Saturday, October 28, 2006

As Seen on TV

Maybe it's a sign that I am coming out again. No, not that type of coming out. Yesterday I did a media presentation critique session in front of 65 trustees, co-workers and programmatic staff. The idea was that I was making a pitch for a grant of a couple million dollars. I've done plenty of broadcast media interviews, public speaking and asks for money. I've even done a few presentation critiques using video playback. But having the intimidation of 65 eavesdroppers was a first. Although I got plenty of kudos, the worst part was that the videographer was instructed to follow my hands throughout my presentation. Midway, when my hands were folded in my lap (which could also be called placed on my crotch), he zoomed in for a painful 90 seconds that was replayed to the group. Was this a case of the audience laughing with or at me?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I'll be back...

I am about to be marooned for the next nine and a half days at a Crowne Plaza Hotel somewhere between Orinda and Westchester County discussing the future of the world and humanity and how to raise millions of dollars to accomplish it. Why can't I do that in Nairobi or Santiago or Kathmandu? Many of those millions will have to be raised by me. This is not something new for me, and I don't mind doing it. However, my statute of limitations on travel, at least domestically is five days, possibly up to six, never more than seven. I worry about my cat first, plants, mail and sanity. I am planning to take steps to not do this in the future. All the same, I will not have any continuity in life until around Thanksgiving when San Francisco will start to resemble a molding sponge that's been under a leaking sink for a few months.

On the few free hours I am planning to write more about my former life on the other coast where lunch was usually spent at this place. Any guesses on its name?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Warum Ist Veronika Immer So Verboten?

Like most homosexual men (yes, that would be what I am if you’ve not already heard), I have a weakness for once glamorous, gorgeous and famous women who fall upon hard times. There are obvious choices such as Judy Garland, Norma Desmond, Libby Holman, Edie Sedgewick, Marianne Faithful, Nico, Billie Holiday and on and on… Unfortunately these aren’t quite as achingly political and potentially obscure as the type of women I long for. And I sort of like the dual stars of those women who perish penniless and pathetic on the streets (Nico and Edie would come close to fitting that bill) and those that make a miraculous comeback (Marianne’s sort of in that category).

I think it was that theme that first introduced me to Fassbinder. Like many Americans, I only starting seeing his films just as his career and life were coming to an end. I’m pretty certain Veronika Voss is the first time I saw a Fassbinder flick in its original release. This take on the life of Sybille Schmitz, who had been an UFA star of the Third Reich and supposed lover of Goebbels is an easy place to start with Fassbinder since it’s one of his best looking films and recalls both Weimar films and classic Hollywood. It would take me a while to warm up to the muddier look of the larger body of his work. When I did I’d dismiss Veronika Voss as too easy and pretty of a film, but I’ve come to reassess it as a truly great work.

It’s been said that Fassbinder aped or paid homage to many Hollywood classics such as Sunset Boulevard and All That Heaven Allows. Had he lived I wonder if we might have seen a Fassbinder take on Valley of the Dolls?

In the recent 2-disc, deluxe reissue of that film, the silly columnist Ted Casablanca ruminates on who he would cast in a remake. I say, why make it a Hollywood film and why make it in English? If I were to make it, I’d make it in Japanese and there is one woman I think made for the role of Helen Lawson – Yoshiko (Shirley) Yamaguchi. Ms. Yamaguchi could also easily be the Japanese version of Veronika Voss (or for that matter Zarah Leander) but with a very different post-war path.

Her story goes something like this: Yamaguchi was born to Japanese parents in Manchuria in 1920. She used the Chinese name Li Xianglan (Ri Koran in Japanese) and made pro-Japanese films in Japanese-occupied areas in China. She also was a popular singer and some of her hits, including "Fragrance of the Night" (Ye Lai Xiang), remain popular even today. After the Japanese surrendered she escaped treason and possible execution by revealing her Japanese heritage. After her marriage to famed Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi, they moved into a house in Kita-Kamakura provided by Japanese potter and epicure Kitaoji Rosanjin. She would go on to be a sort of Japanese Barbra Walters, hosting a morning talk show and covering the American occupation of Vietnam in the 1960s. She was elected to the first of several terms in the House of Councillors, the upper body of Japan's parliament in 1974. Her life story has been made into a musical that has appeared on Tokyo stages.

She also has appeared on Broadway and in a couple of American movies set in Japan such as
House of Bamboo. Darn, but I would love to see that musical of her life brought to the US Or, alternately her braying “The only hit that comes out of a Helen Lawson show is Helen Lawson, and that's ME, baby, remember? ..” in Japanese.

So Shirley’s about 86 now, and apparently still active. Up in the years, perhaps, but I think she still has the stuff for this remake of a classic bad movie.

One might argue that there are several tarnished American women out there for a similar role. Perhaps Peggy Noonan, the Leni Reifenstahl of the Reagan Reich? She’d be good as Helen with the ever rabid Ann Coulter in the Neely O'Hara role with Mark Foley as her gay husband? Man, wouldn’t it be fun to see her screaming in the alley during Neely’s breakdown scene? Ah, well, in the meantime, I’ll take comfort in viewing this site celebrating Yoshiko's career and wish my Japanese was a little bit better.

