Rock Hudson: Love, Betrayal, and the Fall of an Idol

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His real name was Roy Harold Scherer, Jr. Hollywood needed something more glamorous on theater marquees, so it took two of the world’s natural wonders – the Rock of Gibraltar and the Hudson River – and baptized the 6’4″ truck driver from Winnetka, Illinois (population of 12,105 in 1950) with a moniker crafted from the first words of each. A star was born. The first matinee idol of his kind, Rock Hudson ushered in the era of the earthy he-man.

Indeed, the hunk was all about the American outdoors. In “Giant” (1956), Hudson is the quintessential cowboy, a strapping figure that races on horseback across the Texas planes amid a panorama of mountains and a vast sky. As Jane Wyman’s love interest in “All That Heaven Allows” (1955), he’s a gardener in jeans and a lumberjack top, with trees building high and a storm of leaves his habitat. Even in his pairing with Doris Day in some of the best romantic comedies ever made – “Pillow Talk” (1959), “Lover Come Back” (1961), and “Send Me No Flowers” (1964) – Hudson is every lady’s stud and every dude’s pal. Yes, guys liked him, too.

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Rock Hudson was easily a film maker’s jackpot. His appeal extended to regions beyond the United States coastline. My mother herself was a fan. A comely 17-year-old in the mid-1950s, she was featured in a Philippine newspaper supplement in which she listed among her favorite things red roses and Rock Hudson flicks. 30 years later, my sister, as well, regarded him as exceptional among the leading men of his era. A wholesome, masculine image could explain the actor’s multi-generational popularity, particularly among females. James Dean was too tortured. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1920s-1950s/rebel-without-a-cause-rage-against-the-dying-of-the-light/)  Marlon Brando was too mercurial. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1920s-1950s/on-the-waterfront-sin-and-salvation/) Montgomery Clift was too withdrawn. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1920s-1950s/a-place-in-the-sun-a-love-worth-dying-for/ )

Personally, I find the vulnerability integral to method acting sexy. The way Dean, Brando, and Clift manifested their soft spots beneath the armor of the classic white tee instructed me as an adolescent that manhood is not about bravado. Manhood is a complex state of being where, under attack, a guy defends his convictions of love and respect towards his fellow humans, unashamed to fall should a punch on the nose impair his footing. The honor is in the fight.

While for a boy, this makes for metamorphic cinema, a girl is reared to view manhood from a different perspective. Let’s begin with the Walt Disney fairy tales. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1920s-1950s/snow-white-and-the-seven-dwarfs-someday-my-prince-will-come/) Every princess needs a prince, for only he has the power to rescue her from life’s perils and only in matrimony will she be assured happiness. Hence, girls grow into women with the notion that marriage is an immutable future. Fairy tales continue to exist for them, although in a different mode: Hollywood.

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This is why Rock Hudson was perfect. He was the alpha male that embodied princely characteristics. No matter the bind he was in, no crack ever appeared on his veneer. Even with hair unkempt, he was immaculately groomed, and that face – the strong chin and eminent nose, the dusky eyes and broad forehead – evoked the artistry of Mount Rushmore.

The irony and the misfortune is that Rock Hudson himself needed saving. He was homosexual. As Hollywood’s premier box office draw, a revelation of his true nature would have lost studios millions of audiences and billions of dollars. Women would have been distraught. Men would have gloated. Everybody would have been disgusted. The attitude in pre-Stonewall America was that being gay was a psychological disorder, a condition that tweaked the brain to blindside a man to a sense of morals. And so the fate of those whose sexual disposition I share – a societal deprivation to love that drove them to dark alleys and public restrooms in search of human warmth.

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According to author Armistead Maupin, best friend to Hudson back in the day, the actor sought refuge in San Francisco. What an earthquake of desire Hudson must have triggered upon treading the city’s seven hills, followed by a blaze of broken hearts in his wake. Who could say no to one of filmdom’s most spectacular images?

Regardless, carnal release is momentary and skin deep, though we try to convince ourselves otherwise. With a hunger in the soul, we continue on our foray to cavernous venues like animals in a burrow scrounging for nourishment. Unfortunately, the subterfuge did not certify discretion for Hudson. Confidential magazine got wind of his secret and threatened to expose him. To protect Hollywood’s cash box, agent Henry Wilson sacrificed Tab Hunter, another closeted swooner, to the gossip mill instead, then married off Hudson to his secretary, Phyllis Gates, whom Wilson’s biographer revealed years later to be a lesbian.

