Category Archives: Buenos Aires

The final word (for now) on dating in Buenos Aires

GAY&LESBIAN Jeremy-page-001My four-and-half-year stint in Buenos Aires has finally come full circle more than four years later…I think.

Maybe it’s half circle, for I’m back where I started a few years after my arrival in BA…but not quite. For a time while I was living there I wrote the Gay & Lesbian section in Time Out Buenos Aires’s quarterly magazine, which was called Visitors at the time. Now, some six years later, I’m its main feature, the front page story…of the Gay & Lesbian section, not the Time Out Buenos Aires magazine.

Fun fact: Some of my editorial touches, remain, like this one, under “INFORMATION AND SAFETY“:

“A word from the wise to the horny: male prostitutes (taxi boys, as they’re known in BA) continue to be an unavoidable – and illegal – fact of the city’s nightlife. So if you’re not leaving alone, choose your post-club escort carefully. Now get out and have fun!”

Mine, all mine.

The Q&A to the left represents a major accomplishment for me. It’s more than a very nice plug for my book Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World. It’s also a sort of coming home. Now if only I could get Time Out Melbourne and Time Out Bangkok on board, it would be the perfect threesome!

Click here to check out the full interview.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Buenos Aires, Travel

Why I Think I’d Rather Climb Ev’ry Mountain Than Date in Cape Town

So this is what I’ve been missing?

