Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Whatever they're fer, I'm agin' it!

Do you ever get to point of such complete repulsion for someone that you find yourself taking whatever position is the complete opposite of theirs, on any issue, no matter how ridiculous, just because it feels so satisfying?

The way I feel right now, if the Christian right came out against cooking cats, I'd be inviting all of y'all to a kitty barbeque. Where we'd barbeque kitties. And serve kitty-kabobs. And I'd be wearing an apron that said "Kiss The Kitty Cook!"

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

THIS Blogger's Manifesto

(Edit: The preachy original title of this post was "A Blogger's Manifesto")

1. I will not maliciously name, or otherwise identify for the purposes of ridicule, a non-public person.

Example: That tall bartender at Limelight, the one with all those stupid tattoos? Every time I go to his bar, he's trying to hit on some twink, instead of serving his customers. He is such a lazy fuckwad, I don't know why they don't fire him.

Celebrities, policiticans, performers, porn stars....they're all fair game, as are fellow bloggers. Vicious and smug attacks on unaware people, no matter how well deserved, are lame.

2. If I link to another blog, news story, or opinion piece, I will tell you *why* I'm sending you there.

Example: Oh my god! I just read the funniest story! Everyone should go *HERE*!

Blind linking is pure laziness. If you want me to go off and read something, you should make me want to. Hyperlinking a fellow blogger as a method of identifying of whom you are speaking? That seems like a fair exception, but in most other cases it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect you to provide at least a brief explanation of why you think I'd want to click that link.

3. I will write each post so that a first time reader can understand it.

Example: Well, things didn't work out last night. Remember how much better it was at the last one? Debbie and Steve didn't show up. And to make things worse I saw HIM again.

Backstory is good, backstory is important. Ladening a post with unidentified people and cryptic references to past events is not the same as providing a backstory. Give me a couple of sentences to bring me up to speed, that's all I ask. If that is too complicated, backlinking to the post you are referring to is helpful. But don't do it too often. If I want to read your archives, I'll be the one to decide.

4. I will refrain from making blanket characterizations about millions of people.

Examples: People in Texas just do not know how to drive in the rain. Boston is a town of bottoms. Those dumb Georgia rednecks just sit in their pickups all day, drinking beer, fucking their cousins and eating dirt.

OK, maybe that one about Georgia was true. But you get my meaning. No state has the worst drivers. All Republicans aren't stupid. All Scientologists aren't batshit insane. Wait, that last one was true too. But seriously people, enough of that if you want people to respect your opinions.

5. I will not write boring rants about the everyday frustrations of modern life.

Examples: Posting lists of the inconsiderate things people do at the gym. Posting lists of the inconsiderate things people do on the subway. Posting lists of what pisses you off in traffic, at the office, at the beach.

I'm sorry, were you saying something? I was making an appointment to have my fingernails yanked out, when you got to part about how it drives you crazy when people don't step to the right on escalators.

6. I will only say something when I actually have something to say.

Example: Had a quiet weekend, mostly just laid around and channel surfed. I really need to get around to taking care of that front hedge, but I guess that can wait. The O.C. sucked balls last night. OK, off to the store, we need milk.

I call these kinds of posts "pingers", because often it seems like the author is merely posting something, anything at all, so that RSS, Bloglines, etc will ping everybody that a new post has been made and therefore keep bringing readers to the blog, even when there is nothing to see. LiveJournalers seem to do this the most, but that's probably just a manifestation of their (cough) unique group culture, Joe said politely, nervously looking over his shoulder.

7. When I say something, it stays said.

Example: I took down last night's post. I should learn not to come home and try to blog while I'm still drunk. I said some pretty cruel things about my ex and even if they are true I need to learn to keep stuff like that to myself. Oh well, that's why they have "delete". LOLOL!!!

It has always surprised me at how often bloggers will have second thoughts and remove their own words. Stick to your guns, I always say. Wait, I never say that. Stand by your man, I always say. Wait...

8. I will never inflict a meme/quiz/whimsical survey upon my readers.

Example: Check out this Quizilla *survey*. I never knew what kind of salad dressing I am, but I guess French Dressing makes sense because I totally love to kiss! LOLOL! But OMG! What if it said I was Greek? LOLOL!

Stop it, people. All of it. Stop it all RIGHT NOW. Enough. More than enough. Lalalalala, I can't hear you!

9. I will keep my blog looking clean and spare.

Examples: Things that make me lose interest in the actual blog: flash animation, instant-on music, excessive graphics, and other blog add-ons like surveys, shoutboxes, wish lists.

My shiny penny syndrome causes me to get distracted by lots of ancillary text placed outside the core text area. And I know you don't think I'm gonna click that wish-list button and tell Miss Amazon I wanna send you a copy of Glitter, because I was so fucking impressed by your breathless, 600-word recounting of last night's America's Next Top Model. But basically, it's my own ADD problems that make it hard for me to focus of what is being said on the blogs with lots of busy boxes. My issue, not yours.

10. When I stop writing my blog, I'll stay stopped.

Examples: I could mention some bloggers who have made dramatic farewell speeches, with a tear-stained lace handkerchief pressed to their heaving bosom, before loudly and with maximum attention grabbing drama, throwing themselves off of Blogger Bluff, with their final words, "You never loved meeeeee!" hanging in the spooky mist as their unappreciated selves splatter on the windswept rocks, and then after three days we find the cave empty, because they restarted their blog, just like Jesus did. Or so I'm told. Anyway, I'm not going to mention them. Because I'm sweet.

I think it was the that deadpan culture critic, Troubled Diva, whose acidic pronoucements on popular trends gave us this gem, "Sweetie, REstarting your blog is the NEW starting your blog!"

Monday, June 27, 2005

The War Of The Roses And The Daisies.

Two grandmothers. Each doting, each generous, each helpful.

Two grandmothers. Each suspicious, each calculating, each obsessed.

