Friday, November 7, 2014

Turkish Coffee and Rosewater Custard with a "Gay Mantilist"

Don't you just love these crazy kids of today?
     I had an hour to kill before my appointment, so I decided to take a walk, instead of waiting in the orthopedic surgeon's office. I did my best not to limp, as I ambled along Third South, because people give you looks of distress and compassion if they think you're in pain. It makes me feel guilty.
    The fragrance of Turkish coffee hit me like a full-fledged flashback to my 1970s afternoons at Uncle Toonoose restaurant in New York. The owner had always stopped by my table to "read" my coffee grounds (the ancient art of tasseography). He predicted fabulous events in my life, most of which came true.
    I followed the scent down a side street to "Mists of Persia," a tiny cafe that had four tables. Just one patron was there, a young man with a mohawk haircut, plinking away at his laptop. He grinned at me as I made my way to the counter, and said, "You should sit with me. Let's not be lonely." What a charming comment, from this tattooed dude with his bod mods and e-cig.
    "Are you writing the Great American novel?" I asked in passing.
    "I wish! It's a Power Point presentation," he sighed. "I'm a Gay Mantilist. I thought this gig would be pure fun, but the 'suits' are turning it into a drag. They are relentlessly 'data-driven'."
     Gay Mantilism? Oh my god, that sounded cool. My blood and brain began at once to sparkle. I love being exposed to new ideas and theories and fields of study. It almost makes me wish I were still young.

Turkish coffee is so thick, it's like delicious, bubbly mud.
    When I approached the counter to order my coffee, I was warmly greeted by two cafe au lait-colored men with tousled dark hair and mustaches, one slender and one pleasantly rotund.
   "Are you really from Persia?" I asked them. "I love that culture."  In my experience, many Iranians prefer to be called Persians, probably because they don't want to be associated with their homeland's political conflicts with the U.S.
    "Yes, of course," they said. 
   "Then, سلام" I said, in Farsi. "ممکن است خدا با تو باشد ." ("Hello! May God be with you!")
    To my surprise, they both burst out laughing. 
    "Is it my pronunciation?" I asked. I thought I'd been taught pretty well by my Iranian friends in New York, just as my Lebanese and Iraqi friends had taught me a bit of Arabic.
    "No, it is just laughter of pure joy to hear our language coming from so very much an American girl," one of them said.
    "It honors us," the other one said.

    I launched into a rather ardent monologue about my affection for Iran, gleaned from personal acquaintances, documentaries, travel programs on PBS, and Iranian feature films, which I get from the library. 
    The discrepancy between how Iran is portrayed in American media and what its culture and people are really like has been very distressing to me for years. These are generous, vibrant, independent-thinking people with a proud history and extraordinarily strong family and community relationships. Education is highly valued. Women are confident, ambitious and fashion-conscious. Maybe we could learn something from their modesty and dignity.

    But the two things that have made the greatest impression on me are Iranians' devotion to justice -- they go to remarkable lengths personally and in their judicial system to do the right thing -- and their broad-based affection for America. Even so, our news media depict them as unkempt, swarthy hysterics, surrounded by filth and chaos. It's disgusting propaganda, just as our treatment of Cuba has been, and I am very ashamed.
    The two men behind the counter seem bemused by my jumbled outburst of admiration and apology, but they also appeared to be flattered that  this total stranger was performing a sort of romantic soliloquy -- poetry-slam style -- devoted to their homeland.

    How can Iranians  love the U.S. -- a country that treats it with such arrogance, hypocrisy and disrespect? 
      "مردم ," the slender man said. "It is your people we love, the feeling here of the special American freedom."
    That's very tolerant of them (and naive), and we're not as free as they think. 
    Our "freedom of the press" certainly hasn't worked properly with respect to Iran. When I saw TV interviews with then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- especially the one on "60 Minutes" -- I was sickened by the smirking, eye-rolling behavior of the interviewers. Mike Wallace especially was an ass during his 2006 encounter, even ridiculing Ahmadinejab's khaki jacket, but the Iranian leader maintained his bemused composure. The interview was turned into a crude demonization of Ahmadinejab by shockingly biased selective editing, a fact that has since been documented. 
    "It was unforgivable!" I declared.
I usually enjoyed Mike Wallace, but he was a total prick in this segment.
    I suddenly realized that I was on one of my mad-woman tirades. I felt a hot flash coming on. The Iranians were smiling indulgently, like "Oh my Allah, how long is this going to continue?" I saw that the young man at the table was grinning at me again. 
    People don't grin very much any more, have you noticed? It's such a cute thing to do. Wouldn't it be nice for us to revive this "social lubricant," as my dearly departed friend Wes Bowen would have put it? Let the grinning begin!
    "To show thanks for your tender feelings, we will give you rosewater custard with your coffee," the older man said. "Close your eyes when you taste it, and fly away to Persian gardens." 
It was a rosewater creme brulee with candied rose petals and mint.
    I was glad they had given me two spoons. I don't eat dessert -- I'm a neurotic health nut and calorie counter -- so I could just taste it, and let the Gay Mantilist have the rest. Rosewater and gayness seem quite compatible, don't they? Or is that a bad thing to say?
    "I love rosewater, but I've never eaten it before," the young man said. His name was Gabriel. "I use it in the bath sometimes. So swallowing it will be kind of bizarre, at least the first bite" 
    I told him it might refocus his mind on his Gay Mantilist presentation, which seemed to puzzle him.
    "What does a Gay Mantilist do?" I asked him. "Is this a whole new thing?"
    "Where have you been, babe?" he asked. "This has been going on practically since I was born. Of course, it's gotten huge, and it's getting totally huger by the year. It's become a global phenomenon."

