God Said to Abraham Kill Me a Son, Abe Said Man You Must Be Putting Me On

Our hero.

It’s always comforting to remember the bedtime stories we were told as children. I can still hear my Grandmother’s voice recounting the tale of Lorenzo Ghiberti and his Sacrifice of Abraham panels.  His Bapistry doors design beat out the favored Brunalesschi to win the building commission for the Duomo in Florence.

The petulant Bruno finished the cathedral in the end. After years of sabotaging and undermining Renzo’s work, it turned out only he knew how to build support for such a massive brick dome in the first place.

I’m not sure exactly where Grandmother was going with the story but by now it should be obvious that I never begin any project without thinking in extremes. It is part of my personal liberation so I consider it no vice.

I came in ninth behind Ghiberti in the competition. Civic leaders were baffled by my use of plastic, a substance that would not be invented for another 500 years.

Readers will remember previous disastrous results in pursuing My Rights to Privacy (Film). Although originally thought to be a cheap way of doing something innovative, at $15 a pop it mounts up after a half dozen attempts to get it right. Not to mention the expense of all the failed trims and moldings that were tried.

I feel partially to blame for those early fiascos because I failed to read the instructions until the fifth try. Dampening the cheap plastic really does help with air bubbleage and placement

I was going for Islamic form and color on the front door. My man Sol in Cyprus did the neon yellow lion silhouettes that evoke a Mesopotamian feel. The blue and orange may be mistaken as a sports tribute to the Florida Gators or, god forbid, da’ Bears. It’s not. My aspirations were more spiritual.

Rather than the Gates of Paradise, my door better resembles those of Ishtar. (The ones in Berlin not the movie.) Coupled with the Crocodile Rock bathroom portal, it’s a little Blue Bayou Babylon.

 

Me and Susie Had So Much Fun

There’s got to be a morning after. Susan with her friend Richie, mid-70’s.

As I worked with the gilded faux crocodile hide on the bathroom door, the Elton John song kept repeating in my head. His attempt at rocking out really was just a fluff piece of pop, When it was released it made me realize what cheap sentiment nostalgia was. And, how effective it could be. I would listen to the song in bed and cry.

It was December 1972 and my college chums were starting to leave campus. There would never be another time where I would become so close to so many people so quickly. Almost all of them ended up life-long friends. At that time, I wondered if I’d ever see them again.

To compound the anxiety, I was having my first serious relationship. What started out as a notch on the belt escalated into a torrid four-month affair.

Buzz was the hottest number to hit Bloomington’s insular gay community in ages. Everybody wanted him but he wanted me. Being with him was an excuse to delay decisions about where to move or what to do. He would go to work in the mornings leaving me alone listening to Crocodile Rock.

In 2008 I had a new boss. Susan was so open, she had an enveloping smile and, from the moment I met her, spoke to me as if she’d known me forever. I didn’t trust her for a second.

I thought this was the latest in management techniques, kill them with kindness before stabbing them in the back. My instincts were partially correct. Surprise lay-offs followed in January 2009. Susan had been privy to the preparations and resigned in October after only eight months on the job. She wanted no part of the blood-letting.

I wanted to remain friends after we left the firm but it’s hard translating workplace friendships into real ones. The office environment forces close connections to coworkers that make the work day palatable.  It’s an artificial comradery. Outside work, there’s often little common ground once the topic switches from year-end projections.

This was not the case with Susan. Intimate details of her life flowed freely. She told me things my oldest friends never share. And she did it in such a calm, non-dramatic way.

The memory evoking reptilian hide.
The memory evoking reptilian hide.

She helped me start this blog. When I was mulling over how to begin, Susan quietly got out her iphone and pulled up WordPress. Instantly she created an account and posted an item. Her unspoken words were “now get on with it” as she seemed a little perturbed with the person who was once in charge of her department’s technology.

Unlike many megalomaniac queens I know, her name-dropping CV does not come locked and loaded ready to explode in your face. It seeps out in dribs and drabs.

I told her about standing behind a man at O’Hare who was wearing this gorgeous black suit. The fabric was so exquisite I wanted to touch it. When he turned around it was Anderson Cooper.

