Sunday, November 27, 2016

More Than a Smithers

In 1996, I didn’t know I was gay. But I knew something was up.

That year, The Simpsons aired the episode “Homer the Smithers,” in which Homer must fill in as Mr. Burns’ assistant while Mr. Smithers is on vacation. Whenever Smithers calls in to check on the situation, you see a quick peek at where he’s spending his away time, and in one scene in particular, Smithers mentions that “picture-taking isn’t allowed at this particular resort.” He’s in a dance club, and he hangs up the phone because there’s a line forming behind him.

It’s a conga line. And it’s all dudes.



Being twelve years old and generally clueless about the world, I didn’t know what to make of this scene. I can remember asking my mom what kind of vacation place wouldn’t allow photography, and she had no idea. I didn’t mention the conga line of men, because despite not having an inkling about myself, I felt like that wasn’t something I should be expressing curiosity about.

I also didn’t mention a later scene in which Smithers is towing a pyramid of male waterskiers, all of whom are wearing pink speedos.


I suppose I’m writing this for two reasons. First, when I did realize a few years later, I still didn’t know much about the world. This episode informed my idea of what gay men were like, at least to an extent, and I guess I figured one day I would be going to some weird beach resort where photography wasn’t allowed. I haven’t done that, at least not yet, and I don’t know when I learned that these types of vacations weren’t a requirement of being gay. (Going to Fire Island apparently is a requirement, but social media tells me that this trips are throughly documented with photos. In any case, Palm Springs is closer to Los Angeles.) When you don’t have access to information about what gay people actually do and when you sure as hell don’t talk to anyone about it, it’s strange how this little scraps of representation end up becoming all you have.

Watching this episode twenty years later—it just aired on Sunday as part of the FXX Thanksgiving marathon—I also realize that I never thought I would have gotten to the point I’m at now. I’m gay. Anyone who matters knows. And all that happened well before it happened for Smithers. Before high school, he was the only gay character I knew well, and at some point I guess I figured I’d end up like him: quietly and inconspicuously gay, never being outright with it, and somehow living a smaller life as a result. That didn’t happen. I didn’t ever think about it terms of me outpacing Smithers until now, but I’m glad it happened.

The other point is a harder one to put into words, but it has something to do with being a kid who’d grow up to be gay, not being consciously aware of those feelings and yet somehow going through life seeing things and occasionally saying “Oh, that.” I’m not sure what I thought my brain was doing, but it’s weird to be paying attention to something without understanding what the draw is, if that makes sense. It wasn’t always so obvious, either—although it certainly does explain childhood obsessions with princesses but also with barbarians—and sometimes I think I’d perceive something as being gay-coded without actually understanding what all that meant. Before the “Homer the Smithers” episode aired, I can remember being in a bookstore and seeing a magazine that had Waylon Smithers on the cover. It happened to be Genre, which I’d later learn was an LGBT publication. I didn’t know that at the time, but the cover read something like “Is Waylon Smithers one of us?” on a bright pink background. This happened at a point in my life where I’d buy anything with a Simpsons character on it, but something told me that no, I shouldn’t ask to buy this particular magazine.

I’ve no idea what chain of decisions led me to skip it—not even pick it off the shelf, if I remember correctly—but now I wish I had a copy. I’d frame it.

EDIT: Here, I found the cover in question. Looks like the auction is over, however.


Monday, November 07, 2016

Mushrooms

If you poked around my house, you might eventually find the back wall of the laundry room, spot this framed art and ask me, “Drew, why do you have a framed dish towel hanging in your house?” It’s a good question, I guess.


