Down to the Crossroads

Every afternoon Grandmother would take a break to “pile down.” That was her term for a short nap, her favorite part of the day. When we were young we were expected to join her.

Sometimes she would sing “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” while my brother and I stifled our giggles. Her voice was a little warbly and a song about a dead goose seemed odd.

Naps were also a time for Prime Minister’s questions, we could ask anything. Once I wanted to know why, if “darn” was such a bad word to use, did so many people do it? Without hesitating she replied, “because they can’t think of the correct word to use.” For the record, I never heard her say darn.

She didn’t take many liberties with language. When a lighthearted mood struck writing a letter or diary entry, she sometimes succumbed to giddy contractions. Phrases like ’twill be good to see you, or ’tis another beautiful day. Other than those reckless moments of abandon, there were only two slang words she used with regularity.

One was dope. It must have been an elastic, catch-all expression like “stuff” that was popular when she was in her teens and twenties. Among other things it’s what she called her homemade chocolate sauce. I enjoyed my friends’  astonished looks when Grandmother served ice cream and asked if they’d “like some dope with it.”

Her other word was chum which was reserved for a select group: her college girlfriends. When she talked about them I sensed they were special people from a wonderful time in her life. The expectation set, I entered Indiana University in September 1968.

It was fun the first two and a half years on campus although I felt lonely and isolated. I was getting by in my friends’ straight world and resigned myself to accepting it as the way life was going to be. There were few context clues in rural Indiana then that a whole subculture existed.

In March 1971 I was stalked by a tall, lanky and creepy journalism student, Harry. Unbeknownst to me, he’d trailed me a couple of months and knew my name, address, hometown and class schedule. To quote Pete Rose on Ty Cobb, he knew everything except my cock size. He found that out too.

Attracted more to the situation than him, I closed my eyes and thought of Fire Island. Nothing much came of that relationship except that he started introducing me around the community. Friendships grew rapidly, many forming on the spot with like-minded gay-boys. I was awakened.

Jim Jordan knew Harry and witnessed the whole pursuit and aftermath. He said mine was not so much a coming out as an explosion. Probably from the relief I felt upon realizing I was the only context clue I needed.  I could just be myself.

The joy I felt was accompanied by underlying sadness. College was a temporary state. In my childhood I’d been through enough school changes, neighborhood moves, and summer camps to know tight bonds can dissipate quickly.

I was a senior after five semesters, on track to graduate early if I went to summer school. Then I came out and it took five more semesters to finish. Separation anxiety caused me to prolong the last year as long as I could.

The fear of losing friends was unfounded. Besides the fun most college kids experience, we were bound by something that changed American culture. While Harvey Milk remained in the closet protecting his job, our generation drew a line in the sand: this is who we are, take it or leave it.

*****

Along with his partner David, my college chum Dale visited San Francisco last week. He’s Grand Marshal of this year’s Boston Gay (plus 5–it’s dizzying how many initials it’s become) Pride Parade. They came to attend the memorial for Charley Brown, the husband of another chum, Mark.

They also were here to celebrate Dale’s 70th birthday, which we did Saturday night at Che Fico.  On Sunday, dinner was at our chum Eric’s house.

Our after-dinner entertainment that evening was to be Joan Crawford’s Humoresque which we’d all seen before. Over David’s spanakopita we shared hazy memories of the film: Issac Stern’s hand double role, the incredible cocktail shaker, the breaking glass. When Joan’s signature face-slapping came up, someone mentioned turning the other cheek.

Seizing a malapropism opportunity, I offered what was really said on the Mount: don’t retaliate just spread your cheeks. The table erupted in childish laughter. Coming up for air, Dale said moments like that were why he’s tolerated me for 50 years.

My whole life I’ve searched for the correct, or incorrect, word to use.

With Grandmother, 1954.

An Associate Professor’s 111th Dream

I hope that was an empty bottle, George. You can’t afford to waste good liquor.
Not on your salary. Not on an associate professor’s salary.
Elizabeth Taylor, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

At midnight on Mick Jagger’s birthday in 1972 I waited for Deene in front of the St. Regis Hotel. We’d been to the Garden to see the Stone’s perform the last concert of their tour. We attended separately so planned to rendezvous afterwards at her hotel.

Deene’s father booked the room for her when she heard the group would stay there. She picked up this tidbit giving Keith a massage in his hotel room after the Indianapolis concert.

