Friday, December 28, 2007

Bye Bye Bhutto

I think I've been living in NYC too long. I always prided myself on being an optimist, but now I equally pride myself on being just as cynical as all the other slimy worms oxidizing through The Big Apple. Benazir Bhutto, may she rest in peace, wasn't dead two hours before every gunslinging candidate on the American political trail was turning it into another bullet on the resume of Why I Should Be President. There was just no milking any sympathy out of John McCain's boast that he had known Ms. Bhutto personally and of his familiarity with the landscape of Pakistan (thus entitling him to the keys to the White House.) Today Hillary is preaching the necessity of an "independent international investigation" into this insidious incident that has interrupted the inglorious tradition called rallying the faithful to the Iowa Caucuses. She sure looked mighty and presidential issuing the call, not to mention all those other adjectives used to describe ugly Americans who think their noses belong in every butt crack shitting all over this planet. (Can you imagine if the president of Iran had called on an independent international investigation during Monicagate when it appeared that Bubba Clinton had no credibility whatsoever?) Let the Pakistanis have a sundown to bury the assassinated woman. Send flowers. Write a card. In a moment of silence, if it's not too much to ask. The world lost a human life yesterday. Maybe even two. Tell your opponent you're happy he's still alive. Would it kill you all to be human for once in your political lifetimes?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Hey Summer Sun

I dare you not to feel happier after listening to this song, Summer Sun, from Swedish jazz duo Koop. Merry Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Rules of Dating an HIV+ Individual

It took me four years to finally get a handle on the rules. Today I was rejected again, but not in the usual way, which is normally silence or phone calls that don't get returned. This guy actually let me know that he felt uncomfortable dating an HIV+ guy. It's too bad because I was growing to like him. The first date had gone well enough, followed by a very nice phone call afterward. That's when he asked me, out of the blue, if I had ever seen Longtime Companion, one of his favorite movies. I was both surprised and grateful for the question because it provided a segue to tell him about my status: I thought here at last was someone who might give me a chance. The moment I told him though, I heard something slip inside his soul. He agreed to the second date, but it was mostly just going through the motions. And tonight's phone call ensured the third one would never come. To be honest, I'm kind of laughing about it. Because after four years I can now see that I've had lots of first dates; not so many second ones; and no thirds. When you're HIV+, it seems you only get two strikes before you're out. And most of the time you don't even get the courtesy of a call on the third strike. You're expected to know and just get out of the batter's box. Leave the stadium. Forfeit the game. As Somerset Maugham once put it, one must be a gentleman about these things. I understand. The point of life isn't living long enough to tell about it--it's living long enough to laugh about it. To tell about something requires distance and objectivity; to laugh about something, closeness and intimacy. If the game had ended today, I would have come out on the losing end for sure. But at least I would have gotten to laugh about it afterward. And that's not something too many losers get to do.

Just 13 More Days...

Little kids began the countdown to Christmas at least two weeks ago. I've been in a similar mode, waiting for the arrival of January. That's when my two favorite sports start up again--golf and tennis. The boys will tee it up in Hawaii a few days after New Year's and the Australian Open will see my man Roger Federer win yet another Grand Slam. I knew it was going to be a long, grueling fall the moment the Mets imploded back in September. And although it looks like the Giants will make it to the playoffs, in my heart I've always been a Buffalo Bills fan. I guess I become something of a figure skating aficionado this time of year, but that's only because there isn't much else on the telly. Congratulations do go out to my compatriot Yuna Kim for taking the gold medal in Torino, Italy at the season ending ISU Grand Prix Final. But it's another skater who's been on my mind lately--Tara Lipinski. While for many I'm sure she's already melted away into the icy landscape, I've never forgotten how she outperformed her chief rival Michelle Kwan at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan to skate away with the gold medal. Kwan, of course, had been widely tipped to take the gold. When she didn't, she came back in 2002 to try again, only to secure bronze. Four years later in 2006 saw her sad withdrawal from the Olympics before the competition had even started. Why is this piece of skating history doing figure-eights in my mind as of late? Because it's echoing what Barack Obama is about to do to Hilary Clinton--snatch away the nomination that everyone just a few months ago had already hung around Hilary's neck. When two individuals both demonstrate technical brilliance, the judges always go with the one who shows more "heart." That's why Nancy Kerrigan (dressed in Vera Wang) lost out to Oksana Baiul in Norway in 1994. And that's why Hilary is doomed to take silver. And why Huckabee is following suit next November. God, there really must be nothing else on TV. Oh yes, did I mention that I finally learned the rules of snooker?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Leader of the Band

I'm not sure what it says about my state of mind to admit this, but for some years now I've come to associate December with death. Because this is about the time when one or other of the news programs airs a montage set to melancholy music of all the people who have passed away earlier in the year. Among those people will be Dan Fogelberg who died today at the age of 56 from prostate cancer. This year marked the 25th anniversary of his top-10 hit Leader of the Band, a folk melody about the love and admiration a son had for his father. Of course, back in 1982 there was no way I could have appreciated its lyrics--I was entering that age when there's really not much love left over for anyone but yourself. I guess what's been bothering me all day is that earlier this afternoon my 77 year-old father asked me to take him to Yosemite in the summer. I must have looked at him dubiously. This is a man who now has a hard time navigating stairs. A trip with my father to the terrains of Yosemite? How could he manage? And what would the two of us do there? I changed the subject, but not without wondering if this was some kind of last request for a final road trip before heading into the eternal horizon. Being HIV+, sometimes I think that I'm the only one in this world who's allowed to grapple with mortality. It's vain and irrational, and not an entitlement anyone should want to claim. So why do I do it? Is there any way to stop it? Where do you find answers to all the hard questions?

