My Chain-Smoking Neighbor

I think my neighbor is a descendant of an expatriated SS guard from the Third Reich. He might even still have an uncle in an “Argentinian Deutsche colony.”

Maybe his name is Fred (originally Freidrich). Maybe he was a writer, until all the self-awareness and promotion got in the way.

Or maybe he was an insurance claims adjuster. Until Miami slowly became the fraud hub of America and they banned smoking in offices.

But now, he’s just a morose, diabetic, chain-smoking hermit who gets a disability check and lives with his gay partner. His partner is a stout little Guatemalan with a mustache and all the personality of Agador Spartacus, the man-servant from The Birdcage. Except he’s past his prime for show business and now settles for claiming the washing machines before everyone else on week-ends. I refer to him as “Partner,” because Fred’s Hitler Youth days have led him into a self-loathing that can only be seen to be believed. Thus, to be husbanded to a gay brown man represents the apotheosis of disgrace in Fred’s indoctrinated mind.

He hates his life absolutely, but somehow finds it within himself to say “Hello,” and “How are you?” to me.

I wave back, secretly wishing I could shrink-wrap myself and enter into his lair for further research.


Mother! @#$%^&* good movie.

Spoilers ahead!

24 hours later and I’m still reeling. Still feeling eviscerated. I’m sure Aronofsky would be proud. This is not a film for the faint of stomach.

In fact, as we contemplated what to watch yesterday, we considered IT. Lots had been recommending it, but it seemed too terrifying to forgo sleep over. Of course, while an Aronofsky film also promises a lingering horror, it is coupled with hours of good conversational fodder. In this case:

The thankless role of motherhood.

The ego of God.

The spilling of innocent blood.

The violence of a blind faith, of fanatic adoration.

We left the cool dark room searching for light and air, we sat down on a bench with glazed looks on our faces. Soon others with the same expression joined us.

“Well, I thought the acting was superb, but I’d like to know what it was all about,” one elderly woman said.

I blinked.

“It’s a sort of amended metaphor for the holy trinity–the Father, the Son, and instead of the Holy Spirit, the Mother.”

The woman’s granddaughter nodded, it dawning on her.

“A number of symbols pop up,” I continued. “The almost immaculate conception?” (Or at least the uncanny intuition that she was with child–a trope often seen and easily written off as some motherly clairvoyance but in deed supernatural).

“His back wound,” David piped up.

“Ed Harris’s?” I ask.

He grins smugly.

“Adam’s rib.”

“Yes!” I light up. “That’s when Michelle Pfieffer, Eve, comes in. Ugh. That bitch.”

And then, of course, the one that really drove the nail in for me: “The sinners eat the body of Christ–God sacrifices his only son.”

Collective cringe. We know exactly what scene I was referring to. The apex of the grotesque. The ultimate desecration of something everyone–irrespective of creed–holds sacred. Mother pushing through the hordes, in her face the desperation that only someone who is gripping their very last thread can feel. The horrible snap. And then you know that Aronofsky dares do all that a director can do. It’s the screenwriting logic: If X is true, what else is true? How far down can you lead your audience? How much more can they take?

At this point in the movie, David turns to me.

“Do you wanna go?”

I had both my hands clasped around my mouth, not theatrically but primordially. Another primordial gesture: the sick desire to “see it through,” in spite of the revolt in my viscera.

Ask a younger crowd and they just think the house was an extension of either Javier Bardem or Jennifer Lawrence’s character. At most, they’ll concede to a feminist commentary; the Mother-Woman always caregiving, sacrificing, maintaining but never creating, reacting rather than acting. His actions drove the plot forward, while her reactions plunged into our emotional core. It soon becomes all the more telling that these characters went about namelessly; it is a fantasy to name that which fashions you. It is a feeble, pathetic attempt to affix meaning to the unknowable.


Chasing Larry

I was always a hopeless romantic. In 1st grade, I used to run after Larry, willing him to like me. Apart from being lanky like me, our names also shared the first two letters. All signs pointed to marriage.

