Monday, October 31, 2005

 

Leaves and laughs and lunch

When most Americans think of weird weather this year they probably reference the Gulf Coast first, and with good reason. But there's been very real, if less spectacular, weather upheaval here in New England as well.

It started with "the endless spring" which was all cool and wet well into June. And it's ending with "the endless fall"—actually the endless Indian Summer. Temperatures this week will graze 70 almost every day. Periods of near-drought have been followed by catastrophic rains. And that greatest of tourist magnets, New England Fall Color, has suffered a real gut-punch.

There is some disagreement as to whether the coming of chilly weather or the shrinking of the amount of daylight actually causes the turning of the leaves from green into brilliant reds, yellows and oranges. Fritz has always maintained the latter—that shorter amounts of daylight make it impossible for the chlorophyll to remain stable in the leaves. It deteriorates and allows all the other color enzymes to emerge. But that hasn't happened this year—we're getting warmer days and green leaves together almost three weeks after the color should have been at its height.


Huge numbers of trees still have all their leaves, and those leaves are green. Maybe not the deep emerald green of high summer, but green nevertheless. Where color is appearing, it's muted and pretty but not the brilliant, almost garish display we're used to. Even the sugar maples, the showiest of all, are reticent this year. The big wall of sugar maples that ring the parking lot at Fritz's Center are a lovely butter yellow this year but only one has the (slightest) hint of fiery orange.

Has any of you seen The Borowitz Report? Andy Borowitz is a political humorist, maybe even a political satirist, on the web. Here's a recent example of his relatively brief, to the point columns:

ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS REPAIRING MASSIVE LEAK IN CHENEY

The Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) began working around the clock to repair what they called "a massive leak" in Vice President Dick Cheney, the head of the USACE confirmed today.

Humorist Andy Borowitz

Lieutenant General Carl A. Strock, Commander and Chief of Engineers for the USACE, said that the leak in the vice president was approximately four inches in diameter and was located in the lower half of Mr. Cheney's face. "When we realized the size and scope of this leak, we immediately sent an emergency team of engineers to the vice president's head to address the problem," Lieutenant General Strock said. But even as the USACE team was dispatched to the vice president's secure, undisclosed location, some experts wondered why the leak, which reportedly first appeared in July of 2003, took so long to attract the attention of the government.

According to Dr. Lawrence Trester of the University of Minnesota's School of Engineering, "It strains credulity that a four-inch leak in the vice president's face wouldn't show up in one of his annual checkups." Dr. Trester added, "It's also surprising that no one knew about the leak, since apparently a New York Times reporter was in the vicinity when it burst."

At the White House, President George W. Bush also expressed surprise at the magnitude of the vice president's leak: "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of Dick Cheney's piehole."

Elsewhere, the World Health Organization said that in a worst-case scenario, the avian flu could spread from a bird to Jude Law and then to half the world's population.

He always ends his reports with an "Elsewhere" one line zinger on a totally different topic. The Borowitz report can be found at http://www.borowitzreport.com


I spent the ENTIRE day fantasizing lunch. Now I like food; I actually love food for its powers of bringing people together and for bringing me together with great carbohydrates and champagne. But I don't usually obsess. Today was different.

I had an annual physical exam that my HMO had rescheduled not once but twice from mid-August until today because of my doctor's shifting schedule. It was set for 4:40pm and I knew that in order to get everything done, including the blood work up in the lab, I'd have to be fasting for the whole day. So this day of all days, one of my colleagues had to bring in homemade rugelach. Another made a run to Au Bon Pain and conspiculously asked if I wanted an orange scone or an almond croissant, both of which I love. The smell of fresh coffee kept invading the paint floor where I was trying to immerse myself in work.

But I didn't give in and got it all done at the end of the day--including the single most enjoyable prostate exam my doctor has ever given me.


Saturday, October 29, 2005

 

North Palm, right cheek and submarine dreams


I have a good friend who moved to North Palm Beach about six months ago. This is J, my opera-going buddy from Manchester, Connecticut. He met S, this guy who turned out to be THE guy. S has a place in a small group of homes in North Palm and last night I called to find out how they'd made it through hurricane Wilma.

They were fine, as it turned out. Several of the buildings in their area had roofs torn off and others--but not all, strangely--had lost electricity. J and S had both a roof and power until yesterday morning when their electricity went out and now they're told they won't have it back until almost Thanksgiving. As we spoke they were grilling cheese sandwiches on a Coleman camping stove out on the balconyand making the best of it with love and laughter.

In general, however, their situation is problematic. They're unwilling, justifiably, to brave five mile long lines for gasoline that turns out either to be sold out, or that cannot be pumped because the station has no power. They can walk various distances to various grocery stores or supermarkets that may or may not have anything on the shelves. Clothes washing is going to be a chore, they'll probably lose most of what's in their refrigerator, and S's income will dry up until the schools open again. And all that may not be for a month until the power can be restored.

Now it would seem to me that every time a storm like this happens, power is lost to thousands or, as in this case, to several million people. It costs millions of dollars to put the poles back up and string the wires. Wouldn't it make more sense to put the wires into conduit in the ground? Yes it might cost a bit more to bury the lines than to restore the poles, but the way things are going, putting the lines underground would pay for itself very quickly.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush accepted the blame last week for the confusion and late response in Florida, so I guess it's official: neither one of those Bush Bozos knows how to manage a crisis.

Garnet from Glittering Muse was especially taken by the stature of "Civic Virtue" that's a landmark near my old high school. He asked for a picture taken from behind, and I'm happy to provide one. I feel sure his interest is purely historical--he just wants to see the view that caused Fiorello la Guardia to tire of the statue and have it moved out to Queens.

I had a very strange dream last night, not least because I rarely have gay sex dreams, which this one definitely was. On the surface it seems pretty cut and dried--Will goes on a trip, Will gets laid (a lot, as it turns out). But I think there may be deeper things going on and I'll gladly accept any suggested interpretations.

