Sunday, July 5, 2020

Repeat Sunday: Charlotte vs. Gay Roman

Brian was the one who started it. We were on the roof catching up on gossip when Charlotte's name came up. "You know what I'm surprised you haven't noticed?" he said. "Charlotte is a total homophobe."

I laughed, assuming it had to be a joke. Brian and I were both gay and she adored both of us. He couldn't possibly be serious, I thought.

"Here's an example," Brian continued. "Name some of Charlotte's friends who happen to be gay."

I thought for a minute. Charlotte was rich and sharp and gorgeous so she knew a lot of people -- more than her edge of craziness could scare away. st rich and gorgeous New Yorkers did. To avoid confusion, then, she picked unique identifying adjectives and stuck them in front of peoples' names. If she knew two Alberts, for instance, she might refer to one as Tuba Player Albert and the other as Crest White Strip Albert. If she knew two Matts, she might call one Cat Tattoo Matt and the other Shiny Forehead Matt.

With the quantity of people in our orbits this was pretty much a necessity, though it got all of us into trouble. Gay John wasn't thrilled when Charlotte's mother referred to somebody named Handsome John and he realized it wasn't him.

"Well," I said to Brian, "there's you -- Gay Brian, Gay John, Gay Scott, Gay Stuart, Gay Toshi, ...."

"You don't think that's a little weird?" he interrupted. "A little reductive? I've designed sweaters for Gucci but really the main identifying thing about me is that I put my penis into dudes?"

I meandered from pondering his point to starting to picture it before he spoke again. "Does she do that with anybody else -- Jews, blacks, Hispanics? No, because it's offensive. Why is being gay the exception? And if she truly accepted us as equals, would she make such a big deal out of it?"

I blew it off as inexplicable but the seed was planted in my head. I had actually noticed how often she used the word "gay." As a gay man I hardly used it at all, whereas this totally-straight woman used it all the time. In fact, that morning she'd asked me if I wanted to go with her and her "gay husband" to a gay club for some gay drinking and then take a gay cab home.

A few weeks earlier, in fact, Charlotte raised a red flag when I was chatting with Joe and David, a middle-aged couple who live on the fourth floor. We were in the lobby talking about gifts for her upcoming birthday when she suddenly appeared. We immediately stopped talking, which made her suspicious.

"Ohmigod," she gasped, lowering her sunglasses and glaring at us. "If you guys are planning a three-way, I don't want to hear about it!"

We all laughed, but after she walked away we exchanged baffled glances. We agreed that her comment wasn't just clueless -- it was somewhere between bizarre and offensive. If she'd seen a straight guy talking to a hetero couple she wouldn't have assumed he was going to bang both of them.

I tried to forget about the whole thing during our usual Project Runway-watching night. While I was telling Emma about my trip to Berlin, though, she started acting weird again. "A lot of guys in Berlin have rings tattooed around their forearms," I said. "And I don't know if it's true or not, but somebody told me it's coded information about fistfucking."

"Ew!" Charlotte snapped, dropping a tortilla chip.

I scowled at her. "Supposedly the rings show how far you've gotten your arm into another guy's ass."

"That's disgusting," Charlotte sang.

I ignored her and went for the punchline. "So anyway, I'm thinking about getting one tattooed just below my fingernail."

Charlotte jumped up off the couch. "THAT'S IT!" she yelled, cranking up the TV. "STOP! I'm not going to hear about this!"

"About what?" I asked. "About gay guys having sex?"


"FINE!" I shouted as I stomped toward the door. "I WILL! And you can talk about whatever the fuck you want, but you won't be talking to me!"

I slammed the door behind me, and after that Charlotte and I didn't speak for eight days. Before the fight she'd invited me to her birthday party, and when the day came I decided I'd still go. There would be enough people that it wouldn't be awkward, and I could leave a gift as a peace offering. I didn't think I'd done anything wrong but I felt kind of guilty, so when I shopped for her gift I went overboard. I went to a shop down the street that specialized in all the Brooklyn clichés: everything was handmade, sustainable, and organic, from the Peruvian bags woven from hand-twisted yarn to the incense made by Patagonian tribes from fossilized yak poop.

I finally settled on a bracelet made of hand-carved beads from Namibia. It was really beautiful -- as it should have been for $320 -- with chunky tourmaline and lapis beads carved with intricate tribal designs. It was totally Charlotte: it had style, it supported indigenous people, and she wouldn't have to worry about running into somebody wearing the exact same thing.