That was my thought exactly when I read the digital display on the iPhone that my new acquaintance was holding up in front of my face. I wasn’t sure what to think, but he clearly had an agenda. He wanted to elicit a specific response from me — not shock, not outrage, but the ah ha! of enlightenment. He was waiting for me to finally get it.
We’d met two days earlier through a mutual friend, and we’d immediately found common ground. We were both gay black men from the United States who had spent a significant amount of time living and traveling abroad. A self-described “academic” (translation: professional student) whose specialty was African studies, he told me that he’s been based in Cape Town for one year, but he’s been coming to South Africa for 10. He seemed to have a love-hate relationship with Cape Town that was similar to the one I used to have with Buenos Aires (before the hate took over). We had a lot to talk about.
I told him about my experiences at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, and how my background played into my reaction to everything I saw there. He nodded. He understood. I told him about Sophiatown Bar Lounge, and how on my final night in Joburg (or Jozi, as Cape Town locals also call it), the jazz scene there had reminded me of something out of the Harlem Renaissance. He knew exactly what I was talking about and described it as “1990s A Different World-style new African awareness crossed with 1920s jazz.” Bingo!
I told him about the book that I’m working on, Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World, which documents my experiences as a gay, black man living abroad, with a focus on my various romantic entanglements over the last seven years. He got everything I was saying in a way that most of the (white) people I told about it never fully grasped because it hadn’t happened to them. Nothing I said surprised him. He’d lived it, too.
When I saw him last night, he asked me about my experiences dating in South Africa so far. I was ashamed to say that I had nothing. I haven’t been out on a date since my second week in Tel Aviv nearly two months ago, nor have I enjoyed (or not, which is typically the case these days, hence my inactivity) any romantic encounters in nearly just as long.
I go through these celibate, hermetic stages with increasing regularity as I get older. I suppose that years of romantic disappointment have taken a toll. That and the fact that I simply haven’t come across anyone who has captured both my eye and my mind. I’ve seen plenty of attractive men, and I’ve even been pursued by a few of them, but I’d rather spend my nights in my own company than that of a relative stranger who is too busy wondering what I look like naked (or fiddling with his smart phone) to be listening to anything I’m saying. Been there, done that. I’m better off alone.
But I’ve occasionally wondered if I’m missing out while staying in. Not on any potential Mr. Rights — I gave up on his existence ages ago — but on new, fascinating stories to add to my gallery of exploits. I’m in South Africa, after all, a country in which I’m no longer the racial minority, the exotic forbidden fruit. There shouldn’t be the same mystique about me here that there was in Argentina, or Australia, or Bangkok, or any of the places I’ve visited these last few years.
I had imagined that if I were to dip into the Cape Town dating pool, my experiences might be a lot like they had been in the United States, where there were enough black guys to go around that nobody ever wanted me simply because they’d never had anything like me before. And South Africa’s history of racism and segregation (both of which continue to be blemishes on the gay scene, judging from what I saw at Crew and Zer021 last Friday night) would see to it that I’m just as invisible among the white gay population here as I had been in the U.S.
I left the U.S. before the rise in social media, the acceptance of online dating, and the emergence of Grindr as the principal meet market for gay men, so I have no idea how the new technology would influence how guys back home would respond to me now. Grindr in South Africa, though, has offered more of the same old, same old in the proposals I’ve been receiving. (I’ve pretty much retired from making the first move because I deal with enough rejection in other areas of my life.) I easily could be in Melbourne or Bangkok or Berlin or Rome or Tel Aviv, the only difference being that for the first time, a few black men are thrown into the mix of guys who approach me.
For the most part, the guys on Grindr in South Africa are, surprisingly, white. I’m not sure if the reason for this is social (homosexuality being less accepted among African blacks) or economic (African blacks being less likely to have smart phones with which to use the Grindr app), but the lack of a black presence on Grindr in South Africa has brought out the same response to me online as the lack of a black presence in everyday society brought out in every predominantly white or Asian city I’ve spent time in since 2010, whether I was online or off, surrounded by gays, straights or a mix of both.
I’m bombarded by the same indelicate messages from horny guys who are only looking for one thing. For many, my skin color continues to make me the fresh catch of the day. “So want a black cock!!” one guy, a tourist from Greece, indelicately announced, as if there weren’t plenty of those to go around in Cape Town. (Tourists and expats, incidentally, appear to comprise a larger portion of the Grindr population in Cape Town than in Joburg, which might explain the resurgent awareness of “black” here.) Others, some South African, have resorted to the question that has been the bane of my bachelorhood for more than seven years: “Is it true what they say about black men?”
They make it so easy to lapse into dateless celibacy, which might be as much of a reason as the places I’ve been in for the peaceful easy feeling I’ve enjoyed these past two months. But sitting across from my new acquaintance who was inquiring about my impression of gay dating in South Africa, I felt uneasy because I had nothing to contribute. Then there was the Grindr conversation I was looking at. It was one in which he had approached a shirtless white piece of beefcake who appeared to be in the shower. My acquaintance began the exchange with a simple “Howsit?” followed by his own shirtless pose.
The second sentence of the guy’s three-sentence response sent a chill down my spine:
“I’m sorry, but I don’t cross racial lines in dating.”
I was as disarmed by his perfect punctuation as I was by the declaration it had been wasted on. He simply could have ignored the message, or he could have offered some vague reason why he wasn’t interested. Despite the formal tone, there was a certain level of hostility in his message. He came across like a well-educated bigot. I’d encountered plenty of those, though I’d never been rejected by a guy who specifically offered my color as the reason.
“I guess that’s the kind of reaction I’d get if I were online dating in the U.S.,” I concluded. While allowing gay guys to hide behind fakery, Grindr has also had the effect of making them more brutally honest, often to a fault. Maybe the modern American gay guy who doesn’t do black wouldn’t have any qualms about bluntly saying so either. Could “I don’t cross racial lines” be a delicate way of doing it without getting too specific and bogged down in “black” and “white,” sort of like subbing “fun” for “sex”?
My new acquaintance begged to differ regarding the U.S. comparison. Clearly I didn’t get it. This response, he pointed out, was uniquely South African, because it had the lingering thumbprint of Apartheid all over it. It wasn’t just a personal choice, nor was it personal, not exactly. It was a cold, clinical reflection of the institutionalized racism and segregation that had defined South African society for decades. He hadn’t said, “I’m not attracted to black guys,” or “I don’t date black guys.” His specific wording (without being specific at all) seemed to imply that it wasn’t just about preference or attraction but rather adherence to a long-standing principle. In his dating world, the events of the early 1990s in South Africa hadn’t changed a thing. It might as well have still been 1984.
Wow. I hadn’t even thought of that angle. I am, after all, new in South Africa, and he is someone who has had an entire year of dating experience in this country, plus his African studies, to influence how he contextualizes Grindr messages. He’d seen and read it all before. I thought I had, too, but this was a first for me. I was glad I had ventured out for a beer after a day spent climbing Lion’s Head and scaling Signal Hill, if only to experience vicariously something I had no desire to live firsthand.
I was even more grateful for my current dateless, sexless existence. I don’t need ugliness like that ruining all of Cape Town’s breathtaking views.

