Peru Purview

Aside

Lima, Peru hates me.

And I’m not just referring to the individual citizens.  I mean that more in the vein of the creators of Sex and the City citing New York as the fifth gal pal, a living, breathing organism unto itself.  Lima is about to wrap up a 10-day guest appearance in my life, and I’m sad to report that we did not swill Cosmos and trade saucy double entendres about our sex lives.  Far from my new BFF/girlfriend, Lima’s stint has been more like a Buffy Big Bad.  She’s tried to destroy me several times and has proven to be a formidable, seemingly unbeatable nemesis.

But unlike Ms. Summers, I often found myself pummeled to within an inch of my life with no Scooby Gang to rely on.  I decided to come here mostly because my sister and her boyfriend have just moved here to teach English for a year, and another friend is stopping here as part of a 100-day trek through South America.  But my sister and her boyfriend had to go to another part of Peru hours from Lima to train for their teaching gig, and my friend’s mother is from Lima so he’s had family obligation to attend to.  I knew this going in and wasn’t concerned.  I imagined I would amble around solo, enjoying some alone time and taking in a new place on my own.

But that was before my iPhone was stolen.  That was before my backup iPhone was stolen.  That was before I bought a prepaid cell from a seemingly reputable local phone company that can receive texts but can’t send them.  That was before I discovered that personal space is a foreign concept here, and that people gawk at you like you’re a circus freak because you have an affinity for brightly colored button downs and jean cutoffs, and that taxis here in search of a potential fare honk at you so incessantly that they make livery cabs back in New York look like wallflowers, and that my appeal to practitioners of the world’s oldest profession is not gender specific.

I’m a quarter Peruvian, so part of my excitement over coming here was to see a part of my history.  I don’t speak a whole lot of Spanish and I was raised in that kind of ethnically ambiguous way that many Americans are in spite of their particular background.  I wasn’t expecting to get off the plane, exclaim, “I’m home!” and throw my hat in the air like Mary Richards, but I certainly didn’t expect to end up feeling this alienated and incongruous to my surroundings here, either.

This is not to say that I hate Lima back, though.  Sometimes you just have a run of bad luck and circumstances that it gets to be almost (almost!) comical, and there’s simply nothing to be done but press on.  Thankfully, I inherited some of my mom’s Pollyanna gene and have tried to have the best time possible after all that’s happened. I also haven’t reached the point where I’m no longer willing to head into a situation where I’m a stranger in a strange land or a fish out of water.  I’m a Gemini and my indefatigable curiosity can’t be quashed by a series of vacation calamities.  Instead, what this experience has given me is a newfound appreciation for my community.  I don’t mean New York in its entirety, mind you. My catfight with Lima doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten what a bitch and a half she can often be. I mean my people, the people I can relate to, the people that get me.  I love that I work with so many gay men it often feels like the chorus of Newsies.  I love that I have fellow cinephiles willing to shell out $15 to see shoestring budget indies and highbrow foreign language films so that we can do better in our Oscar pools.  I love that I have friends whose senses of humor are just as pitch black and wrong as mine that it’s only a matter of time before one of us is struck by lightning walking too close to a church. Familiarity may breed contempt in some instances, but at this moment it couldn’t be more appealing.

And as for Lima, hopefully the next time she has a story arch in my show we’ll mesh a little bit better.  After all, Faith eventually became a trusted ally of Buffy’s.  And girl, come on…you know I make booty shorts look good.  Don’t be hatin’.

Totes Inappropes!

I usually take ancient prognostications of doom with a grain of salt, but last night something happened that has led me to believe that the Mayans might be on to something.  The apocalypse may actually be nigh.  I, Andres Miguel Roden, found something inappropriate. 

This might not immediately seem like a portent of oblivion, but as anyone who knows me can attest, it is a shocking occurrence that may very well signal the end of days.  I am the self-appointed champion of all things wrong.  Off-color humor is my lifeblood, my sustenance.  While I am able to gage the temperature of the room and act with decorum when necessary (my Parents Love Me status is very important to me), most of the time there is virtually no subject ineligible as fodder for ribald repartee.  I get a lot of winces and covered mouths, and I love it.

Last night, however, the script was flipped.  I was closing down the bar and relying on my go-to source for early AM work energy – tranny music.  I had “Judas” Radio on Pandora and one of the songs it selected was “Cannibal” by Ke$ha, which I had never heard before. (I’m old and I haven’t had a car in years, so some pop hits manage to slip past my gay ass.) Now clearly, she is the nadir of culture as we know it – and “Tik Tok” is the sound of her 15 minutes of fame dwindling away – but I have to confess I dig some of her songs.  Initially, this was her usual brand of lightweight, petulant fun, with lyrics like, “I eat boys up/breakfast and lunch/I eat boys up/you better run.” But then came, “be too sweet and you’ll be a goner/yup, I’ll pull a Jeffrey Dahmer.”

