Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

If Garrison Keillor were, like Larry King, a sex freak

For whatever reason, the news that Larry King's kids' little league coach disclosed that Larry is 'a sex freak' made me wonder about Garrison Keillor. It probably should not have.

It was a fine day in Lake Wobegon, the sun peeking between young Helga Cardigan's ample breasts as she lay there on the, the soft quilt my grandmother had made for me out of cuttings from blouses and pant-suits collected, year after year, hanging in Grandma's closet like an army of Bea Arthurs. Helga lay on this quilt, given to me one Christmas, and there was nothing around her, you see, nothing around Helga but a field of emptiness, a vast plane of plain, empty Minnesota plain.

[inexplicable chuckling from audience]

I was there too. I was an accessory to quilt, see. [more inexplicable chuckling] I was resting my head, the heavy one, on the slope of her stomach, and thinking to myself [huff into microphone] 'This is Minnesota nice, is what this is.' Because I was watching the sun set over two large mountains, slide down between two curvilinear peaks, and I didn't even have to travel to Cook County. I could just be in the middle of a flat plain less than a mile out of town, you understand. I just needed Helga Cardigan to take her top off and spread out on the quilt my grandmother had made from the scraps of wardrobe's past, you understand. To get that moment--watching the sun slip between Helga's mountainous breasts--I'd needed both Helga and my grandmother to disrobe.

[inexplicable chuckling from the audience]

That's why the 'g' in 'quilt' has turned around, you see. That 'g' doesn't want to watch what's going on ontop of it.

[inexplicable etc. from the audience]

Now, Helga was a chaste girl, you understand. Took me four years of lugubrious felicitations to convince her to spread herself out topless on that quilt, as I'd mournfully note to myself the wondrous Eagle Mountain quality of her upper shelf, and then sheepishly state out loud what a pity it was she was forced to walk about with that shelf covered up so completely. Covered up so completely. [oddly timed huff into microphone] For you see Helga was one of those charming but inscrutable members of the fairer sex who preferred to button her blouse all the way to the top, just under the soft gentle outward curve of her neck towards the chin, no matter how much material--increasingly a lot, in Helga's case--was required to keep her upper half concealed.

I'd see her at Mr. Corduroy's Soda Shoppe (the extra 'p' was to warn customers of what they'd be doing later) [inexplicable etc., audience clearly starved of entertainment], sitting on a stool with her friends--the lovely but somewhat below-sea-level Irma Burberry, the Russia-stepped Agnes Polyester--and I'd always find an adequate excuse to lean onto the counter beside her and remark how confining the silk of her blouse seemed. "Even the buttons seem to want to give some relief to the silk," I'd say, or, "My goodness, Helga, you look as if you're about to pass out from an inability to breathe."

Helga and her friends would titter [predictable laughs from the audience] in the way only young, young women can, and Helga would blush, and Mr. Corduroy would shove a malted in front of me and tell me to reconsider my existence, but one day Helga, not blushing, turned to me and said, "Mr. Latex, you might be right."

[sudden, heavy breathing into the microphone]

[peculiar, uncomfortable silence from audience]

The soda shoppe was not, you understand, a place where a woman undid the top button of her blouse. Mr. Corduroy, Irma Burberry, Agnes Polyester and I watched as Helga brought one unadorned, moisturized hand up to the top button of her silk-and-cotton lightning-blue shirt, and using merely a thumb and a forefinger, slipped the button out of its confining hole.

[pause; heavy breath through the nose into microphone]

Four years later, in a field a mile from our comfortable, buttoned-up little town, I'd managed to convince Helga to slip that last button from its hole, and we lay on my guilty quilt, and I ruined my favorite pair of tweed pants.

[stunned silence from audience]

That's the news from Lake Wobegon, even though it isn't actually news since it occurred 58 years ago, but is really the only thing I ever think about, and is the reason I continue to write obsessively about that dreadful place, where all the women are strong if somewhat lacking in breasts, all the men are good-looking except me, and all the children are average.

[slow clapping from audience]

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Best of Times Were Then

Here's a quick anecdote about 'La Cage aux Folles.'