Although I’d been to see her a couple of times, that night I could not get past the front door. Not only was the St. Regis hosting the Stones, they were throwing Mick’s birthday bash on their rooftop as well. Security was tight.

Deene ordered room service.

From the sidewalk I watched the swells arrive while waiting for Deene. There was no one interesting until this tiny figure alighted from her limo. She was swathed in a charmeuse cocktail dress void of any adornment. Whatever breeze there was in the July heat caught the fabric and made it billow on her 100 pound frame. A deeply saturated apricot, the dress was exquisite.

Ascending the stairs the woman acknowledged us with a wary half-smile and the attitude of someone who’d seen it all. Being Jackie’s sister, she probably had.

A simple evening at home with the things she loved: her fabrics, antiques, and daughter. In that order.

Lee Radziwill’s death this week marked the end of an era for certain social graces. She exemplified the upper classes love for glamorous cocktails. When the Princess offered, “you’ll have a vodka won’t you,’ it came with layers of codependent enabling. It was tempered by her Forrest Gump-like presence in high society’s perpetual 20th century cocktail party.

When the cocktail fad started in the 20’s and 30’s she would have seen her parents cavorting with the Fred Astaire crowd. With a Moderne backdrop, they pursued the most esoteric liquors and the most elaborate concoctions with the most exotic names. To stay on top of that ever changing scene was to gain true status.

In the 40’s and 50’s when cocktails became more middle class, the elite hung out at their clubs. With their casual attitude towards working they acted as if they could drink anytime, anywhere, without any consequences. Hit and run accident? Burned down the guest house? The attorneys will handle that.

The first few decades of the craze the downside was never mentioned. Like the billion Muslim women who all voluntarily “choose” to wear the hijab, no one ever seemed to have a drinking problem. Then in the 1960’s the perils were discussed openly. And treatment programs were developed.

In the era of recognition, Princess Radziwill could be found floating on her perfumed barge down de Nile. Usually with her bestie, the shit-faced booze hound Truman Capote.

Rumored to have done a couple of stints in rehab, it doesn’t seem she ever stopped. In the clip of her offering the vodka her subtext is clear: “go ahead, one won’t hurt,” and “you’re hip, you know these things.” Her tone is as smooth as that silk dress she wore.

My life with liquor has been checkered. In Dad’s family there was beer when the men went bowling but none was kept in the house. My Grandma, though, always smelled like the essence of Strohs. With a top note of stale Parliaments and Jungle Gardenia. We didn’t talk about any of that.

My other Grandmother led the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union with an unrelenting advocacy. But she neither challenged nor coerced those who disagreed with her. Her example and infinite patience she felt would eventually win out.

My parents were light social drinkers when I was growing up. More urgency was added in my teenage years.

Then there’s my boozing. Sadly, word count prevents me from elaborating on the topic in this piece. I can, however, mention hooch’s role in decorating my kitchen.

The loneliest part of kitchen cabinetry is the cupboard that juts out above the refrigerator. Sometimes it holds liquor but usually it’s just junk. It’s always under appreciated, never decorated. Until now.

Leafing through a box I found one of Jackie’s White House liquor bills. The perfect piece to hang in the lonely corner.

It’s the kind of historical document/perverse curio I cherish. Visitors can now study the fuel that ran Camelot (in addition to the “B12” injections administered by Dr. Feelgood). And schoolchildren passing through are given an important lesson too.

How can they ever hope to understand our nation’s past if they don’t know what our First Ladies drank?

 

 

Prouder Than a Tumescent Pubescent

I once toyed with becoming a Country Music songwriter. Listen to the lyrics, how hard could it be.

It’s the only art form that openly celebrates ignorance. Being the village idiot is worn as a badge of honor. When couched in a down-home, aw-shucks delivery, the singer’s lovability goes through the roof. The perfect country hit would be titled “Gosh, We’re Stupid.”

Another one could be a ballad, “Swallow My Pride.” Couple destined for eternal bliss, she suddenly bolts for another man. Blindsided, he does the manly thing, swallows his pride and gets on with life. She eventually comes back for forgiveness. He says under one condition: it’s now her turn to swallow his pride. Corny gimmickry, petty vengeance coupled with sexually combative undertones–this is what will make America great again.

I’ve had an issue with pride all of my life. I’m uncomfortable with the emotion and distrust others who express it in me. I blame my Calvinist upbringing. It forced me to bury my ego in a reserved and self-effacing manner and to not draw attention to myself. Some lessons were learned better than others.

