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!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

I Hate Everything

I hate reality TV. Now that we’re in the “golden age of television,” there’s no excuse to watch any Real Housewife ever again.
I hate “entertainment news,” which has become about the personal lives of “celebrities” (as opposed to entertainment). And everyone is hawking their own line of clothing (or something else that has nothing to do with entertainment).
I hate jukebox musicals and theatrical adaptations of movies. Doesn’t anybody write anything original anymore?
I hate the evening news, with its human interest stories and manipulative emotional uplift.
I hate social media. I hate the way it shows us people’s carefully curated, perfect lives and the way that makes us feel. I hate the way it spreads hatred and misinformation. And I hate that nothing is being done about it.
I hate iPhones. I hate the way we’ve become a society of iPhone zombies with nobody looking up or interacting with other actual human beings anymore. In my Travis Bickle moments, I think that a bomb could go off in one of these zombie's laps and they wouldn’t even notice.
I hate corporations for paying their workers nothing while they rake in record profits. For selling us expensive crap we don’t need. For claiming ownership over anything authentic and trying to sell it back to us at a profit.
I hate Republicans. I hate the way not a single one of them (except Justin Amash, who just left the party) has stood up to Trump or uttered one peep about any of his wrongdoing.
I hate Trump with a passion. Because, on a daily basis, he’s breaking the law and destroying the institutions of democracy. Not only that, but he seems to enjoy doing these things. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “I dare you to stop me.” And, so far at least, nobody’s stopping him.
I hate Mitch McConnell. Mainly for refusing to even hold a hearing on Merrick Garland’s appointment to the Supreme Court and ramrodding Kavanaugh’s appointment through the Senate, thus turning the Supreme Court into a partisan institution.
I also hate him for passing Trump’s tax cut for the rich (Trump’s only legislative achievement) and refusing to bring almost any Democratic bill before the Senate for a vote.
McConnell is another man who seems to take pleasure in cruelty.
I hate hating everything. Because I like to think that I’m basically a positive person (I can hear you laughing) and hating everything is increasing my stress levels and reducing my lifespan.
They say that a cynic is just a disillusioned romantic.
Your move, universe.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Ode to Abercrombie & Fitch Cargo Shorts

When I first saw you, you were hanging, by chance,
Off the ass of a muscle queen on line for Pier Dance.
Precariously suspended by inside drawstring.
How I wanted to have you! (The thought made me sing.)
The shorts, that is, silly! (OK, muscle queen, too.)
But not just any cargos. Old Navy would not do!
They had to be from Abercrombie & Fitch.
A perilous thought for this gay man (not rich).
So I trekked to the Seaport, the A&F store.
And bought myself two. (I couldn’t afford more.)
At last, I would be at fashionable heights.
And no longer feel scorned by fashion queen slights.
But somewhere in time, and against all odds,
These shorts came to stand for old men with dad bods.
Other styles came: dress shorts, gym shorts.
But still I stuck with you against other sorts.
Your pockets were hole-y, your legs they would bag.
I splashed myself peeing. I looked like a hag.
But still, I stuck with you, through thick and through thin.
And wondered when I could wear jean shorts again.
I saw said jean shorts on an old friend of mine.
And, wearing them, I thought he looked mighty fine.
Thoughts of Madonna and Sandra Bernhard.
Madame X wore them, and she’s no retard!
But jean shorts are older and even less stylish.
But I’m an outsider, so jean shorts I’ll buy-ish.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Not Proud (Again)

As the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots approaches, I’m filled with not pride but dread. Actually, I’ve been dreading this month for about a year. I read somewhere that the city was expecting six million rainbow-clad tourists to descend on the city for Gay Pride Month. As a claustrophobic loner, this doesn’t make me excited. It makes me terrified.
I suspect that more couples break up on Gay Pride Day than any other day of the year, just because there are so many hot men flooding the city, it forces one to reconsider one’s life choices. Ironically, it’s this same influx of hot new faces and bodies that makes it impossible to actually hook up with any of them.
If New Year’s Eve is a day that people are supposed to be happy and celebratory, Gay Pride Day is like gay New Year’s Eve on steroids. And this year is even worse because, everywhere you look, businesses are sporting rainbow flags and companies are making their corporate logos rainbow-hued. That doesn’t make me proud. It makes me feel like a failure for not measuring up to the popular image of gays as being financially successful. (The fact that I got “laid off” from my temp job three weeks ago isn’t helping, either.)
In fact, so great is a portion of the gay community’s disgust with the corporate takeover of Gay Pride, that this year there’s actually a counter-march to the official Gay Pride March, and it’s banning corporate sponsorship altogether.
The truth is, there’s not much to be proud of these days, whether you're gay or not. We currently have a president who, on a daily basis, is breaking the law and destroying the institutions of democracy in plain sight, and a Democratic Party that’s too spineless to do anything about it.
Right now, it looks like we’re set for a replay of the 2016 election. Joe Biden, the Democratic front-runner, is seen as the “safe” choice, but no one is actually excited about him. (Sound familiar?) Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are being labeled by Trump as “socialists,” as though “socialism” was a dirty word and we didn’t already have a number of socialist programs (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) that are wildly popular.
On his show last night, Bill Maher suggested (jokingly, I hope) that the Democrats nominate Oprah Winfrey, because America is now a nation of ignorant starfuckers.
So forgive me if I’m not in a celebratory mood this week, but right now I’m too worried about being able to pay my bills to celebrate.