They are always circling, these two. Always looking for an opening, these wary rivals, these two grandmothers. Permanently at High Alert, they vigorously fight each other for the prized position as Favorite Grandma, a never actually awarded, often undescribed, usually undiscussed... but still *real* title - a blessing which the grandchildren bestow and revoke, frequently, randomly, capriciously.

The first shot fired in the war was triggered by an innocent attempt to help the grandkids identify which Grandma had given which gift waiting under the Christmas tree. The parents applied small flowered stickers to each toy or game as it came into the house, a rose sticker on gifts from the paternal grandmother, a daisy sticker for those given by her adversary.

The stickers were supposed to be a clever, simple way to motivate the kids to write the Thank You notes required for each gift, as each grandmother had originally agreed to abide by a per child spending limit, which had been requested by the parents in the hope of stifling the "love is money and I spent more money, therefore I love you more" ethic that they feared the grandmothers were instilling in their grandchildren.

Unforseen, of course, was the flower stickers' usefulness in monitoring suspicious gift build-ups by the opposing forces. On Christmas morning that year, shrill accusations of stickers having been removed were launched within moments of unwrapping the first gift. The suspected secretive sticker stealer was accused of attempting to pull a mafia-worthy numbers scam, intending to hack that grandmothers' authorized gift totals and allow over-limits gifting to occur. The opposing grandmother reacted to this treaty violation by broadening her love buying operation to include previously unregulated gift categories of magazines, baseball cards, theme park tickets, amusement rides, petting zoos...and so on. The sticker stealing granny reciprocated this escalation of tensions, and by New Year's Eve the now unworkable and overburdened sticker bureaucracy collapsed, followed moments later by the parents' control of the situation.

Despite this seeming surrender, as the middle flank of the grandmothers' command group, the parents ostensibly enjoy a marriage that is troubled only by vacation or investment decisions. The parents are well regarded socially, are successful professionals, and (compared to their friends) are living quite large, and yet still manage to live well within their means.

Years earlier, moments after marrying, and acting in accordance with the explicit instructions which demanded the immediate production of high-quality grandchildren, the parents had spawned the traditional 2.4 children (minus the .4). Today, both kids are artistic, musical, athletic, frighteningly precocious, and are beautifully socialized, speaking respectfully to adults and politely to other children. These two kids, these two golden prodigies, the source of whose inherited physical and mental talents are loudly claimed by both grandmothers, are wont to lecture a playground bully on fairness, and once conspired to discreetly return a hotly competed for, but mistakenly awarded, computer game prize to the visibly impressed judge.

The parents, now just entering their 12th year of marriage, are still giddily in love, writing each other mooning mash notes on multi-colored Post-Its, which are then hidden inside purses or suit pockets. Their corny pet names for each other make their children giggle and roll their eyes.

But this family's seemingly Spielbergian life in the big house with the broad porch on the corner lot is merely a false-fronted Hollywood backlot prop, a stucco bit of suburban propaganda concealing an always seething power struggle within, as the ever present grandmothers fight to win Most Favored Nanna status, matching Barbie against Barney, Spongebob against Spiderman, Play-Doh against PlayStation.

This battle is now a decade old, this slow-motion game of emotional chicken and gift giving one-upsmanship. This is a taut, shrewdly strategized trade war that not even a familial NAFTA could ease, as the grandmothers' well-plotted guerilla tactics skillfully undermine the laughable, ignored and unenforced spending rules, still hopelessly issued simply out of sheer routine.

It is worth mentioning that this being The South, the previously described actions misleadingly take place in a falsely gracious theatre of operations, where the opponents regularly share meals and thin lipped smiles, while the Parental Security Council anxiously hovers in an adjoining room, listening to the combatants icily dismiss each other's prep school preferences. The parents mentally ready themselves to shift into arbitration mode, for when these regular minor border skirmishes escalate into open battles, because a well-aimed verbal SCUD might obliterate this year's hope of both sides attending a Thanksgiving dinner sit-down.

The parents sometimes will plead for support from the aunts and uncles, vainly seeking a to create a voting block strong enough to withstand the grandmothers' free market policies. Suffering with their own grandparents issues, these aunts and uncles wiggle away, rather than get involuntarily drafted onto a hopelessly outgunned peacekeeping force. On ocassion, they do grudgingly attempt to referee shouting matches over who gets to take the kids to the water park more often, or who tried to poison their grandchildren against them by telling stories about their mentally ill or imprisoned relatives. It humiliates the parents to beg their brothers and sisters for outside intervention in this way, to send exasperated, exhausted emails of frustration, only to be met with an empty in-box.

The granny wars continue. This week's round of "Texas Grandkid Buy-Em" was easily won by Grandma One:

Grandma One Thinks To Herself: "Oh crap, since granddaughter just gushed about enjoying a wonderful weekend at the beach with Grandma Two, I need to top it...and quick! That calls for ME to install a massive netted ball room with 6000 multi-colored plastic balls, just like they have at Burger King! Granddaughter LOVES those ball rooms! I know, I'll put it in our third garage bay! Then I'll just park the Lex on the street for now. Ooh, and I wonder if grandson would enjoy having his very own Whack-A-Mole game, just like the one he loves at Chuck E. Cheese? Sure he would!"

Will this war ever stop? Do the grandmothers have an exit strategy? Will it stop when the grandkids are in college? So wonder the parents, as they compare their lot to that of Sisyphus. Out in Grandma World, the slow and unending grind of brilliantly conceived "love" attacks still ebb and flow. In the increasingly exhaustedly guarded kiddie Demonetized Zone, the WMD (Weapons of Mommy and Daddy) fire ever more futilely across the bow of the grandmothers' nearly unrestrained favor purchasing.

The golden children now show the signs of morphing into a permanent state of rabid designer label and status-conscious consumerism, which is now fueled by their just delivered, 46" flat screen television, which is hi-def, is satellite connected, has TIVO included, giving them 24/7 access to the day-long kiddie-targeted programercials, now showing in the erstwhile nursery, courtesy of a recent salvo by Grandma Two.