This dish towel belonged to a grandmother. I always liked it, even if mushrooms and toadstools seem like a weird graphic to be associated with something used for cleaning. Toward the end, when she moved out of the house she’d lived in for decades, I pocketed the towel, and I eventually framed it, just as a memento of her. And now that she’s gone, it means more. It’s been hanging in my home for years, and it’s currently in an out-of-the-way spot that I don't have much reason to notice often. But I noticed it today, just now, and I remembered that my grandmother was the only other person in the family who supported liberal politics. She also loved Hillary Clinton—which was weird, because she tended not to hold women in high esteem, generally—and it reminded me that when I vote for the only obvious choice for president this election, I’m doing it for myself and also for my grandmother, who would have been the first in line to cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Conversation With Thurman

What you may not know about my dog, Thurman, is that he is briefly capable of speech, and he uses these periods to better understand the world of humans. Here is a re-creation of my most recent conversation with Thurman.


I was walking through the dining room, where Thurman was lying so as to monitor all comings and goings in the house. As I moved by, I leaned down, pet him once on the head and said “boop.” Thurman’s reaction was immediate.

“Human, what is boop?” he asked me. I realized I wasn’t sure.

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s just something humans do to animals.” At the time I was trying to collect the garbage to take out, and I didn’t exactly want an interrogation.

That feeble explanation was clearly not enough for Thurman. “Would you boop another human?” he asked me.

“I might do it to a baby,” I said, thinking aloud before immediately clarifying: “A baby, by the way, is a human puppy. You’ve seen them on walks.”

“Ah, yes,” Thurman said. “Human, would you boop The Roommate?”

“No, Thurman. The Roommate would probably not like that.”

“Human, is boop an act of dominion or of benevolent condescension?”

“It’s neither, really,” I said after having thought about it for a few seconds. “It’s more of an act of affection.”

Thurman blinked once or twice and considered this. “May I boop you, human?”

“No, you may not.”

“Human, why can I not boop?”

“Well, for one thing, Thurman, I know you were digging in mud today, and your paws aren’t clean. For another I’m not sure you’d be able to reach the top of my head without me lying on the floor.”

“Human, must the boop land on the top of the skull?”

“No, Thurman. If you’ll remember I booped you on the nose a while back.”

Thurman looked down. “I do remember, human. I didn’t care for it. My nose is very sensitive, you know.”

I apologized for the slight, but Thurman had clearly already moved on. “Human, what is the origin of the boop? As a word, I mean, not as a demonstration of dominance?”

“Thurman, I just told you that I don’t think it’s necessarily about dominance. And I don’t know. I suppose it’s onomatopoeia.”

“But the act of booping produces no perceptible noise,” he persisted. “Surely the term has origins elsewhere.”

I had to admit he had a point. “You’re probably right, actually. So then no, I don’t know why we say ‘boop’ when we boop.”

“Human, perhaps it is better not to engage in ceremonies when you do not understand their histories,” Thurman continued. “Perhaps it is unwise, as you do not understand what implications and connotations to which your are tacitly endorsing.”

I sighed, then agreed that I would not boop him any longer.

“A underside rub would be preferable,” Thurman point out.

“Fine, yes, but please remember that we call it a belly rub. Underside rub sounds weird.”

“Human, my belly is ever so soft and warm.”

“I know, Thurman.”

“Human, when may I eat a cat?”

I turned around to begin once again my explanation of why he would not be allowed to eat a cat, but by the time I did, he had turned his full attention to licking mud out from between his toes. The moment of speech had passed. I wondered if there were any pattern to these moments. I wondered what he would ask about during his next.

Friday, October 21, 2016

How to Be Friends With Your Ex

Four years down the line, I’ve found myself in many situations where I had to explain that a certain person—whom, for the sake of this blog post, I will call Bernard—is actually my ex-boyfriend. (His name is Spencer, but I’m just going to pretend his name is Bernard, because I’ve always thought he’d be a good Bernard.) I will be at a party or some other gathering, and someone will ask how Bernard and I know each other. The easy answer is “from college,” but that’s also an explanation that falls short of accurate. In the end, one of us will have to relate that yes, we used to date but no, we don’t anymore, and no, it isn’t particularly weird.