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How crippling it must have been, this masquerade, this lying to the world. A draconian attitude towards homosexuality conditioned Rock Hudson to believe that he was an aberration of a human being. So ingrained was his self-loathing that when he became the most famous face of AIDS in the 1980s, he denied being gay.

My early adulthood coincided with the actor’s return as front page news. I was a freshman in college, a boy from the Philippines new to America, where its liberal atmosphere emboldened me to confront my own homosexuality. Since I was focused on the issue of being in the closet, I was ignorant of the Reagan administration’s refusal to tackle the AIDS epidemic. Politics had no role in my current crush (a German-Puerto Rican skateboarder named Ralph who had a deep voice, a square jaw, and a rounded derriere that a pair of Levi’s 501’s accentuated). Instead, the tabloid headlines of Rock Hudson imperiling “Dynasty” star Linda Evans due to a kiss when he guest-appeared on the TV series seized my attention, as did the jokes that sprouted from Hudson’s ongoing drama to survive. The man was entertainment. His suffering bore no link to me.

I was wrong. I recently watched on youtube an account of Hudson’s last months. While in Paris to receive treatment, he was staying at the Ritz-Carlton, gaunt and bed-ridden. Nobody wanted to hug him. Nobody wanted to touch him. To those who came into contact with him, if only by their mere presence of standing a few feet away, he was the loneliest person they had ever seen. What a colossal fall this was for a man formerly glorified as a specimen of masculine superiority. Then again, such an elevated status is a set-up for rejection. We are all mortal. We all grow old. We all succumb to ailments. The more idealized we are, the harsher the world can be as our humanness betrays itself through every personal setback.

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Farrah Fawcett comes to mind. (http://www.rafsy.com/actors-models-directors/farrah-fawcett-the-kiss-of-providence/) In her middle age, psychotic episodes such as vandalism of a lover’s property and incoherency on “The David Letterman Show” turned her into a stooge. Then news broke out that she was dying. Luckily for Fawcett, the virus that claimed her life did not denigrate her as a reprobate. We kept vigil. We hoped and we prayed. So did she. Ultimately, the bravery with which Farrah Fawcett faced cancer earned her something denied Rock Hudson – our respect.

As much as we’d like to believe in progress, times have not entirely changed. Despite the internet exposure to customs and lifestyles different from our own, allowing for an increased acceptance of openly gay actors such as Matt Bomer and Wentworth Miller, a code of silence continues to muzzle big budget performers whose careers are cemented in a macho image. Number one would be Tom Cruise. (http://www.rafsy.com/actors-models-directors/tom-cruise-the-art-of-survival/) Speculation has hounded him for decades so that every one of my friends is convinced that he’s gay. “He should just admit it,” a co-worker at San Francisco AIDS Foundation said, “Nowadays it doesn’t matter.”

Oh, but it does. Bare in mind that Cruise’s films do not screen in politically correct San Francisco alone, but also in the Deep South and the Midwest, in Russia and China… in places across the globe where homosexuality remains a perversion, and in some countries, a crime. Should it make headlines that Cruise prefers brawn to breasts, then ticket sales will plummet, movie studios will lose money, and Cruise will be jobless. No homophobe wants to see one derided as a pansy kissing a beautiful woman and touting a gun as he embarks on hair-raising exploits to save the world. Viewers would consider Tom Cruise both a fraud and an affront to manhood. Never mind that acting is all about… well… acting. When it comes to cinema icons, the line between fact and fiction is non-existent.

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And so the tragedy that is Rock Hudson. He died at 59. For all his capacity to make men laugh and women fall in love, the press summed up his legacy in a single acronym: AIDS. That was enough for a once adoring public to turn its back on him.

“Moonlight”: The Birth of a New Dawn

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On my 25th high school reunion with the International School Manila (ISM), I ran into a guy who used to bully me. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1960s-1990s/big-the-best-that-we-can-be/) The moment was not only nerve wrecking, but also unexpected. Robert had left after middle school and was at the reunion by invitation from an alumnus with whom he had kept in touch over the decades. Until then, I would occasionally wonder what ever had happened to Robert. He had been orangutan portly with dark hair and beady eyes, and I envisioned him in adulthood as an obese lout, surviving on a diet of beer and McDonald’s, his home in America a cigarette cesspool of a trailer car.

