Sunday, October 31, 2004

IN GOOD "COMPANY"--part two

While Bobby may be something of an anti-hero--even a kind of "black hole" who sucks in energy and an imitation of family from his close friends, he cannot be a cypher or his journey from alienated, promiscuous modern male to emotional awakening won't engage the audience. He may not care beyond making sure he's the perfect "single male" at parties and dinners, but we need to care about him. There has to be something interesting, some hook on which to hang our attention as an audience. The Bobby of this production is a more than capable singer but there's little that's compelling about him as an actor or about the character he creates. Although nominally an ensemble show, COMPANY needs Bobby to be "first among equals" and that doesn't quite happen.

The rest of the news is very strong: the five couples who host Bobby through life are in capable hands. The finest performance is by Elaine Theodore as Amy, who could credibly be a younger sister to either Deborah Messing or Julia Louis-Dreyfus so filled is she with brainy, edgy single female New York neuroticism. Greatly accomplished, she sails through "Getting married today" with real virtuosity. Nancy E. Carroll plays a fine Joanne in the unenviable position af having to sing "Ladies Who Lunch " not a mile away from where Elaine Stritch--the original Joanne--sings the song as part of her rapturously recieved one woman show (at age 79!). The audience was very aware of Stritch's presence in town, particularly the six gay musical-lovers sitting behind me who were batting lines from the song around while waiting for curtain time. Carroll does a great job and the rest of the cast is extremely strong.

Eric Levinson's polished metal and translucent plexi set is ideal and the costumes are fine--a canny combination of 70s and contemporary--with one major miscalculation in my opinion. Joanne is the Central Park West member of Bobby's life, somewhere between her last admitted age and the rear chapel at Frank Campbell's Funeral Home, voice lowered and roughed up by smoke and vodka, married four--or is it five?--times but a smart, witty survivor who looks just great in Bill Blass, thank you very much. This Joanne has to contend with a coal black faux beehive wig that fits like a helmet and something that looks an awful lot like a Betsy Johnson take on a mourning dress. The petite but dynamic Carroll can't carry the costume off as elegant--I don't think any woman could. Joanne deserves a great deal better.

The new Roberts Theater is a well-designed black box approximately 55 feet square with 200 seats arranged so that each row is about 16" above the one in front. Sight lines are terrific. Lighting angles and other technical matters are excellent. One costume and a less than stellar Bobby are not enough to blunt the effect of one of Sondheim's best shows. Bostonians, see it if you can.

Friday, October 29, 2004

IN GOOD "COMPANY"--part one

During my years in Boston working as a designer, both professionally and in the academic world, the local theater scene has been transformed. Small theater companies would enter the scene, last two, three, maybe five years and then fail. Funding was a huge problem, and then there was the lack of theaters. Back around the turn of the 20th century, Boston had forty four "legitimate" theaters as well as an opera house and a number of concert halls. The neighborhoods all had some version of a vaudeville house, one of the last derelicts having been demolished in Egleston Square just this year. Very few theaters were left by the 1960s and those that were weren't good for smaller companies that thrive with somewhere between two and three hundred seats to fill.

I used to think of myself as something of an angel of death--I'd just get established as designer for a company and it would collapse out from under me along with all the actors and technicians involved. There was generally an unfortunate situation when it came time to pay people for their work in what turned out to be the final production. The actors would have been paid all along because without the cast the producer couldn't get a show on stage. The designers and stage crews were to be paid AFTER the strike of scenery, costumes, props and lights, and frequently--usually, actually--there simply wasn't any money left. To this day, my studio is equipped in office furniture from several companies that had the decency not to sell it for a pittance to some used furniture concern, but to give it away as whatever compensation they could offer. So my solid oak glass front bookshelves, flat files, file cabinets, lay-out tables and credenza are courtesy of the Poet's Theater, Theater Company of Boston, National Jewish Theater and Associate Artists' Opera.

This season has seen the opening of the first new theaters to be built from the ground up in Boston in something like seventy five years. Located on the ground floor of a brand new mixed-use building with businesses and parking below and luxury (natch!) condos above, it sits in the South End, Boston's premiere gay neighborhood, as part of the Boston Center for the Arts complex of older, red brick structures nicely renovated and devoted to visual and performing arts. Last night I got to the SpeakEasy Stage Company's production of Stephen Sondheim's COMPANY. It's the very first offering in the Roberts Theater, a black box seating about 200 people that friends and who have worked on COMPANY praise to the skies for its flexibility and intelligent design.

SpeakEasy has been in operation for over a decade and has been insrumental in developing the two stages in the new building (the larger 350 seat house has opened with a rapturously received production of local playwright Melinda Lopez's SONYA FLEW produced by the Huntington Theater Company that will use it as a "second stage" for new and intimate material). I've always had a nice relationship with SpeakEasy as they rent furniture and properties from our stock all the time. Having this new space is a huge step up and places them firmly in a neighborhood where they're hugely supported. The audience last night was full of gay men; the patron and donor lists are strongly gay. And SpeakEasy is only one of a healthy number of companies thrive now in the Boston area, secure enough to produce excellent, artistically adventurous work.