I toted the gift to the birthday party and Charlotte spotted me the second I walked through her door. Our eyes locked. Without a word our eyes exchanged everything we needed to say: that we both felt terrible, that we'd made a horrible mistake, and that we couldn't survive another minute without making amends.

We ran toward each other in seemingly slow motion, shoving the other party guests aside. We met in the middle of the room and hugged each other like we were never going to let go. "I'm sorry," I cried. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever done. I know you're not homophobic. I was just being stupid or I had a stroke or something, and I promise I'll never bring it up again."

"Really?" Charlotte said, wiping away tears. "You promise?"

"I promise. I'll never mention it again."

We hugged once more, and when we separated I noticed that both of our eyes were filled with tears. That's the mark of a great friend, I thought. When one of you does something unbelievably stupid, it just brings you closer together.

Naturally the party was brilliant, since Charlotte's friends were all six-foot-tall Russian models or handsome Norwegian musicians. We drank and laughed until the sun went down, and then a tipsy Charlotte took center stage to unwrap all of her gifts. She gushed over a pair of shoes, a painting, and a crystal vase before she got to my offering. She shot me an excited look and I veritably glowed with pride. She tore the paper open, pulled the lid off the box, and extracted the bracelet from the box.

With fifty people watching breathlessly, she held the beaded string at arm's length, and her expression turned from glee to disgust. "Roman," she spat like a third-grade teacher, "I never stick anything up my ass."

Monday, June 29, 2020

Repeat Monday: Surprise

I have to do something. Every morning I wake up and it's like my eyebrows have grown just a little bit bigger, until they threaten to consume my face. It looks like two squirrels are scurrying across my forehead, and very soon there's just going be to one. Years ago, though, after an overzealous afternoon with a razor blade, I learned that shaping and tweezing your facial hair is like trying to remove your own gall bladder. This time around, I decide, I'll let a professional handle it.

I don't exactly keep up with the trends, but I know about threading. I've seen it on the news, where an Asian woman wielding something like dental floss wraps a coil around a stray hair and yanks it out, faster than the blink of an eye. While I run my daily errands I pass eight or nine threading salons, and I slow in front of every one. I feel my eyebrows swelling until I can barely keep my head up. I think, why don't I just go in and get it done?

You hear all these rumors about New York metrosexuals, but I'm the only guy in the salon I finally choose. There's so much estrogen in the building, in fact, I feel like I've accidentally stumbled into Pinkberry. Mercifully, the procedure is quick and painless. Five minutes and fifteen dollars later, the woman passes me a hand mirror. My eyebrows are far apart and half their original size. The delicate arch makes me look ever so slightly surprised.

I look at the woman. She looks at me. "Well, I think they look good," she says.

I race to the bathroom of a nearby Bed Bath & Beyond and survey the damage. They could definitely be worse. They're certainly not that 30s Jean Harlow brow, the thin Sharpie squiggle dancing below the hairline. They could almost pass for natural. Still, the arch is sharp enough to change my default expression. I'm no longer bored. I'm not exhausted. If I keep my face entirely still, I'm somewhere between inquisitive and questioning. Add in even the slightest additional surprise, though, and I look like a man fleeing Godzilla.

I run my remaining errands as I struggle to keeping my face utterly placid. Inquisitive eyebrows aren't such a horrible thing, I discover. They have the attitude that I don't, second-guessing every word I hear.

I stop at a fruit stand for a mango and some strawberries. "That'll be twelve dollars," the man says. I look at him. He looks at me. "Okay, okay," he snaps. "Maybe it's just ten."

I drop in Macy's to see what's new. There's a red knit cap I almost like. I'm not sure if it works with my beige skin and ridiculous height. "You look great!" a clerk says. "You look fabulous!" I look at her. She looks at me. "You look like a lit match," she admits.

By the time I head home it's late, and the subway is deserted. Still, a middle-aged man sits down right next to me. His suit is cheap, his hair's thinning, his moustache nearly hides his mouth. "You should be a model," he says, just out of the blue. "I mean, you are absolutely gorgeous. You've got an amazing face, and it looks like you've got a really hot body. You could be, like, in one of those Calvin Klein ads, just wearing underwear. David Beckham's got nothing on you."

I look at him. He looks at me.

"Well, I wouldn't turn off the lights when I fucked you," he says, so imagine my surprise when he did.

Monday, May 18, 2020

I had a mental note to watch the movie Bait. I didn't remember when I made it or why: I just knew I had a mental note. So when I signed up with a streaming service and saw it available, I jumped at the chance to watch it.

