Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Spring seems finally to have arrived here in Boston and nature is intruding on my life all over the place.

Up at Fritz's, a squerril managed to get up into the walls of the house from the basement where some of them had been living (or had come through the eaves somehow) and wound up in his clothes closet. We realized this had happened when I went into the bedroom one day last week and found a louver slat from the by-fold closet door torn off and lying on the floor, and another slat above it gnawed into. I couldn't imagine what had happened but he knew right away it was a squerril.

Then this morning when I called, he said he'd woken up to see the thing walking along the big rafter beam that runs across the middle of the room. It then fled into the kitchen and disappeared under the cabinets. Fritz put out the "panther piss" (actually it's tiger urine extract) that's supposed to drive rodents out of houses and other enclosed spaces. I've dealt with two bats that got into my house, both during the winter, but not squerrils with those claws and big teeth that can do a lot of dammage.

Fritz thinks that the maple sugaring season is probably over, although tonight may be cold enough to get the sap forced back down into the roots and pumped back up again tomorrow which would start the taps dripping again. We'll get about three gallons of syrup this year, total--an OK year but not a really great one.

Friday, March 25, 2005

We're back at Fritz's for the day to finish a boiling of maple sap into syrup--we drained the first two gallons out of the evaporator this morning and will be hauling sap from the tap buckets before dinner tonight. For optimum sap collection you need cold nights and warm days and this year has been disappointing. As soon as there were a couple of warm days, the cold and ice would come back, halting the rising of sap in the maple trees.

We've had some real fun and a lot of R&R. We began last Friday night with Prokofiev's ballet on ROMEO AND JULIET at the lovely little restored Portsmouth, NH Music Hall, danced by the State Ballet of St. Petersberg, Russia. This wasn't the big Kirov Ballet, but a very young company--in effect the kids just graduated from ballet school. They were wonderful, full of energy but with the artistic discipline and all the characteristics of classic Russian ballet. The boys were extremely extravert and athletic (a couple were quite hot), the girls lyrical and graceful. Big hit, with a packed house.

Sunday we drove down to Boston for the Gay Men's Chorus concert--my first. The program centered around the love between men in celebration of the coming of gay marriage. There was one special work for mezzo soprano soloist by Jake Heggie based on the character of Anna Madrigal from "Tales of the City" that went very well and as assorted other pieces, serious and comic. Fritz was struck particularly by a song written by
the late Tom Brown called "Jonathan Wendal Oliver, Jr." a lovely story about a young man who comes out to his father, is disowned and eventually dies of AIDS. You find out at the very end that his father has hand-stitched his name onto a square for the Quilt. In the course of the commentary between sets of numbers we found out that more and more high schools in the New England area are engaging small groups from within the Chorus to perform at fund-raisers for their schools' Gay and Lesbian Alliances.

Monday Fritz helped me hook up a new VCR/DVD recorder which we christened that night with a new Colton Ford DVD. Leather men are a bit more to my taste than to Fritz's but we both had a reasonably good time. We
ended the evening playing out our own version--and had an extremely good time.

Tuesday we headed out to the western part of Massachusetts with the idea of touring MassMoCA, the big contemporary art center; visiting his nephew who has a violin repair, sales and maintenance business; touring Old Sturbridge Village which neither of us had seen in ages; and generally exploring off the beaten path. It began with what could have been a real downer--I had failed to see on the MassMoCA website that they were closed Tuesdays until May. While we were expaining our situation to a woman at the information desk, a man came along, heard that we had come all the way from Boston and said that while it wasn't normally permitted, he'd take us through some of the galleries.

His name was Joe, we introduced ourselves, and it soon became apparent that he must be one of the management, if not THE director of the complex. He had been part of the hanging or installation of everything, knew the artists, etc. I commented on how much contemporary stage design was becoming more and more like museum installations, he said that several of the artists specifically used theatrical techniques in displaying their work, Fritz told him I was a designer at MIT, he started throwing out names of MIT artists, sculptors and conceptual artists whose work was featured at MassMoCA, and before we knew it he had given us at least twenty minutes or maybe a half hour of his time and invaluable commentary. When Fritz checked the museum map that night, we found that we had been taken through about 90% of the place thanks to the
kindness of this man who helped out two guys who would otherwise have missed the whole place. In spite of all that's impersonal in contemporary society, there are incredible moments like this that make life a joy.