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Universe Expands Into Nothing Which Is Something

In what seems to be a trend this year, my Christmas presents have been arriving earlier than expected. My buddy out in LA a few weeks ago sent me the Universe series that aired on the History Channel earlier this year. It's humbling to think how small we are in the scheme of the cosmos. Imagine an oval-shaped sandbox 20 feet in diameter, the sand twelve inches deep at the center and thinning out toward the edges. The Earth would be nothing more than a microscopic speck of dust attached to one of the grains of sand in that sandbox. And that would be just the Milky Way galaxy. Now imagine the rest of the Earth completely covered and filled with sandboxes, and you begin to get some idea of the dimensions of the Universe. For some time, humans have been consumed with the idea of space travel and making contact with extraterrestrials. I'm not one to kill off anyone's sense of curiosity when it comes to outer space, but it does seem to me just a bit ironic that humans on this side of the ocean can't even communicate with humans on the other side unless violence and bloodshed are involved. It saddens me when HIV- humans refuse to acknowledge me, or even worse, seek to isolate me socially and physically because I am HIV+. The Earth is a universe in microcosm with countless galaxies that need to be bridged; frontiers that beg to be explored; hearts and souls that wait to be discovered. If only we could be brave enough. To go to these places where no one has gone before. No one is arguing we should abandon the dream of ascertaining the existence of life on Jupiter's moons. As long as we don't forget that life already exists--and should be celebrated--on our very own planet.

Friday, December 7, 2007

I Will Die Another Day

And to think that this man, Michael Hayden, could have been my boss today had I chosen to take that job with the CIA ten years ago. It's one of the big "what ifs" in my life. What if I had decided to become an operations officer? Would I be HIV+ today? Would I have ever come out to my family? Would I have a completely different identity? Without a doubt, the reeling machinations of our nation's premiere intelligence agency convince me that I dodged a cloak, not to mention the dagger. There have been more intelligence directors in the past decade than Japanese prime ministers and bad Jennifer Anniston movies combined. The agency totally botched intelligence efforts concerning the events that led to 9/11. It was utterly helpless in protecting one of their own in Valerie Plame. And now this. Today there was news that the agency destroyed videotapes showing CIA operatives interrogating terrorist suspects, a cover-up that's already being compared to Watergate. You just get the feeling that bread and butter and tea and scones weren't exactly served at these little Q and A gatherings. Would I have been called upon to extract information? Would I have been ordered to torture and destroy? Would I have been proudly serving my country? To kill or be killed, that is the question.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Look at me tonight, all giddy like a kid who got to open one of his Christmas presents in November. It's hard to believe, but that's how I feel. Earlier this evening, I got to meet the fabulous (and I never use that word) Nina Garcia, fashion director of Elle magazine and judge on one of my favorite shows, Project Runway, at a signing for her new book The Little Black Book of Style. It was raining in New York today--as if a few drops of water were going to stop me from looking my best in my Bally shoes, A.P.C. jeans, Dolce shirt, little black vest and Oliver Peoples glasses and trudging out to the Barnes and Noble in Chelsea where she gave a Q and A before autographing away. Why would a man in his 30s buy a book about a woman's guide to style, you ask? For the first four pages. Which were hilarious. About her obsessive valiant father. And her obsessive glamorous mother. And when Nina first came to America from her native Colombia to attend a boarding school, refusing to be intimidated by hundreds of preppy girls all wearing duck boots. Seriously though, the book's message transcends gender and age, which is what a good book should do--it beseeches you to be true to yourself, to have fun, and to not take it all too seriously. As I stood in line and neared the front, I could tell that she was even more beautiful than on the telly set. When it was my turn to talk to Santa Nina, I told her to write another book, one about herself and Colombia. The woman standing behind me murmured approval. But Ms. Garcia only laughed and smiled, with all the mystery only a woman of her stature could conjure.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


I think one of the pleasures of growing older is that you come to understand the words of your childhood. The very first Broadway musical I ever saw, way back in middle school, was A Chorus Line. But with its themes of heartbreak, abuse, powerlessness and insecurity, it was heady stuff for someone who had just turned 12. What I would mostly carry with me into adulthood was the music, especially the fantastic bars from the show closer "One". Three years ago my father's name and reputation were destroyed by a man named Mr. Samuels who then saw an opportunity to connive with the board of directors to steal the business that my father had worked nearly forty years to build up. Yesterday I learned that Mr. Samuels had suffered a huge breakdown and was mentally incapacitated. And yet, I felt exactly what the Diana character from A Chorus Line felt when she sang about her high school teacher. It's a number that has you laughing at the beginning as she describes the folly of a Puerto Rican girl trying to imitate a bobsled, a table, and ice cream cone. You can't help wincing as she describes the humiliation endured under her teacher Mr. Carp who insisted she would never be an actress. At the end of the song, Mr. Carp dies. And Diana cries. Because, as she whispers in a mournful, pitiful tone--she felt nothing. I thought being HIV+ had taught me to show sympathy for the weak and vulnerable. I thought I had learned that life is too short to be feeling nothing. When given a choice between pain and nothing, do you always have to choose pain?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Time to Fall, A Time to Move On