Peking Dick

One cold February morning in 1972, I went to the “formal living room” of my parents house, turned on the television set of our provincial Mediterranean home entertainment center and saw what I considered to be the most momentous images in my life to date. Seeing the moon landing, the Kennedy assassination and funeral, the 1968 assassinations and Chicago democratic convention, the summer of love – none of them touched me the way what I saw on the screen. There were Pat and Dick Nixon, reaching out to a small girl in China, two worlds never meant to meet actually meeting yet still so very much apart.

Nixon was touching ground in a world he had bashed for the past two decades. This was far more bold and bizarre than the moon landing. And all that went through my head was, “What is that little girl thinking.” Over the next week, I would write a four act opera called Girl Citizen.

It was never performed except in my home with family and friends. And, a decade and a half later when I went to see John Adams Nixon in China, I was given pause mid-way through when I said to myself, wait, I’ve been here before. Oh, right, I wrote almost the same opera, but with different outcomes. Girl Citizen was the little girl in the photo who stood up against the imperialistic Nixons and ultimately re-educated Pat who threw out her make-up, Givenchy and J&B to don drab olive Maoist jackets and work on a farm in Yunan Province. Meanwhile Dick and Henry forged a deal with Mao to build a huge department store in what was then still called Peking. Though mine was based more on Macy’s, I guess the outcome with Wal-Mart China sort of fulfilled the prophecy, but perhaps Pat might have met a happier end had she pursued the farming in Yunan.

Ah, yes, Girl Citizen. And now Wal-Mart can make the claim, made in China, sold in China.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

San Francisco - Home of the World's Tallest Building

Although I would never want to live there, boy do I wish I could have spent 24 hours in mid-1970s San Francisco when Mayor Robert Ramsay ran this burg. Wait, I hear you, don't I mean Mayor Alioto or Moscone? No, I mean Mayor Ramsay of The Towering Inferno when San Francisco held the claim of being home to the tallest building in the world. Though it crashed on its first Titanic night, The Glass Tower, apparently at what is now 1 Market Street, stood at 135 stories, just a block down from the Perrine Building (yes, another mythical structure) just to the north at about the same height as the Chrysler Building, soaring above the various Embarcadero towers.

Mayor Ramsay made the pro-growth Alioto look like a whimp, and had there been a sequel to the Towering Inferno I am sure he would have enlisted Donald Trump to build twin towers on top of Twin Peaks. One tower on each peak, mind you, not two on each peak. Even Mayor Ramsay would consider that to be overkill.
[That's Mrs. Ramsay on the left having a sharp reaction to Faye Dunaway. Can you blame her?]

Though Towering Inferno was so big it took two studios (Fox and Columbia) to produce it and chock full of top box-office talent, the real star of the flick in my mind is Sheila Mathews Allen, wife of director Irwin Allen, in the role of the mayor's lovely wife Paula Ramsay. No character goes through a more dramatic transformation than Paula. Entering the film as cosmetological mirror of The Glass Tower with her blonde tressses piled nearly two feet high, she weather through a harrowing ride in the glass elevator hitched to a helicopter, through fire, water and more before finally emerging on California Street just before dawn.

I think that had there been a chance for a sequel: The Towering Inferno – The Morning After, we would see a new Paula Ramsay and a new San Francisco emerge. The mayor, u untouched by the ordeal would be quick to rebuild and rebuild bigger and brassier. But Paula, a changed woman, would not retreat to her Pacific Heights mansion but serve soup at Glide, hang out with the Cockettes, alert members of the People's Temple that they were being led by a charlatan, campaign for tearing down the Embarcadero Freeway. San Francisco, through the visionary trailblazing of Paula Ramsay would end up looking much like it does today but sooner and with more passion. Or wait, maybe San Francisco turned out to be Mayor Ramsay’s vision after all. High rise luxury condos on the Embarcadero? Oh, no! Oh, my!

Of course, the remake would also explore the sexual heat of the main romantic relationship of the original, the intense but never fully realized lust betwen Paul Newman's high-minded architect and Steve McQueen's working class fire chief. One of the real treasures of the original is the scene at the beginning when McQueen's fire chief enters the building's leasing office and asks how much textile manufaturing is taking place in the building. Wool, yes wool, he explains, is highly flamable. This, of course, is completely plausible since back in the 1970s, many Tibetan weavers and Marin shepherds stored their stock and flocks in the high rises on the Embarcadero. In fact, I wonder if I should send a DVD of the flick to the DVD to the TSA . They might give second thought to the next herd of sheep coming through those metal detectors with wicks and stones. And to think we've wasted all this time on gels and liquids!