The parents realize that their kids are very fortunate to have loving, healthy, interested, generous, devoted grandparents as a part of their lives. It's a "good problem to have", as the British saying goes. But at what point does this seething nasty rivalry for Favorite Grandma, with its attendant dirty tricks, begin to outweigh other considerations?

These Visa-slinging grannies and their kiddie bling-battle has fractured what was once a large close family. One day, perhaps soon, the golden children will have their inevitable epiphany, and the war will end. But what happens when the children understand that their battlin' grannies' only used them in their private Gold War, making them deliver spy reports about troop movements from behind the Hello Kitty Curtain?


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Tripping Over The Tubs

(This is the story I performed at Tuesday's WYSIWYG)

Monday, March 23, 1998 Oakland, California

Doug and I circled the block for the 20th time. Still no parking. Jesus fucking christ, was every queen in the Oakland hills having an Oscars party? Finally, after getting stuck backing out of the third dead end canyon road in a row, I pulled into a driveway.

"Honey, I don't think we're going to be going to this party."

Doug sighed, "Yeah, this is getting stupid. But they can't be mad at us, we've been trying for almost an hour."

"Well, let's at least not make this a wasted trip over the bridge."

"Oh, come on. You can't be serious. We're wearing tuxes!" Doug said.

Which we were. But twenty minutes later, the front desk clerk at Steamworks, the bathhouse in Berkeley, hardly raised an eyebrow when he checked us in. On the way over, we had called our friend Ken and invited him to join us. Ken had been dying to make his first visit to a bathhouse, but was too chickenshit to do it by himself. A slow Monday night seemed like a good opportunity for him to check the place out without getting completely freaked out, as Ken tended to get completely freaked out by all the little things in life...even like being in unfamiliar Safeway.

"Oh my GOD, look where they have the soda!"

Since the place was basically deserted when we arrived, Doug and I asked for our favorite room, 333. The fact that we HAD a favorite room at the baths may seem a bit silly, but anyone whose ever been to a bathhouse knows that the second most important selling point one has at the baths, after one's body, is one's room location. If your room is in a brightly lit, or very heavily trafficked area...then no one will want to come into your room, not with everybody watching. On the other hand, you don't want to get stuck down at the end of some dead end corridor. Room 333 struck a perfect balance, being on the dark side of a busy hallway.

The first thing Doug wanted to do was sit in the hot tub, something we never did. As Doug put it, the idea of sitting in a boiling tub of bacteria floating off a bunch of men fresh from having sex...well, that idea didn't appeal to our dainty sensiblities. But since it seemed we were pretty much the only ones in the place, he was pretty sure that the hot tub remained sanitary.

Which it was. And then some. There was so much bleach in the water that we started to get dizzy from the fumes the moment we sat down. After 30 seconds, we sprinted to the showers to lose our Eau de Clorox, where we saw the first other customer since we'd arrived.

He was tall, extremely muscular, with an expanse of chest hair that seemed to burst with fury and industry out of the center of his chest, but give up half-heartedly before it quite reached the sides. It sort of looked like a chest murkin.

He appeared to be Eastern European, pale skinned with heavy black eyebrows, and he openly sneered at us as he made quite a production of lathering up his huge, probably formerly Communist, cock. Doug and I agreed on the way back to our room that he was definitely from one of the former Soviet republics that ended in "stan". So that's what we named him.

Less than a minute after we were back in our room, there was a knock at our door. It was Stan.

He sneered at us, again, and growled, "I zee you zee me in da shower....and I know you want for me to geeve you the baby," punctuating his message by groping himself.

I said, "Get OUT of here!" and I pushed the door shut. Doug looked at me in disbelief.

"What?" I asked.

"I kind of did want him to give me the baby," he said.

"Well, go follow him!" I said, opening the door for Doug. And standing outside was Ken, too completely freaked out to knock on door 333, even though we had called to tell him that's where we were. Doug went off to find Stan, and I took Ken on a brief tour around Steamworks.

I walked Ken up and down the empty hallways, pointing out various notable locations....the gym, the steamroom, the maze of extra dark hallways with carpeted walls. As I walked Ken around, I noticed he was becoming increasingly distracted, sometimes stopping to touch the walls.

"Honey, are you on something? Did you have to take an ecstasy just to come here?" I asked, pulling his hand off the wall.

"Oh, no. I didn't. No! I mean yes. Sort of."

"You sort of took something? What did you sort of take?"

"Just a little acid," he said, reaching back to feel the wall.

"You took acid. To come here. Oh, this WILL be interesting."

A couple of minutes later, we finally came upon a couple of other patrons, who were eyeballing us from the far end of a long hallway. They were too far away to tell if they were fuckable, but Ken was uncomfortable with walking right up to them to assess their potential hotness.

"What if I don't like them?"

"Then don't fuck them."

"What if they follow me?"

"Then ignore them."

"What if they try to come into my room?"

I explained to Ken that at the baths, the social code was fairly rigid about starting an encounter and that there'd usually be a least a couple non-verbal messages exchanged before anyone would try anything. A smile, a nod, or grabbing your own crotch was the observed protocol before a guy would dare enter your room. Because, woe, the embarrassment, to be rebuffed at that stage.

"But what if they try to come in anyway?" Ken persisted.

"Then you just say 'I'm resting'. Which means 'Ew, get out of my room, you freak!' But in a nice way."

The other guys were still at the end hall, perhaps having their own discussion about our fuckability. Finally, I nudged Ken and we moved towards them. At the same time, they started walking towards us. Ken and I made silly small talk as the four of us moved down the hundred foot long hallway, each duo only momentarily illuminated by the widely spaced overhead spotlights, then falling back into murky shadows.

Halfway down the hall, Ken stole a glance and murmured, "They look OK."

Then a second later, "OK, I really like the short one. The short one is hot."

I shushed him, but Ken said "Oh, yuck. His friend is skanky. The short one is hot but his friend is totally skanky."

