Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cruise Control

Since so many hundreds of you were dying to know what Tony Blair and I had in common (besides our penchant for hanging out with queens), I will tell you: We both got new jobs yesterday.

Mine is with the same place I've been working for years but involves at least 50 percent new responsibilities, a new (better) title, a new (better) salary, and, I have reason to believe, a new level of respect from certain quarters. It's the first time in my life I've been almost completely in the driver's seat on a job change.
I proposed the switch in an effort to solve two ongoing problems (one in the company and, privately, one in my relationship to it), I drew the boundaries of what I would and wouldn't do, and I decided -- and got -- what I considered to be appropriate compensation.

After work tonight, as my car was stopped at a light, a handsome man waiting to cross the street looked my way, met my gaze, and wiggled his eyebrows. This almost never happens to me. I've been cruised exactly once in my life that I'm aware of. (Key and sadly all-too-telling phrase: that I'm aware of.) He then turned back to talk to his friend. Rather uncharacteristically, I decided I would be ready when he looked at me again, as I knew he would. I would not look away. I would not play it cool. The light turned, he looked at me, and I was waiting with a smile. He sent a lingering one back as he crossed the street. I turned the corner and drove on.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What Do Tony Blair and Billy Have in Common?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Owning Up: The Musical

Last night I went to see a documentary called Show Business: The Road to Broadway (terrible title). It chronicles four Broadway musicals from the creative stages just prior to opening night through the 2004 Tony Awards. The four shows are Avenue Q, Taboo, Wicked, and Caroline, or Change. The Washington Post gave the film a so-so review, but I quite enjoyed it. It did a great job of capturing the excitement, intensity, uncertainty, and camaraderie of, well, putting on a show.

(But what does it mean for someone like me -- who has written a review or two of various types in my day -- that the most annoying people in the movie were the tableful of New York critics? These particular people were insular, bitchy, self-important, and . . . kinda
pinched. I found it interesting that that the more prestigious critics, Ben Brantley of the New York Times and John Lahr of the New Yorker, excellent writers both, were interviewed separately -- at their own request, I wonder? -- and weren't half as irritating.)

The only one of the four musicals I've seen is Caroline, or Change, which is powerful, moving, and highly original. I saw it in 2003 at the off-Broadway Public Theater before it went uptown -- a stage of its development (and success) that the movie strangely ignores.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the documentary is seeing the novice composer and lyricist of Avenue Q, who remain unaffected, wide-eyed, appreciative, and sweet throughout their odyssey, culminating in the Tony Award for best musical. Here's hoping they remain so. I'd like to see their show.


I have an ambivalent relationship with musicals. My interest is still more anthropological -- both toward their aficionados and their practitioners -- than truly passionate (with some notable, and very personal, exceptions).

A dozen years ago, I published an essay that explored this very topic. I described how, as I kid, I lip-synched along to records of musicals and danced around the living room when the rest of the family was out. Then, in time, I began to suppress all of that as I approached puberty and started to have fearful clues that I was a homo. As I grew into a openly gay man -- who might have finally celebrated this fabulous side of himself -- I realized that the "musical queen" in me was buried so far down that he barely existed anymore.

The opening of my essay describes me as an adult visiting a Greenwich Village piano bar with a friend. Everyone in the place is singing along to Sondheim and other musical numbers that I don't have a clue about.
Later in the essay, reflecting on the boy in me who used to love musicals, I write:

But what happened to the other life -- the imagined costumes, the songs, the delicate flutter of a hand or the strong crescendo-lash of an arm before a mirror . . . ? It died. And I don’t actively miss it, except for those times when I realize how much a part of me it once was. Then I get the strange feeling that
it misses me.

Well, twelve years down the road, I have to say that the queen is climbing his way up again from the darkness. He does miss me -- I was right about that! And I find myself reaching toward him a little bit from my end. I even saw a Sondheim show a few years ago.

