Monday, June 23, 2008

fruit danishes, eating disorders, and Tom Cruise

I'm sitting in the galley at the square plywood table with astro-turf on its surface (this isn't as strange as it sounds; on these boats there is almost always some non-slip something on all the horizontal surfaces, especially in the kitchen) eating a strangely delicious pineapple danish. It is one of those not quite industrial but still too manufactured to call baked fresh. They aren't individually packed and sealed to last for months on shelfs, but rather the kind baked in mass at some big bakery then crammed together in an open-topped cardboard box and wrapped in cellophane and sent off to grocery stores. These then found there way into the ice-hold on a fishing boat and have only just come out to the inside refrigerator. Sitting eating this pastry and thinking about how intensely delicious it is and how delicious the apple one I ate yesterday was, I suddenly want to eat the whole box. Not just an expression, I literally want to eat the whole box and find myself thinking about eating disorders.

This isn't because I associate consuming whole boxes of pastries with eating disorders, rather eating has taken on a rather capriciously religious aura when I am on the boats: sometimes enthralling me, sometimes horrifying me. I've become much more intimate with food as a necessity and limits of it and what is and isn't luxury in consumption. And the strange appeals both of gorging and withholding. These are faint siren calls to me that don't have me particularly worried, but they make me think about eating disorders from time to time which otherwise I wouldn't be inclined to think about abstractly.

And then I found myself thinking about Tom Cruise. These two things are not related; he appeared from the ether as I sat eating and pondering because I found myself looking at the dvd case on the table. Almost every boat with anything of a dvd collection has Mission Impossible: III. Why that movie? I have no idea, though action movies are always popular. But this one has been on most of the boats I've been on and one day I'll watch the whole thing. I've seen the beginning and the end, seeing the end earlier today which surely prepped me to think of Mr. Cruise when I saw the dvd case sitting there. There is slightly more synergy to it, though.

There is always a weird unintentional synchronicity out here that I find myself noticing. Like the same actors showing up in every movie and I don't mean someone being a fan of one actor, like the Stephen Segal marathons I'm subjected to, but completely unrelated movie choices piling up, like me watching Alien by myself in my bunk, then someone putting in Holes (also starring Ms. Weaver) then Steel Magnolias (Tom Skerritt) and back to Segourny with Ghost Busters. Today's tangle was less spectactular: Mission Impossible: III on the main TV while I eat lunch and a passing Tom Cruise joke by Dan Savage on a This American Life podcast.

I've discovered podcasts and am in love. They are perfect for this time away from civilization and I didn't download near enough when I was on land this last time, but I did get one episode of This American Life. I've always liked that program on NPR, so I was psyched to have it to listen to here in my bubble life. In this episode, one of the commentaries was Dan Savage talking about portrayals of straight people on television, arguing that they are just as ridiculously stereotyped as portrayals of gay people. To make his point he was listing various straight characters from tv-land , reminding us that real straight people don't act like that. He naughtily adds in, "Tom Cruise on Oprah's coach: real straight people don't act like that." This got hearty laughs. I laughed too; it is funny.

But hours later, scarfing down a danish and thinking about eating disorders, I see the cd folder and suddenly wonder what Tom Cruise thinks when he hears these jokes. Sincerely, like actually wondering what he really thinks, not some kicked in auto-guilt response programmed in to be casually pondered to try to balance out my evil sense of humor. I suddenly really started wondering about it.

I mean, on the one hand, suppose he is gay. What the hell goes through his mind feeling attracted to men and feeling compelled to publicly disavow it but having everyone assume that he is gay anyway despite him taking on all the trappings of a straight identity? Ok, writing out that sentence reminds me why every gay man finds the possibility uber-tragicomic: most of us have been there. Repressive omnipresent evangelical religion into which your identity has been publicly and intimately intertwined? Check. Serious intimate heterosexual partnerships? Check. Feelings of being surrounded by others whose lives would be negatively affected by you going public with your 'secret'? Check. We could go on, but point being been there done that, so if I for a moment treat Mr. Cruise as a real person rather than simply a public figure then I've got to empathize for a moment with how this stuff hits against you when you feel trapped in the best-little-boy-in-the-world loop.

And what if he is actually really and truly straight, totally not into guys? Would it then all be funny to him? Annoying? Actually, if he is really straight, then who cares? I've always gone with the "if it ain't true, who cares?" approach to gossip and such, so if he is really fully total hetero then this gets boring.

He has a look in his eyes that says he is hiding something. His eyes scream it. This is part of why he is interesting as an actor despite over-saturation. There is something there; it might not be that he is gay and for that matter if he was and came out I don't think he'd look any less guarded and walled up behind those eyes. But something is back there and every one of these jokes pokes at it even if we've got our conclusion wrong, so maybe it could still be interesting even if he is straight. Anyway about he is a person and I wonder how he takes it all in. Does he just shrug it off and laugh? I imagine that's what he does in person if cornered and he can't just pretend like he doesn't hear or understand.

Is this whole mental game empathy or just a more vulgar and violating kind of voyeurism? I think I can honestly say that it originated in a sympathetic place, suddenly struck thinking of the actual person behind the facade of celebrity, thoughts of him and his feelings bubbling up from my subconscious. And I pursued the thoughts here in text from a similarly sincerely thoughtful place, just following the original quandry a little further, but at some point, perhaps the moment that this becomes a public musing and no longer a personal sympathetic pang, I can't help but feel that it tipped over into the same celebrity voyeurism that something in me had been reacting against.

Since writing this I've returned to land. In San Francisco I followed a random urge for a french cruller to a donut shop that I've stumbled into in the middle of the night after drinking at Aunt Charlie's, where I found in addition to the desired french cruller an apple danish which cried out for me to consume it. It was delicious and smiled eating it as I walked down the street and remembered how powerful the flavor was in my deprived weeks at sea, but I only wallowed in memory of the flavor and didn't think at all about eating disorders or Tom Cruise.

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