Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I don't mind getting older. I don't give a damn about gray hair or wrinkles. I don't like the crazy new attitudes, though, that seem to accompany them. I'm barely in middle age and suddenly my younger friends act like I'm going to need them to help me cross the street.

When you're young and you stagger, your friends laugh. You collapse drunkenly into the street and after dancing around you they roll up your coat and jam it behind your head so you won't get gutter water in your ear. Now that everything's cool and you're comfortable, they hop in a cab to head to another club.

When you're old and you stagger, though, they take your arm and talk like you'd talk to your grandpa. "There, there," they say, "don't overexert yourself. We'll just go to the end of the block today, and maybe tomorrow we'll try to get all the way to the store."

When you're young and you do something slightly odd everybody takes it in stride. They think of excuses for you that don't include a stroke or Alzheimer's. When you're young, there's a whole world of excuses for weird stuff.

Somebody comes over while you're cleaning and they notice you're using oven cleaner on the bathroom floor. No problem. Maybe you don't have bathroom cleaner. Maybe you can't afford forty specialized cleaning products. Or maybe your bathroom floor is so fucking dirty it takes toxic chemicals to clean it.

Once you hit thirty, though, that grace period is over. All of a sudden every possible explanation is medical. Instead of wracking their brains, they're searching WebMD. "Maybe he's had a stroke," somebody says. "Does half of his face look like Grumpy Cat?"

You go on and on to your friends about how much you love Jenny Lewis. Such a talent, you say. Absolutely unbelievable, you say. I'm even starting to get a little crush. In fact, sometimes when I touch myself, I think about --

And then you notice everybody is staring at you weird.

What's their fuckin' problem? you wonder. Oh, wait -- I said Jenny Lewis, right? I didn't say Jerry Lewis?

If I'd done this a few years ago, everybody would have laughed and talked about brain farts and alcohol. But now everybody's screaming just in case I suddenly caught deafness to go with the Alzheimer's. They leap right back to basics. "WHAT'S YOUR NAME?" they yell at me. "HOW MANY FINGERS AM I HOLDING UP?"

Still, I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy. I don't want to sound like some cheery Suzanne Somers sap, but there always is a bright side. The good news is, now I just have a grab onto a random parking meter and somebody'll run to get me juice and cookies. I just have to shiver a little to have somebody fetch my favorite sweater. Now if I could just figure out a way to get somebody to sort through my boxes of old Reader's Digest magazines and find that article on computers I know my favorite nephew would enjoy while I take a little nap.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hipster Goldilocks

Once upon a time there was a hipster named Hunter, though his real name was Curtis Alan. He lived in an area called East Williamsburg by real estate agents despite the fact Spike Lee shot fourteen movies there. One morning, while he was walking home from his CrossFit class, he accidentally wandered into a neighborhood where hipsters don't often go. He was very frightened, but then he saw a friendly little brownstone in the distance.

The friendly little brownstone belonged to three Italians who'd lived in the neighborhood all their lives. One was a great big Papa Italian, one was a middle-sized Mama Italian, and one was a tiny little Baby Italian. That afternoon, the three Italians decided to go for a walk while their spaghetti was cooling. It was just too hot to eat!

Right as they left through the back door, Hunter came in through the front door. The first thing he saw was the spaghetti. “I sure am hungry,” Hunter said. “I’ll just have one bite.”

First, he tried a spoonful from Papa Italian's great big bowl. “Yeesh!” he yelled, “Somebody should be arrested for Attempted Murder by Oregano.”

Next, he tried a spoonful from Mama Italian's medium-sized bowl. “Horrible," he whined. "Overwhelming in its sheer tomatoey-ness. Would it kill them to squirt in a little sriracha?"

Finally, Hunter tried a spoonful from Baby Italian's tiny little bowl. “Oh, what the fuck,” he cried. “But wait'll the folks in my Artisanal Pasta class hear about this." Hunter ate the entire bowlful.

After doing squats in the gym all day, Hunter’s calves were sore. “I need to sit down for a little while,” he thought.

First, he sat in Papa Italian's great big armchair. “HOLY FUCK!” he screamed. "Did they outlaw lumbar support around here?"

Next he sat in Mama Italian's medium-sized chair. It was so soft that he sunk in! “That's why friends don't let friends shop at Ikea,” he complained.

Finally, he sat in Baby Italian's tiny little rocking chair. “I'm really enjoying the ironically-childish lines contrasting with the crudely-cut wood," he said, and he rocked until the chair broke.

With nowhere to sit, Hunter climbed up the stairs to find somewhere to sleep. He was still very tired.