Greg and I moved to NYC in, what, 2004? And I had a job for a while involving tickets to Broadway shows, and I naturally requisitioned some of those tickets for myself (which was why I got fired, but I didn't care because, hey, I'd seen about 100 shows before they figured it out).

Most of the shows I went to--a revival of Pacific Overtures, a revival of 42nd Street, Avenue Q, revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf--Greg either hated or refused to attend. "I hate this stuff," he'd say, and either grouse all night (if he went) or roll his eyes at my excitement (if I went without him). Then I hoodwinked him into going to see the 2006 revival of 'La Cage.'

Greg loved it. And he not only loved it: he suddenly understood musical theatre. I ended up requisitioning two tickets for 'La Cage' again, just to make Greg happy. And then again, because he wanted to take friends. All told, Greg and I saw the show four times.

The fun part about seeing a single live show several times is that you can watch it evolve. We saw many different versions of the same show, and were able to pick out the subtle differences in line-reading and performance. And then there was a cast change. Robert Goulet, near the end of his life, stepped in to play the role of Georges when [the guy who played the snippy butler in 'The Nanny,' who was apparently an asshole during the 'La Cage' production] bowed out. Goulet's voice was still a thing of wonder, but his body was a thing of glass--every time he moved, we were afraid he'd break a hip. As he dance during the 'Song on the Sand' number, Greg and I clutched hands and held our breath.

A friend and her then-husband were with us when we saw the Goulet performance. The friend and her plus/minus one spent the entire performance on the edge of their seat, waiting for Goulet's catheter to fall out of his pants, I think. They bought us a Playbill program, autographed by the entire cast. "We could tell this is an important show to you guys," our friend told us when presenting us with the present.

It wasn't important, really, the show. I didn't think it was important anyway. Some of the jokes are flat, the songs are hit-and-miss, the plot's hokey. But as the year's go on, and Greg finds more and more shows to like, and I think about the show's history, I realize my friend and her then-husband were right: It is an important show.

Grammer Nazi

I'm gonna go ahead and just Godwin this thing now. Casting Kelsey Grammer in 'La Cage aux Folles' is like casting one of the kids of Prussian Blue in a revival of 'The Diary of Anne Frank.'

A few months back producers of the revival of 'La Cage' announced Kelsey Grammer--co-star of the right-wing satire "An American Carol," in which a non-activist judge shoots ACLU zombies with a shot-gun--would be starring as Georges, the gay partner of drag-queen Albin. 'La Cage,' btw, is the source material for the Robin Williams/Nathan Lane movie 'The Birdcage,' so if you need some reference, Grammer will be playing the Williams part.

This 2010 Broadway revival has a pretty great pedigree which I won't dwell on because if you're a theatre fan you're already familiar with the pedigree and if you're not a theatre fan you don't give two shits, and the point of this post isn't theatrics, but politics.

So. Having said that, I'll now explain the importance, real or imagined, of 'La Cage aux Folles' as briefly as possible.

Originally staged in 1983, during the first years of the AIDS crisis, when homophobia was not only considered acceptable but necessary, 'La Cage' told the story of an aging same-sex couple meeting their (straight) son's fiance's conservative parents. Right? You've seen 'The Birdcage' so there's no need to explain the plot. The Act I closing number, 'I Am What I Am,' (<---John Barrowman link alert!) became an anthem in the gay community, a defiant song about self-acceptance and a demand for respect--remember, in 1983, gay men were dying by the truck-load from AIDS; most Americans blamed homosexuality for the 'gay plague' and Ronald Reagan didn't even acknowledge the disease until 1986 or so, long after millions of Americans had died from it. Tough time to be gay. (And, you know, if Reagan's government had bothered to acknowledge the disease earlier, perhaps the disease would not have gotten so out of control. But overdone with gone, as they say.)

'I Am What I Am' is a song about power, and it inspired power in those who saw George Hearn, the original Albin, perform it. The song, and the show, provided straight audiences with a primer to understand the misunderstood gay culture. The show won a Tony, and helped introduce homosexuality into the mainstream when the government seemed content to let homosexuals whither and die.

