Saturday, August 27, 2016

This is what happened when I clapped at Cher's Donald Trump takedown

I've never been much of a clapper. I have very vivid memories of Sunday morning song services at church when, try as I might, I could never quite get the rhythm of the Holy Spirit down.

Occasionally, I've clapped along at concerts (more-than-once again, generally just missing the beat) and before and after speeches and rah-rah announcements. But I've always felt a bit awkward putting my hands together.

So I don't know what possessed me to clap this past week during my showbiz segment on Nine News Now's mid-afternoon broadcast. I was talking about Cher's spectacular moment at a Massachusetts fundraiser when she compared U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump to Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin.

"Preach it, Cher," I said while clapping awkwardly at the end of the Cher portion of the segment.

"Preach it, Cher"? 

Who told me to say that? Amber, the newsreaders seemed amused, which is always a good thing (LOVE her), but really, "Preach it, Cher"?

It wasn't long before I got a second reaction to my "Preach it, Cher"? This one wasn't as positive as Amber's. It was from someone who shared my first name and who thought I deserved to be out of a job for my gross misconduct.

But it wasn't the clapping or the "Preach it, Cher" that he objected to. It was the fact that I had clearly shown my disdain for Donald Trump.


"You are a terrible reporter and a bias one! I hope Channel 9 wakes up and fires you!" he wrote underneath some pro-Trump propaganda.

Now I have received my share of hate letters, hate emails and hate comments over the long course of my journalism career. That comes from the territory when you write about such divisive tops as race, sexuality and celebrities. But in a country (Australia) where I've yet to meet a single person who gets Donald Trump, I certainly wasn't expecting a simple "Preach it, Cher" to get such a vitriolic response.

I wonder what he thought of the clapping.

video

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Work(out) from home: Going to the gym is the worst part of going to the gym

In the immortal words of Saturday Night Live's Roseanna Roseanadana (RIP Gilda Radner), it's always something. If it isn't one thing, it's another. That's been the case pretty much every place I've lived over the course of the last decade.

In Argentina, it was the obsession with bureaucracy, which made pretty much everything, from ordering a drink in a nightclub to selling your apartment, an unnecessarily drawn-out process. Oh, and it was also the crime, often within the very halls of the bureaucracy.

In Thailand, it was the enforced patriotism, which made it compulsory to stand in cinemas while the national anthem played before movies. It also made publicly uttering a negative word about the king a punishable offense.

In South Africa, it was the segregation. A city as colorful as Cape Town was still so black and white.

In Australia, it's the rules and regulations that govern practically everything you do. Big Brother is always watching and waving his finger. You can be fined up to $200 for jaywalking and up to $500 for cursing in public or "offensive behavior."

In inner Sydney, you can't legally purchase alcohol from a bottle shop after 10pm, buy a shot after midnight (in those bars that are still open!), or enter a nightclub after 1.30am. No wonder they call it a nanny state… though the nanny is more like stern, humorless George Banks than Marry Poppins.

Here in Sydney, even an everyday workout can be ruined by rules, regulations, and a rigid, by-the-book attitude (the three R's) that contradicts the carefully manufactured carefree Aussie image.

That's precisely what led me to write the complaint below to my gym, Anytime Fitness.

Hello. I have been a member of Anytime Fitness for almost exactly one year, and up to now, I have been relatively happy with your services. But this morning, around 4am, I went to the Hyde Park Sydney branch for a workout, and it was an absolute disaster.

First of all, the music was blaring so loudly that I couldn't hear myself counting my reps in my head, and there was no way to turn it down... or off. Second, unlike the other Anytime gyms I've been to, there was no sign informing members of the WiFi code. No Spotify playlist for me!

But the part that really infuriated me is that when it was time for me to leave, my locker code would not work. I have been using the same code for an entire year, and it always worked before. I don't know why it didn't this morning, but I'm certain it was not because I'd forgotten or incorrectly inputted a combination of numbers that I've been using since the dawn of time.

I had to call the after-hours service and pay $70 for someone to retrieve a key from the office a few metres away from the locker. This is unacceptable. There are signs all over the gym governing the conduct of members. But where is your accountability for your own equipment?


Normally I probably wouldn't even have used a locker at 4 in the morning. But a sign on one of the boards warning members of an intruder who has been stealing from Anytime branches put the fear of robbery in me, so I secured my belongings.

I know you pretty much wash your hands of responsibility for anything that happens outside of regular business hours, but that doesn't seem appropriate for a gym whose prime selling point is its 24-hour access. As for the lockers themselves, if a branch is going to hold members responsible for any difficulties in unlocking them outside of normal business hours, the least that branch can do is provide lockers that allow members to use their own locks rather than a built-in coding system that is not infallible.