Well, my hands came right out of my metaphorical wig and my arms down from over my head when I heard that nugget of musical poetry.  I mean, $eriously, Ke$ha? $eriously? Jeffrey Dahmer is one of history’s most notorious and horrific serial killers.  He imprisoned, mutilated and consumed 17 men and boys.  Imagine how one of his victim’s loved ones would feel if they were in Hot Topic or Wet Seal or some other musically suspect environment with their daughter and heard that?  Despite my usual propensity for the lowest of lowbrow, I was fairly aghast.

Then I began to wonder where this sudden surge of propriety was coming from.  Perhaps it’s just a function of getting older.  I’m definitely much more sensitive in my 30s than ever before, and I wasn’t exactly an emotional cipher to begin with.  (Soft Batch – it’s not just a cookie!)  And being more aware and mindful of other people’s circumstances and feelings directly affects what we say and how we say it.

I can accept that, going forward, I might become a little more judicious with my barbs and quips, as long as I can still illicit an, “ooh, no you di-i’nt!” when I want to.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely give that up.  $hit, we r who we r, right? 

Worry, Why Do I Let Myself Worry?

Boy, do I owe my poor dad an apology.

When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I complained and teased him mercilessly about his propensity for worrying, which I considered excessive and melodramatic. Didn’t return a page within an hour?  Panic ensued.  (Yes, you heard correctly.  I’m old enough to have had a pager.  Please line up in an orderly fashion to lob your Methuselah jokes at me.)  Moving all the way across the country without ever having lived on my own only intensified my dad’s fears.  Waiting more than a day to respond to a voicemail meant his next call was to the #1 position on his speed dial – the Williamsburg morgue.  He would debrief my aunt in New Jersey after my visits with her.  Does he look healthy? Is he eating?  (Absurd question, by the way.  First Year in New York Terror soon caused me to balloon to 265 lbs.  I was the gay male Precious. If my mom threw a TV at me, I would’ve eaten it and her.)

His fretting was always met with an eye roll and a “Da-aaad!” from me.  Of course it was, because I was young and impetuous and thought I that I was somehow invulnerable to the litany of ways that the world could hurt me.  I viewed his concern as a lack of faith in me, as if he wouldn’t be anxious if he was confident in my ability to take care of myself.  I took it almost as an insult, like he was trying to downplay the importance of my status as a bona fide adult that I was so thrilled about and had waited so long for.

But now that I’m older, I’ve really started to understand where he was coming from. To quote Stephen Sondheim, “I know things now.”  (Oh, cut me some slack!  Into the Woods is the Shakespeare in the Park musical this season, after all.)  I know that hearts get broken.  I know that people have health scares.  I know that some of the best people don’t end up with the success that they deserve.  I worry about the people I love on all of these levels and more.  A slightly irrational morbid thought of someone lying in a ditch is really just the tip of the iceberg.  The deeper you feel for someone, the more that there is seemingly no end to the concerns you have for them, and it can be daunting and overwhelming at times.

A few years ago, one of my best friends and her husband were experiencing some growing pains in their new marriage and things escalated one night to the point where he mentioned divorce.  She immediately put the discussion on hold, left their apartment and called me.  I was working that night, so I had her meet me at my bar. As soon as I could, I left and took her back to my place and she spent the night.  We talked for hours about the situation, and I did my best to assuage her fears. Thankfully, they worked through it and the incident proved to be an aberration in an otherwise amazing marriage.  But I still remember vividly how absolutely terrified I was for her.  What would she do if he was serious?  What would we do?  I put on my pleated skirt, grabbed my pom-poms and did some Bring It On-level emotional cheerleading, but underneath I was a basket case.  Every positive thing I could think of to say to her carried with it a nagging underlying thought of what would happen to her if I was wrong.  I was a nervous wreck the next day waiting to hear if it all worked out.

My friend’s D-word scare was excruciating enough.  But kids – how in the hell do people survive that?  Two wonderful couples I know are each expecting their first child.  I can’t even begin to fathom the protective instinct they’re about to experience. These aren’t even my children and yet I’m completely prepared to organize multiple screenings of Panic Room and trips to Home Depot to lock these little moppets up tight from birth.  Fresh air and peer interaction are completely overrated, kids, take it from Uncle Andy!