I was in my early 30s and on a tour of southeast Asia. The tour was travelling via submarine, of all things, and when the dream started, we were pulling into Saigon on the Mekong River. The sub glided along through a couple of canals, passing the opera house which was a strange, compact red brick building not like a Vietnamese building but more like something from Amsterdam. There were rows of windows like the windows of an airplane on this sub and we were all glued to them to see as much of the city as possible.

Suddenly we heard the captain telling us we were going to dive. As we slipped underwater, the river water was clear and bright and not at all like the muddy Mekong I had expected. Very shortly the sub entered an underwater tunnel and moved slowly but steadily through it across the entire city. (It wasn't until mid-morning that I realized what an erotic image a sub slipping into a narrow tunnel was). When we surfaced on the other side of Saigon, the captain announced that the U.S. had invaded Vietnam and we were part of the invasion. Saigon was secure and we could move about the city--but not leave it. Jobs would be provided for us and we were instructed to find residences.

The salaries turned out to be highly inflated and cost of living was very cheap. I got a stylish apartment high in a building with a terrific view and decided to seek a young man for housework and sex. Agencies had view books and private rooms for "auditioning" the men. I picked a young university student. The terms were that I provided residence, meals and his tuition. We signed the papers, he moved in with me and the arrangement was working well for both of us.

One night I brought home an Englishman I had picked up in a bar. He was older than I, late 40s or early 50s, a big blond guy in great shape, bearded, energetic, hung and insatiable. I figured it would take the two of us to satisfy him. We went all night and were still exploring all the possible combinations and configurations when the alarm went off and the dream abruptly ended.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

 
Getting Fritz down to Boston in time for the concert was a real cliff-hanger. During the day I kept calling him and there was always a delay by the hospital in getting him discharged, but he finally arrived at MIT about 6:15. We hopped on the T, had a cheap, decent Boston Market dinner near Symphony and were in our seats in plenty of time to notice and appreciate the gaggle of very handsome young men seated all around us. Their look ranged from preppy to one who bore a strong resembled to Kurt Cobain. They all seemed to know each other and I had a quick fantasy about them all together someplace unencumbered by clothing. I suspected Fritz was in very similar space.

Solo Violinist Julia Fischer

The program was Sibelius's Violin Concerto and Shostakovich's monumental 8th Symphony. Sibelius is a favorite of mine but an especial favorite of Fritz's. He became enamored of the composer's music during a year he spent in Finland as a young man. Soloist in the concerto was German/Czech violinist Julia Fischer. Still in her mid-20s, Ms Fischer was a petite, slender dynamo, chic in an off the shoulder red sheath gown with her blond hair up in a simple, elegant swirl to the back of her head. She plays a mid-18th century Guadagnini violin, producing from it a big, gorgeous tone with an inner strength like a burgundy velvet sheath over a carbon steel sword. And she plays with immense authority, assurance and virtuosity. She and veteran Finnish conductor Paavo Berglund worked superbly together; overheard intermission conversation was full of astonished comments on the quality of Ms Fischer's playing and the impact of the performance.

I recently heard on Boston's WBZ radio a commercial ostensibly from a gay organization, and I'm pretty certain it's a deceptive fake. The ad requests that gay men and lesbians write to Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall and the three other Justices who voted with her in favor of gay marriage, requesting that they resign. The rationale is that since the issue of gay marriage in Massachusetts cost John Kerry the presidential election, that gay marriage has engendered a huge backlash against gay civil rights, and that "everyone is dreading" the coming vote on the anti-gay amendment before the Massachusetts legislature, the four Justices can defuse all these problems by stepping down. It sounds to me like a trick, and I think the infamous Ed and Sally Pawlick, about whom I've written several times, are behind this pernicious ad.

Fritz and I left the house this morning at 6:00am, he to return to New Hampshire and I to head down to New York for my day at my old high school. I'll say going into this story that it turned out to be an enjoyable and positive experience. I quickly discovered that everythin--everything--at Archbishop Molloy High School is different than it was when I was last there as a student.

The trip down through Connecticut was pretty good with only a couple of traffic snarls. On New York radio I heard a campaign ad by two Republican New Jersey candidates during which they aggressively distanced themselves from George W. Bush's policies.

Civic Virtue keeps Vice safely underfoot

When I got to Queens Boulevard, right where I remembered it was the "notorious" statue that had been sculpted to adorn City Hall in Manhattan, "Civic Virtue." It portrays a stunning young naked warrior (symbolizing virtue), all rippling muscle and wearing only a nicely-packed fig leaf, standing triumphantly on the bodies of two writhing, slutty-looking naked women (symbolizing vice and corruption). Women protested the symbolism vigorously, and former New York City Mayor Fiorello la Guardia got tired of looking at the young man's ass every time he walked down the steps of City Hall. So the statue was exiled to Queens and set up very close to where the school now stands, perhaps inspiring some young male students to purity and virtue. Personally, I was always partial to the naked warrior.

Inside the school building, the changes were obvious. First off, the school is now co-ed. None of the adults was walking around in floor-length black cassocks; and women are among the teachers. At one end of the building is an Arts and Sciences wing that includes a 200 seat theater. There is now a music teacher and a theater teacher who directs small plays and also does a film course. The receptionist who checked in the guest presenters was an extremely pleasant Jewish woman. As I pieced the story together from several people, the religious teaching order of Marist Brothers was dying out as very few if any young men were joining up and the surviving older Brothers kept getting older and retiring. Faced with no way to staff the school, a movement started to recruit administrators and teachers from among alumni in various professions. The school isn't run by religious people any more and has diversified and opened up to an amazing degree. The career day to which I had been invited was the first of its kind there and they're exploring other kinds of outreach.

There were something like 80 alumni who had come to share information on their professions with the students. I was the only one presenting on the performing arts. However I quickly found a lawyer who spends his nights as music director for Off-Broadway musicals, and a dealer in antique Native American art from the southwest who has an gallery in Santa Fe and is just opening one in Manhattan. The school used to brag only about its athletes, but now prominently honors an astronaut who was on a recent Space Shuttle flight and actor David Caruso. I did a quick video interview and then we all headed to our assigned rooms.