First, he tried Papa Italian's great big bed. “Jesus Christ!” he shrieked. "I didn't think they made thread counts under twelve."

Then, he tried Mama Italian's medium-sized bed. “You're fuckin' kidding me!" he snapped. "It's like this memory foam has amnesia!"

Finally, he tried Baby Italian's tiny little bed. “Eh,” he said. "They couldn't get eight bucks for this shit on Airbnb." But Hunter fell asleep and soon was dreaming of duck confit tacos with kale ice cream.

A few hours later the three Italians returned home. While walking, they'd decided to visit Papa Italian's sister-in-law. Now their ears were ringing and they had Maalox stains on their clothes. They saw forks in their spaghetti and were very surprised. “Who’s been eating my spaghetti?” asked Papa Italian.

“Who’s been eating my spaghetti?” asked Mama Italian.

“Who’s been eating my spaghetti and eaten it all up?” cried Baby Italian.

Then the three Italians saw that their chairs had been used. “Who’s been sitting in my chair?” Papa Italian howled.

“Who’s been sitting in my chair?” wondered Mama Italian.

“Who’s been sitting in my chair and BROKEN it?” squeaked Baby Italian.

The three Italians ran upstairs to check their bedrooms. “Who’s been sleeping in my bed?” Papa Bear roared.

“Who’s been sleeping in my bed?” growled Mama Italian.

“Who’s been sleeping in my bed and is STILL HERE?” Baby Italian screamed. She said it so loudly that she woke Hunter up.

Hunter was so frightened that he jumped out of bed, ran out the front door, and raced through the streets until he found a hipster coffee shop that looked like a Gold Rush saloon but was built by an ex-Google employee in 2013. "Thank God," he said with a sigh, dodging a miniature, laboratory-formulated Shih-Pug. He hung up his coat, hand-woven from organic cotton and sustainably-dried beef jerky, on a taxidermied meerkat and ordered a cold-dripped Japanese frappospresso from a barista with a tattoo of a cigarette-smoking ghost on his forehead and a handlebar mustache in the shape of Kelly Ripa's eyebrows. "I thought the whole world had gone nuts."

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My sister Christine and I jointly own a condo that we inherited when our mother died. We rent it out, but that's gotten increasingly difficult. Our first tenant stayed two years. The second stayed one. The third wanted out after four months. Could we accept a month-to-month tenancy? he asked. We'd long since abandoned any hopes of self-respect. NO! we barked. Once he was in, he wasn't ... getting ... out.

Eventually reality smacked us in the face: our condo was horrifying. It was last decorated in 1972 when shag carpeting and earth tones were in vogue. We'd never even tried to find a cool tenant: no, we blanketed Craigslist in search of somebody who'd move in before they had a chance to think.

Since the condo is in L.A., where Christine lives, and I live in New York, I hoped she'd answer our tenant's complaints and upgrade the place. It's not exactly fair, but I'm hardly going to fly in to do a couple of odd jobs. Unfortunately, she wasn't up to the task. Whereas New Yorkers start off fast and ramp up to insanity, Los Angeleans have only one speed: crawl. Christine gets up at 8 a.m. so she can stretch, feed her feral rescue cats, cook a Tofurky breakfast sausage, and post a new petition on Facebook about climate change before driving her Prius to work around 4:45. It's very Joni Mitchell mellow, and it makes me want to shoot myself.

I prod and cajole and cheerlead and eventually she caves. She agrees to some miniature task. And without fail, every time, something goes horribly wrong. I don't get it: she's an adult. She holds down a full-time job. She must have some modicum of common sense, right?

But every other month there's one small step forward accompanied by fifteen steps back.

The tenant says the lock on the sliding glass door is broken. No problem, Christine says. And two months later she calls and says she bought a lock but it didn't fit. So there goes April, there goes our tenant's hopes, and there goes fifty bucks.

Our tenant decides he doesn't like the eight dead, oversized plants the last guy left on the balcony. I convince Christine to hire some random Hispanic dude in front of Home Depot to carry them to the condo dumpster. The first guy to approach her car, though, is seventy years old and has a limp, but she doesn't want to question his fitness and possibly damage his self-esteem. While she's driving him to the condo he admits he can't actually lift anything, so she buys him a sandwich, gives him two hours' pay, and drops him off back to the store.

There goes June, and there goes sixty bucks.

The refrigerator no longer gets cold, the tenant says. No problem, replies Christine. And two months later I hear that:

  1. She bought a Kenmore at Sears, because the place where your parents bought a tufted-vinyl wet bar is the place to go for quality appliances.
  2. While the rest of the kitchen is beige, the new Kenmore is arctic white.
  3. The Kenmore doesn't exactly fit, but you can still get into the kitchen without hurting yourself.
Before I give up once and for all, I try to subtly instruct her in the art of competence. She takes offense. What am I insinuating? Why, she's a strong, capable single woman! She can do as much as any man! She can work a full-time job and work towards preserving the environment and still put on make-up and keep her hair looking nice.

