Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Confessions of a Grindr-holic

As we approach a new year, and people start making resolutions, I have a confession to make: I’m a Grindr-holic.

There, I’ve said it. (I’ve already broken the first rule of Grindr: don’t talk about Grindr.)

There are several reasons why I’m a Grindr-holic, and not all of them have to do with sex.

First of all, it’s a boredom-killer. What better way to kill time while you’re waiting for the subway (or on line at Whole Foods) than to scroll through a bunch of naked pics. Just make sure nobody’s looking over your shoulder or they may catch you looking at (or sending) a dick pic. (It might even be yours!)

I’ve even incorporated Grindr into what I call my “15 minutes of bullshit time.” That’s where I look at my phone for 15 minutes when I wake up in the morning (Grindr, email, Facebook, etc.) in order to postpone the inevitable moment when I actually have to get out of bed.

Then there’s the endorphin rush endemic to all forms of social media (in which I’d include Grindr). Having someone “tap” your profile on Grindr is like having someone “like” your post on Facebook. And just as meaningless.

That’s because with eight million residents and 60 million tourists a year in New York City, the illusion is that there’s always someone better. I’ve dubbed this phenomenon “There’s Always Someone Better Syndrome.”

Sometimes you just want some physical intimacy (especially after two years of Covid) and Grindr is the only way you can get it.

And sometimes you’re just (all together now!) bored.

Which leads me to some other rules about Grindr.

Rule Number 2. If you don’t hook up with someone immediately, it’s not happening. (And forget about making a “date.”) That’s because most gay men (OK, most men) have the attention span of a gnat. If there’s the slightest hesitation on your part, you’ll be blocked. And that’s another thing about Grindr (and other social media). Guys will say (and do) things to you on Grindr that they’ll never say (or do) to you “in real life.” That’s why I try to avoid guys under 30 (hell, guys under 50!). Because most of them haven’t had much experience with, you know, “real life.”

Rule Number 3. It’s rare to have sex with someone more than once (see “There’s Always Someone Better Syndrome”). It’s not even worth using Grindr’s “favorites” feature, because as soon as your hookup (or you) is out the door, you’ll never see each other again. That’s why I sometimes refer to Grindr as “oneanddone.com.”

The good thing about Grindr (if there is a good thing) is that it’s location-based and its GPS is fairly accurate, unlike Adam4Adam, which seems to consist mostly of closet cases, hustlers and, best of all, fake profiles. (There’s an awful lot of gay men in Cheney, Kansas! And they’re all “100 feet away”!)

The bad thing about it being location-based is that I seem to have “used up” all the gay men in my neighborhood. Now if I want to get laid, I have to move!

Either that or spring for “Grindr Xtra” (600 profiles, starting at $19.99 per month).

But as a famous comedian (OK, me) once said, why should I pay $19.99 per month when I can get rejected for free?

Maybe in 2022.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Anything But Joyous

Covid. Climate change. Republicans.

I took a walk to Rockefeller Center on my lunch hour yesterday and, in spite of it being less crowded than usual, I almost started crying. Why? Because this is supposed to be a joyous time of year and I was feeling anything but joyous.

As I write this, a new Covid variant, Omicron, is starting to spread across the United States. Several Broadway shows have had to cancel performances (after having only recently restarted them) and the Radio City Christmas show has canceled their performances for the rest of the year. (I don’t even like the Radio City Christmas show, but still!)

And this is after we’ve been through almost two years of shutdowns, having to wear masks, and having to get vaccinated (to say nothing of the 800,000 Americans who have died).

It seems like every time we think we’re finally about to be done with Covid it comes roaring back even worse than before.

So, if you feel like you’re going crazy, you’re not alone. Along with the Covid epidemic, there’s been an epidemic of people dealing with mental health issues.

Just last week, the New York Times published an article about a website that instructs people how to commit suicide. Shocking, yes, surprising, no. (For the record, I don’t want to commit suicide, but the fact that I even think it’s necessary to say that shows how low we’ve sunk.)

Also last week, a tornado tore through several states in the Midwest, causing death and destruction. This was almost surely another example of the disastrous effects of climate change. Yet whenever Congress tries to pass a bill that deals with it, Republicans (and Democrat-in-name-only Joe Manchin) invariably vote against it. (President Biden’s infrastructure bill was a rare exception, but at this point it’s probably too little too late.)