So every recess I’d lurch after him, calling out his name, and he would simultaneously ignore me and run away. I’d sprint till my lungs gave out, then just stand there, not understanding why he avoided fate.

Those days I used to watch Tiny Toons, a kind of spin-off for Looney Toons. These were the younger relatives of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, who, unlike their older kin, did not become target practice. One of the characters was Elmira, a pernicious little redhead that looked about 65 and had an affinity for “kitties.” All felines, large or small, became furry depositories for the love and attention she clearly lacked from her parents. No surprise there. The girl had a skull for a head bow. The song she’d sing as she turned their insides into a slushy? “I love cats, I love kitties, squeeze them into itty-bitties!”


Anyway, that was me with Larry. To tell the truth, I don’t know what I would’ve done had I actually caught him.

How great would it be if I somehow tracked Larry down? Went to my old elementary school and convinced some disgruntled receptionist who still wears White Diamonds to hand over the records? Just as an exercise in shits and giggles? Of course, Larry would think I’m crazy, and the more I wave it off saying it’s just for fun, the more I’d convince myself I am crazy.

So no, I won’t track Larry down. With a name like that, he’s probably an alcoholic tax attorney. Shudder.

This would be the didactic part of the story, where I tell you we really don’t know what we want or we’re essentially malcontent in this endless rabbit chase. But it’s not that kind of story.

An Open Letter to Trump Supporters 

No more private domain for me. Scripts took over my life for a while, and I couldn’t be happier. So I’m transferring all my old posts back on here, starting with this one. And may I say, how apropos, on Election Day. (Even though it’s woefully dated, since I’m missing month’s worth of Trump’s antics and mention the lost dream of Bernie). 

Way more Trump supporters in my extended social circle than I’m comfortable with (about two, but still, too many), so I put this together as a response.

I invite you to fact-check me. Indeed, I hope you do.

On Trump’s most widely-cited praise: His business prowess

Experts agree that he would incur significant conflicts of interest with the 500 businesses he owns—more so than any other elected official before him (including the Bush’s, Romney, and Bloomberg). In order to avoid legal/ethical issues, he’d have to either sell his assets or place them in a double-blind trust—neither of which he had indicated he would do.

On his supposed business expertise, it’s like stock market speculation; the quantifiable value is highly contingent on what people say it is. It’s a ruse. While other much richer billionaires prefer to stay out of the spotlight, fame is Donald’s bread and butter. It is his narcissistic modus operandi. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: wealth feeds my fame and fame feeds my wealth. He is a master of branding, but branding is not the same as leading.

As most people know, he did not “start from the bottom” as he likes to claim. He inherited a cool 200 million (at least) from his daddy’s estate and another million from the first real estate deal his father helped him close. This is not to discredit his later success, but it is to refute many of the self-made claims in his ghost-written “how to get rich quick” books. It’s also important to note that he has filed for business bankruptcy, and taken advantage of loopholes and exceptions throughout his career. As they say, “if you owe the bank $1,000, you have a problem. If you owe the bank 1 million, the bank has a problem.” In other words, Trump’s creditors allowed him to continue doing business while heavily in debt because the alternative was worse. Similarly, he has taken on sizable loans to finance his campaign. And received about 7 million so far in individual contributions from the very people he insults: “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Glad to know you think so highly of your supporters, Donald.

What works in the world of corporate greed and even the campaign trail does not necessarily translate well to matters of legislative process, foreign policy, diplomacy, etc. It’s like Frank tells Conway in one episode of House of Cards, “99% of the work a President does is in the dark, making decisions that people will never see or appreciate. What are you going to do when the cameras are off? You’re a pretender, and if you’re elected, you’ll become a fraud.”

On Trump’s Identity Politics

Many are quick to lodge the claim that Obama was elected in large part because he is Black. Sure, many people are swayed by identity politics. Others are won over by a single issue or wedge issues. Though I must say that Obama had a lot more going for him than just being Black. Under his administration, the unemployment rate dropped from 10.8% to 4.9% (January 2016)—below the historical median. And this you’d like—corporate profits are up by 166% and real weekly wages are up by 3.4%. And yet you have people still saying he’s “the worst thing that happened to this country.” SMH. Drinking that haterade.

