Happiness

Nuvo Homo

Oh, I’ve been away too long! I haven’t posted a blog since Skippy was a pup, I know. I feel bad about it, I do, but what had happened was I got completely overwhelmed by the excitement surrounding the new Beyonce album and I just fell the fuck out. I’ve been in a Diva Coma! That is an actual thing! It is a medical condition! I had to get Obamacare for it. For the last two weeks I’ve been in an assisted living facility where nurses had to play Celine Dion ballads at my bedside around the clock. This is SERIOUS, y’all. My status was wavering between Trife and Ratchet. IN THE GLOAMING, y’all.

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME UP UNTIL LIKE FIVE MINUTES AGOfainting

Anyway, Celine loved me back to life (in stores now!) and I’m all healed up!

ACTUAL FOOTAGE OF ME NOWjackiesback

I’ve got all manner of blog tomfoolery planned for this week, including a Year in Pictures coming out tomorrow that will probably just consist of photos of brunch and praise GIFS.

I wrote the following for the William Way Center’s Latin Carol Extravaganza, a fabulous evening of holiday songs sun in Latin (Frosty the Snowman became Frigus Vir Nivis, but of course you already know that.) The Center’s extraordinary director, Chris Bartlett, asked me to deliver a monologue in Latin, and I—like most people in Philadelphia—will do anything for Chris Bartlett, so I obliged (hence the title of this entry, which translates into “New Human”).

I only took a half a semester of Latin at Columbia wherein we translated St. Augustine and listened to our professor rant about how her husband had made her quit dancing ballet and get a teaching job, so my skills were a bit rusty. Fortunately, Chris is a Latin scholar and translated the full piece.  I’ve added a few things, including a post-Christmas epilogue and taken out a part that I cribbed verbatim from this blog. It’s not self-plagarism. It’s called LaBeoufing. All the kids are doing it. Anyway, a little bit about Christmas presents…

oopsWe are serious about gifts in my family. There’s a rigid set of rules for gift-giving. We’re required to send our wish lists via e-mail at some point between Family Dinner, which is the second Sunday in October, and Black Friday. Excuse me, African-American Friday. (Not trying to get suspended by the PC Police.) If you fail to do it by the halfway mark, the Grace Period kicks in and you start receiving daily e-mails from my mother which read “You get what you get and don’t pitch a fit.” If you fail to send your list by African-American Friday, all bets are off and may the odds be ever in your favor.

This is the sole source of drama in my family. And, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that I’m not actually talking about my family because that would GET ME IN TROUBLE. I’m talking about the Huxtables from The Cosby Show. So when I say my brother, I mean Theo. And when I say my other brother, I also mean Theo. And when I say Cousin Pam I mean Cousin Pam because I don’t have a Cousin Pam. This is getting complicated.

Anyway, we’re not a dramatic family. There’s never any blowups or shouting matches or really much disagreement at all. There are the occasional nibblets of gossip that get whispered down the lane, but even those usually just boil up into some evening shade at Family Dinner that then dissipates into nothing with the next sporkful of macaroni and cheese (yes I use a spork. Because I’m CIVILIZED but I DON’T HAVE TIME TO WASTE.)Nikki Shade

The last time I remember any drama of note was 20 years ago around the time of my grandfather’s death. My mother (Clair Huxtable) had inherited a ceramic figurine from her father (Clair Huxtable’s father). The figurine was of a woman with a giant mushroom hat on her head. Yup. I don’t know either. Apparently it was a hotly contested item because relatives kept popping out of the woodwork looking for the Mushroom Lady. From what I recall (and take this with a grain of salt because I am a lunatic and I sometimes don’t remember what’s my life and what’s an episode of Scandal), the drama culminated at my grandfather’s wake when my mother found my great-aunt poking around in the master bedroom of our house trying to steal the figurine. Let me just clarify: this is a family crisis about a 10″ tall lady with a mushroom on her head. 

When it comes to drama, we’re not exactly Maya and Eli Pope. Unfortch.scandal mama pope

In the beginning we really resisted the gift system, especially my father. He would always send in lists that read “I want gold-toed socks and more time.” He’s so zen; he is always asking for socks and “more time.” And we’re always like, “Man, we ain’t giving you socks, man. Here’s a James Bond DVD set. You get what you get and don’t pitch a fit.”

