April 2007


I know the seasons are changing when I feel the itch to rearrange my closet and change the kind of sheets I have on my bed. (I live in a studio so closet space comes as a scarce commodity.) My scarves and sweaters have been pushed deeper into the shelves and my shorts and short-sleeved shirts have become more visible again. My wash is tumbling in the basement dryer right now and, soon, my dykey flannel will give in to sleek cotton satin – and why shouldn’t they be?! For the first time in a week of record-breaking rainfall, I woke up to clear skies and welcome sunlight. My windows are pulled open and the blinds are drawn up; the sun subsuming my studio in its warm yellow . There are runners outside, with shades on and some wearing visors, off to cross the Brooklyn Bridge in tanktops and shorts. Belinda Carlisle is blaring in my IDock in the background as I write this in boxers. (I use 80s music to transit into summer, when it’s either 90s – high school – angst or the Beach Boys. Maybe Joni Mitchell singing California too.) Spring officially started a few weeks ago but this weekend feels like its first real blast.

I could have never expected this week to end on a bright spot considering it started very grimly. I found it really hard to work Monday with news of the Virginia shootings. It was really depressing watching the death count rise through the afternoon with every refresh of the NYT web page. Coming home that night and continuing on with my daily evening routine of take-out dinner (since I don’t cook) in front of CNN was particularly difficult. As the victims were identified slowly on tv (and, more exhaustively, in NYT yearbook-type portraits the day after), I found myself heartbroken and close to tears. (This brought me back to a similar, but even more cutting, weeknight 6 years ago when, after walking home covered in dust and soot, I ended up bawling in front of the tv, muted, as the indescribable carnage was recounted all over again in screen images.) I guess anguish is the mechanism with which to deal with a senseless loss. I didn’t even know these dead and yet I felt compassion with those they left behind. I was inevitably drawn to suffer with their loved ones. Tuesday left me inundated with a barrage of news and articles analyzing the killer and his psychosocial profile. (It was made even more awful by this unwarranted comment from a co-worker who, obviously triggered by the killer’s Korean background, said, “Look at [referring to me], he looks like he could kill us.” I know it was in jest since I believe I’ve reached that level of comfort with him. But I’ve since given up on the effort at trying to explain that not all Asians look alike – there are marked differentiations – so I just shrugged my shoulders and humored the comment off.) Everything was sickeningly overwhelming that day that I had to shut down my routine web newspages and just leave my Bloomberg up, reassuring in its white text on a black background, unfeelingly delivering hard news surrounded by stark, emotionless ticker symbols and mundane statistic. I realize that trying to understand what happened is aiming to redeem the situation by knowing how to prevent it from happening again. But how do you explain something so senseless as a killing spree?! Wednesday brought the NBC video packet bombshell with the killer exposing a festering anger at the environment around him, borne from a deep sense of inescapable alienation. Does this anger make this killing any less senseless?! Does his twisted sense of martyrdom, alluding (blasphemously) to the cross, somehow alllow him an ounce of justification? Does his ranting, now obviosuly heard, marked with poses of defiance redeem him from his (self-dug) pit of alienation? Absolutely not. The means can never justify the end. If a person has a rage against the consumerist and alienating enivronment around him, then expose the critique and write a book or something. Don’t go around gunshopping then shooting people. I can’t even find words to describe how sick that option is and how what happened Monday sickens me to the core.

Thursday is the unofficial start of my weekend and the night brought a welcome distraction. I saw Terrence McNally’s new play, Some Men, with my friend. Henry. (I wrote about him in A Sichuan Dinner from July ’06.) I luvd his Love! Valour! Compassion! after watching the film and seeing the play in a North Chelsea (?!) theater space production. I thought SM was staged really well – luvd the lighting design – but he must have been swept by the play and scriptwriting zeitgeist since this play unfolded in what has become the increasingly predictable storytelling manner of choice in recent time (since Pulp Fiction), the non-linear narrative of seemingly disparate yet ultimately concurrent stories. I thought watching the separate scenes were illuminating and fun by themselves, but I was underwhelmed by the tie-in in Act II (which this form of telling exacts more need for.) I even found one scene hanging – why was the solider guy in the wedding party?! Despite these letdowns, I still enjoyed watching it. (I always enjoy watching anything gay anyway. I mean, I should’ve canceled my Here! subcsription a long time ago but I still submit to its mindnumbing offerings that highlight a new cultural low every time I watch it. Case in point: Dante’s Cove.) I’ve found new actor crushes – Kelly Aucoin and Romain Fruge. (I’ve even seen Michael Kors – again –since he was just 2 seats away from me in my row.) I’ve seen almost-naked men acting out relevant themes in my life in a gay play that doesn’t suffocatingly focus on this guy dying of AIDS but, instead, consciously chooses to tell more nuanced stories that both reflect on the intergenerational lifestyles and celebrate the lives of those it reflects upon.