I am seriously considering cancelling my membership after my experience today. But first, I'd like to discuss how we might be able to rectify this situation.

Jeremy Helligar

I spent most of the day after sending my complaint mentally debating whether I wanted to go back to that particular branch while waiting for a response. I'm glad I decided to return the following morning around 4am. When I walked in I saw the night patrol guy who had opened my locker the previous day. He was doing the same for another member. A rush of vindication swept over me.

"Did you have trouble opening your locker?" I asked the annoyed member, who was Asian and spoke very broken English.

"Yes, I did," he replied, nodding, as the patrol guy shot me a look of recognition.

"The same thing happened to me yesterday. Did you have locker 69? That's the one I couldn't open."

"No, I had locker number 71."

"I guess they're all undependable. I've already filed a complaint with management."

"So will I. I can't believe they charge $70. That's enough to buy a t-shirt in Australia!"

After he walked away, I decided to check my Facebook page to see if anyone else had had after-hours locker issues. Surprise!...


Clearly someone's been sleeping on the job. Here comes the wake-up bomb.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

My Australian TV debut

On Monday, May 30, 2016, I made a comeback of sorts while breaking new ground. For the first time since leaving New York City nearly 10 years ago, I filmed a TV spot. It was also my first appearance on Australian TV (discounting the Janet Jackson E! True Hollywood Story from ages ago that apparently still occasionally runs down under).

I was invited to discuss the breaking celebrity news of the day on Nine Network's afternoon news show, Nine News Now. It wasn't just a random appearance. The entertainment website I edit, TheFIX, and Nine Network, are both owned by the same company, Nine, so it all came together in a perfect storm of synergy.

Although my performance received excellent reviews (I've been invited to return two times next week), I know there is plenty of room for improvement. It was only the second time, I've ever taped a TV spot alone in a room (the other time was when I did a point-counterpoint segment for Fox in New York City after the Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake Super Bowl XXXVIII Nipplegate scandal in 2004).

So if you notice I keep looking off to the side, it's because I was focusing on the camera where the anchor was visible rather than the one straight ahead (a common rookie mistake, I'm told), and of course, there's the issue of my voice. Does anyone ever love the sound of their own voice once they've heard how other people hear it?

Oh, well. We live and learn and improve...hopefully by next week.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Croatia, land of a thousand Ivans

Names are funny things... and I'm thoroughly obsessed with them. These tags that are assigned to us shortly after birth often end up becoming pivotal to our personalities and in some cases, a kind of aphrodisiac. There's nothing sexier than a sexy moniker.

Have you ever noticed how some people actually possess certain characteristics associated with their names? Is a Victor or a Victoria ever a loser? Is an Elizabeth ever less than regal...or a Katherine/Katharine/Catherine/Kate/Cate? Have you ever met a Ryan, a Brendan, a Matias, a Federico, or a Nathan who wasn't hot? Is Alex (male or female) ever a dummy?

I once dated another Jeremy in New York City when I was in my early twenties, and I was convinced we wouldn't work because we were too much alike. We didn't.

I've been sizing up names for much of my adult life, but I'd never given much thought to Ivan...until last week. Although Ivan was my favorite character in The Brothers Karamazov, I can only remember meeting one in real life, shortly after I moved to Buenos Aires. It was a good date, and he was certainly cute, but he was no Matias or Federico.

The name was most significant to me as an Eastern European equivalent of John, Juan, Ian, Sean, Shaun, Shawn, Shane, Giovanni, Gianni, Jan, Johann, Hans, and Jean. Then I went to Croatia and everything changed. After my first encounter with an Ivan (who quickly pointed out the "John" connection), it seemed like I couldn't get out of bed without meeting another one. Soon it became a thing. I'd walk up to random guys and ask if they were named Ivan.

Often the were. The only other name I stumbled upon as frequently was Ivica (pronounced like Evita Peron's first name with an extra S: Evitsa). One Ivan worked at Sky Bar in Dubrovnik, our final destination on my birthday night. After describing Ivan as "the most common male name in Croatia," he introduced me to two of his colleagues with the same name (and an Ivica or two).