I went to smack Ken to shut him up, but realized we were now standing right in front of the two guys. The two guys who were US, that is, because all this time we'd been staring down the hallway at a huge mirror.

Ken stepped back, "Oh my god. I'm the skank. I'M the SKANKY one! I'm the skanky one!"

I hugged him, "Yeah honey, but you're our skank."

In truth, Ken wasn't skanky in the least, but I guess it was a good thing that he was on acid right then, otherwise that moment of self-assessment might be haunting him to this day. I took him back to my room and got a couple of dollars for him to get a soda, thinking that maybe the sugar might cut back his highness. What do I know from acid? When he didn't return after a few minutes, I left the room and found him staring at the vending machine, trying to decide between six top row buttons that said "Coke" and the six bottom row buttons that said...“Coke".

There was another patron, standing behind him, impatiently waiting for Ken to decide. Just as I walked up, the other customer said "Do you need help with the machine?"

Ken whirled around and hissed "I'm resting!"

The customer stalked off, tossing "Freak!" over his shoulder.

Doug still was off somewhere, presumably with Stan, so Ken and I went out on another walkabout. More customers were arriving and there was now a live DJ spinning in a DJ booth set up near the front door. Maybe Monday wasn’t such a slow night at the baths after all.

Ken and I had spent about half an hour sitting in the TV room, watching through the glass wall as the new arrivals checked in, when he spotted an acquaintance of mine heading down the hall.

"There's your friend Carlos."

"I saw him."

"You're not gonna go say 'Hi' to him?"

"He's mad at me."

"Oh that's right! He told me you got wasted at his sex party and starting doing a Carol Channing impersonation while he was in the sling," Ken laughed.

"THAT NEVER HAPPENED!" I denied. "It was Edith Bunker."

"Why in the world were you imitating Edith Bunker at a sex party?"

"Oh, you had to be there. I was bringing this guy Archie a beer, and all I said was 'Heeeeeeeere's your beer, Archie'....and it came out a little bit like Edith."

"No wonder he's mad."


I did have to give Carlos props though, he was looking even more muscular than ever, and in the next hour or so, Ken and I watched everybody in the place checking him out. At one point, we were standing near the entrance to the sex maze when Carlos strode past us into the darkness. And following Carlos was a black midget.

(And yes, I know the impropriety of using the m-word here, but at the risk of pissing off my vast gay black midget readership, saying Carlos was followed into the sex maze by a 'little person' just isn't as funny.)

Ken almost dropped his soda when the midget passed us. "Did you see that? Did you see that little guy?"

I looked at him, expressionless. "What little guy?"

"You didnt see that tiny little black guy go back there? Seriously?"

"Dude, you are really tripping hard."

"Shut UP! You didn't see him? For real?"

Now, before you think I was being too hard on Ken, I should mention that in addition to him bringing up the Edith Bunker thing, I was also still a bit mad at Ken for ruining a hookup for me just a couple of nights earlier. Ken had stopped by my house before we went out, and when he got there I was in the middle of a hot IM chat with some guy on AOL. A really nice, funny smart guy that I could totally see myself marrying. His name was CastroMuslButt, or something like that. Perfect, right? Ken was pawing through my CDs when I left the computer to go take a leak. When I returned, I found that Ken had added a message on my behalf to the chat window.

"I'm not wearing any panties!"

CastroMuslButt has signed off.

So you see, Ken kinda deserved this thing with the midget. After ten minutes of denying the existence of the black midget, my friend Carlos walked back out of the dark area, resting his hand on the midget's head.

I gave Ken a blase' look, "What?"

We watched Carlos and the midget head down the hallway and into Carlos's room. His door closed and I said "Ken, wouldn't it be really wild if the door opened up and Carlos walked out with that little dude RIDING ON THE HEAD OF HIS COCK? You know, like those statues on the bow of a ship? Wouldnt that be WILD, Ken?"

Ken eyes widened and he said "Shut up! Shut up!" and then he closed his eyes and started touching the wall again.

I couldn't stop the torture, "And the little guy would be going 'WHEEE! WHEEE! WHEEE!"

"Shut up! Shut up! I hate you! I hate you!"

When Ken finally calmed down, I dragged him back to my room. As I approached the door, key in hand, I saw Doug waddling down the hallway towards us, carrying/dragging a large garbage can, which he'd apparently stolen from the vending machine room.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

Doug dropped the can in front of the door, "Just open the door, hurry"

I opened the door and Doug dragged the can into our room. "I need to stand on this to unhook the cable," Doug said, climbing up on the garbage can to reach the TV in our room, which was broadcasting porn on 20 channels.

"What are you DOING?" I repeated.

"I'm disconnecting the porn feed so we can watch the Oscars."

"You have got to be kidding. That is the gayest thing I've ever heard of, watching the Oscars at the baths!" I said, then looked at Ken. "No, I take it back. The gayest thing ever is watching the Oscars at the baths...on ACID."

Doug unscrewed the cable and I fussed with the remote, and bingo-- the 70th Annual Academy Awards were broadcasting live in Room 333. Feeling gracious, we left our door open so that any interested passersby could see what we had done. In 15 minutes, we had 7 new friends watching with us, sitting on our bed, on the floor, leaning in the doorway.

And it was cool, man. We were cool. We were the coolest guys in the entire bathhouse. Oh, and who should drop by during Best Song, but Stan! He paused in the doorway for a moment, then asked "Please to say, Celine Dion is big winner, yes?"

I said, "Not yet, but you're welcome to come in and see if she is."

Stan stepped tentatively into the room and leaned back against the far wall. A few minutes later when Celine took the stage, Stan murmured "Celine is number one prettiest!"

I looked at Doug, then back at Stan, "Oh yeah. I'd really like to give her the baby."

Doug didn't speak to me for the rest of the night.



We Killed, Y'all

Three words: Best. WYSIWYG. Ever.

A packed house, sold-out even. Chris Hampton performed her emcee duties with her usual panache, Dan Rhatigan played cub photographer, and Andy Horwitz delivered an inspired stump speech supporting his NYC mayoral campaign.