Friday, somehow, was the unofficial start of my summer. I took a summer share out in Fire Island this year. This is my second since I dauntingly submitted to one 2 years ago (and what a fun summer that was) and took a break last year. But, after realizing how expensive it is to just go out there on a random weekend, I thought that it was wiser to just do a share. I met my housemates last night in a Chelsea bar during happy hour for a meet-and-greet sort of event. I’m basically a cheap date so I was swirling after 2 cocktails immeditately after work. We talked about swigging alcohol during the train ride on the opening weekend (which is the second week of May.) We planned a 9-day cleansing and purging diet before it. (I’m sure I can’t do it ‘cause they claimed coffee was on top of the what-not-to-take list and I simply cannot go through a day without caffeine.) We spoke of just opening cans of tuna for meals and laboring through elaborate dinners; making Mudslides and playing beach volleyball; furnishing the house with either Ikea or West Elm. We spoke of guests through the weekend and “guests” for the night. Ah, yes, my gay NY summer seems to have already begun.

Now, I’m reveling in this bright Saturday morning, doing laundry and looking ahead at going with Eric, my friend, and his dachshund (along with his sister and mom) to Washington Square Park for the annual weiner dog festival.

Looking back at this long week leaves me with a divided impression of my self — heartbroken and compassionate vs hedonistically homo. I blame my Catholic past (and all my Jewish ex’s) when I start feeling guilt over (even a) mere indulgence in selfish pleasure (especially in light of ongoing tragedy.) (I guess that also easily comes as a component of liberal middle-class sympathy.) But should I continue to feel strapped down with sorrow? I’m sure not. I think the only way to deal with senselessness is to meet life head on (after a meaningful pause) and find renewed meaning in its usual groove. To remain mired in one’s interior grief and refuse to reconnect with what and who is around us is to validate the killer’s harsh indictment of society and his foolish submission to a final senseless option. To continue to move in it and to engage it is to take a stand for life and its being an undrying well of meaning.

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I really should be studying right now. My trading licenses – Series 7 and 63 – expired and I have to retake the exams again. (S7 is for General Securities Representation and S63 is for Agency Sales which are basically NASD memberships yadda yadda yadda.) But, instead, I am again putzing around online, alternating between reading my fave blogs, googling (or stalking?!) my ex’s on myspace and falling back on my netporn subscription as a convenient diversion. (I used to be a Sean Cody fanatic until they went anti-Mac on me; now I settle for Randy Blue. I always wonder how they come up with these site names. They seem to be a distorted version of nursery rhyme characters. Is Randy Blue a distant cousin of Little Bo Peep?!) I know it reads a little bit like multitasking (of the quite unproductive nature) which is kinda how I rationalize these wasteful indulgences. But, really, this is just my normal scatter-brained, ADD-afflicted self operating as usual. I know my self well enough to realize that I have a focus issue (among a lot of other things in a very long list that is better saved for my overwhelmed shrink.) That’s why, today, even more than not strapping myself down in reading my work stuff (and as an overstretched tangent to this topic,) I am ruminating at how I have been strapped to someone for almost a year now, scatter brain and ADD notwithstanding. After all, Tim and I will be celebrating our first year anniversary tomorrow.

I always kid (myself and my friends) about how I would run away in the opposite direction if I saw (an exact version of ) me at a bar. I wouldn’t hook up with myself (since 2 bottoms certainly don’t make a party) and, even more, certainly wouldn’t date myself. I don’t need another scatter-brain with a neurosis for drama and a hypothalamus on overdrive. I already had that before with Carter (since he was basically me but psychotic) and I know where that got me (which is basically anywhere than where I’d rather be). (Read A Year and a Day from Jan ‘06.) I guess that’s why I’ve always been attracted to older men and the qualities that they stand for – stability and groundedness and deep self-awareness (or maybe ‘cause my first bf was just older than I was – and Jewish! — and I believe first bfs are like childhood abuse – they mark you for life. Hot Jewish men now always get me wet and bothered.) I find someone who knows what they want and lives to pursue it directedly very sexy. Tim was all these qualities when I met him and I find it amazing that he’s remained with me this long (since, relative to my usual 3-month timeline which I’ve resignedly called expiration dating, this is very much long-term,) despite my propensity for self-indulgent drama.