When does that ever happen? Three Ivans were working in one nightclub, all cute, all sweet, and all, sadly, straight - the latter of which applied to every Ivan (and Ivica) I met in Croatia. #Tears

Croatian Ivans and me: A photo album

Ivan No. 1 and me


Uni Ivan and me


"Skipper" Ivan and me


Toto's Ivan and me


Sky Bar Ivan No. 1 and me


Sky Bar Ivan No. 2 and me


Sky Bar Ivan No. 3 and me


Saturday, April 23, 2016

My second Spotify playlist: Prince and the divas

The untimely passing of Prince this past week has inspired countless countdowns and ruminations on the iconic artist's most unforgettable hits. My personal Prince playlist has been on repeat in my head since I learned of his death on April 21 at his home in Minneapolis at age 57. It includes some of the usual suspects ("1999," "Raspberry Beret," "Kiss," Sign o' the Times," and "Cream"), as well as some less obvious purple fare. Among them: "4 The Tears in Your Eyes," "Mountains," "I Wish U Heaven."

But if I'm being completely honest, the Prince songs that have been popping into my head most are the ones by other artists that he wrote, produced, performed on and/or financed...particularly the ones sung by fierce ruling divas. Those are the oldies but goodies that make up my second Spotify playlist.

Sadly, some of them are as elusive as the man was himself. You won't find them on Spotify, so I've left them off my second Spotify playlist and included them at the bottom of this post. Enjoy!

https://open.spotify.com/user/22lx2wfkekdhp2mtixdvc36oq/playlist/2fa6gLdvkePOg2tu7oMW1T


"101" Sheena Easton



"Time Waits for No One" Mavis Staples



"Nothing Compares 2 U" Sinead O'Connor



"On the Way Up" Elisa Fiorello




"Elephant Box" Ingrid Chavez



"I Hear Your Voice" Patti LaBelle



Sunday, April 17, 2016

My first Spotify playlist: Great underrated songs from the 1970s




https://open.spotify.com/user/22lx2wfkekdhp2mtixdvc36oq/playlist/5B5grKx4EanFuUi2UiyoQr

Things people say when they really don't care if they never see you again

If decades of living have taught me anything, it's this: People find a way to do what they really want to do, come hell, high water, or jam-packed schedules. I've known this for sure since my friend Nancy flew thousands of miles from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires in 2009 just to see me for a few days.

I'm not saying I require that level of devotion from all my friends - or any of them. What I am saying is if you can't see me, or don't want to, fine. You don't have to. Just hold the lame excuses. I'd almost always rather be alone than be in the company of someone who's not truly psyched to be there.

But if we both want to be in the same room (preferably one that's empty to underpopulated), and distance isn't keeping us apart, more than a few days certainly won't.

Maybe I'm alone in this, but I doubt it. It's OK if you don't really care whether you ever see me again, so there's no need to drop hackneyed excuses. My bullshit detector has become infallible over years of lame excuses, partly because I've been guilty of going there myself.

But I've learned to say "Hello/ Goodbye" and move on without phony, platitudinous commentary, and I'm working on how to graciously and firmly decline invitations without falling back on any of the old excuses of which I've grown so weary.

Yes, I know non-committal when I hear or read it. Here are 8 of the more egregious, obvious, and annoying examples...


1. "When am I going to see you?" I feel the same about this as I do about "Can I kiss you?" - a question, by the way, that someone actually placed to me several weeks ago, as if we were in a 1960s black and white movie, or he was "Sash" propositioning Sam Frost on The Bachelorette Australia.

If, you have to ask, well, you've already got your answer...and it's not "Yes," or anytime in the immediate future. A real man (or woman) just makes these things happen.

My friend Zena recently sent me a surprise email proposing some dates when she can fly from Chicago to Australia to hang out with me (the weekend after I return form holiday in Croatia - i.e., more good times ahead!). And that, folks, is how you show someone you really care.

2. "Where have you been hiding?" In these days of social media, everyone knows exactly where everyone has been hiding and what they've been doing there. If you're truly interested, you wouldn't have to ask.

3. "I hope I see you soon." Because that's the sort of thing over which we have absolutely no control. "Soon" - as in "Talk soon!" - is the kiss of death for hopes of any future engagement.

4. "Things are crazy right now."/ "I'm really busy over the next few days/weeks/months/years." This hasn't been a valid excuse since the time Phil Collins played two Live Aid concerts on two different continents in one day. People make time to do the things they're dying to do.

5. "Let's keep in touch." So quaint, so pre-Facebook. Nowadays, you don't even have to try... hard. So if you still have to suggest it, you probably know neither one of you will likely make the effort.

6. "Text/ Message me." The millennial version of "Give me a call." And in 2016, the implication remains the same as it was in 1996: When someone leaves the ball in your court, it's there for a reason. Game over.