In the three decades since its premiere (I saw the original production in New York while the dust was still settling), COMPANY has been recognized as not just the controversial, dramatically and structurally subversive piece of material that the critics and public scratched their heads over for a while, but as an actual major turning point in the history of American musical theater. Which, of course, is why Sondheim is so hated by reactionary traditionalists who want conventinal stories, music
and stage design in their "musical comedies."

COMPANY is about contemporary urban society and uses techniques--flashbacks and flash forwards, non-linnear narrative, fragmentation of scenes and musical numbers--that changed the very way people view the stage. In fact, COMPANY encourages them to view it AS a stage, a piece of theater property that can become one thing after another right before their eyes, where setting boundaries that have been established can be destroyed in the twinkling of an eye by the actors breaking character and simply walking through them into another dramatic situation or into the role of "chorus." In effect, there is no plot--the characters of "Seinfeld" twenty years later could have strolled into COMPANY and found themselves very much at home. The central figure is Bobby, an emotionally closed off New Yorker who lives vicariously through (and eats and finds his entertainment with) his circle of friends--couples, some married, some not. His (many) sexual relationships are empty and unfulfilling. He admits to a few homosexual encounters but these have led him no further than the series of vacuous young women who parade through his apartment--and his male friends' fevered imaginations.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The autumn remains exceptionally mild here in New England, particularly in the Boston area. The latest date for a killing frost is generally listed as the 20th of October but now, a week later than that, my tender annuals are thriving and the tomatoes are still ripening naturally in the garden. I’ve already put up several pints of stewed tomatoes. I make them with sautéed onions and garlic, simmering them with Provençal herbs, a lovely combination that includes fennel and lavender. It’s an extremely aromatic and very Mediterranean blend that works equally well in soups, stews, rubbed on chicken and meats before roasting, and in herb breads.

Up at Fritz’s, the new raspberries have been a big success, bearing heavily and tasting just wonderful. With luck the new fruit trees will begin bearing next summer. He always kids me about being a “city boy,” but I’ve been a devoted gardener since I was a kid, one of the many things that separated me from most of the other boys in school. I wasn’t particularly happy in school with my interest in the arts, reading history and lack of prowess or even interest in sports. I always wished I had siblings to fill up some of the loneliness and act as a buffer against the hurt and rejection but it wasn’t to be. As I matured and begin to find my way in the world I realized that I’m a very domestic type. Despite my adventurousness professionally and in travel, I’m a nest builder and a nurturer.

There’s a total lunar eclipse tonight over both Boston and St. Louis. The ancients believed that signs and symbols in the heavens heralded important events. Tonight, perhaps they’ll herald the breaking of an old and historic curse!


11:40pm and my God--IT HAPPENED!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

I’ve added a link on the top right to a site that contains my résumé and bio, plus a head shot cropped out of a group picture of a standing puppy pile of guys from MIT. We had worked on a big exhibit about gay and lesbian life at the Institute (I was the designer) and were giddy with exhaustion and happiness that we got it installed by deadline and that people loved it. I will work on a couple of picture pages in a week or so—a personal page with shots of my daughters, Fritz and me, the wedding, etc., and a page of some of my stage designs. I need a bit of time to get some decent lighting set up and take some good digitals of my work.

Fritz is going out today to canvass for the Kerry campaign. New Hampshire is a strange place politically. Supposedly extremely conservative, there are strongly liberal communities and the state’s “live free or die” motto, he explained to me once, actually works to represent and support a strain of independent thinking and acting that can be quite liberal. As we get closer to the election, I’m finding myself having as close as I have ever come to little panic attacks. The polls, for what they’re worth which I frankly think isn’t much, remain neck and neck, while the incredible importance of the outcome becomes clearer to me on a daily basis.

The latest huge mistake we seem to have made in Iraq, leaving unguarded a massive stockpile of “conventional” but hugely powerful explosives to be looted and used by anti-American forces, is being reported widely in the media—might it convince someone, anyone, of the shambling incompetence of the current administration? I hope so, but the willingness of the general population to go along with Bush unthinkingly continues to astound me. He sat on an ABC interview spot this morning with that sick smirk on his face, answering the question “What WAS that box on your back during the second debate?” At first he seemed stunned and was silent, then he blamed it on a badly tailored shirt and expected us all to believe it—you know, shirts come in various sizes, small, medium, large, and Quasimodo and Laura just happened to buy the Quasimodo by mistake for him that week. I’d ask just how stupid he thinks the American people are, but I’m actually afraid to know

Sunday, October 24, 2004

We had a lovely weekend with 23 men who made up the presenters and the participants of a Body Electric School "Celebrating the Body Erotic" weekend workshop. These events change and, in some cases, save lives. Cooking and hosting is hard work, but work Fritz and I believe in passionately. We do our very best to make everyone feel welcome and cared for.

