What? No Turkey?

world_cow.jpgToday is Thanksgiving holiday and we are not having turkey for dinner. Instead, we are having beef steak, potatoes and apple pie. Blasphemy? But isn’t beef as American as apple pie or Chevrolets?

There is a reason for this avoidance of the bird that shares its name with a brand of bourbon. We already had our turkey day last Saturday. Yes, on a Sabbath, at a friend’s home and whose heritage is linked with the Star of David. We had a great time on that Sabbath day. We stole that day and made it our own. Well, at least the bird was kosher, having been blessed by a Rabi.

This made me think of what is the meaning of holidays and traditions. I am sure most of us don’t care. We just use them as excuses to eat and drink. Most of us work so hard during the year that these few days of holidays are welcome breaks from our normal routines. But if you think about them, they are days that someone has set aside to remember something important in their lives. These are days that celebrate events that bond us as part of a family, group, society, nation, the world.

Thinking about me personally, I have only one set of holidays that I follow closely at heart – birthdays. Birthdays are days that have something in common: They are days that celebrate the birth of relatives and friends. They celebrate the beginning of life of people we care dearly.

So, on that note, what holidays do you follow closely?

Have a great turkey day (eh, steak day).

Age has its privilege….Not!

23116682.jpgYesterday I received the premiums renewal notice from my beloved health maintenance organization (HMO). To say that I jumped through the roof is a misnomer. The increase in premium was almost a $100 per month over the cost of my current monthly premium. Part of the reason for the increase is that I have been reclassified to a different age group. No, not to a younger group (unless I am in a parallel universe).

So, I have to decide what to do. Again, one of those left-right brain decision moments. Is it worth paying $1200 more a year? Huh, that amount would be enough for a nice vacation trip to another exotic land? Veracruz, Mexico? It may be for a new HDTV for my bedroom? I may need to start working again. My partner is laughing at me. “Here you go again, he says….And how much do you have in your financial portfolio?” I don’t know what I’ll do yet. I need to decide how much risk I am willing to take. The HMO offered me cheaper options, but it also means higher deductibles. In the end, that is what insurance companies do, right? Trying to sell you a product based on your fears of losing something.

This renewal notice induced my brain to have a flashback of a TV commercial that I saw a long time ago. It was also about an insurance company. In that commercial, a younger woman beats an older woman to a parking spot. The younger woman tells the older woman that she is younger and faster. The older woman then rams the younger woman’s car, and tells the younger woman that she is older and richer (or something to that effect). So, we are back to that notion that seems to pervade continually through my life nowadays – I am older and could certainly afford to pay for it. Who said that being older has its privileges? Sure, the privilege of paying more.

Are we really that thankful (or there is a religion among our midst)

villagepeople.jpgThe thanksgiving holiday is arriving next week. For most of us, it is mainly eating turkey and more turkey. Then, we sit down in front of the TV to watch the football games. Gosh, if we call soccer the football games in other parts of the world, what do they call our games?

Anyway, it made me think about the roots of the holiday. That is, the original pilgrims being thankful for having a place to practice their views of Christianity. As someone who grew up amidst the stark plain Wesleyan symbol of the cross (as compared with the ritual rich predominant Catholic church), I kind of I relate to their situation.

But that was then, this is now. Christianity, like all religions that believe in a single creator, attracts fanatical groupies. That is, their view is either you are with us or you are against us. Sam Harris, in his book titled “The End of Faith,” criticizes most of us (that is, those with moderate religious beliefs) for allowing the extremist to take over. He is also critical of Islam, claiming that we are apologist for tolerating a religion that is quite unitary on its belief. Hence, he said, you don’t see Buddhist believers blowing themselves up. For more info, you can check Sam Harris’ website.

Being a gay man who grew up in a fundamentalist environment, I have been quite timid in criticizing the religious belief of others. Maybe I fear that if I rock the boat, I may be pushed overboard and drown in a sea of intolerance. But that is something I should be mindful of. I should speak my mind and not allow someone who carries intolerant belief get away with it. Because in the end, they may win and we become their slaves. Witness the recent events in Denmark. If we, as members of a western civilization that believes in secular forms of government, don’t stand up to defend the pillars of our democracies, then the religious extremists have won the day.

I am not a walking ATM (part 2)

reginald003.jpgIt is time for me to write my view on the subject of gay men entering into relationships with men in, shall we say, economically challenged foreign countries. Is this subject a complicated one? Yes and no. How complicated can it be for you to read your spreadsheet and check how much foreign (or local) aid you have been providing?