7. "I have a birthday dinner." Right up there with "The dog ate my homework" in the pantheon of lame excuses. It's so Buenos Aires, and, sadly, so Sydney. Yes, these things happen. But if they happen all the time, then how deep and meaningful are these friendships? Will your absence really be missed by one of a million mates? I have a theory: The more birthday dinners you "have to" go to, the fewer you're likely required, or even expected, to attend.

8. "Take care" - or as they say in Buenos Aires, "Cuidate!" "Have a good life"... without the animosity.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Twinkle, twinkle lucky star: Merle Haggard, 1937-2016

Today I found out Merle Haggard died, and 12 hours later, I'm probably more devastated than I was at the moment of impact. I haven’t been so affected by a country music passing since Tammy Wynette’s death nearly 20 years ago (and incidentally, Merle’s tribute to Tammy remains, for me, one of the most memorable parts of her televised funeral).

Why am I especially blue when we've already lost so many greats in the first three months of 2016? I’m not entirely sure. I can’t say Merle’s songs saved me (as everyone crawls out of the woodwork claiming whenever any iconic figure dies), nor would I even count him among my Top 10 all-time favorite country music singers.

I’m well aware of the man’s musical genius. I recently listened to countdown of the 40 biggest country music artists of the 20th century, and Merle was right up there at No. 3, behind Conway Twitty (No. 2) and Eddy Arnold (No. 1). I wouldn’t have expected anything less from the man who, along with Buck Owens (No. 10), defined country music’s Bakersfield sound in the 1960s.

But that was before my time. I arrived at the altar of Merle Haggard a decade later. He may not have saved my life, but what an impact he had on it. His music was a vital part of some of my most musically formative years, from 1979 to 1982, when country music dominated my personal playlist. I can’t imagine my pre-teens without him.

So I suppose in a sense, the passing of Merle Haggard represents yet another brick removed from my musical foundation, from my life’s foundation. It’s a reminder of my mortality, as I inch closer to my own finale, which feels like an element of a running Merle Haggard theme: the end of innocence.

This morning as I walked to work, when I was listening to “Mama Tried,” I had no idea that I was a half hour away from finding out that Merle had passed away on his 79th birthday. The tribute from his son on People.com that broke the news of his death for me probably shouldn't have come as such a shock. I knew he wasn’t in the best of health, but I always thought that he, like so many icons who have recently left us, would live forever.

Maybe I’m mourning not only the loss of Merle but also the fact that others will follow. It’s like a dark cloud following us through life. But there’s also an ever-present rainbow, a silver lining in the art they leave behind.

And Merle left a lot, but for me, his work in the late '70s and early '80s will be what I keep going back to for the rest of my life. To commemorate his life and my love of his music, here are 7 of my favorite Merle musical moments:

“Mama Tried”

“If We’re Not Back in Love by Monday”


“The Way I Am”


“Big City”


“Yesterday’s Wine”


“Going Where the Lonely Go”


“Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star”

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Notes from a bored gay black man

From my Scruff profile:

What I'm looking for…

The one.

Until I stumble upon him, sentences over monosyllabic responses, answers over questions, words over acronyms, face-to-face dates over instant hook-ups and pointless, endless chit chat. I'm not lonely or bored, so I'm not desperately seeking online pen pals. Why are guys so afraid of dates nowadays?

Let's just meet with no agenda and let the sparks fly…or not.

If you wouldn't ask it when meeting me for the first time, say, in a bar - *cough cough* "Top or bottom?" "Hung?" - then please don't ask me here. I reserve the right to be immediately turned off. If you've read this far, you don't have to ask "What are you looking for?", which, by the way, ranks among the Top 5 lamest gay-app questions. ("What's doing?" and "Horny?" round out the list, alongside the aforementioned.) Good conversation/banter is not a Q&A. I'm a journalist, so I get enough of that at work. In real life, they bore me easily, and I tune out.

Racial references are kind of icky. If you're talking to me, I assume you like black guys…or just me. .It's OK if it's just about me…better even. Can we move past "I love black guys/cocks" please? It's boring, and I never know how to respond. Have you complimented ME? If I said, "I love white guys," have I complimented every white guy?

Gay men who go to Asia and write "no Asians" in their profiles are the worst. Would you go to America and say "no Americans" or Sydney and say "no Australians"? Come on, guys. Preference is not a blockade. Racism doesn't always twirl its moustache. At least be man enough to own it. Thank you.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The one thing I never knew about straight men and women..until last night

What a difference two years and a few beers can make. In May of 2014, I wrote an essay for The Huffington Post called "5 Simple Rules for Straight Women in Gay Bars." I continue to stand by every word I wrote in that piece, but I'm finally ready to ease up a little on girls' nights out in gay bars.

