Friday, February 26, 2021

Binge-watching Sex and the City During a Pandemic


I have a confession to make. For the last few nights, I’ve been binge-watching Sex and the City. And I’m absolutely loving it. God, I sound like Carrie confessing, “I’m having an affair with Big.”

But I digress.

While the show could sometimes be annoying (the voice-overs, the puns, Sarah Jessica Parker), watching it during this pandemic, when the entire city is shut down, has made me look at it in a new light.

For one thing, it’s reminded me of all the places in New York City that are no longer here: Jerry’s, Florent, the Art Greenwich movie theater, and, of course, the iconic Twin Towers that open the show. The list of clubs and restaurants that are name-checked (Moomba, Chaos) can send me into a nostalgia K-hole.

Of course, the reason a lot of those places are no longer here (apart from a terrorist attack) is because SATC helped gentrify the city to death, turning the Meatpacking District from, well, a meatpacking district, to a nightclub district, to a luxury co-op district.

SATC launched a thousand Carrie wannabes who came to the city thinking they too could live in Manhattan on a writer’s salary.

SATC ruined everything that was good about downtown, from Magnolia Bakery to the Perry Street townhouse that was supposed to be Carrie’s Upper East Side apartment to the aforementioned Meatpacking District. They all became stops on the SATC bus tour.

Because of that, it’s easy to overlook a lot of really good writing.

The most obvious example is the “I Heart New York” episode, the love letter to New York City that was the first episode to air after 9/11. Carrie’s closing line on that episode (“Nobody talks shit about my city”) has to be one of the best lines ever written.

Another good episode I just saw for the first time had Carrie and the gang going to Los Angeles. The episode starts out with the girls skeptical about going to LA, subscribing to all the usual New York vs. LA stereotypes, but then they find themselves unexpectedly liking LA, before finally hating LA again, all expressed through the metaphor of a fake Fendi baguette bag (“it’s what’s on the inside that counts”). SATC could make these great, clever points and do it while Carrie wears an absolutely stunning sequined caftan.

There’s been talk of an SATC reboot (without Kim Catrall—boo!), but I don’t know if they could recapture the magic they had in the late ’90s/early 2000s. What would an SATC reboot even look like? Four (I mean three) New York City women going through menopause in a hollowed-out, post-Covid New York? No thanks!

Or you could be like me and binge-watch classic SATC.

And, just like that, fall in love with it all over again.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Eating an Orange Is a Religious Experience

Eating an orange is a religious experience.
First of all, eating an orange is a sensual experience.
You bite into it and that juice comes squirting out.
Then you look at it and you think, How does an orange know how to grow into these perfect slices?
And from there you extrapolate to everything on Earth and the Earth itself: humans, animals, plants and insects.
How does a dog know how to do that scratching thing with its hind legs after it takes a shit (regardless of whether or not there’s any dirt there)?
And that is why eating an orange is a religious experience.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Day Democracy Died

This is the Republican Party under Trump. We all watched this on live television and these images have been broadcast around the world. Is this still “fake news”?

We should have known this going to happen from the moment Trump came down the escalator in Trump Tower and called Mexicans rapists and criminals.

The lives of the politicians who promoted Trump’s lies were themselves put at risk. One person was shot and killed. But for Trump it was all just collateral damage. Just like the 360,000 Americans who have died from Covid because Trump said the virus was a “hoax” and told people not to wear masks.

He would have done this just to own the news cycle. Because normally, we’d be talking about the historic victory of two Democrats in Georgia.

But such is the extent of Trump’s pathological narcissism that he’s literally willing to kill people in order to hold onto power.

Voting to overturn the results of a free and fair election would seem to be the definition of treason (just like withholding military aid from a foreign country in exchange for dirt on a political opponent would seem to be the definition of bribery). But we seem to lack the political will to impeach presidents or try people for treason.

Therefore, our goal should be to change the law to prevent someone like Donald Trump from ever holding office again. The guardrails of our democracy, our so-called “norms and ethics” aren’t strong enough to withstand someone as ruthless as Donald Trump.