We saw with great pleasure that a lot of young gay men signed up for this one, and their eating habits over the weekend confirmed that the demographic was a younger one than we normally host. They ate far less in the carbohydrate range, meaning fewer pancakes and French Toast at breakfast (favoring fruit and yogurt), less bread at lunch, etc. Fritz's place is one of the few around the country where participants are lodged in the same facility where the all-day sessions take place, and we feel that having everyone eat and stay together strengthens the experience. The color in the trees was just about at peak this weekend, the weathered wood inside the center provieds a warm, informal feeling, and everything went well.

Saturday evenings we always put on an elegant dinner--flowers, candelabra and a richly patterned cloth on the table with a good menu and a lot of personal attention. We had one participant from as far away as Denver, while others came from New York and the New England states.

I've been reading "This Thing Called Courage" by J.G. Hayes for the book group, a collection of short stories on growing up gay in South Boston ("Southie"), the traditional bastion of Irish Catholic culture and conservatism in Boston and one of the most insular sub-cultures in the area. We all knew it couldn't have been easy to be gay there but after the third story I was wondering if I should slit my wrists right away or wait until we all got together next Tuesday night. There's a tone of despair and hopelessnes to the lives of the leading characters that makes for uneasy if powerful reading.

South Boston is not to be confused with the South End which has become the city's premiere gay neighborhood, rescued from almost total dereliction by enterprising straights and gays who moved into dangerous and run-down conditions and invested a great deal in the old bow-front townhouses in hope of turning the tide of decay. The movement of young professionals into the area was, expectedly, controversial as the South End had been a minority neighborhood where, in the early 1970s, you could buy a whole townhouse for $10,o00--they now sell for half a million and more. The minority inhabitants were forced out as property values shot upward. Southie, on the other hand, was and is a working-class neighborhood with a famous "code of silence" that protects its inhabitants from scrutiny by the outside world, particularly police investigations. Heavily Catholic and socially conservative, it's finally confronting the onrush of change in the catastrophic collapse of Catholic influence due to the priest sex abuse scandal, and the tardy but voracious arrival of the developers.

Hayes is an interesting if inconsistent writer. His stories are almost all narrated by the central character and he has major problems maintaining a consistent voice--if a consistent voice is even important to him, which may not be the case. How to explain a seventeen year old boy who identifies himself as a straight D student in an area that has some of the worst schools in Boston, who uses language like; "I wonder if this heirloom anger derives from some Irish brawler who swung for his temper or from my father's people, Sicilians, I've seen the old pictures dark-eyed monosyllabics dressed in black you wouldn't want to fuck with--" There are also sentence structure issues, but what D student speaks of heirloom anything, or muses about dark-eyed monosyllabics?

But then Hayes begins the twenty-five page conclusion to the story as a group of five boys invades the local electric sub-station at night to spray their gang's name at the top of the smoke stack. He sustains a riveting narrative of naive bravado and heatbreak as ancient rusted bolts disintegrate and the iron ladder breaks free of the bricks, sending four of the boys to their deaths as the narrator (who had finally summoned the courage to admit his love for one of the victims earlier in the evening) watches their fall and descends almost operatically into madness. It's a brilliant piece of writing, a compulsive page-turner that rings true psychologically and sweeps all doubt before it. "This Thing Called Courage" is available in paperback and is almost ludicrously cheap (used) on But don't expect happy endings--Southie just isn't that kind of place for a gay boy.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

It's proving to be a rich and full autumn for performing arts in Boston. Last night I spent the evening in the company of John Kuntz's other persona as actor in the Actors' Shakespeare Project production of RICHARD III. The production, which proudly features all Boston-based actors, had just received what amounted to a flat-out rave in the Boston Globe, so I arrived at Old South Meeting House a bit early as I wanted to do well with the unreserved seating. But we in the audience numbered no more than fifty to sixty, incomprehensible to me given the review, the fact that it's Shakespeare, Kuntz's local reputation. and his fan base in the gay community as a highly visible out gay theater figure.

There was no set, just five chairs and the inside of the Meeting House whose pulpit, balcony, aisles and sanctuary platform were imaginatively used for all the play's many locations. The cast came through big time, dealing well with the slightly echoey acoustic that swallowed some passages, and demonstrating yet again why the two big regional repertory theaters here make a big mistake to cast so many of their roles from auditions in New York, ignoring the rich local talent pool in the process.

RICHARD III is a big, sprawling, demanding work held together by the spectacular title role. Kuntz played Richard as more restrained in general than many actors, a man keeping himself under close control so as to better con his victims, but one given to dangerous psychotic episodes when crossed.
The climactic one-on-one unarmed combat between Richard and the future King Henry VII was one of the most gripping, athletic and just-plain-scary fight scenes I have ever seen in live theater. The two actors, Kuntz and the production's director Benjamin Evett, stood white with exhaustion for the curtain calls. The company will produce MEASURE FOR MEASURE this winter and JULIUS CAESAR next spring.

Speaking of Julius Caesar, I'm seeing Handel's Italian opera GIULIO CESARE tomorrow night and then heading up to Fritz's to cook for and otherwise host a weekend gay workshop by the Body Electric School. We'll have around 22 guys, a nice and manageable number. Five of them will be workshop presenters, some of whom are very close friends who it is always a pleasure to have around the place.