A certain degree of pacing and hand-wringing will always be an integral part of loving another person.  And not as some negative byproduct or consequence.  Worry is love, even if it feels a tad over the top or smothering at times.  As for my dad, I can’t turn back time and be more sensitive to his worry over me.  The next time I get his voicemail, however, I can make a frantic call to the local authorities and insist that they send a SWAT team to his house immediately.  And as armed men in riot gear smash through his door and windows, he’ll think to himself, “that’s my boy.”

Straight Man’s Burden

Throughout history and up to the present day, heterosexual males have tended to garner less than stellar reputations.  From war to oppression to forgotten anniversaries, they are held responsible for many unpleasant aspects of life. However, despite whatever veracity this assignment of blame might hold, I think some latitude is in order.  For straight men are tasked with a daunting challenge, utterly confounding and fraught with intricacies that boggle the mind.  They have to pleasure women.

Now lesbians have to do this as well, but they of course have a natural advantage and aren’t facing the same inherent obstacles.  It would be like taking someone who grew up with a Steinway baby grand at home and someone who pulled a Big at FAO Schwartz one time and played a giant floor keyboard with their feet and asking them to perform the same Brahms concerto.  One of them clearly has the upper hand.

My championing of straight men with regard to this topic definitely stems from the fact that I myself have taken on the enigma of a woman’s body before.  (I know, the incongruity is astounding.  It was all many, many vodka-soaked years ago, I assure you.)  I’m a very curious person, and when I was younger and my sexuality was more malleable (as opposed to the impenetrable sarcophagus of gay that encases me today) I dabbled here and there to see what it was like.  I’m also a very humble person, so I can freely admit that each of my “clam bakes” was an unmitigated disaster.  It rained, hardly anyone showed up and those who did refused to mingle and got food poisoning.

I was game and eager to please, for sure, but I think it was the sheer complexity that flummoxed and defeated me in the end. I felt like Andi in The Goonies, desperately trying to decipher the yellowing sheet music and play the skeleton pipe organ lest the floor collapse beneath me.  I felt like I’d been chloroformed and woke up in the control tower at Cape Canaveral, forced to man a rocket launch.  Okay, gotta figure this out! Beep boop bop beep.  External fuel tank released.  Shit.  Hope there’s a BP or something up there.  Beep boop bop beep. Cabin pressurization system deactivated. My bad.  Hold your breath for a minute, guys.  Beep boop bop beep.  Self-destruct countdown initiated.  Fuck.  A little help here?  Is there a lesbian in the building?!?

But even with the high degree of difficulty, the Herculean effort required and the distinct possibility of failure, heterosexual males bravely soldier on.  And they deserve some credit for that.  Are there certain transgressions that the rest of society can justifiably pin on them?  Sure.  I just think we can hold off a bit on calling them to the carpet in light of their call to the carpet.

 

Men-mentos

As anyone who lives here can attest, New York City, vast metropolis though it may be often feels like a small town straight out of a quirky, dialogue-heavy TV dramedy. Random occurrences happen here all the time and you wonder how they’re even possible in a city teeming with almost nine million people.

Recently, I’ve been experiencing this particular aspect of the Big Apple quite frequently with regard to “adult funtime.”  In the past few weeks, I’ve run into past gentleman friends at the barber shop, at my bar and on the subway.  I also had a guy over who we later realized is a childhood friend of one of my friends.  It’s as if my private life has somehow become fodder for a misguided sequel to Crash.  Chance encounters and surprising connections lurk around every corner!  And then of course the comments for this post would look like this:

“Hey, I liked this post.”

“Thanks!”

“You’re a f**got.”

“You’re a <insert applicable epithet.>”

God, I hate that movie.  If I want unpalatable Haggis, I’ll go to a disreputable Scottish butcher, thank you.  But I digress.

Now, before you go all nautical on me and start a chorus of “yo, ho, ho and a bottle of flavored vodka,” let me say that I’ve already wondered myself if there’s a reason these things have been happening to me so much lately.  Have I been too…extracurricular? True to form, I ended up whipping myself into a self-deprecating frenzy and fully expected to come home and find that the CDC had put an E.T. tent over my building and the hazmat suits were ready to cart me off to Atlanta.