With Dale in DC 1974. Discussing the Houdin Show at the National Gallery.

The term Gay Pride specifically has caused me problems. Living through its inception I understood the need for being open and unashamed. Which I was. But pride has such a defensive quality. It was a reaction to society’s hatred. The idea was to not buy into it,  feel good about yourself instead. It was a nice starting off point but somehow it stuck.

In life’s third act I’ve had to let go of many issues from my youth. Like this one. I doubt the name “Accepted Gay Parade” will ever catch on anyway.

Given Dale’s disdain for pets we were all praying for that cat. Provincetown, 1972.

With this reservoir of conflicted feelings, I digested the announcement this week that my friend Dale will be Grand Marshal of Boston’s 2019 Gay Pride Parade. We attended Indiana University together where he was active in student politics and participated in founding the national Gay Liberation Movement. He then moved to Boston and has spent his life working on LGBT issues. In recent years he’s gained recognition for raising the visibility of older LGBT adults.

Dale was at my first Gay Lib meeting in 1971. It was a dreary, procedural affair until this cute blonde hippie in tank top and denim cutoffs appeared enveloped by his entourage and a cloying cloud of patchouli oil. He spoke about feminism and how we should be allied with their movement. Of writers we should read and the destructive role of sexual stereotypes in our patriarchal society. Convincing and articulate, I felt this gay thing was going to be easy: they all think like me.

I soon discovered our ideas were in the minority. But Dale and a few other kindred spirits became good friends then and have remained so throughout my life.

In solidarity with Jackie at the eternal flame.

People from that era don’t buy the softer, wiser version of me I peddle today. They want in your face,  kill ’em if they don’t fight back attitudes from the Bloomington years.

When I called to congratulate Dale yesterday he was uneasy with my sincerity. Sometimes it’s just better to give the audience what they want. So I let the other penny drop with a profound thunder.

Since this honor was the result of an election, I seriously questioned its validity. Dale hung out with some radical people in college, this title reeks of his Russian Commie friends doing a “Hillary” on Gay Boston’s ass.

We talked of updating his look for the parade and bringing leftist imagery into the 21st Century. Obviously his model should be Kim Jong-un. What could be hotter than a shirtless 70 year-old in a cheap, bowl cut-gone-wrong toupee?

Then I got down to brass tacks. I wasn’t hearing “me” in any of this, what’s my role? Dale was not forthcoming. I volunteered if there was a building along the parade route resembling the Texas School Book Depository, I’d do a piece of performance art the town will never forget. He was reticent until I assured him I won’t use live ammo. (As if I could tell the difference.)

Dale laughed at our exchange and knows I’m happy for him. And proud of him too. If we add the Prince of Wales qualifier, whatever “proud”  means.

In Provincetown, later that same decade.

A Note on SBLIII

Showing solidarity with the thugs who jumped Jussie Smollett.

Of all the entitled billionaire owners in the NFL, you’d be hard pressed to find one more stupid and undeserving than San Francisco’s Jed York. He got where he is today just by plopping out of the right vagina onto this planet. When asked what his toughest decision in life has been he replied, “whether to go to grad school or assume the Presidency of the 49ers.” The Niners have been league doormats ever since.

That is with the exception of the Harbaugh years, 2011-2014. During that era they staged a miraculous turn-around going to three consecutive NFL title games and one Super Bowl. In 2014 Little Jed incongruously started dismantling the winning program, fired Harbaugh, reduced payroll expenses significantly and once again wore the mud from the league’s cleats.

What happened?

In June 2010, after decades of futility trying to build a new San Francisco stadium, Santa Clara voted to authorize use of their land to construct one. The quest to pull together private construction money wasn’t easy because it was right after the Bush Crash of aught eight.  Finally, coinciding with the groundswell of enthusiasm for Harbaugh’s successful first year, funds were secured in December 2011.

There was still wide-scale fan resentment for moving the team 50 miles away. But the euphoria of title games and a Super Bowl helped gloss over the transition. When Levi Stadium opened in 2014, the 49ers went 8-8 and began the rapid decline back to Little Jed’s natural habitat, loserville.

The relationship between Commissioner Goodell and Pat’s Owner Kraft requires a closer examination.

Would the NFL really go to that much trouble to fix things just to build a stadium and maintain a fan base? They would if it’s one of the nation’s most affluent regions and the 6th largest TV market in the country (back then, it’s now 8th).

