Thursday, April 26, 2007

A couple of bloggers have revived a five question interview meme, and I applied to GayProf to question me. Here are his questions and my answers:

1.You have spent almost all of your life on the East Coast (mostly in Boston). If you could not live anywhere in the Northeast, where in the nation would you move? Why so?
Let me start by defining what I need in a place I live. I grew up in New York City and am an urban boy, but one who needs to garden, and grow some of his own food (am I not Italian? Do I not grow tomatoes?). I need nature, and I need access to theaters, museums, an opera house or two, good shopping (specialty and international foods included), gay community beyond just bars and gyms (a scene I've never been part of), a sense of history and interesting hidden places to explore.

OK, number one on the list would be Chicago: plenty of neighborhoods where you can establish a garden, a vibrant cultural life with a world-class opera company and symphony orchestra, a great theater town, several major museums both downtown and on the University of Chicago campus, a great architectural heritage that is moving forward confidently (see Tuesday’s blog), and a well-known gay neighborhood and culture.

There's more, of course, much more, including a rich history even if Chicago is only half Boston's age (early 19th century versus early 17th century). I've always loved the energy in Chicago. Europeans who know this country well generally rate our cities thusly: New York--the great international city; Boston--the most European of American cities (if they know San Francisco, they generally link the two in that regard); Chicago--THE great American city. I feel that every time I'm there.

Number two would be Seattle: set in an incredibly beautiful landscape, with lovely people, a major opera company whose performances have really impressed me, a lively arts and theater scene, nearby access to the Olympic Peninsula with magnificent natural resources, all sorts of things to explore and, again, a well-established gay identity. We have dear friends out there who used to live here, with whom we love to get together.

Number two B might well be Portland, Oregon, which shares many of the same virtues as Seattle. I've yet to visit Portland but probably will soon as my elder daughter and her husband are moving to Salem, which is only about forty miles away. The airport and a nice blogger contact are in Portland, so I'm looking forward to my first visit.

I know I'm supposed to say San Francisco in here somewhere as a registered, card-carrying gay man. I've left a bit of my heart there four times and I've loved the place each time I've been there. I'm from the Northeast, so fog and chilly damp don't bother me. The arts are strong there, the natural setting is spectacular, the city's lovely, and gay culture registers off the chart.

My first time there I walked up the opera house's granite stairwells, both of which had cracks running from the top of the building to the bottom that were up to an inch and a half wide, souveniers of the "World Series" earthquake nine months earlier in the fall of 1991. I sat under a nylon net meant to save me should the plaster ceiling, loosened in the quake, come down during the performances I attended. San Franciscan friends were declining tables in the back of restaurants in favor of ones nearer the door "just in case."

I do love the place, but as an eastern boy I can deal with storms and snow and cold as long as I can plant my feet firmly on the ground. I suspect I'd react very badly to the earth shaking violently beneath me, and I don't think I could live there.

2. What theatrical show do you most wish that you could have been part of but didn't have the chance?
Ah—the one that got away! Back in the earliest days of the Boston Lyric Opera, I was their resident designer. It was also the time when I was first establishing my new family as myself and two adopted daughters who were very young. Boston Lyric decided to do something daring, a small theater version of Wagners epic RING OF THE NIBELUNG--four operas totaling about 17 hours of music--a retelling of the Teutonic myths from creation to the end of the world. It was mine to design if I wanted it and I did want it, badly. But reality hit hard. There were just so many hours in the day, my girls meant more to me than anything else in the world, and even in a small budget format (actually, especially in a small budget format because it requires far more inventiveness) the RING is a huge project.

Reluctantly, I stepped aside and another Boston designer was engaged. A skilled and very nice fellow, he nevertheless hadn't a clue. The result wasn't terribly distinguished. I did design publicity for the performances here in Boston which then toured to New York City. I wanted to be involved in some manageable way and that's what was available.

The chance to get one's hands on the RING doesn't happen all that often; I had that chance and had to give it away. For the record, I don't regret any of the time or effort it took to raise my girls; that was the central act of my life and a great, transforming experience.

3. What is the best historical anecdote that you know about Boston?
I've gotten away from doing my historical blog posts about Boston's marvelous, quirky past. Of all the incidents I know of, or have researched, I think the most bizarre and astonishing is the great molasses flood of January, 1919. It seems almost humorous, almost a joke when it's first mentioned--but an event in which 21 people were engulfed in a tidal wave of heavy, sticky liquid and either drowned or asphyxiated is far from funny. This link:
will take you to the post, with photos and map, that tells the whole incredible story.

