Wednesday, June 17, 2015

3 Things I Saw From the Balcony Monday Night at About 9:30 p.m.

A slightly stooped grey-haired man in black pants and white shirt, wearing a black yarmulke and carrying a thick black book at his side, walked at a relaxed pace along the sidewalk that cuts through the playground from our building to the building opposite.

Our neighbors next door, who have lived in that apartment since this development was built in the late 50s when they were a young married couple, whose window I can see into if I lean over the railing, sat at their kitchen table under a bare fluorescent light fixture with books open in front of them and talked animatedly.

While I was looking at a star about 40 degrees up from the horizon and due east, wondering what star it was, the only one visible and so perfectly centered in my view, just below it a burning meteor made an arc across the sky and disappeared behind the Williamsburg Bridge.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

On The Porch.

We have a balcony. I keep calling it the porch, and maybe a balcony is a kind of porch in the way that an apartment is a kind of house.

When I lived in Nashville in a rented room in a big purple Victorian house while I working on my film (2003?), every afternoon all summer there'd be a thunderstorm of Biblical proportions -- you wonder why they're so Bible-obsessed in the South? It's the weather -- and I'd take a break from logging footage of my life falling apart and watch the deluge from a big wicker chair on the wrap-around porch. The thunder could make me actually jump -- one time the lightning struck so close it split a tree right across the street.

When I lived in Austin on East 15th St. with J, there was usually no place I wanted to be more than the porch. In the afternoon when the 100-degree heat felt sexy as long as you stayed in the shade with a cold beer and didn't move a muscle. In the evening when it cooled slightly and the air was thick and swampy like a ghost story.

Here, our balcony overlooks the grounds of the co-op complex and a small playground. In the afternoons, there are dozens of children playing, their parents and grandparents sitting on benches watching them. They are mostly Jewish as far as I can tell, and I assume conservative (in the general sense, not the theological sense) from the way they are dressed and from the way that the playground clears out at about 5:30 because they all, I'm guessing, go inside to eat dinner as a family. There's something, at least from a distance, very appealing about such an old-fashioned way of life.

I read 25 pages today, which is a personal triumph. I haven't been able to read lately, now that I'm not commuting every day. I miss that 2 1/2 hours of built-in reading time, but that's not the only thing preventing me. I just can't stay awake. I never sleep well, have never slept well, but for the first few days here, I did sleep through the night and thought things had changed. I think it was just fatigue from moving. Now I'm back to the usual waking up every 30 minutes or so, lying awake for long stretches in the middle of the night, and usually waking up completely an hour or so before the alarm goes off.

After several days of not being able to read more than 3 or 4 pages without falling asleep, I decided to try napping. The last 2 days I've taken an hour nap after lunch. It's magic. Now I can read without falling asleep. I'm reading The Power Broker, a biography of Robert Moses -- which, despite the fact that it's like 8,000 pages long is kind of a page-turner, and when I can keep my eyes open it's quite entertaining and fast-paced.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Stunned?

 “I guess I’d say that I was stunned,” Seth Norton, a Wheaton professor and former wrestling coach who had led the Hastert center and worked with Mr. Hastert, said on Monday. “It was hard to imagine it being true and seemed extremely far-fetched.”
There used to be a great store in the West Village, I think on Hudson, that sold vintage porn. A lot of magazines, but the best stuff was the pulp fiction. Anyway, I always think of that store when another "coach" gets busted for molesting teenagers. Gay porn kind of writes itself.

(I should mention that Hastert is not being charged for the sexual abuse because the statute of limitations has long run out. He's being charged for paying someone not to reveal the abuse. There's a distinction, but only a legal one.)

When a man in his 70s is dragged out of the closet, why are people like Norton so surprised they didn't know? You didn't know because he didn't want you to know and he structured his whole life around concealing it from you. The fact that you had no idea is, to say the least, unremarkable. For hundreds of years few people who weren't queer had any idea queer people lived among them. We kept it secret. I thought this was obvious by now, but maybe not. We kept it secret because our safety, our well-being, our lives often depended on the people around us not knowing. It's called terrorism, and it saturated European and American cultures for centuries, with government and church carrying out the worst of it.

The 1940s and 50s, when Hastert was growing up, were some of the scariest years for lgbt Americans. Well, maybe not as bad as the Spanish Inquisition, but pretty bad. Being a queer was even worse than being a Communist. I can blame Hastert for a lot of ugly things but not for trying to conceal his sexuality.

Yeah, things are changing. Things are better. But queer people still consider their safety when deciding how truthful to be in any given moment about who they are. And not just in Africa, or Iraq, or the past.

C'mon people.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Here We Are.

I made the bed this morning for the first time since we moved in. I like a made bed. It calms me, gives me the illusion that there's order in the world. But until today, the apartment has been so disordered -- things still in boxes, things in piles because we don't know where they go yet, things that need to be hung on walls -- that making the bed didn't promise to have the desired effect.

We're still not completely together. I had to buy a special drill yesterday that can go through concrete walls (thank you, 1950s-era construction) before we can hang our pictures and curtains. But we're getting close enough that it feels like we live here. The last 2 nights I cooked dinner in my new kitchen that I love so much I want to sleep in it. I was thinking yesterday how it would probably look small to anyone who doesn't live in a New York apartment. But it's twice as big as our old one. I have empty cabinet shelves that I don't even know what to use for. The lighting is terrible. We're going to get some under-cabinet lighting when we're more settled. If the previous owner did any cooking in there, she must have Superman eyes. Or a couple missing fingertips.

I've fallen hard for this apartment, this building, this neighborhood. I'll write more about them. In the meantime, some other stuff on my mind, mostly  having to do with the TV.

I recommend the HBO documentary, It's Me, Hilary, about the man who illustrated the Eloise books, but, like any great doc, about so much more than that. And Phoebe Legere!

We finally got around to watching the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction last night. Three things: 1) Patti Smith's and Laurie Anderson's speeches, really the whole Lou Reed segment, were very moving -- it's those artists and that vision of New York that brought me here, 2) Green Day is better than I thought, and 3) I didn't even know it was possible for me to be a bigger fan of Miley Cyrus.

And, I can't wait for the Tonys this Sunday. I've never had so many friends and colleagues nominated, and I think this has been a really special season on Broadway.

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.