"Oh my stars!" as Mitt Romney would say. "There is gayness everywhere!"

    "So you study what? Trends, social mores, demographics, evolving attitudes, impacts on fashion, psychological aspects -- that sort of thing?" I asked him.
    "Exactly," he replied. "You say this is all new to you, but you talk like you're quite the player."
     Player! Wow -- another flashback to the '70s. But "player" back then, among the New York underclasses, wasn't something I'd want to be. Those dudes were ruthless in exploiting women and living the good life, using resources of questionable provenance.
    I liked Gabriel's various tattoos and piercings. We all need a canvas of some sort to enable self-expression, and turning your body into a reflection of your aesthetics and temperament seemed reasonable to me. 

    Taking the creativity a bit too far for me, but I can't help being intrigued:

    I am thinking of getting a tiny gem in the side of my nose, even though I'm so old, people would smirk. Smirk away, dear people. I don't give a damn what you think.
     I wanted a tattoo for the longest time -- I couldn't figure out why -- but now I am more drawn to piercings. Also I thought that if I did that African thing, where they keep elongating the neck by adding stacks of rings, my old-lady "turkey neck" would surely become taut again. Is that logical? I am also riveted by scarification. It's pretty, and I think I might even enjoy the pain. Better than razor blades on your thighs!

    Why didn't my friends and I ever do any of this cool stuff? What sort of deficiency did we have that none of this exuberant "body modification" ever even occurred to us? How dull and unimaginative! We just ratted our hair, wore Tangee lip gloss, lined our eyes in black, and waited for a standing ovation.
    And yet, ironically, we had a vitality that this  generation seemed to lack. We regularly burst out laughing, ran around rosy-cheeked, huddled together sharing shocking secrets, and sped up into the mountains for beer and potentially dangerous liaisons that were usually pretty chaste. 
And where there's Bud, there's life, if you're 16 years old and boy crazy.
    Despite all their plumage -- some of it very crazy, colorful and downright deviant -- today's young people seemed rather flaccid: They were so laid back that they conveyed a detachment and world-weariness that didn't bode too well for their futures -- or ours. Even so, I felt affection for them. I was interested in them. They had no interest in me whatsoever. Even if I were wearing my Rock the Casbah or MegaDeth T-shirt, they looked right through me.
    Gabriel was like that -- loose and blase -- except for his grin. I got the sense that something about me was humorous to him, and he wasn't inclined to repress his amusement. That was fine with me. Quite often, people are antagonized by me, or put off by my idiosyncrasies -- which I don't usually try to hide -- so his wry acceptance felt like genuine warmth to me.
    The coffee was delicious. I can never get coffee that's as strong as I want it, unless I make it myself. Turkish coffee has body and a pleasing bitterness, with a cardamom seed at the bottom. 
Cardamom seeds add a musty perfume to the coffee, which is favored throughout the Middle East.

    Gabriel and I each tasted the delicious custard and put our spoons down, but before long, it was all gone. Did I do that, while obsessing about the fascinating phenomenon of Gay Mantilism? I don't think so, but I do tend to chew mindlessly when I'm pondering, so I can't guarantee it.
    "Tell me more about your work," I asked Gabriel. "I'm afraid I'm losing my battle to remain current on popular culture and lifestyle trends. I'm even beginning to mix up those teeny-bopper pop stars. It seems like they're all the same person."
    "It's a fantastic time to be a g'amour," he gushed. "Everything is wide open. There's so much energy and dialogue. We're all totally riffing off each other. We're riffing off of the past and the future. We're entering uncharted territory. I feel like every day is a new expedition."
   G'amour -- I loved that: gay plus amour.
   "I'm pretty much Alpha right now," he said. "I'm going for Beta."
    Isn't being the alpha male the cool thing to be? I guess it depends on your role in the gay world. I can see what this guy's role is:

