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!