia Tech, Umpqua Community College and every innocent soul unleashed by a police bullet in this great land of ours, all give us strength to protect all lives. It is time for good people to rise and join in unison in a song that does not promote isolationist values of intolerance and retribution.

We have a choice. Either we rise up and stop this violence and pandering to the special interests of groups who are the antithesis of freedom and peace. Or, we allow ourselves to devolve into a police state that makes further mockery of what it means to be the United States of America.

The choice is all ours. As Andra Day sings with pride and love, “All we need is hope, and for that we have each other.”

We need each other. Now.

In spite of the ache
I will rise a thousand times again
And we’ll rise up
High like the waves
We’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
We’ll rise up
And we’ll do it a thousand times again
For you

 

“I Resolve to…Understand That The World Goes ‘Round” — #theclosingoftheyear

“I Resolve to…Understand That The World Goes ‘Round” — #theclosingoftheyear

God, how long have I been basking in the glow of hyperbole?

It’s like I don’t know any other way to express myself or view the world. Everything to me is:

Big!

Bold!

Must have!

Must see!

Like!

Post!

Followers!

Retweet!

It’s all just a cover-up, really. This endless search of non-information that clutters my brain, distracting me from the narrative that I really want to express, not just to the world, but to myself. If there is anything to offer as a resolution for 2015, it is to abandon the hyperbole and focus on what matters in defined terms. Fuck these endless social media streams, I want truth again.

I haven’t been too eager to promote many entries on this blog of late. It’s been a combination burn book and teen girl journal for weeks. “This family member talked so much shit about my me!” or “Those family members had the nerve to make it all about them!” or “This date was just another Harry Houdini! Now you see him! Now you don’t!” I bet even Taylor Swift would go, “Fuck bitch. Get a new theme!”

What happened to self-reflection and understanding, to humor and positivity?

What happened to the last third of 2014?

Well, a lot.

John Kander and Fred Ebb composed a song for Martin Scorsese’s “New York, New York” called “The World Goes ‘Round.” I’ve had it on a loop these last few weeks. It helped shape what I decided to write today, summing up exactly what sort of year many of us experienced in 2014.

Sometimes you’re happy, sometimes you’re sad
But the world goes ’round…

And sometimes your heart breaks with a deafening sound…
Somebody loses and somebody wins
And one day it’s kicks, then it’s kicks in the shins
But the planet spins,

and the world goes ’round….

I thought a lot about what this closing blog entry of the year should contain. But, as I sit here in my bedroom (More teen girl imagery. That has to go in 2015), I find that I don’t want to replay any of it. I want to focus on the reality that the world will continue to spin — and that hope matters.

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My boss Alan and I got into a rather revealing discussion about hope, an ideal my friend doesn’t seem to think exists.

But I do. I really do.

Hope, like love, has lost its power. It’s a brand. It is a campaign logo.  It has been appropriated by the self-help contingent, those annoying life coaches and magazinespeak spinners. It is that blanket statement too many of us use to cover up our woes, disappointments and our other beautifully weak and frail moments. “Don’t worry. There is always hope.”

Hope, like love and happiness, takes effort. It takes work to NOT let yourself fall prey to the myriad of distractions and stupidities that dominate our daily lives. You can’t use hope blindly. Hope needs to be seen clearly. It isn’t like prayer. “I hope” is not like talking to God. You are talking to yourself. You are being your own source of faith and courage to face the challenges that we face. And the challenges, particularly at this age, will arrive with the efficiency of a high speed train.

Hope, like love, is not for pussies. And hope needs to be taken back from the legion of those wanting to cash in on our gorgeous neuroses for their own gain. Before any of us can begin to understand just how important love is in our lives, we have to reeducate ourselves in the power of hope. Where there is hope, you will find love. You will find them exactly where you left them before you let all the static of modern life cloud your own beliefs and true self.

In a few hours, 2014 will join the album of detritus that is memory. It will be relegated to the tales we tell whenever we reunite. Those who are lost, will be remembered. Those who hurt us will be reviled again, but ultimately forgiven because they just don’t know any better. Those who made us laugh, will make us laugh that much harder. And we will all be glad that we survived to tell the tales again and again.

