Wednesday, December 13, 2006
It's not like I had much of a choice. There's just been too much to do. Work's been a bear for months now, and I'm beginning to realize it's been a hibernating bear all along that's only just now waking. This winter's work-load looks terrifying, but in a good way. I guess.
Of course, my recent injury has taken a huge toll. I have not been to the gym in over six weeks, and what muscles I have are melting away, only to be replaced by the fat caused by seasonal overeating. I am feeling much better, enjoying dope-free days, and am happy to report that I can actually move my hips independently of the rest of my torso again with a minimum of painful gasping. Tim's glad too. It was definitely touch and go for a while.
The past couple of weeks have been a whirl to teeters close to insanity. I returned to work the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and it's been a wild ride ever since. I'm glad to be the purveyor of ergonomic seating, because the lumbar support of my Knoll Life Chair has really been the only thing keeping me upright some days.
Forget about Christmas shopping. There hasn't been time. I've managed to walk into at least a dozen stores just as they were closing. Nothing suggests seasonal good cheer like a young sales clerk snarling at you when he's ready to go home. It's nice to see that so many of the angertwinks have found gainful employment for the holidays. Thank Christ for Internet shopping. And Fed Ex men! Now if someone would only come by and wrap Tim's gifts, I'd be in heaven. I'll supply the single malt scotch, along with the Scotch Tape. Really!
Two weeks ago, we had Tim's sister and husband, along with their children, aged 5 and 8 visit for the first time from snowy upstate. You haven't seen Manhattan until you tour the sites a 5 year old wants to see during the first weekend of December. There were lines everywhere. Thank Christ for the Central Park Zoo. Too many children were busy being dragged from toy store to Santa's lap to pay much attention to the monkeys and otters, who pretty saved the day for us. Not to mention the Zootique. Never was a drink so welcome as the one I had during our 5:00 PM dinner at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. By the way, come the Revolution, I will assume the dark mantle of executioner, beheading the very small, smug and self satisfied patrons of the cafe located within F.A.O. Schwartz. I will gleefully toss their ice-cream stained carcasses to the screaming, teeming rabble below. Watch this space.
On a more peaceful note, I spent last weekend at Tim's putting up the tree and doing all sorts of Christmas-y things. This year our tree arrived in a box. Normally, we buy a tree in Manhattan and haul it out to Jersey City on the PATH train. You can only imagine the looks we get. You try finding a live tree in Journal Square! This year we ordered a 7' Fraser Fir from Vermont, not really knowing what to expect. It arrived in a love narrow box. It is possibly the freshest, most beautiful tree we've had in years. And yes, Martha Stewart, it does smell like tangerines. Thank Christ for Internet shopping. We relaxed on Friday night and then dedicated Saturday to decorating. We've amassed quite a few ornaments in our travels, adding to Tim's burgeoning collection of hand-me-downs from grandparents, aunts, and ancient monastery cast-offs. All the while, we listened to an eclectic array of seasonal music, including offerings from Sufjan Stevens, Jo Stafford, Michael Martin Murphey, Fred Waring and Herb Alpert. In fact, we listened to all five jingling, whispering CDs of Sufjan's Christmas sing-a-long...or at least until Tim complained that I was consulting the notes, the chord progressions, the commentary and the stickers that came in the box way too much, not paying enough attention to the tasks at hand. We had several drinks and a lovely supper, and as is our wont to do, wound up on the floor under the tree. Some people get to wear special Christmas outfits on the big day...I typically sport rug burn.
Tomorrow, we are heading for M.'s house in the wilds of northern New Jersey. We'll help to decorate his trees, and bring him several more of the bear ornaments he collects. Just for me, we'll light Hanukkah candles and I'll even attempt to make latkes, because I'm just not fat enough. We're aiming to achieve food coma tomorrow night. If you see me waddling at the Dugout on Sunday, you'll understand why.
Come the Christmas day itself, we're having a group of people, yet to be finalized, over to dinner.
I've been planning the feast for weeks. I don't know how or when I'll have a chance to get all this done without a major breakdown, but I've got to get a move on.
I hope your December has been equally frustrating.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
"Where has that lazy Mark of Kane gone to? What's he been doing these days? We haven't heard from him in ages!"
Well, gentle readers, it is with regrets that I tell you how I was laid low (and not in a good way) these past weeks.
It seemed as if it was going to be a rather fun Thanksgiving weekend. We had all sorts of plans to drink with family and dine with friends on the day itself. Tim and I spent a lovely relaxing evening in anticipation of the long weekend. We awoke on Thursday morning to troubled skies.
Now I'd spent the month of November at doctors and specialists, being poked, prodded and generally annoyed. My primary care physician had noticed that I hadn't had a physical in a couple of years, and at my advanced age, apparently, one needs a monthly tune-up. He scheduled a round of electrocardiograms, colonoscopies and the like. To his apparent disappointment and my relief, everything turned out pretty much alright. There are a couple of issues with my legs and running, but that can basically be resolved by choosing a different cardio training method. And I'm eating a lot of bran.
I've also spent the past six months working with a trainer, who concentrated, as they all do now, on strengthening my core. We'd spend hours doing plank exercises, and crunches, and the dreaded mountain climbers. I was rewarded for all this with the actual almost-appearance of abdominal and oblique muscles and a somewhat trimmer waist. However, amidst the medical testing barrage, I'd not been to the gym for three weeks.
I awoke on Thanksgiving morning and installed myself on Tim's sofa to watch the parade, something I've done since I was a very small child, and for some reason still do, even though I find the corporate sponsorship completely odious now. It was teeming rain, and poor band children from all over the country were doing their level best to smile and twirl and blow their horns through the downpour. I was cozily ensconced with a cup of coffee when Tim called from the bedroom and asked me to help move the mattress. I hopped up, tipped the mattress on it's side with him and headed back to my coffee and the Rockettes.
The morning progressed with family phone calls and the appearance of Santa Claus, who we know as a fellow Dugout habitue. It is a small world, after all. Tim and I went out to the diner to grab some breakfast, when I became aware of some discomfort in my lower back. During the meal I started finding it impossible to get comfortable, squirming around in my seat. By the time we'd walked around the corner and back to Tim's house, my back was in spasms of agony.
I tried a very hot shower. I tried stretching. I asked Tim to massage it. Nothing helped. And it was getting progressively worse. I needed help getting into my jeans, and then we hobbled across the river back to my house. There, in agony, I changed into visiting clothes, struggled to pull on a pair of boots and headed off to my sister's house for drinks. I was mostly unable to sit comfortably at my sister's, moving from chair to chair as I chatted with family. We took our leave at 7:20, in time to walk across town and meet M., Joe, Ed and the Farmboyz, who were joining us for our annual Thanksgiving dinner at Keen's.
Now nothing says Thanksgiving more to me than a big mutton chop and a series of very dry martinis, and I had been looking forward to this for some time. We met at the bar, where I started a steady regimen of medicinal cocktails, that were to help me through the evening. The night was a great success, and I hope my friends will indulge me again next year, and the year after that, if they will. You can read about it here, and I'll let you guess who the priest and ex-monk are.
After many Martinis, a sip of Ed's sidecar and a glass of port with dessert, I was apparently feeling alright enough to head on up to the Townhouse, which was fairly sedate. We took a seat on the small settee that is ensconced between the front and back bars, and watched the crowd. Tony says that an evening at the Townhouse is akin to a bubbly wake, and he's right. We're firmly convinced that the little alcove we staked out would a perfect place to lay out the body. A few drinks later and we were home before midnight.
Suffice to say, the rest of the weekend went steadily downhill. Friday, we hobbled around town, running some errands and doing a little pre-season window shopping. I was in agony. I thought it might be a good idea to repair back to Tim's, and we did. We fixed a vat of chili, and stayed home all weekend. I even stayed home from the Dugout on Sunday, remaining immobile and miserable on the sofa until Tim came back from bartending, relayed the various greetings surprised friends had left for me at the bar, and put me to bed.
I was scheduled for a stress test at 8:15 Monday morning, but could barely walk by this time. Instead, I went over to my doctor's office and was sent, posthaste, to the Spine Institute where they told me I could make an appointment for December 20th. As I was insisting that someone from the office get me admitted to the emergency room (ah, the vagaries of HMO's!), a gentleman who turned out to be the director asked me what the problem was, and then saw me two hours later. After x-rays and assorted tests, it was determined that I had ruptured a disc, which I'd been treating with Advil for the past four days.
Dosed with steroids, hillbilly heroin and a sense of purpose, I went back to work Tuesday, and I've been spending 10 to 12 hour days here pretty much ever since. I've since discovered that my drugs do not mix with diet beer, causing me to slur my consonants much earlier than usual when I returned to my usual spot at the Dugout the following Sunday.
This is the holiday season! I have too many things to do for work, and that doesn't even begin to cover the holiday chores I have to complete in the next couple of weeks. I can't stop!
I start physical therapy next week with Lance and Eric. It sounds like an 80's porn video, and I'm not sure if I'm looking forward to it or not.
I asked my doctor what could have caused the rupture, as I felt nothing actually happen. He gently suggested that it might just be my age, and the fact that things like this can just happen when you're over 50.