Over the last 10 years we have fallen into line with the system through sheer force of will. I won’t say whose. But I’ll give you a hint:clair-huxtable-16x9

Last year was the gold standard for the system. There were in-laws and significant others who were introduced to the way we do things: my one brother is married, my other brother had a girlfriend and I had a boyfriend. And we all, separately, explained to them how things worked and of course, they all responded with shock and awe. “What is this terrible thing and why do you do it?” And we, like rational human beings, responded with rage and panic. “You have to give me a list of five things! It’s almost midnight on Thanksgiving! Do you feel that? It’s Mommy, she’s clicking refresh on her e-mail! It’s like when the Deatheaters come in Harry Potter and you don’t have a Patronus! You get what you get and don’t pitch a fit! Just write down five things!”

The holidays are a magical time.

For me, the panic of the lists is nothing compared with the ordeal of actually buying gifts. I never buy anything on the lists because I’m a big ridiculous homosexual and gifts have two purposes in my mind: 1) to demonstrate how much better at gift-giving and empathy I am because I’m a gay man and 2) to find a way to buy your love, because I am a gay man.

This usually results in me wandering the streets on Christmas Eve, haggard and tired, looking like Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables: shaved head, dressed in rags, singing, prostituting myself. You know, the usual. Because no gift is ever good enough.anne-hathaway tongue

But last year, like I said, was the gold standard. Last year I discovered The Internet. Have you heard of it? You can just sit, at your desk, and buy things while watching Scandal. And so that’s what I did. I was just like “Oh, girl! No she didn’t! Click, click, click, purchase.” And everything arrived at my house courtesy of my very attractive UPS man and Christmas went off without a hitch.

This year, everything is different. The significant others weren’t around anymore, I’d spent all my money on Burt’s Bees and bed linens in an attempt to get over a breakup and my brother and sister-in-law had a brand new baby who was suddenly all anyone could talk about.

The system finally fell apart when my middle brother, the new father, sent his list out with a newfound paternal gruffness. He wrote, “We have hospital bills and this baby needs diapers so we’re not doing presents. All I want is more time.” And like that weird death dome that they fight in in The Hunger Games, the lists came crashing down. Alarms started beeping in the distance, a voice came over a loud speaker declaring “The system has failed! The system has failed! You get what you get! You get what you geeeeeeeeet!”going on my list

So, I’m went home on Monday alone and empty-handed.

moriartyActually, I didn’t even go home. I went to my brother’s house in South Carolina and I was all out of sorts. When you go to your parents’ home, you’re on familiar turf; you know the rules and everyone kind of reverts back to a slightly more mature version of the person they were at 14. But at my brother’s house there was a whole different set of rules. He was in charge! To quote a current events reference, Homey don’t play that.

My brother had sent a message through the grapevine that he didn’t want anybody doing anything crazy like proposing or whatever at Christmas because he wanted the holiday to be all about his new child. I was like, “Um, are you aware that Christmas is actually about a different baby? Just an FYI.”

I immediately loved this kid, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a bit salty. He had instantly usurped my position as the most needy member of the family. Christmas can’t be about you, lil one, because Christmas this year and every year needs to be about whatever emotional land mines me and my therapist decide to detonate. Obvi.

I decided that the first thing I would do upon arrival would be to sit this baby down and have a conversation about not pulling focus. I am fine if he’s in the same room as me, but he needs to stand behind me and to the right. Genuflection whenever possible. Mariah Divaish

And this is a two-way street, of course. He defers to my fabulousness and I’ll do my best to get famous before he hits puberty so that all his friends can be envious and he can be like “LOLwhatever”. And I’ll keep using face moisturizer so that in 10 years all of his friends’ moms will comment about how youthful and attractive his uncle is and he’ll be like “OMG gross!”

Reciprocity, baby.Raven Pat Your Weave Girl

Anyway, I went home empty-handed and alone, but somehow it still felt like Christmas. The system is down but there’s something bigger that’s twinkling the tinsel and jollying the holly. There’s fewer of us than there were last year, there were no over-sized boxes (aside from diapers. Y’all we talked about poop SO MUCH. SO MUCH TALKING ABOUT BABY SHIT). But that attention-hog baby, this new human, made all the difference. And to me, it gives the holiday a different meaning, it gives bringing joy to my family a whole new bent.