From the first shot in the first minute I knew I was in trouble. Usually I love experimental movies, but sometimes it seems like they're purposely annoying. It's the same reason I have trouble with concerts: while I'm a big fan of art, I also believe you should give people what they want. Musicians have gold records for a reason, so when we pay hundreds of dollars to see them live I don't think the first words out of their mouths should be, "I'm really bored with singing my hits, so tonight I'll stick to songs by Blink-182."

In the case of Bait, I'm pretty sure the director didn't hear a ton of cinéastes demanding, "Just once in a film, I'd like some close-up, black-and-white shots of sedated lobsters."

I also like atmosphere, but at some point I like a story. Dialog. Characters. An hour into Bait, I'd heard three lines of dialog and saw eight hundred gruff sailors in rain slickers tie something with rope. I guess it was atmosphere. And I guess real art is supposed to leave you with questions. I'm not sure, though, that question should be, Why the fuck do sailors have so many different knots?

I mean, either knots work or they don't. They stay tied or they come loose. They've not like spray paint or glue, where one type works on metal, one on paper, and one on cement. Can't they make one master knot that'll work with everything? Because if we can put a goddamned man on the moon, we sure as fuck shouldn't have sailors in rain slickers looking at a thick rope and a wooden pier and saying, "I believe this calls for a double-sheep-shank twisting French Handstand."

With minimal dialog and hundreds of gruff sailors, it was just too hard to follow Bait's flimsy plot. I'm not particularly stupid, but if every movie followed the rules of Gilligan's Island, the world would be a far better place.

First, there's the character introduction. The singer declares, "There's Gilligan...", while they show Gilligan on the screen. Sure, showing a lobster tying a knot would be artier, but these guys really want you to be able to follow along. "The skipper too. The millionaire and his wife. The movie star. The professor and Mary Ann." And you know what? Years ago, instead of that last line, the song used to end with, "And the rest." Why did they change it?


I mean, one's in button-down shirts and the other has pigtails, a blouse tied above her waist, and Daisy Duke shorts on. But somewhere in Hollywood some brave executive said, "You know what? I still think it could go either way." Isn't that thoughtful? I mean, it's not a mistake that I would make, but there are adults who wear backward baseball caps.

Second, Gilligan's Island had a diverse assortment of characters, even though they were all white. (The Harlem Globetrotters showed up at some point, so I'm thinking they got all their People of Color points in one episode.) The producers and writers used different archetypes for each character. It's like Laurel & Hardy: you're never going to get confused and whisper to a friend, "Wait, which one is Stupid again?"

There's a blonde and a brunette. There's a fat guy and an idiot, a smart guy and a millionaire. Is there a problem telling them apart? Not a chance! Who's the millionaire? Oh, I don't know: maybe the dude in the BERET? Who's the Professor? Maybe the MONOCLE will give you a clue. Who's the glamorous actress? Gosh, I'm thinking maybe it's ... the BLONDE?

In a perfect world, every character would wear a name tag. I don't know about you, but if there are three middle-aged blondes in a film and they aren't introduced Gilligan's Island style, I'm going to assume there's just one lady going through some crazy shit.

Aside from confusing me, I don't understand how it happens. The director casts two young white women for his film. He gets the whole crew together, looks them over, and gets a pensive look on his face. "Wait," he barks. "I think we need another young white woman." In fact, my definition of hell is a movie where every character is young and white, and the dialog is just two lines, repeated: "Hey, I just got a haircut! What do you think?" and "Look, I bought a new outfit! Is it cool or what?"

It's why I can't watch Friends: just when you're up to here with young white people, another one walks in. At some point it goes beyond annoying and makes the viewer wonder if there's a hidden agenda. It's like when you're watching a Woody Allen movie and the gorgeous teen runs into the crotchety old man. I don't know about you, but I scream, "OH NO! NOT ON MY TV!" while literally pounding my fist on the remote control in hopes some button will make it go away.

So, I developed a system for everything I watch. Whenever a new character shows up, I give them a nickname so I can remember who's who. It usually works fine, as long as nobody changes clothes or gets their hair cut. In Bait this worked for roughly eight seconds, when Gruff Old White Guy With a Beard Who Wears a Rain Slicker All Day II showed up.