Friday, March 18, 2005

MIT goes on spring break tomorrow night for a week. Fritz and I start on Sunday with the Boston Gay Men's Chorus Concert. We're planning to do day trips this year, concentrating on the Berkshires in the western part of Massachusetts. He has a nephew there with whom we can stay as a base of operations. Mhere are several museums we want to see including the famous Mass MOCA, the big contemporary art complex. Mostly, we'll just be together and AWAY! Not sure when I'll be back--a week from Monday at the latest.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

I hope this makes it to the blog. Blogger has been problematic for me lately, sometimes running slowly, sometimes just fine--but yesterday and earlier today it ate anything I tried to post and my entries never appeared.

Fear and Loathing in the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority: an independent engineer and tunnel consultant hired to check out the Big Dig reported back that some forty individual sections of tunnel wall are compromised by defective workmanship and/or materials. The bottom line that sparked the firestorm was his conclusion that he could not declare the tunnels safe to drive in.

The Turnpike Authority immediately declared the tunnels safe but, coming just after last weekend's shower of ice from the top of the Zakim Bridge (one chunk of which struck a woman's car and broke her windshield), the report has sparked a firestorm of anger and accusation. The usual conditions apply--bucks being passed, wide-eyed innocence being maintained, fingers being pointed--and the Governor is running to the state Supreme Court (who gave us the gay marriage he despises) appealing to its wisdom for a ruling that he can summarily fire the head of the Turnpike Authority. You might think they'd know who reports to whom, but this is Massachusetts, so of course nobody has any idea just who has authority over the, uh, Authority.

The Vatican's having a cow over "The Da Vinci Code," all of a sudden after two years of best-selling sales and just before they start to make the movie. Seems somebody finally read it and decided it's an evil attack on Catholicism. Hey, guys, it's a fantasy novel. I guess the Cardinals are getting a little testy now that circumstances have placed those cute little Altar Boys off limits. I predict that sales will skyrocket.

The California Supreme Court has handed down a decision that it's unconstitutional to deny marriage licences to same-sex couples. The defenders of traditional marriage are already drafting their appeals, of course. In the meanwhile I haven't heard whether this decree revalidates the 4000 or so marriages that were performed about this time last year under Gavin Newsome's initiative in San Francisco.

Monday night I saw Tony Kushner's play "Homebody/Kabul," produced by Boston Theater Works and directed by the company's artistic director Jason Southerland. H/K is a major piece of work, Kushner's next play after "Angels in America." It's a complex script--all two hours and forty minutes of it. I'm going to have to read it and spend some time thinking about it. The structure is eccentric and the motivations strange. Mostly it's astounding that it was written BEFORE 9/11 but accurately depicts the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the results of combined American/British presence in that country.

I had heard about "the" monolog but had no idea of its prominence in the play. H/K is in three acts, each act about half the length of the one preceding it (85 minutes, 44 minutes, 26 minutes). Act one begins with an almost hour long monolog delivered by a woman who has become obsessed with an out-of-date travel guide to Afghanistan. As the monolog progressed, the skill and variety of Kushner's writing and the talents of Nancy Carroll, the noted Boston actress, combined to become mesmerizing. When this incredible tour de force ended, I looked at my watch and couldn't believe 55 minutes had flown by. H/K is playing at the Boston Center for the Arts in the South End and has another week or so to play. Their next production will be "Take me Out," a play that speculates on the fallout from a major league baseball star's coming out at the height of his career. There's a lengthy locker room shower scene that features full frontal male nudity. I suspect advance ticket sales are brisk.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

I hadn't intended to be away from the blog so long but spring is always the very busiest time at MIT and, I suspect, in any academic institution. If you're in a theater department, there's the added crush that the projects students have been germinating all year need to be presented, performed, videoed, etc. before the end of the academic year. Until I caught on, I used to think, "well this one's a zoo but maybe next year will be normal." Well there ain't no "normal!"

Welcome to Geraldine who found me from her mad musings of me blog in Manchester, England. She's very kindly included a link to DesignerBlog on her operablog list. There hasn't been too much about opera here lately but things are scheduled to change as early as the next paragraph.

We had an outstanding performance of Jules Massenet's CENDRILLON (Cinderella) last night put on by the opera department of the New England Conservatory of Music. The opera dates from 1899 just as the lavish, morally laissez-faire Belle Epoque was about to segue into the equally lavish, morally laissez-faire Edwardian period. (The only real difference was in the women's fashions, actually.) This is not an opera for children but a lovely reminder that in the midst of pretension, social climbing, rampant materialism and narcissism, a little honest simplicity and genuine emotion are what's needed in the world. Massenet didn't really live that way himself, actually, but he knew that a good moral tale would allow his audience to feel ever so virtuous and leave the theater terribly happy with themselves--and him. Massenet, who judged his market very carefully, was one of the most successful, wealthy and prominent composers of his day. The singers were all Conservatory students with young, fresh voices that worked perfectly for Massenet's graceful, melodic score but the production was nothing less than sensational.