With the autumn leaves scaling off at a quickening pace, I suppose it's only natural to find myself thinking about all the things I'm grateful for. Being HIV+ has not been without its positives. Perhaps one of the best things to have come about is that I find myself focused on the present. I take my medicines every morning and work out as often as I can. I enjoy the company of my family and friends. I try to learn something new about the world every day. I wonder about God and what heaven must be like. In short, I try to take care of myself physically, mentally and spiritually. But it's also apparent that I haven't evolved to the point where I am free of regrets. A lot has happened since I was deported from Korea for being HIV+. A huge tennis fan, I would have given anything to see Roger Federer and Pete Sampras playing their exhibition match in Seoul yesterday. I never got to take leisurely walks along the fantastic Cheonggye Stream that now runs through downtown (even though I surely earned the right to enjoy it after sitting in countless traffic delays because of construction on the waterway project.) I also never got to zip across the peninsula in the comfort of the KTX, the bullet train that's cut travel times in half and increased comfort levels at least a million-fold. I know some people will say that I have nothing to complain about as long as I've got my health. (My last t-cell count was 1399 and my viral load is still undetectable after three years.) So why is it I still long for the things that have been lost on the road of my past? I guess I've still got a long ways to go.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me..."

I'm sitting here alone in my room, but not particularly lonely this cold autumn night. In fact, I'm feeling rather amazed as I hear Oscar Wilde, seated across the room from me with legs crossed, saying drolly, "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life." I put down the book I am reading, Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood, and find myself forced into humble agreement. I'm about one-third of the way finished, and acutely aware that I'm looking for any excuse to put this book down when I can because I don't think I can bear for it to end. Toru Watanabe is the main character. He and I are the same age, and we are both writing because it is the only way we can understand the things that have happened to us. Toru's life forever changed when his best friend in high school committed suicide--just as my life did when the Asia I loved blacked out of existence and slipped into a coma it would never wake up from. I actually first set eyes on this book nearly seven years ago. My best friend in Korea, Sung, had given it to me on my birthday. I think you would really like it, he said in the artless way he always spoke. Naturally, I put the thing aside and never got around to it. I don't know why I wandered into a bookstore at Penn Station last Thursday. Or why I should have suddenly remembered after all this time. But there it was. My hand trembled as I took it down from the shelf. I felt as if Sung was trying to tell me something--perhaps that we had been best friends for reasons we would never fully comprehend.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Ehren Go Bragh!

For my money, this is the only legal case out there worth watching, one that has nothing to do with O.J., or some nutty astronaut seeking revenge in her Depend undergarments, or a deranged mother who has drowned her twenty three children. First Lieutenant Ehren Watada of Honolulu, Hawaii scored a major courtroom victory yesterday in Tacoma, Washington when a civilian judge blocked the Army's second attempt to court-martial him for refusing deployment to Iraq in June 2006. Believing Bush's spree for oil in the Middle East to be illegal, Watada has been courageous and steadfast, staring down a commanding officer barking out mindless orders from the White House. And if yesterday's ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle is any indication--that a second court-martial could violate Watada's Fifth Amendment right to be free from double jeapordy--then Watada may soon be victorious as well. While a court may never rule on the legality of Bush's war, Watada's stand of the past year and a half ranks right up there in American history with Rosa Parks' refusal to stand for a white passenger on a bus in Birmingham, Alabama.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

My Real Imaginary Date

Just when I was thinking that 2007 has been an unremarkable year for movies, I'm given a reason to reconsider (and yes, cry) after seeing Lars and the Real Girl, an original fable about one man's loneliness and what an entire town will do to help him out of it. These past four years, I have tried my hardest not to think of myself as a victim of HIV, and for the most part, I think I have succeeded with the help of my family and doctors. But I have also stopped denying that I have become an extremely lonely person, similar to Lars. On the weekends, I get dressed up as if I were going out to meet someone special, as I did tonight. And of course, there is no one waiting for me when I show up at the movie theater. But it's still nice, maybe even essential, to pretend that there is. I recognize the irony--that a delusion is what keeps me going, what stops me from totally withdrawing into myself and shutting out the world. Lars had a plastic doll he called Bianca; I make do with my imaginary date whom I have yet to name. When I walked into the crowded movie theater tonight, there were two empty seats in the back row. And I thought to myself, "Wow, two empty seats just waiting for us to fill them." But while this kind of thinking might be poignant on a movie screen, I'm not so sure it's just plain pathetic in real life. After the movie ended, outside of the theater, purely by chance I ran into Chad, a guy I've asked out and been rejected by countless times, a guy who always said he would call but never did. He was going to see a movie with his group of five friends. Normally, I would have been happy to see Chad. But not so tonight. Tonight I was with Evan.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Life is About Two Things

If George Clooney doesn't win an Oscar for Michael Clayton, I promise to stop blogging and join 5o Cent in retirement. Last year I was so hoping for Peter O'Toole to take Best Actor for his role in Venus, where he portrayed a fading movie star lusting after a pretty young thing. If Venus was about the comedy of raw emotion, then Michael Clayton is about the tragedy of delicate irony. Because Michael Clayton is a lawyer who knows he's a glorified janitor, a man with a corner office who cleans up the shit of his colleagues. He's a father who works the craziest hours to avoid any meaningful time with his son. He's a gambler who can't save his life to play poker, but calls a $5 million bluff to help some poor stranger. He effectively kills off his friend for his job, and then sells off the firm to ease the pain of his conscience. Unlike most Hollywood films with story arcs as predictable as fairy tales, you are never quite sure of the direction in which Michael Clayton is headed. And you still don't know in the final scene when he climbs into the hollow of that taxi cab. The only thing you're certain of is this: in this world, money will get you somewhere, but it won't get you anywhere. Being caring. Being calculating. Truth and Adjustment. These two beasts will ravage each other, leaving you starving to die a slow death. I knew there was a reason I stopped being a lawyer.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The 455 Billion-Dollar Burning Bush