    "A gay mantilist has multiple levels of concern," he explained. "You have to plan for 'gank' and 'grind.' The 'hack and slasher' and 'head-shot' stuff can get pretty intense, too. My job is to create new scenarios that will keep things fresh."
    Oh lord, how fresh can gank and grind be? This reminded me of my Christmas Eve with the "filthy boys," during which they explained the psychodynamics of S&M. It was very interesting, once you repressed the terrible parts: (
The "filthy boy" looked pretty darn clean to me.
    But Gabriel's terminology was sounding a bit unsavory. It took me back to my visits -- escorted by a big, strong, black, gay architect -- to leather and dungeon bars 40 years ago. It was an ugly scene.
    "You seem too gentle for this world you're describing," I said hesitantly. "Can't you find satisfaction in a less aggressive environment?"
   "Hey: I love this shit," he said. "I'm a fighter! The 'beastiary,' the 'lock on,' the 'rage crit,' the 'escort mission,' the 'chipping and tipping,' the 'buff,' the 'hotfix,' the 'pub stomper,' the 'dungeon crawl,' are all stages that culminate -- if there's no 'input lag' or 'save scumming' -- in 'the release.' Maybe I'll tire of it eventually -- do the 'Grim Fandango' outta here -- especially if a crop of fresh young dudes floods into my territory -- but for now, I'm totally into it. It's a mindset and a lifestyle, and I get off on it every day."

My brain already is a dungeon,, but I don't need to "crawl" through it. I'll strut.
     Despite my feelings of warmth for this intelligent, articulate young man, these images and jargon turned my stomach. "Save scumming"? That sounded pretty unsanitary to me.
    (When I cornered Mitt Romney and unnerved him with esoteric MBA jargon, he wasn't revolted: He panicked. He'd lost his mojo! (
    "Keep it in perspective, woman!" Gabriel told me. "It's just role-playing. It's cathartic. I just finished working on some brilliant concepts that will flood the culture next year and give the g'amour life a whole new intensity. I love Bladestorm Nightmare and Blast 'em Bunnies. Assassin's Creed and Axiom are killer immersives. You might even like Elysian Shadows and Everyone's Gone to the Rapture, and Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart. Women are getting more interested in our world.. Let the  'black heart' side of you emerge and explore itself! And don't tell me you don't have 'that side' in you. If you can't sense it, you haven't been very introspective."
"Introspection" by Oliver Weiss
    Normally I would be pissed if someone said I wasn't introspective. "I'm too sexy for my shirts: So sexy it hurts," as the band "Right Said Fred" declared in 1991. And I'm too introspective for this town. So intro I could drown. I'm introspecting Gay Mantilism to the point where I am unable to stand up and get to my doctor appointment.
    Gabriel feels fine, though. Finer than when I met him, like a teacher flushed with the gratification (release??) of effectively tutoring a remedial student. 
    "Gotta go," he said, closing his laptop. "Sit still while I kiss your cheek, or one of these spikes is gonna tear you up."
I'm not this cute, but you probably aren't either.
    I sat stiller than I ever have. His lips were those sweet gay lips. I miss gay lips. I was once what was disgustingly referred to as a "fag hag," hanging out with the butches and the femmes and the trannies, experiencing the pure exhilaration of being adored without being desired. We had such nice kisses, and we tumbled around like baby pandas hugging each other and gossiping viciously. But I've become a loner.
    And now that Gabriel was gone, I felt more alone than usual.
    One of the Iranians -- the pleasantly rotund one -- came over and asked to read my coffee grounds. 

    His striking dark face was pensive. "You are writer?" he asked.
    "I try," I smiled. "Sometimes, anyway."
    "Your best success is behind you, but your best writing is still waiting to be written," he announced.
    Oh, great. I am feeling way too lazy these days to be creative.
    "Do you know Gabriel?" I queried him. "I had never heard of a Gay Mantilist before."
    He laughed uproariously. "We don't let the gays in here, honey! They are filth! He is a game analyst for video game companies. Game Analyst! One of the top guys in the whole business. And his girlfriend is a millionaire real-estate developer."
     Game analyst? Oops, I did it again. A whole encounter based on a simple misunderstanding. Usually they don't turn out to be so cordial and stimulating. 
    I am going to keep this Gay Mantilist thing in my brain, because I love the idea, and I bet they really will exist in the very near future. They probably do already, but they're doing their Big Data analyses in secret, creating DNA algorithms that will TURN US ALL GAY. Hooray! It would probably be a nicer world.