The belief in a capitalist system is that there should be a free exchange of goods and services. Viewed as this, all human emotions would have an economic value assigned to them. Certainly, one of the most sacred institutions, marriage, has an economic value assigned to it. Otherwise, why some parties have prenuptial agreements? Otherwise, why divorce is one of the most rewarding fields for law professionals?

Likewise, the plain simple view of such same-sex relationships is that they are mainly relationships based on economic benefits. The older richer man gets the emotional needs that is lacking in a youth-oriented, looks-dependent, society. The younger poorer man gets help in advancing through life. Shades of ancient Greek or Chinese traditions?

If so, then why it is that in today’s gay society, most people whisper about such relationships. “Oh, did you hear that Harry is keeping that young thing from Senegal?” “…and how much did you send this week?”

It is my opinion that this is more a reflection of what we view as egalitarian love. As Anthony’s article pointed out, our brains have the notion that the impulses of our loins are connected with the impulses of our brain. We view the attention being given by the other person as an assertion of who we are. Like the title of this essay, we think it is “us” and not the “ATM card” that what our partner wants. We are therefore hurt when our wallets are constantly being pulled out. We start thinking of him as a thief.

But if you view the situation from the other side, what you may see is nothing really that evil. There may be actual affection hidden in the overall cries for economic help. When he calls you “daddy,” he may actually and figuratively think of you as a father figure. He may view you as an anchor in an otherwise hostile society. It may be an illusion. Still, in societies who are hostile to same sex relationships, the idea of having stable friend/partner/husband/wife from a foreign land is quite alluring. It may provide some stability.

So, what shall we do then? Is it love? Is it an endless drain on your ATM card? It depends on what we are seeking. If we are seeking someone who “loves” us unconditionally, then, we will stumble and fail. If we are seeking companionship with mutual benefits, then, it may work. It may work so long as you know how to budget yourself. It may work so long as he knows and respects those limits. Like all relationships, it may work if we understand them better.

I am not a walking ATM (part 1)

bangkok boxerWith permission from Anthony, the owner of Monaga’s blog (see my links), I am reposting a blog entry that he wrote about a common occurrence with foreign gay men in Santo Domingo. It is the first of a series of blog entries that I plan to write. Mainly, they deal with subject that affects a lot of gay men seeking companionship or love in relatively poorer countries – Whether that adoring man is actually in love with me or with my ATM?

Here is Anthony’s view:

Naive or Stupid?
Suppose you are someone past the age of going out clubbing regularly. You have heard about the Dominican Republic, and wanted to visit. But, you are not the type of person to “pay” for sex in the conventional way. You used to have a lover (whose schooling you paid for), go to the gym regularly and generally are well put together.

You book your trip and visit Santo Domingo. You go out to the bars and clubs and are overwhelmed. Too many people are begging and pestering you and quite frankly you find the whole thing unseemly. Just as you are writing an email to tell friends that though the men in Santo Domingo are beautiful, you are put off by the whole “pay” thing.

Through some acquaintances you are introduced to a young man that you find attractive. He is not only very handsome, but has a very nice personality. Over the next several days you get to know each other better. He tells you very personal things about himself, and listen as you reveal some intimate details about your life.

You go back home and you and he conduct a very expensive long-distance telephone relationship. You are convinced that this young man is genuine. You believe that he couldn’t lie, even if he tried. He tells you about his family situation and you can hear him crying softly through the phone. Slowly, you begin to think that this young man really cares for you.

Now, back in the real world you are by nature a pessimist. Your bullshit detector is always set on high, and you pride yourself with being able to spot someone quickly who is trying to take advantage of you. You are the master of telling everyone what they should be doing in their own lives, quick to give advice if you think a friend is being naive and acting irrationally.

Then you begin to send money to your new “friend.” And, you won’t tell people that actual amount, because you know how ridiculous it is. You tell everyone that you are just want to help him get his life together, but he doesn’t work, nor go to school, and he thinks you have so much money he thinks it is a waste of time anyway. I mean, one day he will be living in the States, right?

While you are thinking this young man is just great and maybe someone you can spend the rest of your life with, things begin to happen that you choose to ignore. You find out his nickname for you is “Banco Popular.” He is now fixated on “things” he needs. In the beginning you are happy to send him money. I mean, you can afford it. So what if he is only in his late teens, you are now about to hit 50. He cares for you and you know it. He has told you things that he has never told anyone. You can see he cares for you in his eyes, the way he caresses you, the way he softly cries when he is asking for money over the phone.