For example, all presidential candidates should be required to provide their tax returns in order to run for office. That alone would prevent Trump (and probably any of his family members) from running for president in the future.

But we also need to examine why people would be so angry that they would storm the capital.

Sure, there are tons of conspiracy theories out there, and these theories have been exacerbated by Trump and the right-wing media. But these theories wouldn’t take root unless people felt disenfranchised in the first place.

For a long time, we haven’t had majority rule in this country. Our institutions themselves are undemocratic.

The Senate is undemocratic. Rhode Island, a state with one million people, has the same number of senators as California, a state with 40 million people. That’s not democratic.

Furthermore, most states have been gerrymandered to death. Why else would 147 Republicans feel like they could vote to overturn the results of a free and fair election and think they could get away with it? Because they know that Republican districts will stay Republican. And if they’re not sufficiently batshit crazy, they’ll be primaried by someone who’s even more batshit crazy.

Secondly, Democrats have come to be seen—rightly or wrongly—as the party of “coastal elites.” (It should be noted, of course, that there are people struggling on the coasts, too.) Democrats used to be the party of the working class.

How is it that Republicans—who have always been the party of giving tax cuts to the rich—came to be seen as the champions of working people? Yes, there may be an element of racism among “working class whites,” but we should remember (and the Democrats should be reminded) that the “working class” cuts across all racial lines.

The Democrats need to get back to their roots.

Maybe if we helped these people who stormed the Capitol—misguided as they are—they wouldn’t be so angry. (This is what I call the “Max Brooks” theory because I saw him make this suggestion on Real Time with Bill Maher.)

Maybe then we might be able to save our democracy.

But it’s going to take years—if not decades—to undo the damage Trump has caused.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

We Are Failing to Protect LGBT People

My neighbor, John Palmieri, has been harassing me with homophobic hate speech for 33 years. I’ve reported this harassment to numerous government (and other) agencies (New York Commission on Human Rights, New York City District Attorney, NYPD, Anti-Violence Project) and they haven’t done anything about it. I’ve also contacted my State Assemblymember and State Senator. I have video and audio documentation of this harassment, which I’ve shared with them. I’ve filed a police complaint and met in person with the District Attorney.

They’ve all basically said that unless he physically attacks me, there’s nothing they can do.

I believe that his actions constitute criminal harassment. I also think he’s mentally ill and, therefore, I don’t know what he’s capable of doing in terms of physically harming me.

This comes at a time when anti-LGBT violence and mental illness are both at an all-time high.

Here are links to two videos I’ve posted on my Facebook page which document Mr. Palmieri’s harassment and threats against me.

https://www.facebook.com/paul.hallasy/posts/10157290793887476

https://www.facebook.com/paul.hallasy/posts/10157330716552476

In the first one, you can hear him saying (about me) “this motherfucker,” “faggot motherfucker” and “gay motherfucking asshole.”

In the second one, he says “I’ll knock him out, kick him in the face.”

This is a violent threat.

The reality is that the way the law is currently written, it actually protects people like John Palmieri and endangers people like me. If you spoke to any of these agencies, they’d say that Mr. Palmieri is protected by the First Amendment.

However, the First Amendment does not protect hate speech and this is clearly hate speech.

We’ve seen what hate speech can do, because for the last four years we’ve had a president who engages in it frequently. People have died and been seriously injured because of hate speech and will continue to die and be seriously injured unless we do something about it.

But we can’t do anything about it unless and until the people whose job it is to protect us do their job.

That is why I’m sharing the contact information for these people. If you’re as angry about anti-LGBT violence and hate speech as I am (and/or are angry because I’ve been the victim of such hate speech), please feel free to share your feelings with the people below.