The conflagration in Iraq is about to get worse, with US efforts at damage control going nowhere. Turkey is spreading the killing flames to the north with US weaponry to rid its border of Kurdish separatists, all in the name of fighting terrorists. Once the north goes to hell, all bets for peace are off the table, and Bush knows it. This would all be so pathetically ironic if it weren't so tragic. What radioactive material is Bush's chutzpah made of that he can tell the Turks not to invade Iraq to avenge the killing of 40 of their soldiers? At least the Turks have a reason to invade. Were any Americans killed by Saddam? Were any weapons of mass destruction ever found? This war has been about blood for oil, fanned by the greedy lies of Bush and his cronies. A war started in the name of democracy has been waged by the greatest terrorist of them all. Tens of thousands of lives lost. Hundreds of thousands of bodies disfigured. Millions of families displaced. Half a trillion dollars gone up in smoke and ashes. I wonder if he knows California is burning. Perhaps he's too busy fiddling.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Where the Brother Is Coming From

In New York City it's so easy to get caught up in the broad strokes of the brush that you sometimes forget to step in close and take in the details. It happened in the subway again, a place you're supposed to enter and exit as quickly as possible without getting mugged by fumes or fellow humans. If I had only observed it once, I might not have written about it; but it was once in the morning and once again in the afternoon. The AM incident involved an older looking black man who was standing by the turnstyle waiting for someone--another older looking black man. You got a swipe, the first one asked. Without even giving so much as the appearance of thinking about it, the second man took out his subway card and swiped the first one through. A word of thanks sent them on their ways. It was all so casual, I wasn't sure someone had just been taken for two dollars. Later in the PM, two younger black men repeated the scene. Same question, same swipe, but with a slightly different result: a point of the finger met with a nod of the head. I always wondered why black men were referred to as "brothers." It's not often you feel you understand in New York City. I couldn't understand why I wanted to be a black man in America.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"Dilly-Dalai"ing On the Way to Higher Moral Ground

Bush has tea with the Dalai Lama in the White House today. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is in Egypt enlisting that country's support for a Palestinian-Israeli peace conference in Anapolis at the end of the year. The House of Representatives will soon vote on a resolution branding as "genocide" Turkey's massacre of Armenians from 1915-17. The things America will do to reach that mythical place called Higher Moral Ground. Never mind that it has sold 23 million Taiwanese to China for the price of doing business in Shanghai. Never mind that it is still destabilizing Iraq and searching for imaginary weapons of mass destruction in an effort to consolidate oil rights. Never mind that Rwanda was too poor and too black for anyone to give a damn. But the politicians are absolutely right when they say there's nothing wrong with America's Moral Compass--the dollar bill and missile that serve as its needles are functioning perfectly fine, thank you.

Is there a moral obligation to find a cure for HIV? Or is the hunt for a vaccine driven by the egos of philanthropists and scientists? What does it matter as long as I'm alive? What does it matter if I die without any answers?

Monday, October 15, 2007

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

With world news lately dominated by tedious stories of war and political intrigue, it was truly refreshing to read this morning about the Brits honoring one of their greatest: Oscar Wilde, named in a poll of 3,000 people to be Britain's greatest wit. My first introduction to Oscar Wilde was back in the early 90s when I was a graduate student. A fellow classmate from the Netherlands made a reference to the play The Importance of Being Earnest, upon which I went out and bought a copy of the Irishman's collected writings. Without knowing anything of Wilde's sexuality, (and still in denial over my own) I was completely captivated by the power of his language, the way it contrived nothing and everything all at once. (A year later in Paris, I visited his grave at Pere Lachaise Cemetery to pay my respects.)

Although a celebrated playwright in the 1890s, Wilde was eventually brought to trial for his gay lifestyle; convicted; and imprisoned. The years in jail were not kind to him, and he would only live two more years as a free man. On his death bed, he is reported to have said: "Either those curtains go, or I do." Money and friends had deserted him in the end, but his wit and style served him until the last. Indeed, money and friends will come and go but once you lose yourself, you have nothing. Wilde was proud to know it then. I am humbled to know it now.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Another Saturday Night...

