No Exit

From what I can remember of Jean Paul Sartre’s play, it was about three strangers trapped in a room that is supposed to represent Hell. As in other theatrical pieces that tackle unnatural confinement (e.g., Tallulah Bankhead’s indelible performance in Lifeboat), the situation starts out friendly enough but rapidly disintegrates into unbearable friction. Everyone ends up wanting to kill each other. But are there any consequences to murder if you’re already in Hell?

My over-simplified take away was if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. Try to make the most of something that can’t be changed.

That is the peace I’ve made with Fort Wayne’s Three Rivers Festival. Held every July it has no purpose other than to enjoy the nice summer weather and encourage people to eat crappy food. Which most of them don’t need.

The focal point of activities is Junk Food Alley with typical carnival fare of corn dogs, elephant ears and taffy. They always sound and smell appealing but never are.

I continue to hold out for something new and healthy and am quite gullible about it. Like the year they introduced onion blossoms. Huge fried onions served with a blue cheese dipping sauce, how marvelous! How greasy! I barely ate a third of it. Their idea of food preparation and mine are quite different.

The Festival started when I was in my teens and seemed hokey as hell at the time. In the days of Woodstock and Altamont, we got warmed over Norman Rockwell. Still, when you’re with young family members who have not yet been fully indoctrinated in my cynicism, it can be fun seen through their eyes.

The Festival starts with a parade on Saturday morning. My one memory from those 60’s events is of the cop from Indianapolis who toured the state doing his motorcycle schtick. As he beguiled the crowd with his riding tricks, a look of self-righteous certitude was frozen on his face. He was the law and you motherfuckers better obey.

The highlight was his signature move. Pulling his knees into his chest, he placed his feet on the seat and slowly pushed himself until he was standing completely upright. With his arms out-stretched he was able to balance the motorcycle as it continued to move forward. Like a Christ on Sugar Loaf, he ruled over the parade.

My brothers and I goofed on that pompous fool for years to come. Our favorite Mad Magazine scenario was of his  bike careening out of control, him thrashing on the pavement in excruciating pain, and the cycle mowing through the crowd of adoring school children. Good times.

Not the cop in question but an example of the technique. Without the sanctimony.

Despite his air of moral superiority, there were flaws in the officer’s thinking. Mainly the kids’ impression of how  terribly cool his stunt was. How easily you could be killed trying to do it was never mentioned.

Thank you for your service, Nimrod.

Howdy neighbor! Three times younger than me, four times as heavy.

As the popularity of Junk Food Alley suggests, portion control is a major issue in this region. It’s surprising one of my favorite restaurants, The Italian Connection, is still in business.

Their pasta is homemade, the sauces are thin but rich, the servings are modest and satisfying. You leave sated not stomach bombed. Occasionally, however, you’ll encounter a local being served an entree for the first time. An expression of “you mean for $12 I only get three ravioli?” comes over their face.

I had a delicious meal there again this summer. In addition to the epiphany of accepting what can’t be changed, as we walked through the restaurant’s parking lot that evening there was another stark realization about my life. Despite my old age I am never going to grow up. I mean, you can’t put a Shroud of Turin touring van in front of me and not expect me to react.

Even though my photogenic days are dog years behind me, the “show people” in me forced me to strike a pose.

 

 

Era’s End

The first piece I remember buying with my Grandmother was this clover design porcelain covered dish. She taught me to look for the red maker’s mark because it might be Prussian, which she considered the best. I always assumed this one was until 50 years later I looked again and saw, to my horror, it was only Limoges.

Grandmother was a serious antique collector. From the age of 10 until I moved to San Francisco I would attend auctions with her. She’d pack our lunch, take her knitting and stay for the day.

She always sat towards the front and a little to the right of the podium so she could be seen. The auctioneers knew her well. When an item she was interested in came up they would glance at her as they yodeled incomprehensible garble. I’m not sure exactly what Grandmother’s mysterious consent gesture was but the auctioneer knew. She was one of the few bidders who were named in the call. “I have Mrs. Kimmer at 55!”

Unlike her grandson, she was a penny-pincher and knew her limits. Her assent motion may have been imperceptible but when the bids went too high she’d shake her head dramatically while mouthing the word “No!” She seemed offended by the price, as if it was the most disgusting thing she’d ever heard.

Wheelchair access in Aisle 5 also allowed for additional performance space. Thank you ADA!

