Friday, May 15, 2015

Estate Sale.

On his way to the train, C saw a sign on the door of the building next door announcing an estate sale today. He texted me to ask if I wanted to walk down and see if there was anything we could use.

Things I bought:

A navy blue raincoat, 60's style with a zip-out lining.
A small wood mid-century picture frame.

Things I saw:

Piles of vinyl records, mostly classical and opera with a few Broadway soundtracks (South Pacific, Fiddler) all in very good shape.
Lots of very old and worn out kitchen stuff: pots and pans, dinnerware.
A pulp paperback novel, House of Dolls, about a Jewish girl held captive by Nazis (I think).
A very dusty hardback copy of The Well of Loneliness.
What looked like a college yearbook, 1928, in German.
A copy of the Life magazine declaring on the cover Israel's victory in the 6-day war.
A lot of beat to shit furniture.
Threadbare carpet in every room, some of it repaired with duct tape.
About 15 60's-style golf jackets, all different colors.
A big pile of ladies' scarves, all different colors and patterns from 40s through 70s styles.

Things I would have bought if I'd had more cash with me:

A couple of those golf jackets.
A set of very pretty cordial glasses.
A set of stainless steel canisters with Bakelite handles (flour, sugar, coffee, tea).
2 never-used kitchen towels with touristy designs on them in French.
That House of Dolls book.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Is It News That Gays Are Boring?

I don't want to pick on David Hockney, one of my favorite painters, he's certainly not the only one saying this, but I'm getting more and more skeptical of this narrative. I know I've contributed to it, but it's seeming less and less correct as we watch the mainstreaming of homosexuality play out, marriage and kids and every other TV show about us now. I'm starting to think the whole "gays are boring now" complaint distorts and distracts from what's really happening, which is the death of bohemia, or outsiderness. Because now, like "alternative" became just another commercial radio format, being an outsider is just another brand.

Disruptive is the buzzword now. But it's always used in the context of some big corporation, like Apple, trying to find a way to sell more of something and make more money. What do you have to do, or believe, or dress like, to be actually disruptive now? Who is a threat anymore? Does anyone do anything radical anymore that doesn't get put on a t-shirt or made into a commercial to sell cars?

It's kind of undeniable that "our culture" -- radical sex, gender play, confrontational politics -- has been, like a roll of film (what's that?), bleached and dulled by exposure to daylight. (I'm talking about gay bars as event spaces for bachelorette parties.) But -- and I say this with the self-caveat that all these things are most definitely inextricably intertwined -- it looks to me like this is less a function of increased acceptance of non-heterosexual people and our emulation of "normal life" than it is just another result of the bulldozer of corporate control of modes of expression, of urban and suburban real estate, of the landscape of our dreams.

The disappearance of sleazy drag bars is exactly analogous to the disappearance of independent book stores. Grindr is Amazon.

I don't think gays got boring. Weren't there always boring gay people? They just used to stay in the closet and live miserable lives making their wives and children miserable along with them. (Which may be an interesting scenario, for a play or novel, for example, but you'd have a hard time convincing me that it's better for the people involved.) There have always been homosexuals with no particular urge to move to a bombed-out inner city neighborhood, dumpster dive, and make political art. It's just that now those folks can marry someone of their own sex, have test tube babies with a surrogate mother, and, well, they can't be Boy Scout leaders, but that's probably not too far down the pike, and lesbians can be den mothers, can't they?

I guess the natural conclusion here, if I follow my logic, is that we're not witnessing just the death of gay culture but the death of popular (in the sense of "of the people") culture in general, but I'm not sure I'm ready to follow my logic, at least not today.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

This Week.

It's been a strange week, starting with the news that an old friend, with whom I spent a lot of time when I was finishing my film in San Francisco in 2005 (he edited the film) but I hadn't seen in several years, died last week. Apparently of a heart attack in his sleep, which is the death everyone says they want, but he was not old. I'm not certain, but I think he was younger than me.

Maybe everyone has people like this. I feel like I have dozens. I always attributed it to the fact that my life was so peripatetic for those 12 years I spent away from New York. People whom you feel very close to but live far apart and from time to time you worry about the friendship because you haven't seen each other for way too long but you always think, "One of these days we'll end up in the same city at the same time and we'll reconnect and catch up."

And then with that sadness about the passing of my old friend, and time, in the background, I got some disappointing career news. I and my co-writers had 3 possible opportunities for developing our new project in the coming year, and one by one they all evaporated, the third one in the form of an email a few days ago, very sorry, lots of great applicants this year, etc. (I know it's meant sincerely, but I wish we could retire that language of rejection letters. It doesn't help to know that they felt lots of other applicants were better.)

(Some vague sense of professional discretion makes me think, though I can't for the life of me see what difference it would make and maybe it's not discretion but embarrassment, that I shouldn't be more specific, but in a way it doesn't matter what the opportunities were. They're just a few in the endless list of things, as an artist in a culture of too many artists and too little support, one applies for and doesn't get.)