I'm amending this entry to recognize the death of a young woman just one week shy of her 22nd birthday in the celebration run amok last night outside Fenway Park. Victoria Snelgrove was an Emerson College student who died in hospital after being shot by some sort of pellet gun the police use for crowd control. Because of ugly riots that featured destruction of property, injuries and a death following Superbowl victories by the Patriots last season, the police had received special training; the city developed supposedly more sophisticated tactics for dealing with celebratory crowds that turn in a heartbeat into unruly mobs. Yet Ms Snelgrave was shot in the eye while standing quietly with friends on a sidewalk, away from the troublemakers.

This afternoon the Boston Police, in the person of the first female Police Chief in the city's history, accepted full responsibility for her death. Is there something wrong with my value system? Has my lifelong lack of interest in major league athletics (beyond a genuine if minor enjoyment of Baseball on TV) left me unable to understand why a happy event should spawn drunken vandalism, property destruction, and violence? I guess I'm dating myself here but in the world in which I grew up, people didn't destroy cars and loot businesses when the home team won a ball game. What might have happened had we lost?

Boston has a major problem on its hands (as do other Massachusetts cities and towns that saw street rioting last night). The event around which the tragedy occurred leads the way to an even greater opportunity for violent "celebration" as we begin the World Series here on Saturday. The mayor is seriously considering closing the bars around Fenway and banning alcohol sales at the game. But can the police be trusted to control mob violence without shooting down innocent bystanders?

Monday, October 18, 2004

I went for a haircut last week at a place in the MIT Student Center I hadn't gone to in at least three years. I'd been enjoying the low prices, if less than stellar styling, of a barber shop near Fritz's place in Derry, NH. On occasion, Fritz even cut my hair himself which came out better than the barbershop. But I hadn't been cut since early August when I was getting ready for our big wedding party and I hated the way my hair was behaving. So I walked across campus and went to the tech salon.

There were three people cutting that day--a Junoesque hispanic woman with a great smile and laugh; a forty-something guy with a pony tail, in black pants and vest that made him look like a flamenco dancer; and a very young man, right on the cusp of handsome and cute whose chair was free. We checked each other out--he in nicely fitting jeans and a sleeveless T-shirt, with great skin and hair moussed to PERFECTION; me with a ring in each ear and wearing the shirt I hand embroidered with the design for the front curtain of my production of Sondheim's PACIFIC OVERTURES. OK, same team, check.

He did a good shampoo, vigorous and relaxing, then led me to his chair and asked, "SO, what are we doing today?"

I stopped myself JUST in time from blurting out "Lunch, then the afternoon at my place." I told him what kind of cut I wanted and he combed my hair a couple of different ways, deciding how start. Then suddenly he
looked at the right side of my face and said "Oh, wow!"

I was startled--"What?"

"Your sideburns--they're great."

I take them down to the middle of my ear lobe and then bring a thin spike fairly far forward, slanting just slightly downward. "But they're not bushy--you trim them back between haircuts?"

"Yes, and I also shave the back of my neck to keep it clean and neat back there."

"Most men won't do things like that, you really take care of yourself."

We were flirting with each other easily now, something I like doing with guys enormously--the fact this boy was eons younger than I only made it the more enjoyable.

"Yeah, you know, gotta look good for my public."

Laughter. Slight pause, then:

"Can I ask you how old you are?"

I told him.

"You don't look anywhere near that. How do you do it?"

"Half of it's good genes from my parents."

"And the other half?


Gales of laughter.

We kept at it like this right through to the inspection with the hand mirror and brushing off all the stray hair from my clothes. Total cost for the cut and tip came out to about three times what I would have paid in New Hampshire. And worth every penny.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

I play a little game with myself every fall: how long can I make it into the cooler weather before I have to crank up the heating system. My house has a forced hot water radiator system fired by natural gas. I replaced the World War I era coal boiler that had been converted to oil by a previous owner after all of Boston was shut down for a week during the Blizzard of '78. For six days my street was covered four feet thick in standing snow that turned into ice and, as no oil truck could get through, the tank ran dry. I decided then and there that with two children in the house, the older only four years old, I didn't want to be dependent on vehicle-delivered fuel ever again. Four days of living in the kitchen around an open oven does that to you.

This winter predictions for oil prices are through the roof and the natural gas boys, whether there's a shortage or not, are jumping on the band wagon and hiking prices as well. As it happens, I don't require as much heat as some people. The Thermostat goes no higher than 66 degrees when I'm home and drops to 60 to 62 at night or when I'm away at work. Fortunately, Fritz and I both like low bedroom temperatures, the better to get nested under warm covers and cuddle. Since we're both really warm men (physically as well as emotionally) we sometimes wake up in the night and start throwing covers off because we get too hot.

