Thursday, August 31, 2006

I sailed through a long day at MIT yesterday: a two and a half hour meeting between the design staff and the section head in the morning, another meeting immediately after with my counterpart on the Music side of things to iron out scheduling issues, a rental client from Speakeasy Stage's coming production of "The Women" who propped his entire show out of our stock--taking one and a half hours, two hours devoted to an orientation event for incoming freshmen, another renter, then paperwork. I wasn't out of the office until almost six thirty. But somehow, I felt euphoric.

Word has spread that this is to be my last year at the Institute and things are beginning to happen. Theater is given two opportunities a year to place displays in a large exhibit case in the Humanities Building and for the last fifteen or so years I've been the one to design and install them. I was told I wasn't designing the October one this year because our costume designer is to make one up devoted to a survey of my set design work over the years. She's also been assigned to plan a farewell reception in the spring and has asked me to draw up a list of guests I want to attend.

I'll probably have some tough moments in the late spring as my last days get closer and closer, but I think I'm going to enjoy this year in a very deep and special way. As I went through the day, I began to sense a heightened awareness of the things I'm doing and the people I'm interacting with. As of now, everything I do during in the Institute's annual cycle of activities and events is something I'll be doing for the last time.

I’m finishing up my summer reading with a double dose of Alan Hollinghurst, his first novel "The Swimming Pool Library," and his second, "The Folding Star." Hollinghurst is a 50 year old gay Brit who pulled down England's highest literary award, the Booker Prize, a couple of years ago for his longest and most significant novel yet, "The Line of Beauty." That was my introduction to his writing. I recently discovered that between "Star" and "Beauty" there was another book that was well received by critics but that didn't sell well, called "The Spell" that's described as "a gay comedy of manners."

The comedy of manners, gay- or straight-themed (but most frequently by gay writers) used to be a highly popular literary form in England on page or on stage, but it's not a form that's survived strongly in the mass market in the twenty-first century. The four novels, a couple of anthologies of poetry by himself and others that he's edited, a very early work called "Confidential Chats with Boys" that's so rare Amazon.UK cant locate any copies, and a translation of Racine's heroic French Baroque play "Bajazet" make up the great majority of Hollinghurst's output--a list not long but choice, because he's a terrific writer.

What Hollinghurst has managed, not uniquely among authors but with a unique personal style and wit, is to combine erotica with aesthetics--sex between men in all its carnal beauty exists within the context of distinguished novels that explore serious social, political and psychological truths. Hollinghurst's heroes are gay men in their mid 20s or early 30s, working out their lives and lusts under the shadow of the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the Thatcherite England of the 1980s. Amazingly, they can still be a bit stuffy about homosexuality in England; the judges who awarded "Line of Beauty" the highly prestigious Booker Prize willingly gave the award but declined to discuss the book in their announcement.

In any event, Hollinghurst is wonderful, highly satisfying reading. I have a couple more of his titles coming via Amazon New and Used as of this morning.

The demolition of the building next door to our design and production center is nearing its end--not without incident. When I went in on Tuesday, I did an inspection and discovered chunks of masonry, sharp-edged and weighing as much as four pounds, lying on the floor and on top of things all along the wall that adjoined the building being taken down. Most of these chunks came from our poured concrete roof near the big steel girders that support it. But I noticed a large section of whitewashed brick wall that had large cracks in it, mortar missing from between the bricks, and loose bricks. I gave a yell to our technical director and he confirmed that the wall was bulging in an inch or so.

We got in touch with MIT's project manager for the job who arrived immediately with the foreman of the demolition crew. The foreman admitted that sometime earlier in the morning the huge Excavator that moves around on the rubble pile breaking up the concrete debris, had "kissed the wall," a charming euphemism for "we bashed in the side of your building."

A structural engineer did an inspection, finding that there's no danger of collapse--but the wall will have to be repaired. The good news is that one of the most effective ways of making that repair is to remove all the bricks in the damaged area and install a window. There's no ventilation system and only three relatively small windows in our entire building so a new one is going to be extremely welcome.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

It's gone very chilly in Boston--actually cold at night--so Fritz and I pulled out an extra acrylic blanket to sleep under the last two nights of his stay down here. Last night I folded it up into a thick square and left it on the now-empty other side of the bed where it's deep softness and warmth has become THE place for my cat. She sacks out there now, occasionally rolling on her back, looking at me invitingly, waiting for me to realize there's a tummy to be rubbed, a chin and throat to be scratched. The folded mass makes a pedestal high enough that she can easily look from its summit across the blanket chest and out the window without having to exert herself by anything so tedious as actually getting up and moving. I suspect that blanket will have to remain there all winter.

That's a lot longer than the post I wrote up last night remained in the word file where I'd composed it. I made a careless wrong choice and the entire thing vanished never to be seen again. Here's what the weekend looked like: Fritz and I worked both inside and outside the house depending on the weather which is now acting very much like early spring. During one of our pruning and weeding sessions, I got hit on the ankle by a ground hornet--only one this time, not like the half dozen that had at my inner thighs (PLEASE, no comments) earlier in the month when I was power mowing. This time I made it into the house and got an antihistamine into me and some ammonia on the sting point within about three minutes so the intense, burning pain and resulting itch have been greatly reduced. Other than to create misery, I've yet to see any purpose to ground hornets in Nature's great plan.

Most of our work was in the house, clearing out the chronically unused, obviously unusable and totally obsolete from several areas of the house, the storage attic and my studio in particular. We had begun by inventorying all the furniture in the house and listing what was going to be moved to the new house, placed in a big yard sale, left for whoever buys the house or just given to MIT's prop stock. We filled six huge trash bags, packaged years (in some cases, decades) of Opera News and other classical music and CD review magazines for recycling as I'd determined from a local used CD and music book dealer that they have absolutely zero resale value.

It was all a very healthy and nowhere near as painful a process as I'd feared. We broke the weekend up with fun social events, like the latest Queer Boston Bloggers dinner out at Boston's famed Parker House on Friday night. Boston Crème Pie, Baked Schrod with a butter and herb cracker crumb topping, and of course, Parker House Rolls had been invented there. There was a $30 prix fixe menu as part of the summer edition of Boston Restaurant Week. Neither Fritz nor I had been to the Parker House in years (our table was directly below the portrait seen in the picture), and I discovered that the dining room was completely redone in rich jewel tones and dark wood. Karl, Bryan and Jason (on the eve of moving into their first place together), Keith and the two of us made up the party.

The food was pretty good. Although lobster gazpacho was far more gazpacho than lobster, it was quite pleasant. The grilled mahi-mahi was very good. No "nouvelle" squiggles of sauce on the plate where food should be, there was a satisfyingly large slab of well cooked fish and properly crisp and flavorful veggies. Fritz opted for grilled veal which looked (and tasted, he said) fine. We all went for the Boston Crème Pie for dessert and got a surprise--ordered at the source, it’s a healthy cylinder of cake and filling rolled in slivered nuts, topped by dark and white chocolate fondant with a generous dollop of whipped cream on the side along with chocolate and raspberry sauce--not the ordinary two layer yellow cake with whipped cream in the middle and simple chocolate frosting that's the standard at other restaurants in the area.