So who was this woman that played the remarkable Paula Ramsay? Though never a huge star, Sheila Mathews Allen appeared in many of her husband’s filrm, perhaps the only one equaling Towering Inferno was her role in the original Poseidon Adventure as the nurse. Allen, of course, was the king of 1970s disaster movies, following his demolition of San Francisco by leveling LA in Earthquake. He went on to hit the Gulf Coast with a natural disaster of the sweet winged kind in The Swarm where a bee besieged Beetle took its deck of drones into the Astrodome where they were done in by heavy duty air-conditioning a quarter of a century before the same arena served as the processing spot for Katrina victims. Allen would go on to his exclamation point trilogy on TV with Flood! (1976) Fire! (1977) and Outrage! (1986).

But perhaps my favorite use of Sheila was in Allen’s wonderfully bad extraterrestrial outing Lost in Space where she guest starred playing characters such as Aunt G
amma, Brynhilda and Ruth Templeton. But it will always be Paula Ramsay that we will remember her by. Though Irwin has been gone for more than a decade, Sheila is alive and well, looking lovely as ever on the right at the recent premier of the Poseidon remake. No word on what she thought about it.

One of the reason I feel especially close to her is that one of my college writing teachers, Bob Duncan of the husband and wife script writing team of Bob and Wanda Duncan who were the lead script writers for Lost in Space. How lucky I am to have been mentored by someone who not only wrote such classic lines as “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger, Will Robinson!” and gave Sheila an entrance line of “Beware, earthlings, you have entered the sphere of Brynhilda!”

Alas, I guess I’ll never get to know the wonderful world of the Mayor Ramsay era San Francisco when it was mirrored on other TV series equally out of touch with the times (Phyllis, The Doris Day Show). An era when Barbra Streisand’s dad was the highest judge on the bench (What’s Up Doc?). And even though we had a gay police commissioner (McMillan and Wife), Dan White’s brother (Dirty Harry) was on the force and making sure those men in blue didn’t get too light in the loafers.

Ah, we may have been a bit too brash during the Ramsay era, but my what a proud skyline we had!


Monday, October 16, 2006

When I grow up...

I want to be just like Charlotte Rampling or Françoise Hardy or both. When I was young, my sister would listen to Françoise's LPs and EPs and quoted lines from Georgie Girl. I loved both of them but never thought they were very similar. Now they have become increasingly alike. Françoise is a French girl with an British sounding last name, and Charlotte is an English girl who now stars in mainly French movies. Both have become equally butch and always look a tad stiff, stark and superior. My favorite recent film of Charlotte's was The Swimming Pool in which she blurted out to a fan on the London Underground "I am not the woman you think I am." Obviously a line that could have more than one meaning. In her youth, Françoise was held up as being the French Joni Mitchell. Joni got bitter and after doing a few overwrought orchestral albums retired to brood in Malibu and play with her granddaughter. Françoise keeps recording and showing up on French TV to do cheesy reunions with Sylvie Vartan and other '60s acts.

Looking at recent photos of both women, I think they are looking increasingly alike. I think they serve as far better role models of what I would like to grow up to be -- stylish, slightly butch, slightly superior. All qualities I admire.

I recently learned that Charlotte was in Basic Instinct 2. Gee, if she'd only told me I would have been happy to have loaned her money for groceries.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Do those pressed for cash press their cash?

I went to see Infamous, the shinny, second take on Truman Capote’s time in Kansas at the top of the shiny, second half of the Westfield San Francisco Center. If this shinier version of the story told last year in Capote is too obvious at times, at least it showed life in New York as much as it did the deaths in Kansas. There is some comfort in knowing that Daniel Craig will probably go into the history books as the first James Bond to have kissed another man on screen in at least two films -- Enduring Love being the other one that comes to mind, but there may be others.

The opening headshots were certainly overly flashy, and much as I like Hope Davis, she just can’t evoke Slim Keith’s slimness. Sandra Bullock whom I’ve always found cloying, greatly surprised me. It was a bit disconcerting to hear the quote from Diana Vreeland qualifying that she could be perceived eccentric for having the soles of her shoes polished and ironing her money. Those are not eccentricities to me, just practical rituals that I’ve adhered to for 20 or more years without realizing that there are now two more things that I share with Diana Vreeland. However, I could add that while I once thought spray starch would give the folding tender the crispness of newly minted bills, it tends to give them a bit too much of a barbecued patina. However, one could argue that it gives the sharp gravitas of old money. Unlike Mrs. V I never had a servant do the duty for me, and somehow ironing the money sometimes proved to be a way to feel it gained some greater value by being so perfectly detailed. One thing that was not covered is how she handles her coins. I have always put quarters in one bowl, pennies in a second one and nickles and dimes in a third. Of course only an obsessive person would separate the nickles and dimes. Quarters need to be easily available for laundry and public transit, pennies aren't worth cashing in until I have at least a quart or more of them, and quarter and nickles can always be added in to the container in my car for parking meter fare. Pennies, of course, are useless for that.

The return to Holcomb, Kansas, was a arborous as ever, perhaps because the Clutters’ home looked a bit too much like the one I grew up in.