A man the complete opposite stood before me. Robert was Mr. Clean incarnate – bald, brawny, and sporting a collarless white tee. He approached me at the poolside buffet to compliment me on my own musculature and then, “I don’t recognize you. I recognize almost everybody here, but you.” I responded that I remembered him very well, referencing his heavy weight when we had been kids as proof, though I dared not mention the homophobic epithets he would hurl at me. As the sensation of worms churning in my insides debilitated me as if I were once again 11 years old, Robert expressed pride in the trajectory his life had taken since leaving ISM. Karate put him in shape, and a job first as a policeman followed by one as a juvenile correctional officer enabled him to release his aggression on the side of the law. “So you beat up guys,” I said. “I’ve been known to do that,” he said with a laugh.

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Some past traumas stay with us through adulthood, and bullying is one of them. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1960s-1990s/carrie-it-gets-better/) The trick is how to put it behind us. The It Gets Better Project was founded in 2011 in response to the reports in recent years of verbal and physical assaults directed at gay, lesbian, and transgender youths. Its website (www.itgetsbetter.org) offers video clips of former victims who have prospered as adults; in effect, relaying the message that the torment endured in childhood and adolescence should not cause one to languish but to strengthen, for the future is about rebirth. Finally, we are taking an aggressive stand against an issue too long ignored. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of suicides among youths between the ages of ten and 24 amounts to 4,400 a year, with bullying a primary impetus. (http://www.heyugly.org/aboutStatistics.php) Due to the disturbing statistic, cinema itself is bringing attention to this social ill.

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One such film is “Moonlight” (2016). A coming-of-age, coming out tale, it follows a boy’s life as he braves face beatings in school and name callings at home. We are introduced to Chiron when he is just about ten years old, nicknamed Little for his timid personality. Little (Alex Hibbert) is fleeing from a pack of neighborhood no-gooders when he gets cornered in an abandoned motel. There he meets Juan (Mahershala Ali), who comes to his rescue and ultimately becomes the boy’s surrogate father. The bullying worsens in Chiron’s teens, though sexual identity is of no provocation. Lanky in oversized clothes and with head bowed as if in constant remorse, a young Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is prime target, a cat in a lion’s den. High school sucks, and home is no haven when mom is a junky who digs into her son’s pockets for cash to fund her next rush.

As an adult, Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) travels far for a fresh start. He drops the name Chiron for Black and, with a new identity, develops his physique into a steamroller of muscles, brandishing jewelry and gold teeth. No one dares mess with a hulky Black. However, the stony exterior belies the tumult within. Too much has happened to Chiron for him to simply let go, until he reconnects with childhood buddy, Kevin (André Holland), and onward he treads on a path to love and forgiveness.

Sexual awakening is petrifying to the young. It spurs a sensation never before felt, a mystery we boys seek the answers to in men’s magazines found hidden in our fathers’ closets. For those of us who experience lust for one of our own gender, there is no answer, and thus we fumble through the maze to a destination of discovery. So it is for Chiron. Evenings for him have a sensuous aura. The tide is high. The moon is a crystal ball of electricity. One night he has a wet dream. A 16-year-old Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) is smiling a smile part mischievous, part inviting. He is fornicating with a girl in some outdoor space at the end of a labyrinthine passageway. A terrace, maybe, or an alley. Chiron watches from a doorway, drowning in a cauldron of terror and desire. The smile is directed at him.

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We all experience a Kevin of sorts. Mine was in the body of Guy, another boy who picked on me in the sixth grade. While I detested Robert, my feelings for Guy were contradictory. He had dark hair cut in the signature 1970s fashion of feather bangs, freckles, and that slightly bow-legged jock strut. Robert, he, and I were in the same gym class. One day in the locker room, Robert, seated on a bench, pulled a prank on Guy by attempting to yank his briefs from his ankle so that he was hopping on one foot, laughing like a goofball as his penis flopped. The vision of Guy naked was one I would have for the rest of my prepubescence on many nights that I lay in bed. He may have been a jackass, but I didn’t hate him.