Who said you can't learn crucial life lessons over beers on a Friday night?

Yesterday I was out with my friend Jose and three of his female colleagues, when what had started out as an ordinary evening at Darlo Bar unexpectedly morphed into Sexual Harassment 101.

Our party of five gained a new member when a good-looking guy who'd later introduce himself as Liam singled out one of the women in our group, clearly unaware she wasn't single. He made perfunctory small talk with the rest of us, but it was obvious where his interest lay. All hands were above the large table between them, though, so no harm done.

But the newcomer got one of the other ladies in our group thinking and then talking about boys in bars. She started complaining about men who approach uninterested women and can't get the hint…or take no for an answer.

I came in mid-monologue, so I assumed she was talking about Liam, who hardly seemed like a pushy predator. And from where I was sitting, it looked like he might have had a shot with the object of his attention, who appeared receptive to his considerable charms.

As it turned out, the monologue wasn't about Liam. He'd only inspired it. Watching him work our table, his eye on a specific prize, had gotten her thinking and talking about men and women and how difficult it can be for them to coexist in nightlife.

She described to me how hard women sometimes have it when they go out - or when they're simply in public. As she explained it, when men approach them and they're not interested, women generally react in one of two ways. They either engage him against their will (which is what she implied her co-worker was doing), or they politely inform the unwanted suitor that he's interrupted a girlfriends-only conversation (her preferred approach).

The former, I learned, is what women sometimes do to keep the peace because if they jump to the second response, guys might not take it well and resort to name-calling, slut-shaming or worse. Her words immediately made me think of my own experiences as a gay black man in gay scenes dominated by white men. Guys sometimes hit on me in the most aggressive and racially charged ways, and if I don't respond positively, they've been known to angrily hurl the N-word at me.

"I get it. I know exactly what you're talking about," I said, relieved to be on the right side of the men-can-be-such-dicks conversation.

I told her about the time I spent hours detained by the Buenos Aires police after my rejection of a man who had been harassing me in a nightclub ended in a physical altercation. (Read all about it in "The Kick Inside," a chapter from my first book, Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World .)

Not so fast.

Although surprised by my story (which included a few choice words from the angry suitor, including the N one) and appreciative of my empathy, she told me there's one big difference between my gay expat encounters and women's experiences with pushy men who can't take "not interested" for an answer.

I can respond with a swift kick in the shins, confident that if the violence escalates, I'll probably come out on the winning side. Most women, however, don't have the luxury of letting out their inner fist-fighter.

And for many women, she pointed out, the episodes aren't nearly as isolated as the ones I described. To say it happens all the time for some women wouldn't necessarily be an exercise in hyperbole.

I felt like I'd just woken up from a lengthy coma. How did I not know this? How could I miss it? I knew encounters with tacky men came with the territory of being a woman, but I wasn't aware of how regularly they had to be fended off, sometimes in the most strategic ways. I had no idea how confronting and exhausting alcohol-fueled social situations can be for women.

In my book, I wrote about being routinely touched against my will in Cambodia. I concluded that my experiences there gave me a greater understanding of what women go through, but I had a lot more to learn. There's so much that goes through a woman's mind during an encounter with a strange man that I'll never truly understand.

Considering how many close female friends I've had over the years, I couldn't believe I'd never been privy to this information. As I listened and learned last night, I realized this sort of thing must happen to them more often than I realize.

How could I not have known? Is it because when I'm out with my female friends I provide a buffer between them and would-be predators? Maybe it's the sort of thing women typically discuss amongst themselves but not with men, not even a gay one?

Don't get me wrong. I know what jerks men can be. I've heard the cat calls and witnessed the unwanted advances. I've also seen stranger-danger scenarios with sexual-assault potential, though to be completely truthful, my experience with them has been mostly from TV, movies and Amber Rose anecdotes, not from everyday civilian life.

I'd always assumed casual social encounters between women and men they didn't know were more a nuisance for women than anything else. I'd never really considered the psychological element, the fear factor.

I looked at Liam again. He was still cute and charming as ever, but I couldn't get the P word (predator) out of my mind. I'm not sure I'll ever look at men and women interacting in a straight bar the same way again.

I'm not saying I'll love it when women crowd gay bars looking for a safe space where they can dance without fear of harassment, but from now on, I'll certainly be more understanding. Lesson learned.