Friday, July 25, 2008

On Silence

After what has seemed an interminable amount of time, I find myself moved to return to my blog. During these past several months of relative cyber-silence, I have felt the steady vibration of this space; I knew I would eventually return, but was uncertain of when or how.

The well has not been dry; inspiration presented itself on an almost daily basis. Rather, I was deeply certain that I needed to steep, rather than step.

I'm excited to begin this journey again. The time is write.

Monday, April 21, 2008

So Said . . . Karl Marx

"Religion is the opium of the masses." -- Karl Marx
". . . and the methamphetamine of the asses." - he gay

Friday, April 18, 2008

Minor Obsessions: Big Booty Bread Co.

I need to write about this particular obsession before its classification shifts from minor to major.

Truth is, the point is rapidly approaching where I'd sell my ass for one of Big Booty Bread Co.'s peanut butter cookies -- big discs of peanut butter perfection, covered with chunks of crumbled Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and baked to that elusive point of crunchy, crumbly moistness.

Big Booty, probably best known for its killer red velvet cupcakes, sits on the North side of 23rd, just East of Eight Avenue, a couple doors down from the rotting corpse of what used to be Burgers & Cupcakes; thankfully Big Booty kicked its ass (and that ridiculous, monster pink cupcake spinning on top of its awning) back to its Hell's Kitchen location. Moral of the story: if you're gonna bring carbs and calories to Chelsea, they better damn well be worth it. And Big Booty bends over backwards (er, forwards?) to give you a lot of bang for the buck.

It all started when I was walking out of my gym after a workout and feeling like a reward. The mind behind Big Booty cleverly chose a location between New York Sports Club and David Barton gym and it wasn't long before I was swinging by on a daily basis.

Big Booty's treats aren't limited to the cases either; the now-bearded booty behind the logo (Jose Rojas) is easy to spot and has somehow managed to simultaneously keep the bakery namesake in perfect shape while clearly working it off.

Keep a lookout for Big Booty logo t-shirts and underwear, which fly out of the store as almost as quickly as its homemade goods.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

h[eBay]: Warhol's "Trash" Poster (original)

After three years of searching for an affordable version, I finally scored an original movie poster from "Trash." The Warhol-produced 1970 film stars the incredible Joe Dallesandro and Factory superstar, Holly Woodlawn.

The U.S. version typically costs $500 and remained out of justifiable reach, so I compromised by buying the poster at right, measuring 23" x 33", from the German release of the film. It arrived in perfect shape, no holes or tears; an eBay score for $125.

The only poster that remains on my to-find, to-afford list is the original poster from Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale's 1978 cabaret show at NYC's Reno Sweeney. Any leads?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Aha Moment: 03/26/2008, 1:28 PM

Awareness of one's insanity kinda defeats the purpose.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Aha Moment: 12/06/2007, 9:48 PM

Many who consider themselves invisible are often merely transparent.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

So Said . . . Mother Teresa

"We are all pencils in the hand of God." -- Mother Teresa
". . . not red pens." - he gay

Saturday, December 01, 2007

On this the first day of December

December 1st is a day when I stop, take a moment, and touch gratitude.

Forty-two years ago today, my best friend Brad was born in Dallas, Texas. Three years later, my cousin Kari was born in Manchester, New Hampshire, And, three years ago, the first "World AIDS Day" was observed after a campaign spearheaded by UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS/HIV). World AIDS Day is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection.

Brad, Kari and AIDS have been the greatest teachers that I have known; each has brought me closer to truth in the midst of both laughter and tears; each has treated me with complete acceptance and non-discrimination. I have been so blessed by each.

December 1st is a good day, indeed.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Day Early and a Dollar Short

The Bush administration placed this red ribbon in the North Portico of the White House earlier today in recognition of World AIDS Day, which is tomorrow, December 1, 2008.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Project Runway 4: The Catwalk Fight Begins

Admit it: Project Runway ("PR") is the shit. The 4th season of Bravo's hugely successful reality show began tonight and I'm already hooked (again). The 15 designers hell-bent on making it to a tent in Bryant Park are as varied and talented as each of the prior seasons and this season has all the hallmarks of another successful season. PR's formula is genius: unknown raw talent, huge egos, impeccable style, throw-away trendiness, highly caffeinated genius under impossible deadlines, catty homosexuals, bitchy male & female judges, beautiful clothes, stunning models, celebrity cameos and a drop-dead Supermodel with an accent and "Voila," [or whatever the German word for "Voila" would be].