Guy also didn’t proceed onto high school at ISM. Nobody I know of had maintained contact with him either. What man he became is hard to tell, for even bullies can undergo changes that vitalize in them a latent kindness. Here’s a case study courtesy of my brother-in-law. The quarterback to his Long Island high school would threaten to beat up other boys if they refused to do his homework. According to Steve, “He had to repeat a grade twice. That’s how dumb he was.” The footballer was aged 16 in a class of 14-year-olds. Fast forward 45 years later. He is now a science teacher in that same Long Island high school. Student comments Steve has googled are awash with commendations on his friendly disposition. “He’s such a nice person,” they chime.

At the 25th class reunion, Robert took the initiative to reintroduce himself to everyone, exerting the extra measure to compliment married men for having beautiful wives. Two years later, I learned on Facebook that Robert died from a heart attack. I wouldn’t call his passing retribution. I’d call it irony. He seemed to be making amends for past reprehensible behaviors. Then fate dealt a blow. I was rather surprised at my sadness when reading the news, for I carried no grudge towards Robert, never had. Neither did I care for an apology during our brief interaction as grown men. A state of dither aside, I had allowed bygones to be bygones a long time before. Cutting loose enabled me to thrive through the decades so that I embraced my sexual identity in college and, shortly thereafter, came out in San Francisco.

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This spirit of strength in letting go suffuses “Moonlight” like a haunting melody. In certain African mythology, the moon is the goddess of creation, a symbol of motherhood and fertility. Its light promises the birth of a new dawn, and as the sun rises, we see more clearly where tomorrow is meant to take us.

“Ice Castles”: Through the Eyes of Love

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“Ice Castles” (1978) promises a story that will get you sobbing into a Kleenex. Let’s start with the Martin Hamlisch/Melissa Manchester theme song. Soft focus silhouettes naked trees. A figure skater performs loops and axels in a snowy wonderland. Hair Goldilocks blonde, she is covered from head to feet in white winter apparel. Music starts with the tap of a piano, a soothing tune that evokes a ballerina in a jewelry box, and then a lover’s plea:

Please don’t let this feeling end. It’s everything I am, everything I want to be. I can see what’s mine now, finding out what’s true since I found you, looking through the eyes of love.

Eyes are primary in “Ice Castles,” literally and allegorically. Lexie Winston (Lynn-Holly Johnson) is an ascending star, Olympic material. During an ice skating stunt, she suffers a fall, banging her head against tables and chairs chained together at the edge of the rink. The accident claims Lexie’s sight, which drives the girl to hole up in her home, dreams of gold thwarted, until boyfriend Nick Peterson (Robby Benson) demands she stop with self-pity and prove herself a champion. With Lexie’s will invigorated, Nick becomes her eyes.

“Ice Castles” doesn’t offer much surprises. The movie is set up so that from the moment tragedy strikes, we know our heroine will rise above it, doubly so upon the guidance of a handsome beau who serves as her motivational pillar. Yet as we all know, cinema speaks to us because it lends verisimilitude to our personal trials, a looking glass to the human ability to soar as a sparrow from the abyss of despair, and “Ice Castles” is no exception.

Now I can take the time. I can see my life as it comes up shining now. Reaching out to touch you, I can feel so much since I found you, looking through the eyes of love.

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Tragedy recognizes no boundaries, an unwelcome presence lurking in the shadows eager to violate our well-being at any moment, anywhere. We could never have expected the turn of events on April 15, 2013. What started as a jubilant marathon in downtown Boston ended in chaos. A pair of terrorists detonated two homemade bombs concealed in a backpack. Building fronts blasted. Rivulets of blood flowed on streets and pavements. The attack killed three people and injured more than 260.