Or something. Anyway, it's one of those shows which seems more innocuous than it actually is. If you're looking for the mythical gay agenda, you must start with 'La Cage aux Folles.' Free toaster with every cast album's proof of purchase.

Sidenote (click for a personal anecdote about the 2006 revival.)

Kelsey Grammer clearly isn't homophobic. His two co-stars on 'Frasier,' for instance, were both gay, and he seemed delighted to be working with them for 900 years. To my (vague) knowledge, he's never said anything to indicate he's against gay rights. When I heard he'd been cast to play Georges, I winced but decided maybe he'd outgrown his reactionary politics. Then today, I read an article about how Grammer, Comcast Cable, and the teabaggers are teaming up to do a new network called The Right. Here's Grammer's intro:


I'm not interested in Grammer's politics, which are his own, and as long as he's entertaining, who cares. He cashed his residual checks all through the Bush administration--I guess that kept him too busy to say anything about the Patriot Act, the domestic spying, Gitmo, Enron, and lies getting us into a war.

What I AM interested in is his being cast as Georges in the new revival of 'La Cage,' and how the right--his right--demonized the gay lifestyle for decades. Millions of gay Americans died in the 1980s because the right wing refused to encourage action on the disease (yes yes, the left as well, but the left has made up for their sins, while the right is still being all Catholic-papacy about it). The right uses homosexuality as a wedge issue to terrify its base into voting, and the gay marriage issue is the new AIDS. Think AIDS was scary in the 1980s? Just imagine what it'll be like in America when the super-gays who didn't die of AIDS get together and produce families.

I was looking forward to seeing the revival. It's not my favorite show, but I'm fond of it all the same. Even last night, I was defending Grammer's casting in it, saying just because he's a conservative doesn't mean he's a homophobe. I was wrong. He's a right-wing enabler, and the right-wing is still homophobic. Anyone who enables the right wing is an enemy, frankly; they're no better than the Catholics looking the other way as the Pope tries to justify child molestation.

I won't be going to the show. Not because I'm making a political statement, but because I know I won't enjoy it, because I'd be buying a too-expensive ticket to help pay the salary of a delusional man who only complains about government when his paycheck loses a few zeroes.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The days are just packed

While standing at the center of a perfect storm of yapping, licking, frenzied small dogs, I looked at Greg a few feet away with a camera in front of his face and lifted my arms out, arched my back and shouted, "I am the Dog Messiah!" Greg chuckled. The other dog-owners in the dog park seemed startled. And the little dogs running around my feet began to run faster. Tiny, furry, blurry creatures.

It was a clean day--no clouds, little pollen, fresh air (for Manhattan). The early April sun was working according to specifications, throwing down ray after ray of lukewarm sunshine, and there was a slight breeze like the memory of March. Next to the dog park was a gazebo, which was perched on a cliff and afforded one a commanding view of Fort Tryon Park. Inside that gazebo a couple was framed by an arch and they were silhouettes and the silhouettes moved together across the patch of blue sky visible thru the arch and they kissed.

The Dog Messiah inspires love in all species.

We--G, the dog, me--already had a full day of walking and doing before even arriving at the Ft. Tryon dog park. We'd been to the Inwood farmer's market, for one thing. The Inwood farmer's market is an abbreviated spin-off of the larger downtown markets--it doesn't have the variety, but does offer some appealing items, such as chocolate milk with real cocoa and milk piped directly out of an everyday, normal, not-trapped-in-a-pen farm moo-cow. In a bottle, not in a carton or plastic jug. And fresh fruit. The fruit is obviously fresh, by the way, because it looks more like Cezanne's fruit than Kroger's, if you know what I mean.

We woke up early, for us, and saddled the dog into his harness/leash combo, which looks more like some weird Victoria's Secret s&m thing than an accoutrement for dogs (I've discovered that most dog-related items seem inappropriately conducive to de Sade's sex life. Waffles's favorite toy of the moment is a pink rubber bowling pin, for instance). Greg carried the dog downstairs, placed him on the sidewalk, and the dog immediately shot off towards the park across Broadway, reached the limit of the leash, and fell backwards. Cute.

"Nice day," Greg pointed out, just in case I'd failed to notice.