Big thanks to Andy, Chris and Sparky for having me back! It was a complete honor to share the stage with Joel, Hanne, Bradford, Matt, Dan, Emily and Jane. Everybody was so good, y'all. Seriously hilarious, I haven't laughed that hard since I don't know when.

And big ups to my peeps (gawd, that is so sickening to hear coming from a middle-aged white guy!) for showing up and showing me some love. Thanks to Davis, Chris, Eddie, Captain Steve, and kisses to the trio of lovely blogger babes in the balcony: Amanda, Curly, and Jess.

It's laughable to consider now, but I was actually a little worried that my own performance might be a little too obscene, but oh lordy, was I ever kidding myself. My fears evaporated as the female performers related tales of hot girl-on-girl fisting, first time dildo use and the epicurean delight of eating snatch. They made us boys seem almost precious with our own stories of high school proms, knitting, and Michael Jackson. At least I was the dirtiest boy. As usual.

After the show the audience and the perfomers moved in one large group over to the Phoenix for some boozing and schmoozing. At some point, we collected a charming little handsome Canadian/Australian guy who continued onward with us to Big Lug and treated us to multiple rounds of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Things are a little fuzzy after that. Ow my head.

I don't think there's gonna be a film clip from this show, not right away, so I'll post my own story tomorrow. Right now, Tylenol.


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Mrs. Witten

Rite Aid Pharmacy, Grand Central Terminal

There's a woman in line ahead of me who has just handed over a huge sheaf of prescriptions. She is a middle-aged business woman, wearing a navy suit. She has a Blackberry clipped to her messenger-style bag. The two clerks seem to know her and they immediately pick up their pace and begin darting amongst the shelves, pulling her order.

After about a minute, the pharmacist appears. He's a looming young man, with severe black eyeglasses. He motions for the customer to step to the side of the counter, which she does.
He reaches across the laminated counter and touches her hand.

"Hi Mrs. Witten, how are you doing?" he asks her.

"Well, you know. One day at a time. One day at a time, " she replies, with a resigned shrug.

"Right, right. I understand," he nods. "Is he feeling any better?"

"Well, he has good days and he has bad days, you know how it is."

The pharmacist nods silently. One of the clerks comes over and confers with him for a moment, showing him a few slips of paper. Mrs. Witten looks around apologetically at the customers waiting behind her. The pharmacist lays a few of the slips on the counter between them.

"So there's some good news and some bad news today."


"The good news is that three of these meds are completely covered by Medicare. 100%. No co-pay."

"But...." Mrs. Witten says, waiting.

"But two of these are only partially covered, and the Thalomid isn't covered at all. You'd have to pay up front for the Thalomid if you want it today. I'm really sorry about that."

"How much is it? A lot?"

"Yes. I'll have to check my chart for the dosages called for, but it's going to be over $1000. That plus the partial coverage on these other're looking at about $1400, maybe $1500 out of pocket today. Is that going to, what you want to do?"

Mrs. Witten looks down at the slips. "Do think it would be better...I mean might it be cheaper for me, to get it outside the city? I mean, nothing against you guys or anything, it's just...."

The pharmacist shakes his head, "No, I'm sure it will be pretty much the same everywhere. This is a very expensive medication, nobody really discounts it."

Mrs. Witten puts her shoulders back and reaches into her purse. "Well, it is what it is, I guess. What am I going to do? Not get it for him? He's my father."

I watch her flip past a few credit cards in her wallet, selecting one, then changing her mind and pulling out a different one and laying it on the counter. The clerk slips it away and moves over to begin ringing up the order.

The pharmacist touches her hand another time, "Do you want me to keep the Thalomid in stock? He's going to need it again in a couple of weeks."

"Um, I guess. Yeah. I'm going to have to talk to his oncologist again."

"OK, I understand. "

A few minutes later, I see Mrs. Witten standing in the terminal. She's staring at the monitor that shows the train schedule, but I can tell she's really looking at her own reflection in the glass. When I get to the top of the ramp, I look back one more time. She's still standing there, staring.


Monday, June 20, 2005

WYSIWYG Tomorrow

My spies tell me that online tickets for tomorrow's show are sold out, but that a few more might be available from the box office, call them direct at 212-477-5288 to see.

I'll be reading a new story which touches on the Academy Awards, LSD, a trip to a bathhouse, a little person, and Celine Dion. Oh, and lots of gay homosexual sex. I'll post the story here on Wednesday.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Where Ya From?: A Multiple Part Question

"Where ya from, Joe?"

It took me about a month of living in NYC before I realized that there was a distinct difference in the opening questions I was asked when I met new people. In San Francisco, the second question after "What's your name?" was always "Where ya from?" In New York City, the second question is often "What do you do?"

You can draw all kinds of conclusions from that, depending on your opinions about New York and San Francisco, but the truth is, I'm usually happier to answer the New York question. Because in truth, I don't know how to answer when asked where I'm from. First of all, I have to figure out what it is that people are really asking me.

After four years in New York City, I learned that when someone says "Where ya from?", they are actually asking me one of five different things. Just which of the five things they could be asking, you have to guess. Or ask.

First (and most commonly) they could be asking "Where do you live right now?" That's not an unreasonable question to ask someone you meet in New York City, and getting a tourist or business person to talk about where they live is a pretty safe way to open a friendly conversation.

Secondly, they really could be asking "Where did you live before you got here?" OK, that one's easy. I get to talk about San Francisco and everybody has an opinion about San Francisco.

Thirdly, they could be asking "Where were you born?" Uh oh. This is where I talk about North Carolina and being born the redneck son of Newark parents. Here's where the comments about my not having an accent usually come in. And the jokes about Gomer Pyle and Mayberry.

Fourthly, they could be asking "Where's your home?" This is less common than the other questions, but it's a valid question. Your emotional home, your place of refuge, is often not where you live or were born. My home, where I went to high school and college, where my family and my oldest friend lives, is Orlando.