Robert and I met through a mutual friend some weeks prior. We exchanged numbers, but never spoke again until last Friday. I texted to see what he was doing that evening. We agreed to meet for dinner and a movie, (a date so cliche you wonder it hasn't been copyrighted and trademarked by Microsoft yet.) The food passed agreeably, as it is liable to do when you're hungry and eating good Italian at Intermezzo in Chelsea. But it was just the prelude. Friday evening was the opening of Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth: The Golden Age. You just knew that the screenings in the neighborhood were going to be packed. After all, it is the duty of every queen to go see a movie about a queen, is it not? And still I was surprised at the sight of so many Muscle Marys who collectively showed up to voice their gasps of disapproval when the Queen of Scots, a kindred Mary, I suppose, was mercilessly beheaded. (As for the movie, the costumes provided enough eye candy for water cooler conversation to justify the price of the ticket.) Afterward, Robert and I headed to "G" for drinks. In the course of the evening I would eventually learn that my handsome, amiable friend had a propensity for drugs. As much as I was drawn to him--as much as I wanted to be drawn to him--I knew this would have to be our first and last date. The only drugs I can afford to be around now are the ones I take for HIV. I wanted to tell him as much. Perhaps I should have. But in the end, it was easier to just say thanks and good bye.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Standing and Understanding

It is a legend urbanely acknowledged that one of the surest ways to disconnect yourself from humanity without having to commit suicide or move to a deserted island is to take up residence in New York City. Nowhere else can you move so anonymously--so quite alone--in the shadows of buildings and underground tunnels. It was a little after 7:30 yesterday evening. I had just gone through the turnstyle at the Chambers Street Station, on my way to catch a train uptown. A man in a wheelchair sat at the top of the stairs and as I zipped past him, I slowly realized: there was no mechanical access that would have allowed him to descend. I also realized that we were the only two people on the staircase. I managed to stop my downward spiral and throw my voice in his general direction. Do you need any help, I asked in the brusque tone I use with a stranger. He replied that he did. I swung my satchel over my shoulder and lifted his wheelchair, unsure how heavy it would be. It turned out to be much lighter than I thought, and the man, without legs to speak of, made it down the stairs on his hands. He got into his chair and thanked me. But as I stood on the platform waiting for the subway, deep inside I felt it was I who owed him--for giving me, at the end of a long day, a chance to feel something like relevance.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Last Spokesman Standing

Call it idiocy. Call it hypocrisy. But the U.S. State Department is now warning Turkey about the dire consequences of launching an attack against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. "If they have a problem, they need to work together to resolve it and I am not sure that unilateral incursions are the way to go, the way to resolve the issue," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. This is where comedy and tragedy blur and blend seamlessly, where the stand-up act becomes so awful that it starts becoming hilarious, where the laughter causes you to shake so hard that you end up requiring serious medical attention. When the United States "had a problem" with Saddam, "unilateral incursion" was strongly condemned by the world community and yet, Bush had no problems ripping the lives, hopes and dreams of Iraqis to shreds. The words coming out of the State Department today had no air of contrition, no blush of embarrassment regarding the miscalculated gravity of launching an invasion into Iraq--it was, instead, the blabber of arrogance, blindness and mental paralysis, diplomatic-speak for "don't fuck with our oil-stealing, Iraqi-killing mission until it's over." Is the world only about strong destroying weak? Rich vanquishing poor? Does this give me the right to infect someone with HIV simply because I can?

Friday, October 5, 2007

5 Medals, 5 Pills

Back in 2000 at the Sydney Olympics, Marion Jones was on top of the podium, if not the world. The three golds and two bronzes that she won in track and field were a record for most medals won by a female athlete at a single Olympics. Today she pleaded guilty to using steroids prior to her performance in Australia, ending years of speculation, accusation and denial. Of all the things that people in the sports world were saying, I found Victor Conte's statement most telling. Conte, the founder of BALCO, the laboratory that produced and provided steroids to a slew of athletes, who was sued by Jones after he accused her of doping said to the media, "I don't feel any sense of vindication. All of us have made poor decisions in our lives and suffered the consequences." My heart goes out to Marion, who shed tears in a New York courtroom. Her once good name in ruins, she will soon be stripped of her five medals. Every day I take five pills, the result of a very poor decision to engage in unsafe sex. But the day I started taking those pills was the start of a brand new life for me. I can only pray that Marion will come to see that a life without those five medals will also be a chance at a clean start. Wherever you are tonight Marion, know that you will suffer the consequences, but also know that you can find forgiveness.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Hung Up!

As hectic and unpredictable as life can be in New York City, I always know exactly where I am going to be on Wednesday evenings at 10 pm--in front of my television watching Bravo's Top Chef. Tonight's finale featured three contestants, any of whom I would have been happy to see win. Throughout the season I was constantly reminded that there are stories behind the plates of food you see in front of you. I related to Dale who revealed that he went into depression after losing his dream job, much the way I had, and battled back to reclaim his life. I loved Casey who spoke earnestly of her struggles to survive and succeed in a predominantly male world. And then there was Hung who went through hell to get from Vietnam to America, overcoming financial and cultural hurdles every step of the way. Since coming to NYC, I've been fortunate to meet (but not date, sadly enough) several Vietnamese guys whom I have shared many good times with. Tonight I am so proud of and celebrate with a fellow Asian who came out of nowhere to get to the top. And in the future I will have to make a trip to Vegas to Guy Savoy or perhaps the new restaurant that Rocco Dispirito said he wanted to open with Hung. At any rate, until then, Bravo to the new Top Chef!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Midnight Rainbows With Charlie

How credible is the message "life can be good" when there is so much turmoil in Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma and Sudan? To be sure, there are times when I feel that living with HIV is just a walk in the park after navigating the landmines of the day's depressing news. On Sunday night I was sitting in a restaurant in Times Square with my good friend Charlie from Hawaii. Charlie and I met three years ago outside a gay bar in Manhattan, eight months after I was deported back to America. He was in town for the US Open. Our eyes met and we got to talking. We agreed to go see matches at the Open one day. It was the first date I had been on since learning I was HIV+. He was so nice, so good-looking, I thought I was in a dream. He wasn't shy about holding my hand in the stadium or showing the kind of sincere affection that made your heart start beating a little quicker. But it was when we found ourselves alone that I really got nervous. I wanted to tell him about my status. I felt myself caring about him. So I found a way to force the words. And he found a way to take me in his arms and tell me it was all right. I felt so protected, so accepted. Charlie went back to Hawaii, but we kept in touch. I went to see him in 2005. Rainbows everywhere--in the sky, on the license plates--it was a gay man's paradise. Looking out the window at the midnight rainbows of Times Square, with Charlie next to me, I felt the world could be peaceful and beautiful.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