Like the Clutters we lacked a safe in the basement but had a much better home décor aesthetic since my mother, like Truman’s, always longed to be a Park Avenue swan and managed to live it out through tireless hours spent searching for the perfect matching wallpaper/drapery swatches and samples of field stone for the fireplace mantel.

What seems to have gone unnoticed in most reviews of this latest installment of the Capote saga is the Brooklyn Capote. It is, in fact, noted that he lived in the basement of a Brooklyn Heights brownstone, and when he moves across the river to a UN Plaza condo his view of the place that he has left behind. Perhaps someday there will be a revived interest in his 56-page opus, “A House on the Heights” that chronicles that venue on Willow Street and tries to imagine the history of that house. Having grown up in the Clutter-like house on the prairie whose history I knew from its construction in 1904 onward I have since lived in places where I was disconnected to anyone prior to the realtors setting foot into the place. Perhaps I’m better off not knowing that history, though sometimes when I sit in the bay window I wonder if mothers sat there from the Spanish-American war onward wondering when their sons would be sent home.

In Cold Blood always rang too familiar to me in its venue, and I’ve never made it through the entire book or filmed version in one sitting, not even after all of these years of being away from an isolated white house on the windswept prairie. Just when I was getting to the most gruesome parts, I could spot the headlights of a stray car in the distance. I could picture myself tied up in our basement, being offered a pillow for my head before my brains were blown out.

So I don’t take too much comfort in going back to the prairie towns with Truman to see the good people like the Clutters’ murders recreated in excruciating detail.

Then, as now, I was looking at the river but thinking of the sea. The sea, of course, being the Atlantic that was just beyond Manhattan and Brooklyn, home to far, far many more murders than Kansas. But I never thought of that, just of the swans. Years later when I was living in Brooklyn, albeit the then emerging Park Slope not the more high toned Brooklyn Heights, I had the first opportunity to first meet a donor who lived in UN Plaza. The thought always went through my mind of whether or not she was ever a neighbor, but I could never cross that bridge with this swan. I learned last week that she is moving back to Firenze, certainly the perfect pond for an aging swan to swim in. When I first met her, I had recently seen the play Tru, set entirely in his UN Plaza apartment, and I kept looking for similarities in details, the bookcases, the view out the window. There was certainly a resemblance, but I kept telling myself that most of the apartments probably look much the same. I’ll never know now, I guess.

I’ll never be able to fill in all the gaps of history for my brownstone on Garfield Place in Park Slope, but I googled the address this morning and learned that the top flat is up for rent at 3.7 times what I paid in 1993. The Slope has certainly long since passed emerging status and even Bed-Stuy has taken on more cache than the Brooklyn of my past.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

In a Perfect World...

...PBS would not waste our time with the likes of Andrea Bocelli or the Three Tenors. This schlock is hawked as high European culture, when in an ideal world PBS would be airing the greatest TV moments of Mina Mazzini. She had to wear the “Italian Streisand” moniker for many years, and her specials from the 1960s well into the mid-1970s certainly look and sound as if they were filmed on the same soundstage as “My Name Is Barbra,” though in Italian mind you. She even included “Gente” (People) and "Minute Waltz" on some of her shows. But around the time that Streisand’s career and sense of taste kept going south, Mina's got even better as she covered Brecht-Weill tunes looking like she stepped off the set of The Damned. It’s as if she never left the world that produced “Belle of 14th Street” and kept getting increasingly interesting instead of knocking out crap like “Evergreen” or “Enough Is Enough.” She really sounds more like Ute Lemper than Streisand and has the same "biting" sharpness of Lemper but never resorts to the showy weirdness that can ruin the best efforts of the German chanteuse.

Take her version of “Mack the Knife” for example, perhaps the only Lenya-worthy version not sung by Lenya. She looks like Rosel Zech in Veronika Voss or an extra from Rocky Horror. Her work just kept getting more deliciously and odd in a good way through the years, even though she retired from the stage. But when she sings in English, which she often did, she could be simultaneously disconcertingly familiar and downright weird in a way that forces you not to look away. Her take on "The Man That Got Away" makes her look and sound like the bastard child of Marlene Dietrich and Joey Heatheton. And believe me, coming from me that is not an insult. I usually don't like it when Romance-language artists sing in English, but with her it works. It sounds as if she doesn't know the exact meaning of the words, but she puts her own emotions into them so they feel artfully chopped up and reassembled -- sort of a Cubist interpretation of American pop standards.

Over the past 45 years she has put out consistently interesting albums though they are hard to find the U.S. At a time when Streisand is making something like her third tour after her “retirement” concerts and propping herself with the wind-up faux operatic Il Divo, it’s not surprising that her New York appearance last week got at best lukewarm reviews. By comparison, as Mina’s recent Oggi sono io proves, a real diva does not need props. She has kept being interesting and non-conformist. There is a bit of Elis Regina on this tune, but also something distinctly her own. She belts, emotes and stays wonderfully weird as if still on the set of Belle of 14th Street but evolved and matured but grounded in the same quirky sensibility of that show from 1967. Maybe she'll do a duet with Nina Hagen some day.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What Ever Happened to Baby Jan Crouch?