But while we’re on it, let’s talk about the identity politics of Trump. He is a child that’s about to be given a handgun. He gloats over someone in one of his rallies calling Cruz a “pussy,” even repeating it so the whole crowd hears. He has an egregious talent for inciting the little seed of hatred that many Americans already harbor within, using “us versus them” logic that is eerily reminiscent of Hitler. No, I’m not exaggerating. Thought nugget: What’s worse—that he might really be racist or that he pretends to be in order to garner more of that kind of support?

A Little Trip Down Memory Lane: The Crap that Spews

How about this abbreviated list of bigotry, Trump-style:

Acts like a pubescent boy when speaking of women; including accusing debate moderator Megan Kelly of being on her period when she confronted him on issues during a debate. He then refused to participate in the next debate if she was going to moderate. If anything, I’d say he’s on his period.

Said Mexico is sending rapists and other criminals across the border, when the truth is far from that. He called for rounding up and deporting 11 million illegal immigrants. The majority of immigrants that come to this country do so in good faith and are law-abiding and hard-working (in fact doing jobs that Americans wouldn’t deign to do).

When asked about his little bromance with Vladimir Putin and how this is a man who has killed journalists, protestors, and invades countries, Trump said, “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.” And then further clarified that while he doesn’t condone the killing of journalists, he does “hate them.”

Let stand a charge made in his presence that Obama is a Muslim and that Muslims are a “problem” in America (something that happened to McCain and which he quickly and respectfully, like the civilized person he is, denied)

Embraced the notion of forcing Muslims to register in a database

Falsely claimed thousands of Muslims celebrated the 9/11 attacks in New Jersey

Tweeted false stats declaring that most killings of whites are done by blacks

When asked about two of his supporters attacking a homeless man because “Trump is right, all these illegals need to be deported,” he brushed it off and said his supporters are “passionate.”

Approved the beating of a black demonstrator at one of his events

Publicly ridiculed the movements of NYTimes journalist Serge Kovaleski, who has a chronic disability that limits his motion.

On the Small Issues of Truth and Qualifications

Politifact, a Pulitzer Prize winning, independent fact-checking source, rates 77% of his statements as basically false. Plus, let’s not mince words: he’s fucking stupid. A few choice quotes: “We’re gonna build a wall and we’re gonna make Mexico pay for it.” Oh, really. That’s cute. “I know words. I have the best words.” Good for you, little buddy.

Moreover, the man has zero shame. And this is not an admirable quality. Shame is a learned behavior that keeps us civilized—understanding you’ve said or done something wrong and acknowledging it. It’s called having a conscience. It’s true that he’s anti-establishment, but placing that in context also detracts: he does not have to answer to any party affiliation that checks and controls his actions. Checks and balances are part of what makes this country great; it forecloses the possibility of a dictator, and you have to really prove your case and work hard if you want something to go through congress.

The only thing, and I mean the ONLY thing, he has going for him is that he has not taken corporate donors or has super-PACs. But guess what? Neither has Bernie. Anyway, all the aforementioned flaws clearly trump this one good thing. Pun intended.

And I couldn’t care less if whole legions of voters are supporting him. It doesn’t magically turn him into a viable candidate or even a viable human being in my eyes. He’s filth covered in dollar bills. The American electorate in one phrase: If you put a frog into a pot of water and slowly turn up the heat, the frog will boil. I refuse to be that frog.

And I’m spent.

**Drops mic**

Thoughts on Freddie Gray and Baltimore

Check out my friend Joaquin’s thoughts on the string of protests related to police brutality, and looking at the bigger picture.