"Why don't you call [Friend 1] and see if he and [Boyfriend 12] want to get brunch?"

"He's stuck doing [Task 23] until like Wednesday. I don't want to bother him."

We walked down Broadway, and Waffles did half his business. Waffles has a specific order and location to each of these business transactions--first is the kind we don't have to pick up (near the curb just outside the building), and then he does the second, more labor-intensive business transaction. The first order of business went down, the dog squatting rather than lifting (naturally, squatting is always best for the back, a concern for Dachshunds), and looking around with a kind of dull "Jesus, I can't believe I have to do this in public stop staring at me do I get a treat yet?" expression.

"We forgot the laundry," I said to Greg.

"I'll take it later."

At the farmer's market, children were unexpectedly obsessed with Waffles. We've been taking him there for nearly a year and the most that's been required of him was to sniff a few asses and not eat the turkey sausage unless it was offered to him (the turkey sausage guy is erratic with his offerings). But yesterday each kid we passed wanted to touch our dog or pull his tail or tug on his ears. One kid, about 7, dive-bombed our dog. We were standing in front of the honey distributor debating over the kind of honey we wanted when the kid suddenly appeared between Greg and me, stuck his chocolate-stained hand out, and pressed it against Waffles's back. "There! I touched the dog!" he shouted, then disappeared again.

Waffles was indifferent. He tried to sniff at the chocolate hand-print. I washed the print away with some water (chocolate is bad for a dog). A bit later the same kid returned with friends and they all got down on their knees and hugged and petted the dog. It was like a flash mugging. They approached the dog, cooed and petted and hugged and tugged, then ran off again.

An older lady stooped down, dangling bags of tempting turkey and duck and fruit in front of Waffles, to pet him. "Such a fine German face," she said to me. "Tag," she said to Waffles. I was tempted to raise Waffles's front paw and exclaim, "Sieg heil!" but knew Greg would disapprove.

"I'll have to go to Rite Aid for toothpaste," I told Greg. "We're out."

"There's another tube under the sink. We're fine."

"Oh. Cool."

At some point, I was forced to return to the apartment and took the opportunity to drop off the two quarts of milk we'd bought. While I was gone, Greg took the same opportunity to meet up with [friend 2], who sells shirts at the market, and exchange phone numbers for [task 5]. When I returned to the market, we bought honey, artesian bread from a clearly whacked-out lesbian from Vermont, and blackberry jam. Then on to the Inwood Hills Park dog run where Waffles sniffed and chased and barked and demanded to be removed the instant three pit bulls entered (I don't mind pit bulls. Greg and Waffles are both suspicious of them, tho. Since my mom's tiny little adorable dog was recently mauled to death by one, I usually concede the suspicions are warranted).

"Goddamn ghetto dogs," Greg said as we led Waf out of the dog park.

"Dachshunds are more vicious than pit bulls," I said, lamely, citing a recent study on aggressive dog breeds.

"Dachshunds weigh 10 pounds--who's gonna take an aggressive Dachshund seriously? You can just pick him up and put him in your bag. Try that with a pit bull."

"That reminds me. We're almost out of dog food."

We walked out of the park, then back in because Waffles wanted to chase squirrels. It's his hobby, and he's quite good at it, but has yet to catch an actual squirrel. He's treed plenty of them.

I like watching Greg and Waffles run around parks treeing squirrel after squirrel. The two make an unlikely team because Greg's so tall and awkward and Waffles is so short and agile; it's fun to watch the dog weave and dodge and Greg try to keep up without tripping over himself.

We walked to 207th, to a pet store, and Waffles selected a toy and we selected his food, and I hauled the food around in my bag during the hike to and then through Fort Tryon, to the small-dog dog run. We wandered past the Cloisters, letting Waffles sniff and explore as much as he wanted.

"Your nose looks awful, babe," Greg said to me at one point. The dog had taken to gnawing on my nose, and I had some scabs which looked more like dried sinus drainage.

"I know. Neosporin and lotion, that's all I know to do."