Huey Lewis is appearing in Chicago. No, not the “Color My World” band but the musical. Huey Lewis? Huey Lewis! I know he does have the credentials of being in an Altman film and all, but do I really want to plop down $70 or more bucks to go see this guy in a 32-year-old musical?

This, and the surprising popularity of my Jan Crouch Declares Holy War video, got me to wondering what it would be like if some really good bad performers were given to chance to go on stage for some really good bad productions.

And heading that list would have to be the beloved pink head herself in Whatever Happened to Baby Jan Crouch? with Tammy Faye Bakker as Blanche. Maybe Tammy Faye is too obvious of a choice, and a post-White House Laura Bush might work better. Would Jan leave her lucrative career of bilking grocery money from old ladies for he pink wigs and rococo TV sets for the stage? Perhaps if it was pitched to her as a ministry in which she could hawk her love gifts after the show and ask people to plead for salvation it might just sell. FIlling out the cast could be where the real fun comes in, starting with Clay Aiken as Edwin, her accompaniest. I think this might be away for Jan to get in touch with her spiritual side that the confines of the glitz and heavy handed money grubbing of televangelism simply does not allow. Beneath Jan's shimmering pink veneer, I think there is a deeply spiritual person longing to let her true colors be shown to the world. I'm praying for you, Jan.

But perhaps Jan should consider hitting the stage with her husband Paul, and I think the idea of the two of them in a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? sends chills up my spin. Just hearing Jan’s Florida twang wrapping itself around “You’re at the meat of it, baby,” gives me a great thrill. And what a chance for them to tell the uncoverted about the evils of alcohol once the curtain falls.So, if that one sold, what would we follow it up with? Love Letters with Bill and Hilary Clinton and then with Tony Blair and George W. Bush?

Soiled politicians make great fodder for late night TV and the stage. With Mark Foley now "in rehab" (translation: working on his six-figure confessional memoir), Jim McGreevey is warming his seat on the Daily Show and magazine covers where we'll likely see Foley come Valentine's Day. So why not have Foley and McGreevey together in a stage version of The Birdcage, some may ask. It's set in Florida anyway. Well, for one thing McGreevey is actually kind of cute, and I wouldn't get too bent out of shape if he were sending me suggestive e-mails. But Mark Foley? Eww... I'd rather see him as Brick in a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Katherine Harris as Maggie, Jeb Bush as Goober and Janet Reno as Big Daddy.

And while Mr. T is destined to star in the King and I, finding the proper Anna is difficult. Although something perfectly wrong such as casting Suzanne Somers or Loni Anderson sort of makes sense, perhaps the properly spunky gal with the right accent such as Sheena Easton or Amanda Donahoe might work even better. Nancy Reagan is perhaps a bit too frail to reunite with Mr. T, but the idea is worth considering. Hearing Mr. T's raspy query "Shall we dance -- fool?" is the stuff of Broadway legend. Though perhaps Nancy should save her energy for the roadshow version of Grey Gardens and serve as a form of reconciliation with daughter Patty Davis in the role of Little Edie.

Oh, I am sure there are more, better, ones. Like Erik Estrada as Lancelot in Camelot as once mentioned on Northern Exposure. Surely there’s a really good, bad Valerie Bertinelli musical waiting to happen. Perhaps the title role of Gypsy with Meredith Baxter Bernie as Mama Rose. No, that’s too obvious.

Calista Flockhart and Jenna Elfman are a that appropriately freshly washed up stage to be in something really bad…like a musical version of The Odd Couple as a musical with the roles gender-switched.

Aw, well. I sound a tad too cynical, don’t I? I’ve not even talked about which musical I’d want to star in.

From the Hairdo Hall of Fame Files

To be honest, city politics in San Francisco is very, very low on my priority list. Sorry but I tend to both think and act globallly and have much more concern about the latest goings on with the Maoists and royalists in Nepal or the latest actions of Morales in Bolivia, Lula in Brazil, Chavez in Venezuela, etc. etc. The San Frnancisco board of supervisors is, well, just about important to me as the PTA in Tupelo, I'm sorry to admit.

However, the recent one day without gel mayor is worth noting. The gel always bothered me, but recent images and articles confirm that -- yeah, it never looked that great but it was there for a reason. It's not that he looked that horrific, but it just didn't feel right. Sort of like Candice Bergen hosting the Today Show or some other such odd one-time experience.

In the meantime, I doubt no one gives much thought about the latest hair styles in Darfur's leadership.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Neurotic Like Me -- Cutting

(Conversation overheard, Herbivore on Valencia, 7:20 p.m. tonight.)

Patron #1: I was just there. In the park. You know. And doing it.

Patron: #2: The meditation, right?

Patron #1: Yes, the meditation.

Patron #2: And the streams were right?

My Mind: Which DVD from Tower Records will I watch first when I get home?

Patron #1: Yes, of course. And the scissors were my meditation focus object, of course.

My Mind: I wonder what the cat is doing? Is he sleeping on my purple couch? Why has he suddenly started enjoying canned food?