So, it's the sixteenth of October, another cloudless day and the heavily double glazed bay window I put on the south side of the house fifteen or so years ago is trapping heat like a champ. I 've never been able to go this long before without turning on the system and it looks from the forecast like I might make it through most if not all of the coming week. There are, of course, millions of Americans who are not as lucky as I to have a good solar location or who live in even colder parts of the country than New England--yes, there ARE some. I wonder why Kerry and the other Democrats haven't made more of this situation than they have. I think a lot of people are going to be in big trouble financially this winter, and many who vote for Bush in early November may wish they'd gone with Kerry by the time of the presidential inauguration in late January.

Friday, October 15, 2004

John Kuntz is a much-loved figure in Boston theater, an out gay polymath who acts, writes, stars in his own one-man shows, and teaches. Last spring he was a manic Scapin in Moliere’s classic farce; John has become particularly well-known for his comic roles.

But later on this month, he will star in the title role of Shakespeare’s RICHARD III. Although unusual, I think it’s a brilliant piece of casting. For half the play, Richard seduces the audience with gallows humor, blatantly bragging about what evil he plans to do next, and preening outrageously when he’s committed one or another crime, boldly inviting the audience’s approval of his daring. Then it all turns sour, the laughter stops as the audience realizes it’s been had, and Richard begins a downward spiral to his death.

It was in John’s persona as playwright that I encountered him last night at the Playwrights’ Theatre, a company affiliated with Boston University Theater School (my old undergrad school) that produces new scripts in a studio setting for the very attractive ticket price of $10.00. I see a lot of plays there.

“Jasper Lake” features eight actors in four male/female couples who engage in one of John’s favorite themes, an intricate game of psycho-sexual manipulation, humiliation, seduction and betrayal. A previous play of his was a tightly wound tale of gay partners who entice single men into their clutches and eventually destroy them--literally--as a way of nourishing their own complex and twisted relationship. To me, the writer from whose work John’s seems most to have descended is Harold Pinter; there’s the same sharp cruelty as in Pinter, if not the cool, stylishly detached quality. And John's antic side is everywhere apparent, often delivered with a wicked grin. Whether John’s writing is in any way profound or just enormously clever, it makes for very good theater.

Making good theater (or music or art) in Boston may become more difficult financially according to a statement by producer-philanthroper David Mugar. The retired owner of the Star Market chain announced yesterday that he has found in Liberty Mutual a corporation that is willing to underwrite the next five years of Boston’s immensely popular Fourth of July concert and fire works show on the Esplanade. Last year, Mugar had to write a huge check, putting his own wealth on the line to fund what would otherwise have been an unfunded event. But he has warned that the continuing departure of many high-profile corporations from the Boston area will inevitably mean hard times ahead for arts funding here.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Tim Miller is a gay performance artist of whom I first became aware a dozen or so years ago when he was one of the "NEA 4," the gay/lesbian artists targeted for denial of National Endowment for the Arts grants that had already been awarded, due to gay themes in their work. The White House of George Bush the First pressured the Endowment with the help of sycophants like Jesse Helmes and Strom Thurmond, thus beginning the long, disgraceful process of reinstituting censorship and denying support for the arts in this country.

I have been trying to catch up with Miller in performance since then but was always in the wrong place at the wrong time until last night. He's performing through Sunday at the Boston Center for the Arts under the banner of the Theater Offensive's Out On The Edge Festival.

Theater Offensive events are always a lot of fun for their edgy, sometimes outrageous, always outspoken honesty and for a chance to get together with the company's director, Abe Rybeck. Abe and I go back almost twenty years to when he had a "day job" at MIT and we'd get together to help him put on his own performance art pieces like the totally over the top "Blame It On The Big Banana." Now with his own company that has national recognition, he personally greets audiences at every performance of all Theater Offensive productions, and gives emerging gay and lesbian playwrights and performers a platform on which to develop and premiere new work in a wide variety of styles.

Last night, the first of Tim's run, was true to form. Abe was there in the lobby hugging and doing kissy-kissy with all his old friends, supporters and loyal audience members, then bounding on stage for the usual manic curtain speech in his trademark jewelry, on this occasion an Edwardian choker and dangle earrings. Tim's
one man show is called US, referring both to the United States and to us as a society. The theme is his struggle to get residency for his Australian boyfriend over the last decade and the imminent reality of becoming an exile from this country before December of this year when Alistair will have to leave. The issue, as in all of Tim's work is the denial of rights to gay and lesbian couples, to gays and lesbians themselves in all aspects of their lives. US is a one and one half hour monodrama of Tim's life, performed without intermission by an energized, articulate, attractive and dynamic man who performs from his heart and his gut.

One section deals with his childhood and first recognition that he was, well, different. And given my last post (that drew more comment from my readers than anything I have ever posted) it popped right out at me. Tim spoke of growing up with an obsessive love of Broadway musicals, sitting alone in his room doing homework with stacks of original cast albums playing during the afternoon when others were out on the baseball diamonds. Well, for me the material was not only cast albums but also French opera and symphonies by Tchaikovsky and Dvorak. The scenario, however, was exactly the same. Tim did go a bit further, under the influence of the musical GYPSY, doing stripteases for an audience of his brothers and his friends. I never tried that and outside of Gypsy Rose Lee herself, perhaps, I don't think anyone ever tried stripping to the "Pathetique" Symphony.