Melissa Melo
Human Rights Specialist - Law Enforcement Bureau
New York Commission on Human Rights
22 Reade St. New York, NY 10007
T: 2124160216 NYC.gov/HumanRights
Pronouns: She/her/hers

Ana Sophia Radolinksy
Assistant District Attorney
Radolinskia@dany.nyc.gov
(212) 335-3667
(917) 239-3114

NYPD Fifth Precinct
William.Campaign@nypd.org
Lucian.Velazquez@nypd.org

Anti-Violence Project
212-714-1141

State Aseemblymember Yuh-Line Niou
212-312-1420
niouy@nyassembly.gov

State Senator Brian Kavanagh
212-298-5565
kavanagh@nysenate.gov

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart

I’ve been thinking about (and listening to) the Bee Gees a lot in the last few days, after watching their HBO documentary, The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. Although I found the documentary utterly entertaining and thought it was extremely well done, I also found it profoundly sad. Lead singer Barry Gibbs’ three younger brothers (Robin, Maurice and Andy) are now all deceased (as Barry says at one point, he’d rather have his brothers back and no hit records), and his once mighty head of brown hair is now limp, gray wisps. It was like watching my life flash before my eyes, because the Bee Gees’ career coincided with key periods of my life, from their early ’60s hits (“I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You,” “Run to Me”), to their early ’70s rebirth (“Lonely Days,” “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”), to their spectacular success in the late ’70s (Saturday Night Fever, Spirits Having Flown).

I’ve been thinking about music in general and what you might call the circle of life, to borrow another musician’s phrase. Coldplay’s Chris Martin put it well in the documentary when he talked about the backlash the Bee Gees faced after Saturday Night Fever. He said that younger bands like his can now anticipate the rising and falling of musical careers, but bands in the first wave of international stardom didn’t know how to react.

I thought about the careers of white-hot musicians I myself have seen rise and fall (like Madonna and Lady Gaga, to mention only two of the most recent examples).

By now it’s become a cliché to say that the Bee Gees were more than just a “disco” band, and this documentary makes that abundantly clear by showcasing their decades-long career and enormous music catalogue. (I myself have known this for a long time, but I guess it’s news for people who only know them from Saturday Night Fever.)

Personally, my own music collection runs the gamut from Abba to the Sex Pistols. After several musical purges, where I got rid of records either because I didn’t think were “cool” enough (I still regret not saving my childhood and adolescent record collection), or because for the first six years I lived in New York City I moved an average of once a year (and records are heavy), I’ve finally reached the age of “I don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks.”

It’s important to remember, too, that the Bee Gees were sex symbols (at least Barry was) and a cultural phenomenon. It wasn’t just their music, it was their skin-tight white suits unbuttoned to the navel, their hairy chests, their gold medallions. (And, when I saw that rear shot of them performing onstage at the Spirits Having Flown tour, my first thought was of six Parker House rolls.)

There’s been a slew of rock documentaries lately on HBO and Showtime. They fall into either what I call the career-resuscitating documentary (of which this might be one, along with the recent career-spanning documentary of the Eagles) and what I call “grief porn”—documentaries about those artists who died either tragically young or in tragic circumstances (or both): Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse. I guess people my age are no longer buying music, so the idea is to catch us where we live—on cable TV! (The last “new” artist I bought was Lady Gaga. And who can blame me? The charts are now dominated by hip-hop and 19-year-old divas.)

The documentary ends on a hopeful note, with Barry singing his new country-tinged single, “Butterfly,” along with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (and it’s great to hear Barry singing three-part harmony again), and a scene of Barry performing at the Glastonbury Festival, with the stagehands performing disco dance moves.

When faced with the question of, to use the title of a Bee Gees song, immortality (or, as Queen sang “Who wants to live forever?”), maybe I should ask myself, “What would Barry do?”

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Hate Wins…Again

Even if Joe Biden wins the presidency—which, as I write this, remains an open question—yesterday’s election revealed America to be a shockingly ignorant, racist and selfish country.

I can’t think of any other possible explanation.

The Republican Party under Trump has become the party of white grievance. And, in too many states, white grievance won.

Four years ago, people outside of New York could possibly have been forgiven for not knowing who Trump was, for not appreciating the depths to which this man was willing to sink. They believed the bullshit about Trump being a “successful businessman.” They thought he was the guy on The Apprentice.

New Yorkers always knew better.

Anyone who lived in New York City from the 1980s onward knew that he was nothing more than white trash with money. A low-life from Queens who wanted to be accepted by Manhattan society and never was. An object of derision who was laughed at behind his back. The guy who declared bankruptcy six times and stiffed his contractors. That’s the Trump we knew.