I sometimes bemoan the fact that in the second coming of my San Francisco life I don’t have the connections I had the first time around. There used to be parties, dinners, and openings every day of the week. And in the years I hung out with David Gillette we could be stacked 3 or 4 deep over JFK with nightly invites.

So it was a great thrill two weeks ago to be asked at the last minute to the Nob Hill Theatre closing day barbecue. My friend got us in for free and we had a leisurely stroll through the premises. I particularly enjoyed the go-go boys in their stretch terry hot pants.

Fucking wall of fame.

Behind the stage was a door I’d never seen before. Outside it were circular steps leading down to a deck and the entrance to the owners residence. The apartment, which supposedly had been featured in Architectural Digest, could only be accessed through the theater. Very La Cage aux Folles. Having Mom over for dinner while they screened Seven in a Barn must have been an interesting evening.

The back of the property abutted the former Williams-Sonoma Mail Order patio where we once found the California Bay Laurel doused in dog piss. And, yes, abutment is the proper term for discussing the physical attributes of a gay porn theater.

In addition to the closing day festivities, my connection (who was empowered with price negotiation status) took me on a private tour of their Touch Our Junk sale yesterday.  All the glory hole panels had been sold by the time I got there but there were still stripper poles, autographed porn star 8×10’s and half priced lube to be had.

Skilled performers on stage expertly worked both the lip and the tongue.

In 1996 I took Mother on a Jackie O Getaway to Manhattan. We saw Zoe Caldwell in Master Class, took a long walk through Central Park by the 1040 Fifth Avenue condo, ate oysters at Grand Central, marched through Bergdorfs  and attended the preview of The Jackie Estate Sale at Sotheby’s. I left only one bid, an excessive $1100 for the monogrammed cocktail shaker. The eventual winner paid about $6500.

I did not get shut out at the Nob Hill sale yesterday though. I scored an original Justin Simpson painting “Spring” from the 2008 Men of Wine Collection. Done in a sickening Lawrence Welk teal, it has the unsettling thematic quality of a Keane painting (minus the eyes) with just a soupcon of Linda Blair’s Excorist menace thrown in.

One can almost see Grandmother doing her phantom “No!”

 

Bosom Buddies

Soulful staredown of two pretty sharp dressers.

I’m not sure when Time Magazine begins the nominating process for its Person of the Year. If the vote were held today, Stormy Daniels would have to be the pick.

When she first gained prominence last Spring she was pigeonholed as a publicity seeking bimbo. But in her published comments and the way she handled herself in live interviews, it was apparent she was an intelligent woman who knew exactly what she was doing. Making porn was not her most defining quality. It was just the way she happened to earn a living.

Recently she’s objected to the constant prefix of “porn star” to her name. “They’d never refer to me as librarian Stormy Daniels.” As a former one I can say the two professions easily intermingle.

One fault I do find with the librarian’s judgement was in accepting the original settlement of 130K. After lawyers fees and taxes there’s barely enough for a week’s stay at a thrice bankrupt luxury hotel.  Like the now-defunct Trump Taj Mahal in loser-ville, Atlantic City. A true deal artist would demand seven figures.

The steamroller Stormy created continues to gain momentum today. As seen in last week’s capitulation of National Enquirer Chairman, David Pecker. Getting the Peckers of the world to cooperate is no small feat.

If not Person of the Year at least Miss Congeniality in the Trump International Miss Universe Contest.

As Stormy emerges to become the paradigm for the new librarian, we say farewell to a landmark of porn’s past. Last Sunday I attended a barbecue celebrating The Nob Hill Theater’s final day. The home of gay porn and famous All Male Review closed its doors on Bush Street after 50 years. For 30 of those years I passed it daily on my walk to work.

It was the solitary gay establishment in a neighborhood of Chinatown tourists, cable car riders, Union Square shoppers, Tenderloin overflow and residential apartment dwellers. Laid out as a small theater with proscenium and large screen, it later added strippers, a back room, and a video arcade to help patrons meet  “new friends.”

I lived three blocks away for four decades and occasionally dropped in. Friendships did, indeed, spring up.

One buddy was a kid in his early 20’s from Hillsborough. He had an elaborate story about being an Ivy League graduate who worked as a lawyer for the CIA. I saw him on the sly and at his bidding. There were always time limitations and he never gave me his number. Even though I had caller id, the sex was good so I played along.