I wound up in a classroom with E, a young alumnus who had been working as a researcher and now teaches chemistry. I was to have three sessions with students, the first with about ten kids, the next two with fifteen or sixteen each. Their interests ranged from acting, dancing and technical work to directing film, media production and playwrighting. When I mentioned to the first group a life decision I had made because I was a gay man, E flashed me a big smile and the students took it as the most normal thing in the world. During the second session I told the same story, this time with the theater teacher sitting in, and got the same reaction from her.

For the third session, a short, heavy-set man sat in and later introduced himself as one of the Brothers, now retired and living at the school to assist with maintenance--he had been my freshman English teacher. When I said I hadn't thought I would encounter any of my old teachers, he laughed and shot back "We're not ALL dead yet, you know!" And when I said I was surprised to have been invited as an openly gay man, he squeezed my arm and said, "Oh, that's not a problem here." E said good-bye, thanking me for stressing how adaptable thinking and accepting people of all different kinds are essential when working in the arts. After lunch and a more talk, during which the fact that I had driven from out of state was noted and appreciated, I headed back to Boston. It's encouraging to see that things can change--and in positive directions into the bargain.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

 
Disappointment yesterday afternoon: Fritz's main doctor felt he could go home but the cardiologist said no. Due to salmonella's tendency to set up shop in various parts of the heart and attendant arteries, the cardiologist wanted to due a particular scope that involves going down through the esophagus and it could only be done this morning. So, he was in for another night and just called to say that the procedure went well, he's cleared for discharge today, and his heart is clear of infection.

So, if he feels up to the trip down in this howling nor'easter we're having today with soaking rains blown horizontally by gales up to 55 miles per hour, we'll get to the Boston Symphony Concert and otherwise celebrate his getting sprung from the hospital.

Tomorrow is my appearance at Archbishop Molloy High School--my old school--in the Briarwood section of Queens, New York City. I'll report on how I'm received as an openly gay alumnus when I get back.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

 

A discharge, a diva, and a dinner

Things look like they're beginning to return to normal. I drove up to the hospital in Manchester, NH yesterday in the early afternoon and found Fritz pretty comfortably ensconced in one half of a room with a nice looking, heavily tattooed and pierced young man on the other side of the curtain divider. J was in for a serious asthma attack that had hit him as a result of quitting smoking (go figure). He was 25, had begun smoking about four years ago and his asthma for some reason had not been problematic. But he figured he'd better quit for his health's sake only to wind up in hospital as chemical withdrawal triggered an attack.

Fritz would normally have been teaching this weekend but he managed to get a former student to take over for him. However, he asked permission from the doctors to take a furlough of an hour and a half or so to review the students' creative projects so he could provide proper grades. One doc got huffy and said no but the other saw no harm in it, so I drove him back to the Center, where the Masters degree students were delighted to see him and he, as always, just blossomed to be in front of a class and doing what he loves.

After taking him back, a couple of games of cribbage, and his dinner, I returned to his house for the night. Today we learned that he'll probably be discharged tomorrow. They want to do a scan on his aorta in the morning--salmonella apparently likes to set up shop in aortas. Since he has no symptoms any more after three days of antibiotic-laced IV drips, they think this isn't a problem but they want to make sure. Since we have tickets for the Boston Symphony on Tuesday (Sibelius and Shostakovich), we're both keeping our fingers crossed.


Speaking of Symphony Hall, I was there today for an incredible performance by one of the big stars, virtuoso mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli. Petite, dynamic and very Italian, she's made a specialty of the highly demanding opera and oratorio music of the Italian baroque. One of the great experiences is to watch her perform. The music seems to possess her body, she bounces up and down and, for some of the more demanding passages, gets into a tennis serve-like stance, letting fly with streams of florid, brilliant sound. But she can also stand perfectly still and with just a slender but strong thread of voice projecting effortlessly into the big hall, spin out long sensuous phrases of the utmost simplicity and beauty. The audience went bonkers, got four big encores, and left glowing.


Roman diva Cecilia Bartoli

Afterwards, six of us boys went for Thai at a restaurant just behind the hall. I had tamarind duck--I always have duck if it's on a menu. This came out as an entire half duckling, boned, crispy, very flavorful, perfectly garnished.

I've been culling blogs from my link list that seem to have gone dead, sadly, and have added a few others.

Buggery.org is the blog of Paul Kidd from Sydney in Oz with frequent appearances by partner Brent. Lots of good travel photography. And he sells things (no, not his used jock straps). There are witty t-shirts like the one printed with all the Australian slang for "fag" and this one in honor of the Pope and George W. Bush that illustrates the Axis of Evil. Jared (In Puris Naturalibus) is definitely not safe for work, but very much worth a read--and particularly a look. And then there's Adam, "The Gay New Yorker"--funny, I could have sworn there were at least a couple more.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

 

What did he get, and when did he get it?

Fritz is going to be OK. For one thing, the frustrations he's experienced in the hospital brought out his feisty side today and his spirit's back.

After a night of little rest, there came no doctor and no information all morning and into the afternoon. Having finally decided enough was enough, he called the nurses' station and asked for his wallet and other valuables because, he said, he was getting dressed and was going to leave the hospital to go home. There was a doctor in his room almost immediately and she gave him the word that from his samples they had been culturing salmonella. That's those little red guys there on the left invading human cells.
Satisfied that they knew that much and had finally talked to him, he got back into bed. So, now we know what he has. Since I was with him the weekend he began to come down sick--and we ate the same things--we're not sure where he got this from, however.

We spent part of the afternoon sorting out communications. He now has a calling plan number courtesy of his sister so he can make toll calls out of his room. I told reception that I had to have his actual room phone number because every time they patched me through and he answered the phone, I was cut off and given to muzak. Classical muzak, to be sure, but not what I wanted to hear.

We don't know at this point when he gets out. They want to make sure the salmonella doesn't cause any damage to the heart valve that was tightened up during the by-pass procedure he had last year. I'll be driving to the hospital tomorrow after I get my flu shot at my HMO in the morning.