Theater Offensive performances all go on at the newly spiffed up Boston Center for the Arts featuring the new theater spaces in the just-opened brand new building at the corner of Tremont and Berkeley Streets.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

I like to think I'm a fairly intelligent guy. There was, however, one topic on which I remained in the dark--sometimes to be sure a self-imposed dark--for far too long: the fact that I am gay. Once I had come out to myself, it was pretty easy to look back and see the patterns and incidents in my childhood that were clear signals if only they hadn't been masked by stern parental repression and catholic school indoctrination. Here's a memory I particularly like:

When I was seven or eight, I had a miniature teddy bear, something I think had come as part of the decoration on the outside of a Christmas present. He was not more than two inches long with a red ribbon and bow around his neck that I soon pulled around so that it looked like a bow tie. I forget his name but he had a very specific function--whenever I travelled away from home, he travelled with me as my companion in unfamiliar places. He lived in a men's jewelry box, the type cufflink and tie tack sets come in, that my father was throwing out. I pulled up the bottom board of the box and covered it on one side with a scrap of velvet like a rug and put little bed sheets and a pillow on the other side so he could go to bed at night.

And I made him clothes. Now, these certainly wouldn't have stood comparison with the high fashion that shoe design genius Manolo Blahnik was making for the little salamanders on his parents' Canary Islands farm at about the same time, but they weren't bad by a long shot. There was a hat, a tiny vest and a nightshirt. I didn't see the necessity of giving him pants (a little bell should have been going off in my head about THAT) and at the end of the day I would get him undressed and into bed (which I still like doing but with a somewhat larger guy) and close the box for the night, which he spent on the night stand next to the bed. When I travelled, he came with me in the box in my pocket, all his accessories packed up with him.

Of course, there was the crush I had on D., a very good looking boy, from fifth through seventh grades. But I think making clothes for a two inch tall bear is a pretty good indication.

Friday, October 08, 2004

I worry sometimes that there's something about me, an electro-magnetic field or some sort of internal black hole, that has a bad effect on electronic equipment. I seem to have a particularly bad time with computers. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not extremely computer-literate. For that reason I always tread carefully and try not to abuse or misuse my machines. I ask for advice from our techs at MIT frequently when things seem to be going wrong and follow their recommendations. But the fact is that things go wrong for me far more frequently than with my colleagues. I go through periods where I get a lot of unmotivated error messages, or the icons will disappear from my tool bar spontaneously whenever they feel like it.

I'm currently having trouble, progressively worse and worse, with the mouse freezing on my Mac G4 in the office. It started at the end of the summer and when it happens, there's no way to get out of it except to just turn the machine off. The force quit command won't work, I lose whatever I'm working on, it's frustrating and adds time to my work day. But it's not just computers.

How often d0 you drive under a streetlight and the light fails or burns out or shuts down at that exact moment? It shouldn't be a common occurrence but it happens to me frequently. Others who drive with me notice it. And the computerized display on the dashb0ard of my Jeep Cherokee goes haywire fairly frequently the exact same way it did on my previous Cherokee. My maintenance guys check it out for me and never find a cause.

A couple of months ago when I was thinking about this situation, I suddenly remembered that my mother had similar problems with wristwatches. Back in the days before energy cells, all watches were mechanical. I remember several times when a watch of hers was taken in for cleaning and timing and it would come off the bench a precision instrument. But my mother would put it on and, within an hour, it would be gaining or losing time noticeably. On one occasion, the watch stopped running altogether the same day it had come home. From what I know, she was the only person in her family who had this problem and I'm wondering if I haven't inherited it from her.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

I came out of our building yesterday, passed through another building on the way to my parking garage and stopped to see the entire staff of the List Art Gallery out in the plaza looking at a patch of lawn. My friend B. the museum curator (and hot leather guy off-campus) took my arm and pointed out a big, handsome raptor standing on the grass calmly tearing apart and eating a squirrel it had killed. The bird wasn't bothered by all the people looking at it and looked to be one of the bigger hawks or possibly smaller eagles. Another sign of "the wild" moving back into the cities. In recent years we have had moose running down the streets of Boston, coyotes in the northern and western suburbs and racoon families moving into downtown hotels and office buildings. And Canada Geese everywhere.

An appreciative nod to two fellow bloggers: I received a nice thank you note from Mark at Zeitzeuge because I had sent a contribution to to the AIDS Walk he was doing. His goal was $500 but he has raised almost half again more. During the summer Bryan from Chaos in Austin did the big AIDS bicycle ride he organizes every year, putting together a team and raising a considerable amount of money in the process. Thanks, guys, for doing something really meaningful for people with HIV, AIDS, and for research to stop the plague.