Service fell down at the end. After dessert was served, our waitress forgot about us for a half hour, disappearing from the floor. Fritz found our check on a sideboard and Keith ventured out to the hostess station to pay our bill so we could finally leave. Fritz, normally the gentlest and most forgiving of men, got delightfully incensed over this kind of neglect at a restaurant of the Parker Housess reputation, after which we all hugged goodnight and headed home.

Sunday morning we hosted the guys who bought the house next door to me last spring for brunch. We’d had some over-the-fence-contact and they'd met Fritz briefly but we'd never had a chance to really get to know each other. The weather made us abandon any thoughts of brunch on the deck, so I set the dining room table with the good stuff. Fritz made one of his Southwest Egg Dishes with layers of flour tortillas, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, and mild green chilies, all left to soak in a milk and egg mixture overnight and baked in the morning. Yummy! We also had a sweet whole wheat Italian bread from our local Fornax bakery, and fresh fruit salad including our home-grown raspberries. The boys brought a bottle of pink Champagne with which I made mimosas, and we spent three hours talking, laughing and and having a really good time.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Fritz came down to Boston Wednesday, bringing with him a big box of raspberries from our bushes that are just beginning to bear heavily. Last year I think they went through most of September. He's also harvested all the peaches from both his old tree and the one we planted in our new little orchard. The new tree was covered with fruit so heavily that its supple young branches were bending right down to the ground; to avoid their snapping off, we had to get long lengths of lumber to support them.

Peaches and raspberries, in that order, are my two favorite fruits. As the season progresses, we’ll preserve, freeze and make sorbet out of the raspberries; the peaches have already been made into peach & ginger preserves and a delightful peach tea bread--both specialties of Fritz's.

JN aka Gaffer 63 is a blogger I discovered a couple of days ago. He's involved in film and TV production and works all over, with Hollywood and Brooklyn, NY being his major bases of operation. He featured this telling excerpt from Bozo's most recent press conference:
From a news conference today. Bush finally admits that Iraq's role in 9/11 was nil.
QUESTION: What did Iraq have to do with that?

BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what?

QUESTION: The attack on the World Trade Center.

BUSH: Nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody's ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- Iraq -- the lesson of September the 11th is take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody's ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq.

Read the whole transcript over @ Raw Story and Think Progress has all the times the Bush Administration DID connect Iraq to 9/11.

Thanks to The Artist, whose blog is Diary of a Hearthhusband, for the graphic.

My cat has started quite suddenly to do something she's never done before. A couple of weeks ago I noticed that several times a week I'd come into my pantry, where her food and water dish is, to find the floor very wet and water not only on its side of the dish, but also pretty deep in the food side. I knew she had to be doing something but I had no idea what. I'd mop up, but it would happen again and again.

Eventually I was working in the kitchen and saw her walk into the pantry to the dish. She drank a little water and then stared into it intently for a while. Suddenly and with great force, she took her right front paw and slammed it down in the middle of the water, sending a big splash in all directions. Then she walked away, happy with what she'd done. Other than I get a very clean pantry floor from mopping water up all the time, I'm not so sure how happy I am.

I experimented and made tagine for our dinner last night. Tagine is a north African, principally Moroccan, dish traditionally made of lamb but more recently expanded to include beef, chicken (which I did), fish, and vegetable combinations based on egg plant or sweet potatoes. A good number of olives, either green or ripe black, figure in most of these recipes but Fritz has a thing about olives so I substituted chopped apricots (which are called for in the vegetarian tagines anyway). The recipe looked originally to be somewhat complicated, but in the making turned out to be easy and it was very good eating.

It can be made in a tagine (same name for the traditional two-piece earthenware vessel with the tall conical top as for the recipe made in it) or in a standard large heavy lidded iron pot. The heart of tagine is the spice mix which typically includes cumin, ginger, saffron, cayenne, coriander, etc. I found a pre-mixed tagine spice at a Williams-Sonoma store.

Another essential ingredient is preserved lemon, which I hadn't prepared in advance—it takes a month. So I substituted simple lemon rinds which cooked up to be sweet and tender and gave a tang to the sauce that worked well with the spices. However when I read how to make preserved lemon, I decided it would be good to have for the future. After dinner I gathered four lemons and followed the directions.

You stand a lemon on its stem end and cut it into quarters, cutting only down as far as will leave one half inch uncut. You spread the quarters gently and pack them with salt. Then push the lemon together again and lay it on its side on the bottom of a sterilized mason jar with a tablespoon of salt on the bottom. Push the lemon down to flatten it, cover with more salt, a couple of bay leaves and half of a cinnamon stick. Stack more lemons on top, one at a time with the salt/bay/cinnamon stick topping on each, compacting them each time. Leave three quarters of an inch to an inch free at the top of the jar, fill with water to within half an inch of the top, then float some olive oil on the water to serve as a seal. Cap the jar and in a month--preserved lemons. They're rinsed of excess salt and used as a major flavoring in tagines, cut up and distributed through the stew.

I served a chicken with lemon, onion and garlic tagine over barley because I'm getting a little tired of rice or cous cous under everything, and it worked out very well. Parsley and/or cilantro can also be added during the stewing of the chicken.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


Wonderful Individual Luxuriating in Loving and Intense, Arousing Massage

I stopped by Kevin's Shoot from the Hip blog and found this little indicator that seems very wise as it takes your name and the icon you choose for yourself and then makes a phrase to describe you. Just click on the graphic and you should be taken there. The interesting thing, as Kevin indicates about himself, is that the results are right on target: Fritz and I met at a massage event and have been luxuriating in each other's love ever since. By the way, we both love champagne which is why I chose that particular icon or, as they call it, avatar.

I got back from Cooperstown late Sunday, later than I'd hoped because of some severe weather, particularly in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. Instead of coming home to Roslindale, I stayed Sunday night with Fritz, which we both liked, and returned to Boston Monday bringing my cat with me.

Demolition of the building next to us at MIT is going much more slowly than they planned. I did a drive-by on my way through the Boston area and saw that its entire back wall was still up, its front wall was up as high as two stories, other bits and pieces were still in place and a huge pile of rubble rose as high as fifteen feet inside of it. All that rubble will have to go before they can demolish the lower walls. So, I suspect they won't allow us back into our building until at least Thursday.

Except that I went in very briefly yesterday morning. I realized that I had at least one important document I needed in order to get Fritz onto my health insurance sitting on my desk and wanted to get that out. I found out that later in the day our costume designer, going with the original schedule, had gone in and left very quickly. She said in an email last night that the ground under our building was shaking, the noise was extreme, and she had the uneasy sensation the roof was going to fall in on her while the big wrecker was clutching chunks of the building next door and ripping them away from the walls.

Cooperstown was a fun weekend for me. Fritz and I have a dear friend, S in Seattle, who is one of the most extroverted people Ive ever met. A big, cheerful guy, he begins conversations with people spontaneously wherever he goes. When I was a kid I was pathologically shy but gradually grew out of it and became more confident with people. Since I was going out to Copperstown alone this year, I decided to follow S's example and jump in whenever the opportunity arose.