I saw him several times and started sharing details with friends. When one pointed out Princeton didn’t have a law school I realized I looked foolish pursuing this folly. I gently called his bluff and never heard from him again.

His lying was not malicious nor was he a scammer. He was just another insecure closet case who resorted to fantasy because he had trouble accepting his homosexuality. Practicing it, however, was never a problem.

Another affair that began over art films at the Nob was with an aspiring interior decorator. His fetish was the definition creating properties of lycra, which carbon dates the fling as mid to late 80’s.  We had regular conjugal visits at his place, languishing in steaming hot baths over deadly gin martinis.

I tried not to mix my personal and professional lives. Sometimes it was unavoidable. Like the night in the Nob Hill lobby when I saw an attorney from work browbeating the porn star Rick Donavon into an assignation. Members of prestigious international law firms who have graduated from top flight law schools aren’t used to taking “no” for an answer. And they have the cash to close their arguments.

Compartmentalization also failed me one day walking to work. I looked up at the marquee to see the week’s featured performer was J.D. Powers.

Besides honorary librarian Stormy, Time might also give serious consideration to George W. Bush this year.  His legacy ranks him with Metternich, Wilson, and Acheson as one of the most influential statesmen ever. When he took a break from clearing non-existent, photo-op brush off his Texas ranch, he gazed into Vlad’s baby blues and saw the Impaler’s soul. GOP diplomacy was changed forever.

Look ’em in the eye, give ’em a nickname, go with your gut, then quickly end the meeting to win the daily news cycle–that was W’s style of statesmanship. And it’s provided a road map for subsequent Republican Presidencies as evidenced in Singapore and Helsinki this summer.

The technique requires a level of intelligence rarely seen in the White House.

Don Jong Trump had difficulty seeing Seoul.

Pressed Flesh

I volunteered for Eugene McCarthy’s Presidential Campaign when I was a senior in high school. I organized papers, worked phones and canvassed neighborhoods. Most people would not come to their doors so I just left the flyer. Those who did answer wanted to keep the exchange as brief as possible. I handed them the leaflet and asked for their vote.

There was one right-wing zealot though who wanted to engage. He badgered me with questions without shutting-up long enough for me to answer. I tried to interject a “the domino theory is bogus ” or “too many kids are being killed.” But my rhetorical skills were not nearly as rehearsed nor as deeply entrenched as this Rush Limbaugh-wannabe.

Another targeted voter was a frail, 80 year-old woman. She couldn’t have weighed more than the gossamer, navy voile dress she wore with handkerchief tucked into its cuff. She seemed baffled as to why this child would be ringing the doorbell of her Hansel & Gretel brick home. I gave the McCarthy spiel then handed her the literature. She smiled, “Oh honey I haven’t voted in years, not since the Mister died.”

That senior year my family occasionally attended church. It was a pro-forma, social type of participation rather than one motivated by deeply held beliefs. We never handled the snakes. I sat through the sermons bored out of my mind, fighting off one unpredictable adolescent erection after another.

After the service we stood in line to shake the minister’s hand. He looked like Earl Warren and appeared to be going through the motions as much as we were. To spice things up, I distracted him with a broad smile while extending a hand that was as limp as a dead fish. Awakened from oblivion, he’d shoot me a look like,  “Are you okay?” It worked every time.

Ready to worship with my parents and youngest brother.

With the exception of 1888 when native son Benjamin Harrison became President, Indiana never played a more critical political role than the May 1968 Primary. It was the first head-to-head contest between McCarthy and Robert Kennedy. McCarthy had been the more valiant one coming out of nowhere the previous Autumn to confront the establishment. His courageous act solidified the Anti-War Movement.

Kennedy on the other hand seemed more opportunistic. He vacillated until he saw McCarthy’s success in the early primaries. Then he announced his candidacy. I was conflicted between fulfilling my commitment and the seduction of charisma. I worked for Gene but my heart belonged to Bobby.

When Kennedy visited Fort Wayne I was part of the pandemonium in the Concordia College Gymnasium. A band played as we awaited his late arrival and the Concordia High School Jazz Choir sang. I didn’t know her yet but Marilyn’s voice was part of that ensemble. Undoubtedly making a significant contribution to the chaotic atmosphere.