She told a story about an awards ceremony honoring her brother where she was seated next to Anderson for the evening. She was matter of fact, it could have been morning traffic on the 101 she was talking about.

When rock was young we’d been on parallel tracks of fanaticism, liking the same music, seeing the same bands. I could mention Richard Hell and the Voidoids and she wouldn’t flinch. Love comes in spurts. Sometimes it hurts.

I told her about the Stones ’72 tour dates at Madison Square Garden. There’d been a New York Times ad announcing a random ticket draw so I submitted 200 postcards. 40 cards each under five different names.

Hi-Tech was just a gleam in Bill Hewlitt’s eye back then. I thought if a computer did the selection it could key on zip codes. Most entries would come from New York, Bloomington’s 47401 might get me a ticket.

All five of my names won. Non-photo IDs were still accepted so I took my friends’ drivers licenses to Manhattan and stood in line to buy the maximum four tickets per name. After completing the sale for one, I went to the back of a different line to use the next ID. I saw every show. Scalping the surplus tickets funded the trip.

Life is a pop of the cherry. Me at the St. Regis trying to crash Mick’s Birthday, July 1972.

Susan liked my story but, being a native New Yorker, had one that trumped mine. Although we’ve never been competitive, I listened intently while lingering over my steak tartare. Susan is a vegetarian.

As a dare she told a college friend she’d get him a meeting with his idol, Jerry Garcia. She began calling the Dead’s record label saying she was a CREEM Magazine reporter. Over a period of months they received concert tickets, backstage passes, and finally clearance to interview Jerry.

When they went to meet him, her friend posed as a photographer with his professional looking but non-functioning Nikon. He was supposed to do the talking but froze in the presence of his hero. Susan had to wing it.

Noticing a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book on the table, she began a conversation with Jerry on South American novelists. This led to a discussion of post-war German filmmakers, the bizarre lay-out of Washington DC and various other topics. Music was never mentioned. As they parted Jerry said it was the most intelligent conversation he’d had in some time. Susan answered, “if that’s true, I feel sorry for you!”

Her entrée with Jerry led to subsequent meetings when the group was in town. She hung out with the original Saturday Night Live cast when the Dead were on the show; there were week-long stays at the New York Hilton with the band; and, she watched their Garden concerts from onstage behind Jerry’s amps.

Susan had to psyche herself up for the occasional consorting part. She channeled Margaret Mead exploring some lost tribe. She was a punk rocking kid after all. Jerry at 35 was an ancient hippie.

I was amazed. What would corporate think? I loved the story though I’ve never cared for the Grateful Dead’s music. I couldn’t imagine she would either. When I questioned her about it she was blunt: “it’s some of the most tedious music ever made.”

Susan is leaving tonight on a plane (oh Jesus, enough John already). Actually she’s moving to New York to be with her family. If I’ve learned nothing else since that Bloomington winter it’s you don’t need to live in close proximity to remain good friends.

Spare Change

I’ve hit it again.

Several summers ago I met Kathy and Linda in Chicago before we drove to The Winter Palace in Indiana (my condo). After a day of excursions in the heat and humidity we looked for a restaurant near the hotel.

Every interesting place either had a long wait or was closing. It was only 8:30, the herd grazes early there. In frustration we ended up at a dive across the street.

It was a place that tried to do everything–pizza, steak house, California cuisine–but did none well. I could barely stomach the jello-flavored gimlet at the Rock Bottom.

I’d forgotten about it until I happened by on my trip a few weeks ago. I knew better than to patronize it again. Spiritually, I was already there.

Because I’m broke I haven’t been home in two years. Twice I’ve purchased tickets only to cancel at the last minute forfeiting the fare. I realized too late I didn’t have money to cover the travel costs.

I was determined to go this time, even if by the skin of my teeth. To get the best airfare I left the day before my Social Security was to be deposited. I had $25 to live on for 24 hours. When I woke up the next morning in Chicago I paniced. I had $1, my balance online was zero. It was a time zone issue, by 9:00 a.m. I was solvent again.