I also found great comfort in another song, one composed by Hans Zimmer and Trevor Horn for the film “Toys,” performed by Wendy & Lisa and Seal. It features this lyric:

This is a Time to be Together
And the Truth is somewhere here
Within our love of People
At the Closing of the Year.

I spent these last months in a state of free fall. I haven’t hit ground yet, but I see it below. I have not lost sight that it is with my family and my family of friends, new and old, here and abroad, where I did find my truth in 2014.

I can’t wait to find out what I will learn in 2015.

Wednesday, December 31. Written and posted from Wayne Avenue Manor in South Pasadena, CA.

“Mi vida como chica Almodóvar” (Spain Sampler — Week 2, Day 14 )

“Mi vida como chica Almodóvar” (Spain Sampler — Week 2, Day 14 )

“Yo quiero ser una chica Almodóvar
como la Maura como Victoria Abril,
un poco lista, un poquitin boba…”

— Por Joaquin Sabina

I may be willing this into existence, but yes, “Siento como una chica Almodóvar” of late. Whenever I find myself chasing the dawn with these blogs, I feel like a version of Amanda Gris in “La flor de mi secreto.”

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My narrative hasn’t exactly been rose colored, but the pages are not turning dark, either. While I could sit here trying to find other parallels to many of the Oscar winner’s films, none feel as present to me as “Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios” (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown).

Despite the screwball comedy chaos of Pepa Marcos’ outrageous 48 hours trying to reach her errant lover, a certain romance exists in these women all seeking some sort of closure. I have found connections with all of the leading ladies at some point during the last weeks. I’ve been Candela, enduring the betrayal of one terrorist lover, only to find surprising solace in the arms of someone else’s boyfriend. I’ve been Lucia, insanely holding on to the past, determined to avenge the heartbreak I’ve let it cause. I’ve been Marisa, the judgmental cow of a girlfriend who drinks the spiked gazpacho and misses out on the best parts of the story. But, most of all, I’ve been Pepa, the eternal romantic who becomes a transformed realist once she discovers the true point of her existence. Hell, even eating breakfast with the amazing Manoli, Krystal and Brianna, I feel like Loles Leon as la Secretaria. (“Ha desayunado muchas veces en mi vida!“)

But, the chaos that’s swirled around me has been strangely manageable. Career remains very much present, which sometimes doesn’t mix well with the academic endeavor at hand. Grammar class is on par with learning the quadratic equation. Literature has been a marvel, but heavy lifting is involved trying to deconstruct and analyze these inspiring works in another language. Then, I have the social life, a version of which has been missing at home, but now is building in intensity these last days. This is where all my Almodóvariana has been delightfully found.

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“All gay men have track lightin’. And all gay men are named Mark, Rick, or Steve.” — Clairee Belcher in “Steel Magnolias”

Gay is gay no matter where you go

One of my favorite scenes in “Steel Magnolias” is when Clairee is talking about one of her gay relations. When she is asked how he “meets people,” the now classic answer is, “All gay men are named Mark, Rick or Steve.” (I haven’t seen much track lighting in Spain. In fact, given the high cost of utilities in this country, you’d be hard pressed to even have the lights on in a room!)

Given this is Spain, I’m going to amend that list of names to Javier, Fran, Jose y Paco because that’s who I´ve met of late. Thanks to these gents, I’ve had some of the most enlightening conversations in a long while. I worry what they´re going to do to my Spanish. Between the new phrases and constant correction by these well meaning ¨tios,¨ I feel like I´m never out of the classroom! Yet it is absolutely worth it. The bigger revelation has not been the well of confidence I seem to possess in avoiding English altogether with these men. Nope, it´s the discovery that the kind of gay man I have become doesn’t seem so out of place in Spain.

Now, I realize that isn´t a fair statement to make, considering I don´t make much of an effort to go out and ¨meet people¨ named Rick or Steve or otherwise in LA. I don´t know the origins of this confidence. Perhaps it´s a result of being around these young ´uns. Talk about following scripts I had nothing to do in writing. But mi querido Pedro could have had a hand in writing the scenes that have played out in Week 2.

