Sending this two days late because I’m still recovering from New Orleans, where I got a new nickname from White Power Randy: Category 6, for the uncontrollable cackling force I become when I get truly, truly borracho.
Like, faking-a-five-hit-combo-on-my-best-friend-with-my umbrella-to-demonstrate-how-I’d-beat-up-anyone-who-tried-to-assault-me borracho.
I was in the Big Easy for the wedding of my cousin Vic, who just might be the last person left for whom I’d travel for a destination wedding. I grew up with him, my cousin Plas, and our mutual best friend Art, so I had to go pay my #respect along with the rest of No Ma’am, the trivia super-group we belong to that happens when my original group, Who, Mortimer? unites with Vic’s friends, the ManBearPigs.
Yeah, we’re nerds. Drunken, drunken nerds. Hurricanes! (and daiquiris. And hand grenades. And Sazeracs. And Martinezes. And that was just Saturday night. And that was just me).
It was a beautiful, fairybook wedding. Vic got married to a woman who, along with me, was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by the Anaheim High School Class of ’97. They said their vows at the St. Louis Cathedral, then second line-d their way through the French Quarter for dinner and dancing with friends and family.
It was a completely different world from the woke/journalist circles I usually travel in. The bigger topic at hand wasn’t Trump or the upcoming Los Angeles teacher’s strike but rather the spread for this weekend’s playoff games and why Friends is such a great show (I maintain Friends is the worst sitcom in history).
But the biggest change for me? Everyone called me Gus — and I had no problem with it whatsoever.
Me with my cousins, 1994. Who wore it better: Plas’ natty purple, Vic’s paisa vest, or Gus in the Pendleton?
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Every once in a while, someone on social media will call me “Gus.”
And I have a very simple question for them: “Who’s Gus?”
When you’re a person with some public profile, you put as much of yourself out there as possible. I really try to hide nothing from readers, listeners and viewers. I’ve talked about my father’s alcoholism, my own sins, and much much more.
I really have no filter on my life except one: Unless you grew up with me, you have no right to call me “Gus.”
I’m not ashamed of the nickname one bit. But, in general, I find it insulting when strangers or people who aren’t close to you quickly call you by a nickname. It’s a power trip, plain and simple, that robs you of the dignity of getting called by your full name.
I always winced when teachers called me that growing up. In the present day, if someone calls me Gus in person, I immediately say, “My name is Gustavo.”
Fuck the awkwardness that results.
On social media, I’ll ask “Who’s Gus?” until the person apologizes. And if they don’t, or make light of it? I mute them.
My fans know my routine so well that when Vic’s cousin, my cousin Plas, called me Gus on Twitter, one of my fans straight-up responded to him “Who’s Gus?” Blessed are the REAL fans, for they shall get plugs and RTs…
Besides, Gus is very special to me.
Gus is a nerd who only hangs out with friends he’s known since high school — and that’s only about five people. He’s resolutely working class, and loves nothing more than to watch sports with them, or go to trivia night, or read — no other worry in the world.
Being at places where everyone calls him “Gus” makes him happy, because he knows he’s in a safe space, with people who have seen him grow up and love to brag to their friends that the Gustavo Arellano said friends either love or loathe is just their cuz Gus — he’s pretty shy in real life!
We all have our private lives, and my private life is mundane. Gus was painfully shy, underachieving, and a nice guy who always got rolled over…and that’s still me most of the time, I feel. It’s not insecurity on my part, but me being brutally honest with myself.
Then again, as many people reminded me during the wedding, Gus always got in trouble in high school, loved to read, was opinionated and loyal AF, and always dreamed big.
They knew Gus would not only amount to something special, but do it his way — and they remained shocked that he really hasn’t changed all these years later, or still shows up to places where everyone calls him Gus even though he’s some big-time writer now (in their mind).
Who’s Gus? My Holy of Holies. My Fortress of Solitude. Every once in a while, I gotta be Gus so Gustavo Arellano remembers where he was from, you know?
So, yeah: Unless you saw Gus mature into Gustavo, you can’t call me Gus #sorrynotsorry. But feel free to call me Guti. Or Tavo. But not Gusano, porfas.
As for White Power Randy? He’s not really a neo-Nazi, but rather a gabacho from Huntington Beach, so what else are his Mexican friends supposed to call him?
But only we can call him that. You do that, I’ll Category Six ya!
Enough ranting. This was the semana that was:
LISTENING: “Little Liza Jane,” Huey “Piano” Smith. The brass band that accompanied Vic and his bride played a SMASHING version of this New Orleans jazz standard — but it still didn’t top this smoldering rock version that I’ve always loved.
READING: “The Ministry of Mr. Rogers”: The New York Review of Books worships no people or products, and this essay on the public-television legend sees him with clear eyes.
Gustavo in the News
“What to Cook This Week”: New York Times food editor Sam Sifton plugs my return to news, and even my “Read it, porfas!” exhortation.
“Top Education Stories of 2018”: The great Capital & Main, which graciously let me write for them this past year, plugs my Brea KKK story I did for them.
“2018 was bloodbaths and ‘blooms’: The year in Colorado’s media world”: The Colorado Independent calls my profile of Denver’s Westword a “must-read.”
“New York Times Crossword Puzzle Editor ‘Apologizes’ for Including ‘BEANER’ as Answer”: Latino Rebels plugs my criticism of New York Times puzzle master Wil Shortz for including beaner in one of the Times‘ crossword puzzles—PENDEJO!!!
“Fighting Words: The New York Times Crossword Puzzle as Cultural Divide”: My old pal Tom Finkel does the same.
“I’m moving to the other side of the wall — the news side”: My final California columna takes stock of a year on writing about the Golden State. KEY QUOTE: “I’m moving on, but with my commitment to California even stronger. This isn’t adios, but an ay te watcho. I’ll be seeing y’all around, because this Californian ain’t a quitter.”
“As the influence of newsprint erodes, Westword prevails”: My first-ever piece for High Country News profiles Denver’s alt-weekly, Westword. KEY QUOTE: “Its mix of investigative stories, cultural coverage, snarky humor and articles that frequently go viral has created something almost unheard of in the industry today: stability, and a widespread respect bordering on civic reverence.”
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