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.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I'm Behind You NYC: Chelsea Chicken Leg Syndrome

Date & Time: August 14, 2007

Time: 6:00 p.m.

Location: 6th Ave. & 22nd St., NYC

Reason: This is a rare example of a Chelsea boy who is not suffering from Chelsea Chicken Leg Syndrome (CCLS). CCLS is a mental disorder that causes its sufferers to believe that one only need weight train the upper half of his body. Advanced cases may obtain calf and/or buttock implants in an attempt to conceal the disorder; look for telltale scarring.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Brooke Astor: The Last of the Ladies Who Lunched

Brooke Astor died today at the age of 105. All New Yorkers, whether they realize it or not, have suffered a great loss in the passing of this great lady.

Mrs. Astor, who received the Presidential Medal of Honor from President Clinton in 1998, gave away over $200 million dollars in her lifetime and was largely responsible for saving many of what she called the city's "crown jewels" -- among them the New York Public Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall, the Museum of Natural History, Central Park and the Bronx Zoo.

In addition to the "jewels," she spent considerable time and effort personally evaluating grant applications made to the Victor Astor Foundation, the philanthropic foundation established upon the death of her third husband in 1959 and for which she served as Chairwoman. Victor Astor inherited his fortune upon the death of father, John Jacob Astor, IV, who died in the sinking of the Titanic.

Shortly before his death, Victor reportedly said that Mrs. Astor would have a great time giving away all of his money once he was dead. She spent four decades doing just that, following his wishes that the money be spent on New York, where it had been made.

Soon after moving to NYC in May 1997, I read an article about Brooke Astor. The article described her as one of the "ladies who lunch," a phrase popularized by Steven Sondheim in a song of the same name from his Broadway show, 'Company.' These "ladies" -- stereotypified Upper East Side biddies, included the likes of Mrs. Astor, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Nan Kempner, and Pauline Trigere, among others. While Sondheim's lyrics celebrated their resilience, they also cast them as slightly out of touch with the rest of the world, "dinosaurs surviving the crunch."

The article that I read made it clear that while Mrs. Astor lived the rarefied life of one of these ladies -- heiress, doyenne, patroness, socialite -- she also retained a "common touch." I was intrigued. So, with the annoying vigor of a new-to-Gothamite, I decided to do some research. I was simultaneously shocked and thrilled to discover that Brooke Astore had been born "Roberta Brooke Russell" in New Hampshire -- my home state. Suddenly she made complete sense to me. 'No-nonsense' is in New Hampshire's water supply and earnest pragmatics are taught in pre-school.

This realization -- in those first crazy months in the City -- was supremely comforting to me. The fact that a skinny girl from Portsmouth could impact this great city in such a profound way made it seem conceivable that this chubby gay boy from Manchester might also have a shot.

Despite my best efforts, I haven't yet been able to land an Astor husband, which seems crucial to the successful implementation of the "Brooke Astor Masterplan." I thank each of you in advance for any leads in this regard.

Although they would not be my first choice, I will entertain inquiries from Rockefellers and Vanderbilts, as well.

I Just Saw: R2D2

. . . on the corner of 6th Avenue and 34th Street. Upon closer inspection. I realized that it was not, in fact, R2D2, but instead an United States Postal Service mailbox cleverly disguised as such. The mailbox was designed to commemorate the issuance of a new series of stamps based on the movie "Star Wars." As much as I love the mailbox, is it really necessary for the the USPS to "advertise?"

Note: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe R2D2 and C3P0 were the first gay robot couple to appear together on the big screen.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Minor Obsessions: BUTT

This is the first installment in a new series that will be devoted to discussing the many people, items, and/or ideas, about whom or which I have developed "minor obsessions." The distinction for me between major and minor obsessions is that, for the former, I will forego sleep, food, and common sense.

And for my debut "minor obsession" I'm thrilled to offer up BUTT -- the pocket-sized, quarterly magazine, always printed on pink paper, and unabashedly dedicated to "all things homosexual." BUTT began publishing in The Netherlands, in 2001 and it's latest edition (No. 20) for Summer 2007 (pictured left), the theme of which is the Los Angeles Boys of Summer, is currently available at a few local bookstores (including the St. Mark's Bookstore, Rainbows & Triangles), as well as all American Apparel clothing stores.