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Travel

Destination: Anywhere (But How Did I End Up in Soweto?)

My second day in Johannesburg underscored my still-developing theory that you get what you’re not looking for. After breakfast and a brief exploration of Melville that included stumbling onto the perfect view of the downtown Joburg skyline, I boarded Rea Vaga, the rapid-transit bus system connecting Johannesburg’s central business district with what was then still the great unknown to the south.

“Which side do I take to Boomtown?” I asked, after buying my Rea Vaga card and immediately topping it up with 50 ZAR ($4.87). None of the other stops listed on the route map had meant anything to me. Neither did Boomtown, but it reminded me of The Boomtown Rats and David + David’s 1986 Top 40 hit “Welcome to the Boomtown.” Bob Geldof’s former band was Irish, and David + David were referring to Los Angeles in their song, but who knew what I’d find in Johannesburg’s version of Boomtown?

I boarded the next bus headed in the direction away from the CBD. It was nearly full, and I took one of the last remaining empty seats beside a woman who kept nodding off. I looked around me. Everyone on the bus was black. I wondered about all of the political allusions I’d been temporarily brushing aside until I was rested enough to process them? Johannesburg’s story — its tortured, tortuous history — was beginning to unfold before me. I know evidence of continued segregation when I see it.

And where were all of these people — a mix of working-class men and women and fresh-faced kids wearing school uniforms, speaking English and various languages I didn’t understand — all going? As the chatter grew louder, the scenery outside was changing dramatically. Previously relatively flat, well-manicured and distinctly suburban, it was becoming more rugged, more mountainous, more green, more beautiful (in that tattered way I’ve grown to love ever since my first trip to Buenos Aires). Rows of colorful modest-looking houses peppered the landscape. We passed by a number of stops whose names meant nothing to me before arriving at one called Orlando — as in Orlando, Florida, the big city next to my hometown (Kissimmee). Could it be?

Boomtown, too, came and went. By then it was raining, and the place looked like nothing special. I figured I’d stay dry inside the bus until it reached the end of the line. Maybe by then it would have stopped raining, and I’d be able to explore a little before returning to my starting point. Several stops and a few twists and turns later, we arrived at Thokoza Park. Everyone departed the bus. This must be the place.

I looked at the beautiful greenery on both sides of the platform (see the photos above). It was quietly breathtaking — so peaceful, so rich, so wet. The only thing stopping me from descending the platform and running to greet it was the torrential downpour that was raining down with varying levels of intensity. It looked like I would be heading back earlier than expected. But how?

As I looked at the numerous bus routes listed above the platform, I searched for one that might be the one where I had started. Though I’d forgotten the full name, I remembered it was “Sophia”-something, as in Hagia Sophia (in Istanbul) or Sophia Petrillo (on The Golden Girls). But where was Sophia?

That’s when I was stopped by the woman whom I’d been sitting next to on the bus. She hadn’t said a word to me the entire trip, but now she couldn’t stop talking. She explained in minute detail how I should get back. Her accented English was perfect, but she was giving me so much information that all I was able to process was “C3.” That was the bus I needed to take to find my way back to Sophia.

I thanked her for her kindness and proceeded to walk about 300 meters or so to the other end of the platform. There was a C1 bus already waiting. I stood there staring at it, wondering when it would pull out of the station and make way for the C3 that hopefully was right behind it. I was disappointed by my truncated journey. Boomtown had been a bust, the sky was pouring, and I had no idea how to get to Soweto.

Nobody came to Johannesburg without going to Soweto. Along with the Apartheid Museum and my Argentine friend Dolores, it was the only thing I had on my must-see-in-Joburg list. (In another one of those coincidental twists that has been a regular occurrence in my life since Berlin, Dolores, whom I met years ago in Buenos Aires, and who left BA for Cape Town around the time that I left it for Melbourne, happens to be in Johannesburg renewing her Argentine passport on the exact same days that I’m here.)

I didn’t know very much about Soweto other than what I’d heard about it in the mid to late ’80s and early ’90s when Apartheid had replaced feeding the world as pop music’s cause du jour. I knew that during the Apartheid era it had been more or less South Africa’s version of the U.S. Indian reservations of the 19th century, a place where the country’s natives had been forced into after being displaced from their own land by the white ruling class.