Fritz is still more than a little stand-offish about this whole idea of confiding the details of one's life to cyberspace, but he's enjoyed hearing that my blog friends have sent best wishes. Thanks to all of you who've left comments expressing concern and support--it's meant a great deal.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

 

Where's Fritz?

I know where he is now, but this evening it's been difficult to get any information. He started feeling "strange" over the weekend and finally decided he must be coming down with something. So he stayed in bed, got rest and drank fluids, all the right stuff. Part of the problem was bouts of becoming very cold, one of which he had while we saw "The Aristocrats." When I headed back to Boston on Wednesday morning, we agreed he'd call and see a doctor.

The doctor took cultures, urine and lots and lots of blood and the results came back today--he has a blood infection. They could rule out Lyme Disease and, presumably, things like West Nile Virus but had no other information. They told him to come up for some IV drips. He left around 3:00pm and hadn't been seen or heard from as of 9pm.

After much calling back and forth, I finally got a call from him since the hospital will not give out any information on a patient unless the patient specifically authorizes it. But they will give the patient the info that someone is trying to get in touch. I finally got a call from him with his story. He arrived at the hospital at 3:30pm but because the clinic screwed up on forwarding the records, he wasn't taken to an examination cubicle until 7:30pm and did't see a doctor until 8:30pm. As of 9:15, the IVs hadn't started and at this point he thinks they may have to admit him for the night.

He sounded exhausted and dispirited, which I just hated to hear. I know he's not in any danger, but having to sit in a waiting room for four hours just to be taken to a room in an era when files can be sent from location to location in seconds is truly unacceptable.


For those of you who haven't encountered this before, let me introduce you to the annual Penis Festival in Japan. There's something wonderful about this, I think, seen from the perspective of a country that's as "peniphobic" as the U.S.

Ancient cultures and some modern ones maintain a healthy regard for male and female genitalia, are not ashamed of them and can celebrate them in a positive, enlightened manner. In ancient Greece, fertility festivals in the spring are widely believed to have sparked dance rituals that became theater. Roman homes had shrines to the giantly endowed Priapus, and a kind of alleyway formed by giant carved stone erections was part of the sacred precinct on the island of Delos near the spot where the god Apollo was born.

Check out these two sites for pictures of the most recent festival:
http://ehacked.com/front_page/articles/japans_penis_festival/
http://www.yamasa.org/japan/english/destinations/aichi/tagata_jinja.html

And finally, a joke a friend sent:

Bob was excited about his new .338 rifle and decided to try bearhunting. He traveled up to Alaska, spotted a small brown bear and shot it.
Soon after there was a tap on his shoulder, and he turned around to see a big black bear.

The black bear said, "That was a very bad mistake. That bear was my cousin. I'm going to give you two choices. Either I maul you to death or we have sex." After considering briefly, Bob decided to accept the latter alternative. So the black bear had his way with Bob. Even though he felt sore for two weeks, Bob soon recovered and vowed revenge. He headed out on another trip to Alaska where he found the black bear and shot it dead. Right after, there was another tap on his shoulder.

This time a huge grizzly bear stood right next to him. The grizzly said, "That was a big mistake, Bob. That bear was my cousin and you've got two choices: Either I maul you to death or we have rough sex." Again, Bob thought it was better to cooperate with the grizzly bear than be mauled to death. So the grizzly had his way with Bob. Although he survived, it took several months before Bob fully recovered. Now Bob was completely outraged, so he headed back to Alaska and managed to track down the grizzly bear and shot it. He felt sweet revenge, but then, moments later, there was a tap on his shoulder.

He turned around to find a giant polar bear standing there. The polar bear looked at him and said, "Admit it Bob, you don't come here for the hunting, do you?"

Bears of various species

Friday morning update:
He was admitted and spent a typical night in the hospital not sleeping much since he was awakened every hour for vital signs, etc. They still don't know exactly what kind of infection it is but he told me he feels much better after a night of the medicated IV drips.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

 

For Love of Ink



I haven't gotten any new tattoos in about five and a half years. [Fritz winces as he reads this, suspecting what's coming] For those of you who found DesignerBlog recently, the two accompanying shots will give an idea of the style, color and layout of some of my existing ink. There are three areas where I'm interested in getting some new work.

On my lower back, below the da Vinci with words by Shakespeare via Hamlet, I want to get a small tribal inverted triangle design to echo the big tribal "wings" above, thereby framing the da Vinci top and bottom. It would be a fairly small job but one I've wanted for some time.

The right bicep is pictured here but the left has an armband featuring a square cartouche with a Navajo double-headed snake in the center. I want to have a small cascade of triangles below that, almost like a geometric tassel. I realized soon after I got the band that something was missing and that it wanted to be expanded just a bit. There would also probably be a small "crown" on top of the box to finish off the composition. This would be a half hour job at most, very minor but graphically important.

I'm also thinking of getting a wrist band on my right forearm, more of a cuff, actually, a couple of inches above the wrist. I've seen a couple of these recently and like the look very much. As usual, I'll do my own design and art for anything that goes on my body.

I'm not sure how I'd find him but I'd very much like to locate one of the artists who did the bulk of my work. He was an artist in life (sand-blasted glass sculpture) as well as in the tattoo parlor. Since he was prominently mentioned on at least two tattoo shop sites, I think I can reveal his name--Mondo (for Armando) Gonzales. Working with Mondo was a genuine pleasure. He enjoyed the designs I brought him and my concept of designing the work for the contours of my body, not just slapping them on anywhere. I did ask him to design one piece for me--the big tribal wings across my upper back are his (the Navajo eagle in the center is mine). When I saw his sketch I liked it immediately; when the line transfer was made onto my back the only change I requested was for the long points to crest up and over my shoulders. He then spent some time drawing directly on my body until he'd gotten the exact curve and taper he wanted, holding me still tightly with one arm and drawing with the other, a process he repeated when doing the actual tattooing. And a very pleasant process it was with him wrapped around me that way.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

 
The last several days have been something of a blur. I'm working extra hard at MIT on the current show as it's a big one and I'm letting the Technical Director have all the available student help in the shop. We're putting the set into the theater on October 29 and it's vital all the big pieces get built by the end of this week so I can finish painting them before they go into the truck. Next week I can afford to have some of the kids work with me but I paint fast anyway, so it's not so bad, actually.