I'm beginning to agree with Bette Davis. Old age is no place for sissies.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
I came across this rather startling photograph this morning as I was riding the subway on my way to one of those pre-dawn job-site meetings in midtown, and it served to jog my memory about an incident that occurred this past weekend.
There I was, late Sunday afternoon, at my usual post near the jukebox at the Dugout. The bar started off fairly quiet, as it does these days, and it was a while before some of the gentlemen I usual socialize with arrived. I'd been to the gym for the first time in almost three weeks earlier in the day, and was beginning to feel that old, familiar soreness returning to several long neglected muscle groups. I had tugged on an old t-shirt which served to hide a myriad of sins.
I had been expecting a fairly quiet evening, and in the absence of my friends, thought for a moment that I might spend the night by myself, speaking with no one. Though this has actually happened on occasion, it did not come to pass. The usual suspects poured in, followed by a fairly large brigade of tourists and the like, many of whom had taken in the Gay Expo that had been held all weekend. Soon the intermingled crowds were enjoying that warm and fuzzy Sunday afternoon beer buzz and checking each other out. Trips to the men's room and the bar were utilized for general scouting purposes and preliminary flirtation tactics.
Midway through the evening, a rather handsome, bearded and burly redheaded gentleman appeared across the room from us. One of our number mentioned that he had just jacked-off the previous day to said redhead's picture on one of the many meat and greet sites that exist expressly for that purpose and more. We marvelled at the synchronicity of it all. He was pretty awesome, I must say.
Now, for the most part, redheads hate me. It's a fact. I must represent something evil to them, because they seem to shun me in droves. No one has quite made the sign of the cross at me, but you get the idea. And yes, I think red hair and red beards are beautiful. Of course. They've been mostly unobtainable. At least until recently.
At some point in the evening, after a few beers had kicked in, this man grabbed me on my way back from the bar. He was my height, which I sometimes find disconcerting, and we were able to look directly into each other's eyes. I was a bit awestruck in the presence of all that red. After a bit of small talk about his tourist status and the fun he'd had at the Expo, he managed to get his hand up under my shirt. I was okay with this, and silently glad I'd done all those crunches that afternoon at the gym. He pulled me close to him, managing to lift my t-shirt up over my midriff area. I smiled and pulled it back down. Just as quickly he worked the shirt back up, and attempted to pull it off me. I stopped him, and he looked at me quizzically. I pulled the shirt back down and flashed a steely little smile.
"C'mon", he said, "let's take our shirts off and rub bellies".
I explained that I don't take my shirt off in bars anymore, and watched his eyes glazed over and his attention drifted elsewhere.
So, there you have it. Mark's fashion tip for middle-aged men: Even if all the youngsters have stripped down, exposing acres of flesh and fur, you might want to consider leaving your shirt on. Now, for the record, I am not ashamed of my body. In fact, I rather like it. I'm hard and soft and furry in places that some guys seem to like. As I've said before, I have my fans.
At this age, I'm just not all that comfortable hanging out in public shirtless, and I think a variety of people are breathing sighs of relief as we speak, just to know that. Just like Mr. Stallone up there. Not that I'm comparing my body to his, in any way, shape or form. But muscle looks very different when you age, as does skin tone and quality. Quite simply, it's all a matter of blood flow to the skin's surface, which diminishes vastly as one ages. What was once a rosy glow now appears red and blotchy.
Now, you may be able to view me shirtless in some of the following venues:
Sur la Plage
On my terrace, taking the sun
In the locker room at the gym
In my bedroom
Lounging around your apartment, apres sex.Nora Ephron writes that one of her "great life regrets" is "not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was 26. If anyone young is reading this, go right this minute, put on a bikini. Don't take it off until you're 34."
She's quite right. I should have removed my shirt in 1974 and left it off for the next twenty years. Who knew?
Now, can we please talk about what Sly Stallone has done to his face?
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Well, it had to happen.
I've lived in fear of it for years.
I somehow knew that someday, some young person would look me squarely in the eyes, purse up their lips in disgust, haul off and call me a troll.
And not only a troll, but "the worst kind of troll there is"!
I'm not exactly sure what that kind of troll might be. I wasn't aware of the subtle levels and gradations of said trolls. But to be branded the worst kind? Wow.
I'm real tired of being insulted and stepped on by religious zealots who, in their private lives, are doing things that would probably make me blush. And I'm ready and willing to support anyone who comes out swinging against them. This is guaranteed not a make that person particularly popular in places that are situated some distance away from major bodies of water. To me, what Mike Jones did was heroic. And here's what happened:
- Lots of young gay men called him old and ugly;
- No major gay-supported organizations (hint: HRC) have even acknowledged his small but potent role in last week's election;
- He probably stands a very good chance of losing whatever legitimate employment he does have;
- He's being cast as a pariah by many in his own so-called community.
When I've objected to any of this, I've been told to lighten up, develop a sense of humor, and now, I've been called a troll because I suggested that if you wanted to donate you should, and if you didn't, well then, did we have to hear that "hooker/crystal/poor Mrs. Haggard" diatribe again.
Oh yeah. Then I was told to shut up.
By an ex-blogger who has a photograph of young things toasting each other with jello shots on his page.
Thanks, Toby...you got me blogging again.
P.S. If you too feel so inclined, hit up Paypal, enter Mr. Jone's account (email@example.com), and show some love.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
It's eleven days to my 52nd birthday, and let me tell you...I have that familiar gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach.
MySpace has already taken to posting my age as 52 in my profile; an event that has left me surprisingly less than happy. I mean, it's alright if I pre-date myself. I've done that for the past six months, telling anyone who asked that I am 52. It helps me prepare for the actuality of it. But to have an internet juggernaut do it for you, well....feh.
I'm just not feeling it this year. Wait, I'm going to consult my blog archives and see how I felt last year. Okay, I'm back! In 2005, I didn't even blog about the birthday itself, but I can see that we went to Keen's (a huge surprise, right?) and clearly, I was equally as non-celebratory as I am this year. In fact, I posted a blog entry entitled Pink Moon, after the Nick Drake song of the same name. Definitely not a good sign.
Surprisingly, I'm really not any more downbeat than usual, all things considered. It's been a tough month, so far. Our friend Richard passed away on October 1st, and then I found out that my dear friend Arthur had died in San Francisco on the same day. Both had been sick for some time, but each man made an accelerated exit. Tim had known Richard for the better part of a decade, and Arthur's been my friend since Hector was a pup. I've blogged about Arthur in the past here and here. Both represented a tie with the past that has now been almost completely severed. It looks like I'm it. Swell.
I have managed to keep my head above it all by keeping very busy at work, and then writing at night. I enjoy the exercise this blog has afforded me, and I'm seeing if I can actually parlay my scribbles into something a bit more tangible.
So...don't cry for me...I will no doubt go out on the eve of my, um, big day and have a nice dinner, receive some of nifty gifts and get drunk. My actual birthday's on Sunday. If you know me, you'll know where to find me. How grim can that be? We'll see!
Lastly, a style tip for those entering their 52nd year:
Never, ever let anyone point a digital camera equipped with flash within a foot of your face after you've spent an afternoon slamming beer with the boys in Brooklyn, then returning to Manhattan and making an ill-advised switch to bourbon. The results are unsettling, to say the least. You won't see them here.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Barry was assistant to a fairly young and definitely high strung interior designer who was, at that moment, on the cusp of world renown. Somehow, Barry had always gravitated to jobs that seemed glamorous, but, in the long run, required major grunt work for rather low salaries. By the time he'd figured out that he could make two or three times the money as a tuxedoed waiter at one of Manhattan's many upscale steak houses, I was interviewing for the position.
Me? Well, I'd been working in some of the more established design houses in New York, but with my unerring sense of downward mobility had taken to looking for a position with a smaller firm, where I'd have an opportunity to study the business at extremely close proximity.
I took the new job as soon as it was offered, and was sorry almost instantly. My new employer immediately made clear his notion that I was a young, spoiled Jewish boy. His secret nickname for me was Private Judy Benjamin. He was completely shocked when he found out I'd been with Robert for several years. He'd entertained sexual fantasies about him since the days Robert managed a D & D Building showroom, dressed in torn jeans, a studded motorcycle belt, boots, and any number of my pearl-buttoned western shirts. I began to suspect my predecessor had fled for his life.
I was sitting, rather heavy-hearted, in the empty office one morning, when Barry called and asked if he could stop by. I'd never met him, just heard how charming he was from our various clients, as they'd eye me balefully. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous.
When I opened the door of our tiny Sutton Place office, I was confronted by a tan young man, taller than me, with curly black hairy and a radiant, disarming smile. He greeted me as if we'd already met and walked in. Picking up a package that had been left for him, he settled himself in and began to tell me about the camping vacation on Tortola that he and his now ex-boyfriend had just returned from. He pulled out a packet of photographs, laughing ruefully about the relationship that had fallen apart during the course of the camping trip. I perused the pictures, admiring the dark happy people amidst the palm trees and brightly colored tents, until I came across a photo of a scowling gentleman and gasped, "That's him!!". Barry laughed, and I realized I had to explain myself.