Friday, June 7, 2019

My First Night as a Cater Waiter

Among the temporary jobs I’ve had between “real” jobs were two years working as a doorman at a co-op building in the West Village and delivering newspapers (fine when you’re a teenager, not when you’re middle-aged). My life seems to be on a downward trajectory, since the publishing industry I’ve worked in for most of my adult life has completely collapsed.
I’m trying to “think outside the box” and consider other professions/industries I wouldn’t normally consider.
The most recent among these was cater waiter (which I will refer to hereon as “CW”). How was it that I had spent my entire adult life pursuing a career as a writer/performer and had never worked as a waiter or bartender? I thought it would be glamorous and exciting, and that I would bond with my fellow writer/performers, like on that Starz TV series, Party Down. If nothing else, I might get a good blog post out of it.
There was just one problem: I didn’t have any waiting/bartending experience.
No matter. Thanks to Craigslist and a CW agency in desperate need of people, I was booked for a major party at the Museum of Modern Art. The dress code was all black which, as a New Yorker, shouldn’t have been a problem. Nevertheless, I needed to borrow (and the agency was kind enough to lend me) a black dress shirt and tie. My only black dress pants were too tight and their lining was falling apart. They would have to do.
On my way there, I saw a veritable United Nations of people in black shirts, pants and ties heading north on Sixth Avenue towards the Museum of Modern Art. Could they be my fellow CWs?
When I got to the museum, I was given my assigned area and was asked to help set up. I started talking to some of my fellow CWs, most of whom were about half my age. (I did see one middle-aged woman, with whom I exchanged knowing glances.)
I asked if any of them had seen the Woody Allen movie, Manhattan, part of which was filmed in the sculpture garden in which we were standing. They all shook their heads, “No.” I didn’t dare ask them if they knew who Bella Abzug was.
My job was to circulate throughout the party, carrying a tray of hors d’oeuvres, which seemed easy enough. With my natural people skills, I took to it like a duck to water. But those hors d’oeuvres trays were heavier than I expected. I had to alternate arms to keep from developing tendonitis!
During a break before the event officially started, the head CW told everyone to stay by their station. I took this opportunity to check my email on my cell phone. Suddenly, I realized I was the only CW in the garden. When I went inside the museum, all the other CWs were eating and all the food was gone!
CW Rule Number One: Always find out when your dinner break is scheduled.
The party went well and the extremely attractive and well-dressed guests were very polite. But I couldn’t help but think, there’s nothing like serving extremely attractive and well-dressed people to rub your nose in your how unattractive and poorly dressed you are by comparison (my all-black outfit, notwithstanding).
The other CWs were nice, too, and I gathered that a lot of them knew each other from previous gigs, as they fist-bumped each other throughout the evening.
I guess there’s a certain kind of camaraderie among CWs after a while. I wasn’t there yet but, perhaps with enough experience, I too could enter this secret society!