And that’s what this election was all about. Not policy. Tribalism.

It was about people in the middle of this country (predominantly white people and, specifically, white men without a college degree) having their feelings hurt because they felt the so-called “liberal elites” looked down on them. Because those book smart people on the coasts didn’t celebrate ignorance.

Boo fucking hoo.

And if they had to bring the rest of the country down with them, so be it.

Think of everything that’s happened in the last four years. Hell, think of everything that’s happened in just the last eight months! 230,000 Americans dead. 100,000 new cases every week. 12.6 million Americans unemployed and no relief package in sight.

None of that mattered.

The impeachment, the tax returns, the children separated from their parents, the thousands upon thousands of lies.

It’s as if the last four years never happened.

I wanted to write a different story, a more traditionally “uplifting” story.

I naively believed in the goodness of the American people. But their ugliness has been revealed in all its shocking detail.

I actually feel worse than I did four years ago.

Four years ago, I could have believed Americans didn’t know any better.

This time there was no excuse.

Maybe the founding fathers had it right. Maybe we’re just too stupid to elect our own representatives.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Why Fun Gallery…the True Story Is a Must-Read


The other day I walked into an art gallery in Soho, an unusual circumstance in and of itself. I flippantly remarked, “I haven’t seen an art gallery in Soho in 50 years!” (That was a slight exaggeration. It was more like 40 years ago—when I first moved to New York City—that art galleries were still a major feature of Soho.) I continued, “You should see what I’m reading,” and I held up a copy of Patti Astor’s Fun Gallery…the True Story for the three millennials working there. They stared at me blankly. They had never heard of either the Fun Gallery—the gallery that started the East Village art explosion of the 1980s—or Patti Astor, its owner. (It’s always amazed me how young people have absolutely no curiosity about anything that happened before they were born!) I looked at some photos that looked like they were by Ryan McGinley (they were actually by someone I never heard of) and left.

Patti Astor, as mentioned, was the owner of the Fun Gallery. I lived next door to the gallery’s second incarnation on East 10th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A in the early ’80s (in actor Steve Buscemi’s old apartment, I might add). It’s hard to describe how important and exciting that time period was to people who didn’t live through it. At that time, it seemed that everyone in New York City was an artist, musician and filmmaker. (I was familiar with Astor herself from her appearances in a number of independent, low-budget films by underground filmmakers like Amos Poe.) But one of the joys of reading this book is learning about what an interesting life Astor led before she even moved to New York City or opened the Fun Gallery.

She takes us through her experiences in the ’60s working with the radical student group SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) while she was a student at Barnard, as well as her trips to Paris and San Francisco. Reading these passages, I was simultaneously green with envy and awestruck. Astor was a renaissance woman before she even looked at a painting!

I’ll never forget the second Fun Gallery’s opening night. The gallery’s windows were covered while they were preparing their first exhibition and when they were finally uncovered, it was a Kenny Scharf day-glo extravaganza! The crowd spilled over onto the sidewalk and into the street! It was a party atmosphere!

With all the galleries opening in the East Village, there was a sense that anything could happen. You would take the subway and see Keith Haring’s latest chalk drawings or walk down the street and accidentally stumble upon one of Richard Hambleton’s shadow paintings leaping out at you. The next thing you knew, Jean-Michel Basquiat and others were being scooped up by Soho galleries and making fortunes. Within a few years, the East Village gallery scene would go bust and even the Soho galleries would eventually move to West Chelsea.

Reading this during the current shutdown and pandemic, I’m left wondering if it’s possible that New York could have another renaissance, like it did in the ’70s, when Manhattan was still cheap enough for artists to live here. On the one hand, there’s been an explosion of street art (and I’m not just talking about well-known figures like Banksy). On the other hand, Manhattan has been so ridiculously gentrified that even a terrorist attack couldn’t undo the damage that’s been done.

But once upon a time, in the early ’80s, you could support yourself as an artist in Manhattan and the air seemed ripe with possibility.