The gym erupted when RFK finally entered through the doorway nearest me. Amidst the pushing and shoving, he looked disoriented swimming up an aisle of extended palms. He concentrated on pressing as many as he could without actually acknowledging anyone. As he approached mine I thought of the Pastor’s Secret Handshake. It worked again. Bobby’s head snapped back in a double take and I made direct eye contact with history.

My friend Marilyn, 1974. One of Northeastern Indiana’s most unnerving coloraturas and hitchhiker extraordinaire.

Save for my work at the polls this June, I haven’t done much electioneering since high school. Until I was approached to become part of a phone tree to recruit poll observers for the upcoming Nevada elections. Phoning is not my cup of tea even when I’m told exactly what to say. But there are some friends I just can’t deny.

Carl was my boss for two decades and can play me like a violin. He makes me feel like I’m the one in charge as he gets me to do everything he wants.

He’s also aware of my limitations. When asked to stick to a script my manner can be as stiff as, well, sitting through one of those childhood sermons. He won’t be too surprised to hear that I made the case without relying on the words precisely as written.

I think I helped the cause although I’m not really sure what I said to those people. I do know, however, that on the Saturday before the election I’ve somehow organized a party bus leaving from Elko and headed up to the Pocatello Race Track. Should be fun.

Would you answer the door if you saw this clown? 1968

Splash

Anthropomorphism is not encouraged on farms where livestock is the livelihood. How cuddly a lamb is doesn’t pay the mortgage or feed the family.

Considering most farm species would be extinct if they weren’t bred for consumption, slaughtering the herd isn’t that cruel. That will change the day they learn to domesticate Herefords.

This harsh agrarian outlook once skewed my view of pets. As a kid, the care of our dogs was left to my brothers. It drove them crazy when I’d walk through the yard oblivious to the frisky critter bouncing at my feet. They’d yell, “just pet him!” or “all he wants is a little attention!” I kept my emotional distance fearing another harsh winter and the dreaded Pepper Pot Stew, Laotian Style.

My cat Sheena in Bloomington was the only pet I’ve had as an adult. Named after the Queen of the Jungle TV Series (later a Ramones’ song too), Susan misunderstood me and called it “Cheena.” That sounded more exotic, so Cheena it was.

Raising a cat was not without its challenges. Especially after she started hanging out with Tom down the alley. She became laden with kitty. We prayed and read the scriptures together then sought counseling from our pastor. In the end, Cheena chose life and was delivered of three adorable kittens.

Hitchhiking was the way we handled long distance travel back then. When I hitched the 150 miles between home and campus, rarely would one lift go all the way. It usually took 2 or 3 rides and about 3 hours.

I often hitchhiked with friends who kept me entertained.  Marilyn was very aggressive and stood nearly on the edge of the asphalt. When she saw a vehicle wasn’t stopping she’d abruptly pull in her arm then turn her head in the opposite direction as if to say, “Me? In a Dodge Dart? Keep moving.”

Dale focused more on the truckers.  Once the driver could spot him he’d suck his thumb. As the rig drew closer he languidly slid it over his lower lip, slowly unfurled his arm until it was outstretched, and then gave the digit a wiggle. Subtle.

Me with Jim and the enigmatic hitchhiker. 1975.

The last kitten in Cheena’s litter was to go to my Mother. The only way to get it home was to hitch. I made a leash of rat-tail satin that had a purring white fluff ball at its end, then assumed my place by the interstate. That trip took 5 hours. Not from a lack of rides but because so many wondered what I was up to. I had 9 short hauls that day.

The weirdest was a salesman who picked me up near Anderson. He wore his thinning hair in an unconvincing comb over and a cheap polyester shirt that barely contained his paunch. His plastic pocket protector proudly displayed an impressive array of ball points. With a lecherous smile he said he never picked up hitchhikers. But he was curious about me. “I just wanted to see your pussy.”

That was too creepy even for me. I asked to be left off at the next exit. We’ll never know for sure but I have a feeling if I’d been more compliant I might have ended up a major shareholder in Miramax.

I didn’t live with a pet again until I moved here two years ago. My roommate’s 17-year-old bichon frise was defying all longevity records and still going strong. I had known Mr. Puppy for a few years and dog-sat him a couple of times. But I don’t think he was particularly fond of me until he realized what a sloppy cook I was.

I’d like to think everyone gets excited when I decide to make something  But nobody’s enthusiasm rivaled Mr. Puppy’s when he heard me go into the kitchen. I was the best dietary supplement he ever had.

