I Wa-Wa-Wa-Wa Wonder

I belonged to the Y Indian Guides when I was seven. It was the YMCA’s lighter, less fascist alternative to the Boy Scouts.

The fathers in our group were World War II veterans and they celebrated their bond with humor. I was a few years away from completely understanding it. Like the chuckles our adopted names received. Dad was Big Red Beaver, my brother was Little Red Beaver and I was the twice-removed Little Grey Beaver.

Stung by second rate billing only made me more determined. I got the best role in our skit when we joined other area tribes for a variety show.

Our Dads decided to dramatize one of their jokes. They built a cut out airplane we four little warriors stood behind. A narrator set it up: we were on a dangerous international mission when our plane suddenly developed problems. Over the loudspeaker the pilot explains there’s a weight issue and asks for a volunteer to evacuate. A Frenchman boldly steps to the door, exclaims “Vive la France!” then jumps.

The pilot comes back on to say we’re still too heavy. A British soldier cries, “God save the Queen!” Then he jumps leaving just two of us.

In desperation, the pilot pleads for one more volunteer. With bravura I shouted “Remember the Alamo!” as I turned to push the Mexican out. Maybe the Guides were more fascist than originally thought.

I was intrigued by the laughter and applause I heard from the unseen audience. The stage bug had bit.

Sergei my man

Jonesing for stardom, I pursued music when I was growing up. I played french horn for eight years in the school band. It was a collective effort, only an occasional solo made me feel the pressure.

Individual attention came with the piano. I studied it for seven years. Every Spring students performed auditions for a team of judges. Results were announced at our public recital a month later.

One year I sat waiting my turn at the recital half-heartedly listening to my teacher’s general remarks. Amongst the blah-blah-blah I heard phrases like “one student stood above the rest” and “the judges noted a dramatic improvement in technique.” She was talking about me.

I was so shocked that when I took the stage and began to rip through Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, I suddenly froze. We had to perform from memory and I could visualize where I was in the score. But that’s all I saw. I was blank. After a pause of several seconds I took it from the top again and nailed it.

I hoped I’d saved face by getting it right the second time. Afterwards, however, Mother wasn’t buying it. All she could do was softly shake her head while repeating “you started over…you started over…”

The discipline I had as a child puzzles me now. Today, hands that once glided over Mozart can barely pick out chopsticks. And the embouchure that framed my triple-tonguing has been destroyed by years of, well, tonguing of another sort.

Skills may have atrophied but my appreciation for music has never waned. Like the Youtube video of Chris Montez’s joyous Let’s Dance. I’ve been obsessed with it lately.

It’s from a 60’s dance show, the kind I watched to keep up with the latest crazes. I’d try to follow the moves and, when I needed a partner, would grab a doorknob on a swinging closet door. It’s unpredictable movement kept me on my toes.

While serious me pursued musical instruments, fantasy me wanted to be a regular on Bandstand. I longed to be like the tall guy in black pants in this clip at about :40. He doesn’t do much but those rubbery legs skimming across the floor are amazing.

I was probably closer in style to the black pencil skirt at 1:25 and 1:45. She’s all snake hips with plenty of bounce and controlled arm motion. Plus she’s having the time of her life.

The real stars are the couple who jitterbug at 1:00. They can barely contain themselves as they count off then blast into orbit when they lock hands. Their steps are at one with the rhythm, the music seems to emanate from their feet.

Another clip I’ve been watching is a 1969 American Bandstand. It’s a Top 10 Countdown, Sugar, Sugar is number 1.

At the time the song was dismissed as unhip and bubble gum. Five decades later I can confess I’ve always loved it. The infectious hand clapping beat, the way the volume increases with each chorus–it’s so exciting.

And I marvel at the guys in these videos. They dance like that and they’re straight? This is America, goddamnit, they can’t do that.

Why. Y? Y? Y? Y? Y?

I learned of Top 40 in 1961 because of Del Shannon’s Runaway. I became a devotee of the Saturday morning program for the next decade.

Feeling personally invested in that song, I was elated when it hit Number 1. Then Roy Orbison’s Running Scared knocked it out a couple of weeks later and I was furious. I vowed never, ever to support that blind guy’s music again. A 10 year old’s lifetime grudge can’t last more than a month. I soon became an Orbison fan too.

There’s a 1986 clip of Del Shannon performing Runaway on David Letterman. After he uses his falsetto the first time he shoots Paul Shaffer a knowing grin. As if they’d discussed how something so silly ended up sounding so cool.

Shaffer is a wonderful musician who has kept basically the same band for 30 years. No small feat. Here he generates enthusiasm by osmosis as he physically submits to the music playing the bridge. His above the melody line in the following verse gives me goose bumps.

When it ends the band seems delighted with their rendition of this great pop song. There aren’t too many other choices this Old Grey Beaver made 60 years ago that still stand up today.

Keep on dancin’ and a prancin’.

The Heartbreak of Psoriasis

Self Portrait, 1969

When I was a teenager I suffered from facial psoriasis, blotchy, sometimes imperceptible patches of flaky skin that can be so irritating. Comments from others, especially fellow classmates, were often cruel.

Then one day in Granddad’s barn I noticed a container of salve used for dry cow udders. I tried a little on my forehead. The results were instantaneous, years of personal anguish erased in seconds. Who knew? Bag Balm as facial moisturizer.

I still stand by it today. Some friends tell me I look even younger now than I did in 1969! (Sorry, photo unavailable.)

Mueller’s Mush

Attorney General Barr consults with Justice Department brain trust on Mueller Report.

Our Republic has come a long way. The nation’s first President could not tell a lie when the cherry tree was cut down. Today’s President does nothing but lie except when he recounts his days cherry picking at the Miss Universe Contest.

Washington and FBI insider Robert Mueller has accomplished what he set out to do. Nothing, Give the appearance of holding elected officials accountable but in the end just preserve the status quo.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted on an inconclusive report. The decision to pursue charges or share information with the public was left in the hands of an Attorney General whose only qualification for the job was his agreement in advance never to release the report. Roseanne (not his real name) took one look at the cover sheet and made his decision.

Of the people, by the people, for the people. Well, some of the people anyway. Those corporate entities whom the Roberts Court sagaciously declared were people and entitled to the same rights as individuals without requiring them to share any of the same responsibilities.

If you were on Wall Street and receiving blank checks from all three branches of government on an hourly basis would you want to change the way things are being done?

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 regularly.

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. Back then here were few context clues in rural Indiana of the subculture that awaited..

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 in three years if I went to summer school. Then I came out and it took five more terms 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 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 amongst 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 atop this ever-changing scene was a mark of 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 to drinking was never mentioned. Like the billion Muslim women who all voluntarily “choose” to wear the hijab, no one ever seemed to have a problem with alcohol. Then in the 1960’s the perils were discussed openly. And treatment programs were developed.

In the era of recognizing alcoholism, 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 drinking. In the clip of her offering the vodka her subtext is clear: “go ahead, one won’t hurt. 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. While being an unrelenting advocate. 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.

I cherish these kinds of historical documents/perverse curios. 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 Gays 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. Then 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.