The current heavy period at work goes on but I got out to the Bolshoi Ballet last night. I hadn't seen the Bolshoi dance for a long while. My first experience with them was in college when they brought SWAN LAKE to Boston with the incredible Maya Plishetskaya who did things with her arms that made you think she didn't have a solid bone from her shoulders to her fingertips, and who was one of the most charismatic performers I ever saw on a stage. The company is still a good one, but the deprivation in all areas of Russian life that followed the fall of the Soviet Union was evident last night, particularly in the painting of the scenery. Russian scene painting used to be some of the finest there was--magnificent painted vistas in perfect persperctive with jewel-like colors and painted with astonishing technique. The ballet last night was RAYMONDA, a medieval romance set in France. The painting was very poor--bad drawing, muddy colors and crude brushwork. The costumes were somewhat better. The dancers had some of the qualities of the great days--the women petite and very graceful, the men big, muscular and athletic--Russian male dancers are potentially among the most extravert and exciting in the business. It was all very "correct" and certainly enjoyable, but without the real spark and electric theatricality that made the Bolshoi legendary.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The anti-gay marriage amendment to the Louisiana state constitution has been struck down by the state's court system as being flawed in its construction. Oh, those evil activist judges! Just doing their job, it should be pointed out. While it's very satisfying to rejoice over this defeat, I'm sure that a "properly" constructed amendment, one that doesn't attempt to do too separate things (banning gay marriage, banning gay civil unions) will be introduced before too long and will probably pass with the same overwhelming numbers the flawed original received. Or rather two amendments, one banning marriage and another banning civil unions. I doubt Louisiana has any use for us in ANY context. Sad

I watched the vice-presidential debate last night and was very pleased with John Edwards's performance. Cheney's a totally different kettle of fish from Bush as a debater and public speaker--cool, assured, organized and literate. In fact, last night Cheney pointed out by simple example just how pathetically embarrassing Bush is as our president when it comes to appearing and speaking in public. That said, I noted that there were at least three occasions when Cheney made a point, Edwards rebutted and Cheney declined to make a counter rebuttal. I took it that Cheney didn't have anything else he could say to defend his point and at least had the sense to avoid floundering around, repeating the same old stuff the way Bush did in a similar position. On one of these occasions--the issue of gay marriage--Cheney declined to say anything except to thank Edwards for his compliment to Cheney's family and lesbian daughter Mary.

It was probably a draw, but Edwards did manage to get out some powerful points, particularly stressing the statement by our major administrator in Iraq that too few soldiers had been sent over to get the job done and that there wasn't a coherent plan. A CBS pole this morning says that Edwards was considered the "winner" by undecided voters. On the whole, I thought Edwards did what he had to do by establishing himself as a viable public fugure who knows his stuff and he most certainly was NOT beaten around the stage by Cheney as the Republicans had been boasting would happen. On those occasions when Cheney threw everything he had at him, Edwards remained controlled and in charge of the dialog.

Am I being unrealistic? I'm becoming optimistic all over again about our chances of unseating Bush and Company in the election. If Kerry can perform this Friday as well as he did in the first debate, I sense the tide may turn and we'll stop hearing about statistical dead heets.

Monday, October 04, 2004

I don't exactly have recurring dreams, just dreams where there is a recurring setting. Large, complex, maze-like buildings have been a part of my dreaming for several years now. Sometimes they're the undercrofts of ancient Medieval buildings, sometimes old mansions that have had endless wings and extensions built onto them, sometimes they're like huge warehouses. They all go on forever, up steps and down long halls, then into a rabbit warren of small rooms, etc. I am in them for different reasons: sometimes I'm inspecting them as a prospective buyer, sometimes searching for something, often I don't know--I'm just passing through endlessly.

Last night's was a first--there was another person in the dream with me as a leading character. The building was a school, the students early teenagers, and the other man was pursuing me romantically or, at least, wanted me for sex. He was the school's athletic director and a cross dresser--and I was trying to get away from him. No matter where I went in the school, he followed. Normally if a guy came after me insistently I would at least be flattered even if I didn't find him attractive. But in my dream I found him vaguely oninous and wanted no part of him.

He was a handsome enough guy, mid to late 30s, nicely built and a sharp dresser; well tailored Italian suits when dressed as a man and very retro chic as a woman in a 1950s burgundy colored dress with black lapels, belt, buttons and accessories, including purse, expensive kid gloves, and a little black velvet hat with the kind of openwork black veil women wore in the 50s. Possibly it was the drag that turned me off. Even though not a word passed between us, I knew as one just KNOWS in dreams that he was bad news for some undefined reason.

The dream eventually became uncomfortable enough that I woke up, to find Fritz very near and already awake as it was around five in the morning. We shifted into the cuddle position we always get into when we're both awake but it's not time to get up, and I dozed much more peacefully for another hour with his arm as a pillow.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

I love the fall. It's my absoloute favorite season and getting the academic year cranked up at MIT has always been a great time for me. But this year I feel really slammed at work. So much more than usual has been tossed at me, deadlines that were carefully spaced throughout the first term have been moved up, others have been inserted into the schedule without any concern for the bulk of what we have to deal with and, to top it off, our administrative assistant is leaving in six or seven weeks and I have to run a search for her replacement. The usual joy of getting back in the saddle had become the discomfort of saddle sores.