For years, since we'd moved to 12th Street, I would run into this same man, tall, built, darkly handsome. In the early throes of my captive relationship with Robert, I was supremely retarded in terms of dealing with other men I was sexually attracted to. I would stare, hard, at this man, wanting him badly every time I saw him. He, in turn, would smile broadly and wink. I was always to shy to speak to him. Barry explained that this was Bill, the man he'd just split with.
It turned out that Barry lived around the corner to the north of me. Bill lived around the corner in the opposite direction. I sheepishly told Barry my story, while he laughed. He'd seen Robert and I around the neighborhood; wondered who we were. We talked very easily for almost two hours and then I invited him to dinner the next night.
He showed up that evening complete with his personal version of a perfect hostess gift: three Quaaludes. He'd thought my invitation was for a three-way, not an actual dinner. But we took the pills and I fed him Fettucini Alfredo, as we drank wine and laughed and collapsed in a large sodden puddle. At some point, the conversation turned to hair gel, and we discussed the latest French fixative, Tenax, which was just then gaining popularity. In our stumbling state, it was decided that we test the Tenax against Barry's unruly curls. Tenax was a terrible product, full of alcohol, that dried to a hard, brittle sheen and then crumbled into a whitish powder not unlike dandruff. The entire effect was completely unpleasant. I took Barry by the hand into my kitchen and washed his hair under the faucets. When he came up for air, he showed me how aroused he was. I smiled as Robert walked in. In those days, it was not to be. Robert would not have allowed it.
In spite of, or because of this, Barry and I became fast friends, best friends, completely integrating the other into the private menageries we both maintained. In those pre-NYU dorm days, I had a clear and unimpeded view of Third Avenue from my terrace door. The street scene was not unlike Edward Hopper's "Sunday Morning", and I would often play the Velvet Underground song of the same name, sending both echo and jangle down to the pavement below. To my consternation, Barry learned to spy me from the street and would yell out my name from half a block away. I'd be pulled out of some smoky reverie to find Barry hollering my name off the roof top of his building. I broke him of this habit very quickly.
We spent every weekend together, cooped in our living room, playing music, smoking, laughing and drinking until Robert got restive and Barry took his cue to leave. We'd listen to Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "A Real Mutha for Ya", Michael Frank's "Passionfruit", the first two DeBarge albums, no end of Prince and a lot of Pat Metheny. In later years, Barry was highly appreciative of my ability to mix Scritti Politti's "Flesh & Blood" with Wham's "Everything She Wants".
We raced around town for years, met each other's families and friends, and were, in short, inseparable. When Barry met Arthur, his future partner, I felt completely threatened. I was sure that Arthur would somehow spirit Barry away from me. In point of fact, he did; first moving him to the Upper West Side, then installing him in the glamour job he'd always wanted, as a video editor with a production house that was creating the majority of what one was seeing on MTV and Saturday Night Live. On weekends, they'd head off to Arthur's upstate farmhouse. I rebelled, I yelled, I carried on like a spurned lover. But in the end, our friendship somehow endured. We thought our friendship invincible. We'd go up to the farmhouse for long weekends of swimming, cooking and laughing.
In 1985, both Barry and I were feeling run down. I'd been through a few years of Robert's illness by that time, Barry by my side. He sat with me while Robert suffered through several operations, rode the trains with me up to 168th Street to visit him, and kept me company on the nights I was alone while Robert was hospitalized. I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders; Barry just felt lousy. We both went to the doctor together; a fancy Park Avenue physician that Arthur had recommended, with a waiting room full of Early American antiques and stacks of glossy shelter magazines. We both were given full work-ups.
In the week that followed, its was acknowledged that I was indeed run-down, and confirmed that Barry had a slight case of pneumonia. Robert and I agreed to rendezvous at his West Side apartment, hoping against the worst. We found Barry reclining on the American Empire fainting couch that Arthur had bestowed on him, looking and acting like a robust Camille. He had chores for us. I was to hook up his new stereo speakers, Robert was to cook dinner. Barry had a surprise for us. He handed each of us a small white pill. It was that brand new concoction, Ecstasy, and he could think of no better time to try it. Robert hit the kitchen and was soon frying chicken. I had the sound system up and running in almost no time. We sat together, huddled in a battered little group, none of us daring to put our worst fear into words.
Barry recovered and went back to work. He and Arthur started taking trips, following Robert and I to Key West, heading out to Los Angeles to visit Arthur's big-time TV producer friends in the hills of BelAir. The glamorous life he'd always desired was his. Arthur purchased a snow white vintage Mercedes convertible, upholstered in lipstick red leather. I called it his Debra Paget car, which he took umbrage to, but Barry loved driving it.
Of course, Barry was hospitalized again. This time, after a hateful bronchoscopy that left him ragged, it was determined that he was indeed suffering from Pneumocystis Carinii. Our worst fears confirmed. Barry and I sat in his private room, joking about the fact that Sunny von Bulow was comatose on the floor below him. We carefully brushed the subject of his illness, and I asked how he was dealing. He shrugged. He'd been expecting it for years. He would be starting a course of the only drugs they had at that point; the toxic, hateful poisons we had all our hope invested in. I expressed hope. He shrugged again.
We spent the time we could, running from pillar to post, stopping now and then when he was hospitalized with yet another ailment, or when the drugs he was given sickened him. We talked constantly. We made plans; plans for trips, and plans for parties, and plans to continue making plans. We were warding off the inevitable.
I started writing a book that last summer. It was called "See How We Are", and it was to be a document of those years. I pretty much disposed of it at the end of the decade, so tainted and grim, I couldn't bear to have it in my house. But the chapter names, found on a musty yellowed index card recently, are redolent of those awful days:
The Hall of Mirrors
Sunset at the Reservoir
Natasha Kinski Cocktail
Geronimo Contemplates the Waves at St. Augustine
The Hall of Mirrors refers to the AIDS wards one walked through then, seemingly identical rooms of quarantined young men, wasting away, alone. Sunset at the Reservoir refers to a conversation that Barry and I had as we strolled around the Ashokan Reservoir on a late summer afternoon. We discussed life after death, and the fact that if any two people would be able to communicate beyond the grave, it would be us. We talked about how John Lennon had told his young son Sean to look for a white feather falling from the sky, and that would be him. Barry and I tried to work out our own signal. Natasha Kinski Cocktail recalls the evening, not long after Barry's death, that I spent with his long-ago boyfriend, Bill. Bill and I had long since become friends. Beautiful Bill, with his thigh wedged between my legs, explained to me why he would no longer have sex, never again, with anyone, all the while drinking a club soda under a poster of a nude Miss Kinski and her overly friendly python. I stared into his eyes and tried not to study the lesions on his face. The last chapter refers to a vanquished, beaten man, his home destroyed, his people forced to suffer and die before him.
Towards the end of that summer, the lethal combination of Barry's disintegrating immune system and the toxic drugs he was given conspired to make appear as if he was fading away. His features became less distinct, his coloring seemed a careless blur. Though he never seemed to waste away like so many of the young men we saw, he became a colorless copy of the man I knew. He quietly told me that he'd had this idea that driving that Mercedes would change his life. And it hadn't. In the long run, it had meant nothing at all.
As the summer ended, I received the call I'd been dreading for two years. Barry had suffered a major stroke, leaving his one side of his body completely paralyzed. I ran to the hospital, finding him barely able to speak, his face twisted, Arthur pale and staunch at his side. I was heartbroken leaving the hospital that night.
Arthur called me some days later to let me know that Barry had stayed pretty much coherent, fighting to the end. On his last day, he waited until Arthur, stuck in traffic, arrived at the hospital before he left us.
Barry died on October 1, 1987 at the age of 28.
I started writing this piece two weeks ago, with the idea to post it as a tribute to my friend on the 19th annivesary of the day he died. I've been struggling with it since. I'm not happy with it. I don't like the tone; it doesn't convey our life, the humor, laughter, the sadness and pain of that time. I'm just not able to capture the very essence of Barry, in the much same way I can't remember the sound of his voice, no matter how hard I try.
To date, Barry has not sent me our pre-arranged signal.
I still wait.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
The dark and sullen, aviator-wearing, facial-hair-experimenting gentleman is me. The ball capped, plaid-shirt-wearing man I'm about to attack is Robert.
I'm all of 21. He's just turned 36.
The scene? The automatic photo booth located at the long gone 59th Street entrance to Woolworth's, just across the street from the both Bloomingdale's and the D & D Building. These days it's the current location of the Bloomberg Building.
The store smelled of fried chicken and mothballs, as many Woolworth's did. Look how clever and even fashion forward I was then! I managed to turn Robert's cap backwards between the second and third pictures. Actually, I'm moving in for the kill. My technique is not more different, to this day. The errant arm around the neck, the unfocused, in this case cross-eyed, stare. And whamm-o! Mission accomplished.
Robert and I spent 19 years together; a few of them as wonderful as this looks, some that were pretty damned miserable.
But that's actually not what I want to talk about today.