Joaquin A. Pedroso

The HBO series “The Wire” comes to mind as I see images of Baltimore’s youth unleashing a violent rage that mostly reflects pent up frustrations and anger aimed (mainly) at law enforcement. For those who haven’t seen the show, its focus is power and how it’s exercised in the service of both law enforcement and the criminal element of Baltimore’s underclass while painting a morally ambiguous picture of both. Besides the obvious parallel of setting the show chronicles generational cycles of violence and poverty, the consistent abuses of law enforcement, as well as the diffuse nature of power channeled “officially” and “unofficially” that shed light on the explosive events of late.

The barbaric violence exercised by those entrusted to “protect and serve” this past year, from New York City to Ferguson to Baltimore, has ignited a spontaneous and sometimes violent revolt against police brutality and impunity. Every abuse of power…

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The Many Faces of Truth

n cat on a hot tin roof tennessee williams PDVD_006

When Tennessee Williams wrote (and re-wrote…and re-wrote) Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for each theatrical production, he reported going through three stages of interaction with the various stakeholders in theater, all having to do with the relativity of truth. As artists, each director, actor, and even producer wants to leave their creative carbon footprint on the stage. Williams couldn’t begrudge them that, but he did, for some time, agonize over the constant bickering about manuscript purity and its manifestation on stage.

Like Arthur Miller, Williams’s presence is keenly felt in the stage directions, to my personal delight. Mid-way through the action, he feels the need to share the following:

“The bird I hope to catch in the net of this play is not the solution of one man’s psychological problem. I’m trying to catch the true quality of experience in a group of people, that cloudy, flickering, evanescent–fiercely charged!–interplay of live human beings in the thundercloud of a common crisis. Some mystery should be left in the revelation of character in a play, just as a great deal of mystery is always left in the revelation of character in life, even in one’s own character to himself[!]”

With such conviction, it’s easy to see why he’d say there are times when the only living soul that really understands how to take a manuscript into performance is the author himself. I wonder what Barthes would have said to that? What about the mystery of the character to his or her creator?

In any case, truth is what we want to believe.

This calls to mind a great quotable moment from the Spanish indie film Tambien la Lluvia, where the brave Catholic priest Antonio de Montesinos ascended the pulpit and spoke his version of the truth. It happened to be a version that fought for the defeated, denounced the Spanish colonizers, and imperiled the speaker’s life. He said,

“La verdad tiene muchos a su contra; la mentira muchos a su favor.”

In other (English) words, “The Truth has many enemies; the Lie has many friends.”

Perhaps that’s a good litmus test for uncovering the capital “T” Truth? One simple question:

Whom does it serve?

If the answer is you or the hands that feed you, force yourself to take a step back.

Let’s get back to Cat, where a running theme was mendacity–the inescapable condition of civilization, it seems. Only two ways to evade it: drinking or death. Brick chose the first, at least until it led to the second. He was like Cordelia from King Lear, refusing to peddle for inheritance, refusing to add to the mendacity of the world. And with that knowing smirk, he was also like The Comedian from Watchmen, the only one in on the joke.

Big Daddy understood this delicate relation to the world via mortality. Act Two, while sandwiched in the middle, dominates the play like uncured, applewood smoked bacon. Here, Big Daddy tells Brick: “Ignorance of mortality–is a comfort. A man don’t have that comfort, he’s the only living thing that conceives of death, that knows what it is. The others go without knowing…and yet a pig squeals, but a man sometimes, he can keep a tight mouth about it.”

It’s of course fitting that he understands it as such, since he is on death’s door, yet lied to about it. We are all just “Lyin’, dyin’ liars.”

Whom does it serve? Everyone. And no one.

Barthes, “Money” Mayweather, and the Spectacle of Performance

Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao boxing press conference, Los Angeles, America - 11 Mar 2015

“We are all working from the same dog-eared script” (Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl). I’m certain Roland Barthes, forty-some years ago, would have said the same. And although Floyd “Money” Mayweather may not express this in quite the same terms, he certainly performs it.

The historic (though anti-climactic) fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao this last Saturday reached proportions of a lesser National holiday.