Waffles buried himself in a tulip patch growing beside the path to the dog run. The tulips were in full bloom, bouncing sunlight from their petals like ninjas deflecting throwing-stars or something. Pink, lavender, yellow cups. And later Waffles stood on a stone wall and looked out at the Hudson, which was laced with sunlight, blue from the sky, choppy from a lazy wind. More squirrels were chased. Miles were covered. Waffles's paws click-clacked on the uneven park asphalt, and his tail shot left then right then left. Sniff this. Stop, stare. Sniff. Click-clack. His dog-tags jangled cheerily as he walked.

"I go in Wednesday," Greg said. "It's not such a bad job. I just wish it were regular."

"Give it time," I replied.

The gazebo hovered above us as we climbed the walk up to the dog park, and it looked like a stationary UFO, curves and arches made of stone. The couple was already there, holding hands and looking out over Fort Tryon at the blooming dogwoods and tulips and pockets of picnic blankets and semi-naked flesh and, in the distance, sun-flashes from cars passing along Broadway. From their viewpoint I imagined the whole park looked like a daytime fireworks show.

The dog park at Fort Tryon differs from the dog park of Inwood Hills in a few ways. First--and best--is the fact that the Ft. T dog park is segregated: small dog park, and big dog park behind it, while Inwood's dog park is all-inclusive, allowing small dogs to mingle with pit bulls. Secondly, the Ft. T dog park is carpeted with woodchips, while the Inwood Hills dog park is full of tiny pebbles. The Ft. T dog park is also in a more beautiful place, surrounded by a great deal of nature; the other dog park is next to a baseball field.

There were a few dogs and people in the small dog park. Next to a tree, someone had set up a table covered with brightly-colored cloth and some bunting and a sign on the tree: "Happy Birthday!"

On the table were gift bags. There was a cake. There were pictures in frames of a tiny dog in various states of repose. I wasn't sure if the gift bags were for the birthday dog, or for the other dogs wandering in to the dog park, or if the birthday dog's owners had sent out invitations to other dogs. In any event, Waffles was not offered a gift bag, and no other dogs seemed to be attending the party.

The people in the park--a mother, her children, her husband, her mother--sat on a log and stared at Greg and me for a while. Waffles ran up to one of the three dogs in the park, and sniffed butts, then retired to a corner to lick himself. The three other dogs fell over one another running back and forth along the fencing, yapping at shadows and attacking a birthday balloon.

Greg asked the family, "So who is having a birthday?"

The husband replied, "The one with the blue harness." And the one with the blue harness, a fur-ball of anxiety, took that moment to slip out of the fence door as another dog owner entered, and make a run for it. I chased the blue-harnessed birthday dog down, coaxed him back inside, was thanked.

The new entrant into the dog park, a long-haired Dachshund, greeted the birthday dog with some indifference, then turned herself to Waffles, who shied away and found something interesting to sniff in a far corner.

A few more dogs entered, and clouded around me for some reason, so I proclaimed myself the Messiah of Dogs, which seemed to unnerve the other dog owners but definitely amused Greg. And the couple in the gazebo kissed as the wind slipped through trees and across wood-chips and through fencing to remind us all of forward momentum, and disturbed the 'Happy Birthday' sign, and shook the brightly-colored tablecloth and bunting. Waffles sniffed the wind, wagged his tail, and nosed the gate of the dog run. Greg and I took that as an indication he was ready to go home.

"We have toothpaste?" I verified with Greg on the way back.

"We're set. Don't worry about it."

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Twin Peaks at 20

Here's the thing: I hate people who say they 'never watch television.' Really. There is no phrase on earth more annoying to me than "I never watch TV." Except maybe "I voted for George Bush twice," but I don't even find that phrase annoying. I find "I voted for George Bush twice" sad.

"I never watch TV" people are like "I never masturbate" people (speaking of--be back in 10 minutes).

Ok. Where was I?

Oh yeah. Washing my hands.

And "never watch TV" people are like "I never masturbate" people: they're liars. Or if they are telling the truth, they're sad, unimaginative people who hurt the economy, since most of our economy is based on both television and masturbation.

Today, by the way, is the date 20 years ago ABC premiered 'Twin Peaks.' ABC, for those who don't watch television, is one of the four television networks most Americans use as a connection to other Americans. ABC, NBC, CBS, and Dumont-network wannabe Fox are the four points of cultural touchstones keeping the East coast and West coast together--without network television, we'd have no cultural identity. We are two nations connected by our common need to see the Oscars at a reasonable hour.