Before the trip, I told myself, “I’m going home with no packages and no partner and I’m going to walk right in and introduce myself to that little baby human. ‘Hello. Congratulations, I am your gay uncle. I don’t have a present for you but you wouldn’t remember it anyway. I just want you to know that as your gay uncle it’s my responsibility to make life fabulous for you. And so I’m going to do that. I’m going to buy you noisy birthday presents and Skype you from exotic locales, like San Francisco or Michael Liang’s apartment. I’m going to introduce you to the concept of brunch and slip you money when your dad isn’t looking. I’m going to talk to you about dating and relationships like you’re a real person even though that will be mortifyingly embarrassing for you. And, most of all, I’m going keep working to make the world a just, welcoming, beautiful place for you. And for myself. Because I love you already. And I love myself today. My gift to you is my presence. And it’s a good present because it means that from this moment on you know at least one queer person. And that will make you a better person, it will expand your conception of what love is, of what humanity can be. It will save you from close-mindedness and hate and put compassion and justice in their places. And the relationship that we build will open you up to so many other wonderful people that live in this huge, beautiful world. I want you to meet them. That’s my present to you. And you should know: we’re serious about gifts in this family.'”

Epilogue:

At least, that’s what I intended to say to him. But, y’all, I was just thunderstruck by this little baby. I fell back into my Diva Coma. I gathered him up in my arms and trotted around my brother’s living room, just murmuring with joy until the baby fell asleep. I abandoned all pretenses of monologuing, I ceded all focus, I genuflected to this little person who isn’t even caught up the latest episodes of Orphan Black and, therefore, is completely incapable of holding intelligent discourse. I’ve become that person. That uncle who is obsessed with his nephew, that guy who floods his Instagram with pictures of someone else’s progeny. Is it possible that I am the nuvo homo? Could such a thing occur?

1525723_10153643807665252_1094684324_nOn Christmas morning, I held the baby as he slept, a tiny little snoring present. I whispered in his ear, “Hi. Congratulations. I am your gay uncle. Could you, maybe, call up to the baby Heaven, if you still remember the number? Could you ask them to maybe send a miracle just like you to my house? No time soon, but one day. Please?”

GUYS! I’m going to have a baby!

rericthomas.com

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Race Or Whatever

Om Nom Nom Nom Nom

So, The Hunger Games, talk about a bait and switch. I didn’t read the books but I made sure to see the movie because I thought it was about a sassy independent woman named Katniss who is trying to diet down to her birth weight to win the love of Gale, a blood diamond magnate, all while being plied with carbs by a sinister doll-faced baker who harbors a slightly creepy love. Apparently, I was wrong. I am using italics to telegraph my disapproval.

Despite the italics, I did enjoy The Hunger Games. I love any movie about food. And I know that The Hunger Games is not technically about food so much as it’s about a totalitarian state that has lost its humanity to an obsession with status, leisure and possessions. Or whatever. But I try not to pay attention to that and focus on the food. Trust me, if you take away the carnage, The Hunger Games is basically an episode of Chopped.

Anyway, to kick off the Thanksgiving holiday, I went to see the Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire. I felt it was an appropriate choice given that Thanksgiving is the greatest eating holiday of the year. I enjoyed it too, even though there was much less food in it. It was like my favorite episode of Lost plus my favorite episode of Project: Runway plus Stanley Tucci’s cackle times two hours of unrelenting human cruelty. So, a great time  for the whole family.

Caesar

Best part, that bit where the island starts spinning. Thrilling! I was like, “Oh, I know what’s happening, Desmond forgot to put the numbers into the computer on time. Katniss needs to go to the Swan station and punch in 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 and then Capote will stop spinning the island. That crazy Capote.”

When they make a Hunger Games amusement park I hope that’s one of the rides. But, now that I think about it (I try not to put any thought whatsoever into what I write before I write it. That’s my process.) a Hunger Games amusement park is the absolute last place on Earth I’d like to go. 1) Everything will probably kill you; 2) The concession stands will likely be empty.