Gun violence continues to wreak havoc on this country. In just the most recent example, two parents bought their child a gun for Christmas (who does that?!) and he then turned around and killed several of his classmates with it. And yet we can’t even pass a federal law that makes the parents of minors keep such weapons locked up, let alone renew the assault weapons ban.

Finally, as we approach the one-year anniversary of the Capitol Riot, Donald Trump and his allies seem likely to run out the clock (once again) and escape any accountability for trying to overturn the election results and promoting the Big Lie that the election was “stolen” (which the Associated Press just proved yet again has no basis in fact whatsoever).

Republicans have also been gerrymandering Congressional districts, restricting voting rights and installing political appointees to oversee elections in order to ensure Republican control of our government indefinitely, regardless of election results.

Democrats better start taking this threat to our democracy seriously RIGHT NOW or this will be the last Christmas we have one!

So forgive me if I’m feeling less than celebratory. But something tells me I have lots of company this year.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Curb Your Enthusiasm Is Why Red America Hates Us

I’m going to say something that’s probably going to get me into a lot of trouble with the circles in which I travel (comedians, New Yorkers, Jews): I’m struggling to like Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Now mind you, I’m one of the biggest Seinfeld fans on the planet. I’ve seen every episode at least five times and continue to watch it. I can recite many episodes verbatim.

So why am I struggling with Curb, which was created by and stars Seinfeld’s co-creator, Larry David? I think it comes down to this:

Larry David made $250M* from selling Seinfeld’s syndication rights and I just keep asking myself, What problems could someone with $250M possibly have?

But maybe that’s the point of Curb: Even if you have $250M, you still can’t escape the minor nuisances of everyday life (but they are minor).

There’s a certain tone-deafness about the show that I think the creators aren’t aware of, especially in these woke times.

For example, what was the big problem on last week’s episode? Larry spilled a glass of wine on someone’s couch. Without even thinking, he offered to pay to have the couch cleaned, whereas I would be horrified by the prospect of having to pay for something like that. (That’s the thing when you have money: you can almost always buy yourself out of any problem.)

Even something as seemingly innocuous as Larry watching a concert from a private box at the Greek Theatre with a bottle of wine and his celebrity friend, Albert Brooks, kind of rubs me the wrong way.

Compare this to Seinfeld, where you have four more or less middle-class characters and an assortment of quirky New York types (none of whom could exist in post-’90s, gentrified New York). I think this is more relatable to most people than Larry David’s cushy existence (although I’m still surprised people outside of New York City even watch Seinfeld).

I’m experiencing my own “wokelash” in light of last week’s election. Even I have become more concerned lately about quality of life issues and voted for Eric Adams precisely because he's a former policeman.

What this last election demonstrated is that the so-called “elites” are out of touch with middle America. The whole country has become siloed in their own information bubbles, so we’re frequently not aware of what people outside our bubble are thinking.

So that’s my woke analysis of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Don’t even get me started on Succession!

* The syndication of Seinfeld earned David an estimated $250 million in 1998 alone. This amount has been steadily decreasing each year, but payments will continue until the full $1.7 billion from the original syndication deal has been paid. (from Wikipedia)

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Dancer from the Dance: Gay Period Piece or Gay Classic?

It’s hard to believe that it’s taken me this long to get around to reading Andrew Holleran’s landmark gay novel, Dancer from the Dance, more than 40 years after it was originally published. It’s only because I saw someone reading it outside a coffee shop in the West Village and I was shocked that it was still in print, and even more shocked that the person reading it was at least 30 years younger than me. When I first moved to New York City 40 years ago, the world that Holleran writes about—the world of gay “clones” who went to gay discos like The Saint—was already starting to disappear.

At that time, there were two distinct gay subcultures: the aforementioned clones, who generally were in their 30s or older and lived in the West Village, and new wavers/punks (like I was shortly after this book was published), who were generally in their 20s and lived in the East Village. (Gay artist Keith Haring even used to spray paint walls and sidewalks in the East Village with the phrase “Clones Go Home.”)

You may wonder, then, why I read a novel like Dancer and why I think it’s so important. It’s because many of the gay men from the generation that Holleran is writing about died of AIDS, so this is like a historical record.

I’m disappointed that Holleran didn’t use the names of real people and places more frequently, like Martin Belk did in his book about New York’s gay scene in the 1990s, Pretty Broken Punks (but that was more of a memoir). It’s only because of books like Tim Lawrence’s Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor: 1980–1983 that I’m familiar with early New York discos like Flamingo and 12 West. (Is Dancer’s “Twelfth Floor” disco based on 12 West?)