Anyway. 'Twin Peaks.' 20 years ago. It debuted.

Let's celebrate with clips:

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Mind the Gap

I just had a terrible idea for a ghost story.

Here's the set-up: earlier this week, at the 116th St. train stop on the 1 (my stop), a young man--maybe 19--jumped in front of a train, splattering himself along the platform and losing pieces of himself as the train pushed him along the tracks. Also this week, another young man (21, a junior at Yale), took an elevator to the observation deck of the Empire State Building, got up a good run and jumped out into the air, cleared the protective fencing designed to prevent such things, and smashed into the concrete below, knocking off his shoes and 'shattering (in the words of witnesses)' his body. He landed, by the way, in front of a Bank of America.

Anyway, so I was standing on the 116th St. platform, where the 19 year old had jumped in front of the train, and thinking about these two guys. Suicides. Both young, and clearly both miserable. As my train sped into the station, I considered, for a moment, jumping, just to see what it's like, just to see what thoughts rush through one's brain as one's brains rush through (and out) of one's head.

I should add here that I'm not at all suicidal. It was just a random thought, with no impulse attached. But when one leaps--as opposed to blowing out one's own brains, say, or overdosing on sleeping pills--there's the Gap.

The Gap happens, too, to people who have been decapitated, allegedly. A doctor in France during the time of the guillotine once wrote about this Gap. After a prisoner named Languille had his head summarily separated from his body, Dr. Beaurieux, in 1905, in Paris, seized the unfortunate man's noggin from the basket set up to catch it, took it to a (very) near-by trailer, and ran some tests. His tests mostly consisted of shouting the prisoner's name:

I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions ... but with an even movement. ... Next Languille's eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves. I was not, then, dealing with the sort of vague dull look without any expression, that can be observed any day in dying people to whom one speaks: I was dealing with undeniably living eyes which were looking at me. After several seconds, the eyelids closed again, slowly and evenly, and the head took on the same appearance as it had before I called out. It was at that point that I called out again, and, once more, without any spasm, slowly, the eyelids lifted and undeniably living eyes fixed themselves on mine with perhaps even more penetration than the first time.

Charming, right? What, if anything, was actually going thru Languille's mind?

And what, if anything, was going through the young man's mind as he leaped from the platform to the front of the train ("Mind the gap," as the MTA posters tell us)? Afterward? And they say it takes around 8 seconds to take the express from the top of the Empire State Building to the sidewalk in front of Bank of America--did the young Yalie have time to reconsider? Did he become more resolved, or more resigned?

The Gap between absolute life and certain death is a wide one. Which is why I was thinking about it as I saw the two headlights of the train quickly approaching, and it's a dumb thing to consider, but also an absolutely pure thing to know, since it's not likely I'd be able to share my answer with anyone else.

Now. The ghost story.

Say there's a spot where someone died, by their own hand. For convenience sake, we'll say the person jumped from the platform to the tracks just as a train was pulling into the station. And after, whenever a person stood in that same spot, she felt two hands push her into an oncoming train. Apparent suicides begin to pile up (so to speak) at the suicide station.

A medium is called, because authorities are at a loss to explain why the station has suddenly gained a reputation for suicides. Most of the dead people are, after all, exceedingly happy and successful--why are these people hurling themselves in front of trains at an alarming rate (say, two or three each week)?

The reason is this: The first suicide, the only ACTUAL suicide, has been released from his miserable life, and now sees how beautiful, how wonderful, the universe beyond our dingy, messy Earth existence is. He's seen the Horsehead Nebula with his own "eyes," he's seen the redshift of galaxies, he's seen inside of a black hole, etc. The assumption is that the suicide-ghost is a miserable, angry spirit, but the medium discovers he's not miserable or angry at all; by pushing all those people to their deaths, the ghost thinks he's liberating them. Saving them. Sharing with them something wonderful.

The suicide ghost is essentially practicing tough love, I suppose.

Anyway, I think it's both a good idea, and a terrible story.

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