Just as I was wondering how difficult it would be to get there from where I was, I looked over and saw the woman who’d helped me before. She was approaching me, as if she had something urgent to share. She wanted to make sure that I didn’t get on the C1. “You have to take the C3,” she said, smiling. “This is the C1. It goes somewhere else. The C3 is right behind it.” I thanked her again and watched as she walked away, wondering what I’d done to deserve her kindness and concern.

A few minutes later, I was back on the bus, heading in the direction from whence I’d come. This time, instead of studying the scenery, I focused on the signs. I should at least know roughly where I was. I saw one that said “Soweto” with an arrow pointing to the left. Could it be? Several “Soweto” signs later, I knew exactly where I was. I’d boarded a bus headed to Boomtown and ended up in Thokoza Park, in Soweto.

I was kind of crushed that I wouldn’t get a chance to see more of Soweto until another less-rainy day, but now I knew exactly how to get there. And I didn’t even have to look for it.

“Soweto” Jeffrey Osborne

Leave a comment

Filed under Buenos Aires, Entertainment, Music, Television, Travel

Q: Do You Know Where You’re Going To? A: Why Should I Have To?

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. So sang John Lennon on “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy),” from his 1980 album Double Fantasy. Now here’s another idea riding the same route as that train of thought: The best things in life — or on any travel adventure — are not only free. They’re also the ones that you aren’t looking for.

Or in the words of another Jeremy, a half-Argentine, half-Jewish aliyah expat from Toronto who is currently based in Jerusalem, quoting another time-worn but still-useful saying: “The watched pot is slow to boil.” In other words, throw away your road map. Live your life. Be free. (Thank you, Belinda Carlisle.)

Jeremy No. 2 imparted his words of wisdom last week toward the end of my final afternoon in Jerusalem, which we spent roaming the streets of the city, wandering aimlessly from spot to spot, where we’d sit and continue our conversation while watching the wheels go round and round (thanks, once again, to John Lennon and Double Fantasy).

We ended up in the coolest traditional neighborhood, one with vintage large-brick buildings and narrow streets that looked like something right out of the Bible. It was a great place to just sit and watch local life go by, removed from the tourism trappings of the new town, and one we might never have found had we had any idea where we were going to right before stumbling upon it.

That’s my favorite way to travel, without expectations, without a final destination. Some of my most memorable visual experiences of the last few months — Ai Tre Scalini on Via Panisperna in RomeVia di San Niccolo in FlorenceMount of Olives in Jerusalem, and that charming little barrio in what is now my favorite Israeli city (yes, in hindsight, Jerusalem has overtaken Tel Aviv for, in the days since I left it, I find myself thinking about it more) — have been ones that I happened upon when I was either completely lost or had no idea where I was going to.

For the locals in Aqaba (as it was with the ones in Jerusalem’s old city), that appears to be a no-no. Everyone wants to help me find something. I realize most of them are doing it for something in return — shekels in Jerusalem, dinars in Aqaba — not out of the kindness of their hearts. (An exception: the young Muslim woman on the corner of Sultan Suleiman and Derech Yeriho in Jerusalem who spoke perfect English and correctly gathered from the map I was staring at and the two suitcases beside me that I was sort of lost, and not in a good way.)

I adore the people in Jordan so far. We barely understand each other (for a tourism-driven city, there is very little English spoken by locals here in Aqaba), but we have a pretty good rapport going. If only they’d let me be and let me let it be.

I’m not talking about the ones who stopped me yesterday while I was walking along the marina and struggled to ask me questions about myself in English. They were charming, and a large part of why I so quickly became a fan of this strange, fascinating Kingdom of Jordan, which is exactly what I always thought the Middle East would be, unlike Israel (too Western) and Dubai (too modern).

I’m talking about the ones at the corner of King Talal Street and Prince Mohammad Street, the ones who kept honking their horns to get my attention and stopping their cars to ask me the same old questions: “Do you need some help?” “What are you looking for?” Couldn’t they see that I was having a magic moment?

I appreciated the gestures, mercenary as they may have been, and I know I’ll miss them if I ever return to Berlin, the land of live and let be (even if you’ve fallen, and you can’t get up). But I just wanted everyone to ignore me and allow me to admire the buildings of Aqaba, framed by the desert mountains in the background, uninterrupted.