Normally, the previous generation of gay men would have passed this information on to the next generation (along with other important cultural information, like which movies you should see and which books you should read), but because of AIDS, many of these men died before they even reached middle age.

So thank God for novels like Dancer that preserve this history. The fact that one may not recognize the names of certain people and places may, in fact, make it even more universal. (Certainly, that was my hope when I changed the names of people and places in my gay coming-of-age novel, New York Trilogy. That and the fact that I thought that that was what you were supposed to do in a novel.)

Much like Larry Kramer’s Faggots (another important novel of this period), Dancer is about a gay man, Malone, looking for love in a gay subculture defined by promiscuity. What makes his search even more poignant is that he’s described as being impossibly beautiful, as well as a perfect gentleman. (Indeed, beauty may be the real subject of Dancer.)

However, as was common in many gay works of this era, the story is ultimately tragic. (If you’ve seen the excellent documentary, The Celluloid Closet, based on Vito Russo's book, I don’t think I’m giving away any spoilers here.)

What makes the book worth reading, apart from its historical value, is that it’s beautifully written and its characters are unforgettable. The gay beauty, Malone, is a Gatsby-like figure, an unattainable object of desire. (The scene describing his clothing reminds me of a similar scene in The Great Gatsby describing Gatsby’s shirts.)

Equally memorable is his tour guide to the gay scene, Sutherland, a classic jaded queen. (Think Harold in The Boys in the Band or Richard E. Grant’s character in Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

In spite of all this, I found Dancer to be profoundly depressing because, ultimately, it’s about aging and death.

It is also, however, a masterpiece.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Petrosino Park Is Out of Control

Yesterday I spoke to Christopher Marte, the man I hope will be my City Council member, about the deteriorating quality of life around Petrosino Park, a small, triangular park in Nolita that is bordered by Lafayette Street, Kenmare Street and Cleveland Place.

Despite numerous complaints to the Fifth Preinct and 311 from my neighbors and I, the situation has not only not improved, it has actually gotten worse.

There’s a general atmosphere of lawlessness in the neighborhood which the police say they’re powerless to do anything about. (I actually stopped a patrol car today to talk to them about it and they said that, while they agree with me, they can’t do anything about it.)

I seem to recall that it’s illegal to even play a radio in New York City parks, much less set up a microphone and amplifier that could fill a nightclub. But there seems to be a general lack of enforcement of “quality of life” crimes these days, as anyone who rides the subway can attest.

But amplified music is just one (albeit the most egregious) example of the deteriorating quality of life in my neighborhood. On the west side of the park, Lafayette Street has been converted into a de facto skateboard park with skateboarders shouting and banging their skateboards at all hours of the day.

The space that used to be Spring Street Natural Restaurant (it’s vacant now) is covered with graffiti. The non-profit Storefront for Art and Architecture was also covered with graffiti and had to be repainted several times. Perhaps the worst offenders are the restaurants themselves, particularly 19 Cleveland and La Esquina. 19 Cleveland has been operating past legal hours, has been doing construction at 23 Cleveland Place without a permit (at least none that I can see) and throwing rooftop parties late at night. They’re also expanding into the garden behind 23 Cleveland Place, again, without any permit or neighborhood input.

La Esquina has also been a horrible neighbor pretty much from the day they opened. I can always tell when they’re closing (2am) because their clientele seems to be incapable of leaving without waking up the entire neighborhood.

This whole outdoor dining phenomenon, which was supposed to be a temporary measure to help restaurants make up for income lost during the pandemic, has turned our streets and neighborhoods into all-day nightclubs, complete with loud music (and customers) and crowded sidewalks. I’m hoping that when they (hopefully) take office, Christopher Marte and Eric Adams can put an end to all this, because it’s clear that the Fifth Precinct and Mayor de Blasio have no intention of doing so.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Bob Gruen Ruined My Life

I just finished reading rock photographer Bob Gruen’s aptly titled memoir, Right Place, Right Time and it’s thrown me into an existential crisis.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Gruen’s immensely entertaining autobiography about how a kid from Great Neck, Long Island wound up hanging out with the coolest people on the planet. (In fact, I tore through it in four days.) It’s that his very existence has me questioning my life choices.

Gruen’s book touches on three things that have been a major theme of this blog lately: 1) that I was born too late/born at the wrong time, 2) that New York City’s best days are long behind it, and 3) that rock music itself is now a matter of history.

As an avid reader of the biographies of creative people, it often seems in retrospect that they led charmed lives. (Actually, that also could have been the title of Gruen’s book: Charmed Life.)