I consider arguing but I'm pretty sure you can't criticize somebody into self-confidence. Instead, I think of another odd job that would give her the chance to redeem herself. The bathroom lamp is a bizarrely ostentatious row of six giant globe bulbs on a chrome strip that looks like a makeup mirror in a Broadway dressing room. I don't care if she buys a flashlight or a kerosene lantern: it's be a major improvement if we could replace it with anything. We just need a handyman, I suggest, and then I back away even from that. We just need a dude, I say. Christine reluctantly agrees, like she'll need eight pounds of tofu and three Sting CDs to properly complete the task.

And the next time I talk to her, it's done. The new lamp isn't terrific -- the style is old and feminine, evoking a brothel during the gold rush -- but at least nobody's going to hang around the door waiting for Cher to come out. I pile her with accolades but she continues to drop odd little facts. Found the electrician through a local newspaper. We were desperate. It was probably a good idea. I bat them away until an errant pitch wallops me in the side.

"It was a little expensive," she admits. "Six hundred dollars."

I think she must be mistaken, but she doesn't correct herself. "Six hundred dollars?" I repeat. "To change a lamp?"

"The electrician quoted seventy-five an hour," she says, "and said it would take two hours."

I nod. That sounds reasonable to me.

"But I didn't know he'd have to bring a supervisor," she says. "And that guy didn't do ANYTHING."

Friday, August 29, 2014

One reason I'm not Republican is because their entire platform seems based on returning America to its alleged former greatness. As the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer says, "It is no exaggeration to say that the Protestant faith, particularly its moral values and its work ethic, made America what it became," indicating that a mass return to religion is required to make this U-turn.

I won't argue that the world is a swirling cesspool of idiots and assholes. However, it's pretty easy to prove there used to be faaar more.

My mail carrier has a cleft palate. Great guy, very friendly, cleft palate. Every time I see him I think, "Ooh, there's a dude with a hare lip. Hey, that's Mike!" I don't mean to be rude; it's just automatic. It's what people were like before political correctness.

I saw Mike yesterday and thought, "Ooh, dude with a hare lip. Hey, that's Mike!" and immediately felt guilty. I decided it was time I parceled out the blame. I mean, at some point in the history of time, a doctor -- a well-bred, upper-class, educated white man -- delivered a baby with a cleft palate. He'd probably treated the family for years, maybe even delivered the mother herself. With heartfelt empathy and a bedside manner honed from years of experiene, he looked at the baby, then looked at the mom and dad and said, "Whoa! Looks like you two are the proud parents of a fuckin' bunny rabbit!"

The mother must have freaked out. Surely she sought out other medical help. Maybe she complained further up the ladder, and brought it to the attention of the American Medical Association. Maybe they convened a committee to discuss the malformation, and eventually they reached a conclusion. "We have looked through all the literature and discovered that this condition afflicts a significant portion of newborns yet has not been given a name. With all the gravity this august body can muster, we're going to call it a hare lip, because c'mon, that kid's begging for a carrot, right?"

"That doesn't seem particularly scientific," the mother might protest. "You're naming a medical syndrome after a subjective observation and offensive slur?"

"Look on the bright side," another doctor might offer. "Maybe he'll get extra chocolate at Easter time."

Then there's Mongoloids. That's what people with Down Syndrome used to be called. With the intelligence and compassion their field is noted for, a doctor declared that a child born with a birth defect looked like somebody Chinese. And for years his observation was gospel. "Pronounced supraorbital ridges, post-orbital constriction, protruding occipitals," a delivering doctor might note. "I don't want to scare you or anything, but how do you like the name Ching Chang Fong?"

WOMAN: What?

DOCTOR: And I thought I'd have to wait until lunch to get Chinese take-out.

Later in life if one suffered a head injury, that person was declared to be a vegetable. Say a young man is hit by a horse-drawn carriage and thrown into a coma. His parents rush to his side, but he doesn't wake up. He doesn't respond. Eventually the doctor turns up to give them the grim prognosis. "I'm very sorry to tell you," he says, "that your son is a vegetable."

The mother stares at him in confusion. "Can you narrow it down? Is he corn? A rutabaga? Oh, God -- don't tell me he's -- " She cringes here as she can barely whisper the words: "Brussels sprouts?"