Los chinchillas amantes

Chances are I won’t be forgetting Fran and Javier, the couple from Salamanca who owned two chinchillas. The final image was sealed when they were let loose into their apartment for some exercise just before I left their home late last Thursday. Yeah, they kept chewing at my Vans as I stood in the doorway. But before I did, we had quite the night in their living room, gabbing up a storm, flipping through pages of a Taschen book I’d kill to own. Of course, it was about Almodóvar. As I salivated over every oversized image, I was told the real reason why Almodóvar and Carmen Maura didn’t speak for several decades.

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It seems when the famed Manchegan was nominated for his first Oscar for “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” instead of taking his cherished muse Maura, he chose a former pizza delivery boy he’d been dating for a short while to the ceremony. Yeah, it would be a long time before the two would “Volver” to each other. Do you blame her?

Who doesn’t love a bit of lust fueled betrayal proving men are alike, gay or straight, when it comes to ditching friendship to get laid? But, truth be told, it’s the details of the couple’s home and demeanor that engaged me further. We are all pop culture hoarders. It has to be in our DNA. Their book shelves were CRAMMED with a variety of books, collectibles and other detritus courtesy of compulsive shopping. (The best? A fake anthology of Amanda Gris stories, with blank pages and titles like “El beso negro” or “La arrogancia hecho mujer.”) Much of what they had in house was either the same of what I have in my home or would cram into my own stash quite well. Even better was the absolute ease with which we related to each other, revealing personal details of life and home, politics and history and, yes, popular culture.

If we had been hoarding information on our own lives for this encounter, letting it loose was a real pleasure to share. It ain’t easy being gay men of a certain age. Socializing tends to work better at home than in the clubs, where a tangible level desperation seems to take hold against the din. We know we’re not young, but we are also not ready to put to pasture, even if our days on the stud farm are waning.

The gathering of like-minded homos over dinner and wine translates quite well in Spain, something I don’t know why I haven’t nurtured as well in LA. I’m sure it has some reason to do with my being wrapped so tight. But that’s something to mull over with a bit more perspective once I get home. I was comforted by the sight of this solid union, enduring more than a decade and showing no signs of wear. As I bid them goodnight (or really, early morning), I walked away with the certainty there are no false connections in this world. All encounters play their role in our development in becoming not just fearless, but reminding us of what it means to be human.

The next morning at the Pontificia was a blur. Too many late nights blogging and studying finally caught up with me. More, I seem to be caught in the throes of a separatists’ rebellion between speaking in Spanish and thinking in English. It doesn’t help that grammar class again was on par with being explained with the complexity of  the Manhattan Project. Either way, my brain exploded around 9:45 that morning. Besides, if the kids were heading to Lagos, Portugal for some beach blanket fado, I was planning to wash ashore again in Madrid. This time, my intent was to absorb a little more culture and witness a little less Orgullo. Instead, I would encounter a little — or a lot — of both thanks to the arrival of the man who looked a lot like Hernán Cortés.

Someone was about to be conquered…

“En Madrid, nunca es tarde.”

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After a mind and ass numbing bus ride to Madrid, I stepped out into an anthill melting in the viscous heat of the day. By the time I got to Gran Via, I found myself needing a chamois cloth as i checked back into the Hotel Indigo. I knew straight away that I wanted to avoid the crowds and pretty much all else that afternoon. News of the passing of a friend’s wife that afternoon had put me in a pensive mood. It just made sense to slow down and take stock a bit. It was right to call and check in with my parents and Nan.

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Hearing my Dad sound so positive, offering his own encouragement of this adventure, was exactly what I needed. It was the Dad I knew, not the one whose brain is being dismantled by Alzheimer’s. It was here I realized which side of my own mental rebellion had won: I spoke to him entirely in Spanish. We were connected in a way I haven’t experienced since I was a kid. He was focused, present and very much the paternal force of reason again. It happens fleetingly, and it happened that day which made for a welcome cause of comfort.

Funny, it was different when I spoke to Mom, who stuck to our usual English because that’s who we are to her. But even my formidable mother couldn’t stand up to the Spanish I hurled with increasing strength. “Dammit, mom” I thought. “I am working hard to refine what is your native tongue, lady!” (I blame the voice of Palmira, who keeps saying “Ese sonido terrible!” every time we lapse into the comfort of ingles en la clase de conversación.) I later hung up with the glow of victory, knowing I was able to stay the course against the dominant culture known as “Big Lil.”

I don’t know if the night would have been enough to prompt this entry’s theme had I not decided to honor my date with Paco y Jose.