To recount just one example from Gruen’s book, he talks about how one time he was working on the West Coast and he had to fly back to New York in order to do his taxes. If he hadn’t flown back to New York for those few days (remember, this was in the days before cell phones and personal computers), he wouldn’t have had an important meeting with John Lennon (who also happened to be his neighbor), resulting in a lifelong friendship and business relationship.

These kinds of chance occurrences happen throughout the book, whether it’s a childhood connection to musician Todd Rundgren or finding the Westbeth apartment that made his entire life possible.

This has caused me to question my own super-regimented life where I read The New York Times every day and know what I’m going to eat for every meal. A life, I might add, that’s completely antithetical to the kind of artistic life I’m trying to lead.

Or is it?

It’s hard to imagine Gruen ever having time to read a newspaper or watch television with his peripatetic lifestyle. Hell, it’s surprising to learn he even owns a TV set! (He does, but as far as I can tell, he just uses it to watch the videos he’s filmed.)

So while I go from one soul-destroying job to another in order to support my artistic endeavors, Gruen seemingly glides from success to success—although he strenuously argues otherwise. Yes, Gruen may have had a few soul-destroying jobs at the beginning of his career, but not his entire life!

The result is that Gruen’s work is now exhibited in museums and galleries, and he’s widely recognized as probably the most renowned rock photographer in the world. (I’m sure you’ve all seen his photo of John Lennon wearing a New York City T-shirt, among many others.)

And I’ve got a blog into which I can pour my musings on his accomplishments.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Arrivederci, San Gennaro

Nowhere is the collision of nouveau riche and street trash more obvious than at the San Gennaro Feast. Around the corner from where a new Zegna store (home of the $6,000 suit) is opening, there are open vats of boiling oil and fried everything you can think of (not to mention literal street trash).

Of course, the San Gennaro Feast is a shadow of its former self. It’s no longer the crowded free-for-all that opened Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets.

In fact, Little Italy (or Nolita, as it’s now called in real estate parlance) is a shadow of its former self. I sometimes joke that Little Italy is now just two old Italian ladies holding hands.

Even the Italian American Museum, which stood on the corner of Grand and Mulberry Streets, was torn down to make way for luxury apartments. Fortunately, it will occupy a space in the new building. (Every organization has learned that its most valuable asset is real estate.)

The neighborhood is clearly in flux.

When I first moved here 34 years ago, nobody even knew where Nolita (or Little Italy, as it was then known) was. It was basically a neighborhood of truck stop diners. I had a diner on every corner, two Korean delis, a newsstand and a laundromat—everything a good neighborhood needs—all practically on the same block.

Now are no diners, one deli, and the newsstand and laundromat have relocated a few blocks away. They’ve been replaced by expensive restaurants and boutiques which come and go faster than one can keep track. At one point there was a high-end kitchen and bathroom store around the corner from my apartment, but they soon went out of business. I guess there wasn’t a strong enough market for designer shower heads.

Spring Street Natural Restaurant, which had been in the neighborhood since the ’70s, tried to relocate several years ago and then closed. Their former space then had a rotating series of restaurants, none of which caught on. It’s now covered with graffiti. The street in front of where it stood has become a de facto skateboard park, with young men skateboarding at all hours of the day and night.

Another beloved restaurant, Mexican Radio, (which I’ve written about on this blog*) also closed a few years ago and was replaced by an Israeli restaurant that has basically commandeered all of Cleveland Place, blasting their music for an endless stream of millennials.

It's hard not to sound like an old fart (and maybe that’s what I am), but I don’t remember behaving so badly when I was in my twenties. I don’t remember screaming every time I got into a cab, or having loud fights every time I left a bar.

It’s hard to cheer for New York’s comeback when it seems to be simultaneously self-destructing. The long-foretold (by Republicans) “return of the ’70s” (aided and abetted by our do-nothing police department) seems to be happening at the same time as ever-more-luxurious high-rises are sprouting on every corner.

Bloomingdale’s windows are celebrating the return of Broadway even as theater owners are holding their breath to see if they sell any tickets.

I guess it really is a tale of two cities.

I just haven’t decided which one I live in yet.


Sunday, September 12, 2021

Born Too Late

I’ve often written on this blog about how I’ve sometimes felt like I was born too late. Usually, it’s been about missing out on New York’s punk rock/new wave music scene in the ‘80s. This feeling was reinforced last week when I went to see an excellent show at the Museum of the City of New York: New York, New Music: 1980-1986.