The first episode, "Sew Us What You Got" challenged the designers to sprint across Bryant Park to snatch up material ($50,000 worth from Mood Fabrics -- ooh, ahh, ooh) and create a garment that represents their design vision. My assessment follows:

Carmen - SCAD graduate, attractive, but annoying; seems to be over-compensating for something. 1st design: vest and balloon pant outfit, uninteresting 1970's knock-off. "Retro nightmare" is apparently her vision.

Chris* - Love this man. Already exhibits confidence in his abilities and that certain flair. 1st design: regal, very Adrian, very strong. He's the real deal.

Christian - HUH? Has already built a respectable resume (McQueen, Westwood, etc.) but how fucking annoying is one gay boy allowed to be. So cocky, so soon; but he does make great TV. This bastard gay offspring of last-season's Malan & Keith is high drama, but he'll eventually trip over his own veil.

Elisa - She's an artist, and don't you dare forget it. She should have been "Auf'd," but saved due to technical ability. Quirky, weird, subtle charm. No staying power as, I suspect, she will be uncompromising and will eventually refuse to sacrifice her Art.

Jack - This season's (surgically-altered) eye candy is a shoe-in for at least half the season on the basis of abs alone. Dress was adorable, but safe; vision reminiscent of Robert Best (last-season's "Barbie" designer). A+ for sincerity.

Jillian - She's utterly forgettable. Red "poppy" dress looked like a 80's prom dress gone bad. Nothing to hang onto with her.

Kevin - Wasted no time in telling the world he was straight. Newsflash to Kevin - that ridiculous beard / sideburn thing you have going told me before you did. He may be a victim of editing and I'm willing to withhold judgment at this point. Kinda liked the pinstriped babydoll thing he did; silver bullet-proof vest was overkill though.

Kit - She reminds me of last-season's Alison. Dress was basically a flowered breast bullseye. Not very flattering to my sensibilities. She's adorable, good for ratings, but don't really get her vision.

Marion - owns a florist shop in Dallas?? Yikes. I've done my time in Dallas and I feel for the boy. The dress? Over-the-knee goth prom. No Thanks. He seems sweet, though a bit lost. Lose the hat. Shave your head if you have to.

Rami - Won first challenge with beautifully done Grecian-inspired dress. This season's Uli. Beautiful, but there is this looming sense that he's a one-note queen. Time will tell.

Ricky - Former lingerie designer who remains kinda adorable despite an ever-present train conductor's hat. Dress was, uhm, boring. Undecided otherwise.

Simone - Adios Ms. LeBlanc. She was humorless (who can blame her), but her dress wasn't so bad she should be packing her bags.

Steven - I want to take him home to my mother, but I'm afraid he would spend all his time talking to her and make me wait while he whipped up a new set of curtains. He is adorable and the dress was sweet. As much as I like him, there doesn't seem to be much originality here.

Sweet P - The female version of Jeffrey, last-season's winner. Too edgy, too nuts. Adios by Week 3 or 4.

Victorya - Hate the name, loved the dress. Talented, but a little bitchy. Kinda would like to see more of her.

Not planning on writing every week, but only when the urge strikes.

* Full disclosure: I have a working relationship and friendship with Chris March. Although I will not benefit from any success he may garner as a result of this show, I have to admit that I have everything I possess crossed and re-crossed hoping that he takes the whole thing. You go, boy!!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dirty Little Secrets: Go RHS Eagles!

In 1984, I graduated from Richardson High School ("RHS") located in Richardson, Texas. Notable alums include Anne Rice (the novelist) and Jay Johnson (the creepy ventriloquist). RHS, however, is probably best known, without being really known, as the school where, in January 1991, Jeremy Delle (the inspiration for the Pearl Jam song Jeremy) blew his head off in front of his second period English class. One of my favorite English teachers, Faye Barnett, was teaching at the time; she deserved better.