For the past month or so, I've been stewing over this slight bit of writing that appeared in the New York Blade. I'm almost sorry to focus any more attention than it already has received.
The writer, who was three years old when this picture was taken, had viewed a DVD copy of "Gay Sex in the '70s", a documentary about the first years of gay freedom, and was much chagrined by what he saw. In fact, he found himself scornful of the men portrayed.
With blinding hindsight, he asks how men in the 70's could have been so stupid. How could they have danced on the edge of the precipice, so unmindful, nay, uninformed of the unknown consequences, and thereby ruining everything for all the generations yet come?
His scorn for a generation of men he never knew is palpable. He feels like he's watching a "foreign film", which makes him wildly xenophobic, if that's the case. He's clearly revolted by "the fashions: the unkempt hair, the mustaches, the clothes". And of course, he's completely horrified by the film's depiction of the many modes of anonymous sex that were available then, and amazingly enough continue to be available, albeit in mutated forms, to this day. He compares sex in trucks to the Holocaust, which is specious at best, and pretty damned insulting to all parties concerned. He asks himself "how those men in the 1970's could have been so stupid", and surmised that they didn't know any better. Good one, Sherlock.
Mostly, he just can't make the deductive leap and imagine what it might have been like to live in that era. There's no empathy here, no understanding of the cultural events that might have lead men to celebrate their sexuality as an intrinsic part of their identities. Seemingly no attempt has been made to actually research this subject, beyond the viewing of the film, and perhaps a bit of Googling.
The men today are "more clean-cut and better groomed than they were 30 years ago", and he acknowledges that many of them engage in the same risky behavior that doomed their forebearers. The question begs: Just who is more stupid here? The men who had no idea what was in store for them, or those that have been fully indoctrinated in the last 25 years of AIDS culture.
I'm thinking the major problem here is that so many people have no frame of reference regarding the men who lived and loved in the 70's and 80's. They never known any, and they're making no attempts to seek out the survivors. I've had twenty year olds tell me how it's all so much better now, how we're much closer, much more real, and we really don't need that gay thing anymore. This is one of the great tragedies of the plague years: the loss of an entire generation that has never had a real chance to tell it's story. A culture disappeared. The majority of those men? Long gone. The remaining few? Shell-shocked.
I've been skating around the edge of this subject for quite some time. I've been conflicted about consistently blogging stories of those years, and being labeled a memorist. I have a pretty great life right now, though it's a dual existence. I carry those years with me at all times. I walk through a freighted city, heavily populated with ghosts.
I hope you'll indulge me in further explorations of our mutual pasts. I was there, in the bars, the clubs and yes, the piers.
Let that picture up there show the men we were. Some of you know the man I am.
Apparently, I've survived to tell the tale.
Watch this space.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
This film strip, cut from an weathered contact sheet and pressed like an old boutonniere between the leaves of a book, seems more than a little like a relic from a past long gone age. Oddly enough, I can remember exactly when these dark early morning photographs were taken.
It is the dawn of August 17, 1977 and I have just just taken occupancy of the apartment pictured the day before; the very apartment I live in to this day.
Robert and I had just spent a year living in my railroad apartment in a tenement on East 6th Street off of Second Avenue. The second story walk-up, with it's loft bed, wood burning fireplace and bathtub in the kitchen was fine for one twenty year old, but a bit tight for two soon-to-be burly guys.
I'd fled from Brooklyn and moved there in 1975, some months before my 21st birthday. I'd saved $1,600.00 from my factory job and knew I could easily swing the $135.00 necessary to pay the monthly rent. Those were different times in Manhattan. The East Village was filled with vast Ukrainian families, fading hippies and nascent punks. There was a smattering of young gay guys embroidered around the edges, due to the neighborhood's relative convenience to Christopher Street. In those days, the East Village was considered the bedroom of the West Village. A cab ride from Ty's cost $1.25, including tip. Of course, the Budweisers we drank were all of .75 cents. It seemed that bartenders could make a very decent living on all the quarter tips we left. Broadway theatre tickets were all of $10.00, a movie 3 bucks, concerts a mere 5 or 6 dollars. The living was easy.
I lived there, enjoying my relative solitude, until I met Robert on the very eve of my 21st birthday. After an atypical nine month gestation period, he moved in with me, with the idea that we'd find a new place when my lease was up.
I knew I didn't want to live in a railroad flat again, if I could help it. A full bathroom would be nice, a shower most welcome. We walked around the neighborhood, looking at the "Apt. for Rent" signs. There was an apartment on St. Mark's Place that I entertained for a minute. I like the idea of being Mark on St. Mark's Place, but the rooms were too small, too cramped after 6th Street. Wandering a few blocks further, we came upon another sign on 12th Street. I recognized the building as one I'd spent the night in, some years back, with a man who took me home from the Ramrod. I forget his name. There was a management office on premises, and we walked in, expecting nothing. The woman in the office curtly gave us a key to an apartment on the 5th floor. Upstairs, I recoiled at the miniscule boxy darkness that confronted us. We closed the door without walking in, and went back down to return the key. On an off chance, I asked if there was anything else available in the building. She looked us over and mentioned that there was an apartment that had been vacant for the better part of the last year. The reason? Too expensive for the neighborhood, such as it was. Robert and I were both what-the-hell kind of guys and decided to have a look. The rent? $350.00.
We rode the elevator to the top floor, getting off in a skylit sunny oasis. We turned the key and entered a bright white apartment. A small vestibule, a decent sized kitchen. Turning the corner we found two windows and a french door leading out onto a terrace. I looked at the keyring and found the key that opened the french door. We stepped out to an 11th floor rooftop terrace that commanded 270 degree views of Manhattan, from the Chrysler Building down to the Verrazano Bridge and back up to Williamsburg. We looked at each other, amazed. We went back in and spotted the small wood burning fireplace in the corner. I walked into the bathoom and found it huge by Manhattan standards. I checked the toilet to see if it flushed, for some reason. I never bothered to notice that the apartment had no closets. Or that the bedroom was so miniscule as to hold only full size bed and a bookcase. We would have been happy sleeping on the floor. We never realized that living in a penthouse in a badly maintained East Village building would be akin to taking up residence in a trailer, albeit one with a view. We went back down and signed the lease.
In the 70's, we all helped move one another from apartment to apartment. You'd help move the boxes, and the host would buy beer and take you out to dinner when it was over. We called in our acquired favors, gathering our friends on a Saturday afternoon, and the move was over in a couple of hours. Even the piano movers managed to deliver my old Mission upright without too much damage. Dinner for ten was at the Ukrainian National Home.
That night we danced, as usual, at 12West. After dawn, we wandered the empty Sunday morning streets, walking up Second Avenue to our new home. I noticed I could see it from the churchyard of St. Mark's on the Bowery against the brightening sky.
Once home, I opened all the doors and windows to let the air streaming up from New York Harbor fill the apartment. I stripped off my clothes, soaked with sweat from a night of dancing. Robert and I wandered out on the terrace naked, completely oblivious to the world waking up around us. We returned inside to collapse on the sofa, which was still in the middle of the living room waiting to find it's home. Drinking coffee and listening to quiet, soothing music, I wrapped myself up in an old silk army surplus parachute and read the paper, occasionally contemplating my new vista.
That's when Robert took these pictures in quick succession.
Robert is long gone. New York is not the city it once was. However, I'm still here in these rooms 29 years later.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Half a lifetime ago, I worked in this now-empty space. And for 40 days after the attacks, I worked here again, trying to make sense of what happened, and was yet to happen, as a reporter.
All the time, I knew that the very air I breathed contained the remains of thousands of people, including four of my friends, two in the planes and -- as I discovered from those "missing posters" seared still into my soul -- two more in the Towers.
And I knew too, that this was the pyre for hundreds of New York policemen and firemen, of whom my family can claim half a dozen or more, as our ancestors.
I belabor this to emphasize that, for me this was, and is, and always shall be, personal.
And anyone who claims that I and others like me are "soft,"or have "forgotten" the lessons of what happened here is at best a grasping, opportunistic, dilettante and at worst, an idiot whether he is a commentator, or a Vice President, or a President.
However, of all the things those of us who were here five years ago could have forecast -- of all the nightmares that unfolded before our eyes, and the others that unfolded only in our minds -- none of us could have predicted this.
Five years later this space is still empty.
Five years later there is no memorial to the dead.
Five years later there is no building rising to show with proud defiance that we would not have our America wrung from us, by cowards and criminals.
Five years later this country's wound is still open.
Five years later this country's mass grave is still unmarked.
Five years later this is still just a background for a photo-op.
It is beyond shameful.
At the dedication of the Gettysburg Memorial -- barely four months after the last soldier staggered from another Pennsylvania field -- Mr. Lincoln said, "we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."
Lincoln used those words to immortalize their sacrifice.
Today our leaders could use those same words to rationalize their reprehensible inaction. "We cannot dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground." So we won't.
Instead they bicker and buck pass. They thwart private efforts, and jostle to claim credit for initiatives that go nowhere. They spend the money on irrelevant wars, and elaborate self-congratulations, and buying off columnists to write how good a job they're doing instead of doing any job at all.