In reality, I caught the tail end of this scene, as I moved to New York permanently in 1981 and also lived here during the summer of 1980, but I sometimes feel like I was either too young or too broke (or both) to truly enjoy it.

I was particularly struck by how many live music venues there were in Manhattan in the ‘80s and how, on any given night, you might be able to see acts like Madonna, Kid Creole and the Coconuts or Madness, sometimes all on the same night (or even in the same venue).

I wouldn’t even know where to see live music in Manhattan nowadays!

I was struck by a similar feeling about the comedy world yesterday when I met a woman and she told me her husband was a stand-up comedian in the ’80s and, in fact, that they’d met at a comedy club.

She said that he was part of a group of comedians that included people like Jerry Seinfeld and Ray Romano who made the circuit of clubs like The Comic Strip, Catch a Rising Star, The Improv and Dangerfield’s and then moved to Los Angeles, where they were all offered sitcoms! (Well, not exactly, but you get my drift…)

Back then, she told me, it was possible to make a decent living as a comedian performing at gigs around New York City, making maybe $100 a spot. (Granted, the cost of living was a lot cheaper then, too.)

She told me about how Pat Benatar and Patty Smyth were waitresses at comedy clubs back in those days. (They both went on to become rock stars, of course.)

And that makes perfect sense. Because comedians in the ’80s were like rock stars. The country was in the midst of a comedy boom, which eventually led to hundreds of comedy clubs across the country. That boom eventually went bust, when cable TV arrived on the scene and people suddenly realized they didn’t have to leave home to see a comedy show. (And it didn’t help that club owners were booking everyone who thought he or she could be a comedian.)

Back in those days, this woman told me, there were maybe 100 comedians in the entire country and they all knew each other. I replied that I personally knew 1,000 comedians just in New York City and that, not only were none of us getting paid, but we had to pay in order to perform. (Either that or do “bringer shows.”)

But I shouldn’t feel too sorry for myself.

Tonight I’m going to see a comedian who’s celebrating his 87th birthday and didn’t start doing comedy until he was 80. He’s going to be performing at The Comic Strip, where people like Jerry Seinfeld and Ray Romano started out (and I recently started performing myself).

And we’re going to try to recreate that feeling of camaraderie that existed in the ’80s.

Even if it’s just us comedians.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

America’s Lottery-based Economy

The coronavirus pandemic has really laid bare the gaping economic inequality in our country. We’ve seen how “essential workers” have had to put their lives at risk because they couldn’t afford to not work and didn’t have jobs that enabled them to work from home.

That economic inequality was recently further underscored by Hurricane Ida, when these same “essential workers” had their homes destroyed (and, in some cases, died) because they’re forced to live in substandard (and illegal) basement apartments.

And yet we persist in believing in the “American dream,” the idea that if you just get an education and work hard you will be afforded a middle-class life.

My own experience illustrates that this is not the case. I’ve spent my entire life struggling just to stay in place.

While I wouldn’t compare my circumstances to those of the immigrants who keep this country fed, I have often found myself in the same precarious economic situation as them. As a white male, you would think I’d have it relatively easy, and perhaps I have had it easier than some people because of this fact. But in other ways, I’m at a disadvantage.

The fact that I’m older means I’m a victim of age discrimination, an epidemic that is raging unchecked in this country.

I’ve also lost probably tens of thousands of dollars in lifetime earnings because I wasn’t able to finish my college degree. I was the valedictorian of my high school class and I had a full academic scholarship. But because I had used up my student loan money, I was forced to drop out.

It’s been shown that an academically inferior student from a wealthy family has a better chance of graduating college than an academically superior student from a poor family. (I believe it’s not so much the educational opportunities that have caused this loss of income as the networking opportunities.) And that crucial fact at a critical time in my life has probably left me permanently poorer.

It’s only because companies are now having a relatively hard time finding workers that they are beginning to re-examine their hiring practices regarding requiring a college degree for jobs that clearly shouldn’t require them.

So, as we celebrate Labor Day, I just want to point out the glaring inconsistencies between what we think America is and what it really is. Our so-called social safety net is among the worst in the civilized world.

We’re still the only advanced country in the world that doesn’t have public healthcare.

Our unemployment system was woefully unprepared to deal with this epidemic. From not getting people their benefits on time to not even being able to answer a question (because you couldn’t reach them by phone), our various Departments of Labor were overwhelmed.

And many Americans (including me) won’t be able to afford to retire, assuming Social Security even has any money left.