Sunday, June 2, 2019


I can remember my first Elton John album. It was Caribou and it was a Christmas present. A few Christmases later, I got Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. The first rock concert I saw was Elton John at Madison Square Garden. The first time I sang in public, it was Elton John’s Your Song. A few decades later, I did a one-man show comprised of Elton John songs.
Among my musical heroes, John is number one after The Beatles. So, given my feelings about him and my expectations for Rocketman, my reaction was somewhat mixed.
Rocketman is like Bohemian Rhapsody, the film to which it will most likely be compared, if Bohemian Rhapsody was directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge); by which I mean, the characters burst into song even when they’re not actual singers performing onstage. I’m probably one of the only gay men who not only didn’t like Moulin Rouge, but thought it was ridiculous. (I don’t think I’ve actually seen the entire movie. If I wanted to see people do cover versions of famous songs, I’d go to a karaoke bar.)
But Rocketman takes more of an impressionistic look at John’s life. The songs are used to emphasize certain emotional beats, rather than to mark certain moments in John’s career. In fact, the songs are often used to illustrate events that took place before the songs were even written, which is kind of confusing.
Having said that, Rocketman’s producers hit the jackpot when they found Taron Egerton. Not only does he look like Elton John (down to his gap-toothed smile), but he can sing!
One of the things this movie does, aside from reminding us of the enormity and brilliance of John’s song catalogue, is to remind us that the young Elton was kind of hot! I don’t think Egerton is quite as chunky as Elton, but no matter.
The movie depicts, with welcome frankness, John’s sexual relationship with his emotionally abusive manager, John Reid (Richard Madden). The portrayal of John’s absent father (Steven Mackintosh) and withholding mother (Bryce Dallas Howard) also helps us understand what shaped John’s personality. So the familiar rock star trajectory of rise to fame, subsequent drug and alcohol abuse and eventual rehabilitation, doesn’t feel like a cliché.
There are certain moments—his Troubadour show, watching him write Your Song, his Dodger Stadium concert—when I actually got goose bumps.
The costumes (designed by Julian Day), which are based on of John’s actual stage costumes (many of which I remember), are also spot on.
At the end of the movie, we’re informed that John is retiring from performing, which is kind of a shock.
Good to know he hasn’t given up his shopping habits.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Hope and Dread

As we start a new year, I find myself dealing with a weird mix of emotions. New years are always a time for reflection, but usually they’re a time of hope. This year, I find myself dealing with a new emotion: dread.
I’ve just come off one of the worst years of my life (actually, the worst three years). At the same time, I performed my one-man show (three times this year and one time last year), I’ve gotten back into stand-up comedy, and I remain hopeful that my situation will improve with the start of a new year.
But I’ve been experiencing bouts of depression for the last two years, and I’m not alone. Several of my Facebook friends have talked openly about feeling depressed (and even suicidal).
Nevertheless, I tried to go about my life today as if everything was normal. I bought a new calendar at Stevdan Stationers (they recently relocated across the street from their old location and they seem to be the only place left where you can buy Week-at-a-Glance calendars) and bought some lox and bagels at Bagels on the Square (it was mobbed by people who were priced out of New Year’s Day brunches, I imagine).
On my way up Fifth Avenue, I overheard some guy talking loudly on his cell phone about some “black tie party” he had gone to at the Standard Hotel.
But the streets seemed curiously empty last night. Maybe it was because of the rain. Or maybe it was because even stupid people have figured out that New Year’s Eve is nothing more than an overpriced amateur hour.
Last night, I was watching Coyote Ugly, a Flashdance-like movie about a young singer in New York City. The movie has only the most tenuous relationship to reality (the real Coyote Ugly bar on which the movie is based is nothing like the bar portrayed in the movie, for one thing). But I was caught off guard by a scene where the young singer and her boyfriend go to Bereket, a Turkish fast-food restaurant on the Lower East Side. I was caught off guard because Bereket is no longer there. It was demolished, along with several of its neighbors. In its place is a new luxury building, with an Equinox gym on the second floor and a Marshall’s (!) on the first floor. (I think this is what’s known as a trade-off: give the poor original residents of the neighborhood a Marshall’s in exchange for an Equinox gym to serve the rich new residents who live in the building).
So I was watching a simulacrum of New York, which reminded me of the simulacrum that New York has become of itself.
Before that, I caught the end of When Harry Met Sally1, another one of those movies that could only be made in New York. But the thing that struck me was that two stars of the movie (Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby) as well as its writer (Nora Ephron) are dead. It’s bad enough that the New York depicted in the movie no longer exists (it was released in 2000, which doesn’t seem that long ago, but was 19 years ago); now the actual people in it no longer exist.
But that’s what it’s like to be a middle-aged person in New York. It’s constantly being reminded of people and places that no longer exist.
Earlier in the day I had gone to see the movie Vice. The movie is a bit of a mixed bag. It tries to fit a lot of serious history into a two-hour movie, but do it in a way that’s amusing. I found myself wondering, why wasn’t I more upset when George W. Bush stole the election in 2000? I think it’s because at that point, we didn’t know what was going to happen afterwards (9-11, the Iraq War, the stock market crash, etc.). It’s only in retrospect that we realize what a mistake that was.
I had always thought that Dick Cheney was the real mastermind behind Bush, but in this movie, Cheney is portrayed as a drunken loser who’s forced to clean up his act by his wife. The only qualification he has for being vice president is his ability to do horrible things and not feel any remorse about them.
Right now another person incapable of remorse, Donald Trump, is under 17 investigations and every day he’s acting more like a cornered animal. But Democrats are taking over the House on Thursday and, hopefully, they’ll start undoing the two years of damage that have been done under his administration. (It’ll probably take another two years just to get back to where we were two years ago.)
So I’m filled with hope.
And dread.
Happy New Year.