From Iran to Singapore, With Love

Just yesterday Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was at Columbia University claiming that the phenomenon of homosexuality did not exist in Iran. This clueless remark was one I heard voiced by older people when I lived and worked in Asia--many of them also thought that homosexuality was an abomination confined only to the West. Contrast these sentiments with those of Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who went on record last Friday in support of retaining Singapore's laws that criminalize sex between men, insisting that "that's the way many Singaporeans feel." So which is worse--the ignorance on the left or the insouciance on the right? That's a question I often ask myself as I come into contact with people (many of them gay) who either don't know anything about HIV, or don't care to know anything about HIV. While a cure would surely wipe out the virus, I'm not so sure it would eradicate my question.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Living Life in "The Bubble"

In Chelsea last evening, I saw a terrific film from Israel called The Bubble. The movie has supposedly stirred a lot of controversy for its love story between a gay Israeli and Arab couple and its decidedly anti-war stance. Mixing gay sex and politics might be a typical cocktail on the evening news here in America, but in the Middle East it's an explosive combination. This was one of those movies where you do more than just care about the main characters, this was a movie where you really wanted to be their friends: hang out with them in their apartment, be active in their community association, rave together at the beach. Lulu is the idealistic, romantic straight girl living with two gay roommates, Noam and Yali. They are a happy family who make room for Noam's new Arab boyfriend, Ashraf. It's unrealistic (by New York City's cynical standards, at any rate) how quickly and passionately the two take to each other, but their love makes you realize that the present is all that is important in love. In the end though, Noam and Ashraf prove the tragic point that when it comes to love you never quite know what hits you. If being in love means living in a bubble, that should be enough to tell you how the movie ends.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My Own Private 9/11

I was living in Asia at the time of 9/11. The 14-hour time difference meant I was walking into my local video shop as I often did in the evening. The clerk usually had the latest stuff playing on the store's video monitors, so when I saw the sight of the World Trade Center buildings collapsing I casually asked what the movie was. He looked at me grimly and said it wasn't a movie. I hurried back home and tried to call my family in NY. The lines would be tied up for days.

Everyone has their day when the world just collapses. Afterward, everyone is forced to reckon and remember. For me, 1/1/04 was the day I was deported back to America for being HIV+. For the first few years on the successive 12/31s, I turned out the lights, hid under the covers to block out the merriment and just cried myself to sleep. Strangely, I found myself seeking solace in the cold, gloomy skies the following morning. The past few years, however, while I haven't quite been able to get out and find a New Year's party, I do find myself awake. Glad to be awake. Making an accounting of how I feel my outlook on life has changed. How I have tried to make a difference in the world. Slowly but surely, what used to be a time of grief and solitude has turned into something more reflective, more peaceful. This is not to say that I don't find myself grieving about having lost my former life. I still grieve. And at the oddest times. The sounds of Belle & Sebastian in Starbucks today made me long for the streets of Seoul. Southern All Stars takes me back to Taipei. Paul Smith stirs up memories of Tokyo.

I hope everyone who lost someone on 9/11 will eventually make it to another landscape. One where there are no collapsing buildings. No smoke and fire. No cries of anguish and panic. A landscape where the grass is gentle and the water runs clear. A place where you can meet the person you lost. As if you had never lost that person in the first place.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

US Open Fashion Notes

Poor Maria only got to wear this red beauty, a tribute to the Big Apple, for the first week of the Open before she got bitten in the third round and spit out in three sets by an unheralded Polish player. While the dress, beaded with hundreds of Swarovski crystals in front, combined the best of form and function, in the end it was Maria who was seeing red.

Bethanie Mattek struck again, and not with her forehand either. The Minnesota girl with the game, the thighs and a whole lot of chutzpah showed up at the US Open in a leopard print. The ensemble caused such a stir the tournament's head referee was forced to make a ruling. And while he didn't go so far as to call it a fault, he was clearly dismayed by the sight of all that animal flesh. Grrrr...

The New York Times gave Roger a black eye concerning his evening outfit, proclaiming he looked like he was channeling Johnny Cash. On the contrary, the color added even more mystery to a guy that none of the other players have come close to figuring out.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened On My Way to Jones Beach...

The far end of Section 6 of Jones Beach is, as any self-respecting gay New Yorker knows, the rainbow zone where brothers and sisters gather together behind shady sunglasses to scope out the pecs and buns and richly packaged sausages. (Me personally, I could never spend $300 for a pair of swimming trunks.) Last week, my friend and I took a late morning train from Penn Station (it's a $15 round trip purchase on the green-colored Babylon line, which includes the bus you take to the beach when you get off at the Freeport station.) But before we boarded, brimming with anticipation, we stocked up on food and water and trashy magazines. I purchased the latest issue of the Economist. I opened up the cover and the first advertisement was courtesy of Chevron, the energy company, which read (between the lines) as follows:

The fact is, the vast majority of countries rely on the few energy-producing nations that won the geological lottery, blessing them with abundant hydrocarbons (lucky Middle Eastern bastards...) And yet, even regions with plenty of raw resources import some form of energy. Saudi Arabia, for example, the world's largest oil exporter, imports refined petroleum products like gasoline (fuckin' idiots don't even know what to do with all that oil...)