That’s why I say we have a “lottery-based” economy. Because for millions of Americans, the only possibility of improving their economic circumstances is, literally, winning the lottery.

Happy Labor Day.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Liza with a Z and the Making of a Homosexual

Will future generations of gay men understand the brilliance of Liza Minnelli at her peak?

Last night I watched Liza with a Z on PBS (OK, it was actually the second time I watched it this week) and I had to ask myself, Why was this such a formative part of my gay experience?

I’d seen the original broadcast in 1972 and I had the album. I used to sing along to the album in front of my living room mirror. I knew all the words to every song. (I still do.) Why did this show have such a great impact on me?

Of course, it’s a cliché to say that gay men like Liza Minnelli (or Judy Garland or Barbra Streisand or Bette Midler—pick a diva). Why is that?

There’s actually a scholarly, academic book written on the subject. It’s called How to Be Gay. (I kid you not.) If I understand the book’s premise correctly, there’s something about the expressiveness of female singers and musical theater that appeals to gay men in particular. Maybe it’s because it gives them permission to be sensitive in a way that’s not normally allowed for heterosexual men.

Maybe it’s also the glamour of musicals. The costumes! The sets! Why is that a gay thing?

The book also talked about the idea of camp.

What is camp? Again, if I understand the book correctly, camp is when something that is intended to be taken seriously has the opposite effect. A perfect example of this would be the movie Mommie Dearest.

Mommie Dearest is the ur camp film of my generation. (For the previous generation, it was Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) I’m sure Mommie Dearest was meant to be taken seriously. And that’s what makes it so fucking hysterical, at least to gay men. (I’ve never seen a straight man’s reaction to Mommie Dearest. Has a straight man even seen Mommie Dearest?)

There’s not a gay man of my generation, including myself, who can’t recite any number of lines from Mommie Dearest verbatim. (“No wire hangers ever!” “I am not one of your fans!” “Christina! Bring me the axe!” I could go on.) I can distinctly remember sitting inside Splash, a New York City gay bar that was popular in the ‘90s, watching clips from Mommie Dearest on their video monitors and hearing a chorus of gay men reciting these lines in unison. Why is that?

There’s another phenomenon about gay men I’ve noticed that’s touched upon in this book. Why is it that gay men identify with female characters and female-driven shows like Golden Girls? Why is it that gay men are attracted to drag queens?

As a performer who has tried (and sometimes succeeded) to get booked in gay venues, I have often asked myself this question. Why will an audience of gay men sit and watch a drag queen lip synch to a song? What is the attraction or entertainment value? Why is it that Hedda Lettuce, who I happen to think is a great writer, can reap thunderous applause in drag, but wouldn’t be given the time of day by a gay audience out of drag?

I think there’s a power dynamic at play here. I think by donning drag, gay men simultaneously make themselves more vulnerable and give themselves permission to say things they’d never be allowed to say out of drag. I think the dynamic can be summed as: “You (drag queen) may be making fun of me (gay male audience member), but at least I’m not a drag queen (i.e., undesirable to other gay men).”

Which brings me back to Liza Minnelli.

Liza Minnelli is, in some ways, a drag queen. (And, God knows, millions of drag queens have impersonated Liza Minnelli, as well as other divas.) Her exaggerated features and makeup practically scream “drag queen.” (I think she was wearing two sets of fake eyelashes in Liza with a Z.)

But one thing that Liza Minnelli and other great performers (especially female performers) have in common is that they “leave everything on the stage.” There’s a sense that they cannot even exist without performing.

And, yes, there were other things about Liza with a Z

that made it the award-winning show that’s still being shown 50 years later: Bob Fosse’s choreography, Halston’s costumes, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s (the songwriters behind Cabaret and Chicago) music and lyrics. And just the whole louche, sexual ’70s vibe.

And that is (part of) what has made me the gay man I am today.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

This Is 60: A Meditation on Fire Island and Other Matters of Great Importance

My original plan was to do a major think piece on the occasion of my 60th birthday. But a birthday trip to Fire Island changed all that, as a trip to Fire Island often does.

Nevertheless, as I enter my seventh decade, I’ve been taking stock.

I realize that there is more time behind me than there is in front of me, as the saying goes. I’m not “old,” (I don’t feel old and I don’t think I look old, either), but I can no longer claim to be young, either. And that’s a serious liability in our youth-obsessed culture.

Mind you, I’m not your father’s 60. (Indeed, my father had all his teeth pulled when he was 54. I’m already 6 years ahead of him, and I have all—ok, most—of my teeth.)