And there were some delightful people out there, like the couple from New York City who invited me to join their table for dinner on Saturday night. We'd been on the line for tables at a small Italian restaurant and I struck up a conversation about about 20th century Czech opera (I know, I know, I deal in things that are very small niche topics). When the hostess came to seat them she told me there was no place she'd be able to seat me for at least half an hour, and they both turned and asked me if I'd join them. We had a great dinner and found each other again at Sunday's performance (a 20th century Czech opera they hadn't known and loved a lot) to continue the conversation.

Then there was B, an Englishman. Short, gay, a really cool shirt, black onyx ear studs. As I passed him and a group of his friends during an intermission, he made a funny remark about the brand new American opera we had heard the night before. I shot back a retort that amused everybody and they all started talking to me at once. B who was very lively and quite a flirt asked what a "good looking man like [me]" was doing at the Glimmerglass opera alone. I mentioned that my opera-going buddy had found the man of his dreams, moved to Florida, and was't going to be attending with me any more. "WELL," he replied while pulling himself up to his full 5’-6", "I'M from Miami and I AM HERE, so tell your friend to get on a plane like I did and just get on with it!" At which we all broke up. The opera at Glimmerglass is very gay: much of the cast, production and tech crews, orchestral musicians, conductors, designers and directors, and at least 40% of the audience if not more.

Cooperstown is an unspoiled early 19th century town that has managed to preserve its character and prevent a lot of shlocky commercialism. The Baseball Hall of Fame is a handsome, conservative building at the foot of the town's main street, the opera theater is a comfortably barn-like building out on the banks of the lake, with an unpretentious, intimate interior and lovely grounds on which to picnic, the whole set in lush rolling countryside still full of working farms and miles of unspoiled country roads. There's even a late 19th century grand hotel right on the lake for those with an urge to spend $350 to 500 a night for a handsome paneled room with private everything and an endless breakfast buffet. I stay out at a farm B&B for $75 a night in a great room upstairs in the carriage barn, with bath and kitchenette, home-baked muffins, home-grown fruit and complimentary splits of New York State wine in the fridge for my picnic lunches and dinners at the opera house.

Mornings I spent touring the antique shops in town and the big antique barns in the surrounding, rolling farmlands. There were wonderful things everywhere and a lot of heavily over-priced stuff too, but I did find four excellent Moroccan plates perfect for serving tagine, an oven-simmered Moroccan dish of meat or fish, olives, vegetables and spices. Beautifully hand painted in rich blue on white, in typical geometric and floral designs, they'll work perfectly with a set of Italian dishes I have in the same colors but much more simple in decoration, so as to set off the new dishes perfectly.

And now the summer's really over. I have a meeting at home tonight with the director of the opera I'm designing for performance in November (Benjamin Britten's "Curlew River") and some time this week, depending on when--and if--we can get safely back into our building, we begin orientation activities for incoming freshmen.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Strange encounter today at the Shaw's Super Market in Hyde Park:

I was quietly picking out fruit in the produce section when I heard a scratchy female voice. I looked over, then down, to see a woman who had to be in her late seventies, heavily over-made up, with bleach blond hair and thick black-framed glasses. Our exchange:

She: Boy, you guys must hate it when your wives work or go outta town and you gotta do all the shoppin' and cookin'!

I: I don't have a wife, I have a husband and I shop and cook all the time.

She: What? You gotta what?

I: A husband. I don't have a wife, I have a husband.

She: Oh, oh, you're gay. Jeez, that's so funny!

Yeah, lady it's a real barrel of laughs. Well, maybe she was laughing at herself for assuming I was straight. But, man, was she scary with all the rouge, mascara--and those black glasses like 1950s "secretary" glasses!

About seven o'clock tonight I began to hear sirens and they kept coming and coming somewhere near here. When the house began to fill with smoke I started closing windows but it kept seeping in no matter what I did. Eventually I went outside to see a huge column of black smoke rising from the Hyde Park Avenue area at the foot of my street and about a quarter of a mile away. A church on the Avenue was fully engulfed and the density of the neighborhood there had brought out a large number of fire and rescue vehicles. There'll probably be a lot of coverage on the 11pm news.

Right now the smoke is lightening to a dirty gray and beginning to subside--they've probably knocked it down a bit but the sirens are still roaring through the neighborhood.

I went up to campus today for the monthly gay lunch. There were seven of us this time, a drop in the bucket compared to the number of gays and lesbians at MIT, but there's never been a truly organized effort to create a campus-wide GLBT social or service organization. At least the current coordinator of these lunches has finally managed to get some of the Institute's lesbians to attend.

One of our lunch companions has a Thai boyfriend who's just opened a Thai restaurant in Roslindale Square. Since Fritz is going to be down here for several days next week, we might give it a try. Roslindale is filling up with trendy/chic restaurants and there's now competition for customers. The delightful Gusto Wine Bar and Restaurant (gay owned and operated) has closed after not too long in operation.

A flight of Canada geese went soaring over the house a little while ago--we've had a little bit of everything in Roslindale today. I'm now being serenaded by a very horny female cat who’s settled into an neighbor’s front yard and is hoping to attract a male for a little action.

I'm off to Cooperstown, NY tomorrow for a long weekend at the Glimmerglass Opera Festival. It's an annual trip and this year I'm doing it alone. My good opera-going buddy J has moved to Florida for a lifetime of love and sex with "the" guy and is getting his opera in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Sarasota. Have a great weekend—I'll be back some time Monday.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Monday I drove from Fritzs up to Arundel, Maine to spend an hour with the owner of a solar energy engineering and supply business. The idea was to find out how they operate with home builders and get as much info as possible on costs and schedules.

Solar Market will do everything from simply designing a system for your house or business, to supplying any or all of the equipment, to working with your electrical contractor to get everything installed correctly. Design of a system for a normal home will take about four hours at $130 per hour, the cost of which is deducted should the customer want to engage any other of their services.

The owner asked if I wanted to be on grid or off-grid. I said we thought we could do very nicely off-grid but I had already mentioned that I didn’t want anything so radical or quirky that my heirs or Fritz's heirs would find it impossible to sell the place when the time came after we're both gone. He told me that he and his wife had had their home, fully equipped for solar electricity and hot water and off-grid, on the market for three years with no takers. They decided to spend the money to get a grid interface and the place sold in six weeks.

He showed me a really simple and brilliant design for solar panels that turn to keep the cells better alighed to the sun without any motors as the day progresses, producing up to 39% more eelectricity than fized systems. After he described how much more efficient and durable the latest generation of photovoltaic panels is, he xeroxed a sheet of names of former customers who've agreed to act as references, and I headed back home.

So, we have something to think about. On the one hand, grid interface is a bit more complicated in terms of engineering and equipment. On the other hand I like the idea of producing electricity, potentially in excess of what we ourselves will require, and sending it onto the grid which these days needs all the help it can get. I think this is our future, or could be our future if only the stagnant idiot president and politicians of this country would get their asses into gear to do something about our energy crises. In Great Britain, a good percentage (and rising) of homes have photovoltaics on the roof. We're still burning fossil fuel to make electricity when we could be working our way to energy independence.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Another bit of contact with my old Catholic high school, Archbishop Molloy in Queens, NY. Last week I got an email from Sal Sapienza, a 1982 graduate who became a Marist teaching brother and wound up back teaching at Molloy in the early 1990s. There's a little more to Sal than just that--he's gay. He eventually left both the school and the Marist order and found a man who is now his long term partner. They bought and operate a very attractive B&B, The Beechwood Manor Inn in Saugatuck, which the Molloy alumnus who works with me on productions for the Intermezzo chamber opera company tells me is the Provincetown of Michigan.