What were they thinking? Why would a brain-dead person suddenly become a vegetable? Do they now contain extra iron? Do they start bathing in butter? Are they suddenly something you avoid until Thanksgiving comes? It makes just as much sense to say they're now a doorstop, or an enormous rock, or a giant hunk of cheese.

Still, I'm not going to argue with Bryan Fischer. If he says the Protestant faith made America what it became, I won't dispute it. However, I will thank heaven that there were smart atheists around to fix everything they fucked up.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Yet Another Gay Survey Wants To Tell Advertisers How Much Money We Spend

I got excited when I saw that Metro Source magazine wanted to know what I thought. Ordinarily I delete email surveys, but in this case I'd be happy to oblige.

Metro Source says their obscure gay publication is a "glossy lifestyle and entertainment magazine geared towards the modern metropolitan gay community." Which apparently means pushing overpriced designer shit to insecure boy toys with more money than sense, and reinforcing the idea that gays have carloads of disposable income to heterosexual bigots. For page after page they blather on about the newest trends, whether it's a new wi-fi Blu-ray John Varvatos bathmat or the Gucci Cadillac that comes with a monogrammed Shih Tzu carrying case.

Their "Health" section, naturally, is a euphemism for plastic surgery and electrolysis. One column warns that you need to prepare in advance for your Instagram photos. "The good news is: You don’t need major surgery to look good," though you will need professional help. Um, that's good news? I was hoping I could just dim the lights, or apply the Daguerrotype filter. On another page they insist you'll cry tears of joy after your beard transplant.

The "Gourmet lifestyle" column recommends Paiche, a neo-tapas restaurant where one Yelp user "had lunch for $80 ... and still felt hungry," and another called the prices "elitist and absurd." Metro Source says "there’s no limit to where [the chef] may take his food next," though at $20 for an appetizer I'm pretty sure it'll be driving in a Gucci Cadillac.

When I spotted the survey, then, I leapt at the chance. I wanted to tell them that they're the most irritating magazine in existence, and I read Conde Nast Traveler. I wanted to tell them that their focus on luxury and materialism was disgusting, and that I was much more interested in social reform, income inequality and LGBT issues.

I answered question after question until it dawned on me: They didn't want to know what I thought. They wanted to know how rich and dumb I was so they could sell more advertising. My first tip-off was the list of ways in which they thought they might influenced me. Had I eaten at a restaurant they recommended? Had I stayed at a hotel they loved? Had I bought a car after reading their publication? I wanted to say, "Uh, girlfriend, your infotorials are so sketchy I wouldn't buy lemon Skittles if you praised them." Their list included everything short of "Do you masturbate to our publication?" which again isn't very likely unless one is aroused by $27 guacamole.

I checked "None of the above."

Next came another long list asking what I buy, and how much do I spend. I can read between the lines. I know what they really want to ask. Would I consider spending $3,000 on sandals? What if they were made from baby quail, and had the word PRADA on them? Would they make me feel better than everybody else?

We're one-quarter of the way through the survey when we hit this question: "What is the total amount spent on watches in the last 12 months?" Now, I don't know about you, but I'm thinking that the main issues involving the gay community don't involve whether you're strapping Timex or Tag Hauer to your wrist. That's when I decided to fight back against LGBT commodification. That's when my new persona popped in my head.

I was no longer RomanHans. Suddenly I was Billy Bob Budlacky, an 18-year-old gay man in Butcher Holler, Kentucky. Billy Bob is out and proud, but he hasn't had much schoolin'. The last thing he bought was some Elmer's glue to patch his overalls. He shares a small shack with six of his cousins and he makes $1,400 a year whittling hog calls.

Billy Bob has something to say.

What does Billy Bob drink? The choices lean toward upscale alcoholism but he writes in "Cousin Zeke's corn squeezin's." He's definitely not going to spend "$1,000 or more" for a watch. In fact, he wants to write in, "When I need to tell the time, I draw the numbers one through twelve on my wrist, and then I hold a toothpick in the middle and stand in the sun." This time, though, there isn't an "Other (Please enter)" field. He goes with "I haven't bought a watch."

How many trips has he made in the last year? Well, he nearly went to visit his Uncle Cooter a couple of weeks ago, but he just lives on the other side of the tracks. Are they talking about getting on one of them silver sky birds? He's still waiting til they get all the bugs ironed out.

Spend any nights in a hotel or motel? They break it up into business and personal columns, but whittling hog calls doesn't exactly call for a trip to Vienna.

What types of doctor has he visited? Billy Bob is shocked at all the options. Along with Plastic Surgeon there's three varieties of Nut Doctors. He doesn't need any of them. There's a reason the Butcher Holler General Store has a whole shelf of Colonel Beauregard's Mustard Seed Poultice.