In the years since, the media have followed the recovery process of some of the victims, their resilience an example to all. Dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis, her left leg now a prosthetic, has returned to the stage, and severe burns on James Costello did not prevent the man from finding love with nurse Krista D’Agostino. (http://people.com/celebrity/boston-marathon-bombings-one-year-later-5-inspiring-stories-about-survivors/) Newlyweds Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky endured a combination of 40 operations on their limbs and ruptured ears, with Downes losing one leg and Kensky losing both, yet married they remain and indefatigable in their rehabilitation, which for Kensky included writing a children’s book, “Rescue and Jessica: A True Friendship,” based upon her relationship with her rescue dog. (http://people.com/human-interest/boston-marathon-bombing-survivors-patrick-downes-jessica-kensky-hbo-doc/)

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Then we have the most famous endurance story of all, that of Christopher Reeve. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1960s-1990s/superman-a-lasting-legacy/ ) In 1995, following an equestrian accident in which he was thrown off a horse, Reeve was hospitalized in a week-long state of delirium, only to regain his mental stability a quadriplegic. He wanted to commit euthanasia. His wife, Dana, didn’t deny his wish, but in her promise that she would never desert him if he were to give life a second chance, he turned his handicap into incentive for a new beginning. Reeve founded the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and spoke at the Democratic National Convention, appeared on Larry King and gave speeches across the country, all on a mission to promote awareness of and fund research for physical disabilities. On the creative side, he remained as dogged as ever, producing and starring in a 1998 remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954) as well as authoring his autobiography, “Still Me,” and making a guest appearance on “Sesame Street.”

Nobody wants to go through what Lexie in “Ice Castles” does, and while we commiserate with her, we are tears and smiles when the end credits roll. “Ice Castles” is just a movie. Back to reality, we read the papers, walk the dog, and empty the trash, mindless of how crucial our physical faculties are in accomplishing the most routine task. To appreciate, we need to lose, as Boston marathoner Jessica Kensky did on that fateful April day in 2013; hence, the change in the way she reflects on the past: “I’ll think back to Christmas and say, ‘Oh, yeah. I had legs then, that Christmas’ or ‘Oh, I had a right leg at that birthday party.’”

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Lest we think we are safe in our bubble, darkness of another sort threatens to fall upon us. Heed the words of Great Britain’s heir to the throne (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MY2m6JKQKeY):

“A recent report suggests that attacks are increasing on Yazidis, Jews, Ahmadis, Baha’is and many other minority faiths. And in some countries, even more insidious forms of extremism have recently surfaced which aim to eliminate all types of religious diversity. We’re also struggling to capture the ripple effects of such persecution.”

Prince Charles’s 2016 Christmas speech summates a year that witnessed the rise to power of Donald Trump, Rodrigo Duterte, and Maha Vajiralongkorn. Trump took oath on January 20, 2017 as the 45th president of the United States of America. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-2000s-present/race-triumph-of-the-will/ ) This despite campaign speeches that roused antipathy among his supporters towards marginalized groups, primarily immigrants and people of color, and that inflamed Islamophobe by categorizing all Muslims as potential terrorists. It should be no surprise that the first head of state he personally called to invite to his inauguration ceremony was Duterte, himself notorious as the Donald Trump of the Philippines because of his denigrating remarks about women and persons with disabilities. Add Vajiralongkorn to the bag of questionable rulers. The Thai king has raised eyebrows on account of his womanizing and addiction to gambling, but none more so than when he appointed his pet poodle, Fufu, as air chief marshal of the Royal Thai Air Force in 2007.

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With such amorality exhibited among the three, we can indeed only struggle to capture the ripple effects of religious persecution, which include the elimination of LGBT rights, an escalation in hate crimes, and the ferment of white supremacy groups. The F.B.I. has confirmed that by orders of Vladimir Putin, Russia – a nation that condemns gays and lesbians – hacked the American presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. The day after his win, swastikas were spray painted on walls and automobiles in cities from coast to coast. The bigoted ideology that these men uphold as leaders of two of the most powerful countries on the planet sets a dangerous example to humanity.

The world seems to be reverting to the 1950s, a decade Senator Joseph McCarthy mired in xenophobia with his Communist witch hunt, branding treacherous anyone who lived by convictions disconnected from Anglo-Christian values. Many are once again blind to the colors that illuminate our neighborhoods and deaf to the diversified voices that harmonize around us. With homogeneity enforced upon us, we are crippled from being true to who we are. Fear not. The 1960s came to the rescue. As Hillary Clinton pronounced in her last campaign speech, “Love trumps hate.” The cloudy days that loom nearby could only mean another Civil Rights Movement awaits in the horizon.

Like a figure skater, history goes in circles, and whenever champions fall, they get back on their feet.