Five years later, Mr. Bush, we are still fighting the terrorists on these streets. And look carefully, sir, on these 16 empty acres. The terrorists are clearly, still winning.
And, in a crime against every victim here and every patriotic sentiment you mouthed but did not enact, you have done nothing about it.
And there is something worse still than this vast gaping hole in this city, and in the fabric of our nation. There is its symbolism of the promise unfulfilled, the urgent oath, reduced to lazy execution.
The only positive on 9/11 and the days and weeks that so slowly and painfully followed it was the unanimous humanity, here, and throughout the country. The government, the President in particular, was given every possible measure of support.
Those who did not belong to his party -- tabled that.
Those who doubted the mechanics of his election -- ignored that.
Those who wondered of his qualifications -- forgot that.
History teaches us that nearly unanimous support of a government cannot be taken away from that government by its critics. It can only be squandered by those who use it not to heal a nation's wounds, but to take political advantage.
Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.
The President -- and those around him -- did that.
They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, "bi-partisanship" meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused, as appeasers, as those who, in the Vice President's words yesterday, "validate the strategy of the terrorists."
They promised protection, and then showed that to them "protection" meant going to war against a despot whose hand they had once shaken, a despot who we now learn from our own Senate Intelligence Committee, hated al-Qaida as much as we did.
The polite phrase for how so many of us were duped into supporting a war, on the false premise that it had 'something to do' with 9/11 is "lying by implication."
The impolite phrase is "impeachable offense."
Not once in now five years has this President ever offered to assume responsibility for the failures that led to this empty space, and to this, the current, curdled, version of our beloved country.
Still, there is a last snapping flame from a final candle of respect and fairness: even his most virulent critics have never suggested he alone bears the full brunt of the blame for 9/11.
Half the time, in fact, this President has been so gently treated, that he has seemed not even to be the man most responsible for anything in his own administration.
Yet what is happening this very night?
A mini-series, created, influenced -- possibly financed by -- the most radical and cold of domestic political Machiavellis, continues to be televised into our homes.
The documented truths of the last fifteen years are replaced by bald-faced lies; the talking points of the current regime parroted; the whole sorry story blurred, by spin, to make the party out of office seem vacillating and impotent, and the party in office, seem like the only option.
How dare you, Mr. President, after taking cynical advantage of the unanimity and love, and transmuting it into fraudulent war and needless death, after monstrously transforming it into fear and suspicion and turning that fear into the campaign slogan of three elections? How dare you -- or those around you -- ever "spin" 9/11?
Just as the terrorists have succeeded -- are still succeeding -- as long as there is no memorial and no construction here at Ground Zero.
So, too, have they succeeded, and are still succeeding as long as this government uses 9/11 as a wedge to pit Americans against Americans.
This is an odd point to cite a television program, especially one from March of 1960. But as Disney's continuing sell-out of the truth (and this country) suggests, even television programs can be powerful things.
And long ago, a series called "The Twilight Zone" broadcast a riveting episode entitled "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street."
In brief: a meteor sparks rumors of an invasion by extra-terrestrials disguised as humans. The electricity goes out. A neighbor pleads for calm. Suddenly his car -- and only his car -- starts. Someone suggests he must be the alien. Then another man's lights go on. As charges and suspicion and panic overtake the street, guns are inevitably produced. An "alien" is shot -- but he turns out to be just another neighbor, returning from going for help. The camera pulls back to a near-by hill, where two extra-terrestrials are seen manipulating a small device that can jam electricity. The veteran tells his novice that there's no need to actually attack, that you just turn off a few of the human machines and then, "they pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and it's themselves."
And then, in perhaps his finest piece of writing, Rod Serling sums it up with words of remarkable prescience, given where we find ourselves tonight: "The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men.
"For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own -- for the children, and the children yet unborn."
When those who dissent are told time and time again -- as we will be, if not tonight by the President, then tomorrow by his portable public chorus -- that he is preserving our freedom, but that if we use any of it, we are somehow un-American...When we are scolded, that if we merely question, we have "forgotten the lessons of 9/11"... look into this empty space behind me and the bi-partisanship upon which this administration also did not build, and tell me:
Who has left this hole in the ground?
We have not forgotten, Mr. President.
May this country forgive you.
Monday, August 28, 2006
It was a pleasure spending an afternoon outdoors drinking beer with men we usually spend afternoons drinking beer with indoors. We got to see old pals and meet quite a few new ones. We ate and drank with abandon. In hindsight, I probably should have eaten a bit more. Neither the small hamburger I devoured, nor the solitary artichoke leaf or even the two hot dog end-tips I stole from cute boys did anything in aiding in the absorption of the estuary of Miller Lite I consumed.
Much too late, Tim and I adjourned around the corner to Aunt Suzie's, a neighborhood red sauce joint. It was there I mentioned that it seemed imminently possible we were actually in San Francisco at that very moment. The odd thing is Tim understood, and agreed. I mean, drinking beer outdoors in a semi-industrial neighborhood in broad daylight, followed by a drunken dinner at the Sausage Factory on Castro Street. It made sense to us. Not to mention the fact that I'd never been in this particular part of Brooklyn before, and had great difficulties getting my bearings. My sense of direction would just not function, even after Tim kindly pointed out the Woolworth Building on the distant horizon.
We returned after dinner, and jumped back in the fray. By this time, all participants were extremely well lubricated. With no hesitation, I headed straight for the deep end; drinking, smoking and kissing a handful of attractive men. As has been mentioned before, I'm quite kissy when in my cups.
Somehow we managed to pile into a taxi with handsome John and Dustin and were whisked in a blur back to Nowhere Bar on 14th Street. We had one last beer with the many other Big Lug refugees who had repaired there after the BBQ, even though few of them can even remember that far into the evening. Tim and I finally crawled around the corner and into bed.
For reasons that escape me, the following morning was not nearly as painful as one might suppose.
For your edification, pictures are available here, and elsewhere.
As Mr. Coward might say, I couldn't have liked it more.
Monday, August 14, 2006
It almost seems dream-like, except for this high coloring I'm sporting.
What can I say? I plan on doing the exact same thing again next year. And , with luck, it will be the exact same thing I did last year and the year before that and the year before...well, you get the picture.
We made it up in record time, only hitting some traffic in the Bronx, of all places. Our secret? We leave at 5:00 AM. Our combined Adult Attention Deficit Disorders will not allow us to endure 10 hours of traffic jams. We wake up early, much like that young man in the Disney commercial who is too excited to sleep, throw it into gear and hit the road. There's something almost romantic about seeing the sun rise over the swamps of Secaucus. We stop for coffee and breakfast somewhere in Connecticut and we're on the Cape by 10:00, in Provincetown by 11:30.
We listen to soft, jangly music like Elliot Smith and Joni Mitchell as we ride in the dark, notching up to Mark Knofler & Emmylou Harris, Maura O'Connell, then both of us singing old Marshall Crenshaw songs as we ride up the Cape.
We arrive and park the car on the pier, awaiting access to our little condo. Some breakfast at Bubala's, where we receive our usual greeting from the taller of the two Hat Sisters, who is sitting at the bar. For years he and I have enjoyed a relationship that strictly consisted of sticking our tongues out at each other at the Boatslip, later blossoming into airborne kisses sent across the crowded deck, now relaxed into a warm welcome.
If fact, we received similar greetings from various bartenders, restauranteurs and even the lady who scoops up our ice cream cones each night before we hit the A-House.
It's great fun to see our Provincetown friends; those people from all over the country, and in fact, the globe, who return every year for the same week in August.
By the time we've unpacked, shopped and set up housekeeping, it's time to head over to the Boatslip. I've never subscribed to the fashion of pastel/jewel-tone/day glo vacation togs, and arrive pretty much in my standard NY gear. You know, black, blue or brown t-shirt, jeans and boots. Nothing fancy, just what works. And in that floral hued crowd, I stand out not unlike Maleficent, the evil fairy/dragon in Sleeping Beauty. Like I said, it works for me.
I must talk about the t-shirts here. There were no end of attractive, and not so attractive men in shirts with printed slogans like Catcher, Pitcher, Plow Man, Top Loader, ad naseum. What is Crewcut Wrestling anyway, if you don't have a crew cut, and you're clearly not in wrestling form? Morning Wood? Oh, please. The tall, rather burly young man in a tank top emblazoned with the word BUTCH and a drawing of a bear beneath it was clearly having identity issues. Guys, first of all, it's generally pretty easy to figure out who's fucking who in a relationship. And all I need is about 10 minutes, probably less, to suss out what you and I would most likely be doing in bed. Yeah, there might be some surprises, but generally, I find I don't need shirts that seem to have the equivalent of "I'm with Stupid" on them to figure out which way the wind blows. As a matter of fact, it's becoming something of a deal breaker for me. My apologies if you just bought one.