I slipped down to New York and back yesterday for a matinee performance at New York City opera in Lincoln Center. The complex of theaters and concert halls is aging badly with the porous travertine marble on the facades looking grimy A lot of cracks and subsiding mars the pavement of the great plaza. There had been a master plan to renovate the place, including yet another gutting of the New York Philharmonic's hall that is still acoustically unsatisfactory, but it's all on hold for lack of money. Originally, we had been told the plaza would be one to rival St. Mark's in Venice--a wholly unrealistic statement but at least they had a goal. The reality is handsome enough--or was before forty years of hard weathering took its toll--but the plaza itself never realized its potential. Only the fountain in the center, one of the legendary meeting places in the city, has attained its own identity. Worse, the plaza itself is now separated from the street by post-9/11 Jersey Barriers and huge tubs of flowers trying to disguise the ugly barriers, giving an isolated, insular effect to the whole complex.

But once inside, there were signs of life everywhere. The Vivian Beaumont Theater is broadcasting frog croaks and chirps into the plaza tywenty four hours a day in celebration of Steven Sondheim's musical THE FROGS, playing there until October 10 when Fritz and I go to see it. At City opera I saw Rameau's wildly comic PLATEE about an ugly, self-delusional water nymph being seduced by the god Jupiter in a plot to bamboozle Jupiter's jealous wife Juno, who's on to his philandering. The production is updated to modern times with Isaac Mizrahi costumes and choreography and direction by Mark Morris. The production is very gay (I mean, Mizrahi and Morris . . . ) with Platee, sung by a tenor in drag, dressed in a see-through Edwardian dowager's gown, pearls and a lorgnette over a frog suit, attended by a lizard-in-waiting, with satyrs dressed only in leather thong jock straps helping to celebrate the fake marriage. Jupiter and Juno descend to the stage in hot air balloon gondolas, there's a ballet of two caterpillars each about thirty feet long, and general mayhem. The audience had a great time and French tenor Jean-Paul Fouchecourt gave one of the great comic performances of anything I have ever seen anywhere in the title role. It was just what I needed before climbing back into the saddle once again Monday morning.

Friday, October 01, 2004

I won't even pretend to have watched the debate last night with an unbiased eye. You all know my sentiments on G.W.B. But my bias aside, I still thought Kerry made Bush's delivery look like amateur night. Bush smirked his way through the first half, stumbling over words and generally sounding ill at ease. Kerry spoke out clearly and forcefully--why couldn't he have come over this commandingly months earlier? Of course by now a lot of minds are set, but if it's true that Americans vote on image--and particularly as one political analyst said yesterday that they vote for the candidate who is taller and exudes the most testosterone--then Kerry should do well in the election. He certainly seemed more "presidential" to me, but a large part of this country has allowed itself to be duped by a Texas oil field good old boy act.

Encouragingly, CBS radio ran a pole in which a comfortable majority of viewers named Kerry the "winner." And they also announced that young people, who seem to be for Kerry 6 to 4, are registering to vote in huge numbers this year.

The U.S. House yesterday followed the Senate's lead in voting down the anti-gay marriage amendment to the Constitution--a significant loss for Bush and the right wing. And VERY well deserved.

I hosted the gay book club Tuesday night with major and very vocal participation from my cat, who was specifically mentioned in a couple of the thank you emails I got from the guys the next day. They loved the house which is the work of a scene designer who has spent a lifetime absorbed in Moroccan art and architecture specifically, and Asian art in general. The Book was Douglas Shand-Tucci's "The Crimson Letter: Harvard, Homosexuality, and the Shaping of American Culture."

The author is an historian who has made a specialty of Boston's rich past, particularly its gay
intellectual, cultural and civic life. He lives in the Hotel Vendome, the same hotel where Oscar Wilde stayed on his fabled trips to Boston. He tells a fascinating story of the gay lives of our founding literary fathers (Longfellow, Emerson, Henry James), the towering figure Walt Whitman, and Wilde's assurances to Whitman that his work, particularly "Leaves of Grass" was idolized at all the great British universities (not the quality of the poetic writing, that the English found suspect, but Whitman's boldly announced vision of an earthy, strongly masculine, what we would today call "out" homosexual whose love for men surpassed in spiritual value the love of men for women).

From Whitman and Wilde, the two most influential figures on Boston's idea of the homosexual male (the warrior-athlete and the artist-aesthete as S-T defines them), the author branches out with a fascinating ride through the city's history, touching base on an astounding number of gay men and the female cultural icons who supported their work and gave them validity in the eyes of the larger public. The book can be a bit thorny to read as sentences that defy commonly accepted English grammar and syntax pop up with some frequency in S-T's normally clear prose. But he tells a fascinating tale and I am told by the guys that his earlier books, "Boston Bohemia" (bohemia and bohemian being code words for everything gay in 19th century Boston) and "The Art of Scandal, The Life and Times of Isabells Stuart Gardner" (the wealthiest, most outrageous and most influential fag hag in Boston history) are even better.

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