At least it’s not weird for me. Probably not Bernard either. But it does seem weird for some people who are learning it for the first time. More often than not, it’s a straight person who, per my understanding of their dating strategy, seems to begin a relationship and then stop it and then exorcise the ex from their lives entirely, because the thought of casual social contact with a once-but-former interlocking part seems impossible. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I’ve had people—again, mostly straight—tell me that they can’t imagine remaining friends with someone they dated briefly, to say nothing of becoming friends with someone they dated for nearly eight years. (I think we ended at seven and a half years, but I round up, because we lived together for a chunk of it and that makes it seem so much longer.) And it’s for this reason that I thought it would be a valuable service to explain to all you ex-ditchers how it worked, at least for this for Drew and Bernard.

Step one: Give yourself distance.

Without going into details, the end of the relationship wasn’t ideal, and we didn’t talk for six or seven months after we broke up. At the time, it was more in the sense of “I don’t like you at the moment,” but looking back on it now, I see it as a test-run for how our lives might function if we stopped talking altogether. For me, this meant living in a new city where the people I saw regularly had only known me for months, without the benefit of someone who’d known me for years and could therefore offer up advice such as “Oh, the reason you’re doing this is probably because X and Y” or “The thing you’re doing is actually very similar to that thing you did in 2009, which was a pretty stupid thing” and “No, you already watched that movie. You hated it.”

Step two: When you’re ready, meet in a neutral place.

Eventually, we met for dinner at a taco place. I’m not actually sure we had ever been there together before, but tacos are good neutral ground for assessing how the relationship will work because I at least find tacos to be unromantic. Despite the lead up to these tacos, it was as if we hadn’t missed a beat. It wasn’t a hard decision that we made more sense in each other’s lives than not.

Step three: Alert your associates.

It’s a simple as, “Okay, after all that, we’re cool. Go ahead and invite him to future events. Stop giving him death stares and stop keying his car and stop making fun of the way he walks, even though he does totally walk weird.”

Step four: Be sure that sex is off the table.

I mean this figuratively. Literally speaking, sex should be neither on the table nor off from this point forward. Now this is an important step, because admitting that the relationship has changed means you have to accept that all the aspects of it that went beyond mere friendship—date nights, sustained touching, tongues—have come to an end. To prove our case, Bernard and I attended a wedding together in Joshua Tree. We shared a hotel room, came home drunk and mutually, silently decided that sleep was the best way to end the night. I’m not even sure I took my shirt off, but that also might have been all the alcohol beating me to the punch.

Step five: Talk directly when one of you begins a new relationship.

The odds are slim that you will both enter into new relationships at the exact same moment. It’s far more likely that one of you will take up with a person before the other does, and in my case, Bernard did before I did. I suggest you did what we did and have an up-front talk with your ex about how the new relationship may affect the old one—what’s still okay and what may now be overstepping.

Step six: Have your ex and his new boyfriend over for dinner.

Do this not only to show how generous you can be in welcoming them both, as a couple, into your home, but also for the reason that follows.

Step seven: Keep the new boyfriend’s wine glass after dinner.

This is the most most important part.

Step eight: Poison a bunch of famous people.

Make gift baskets with poisoned baked goods and send them out to B-level celebrities—the kinds that probably don’t employ a full-time poison-taster. Once that makes news and your city is gripped by terror, send some threatening letters out to TV stations and newspapers about how you’ll never be stopped.

Step nine: Break into the new boyfriend’s house.

After paying off a forensics expert to show you how to transfer fingerprints to the poison canister—prints that, yes, you’ll be taking from that wine glass—hide the evidence in the new boyfriend’s living space in a spot he won’t be likely to find. I wouldn’t worry too much about where you hide it, as you’ll be making an anonymous tip to the police shortly after.

Step ten: Testify.

At the trial, be willing to say on the witness stand that whenever your ex left the room, the new boyfriend talked a lot about poison and even looked up basic poisoning techniques on your computer, hence the suspicious search history. (Remember, you’ve already showed the police this, so you seem concerned and honest.) When testifying, characterize his demeanor as being “madman-like.” Say you didn’t tell you ex because his boyfriend threatened your dog. Hold up a picture of your dog so the jury can see how cute he is and, by extension, how awful anyone would have to be to hurt him.