Another complaint heard around town this past week was that the young guys, mostly from Boston, were extremely nelly. Their word, not mine. First off, I've found that each new generation reacts to the very thing held dear by the previous one with a disdain bordering on the pathological. After 10 years of Chelsea boys and Weho wannabees, these kids have embraced a whole different aesthetic. They're slim. They're trim. They're wearing my old wardrobe from 1974. I think it's cute, as long as I don't have to fuck 'em. They haven't learned to hold their liquor yet, and now and again someone would just Girl Out, causing no end of eye-rolling among the more experienced crowd. It made for a great show.
A couple of years ago, we stood on this very same deck listening to a New York friend complain about the very same thing: the men in Ptown just weren't butch enough for him. Tim put an end to that conversation by announcing in his inimitable fashion:
"It's the Boatslip, not Sturgis!"
I spent a good deal of time sprawled on the sofa in the late afternoon sunlight, reading "Summer Crossing", Truman Capote's unpublished first novel, and Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home", which might be one of the bravest things I've ever read, and Jay Presson Allen's "Just Tell Me What You Want", which I'd read about in her obituary and hadn't known existed as a novel.
I'd alternate between reading, push ups, and watching the family of Robins that were nesting in the cedar branch that brushed against our kitchen window. When we arrived I heard the tiny peeps, and located the four almost translucent yellow beaks sticking up, crying to be fed. By the time we left, the birds had grown enormously, all gray sticking-out feathers, in contrast to their dapper parents.
We managed to get out of town and hike some beautiful Cape beaches. That's Tim up there, about to venture out on the Great Island Trail near Wellfleet. You can walk miles of beaches, admiring the banks of cranberries and beach plums growing wild on the dunes, or laugh at the thousands of tiny crabs that poke their way out of the sand when they think no one is there, only to disappear as you lumber by.
I ate too much. I drank too much. I didn't stay out late nearly as much as I might have liked to. Like so many other cities, Provincetown has it's own Crystal Culture. It's settled in and has been going on for a few years now. The one bar I really used to like enormously has changed from a handsome, almost bucolic setting into a seething pit of bad moods, short tempers, too much machine-like porn and not a whole lot of the old camaraderie that existing before this current siege. It used to be a great room in which to actually meet people and talk to them. It isn't that at all, anymore. In fact, it's rather downbeat and depressing. We never really stayed that long.
None the less, we'll return next year.
I've made my reservations already.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Okay. I know. I've been remiss. Call it blogger's block. Call it boredom. Get fancy and call it ennui or mere malaise. All I know is that I couldn't get it together enough to string a few simple sentences together.
Lord knows, I tried. I put together a post about Folsom Street East, only to discover that it was pretty a complete redaction of last year's post, only with a different set of friends. At the time, I couldn't even find a way to frame the highlight of that Sunday, which happened to be concurrent with Father's Day. So allow me this totally gratuitous posting now:
Yes, one of my dearest friends, and his accomplice gathered wishes and signatures from other buddies on this lovely card through the course of the long drunken day and presented it to me later on. It really touched a cynical old fuck like me.
End of gratuitous Folsom Street East remembrance.
I tried writing a piece on Scritti Politti. I tried writing it three times. Blogger does not seem to like me at times. It wouldn't allow me to upload photographs. It wouldn't let me edit. It kept deleted the post. I grew tired of the subject. Quick synopsis: I was on the train at 7:00 AM reading the New York Times and spied a picture of what looked like a haggard Irish man on the morning after a bender. Perusing the article, I gasped when I learned it was Green Gartside, who has just released a new collection of songs. The piece I tried to write was a meditation on time and age, and was to be called Flesh & Blood, after my favorite song from the Cupid & Pysche '85 album. There were some vague Dorian Gray comparisons. It was turning into one of those sad recollections of friends who died. I worried that no one would know or even care much about Scritti Politti, or what I was doing in 1984-1985.
End of joke.
So, I'm leaving town. Just for a vacation. Yup, we're heading back up the cape to Provincetown for a week of relaxation, or something like that. I need to recharge my batteries, bad. I need some new adventures, and I'm really, really, really up for whatever comes my way. I need some quiet time to get back in touch with Tim. And some really wild times to do the same.
It looks like the weather will be great up there, after this week seemingly spent in the mouth of Hell. I'm gonna sit in the pool at the Boatslip every afternoon and chill. I'm going to eat lots of great dinners. I'm gonna have way to much fun at Spiritus.
I will return with stories to tell.
Thanks for sticking by me.
Friday, July 21, 2006
Work has me completely swamped. New projects are arriving daily, sometimes in multiples. I'm not complaining, mind you, but it is more than a bit overwhelming. It looks like I'll have a bit of traveling to do this season for work. A trip to San Francisco? Oh please don't throw me in that Brier Patch, Br'er Bear.
My ex, Robert, is very sick down in New Orleans. He was hospitalized with a staph infection for about two weeks, came home and was re-admitted last Tuesday with pneumonia. His condition is stable, though he's in the ICU and on a ventilator. His partner is frantic. I would be too, but I've had years of conditioning, and I'm working at being stoic. I don't know what else to do from this long distance.
Finally, Tim and I will be heading up to Provincetown in a couple of weeks, so I have lots to accomplish before then.
Of course, with all this craziness going, I've literally had no life. I could blog about my Dugout jukebox play lists, but I think I've done that already.
So, bear with me, please.
I'm here and I hope to have something to report back with soon.
Hugs to all.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
It's a wonder I haven't destroyed all my hard work at the gym this season in one fell swoop. And this was definitely not a week in which to have a cholesterol test. Or a weigh-in.
'Tis the season. Lots of birthdays, lots of birthday traditions.
M. was born on the Fourth of July. Growing up, he was told that all those fireworks were exploding just for him. We try to find an evening to gather and celebrate his birthday when our varied plans and harried schedules manage to coincide.
Most years Tim and I spend the Fourth down in New Hope, enjoying the new summer greenery, breakfasting daily at Snedden's in Lambertville, hanging out poolside, outlet shopping, and drinking and dining at the Raven on a nightly basis. Oh yeah, and making new friends. It's been a tradition for us for most of the past decade. This year, due to the way our holiday schedules meshed with the holiday itself, we stayed home. Good thing. Both Lambertville and New Hope were completely flooded by the Delaware River that weekend; both main drags totally submerged. We couldn't have gotten there if we'd tried.
M. always wants to try something new, but somehow we always wind up at Keen's. I'm not complaining. Some of the new (for us) places have panned out, others have been total busts. We have some rather basic requirements for restaurants serving celebratory dinners. It has to be casual, as in jeans & t-shirts. It has to serve an excellent cocktail. Years ago, a former friend who was then included in the celebration moaned: "Does it always have to be about Meat?". The answer is a resounding yes. It should definitely include a large portion of cow. Or whatever four-legged creature can be hewn large, thrown in a fire and slapped on a plate for our delectation. Proximity to a gay bar for post-prandial birthday beer is optional; that's why God invented taxis.
This year M. had three requests: Peter Luger, Angelo's of Mulberry Street and Keen's. I procured reservations for Saturday night at two out of three. Can you guess which one could not seat us, even though I called exactly a month before? That's right, Mr. Luger's establishment. Then, when M. shattered his wrist in a fall from his attic over Gay Pride weekend, comfort and familiarity won out, and we headed for Keen's.
We met up in the lovely bar, under the watchful eyes of Miss Keen, peering out nakedly from her rather oversized portrait. Cocktails were consumed, and we took our table. We knew one of our waiters from our many previous visits. The other waiter was quite friendly, smiling and winking at me all through dinner, all but climbing into my lap. The service was impeccable, as it always is.
I wish the New York Times would get over it's current love affair with Keen's. A whole new crowd has poured forth since the Times reviewed the restaurant favorably, and has continued mentioning it on a fairly constant basis. Instead of the usual crowd of carnivores, there seemed to be no end of picky people with special eating requirements and demands.
As M. was wounded and in a cast I announced, to our waiter's great amusement, that I would play Daddy, and serve everyone. In fact I actually said I would be SuperDaddy, but I blame that on the second Martini. I dished out the large seafood plateau, cracking lobsters with abandon, and helped him cut his share of the of the Porterhouse for Two that he and Tim enjoyed. I ate the Mutton Chop all by myself. More drinks, coffee, desserts and we trundled out into the street, spectacularly sated.
In keeping with the familiar, we walked up to the Townhouse, which was boring beyond belief. I ran interference for M., who was concerned that a passing drunk might crash into his cast. None did, though several tried. We had a few drinks and headed home.
My trainer was away on Sunday. Out of guilt, I worked myself out so hard I was sore for three days afterward. My stomach might have been a bit distended, but my arms looked damned fine.
I saw my trainer again on Tuesday and Thursday, which was a necessity, as my sister and I took my Mom out for her birthday on Wednesday at her favorite restaurant. Yes, you guessed it. Peter Luger.
The family, consisting of Mom, my sister and her husband as well as Tim and I, assembled at the bar at the appointed hour for a birthday toast. No sooner were the drinks half finished, then we were seated around a rough wooden table in that room that resembles nothing so much as an Upper East Side beer hall. The waiters were nowhere near as flirty as they were at Keen's but equally excellent. We have the meal down to a science. No menus are needed, nor are they proffered. We share appetizers of shrimp, tomatoes and onions and, of course, smoked bacon. Two orders of Porterhouse for Two, and of course, the usual steak house sides. More drinks, of course.