I’d cashed in miles for a room that night at an airport Four Points. It had all the charm of the cinder blocks it was built with. There was a spirited discussion at check-in over running my card for “incidentals.” I said there would be none. The clerk was adamant until the charge did not go through. I had to sign a release accepting responsibility for charges I would be blocked from charging.

The Four Points would not have been my first choice in better times. I love good hotels and have stayed at The Grand in Berlin, The Goldener Hirsch in Salzburg, The Imperial and The Bristol in Vienna. London’s Park Lane would give me free upgrades and complimentary French 75’s in the lobby.

I was on a private island in the Maldives at the Soneva Fushi. And in Paris I stayed a few times at the Prince de Galles and once down the block at the Georges Cinq (or, as one pretentious queen called it, the George Vee.)

Down Soneva Fushi way.

In Chicago I’ve frequented the Conrad Hilton where Queen Lilibet visited in the 1950’s and been a guest at The Palmer House many times. Although its rooms are ordinary, it’s worth it for the spectacular lobby.

In route home each Christmas I stopped over at the Continental on North Michigan. After a frozen shopping spree I’d put on the complimentary robe and have a chicken pot pie in my room. At the Westin River North I had a fling with the lotto guy who called numbers on the local TV station. Lucky me.

My last glam stay in the city was when Ian Schrager first opened Public. It was the old Ambassadors East where I once rolled with Rodney.

The first ever was at the YMCA on a fifth grade class trip. In the days leading up to that outing I was excited beyond belief. Mother tried to reel me in but did encourage me to try something new since I was going somewhere I’d never been.

So at dinner in a cafeteria-style steak house, a forerunner to the Rock Bottom. I ordered my meat very rare. I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant, I was 11. The joys of a steak saignant were not yet appreciated. Eating blood disgusted me.

Back home Mother asked me what I’d tried. I told her about the steak.  She responded, “well you didn’t have to go that far.”

Attendng my first Indiana same sex wedding.

Before I slept this trip, I went downtown to walk through the Loop. With my $25 I bought subway tickets, a bottle of cremant bourgogne and some cheese. I had $4 left so I thought of taking a slice of pizza back with me.

I was in line behind a woman and a young boy, obviously tourists. Under a 70’s helmet hairdo her thoughts raced from the thrill of being in the Windy City. She bubbled with questions for the servers. “Now the mashed potatoes, are they mashed?” Occasionally she’d glance at me to crack a joke or apologize for taking so long. I politely smiled.

During her endless banter I learned quite a bit: this was her first trip to Chicago; she was with her 10 year old grandson; the cab driver recommended the place; and, her husband couldn’t have the peppers. I did deadly eye rolls in my mind then remembered my first time and exhibited infinite patience.

We were the only customers there but it took 10 minutes to get to the register. I was shocked when she told the cashier she was paying for me too. Strangers don’t do that in the big city. I protested like I had the money of Bill Gates (while wondering if I had the give of a 6th Street bag lady). I thanked her genuinely then took the train back to the Four Points.

I believe the Lord never gives us more spare change than we can handle but this is ridiculous. I need a job. And just because I constantly reference the Joads doesn’t mean I’m willing to pick fruit. Although I might.

Entertaining the kids for a few minutes, traumatizing them for a lifetime.

Gimme

Anita Pallenberg’s camel toe. Today the look is usually unintentional and considered a faux pas. Back then, Ms. Pallenberg knew exactly what she was doing.

I learned to play piano on an upright my Mother’s Aunt gave her. It had the same honky-tonk tone as the one in my Grandmother’s country church.

At their Sunday services, the song leader would stand to announce the number of the hymn while the pianist played a couple of bars in the background. Then, in a futile attempt to motivate a congregation of languid farmers, she’d cheerfully call out, “Y’all sing!”

I studied classical music but it didn’t stop me from trying to play along with Stones records. Their chord sequences were too complicated, I couldn’t keep up.  So I just picked at the bass line which was pretty easy to follow.

