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.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Ode to the Belvedere

 On Monday, I decided to head to Fire Island on a reconnaissance mission. I had heard that things were open there, but I wasn’t sure how things were functioning in the midst of the Covid pandemic, so I thought I should investigate myself to see if taking a vacation there was even a possibility.
As soon as I got off the ferry, there were signs everywhere about masks and social distancing being required. (I later discovered that there was even assigned seating at Cherry’s.)
I soon settled into a table at Sand Castle for a lobster roll, and I couldn’t stop smiling. “Where do they find these boys every year, with their short shorts and big asses?” I asked myself. I immediately posted on my Facebook page, “I’m already more gay than when I got here!”  

Sand Castle: "I'm already more gay than when I got here!"

After lunch, I set myself up on the beach with the new beach umbrella I’d bought at Goodies. It kept falling over and getting blown inside out (did I mention that I’m not really a beach person?), so I decided to check out the Belvedere to see if a room was even available. They told me that there was a Basic, Standard and Economy room available, as well as a Luxury room, so I proceeded with my usual walk on the beach from the end of the Grove to the end of the Pines. Returning to the Belvedere exhausted, I thought, “Fuck it, I might as well check in.” They said I could have an Economy Room for the Basic rate (because the Basic room wasn’t ready yet) and, besides, it had just been renovated!
Just as a piece of architecture, the Belvedere is beautiful. The fact that it’s also a functioning hotel is almost beside the point. But lately I find that I’ve become one of those grizzled old-timers, telling people about my years on Fire Island.

Even the Belvedere lions are wearing masks!

I’ve been coming to the Belvedere since at least 2000, but my first time on Fire Island was July 4, 1986, when I decided to take a day trip and accidentally stumbled upon The Invasion of the Pines, an event where drag queens from Cherry Grove “invade” The Pines.
Now when I go to the Belvedere, it’s like a trip down memory lane and there are stories associated with each room. Coincidentally, the room I stayed in this year (The Violet Chapel) was the subject of one of my previous blog posts ( That room is next door to The Seasons, the first room I stayed at in 2000, which at the time was a $90 Economy room overlooking the pool and is now a Deluxe room with a staircase that was added outside for fire safety reasons (but which I feel is architecturally inconsistent).
Then there are the stories of my various sexual conquests at the Belvedere, including the staff member in a red jockstrap who brought me a strawberry margarita.
One time I brought back a guy who was so drunk (or high) he tried to take his pants off over his head, and I made him walk up (and down) the Belvedere’s spiral staircase.
I’ve been going to the Belvedere so long, I remember the original owner of the Belvedere, John Eberhardt. He was a pencil factory heir, and one of the things I remember about him is that he always had a much younger, blonde boyfriend. (I’m not sure what the twenty-something blonde saw in his eighty-ish partner, unless he hoped to inherit his fortune.)

Obligatory sunset.

By the time I’d finished my “investigation,” my day trip had turned into an overnight stay. Fire Island had once again cast its magic spell.

Friday, June 26, 2020

A Year Without Pride (and Jerry)