It must have been beef-driven testosterone that caused my brother-in-law to unbutton his shirt to show me just how buff his summer body was. It must have been that same surfeit of testosterone that caused me to unbutton the top four buttons of my shirt, and flex my hairy pecs back at him. He gulped. I wasn't done. I pulled back the sleeve of my short-sleeved shirt, and flexed my bicep at him. He turned ashen. My sister, who was enjoying this, asked to see to see my tricep. That's the real deal, she claimed. I complied. Tim rolled his eyes. My poor brother-in-law had to concede. "I win!", I announced happily. As I was rolling down my sleeve, I realized that one of the gentlemen seated at the next table had been watching our little show. He nodded and mouthed the words "You do win!" at me, and winked. I turned as crimson as the medium rare steak in front of me.
It looks like I'll be living on lettuce leaves and lemon juice for the next few weeks before we head up to the Cape. Perhaps I'll allow myself a Diet Beer or two.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Sounds ominous, I know.
For some reason, summer is my busiest of seasons at work. Witness my blog. Can you tell I haven't been here in a while? With good reason. I've had no life to blog about. I've been so busy at work, I've been blowing off the gym, except the days I have my trainer, which accounts for why I'm not losing weight. I'm just going to be fat, but with more muscles. Oh, well.
Anyway, you can imagine how thrilled I was at the prospect of an extended Fourth of July weekend. A full four days off. Yippee! Maybe I'd actually have something to blog about! The only issue was that between my work schedule and Tim's, we'd neglected to make any plans. Which sort of suited us, since we both needed to chill.
Friday night I arrived at Tim's house completely wound up. I'd had the day from hell and I was loaded for bear. Tim wisely fixed me a cold, crisp, clear Martini and then wisely fixed me another. By that point my leg had stopped vibrating from anger and frustration. We indulged in our yearly tradition of Christmas in July, even if it was the last day of June. What better way to cut through the heat and humidity, than with Jo Stafford winter collection, "Ski Trails". I know, we're either extremely eclectic, or definitely deranged. I was even awarded a third Martini. My man knows that desperate times call for desperate measures. Even jiggers. I had just enough life left in me to grab some dinner and collapse into bed.
After spending a couple of hours lolling around abed on Saturday morning, we heading into town to do some shopping for M.'s birthday. M.'s hit a bit of a rough patch. The house he's been renovating in Florida is taking much longer than he expected, and he's down there almost every weekend, on top of all the traveling he does for his job, as it is. He was in town a couple of weeks ago to go to Folsom St. East with me, but had to head right back out again. On the Sunday of Pride, he was in his garage doing chores, fell off a ladder and did such a number on his hand that he had to have three pins put in and he'll be in a cast until August, at least.
While we found nothing I liked enough to give him, we did spend an hour in J & R Music World where I picked up Joan Jett's newly released album "Sinner", the new release of the first American Humble Pie album called, oddly enough, "Humble Pie", and Teddy Pendergrass' first solo album. Did I say eclectic? Deranged? Demented! Joan is great, the record's totally dykey. I understand that this has actually been out for a couple of years in Japan, but I'm happy to have it now. "AC/DC", indeed! The Humble Pie album, which was released in '70, or '71 has been remastered to a fare-thee-well, sounding as if Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton (yes, the very same) were rocking out in my living room. And of course, I'd never played the Teddy LP for Tim, and I wanted him to hear "I Don't Love You Anymore" and of course, "The Whole Town's Laughing At Me". He was suitably impressed. Can anyone tell me the reasons why some much of what was recorded on the Philadelphia International label is no longer available? It's truly criminal.
I made us a couple of smooth Manhattans using Old Overholt Rye. Very smooth. Tim was suitably impressed. I, too, make a fine Manhattan. We headed out for dinner at an old haunt we like in the Village, peopled by folks who may very well actually be old haunts soon enough. It's God's waiting room on the west side. I won't mention the name, because you won't like it. We've been going for years, and we're younger than most of the clientele by at least two decades, if not more so. It's usually low key and relaxing, but that evening, some aged gigolo was reciting his sordid sexual history circa 1952. Boys, nothing has changed. There's few things more boring than being subjected to a rendition of somebody else's past peccadilloes. And it went on forever. The rest of the room, staff included, was reduced to such violent eyerolling I thought a retina might detach somewhere. I leaned over the table and recited "Liaisons" from "A Little Night Music" to Tim. Eclectic?
After a couple of rounds of grab-ass and a few beers at Ty's, we retired.
Sunday, Tim headed off to work and I worked out with the trainer. Ow. My Abs. After an hour with him, I foolishly put in another hour by myself, pretty much guaranteeing I would not be able to move that night or the next two days. I showered and headed off to the Dugout where I was greeted by Dr. Greg, Camacho, Joe, Aaron, Erik, David and others, of both blogging and non-blogging persuasions. Much merriment ensued. Tim took care of his patients, dispensing Long Island Trainwrecks and several of his special Manhattans. I took in the visiting eye candy, including a very attractive grouping apparently from D.C., judging from their t-shirts. When Tim got off we had a couple of drinks at Ty's, then heading home to collapse.
Monday was a quiet day for us, just some lunch and wandering around. Then Tim went home in anticipation of some big housekeeping chore he was planning for the following day, and I spent a quiet evening reading.
Tuesday, I too engaged in some household chores, then heading up in the stifling heat and humidity to Macy's to avail myself of the big seasonal sale. I needed stuff for work, which I tend to keep very basic. You know, black, dark blue, khaki, accompanied by varying shades of pale blue. The store was full of tourists stripping down to their skivvies in the aisles. It was not a pretty sight. I did what I came for and got the hell out. I walked home through the deserted streets of Chelsea, planning my evening.
I've lived in my apartment for 29 years now. I have seen enough fireworks to last a lifetime. Years ago, in the pre-Giuliani, pre-Dinkins era, the neighboring tenants would have firework wars, shooting rockets off their roof tops at each other. I'd come out on my terrace in the morning and find the detrius of the previous night's battle scattered about. For weeks before the Fourth of July, I could lay in my bed at night and watch the colorful explosions rising above the tenements of Chinatown and Little Italy. It was rather beautiful. Of course, this doesn't exist at all anymore. Just the big bombastic East River display that sets off car alarms and drives every dog in the neighborhood insane.
I had to get out of the house, and away from the crowds and the show.
I decided on a rare trip to the movies. I headed over to the Chelsea multiplex on 23rd Street, running into that other bartending Tim, who is 23 or so. He'd been to the Eagle and was quite happy to see me, jumping on me and throwing his legs around my waist. All I could think of was the core exercises, and how much they'd strengthened me, because I probably would have collapsed under the weight of all that attractive muscle.
I hit the theatre, choosing between A Prairie Home Companion and The Devil Wears Prada. A Meryl Streep double header. It was practically a Sophie's Choice decision, but Prairie Home won out. Robert Altman has been one of my very favorite directors since I was in film school back in 1972, and I knew this was probably his last outing. I was well rewarded. It was a remarkable elegy to a brilliant career. I was completely entranced for almost two hours, oblivious to the talkers and laughers and eaters that attend movies now, thinking they're in the comfort of their own living rooms.
I left the theatre and headed down Eighth Avenue, thinking I'd buy myself a nightcap or two. Young Tim did not appear to be bartending at the View, and I just didn't have the gumption to open the door at the Rawhide. I walk by Gym and thought, what the hell, entered and got a Wild Turkey and soda. An arm was waving at me, gesturing me over. It was Gregg, hanging out with Liam and Eric. My very own personal Three Little Pigs. They'd been to the Eagle as well. Apparently, I missed three different wet underwear contests. Quel domage. I guess a lot of boys were avoiding the masses that day.
After a couple of drinks, I accompanied Gregg onto the little smoking porch, which was populated by a group of short twenty-somethings who were speaking to each other in faux English accents. As the four of us squeezed in, one of the loudest children announced:
"I can hardly breathe out here, now that these Muscle Marys have arrived".
I looked around to see the muscular guys. There was no one behind me. I realized they were talking about us. Just as the familiar signs of anger started seeping into my brain, I laughed and turn the young man, thanking him, explaining that no one had ever called me that before. It was time to finish our drinks, hop in a cab and head over to Big Lug.
We were just about the only Big Lugs to be seen there. I guess the fireworks had scared all the boys away. But the music was rocking, and I had a couple of PBR's and talked to some nice boys from Texas. Fun.
So now it's the weekend again!
M. is coming into town for his birthday dinner. We're going to Keen's, because it's familiar. I'll have to cut his steak for him. We're going to hit some bars where he can stand in a corner and not have his cast jostled. He needs to get out!
I'll tell you all about soon.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
This might as well be a daguerreotype for all intents and purposes, right?
Yes, if you look close enough at that blurry, yellowed, fading photograph, you just might find (with the added help of names inked in way back in the steamy summer of 1973) a familiar face.
I blogged about it here, last year.
This year, I'm planning on keeping it real low key, but please know I'm there with you, as always, in spirit.