Well, the director DID ask for another chair in the first scene which means I have to upholster a third piece of furniture to match the other two. But I'll manage. I spent Thursday sewing curtains, tablecloths and napkins.

Thursday evening, Fritz came down to Boston for the first performance on our subscription to the Speakeasy Stage. Speakeasy is one of the medium-sized theater companies here in Boston, its repertory devoted generally to gay written and/or gay-themed material. This season, including the Kander & Ebb musical "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "Caroline, or Change" with script by Tony Kushner, and a collection of five of the newly rediscovered Tennessee Williams late career one acts, looked very interesting, so we subscribed.

Bill Brochtrup live on stage for a change

The first play was "Theater District" by Richard Kramer, a noted television writer/producer/director who's been involved with the series "thirtysomething," "My So-Called Life," "Once and Again" (a favorite of Fritz's for Billy Campbell if nothing else), and the first round of "Tales of the City." The star was Bill Brochtrup of "N.Y.P. D. Blue."

The talent pool of Boston actors now has such breadth and depth that it wasn't a case of Brochtrup and the Seven Dwarfs. The play deals with the relationship between a lawyer and a former actor who runs his own restaurant in New York City. The lawyer's 15 year-old son has left his career-driven mother and her new husband in favor of his newly out father, who's also too career-oriented to parent effectively, and his charmingly bohemian boyfriend who makes a sensational parent and becomes the boy's real mentor in life. "Theater District" runs 80 minutes without intermission and is excellently written and acted.

Friday after work, I took in a fascinating production of Henry Purcell's classic English baroque opera "Dido and Aeneas" directed by currently very hot director Chen Shi-Zheng and featuring Panamanian-American baritone
Nmon Ford in sheer green irridescent harem pants and an elaborate black leather harness as Aeneas. The moment he arrived on stage, the temperature of an otherwise very effective performance rose noticably.

Nmon Ford rather more dressed than he was on stage

Chen and his designer Walt Spangler set the opera in ankle-deep water in a pool that covered the entire stage. Dido, legendary Queen of Carthage, confined herself mostly to the top of an abstract mass composed of translucent white plastic discs while her people froliced in the water with beach balls. A sailor from Aeneas's ship, the trim and well-muscled Ryan Turner, led them in some air surfboard during an interlude in the rocky relationship between the royal lovers. After Aeneas departed to fulfill his destiny to found Rome Dido, the statuesque and honey-voiced Paula Murrihy, died atop the abstract mass, transformed by some superb projections into a blazing funeral pyre.

The curtain calls were delightful. The barefoot chorus and soloists lined up in the water while conductor Grant Llewellyn and the set, costume and lighting designers, all with their suit trousers rolled up over bare calves, made their way gingerly into place trying not to get themselves too wet.

After the final curtain I drove up to Fritz's in lashing heavy rain and slipped into bed with him, happy to be out of the wet myself. Saturday was devoted to shopping (two belts and a shirt) and to helping him with a creative drama class in the afternoon.

Sunday I left just after 7 am and drove to New York for "Ariane et Barbe-bleu" by Paul Dukas, otherwise known chiefly for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" as visualized in Disney's "Fantasia." "Ariane" is a concise three act symbolist opera in which the legendary wife-slayer Bluebeard marrys for the sixth time, only to have this new wife revive the first five and confront him for his crimes. Convinced she's radicalized the women, Ariane gets a shock when they prefer to remain with their tormentor rather than face the unknown and disturbing prospect of freedom and having to make it on their own in an uncertain world.

The New York City Opera performs in the New York State Theater in Lincoln Center, a great example of 1960s industrial style. Most surfaces are hard and metallic, the ceiling is made of bronzed hardware mesh, and the acoustics are questionable. The stage really is inadequate in size for major opera, but the theater was actually built for ballet and thereby hangs the tale of the bad sound.

Choreographer George Balanchine's New York City Ballet was supposed to be the main tenant of the theater and he decreed that the clack of wooden toe shoes on the female dancers should not be audible in the auditorium. So the place was designed specifically to NOT let sound project from the stage. In reality, the City Opera became the dominant tenant and found that it was a bad hall for singing.

Over the years, all kinds of quick fixes have been attempted, including folding screens (which you can see stacked on the arms of the five balconies) that were supposed to break up and bounce the sound into the auditorium. Their success was limited and electronic "sound enhancement," which most of us in the audience hate, has been introduced.

At any rate, Araine bid her sister wives a fond adieu and walked out of Bluebeard's chateau at 4:08pm today. I drove back to Boston in an impressive 3 hours and 18 minutes; I made no stops and discovered that the roads were being driven very fast by everyone today, so I simply went with the flow.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

 

Title of a lecture given at MIT last week: Analyzing Synapse Formation in Mutant and Fluorescent Mice. I almost went in the hope that a fluorescent mouse might be in attendance.

The following is definitely NOT earth-shaking news, but it's nice anyway. The Gay Male Body.com has a blog directory and people who click on the various links can then rate what they've read. For at least a year DesignerBlog was respectably in the middle. Early in September, it began to rise. Last night I checked and found it's number one. Since very few people close to me know I have a blog, and would have no reason to suspect that Gay Male Body had a list even if they did, I can guarantee it wasn't a case of my friends ganging up to weight the voting.

Seen on a bumper sticker: George W. is so Bush league.

Yes.

He's also deeper than ever in the dumpster in terms of America's opinion of his performance and the country's future under his "leadership." Herewith, the latest figures:

Is the U.S. on the right track?
No, 59% Yes, 28%

Are catastrophic oil product prices coming?
Yes, 69%
-catastrophic natural gas prices?
Yes, 61%
The coming heating season may well be the winter of our discontent.