But then I thought about each guy.  Not the actual act itself, necessarily, but everything that was going on around it, framing it in my memory, and what that evokes.  The guy in the barber shop was in the middle of a crazy, fun-filled year when I was living in Lower Manhattan like I’d always wanted and bound and determined to close out my 20s with a bang.  The guy at my bar was at the end of one of those birthdays where you invite everyone you know and everyone you know shows up, and you feel really lucky (and certain that you’ll wake up in a holding cell if one more person buys you a shot).  The guy in the subway I ran into with one of my best friends, and the knowing “some things never change” look she shot me brought back all of the loads of trouble we’ve gotten into together over the years.  My friend’s childhood friend and I were up until dawn dishing our mutual friend, and the clandestine mental portrait I now have of her awkward years is absolutely priceless.

So with all of that in mind, I’ve decided that referring to New York as “The City that Never Sleeps with Anyone Else but Me” and consigning myself to a Tibetan monastery is a tad premature.  A conspiratorial glance and a naughty blast from the past as you go about your day can be a nice little thrill.  (You have no idea how badly I wanted to go up to the guy at my bar and, having firsthand knowledge of his predilections, say to him with a wink and a smile, “And you…we don’t have that on the menu.”) Things like this are just one facet of each of our histories, and no one’s history is ever completely G-rated and eulogy-ready.  I don’t think that anyone’s should be.  I’m certainly glad that mine isn’t.   And if that makes me a wanton man, well, just promise you’ll provide me with an upgrade to first class and some Designing Women DVDs for my flight down to Joe-juh.

The Customer is Always Right About to Get Slapped: Tips for Proper Bar Patronage

Sometimes You Wanna Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name…And That Isn’t Here

As any riled up drag queen is known to scream on the train at 4:30am, “YOU DON’T KNOW ME!!!” And as usual, drag queens are right about everything. They’re the sages of modern society. This particular pearl of wisdom should definitely be remembered when running a bar tab. You order your first drink, hand me a credit card and ask to keep it open. In the fifteen or so minutes it takes you to force down whatever cocktail du jour Mad Men or New York Magazine has convinced you is now “your poison,” I’ve repeated that process with at least a dozen people. So when you decide to give up the zeitgeist and tell me you want a glass of pinot grigio on “my tab,” I’m going to respond with the glassy eyed stare of the kid with evil talking finger from The Shining until you can manage to be a bit more specific. Or if you’d prefer, I could save you from the chore of having to tell me who you are by making your name synonymous in my mind with the phrase “my tab,” and anytime anyone says that to me I’ll charge you for their drinks. Think of how popular you’ll be!

My Hands (And My Burden) Are Plenty Heavy

One of the basic tenets of science is that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the context of a bar, this is demonstrated by the fact that if you come in and say something along the lines of “Hennessy and cranberry – strong, strong!” the only thing that’s going to end up strong is my desire to scour the bar for a jigger so I can measure exactly one shot while making your beverage. Think of the alcohol content of your drink like tennis – there are singles and there are doubles, and that’s it. And don’t make me go Serena on your ass.

Get Off My Buyback

Somewhere along the line, some people have started to think of ordering multiple drinks in the same sitting like one of those extreme couponing shows you see on TLC. Follow a particular protocol to the letter and dollars and cents will fly off your total in dramatic fashion, and you’ll be left with the alcohol equivalent of a bomb shelter’s worth of Bic Lady Shavers and bagged Corn Flakes, not to mention the satisfaction that comes with having successfully worked the system.

A bar is not like one of those shows.

First of all, I could never do basic cable. My sailor mouth might as well have a “To Order This Channel, Press A” message flashing on it.  Only a premium channel could handle this level of profanity. Second of all, buybacks are a privilege and not a right, and in most establishments are completely discretionary and not automatic.

Furthermore, trying to beg, bully or complain your way into getting a free drink is just plain counterproductive. If you wanted to have sex with me, for instance, and you paid me three compliments and then told me that because of that I was now obligated to go home with you and hand over my candy, do you honestly think I would? Alright, fine, if I was in a shame spiral, then yes, I would. In a case like that, one backhanded compliment and a pat on the head would get you the whole candy store plus the abandoned lot next door. But under normal circumstances, that kind of petulance and sense of entitlement would quickly construct metaphorical scaffolding around my swimsuit area that nothing and no one could penetrate.*  It’s the same with buybacks.

I have some pretty amazing regulars.  Over the years they’ve gradually entered an upper echelon where they could climb over the bar, push me out of the way and make their own drink and I’d pretty much be alright with it.  How did they do it?  They’re patient and polite.  They tip well.  They treat me like a human being and not a vending machine with a beard.  Learn from them.

*Ryan Gosling could. But you’re not him. And if you are and you’re reading this, call me.