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.

Mrs. Taylor Sure Seems to Use A Lot of Ice

My summer sojourn on Youtube led straight into Harper Valley. Not only is there the earth shattering, mini-skirted 1968 single but I’ve discovered Riley’s attempt at a comeback in 1984. It’s called Return to Harper Valley.

The sequel doesn’t come close to the original but it has some absurd lyrics to sink your teeth into. Like how drinking took Mr. Kelly’s liver and his brain. Or the sighting of the high school kids “a takin’ off their clothes.”

There’s even more recent Jeannie C. footage from what appears to be a retirement home. She’s wearing way too many bangles, a curly bird coif and a fruity corsage. Still, she’s able to put down her buffet plate (momentarily) to unleash another rip-snorting version of her classic.

It’s basically a song with no melody. Yet her voice in the 84 version is so pseudo-melodic. The hefty tone, shimmering hillbilly vibrato and great pitch fascinate me.  And beneath every performance is her desire to do it. Again and again.

The day my Mama socked it to…

Harper Valley PTA was released in August, 1968 as I began my freshmen year in college. That fall semester I developed a huge crush on the guy in the next room, Jack. He was a swimmer with a barrel chest, tons of body hair and tinges of blonde in his curly mop from the chlorine and sun. He had a wry smile for everything.

We were cordial but kept our distance the first term until one January weekend when everyone else was out. He suggested we get some Richard’s Wild Irish Rose with his fake id. We then got plastered listening to records in my room.

I asked him about this cool samba-like song I’d heard him playing. He said it was Sympathy for the Devil from the new Stones album. He jumped up to get it then stopped in his tracks. He’d locked himself out,

The oak doors in this 1920’s dorm had veneer panels that were easily kicked in.  Which we did to unlock his door. As we sat on the linoleum hammering the molding back on. Jack rubbed my thigh and said “you know, I’m bisexual.”

I was terrified. It’s what I wanted to hear but thought it was some kind of set up. He was such a jock, anything I did he’d share with his buddies on the swim team. I’d be the laughing stock of Edmondson Hall. I pretended nothing happened as we listened to more music then passed out.

Though conjugality didn’t occur that night, a deep affection developed between us. We lived together the next two years.

The second year we moved to an off campus apartment. If anything were to happen again I felt safer away from the dorm. But he showed up that fall with a new girlfriend who lived a block away. That was the end of that.

The closest we ever came to consumating it was one Sunday evening at Edmondson. We were both hungover and cranky. I started teasing him relentlessly so he leapt out of bed, dashed across the room and jumped on top of me. His gym shorts were rubbing my face as he held me down tickling me. We both laughed until he grabbed a belt and tied me up.

It was no longer fun. There was no way out. Back on top, he lifted his shorts and rubbed his genitals in my face. He wanted me to suck his dick. I wouldn’t. He finally gave up and went back to read in bed. He left me bound up for about an hour.

I was powerless, furious and humiliated. I’d been a runt all of my life and never had the physical strength to prevail in situations like this. The only advantage I had was a brain. I laid there determined to make a name for myself to somehow exact revenge. The seeds for megalomania/histrionic personality disorder were sewn.

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Whether this is the basis for decades of B projects is questionable. But it was a contributing factor. I tried to soften the edges and not be too obnoxious about it.

The incident did teach me that the way out of despair is creativity. The mind’s a blank anyway why not go for broke. Those moments can produce good work.

It’s a tactic I continue to employ today. There’s a hell of a comeback worked out in my head (that’s never going to happen).

The rage, vengeance and helplessness of that episode have stayed with me all of my life. And it really did, it happened just this way.

I Am What I Am, Goddamnit!

For my birthday my roommate gave me a ticket to see Hamilton. He did so reluctantly knowing my aversion to musical theater. To me they’re always the same: downtrodden minorities overcoming impossible obstacles to rise and get revenge.

That plot can be a relief to life’s woes when administered in the tiniest of doses. On Broadway the syringe is filled with one the size of the Pacific.

All I knew about the Hamilton musical was that it was done in rap or hip-hop or house–I’m not conversant in all of the nuance. I agree with Keith Richard’s take on the genre(s). He was inclined to like them but found the 4/4 beat monotonous. “Vary the meter for Christ’s sake.”

In my lifetime earth-shattering musical productions have come along about once every decade. When I was a teen it was the flow it, show it, long as God can grow it, Hair. The 1970’s saw A Chorus Line with What I Did for Love. Wah-wah-wah.

In the 80’s there was the queer triumph La Cage aux Folles (see title above.) It was followed by Rent ten years later. Sadly I know no tunes or lines from that one. Suffice it to say it’s only a rehash of La Boheme.

So the recent buzz of Hamilton being another phenomenon did little for me.  Until I read it was based on the Chernow biography I read lo those many years ago. My interest was peaked. How in the hell did they get something juicy out of that piece of dry toast?

Somehow they did. From the opening admonishment by a queeny King George’s voice warning about cell phone usage, it sucked me in. The beat, the body movements, the constant barrage of couplets, a lazy susan stage transporting actors from one scene to the next and the diversity of the cast combined to make something I never thought I’d see in the legitimate theater. (In the illegitimate theater, yes.)

The color coding of the actors was a little baffling. Why were some white historical figures played by non-whites while others were not? Could it be, gasp, because that person was best qualified for the role? Realism in an art form founded on disbelief is vastly overrated.

As a kid I joined record clubs to take advantage of the 10 LPs for a dollar. I always included at least one musical soundtrack. I thought if it was important in Manhattan it had to be important to the world.

The summer I bought the soundtrack to My Fair Lady it took Uncle Fritz’s annual visit to put things in perspective. His version of On the Street Where You Live included a verse that began, “People stop and stare, in their underwear.” Oh! The towering feeling.

I didn’t think Hamilton had any memorable tunes. Until I went to bed that night. That’s when I realized “The Room Where It Happens” had been on a constant loop in my head since I left the theater.

And I’m not good at remembering lines after performances. Although Alexander’s son Phillip made an impression. As a teen young Philip shows he’s a playa with the pick-up line, “I’m a trust fund baby, trust me”

After graduating from college Lil’ Phil has even more game. He tells a couple girls he likes their frocks. “When I get back we’ll strip to our socks.” He then does the honorable thing by getting himself killed in a duel. You gotta love that wacky 18th Century lifestyle.

The most astonishing moment occurred when there was a passing reference to General Lee “shitting the bed at the Battle of Monmouth.” Immediately I could think of only two other people in the world who would even know what that meant, Ron Chernow and my friend Peter in Paunat, France. Anyone who can link a reference as obscure as that to a street culture where the words “Battle of Monmouth” will probably never be heard, let alone understood, deserves all the Tony’s they can get.

The one minor disappointment was the death scene where the angels seemed to alight with Alex and rest him in the bosom of the holy father. I understand that when you’re selling $150 Broadway tickets to tourists from Iowa there needs to be at least one gratuitous, schmaltzy scene to validate the experience for them. The rest of the play is so innovative and modern, however, it would have been interesting to see how they could have handled this in a different way.

Joking about death is never easy to do, though Jim Jordan did a pretty good job of it in our play 1968. Which brings me to a concluding thought: if I’ve seen the future of theater, it has striking resemblances to what Jim and I tried to do 30 years ago.

Striking a Hamiltonian pose when I was 9. Mother opted for the traditional cream background over the blingier gold.