Which brings us to the second largest TV market, Los Angeles. After two decades with no team but plenty of Southern California apathy, the Rams returned for the 2016 season. The fans’ response was lukewarm. Concerns rose when there was a precipitous decline in attendance in 2017. Then a sudden, unexplained upswing in regular season fortunes, a blown last minute call that gets them into the Super Bowl, and it’s now hoped Ram Fever will once again sweep the Southland.

This view is usually dismissed as that of a paranoid conspiracy nut. One who probably also believes the mega-bucks owners at the behest of a wealth-preservationist President would collude to keep a star quarterback out of work. Just because he won’t tow the MAGA line.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for MAGA. As long as it means Make the AFC Great Again so we can go back to two competitive conferences.

Of the top 17 media markets in the country, the AFC has numbers 7, 10, 16, and 17. All the rest are NFC. (They share number 1, New York). It explains why the National Conference sends a variety of teams to the Super Bowl each year and the American Conference seems to be stuck on the number 10 market, Boston. (Throw in the “New England” moniker and you get the 37 (CT) and 52 (RI) markets as well.)

With ratings the name of the game, we’ll probably never see the dream matchup of New Orleans (51) versus Buffalo (53) in a Roman Numeral showdown.

Multi-billion dollar businesses rarely just leave things to chance.

Let’s bring sexy back. The NFL’s true MVP.

 

 

That Girl Belongs to Yesterday

And today.

I woke up this morning to find my laptop playing Youtube roulette. Based upon cookies (probably my deliciously moist ginger snaps) it decided I should watch a Mick Jagger bio.

In a documentary of oft-repeated clichés there was the one of Mick and Keith locked in the kitchen in 1962 by their manager. They were told they wouldn’t be freed until they learned how to write a hit song. They came up with That Girl Belongs to Yesterday and gave it to Gene Pitney to record.

I, of course, knew that. But I also realized I’d never heard it. So I dug it up on Youtube and listened. Pitney’s tortuous vocal searches for drama while the bridge and chorus are pretty weak. Every line of verse, however, is answered with this quirky “dee dee dee-dee, da-da-dunh” riff that lingers. Shapes of things to come.

I moved on to scan the day’s headlines while waiting for my private secretary to arrive. I noticed Megan Mullally had hosted the SAG Awards the night before. I don’t have a TV so I didn’t watch. I was curious though because I loved her on Will and Grace 20 years ago.

Her character Karen was never without a cocktail. When she had trouble copping a buzz she’d supplement her drinking with opiates and barbiturates. Miraculously, she never appeared to get drunk. It’s one of the best fantasies Hollywood ever created.

But good character acting doesn’t always translate into good hostessing. I watched the replay of her monologue with some trepidation. I love her Karen so much I feel protective and don’t want her to fail in other roles.

I needn’t have worried. The moment she walked on stage she honored the history of film by doing a snippet of Elizabeth Taylor’s Bust Projection Dance from Virginia Woolf. She then launched a brief series of pointed jokes that were spot on in addressing the inequality mess. She was the perfect hostess.

It was in stark contrast to the Academy’s quixotic search for a host this year that got nowhere. Their obvious solution would be to hire Ms. Mullally which will never happen. The Board of Governors issued an edict recently that if you are featured in any of the other awards shows you will not be allowed to appear on their broadcast. Why be reasonable when you can be vindictive? It’s what makes American alpha-male enterprises so great.

The current state of the Oscars finds them doing catch up for 90 years of neglect. They are bending over backwards to pad the stats for posterity. Which is not to detract from the excellent contribution minorities make today. It’s just they were also making them 50 years ago too.

One prejudice has merely been substituted for another because it’s good for business. Their Excellencies, the distinguished board of the august Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, are handing out statues that are about as meaningful as the UAE Gender Equality honors.

In 1972 when I was grouping the Stones with Lamumba and Cynthia Plastercaster in Chicago, there were a handful of brief encounters. One was at 4 in the morning on our way home from the bar. We noticed the french doors on the second floor of the Playboy Mansion were open so we joined a few others on the sidewalk and waited to see what would happen.

It was only a few minutes before a very drunk Mick appeared supported by eight Playboy bunnies. They were like a bunch of giggling schoolgirls guiding him on to the balcony, nothing like the hardened hussies they portrayed in their spreads. He could barely stand up.

Unsure of what to say, I took off my denim jacket to show him the appliqued sequined tongue and offered it to him.

In his drunken haze he remained articulate. He thanked me, then said “but you should keep it and wear it. You’re much more beautiful than me.”