 Normally, this weekend (and week and month) would be a time of celebration. But this year, as the entire world suffers from post-traumatic stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, it feels anything but celebratory. It didn’t hit me until I was walking home from Hudson River Park and saw the Pride flags along Christopher Street, and then it hit me like a punch in the stomach.
I know that there will be various “virtual” Pride events happening this year, but it won’t be the same. I will be “virtually” not attending.
This weekend (and week and month) is also triggering some very personal memories for me of one year ago.
It was one year ago this week that my partner, Jerry, spent his last few weeks as someone who didn’t know he had cancer.
I remember visiting him at Ty’s, the bar where he worked, after my catering job, and I could see he was miserable. He had been suffering from back pain, but we didn’t know that it was caused by a tumor on his spine. (We thought it was from working out.)
But Gay Pride Weekend was the most profitable weekend of the year for him, so he couldn’t afford to miss work. The next day he checked himself into New York-Presbyterian Hospital and, three weeks later, found out he had cancer.
Gay Pride Day is one of those days, like New Year’s Eve, where you feel almost obligated to be happy. But it can also be a day of immense sadness. I’ve often wondered how many couples break up on Gay Pride Day, what with all the eye candy that’s usually on display.
This year, at least, those who are in relationships won’t have to worry about any competition.
I know that, in the past, I’ve complained about the deteriorating production values of the Gay Pride March but, as Joni Mitchell said, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?”
Now I miss the crowds that normally make me claustrophobic, the corporate floats, the assless chaps, the whole lot of it.
And I’m reminded that, even though I thought I was doing OK in terms of getting over my partner’s death, that grief is a process, and I will probably have difficulty on other special occasions like our birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Two days ago, I met with Jerry’s social worker, Daniel. I wanted to thank him personally for going above and beyond the call of duty, and we wound up talking for an hour and a half. It was interesting to hear his perspective on things. (I guess we didn’t have time to talk about it when Jerry was actually sick.)
It was interesting to hear him say how much Jerry loved me (even though I already knew that). He said that Jerry wanted to make sure I was “taken care of” after he passed away. (As usual, Jerry cared more about me than he did about himself.) Daniel also said that I helped him, because he knew that I would always be there for Jerry and be an advocate for him.
I suppose all of this is a reminder that I have a long road ahead.
So if you’re not feeling particularly “proud” this weekend, you have company.

Monday, June 1, 2020

How to Lose Friends and NOT Influence People

I couldn’t sleep last night because there was a police helicopter over my neighborhood until 4am and there were police sirens waking me up throughout the night. When I looked out my window, I saw two groups of people carrying clothes at 3am. Unless they were doing laundry at 3am, they were looting.
When I went to buy the newspaper this morning, I was confronted with scenes of destruction and vandalism that I haven’t seen since the 1970s.
And now I’m mad for what many would say is the wrong reason.
I’m mad because now THIS will be the topic of conversation (i.e., the looting) rather than what should be the topic of conversation (i.e., the murder of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of Derek Chauvin, a white cop).
President Trump couldn’t have asked for a better outcome if Steve Bannon had planned this himself.
This is not how you get people on your side.
When I saw the video of Chauvin pressing his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes (while three cops stood by and did nothing), I was justifiably horrified (as, I think, anyone who’s not a sociopath was).
But this looting has left a bad taste in my mouth.
My theory (and I will wait until I see actual evidence of this) is that a small minority of protesters from the extreme left AND the extreme right hijacked a peaceful protest to serve their own purposes: the left to sow anarchy and protest the “establishment” (whatever that vague term means) and the right to discredit the civil rights movement and those seeking justice for George Floyd. BOTH of them are wrong to do this.
I was also upset by a Facebook friend of mine who claimed he found the experience of documenting the riots that ensued Saturday night “thrilling.”
That is not the correct response.
I’m uncomfortable with what I saw as a lot of poseurs taking selfies in front of burning police vans. When I saw news footage of one protester standing on top of a police car, I was reminded of the final scene in the movie Joker: anarchy for anarchy’s sake, with the Joker (or, in this case, Trump and Republicans) gloating over it.
I was similarly disturbed by scenes of looters—none of them carrying protest signs—breaking into stores and stealing merchandise. This isn’t about finding justice for George Floyd, it’s about taking advantage of a tragedy for your own profit.
I’m concerned that Trump will use this state of affairs to try to (wrongfully) portray himself as the “law and order” candidate. This is how every Republican since Richard Nixon has won the presidency (and how Rudolph Giuliani won the mayoralty of New York City).
Conversely, by bending over backwards to justify the behavior of the looters, New York City mayor Bill DiBlasio has come across as weak. This plays right into the hands of the police department that has said he “has blood on his hands.”
The only person I’ve heard properly address this situation is the (black) mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot.
I still think Chauvin should be tried for first-degree murder (and the three other cops should be tried as accessories), but I feel uncomfortable with the response of many to this crime.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