I'm not complaining, not really, I know I chose this life knowing full well that failure and rejection were always going to be much much more likely than success, and I can't say I haven't had way more than my share of amazing experiences and people and pure magic, but there are days when it's clearer than others that the real fabric of an artist's life is disappointment, and there are days when I don't have any more intelligent or skillful or useful response than just to pout.

I had a dream this morning, though. It was one of those dreams where all night long you're trying to get some place and every time you think you're close there's another obstacle and you find yourself slipping farther and farther way. I was trying to get home but I kept getting on the wrong bus, getting lost, getting caught up in the drama of random strangers.

But then eventually after a long night ride, the Greyhound pulled into a station I recognized. I got out of the bus and exited the station onto a dark, quiet street, walked for a while with a small group of people I had befriended on the bus. They told me that they had to find their car and still had a long journey ahead of them, and I told them that I lived just a couple blocks away. Even in the dream I was aware that being close to home meant that some new obstacle would appear and waylay me.

But that's not what happened. I just walked the two blocks to my house, a big old wooden house with a porch, and the light was on and there were people talking softly. I walked up the steps to the porch and lay down on a mattress that was there, and then C came and lay down with me, and then a woman I barely know, who I met when she worked for a company that develops new musicals in New York but she's since moved to San Francisco to start her own theater company, and she and C both wrapped their arms around me, and standing in the front doorway was a couple who were dear friends when I lived in Nashville but I don't really keep in touch with them anymore but I think of them often and wish they still lived nearby, and they were smiling.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Pray For Us.

I'm a little concerned about grocery shopping in our new neighborhood.

I've come to rely on Fresh Direct for most of our groceries the last 3 years. (For those of you outside of New York, Fresh Direct is an online grocery store. You place your order on a web site, choose a delivery time, and they bring your groceries to you at home.) I got in the habit when I was working 9-5 in Brooklyn and the 2 or 3 hours it would have taken to go grocery shopping felt like 2 or 3 hours I didn't have. And, though we have one big supermarket and another smaller one nearby, they aren't great. They're fine for staples, canned and dried stuff, flour, milk, snacks, etc, but I hate buying meat out of a big open case and you don't know how long it's been sitting there, and the produce usually looks ratty and old and well picked over.

Fresh Direct is more expensive than your average C-Town, but I rationalize it because the produce is very fresh and high quality and it's less expensive than Whole Foods or a specialty organic place where I would probably be going for good meat and produce if Fresh Direct didn't exist. I cook at home almost every day, and we have a small kitchen with very little pantry space, so I have groceries delivered at least once a week, often twice. It's always hard to know which shopping choices are more horrible for the world and the people in it, but Fresh Direct at least has lots of locally grown and made food, and I can get reasonably priced meat and dairy raised without hormones. I do try to be conscious of where our food comes from, buy local and organic unless it costs twice as much, but I'm not a fundamentalist about it.

I plan to wean myself off Fresh Direct after we move, because our new place is near enough Chinatown, where produce and meat are insanely cheap and fresh and good. And I love shopping in Chinatown. And now that I'm not working a day job any more, it doesn't make me panicky to contemplate an afternoon of grocery shopping.

All of that to say that I realized another benefit to online grocery shopping is impulse control. I keep a list of what we need, I enter each item in the search bar, check out, done! Grocery stores, however, are a mine field. This morning, I ran out of milk for my coffee, so I ran out to the little deli on the corner. I came back with, not milk but half and half, and a bag of pita chips, a pint of ice cream, and shortbread cookies. What the holy hell?

If I've learned anything in my 54 years it's that i have no power over a bag of potato chips or a pint of ice cream. Or chocolate cake. So I just make sure that they aren't in the house. Except on special occasions, like a birthday. Or a Saturday.

I'd forgotten that about grocery shopping, the way everything talks to you. Somehow the little picture on the computer screen is not nearly as persuasive as the actual item on the shelf. I want to walk down every aisle, and for some reason I think I need those little Dutch Boy cookies with the chocolate, and a big thing of wasabi peas, and ricotta because I don't know maybe lasagna?, and frozen pierogis, and look! Triscuits! and they have those honey sesame brittle things and Green & Black's chocolate at the checkout line, and Table Talk lemon pies, and now I weigh 300 pounds.

Lord help us.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

History. It's a Thing.

I think it's just weird to lump The King and I in with An American in Paris and Gigi to make a point about how icky old musicals are politically and how hard it is to stage them now that we're all so enlightened.

Why do people always seem surprised that Rogers and Hammerstein's "golden age" musicals address these issues? Racism, colonialism, sexism were the subjects R&H were explicitly interested in, and they chose stories and dealt with them in ways specifically to comment on them.

The Times article says:
Anna and the king are not a couple, and their final scene is not a kiss in the moonlight. There is, however, a soaring musical number that feels like a happy ending: “Shall We Dance?,” choreographed this time by Christopher Gattelli. It has always been the show’s most thrilling moment. Anna and the king begin a polka by holding hands, but he knows better, having seen her dance with an Englishman. He puts his hand firmly around Anna’s waist, and hearts leap.

One interpretation: Natural order is restored; the man takes charge. Mr. Sher argued that something else was going on: “The king allows himself to be taught and to be equal to a woman. To reach across cultures. Stepping across that boundary is just gorgeous.”