Sal had checked out the alumni section of the Molloy site and found my very out page. He wrote to say that his first novel is in distribution, available on, and perhaps I might be interested. I was, and have it on order (at under $11, new). Here's the publicity piece:

Seventy Times Seven, Gay Novel by Former Catholic Brother
Publisher: Haworth Press, Southern Tier Editions (ISBN: 1560235993)

Salvatore Sapienza's debut novel, Seventy Times Seven, is an exploration of religion and homosexuality with a Catholic brother and teacher at its center – as told by a real-life former religious brother and openly gay man.
Sapienza taught high school English at an all-boys high school in New York and ministered to people with AIDS, working alongside Father Mychal Judge, the New York City fire chaplain who died in the World Trade Center attacks and subject of the film "Saint of 9/11."

Seventy Times Seven is a poignant, sexy and romantic novel about a young man's struggle to integrate his religious beliefs with his sexual desires. The gap between sexuality and spirituality is punctuated throughout the novel with quotes from the Scripture, and from song lyrics from Prince and Madonna, artists who merged the two worlds in provocative and groundbreaking fashion.

Interestingly, I had often wondered during the height of the Catholic priest sex scandal whether there had ever been any accusations against teaching brothers. I didn't know of any at the time and still don't, perhaps because they're organized differently from priests and live very different lives. Although I was a pretty green kid during my high school years, I was aware that a number of brothers at the school were gay--chalk it up to baby gaydar. Sal and I have had an enjoyable email conversation and I sent him an endorsement of the book I found in one of Dan Savage's recent columns.

While digging through what I remember of my extreme youth, my earliest memory is of my second birthday. Just a few relatives were in attendance. There was a single layer chocolate-frosted yellow cake with two red candles. It was on the coffee table that had been moved in front of the blue and white delft tile-trimmed fireplace of our apartment on the second floor of 235 West 72nd Street, New York City.

I can draw the ground plan of that apartment from memory to this day. It was in one of a row of handsome five story buildings, each with a shop (Sklar the Furrier was in ours) on street level, and two apartments on each of the upper floors. Behind Sklar's, there was the choice apartment of the lot that was larger than the rest and had exclusive use of the back patio and garden. While we were living there the resident of this prime apartment was Tibor Kozma, an assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. So perhaps I absorbed my musical passion at an early stage from his presence in the building.

These were extremely comfortable, solid, pre-World War I buildings with wonderfully varied architectural details that fascinated me from an early age—the visual designer was already beginning to emerge at about age three. These days, at five stories, they aren't the most efficiently profitable use of land on a Manhattan Island that's apparently screaming to be overstocked with luxury condos. Last time I drove off the West Side Highway and down West End Avenue to Lincoln Center, I passed 72nd and saw preparations being made to tear down the whole block for some new high rise that will trumpet its river views and charge for a studio condo what some people make in a lifetime.

When I was four and a half, we moved to a newly built project of six story apartment buildings in Queens. The less said about all that, the better. Unfortunately, I was blessed/cursed with both a photographic memory and a tendency to be haunted by the past. But I'm still amazed at some of the minutia I still retain from very early in life. Two or three years ago I told Fritz I'd woken up one morning and our phone number in Queens suddenly popped into my head, NE9-2715, and it's remained there ever since.

NE9? This was before zip codes, and most area codes. This was when you could pick up the phone and a fleet of operators would assist for free (in fact HAD to assist) in placing collect or long distance calls. This was still the era of operator over-pronunciation of certain numbers: "Newtown ny-un two seven one fy-uv," for example. The old fashioned telephone exchanges were still in use, before they had to be made much more flexible by eliminating the names and substituting any combination of numbers in the first two places. Newtown was the exchange for our area of Queens.

In Manhattan there were Murray Hill, Trafalgar (my Aunt Olga had a Trafalgar number), Grammercy and a host of others. A big joke in New York City was New Jersey's exchange—the entire state seemed to be on this one--Bigalow. When a commercial for a business came on the radio, everyone waited for them to give the Manhattan number and then chanted along with the announcer ". . . and in New Jersey call Bigalow . . ."

Fritz's Ancestors in North America: Part Two, The first attempts at Colonization

Sir Walter Raleigh was the next in the family to become involved in the New World, as an organizer and promoter of colonies on the North Carolina barrier islands. The first group, all male, arrived in 1585, set up a fort and village but, facing drought and starvation, abandoned it when another English ship happened by. Raleigh's second group of settlers, men and women, arrived in 1586, found the abandoned fort and tried to make a go of it. But all English ships of any kind were soon involved in defending England from the Spanish Armada's attack in 1588. Nobody came to resupply the settlers, all of whom soon passed into history as the Lost Colony of Roanoke.

The idea of colonization languished until 1602 when Captain Bartholomew Gilbert, son of Sir Humphrey, was the next family member to make the attempt. In company with co-Captain Bartholomew Gosnold, Gilbert sailed out of Dartmouth England in March of 1602 with thirty-two men in all. On their small ship, Concord, they crossed the North Atlantic in six weeks by a route dramaticallyshorter than any used before, arriving on the southern Maine coast on May 14. They made at least some contact with the native American population, which they were able to discern had enough contact with Spanish fishermen on the Grand Banks to speak pidgin Basque with foreigners.

Then they sailed south and were the first English to arrive at Cape Cod, naming it for the great schools of the fish they found there. In short order they encountered and explored Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, and the Elizabeth Islands, naming them and many places or natural features on them all.

They sailed as far west as what we now call Buzzard's Bay and set up camp on Cuttyhunk Island. There they planted an experimental garden, and established friendly contact with the native tribes with whom they traded for food and a great deal of sassafras which was valued in England. Gilbert and Gosnold decided to establish a colony.
When provisions and equipment were inventoried, however, they were found insufficient to sustain both a colony and the Concord's return to England. The garden's plants, nine inches tall just two weeks after planting, were noted as an indication of extremely fertile soil, and then all hands packed up and sailed back to England where the sassafras sold for a handsome profit.

Bartholomew Gilbert was at sea again in 1603 in a ship provided by uncle Sir Walter Raleigh, charged with exploring the Carolina barrier islands for any sign of the Lost Colonists of Roanoke. Captain Gilbert sailed first to the Caribbean to cut and load twenty tons of lignum vitae wood to pay for the voyage, after which he proceeded north. He overshot the Carolinas and on July 29 he and his crew became the first Englishmen to enter Chesapeake Bay, a name he transliterated from the Native American K'tchisipik. A landing on the Eastern Shore, today also known as the Delmarva Peninsula, ended in disaster as Gilbert and two other men were killed in a skirmish with a native tribe. Survivors of the attack retreated to the ship and returned immediately to England. It would be four more years before another attempt at colonization could be organized, funded and staffed.