I’m at an inflection point where I’ve come to realize that some of the things I had hoped to achieve may never happen. On the other hand, some things I’d never expected to achieve may happen.

Part of this is a reckoning with what our society defines as success.

I’ve always felt like our society has an unhealthy relationship with success. Success is often defined by money and fame. But when I think about the people who’ve had the most influence on my life, they are neither rich nor famous.

I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve decided that if I continue to do comedy (or write, or act, or sing), it’s going to be for the love of doing it, not for the expectation that I’ll become rich or famous.

Art is what defines me, it’s what feeds my soul, and I think it’s one of the few things that separates humans from animals.

But as much as I enjoy doing stand-up comedy, what I really enjoy is the social aspect of it. Comedians are my people. They “get” me, and I “get” them. And in a world where it’s become increasingly difficult to make connections, stand-up comedy has provided me with a community of people I never would have known otherwise. In addition to being funny, they’re also supportive and, in their own way, loving.

And here’s the thing. I personally know about 1,000 comedians just in New York City. Most of them are funny. None of them are famous and almost none of them make any money doing stand-up comedy. They do it for the same reason I do: they love doing it.

Why does success destroy so many people? Why do we take pleasure in others’ pain, particularly the pain of famous people?

Why is there an entire genre of documentary which I refer to as “grief porn” (c.f., Whitney Houston’s Why Can’t I Be Me? and the Amy Winehouse doc) that takes advantage of this peculiar aspect of human nature (and which, I’m ashamed to say, I’m addicted to)?

On the other hand, when I think of the things I’ve had to do just to pay my rent, it can make me cry, even if I sometimes try to rationalize some of my jobs as “acting exercises.”

I’ve spent my entire life working just to pay my bills. I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had just been born rich.

I sometimes think that in order to go into a creative field you either have to be very rich or very poor.

I recently started a new career in real estate for two reasons. 1. Companies aren’t hiring people over 50 2. I’m tired of want ads and HR bullshit. (Ironically, companies have finally figured out, post-pandemic, that they’ve been doing things wrong, and now they’re having trouble hiring people.) Our ageist society tells people that once they hit 50 they’re no longer useful. Our president is 78 and I’d like to think that at least part of the reason he was elected because of his experience.

So far, I’ve been making poverty-level money. But just this weekend, landlords raised the fee they charge back to normal, pre-pandemic levels. And my “team” was granted exclusive rights to represent a building on the Upper East Side. Which leads me to Fire Island.

I needed a break. I had reached my limit. And I was determined not to spend my 60th birthday working.

It’s funny how we try to construct our own narrative.

I’m a creature of habit because it creates the illusion that we live in an ordered universe and that it’s not just a random series of events.

After coming to Fire Island since 1986, I’ve learned how to compress my Fire Island vacation into one day: walk on the beach, go swimming, have sex, eat out. I have it down to a science: lunch at Sand Castle, dinner at Island Breeze, breakfast at Floyd’s, Hedda Lettuce at Cherry’s.

But I can’t help thinking, how many Fire Island vacations do I have left?

My back started hurting me the day before I left for Fire Island and I started thinking, “Is this how I’m going to die?” You start having those kinds of thoughts when you get to be my age.

Andrew Holleran had a book of short stories called In September the Light Changes, which was the follow up to his Fire Island novel, Dancer from the Dance. I always thought that was a great title.

And so I choose to believe the glass is half full rather than half empty. I refuse to be a victim.

And I recognize that there will be challenges. (The Belvedere was sold out, I couldn’t charge my phone and my hotel room couldn’t get wifi.)

Happy birthday to me.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

On Grief

Yesterday I came out of the closet. I ran into a friend of mine on the Upper East Side and I confessed that I was still grieving for my partner who passed away from cancer last year. I was a little bit embarrassed. You’d think I’d be “over it” by now. But I thought he might understand because he had lost his partner, too.

I mentioned how, because of my real estate job, I now found myself in neighborhoods that reminded me of my partner. When I was in Hell’s Kitchen, it reminded me of his apartment. When I was on the Upper East Side it reminded me of New York Hospital, where he got chemotherapy. When I was on the Upper West Side, it reminded me of Mt. Sinai, where he was also a patient. And wherever I went, it reminded me of all the restaurants we used to go to. Even typing these words brought me to tears.

I guess the reason I haven’t thought about it is because I’ve been too busy. Too busy working or doing Zoom comedy shows even on my day off.