Here's the secret: my senior class elected me as Mr. Spirit. That's right -- not Mr. RHS (that was Doug Miller), not Class Funniest (that was Ben Beckham) and not Most Likely To Succeed (that was Scott Miller). Mr. Spirit. As Captain of the Eagle Guard, which was the bell crew that rang the bell and ran the field each time the football team scored, I was a shoe-in. It was the closest thing to being a cheerleader without having to put your hands up some bitchy girl's skirt. I now realize that the title of Mr. Spirit was actually the de facto name for the title of Most Gay.

I'm not quite ready to discuss this any further, but there it is. There it is indeed.

Friday, October 05, 2007

So Said . . . Quentin Crisp

"The very purpose of existence is to reconcile the glowing opinion we have of ourselves with the appalling things that other people think about us." -- Quentin Crisp
". . . or vice-versa" - he gay

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Lennox Delivers Songs of Mass Depression

In 1981 The Eurythmics, consisting of the then-yet-undiscovered Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart respectively cast as a glamdrogynous Eve and an ambiguously-straight Adam, released its first album, "In the Garden." It took another two years and the release of their second album, "Sweet Dreams," for the duo to have their first bite of real success.

Dave and Annie left Eden 26 years ago and, to hear Annie tell it, the fruits since then have been bittersweet.

Lennox's eagerly awaited "Songs of Mass Destruction" was released today and I had it in my hands and on my iPod by Noon. While standing in line at the Union Square Virgin Records Megastore, that sinking feeling that on the album assured me it was, indeed, going to be classic Ms. Lennox. They include "Dark Road," "Love is Blind," "Smithereens," "Through the Glass Darkly" and "Lost." You get the idea, right?

And, to make sure you included, and expected, are two anthems for women. The first, "Womankind," is like every other song she's ever written before that I would have sworn I already heard it. The other, the much-hyped "Sing," is dedicated to stopping the mother-to-child transmission of AIDS in Africa -- worthy endeavor indeed, but again tirelessly familiar to the ear.

Although the album is less than what I'd hoped, at least it isn't a repackaged reunion record of re-cut Eurythmics tunes.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Aha Moment: 09/23/2007, 7:20 AM

The best revenge isn't looking good; it's looking elsewhere.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Had He Forgotten He Had a Lesbian Daughter?

Much has been made over the tearful announcement by Jerry Sanders, Republican Mayor of San Diego, regarding his last-minute (almost literally) decision to reverse his previously announced intention to veto a San Diego City Council resolution that had been passed by that body challenging California's gay marriage ban.

Sanders' emotional announcement appears below and is worth watching if you haven't seen it yet.

While I ultimately applaud Sanders' decision, I have ask, "What took you so long, Jerry?"

As Sanders states in his speech, he is the father of an adult lesbian daughter who came out to him over two years ago. He was aware of her orientation when he campaigned against same-sex marriage, offering up "separate but equal" civil unions instead. At this stage of the national debate, I think this is unacceptable. Politicians with LGBT family members who continue to advocate against equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians need to be asked, point-blank, why.

As funny as the title of the "New York Blade" article announcing the birth of Mary Cheney's son was ["Mary Cheney Gives Birth to Human Boy"], it also strikes the truest, albeit saddest, note in this entire issue. Elected officials are campaigning on, advocating, drafting, pushing, lobbying for, and signing intolerance against their own flesh and blood into law.

As Larry Kramer would say, "Where is the outrage?"

My deep suspicion is that many relatives of gays and lesbians who actually voted for Bush/Cheney in the last election were voting their subconscious, allowing their internalized homophobia to pull the lever.

I intend to ask each person in my birth and chosen families whether or not they intend to vote for any candidate who does not support full marriage rights for gays and lesbians. The truth is I'm not even sure I ever want to get married, but I do want to know why anyone in my family thinks heterosexual love deserves privileges that love between homosexuals does not.

The stakes are too high. Too many LGBT teenagers die, become addicted or infected, or suffer unnecessarily because this culture of hate exists.

