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Jordan Catalano: Soulful Hunk or Empty Cipher by Claudine Ise

A lot of guys hate Jordan because he's beautiful. And you have to admit, he doesn't do much to convince anybody that he's a secret genius in disguise. My favorite Catalano moment is at the beginning of the New Year's Eve episode, where all of the characters are shown thinking about their New Year's resolutions--Angela vows to be less introspective, Ricky to find a place to belong, Rayanne to quit drinking, Patty to be less critical, Mr. Katimsky to give up coffee--and then they cut to Jordan, alone in his car at a stoplight, looking up as the light turns green and thinking "Wait a minute...Isn't tonight New Year's Eve?" It's quintessential Catalano--Jordan is too clueless, or out of it, to realize that he's in the middle of a major holiday, and also probably too preoccupied to care. The way you read him depends on your proclivity towards giving a hunk a break, something which a lot of people remain unwilling to do. Me, I'm kinda in the middle on this one. Jordan is gorgeous, there's no denying that. And he is undeniably stupid, or rather, he's "a rudimentary reader with low literacy skills" (thanks, Brian). So, o.k., maybe he's not stupid so much as disadvantaged. Remember, we learned in the Christmas episode that his father used to beat him up when he was a kid. Pretty heavy stuff for this mostly-bourgeois world to handle, and something that Angela probably doesn't even know about. Jordan Catalano never says much (I used to wonder if it was because Jared Leto was simply a lousy actor) and when he does it's usually to express some kind of basic observation (to Patty: "Do you always wear so much makeup?") or primal need ("Wow...Food!"--another classic Catalano moment, uttered when he comes over to Angela's house late one night while she's fixing a sandwich in her kitchen). I actually think that there's a lot more to Jordan than the writers have been willing to reveal to us, mostly because we're having so much fun laughing at those Catalano moments that we don't want to take him seriously, just yet.

I do know why guys like Jordan cause such a stir in so many women's (and men's) hearts--lean in, O jealous ones, and I will reveal what all the fuss is about. The reason why Angela loves Jordan, and why women always seem to fall for dudes like Catalano, is precisely because he makes it so easy for us to project all of our fantasies about men and maleness onto him. Jordan is both soulful hunk and empty cipher, or rather, he's a soulful hunk precisely because he's a cipher for girlish fantasy (and remember, you don't have to be a girl to be girlish!). Let me relate a personal memory to you in order to illustrate my point.

A couple of summers ago, I met and fell in love with my own "Jordan Catalano" while Eurailing across Europe (think of this story as a cross between "My So-Called Life" and Before Sunrise). His name was David, and he was the most zen-like, peaceful personality I have ever encountered. He actually looked a lot like Jared Leto's brother, who played Jordan's asshole friend in the "Buffalo Tom/Jordan holds Angela's hand in public" episode. David had Jordan's almost shoulder-length, brown, and oh-so-soft hair, and he was tall and lanky-skinny just like Jordan. Remember the episode where Angela and Jordan break up, and Angela, crying, tells Jordan "I'm going to miss your hair...the way it's so soft in the back..." ? That part really got to me, because I, too, had such a thing about David's hair. It was indeed super silky and soft, in a way that I'd never imagined a boy's hair could be. I remember telling David how much I loved it one night, pulling out his ponytail and feeling his hair falling like water against my face and lips and hands. He was so beautiful, but not in that prettified way that I can't stand. No, David was a little bit street-worn. I could see it in his eyes and also in the way that he touched me, which was way different from how my preppy, blond, parent's-dream-of-an ex-boyfriend had.

David had this groovy calm going that I have never seen in another person. It was like, we didn't even need to talk (or so I thought) because he was so at peace with the stillness of every moment, like that was enough. We didn't need to fuck it up with meaningless words and casual conversation. Not only did I admire this guy and crave him, I wanted to be him! To feel that peaceful inside myself, all of the time. This person, I thought, definitely has it all going on. We met in Amsterdam and traveled to Prague, Italy, the South of France and Barcelona together. In all, I knew him for less than six weeks.

But you see, David, like Jordan, was ultimately a beautiful illusion. And part of his elusiveness is that, to this day I don't even know which part of him was illusion and which part was real!! All I do know is that, little by little, I started to realize that a lot of his zen-like charm came from being stoned on hashish nearly 24 hours a day, which is also why he was always so silent, and probably the reason he kept going off by himself (a puzzling trait which nevertheless made him even more cool and desirable to me). That sexy sense of distance he kept between himself and others, I soon found out, was also partially due to the fact that he had just gone through a divorce--and the guy was barely out of college! But in my blind desire to worship him at all costs, I stubbornly ignored all of the signs telling me that this was never going to be a long-term thing, even when he basically told me this right to my face. When we finally parted ways I was so sick with longing for him I could barely breathe without assistance. I remember, the night before he left, I dreamed that white wolves were surrounding me, snarling and tearing away at my face and my clothes. I jerked myself out of my dream with a muffled scream, which of course failed to arouse David from his sweet, stoned sleep.

The final epilogue to this story, in fitting tandem with my Angela-Jordan analogy, is that I, like Angela, received a letter from the elusive one a couple of months after we both returned home. I'm embarrassed to admit that I still have it, and probably will never throw it away. It's my proof, you see, that the whole thing actually happened. That he had realized that I was there beside him all along. That I didn't just dream this person up out of a traveller's loneliness. What he wrote in the letter doesn't matter, really. What's important is that he wrote it, and that, for whatever reason, be it the truth or just pity, he told me that the times we travelled together were some of the best parts of his trip. He wrote me from a coffee shop that he described as "tragically hip." He'd spelled it "hipe."

So, my friends, maybe this illustrates just a teeny bit the power of a Jordan Catalano, and of all empty ciphers masquerading as soulful hunks. Maybe soulfulness requires a certain degree of emptiness. Maybe people like Angela, who are always searching for the depths of a person's soul, invariably get sucked into the world of those with a kind of bottomless emptiness just waiting to be filled by someone else's complicated desires. Who knows? I do know that Angela will probably always love Jordan, and I can guarantee you that she'll never, never forget him. Even today, re-reading my letter is like ripping a wound from its safe envelope of skin. It's been like, three years or something and I can still cry when I read his words and the "love, Dave" he wrote at the end.

In fact, I'm crying right now.

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“My dad thinks every person in the world is having more fun than him.”

Angela Chase, Episode 1: "My So-Called Life (Pilot)"