My Food (and Flower) Porn Life

I knew something was wrong when I found myself looking at a recipe for avocado toast, that $25 brunch staple that was apparently invented in my neighborhood.
Since this pandemic has forced me to spend more time at home, I’ve embarked on a cooking/home decorating spree that would make Martha Stewart jealous.  But so has everybody, apparently. Even reformed slutty comic Amy Schumer has embraced both motherhood and her own home cooking show (the difference being that she can repair to Martha’s Vineyard with her chef husband while I’m home alone in my tenement studio).
Maybe it’s about having a new appreciation for the simple pleasures in life, or maybe it’s just because all the restaurants in New York City are only open for take-out.
But lately I’m on what you might call a food and flower binge.
My best friend and I have been joking about this because our daily phone calls now consist of us trading recipes for such dishes as lemon caper butter sole and roasted Cornish game hen. We find ourselves saying such things as “Yes, it really is the dill that really makes the salmon!”
And we’re saying them unironically!

My other new extravagance is flowers. Now, I like a good bouquet as much as the next guy, but who has time to worry about such things when you’re working 40 hours a week and you just want to veg out in front of the TV when you get home? But my pandemic-enforced “staycation” has caused me to look around my apartment and say, “I can do better than this!”
It’s amazing, but just by adding a few well-placed flower arrangements to your living space, you too can turn your crappy apartment into an Architectural Digest-ready mansion! In fact, I’ve gotten so out of control with my flower buying that I actually had to purchase a vase! (A water pitcher just won’t do for my newly acquired lifestyle!)

The other day I was sitting in Hudson River Park as a group of picnickers next to me was being ticketed for not socially distancing and my first thought wasn’t, “Shame on you!” It was, “Is that brie or camembert that you’re eating?”
I’m now one of those annoying people who posts pictures of his culinary creations on Facebook, but I have plenty of company. In fact, I was recently food-shamed when one of my Facebook friends one-upped me with his purple yam pancakes with fried banana purée and maple bourbon syrup. (And I thought putting some fruit on my bowl of Kashi was a big deal!)

So it should come as no surprise that when I recently watched Nancy Meyers’ Somethnig’s Gotta Give—the ne plus ultra of lifestyle porn with its drool-worthy Hamptons summer house—I duly noted that there were fresh flowers on every table and nightstand.
My drug of choice these days isn’t a quarter ounce of cocaine but a one-pound bag of cherries. They light up the same pleasure centers in my brain without causing a perforated septum.
So don’t hate me because my apartment is beautiful and my cooking is mouth-watering. Just surrender to the siren call of psychedelic red carnations and overflowing piles of fruit.
You’ll be happy you did. 