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“An Affair to Remember”: The Nearest Thing to Heaven

“Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories. We’ve already missed the spring.”

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Love hurts and love delights, but never in equal measure. Because all things come to an end, the best we can do is to assure that as we look back on a voyage, we do so with contentment. Relationships, be they romantic or platonic, have their share of rough seas. Some sink, and some are smooth sailing until a divergent path causes both parties to drift their separate ways. Some reach one destination, and some lose their course only to emerge further on intact from a gale.

We always hope that the people we welcome into our lives are for keeps. I am grateful that I have never been betrayed… every friend and love interest have been trustworthy… though I no longer remain in contact with many of those to whom I was closest. Facebook doesn’t count in sustaining a relationship. The photos on a person’s account wall don’t include us; messaging is a cop out for a heart-to-heart conversation; and clicking the Like option to a posting barely expresses the extent to which we care. Instead of regaining for us an intimacy lost, images of our once dearest pals getting married, starting families, and growing old reveal how they have thrived without us.

As a freshman at Tufts University, I was a kid fresh off the plane from the Philippines, socially gauche and intimidated by the Greek system, which was a major component to assimilating into campus life. My roommates, one from Puerto Rico and the other from a Massachusetts town called Franklin, rushed at the same fraternity and formed a bond as brothers. Even so, Jorge and David F accepted me as a buddy. With Jorge, the connection was cultural. We Filipinos are Latin in our propensity for dance music and melodrama. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1960s-1990s/the-law-of-desire-lunacy-and-obsession/)  He and I were more Barry White than Bruce Springsteen, “Love’s Theme” our favorite White composition, and we regaled over balladeers to Tagalog and Spanish songs affecting heartache with voices that cracked, as if they were breaking down in tears. Jorge had hawk eyes and Ernest Borgnine brows, thick and bushy. His favorite past time: weekend fiestas with other Latinos at Tufts. David F, an all-American athlete handsome in the mode of a news anchor (think Tom Brokaw), possessed an openness to diverse cultures no matter that he had never boarded an airplane until November of our freshman year to spend Thanksgiving in New York. He was the first person I came out to, and after our graduation up until the second millennium, we kept each other abreast with our jobs and personal happenings.

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The candidness in my friendship with David F bolstered my confidence as a gay man so that when I moved to San Francisco in 1990, I found my niche in the LGBT community. Eric, a flirt of the highest order, constantly wore tight shorts to show off muscular legs. Tony was his foil, a gregarious presence with an enormous smile and a baritone voice. They were both Filipino. Sean was Vietnamese and himself into weight training. On the subdued side, he was soft spoken and wore metal-rimmed glasses that gave him a studious air. David V was half Filipino, half Mexican, with full features and thick, high hair that never fell into disarray. Together we dined, worked out, and went clubbing. We exchanged opinions of what it was to be men of color in a subculture that promoted as the epitome of male desirability the Caucasian Adonis. At last, I found friends I could relate to, who empathized with my insecurities, struggle with self-image, and quest for love.

Each of these guys, from David F to David V, has blessed me with memories to cherish. “An Affair to Remember” (1957) occurs in several forms like the movie itself, which has undergone quite a few versions, the most popular being that with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Nickie Ferrante (Grant) and Terry McKay (Kerr) meet on a cruise. The opening credits reveal the time of year. The trees in Central Park are bare of leaves. The ground is white. The silhouette of the Empire State building towers in the background behind a gauze of mist and snowflakes. Yet how warm it is on the cruise… companionship is the antidote for frostbites… and how can we ask for better company than two of the most beautiful movie stars of the day, entangled in an affair beset with conflicts. Nickie is fiancé to an American heiress (Neva Patterson). Terry is girlfriend to a rich man (Richard Denning) who provides her with financial support.

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The two are so sophisticated that it’s incredulous he’s actually hard on cash, laboring as a billboard painter upon terminating his engagement on account of Terry, while she, single again for the sake of Nickie, earns a paycheck as a nightclub singer. He’s also got a grandma (Cathleen Nesbitt) who lives in the South of France, in a house perched on a hill. Baroque furniture decorates the interior, while a miniature Eden beautifies the premise. Grandmother Janou is hardly lacking in funds. Still, an obstacle other than another man and another woman needs to prevent our lovers from living happily ever after as the ship docks in New York.