In this time of senseless war, inexcusable poverty and famine, and spiritual desolation, I'm done apologizing for demanding answers and explanations on what should be the biggest no-brainer, non-issue we collectively face.

If we can't come together on love, we are a society lost.

Don't bullshit yourself, it is that simple.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dale Jr. Comes Out with Big Mo'

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., NASCAR poster party-boy and former winner of the Daytona 500 Race, launched a candy bar today. The Big Mo' chocolate bar, which will hit the shelves in January 2008, will come in two flavors -- caramel and peanut butter.

Earnhardt, Jr. reportedly said "[a]t one point or another everyone has had their own idea of making the perfect candy bar [uhm, they have?], and this was my chance to do it." The name supposedly relates to Earnhardt, Jr.'s hometown of Mooresville, N.C. and is a reference to the name of his group of friends, charmingly known as the "Dirty Mo' Posse." There is, however, a big difference to me between a "dirty mo" and a "big mo." Dale Jr. is 32 and I find it tough to believe he hasn't himself called or made reference to someone as a "big 'mo" in a derogatory manner and meaning a "big homo." In all fairness, the apostrophe is in the wrong place, but, the reference seems too blatant to be disregarded.

Is the name the result of some gay adman's pitch that miraculously slid under the radar all the way to production, or, is it Earnhardt & Company's tongue-in-cheek, fratboy humor poke at gays?

I know what I'd like to believe and I know what is likely true.

It will be interesting to see if there is any fall out from the LGBT community on this. I suspect it's inevitable.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Good News for Forty-Seven Percent of America

As I tried desperately to exorcise the demons from my day out of my body using the elliptical machine at the New York Sports Club on 14th Street I couldn't help looking at the 20 television screens facing my stationary vehicle of self flagellation. Half of the screens blared Drew Carey's new game show, "Power of 10." The premise of the show is that guests compete by estimating how Americans responded to various poll questions. Carey -- overweight, loud, crude -- seems the perfect host for "Power of 10," as he is clearly "Made in America." Who better to confront us with the truth about ourselves?

My iPod was delivering "The Pussycat Dolls," as I started to work up a sweat, so I could only read the screen, which flashed each poll question. The first question I saw grabbed everything -- my gut, head, heart, balls.

"What percentage of Americans would swim in a pool with a person they knew was infected with HIV?"

Again, I couldn't hear the banter between Carey and the two contestants as they prepared to enter their guesses. The contestants were two men, both as large as Carey, who appeared heterosexual and more ethnic than the host. They were literally and figuratively large slices of the American Pie. There was a great deal of laughing as they entered their respective estimates: one guessed 23% and the other thought it was in the low 30's percentage area.

My jaw dropped.

The poll results revealed that 53% of Americans polled indicated that they would swim in a pool; 47% apparently felt that they would not take that "risk."

My heart joined my jaw.

I'm not going to say anything more about this, other than it encouraged me to be more open about my HIV status and the fact that when I discovered my status I actually had an AIDS diagnosis. Ignorance on this issue is inexcusable in this country at this point. For that many Americans to think that any risk whatsoever exists for swimming in a chlorinated pool with someone who had HIV is shocking. Shocking, and deeply sad.

The good news for that 47% is that every single person I know who is HIV+ would refuse to swim in a pool with someone that ignorant or bigoted.

So, you're safe America.

Go have another Big Mac.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Six Years

I notice that I still only discuss September 11th with people that were here that day. I'm not sure why.

I know that I deal with anger, or whatever it's actually masking, when I see tourists taking pictures in front of the hole, or the vendors who are selling books with pictures of the destruction, or the protesters using the location as a "provocative" spot to bring their message.

September 11th sneaks into my consciousness whenever I see a sky as gloriously blue as the one that morning or pass the bus stop in front of St. Vincent's, remembering it covered with pictures of the missing, when I see the remains of a melted candle in the cracks of a city sidewalk., when I see a face in a crowd, moving forward, but numb.

I still won't watch footage of the impacts or the jumpers; I avert my eyes from images from the day.

What is gone is the smell that lingered from the first year -- smoky, burnt, electrical. What remains is me, getting up and trying to make a life here, in spite of . . .