In his essay The World of Wrestling, Barthes differentiates boxing from wrestling, saying that while the former is a proper sport, something one can bet upon the outcome, wrestling is pure spectacle, not far removed from the Greek tragedies of Old. I’d argue, however, that boxing (along with other spectator sports) has long since merged with performance theory. In wrestling, Barthes continues, “as soon as the adversaries are in the ring, the public is overwhelmed with the obviousness of the roles” (17). This is of course perfectly punctuated by the boxers’ entrances and attire–the choice of music, the trunks, the characters in their retinue. While Pacquiao had on a simple T-shirt with his Christian rhetoric (“Jesus is the name of the Lord,” I think it was?), Mayweather had on gaudy gold and silver gem-studded robe and trunks. Manny took a selfie with his life-long trainer and emerged all smiles. Floyd came out frowning–and sparkling (fitting, given his moniker)–flanked by such celebrities as Justin Bieber. I still don’t get how Bieber lends any kind of cred to Mayweather’s persona, but there it is. This is just a culmination of countless documentaries that detail Manny’s humility and Floyd’s grandiloquence (to borrow from Barthes). Their identities have been commodified–Manny as the under-dog most people root for, Floyd as the one you’d actually put your money on, no pun intended.

This is how the “mythological fight between Good and Evil”(23) occurs–the quintessential battle between the Good of modesty and the Evil of greed and excess (though we as a nation fall prey to it as much as people like Mayweather perpetuate it). So it is that the villain becomes the victor in spectacle, for they can “irritate or disgust, [but] he can never disappoint” (24). They are the ones we love to hate. One thing we cannot deny him: he certainly is a shrewd business man–builds up hype, sustains the image, draws out the awaited night.

This is a big, sordid “what if,” but indulge me: What if Mayweather only plays the asshole card? What if his egregiously misogynist and puffed-up persona is just a caricature–one that sells tickets rather well?

This performance is inclusive of Pacquiao. The walking embodiment of modesty, the Filipino Rocky, a boy from the streets who rose to stardom, who can take hit after hit and is honored to do so. Add to this a Christian fanaticism that places him as the protagonist of some Messianic narrative within the boxing genre.

If news networks have turned from real journalism to sensationalism for the sake of ratings, is it so hard to believe that two boxers would do the same–that is, go from sport to theatrics? It is Greek tragedy disguised as boorish sparring, framed in its own micro-economy of million-dollar bets. At the center of the drama is the “good guy” versus the “bad guy,” a duality that has stood, and continues to stand the test of time.

White Cuban-American Privilege and Why It Needs to End

Image credit: Eleanor Taylor
Image credit: Eleanor Taylor

And yes, this coming from a White Cuban-American. A friend at work shared a NY Times op-ed article by Ann Louise Bardach entitled “Why Are Cubans So Special?”, knowing that I’d remain objective despite the title’s thinly veiled sarcasm.

Many of the younger Cuban-Americans join me in disavowing a strict adherence to Right-wing politics, (a position that is misguidedly held simply because of its supposed diametric opposition to Communism). It’s difficult, however, to reconcile with the older generations, to which many of our parents belong. For these Cuban expatriates, agreeing that Elian should have gone back to his father, saying that JFK was not the Socialist spawn of Satan, against the embargo, or that the Cuban Adjustment Act (which gives special status to Cuban refugees) should be revised, is nothing short of cultural sacrilege.

This is not to deny that the situation in Cuba is pretty dire. Bardach tells us, “Cuban authorities have demanded an end to the Cuban Adjustment Act, claiming the policy causes a brain drain. (Of course, they never acknowledge why more than a million Cubans have risked their lives to escape.)” Her parenthetical aside is hinting at the undeniable wretchedness of being a Cuban citizen.

According to the Human Rights Watch 2013 report, “Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent.” Th enforcement of forced political homogeneity takes on many forms: (1) political prisoners (the very idea!), most of which are non-violent, who are detained indefinitely and without due process, (2) Arbitrary detentions for “questionable” activities, (3) Freedom of expression (or lack thereof), particularly when it comes to the rare and often dangerous gem of indie media outlets, (4) human rights activists are simply not allowed–indeed, beaten and detained. Enough said. (5) Travel restrictions, especially dissidents, like the well-known blogger Yoani Sanchez, (6) Prisons that are “overcrowded, unhygienic, and unhealthy, leading to extensive malnutrition and illness” ( If prisoners have the brass to criticize the government, they are subjected to increased beatings, solitary confinement, denial of medical care, restriction of family visitation, and whatever else the guards can get creative with.