All of a sudden it hit me. This must be that arthouse film where Robert Pattinson and some grizzled old dude live in a lighthouse and act like five-year-olds play Very Dangerous Games. I've never actually seen a Robert Pattinson film, though, so I try to figure out which one he is in hopes it'll make further identification easier. The problem is, I don't know what he looks like. I spend the next few minutes trying to decide if he's GOWGWBWWRSAD I or GOWGWBWWRSAD II. Nothing happens in the movie so it's not like it's a horrible mistake to suddenly take up a hobby. After another fifteen minutes, though, I decide his transformation from hot young vampire to either GOWGWBWWRSAD I or GOWGWBWWRSAD II is absolutely astonishing, so I pause the movie and turn to Google for help.

He's neither of them. Google says that movie is The Lighthouse. This is Bait. Apparently there's a whole genre of Gruff Old White Guys With Beards Who Wear Rain Slickers All Day. It's not that crowded in the Non-Heterosexual Cowboys genre.

So, GOWGWBWWRSAD I catches fish. He sells some to the local restaurant, but he also puts some in bags and ties them to peoples' doorknobs. This is the problem with Movies Too Artsy To Have Voiceovers: I assumed he hated everybody and showed his disdain with the old dead-fish-on-a-doorknob prank. Online reviews later informed me that this actually meant he was a nice guy, because this is England's version of Hello Fresh.

GOWGWBWWRSAD II, his brother, has sold out the family business. Instead of catching fish, now he takes tourists on harbor cruises. Apparently in England this is like Jackson Pollock guest starring on Mama's Family.

"Tourists destroying age-old ways" seems to be the movie's theme. Next we see the ancestral family home that GOWGWBWWRSAD I was forced to sell. Director Mark Jenkin pulls no punches in showing us what horrific city slickers the new owners are. They actually redecorated the seaside cottage to look like -- shudder! -- a seaside cottage.

Yeah. That's what I thought too. Over the fireplace they've installed a fishing net, a couple buoys, and a porthole. GOWGWBWWRSAD I sees this and nearly loses his mackerel, but I look at it and think, "Couldn't they find any little plastic dolphins?"

As the second piece of evidence that Tourism Is Bad, there's a shot of a bachelor party boarding GOWGWBWWRSAD II's boat. One man is wearing a full-length penis costume, and my mind is off again.

It's full-length, from head-covering hood to shoe-skimming shaft. It's ridiculously unsafe. I don't know about you, but GOWGWBWWRSADs yell at me if I get on a boat and I'm not wearing an inflatable vest and don't have a whistle in my mouth.

I ask myself if this costume actually exists or if it was made by the filmmakers to bolster their argument. I've never seen anybody wearing one, and I've been to Prague. I can't imagine a logical buying process. I mean, I'm assuming the purchaser is heterosexual, since no gay man would wear such a thing. But how do you put it on and ask your friends how it looks? Any reply at all, from "It's too short" to "It's too thin” to "It's too veiny, and it has a weird bend toward the root" will make everyone involved look gay. Therefore, no such thing can exist.

GOWGWBWWRSAD I finally snaps. He breaks into the ancestral cottage and in a fit of inexpensive fury he breaks the glass in the porthole. "They pulled down mother's pantry!" he wails defeatedly.

Or maybe, "They pulled down mother's palm tree." I neglected to mention I think all the actors are faking Maine accents even though they're in England.

The two brothers then get on a boat and sail off. The film freezes on a closeup of GOWGWBWWRSAD I looking gruff. Since it's his only facial expression, it could mean he's thinking about the devastating effects of new money on ancient culture or he's picturing Vanna White naked. Then the credits roll and I realize I've missed the point of the movie by missing the very last line.

I narrow down the possibilities:

1. The newcomers pulled down mother's pantry. Maybe it was a building that meant a lot to mom. Or maybe there was a restaurant called Mother's Pantry and the cheddar biscuits were really good.

2. The newcomers pulled down mother's palm tree. Maybe she planted a coconut when the brothers were young and they watched it grow over the years and now it's gone.

I decide it doesn't matter.

But what about the boat? Did that mean anything? It looked like GOWGWBWWRSAD II's tourist boat, but with the signs removed -- which is the nautical equivalent of a haircut and costume change. Does it mean he's given up tourists and returned to the old way of life?

I decide to give nicknames to boats whenever they show up in movies. And if anybody asks me how their penis costume looks, I'll give them the Usual Gay Critique:

"If I can see your shoes, it isn't long enough."

Friday, April 24, 2020

Dear visitor:

Thank you for signing up for the Cameo.Com newsletter. As you know, we are an online service offering customized greetings from world-famous celebrities for a very reasonable charge.