Friday, August 11, 2006

This came to me from my cousin, R, in Montreal:
Ted Nugent, heavy metal guitar legend and devoted bow hunter, was interviewed by a French journalist. Eventually the conversation turned to his love of outdoor pursuits. The journalist asked, "hat do you think the last thought is in the head of a deer before you shoot it? Is it, 'Are you my friend?'or maybe 'Are you the one who killed my brother?'"

Nugent replied, "They aren't capable of that kind of thinking. All they care about is, 'What am I going to eat next? Who am I going to screw next? Can I run fast enough to get away?' They're pretty much like the French in that way."

Since R moved to Canada, we don't get to see him anywhere near as much as we'd like. The last time Fritz and I were in Montreal, he took us out to a very nice restaurant called Paris. There were a couple of bottles of wine during dinner and when dessert was proposed, he suddenly said, "I want to buy us all some liqueur. What would you like?" We both said thanks but that we'd already drunk a lot. But he wasn't to be put off; he was in the buying mood. And he was half shitfaced. "I want to buy you something. I'll buy you the waiter!"

If only! Fritz and I had spent all night looking at that waiter . . .

Every now and again I get a flash back to my year in kindergarten. I was four and we were still living on the west side of Manhattan, the year before we moved into the anonymity and drabness that was a housing development in Queens. The school was located on the ground floor of a bay-windowed brownstone townhouse near Broadway and 72nd street. You opened a little iron gate to one side of the building' front entrance and walked down a narrowish flight of stairs to the downstairs door. At the back of the building, the ground floor opened out onto a fenced-in garden.

I have two very strong memories. There was an upright piano in the big room and we frequently improvised to music. I wasn' quite sure at first, but I caught on pretty quickly. The day I particularly remember, we were to do some sort of dance as animals, birds or insects. Everybody started looking around for things with which they could make a costume piece or mask. I was wearing a horizontally striped knit shirt in yellow and navy blue and I fixed on the pointer from the blackboard, claiming it before anyone else could. When the time came, I shoved it up into my crotch with the pointed end sticking out behind me and became a bee. I had to do fast, very small steps to keep the pointer from falling out, but I thought that looked pretty much like the way bees hover. And nobody dared come too close for fear of getting hit by the pointer end whipping around. I thought I was very imaginative. It was also my first documented costume design.

This place was a tad pretentious, but it was an earlier, dressier age. We had to wear little Eton Caps every day so we’d all look like little ladies and little gentlemen. My parents also used the cap as a device to make sure my ears never stuck out--my mother would tuck the top of my ears under the edge of the cap, squeezing them uncomfortably between my skull and the cap's headband. I date my lifelong loathing for hats of any kind to this period in my life.

I learned the truth about bullies in that kindergarten. There was an obnoxious little tough named Kenny. In retrospect he was probably just a common or garden variety brat but to me he was a major league sociopath--his ears stuck out into the bargain, and I knew what THAT meant.

On nice days we'd all go out into the patio/garden, where there was a slide, for play time. Kenny's thing was to follow you stealthily up the slide's ladder and in the instant when you were sitting on top before heading down, he'd grab your cap and throw it over the fence into the next yard. The woman who lived there HATED the kindergarten and the noise of the children. She'd go out at intervals, deaf to pleas from children to return the caps, and gather them up never to be seen again. I was convinced she burned them in her fireplace. I feared going home because I might be punished for losing my cap.

One day I waited patiently for Kenny to go up the ladder. Ever so quietly I followed him up. At the ultimate moment, in one movement I whipped the cap off his head and sent it sailing in a high arc over the fence. The woman was out there doing something and she glared at me. I didn't care. For a moment I was Edmund Hillary on the summit of Everest; I was Caesar triumphantly entering Rome; I was Billy watching Kenny run screaming to one of the teachers, watching the little prick cry his eyes out against her skirt while clutching her leg, completely mortified.

It was all over. He never came near me again; he never sent any more hats sailing over that fence. Ever.

Fritz's Ancestors in North America: Part one, Sir Humphrey Gilbert

All four of my grandparents immigrated to the United States from Europe. Their years of entry into the U.S. via Ellis Island Immigration Center in New York City, were 1902 (Italian grandfather), 1903 (French grandmother) and 1911 (both English grandparents). Add up all four dates, divide by four and you get 1906.75, or September of 1906. That means that this coming month will mark, on average, the 100th anniversary of the arrival of my ancestors in North America.

Fritz's family history is radically different. This year marks, on average, the 409th anniversary of the arrival of his ancestors. Here's part one of their remarkable story:

Genealogy is a major interest in Fritz's family. Two of his sisters have taken on the pursuit of family history and the maintenance of archives, an activity that had been started by their late father who commissioned an extensive family tree reaching back into the Renaissance. That tree identifies Sir Humphrey Gilbert (1539-1583) as a direct line ancestor. Gilbert had a half-brother, the even better known Sir Walter Raleigh, and two of his sons, Bartholomew Gilbert and Raleigh Gilbert, in whose veins the desire for adventure and exploration ran strong. The family names Gilbert and Raleigh continued through the generations as both first and last names right down to Fritz's father, Gilbert.

Two of the great European powers were established in the Americas from 1492 (Spain) and 1524 (France) but by the 1580s, England still had no presence here. Humphrey Gilbert had served Queen Elizabeth I with distinction since his youth at Court and was determined to find trade routes to the Orient through--and establish English colonies on--North America.

A larger than life figure, Gilbert had been heavily involved in trying to control Irish resistance to English domination. After observing, to his credit, that traditional military oppression wasn't working, he devised a plan to colonize the sparsely settled north of Ireland with Protestant English so that the two cultures could learn to live side by side in peace. His plan ultimately failed, leading in modern times to the tragic and violence-filled partition of Ireland. But he tried.

Sir Humphrey had married and in short order sired a daughter and six sons. But he may have had other urges as well. English Secretary of State Sir Thomas Smith once observed that the only way to soothe Sir Humphrey Gilbert's attacks of temper was to send a boy to him.

In 1583, he sailed a northern route across the Atlantic hoping to find the elusive "Northwest Passage," but arrived at Newfoundland, where he claimed the crude little camp used by Grand Banks fishermen from all over Western Europe, as English property. He then continued down the coast, came across Nova Scotia and explored it, claiming the entire coast. On his return voyage to England, his ship sank on September 9, 1583 near the Azores, taking everyone on board and virtually all of his records of the trip with it. Other ships in his little fleet made it home safely and reported to the Queen, who began to rethink England's failure to gain a foothold in the New World.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Yesterday was DesignerBlog's third birthday. I recently read that one blogger who's shutting down feels one year is the natural lifespan of a blog, then it's time to bow out. Only a couple of years ago I read that three years is the life cycle of a blog--I guess our attention spans ARE getting shorter all the time. Not mine. I'm still having fun with this, particularly meeting guys through other blogs, their comments to mine--and occasionally in person (Hi, QBB. Hi, Thom).

The other morning I woke up naked and uncovered, the sheet having been tossed off sometime during the night. Without raising my head, I looked down and stared for a moment directly at my penis. OK, so where else was it supposed to be? But the significance is that while lying quite flat, the line of sight between my eyes and my penis was uninterrupted by any other body part like, just to pick one at random, my stomach.