"Do you personally have, or have you had, any of the following ailments in the last 12 months?" The list runs around like Uncle Floyd after drinking bad moonshine, with "Hair Loss" and "Wrinkles" tossed in there with "Cancer." There's no entry for "Yodeler's Throat" so Billy Bob checks none of the above.

The next question is about cigarettes, both regular and electronic. That's a great marketing opportunity -- selling cancer to young gay men. That'll get them perusing those doctor ads! Billy Bob wonders if they make electronic chewing tobacky but just checks "None of the Above."

"Do you rent, own, or live rent-free?" Billy Bob never thought that last one was an option, but he's got one big eyebrow. He definitely doesn't belong to a country club, own a weekend home, or have boat owners' insurance. If his canoe sinks, it sinks. Does Billy Bob own a smartphone, an e-reader, a 4K Ultra HDTV, or a VOIP subscription? Billy Bob doesn't subscribe to VOIP, but he's pretty sure he's hidden a copy of Playgirl in it while killing time at the General Store.

I finish the survey with my fingers crossed. I don't hold out a lot of hope. I know there won't be ads for Gulden's mustard in the next issue, but maybe they'll have second thoughts about $329 letters that let you spell your name on your living room wall or "bespoke chairs" named after dudes like Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood who'd tell them to fuck off.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Breaking news from the Los Angeles Times. What, you wanted to read stuff written by journalists? Christ, grandma, you know we've got electricity and smoothie bars these days. Keep checking back for more fitness band news updates. This is probably a spoiler alert, but tomorrow three guys in Sacramento get erections!

As I watched the MTV Video Music Awards an inescapable thought lodged itself in my brain. It wasn't "What kind of idiots watch this crap?" or "Holy God, is Beyoncé still on?" No, it's this:

Why don't men empower themselves by showing off their penises?

It seems like just a few years ago both sexes were ashamed of their bodies. They thought flesh was a tool of the devil and a doorway to sin, which subsequent TV movies and Prince records seemed to confirm. But then women took a giant leap forward with the suffragette movement. Thousands of determined young women fought and suffered and went to jail solely for the right to bounce their tatas in our face. They tore open their high-necked crinoline petticoats and shook their Jello pillows and said, "THESE ARE MY BOOBS AND I WILL NOT BE ASHAMED, ESPECIALLY IF YOU STICK DOLLAR BILLS IN BETWEEN THEM!"

Just think -- what a radical notion! It totally transformed the world. That was the heterosexual version of Stonewall, except instead of equal rights now women have dresses held on with double-stick tape. Just imagine what the world would be like without this grass-roots activism! I don't know about you, but my life would have been a hollow shell without the underboob and sideboob trends. Baywatch would have been a show about a has-been German singer with muffin-top.

Men, though, didn't have an equivalent movement. Ironically, it's because they were too busy working! They didn't have time to burn their underwear and chant slogans, or parade back and forth down Main Street with their proud penises straining at cantilevered pants. Their shame remains intact up until today, which explains why despite my fervent emails Jockey still hasn't added bungee cords or jelly pouches to their underwear. While women's red-carpet costumes frequently consist of two post-its and a Dorito, men still hide their best parts in shame, and not just the bent or pencil-dicked ones. They have to console themselves with thoughts like God made them and God doesn't make ugly, or at least they're 94% of the employees at Facebook. Is that just a wrinkle or is Idris Elba happy to see me? I don't even need to see the picture to tell you what the answer is.

Of course, this dark cloud isn't without its silver lining. I speak, of course, of Jon Hamm, who is doing what Rosa Parks would have done if she'd had a huge rod and giant sack. He proudly and unashamedly shows off his genitalia to a chorus of offended catcalls. But let's make this perfectly clear: His penis isn't the problem, though if he's like me there are six-week periods where it is. No, it's the bitter people looking at it. (Though even some on our side quibble that he could take a stronger stand. He seems reluctant to say "I'm proud of my penis!" let alone when he has a drip spot on the front of his pants.)

So while there is a faint hint of sunrise on the horizon, we need to face reality. We men will have to bow to penis shame for many years to come, contenting ourselves by showing off intellect and initiative and drive and determination and other traits you can't fake even if you suck off a plastic surgeon. I personally think there won't be full equality between the sexes until we turn on the VMAs and say, "Holy God, would you please get all of those giant dicks out of my face?" Which sadly won't be happening any time soon.

J. LO: What is that? Why are you painting a red stripe on me? It looks like my hips are on the warpath.

STYLIST: Girlfriend, it's supposed to be a muscle.