The friends you tell about your new love are supportive. They know you are lonely and feel that if makes you happy, well… They just want to know why do you have to send him so much money. Then as the trips progress, you start noticing changes in his behavior. He has become much more materialistic. Before when you brought gifts he was glad to get them. Now, he looks at the bottom of the Jordan’s and tell you that these are from last year and he can’t wear them. You were at Target at bought some cologne, but you made the mistake of getting him some Perry Ellis. When he comes over with his friends so that he can impress them with all the gifts “Banco Popular” has given him, they laugh when you walk out the room. None of them had ever heard of Perry Ellis. I mean, nobody raps about him in hip-hop.

Something happens, though very slowly. You know deep in your soul that something isn’t right, but you don’t want to admit it to yourself. You start to think about all that you had planned for him. How you were going to make his life better. But, you also notice how he is now starting to resent you, because you have placed conditions on the money you send. Though he doesn’t like them, he agrees to whatever you want because he wants to get all the money “Banco Popular” can send and bring to him.

You have all this money and success, but you finally come to the realization that it CAN’T buy you love and happiness. You have been using your money as a sword over his head to do whatever you wanted him to do. You thought somehow your money would make him “want” to be with you.

Then it happens, you find out you have been taken advantage of. Now, you are angry. Why didn’t anyone say anything to you. Well, they did, remember? The problem was you didn’t want to hear it.

The lesson has been learned (right???). It makes no difference how much money you have, you can’t make anyone love you. But, you damn sure can buy some great sex!

Slow curtain, the end…

On Being a Groupie (Or the Saga of Windjammer Barefoot Cruises)

MandalayI am tired about talking about me. So, let’s talk about something else. A couple of months ago, a friend and I took a cruise on the S/V Mandalay, a semi-sailing ship that is part of Windjammer Barefoot Cruises (WJ). I say semi-sailing ship because although it has sails, they are barely used.  Wind is an unreliable power source for a cruise ship, especially when passengers have expectations of arriving at destinations. We cruised the San Blas area of Panama. It is a beautiful area, with dotted little sandy beaches.

What we did not realize when we took the cruise was that the company was in dire financial distress. It was offering very cheap, last minute, fares in order to continue operating; notwithstanding its loyal group of passengers. This customer base likes the illusion and fantasy of being on a sailing ship as imaginary pirates. They keep coming for more and more. It is close to being in a cult. It is as if Jim Jones put a spell on them. See the flotilla.

Windjammer’s saga is the common story of children fighting for the control of their parents’ business. The children of Mike Burke, the founder, have provided enough material for the production of “Falcon Crest by the Sea.” You can see a version of the story being played in a Miami court here: Pdf copy of complaint.

But the real saga is the loyal passengers. I can understand how you can get addicted to a drug, but be addicted to an illusion of being a pirate on a sailing ship? If Mike Burke was a preacher, I bet a lot of these passengers would have followed ala Jim Jones. I am glad that we got to cruise once on his ships.  I can smell the spell: The captain’s hour, the playing of Amazing Grace constantly, the illusion of pulling the sails, the feeling that you are part of a happy crew. Oh well, illusions are illusions. The problem is when illusions make you shed tons of money, specifically the failed “LaMer” scheme of buying a timeshare on a converted sailing ship. Even then, those “investors,” who may never see a refund of their money, are still hoping that the magic will continue.

Who said magic did not exist?  

Our dog is staring out of the window

sf.jpgIt is around noon time. Sunny outside. Perfect Autumn weather. Leaves dropping from the Oak trees. Trees getting ready for hibernation. Our dog Sophie is gazing out of our living room’s window. Because I don’t understand dog language, I always ponder as to what she is thinking. It may be mainly pure instict. It may be thoughts of how to catch that little squirrel who seems to always getting away. Sometimes, I wonder whether she is a big cat in dog’s clothing.

Sophie came to our lives recently. There is a space compartment of her earlier years that we know nothing about. We inherited her. When I gaze at her, I feel sadness knowing that she may have had a hard life in the beginning. She was sent twice to a dog’s homeless shelter. We can’t really see what is wrong with her, short of that she is a normal female dog. That is, a bitch.

It is strange how a pet changes your life. Before Sophie came over, my partner and I did a lot of activities separately. She kind of forced us to do more things together…to feel more like a family. Yes, it is quite strange to be bonded by a living creative who can’t speak English or any other kind of human language.

Sophie is fortunate for having been born in an industrialized country where its citizens have the time and resources to pamper her. I recently read a news article indicating that in this county of ours, there is 1 pet for every 5 humans. It is as if we have a group of aliens co-existing with us constantly. I hope Sophie knows how fortunate she is now. Having travelled and lived in other countries, I know that dogs are not so kindly treated. I still wonder why they stick with us. Easy handouts?