450 6th Avenue

One sunny morning last week I left my apartment not knowing where I was headed. I only had an address. When I got there I knew exactly where I was. It was the building where Brian died in 1991.

This heartless pile of prefab concrete has been printing money for the “non-profit” Kaiser Permanente Group for 40 years. Back then it was a hospital/hospice. Today it’s doctors’ offices.

The memories of Brian’s time there are random and sometimes silly. When his elderly parents visited I rented a car for the week to chauffeur them around. They looked overwhelmed when I met them at the airport’s baggage claim. Second generation Polish immigrants, they’d rarely been out of their Chicago suburb.

What I did for them was no big deal. I picked them up and drove them to 6th Avenue every morning. Then retrieved them in the evening, stopped for groceries and took them back to Brian’s.

They were so grateful. They acted as if I’d moved mountains. Actually, it was only a small foothill of Brian’s porn stash that I hid before they arrived. For the rest of her life, Olympia sent me a religious card every Christmas containing her blessings.

One evening I ran into David at the hospice. We waited for Brian to fall asleep then he drove me home. On the way he said he couldn’t believe I got Brian to take the ice chips. Every time he offered him something or tried to feed him he refused. Apparently, I just started spoon feeding him without asking or saying anything. And he enjoyed them. Being pushy has its moments.

Brian had such an explosive and inventive wit. He was like Robin Williams just not as obnoxious.

On another visit I found him having a fitful time. Tossing and turning, feverish, he couldn’t get comfortable. All they gave him was sponge baths. He longed to take a proper shower again. At one point he told me, “I must smell like a Safeway chicken.”

My trip to 450 6th this month was for a biopsy on my prostate. Earlier this summer my PSA tested slightly elevated from a year ago and out of the acceptable range. They had me wait a month to repeat the test. It went down some but was still too high so the urologist scheduled the procedure.

Today I found out that of the 14 biopsies taken, four showed signs of cancer. When I asked the doctor about stages he said it’s still early. He said it hadn’t even reached Stage 1 yet. It’s in something akin to pre-kindergarten. Because of that he thinks it will be easily treatable. We’ll see.

The past two angst-filled months I’ve thought of being just another cipher, more grist for the cancer industry’s mill. But mostly I’ve worried the disease will end my sex life. That would be untenable.

No one likes to talk about elder sex. It’s the new love that dares not speak its name. Or maybe the name’s spoken but not heard because people are not turning up their hearing aids. It’s unexploited territory, sure to be the next great genre of pornography.

I was heartened recently to find a clip of Joan Rivers on Graham Norton when she was 77. She professed to still have an active sex life but it was not without its issues. “My vagina is so dry, camels follow me home.”

Gay men are obsessed with youth. They pressure each other in every stage of life to be younger than they are. They do, however, draw the line at someone my age supposedly not acting it by still whoring around.

I’m not trying to be anything. I want to continue what I enjoy. Sex is the most effective form of non-verbal expression ever created. Which brings us to a teaching moment.

Seated in an airplane exit row, I silently fume when the attendant asks if I’ll perform the required duties. They insist on a verbal response. I’m inclined to take a pen and write “yes” on something. Or answer with sign language.

What the attendants want is an audible response. They confuse verbal with oral which are not interchangeable. One pertains to the use of words. The other the use of the mouth. And during sex, one is completely optional while the other is almost always mandatory. Discuss among yourselves.

In Valley of the Dolls, Sharon Tate laments her mastectomy with “My breasts! My breasts!” It’s so corny and so poorly acted. Yet, so memorable.

After the biopsy I waited in front of 450 6th Avenue for Lyft. A bit groggy, an inner voice kept repeating, “My dick! My dick!”

Tete a tete with Brian at Chez Panisse Cafe, early 1980s.

What Price Paranormality?

During the run of the play we plastered these stickers all over town. This is the only one left in captivity (that I know of anyway.)

Jim wrote 1968 for me. I was his muse which was both flattering and unsettling.

I get satisfaction out of being the center of attention at times if I have to work and fight for it. A muse just has to exist. Where’s the fun in that? Being on a pedestal felt like there was only one way to go: crash.

Although the play is highly stylized, which makes it feel artificial, we tried hard to get the facts right. Many of Valerie’s lines she actually said: she did surrender to a policeman on the street by telling him “he had too much control;” and, the court room line “it’s not everyday I shoot someone” is hers.

And her SCUM Manifesto is so rich. When I was tasked to cut 16 single spaced pages down to about 100 words for her speech, it just couldn’t be done. The Manifesto is an absurdist’s delight.

Then there’s the bop cap. It was her signature item of apparel but we could never find one or figure out what one was. Even if we did, I told Jim I wasn’t going to wear it. I don’t like hats and this one sounded kind of hokey.