Monday, September 10, 2007

I'm Behind You NYC: Gone Fishin'

Date & Time: September 11, 2007

Time: 8:00 p.m.

Location: 8th Ave., b/w 23rd & 24th Streets

Reason: In the age of subway metrocards, sightings like these have become rare. This is an image of a subway grate fisher using a pole he constructed himself and many other "implements" to reach through the grate to pull dropped things up including, but not limited to, money, jewelry, and cigarettes (seriously). A scene straight out of Henry Roth's "Call it Sleep."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

When Words Fail

I love words.

Words have romanced, enhanced, healed, inspired and empowered me.

I would like to believe that all problems eventually kneel before the intellect and soul as they are expressed in words, that their power, whether oral or written, is without limit.

I now know better; I now understand that words can fail.

I have come to know, in an undeniable way, the inabilty of any vocabulary, regardless of breadth or depth, to convey the unutterable.

Today, I sat with one of my dearest, most fiercely loyal friends as he struggled to absorb the news that his mom was suddenly, tragically killed in a plane crash.

Together we stared blankly at a computer screen as it showed video footage of the crash site, vainly straining to grasp the incoherency streaming from a reporter's mouth.

As my mind raced, heart wrenched, soul numbed and throat steeled, words betrayed me.

I did, in the midst of an exhale, humbly discover the power of silence, the comfort of complete presence, the fullness of peace, and quiet.

Perhaps the fact that we are born with two ears, and only one mouth, is meant as a reminder of their relative necessity.

I love words, but I know their limits.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Craig Cops to Conduct (and Clinton Crush?)

Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), the closet's latest casualty, denied that he was gay today, despite the fact that it was discovered he recently plead guilty to a reduced charge of "disorderly conduct," rather than face prosecution on charges of "public lewdness." Craig was arrested by a plainclothes officer he "met" in a Minneapolis airport bathroom.

My initial reaction when I heard this story was the same as it always is in these circumstances -- why don't they ever, ever let us know what the undercover cop looked like. Seriously. Was he hot? Should it have been obvious? Is he straight? It drives me nuts.

Once calmed though, I have to admit that what I then felt was a sadness for the fact that anyone -- even a pompous, finger-pointing hypocrite like the "distinguished gentleman from the fine State of Idaho" -- should choose, particularly at his age, to live the life of a closeted gay man. The closet is cruel, unnecessary -- so 70's, so "Merv."

Gay men have long been targeted by undercover sting operations, selectively enforcing these out-dated, ill-conceived statutes. The only time these arrests seem fair is when the occasional politician, preacher, law enforcement officer, judge, reparative therapist, or the errant Exodus International employee gets stung; men who despite being in positions affording them opportunities to positively affect the way gay men are treated by the law, their families and their communities, fail to do so. The truth is, however, that the ones who suffer the most -- young boys grappling their evolving sexual selves in a society that says they are freaks, married men living tortured lives in the closet, self-hating men hellbent on self-destruction -- are the one's who need our understanding and compassion the most.

Every gay man has either dealt with this exact scenario or knows dozens of others who have; the implications of this public shaming of gay men are impossible to calculate, but easy to imagine. It needs to stop.

Thankfully, I have noticed a growing impatience with this law enforcement tactic, which actually bears an undeniable similarity to the raids of gay bars that sparked "Stonewall." Brave men are refusing to plead guilty and spending their own time, energy, public clout and a lot of money to challenge the laws and their selective enforcement. The gay community needs to recognize their efforts and vocally and financially support the same.

What follows is a clip from a "Meet the Press" show from 1999 of Sen. Craig publicly chastising then-President Bill Clinton over the Lewinsky debacle. Seen today, in light of the recent revelations, Craig's words take on an entirely new meaning, I think.

After viewing the video, I'm convinced that Senator Craig has it bad for Clinton and would love to run into him in a restroom somewhere.

You be the judge:

". . . nasty, bad, naughty boy"???