Patron #2: It sounds so fascinating.

Patron #1: It’s not fascinating as much as it is real. But always focused on the concrete object – the scissors.

Patron #2: You are so brave. I mean so brave. I just don’t know if I could do it.

Patron #1: Well, of course it’s not a literal cut but the focus on the object, the scissors. All a part of the cord cutting meditation.

Server: Have you decided what you want?

My Mind: Yes, it’s the same as it was 15 minutes ago when you started ignoring me.

Me: Yes, the Penne Lemon Herb Pasta and a glass of the Rosemont Merlot.

Server: Rosemount.

Me: Yes

My Mind: I stand corrected.

Patron #1: So I’ve focused the meditation on the scissors and breaking the bond – my mother, my lovers, anything that represents a crippling bind.

My Mind: I wonder if the cat will enjoy the Fassbinder DVD? I’ve always thought he had a Germanic sensibility while his brother was so much more French.

Patron #1: And the energy fields with each cut were so amazing.

Patron #2: Energy fields. And like you could see them?

Patron #1: Feel. See. Taste. Each one like a stick of celery breaking and releasing these amazing flavors – sharp, pungent yet subtle. Not blood cuts, like I fear. Sometimes I wake up from these dreams where there is so much blood.

Server: (Placing the merlot and salad on my table) Here you go.

Me: Thanks

My Mind: How did this take 30 seconds but it took a quarter of an hour to w
ait to take the order? Yes, I think the cat bonds to me out of a Germanic sensibility; we’re both so Weimar. I love him because he's so dark and fatalistic, waiting for the great inevitable doom.

Patron # 2: You are just so brave. I think most people would not be able to go there.

Patron #1: And I was doing it on the plane to and from Boston this weekend.

Patron #2: With the scissors or focused on them?

Patron: #1: Both. They were in my bag.

Patron #2: Checked?

Patron #1: Carry-on

Patron #2: Like I are so brave.

Patron #1: It’s really crucial to focus on a consistent object or else the energy flows can’t be steady. I mean, sometimes the flow is so overpowering, so bright, I can’t take it.

Server: How is everything?

Me: (Mouth full of salad.) Mmmphh!

Patron #1: And as I make each cut it’s as if I see the person clearer, feel them nearer to me in this really weird way even though I've cut the cord in the meditation. They are close but not binding me and holding me down any longer.

Patron #2: And the scissors themselves, are they a particular kind?

Patron #1: Oh, they have to be surgical, like the ones to cut umbilical cords. You can’t use garden or kitchen scissors. It wouldn’t work. It's also very important that you hold them a particular way or it won't work.

My Mind: What was that quote from Sean Lennon in New York magazine today about the Dada Exhibit at MoMa this summer and the beauty of harsh objects? Didn’t he mention scissors? I know he talked about hammers and screwdrivers.

Patron #2: We so overlook the spiritual power of objects...and know...

Patron #1: …energy

Patron #2: Yeah. God, you are SO strong.

My Mind: Why didn’t I take time to see the Dada exhibit when I was in New York in June? I just breezed in and out of town that trip. What was I avoiding?

Patron #1: It is more than the mineral and chemical make-up of the objects, but I know that’s part of it. It’s the merging of physical and spiritual intent.

Patron #2: It’s the actuality…er, I mean the potentiality of it.. that makes it real. The cord meditation, the thought, the intent of cutting. I'm finally coming to grips with the fact that life is more about inent than action.

My Mind: Is it the merlot, or is this actually sort of making sense? Da da da da da…

Patron #1: And because it’s happened in the mind it has happened in my life. I was there and experienced it.

Patron #2: And no one got hurt.

Patron #1: No, there is pain. No cut happens without pain, even if there is no physical cut.

Patron #2: Oh, that’s what I meant. I mean, no, I wanted to say, well, I think I’d like to read more about the meditations.

Patron #1: Read but not actually try? Are you scared?

Patron #2: I just don’t know that I’m strong enough yet.

Server: You had the penne?

Me: Yes. Thank you.

My Mind: Yes, I'm quite certain the cat will enjoy the Fassbinder. I know that we both will.

When Towers Fall

It was a Saturday morning ritual throughout the early '90s. Take the B train from Grand Army Plaza into Manhattan and spend a good hour or more at the Tower store on Lower Broadway. It was the beginning of my first inklings that if California could produce this kind of a store the state could not be all that bad. Boxed sets, imports, Janus films on VHS would eventually go home with me back to Park Slope and remain among my more vibrant tangible memories of living in two of the five boroughs.