The bass on Gimme Shelter was odd because during the verses it seemed to hammer away on only one note, C#. Then in the chorus the line moved.

But C#? Nobody wrote in that key except Rachmaninoff. I thought it was probably a C or a D and that my old piano was way out of tune.

Forty years later in Keith’s autobiography he talks about writing Gimme Shelter. He says “the funny thing is it’s in C# which is really a piano key, not guitar.” The upright didn’t need tuning after all.

I'm a flea bit peanut monkey, all my friends are junkies, that's not really true!
I’m a flea bit peanut monkey, all my friends are junkies, that’s not really true!

When the song was released I was in college and listened to it daily. Several times.

In one course I watched a video of Leonard Bernstein on Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. He highlighted the confusing opening of the first movement. The music is all over the place as the orchestra searches for a motif. Bernstein said Ludwig was just toying with the audience, creating a little tension.  The theme soon becomes readily apparent.

I thought the same about the intro to Gimme Shelter. Keith seems to be plucking randomly, meandering to find the right notes for his song. Then Wham! The downbeat hits and the riff comes full force.

Again, his autobiography clarifies. It was raining as he wrote, the intro is nothing more than the patter of the drops. Talk about over analyzing.

Performance problems: it's just a kiss away.
Performance problems: it’s just a kiss away

Despite the inclimate weather, the real storm was in his personal life. His girlfriend Anita was filming Performance with Mick Jagger and it had sex scenes that were not simulated. Nor were the ones that happened after the filming stopped.

Keith knew from the outset his relationship with Anita would not be monogamous. She could not be contained sexually. But it stung that she was carrying on with his best friend and business partner. He felt betrayed and uncertain. It took him 20 minutes to write Gimme Shelter.

Anita was always an enigma. There was a frightening quality to her, she seemed capable of doing anything for fun or mischief. And this was before she became a junkie. The callous life of fixating on the next rig made her one tough cookie.

But you don’t attain the inner sanctum of the Rolling Stones by being a milquetoast. Her profound effect on the group and the way people spoke of her in such awe was intriguing.

With Brian: giving as good as she got.

Her first Stones boyfriend, Brian Jones, was physically abusive though Anita was no victim. She fought back and Brian was often the worse of the two after one of their rows.

On a motor trip to Morocco, Brian was dropped off at a hospital in Spain. Keith and Anita boinked in the backseat of the Bentley the rest of the way

In an interview with Keith at their villa in the south of France, a journalist described the exotic surroundings and mentioned how Anita let their toddler son, Marlon, frolic naked on the grass while they talked. As necessary, urine flowed and poop plopped on the garden lawn. No one paid any heed.

Mom.

In the late sixties I was obsessed with Keith’s gender bending look. The shark’s tooth earring, the pastel pants, the kohl on his eyes, and, in particular, the jeweled red bolero sweater.

It’s hard to imagine a band hitting the market today without being focus grouped and stylized to death. Under Anita’s influence, he just took whatever looked good from the communal pile of clothing at the foot of the bed.

Ten years ago there was a profile piece about her life in Manhattan. The writer accompanied Anita on her daily rounds which included hopping on and off city buses. She knew the drivers by name and chatted them up during the ride. She never paid the fare.

My friend Dale loathed the Stones in college as much as he loathes them today. Their crass commercialism, the ridiculous pop idolatry, and the sexist hedonism offended him. He’s right, but to me their music is too good to let major concerns like that get in the way.

Once in Bloomington at an overcrowded, sweltering summer party we were dancing to Gimme Shelter. The music was blaring and Dale yelled in my ear, “this song is perfect.”

All from an afternoon of anguishing over Anita.

Be it a Bentley or a bus, she got around.
Be it a Bentley or a bus, she got around.

Something Right Finally Happened

Verboten: the grass outside my window calls.
Verboten: the grass outside my window calls.

It’s just starting to settle in what I’ve done. My first six months in the new apartment were so consumed with the minutiae and aggravation of a major move, I lost sight of the bigger picture.

I became such an isolationist during those months, many long-established friends are peeved with me for not being in touch. Shutting out the world is a sign of old age. There will be no more of that. I’m starting to come out of my social shell.