Since parking in Boston's Theater District is so expensive in the garages and impossible on the street, I usually take the T over from MIT and settle into Starbucks for a coffee and some pastry or other that I shouldn't put into my body under any circumstances, before it's time to head for the theater. I walked in last night and there were my good buddies J.W. and J.B., general director and music director respectively of "the little gay opera company" for which I've had the great fun of doing some designing recently. I'd just gotten settled at their table when in walked G., the photographer/composer from MIT who had taken the big full-page photo of Fritz and me that appeared in Bay Windows last summer after our marriage, with two friends in tow. Eventually, we all headed into the street where we ran into four friends of/contributers to J.W.'s "LGOC" and the ten of us, a Hoarde of Homos, headed into the theater.

The sets and costumes for the student shows in Boston are generally somewhat modest, but the Conservatory performs at the lavishly and impressively restored Majestic Theater that was built maybe ten years after CENDRILLON was written. It's a festival of rose colored drapes, acres of ornamental plaster work newly gilded, opalescent glass globes on the original brass converted gaslight fixtures, and faux baroque frescos in a kind of art nouveau impressionist style. In these conditions, you have to have a decent designer and spend a bit of money or the theater will eat your production alive. Set designer Caleb Wertenbaker and costumer Andrew Poleszak were not about to go quietly and if they are not at least nominated for Elliot Norton Awards (Boston's version of the Toni Awards) this year there simply is no justice.

The sets were in a restrained art nouveau manner for the house of Lucette (Cinderella), her father, shrewish step-mother and appalling step-sisters (soft greens and rose with cream trim), and in an exuberant art deco
(black, white and silver mirror) for the palace. The court scenes were costumed in an extravagant tribute to the famous Cecil Beaton designs for the Ascot Scene in "My Fair Lady"--all black and white, the women in fanciful, feathered and jeweled Edwardian headgear--the transformed Lucette simple and refreshingly
elegant in a classic rose colored silk chiffon gown without much jewelry and lovely, soft hair. I have no idea why the production team did not join the cast and conductor for the bows--it's customary to have them come out at a signal from the conductor and they most certainly would have received a well-deserved ovation.

Monday night a huge change of pace--the Boston premiere of Tony Kushner's "Homebody/Kabul" the next play he wrote after "Angels in America"

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

I love Boston very much and have since about two months after I came here to study. I had left New York City, where I grew up, and had a little difficulty adjusting down to the scale of life here. Very little was open at night past nine or ten o'clock, and public transportation still doesn't run all night even if the hours have been extended to some extent. But once I learned the riche quality of life here I became happy with the idea of making my life and career in this wonderful city. However, there are some things that aren't working and it wouldn't be fair to give the idea that this city is completely trouble-free.

We electrocute dogs here, right in the streets. It's been going on for a couple of years, ever since the collapse of Boston Edison as our supplier of electricity and the arrival of NSTAR on the scene. NSTAR is a power distribution utility, meaning, I suppose, that it buys electricity from a variety of producers and passes it on to the customers at ever-increasing rates (the next big hike occurs this spring).

NSTAR is supposed to maintain the entire system and has been doing an extrmely poor job of it. Neighborhood-wide power outages are common, and then dogs who walked across man hole covers or touched innocent-looking places on the sidewalks began to drop in pain and shock. Fourteen have died in the last couple of years; several more have survived, some just barely. The latest died when he touched the metal base of a street light post that had been decommissioned and removed. The power, however, had never been cut off by NSTAR. Two days later another dog dropped in convulsions. He pulled through but city government and private citizens are loudly protesting. The fatal man holes had been maintained so badly that live wires were touching the walls of the metal shafts and the covers were "hot." Soner or later a bunch of kids in the summer, barefoot and perhaps wet from an open hydrant, will be electrocuted--why it hasn't happened yet is a miracle. Something's going to have to be done to get NSTAR to knuckle under and clean up its act.

Actual dead children have been deliverd by the Department of Social Services, perhaps the single most dysfunctional service of state government we have. The DSS that takes endangered children out of abusive or disintegrated families, generally placing them with foster families until their own relatives can be assisted into a condition adequate to raise and support them. There have been far too many fatalities over the years, the last one this past weekend.