And very 21st century.
Actually, no, it's more like mid-20th century. When it was written. The revival didn't make that up. It's in the piece. It's what that moment and that song are about.

The King and I and South Pacific, Oklahoma, etc., don't just demonstrate regressive attitudes, they confront them. There are lines and passages that feel old-fashioned, condescending, uncomfortable to our sensibilities because we think about these issues differently now, but can we stop talking about these musicals as if they're from the dark ages, before we all become so sensitive and smart about racism and misogyny in our popular culture?

For their time, R&H were practically activists. Think about the huge mass audience they had during a period when not much pop culture questioned the status quo.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


It's a stupid argument anyway, that the definition of marriage has been the same for "millenia." Even if were true, the fact that we've been doing something for a long time doesn't make it right. But it's not even true. I guess I'm a little surprised that the tradition of same-sex marriage in Native American communities seems never to have come up. Do these people (the lawyers and judges in favor of same-sex marriage ... and for that matter, this New York Times reporter who doesn't bring it up) really not know this stuff? I find that hard to believe. Maybe it's not flattering to compare ourselves to "primitive" cultures?

I know there was assorted institutionalized queerness all over this continent before Europeans arrived and obliterated it along with everything else, but Texas is what I'm familiar with because I wrote a paper on it at UT.

Cabeza de Vaca was the first European to encounter the Natives in Texas. This is from his journal. He's writing about various coastal groups:
"During the time I was among them, I saw something very repulsive, namely, a man married to another. These are impotent and womanish beings who dress like and do the work of women. They carry heavy loads but do not use a bow. Among these Indians we saw many of them. They are more robust than other men, taller, and can bear heavy loads."
This kind of stuff is all over the contemporary written descriptions of Native American societies by the Spanish invaders in the 16th century. The Spanish at the time were obsessed with homosexuality (the Catholics are always obsessed with homosexuality but it was particularly harsh in the 16th century -- the "sin against nature" was regarded worse than murder) so they wrote about it negatively of course, but the fact that they were so fixated on it at least had the effect of them noting it at all.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


The best thing about getting ready to move is the feeling of relief knowing I'll soon be leaving behind all the small things that get on my nerves about the place where I live -- the janky oven that can't maintain a temperature and burns everything on the bottom before it's done on the top, the electrical outlets with too-big holes so that plugs fall out of them, the lack of trash bins so that we have to keep all our stinky garbage in the apartment until collection day, the bathroom mirror that doesn't line up with the sink but is about a foot to the left of it -- and all the things that will irritate me at the new place are as yet unknown and unable to touch me.

This is the biggest move I've ever made -- maybe not in terms of geographical distance or impact on my life because I've had several moves that were huge by those measures, but in terms of the logistics, the number of steps, the planning, the actual amount of stuff that's coming with me, the number of people involved (actual hired movers!), not to mention the months-long process of buying an apartment and the multi-layered approval process that is, we hope, almost over.

This is the first time I've moved and taken the furniture, other than maybe a couple lamps and a futon. Most of the time when I've moved I've just gone to the liquor store and asked for a few boxes, packed up my clothes and books, and splurged on a cab. It's the first time I've had furniture that was nice enough to take.

I'm exaggerating -- there are exceptions: When J and I left New York for Nashville, rented a U-Haul, and filled it with the contents of our 10th Street studio (which was roughly the same size as that U-Haul). Or the move out of Nashville when J and I sold everything for nothing on the lawn so we could fit in a 20-foot camper. Some of that stuff I regret losing (an old wood dresser that my parents gave us comes to mind, as well as my copies of Word Is Out and the ReSearch journal issue on body modifications, and other loved and irreplaceable books). Or when I left B in 1989. We had great furniture in our Ft. Greene apartment. All street-found or thrift store-bought, but B had an eye. I was the one who left, and I didn't take anything.

But those moves were more like fleeing than moving.

I don't mean to downplay the life-change aspect of this move. One -- C and I are becoming homeowners (!), which is big and would have been unimaginable 10 years ago when it was also unimaginable that I would get married, let alone to someone with a much more normal life and stable income. Ten years ago I had no home at all, except in the hearts and spare rooms of dear friends and family members. And two, I am moving back to the part of New York that was my home through most of the 80s and 90s, not including that 4-year stint in Brooklyn in the mid-80s. I feel like I've been working my way back for a long time now.

I know, it's a stretch to say that Grand Street on the East River is the old neighborhood. It's not the East Village and it's not the part of the Lower East Side above Delancey that we all know and love or hate. I think that's one of the things I love about our new place. Co-op Village is definitely the LES, culturally and historically a part of that larger LES that includes the East Village and the super-trendy area between Houston and Delancey, but it's not one of those parts of the neighborhood where I feel like I would have to excavate to find anything I remember. The area around East Broadway and Grand Street going toward the East River has not changed much since the 1950s, when the slums were cleared to make room for the buildings we're moving into. Not that it's done all the changing it will ever do.

While I was writing this, C went downstairs to check the mail and came back with a letter notifying us that we've been approved by the co-op board. I guess this is really happening.