Step eleven: Be there for your ex after the conviction.

It’s important to say the right thing. In my case, at the end of the famous “strychnine scone” case, I leaned over and whispered, “Hey, isn’t it weird how none of this would have ever happened if we hadn’t broken up?” I think that was the right thing to say.

Step twelve: Repeat as necessary.

Just to ensure that you’ll remain relevant in your ex’s life until you’re both in your cold, cold graves.



It’s as easy as that! I hope this helps!

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Be Kind

I guess we can blame Stranger Things for this—well, what I’m talking about below plus a hundred thousand memes about Barb.

Back in July, I wrote here about how much I liked Stranger Things because it re-created a lot of the entertainment I liked so much when I was a kid, save for one key thing. The show’s reconstituted Spielbergian wonder looked too good. It was missing the TV static and VHS distortion that came with all that culture, at least for me way back when. See, I grew up beyond city limits, beyond where the cable TV cable could reach, and as a result, most of what I watched came to me hissing and fuzzy, but not in the cat way. As an experiment, I tried to add these elements back in, and for reasons I can’t explain, I kept doing it—for most of the summer, in fact. You might have noticed clips popping up here and there on my social media.

The result is what you see below, a project I’m just calling “Rewind.” It’s kind of a music mix, kind of a montage, kind of a string of music video-like things but punctuated with vintage commercials. I think I was trying to create a little pocket universe of culture from the ’80s and thereabouts. It never all quite existed this way, but it’s fun to pretend it did.

Or at least I thought so. Maybe you will think so too.



Yeah, I realize it’s two hours long. That was kind of the point, to make something that you could just lose yourself in—maybe keep on in the background and listen to and periodically check into and see something colorful and weirdly familiar, even if you’d ever actually seen it before. Or you could just pick a random point on the timeline and click and not know what nostalgic thing you’d end up seeing.

Again, I don't know why I felt compelled to make it, but I hope at the very least that you walk away with a song you like or some weird bit of pop culture that had somehow bypassed you before—maybe even see how some of the pairings of video chunks and old songs weren’t entirely random.

If nothing else, I hope the image of Grace Jones, eyes glowing with a demonic energy as she tries to sell you wine coolers, is forever burned into your memory. You’re welcome in advance!


Hit the jump to see a list of video and audio sources, plus most of the music video-like clips posted solo.

Friday, September 02, 2016

I Stole a Rock

As I get older, I occasionally find myself doing something unexpected and then thinking, “Oh, I have apparently grown up to be the kind of person who does this.” It’s never revelatory, but it’s at least a tidbit—another bullet point on my resume, if my resume were to include things like joining a gym or sanding a wooden deck or paying slightly more for organic bananas or coming home to my dog and hugging him and saying out loud, “You are the softest teddy bear” when my windows open and I’m pretty sure my neighbors heard me.

These are things I do, apparently.

Another thing I do is steal rocks.

Here is a rock that I stole.


Since I moved into my house, I’ve been working on getting the garden looking good, but this is a hopeless task because nature seems intent on keeping my outdoor space ridden with weeds, cobwebs and general disorder. On top of that, I’m trying to keep a garden that doesn’t use that much water, and I guess I’m technically succeeding in the sense that a dusty, yellowed garden slowly dying of thirst is, in fact, a garden that doesn’t use much water. Perhaps the most drought-considerate thing you can do for your garden, however, is to put a decorative rock in it, as rocks need very little water and also no care of any kind whatsoever, save for removing bird shit from them. (Hint: White rocks hide bird shit well.) This is a happy thing for me because the soil on which my house sits is mostly rocks—smoothish river rocks from back when the L.A. River used to flood, because my house is in a flood plain, I can never forget—and I can just dig a hole whenever and produce a bountiful harvest of rocks.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Revenge of the Ragman

Today I’d like to share with you something that’s terrified me for twenty-five years. You’re welcome in advance.