Loss of ten pounds and a serious effort to tighten things up has resulted in a major trimming down that I intend to continue for at least another five to eight pounds, accompanied by more abdominal firming. Now if anyone out there knows a good exercise for reducing love handles (other than a brisk walk to the nearest liposuction parlor--which is not going to happen) please let me know.
Monday night on PBS, I happened upon a retrospective of John Fogerty's career. As part of a pledge campaign they were showing the DVD "The Long Road Home," and for once, blessedly, there was a great deal more of the featured artist than of the inane, repetitious fundraising.

John was born almost exactly one month before I was. I've loved his voice and his music from the start. Some people who think they know me well can't believe it when I mention that I really like hard-driving rockers like Sting, Robert Palmer, Billy Joel, and Fogerty most of all.
He's ballsy, sexy, a fine musician and he writes great songs. He doesn't whine a quarter tone below pitch; he isn't a creation of editing, artificial reverb and hype; and he's a super guitarist. What's not to like, so who cares what the genre is?

In 2005 when the concert that provides most of the material on "Long Road Home" was recorded, John was in fine shape and his back-up musicians were outstanding.

I started hyperventilating a little over keyboard-guitarist Matt Nolen. My, what a cute, hot man! The picture emphasizes the hot, but he spent most of the concert with a delighted smile on his face, looking like he was having the time of his life. So did all of them, actually, and it really showed in the performances. Halfway through the program I'd already ordered the CD from

My Brandeis University magazine (I got my Masters in Theater Design there) came last weekend and there was a wrap-up of the honorary awards given at this year's commencement. Tony Kushner got one as did a Jordanian prince, Hassan ibn Talal, who also delivered the Commencement Address. A Muslim prince at a Jewish university? Hassan ibn Talal might be considered a renegade or he might actually represent the unheard voice of reason in what one might hope is the majority of the Muslim population. He has no empathy at all with ultra-fundamentalist, extremist or terrorist movements and has been been a major player in peace movements in the Near- and Mid-east.

(By the way, where IS the near-East these days? When I was growing up there was a Near-, a Mid-, and a Far-East. The Near-East seems to have fallen off into the Mediterranean when I wasn't looking, and the Middle-East now apparently starts in Turkey.)

Prince ibn Talal has a sense of humor that he uses to present some truths as he sees them:

"We were negotiating the peace treaty between Jordan and Isreal in 1994, and Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres said to me, 'We are surrounded by enemies!' I told him, 'You think you've got problems?--we're surrounded by friends!'

"You see, ladies and gentlemen, I am a Marxist--of the Groucho kind.

"We hear on CNN about Shia and 'Sunny' Muslims in Iraq. Well, whether you're a Sunny Muslim or a Cloudy Muslim, or even a Sushi (both Sunny and Shia) Muslim, you are still heir, like Jews and Christians, to the great Abrahamic heritage.

"I work to maintain the true spirit of our great traditions because otherwise they are hijacked by the privatizers of religions--Abu-this and Abu-that, the new noms de guerre. I sometimes say we were better off when we were all 'ibns' (sons of) rather than 'abus' (fathers of)."

Checking out that aborted recreation of Noah's Ark on a hill near Frostburg, Maryland led me to do a little research on the sporadic attempts to find traces of the original--if it ever indeed existed--on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey.
I found two absolutely striking pictures. Ararat is extremely photogenic as it rises up dramatically from an otherwise flat plain. Like Fuji in Japan, it's a volcanic cone, but with Ararat you get the bonus of two mountains for the price of one. Little Ararat, a secondary vent cone, is on the right.

Because of its enormous mass in the midst of a flat landscape, Ararat is capable of generating its own weather, its snows creating wind and temperature conditions that condense its own clouds, as in the second picture. No wonder this mountain is considered sacred.

Since I've talked about some favorite non-classical singers today, here's big Tim McGraw. This guy's so hunky and gorgeous, he could (almost) get me to give up opera for country. Not quite, but almost!

By the way, if anyone from this area wants to have a lot of fun between now and Sunday night, catch the Commonwealth Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew" on Boston Common. I saw it last night. It's a big, raucous, raunchy, funny, and delightful evening of outdoor theater. The action has been updated to Boston's Italian North End in the 1950s and the wonderful music for the production is taken from the recordings of Louis Prima and Keely Smith. "Curtain" is at 8pm but get there with a blanket for the ground, lightweight aluminum chairs or backrests if you have them, and a picnic before 6pm to get a good place, particularly on the weekend.

Monday, August 07, 2006


A boat, an Ark, an Henri, and a Henge

Our vacation trip went very well and we had a great time. We'd left ourselves open time each day for unexpected discoveries, one of which was the Erie Canal. Hugely important to the country's westward expansion in the early nineteenth century and one of our history's great economic engines, the Canal (actually a network of canals from Buffalo to New York City via the Hudson) is now used extensively for recreation and vacation travel. On a two hour canal cruise through the Buffalo-area locks, we learned that you can hire a mini-canal boat for a week or two from the Mid-Lakes Navigation Company and cruise New York on your own, passing through locks, stopping wherever you like along the banks at specially equipped tie-ups, doing it all at your own pace. It's something we might consider for the future, particularly if a couple of our friends were willing to go in on it with us.

Whenever you travel there are always unexpected, odd, even bizarre people and places that cross your path. I thought I'd present a couple today.

1) Henri’s Motel and Restaurant in Angola, New York--and in particular the woman we dubbed Madame Henri. We arrived in late afternoon having come west along Lake Erie from Buffalo. There wasn't a single motel on our route. Suddenly, on a slight rise and around a gentle curve, there appeared Henri’s, like a welcome mirage with pool. The fact that there were no cars parked at either the restaurant or motel wasn't lost on us, but we figured this was the only game in town (or the countryside) so what the hell.

The motel office was located in the bar. We went in. Nobody was around. I called out and there appeared--and what an apparition she was!--Madame Henri. Four feet ten inches tall--if that--in what used to be called a house dress, she appeared to be around sixty five or even older, her head topped by a 1970s "big hair" wig that made her look dangerously top heavy. The hair in the wig was dry, carelessly combed and almost dead. Some people fear encountering the Bates Motel on their trips off the beaten path; with Madam Henri, it looked like we'd encountered Mrs. Bates in person.

We got a room that was perfectly adequate--we only later discovered that the bathroom was so narrow you couldn't quite get your shoulders into the space between the shower stall and the wall when you wanted to stand at the sink. Shaving was done stepped back a couple of feet from the sink and mirror.
We thought it better to eat elsewhere when not a single car showed up at the restaurant for happy hour or dinner. Nor did anyone choose to eat breakfast there the next morning. We didn't go back to the office with our key the next morning—we just left it on the dresser and slipped away as quietly as possible.

2) Foamhenge. On our way to the breathtaking Natural Bridge in southwestern Virginia, I caught sight of a partial circle of monoliths in a field beside the road, dark stone gray but with curious patches of white wherethe surface was chipped or hacked away. We finally came to the sign announcing the name of the place--Foamhenge. It looked pretty hokey and we passed on to the Natural Bridge itself, but I made a mental note to look it up when we got home.