Humans are the only creatures who are aware that they’re going to die and yet we somehow continue to live. Partly it’s through a denial of death (as in the book of the same title) and partly it’s through the fact that it’s taboo to even talking about death or dying.

When you think about it, we’re all in a constant denial of death, whether it’s the death of people, animals, things or even ideas.

The most famous death of a thing was the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001. (Of course, 3,000 people were also killed when the building was destroyed.) I remember how, for weeks if not months after it happened, I couldn’t even look in the direction of where the Twin Towers stood. And I experienced a similar grief as if I were grieving the loss of a human being, even though I didn’t know anyone who died in the attacks. I felt like this was an attack on me personally, on my city. I was as angry as I was sad.

But I think part of all of our reaction was shock. How could a building that was supposed to last forever, one of the tallest buildings in the world, be brought down in a matter of hours?

I experience a similar feeling every day as I walk around the city. Just the other day, I noticed that the building that used to house Bleecker Bob’s and Reminiscence, two landmarks of my early adulthood, had been razed to make way for who knows what. The fact that some people reading this may not even know what Bleecker Bob’s and Reminiscence are underscores the impermanence (irrelevance?) of things.

Then there are the more random acts of destruction that occur on a daily basis. A taxi crashes into the Japanese restaurant where I had dinner the other night. A fire destroys my favorite Chinese restaurant. An actress is struck and killed by a man on a scooter. A condo building near Miami collapses. And these things happened in just the last few weeks!

And, of course, we’ve all just witnessed the death of 600,000 Americans and millions more around the world from a pandemic that seemingly came out of nowhere.

And now we may be witnessing the death of an idea, of democracy itself, as Republicans pass laws around the country restricting voting rights.

You may think it’s absurd to connect the death of an idea to the death of a person or wonder why I’m even bringing it up. Is it an act of what I call “performative grief,” to show that I’m a good person? Or is it just to raise awareness?

And how do we deal with such grief? Do we talk about it, even though it’s taboo? Do we take action (in the case of voting rights or gentrification)? Or do we try to block it out with work, drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, TV, working out, etc.?

Some people, when finding out I’m a comedian, say, “How can you be a comedian? You’re so serious.”

And I always respond, “Comedians are some of the most serious people I know.”

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Tina Turner and the Twilight of the ’80s Rock Gods

Last night I watched Tina, an HBO documentary about Tina Turner I had been eagerly anticipating (and they had been eagerly promoting) for weeks. But instead of coming away from the show reveling in the awesomeness that is Tina Turner, I came away profoundly sad. The Tina that was interviewed in the documentary, surrounded by clips of her earlier performances and enormous success, didn’t look like Tina Turner. The huge wig was there but her face seemed somehow swollen and her eyes sunken into it. Her voice was the same, but I didn’t recognize the woman it was coming out of. I know she’s in her early ‘80s now, but I still had the 1984 image of Turner stuck in my head.

Just a week or two earlier, I had watched her triumphant farewell concert, filmed at London’s Wembley Arena, on PBS. There was the Tina I remembered: confidently strutting across the stage as thousands of fans cheered her every move. (Indeed, I had seen that tour myself in New York and also cheered her every move.) I came away from that program so inspired that I bought her book on Buddhism and quickly read it. (I still don’t understand the chanting thing but, hey, whatever works.)

Why was I so sad now?

1984 was a remarkable year in pop music history. MTV had just started three years earlier and was now hitting its stride, and a number of artists were having their most successful year ever, largely thanks to MTV. In addition to Turner, there were Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, George Michael, and Cyndi Lauper. Where are those people now? Several of them (Prince, Michael, Whitney, George) are dead—and they weren’t that old! The ones who didn’t actually die are either a pale imitation of their ’80s selves or have become elder statesmen. Springsteen and Lauper have discovered Broadway (where ’80s rock stars, including Tina, apparently go to reinvent themselves or resuscitate their careers) and Madonna’s been eclipsed by Lady Gaga.

Meanwhile, ’80s songs are now being used on retirement commercials!

So what are the options here?

One can either die tragically ahead of one’s time or survive into irrelevance (or, worse, pity). This is the human condition writ large.

I’m not knocking Tina. God knows, I love her. I’m somewhat sad she’s chosen to retire, but I can certainly understand her decision, at the same time I’m thinking of some of her contemporaries (Cher, Barbra Streisand) who never seem to age and are still (sort of) working.

Maybe I should adopt her Buddhist philosophy—life is suffering—and leave it at that.

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.

One 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.