Are we rushing to NJ to get married? Certainly not. Are we buying His and His towels? Far from it. (I’ll shoot myself if I end up like one half of some old gay couples who go all matchy-matchy.) Are we moving in together? No. I’ve thought about it and have rejected the notion and, no, we haven’t talked about it. Are we monogamous? No. I’ve thought about it and have rejected the notion and, yes, we have talked about it. Are we still having hot sex and enjoyable dinners? Yes and yes. I think these matter so much – to rekindle the spark of the third date in the hundred and third and still reassuringly feel the heat – in keeping a relationship. But I also know that sustaining a long-term relationship isn’t simply about holding on to what’s hot. The mundane counterpoints to the sexy (like getting it on in bed) and the sensual (like sharing candlelit dinner at Craft) equally matter. Being comfortable in leaving a toothbrush in each other’s apartments and sharing worn-out flannel pjs on cold winter nights as well as knowing the bf’s hectic weekday and crowded weekend schedules are subtle milestones that become especially poignant in hindsight post-break-up. More than two bodies melting together, it is two lives comingling seamlessly and less selfishly, slowly, that irons a relationship out from being a mere seasonal fling to a much longer-term commitment.

I once asked a straight ex-colleague of mine, a nice preppy boy from Connecticut who was dating this chick for over 2 months then, if they were monogamous. He said yes. I asked him if they actually agreed to it. He said no. He just knew. (Hetero mating rituals are so alien to me they might as well be doing it in Mars.) It seems, for straight folk, the assumption is that you’re monogamous until you talk about it and break it. (Yet, I know so many straight boys who cheat on their girlfriends.) For gay men, the assumption is that you’re not until you talk about it and agree to it. (Now, cheating for gay men in an open relationship is quite a murky topic since, on one end, there already is a given free pass.) But, regardless of the distinctions in this parallel, what this affirms is that so much depends on what lies unsaid. There is a deep chasm of the unknown in every relationship and the bridge safely through it is made up of words. Communication, as much as it is cliché, is key and the challenge is in knowing what to say. A day into a year with Tim, I realize that we still have a lot of things to talk about. What I can happily say now though, as I grapple with the exact words for my wants, is that I still want to continue the (if not begin certain) conversations.

I’m writing here with pjs, a shirt, sweater, socks and robe on. I should have my windows open at this time of the year enjoying the welcome spring breeze but, no. Instead, I’m freezing because it’s still freezing outside and I feel as if my heat isn’t working. It’s bad enough that I didn’t even have hot water yesterday. It’s even worse that I feel sick and have to warm myself with aspirin and coffee. Tim is still in bed, still asleep and bundled up in my blanket and comforter. (I luv how he infuses all my sheets with his manscent.) It’s Easter Sunday morning and he, my ex-Southern Baptist bf, agreed to go to Catholic church with me today. (He even brought nice clothes to wear for the event – which means I have to do my usual attire of jeans and shirt up a notch. I guess an Easter service and him going to church – a Catholic one too! — are each events in themselves.) But I don’t feel like going anymore. More than my flu that’s weighing me down, it’s my lack of desire to go to church, or go back to it that’s keeping me in. I’ve already had my Easter fix last night when I went to culminate the Triduum in the Easter Vigil at Xavier. Even better, also unexpectedly, I already had my satisfying Easter message in watching the matinee yesterday afternoon of Matthew Passion, the new play by Phil Hall at the Chernuchin Theater.