He was furious with me. He accused me of putting my vanity before the aesthetics of the play. He said we shouldn’t sabotage Valerie’s style or that of the era.

I shot back, “oh you mean like how listening to couplets for an hour really brings the 60’s back to life for most people?” Just an example of one of our many heady arguments over details.

I contributed plot ideas to the script, research and a few barbs. Jim was the wordsmith, however, the poet. The lines are his.

When I pulled out the play a week ago I hadn’t seen it in 30 years. A lot surprised me and a lot I’d forgotten. I may not have created or remembered the words but on every page I heard my voice. He really did write it for me.

Jim and I working together was a disaster. It almost destroyed our friendship.   We did not speak for two years after the run. Then he became ill and I did everything I could to help him.

1968 had been too much for both of us, There was so much sturm and drang over the production, in the hands of the right person there’s probably enough fodder there for another play.

That person died in 1988. He was 37.

Opening the Vault to: 1968, Act Three

This Big Slit

Viva was played by my friend Juliet. Her character was dazed and confused, a role that came easily to her. Why should she be any different than the rest of the cast? Directions were changing in the middle of performances. No one knew what they were supposed to do.

Valerie’s love for Viva is unrequited. But she pursues her anyway with a fool’s hope that she can change her thinking.

Thoughts do not go very deep with Viva. If it doesn’t involve her image, she can’t be bothered.

When Valerie finally understands the score, she identifies Warhol as the source of all her woes. Emboldened by her stirring aria I a Woman, she decides to clean house and off Andy.

Opening the Vault to: 1968, Act Two

American Gothic, ’68 Style

The End of Human Nature

Test shot for my Valerie Solanas look.

One of the reasons I liked Hamilton was because it reminded me of the play Jim and I did, 1968. Both were done to a beat. were heavy on the couplets, and had some wacky, against the grain casting: blacks as whites, men as women, one dude obviously playing three different people. The two plays did not accurately reenact events. Rather, they relayed historical details in an entertaining way.

Acting went through a severe identity crisis in the 20th century. For millennia, stage actors had ruled the roost with exaggerated gestures and loud voices projected to the back of the theater. All this while supposedly whispering sweet nothings in their lover’s ears. It was just accepted by players and audiences that it was the way it was done.

With the advent of film, however, you could physically whisper without all the gimmickry. Relatively speaking. It was still coming across at decibel levels way above normal. But compared to the other sounds in the movie they were just right.

The biggest dilemma in the early days of film making was that all actors had been trained for the stage, a style too broad for cinema. It took decades to breed the ham out of the Barrymores.

When auteurs finally got what they wanted and realized what they had, the pressure in the 50’s and 60’s was to be as natural as possible. And no one did that better than Warhol in Sleep and Empire. So natural, soooo boring.

Once film found its Terms of Endearment niche, there was no way theater could physically compete. It resorted to schmaltzy musicals and endless examinations of self worth. With a smattering of social justice avenging thrown in now and then.

What Jim and Hamilton did was to stop spoon-feeding the audience and use a format that forces them to think.

Art is not a controlled environment where a + b = c.  If the artist does their job creating a + b then c will have a million different values depending on the perceptions of the viewers.

There are no right or wrong answers in art. There are no answers at all. There’s only the experience.

Jump in, Mabel, whenever you’re feeling it.

I once had a fan tell me I reminded him of Mabel Mercer. At first I was offended. I remembered her as being kind of dog meat-ish, a little porky.

As I processed it, however, I thought of the many show business insiders who adored her. Frank Sinatra said she was the master of phrasing and timing. She taught him everything he knew.

If that’s what the fan meant, I’ll take it any day of the week.

August marks the 5th anniversary of ls2lsblog.com. I started in 2014 by circulating drafts to friends for their opinions. In particular, I wondered what Carl and Ellen thought.

Carl’s advice was to keep the pieces at 500 words. You can see how well I’ve done with that.

Ellen, on the other hand, had tried for two decades to engage me in a writing project. The things I showed her never passed muster. She was not mean about it but neither was she satisfied. Her responses were gentle but lethal. “Let me know if you want to continue this.”

When I read the first two words of her reply to the drafts I started to cry: “Well, well…..” It only took 20 years but I was finally on the right track. I’m still riding the fumes.

In late 2017 I promised readers a revamp and new feel for the blog. True to my word and a mere 22 months later that process begins today.

The emphasis is on archiving things of mine and things of the era. Up first is Act One of 1968.

I haven’t formulated an archive plan yet but my style has always been to force the issue then make sense of it later. The Mabel inside me says I can do this.

Opening the vault to: 1968, Act One

SCUM personified.