The place had its own smell, different than the antiseptic HMV or Virgin Megastore that could be a Best Buy in Detroit or a Nobody Beats the Whiz in Newark. Was it all of that shrink wrap or the somewhat feral and at times appealing boys that worked there. All I know is that you find that same smell whether at the store near GWU or on Sunset Boulevard – the Tower smell. Now it’s all going away, I made a brief trek there and saved perhaps $20 on a three figure purchase. There was finally the satisfaction of having my own copy of The Rules of the Game and In A Year of 13 Moons, but there was no joy in finding bargains. I don’t know why I’ve delayed getting copies of these two films on DVD, especially the former, which I’ve long said would be a desert island disc but just wouldn’t take the time or expense to actually purchase it. My life doesn’t feel anymore complete, and I don’t see myself going back in the weeks ahead to rob the grave. Having gone through a year of deaths, I don’t need to see the store on its last gasp and grabbing the last gems from the tomb. Unless, of course, beneath the Jessica Simpson CDs and boxed sets of Desperate Housewives there are cat mummies. Ah, yes, what I would not do to get my hands on the cat mummies…

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Oh, Lil Kim, Why You So Crazy, Child?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

I Don't Want To Live Where There Is A Place For Me

I went to see the production of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties at A.C.T. last night. It was an okay mounting of a play I don’t think I’ve seen in nearly 30 years. I saw the original production of it during my first trip to New York on my own after years of being accompanied by my grandparents who first took me there in 1964. On that trip I tried to explain to them what Tiny Alice was all about. “It’s about Alice, and Alice is very tiny.”

A.C.T. did a pretty decent job with the play, but the set design and costumes often seemed to upstage what was actually happening on the state. And while the play is still clever some 33 years on, it often had way too many monologues that went on forever. I pulled out my yellowed copy of the first paperback edition of the play, and was startling to see how some of Henry Carr’s speeches went on for a full two to three pages.

But I can’t resist a play in which the lead character considers the number of costume changes for the male lead in The Importance of Being Earnest to be the deciding factor in taking the role. Tristan Tzara is still my favorite character, and I still have moments when I want to react to many life experiences by babbling “da da da da da da da.…”

The passage in the play that I most remember form seeing it 30+ years ago struck me just as strongly last night—

CARR: I don’t think there’ll be a place for Dada in a Communist Society.
TZARA: That’s what we have against this one. There’s a place for us in it.

That’s more or a less another way of saying “I would never want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member.

I also enjoyed seeing Gregory Wallace, the actor who played Tzara, having remembered him from the 1991 “silent” Peter Sellars film The Cabinet of Dr. Ramirez. He was the stock broker shot early on by an insane client.

In the end, I don’t know that I came away with that much from the play other than the sets and thinking of the cucumber sandwiches cut ever so thin. And don’t I want to move to a place where there is not a place for me?

Yes, But What About Molene?

One of the greatest things about MP3 files is that it has given me the chance to share some of my very odd, not available on iTunes music library with family and friends. Things like Little Marcy’s “I Love My Pussy” song, Kay Thompson’s “Louisiana Purchase” or the Crew Cuts “Slam Bam.” Then there is the German 1981 compilation “Lieber Zu Viel als Zu Wenig” that is a particular favorite.

Recently I compiled several of those gems for a friend of mine we’ll call Molene featured here on the cover of a three-disc set I made for her this summer. She was eternally grateful to have these long lost jewels in a CD jewel box. In case you’re slow, Molene is not a biological girl, and that’s not her actual body. But that is definitely her head and her style. 1979 was a crucial year for Molene, and four years later I embarked on writing a three-volume biography of the Molene legend that began in 1862 when she was a teen. Many important historical events, we learned, had Molene in the background. The shroud of secrecy was finally pulled away to reveal that the Presidential “assassinations” of the past 140+ years had no political roots. All were mere lovers’ quarrels. Molene, who could find love high or low, was embroiled in a lover triangle with Lincoln and Booth, Kennedy and Oswald, etc., etc. Rejection of Booth and Oswald led both men to off their rivals and themselves, since they simply couldn’t stand the idea of a their world not including Molene.

Those volumes that chronicled the legend of Molene were all the more potent since her real day job at the time was in a catheter factory. Some celebrity bios are written to capture a reality long ago lost. Others are written to give us one that takes us away from the one in which we are just marking time.

Today those bios hold a double meaning, tales of lives that did and did not happen. The blurred line between the two no longer matters, but the legend of Molene does. She endures. I’ve been intent on restoring the now fading versions of these opuses from nearly a quarter of a century ago, and perhaps some of these pre-Photoshop entries may make their way onto JunkThief.

Some of the remnants of that era – the HiLo Club and Molene herself – are still with us, but I think it is an appropriate use of web-space to let the world glimpse into those glory days of yore. The line for the Molene fan club forms at the right...

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Jan Crouch Declares Holy War!

There are drag kings, MtoFs, FtoMs, hermaphadrites, and plain old drag queens…and then there is Jan Crouch. Jan, who is somewhere on the scale of entertainer and snake oil huckster, is rumored to be a biological female, but I certainly never want to be the one who would have the bitter task of confirming that. But for sheer train wreck entertainment value, no one can top Jan. She makes Tammy Fae seem a tad too subdued and intelligent.