After the 2006 elections, which party should control Congress?
Democrats: 48% Republicans, 39%

And an astonishing one: a special poll was taken only among African-Americans, the question being, do you approve of George W. Bush's performance?
Yes, 2%

2% approval is the lowest any American president has ever gotten from black Americans, and by a wide margin at that. Even having some well-placed Republicans mention what a great presidential candidate Condoleezza Rice would be couldn't get him above 2%.

Among other problems facing Bozo currently are that his touting Harriet Meiers's evangelical Christian religion, as he did the other day in the interests of letting all know some more about how she would act as a Supreme Court Justice, has seriously backfired. It was the Republicans who insisted that John Roberts's Catholicism shouldn't be mentioned by anyone during the confirmation process, but there was George pouring on the fundamentalism as an asset. Tim Russert ventured on the NBC news yesterday morning that if Karl Rove is indicted in the CIA agent revelation case, the results for Bush will extremely serious not only within the Beltway, but throughout the country.

I am more and more seeing the attack on 9/11 as Bush's salvation. I think if the attack had never happened, his incompetence would have been revealed much, much sooner. He was able to ride on the theatricality of his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the superhero aircraft carrier landing for a couple of years, and it got him through the election. But now look at how fast it's all falling apart.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

 
I met a young man last weekend, one of the Body Electric School participants, who explores identity issues through photography. He and I were speaking about the issue I later saw in the first lines of today's post on Garnet's blog, Glittering Muse http://glitteringstew.com/muse. Our perception of a blogger is based solely on how much the blogger cares to reveal or conceal when writing, which is then captured and processed by our own unique perspectives and life experiences. We form a kind of intimacy with a blogger via comments and email exchanges, but can we ever truly know him/her if we cannot actually know them in person?

The same could, of course, be said of the old days of pen pals, except that now the illusion of total revelation is given by the immediacy of the electronic medium, ease in posting an unlimited number of photos, the availability of webcams, and podcasting. The engine that fuels all this is the interlock of our age's exhibitionism/voyeurism.

I entered this world voluntarily, seeking an outlet to loosen myself up from the self-sequestered, insular world of my reclusive family by connecting with the gay blog community. Nobody was ever invited into our house for dinner, or to spend an evening watching a game on TV. The end of the work day was a time for circling the wagons around the claustrophobic four room apartment and keeping out the wider world. When I got away to college and had a chance to see things with the objectivity of distance, I realized that personal privacy had become an obsession with my family to a pathological degree, and that I had to rebuild a lot of myself if I was to interact creatively with the world as it really was. It took a long time for me to learn to trust, to become comfortable revealing rather than hiding.

More than a decade ago I discovered personal webcams. They were in their infancy and I was astounded to see people living their lives on cam, some of them 24 hours a day with cams at home and at work. I remember in particular Sean Patrick, one of the first webcam stars, a gay man who ate, slept, groomed, worked and entertained on cam. While his wasn't specifically a sexcam, if sex happened for him, it happened on his cam. This was a concept totally opposed to everything I had experienced or been taught while growing up.

For me, the big turning point was coming out, which I soon discovered is a never-ending process. I worked to become comfortable with it and it finally became second nature. I worked at it because I understood the political nature of it, and the concept that we need to be totally out, and that the more of us who are out and visible throughout society, the better for all of us everywhere. Coming out was a break-through in getting beyond my ingrained feeling that my personal life was nobody's business but mine.

By the time blogs came along, I saw the logic and appeal of them immediately. Throughout the years, people--friends, older relatives, teachers--had urged me to keep a diary or journal of some sort, and I'd always wondered what the purpose of it was. I already knew my feelings and thoughts and have been blessed (sometimes I think cursed) with an extremely good memory. Who would read this diary besides me? But to put myself out in public as an artist and a normal, healthy gay man who worked at a major educational institution and had raised children as a single parent, that made sense. I know that there are security issues in contemporary life. At a time of major concern about identity theft, stalkers and loss of privacy, people discuss hook-ups, break-ups, medication, depression, chemical usage, their finances and their jobs for the entire world to see. I've seen blogs shut down suddenly because the blogger's boss or family found out, or because friends or lovers felt betrayed.

So how does one manage? Where are the lines drawn, or are there any lines? How does each of us decide how much to reveal and how much to retain? How calculated are we at managing our identities when we blog?

Monday, October 10, 2005

 
For anyone who's curious, I spent the last two days with Fritz in the company of 29 gay men who were naked for at least half the time. It was a great crowd, one of the nicest we've ever hosted from the Body Electric School. The men made a fine group, but were really interesting as individuals as well. The program ended last night in a tangle of hugging and kissing. We've invited several who live reasonably close by to the monthly Sweats and are hoping to see them again with some regularity.

For these weekends we set up one of the conference rooms with a specially painted floor cloth and a couple of tables. Other equipment is kept in storage for their semi-annual visits. They bring a lot of gear with them, all of it personalized to the region and the style of the local coordinators. We’re present on Friday evening to greet and assist the presenters as they set up, and the participants as they settle in for the weekend. The experience is deeper and more personal at Fritz's than at the majority of Body Electric sites as there's a residential facility here. Elsewhere guys have to take hotel rooms and fend for themselves at restaurants in between sessions. You can check out what the Body Electric does at
http://www.bodyelectric.org.

It's pretty intense for us on Saturdays because we cater breakfast, lunch (both buffet style, with a cooked main course for breakfast and a home-made soup du jour for lunch) and dinner, which is a leisurely, fancy candle-lit meal. Sunday’s a bit lighter for us with breakfast and lunch only, except for the fact that we take out all the special set-up and do a big clean-up after the program ends. But it's very rewarding for us, something we both believe in deeply and that we genuinely enjoy doing.


I'd mentioned in an earlier post that I wonder if we as a nation aren't seriously over-extended, with way too much on the plate and too many pressing issues yapping at our heels that aren't getting any attention.