Many times when I was a kid, I’d end up watching a strange movie on Channel 36, the local indie station that aired pretty much nothing but strange movies in addition to reruns of Mama’s Family and Matlock. This is the same station that allowed me to watch a slasher movie re-telling of The Phantom of the Opera in which Molly Shannon played Meg Giry and also The Horror at 37,000 Feet, a TV movie that had William Shatner battling a poltergeist on a luxury jet. Neither of these scary movies is the one that lingered the most, however; that honor goes to The Nutcracker Fantasy, a Sanrio-produced, stop motion-animated version of The Nutcracker from 1979.

I’ve written about it before on this blog, and I explained how stop motion is always unsettling to me, but this movie in particular got to me as a result of the Ragman, a demonic boogeyman who appears at the beginning of the film for the single purpose of terrifying any children plunked in front of this film by well-meaning adults who thought a Nutcracker adaptation would be family-friendly. The Ragman is a crooked old ghost straight of Luigi’s Mansion who stands several stories tall as he shambles down the moonlit city streets, peering in windows to check for young children who have stayed up past their bedtime. Should he spot any, he teleports into their home and transforms them into mice.

There’s a lot more that’s weird about The Nutcracker Fantasy, but this one scene always stood out to me as something that seemed needlessly horrifying in what is ostensibly a film for children. And based on the Google hits I still get on the old post, I’m not the only one who thinks so—nor am I the only one who has been looking for a high-quality version of this scene. But just last year, Sanrio produced a new transfer of the film, along with a new Japanese dub. So I stumbled through Amazon.com’s Japanese site to ordered one, ripped it and uploaded the scene, just so you all could see how beautifully scary it is.

Enjoy!



I’ve paired it with the audio track from the American version, from a YouTube clip that had previously been the best available version of the scene online. No longer! The American voice cast featured Melissa Gilbert, Christopher Lee, Jo Anne Worley, and Eva Gabor, BTW, but you can’t hear any of them in this clip.

I’ve yet to decide what I’m going to do with the rest of the ripped film, but don’t be surprised if you see it surface on this blog sooner or later.

Nostalgic nightmare fuel, previously:

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Donner

Yesterday, Madonna turned 58 years old. She was born in 1958, and it’s been 58 years since that day. People posted about it on Facebook and Twitter, and it reminded me that I have no attachment to Madonna, especially not in the way a lot of gay dudes do. So I wrote the below little nothing on Facebook about that particular thing. I’ve decided I liked it enough to post here, just in case there’s another gay guy out there who feels weird that he doesn’t feel whatever magic most guys seem to, and who maybe needs to verbalize a reason for why not having memorized her entire catalogue doesn’t necessarily make you a hater.

— What do you think about [specific Madonna reference]?
— It’s, uh, good.
— Well then what do you think about [more obscure Madonna reference]?
— I… don’t know. I’m actually not the biggest Madonna fan in the world.
— [gay gasp]
— It’s not like I actively dislike her or anything. She just hasn’t played the big role in my life that she’s played in a lot of other guys’ lives, you know?
— [gay inhale]
— Ask me about Cyndi Lauper, and we’re good to go.
— [gay sputtering]
— But it’s not like I don’t think she’s important. I mean, Madonna played a huge role in changing music and pop culture in general, and even if you’re not into her music, you can’t deny that she’s made a bigger impact than most other people ever have, and that includes helping bring about music that I do like.
— [gay grimace]
— Also, I know she did a lot for gay visibility back in the day, so that’s a huge deal too.
— [gay finger-waving]
— And given that she did that, I thinks it’s weird how some people who have her whole catalogue memorized are also the first to drag her through the mud about her appearance and her age and all that, especially given that she looks pretty good for a 58-year-old. That always seemed like a paradox to me, or at least a weird situation where her appearance takes precedence over everything else she’s done.
— [gay gagging]
— Also I don’t like awards shows.
— [gay fainting]
— [sprouts eagle wings and flies into the sunset]