So Nickie and Terry agree to meet at the top of the Empire State Building in six months, the projected time Nickie gives himself to be an economically stable man, which indeed he becomes as his canvasses sell like lemonade on a blistering summer day. “I was looking up,” Terry later says of the afternoon when she was rushing through the Manhattan traffic to keep their rendezvous. “It was the nearest thing to heaven,” she says of the iconic edifice. Nevertheless, averting our eyes to the sky instead of focusing them on a busy street is a reckless move.

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What a voyage for Nickie and Terry. As Terry says on the final night of the cruise, “We’ve already missed the spring.” Since they are of a certain age, they see this as their last chance at true love, and therefore, the decision to go full steam ahead, whether or not they reach a shared destination, lose their course, or sink. Whatever the result, they would live adored in each other’s memories. As for me, my own aforestated friendships didn’t come to a stormy halt. Since some of us moved to other cities, geography caused us to drift apart. The one relationship charged with tension would be that with Doug. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1960s-1990s/edward-scissorhands-a-volatile-friendship/)

Doug and I last saw each other this September, when he visited me from Los Angeles and stayed at my place. We’ve been friends since 1991. That would be close to 26 years. He’s Mid-Western American. I’m Filipino. Despite the cultural difference, we are similar in our global education (he had spent a college year in Scotland while I in France) and affinity for nice clothes (Ralph Lauren pants for less than a hundred bucks at I. Magnin’s closing sale). Above all, we come from a common family background, one that emphasizes traveling as a means of intellectual enhancement and personal growth. Paired with a physical attraction, we had plenty to talk about, which has not been the case in recent years. Much has gone on with us that we have not confided in each other. Doug has compared our rift to a sibling leaving for boarding school; the kinship remains, but the distance has caused a change in the relationship. His two-week visit was curtailed to two days, during which a yelling match erupted over my persistence for an Uber that never showed up and his mess of food crumbs in my kitchen.

“Turn the boat around,” Terry McKay implores in “An Affair to Remember.” It is now summer in New York. Autumn will f0llow soon enough, winter in its stead, and then Terry will be another year older. Hers is an impossible request, for in life, the past can only be relived in remembrances and, when that fails, in art. But we do have second chances, even when we’ve missed the spring. For as long as we are alive, nothing is ever finished.

Friends and lovers have a way of coming back.

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“Brief Encounter”: No Ordinary Love

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“This can’t last. This misery can’t last… Nothing lasts really, neither happiness nor despair. Not even life lasts very long. There’ll come a time in the future when I shan’t mind about this anymore.”

Here’s the thing about passion. No matter how happily married we may be, devoted to our spouses in the comfort of a cozy home, our needs and future secured, a gorgeous stranger appears like an angel descended to earth and removes a piece of grit from our eye as we are about to board a train. It’s a scene we only know as true in novels and films. Alas, because it has become our reality, we refuse to let the moment pass, regardless the stakes. Nothing in life is entirely an accident. For such magic to spark what would have been a typical day must be a message from the forces of destiny. So begins the romance between our hapless couple, Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard), in “Brief Encounter” (1945).

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When at attempt at art produces an outcome that is either fabulous or feeble, we know it. The work moves us or it doesn’t. We applaud or we wince. While individual expression is paramount to an artist, certain rules are unbreakable. For one, shun clichés. Every narrative since the inception of storytelling has generally followed a prescribed path: 1) the introduction of a set of characters and the problem that besets them; 2) the catalyst that incites the characters to action; 3) the conflict that causes them to change; and 4) the resolution wherein they face their problem with a new gained wisdom that leads to the conclusion. Clichés are booby traps at every turn, particularly with a love story. Cast a beautiful woman and a handsome man as the lead characters. Make one or both of them married. Have them at first resist temptation and then succumb to it. Let guilt weigh on them. The conclusion is up for grabs, but no matter what, lamentations of heartache are compulsory. What a tremendous undertaking indeed to create a romance more on the level of Gustave Flaubert (http://www.rafsy.com/art-of-storytelling/in-defense-of-flaubert-and-austen/) than Nicholas Sparks (http://www.rafsy.com/films-2000s-present/the-notebook-do-not-forget-do-not-forget/).