Unless, of course, it’s an amusement park modeled after the Capitol. That would be fun, if morally awkward. (BTW, “Fun, if morally awkward” is what it reads on my tramp stamp. The more you know.)smileson

Speaking of the Capitol, can we talk about Capote some more? When Plutarch Heavensbee (Lord,  these names. So ethnic!) showed up I was like, “Is Phillip Seymour Hoffman confused? Why is he not wearing a costume? Did he just wander on to the set after teaching a class at Fordham called ‘Symposium on Rumples and Sighs’? Is he cameoing as himself? ” Elizabeth Banks spent 6 hours in the makeup chair (those eyelashes! I die!) and he’s picking a blazer from his personal collection, running a comb through his hair and showing up looking non-plussed. There are no plusses in that scene. He’s like “Hi, I’m Oscar-winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Pleased to meet me. Where do I stand? Never mind; doesn’t matter. I’ll stand wherever I want.” Meanwhile, Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence is dressed like a character from Zoobilee Zoo and going through the nine stages of struggleface and Elizabeth Banks is in the background lip-synching for her life. She is giving you everything! Hair! Glitter! Curtains! Sashay, you stay, Banks.

effie_mahoganyI do find it confusing that her character’s name is Effie Trinket because I always think of Effie White from Dreamgirls and then I think Is JHud here? IS JHUD GOING TO SING?! Which is, I guess, my one criticism of the Hunger Games movies: they don’t have enough moments where JHud enters, the screen goes dark, she looks directly into the camera and sings the hell out of a ballad. Maybe in Mockingjay.

Despite my love for Effie, I think my favorite character is Peeta because in every scene his primary motivation is to get back to baking bread. This is a man who has priorities (And a pretty, pretty face. And absolutely no survival skills. But such a pretty face.) His life is on the line and he’s like “Challah anyone? Freshly baked challah.”peeta

My second favorite character is Finnick, a man who just fucking eats sugar cubes because he can. This guy knows how to live. Plus, he’s like a strangely appealing tornado of sex appeal, cuddly grandma love, and probably diabetes. That’s exactly what I search for on OkCupid ever damn day. As God as my witness, one day I will be Mrs. Finnick O’Dair-Thomas and we will feast on sugar cubes and wear rock candy necklaces forever!Finnick

My least favorite characters are Rue and Beede because I imagined them as blacker.

I’m kidding, INTERNET.

Anyway, what am I talking about? This post isn’t even about the Hunger Games; it’s about food. TWIST! ::cue Lost sound effect and tinkling bells::

Actually, can I be serious for a minute? I know this blog isn’t really the place for seriousness, but I do have a rather sober thought.

Wait, before I get serious, I just want to say that my favorite scene in Catching Fire is the one where Peeta gets electrified and Finnick has to give him CPR because obviously. I love how they edited it so craftily; one gets the impression that Finnick is giving Peeta mouth-to-mouth but there isn’t ever a clear shot of it. Probably because the GIF of their lips touching would break the internet. When I become an overnight singing sensation I’m going to perform at the VMAs in front of a video where Finnick breathes life into Peeta’s obviously Burt’s Bees’ smothered lips on loop.

Okay, now seriousness.

Just kidding! Here’s a GIF of a cat who was shocked by my sudden change of topic!

shockedcat

But seriously. Catching Fire was surprisingly heavy. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at how heavy it was; it’s a movie about kids locked in a stadium and told to kill each other. I’m just saying, it’s not exactly Best Man Holiday. It’s weird to claim that I enjoyed a movie that I grimaced through the whole time. And I kind of wonder what it says about our culture that this mentally taxing, dystopian film is such a massive blockbuster.

I found the scene where Gale was whipped to be especially disturbing. It took me by surprise, too. This was the first time I’d seen on-screen whipping since seeing 12 Years A Slave and the combined effect of those two paeans to human darkness really threw me for a loop.

I saw 12 Years the week before. For a month everyone my Facebook had been saying “Oh, you must see this movie! It will destroy you.” But I couldn’t really find a clear spot in my schedule for utter psychological collapse until mid-way through November.

I’ve been trying for weeks to find words to write about the movie but I think I’m just going to give up. It destroyed me. And there’s absolutely no way I can write about it on my ridiculous whimsical blog. I sat, hunched forward, arms crossed through the entire movie. I held my breath. It was oppressive. And the minute the screen went blank and the credits started, I burst into tears. Like sobbing. It would’ve been embarrassing except the theater was full of crying people. The place was a disaster. Even as I fell forward, keening, I started thinking about the kids at the concessions stand. What must it be like to work at a place where every 2 and a half hours, 100 people have complete breakdowns? It was like a psych ward.

I could not stop crying. My friend Daniel sat next to me and rubbed my arm. I’m glad he was there because what I really wanted to do was lie down on the floor and ugly cry. Like I desperately wanted to melt out of my chair and just lay my face in the puddle of tears and popcorn butter and mourn.