You can't make this shit up.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Aha Moment: 08/23/2007, 5:42 AM

The part of him that got me is the part of him that got me.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Dirty Little Secrets: Little (Major) League

Since public humiliation seems to be a recurring theme this month (uhm, wink?), it seems fitting that this month's Dirty Little Secret be my earliest, un-fondest memory. The time frame is sketchy, but I believe I was about eight. I was whatever age one is when Little League first becomes an option. Rest assured, it wasn't my idea; I hadn't yet warmed up to the idea of balls flying at my face.

Regardless, I ended up on the team sponsored by Burger King. If you remember from last month's Dirty Little Secret, I was Sears-Husky chubby, in addition to having little innate athletic ability. I'm convinced to this day, I only agreed to play because I assumed free whoppers, french fries and milk shakes were inevitable, which, in fact, they were.

The memories surrounding my time in Little League are seriously impaired due to the strength and relentlessness of the repression impulse. Piecing the bits together is challenging. I have a vivid memory of going to a sporting goods store and purchasing a baseball mitt and athletic cup. My Dad made a rare weekend appearance for these purchases and it marks the one and only time that the fact that I was in possession of a pair of testicles actually came up between us; it's bittersweet to realize that he stepped up the the plate when their vulnerability and ability to pass on his DNA became an issue. I know for a fact he has never called his or anyone else's testicles "balls" or "nuts;" for him they were, and I assume remain, forever "testicles."

Thus equipped, Little League practices began.

My coach, Arthur Demers was about 4o, with shoulder length black hair that with beginning streaks of gray. He was one hairy Greek guy. Tufts poured out of whatever shirt he had on -- from the sleeves, from around the neck. He had one of those 70's Harley-Davidson mustaches that drooped all the way down to his jawline. If Tom of Finland were casting a 70's gay porn version of the "Bad News Bears," Coach Demers would have been a shoe-in for the Walter Matthau role. He exuded testosterone and could pitch, catch, and hit balls with his eyes closed. If you saw him at The Eagle, you'd be tempted, but a bit concerned about your wallet.

My recollection is that I spent a great deal of time in the outfield; it was either left or right; it was never center. I prayed (out loud and occasionally to the point of tears) that no one would hit it within 100 feet of me. When the inevitable ball did come me way during practice, I made awkward, slow movements in its general directions, secretly courting a spastic infielder or over-zealous center fielder to step in and steal the spotlight. This tactic frequently worked, but Coach Demers was not fooled.

The only moments more tormenting than those spent in the field were those at the plate, facing the pitcher. I could puke thinking about it right now. As my turn to bat would approach, I would beg God's forgiveness as I wished that each of my teammates would make an out. I didn't really have a batter's eye; I swung at balls that were thrown towards third plate and would let balls gently lobbed over home pass by, or swing after it was resting safe in the catcher's mitt. There was no predicting how my ineptness would manifest itself -- swing too soon, too fast, too high; one never knew.

Every practice was torture to be eclipsed only by the games. I suffered silently, sullenly chewing on burgers and soggy fries after the games. We were young enough that my lack of ability was tolerated by the other kids, but I only recall having one friend on the team. All I remember of him is that he had glasses, dark hair and was a skinnier version of me in every other respect.

Amazingly, and dare I say without any of my assistance, our team somehow landed in the finals for the Little League championship. And like a scene straight out of a movie, I ended up facing the pitcher for what would either be the last out or the last chance to get two guys who were on base home. I know for a fact that we were still in a position to win if I was able to get on base -- somehow, anyway.

Walt Disney didn't write the script for this game and I struck out. My parents and brother had come for the game and were in the stands. There was an audible groan as I moved to the plate; it was coming out of my mouth. I know that the ump called one of the pitches I didn't swing at a ball. But I know I swung like the Tasmanian Devil at the others -- too no avail.

The game ended. We lost. Members of my team were throwing their mitts on the dirt and cursing loudly (with parental supervision and permission). Others were crying, clearly devastated. I went to that place -- the shivering spot in your chest that echoes, while your face turns beet red. I didn't cry and my parents' ushered me and my brother, who remained unbelievably silent, to the car. In retrospect, I suspect they may have feared some sort of Yankee redneck lynching; who knows.

Regardless, as we driving home I was stunned right out of numbness to see my parents' pulling into the Burger King parking lot. I literally go blank at that point. Literally. I can't tell you what transpired at that place.