This morning's news just made the issues clearer in my mind. The warnings on the probable spread of the bird (avian) flu are becoming more insistent along with dire warnings of probably high death rates here in the U.S. because--surprise--we aren't prepared with sufficient amounts of vaccine for a pandemic. Another unimaginably huge disaster has just hit Pakistan/Afghanistan (estimated 30,000 dead); we still have one major American city and part of our energy refining system in desperate need of reconstruction; we have no back-up plan for non fossil-fuel energy production (solar or wind or garbage-fired power plants); the situation in Iraq deteriorates by the day; our infastructure is in need of immediate attention; our health care system is in crisis with most Americans having insuficient or no coverage at all . . . it just goes on and on, not to mention the continuing national disgrace of poverty among a shockingly large, and growing, amount of the population.

You might think that those in charge of running this country MIGHT just have a thought of paying more attention to gravely pressing matters at home rather than trying once again to interfere with the affairs of other nations via armed conflict, at enormous cost in lives, money and raped land. Just how self-centered, corrupt and/or plain stupid ARE these people?

The new Supreme Court nominee's confirmation process is going to be most interesting to watch. So far the Democrats are taking a low profile and letting Bush's own supporters derail her candidacy. "Crony" is the cry heard throughout the land, while Bozo smirks and tells us that if only we have faith in his choice we're going to see a "fantastic woman" on the bench. The morning he made that statement, his approval ratings fell lower than ever, the vast majority of Americans expressing their opinion in the latest poll that they don't have faith in the U.S. Government to run the country. Is he in touch with reality? Does he listen or pay attention to his own citizens at all? Does he give a damn about any of us?

The Democrats are being handed a golden opportunity to recapture Congress and the White House by the Republicans themselves--I'm praying they won't blow it as they so frequently do through intramural bickering and petty rivalries.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

 
When I called Fritz the other morning, he was already up and reading the copy of "Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenides I had lent him. He'd just finished the chapter on the horrific destruction of the city of Smyrna, slaughter of the Armenian population and expulsion of the Greeks by the Turks in 1922. As I had hoped, he was impressed by Eugenides as a writer, the kind of writer who can make even mundane activities, or the connective tissue in a novel from one big set piece to another, compelling. It took Eugenides nine years to write "Middlesex" but the payoff was the Pulitzer Prize. Amazingly, it's only his second novel.

I know the first one only from some comments made by the guys in the book group. It's called "The Virgin Suicides" and the premise sounds like some ritualistic Greek Tragedy--one by one, all the daughters in a family kill themselves. It certainly doesn't sound like light reading, but the description of "Middlesex" sounded pretty grim and it turned out to be a real page-turner. I've ordered a used copy from amazon.

Until it gets here I'm reading a short book, "Gentlemen Callers: Tennessee Williams, Homosexuality, and Mid-twentieth-century Drama" by Michael Paller. He has both professional and academic theater credits and currently teaches at both Columbia in New York City and the State University of New York at Purchase. Williams is--or should be--a sure-fire subject. He was completely out long before Stonewall and the beginnings of "gay lib." He wrote iconic plays that included both overt and covert gay leading characters. And he became controversial in both the straight and gay communities as the political landscape shifted, eventually becoming reviled by mainline theater critics and radical liberationists as either too gay, not gay enough--or irrelevant.

Paller's thesis is that Williams wasn't a self-loathing, morose and tragic figure, a tale that has often been told in biographies and critical studies. That sounds great but so far it's reading much less interestingly than it should. For one thing, having stated that Williams wasn't filled with self-loathing, he wraps up descriptions of a couple of the playwright's hook-ups with the comment that he was filed with loathing for what he'd done. Huh?

Since I hadn't read any Williams biography until now, I'm getting a lot out of the purely historical/biographical aspects of "Gentlemen Callers," but I wonder if the Williams who took two or three men home with him at different times in the same night and then suffered severe depressions would recognize the confident, unconflicted Williams Paller keeps assuring the reader was the real man.

I'm off to Fritz's tomorrow in the early afternoon. We're hosting a Body Electric School weekend, cooking for two dozen or more gay men. The team presenting the weekend are all good friends of ours. The weather is supposed to be dreadful but it shouldn't ruin anything for either the guys or us. Unfortunately the color is late in developing in the trees this year so our guests won't see New England in fall at its best.

I've posted shots and stories about several of opera's current or recent male stars, so I thought I'd spend a week or so introducing some of the women. I particularly like to debunk the myth that the average female singer is grossly overweight and unattractive. Sure, someome are, but they're in the minority these days.

Meet one of the hot new stars to come out of Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, soprano Anna Netrebko. She's a hard worker who scrubbed the floors of the music conservatory in St. Petersberg where she studied to earn tuition money.

Her career in "the west" has been something of a triumphal march. I was at her Metropolitan Opera debut as Natasha in Prokofiev's "War and Peace" in which she enchanted the audience and sang gorgeously. She recently had a huge success in San Francisco as Juliet in Gounod's "Romeo et Juliet." Her first big solo CD became a best seller. Still in her early 30s and continuing to develop and improve, she would seem to have a very bright career ahead of her.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

 

Maybe you CAN go "home" again

Surprise, surprise. Last Friday I opened my email in the morning and there was a message from my old high school. Recap for those who joined DesignerBlog after intermission: strict Catholic upbringing, 12 years of Catholic school, currently not a practicing anything in terms of religion (well, pagan if anything). Suddenly my old high school writes inviting me to speak at a career day for their current students; against all my presupposed inclinations, I'm intrigued and express willingness to participate; Fritz wonders if I'm not carrying too baggage for this to be good. Silence from them for over a month: have they accessed this blog, know I'm an out gay man and decided to take a pass?

Apparently not or, if so, they've decided to go with it; I'm on for Wednesday, the 26th of this month. I'll drive out of Boston early in the morning; I have to be in a particular classroom and ready to go at 11:30am. They like the fact that I've done this sort of thing for the last two years at the career days in New England hosted by Johns Hopkins University. They like that I have hand-outs ready to go. There will be three sessions with students and a panel discussion to wrap things up. There will be a reception afterwards for all the alumni who've participated. I wonder if I'll run into anyone from my class: anyone I liked, or anyone of the boys who tormented me for being inept at sports and being involved with classical music, art and opera. As Fritz says (faux New Hampshire accent), "it's an advenchah!"