This is me after the movie ended:crying

This is me 10 minutes after the movie ended:Crying3

This is me 20 minutes after the movie ended:crying2

This is me the next day:Oprahcry4

I want so much to write about that movie but I just… I have no words. So, I’ll tell you this Thanksgiving story instead:

As every year, I had Thanksgiving at my parents house. In the past, I’ve gotten in trouble for “talking to my friends on the Internet” about the people who gave birth to me, so let’s say I’m not talking about my parents. Let’s say I’m talking about Cliff and Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Show. Anyway, it was a nice intimate dinner, just Cliff and Clair, my brother Theo and me, Lisa Bonet.

This is what happens when we discuss my 401k.

This is what happens when we discuss my 401k.

My mother cooks every year, using recipes from a huge binder that she’s been compiling since before I was born. Every year she makes the same thing, so the binder isn’t full of new recipes but rather the same recipes copied over. My grandmother’s rolls recipe in her handwriting, then in my mother’s handwriting, then typed. My aunt’s orange jello recipe photocopied, revised. The stuffing recipe in my mother’s perfect penmanship, then in my teenage scrawl from the year I was entrusted with making it and decided to revise it, then the same recipe typed up from the year we got a computer and a printer.

SECRET FAMILY RECIPE

SECRET FAMILY RECIPE

My mother makes and revises a schedule for Thanksgiving dinner preparation every year, mapping out her plan up to a week in advance. And she saves each year’s schedule, and each year the binder grows. In the back of the binder she keeps the Christmas recipes, the Christmas schedules and every person’s Christmas wish list from every year. And so the binder has become a sort of family history through food, a beautiful scrapbook of our traditions. Nowadays, when we don’t see each other but a few times a year, the binder represents the thread that ties us together even when we’re physically apart.

After dinner this year, Theo went to work (he’s a detective, like a real one, not just a nosey person who watches too much of The Closer like I am) and Cliff and Clair and I retired to the living room to watch TV. Clair had DVR’d an episode of The Big Bang Theory that she really wanted me to watch. Like, she was serious about it. She’d texted me twice to let me know we’d be watching it. After that episode, we switched to TVOne where they were playing old Thanksgiving episodes from The Cosby Show, A Different World, and Living Single. 

rollsI was immediately taken back to a time when my conception of the world, of my place in the world as a black person, was shaped by the people I saw on TV. Inasmuch as 12 Years A Slave destroyed me, The Cosby Show made me by portraying a black family that loved each other, laughed with each other, and wasn’t weighed by oppression. It was liberating and it created a place for me that didn’t exist in the world I knew outside of our happy, literate, talkative home.

macandcheese Similarly, A Different World created a cultural reference point that, with every episode, made me feel more and more in touch with–for lack of a better term–my people. On the night that Whitley was supposed to get married and Dwayne Wayne burst into the ceremony and objected, Clair and I were at Security Square Mall (the black mall), and we stood at the window of a Montgomery Ward store with a crowd of maybe 15, 20 other people watching the now-iconic scene take place, watching Diahann Carroll scream “Die, just die” as Dwayne came running down the aisle. The store manager turned off the TVs just before the end of the episode because they were closing so, of course, we rioted.

At my parents’ house, we eat Thanksgiving dinner at a big wooden table. Just before we sat down, my mother came in and surveyed the room. “Oh no! I didn’t even put on the nice tablecloth,” she said. I replied. “It’s fine. No need to put on airs.” She said to me, “At my age, airs means gas.” We sometimes speak in punchlines.

My mother would like you to know that this is not the fancy tablecloth.

My mother would like you to know that this is not the fancy tablecloth.

We all sat down to eat, my father said grace, and we dug in. We talked about work, we talked about my other brother’s newborn baby, we told old stories we’ve all heard before. We re-wove the fabric of our history, our present and our future, over food.

On the wall behind the big wooden table, my mother has mounted two photographs of a dilapidated gray shack. This is the slave cabin that my great-grandfather was born in. It still stands today in Virginia. My mother and father visited about 10 years ago. It’s no bigger than a common half-bathroom. It’s slats don’t look like they kept out the wind or the rain or the heat. I sat at my parents table, beneath this picture, eating the food that symbolizes our shared heritage, and as with every year I felt the loving embrace of my childhood home, the familiarity of old patterns, the excitement of new ideas. But more than anything I felt grateful. I felt grateful to be free.

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