The Vigil was a full 3-hours long filled wih pompous prayer and pageantry. I have always loved spectacle, and delivering it meaninguflly (against its normal bent which is hollow showmanship) is quite satisfying. There were the lighting of candles, the blessing of water, the anointing with chrism, the holding of hands and greetings of peace; even the breaking of the bread was cast in fresh, radiant glow. There was this buff man at the altar, littered with yellow and orange tulips and cascading white trim, dancing to the story of Moses’ liberation through the water and lithe women moving to the song of Ruth’s faithfulness to her sister. The choir and orchestra climaxed in a powerful rendition of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus as the congregation was blessed with incense. The cantor invoked the saints (which included Gandhi and Oscar Romero this year; Matthew Shepard was mentioned a few years ago) to bless everyone including the newly-elect who were washed at the basin — a shellful of water, very wet clothes and a churchful of people — to welcome them into their new faith. (Sometimes, I wonder how my life would’ve turned out, what [religious] choices I would’ve made, if I was not baptized as a baby and raised Catholic.) Even the congregants, old couples in spring colors, families in easter outfits, even the gays decked out in suits (some of whom I recognized from my gym’s steam room and some from Manhunt) and the lesbians still in denim, were swept away in sharing song and prayer. Fr, Joe, the Jesuit priest, spoke of the image of the tomb in his homily. But I was only half-listening. I was still consumed by the message of Matthew Passion, the play I saw a few hours before.

Tim had mentioned the play to me before but I must have dismissed it as some outlandish idea. But the NYT (decent) review on Thursday prompted me to go see it before it closed (today). Matthew Passion follows the play-within-a-play format wherein 9 actors play multiple roles (not to mention also double as stagehands) as they tell the parallel stories of Jesus, Matthew Shepard and Jim, an HIV-positive actor under the guise of developing and rehearsing the play of the same name. (So watching Matthew Passion is basically watching the actors rehearse for a play also called Matthew Passion.) The theater is rundown and the transitions are clunky and the stories widely-arcd yet seemingly loosely-tied (but this, as Tim reminds me, is simply an Equtiy showcase which means the actos are basically given $4 for commutefare and a stipend if lucky and so all is forgiven.) But the acting is earnest (Jay Sulllivan notably anchors the dramatic arc of the show) and the singing is endearingly good (Andy Redeker, Chad McCallon and Jeff Applegate restore the good and the gay to the Greek chorus.) But who cares?! Next to Naked Boys Singing, this is a damn hot cast of actors (and they have their clothes on!) and watching them on stage is already a (visually) satisfying treat. James Royce Edwards, playing Jesus, clad in a V-cut tunic that shows off his perfect pecs and sculpted 8-pack and later on in a loincloth on a cross showing off his bulging biceps and quads must be the hotttest Jesus guy I’ve ever seen. (Damn, I’d be going to church every Sunday if I knew…..) But, seriously, it is the message (in the words more than the music) that still gets to me most.

I was watching it and was asking myself, what tormented homosexual Catholic mind can write something like this? Then, I realized it was something, if I had the talent for writing a play with music, I would have totally done. Tim corrected my Catholicentrism by saying that Phil Hall doesn’t have to be Catholic. His questions were profound (what would Jesus do if he wandered into a gay club?) and his theology was astute (the tumbling of the walls of Jericho to Joshua’s horn was paralleled with the ripping of the temple screen to Christ’s last breath.) His telling was heartrending. Jesus Christ and Matthew Shepard are deemed parallel stories. Both died senseless deaths. Christ died slung on the cross because he was an innocent defenseless Jew; Matthew died tied to a wooden fence because he was an innocent defenseless homosexual. (Tim had a problem with this deification of Matthew Shepard because he was, allegedly, a crystal meth addict who bought the drugs from his murderers. He feels that this linear parallelism would have been better served by a fleshier, more human enactment of Matthew’s passions.) This show reminded me of what I had forgotten about the cross; it was a historic hate crime, yet another statistic of a senseless killing.

I also learned 2 new things from the play. First, that Matthew Shepard was HIV positive. Second, that the news of the Resurrection was first given to Mary Magdalene, the prostitute. The cornerstone of Christianity was laid in the heart of a woman who sells her skin for sex. If the message of Christmas was born by the Virgin Mother of Immaculate Conception; the message of Easter was born by someone who is the opposite of immaculate; whose virginity has been defiled many tmes over. Here is the crux of her story; the hurt and the hollowness is never the finality, there is healing and there is fulness. There lies heaven, not even in the afterlife, but already in the struggle for sense.

The cross was about hate and senselessness; the empty tomb was about love and meaning. As told in Phil Hall’s play (and as written in news many times over),Matthew Shepard’s dad talked about pardoning the killers during their sentencing and Judy Shepard, his mom, established the Matthew Shepard foundation and is now an outspoken activist against hate crimes and for human rights. They have enobled their son’s senseless death with renewed purpose. Unknowingly, they have rewritten the Easter story in a context that is more contemporary and hits easier to home.