What's not to love about BUTT? It has consistently delivered provocative, intelligent content since its inception without sacrificing a bit of its gritty, underground feel. A treat for the eyes and mind, it is a page-turning, threesome: tongue-in-cheek raunch, balls-out candor and edgy charm.

The submission guidelines are non-existent; editors encourage contributions from all forms of "homosexual artistic expression," hoping to be surprised. The published results of the editor's pickiness are riveting -- amateur and professional shots of real boys and men from all walks, taunting interviews of underground gay heroes and daring virgin fiction. It's a visual and mental massage, with release.

BUTT recently published BUTT Book: Best of the First 5 Years of BUTT Magazine, a soft-bound publication (also in pink paper) with a self-explanatory title. It's a perfect compilation for those not interested in chasing down the 20 issues, which are rapidly becoming collectible. One of the reasons BUTT is a minor obsession is because I was introduced to the publication in its earliest days and, consequently, own all but a few of the back issues for which I do frequent eBay searches -- yes, astute 'he gay' reader, that is an example of a minor obsession riding piggy back on a major obsession. It's all good.

Go grab BUTT -- it's ready when you are, never disappoints, won't walk out the door after you've come, and you don't have to worry about its boyfriend suddenly appearing.

"Who is Merv Griffin?"

In the category "'Zsa Zsa's Closeted Companions," the answer for $1,000 is: "Talk show host and creator of "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune," who died today of prostate cancer at the age of 82."

While living in Derry, NH in the late 70's, I would arrive home from school each day, let myself in (we were called "latch-key kids" then), fix an obscenely large bowl of cereal, squeeze my chubby pre-teen ass into my mother's faux-fur black beanbag chair and watch "The Merv Griffin Show." I remember a distinct preference for Merv Griffin over Mike Douglas and Dinah Shore, who had similar shows at the time.

I now realize that my instinctive draw to Merv and his fascination with pop culture, his clever version of cattiness and his impeccable taste in ties was actually my pre-pubescent gay gene in action. I received some of my earliest training in the fine art of being a gay male without realizing it. [Note: Griffin self-identified as "bi," by which I have to assume he meant,"Oh, bi the way, I'm 100% gay" because he so clearly was just that].

As we aged, Merv and I grew further apart. He bloated as I thinned. He became a mogul as I became impoverished. He began rubbing elbows with the Republican woman, as I started rubbing other parts of Democratic men.

I was, however, genuinely saddened to hear of his passing and remain grateful for his subtle schooling on getting in a good dig without sounding like a complete bitch; he was the master.

And I will, undoubtedly, continue to think of him every time I polish off a box of Cap'n Crunch in one sitting, which, on rare occasions, still happens.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

YouTube: Making Insomnia Tolerable

Insomnia sucks. I'm usually able to fall asleep without difficulty, but wake up at least six times a night, finally resigning myself to being "awake" around 4ish.

Thank God for YouTube; it's been saving me.

My new favorite clip is:

The Gay Weatherman vs. The Cockroach

There would have been a time when the internalized homophobia would have absolutely recoiled at seeing this clip.

Today, I'm able to celebrate this man's unique [albeit incredibly high-pitched and shrill] voice.

Healing happens beautiful people.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I Just Saw: Henry Rollins & Janeane Garofalo

. . . shopping together at the Borders Bookstore on Sixth Avenue at 22nd Street. They are my version of NYC chic -- sloppy designer threads, tattooed, smart as all fuck and fit. The kind of chic that hasn't sneaked out of NYC and moved to Berlin during this all-too-long season of cultural drought. They both have to be mid- to late-40's, which makes them contemporaries of mine, and I really respect each one's passion, compassion and commitment to finding the truth.

Are they dating? They should be.

And why aren't they (or at least one of them) running for office? What a hot-ass White House that would be.

UPDATE: I was informed that these two are, in fact, dating. They appeared together at the premiere of 'Ratatouille' (click for he gay's review), in which Garofalo voiced the role of "Collette."