Fifthly, and most interestingly, they could be asking "What's your ancestry?" I get asked this version of "Where ya from?" more often than you'd think. And while my answer is easy, Ireland, my information flow pretty much stops there. I've never been to Ireland, I have no idea where my ancestors lived - not any further back than 1912 and Belleville, New Jersey, that is. While my family tree is thick with Josephs and Patricks and Kathleens, the names are all post-Ellis Island.

I've been pondering the "Where ya from?" thing a lot this week. The Puerto Rican Day Parade was last week, kicking off a long summer of parades and festivals celebrating being from somewhere else. In just the next few weeks, we get the Indian Day Parade, the Dominican Day Parade, the Pakistan Day Parade and many more after that.

Sure, the Irish have St. Patrick's Day, which probably has the largest parade of them all, but in truth, it fails to move me. Going back to when I was a child, I can't recall any special mention of Ireland or any particular Irish traditions celebrated around our house, other than ferocious alcoholism. Except for a preponderance of redheads, our family was about as "Irish" as Irish Coffee, which isn't very.

And yet, I think that there are a lot of Americans in my situation. Those having no devout allegiance to one particular culture or ethnicity, with a nomadic history within the United States itself. Am I a New Yorker because that's where I am writing this? Am I a North Carolinian because I was born there, even though I left over 30 years ago and have no plans to return? Or am I a Floridian because I spent 24 years there, longer than anywhere else? Am I Irish because my great-grandparents left there almost 90 years ago?

Where ya from, Joe?


Let's Get Sirius

Tonight I'll be heard worldwide baby!

Starting at 7pm check me out on Sirius FM, on channel 149. I'll be on the Derek & Romaine Show with Chris Hampton as we plug next week's WYSIWYG.

You can listen live on any Sirius-enabled radio, or online here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

DC Pride was HOT, HOT, HOT

Capital Pride hosted over 200,000 queers this past weekend and it was HOT. It was Africa hot. Tarzan couldn't take that kind of hot. (Points for knowing that reference). It was so hot that I, Joe.My.God. himself, the supreme loather of museums and high-art, even took refuge in one of the national galleries lining Pennsylvania Avenue and pretended to look at dull French paintings, just to get a big drink of air-conditioning.

Just getting to DC turned out to be a bother, with Amrak's computers down and the thoroughly brow-beaten window agents forced to hand write thousands of tickets. I waited in line for a little over an hour in NYC's Penn Station, where the woman behind me fumed out loud the entire time.

"This is just outrageous! Out. Rageous! Look at all those empty cashier windows! They should have every single position staffed! No wonder they're bankrupt! They have no idea what they're doing! Outrageous!"

Finally I turned around, "You know, I'd bet Saturday morning is probably their slowest time of the week, which would explain why they have so few agents on duty."

"Well, they should have properly staffed it for this computer problem!"

"Do you think that Amtrak knew in advance that their computers would crash?" I asked, eyeing her knock-off, last season, lime green Fiorelli jelly bag.

"Well they should have called people in!"

"Oh right. 'Hello, Doris? It's Amtrak. Listen, all the computers are down and we're hand writing tickets and there are thousands of hot, angry, impatient, entirely unsympathetic customers standing in front of your window. What time can you get here? Hello? Doris?' "

That got a laugh from everybody nearby, except Outraged Woman, of course, who snorted and pulled out her cell phone so she could leave Outraged complaining messages to her Very Important Friends waiting for her in Trenton. Trenton.

When I finally reached the ticket window, I tried to be charming to the poor young woman behind the glass, but she'd reached her breaking point long before I got there and was beyond enjoying my empathetic humor. Poor thing, I felt like I should have tipped her. Amtrak got back in my good graces because I made my train and it left on time. E-Diddy jumped aboard in Philly and we were in DC by noon.

That evening, the Pride Parade sailed right past our Dupont Circle hotel and by chance our second floor room featured a jutting square boxed window, out of which we leaned and waved and blew kisses to the passing floats as Chi Chi Larue, porn stars, drag queens and dancing muscleboys waved back. We've definitely got to get that room again next year, because it was totally sweet to enjoy the parade from a chilled hotel room. Oh, please note that there's been an update in mini-bar technology! Each individual item now rests on its own unique sensor which is linked to the hotel computer. So even knocking an item over while reaching for something else will trigger the "SOLD!" message. I suppose this change was made to keep tightwads from raiding the mini-bar, then restocking it from the corner Rite-Aid. Placing the item back on the sensor is a waste of time. Just so you know.

Of all the parade contingents, the reliable PFLAG was the group that brought the hugest cheers (and not a few wishful tears) from the crowd. I was particularly tickled by the trio of sign carriers whose messages read "Proud Mother Of Gay Son", "My Daughter Deserves To Marry" and then "I Love My Trans Child." The gender-neutralness of the third sign spoke volumes.

Blowoff was great, as always. A hot, sweaty, furry, friendly, crowd of handsome drunks who were ALL hands. Thank god. Every DC blogger on my blogroll made an appearance. One blogger, celebrating his birthday, gave us spectacular time-lapse demonstration of sober arrival to face-down drunk in under two hours. I won't mention his name, but it rhymes with Sean. If you are really bad at thinking of rhymes.

Bob and Rich spun a great set, including a few choice cuts from their own recent and upcoming releases. They never fail to impress me. Standouts: Rich's dub remix of New Order's "Krafty" (which is out on CD-single, vinyl and available at iTunes), and Rich's remix of Bob's new single, "(Shine Your) Love Light Hope" from his upcoming full-length "Body Of Song", You can pre-order the full-length for its July 26th release, or get the single now on iTunes. Also, Rich introduced to me to Pat, the towering stack of man-fur that is the talented artist behind the very cool, WPA-influenced Blowoff artwork. Complete Blowoff set list here.