I am hopeful of continuing to write my own this Easter morn; inking word for word a slice of heaven.

I was raised a good Catholic boy. I was taught the sign of the cross along with my ABCs and the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears along with that account about sin with Adam and Eve and the evil snake. I went to good Catholic schools and piously attended Sunday service. I took confession and received communion. I thought I made my parents and their god proud for a long time. Then, I moved to NYC and, suddenly, found myself reinventing the wheel that countless other people have turned for me since I was born. I suddenly found myself in a land of limitless possibility where, far away from the adoring eye of my parents and the watchful gaze of both loving peers and strict society, I was able to experiment with my newfound freedom. I reclaimed my Sundays and stopped going to church. I reinvented my moral code and moved away from the absolutes of sin and into the ethics of consensus. I did away with all kinds of bread and went on a no-carb diet and, yet, drank all the good wine I can. I now only knelt when I was giving good head to someone (wherein I wasn’t the one giving thanks to but being thanked for). I began to cast every tenet of my Catholicism against a shadow of doubt and, inversely, grew in believing in my power of self to actualize evey option that was available and desirable. I was both doubter and believer. This dueling of modes, or this paradox in duality, is a strong leitmotif in my life and I relished this specific one.

It was particularly heavy today as I found myself sitting on a church pew in Xavier, the Jesuit parish on 16th/6th. Today is Palm Sunday and I found myself in church.

I used to disavow my Catholicism. But, I have since gone back to calling myself a lapse, if not holiday, Catholic. I would go to all the big holiday services and sleep in on the ordinary Sundays. I particularly loved the Triduum (which is that axis of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Eve Vigil services) and have religiously attended them for a few years now. I was drawn to this period because it struck at the heart of my skepticism . Here was a church founded on a god who was born as man only to die in man’s hands and resurrect himself all over again as god. (I mean, this statement could easily have been read as any other Hindu legend if not for the Christian context. But, yes, I was raised Catholic and was brainwashed to be Christocentric.) There were themes of love and denial; despair and redemption; hurt and forgiveness. Hollywood cinema is built on these and, being a cinephile, I am helplessly moved by what is billed as the greatest story ever told.

The irony is that I moved to another Christian land (and not to a Buddhist or any other one) and, yet, I find it even harder to believe. (The motivation is also at issue here – do I genuinely want to or am I merely responding to ingrained habit?!) Unlike in Manila wherein you would think that Christ was Divine Providence to the deprived, here in the East Coast, you would think that he was raised in Kansas. Every hard-line Christian, oftentimes represented in the media by a fire-and-brimstone Southern Baptist preacher, spews hate in the name of the love of god. I am angered and confused and saddened and, yes, enobled by some of these mindless attacks who aim to strike at how I love and who I am. The god of boundless compassion, silent and unseen, is suddenly replaced by the god of abominable hellfire, as seen and heard through his ruthless and rabid demagogues.

I went to Xavier today to make more sense of this tension ( as well as somehow give better purpose to my 4-day workweek. The market is closed on Good Friday but not because of any religious reasons; it is in commemoration of the Big Crash in the 20s that led to the Great Depression.) I know I will come back on Thursday for the Washing of the Feet and Friday to hear the Last Words and on Saturday to hold Vigil. I return every year at this same time because I seek answers. Why will I want to believe in a god whom people claim says that how I love is evil?

Today, I sat and witnessed a line of initiates into the faith, adults who have chosen to be Catholics and who await baptism on Easter Sunday. They have chosen to believe. I looked around and saw people moved by both song and story. I, myself, am moved by this church where Matthew Shepard is a saint; where men with AIDS are given a haven for spiritual directoin in the Gonzaga Group (which is billed as an “ecumenical HIV Spiritual Support Group”); where gay and lesbians find shelter for their desires and solace for their brokenness. How am I to respond to this outpuring of faith both from priest and present and future laity?

Fr, Joe, the Jesuit priest who gave the homily, talked about how we are all victim and victimizer (in reference to the people who condemned Jesus to the cross and yet also wept for him upon seeing him bear it up Mount Calvary.) I have been both victim of my past borne of a textbook faith as well as victimized by my revisionist present. The challenge is in hashing out what is most genuine from what has been blindly held on to and responding to this newfind thoughtfully and faithfully. That is what I believe in right now and where my hope for answers in the future is built upon.