Postscript: I wasn't forced, or even asked, by my parents to play Little League the next year. In fact, we have never discussed it since. After my father left the next year, one of my mother's boyfriends of the week had my brother and I signed up for a basketball league on Saturdays. Bigger balls seemed a better idea, but coordination became even more crucial. My first complaints that I didn't think I was getting it were heard loud and clear and I was spared another harrowing season.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Leona Helmsley: Death and Taxes

The death of billionaire hotelier and real estate maven, Leona Helmsley, today, at the age of 87, serves as testament to the truths of two adages; first, that "the only certainties in life are death and taxes" (Benjamin Franklin), and second, that "only the good die young" (Billy Joel's rock-and-roll twist of Oliver Herford's lesser-known quotation "only the young die good."

The reported cause of death was heart failure, which no doubt comes as a surprise to those, including former employees, certain that she somehow lived her life without that particular organ.

The former model (huh?) and real-estate agent became Mrs. Helmsley in 1972 after convincing Harry Helmsley to divorce his wife. She quickly settled in as his full business partner, and together they built a hotel chain and real estate empire, which at its height included ownership of the Empire State and Flatiron Buildings. She once said that Harry loved having her as a business partner because "the board meeting was over as soon as they got out of bed in the morning." Go ahead and let that visual sink in.

Leona eventually became the face of the brand and centerpiece of a 1980's ad campaign touting the Helmsley Hotels as personally overseen by "the Queen" -- Leona herself. The campaign spotlighted Leona's insistence on having the "very best," indirectly referencing her indifference to and intolerance with the working class who were, to her way of thinking, there to serve her purposes. The campaign resonated with the new wave of high-spending, cold-hearted elitists spawned during the "Reagan years" -- an era for which Leona has attained iconic status. It seems somehow fitting that as she aged, she came to resemble Reagan himself, in very bad drag.

Dubbed the "Queen of Mean" [also the title of the 1990 made-for-TV biopic, which brilliantly cast Suzanne Pleshette in the main role], Helmsley was notorious for her ill treatment of employees, a wickedly short fuse, and insurmountable arrogance. In 1988, the Helmsleys were targeted by then-NYS Attorney General, Rudolph Guiliani, in a tax evasion scheme and were prosecuted. Mrs. Helmsley took it on the chin for her husband, who was declared mentally incompetent for trial, ultimately serving 18 months in a minimum-security prison. The highlight of the trial and the source of the quote most often associated with Leona came in the form of testimony from a former employee of the Helmsleys, a hotel maid, who testified that Leona once bragged that she and her husband "don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes." Charming lady, no?

Harry Helmsley died in 1997 and Leona slithered out of the spotlight saying "[m]y fairy tale is over." She was, however, mistaken. A new "fairy" tale with grimmer consequences brought her back into court in 2003. She was sued by the former manager of the Helmsley Park Lane Hotel, Charles Ball, who claimed he was terminated because he was gay. A jury awarded Ball $1.2 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages; the award was subsequently reduced to approximately $550,000. Testimony was clear that she created a hostile environment for Ball and was not a friend of the gays, but the underlying story is a bit more sordid than is often reported. Apparently, Helmsley was incensed that Ball had rented out so many of the rooms to attendees for New York's celebrated night of leather, The Black Party. What I would have given to have been a lady-in-waiting within earshot of Leona Helmsley when she was informed that the lobby of the Park Lane was littered with leather-clad and unclad circuit queens. The world hadn't seen a square-off between two queens this evenly matched since Elizabeth I and Mary Queens of Scots.

Some of those reporting on her life have made special efforts to highlight Leona's philanthropic and charitable deeds in some sort of twisted balancing act to offset the "mean, greedy, bitch" side most people know. For instance, CNN has reported that in her lifetime she likely donated approximately $50 million to hospitals, black churches in the South, and victims of September 11th and Katrina. My response: Yeah, and your point? Frankly, the amount is peanuts in comparison to her worth (estimated by Forbes at $2.5 billion in 2007). My assumption is that the donations were motivated more by tax consequences than any real concern for its beneficiaries.