“Andreita, coño, comete el pollo!”

“Merrier the more,
Triple fun that way,
Twister on the floor.
What do you say?”

— “3” as sung by Britney Spears

Those who choose to read between the lines of this post will figure out that my meeting both couples was meant to be a lust driven pas de trois. One “came” to fruition, the other? Well, the minute we all sat down at an outdoor cafe not too far from the Gran Via, it was painfully apparent after the first round of laughter what was going to happen next.  We were having more fun just talking and relating to each other as friends and not tricks.

As sexy Paco and Jose were in the flesh, our chemistry was heightened by great wit and candor, too. We fell into verbal sync so easily that it seemed liked we’d known each other as intimate friends since forever. Again, they’d been a couple for 12 years, which says something in any gay community. It ain’t easy pulling in double harness. I won’t judge their desire to engage a third to make things spicy, but their ease revealed zero competition or malice. More, they were just a hell of a couple to hang out with on a hot Spanish night.

I’d been avoiding any star gossip since arriving in Spain, but once Paco and Jose got me going I sung like a canary out of a coal mine. What was equally entertaining was their matching my American brand of libel with their own Spanish version. And no “star” shines brighter here than the indomitable Belén Esteban.

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If you had to translate “hot mess,” Belén Esteban would be the Spanish translation. As the former girlfriend of a bull fighter, this incredibly popular TV presenter has made quite a name for herself in the 15 years since breaking up with the man. Single mother, former addict, surgically enhanced; she’s the quintessential reality star Spaniards have championed into super stardom. Belén even has casserole pans for sale at the local Carrefour market! Her best catch phrases involve her teen daughter, Andrea. In addition to admitting she’d turn into Bin Laden to protect her, the apex arrived when they were on holiday in that hotbed of chav, Benidorm. One night, Belén was trying to get precious progeny to eat something. After an intense battle of wits, the frustrated mom screamed, “Andreita, coño, comete el pollo!”  to the benefit of the camera. And, her status as an icon was solidified for life.

I kept asking, why is she so popular, but the answer was so ridiculously obvious. She’s a survivor, facing the most awful of adversities (most created by her own hand) and turned them into a positive. She’s a professional victim, connecting with the other members of our downtrodden time because that’s the easy route. I can’t decide if that is what makes her, or any other of her ilk, worth mentioning. But the survivor’s tale is one of our most consistent narratives in this media age. And in this age of reality, it is tragic to know such exports are becoming the norm elsewhere.

We went round and round on this tangent of celebrity, with both men saying I’d cease to exist if I couldn’t have this type of conversation. (Yeah, I’d mentioned I wanted a new narrative to spin as a MediaJor. That’s a topic for discussion in a later entry.) We had quite a time enjoying a sidebar discussion on the accented versions of American stars’ names that become unintelligible in each other’s language. (Tohm Ahnks = Tom Hanks, for starters). More, I just liked the feeling of having people “get” each other without much effort.

Granted, I wish our control freak natures lost control and got freaky. The matter was discussed but tabled in the end. Night, which takes a long ass time to fall in this part of the world, had finally arrived. It was time to return to our respective lives. Reality vanquished fantasy. But given the spectrum of emotion of the week, it seemed fitting that my second week in Spain would end not with enforcing the laws of desire. No, it ended with simple acts of kindness and laughter just when it was needed most.

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I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m not homesick or embarrassed by any of the activities I’ve engaged in of late. If anything, my first call home in two weeks reinforced my determination not to be a tourist, but a real citizen of the world. It isn’t about just going to the eateries chosen by locals, or amassing a gallery of photos as proof of a visit. No, I want to live this country. I can not equate this visit as an excuse to collect memories or people for future visits, which so many of us living a grand life of illusion tend to do.

No, this was meant to be a transformative experience. As to what will emerge in the end, I don’t know. But the real turning point of my Salamancan summer was destined to happen in the town where a major Spanish literary figure was born and others honored. No camp or exquisitely composed design or twisted psychology need be scripted here. For once, my own life of chasing windmills felt suddenly and wonderfully grounded. I am beginning to like this skin I’m living in today. Why?

Enter Samuel…

To be continued.

Tuesday, July 15 @ Manoli’s House in Salamanca

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