So if energy independence is an unrealistic goal, how does everyone get the fuel they need (bomb the hell out of Iraq), especially in a world of rising demand (seize control of their oil distribution network), supply disruptions (300 killed today in another suicide attack), natural disasters (screw Katrina victims and just get those oil rigs pumping again), and unstable regimes (ding dong, Saddam is dead, Bush is a lame duck pre-si-dent)?

True global energy security will be a result of cooperation and engagement, not isolationism (another surge in troops for Iraq, please...) When investment and expertise are allowed to flow freely across borders (send us your weary scientists and engineers, and no, we don't need any more sand-logged Mexicans...), the engine of innovation is ignited (file that damn patent), prosperity is fueled (ching-ching!) and the energy available to everyone (in New York City and Los Angeles) increases. At the same time, balancing the needs of producers and consumers is as crucial as increasing supply and curbing demand (we're gonna gouge drivers at the pump because we can, and what the hell are they gonna do about it?) Only then will the world enjoy energy peace-of-mind (the world of oil executives who just took home a $200 million Christmas bonus.)

Succeeding in securing energy for everyone doesn't have to come at the expense of anyone (just everyone in Africa.) Once we all start to think differently about energy (more is more), then we can truly make this promise a reality (hell is where the fuel burns eternal--we'll see you there.)

And they hadn't even called our train yet.

Friday, August 31, 2007

HILLARACK says, "We Won't Be Going to Your Gay Wedding!"

Well, I never thought I'd want to live in Iowa--until yesterday, that is, when Judge Robert Hanson decreed the state's Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. That opened up a window of opportunity for a few gay couples to line up and get their marriage licenses until Judge Hanson put a stay on his own decision. A higher court will now review his ruling. Hillary and Barack have been extremely disappointing in their comments on Judge Hanson's decision, arguing that questions of marriage are best left up to the states to decide. This is just legalese for, "I don't want to touch this issue with a 10-foot dildo." If Congress had not enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1968--and simply decreed equal civil rights for minorities as an issue "best left up to the states"--we'd still be looking at racial segregation in large parts of the country. Hillary and Barack are sounding more and more like the tired old politicians in Washington that they are trying to replace. It takes courage to speak up and step out of your comfort zone, a quality that increasingly and incredibly appears to be shrinking as election time nears. Once and for all, it is time for Congress to create a law that guarantees gay people the right to marry.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What Have We Done For Her Lately?

I can now check off "See Aretha sing live" from the list of things I have to do in this lifetime. Last night at the US Open, there she was, singing "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" in honor of the late Althea Gibson, who won the tournament fifty years ago. A few bars into the music, it was plain to hear that Aretha still got it. Too bad the predominantly white upper middle class tennis fans didn't--unsure whether to clap their hands, or stand up, much less sing along. Anyways, Althea won the US Open and Wimbledon back in the 50s when the phrase "You go, girl!" wasn't quite what they said to fabulous female blathletes. Out in full force to acknowledge as much were Phylicia Rashad. Roberta Flack. Debi Thomas. Then during one of the breaks between games, blaring over the speakers was Janet Jackson music and lo and behold, the stadium camera zoomed in on Nasty Girl! My friends and I oohed and aahed, as we waited for her to acknowledge the crowd. Exposing a nipple would have been too much to ask, but maybe dance a little the way Aretha had? No. Nothing. She just sat there. And sat there. And sat there. On an escapade, baby!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The X on My Chest

Watching the X-Men movies, I always thought that the "X" gene was a metaphor for the gay gene. That the evil Senator Kelly, who wanted all mutants to be registered for tracking, was a metaphor for a society that saw homosexuality as a disease that had to be "X"ed out, so to speak. Like the characters in the X-Men movies, I too feel as if this mutant strain called HIV has given me powers whose full extent I don't understand. Powers I am not always sure when and how to use. That I am afraid to use. Over the course of four years, I have grown increasingly empathetic. I don't claim to read minds, but I am acutely aware of pain and suffering in others. In these situations, do I keep silent and allow the suffering to continue? Or do I offer a kind word or a helping hand at the risk of being told to mind my own business? There are days, I admit, when HIV feels like the mutation that forever changed the life of Bruce Banner, aka, the Hulk. With a soul inside that's capable of tremendous anger, I feel there's no way I can get close to anyone at the risk of putting that person in danger. Like Bruce Banner, I roam and wander in the search for a cure. Among the X-Men, the character that intrigues me most is Mystique, the shapeshifter. They say that she has changed forms so many times that she can't remember the person she originally was. Your greatest power is ultimately your greatest weakness.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