Mrs. Helmsley will rot alongside her darling Harry, holding what is, I suppose, an eternal board meeting, inside a marble mausoleum worth $1.4 million at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (ironically the same cemetery where Brooke Astor was recently buried). The mausoleum reportedly has a magnificent view, huge columns, and a breathtaking stained-glass window representation of the New York skyline, including the jewel of their earthly empire, The Empire State Building.

I hope to hell someone remembered to put a mint on her pillow before she arrived at the mausoleum or there's going to be hell to pay.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Every Pot's Got a Lid

The White House announced today that First Daughter Jenna (the chubbier, party twin) became engaged to Henry Hager (son of a Virginia Republican fundraiser) on August 15, 2007. I "image-googled" them and found this amazing photo on the left. Is there anything purer, more inspiring, than young love?

What I love about this particular photo is that it could have been taken anywhere: GOP picnic, NASCAR race, NRA Convention, KKK rally, WWF Friday Night Wrestling event. Or maybe Karl Rove, in a swan song act organizational brilliance brought all these interests together for one night of "white magic."

When I initially read the news, and then again when I saw the photo, I heard the unmistakable voice of my grandmother, Florence ("Flossie") Morin, in my head saying, "every pot's got a lid" -- it's sorta the working girl's version of Cinderella's glass slipper.

Coincidentally, while I was scanning the day's headlines, I came across this image on the right of Nathan and Kelly Devalos, another couple who beautifully illustrate the truth of Flossie's words. Nathan and Kelly were married on August 11, 2007 in the first ever wedding to be held simultaneously in real and virtual worlds. These two, die-hard players of the online game "Everquest," actually met while playing the game online; the rest is history. People all over the world were able to "attend" their wedding -- physically and virtually. Sounds great until you start thinking about 'thank you' cards.

[NOTE: From what I can gather, this online gaming thing is what kids who were playing D&D when I was in high school are doing now, as adults. I don't get it at all, but it gives me insight into what I think some straight people must feel when they consider "the gays" -- their interests, lives and even weddings, for that matter. When I see this, my gut says "Holy shit, are they fucking serious?" But, after a moment, I'm able to step back and recognize that they're not hurting anyone, no one is making me watch and they seem to be extremely happy. As a community, we just need to figure out how to convince straight people to step back for a second. I digress . . . ]

At 4'10" and 170, my grandmother, Flossie, was equal parts boobs, butt and unsolicited advice; her purse was full of pennies and she never hesitated to throw in her two cents. Although I'm not even sure if she finished high school, she was, and remains, the wisest woman I ever knew. Flossie's pithy comments could hardly be described as profound, but they cut to the heart of the matter and held incontrovertible truths.

Over the years, the idea that there is a lid somewhere out there for me has brought me comfort. Don't get me wrong; there have been times when I have ignored the implicit, equally true, flip side of the statement, which is, if the lid you've found doesn't fit your pot, put it down and move on. I have spent significant time and energy trying to make certain lids fit. I have attempted to force the lid to cover openings for which they were not designed. I have also banged numerous lids and even my own pot against walls, denting and distorting both, ultimately decreasing their effectiveness, in vain attempts to make a fit possible. In the short term, these efforts have had the appearance of working. But, once the heat is turned on and things start cooking, the forced fit fails and steam spews from the seams.

Flossie was always right, but without losing her sense of humor about things. I know that given the opportunity, she would have pulled both Jenna and Kelly aside and asked them if they had slept with their fianc├ęs before agreeing to the engagement. If either had said "yes," she would have been admonished and told that she was lucky to have been asked because, as Flossie liked to say, "why would anyone buy the cow, if he's getting the milk for free." And if one of these young woman had replied "no," she would have been told she was a fool and encouraged to sleep with him as soon as possible, saying "you wouldn't buy a pair of shoes without trying them on, would you??"

Even though she's often in my head, I miss Flossie more today than ever.

I suspect that both of these pot/lid combinations are nice fits; each person seems made for the other. The only nagging question I have is what level of financial contribution did this Virginia RNC fundraiser have to make in order to receive the donor incentive of a Bush twin for his son? The entire thing has "Karl Rove" written all over it.