Like someone who receives an e-mail from a childhood friend who suggests getting together for a cup of coffee, I've been more and more game to catch up. It's true that it's hard to reignite those long-ago friendships -- so much water under the bridge and all. But you never know.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Ireland, the Grand Tour

Friday, Belfast. Saturday, Dublin.

Last night I saw the bittersweetly lilting Irish movie Once, about a busker in Dublin and a young Czech woman he meets. I loved it. My "companion" wasn't quite as enamored of it as I was -- mainly, I think, because the music didn't have the, um, staying power for him that it did for me -- though he conceded in the end that the movie was pretty good. I conceded that Glen Hansard's singing -- he's lead singer of the Frames, a band I've somehow been unfamiliar with till now, even though they've been together since 1990 -- bears some superficial resemblance to that of James Blunt (whom my friend likes). The difference is that James Blunt's voice makes me want to scour my eardrums out with a melon baller every time I hear it. I very much liked Hansard's passionate singing and found his costar, Markéta Irglová (only nineteen years old, I just discovered), equally winning and authentic.

Two thumbs up -- way up! ;)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Big Play

I saw an extraordinary play last night, Scenes from the Big Picture by Owen McCafferty. It was put on by the DC company Solas Nua, which is devoted to contemporary Irish works. The play depicted a day in the life of Belfast, with a cast of twenty performing in a scrappy, smallish space at Catholic University.

It sounds a little lowbrow to express amazement when an actor gets a foreign accent down accurately. How many times has that been the first thing you've heard someone compliment Meryl Streep on? It's true there's so much more to a dramatic portrayal, but when the accent isn't quite right, or when it comes and goes at random, it's a distraction that can last the duration of the play. In this one, every member of the mostly American (and local) cast had a completely consistent and believable Northern Irish accent, which isn't the typical "Always after me Lucky Charms!" brogue that Americans usually associate with Ireland.

Scenes from the Big Picture builds from the quotidian to the riveting over about two and a half hours. It has almost nothing to do with Belfast's "troubles" -- the words "Catholic" and "Protestant" are never uttered, and only one or two of the many interweaving stories have (maybe) a connection to the political/religious divides that Northern Ireland is notorious for. These characters' troubles range from drug addiction to infidelity to loneliness to loss. Plenty to relate to, yet you feel that they could take place nowhere other than where they do.

The friendly fellow next to me had returned to see the play a second time. I would consider doing that myself if it weren't both closing tomorrow and sold out for the remaining performances. I will, however, be back for Solas Nua's next production.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

No Meat, Please, I'm Vegetarian -- and Pierced . . . and Have a Shaved Head . . . and a Weird Little Patch of Hair Below My Lip

My vegetarian readers may be as interested as I was to learn that New York Times food writer Mark Bittman has a new cookbook coming out in October, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

His more general book, How to Cook Everything, has become my favorite basic (non-vegetarian) cookbook -- far superior to the old standby Joy of Cooking (whichever version of that one you have; there are as many generations of Joy of Cooking as I understand there are of Nancy Drew mysteries). Bittman's recipes have never steered me wrong, so I'm excited to see he's devoted 1,008 pages to meat-free dishes (even though he's not vegetarian himself).

Publisher's Weekly says about the new cookbook: "Even owners of the original book will find much new to savor while benefiting from Bittman's remarkable ability to teach foundational skills and encourage innovation with them, which will help even longtime vegetarians freshen their repertory."


I could use some veggie empowerment, because I'm joining several people from my office for a half-day meeting/retreat next Tuesday at this restaurant, a very nice place I've never been to that specializes in Southern Low Country cuisine -- a.k.a. meat, seafood, and other animal products. There's one vegetarian entree on the menu. It looks perfectly good, but it would be nice to have more than one option.

Once again I find myself mildly annoyed at the insensitivity of colleagues about (1) what vegetarianism means (it does not mean I eat fish) or (2) the fact that there's a vegetarian on the staff in the first place (actually, there's more than one, but I'm the only one at this meeting). That would be me -- the single, gay, artsy, pierced, soul-patched, shaved-head (currently growing the hair out a bit) introvert in the corner.