4. What movie or television show do you think is *really* about gay men despite being a cast of heterosexual characters? Explain.
I don't think I'm alone in my opinion that Frazier and Niles Crane on Frazier were really gay men, particularly Niles in the superb comic characterization by David Hyde-Pierce. If you listen to those guys for about five minutes, there's no way they could be straight.

A rarer and more interesting case was the relatively short-lived (1987-1990) sitcom called My Two Dads. The premise was unconventional to say the least: a dying woman names two men, friends since childhood, as guardians to her early teen-aged daughter. She'd been sexually involved with both of them simultaneously during the time of her daughter's conception but doesn't know, or refuses to say, which is the father. The two men outwardly couldn't be more unlike--one in finance, buttoned down and staunchly conventional; the other an artist with a hint of the bohemian, and charmingly laissez-faire. To some extent it was The Odd Couple and Child, but one or two things about the structure of the relationship between the two men rang bells very loudly.

There's a great deal of precedent in literature of all kinds for homoerotic connection between two men involved simultaneously with the same woman: they work out their desire for each other on her body, with her as the mediator. After the mother's death, Michael (up-tight, borderline neurotic Paul Reiser) and Joey (hunky, unpredictable and hot Greg Evigan) move in together to take over raising Nicole (Staci Keenan) who could be daughter to either one of them. Although there was ample assurance in the plot lines of the various episodes that they were straight, in short order the men's relationship began to resemble a marriage. Hovering over the whole thing was the dead woman's action aimed specifically at bringing the two of them together. What did she know?

Among the show's other accomplishments, it introduced the very young Giovanni Ribisi and future out gay heartthrob Chad Allen to a mass audience as they both courted Nicole simultaneously, acting out in a new generation the same triangle that had produced her in the first place. Also, it was the first step on the path leading directly to It's All Relative, a sitcom about a gay couple (played by out gay actors John Benjamin Hickey and Christopher Sieber) raising a late teenaged daughter in gay-friendly Massachusetts. Same-sex marriage was established during It's All Relative's first season and there was speculation the boys might marry during season two. But the show was sunk by pedestrian, formulaic writing and season two never happened.

My Two Dads was popular at my house. My daughters liked it because it showed men raising a teenage girl, echoing their own experience (although in their case, Daddy 2 wouldn't be on the scene for about a decade, by which time they were grown up and on their own). I liked it essentially for the same reason, because Evigan was really easy to look at, and because I saw aspects of myself in both men as they learned to deal with an alternately rebellious and devastatingly charming adolescent girl. I knew THAT one backwards!

5. Why do you worship and/or adore GayProf?
Well first off, who wouldn't? One of the best written, wittiest and most literate blogs on the web; skilled comic timing and a keen political sense, all driven by a sharp mind with an impishly irreverent outlook.

We've been able to get together a couple of times during your stop-over here in Boston on the road from Texas to Not-Texas; while I'm very happy that you're going to a great job in a benign political and social climate, I wish your time with us could be longer. Liberal and intellectually-oriented as people are in this area, there's always room for one more.

Finally, since I LOVE discomforting the forces of bigotry, repression and George W. Bush, you are a prime example of what one rabid Right Winger referred to in print as "the theorists who currently infest our colleges and university campuses." Keep on bugging 'em. Go, GayProf!

You are wise. Chicago is so my favorite U.S. city. While I have an appreciation for SF, it never really spoke to me in the ways that it seems to for so many gay men. I have a bad personal association with Seattle, but loved Portland.

Alas, I wish that I could have stayed in Boston longer as well. I feel like I am just now getting a real sense of the place.

Thanks for playing, Will!
Ah, the Boston Lyric Ring! I was working at Discount Records in cambridge at the time, and remember a bunch of the orchestra players hanging out in the store one day, complaining bitterly that their paychecks had bounced. John Balme's ears must have been burning....
Both Portland and Seattle also sit on or near major fault lines... not to mention both are near active volcanoes that can cause some major shakin' to go on. While the fault lines there are not quite as active as the ones down here, they are still considerably more active than anywhere else in the country (save Alaska). The Pacific Plate just happens to like to move a good bit faster than the Atlantic Plate unfortunately... but I digress ;)

As a San Franciscan, I feel I must correct this mis-conception. I also feel that I'd rather put up with the ground moving beneath my feet in a major way every few decades or so versus the yearly onslaught of Nor'easters, thunderstorms, hurricanes, etc. that east coasters must deal with.

In the interest of full disclosure: I was born and raised in South Georgia and lived in Boston for 7 years before moving out West. You couldn't make me move back even if you brought in a forklift complete with a hot man to drive it...
I lived in chicago from 1988-2000
Marvelous time; marvelous town.
we go back 2x year to continue the lyric subscription.



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