Jim Jordan’s analysis of that incident was I hadn’t been so much flattered by Mick’s compliment as I had been impressed by his graciousness while shit faced. Jim said it was one of the values I held highest.

With that in mind, everyone should raise their glass and toast Megan Mullally for a job well done. As I’ve been doing since about 6:00 this morning.

 

Pear Picking in the USA

In my cousin Carol Ann’s backyard.

Last fall I took a no expenses paid trip to the mid-west. The region was in crisis. The local Fort Wayne Steak and Shake could not maintain regular business hours.

This franchise had experienced numerous unscheduled closures. Either they didn’t have enough staff to open or no-shows at shift changes forced shutting down in the middle of the day. Hiring was at a standstill, the usual suspects had no interest. High school kids couldn’t stomach the idea of working fast food. Immigrants preferred the underground economy to rampant xenophobia.

If capitalism is dependent on cheap labor, this trend could spell trouble. Ray Kroc might have to rise from the dead to demand: “Mr. Trump, tear… down….. this…. wall!”

 

Studying growth patterns to formulate picking schemata.

In retrospect the skyrocketing prices of Imodium should have been a tip-off. Of the many acronyms I’ve been diagnosed with, I’ve had some success controlling IBS with a gentle dose of loperamide. I know something about this shit. Two years ago 100 tabs cost $11 on Amazon. Today my local Walgreens sells 12 for $7.

It’s part of the FDA’s feebly belated attempt to control opiates. Apparently each tab contains a small trace of narcotic. Taken in huge quantities they get you off. If pain meds can’t be refilled or your dealer is out of China White, crush up a hundred little blue blockers instead. It must be a hell of a high if the trade-off is eight months without a bowel movement.

OxyContin seems to be the root of this generation’s problems. These Oxyennials have overindulged in the deadly cocktail of opiates and video games. The result is a bunch of apathetic lemmings primed to be led over the cliff by the next great dictator.

Going that extra mile to pull in a bumper crop.

I ran these ideas past Billy when I was home but he wasn’t buying them. He’s the oldest openly gay man on the planet and a major reason I go back to Indiana. He will be 87 on St. Patrick’s Day and has one of the most wicked senses of humor of anyone I know.

When he opened Fort Wayne’s preeminent beauty salon in 1959 he made no apologies for being gay. He was having too much fun to feel any shame. He owned his business so he didn’t worry about being fired and he was so charming all of the society women befriended him. I’ve always admired him for what he did because not many did at the time. It would be another 15 years, for example, before Harvey Milk deigned it safe to come out.

Because people accepted him didn’t mean they wanted to understand him or lose their prejudices. They just didn’t talk about it. Fort Wayne has always been very conservative and remains so today. The surprising thing is Billy has been a life-long Republican too.

When I had the condo in Fort Wayne, people visited from around the country. Billy always enjoyed these occasions because he shared many of their interests and no longer had a local outlet for them. He, in return, was a hit with my friends because he was unlike anyone they expected to meet in Indiana.

One evening my Kentucky Derby hosts, Jan and Mar, stopped on their way back to New Albany. Billy joined us at dinner for a rollicking good time. He still talks about how open and accepting they were compared to heterosexuals he knows. When I point out the link between their political thinking and social justice he will have none of it. To him they are simply good people.

This red state/blue state thing may just be a lot of blind allegiance. Like picking a sports team, my Dad was a Bear’s fan so I’m one too. Billy is bored by politics and puts little energy into it. It’s such a minute component of his personality, I can live with that.

I may have lost the battle but overall I think I won the war. Billy has been a friend to my Mother and me since I was a teenager.

Billy leading the Peru High School Band down Main Street in 1948. There’s a discernible hitch in that get-a-long that fortold greater things.

Madonna with Blue Balls

There’s sadness hanging over the holidays this year due to the recent death of my friend Charley. His portraits were featured on this blog Christmas Day, 2014. Of his many wonderful qualities, one I will treasure is he never sued me for using his work without permission.

As evidenced in Charley’s paintings, vibrant color provides an undeniable sense of life and joy. Taking time off from a youtube marathon of old Debbie Reynolds interviews, this Christmas I embellished a magenta Madonna found laying around the apartment. The holy virgin is now displayed in the hallway transom flanked by vintage Radko presidential ornaments. By conspicuously coupling the holidays I can keep the installation up until mid-February. If not longer.

Happy Christmas.