Speaking of which, here's something interesting (and related): A few years ago, I published an essay that included the following passage:

One afternoon at the office lunch table, my first job out of college, the conversation turned to a client who’d been in that morning. He was in his thirties, casually dressed, irreverent, chatty, highly caffeinated. This was noticeable in a workplace of Brooks Brothers, Talbots, and Laura Ashley. He also wore a gold hoop on his left ear.

“You know what my kids tell me,” a coworker—the mother of teenagers—chirped in apparent relief. “Left is right, and right is wrong!”

I detested this woman for reasons that were only reinforced by those words. Hearing an aphorism for the proper side for a man to wear an earring on—“spring forward, fall back,” “i before e, except after c”—made me resentful, but also cautious: If I ever did submit to a piercing gun, I knew it would be on the left ear.*

Well, nearly 25 years later, after a number of years away, I now work in the very same office again. Just the other day, the very same "client" I described in that essay came up in conversation among some coworkers. (He's now a fairly prominent writer living in another city.) Once again -- nearly 25 years later -- they were off and running, talking about how "edgy" he was, what with his pierced ear and shaved head and all!

Jesus. Last time I checked, it was the 21st century.

* In fact, as the essay goes on to describe, when it came time for my first pierced ear, I had the right one -- the "gay" one -- pierced. I later had the left one pierced as well, wore two earrings for a time, then one, then none, then my holes closed up. A few years later, after breaking up with my ex, I had my right one pierced again. And so it remains today, with a thin silver hoop in it.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Long Time Gone

AWOL again -- sorry.

These days are turning out to be a time of transition for me. I'm not always even sure what I'm transitioning to. In addition to the ongoing creation of and settling into my new home, I'm starting up another (knock on wood) blog under my real name and with a more specific focus than this one (which I will continue, even though you might not know it at the rate I've been posting). The new blog is related to some professional and creative ambitions I have -- a step toward forging a new direction, you might say. I was working on it tonight. I'm sorry to say, though, that I won't be linking to it from here, as I want to keep this one anonymous and personal.

I've also been contemplating proposing a somewhat different position for myself at work. It may turn out to be moot (I'm aware that I, and almost everyone else in the world, misuse the word "moot" according to the dictionary definition, but it's such a . . . convenient word, even when misused; and it rhymes with "cute"). That's all I'll say for now. It's very likely nothing will change, but it could. Unless I decide not to play those cards, which is a distinct possibility. It may not be the right move even if the opportunity does arise.

Anyway. Transition. I'm 45 years old -- does that mean anything? I think it definitely qualifies as midlife.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Getting to those questions in random order and with long gaps in between . . .

Dykewife asked: "If you had the opportunity to change one event in your entire life, what would that be, why would you change it and what do you think the end results would have been?"

I would have come out of the closet -- both to myself and to others -- at least five years sooner than I did (which was at age 28).

I would change that event because it would give me at least five more years of learning to live both fully in my body and alive to my true spirit.

The end results would have been that I most likely would have experienced the same missteps and joys that I have, only five years earlier. I would have met different people and had different relationships -- not to mention, perhaps, different reactions to my revelation, some of them maybe less accepting. So it is neither good nor bad that this event didn't happen back then. It would have led to a different life than the one that I have had, and that has made me who I am. The fact that I acknowledge that doesn't change the fact that I often find myself wishing it had happened sooner.

I don't actually regret my life or most of the choices I've made. But you asked, and that's my truthful answer.

The greatest poverty is not to live
In a physical world, to feel that one's desire
Is too difficult to tell from despair.
-- Wallace Stevens, "Esthétique du Mal"

If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself.
-- George Orwell, 1984

Saturday, June 09, 2007

"Three Queers and a Hot Chick"

No, that's not the name of a new sitcom on NBC's fall schedule. The line was uttered by a straight doofus as Diablo, Vuboq, Tomokito, and I walked along I Street toward Cafe Asia tonight after the Capital Pride parade. We each were wearing some of those colored plastic beads they toss out at gay events. Diablo had the lovely additional accessory of a synthetic lei around his neck. This was many blocks away from where the parade had taken place, so our bead-and-lei-bedecked cohort weren't anywhere in the vicinity.