Why does everyone always have to be going somewhere, or looking for something? Is it so strange that someone might want to just stop for a minute or 15 to take in the scenery that’s spread out before him? I thought about asking them, but I knew they wouldn’t understand me, or the point that I was making.

Anyway, I didn’t want to talk. I knew exactly where I was, if not where I was going to. In that magic moment, though, all I wanted to do was enjoy the silence in my mind and the city in front of me.

Leave a comment

Filed under Buenos Aires, Entertainment, Music, Travel

Jump, They Sing (from David Bowie to Madonna to Rihanna)

Jumping, what an awkward thing to do. That’s exactly what I was thinking when I obeyed the orders of the guy who took the photo above. “Jump!” he said. In everyday adult life, who jumps? When do grown ups actually jump?

I know, I know — in sports. Athletes jump when they’re dashing over barriers in obstacle courses. Daredevil skydivers jump out of airplanes. Crazy thrill-seekers bungee jump.

There’s a “jumping” motion in Pilates (“Salta!” Laurentio, my instructor in Buenos Aires, used to shout), although you perform it while lying flat on your back. (Get your mind out of the gutter, where there’s no doubt a certain 1984 Pointer Sisters single playing right about now — see below!) And anyone who has ever gone hiking in the Thai rainforest in Koh Chang, as I did two Northern summers ago, probably had to jump over a few waterfalls, which I suppose is safer than chasing them.

But here in the non-athletic realm (where people don’t go around hitting/kicking balls and swinging bats), when I think about jumping, it’s generally in a far more sinister context, one that involves no upward motion, just a downward one, to a certain, gruesome death. That’s hardly the smiley-face positivity that we tend to stamp on jumping, but I don’t believe I’ve ever actually seen anyone jump for joy.

Still, the positive connotation persists, particularly in song. Despite the suicidal thoughts associated with a certain kind of “jump,” the overall concept remains a favorite pastime in pop, which spins it as a sexy double entendre when not referring to the literal thing. It may have inspired more great music than any verb this side of love.

In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a terrible “jump” song. So if you ever do get the urge to jump for joy (or Joi — see below), you’ll now have the perfect soundtrack to do it to.

“Jump” Aretha Franklin

“Jump” Loverboy

“Jump” Van Halen

“Jump” Kriss Kross

“Jump” Madonna

“Jump” Rihanna

“Jump (for My Love)” Pointer Sisters

“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” The Rolling Stones

“Jump to It” Aretha Franklin

“Jump They Say” David Bowie

“Jump Around” House of Pain

“Jump for Joi” Joi Cardwell

“Jumpin’ Jumpin'” Destiny’s Child

“Jump in the Air” Erykah Badu

Leave a comment

Filed under Buenos Aires, Entertainment, Music

Rules of Travel (Why I Love Sleeping Single in a Double Bed in a 5-Star Hotel)

My bedroom at the Pullman Bali Legian Nirwana in Bali

My bedroom at the Melia Dubai in Dubai

The view of Bangkok from my bedroom balcony in Lebua at State Tower

When you’re right you’re right, and I can’t remember the last time anyone was this right. A friend sent me an email this morning in which she laid out her key travel preferences, namely accommodations and the company she likes to keep. I nodded the entire time I was reading it, delighted that our taste in travel are in as near-perfect alignment as our taste in movies. It was almost as if she’d been reading my mind. I easily could have written the same thing and called it a blog post. Her point of view was so me:

“When I travel, I’d rather spend money on lodging than food. For example, if I had $200, $190 would go to a hotel and ten bucks for dinner at the grocery store.

“Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for finding the best pizza in town, or the best ice cream in town, or the best whatever. And when I’m home, I do sometimes drop a couple of hundred on a nice meal a few times a year.

“I also don’t like traveling with people because I always wind up having to wait for them. I’m always the first one up, and they inevitably lose something.”

Ain’t that the truth. Where I stay (and with whom I stay there) and whether it has perfectly functioning Wi-Fi and a spotless bathroom has been able to make or break any city/holiday since I was old enough to know and afford better. When I used to travel to Europe on a pauper’s budget in my 20s, I stayed in a series of dumps but loved most of the cities anyway. I was fine with staying in nice hotels only when I was traveling for work, and Time Inc. paid the bill. But after I treated myself to a 5-star experience at St. Martin’s Lane in London shortly after turning 30, this beggar started to become a lot choosier.