To my surprise, it turns out there are two. One, recreating what the Celtic Stonehenge would have looked like when just built, was put up in England for a BBC documentary. But the English Foamhenge was not brought over to the U.S. and set up in Virginia. The American Foamhenge is an incomplete replica of Stonehenge as it is now, fabricated by Mark Cline of Enchanted Castle Studios, an exhibit designer and, apparently, a purveyor of tourist kitch. He's also a first rate promoter, getting the Natural Bridge Association to let him install Virginia's Foamhenge on its property, and convincing businesses and manufacturers from Virginia and surrounding states to donate all the necessary materials. The replica has been covered with carved and painted graffiti. It was never completed, possibly because Cline lost interest after the initial rush of publicity. Reputedly, it's now the site of beer busts and other debauchery at night.

3) Noah's Ark on a Maryland Hill. As we headed east from a stop at Appomattox, where the Civil War ended in Robert E. Lee's surrender to General Grant, we climbed into the hills where Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland come together. Hills, rock formations and trees were dramatized by bands of blustery rain and scudding low clouds. Suddenly, just ahead, an imposing steel skeleton loomed out of the mist with a big sign announcing "Noah's Ark Being Rebuilt Here!" Fritz had relaxed into a quick nap and I didn't try to wake him to see it, as we were by it in a flash. But I made another note to myself to find out what the thing was.

It's a very American story. For several months during the spring of 1974, Reverend Pastor Richard Green had dreams of a huge Ark on a hillside to which people from all over the world were coming for refuge. In his dreams, God personally told the Reverend to build his church in the form of an Ark to provide safe refuge from the corruption of the world because Jesus was coming again soon.

Grandiose plans for a combination church, bible school, conference center, library, missionary center and museum with outbuildings were drawn up. In 1976 foundation piers were poured and about 20 percent of the steel frame for the ark building was erected. But despite extensive fund raising efforts, including appeals on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club TV show, money never came in to do any more than put up a small shed-like building next to the foundation that serves as a substitute church, office for the God’s Ark of Safety ministry, and for Reverend Green’s radio program, all he has left of his dream.

Friday, August 04, 2006

I've been swamped the last couple of days and am looking forward to the weekend with Fritz to recover.

First of all, the massive heat wave sapped me of a great deal of energy. I'm not the kind of person who puts an air conditioner in the bedroom because not only can I sleep in heat and humidity, it positively knocks me out. Strangely, while awake, that kind of weather also makes me feel very languorous and horny.

I've been putting a great amount of time into the architectural consultancy I'm doing for a project to convert an old gym at Boston College High School into a performance space. Presentation of the final plans to the school administration is next Tuesday morning and we're all working to deadline to patch up holes in the documentation. I've been doing a lot of work on the lighting system the last two days. Once I leave MIT, I hope to be doing a lot of this sort of thing--it's interesting, fun and very rewarding, particularly getting to work with a wide variety of people.

Blogger's not uploading pictures tonight, so this is going to be a text-only entry.

My section head and I sat down this week and she told me of a couple of things she wants me to do this coming year: establishing an archive of my work at MIT and a written history of my years there that span the early, disorganized and higly competitive years of the performing arts at the school, and the creation of a formal Music and Theater Arts section of which I was instrumental in the formation. I have an idea the year's going to fly by really fast.

At long, long, agonizingly long but very deserving last, I'm getting a new digital camera. My old one, the Kyocera, died all of a sudden just after having taken a picture at the castle in Nurnburg, Germany last summer--it just jammed with the lens extended and no response from any function. Repair was a dicey kind of proposition financially--I would have to ship the thing to some Kyocera repair center along with $165 just to get them to allow the package into their building. Then the meter would start to tick when they opened the package and all parts were to be extra, and all time was to be extra and the return shipping would be charged to me, and that all got me into my super-resistent, pissy mood.

But I have a credit card that gives me a point for every dollar I spend and today I finally achieved enough points to get a new Canon digital with all the proper bells and whistles, including upload to TV or computer (with all required cables and software), big capacity memory card, a low light setting, and a printer so that I can turn out 4x6s in under a minute. It should arrive in seven [working] days. At last!

And Thom, you're finally going to get that picture I owe you.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


The Gay Banker Interview

As I catch up gradually on some of my favorite blogs, I've noticed a small flurry of entries with supporting comments on the subject of sex with older men, or of older people in general having sex. Adventures in Boyland's Peter wrote of a recent fourway with at least one guy old enough to be his father; the Boston area's Agent XXX house sat for his parents and found evidence that they still "do it"; and George Michael's recent romp on Hampstead Heath with a 58 year old has caused a fair amount of comment as well.

Several of those comments have included the expression "Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeww!"

My observation: gentlemen, get over it. You'll all be there soon enough and, when you are, you're still going to have your sex drive, your equipment in good working order to facilitate it and--perhaps most importantly--a couple of decades worth of invaluable experience of how to get what you want and give him what he wants to keep him coming back for more.

I say this from the perspective of a man about 50% of whose partners, from one shot hook-ups to short- and long-term relationships, have been older than he. I began to figure this out in college. There I was, a totally, embarrassingly green kid fumbling around with another boy of similar lack of experience for our first boy-boy sex while there were all these older, experienced and frankly hot men who could have initiated me in fine style if only I hadn't been so repressed, guilt-ridden and shy. I still regret the grad student in his early 30s who offered to "drive [me] to my dorm" from Logan airport and who clearly meant "after we go to my place."

Just before I left with Fritz for our road trip, Gay Banker posted interview questions for me; I begged his indulgence to not rush the answers before our departure and he very kindly said not worry. For those who don't know him, Gay Banker is a 30-something London professional guy whose blog is Things I Can't Tell Boyfriend #1. Among those things used to be the existence of boyfriends #2 and #3 but the cat’s out of the bag on at least one of those two. Beyond them, there are GB’s frequent experiences with men all over the great English metropolis which are definitely not a topic for discussion at home.

GB's blog is a fun and often delightful to read. He has a healthy zest for sex, clearly enjoys the pursuit, has a care that his partners have as good a time as he wants for himself, and he's not afraid to tell a funny story on himself. One internet hook-up recently turned into French farce with him concealed, mostly naked, in a closet due to the unexpected early return of the gentleman du jour's regular boyfriend. After a flurry of opening and closing doors, he was finally in his clothes and safely out on the street, no doubt with a broad grin on his face. In many ways, GB reminds me of a good friend who spent seven years running the London Branch of an American bank in the heady days just before AIDS and the internet. He told me he knew every loo in London where there was action to be had, in addition to maintaining a more regular "social" life with men he met through business, friends, etc.

Here is the interview:

1. You've mention a couple of times that being gay saved you. So what do you think would have happened to you if it hadn't been possible to come out as gay, e.g. if you'd been born 50 years earlier perhaps, or if you lived today in much less tolerant country?