A four year old boy was taken from his parents and put into a group foster home. His grandmother who loved him dearly was able to visit every day. DSS has a habit of breaking up foster situations that are working well and passing the children from foster home to foster home, thereby destroying any sense of security of continuity they might be able to get during their time away from home. In this case, they removed the boy from the group facility and placed him in a foster home without telling a single member of his own family. The grandmother tried for over a week to find out where he was, but the DSS has a habit of "losing" kids in the system and couldn't or didn't tell her. She found out when he wound up dead of heart failure in Massachusetts General Hospital. The foster family claimed he had fallen and hit his head on a radiator. Others who saw his body report that abrasions on his wrists and other marks suggest he had been tied up and beaten severely.

Situations like these always depress me. We are so careless, even criminally negligent, with those lives that are dependent on us, that are the most vulnerable in a complex and hostile human world. They show an unfeeling and uncivilized side to us strongly at odds with what our tremendous accomplishments make us capable of. Something's very wrong and we have to fix it.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Just for fun, I took the "what kind of porn star would you be? quiz" (thanks to Scott of Sardonic Bomb) and the result came up Gus Mattox. How VERY flattering! Actually, the description does fit rather closely, from "tattooed man of a certain age" to the side career as a writer. A number of the other items fit as well, and should you assume that "hot and muscular" are among them, well, I won't be impolite and stand in your way.

Boston is, surprise!, expecting another snow storm early next week. This winter has begun to seem truly endless.

I teach a one term scenic design class every other spring, in rotation with our costume and lighting designers and our technical director who covers special effects design and set engineering. Most of our students come to us with no prior theatrical activity, and many know performance only from movies and television rather than live theater. But the designs they come up with are always both astonishingly creative and surprisingly accomplished in presentation. I have a couple projects I give only to the sharpest groups and this year is right up there.

MIT students look on all their work as a huge challenge to be conquered. No previous art experience? After a couple of coaching sessions on how to use pastels and thin dye washes they turn in incredible work, or make an end run around the problem by collaging their designs or building very professonal-looking models. Over the years, it's been unfailingly rewarding to work with them.

I'm off to Fritz's first thing tomorrow. I like to leave very early on Saturday and drive through the deserted city just at dawn. I'll be there in time for us to breakfast together by the warmth of the wood stove and our weekend will have begun. I'll see you on Monday.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Two of the “rules” for gay men are not to fall in love with straight boys and not to become involved with married men. But these things happen, and both happened to me.

T was (and remains in many ways) one of my closest friends. For the past decade we have only corresponded, and rarely at that, but I know he’s there and he knows I’m there should we ever need each other. We’re almost exactly the same age, we helped each other through very painful break-ups, and we had some fun adventures together. He’s a talented photographer in addition to his acting and directing career. During his Boston years he got established with the owners of the strip clubs in the vanished “combat zone” that sat between the theater district and Chinatown. Whenever a new stripper was engaged, the club owner would send her over to T’s studio for publicity shots. These were high-paying gigs for him and it was all a cash business.

He called one night and asked if I could come with him to drop off prints and collect a substantial sum. He was used to bringing the money out of the clubs in his shoes, but was still nervous walking alone late at night through The Zone. I met him at his studio and we went over to one of the big places, the Pussycat Lounge, perhaps, I don’t remember—there were several, all gone now. When T went into the back to do business, I got to sit and watch some of the girls do their routines. I was given a free drink, not as heavily watered as the ones the paying customers got. A couple of the girls came over to hit on me and were perfectly nice when they learned they were barking up the wrong tree. Eventually, T and I split and headed back to the studio for some late night drinks and talk.

We had absolutely no secrets from each other--except for one. He knew I was beginning to accept that I was gay and was totally supportive. He’s straight and was very active sexually. Women were drawn to him and he ran with it. He called late one night from his bathroom or kitchen and asked me to call him about six in the morning and “remind him he had a dawn photo shoot,” thereby getting the young lady out of the studio. It was the night after the Zone trip, or one very like it, deep in the early morning hours and over a good unblended scotch, that the word love was spoken between us, understood in a fraternal sense. He told me he had sometimes been turned on by beautiful, charismatic men, but would never try sex with a man--because he might not be able to stop and it was someplace he felt he couldn’t let himself go. So the word “fraternal” stood, and I never told him that for me it had become a great deal more.

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