His last morning I took him out first thing. The surroundings were still new to him and his sight was failing so we’d carry him downstairs to the front door then place him on the sidewalk. That was his signal he was en plein air. Otherwise, like many seniors residing here, he confused being out of the apartment in the hallway with being outside the building where he could do his business.

There was no indication at the start of that day it would be different from any other. When his paws hit the pavement he squared his haunches, threw back his head, then launched his Westminster prance. A champion until the end.

Today he is remembered in his favorite room on the back splash. With apologies to Ethel Scull, here is Mr. Puppy Dog 15 Times.

Bua uuh Guul

Back in the disco days when we encountered a person of undecipherable gender, we would turn to each other and ask “bua uuh guul?” The phrase became part of our vocabulary when someone overheard a pimp on the sidewalk approach a potential customer and offer him his choice of gender in a playmate. Not only was the john’s predilection unclear, what was available was pretty murky too.

Gender confusion and challenging sex role stereotypes has always been a preoccupation of mine. As documented in a recently published book, Curatorial Activism: Towards an Ethics of Curating.

When I first saw the words “ethics” and “curators” together I thought “not another rehash of the frolicking I did back in 1973.” Those allegations involving The Detroit Institute of Art staff have been laid to rest years ago.

Then I realized it was referring to the Extended Sensibilities: Homosexual Presence in Contemporary Art show held in Manhattan in 1982. My friend Charley Brown did a series of paintings of me in the early 80’s, a couple of which were in that New Museum show.

The portrait included in the book is one of my favorites because of Charley’s use of found materials: layers of cardboard glued together, appliqued toothpicks adding dimension to Brian’s sequined top. There’s gutter in that glamour.

The timing of that show coincided with my waning interest in drag. The derring-do and shock of what I’d done before was no longer there and my falling out with Jim had left me without focus. Plus, RuPaul was on the ascendant and about to change the drag landscape completely. I like to think I helped make the world safe for Ru. Then I think what a miserable failure I’ve been. No one’s safe from that bitch.

My friend Charley did a series of B paintings, a couple were in this show

On my trip to Indiana this month I reunited with Susan in Bloomington who I hadn’t seen in over 40 years. One of the things we reminisced about was the evening she gave me makeup lessons. As we listened to Ike & Tina records in her apartment that night, she went over the basics of eye makeup. And told me my practice of the art was particularly abysmal.

On our recent visit I tried to convince her that precision wasn’t nearly as important back in those days as how I presented myself. She would have none of it. She chided that anything worth doing was worth doing well. Then, out of the blue, she asked whether I identified as a woman or a man.

The question is an obvious one and the way the discussion seems to be framed these days. But it caught me completely off guard. The essence of my being never entered into my thinking when I did drag. It was all about what I could get away with. And looking good while I did it.

I told Susan the only thing I’ve ever identified as was a troublemaker.

Cherry

Reading Nancy’s Lips and Wyman’s Beads

I don’t know if Facebook still does Throw Up Thursdays but I thought I’d offer this rare photo of Ronald Regan’s sister wives together. It may be the only time Nancy Davis Regan and Jane Wyman Regan were captured in the same frame.

My big take-away from the aftermath of the Harryghan Nuptials was the need for more experienced lip readers. There’s a lot of storyline being missed that not even the exhaustive reporting of CNN or HuffPost can capture.

So I enrolled in a Phoenix University correspondence course and one of my first assignments, for which I received a C-, was of this photo.

In 1954 when Nancy pulled some family values trickery and deliberately got pregnant, Regan was forced to take one for the Gipper and marry her. Nancy with the laughing two-face made no joke of her disdain for the divorced first wife, Ms. Wyman. Like any cult with weak-minded recruits, all links to past personal relationships were severed so there could be no escape route. Nancy forbade mention of Jane, treated her as nonexistent and never acknowledged her for the next 50 years.

When the sole issue of the Regan-Wyman union died in 2002, the two women were forced to call a brief truce to the pettiness and meet in public at Maureen’s funeral. As best I can tell, the former first lady consoled the bereaved Mother with these words: “I mean it, the Meissen was Ronnie’s, it belongs to us!”

Ms. Wyman seems stunned, unable to express herself. She hadn’t been this lost for words since she won her Oscar for Johnny Belinda, in which she played a deaf-mute.