When I consider what my life was like before and after coming out, I imagine I would have descended into intense frustration, possibly chronic depression, and certainly been haunted by shame and guilt like Orestes with the Furies on his back. My very insular, sexually repressed family raised me strictly Catholic including all twelve years of primary and secondary school. That experience was reinforced at home with frequent sermons on the horrors and miseries of not growing up to be "a real man like your father." My freshman year at college, exploring mutual masturbation, a little oral, and a completely failed attempt at anal sex with a boy in my dorm, was followed by years of serious guilt and self hatred.

I was smart enough to kick Catholicism out of my daily life but the scars and indoctrination would take years to fully flush out of my system. I went the way of so many gay men and married--not least because I genuinely wanted children, which we adopted from Korea. My ex turned out to be a head case who had wanted a husband and children until she had them, then she didn't want them any more and went bonkers. I wanted my daughters and they wanted me, so we became a single father family, and during the years I raised them them I put who I really was together in my head, assisted by the brave new post-Stonewall liberated gay world, and massively assisted by the girls who were completely supportive and just wanted to see me happy, no matter with whom.

2. In the parts of your blog that I've read you talk a lot about your life, politics and gay issues. But I haven't found anything about your love of theatre, which I assume from your job that you must have! So what's your favourite play that's been written during your lifetime, and what's your favourite play that was written before you were born?

Ah, you sound so like an American here! Americans always want to know "what's THE best opera?", "what's THE great American novel?" This really isn't an evasion but something you'll hear from a lot from people in the performing arts: my favorite play or opera--I love and design both--is generally the one I'm working on at any given moment. It's quite natural: to do a good job you have to be fully absorbed into the material, to know it intimately, to trust it so completely that when it takes over your head, you don't question where it leads you. It's an amazing and deeply rewarding process and during the five or so months when it's ongoing, you truly develop a relationship with it. You fight with it, woo it, serve it, conquer it, obsess over it and finally--you hope--understand and love it.

That said, the most memorable and satisfying experiences I've had designing that have left me with a deep love of particular works are Stephen Sondheim's "Pacific Overtures" and Boch & Harnick's "She Loves Me." Both are American musicals of a radically different type, written during my lifetime, that I had wanted to do for years, which is dangerous because the anticipation can lead to bitter disappointment if the project turns out badly. But seamless collaborations with gifted directors who loved the material as much as I led to what we call "state of grace" productions where everything fell excitingly into place.

As to a play I love that was written before I was born, I think "Bacchae" by Euripides fills the bill. It's an astonishing piece of work and, once again, I am influenced by having designed it. During the late 60s and into the early 80s, "Bacchae" was everywhere as issues of freedom versus repression--politically, socially and sexually--were being worked out around the world. It deals with huge issues and the fact that it was written at the end of a magnificent career by a man of 90 makes its raw, androgynous sexuality and subversive political message all the more amazing.

3. According to the 100 Things, you were married for ten years, so you've obviously had heterosexual sexual experiences! My readers always expect a bit of adult content to my interviews so can you give us a paragraph or two comparing your experiences of straight sex to gay sex?

Sure, starting with the fact that there's no comparison or, at least for me there wasn't once I'd ecperienced both. First, let me give my definition of having sex since there's been a lot of discussion recently about exactly what that means. I think that whenever you share orgasms with a man, you've had sex with him, whether or not it involves oral or anal penetration. Therefore, at age 17 I had my first sexual experience, and it was with a boy during my first year of college. It would be another six years before I had sex with a woman, which was what family and conventional society was pushing me towards. And I could do it. I continued to do it for the next eight and a half years until I told my ex she had to leave the house because she was becoming abusive toward the girls (the last year sex was very infrequent). My experience could be summed up by the old Peggy Lee song, "Is that all there is?" I always heard about how sex made the earth move, that it was a major drive, that it was fantastic. Now, can an orgasm ever be bad? No, but my experience of heterosexual sex was less than thrilling. I didn't get it.

After I filed divorce papers, I had a brief, two day encounter with a young woman that went nowhere in any direction. I tried to make sure she got something out of it physically, but I didn't--I realized that I was moving faster and faster away from heterosex.

Shortly thereafter I had my first adult sex with a man and it was a revelation. Everything just fell into place and made sense, but I didn't have just a rational reaction--this WAS thrilling. And from there I've never looked back. When a close friend in whom I confided asked what it was like (he had told me he would never try sex with a man because he suspected he would never stop if he did), I told him that it was like watching the sky clear after a bad storm. I knew I was where I should be.

4. You also mention in the 100 Things that you came out as gay around the same time you accepted that you are an atheist. But I've not read anything else in your blog about how you came out. So can you tell us your full coming out story?

I think like for most gay men, I've been coming out continuously ever since I first did by confiding in that friend. Every time I start to work with a new director and production team or am introduced into a new social situation, the information gets transmitted. But what you want to know is the beginning.

The first person I came out to was myself, lying awake that night admitting that I was not bisexual, that I wanted men and men only. My girls weren't even in school yet, and a huge concern was that if the vengeful ex got her hands on this info (even though she had admitted to mutual friends she was a bad parent and didn't want the girls), she would almost certainly have moved to have custody taken from me to cause pain and as punishment. And I was determined that was NOT going to happen.

I quietly sought support and information from people and groups to which she had no connection. There was a faculty/staff gay and lesbian group at MIT (where my department had been incredibly understanding and supportive of my new schedule complications as a solo parent). There was a gay fathers' group that met in downtown Boston once a month. In those days we had computer message boards and chat rooms where you could cruise for guys and one that I hooked up with turned out to work in AIDS education with the AIDS Action Committee. It was right at the beginning of the epidemic and it was scary, so I learned all I could from him before and after, as well as during sex. I left my homophobic parents out of the mix--I felt there were some complications I just didn't need with all I had to handle at that time. They died never knowing.

I met Fritz and my life transformed again just as my younger daughter became of fully legal age and was beyond my ex's ability to cause trouble. I came out to both girls and to my older daughter's boyfriend (now husband) in a gate lounge at Pittsburgh airport as we were all gathered in one place for the wedding of a cousin. As so often happens, they'd figured it out years before and were quietly waiting to be told. They were also quite anxious to met this guy who had managed to snag their father. They've loved him ever since. I found out not too long ago that between themselves, they refer to us as Daddy One and Daddy Two. The rest of the family got told via personal letters and embraced us both.

5. Imagine: you can be transported back in time to witness one historical event of your choice. Which historical event do you choose and why?

Wow. I've been a history buff for my entire life and this is going to be hard. I'm fascinated about the formation of modern Europe. I see it happening between about 375 and 800 CE when peoples from the north, the middle-east, northern Africa and the very far-east poured into Europe, shattering the order and the social, political, economic, legal and military stability of the late Roman Empire. I've read as extensively as I can and am convinced that we don't really know the whole story. So, I would need to be an observer throughout that entire period to watch the fragmentation of language, the occasional attempts to recapture some of what many of the newcomers finally realized they had helped to destroy, the establishment of new cultures, and the drama of those who prospered and those who were crushed in the process.

If you really insist on one single event, I might choose the ceremony at Notre Dame in Paris when Napoleon snatched the crown from the hands of the Pope and crowned himself Emperor of the French.

Thanks, GB, these were wonderfully stimulating questions and I enjoyed answering them very much. Below are the required rules and invitation to have an interview from me:

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