Somehow, “Brief Encounter” accomplishes in avoiding paperback melodrama while remaining true to the arc of a traditional narrative. The situation that involves our lovers is really so very “ordinary,” which is a word Laura Jesson as narrator repeats to underscore the surprise of how dramatic her story itself turns out:

“I’m an ordinary woman. I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people. It all started on an ordinary day, in the most ordinary place in the world, the refreshment room at Milford Junction… I looked up and saw a man come in from the platform. He had on an ordinary mac. His hat was turned down, and I didn’t even see his face. He got his tea at the counter and turned. Then I did see his face. It was rather a nice face.”

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Laura and Alec are British, proper and eloquent in the way folks who spend much time with books are. No tumultuous condition such as war poisons their passion with urgency and death. No locale fabled for romance serves as the backdrop. The setting is 1938. The relationship that burgeons between Laura and Alec happens in the most mundane fashion, a lunch followed by a movie. They are each spouse to another, and because they rendezvous in a town that like any other town is prone to gossip, they limit their kisses to the shadows in the underground tunnel at Milford Junction and a deserted boathouse – places to which few people would venture – as if they were felons. Theirs is a dilemma that bedevils all those in the throes of a forbidden love, depicted through an intensity of emotions that overpowers banality. And this is why “Brief Encounter” is a classic.

I myself am no stranger to a forbidden love. In the decade I was born, men of my tribe were jailed, lost jobs and families, and institutionalized on account of their affection for other men. Stonewall paved the way towards their decriminalization, and in the close to 50 years since, we gays and lesbians in America have united to establish a political force that has earned us employment rights, military acceptance, and marriage equality. Nevertheless, we continue to face incrimination in countries slow to recognize civil rights. Russia imposes fines on gay activist groups, the members of which the government deems as “foreign agents,” and in Uganda, homosexuals are sentenced to life imprisonment. China bans depictions of LGBT people on the television, and Iran enforces corporal punishment.

Truly, we are all ordinary men and women guilty of no harm to society. Our only fault according to those who condemn is our natural propensity for those we love. Even in America, for all the progress we have achieved, a return to the status quo is imminent. President-elect Donald Trump has been appointing anti-LGBT politicians to his cabinet, starting with his vice presidential running mate, Mike Pence, a fundamentalist Christian who as governor of Indiana sought to legalize conversion therapy, a procedure that allegedly transforms homosexuals into heterosexuals through psychoanalysis.

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A former colleague at San Francisco AIDS Foundation recently exchanged marital vows with his partner. “I am proud of my husband,” he has posted on Facebook. However, with the tension that has permeated the air in the aftermath of the November 8 elections, he is afraid to hold his husband’s hand in public. We have reverted to 1938. Hate crimes have spiked up, reportedly committed in the name of Donald Trump. A group that calls itself “Americans for a Better Way” sent copies of a letter that demeans Muslims as “a vile and filthy people” to at least five mosques in California, propagating genocide. At Fort Hancock High School in El Paso, Texas, white students during a volleyball game paraded Trump placards as they chanted “build the wall” at their Hispanic classmates. (http://edition.cnn.com/2016/11/10/us/post-election-hate-crimes-and-fears-trnd/) “Gay families = burn in hell. Trump 2016” read a sign placed on a car in North Carolina. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-elections/donald-trump-president-supporters-attack-muslims-hijab-hispanics-lgbt-hate-crime-wave-us-election-a7410166.html) The bigotry in Europe that culminated in the Holocaust is jeopardizing the stability of a nation universally respected as a stalwart of democracy.

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In “Brief Encounter,” provincialism as much as propriety constrict Laura Jesson and Dr. Alec Harvey. In contrast to the goings-on in high offices and the price denizens of a land pay as a consequence, theirs is a trivial affair, a paltry cause to a domestic disruption that has no ramifications on the safety of neighbors. But the affair does raise an awareness of our own prerogative to love… to love our partners, our culture, our community, ourselves… and once this is questioned, then so too is our standing as citizens of the world. The mooring of an ordinary existence threatens to break. We feel a passion we never have before, an ardency to retain what is rightfully ours.

History repeats itself as stories repeat themselves, for an event does not last unless it is recorded and retold. Neither is everything with us cliché. Despite the collectiveness of an experience, no two people live and remember it the same way.