And if you're out having a cocktail sometime on Saturday around dusk in the Village, keep an eye out for us. Lord knows, we'd love to raise a glass!
Thursday, June 15, 2006
The plan was to meet, greet, drink and snack at Bryce & Neil's new home, then head out to view the festivities. I was definitely on for the meet and greet, and even the drink portion. I wasn't so sure about the festivities to follow. I'm not a crowd person. I figured I'd be surrounded by my nearest and dearest and that way it would all be alright.
Our challenge was actually getting to Brooklyn. Stop snickering, please. Yes, I was born and raised in Brooklyn, but way out at the opposite end of town, out by the ocean. As a small child, I could to hear fog horns at night when I lay in my single bed. I've now been in my Manhattan abode much longer than I ever lived in the house I was raised in. I know certain neighborhoods, and how to get to the various landmarks of my childhood, in their current incarnations. So I consulted Mapquest to find that the address to which we were heading was indeed in the heart of a neighborhood I had lived in some thirty three years prior.
I hadn't been back. Well, maybe once. I didn't leave under the most auspicious of circumstances.
Back in the early spring of 1973 I followed William home on the train, one Saturday evening after the bars had closed. He didn't know quite what to make of me, this 18 year old trailing him down West 4th Street and onto the subway platform. He certainly gave no indication that he knew what I was doing. I followed, jogging behind him as the train pulled in. At the very last moment he locked eyes with me and reached behind to hold the doors open. I stepped in and fell into the seat next to him, smiled and said: "So, where are we going?"
I'd never been on this train line before, never set eyes on this man before.
In true William fashion, he seemed both annoyed and kind of fascinated with the stunt I'd pulled. He questioned me, asking what I would have done had he been in a relationship, or had no place of his own or just plain not interested. I shrugged. These were chances I liked to take then.
The neighborhood itself, one I'd never heard of, was called Fort Greene/Clinton Hill. He lived in the Clinton Hill section in a small double wooden house that had served as the servant's quarters for the Vanderbilt mansion on Clinton Avenue. The scant block and a half from the train station was fraught with danger, to the point where the blocks were impassable after dark. The sun was just ascending as we headed back to his house, and bed.
I spent the day and then the following weekend and then the better part of the next year until I convinced myself that I wasn't getting nearly enough attention and promptly went out and found more.
Though William and I maintained a tenuous relationship for several years, calling each other on our mutual birthday, I never returned to that beautiful terrible neighborhood. Well, maybe once, when a handsome artist took me home with him. But never again.
Tim and I emerged from the train on Fulton Street, blinking in the bright sun, like the intrepid explorers we were. It took mere minutes for me get my bearings. I knew exactly where I was, and not much had changed. We wandered up to Waverly Avenue, to make a short pilgrimage to the place I lived. Strangely, little of the landscape had changed much, though the denizens populating it were quite different than what I remembered. I was almost giddy when I spied my former, albeit temporary, home, regaling Tim with ancient gossip and histories long past. We meandered along, admiring the architecture, as I mentally took inventory of the past.
At our host's beautiful and spacious home, we were greeted with surprise, as if we'd forded the Amazon to attend. We received an extensive house tour, and manned our station at the bar, fixing drinks for all who required them. Tim mastered the cranky blender and was soon sending out his trademark potent concoctions. I thought I might sip Bourbon through the course of the afternoon, to achieve a golden buzz to match the golden day. Cocktails in hand, we climbed to the roof, taking in the amazing views. We were suitably impressed by the Broken Angel building, which had not been there the last time I was in the neighborhood, and now loomed eerily above us. Tim was quick to point out the location of the Empire State Building, which thrilled our hosts to no end. My attentions were elsewhere.
Looking down Greene Avenue, I spied the former site of Adelphi Hospital. Back in 1973, my paternal grandmother, having lost her husband some months earlier, returned from the trailer park in Sarasota she and my grandfather had decamped to years before and came back to Brooklyn to die. It seemed to be her plan. There was ostensibly nothing wrong, she just didn't want to live, and so, wasted away. Learning that she was a mere two blocks from where William and I lived, I was moved to visit her. I'd neither seen nor spoken to her much in several years. We were emphatically not a close knit family. I spent a few evenings with her, mostly in light conversation, as it seemed we didn't have all that much to say.
Some years later, during one of the several unsuccessful reconciliations my father and I endured, he mentioned those visits to me, in concert with several other heretowith unknown and completely devastating factoids regarding my childhood and daunting adolescence.
Apparently he had visited his mother shortly after I left one evening. As the two of them lit up their respective cigarettes, my grandmother, a sort of Jewish gangster's moll in kewpie doll disguise, turned to my father and drawled:
"You know, Gene...your son's a fag".
All this came back to me, echoing loudly in my head all through that lovely afternoon, surrounded by all my wonderful friends. I laughed as I told the tale to all who would listen.
I've learned to compartmentalize the hurtful past, yet I'm still astounded that it retains the power to completely un-nerve me when it rears it's ugly head.
I went downstairs, grabbed the Maker's Mark bottle by the neck and poured a long golden stream.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
Decades ago, Robert would notice me twitching, and lean forward to tell me:
"Don't worry. There's always some nervous fag who'll put money in the jukebox."
To which I learned to reply:
"Uh, Robert, that nervous fag is me!"
Well, times have changed, I haven't been with Robert in years, but I'm still the man taking charge of the jukebox.
Now, this has nothing to do with the fact that I'm a total control freak.
Wait, that's a lie!
It has everything to do with it. It's a well known documented fact. It took Tim mere months to announce that he found me overbearing. I still am. He's just gotten used to me. Or maybe I've just mellowed some.
But I digress.
Just as music often serves as a trigger to remind one of a special event or circumstance, to this day, some songs remain completely emblematic of the bars, restaurants and eras I first heard them in. Some of these songs were in the popular rock and soul idioms of the day, some show tunes (I am a middle-aged gay man, after all!), and a few of them are old hits that never went away.
The original jukebox that Robert and I discussed was in a small, dark bar/burger bin called One Potato, which stood on the corner of 10th and Hudson Streets up until a decade ago. Robert and I would head there on Thursday nights, way back in 1976, to start the weekend off properly. We'd often meet up with our pale friend Richard, drink several beers, pump the juke box and devour burgers at tables fabricated from old whiskey barrels. A waiter took to referring to us as The Men when we'd arrive. I'm not quite sure I understand what that appellation separated us from, as the room was invariably filled with only men, and the occasional sympathetic sister. The bartender soon upped the ante by announcing us as the Father (Robert was about to turn 36), the Son (I was 21) and the Holy Ghost (yes, Richard was that pale). The nickname stuck. I loved it.
The songs I heard there were Linda Lewis' helium voiced rendition of "It's In His Kiss", The Supremes singing "Stoned Love" and "Up The Ladder To The Roof", Melba Moore's "This Is It!" and songs from the first productions of Chicago and A Chorus Line, which were fresh and new then.
It's as if these songs are date-stamped or time coded, their association cemented with a specific venue in another time, another place.
Other Jukeboxes, Other Rooms:
The machine in the student lounge at the School of Visual Arts, where I was chided for playing David Bowie's "Changes" back in 1972. Too gay, apparently. I made the acquaintance of the kid who programmed the box and by the end of the semester it was stocked with New York Dolls tracks, as well as my very own T.Rex 45, "Ride A White Swan".
The jukeboxes at Village gay bars such as the Ninth Circle, Ty's and Keller's where I hung out from 1973, onwards. Endless Lou Reed, Rolling Stones and David Bowie's Aladdin Sane album bring the Ninth Circle crashing back, while the Ronettes "Walking In The Rain" and the Shirelle's "Chains" revive Keller's for me. The small jukebox at Ty's seemed to play the obscure Cy Coleman instrumental "Chloe" all the time.
Years later, a restaurant called 103 Second Avenue opened, amazingly enough at that very location. Periodicals of the time never failed to comment on the cool humans that provided the service there. If they didn't know you, or like the looks of you, service could be sketchy at best. It was next door to the entrance of The Saint, and had a bit of that element to it, but it managed to combine the remnants of the punk scene, the nascent New Wavers and neighborhood types like myself. It was a favored hangout, and we'd head there after long sleepless nights to drink coffee, have some breakfast and come down from whatever substance we'd been ingesting all night. On that jukebox I would play Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" and "Duel" or Femme Fatale" by Propaganda, or "Dazzle" by Siouxie & The Banshees. One of the minor highlights of my life to that point was stumbling into the restaurant at dawn, only to be handed money by the owner, and told to play the pretty morning music.
Which brings us to today. A wildly popular blogger who shall remain nameless has threatened to out me as a jukebox nerd. He's discovered that I have a pocket full of crib sheets when I arrive at the Dugout on Sundays, and he's looking to make the most of it. It's true. I am a nerd. I take notes. There's no way I can contain in my head all the songs I think to play during week. I write things like REM: "It's The End of The World As We Know It" and ABC: "The Look of Love" on my old business cards on a Wednesday or Thursday as the songs occur to me. Then I play them on Sunday.
I thought I better blog about this before he does.