With thousands of celebrities in our catalog, we have the perfect fit for you. Want a birthday greeting from a Baywatch star? Congrats on your anniversary from a Denver Bronco? Get a friendly "Have a great day!" wish from an extra on Dragon Ball Z? That's why we're worth nearly a billion dollars.

Enjoy perusing our catalog, and if you have any questions don't hesitate to ask.

Your friend,
Brenda Customer Care

Dear friend:

In my last email I said, "if you have any questions don't hesitate to ask." Well, a lot of you took me up on that! More than a few people wanted to know why the first customer reviews for so many celebrities were identical.

Why, I didn't even notice! Perhaps that is a little odd, though I wouldn't use the word "suspicious." Sometimes a whole lot of people just have the same word in their heads, and "Awesome" is a common word in customer reviews. Maybe reviewers on some websites go on at length about the service and price and blah blah blah, but I guess we're just an "Awesome" kind of site.

Besides, mark my words here: I'm pretty sure it was just a weird phase and before you know it all the reviewers will be saying something else.

Your friend,
Brenda Customer Care

Dear visitor:

I'll be honest: I don't understand you. You write me and scream that it's "suspicious" that so many of our "customer reviews" are exactly the same. And right after that it changes, just out of the blue, and then everybody is suspicious again! Are you people NEVER satisfied? Customers have different opinions! It's a fact of life! I'm sure the reviews will change again very soon to something completely different and it has absolutely nothing to do with me!

Enjoy our service.

Your friend,
Brenda Customer Care

Dear patron:

Okay, you caught me. I knew I should have just put two exclamation points after "Thank you" instead of three. What can I tell you? I'M ENTHUSIASTIC!!!

Look, I'm also paid ten dollars an hour: you really think I'm going to struggle writing realistic reviews? Like, "Hortensia did a wonderful job. In fact, let me tell you about the heartfelt video she recorded for my Paw-Paw." Not a chance! If I can finish the job with three minutes of cut-and-paste then that's what I'm gonna do.

Besides, what do you expect from this place? Did you look at our client list? I told you in my first email that we had celebrities from every walk of life, but that's not quite true. Actually, we're a bit oversupplied in psychopathic Trump sellouts and media majors who ruined their careers by sucking up to Donald Trump but weren't hot enough for the move to Fox News.

We're funneling money to Sean Spicer, a Trump press secretary who a New Yorker headline said "Will Be Remembered For His Lies" and who once hid in bushes to avoid meeting the press.

We're a nice source of income for Jack Posobiec, someone we've dubbed a "political commentator" who is actually more like prankster scum who got famous by going to left-wing protests holding a sign that read "RAPE MELANIA."

We also call our client Jacob Wohl a "political commentator," but it's a little misleading here too. It probably makes you picture a guy in a suit talking to a news anchor instead of an amoral little twerp who allegedly paid a man to tell the press that Pete Buttigieg tried to rape him while he was drunk.

We're giving a platform to Will Witt, an alleged "political influencer" who tweeted that "many leftists would rather see the world continue to collapse from the corona virus than see Trump be successful in stopping it." Unfortunately, he's temporarily unavailable. Maybe injecting Mop 'N Glo to cure a virus isn't as successful as he thought?

We provide financial support to Fox News shill and Apprentice contestant Gretchen Carlson, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (who had his felony conviction for bribery commuted by Trump), and Anthony "Mooch" Scaramucci, the White House staffer who was so bad at his job that even Trump noticed he was incompetent. Did you see the listing for Tomi Lahren, the Fox News personality who compared "Black Lives Matter" protesters to the Ku Klux Klan? And don't forget Kaitlin Bennett, the right-wing "Gun Girl" who's famous because she took an assault rifle to her graduation ceremony at -- wait for it -- Kent State.

As Cameo CEO and co-founder Steven Galanis says, "It's really cool to see people ... be able to make life-changing money really quickly." Don't dwell on the fact that one of those people, Roger Stone, is a felon ex-Trump "adviser" who called a CNN personality a "fat negro" and then a "stupid negro." Hopefully his "life-changing" might include a swerve away from racist pig but don't bet the farm on that.

Anyway, that's me for now. Knock off the angry letters. We're a website! If you want moral integrity, head over to GoFundMe and give a non-felon your extra bucks.

Keepin' it real,
Brenda Customer Care

Disclaimer: This is a work of satire. "Brenda" does not exist, and her emails are fictional. The suspicious customer reviews, however, are real.