When Eric showed me the article in the BAR a year ago about the lottery for LGBT senior housing, I thought to myself “snowball’s chance, lotteries are for losers.” Today I’m one of the few people in San Francisco with new, affordable housing.

That being said, however, building management has already put me on warning. I was seen using a step ladder to climb out my bedroom window on to the roof garden. I was doing some spray painting on drop cloths I’d laid out.

The manager seemed more amused than concerned when she issued the reprimand. Afterwards she mentioned her mission is not to thin the herd by busting rule breakers. She serves as an advocate for those who have had difficulty in the current housing market. She’ll do whatever it takes to make her tenants successful.

It made me feel like Henry Fonda when the Joads finally found the right work camp. Where you see a rooftop spray painter, I’ll be there.

She ended the meeting by informing me there had been a miscalculation in my rate and for the second time in six months my rent has been reduced.  I am a very, very fortunate person.

When she realized it was my birthday she insisted I take half of the peonies.

Speaking of snowballs,  a friend recently went to San Francisco General’s ER and was admitted with pneumonia. During the first 24 hours while he was out cold, someone stole his wallet. There was $400 in it.

Since the 70’s, General has had a reputation for being a shady operation. Still, with all the new technology and security enhancements I assumed things had improved. But it appears no matter how much money Zuckerberg pours into that place the staff’s primary expertise is never going to be medical.

My friend was determined to get his money back and filed a claim with the City after he was discharged. He then flew to Colombia for the summer to attend to family business.

I offered to help him with his claim while he was gone and said, if he needed anything, I would be happy to be his mule. It’s a species Colombians handle quite well.

I volunteered because I thought nothing would come of it and I wouldn’t have to do a thing. But a few weeks ago he was contacted by a woman who found the wallet in Berkeley. She had been walking in her neighborhood and spotted it in some bramble. The money was gone but the fact that she found it in such a remote place, and that she was willing to make a statement to authorities documenting that, has strengthened his case.

This Good Samaritan really did go to great lengths to track him down: Facebook, Google, directories. Then she found a doctor’s appointment reminder card and got that office to act as intermediary.

I thought her heroics deserved a reward so the day I went to meet her I took a big bunch of peonies and a bag of my new favorite treat, See’s Cashew Brittle. We met at a coffee shop in Rockridge.

We hit it off from the get-go, she was extremely affable. She had moved to the East Bay after 40 years in San Francisco because of the same housing crisis that originally knocked me out. We spoke the same language, there wasn’t a lull in our 30 minute conversation. It was a very pleasant encounter.

The next day she emailed me saying she had enjoyed our meeting as well. She said she’d been driving that day mulling over the stress and anxiety caused by her job. It was really dragging her down.

Then she thought of my prodigal evictee story. She found it so uplifting it buoyed her spirits. It was she who gave me the title for today’s post.

Thank you, Mimi.

Kiss the Sky

Purple haze all in my eyes.
Purple haze all in my eyes.

I’d never been to an emergency room in my 67 years until the last month. Now I’ve been twice

My latest escapade involved a campylobacter stomach infection, not to be confused with the high campy variety. Things were coming out of both ends rather rapidly.

After 12 hours I was so depleted I fainted trying to get a popsicle out of the freezer. My head hit the precious pharmacy marble previously blogged about resulting in a pansy colored rainbow shiner.

After 48 hours of IV fluids and antibiotics I came home last night.

Hospital issue Vreeland-like cuff.
Hospital issue Vreeland-like cuff.

One of my favorite all-time television series is Tina Fey’s 30 Rock. Mainly because the writing is so sharp. The episodes are so chockfull of gems it takes me a couple of viewings to get them all.

In one episode there was a 20 second segment where writers were tossing around tag lines for a new sponsor, an adult diaper. The two I remember are: Freedom Diapers–when every room can be your bathroom; and, Freedom Diapers–now the whole world’s your bathroom.

I would never presume to rival Ms. Fey’s brilliant work. But the Tea Party fought so hard to preserve our freedoms it would be remiss not to mention just how hot those diapers look under a pair of skinny jeans.