We spent Sunday wandering the baking asphalt of Pennsylvania Avenue amongst the usual cornucopia of booths one sees at Pride festivals. You know, chicken-on-a-stick, Human Rights Campaign, chicken-on-a-stick, Gay Chorus, chicken-on-a-stick, Freedom To Marry. My head kept being turned by the high numbers of sexy, muscular, tattoed, crew-cutted handsome young things with hot hairy legs. And a few of them were males.

Late in the afternoon, Bob Mould turned in a short blistering set from the main festival stage. All us hardcore fans, Blowoff patrons and fellow bloggers gathered close to the stage where a circle-jerk of pic taking ensued. I was particularly amused by the guy standing on the end of the stage attempting to do the translations for the hearing impaired while Bob snarled out his lyrics. After two songs, the guy was signing "something.....something.....something."

Yesterday, after a Keystone Copsian morning of running around, Eddie and I finally caught the train back north. Eddie ejected at Philly, two cities later the train went slower...and slower...and slower. Full stop. Lights off. Air-conditioner off. An hour later I was evacuated across two sets of tracks onto an open-air platform in some desolate hellhole called Metropark, where we waited for a rescue train. Amtrak, you bitch, it's back ON.


Sunday, June 12, 2005

President Bob Mould

Bob Mould on stage at Capital Pride in Washington, DC. Photo by me. Story to follow. Click on the pic for a larger, better image.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Capital Appreciation

Pride season is upon us and one of the nice things about living in the Northeast is that now I have a multitude of locations to choose from, when I feel like drunken public carousing in a huge crowd of equally hammered drag queens, bulldaggers, lipsticks, nellyboys, leathermen, bears, cubs, muscle boys, DJs, adorkable geeks, smart bloggers...who am I leaving out? I love my people. Really.

This weekend, I'll be down in DC where Capital Pride will be presenting their backwards events (the parade is on Saturday?) Saturday night is dedicated to Blowoff, way I can miss Bob and Rich at the turntables, but even if I DID, I can catch Bob the next day when he performs at the street festival. Life is good.

(P.S. If you are going be anywhere I am, and wish to buy me alcohol, signify so by reading to the end of this sentence.)


Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Instant Disco History, Vol.1

Voggue - Dancin' The Night Away (6:18) Atlantic 1981

Two Canadian sisters, affecting a vapid image that simultaneously conjured the brittle fashion of the Dynasty uber-bitches and the hair-dont's of heavy metal rockers Poison, somehow delivered an elegant and elegial tome to disco culture, then being dismantled as disco, homophobia and "gay cancer" began their solemn pas de trois.

Breezy, jazzy, chugging and mid-tempo, a quintessential summer record, the track was a full-stop rebellion against the 136 bpm hi-NRG anthems crowding that period's dance chart. Therefore, "Dancin' The Night Away" was a guaranteed floor killer and many DJs would only play it early in the evening. However, the so late it's really the next day gay club scene was having a love affair with dreamy slow disco tracks and "Dancin'" became an eventual pillar of many morning music sets. This track was produced by another Canuck duo, the husband/wife team of Denis & Denyse LePage, better known in discoland as Lime, about whom I'll doubtless write at some time. Even to this day, in their production I hear the early echoes of Madonna's "True Blue", which followed "Dancin'" five years later.

My circle of friends so adored this song, that we actually invented a specific dance for it that we would perform in a half-circle on the edge of the Parliament House dance floor, ignoring the rolled eyes of the hi-NRG queens, impatiently clutching their amyl bottles. (Here's where you visualize the 22 year old Joe doing his "Dancin' The Night Away" dance.)

Voggue followed up "Dancin'" with "Love Buzz" an uninspired copycat record that nonetheless garnered a decent audience. It remains unknown to me whether the extra "g" in Voggue was an affectation or the result of threatened legal action from the magazine of the same name. For some reason, we seemed to speculate on this quite a bit. (I know).

Looking back at the lyrics from the distance of 24 years, my own gay Da Vinci Code finds ominous prediction in the simple words. Retroactively finding tragic portent in the lyrics of disco songs would become a sobering hobby of mine, once fully engulfed in the Plague Years.

Saw you on the dance floor
Telling me you wanna go

As we danced the night away
I wanted you to stay


Monday, June 06, 2005

The Bare Bears, Conclusion

The Bare Bears, Pt.1

It rained on the long drive through the mountains. It rained while we checked in at the main gate. It rained while we fumbled with our unfamiliar tent, then it rained as we hiked down the mountain to the bonfire and disco. We stowed our plastic Target bag, full of canned Budweiser, under a picnic bench and joined the other campers around the fire. Where it rained.

And yet, it was nice. There was a mood of relaxed exhaustion among the crowd, combined with anticipation. It was Eddie's first day at Hillside and while I was disappointed with the weather and its depressing effect on attendance (many campsites were empty), I was pleased that overall he seemed to like the Hillside crowd, especially when he announced that he found "the genuine civility" of the other campers to be "most refreshing and unexpected". I had warned Eddie that at Hillside one was expected to greet every person they passed, whether on foot or from their vehicle, and he found that a charming practice. It also didn't hurt that he immediately hooked up with a friendly bear whose full white beard and matching expanse of chest hair had earned from us the natural moniker of "Santa Bear".

Saturday morning we had breakfast at the tiny canteen and giggled over the sign announcing "No Shirt, No Pants = Fabulous Service!" The guy running the canteen clearly takes his cues from the Soup Nazi, but his gruffness came with a wink. Later, we lounged poolside and watched the bears cavort and skinny dip, where I pondered a possible correlation between body size and gregariousness, because the bigger the bear - the bigger the personality, or so it seemed from my relatively diminutive vantage. I watched and wished I acted bigger than I am.

More campers arrived after breakfast, once they were sure the weather was holding. In the afternoon, we dropped in on a keg party, hosted by a vendor that offers various bear tchotchkes. The cloudy weather had disappeared and I managed to totally fuck up my eyes with sweated off sunscreen. I looked like a hairy vampire, but a few minutes under a cold shower and some saline solution returned me to human form, mostly.