And then there are the less dour, yet still troubling issues, like scarcity and rationing. As a personal anecdote, my mother’s ration of baby food included nothing but carrot puree for an entire month. As you can imagine, my skin was a bright orange at the end of that month. The jury’s still out on whether this caused other physiological traumas.

Alright so I jest! True story though.

On a more serious note however, the HRW highlights the absolute counter productivity of the embargo: “the United States’ economic embargo on Cuba, in place for more than half a century, continues to impose indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people, and has done nothing to improve human rights in Cuba. At the United Nations General Assembly in November, 188 of the 192 member countries voted for a resolution condemning the US embargo.”

So how does this all tie back into “white privilege”? It’s congressmen like Marco Rubio who, despite heritage and “diversity” platforms, represent the antithesis of most Latino experiences. He is the type that will dismiss professions like, say, public school teachers, as a waste of a good education. This again comes from firsthand witnessing. You could practically see the smirk, the well-manicured hand swatting away the thought like a pestilence. I suppose it’s also easy to support the privatization of education when you have the same PACs supporting your campaign and when you have the financial wherewithal to send your prized progeny anywhere you’d like. Ransom Everglades, anyone? This is why Bardach cites anti-Rubio slogans like “No somos Rubios;” a crafty pun meaning that the voters are not blond, but more importantly, that they do not share his privilege and values.

So, while recognizing the veritable crimes against the Cuban population, we must also acknowledge those perpetrated against a host of other countries (most notably for us in Miami, Haitians and Venezuelans). Bardach asks, “Are Cubans seeking a better way of life really more deserving than, say, refugees fleeing death squads or drug cartels?” Valid question. It seems that the more egalitarian approach would be to ease immigration restrictions for all. Oh, but I’ve forgotten. It seems Emma Lazarus’s sonnet in 1883 has sadly become empty words inscribed on our Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Lana del Rey: A Beautiful Lie

lana in concert

A student was recently surprised to hear of my taste for Lana del Rey, given the stark feminism I spew out on a regular basis. The contradiction is not easily explained away, other than the acknowledgment that sometimes we live within contradiction. At a certain level, you might recognize female objectification in lyrics, and on another level, you might still shake your rump to it. Why? Maybe because to completely annex yourself from mainstream pop culture is a lonely gesture. Or maybe you don’t want to become that friend–the pedantic one no one wants to go to a movie with because they’ll deconstruct every plot line and character (I have to seriously restrain myself with Nicholas Sparks movies, or any blockbuster action film that’s not Batman).

But let’s get back to my girl Lana. I’d like to believe that there’s intentionality behind her self-portrayal. She willingly fashions herself into a caricature: the glamorously drug-addled, domestic violence glorifying, deadbeat former beauty queen. Her music is described by Ian Daly from Maxim (December 2015 Issue) as “moody and lush songs about the intersection of sex and violence and money,” (61) securing her position as the “anti-pop pop star” (61). He goes on to describe her trademark style as very much in line with such a label: “The videos with which she made her name traffic in the faded imagery of American nostalgia and decline. She combines a classic, sultry beauty with a heavy dose of all-American alienation–the head cheerleader gone desperately wrong.” What make her songs so magnetic is not just their ability to envelop you in a mood, but also a character study. Daly likens her songs to dioramas: “tiny, insular worlds where the atmosphere is more important than the facts. Much like her life.”
As though in corroboration with such a claim, Lana says, “there’s a lot to be said for pretending, you know?” (61).Yes, I do know. As the French novelist Andre Gide said, “Believe those who are seeking the truth.. Doubt those who find it.” A “truth” is always relative, sometimes irrelevant, and oftentimes boring.

lana middle finger