"Three queers and a hot chick -- hyuh hyuh hyuh."

When we got inside the restaurant, I made a comment, half in jest, about how I hadn't been "gay-bashed" in a long time. Vuboq said, "That wasn't gay-bashing. That was ignorance."

As I said, I wasn't totally serious about my gay-bashing remark -- I know this wasn't Matthew Shepard territory or anything near it. And I do see Vuboq's point: It was an ignorant comment from an ignorant person. But I personally categorize a remark like that somewhere between mere ignorance and serious gay-bashing.

The words were hostile. They could have been far worse, and they didn't really rattle me, but they did surprise me. After all, Washington's a pretty gay city. I can remember only one other occasion when I was called a homophobic name since I've been an adult -- and it was long before I was out of the closet. I was in my early twenties, walking to a theater on 14th Street (when 14th Street was still pretty sketchy and long before it had become a "theater district") with a high-school friend (now a priest). It was raining, so we were sharing an umbrella, and a man called us "faggots" as we walked by.

That's it. Not including too-numerous-to-count incidents of being called faggot* or queer as a kid, that's the only time I've experienced anything close to gay-bashing. I'm lucky. But I do think words like the ones we heard tonight are used with hostility. So I take back what I said before. It did rattle me.

I don't feel particularly endangered where I live, but reminders of how uncomfortable some still are with gay people (in many cases, of course, signifying how uncomfortable they are with parts of themselves) throw me back to the past even as they make me look forward to the future. The doofus's kind are a dying breed. Of that I feel sure. The only question is how long the death rattle will last.
* By the way, I don't think there should be some sort of ban on using words like faggot in discourse about the words, as some have suggested in recent months. They're words. When not being used to hurt people, they're simply part of our language. How will we talk about them if we don't use the words? Oh, I know -- with childish euphemisms like "the f-word" and "the n-word." That always strikes me as a kind of verbal cowering.
Talk about letting the enemy win.

Monday, June 04, 2007

It's Nixon, Baby, Yeah!

While walking to the theater in New York City the other night, I said idly to myself, "I wonder if I'll see any celebrities in the audience." One sometimes does at Broadway shows.

The play I was seeing was the acclaimed
Frost/Nixon, about David Frost's "get" interview with the disgraced Richard Nixon in 1977. (My nutshell verdict: not bad but not all that.) As I inched my way into the lobby, I played a game with myself to pass the time. I picked out a random back-of-the-head in the crowd, two or three people in front of me, and asked myself: If that guy over there were a celebrity, who would it be? Without much thought, I answered, "Um . . . Mike Myers?" Just then the man turned his head to the side and I saw him in profile. It was Mike Myers.

Sitting in the row in front of me and a bit off to my right during the play was former congresswoman
Patricia Schroeder. It was a somewhat "meta" experience watching Pat Schroeder, as I couldn't resist doing from time to time throughout the performance, watching a play about Richard Nixon.

Or was it ironic . . . ?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Fun Homes

Just a couple of glimpses from my New York trip for now, so I can go to bed saying I posted something.

I did buy a lamp at Filaments after all. They put the most expensive ones on their Web site, but in fact, many of the specimens in the cramped little store are quite affordable. They're not all vintage -- mine is actually new but "midcentury style." Very simple, clean lines. Not sure these picture do it justice, but it's just what I wanted in this particular space, for this particular purpose.

At the convention, I got an autographed copy of the graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (until this book, known mainly for the comic strip "Dykes to Watch Out For"). I've already finished it. It's one of the best, most insightful and inventive memoirs I've ever read -- graphic or otherwise. And I'm not the only one to say so -- it was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award.