Jan’s side show extravaganzas began as a child with her oft told story of getting into faith healing by anointing a dead baby chicken with oil and bringing it back to life. She’s never elaborated whether or not the chick in turn sent her a check or major credit card in order to receive one of her free love gifts. But Jan’s career and move to Orange County would soon follow. More recently she has embarked on a global doll ministry in which she gives little girls in the former Soviet block a Barbie doll and a Bible. I’m not sure what she gives the boys? Are GI Joe dolls too girly for a televangelist?

Jan would be just old fashioned funny not scary were she not just a sideshow freak. Instead, today she has become the dominant paradigm of political discourse. That’s why I developed my little Jan Crouch Declares Holy War video. Oh, in case you didn’t realize it, this is supposed to be satire. Though I would doubt Jan would disagree with any of the sentiments.

And, as you listen the vocals, you may likely ask if that little girlish voice singing is Jan?
Well, actually Jan sings an octave or two higher. That is the voice of “Little Marcy.’

*******SPOILER ALERT*************

Little Marcy was very popular on the Sunday School and Vacation Bible School circuit in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s when she released such classic albums as “Little Marcy Sings to $1.98 Children.” What was always mysterious was that whenever Little Marcy sang, she was accompanied by “Big Marcy,” a woman by the name of Marcy Tigner. Alas, I hate to break the news that only recently has been revealed: Little Marcy wasn’t a girl at all but a doll used as a tool of Big Marcy. There’s a lot on the ‘net about Little Marcy, but this is a good start for those who’ve never had the Little Marcy Experience.

And, if you’ve never had the full Jan Crouch Experience, this is not a bad place to start. (Of course AFTER checking out my Jan Crouch Declares Holy War video.) Further evidence of Jan's seemingly unlimited talents can be viewed here in which she transforms into Nina Hagen. When you think about it, they have more in common than you might first realize.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Paging Mark Foley!

Although I have given thought a few times to being a parent, various news events of the past week have convinced me to stick to fathering little ones of the four-legged variety. That too is not without heartache but at least I don’t have to worry about school shootings or naughty IMs from closeted, southern “Christian” gentlemen. While I can take some pleasure in knowing that this could give power back to the Democrats, there is no reason to believe that they too won’t get mired into a sex scandal. Isn’t this almost like the heady days of the late 1990s when the only real stories coming out of DC were about politicians with open flies? And has there ever been a statistical analysis to see if male Democrats on the Hill are more likely to end up with fleshy female interns while Bible thumping GOP’ers tend to gravitate to fresh-faced boys with upper-end SAT scores. Maybe Jim McGreevey contradicts that theory, but at least he was chasing a younger male past the age of consent.

So a plan is in place to get down to the root cause of all of this by eliminating the source of Mr. Foley's transgression: the page program itself. Translation: the root cause of middle-aged, closeted Republicans pursuing teenaged boys is the boys themselves. Or to root out child abuse, eliminate children. Right? How dare those young boys tantalize those poor closeted senators and representatives with their sleek swimmer bodies wedged into khakis and oxford cloths. Let's fill the capital with nothing but frumpy women in sensible shoes.

Why should we be sending 18-year-old boys to Washington, DC, to be put in harm’s way when they could be shipped off to Iraq anyway? And now to learn that Mr. Foley is gay, but let's make sure the world know that he was molested as a boy by a member of the clergy. Well, I'm gay but I was never molested by a clergy member. I did, in 11th grade, seduce my civics student teacher who had been a page when he was a junior in high school, but that's another story. I think he went on to work for Trent Lott or something. Ew, I just had a vision of Trent sending me an IM with a jpeg of him with his wig and suit folded up in the corner while he sits before the camera whistling Dixie.

By the way, for clarity, that’s Foley leering at my 15-year-old self. Spooky, yes, but I wonder what he looked like back then? Wait, wasn't that student teacher's name Mr. Foley?

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Lets Go to Paris! Oh, Kay! Dokey?

Now that Audrey Hepburn has become a branded trademark of the Gap, my mind has been set wondering. And that’s always just a bit dangerous, don’t you.

I starting remembering that in the last year’s of her life Audrey willingly let herself become the branded image of UNICEF and campaigning for the rights of children in the Global South. Now she has, without her permission, become the branded image for a company whose skinny black pants are made in those very same countries where she once visited with UNICEF. Now, I am not, for a second, suggesting that tiny under age hands are making those pants. But I can’t help but think what would Audrey think were she with us today.

Well, I think she’d suggest that the real star of Funny Face, Kay Thompson, should be the one promoting a brand. Kay who, you ask? Oh, Puh Lease, Eloise. If you don’t know who Kay is, then go ask Lypskina. Now Kay’s character in Funny Face was reportedly based on Diana Vreeland, but coming off this summer’s strongest female character in the Devil Wears Prada, one can’t help but think it was in many ways a non-musical version of the character Kay played five decades earlier. And wouldn’t Kay’s character be just tickled pink anyway to be lending her image to some crass form of commercial exploitation? The brassier, the better she would no doubt say.

So that’s why I crafted this little Lets Go to Paris on Braniff with Kay Thompson commercial. Oops, what’s that you say, they’ve suspended those non-stop flight to Gay Paree?

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