I wonder if I would have loved Dubai as much as I did had I not had a 5-star base there, and I can only imagine how much more I might have appreciated Phnom Penh, Cambodia (which I enjoyed immensely as it was), if I hadn’t had to go to sleep there in a windowless room with terrible Wi-Fi. Perhaps I wouldn’t have despised Koh Samet in Thailand as much as I did had I upgraded from that mosquito-infested dump on the beach. To this day, I credit LoiSuites Recoleta, where I stayed during my first three trips to Buenos Aires, with setting the scene for the blooming of that particular love affair.

In all my years of travel, I can remember nearly all of the hotels in which I’ve stayed — from the airless hovels to the palatial suites — but I recall few of the restaurants in which I’ve had meals and especially what I ordered in them.

I credit this in part to the fact that I’ve never been much of a foodie. Even with a city that has as many fantastic food options as Melbourne, the edible things I miss most about it are the raspberry and white chocolate cookies at Woolworths and the raspberry and white chocolate muffins at 7-11. (Clearly I have a strong weakness for raspberries and white chocolate down under!)

Whenever I used to splurge on expensive dinners at places like The Place in New York City, I did it more for the company than anything on the menu. Yes, people are more memorable to me than meals, and I’ll less likely recall what I ate than with whom I was talking (or not talking) while I ate it. I recently had two amazing dinners with my best friend Lori and her husband John at two off-the-beaten path restaurants in the rolling hills in Tuscany, but I’m convinced that I would have had an equally memorable time back at the hotel with a cheap bottle of wine and a take-out meal for under 10 euros.

I don’t believe I’ve ever asked for a restaurant recommendation in my life, and I’ve certainly never paid attention to an unsolicited one, but I’m always interested to hear about where people stayed. Food pictures on Facebook inspire me to keep scrolling down, while I can spend hours looking at photos of the interior design of five-star hotel suites in luxury-travel magazines.

My predilection for traveling solo has less to do with my loner, semi-reclusive tendencies than the difficulty in finding friends with a comparable travel ethic. When I’m in a new city, mindlessly running around town, crossing things off my to-see list, is hardly my idea of a good time. Sure there are always must-sees in certain cities, but in general, I like to allow a new place to unfold as I casually and aimlessly wander its streets. Some of my favorite moments — the magic ones — of my recent stint in Rome arrived when I was wandering around, often lost, with no particular place to go.

Lori and my friend Dave are two of the few people who share my vacation view, and I travel with either of them perfectly. (Incidentally, along with my brother Alexi, they’re the only two people I can think of whose homes I’d choose over a hotel.) As for tripping with boyfriends, they say it’s the best way to kill a relationship. I’ve never murdered one of mine on the road, but with one exception (and if he’s reading this, he’ll know who he is), I can’t say that I’ve ever felt compatible with a boyfriend on holiday. I approach love on the road in pretty much the same way that I approach love at home: You do your thing on your side, while I do my thing on mine. When our desires converge, we can meet in the middle.

Incidentally, that also applies to what happens in bed — on and off the road. But at the end of the day (on and off the road, but especially on), when I lay me down to sleep, and my head hits those two fluffy white pillows stacked one on top of the other on a queen-size bed with the AC at full blast, I prefer to be on the right side, on my right side, with an empty space beside me. Good night.

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, hotels, Melbourne, New York City, Travel

“Service Not Included” and Other Words That Make Me Cringe This Week

I never thought it could happen, but I might actually be starting to warm up to five words that have placed countless chills in my heart over the course of the last year: “It is what it is.”

I still think it’s the easiest way to ruin an intelligent discussion, and I stand by all of the negative things I’ve written about it, but I recently discovered that it could be the perfect way to put a mind-numbing line of questioning out of its misery, too. For example:

“But what do you have against shopping?”

“Nothing. I just don’t enjoy it.”

“Why don’t you enjoy it?”

“Does there have to be a specific reason? I just don’t enjoy it.”

“But why?”

“Look, it is what it is!”

Yes, I used it, and I reserve the right to do so again in the future if desperation hits. And even if it one day becomes a fixture in my personal lexicon, it’s not like I don’t have plenty of other dreadful words to carp about.