Afterwards, before I drive home to Boston, I may make a stop at Maple Grove Cemetery across Queens Boulevard from the school and visit the final resting places of my parents, grandparents and great grandmother.

Opera gods of an earlier generation

A while ago I wrote about several hunks of the current opera and ballet scene; I thought I would reach back today to a couple of the biggest Italian stars during the years when I was growing up and first coming to opera. Both men were at the very top of the profession and their lives intertwined both professionally and personally.

The young Franco Corelli (left) and Ettore Bastianini

Franco Corelli was a matinee idol tenor with one of the greatest voices of the 20th century; it was huge, unforced, gorgeously colored. People described it as golden, as molten bronze, as sex given a voice. Franco was the classic tall, dark and handsome leading man. I asked a colleague of mine who had gone to a Corelli performance how it had gone. "The man sang through his dick!" came the awed reply. You knew there was a good body under the costumes but in those days, men didn't appear half naked on stage, at least not in opera. But Franco had incredibly beautiful legs, and those he DID show off at every opportunity.

In his ancient Egyptian and Roman roles, he always wore the shortest possible tunics: in his Italian Renaissance roles, the tightest possible tights. A friend of mine went to the opera one night with a couple of guys he knew. There'd been scotch and a lot of wine with dinner and one half of the couple nodded off. Suddenly, Franco uncorked one of his patented endless, enormous, thrilling high notes. Joe's friend jolted awake and, forgetting momentarily that he was in a theater with 3800 other people, blurted out, "holy shit, Joey, get a load of the basket on Franco!" Several rows in front and in back convulsed with laughter--and in appreciation of an obvious truth.

Ettore Bastianini, an exact contemporary of Franco, was gifted with one of the most beautiful baritone voices of his generation. Handsome, a good actor, and reputed to be one of the nicest guys (if not exactly the greatest intellect) in the business, he was in demand everywhere. He became especially popular in Japan. For about ten years he was, as one critic slyly described him, "pretty much cock of the walk" at Italy's premiere opera house, La Scala in Milan. He and Franco were cast opposite each other with some frequency and always struck sparks off each other in their scenes together.

Fate was cruel to Bastianini. In his early 40s he was struck with throat cancer. There was an operation, and part of his throat was cut away. Bravely, he returned to the stage. Opera houses stood by him, but the voice wasn't the same. The smoothness was gone, the tone rugged and strained. Audiences were polite, sensing something was seriously wrong. The cancer had spread, and he was forced to withdraw to a hospice in Switzerland.

His last days were hard. His wife abandoned him to face death alone at age 45. Then Franco showed up and stayed, arranging for other colleagues to visit whenever possible. In the big romantic operas, it's usually the tenor who dies, with the baritone either guilty of murder or lamenting the loss of an irreplaceable friend. This time the roles were reversed; this time it was the tenor who stood by his friend and colleague to the end.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

 

A Country Weekend

Ox pulling at the Deerfield Fair

The run of gorgeous early fall weather continued this weekend and Fritz and I made the most of it. I left Boston early Saturday morning--6:00am--and headed north along almost empty roads past ponds and fields over which clouds of fog hovered lightly. When I got to the bridge over the Merrimack, a band of fog coming down river arched up and over the bridge and settled back down over the water in a spectacular effect.

It was the weekend for the 129 year old Deerfield Fair. We've gone several times in the years we've been together and I always have a good time. We got there early, well ahead of the heaviest crowds. Why is it that the food that's the very worst for you always smells best? Fried dough, funnel cake and sausage stands were everywhere. We found an apple crisp and ice cream stand, enjoying it thoroughly. The first exhibit we came across was a solar energy company with a photovoltaic display--exactly what I will want for the new house. The information was invaluable--a relatively small array of cells and the batteries to store the electricity they generate can power all the lights for a house, a refrigerator and a freezer for a surprisingly reasonable amount of money.

We toured the judged exhibits: crafts, fruit, vegetables, pickles and jams, and the various animals. An especial favorite of ours are the fancy poultry. All kinds of exotic ducks, geese and chickens were on display along with the ribbons they'd won and the prices for which you could take them home. A couple of chicken varities sported big "wigs" of feathers including one we dubbed the "Phyllis Diller" hen.

New Hampshire still has agriculture and a wide array of farm animals. Of all the morning events, we picked the ox pulling contest. Pairs of oxen grouped by weight (ours were the 3,200 pound oxen) are hitched to a metal sled piled with 500 pound granite blocks, which they have to pull at least six feet without stopping or setting a leg out of the marked course. Six teams began and after each round more blocks were added, beginning with 2500 pounds, doubling to 5000 and then adding 1000 until by 7000 pounds there was a clear winner. We finished the morning watching a demonstration of sheep dogs herding sheep, goats, and geese.

Back at Fritz's we picked two big bowls of raspberries, enough for him to make ten new jars of preserves. It's dragon fly season. They're gentle insects who'll lite on your finger if you hold it out anywhere near where they hover over bushes or woodpiles. Some of the flies have brilliant turquoise bodies but my favorites are the ones with deep chinese red bodies and opalescent wings.

This morning was liesurely. We like Charles Osgood's Sunday Morning program, a magazine show that's informative, witty and fullof the off-the beaten-path. This morning, the segment that really caught us was devoted to Carl of Carl's Corner, Texas. Carl created a small town of 200 people so he could incorporate it under Texas law and then developed a huge truck stop that's become famous. He was about to close it down after the death of all three of his sons whe Willie Nelson intervened. Carl and Willie began experimenting with corn oil and reclaimed deep fryer fat as a substitute for diesel fuel and have the testimonials of truckers that their mileage increases when they use it and their engines run better and cleaner. Their next project is going to be the construction of a plant to produce these substitute, easily renewable fuels and distribute them at Carl's truck stop and elsewhere.

Makes you wonder why, if a truck stop owner and a country singer can come up with an idea like this and make it work, the government and/or our bloated, petroleum-dependent energy companies can't do the same.


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