Saturday night, another bonfire/disco event, this one much better attended. Still, I wasn't feeling it much. I was missing my regular camp buddies, one of whom has moved to California, the rest kept at home by Friday's rain. Also, walking around camp in the daylight, I had noticed that a surprising number of the perm sites had been vacated from the previous season. In a few notable locations, gone were the whimsical shacks, replaced by sleek hi-tech trailers with expandable room pods.

The entire camp seems a bit more modern this season, cell phones miraculously now seem to work up on the mountain, and we even found a sign announcing a Wi-Fi hotspot, "courtesy of a perm camper." Ah well, the march of the pussy campers will not be stopped. Further eroding the remote feel was the camper I spotted cruising on his laptop, from his campsite "Cumalot" (Many campsites are named, some with achingly bad puns, like the aforementioned "Cumalot"...or the equally cringe-inducing "Fuckingham Palace").

Sunday morning, while Eddie was still sleeping off the Saturday bonfire, I wandered over to the Hillside Memorial Garden. Following the carved sign, nestled back against the mountain, after winding down a path through the stunning natural landscape, I came upon a circular clearing. There were two simple stone tablets, each engraved with the names of a dozen men. Some large boulders formed a natural altar of sorts, upon which were laid a collection of remembrances, some fresh picked flowers, some wilted ones, some plastic ones, and a few handwritten notes left out in protective plastic sleeves.

I wasn't wearing my glasses, so I climbed up on the rocks to examine the notes without moving them. Standing there on those rocks felt oddly sacrilegious, somehow. The notes were handwritten. Some contained just a name and some dates, others were long letters written to lost friends.

One letter, in large cursive script, began: "Al, it's been my privilege and honor to call you my friend. Thank you for your boundless love and the joy you've brought to my life. I will never stop missing you...." A few inches away, in a lucite frame, I found a newspaper obituary. The handsome man in the picture had died shortly after his 40th birthday.

I sat there on that rock and considered this place, this beautiful tranquil oasis. Even here, in these remote woods, were our stories. Were MY stories. I could hear peals of laughter rolling up the mountain from the closest tent site, but it didn't feel incongruous, it felt reassuring.

I went back to my tent and kicked Eddie awake.


Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Bare Bears, Part 1

It's 6am.

I awaken slowly, reluctantly, resisting any finality of movement that means I'm really going to get up this time. Before I open my eyes, I lie still...for just one more minute...and try to pick out the different types of birds whose morning songs are gently rousing me. When I do finally sit up and push the edges of my sleeping bag back, I'm overwhelmed by the fragrances of the nearby wildflowers. From last night's campfire, a lazy trail of almost invisible smoke is twirling up, making its presence known only where the verdant canopy allows the occasional golden shaft of morning light to break through to the mountain floor. I lean back on my elbows and smile to myself, quietly drinking in this rare, pristine, unspoiled meeting with nature.

And then a 300 pound naked guy walks by.

This is Hillside, the gay male, bear-friendly, disco included, clothing optional campground in the eastern Poconos of Pennsylvania. There's a network of similar campgrounds around North America, but Hillside is the only one I've ever been to. When the rest of gay Manhattan spends their summer weekend out on Fire Island or in Provincetown, I've been spending some of mine at Hillside Campground.

Hillside Campground is a strange beast, with a physical layout that clearly delineates the various cultures and cliques of its clientele. On the lower levels are trailers and cabins. Some of the trailers are as luxuriously appointed as a corporate jet, with opulent bedrooms and satellite television. Rumor has it that one mad queen actually has Reba McIntyre's old tour bus. Some of the cabins and trailers are opulently landscaped, with small bridges to their front doors and whimsical ornaments hanging from the lush greenery that surrounds them. This lower level of the campground is entirely populated by "perms", campground terminology for campers that live on-site all summer long, some even staying throughout the week.

Further up the mountain, the terrain becomes too steep for most trailers. This is where the "temps", the folks who only come on the occasional weekend, stay. There is a bit of a social disconnect between the perms and temps, because some temps consider the trailer/cabin crowd to by "pussy campers", whereas the folks further up the mountain actually stay in tents. The temp areas tend to be wilder, louder, friendlier. But even the non-pussy campers are pampered by picnic tables, grills, larger shower/restroom facilities and a water/electricity hook-up.

On Friday and Saturday nights, the entire camp, which can number up to a couple of thousand guys, gathers on one of the lower levels for a giant bonfire. There's an open-air disco next to the bonfire, and here's where you can find yourself dancing to Donna Summer next to Radical Faeries, bears, leathermen and the occasional baffled twink.

Hook-ups around the bonfire are common, but if that doesn't happen, there's always the dark area behind the rec hall, where shadowy figures and glowing cigarettes are all that can be discerned. That area seems to frighten me for some reason, and I never go back there. Really.

Most of my time at Hillside is spent traipsing from one campsite to another, always trying to keep up with the cocktail invitations delivered at the previous night's bonfire. The campers tend to arrive in huge extended families of men, most of whom have known each other for decades, it seems. There's a genuine, unforced conviviality that quickly disarms even the most cynical among us.

Now, as for the nakedness...yes, there's a lot of it. A lot. And the usual sort of illogic that applies to nude beaches seems to be in place here. You know, the less you'd want to see somebody naked, the more likely that they will be one of the naked people. But pretty quickly, you stop noticing that the guy you are talking to is naked, and you carry on discussing American Idol or whatever. (For the record, I'm not one of the naked people. Never have been, never will. Not that there's anything wrong with it.)

Today, I'm leaving for my first Hillside weekend of the summer. It's one of their themed weekends, "Bears In The Woods". One thing about bear events, you can always, always guarantee that the food is going to be great.

Continue to conclusion.....

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

A Field Report From IML

A tranny, a twink, and a bear
Were dancing and singing to Cher
As sex parties go
This was not apropos
And the host gave them all such a stare.

(Thanks to GT for the gossip. Apologies to GT for reporting said gossip in limerick form.)