“Service not included” The bane of my existence in Tel Aviv, the tipping capital of the world. On my first day here, somebody warned me that if I walked out of any service establishment without leaving a little something behind (the standard is 12 percent), they’d follow me outside to admonish me/remind me of my unofficial obligation. Apparently, the custom extends outside of Tel Aviv. Yesterday during lunch at The Pisan Harbour in Akko, when the surly waiter handed me the bill (which was completely in Hebrew) and announced, “Service not included,” just in case I couldn’t understand the written words, I came dangerously close to asking, “What service?” He hadn’t cracked a smile all hour, and he made me wait a good 30 minutes for my kebab main course. Instead I held my tongue and handed him 110 NIS for a 95 NIS bill. “Thank you,” he sniffed as he walked away, still scowling. I guess service and a smile costs extra!

“What are you doing in Tel Aviv?” Not to be confused with “Are you here on holiday/for work?”, due to the hint of incredulity and the dash of disdain with which the question is typically posed, as in “Why on earth, of all the cities on earth, would anyone chose to come here?” Among unfathomable, overused travel/expat inquiries, this one is rapidly approaching “Do you like Buenos Aires?” (previously frequently asked by porteños after they found out I’d been living in their city for years). I mean, come on. It’s not like Tel Aviv is on the outskirts of Timbuktu. Considering that it’s a major international city that has topped countless lists of the world’s top travel destinations in recent years, what’s the big mystery? So unless you’re working in Customs, why not ask me how I like it?

“Can I pick your brain?” Every time I hear or read this, I have a horrifying vision of vultures descending on a live cranium. The other day when a good friend and a writer I respect and admire above all others became the third person in one week to used it on me, I had my most nightmarish visual image yet: her hosting a dinner party, walking around and offering her guests chunks of my brain on a plate with toothpicks sticking out of them. Yikes!

“Let’s dance!” I don’t know what’s happened to me. I don’t even really want to hear David Bowie sing it anymore. Anyone who knew me in the ’90s, or attended one of Peoplemagazine’s holiday parties back then, knows that I used to be the ultimate dancing queen. Nowadays it takes a village to get me on the dance floor. My friend Rodrigo was the first to point out my presumed aversion to the beat during one of our nights out at DJ Station in Bangkok. And the other evening at Evita in Tel Aviv, similar entreaties for me to get my boogie down fell on deaf ears — mine.

I could take the easy way out and say that at 44, one should put away his boogies shoes for good, but what’s age got to do with it? Yes, I hate nightclubs, but my biggest problem with them isn’t the dance floor but the soundtrack. I refuse to move to this contemporary techno crap that they call music when I have perfectly vivid memories of another time and place (circa the 1990s in New York City) when dance divas like Kristine W., Joi Cardwell, Ultra Nate and Billie Ray Martin ruled the world underneath the strobelight, honey (to quote the title of one of my favorite jams from back in those days). David Guetta can’t even begin to compete with David Morales!

“What are you looking for?” Now there are five words that should never be uttered outside of the lost and found. When I was a kid and used to go to the mall with my mother, whenever a salesperson approached her and asked “Can I help you?” (the retail equivalent of “What are you looking for?”), she’d roll her eyes and snarl, “Can I look?” I’ve inherited her disdain for pushy salespeople, which now extends to pushy guys on online dating sites who ask “What are you looking for?” before asking your name. (Translation: “I came here for sex, and unless you did, too, I’m not looking to waste any more time on you.”) Can they make those places seem any more like virtual meat markets? I’ve taken to using “I’ll know it when I find him?” because “Apparently, not you” didn’t go over so well.

“T.K.O.” T.K.O. T.K.O. So I’m not cringing, but I’m thoroughly perplexed. The late Teddy Pendergrass’s 1980 classic “Love T.K.O.” (covered enchantingly by Regina Belle in 1995) remains one of my all-time favorite seduction suites, even if I’ve never quite gotten it. Now Justin Timberlake’s humdrum current single, simply “TKO” (no relation), has revived the question that’s stumped me for decades: What the H.E.L.L. is a “T.K.O.” — and whom do I have to sleep with to score one, if it’s actually something worth scoring (and I’m not convinced that it is)? Oh well, at least I still get to enjoy the song — “Love T.K.O.,” not “TKO”!

Leave a comment

Filed under Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Entertainment, language, Music