Monday, May 4, 2020

A Love Letter to My Late Partner

 A month ago, I woke up crying, a month after my partner passed away from cancer. Now I’m worried that I can’t cry. I want to remember the suffering my partner went through, as well as the good times we had together. I feel guilty that I’m sitting here typing this on the computer that he helped me buy, surrounded by the belongings that he left me, and that he’s not here to enjoy them with me.
I think I’ve been suppressing my feelings of grief, that I didn’t even have time to grieve before I was (we all were) confronted with a pandemic that brought a new level of grief to all of us.
I thought, what would be the point of writing these feelings down when there’s so much suffering going on, when there’s so much death around us?
But I wanted to remember.
I remember the last time we took a cab ride around the city. Jerry said that he wanted to see New York—his city, my city—one last time. As we passed the restaurants we used to go to—El Centro, Marseilles, Fish—I thought, Is this what my life is going to be like? Every time I pass some place Jerry and I used to go together, I’m going to start crying?
I want to remember the good person that Jerry was. When he was first diagnosed with cancer, he said, “I’m glad this is happening to me, because if it was happening to you, I’d go crazy.” That’s the kind of person he was.
There were so many moments that gave me pain.
I remember when I first learned of his diagnosis. I was sitting in the Apple store, where I had taken my computer to be repaired, and I just started crying uncontrollably as we talked on the phone. I tried to convince myself that this wasn’t serious, but when I Googled the prognosis for people with lung cancer that had metastasized, the life expectancy was four to five months.
As it happened, Jerry wound up living eight months, but it was a steady decline.
When he first came home from the hospital last July (during which time he’d lost one-third of his body weight), he was able to walk around with a walker, and sometimes even by himself. But by December, his legs were so weak that he fell in his apartment, and spent the entire night on the floor before he was able to crawl to where his phone was and call 911. After that, he was never able to walk again.
There were so many painful experiences.
Before he was diagnosed, he spent the last two weeks of June fixing up his apartment because his niece was coming to visit and he wanted it to be perfect. He ordered a new couch, dining room table and ottoman and spent the entire night cleaning his apartment. Then, when the furniture was delivered, the couch was the wrong color, the dining room table was missing a part and the ottoman couldn’t be assembled properly. I was furious.
I was furious over many things, because I wouldn’t want the slightest bad thing to happen to Jerry, and here he was dying of cancer.
I remember the day I took him to the hospital the last time, his home care aide had done his laundry and someone in his building had left some chewing gum in the dryer and it got stuck to his blanket. I was livid. What kind of monster would do such a thing? I killed myself trying to get that gum out of his blanket, to no avail. But it didn’t matter. That blanket was left in his apartment, along with his other belongings.
So now I’m sitting in my apartment with no job, nothing to do and nowhere to go, surrounded by Jerry’s belongings. I know they should bring me peace, and they have, but I also feel guilty. Everything I now have I owe to Jerry, but he’s not here to enjoy it.
And so I write this essay, hoping it will bring me some peace.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

An “Affair” to Remember?

There are spoilers in this review.

When I first watched the series finale of The Affair, missing the first 30 minutes and falling asleep during the next 60, I thought it was the most howlingly bad 60 minutes I’d ever seen. I was quickly taken to task by Affair fans on Twitter, who were calling it the best season finale they’d ever seen. I thought, “Did we watch the same show?” So I watched it again last night. (Showtime didn’t make it available on demand, so I had to tape the next airing.) My verdict: maybe not the worst 60 minutes I’d ever seen, but corny, cheesy and sentimental? Abso-fuckin-lutely! In fact, there were several moments when I literally put my face in my palm or shouted “No!” at my TV set.
A perfect example of this was when Helen was giving a dramatic monologue about her marriage in Noah’s motel room and Noah offered her a Pringles potato chip. Real life moment? Product placement? Either way, it took me out of the story.
One of the reasons why The Affair was such a “love to hate” was that it could be profound one moment and completely off the wall the next.
To say that there was an effort to tie up a lot of loose ends in the series finale would be an understatement. Some of the coincidences that occurred strained one’s credulity, even by The Affair standards. Most glaring was finding out that Joanie’s hook-up, E.J. was the son of her father’s first wife’s second husband and his mistress. Huh?!
Next was the fact that Noah and Helen got back together after five seasons of acrimony, divorce and new marriages/relationships.
I think it was Olympia Dukakis’s character in Moonstruck who, when asked why men cheat, said “fear of death.” That was the ostensible theme thrust upon this final episode, but it seemed to come out of nowhere.
Also coming out of nowhere: that “flash mob” dance sequence to The Waterboys’ “Whole of the Moon.” (When did Noah become a choreographer?)
There was such an effort to tie up loose ends that when Whitney and her bridal party discovered her parents having sex at the motel, it was presented as “quaint” rather than the shock I’m sure it would have been for most children. (My middle-aged parents still have sex? After a divorce, no less?)
And let’s not forget Joanie, one of the most hated characters on television, reuniting with her husband at the end of a poorly developed subplot.
This is why I’m still fulminating about The Affair, the show I’ve loved to hate for the last five years, three days after its series finale.
And I’ll be damned if I can’t get that song out of my head!