A hunka hunka of burnin love.
A hunka hunka of burnin love.

Me and Louise

Black as night. Black as coal. I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky.

The first major artist I saw in the flesh was Louise Nevelson when she dedicated her Sky Tree at the Embarcadero Center in 1977.  She had a Maria Tall Chief presence, a black shrouded swoop as she approached the podium. It was an indelible performance. I don’t think she spoke a word.

Many of her works were done entirely in black to accentuate form and texture. She applied this aesthetic to her person as well. Her signature look was to wear multiple sets of false eyelashes.

When I saw her she was in her 80’s. I thought the layered lashes were just her replaying the  “did I put them on yet? I don’t think I did!” drama 18 times in her head.

Her black on black approach was the inspiration for my new bedroom: velvet, French Resistance drapes from my Mother’s decorator;  chalkboard contact paper; caviar vinyl wall covering from Mark and Charley; burlap trim; and a new mystery fabric called pleather. It’s a shiny, supple faux leather. The name was probably the King’s pronunciation, as in “it’s my pleather.”

Through the camo, darkly.

Then there was the black camouflage left over from my farewell party on Jones Street. Or maybe it was from the blind I built in Buena Vista Park. Anyway, another seemingly impractical find that intrigued me because of its uselessness. What’s its purpose? Hiding from friends when you’re down in a coal mine?

The all black scheme was broken when I also found white camouflage (for when you’re caught in a blizzard and don’t want to be rescued?)  Vibrant hues like the Mediterranean blue-green wallpaper started to creep into the palate. As Louise undoubtedly knew, black can be a wonderful backdrop to give color bounce.

Versailles replica monkeys on Versailles wallpaper. My Mother gave me the clock one year for Christmas. Is it any wonder I’m gay? I was three.

In my reduced circumstances it’s more poetic to say I’m on welfare than Social Security. It plays into my Ronald Regan Readers Digest fantasy. “We knew of this one queen who was on the dole but was still able to maintain outlandish residences in two of California’s most exotic cities, San Francisco and Palm Springs.”

When you also consider that some fellow tenants come from Tenderloin SRO situations, that I’m living in nicely appointed surroundings with fine collectibles in something akin to subsidized housing, the irony intensifies. One can see Nancy in the background nodding her head in indignant dismay.

Let your cacti be your tiebacks.

Mine is a story of rags to riches to rags with riches. I’ve decorated my new bedroom with things I’ve accumulated during my life, things my friends have given me, and things I got on the cheap.

I’ve been working on a fully packed 12×12 room I was also living in. To accomplish one task I had to do six others to get to it.

For the high ceilings, Mr Sarah lent me a 10′, pre-war step ladder. Civil, I’m guessing. You feel moments from death climbing each wrung as it creaks and wobbles. It’s probably why he lent it to me.

He died trying to hang the martini.

Someone once told me they enjoyed me most on stage when things went wrong. They loved watching me work my way out of jams.

I’m afraid that’s still my working style today: 50% doing it, 50% correcting it. My apprenticeship at Rube Goldberg’s Drapery Innovations & Blinds taught me not to crucify the good on the cross of perfection. Never give up. Almost anything can be made to appear acceptable.

Night, David.

It has been a winter of contented discontent. A chaotic move that cost much more than I expected when I had nothing to begin with. Missing the superficial warmth of Palm Springs while being so happy with my new apartment. Experiencing the excitement of the new in a place I was intimately familiar with for 40 years. Then it rained for five months.

The Shirley Basey Wall: I’ve got such a lot of love to give, let me live, let me live.

After weeks of hard work I realized there is no end result. It will be a perpetual work in progress. So on Easter weekend there was one last surge to get to a stopping point. Then I slept, roughly from the time he was put on the cross until they rolled away the stone.

The bedroom is not quite what I envisioned. But going over the creative cliff with Ms. Nevelson was a good starting point. I just wish somewhere in this tortured analogy there was a Brad Pitt/motel room angle

Bambi, Bambi uber alles.