An Audience With King Arthur

A devout tennis fan, I have been going to the US Open every year since I came back to NY. For my money, nothing tops the evening sessions when the air has cooled down and the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium create an intimate, expectant atmosphere. But I also feel a sad, heartfelt connection sitting in a place named for a man who died from AIDS. It makes you wonder. Do people remember that he won the US Open in 1968? The Australian in 1970? Wimbledon in 1975? Or is dying from AIDS what comes to the average mind when the name Arthur Ashe is mentioned? HIV is a powerful virus, sure to have a say in dictating the terms of death. That doesn't mean we grant it power in dictating the terms of life. I will keep playing tennis (for as long as my legs allow.) I will keep being curious about the world and my fellow humans. I will keep growing things in my garden. I will keep watching movies on Friday nights. (Go see Death at a Funeral--outrageous and hilarious!) I will keep searching for someone to love me. And I will keep sitting in Arthur Ashe Stadium, this time on the first Monday, thinking these thoughts. And I'll look out onto the crowd and wonder if anyone else is feeling what I'm feeling.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Top 10 Ways How HIV Has Changed Life

10. Had to find a new job. (One where money was not the objective. HIV makes you realize there are things more important than money, though I should have realized that before.)
9. Had to find new friends. (I've found some very nice tennis partners. The practice courts at the US Open in Flushing are super sleek. The courts in Harlem are lit up at night! You'll wait two hours to play one hour on the Upper West Side...)
8. Had to build up a wardrobe again since my so-called "friend" never sent me any of my stuff back. (I will always miss that black jacket from Paul Smith that I bought in Tokyo.)
7. Had to get used to taking medicines twice a day. (2 pills in the morning, 3 in the evening. They are yellow and blue, and are turning me into a Swede.)
6. Had to watch what I eat. (Currently drinking a daily boiled concoction of carrrots, daikon, shiitake mushrooms and burdock that a Japanese researcher said helps control HIV. It tastes pretty yucky, but it has helped keep my cholesterol level down.)
5. Had to find a new boyfriend. (Still looking, although my old BF recently came to visit me in NYC. That was pretty emotional since he has now found a new BF.)
4. Had to realize that I really will die some day. (I thought I would live forever.)
3. Had to forget my entire life in Asia since an HIV+ person is prevented from re-entering the country I was living in. (Equally outraged that a foreigner in America found to be HIV+ can be deported as well.)
2. Had to understand that I am so much luckier than the many people in Africa dying from HIV. (Oprah opened my eyes on this one.)
1. Had to understand that life is too short to not be happy every day.
(Still working on this one.)

Truly Madly?

The openly gay, Australian singer Darren Hayes, former frontman for Savage Garden, is currently being investigated for using a racial epithet on a waiter in a Thai restaurant in London. Unlike in America which brands its First Amendment on both ass cheeks, hate speech is a serious crime in most of Europe. Conventional wisdom has it that gay people, as minorities who are still deprived the full legal rights accorded straight people, would be more open-minded and accepting of other minorities. Like people of color. People with HIV. But the longer I live in New York City, the less certain I become of the soundness of that wisdom. Hard as it was for me to come out to straight friends and family, I have grown to find it much harder to "come out" to other gays about my HIV status. Because of HIV, I have been turned down for sex, for dating and even for friendship. Is it foolish of me to think that gay people should naturally be more open-minded and accepting of others deemed "outsiders" by mainstream American society? Or is being gay not quite as fabulous as I originally thought?

Monday, August 20, 2007

A Diamond Is A Boy's Best Friend

Every six months I am very lucky to visit my nurses and doctors at the Clinical Program of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center. Located on the campus of Rockefeller University on York and 66th, the center is at the cutting edge of AIDS research and was recently awarded a $24.7 million grant from the Gates Foundation to launch a new vaccine effort. Numbers, however, are never the entire story. That's what the doctors and nurses made sure I understood when I first went to see them.

That would have been a few weeks after I arrived back in New York. Staying with my family, I knew I didn't have the luxury of sitting on my ass on an uncomfortable couch feeling sorry for myself. The virus coursing through my body may have triggered something that kicked my body and brain into survival mode. I surfed the Internet until I landed at Aaron Diamond. (You can find them at I sent off an e-mail, and got a response in no time inviting me to come in for further tests. The initial results were pretty grim--a t-cell count below 200 and a viral load in the hundreds of thousands. (A number of doctors recommend starting meds if your t-cell count drops below 350, or if your viral load is very high, but these are personal decisions that are best made after consulting with a doctor.) But the doctor I spoke with calmly and caringly reassured me that everything would be all right. And sure enough, the numbers would bear him out. My last checkup a few months ago showed a t-cell count of 1000 and a viral load that continues to be undetectable after three years.

As of late, there's this Verizon commercial on TV where an individual is constantly followed by his "network" of technicians, engineers and customer service reps, the point being that no one gives you better service. That's exactly how I feel about the people at Aaron Diamond. At every 7am appointment I have, I always feel like all those nurses and all those researchers and all those doctors got up early just for me. If there's anyone out there who's still looking for health care, you might want to check out the network at Aaron Diamond.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

On the Road to A Pozitive Life

It's been close to four years now. I was an American expatriate living and working in Asia at the time when I found myself summoned to Immigration Headquarters. There, a phone call was made on my behalf. It was my doctor. Who informed me that I was HIV+. I handed the receiver back to the immigration official. To his credit, he wasn't without sympathy--as he hung up and then placed me in detention. Two days later I was deported home to New York City with nothing but the clothes on my back. I'll never forget the anguish and solitude of that two-day period, three if you count the 15 hours I was sitting on the plane. It just so happened to be January 1st, and after crossing the international date line, it was still January 1st when I landed at JFK--a new year's nightmare that refused to end. In three days I learned that HIV could take away friends, family, job and everything you had worked so hard to accumulate for the past ten years. As I stood outside the airport, I felt the coldest welcome in the world.