Thursday, November 10, 2016

after the election

Last night I spoke with a friend who is a counselor at a high school here in New York City. He told me his office was a steady stream of children in crisis yesterday - a girl threatened suicide because she's afraid her parents will be deported, another girl, wearing a hijab, sat in his office sobbing all afternoon. My friend was understandably distraught. When I came home last night, the two doormen in my building, one from the Dominican Republic the other from Azerbaijan, usually friendly, outgoing and talkative guys, were uncharacteristically solemn and avoided eye contact. I texted with a neighbor who was trying to comfort her 11 year old daughter who's worried her friends at school, who are different colors and from different ethnic backgrounds are now in danger.
Traveling around town yesterday, fellow subway-riders were silent and somber. I became acutely aware of my whiteness (and my maleness). Can people think I had anything to do with this? Do they associate me with this tragedy? I'm vowing to replace my usual on-the-subway irritability with kindness. Our world, especially now, lacks kindness, I'll do what I can however small the gesture.
I'm only slightly encouraged crowds have taken to the streets. I know activism works, but I've also seen vital movements: Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street... be ridiculed and squashed. I'm angered by the stream of empty platitudes and false optimism: it's gonna be okay, we'll get through this. No, actually, not all of us will. Friends and lovers didn't get through the Reagan administration in the 80s, yet somehow Saint Ronnie is still held up as a shining light. And maybe the PTSD I've sustained these last decades since my friends' agonizing and senseless deaths, or the 21 years since my own HIV diagnosis have colored my disillusionment, but probably no more than for the families of Eric Garner, or Sandra Bland, or countless others. Or the suffering of the men and women whose sons and daughters rot inside an unjust industrial prisons system for something as innocuous and benign as walking the street with a joint or jumping a turnstile.
Perhaps what hurts most is that out of fear, or ignorance, or anger, or spite, or hatred, or bigotry, our fellow countrymen and women have done this to us (and themselves). The feeling of betrayal to our nation, and especially vulnerable communities is not only painful, but feels also deeply personal.
There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Right now, I feel as if I'm flailing around in a pool of the first four. Old traumas have been triggered, and I know, for myself, I've actually been experiencing physical symptoms of shock: clammy palms, rapid breathing, nausea, weakness, dizziness... On the streets and in public spaces, it feels as if we're suffering a collective fight or flight response. The uneasiness and calm is uncannily reminiscent to those days after 9/11. It's still all very new, and in the coming weeks, as the toxic dust from this catastrophe begins to settle, we'll see how we manage.
This morning, I'll brush my teeth, and make my bed, and feed my cats, and do the dishes, and do all sorts of other regular things as if today were a regular day. This morning, the sun is shining, the air is brisk, people are going to work, and feeding their children, and walking their dogs, and shopping, and banking, and doing all sorts of other things as if today were a regular day. But it's not a regular day.

Monday, October 31, 2016

halloween memories

I walked out of my appointment on Van Dam St and Hudson around 3 o'clock this afternoon, and began heading north to 14th and 6th Avenue. I'd forgotten it was Halloween, and walked up Hudson to Christopher St, then cut up Christopher to 6th Ave. I was just in time to see the barricades being set up along the route I was walking. By the time I got to 6th Avenue, there were about 200 cops checking in. I assumed they were checking in for their assignment at the Halloween parade tonight. I started out this morning thinking I should make sure to do everything I need to downtown early, so I'd be sure to be home in time to avoid the parade and the excessive crowds.
Years back, when I was an eager Halloween reveler, when New York was dirtier, less crowded, more dangerous, yet somehow kinder, the Halloween parade was one of my favorite events of the year. It used to begin at 5th Avenue, cross west on 10th St, down the 1 block of 6th Ave to Christopher, and then diagonally down Christoper to Hudson. Kids and parents would walk the route first, then flocks of drag queens and scantily clad young men (gladiators, go go boys, lifeguards, mermen, etc...) It was small, local, crazy, and such unspeakable fun.
The last time I was at the Halloween parade in the Village, it must have been 6 or 7 years ago, I actually feared for my life. I wasn't in costume, and was trying to get to the subway, but was trapped behind barricades in the center of a boisterous crowd of hooligans; kids who'd specifically come to the Village to jeer at men in dresses, throw eggs, and cause havoc and destruction. When I finally freed myself from one terrifying crowd, I found myself trapped in another. It was a harrowing experience trying to make my way to the subway and escape the neighborhood that night, and I swore I'd never go back.
As I was walking up Christopher Street this afternoon, I noticed too many empty storefronts nestled between the intermittent high end designer boutiques. I fell into the familiar resentment I have at the changing and ever-more-exclusive landscape of my hometown, yet was also somehow feeling nostalgic, and reminiscing about Halloweens past. I was remembering how a gang of us would meet at a decided upon apartment, drink voluminous amounts of booze and do copious amounts of other substances while getting dressed up, then run wild in the streets as if New York City were our own personal playground. Which, indeed, it was. We'd get hammered, laugh, hug, kiss, play with strangers, and have the best time ever. Eventually we'd end up at the Tiffany Diner on Sheridan Square, which is now a Bank of America, a sad and tragically apropos commentary on the city's transformation.
This was, of course, years before LGBT issues were spoken of as any kind of legitimate concern, certainly not by elected officials in any political way or for a national audience. Gay marriage hadn't been thought of yet, let alone mentioned by legislators - let alone become federal law. In the midst of the worst epidemic since the bubonic plague, we had a president who wouldn't even mention it. An HIV/AIDS diagnosis was still a death sentence, and the threat of it was everywhere. Those friends - drag queens, gladiators, lifeguards, cheerleaders - not all of them made it. We needed to get drunk, and get high, and run wild. Halloween was a sacred night, a glorious yearly bacchanal when we could be who we were unhidden, unashamed, and unafraid. I'm sorry younger generations of LGBT kids won't experience what joy it was to be part of that community celebrating together before Halloween became a tourist attraction, but I'm grateful they don't have to live with the fear and challenges we did. Most of all, I'm grateful I was there, that I'm still here, and for all the memories of all those past Halloweens.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


A number of years ago, I wrote a rather maudlin post on this blog about the transient nature of life, growing old, friends who've died, and how much I miss them. In that post, I mentioned my friend Noel. I met Noel when I was a kid, about 16, and, for better or worse, he was a regularly scheduled cast member in my life for many, many years. I had such fun with him - such crazy, unspeakable fun, and so many stories.

Someone, who had apparently also been friendly with him, read that post and contacted me through the blog wanting to reminisce about him. We emailed back and forth for a while, eventually talked on the phone, and yesterday, he emailed me a bunch of pictures of my old friend. I immediately got on the phone with my friend, Ed, who I've known just about as long, and gratefully reconnected with a few years back after having lost touch many years ago, and the two of us waxed nostalgic for a while. 

Noel was an actor, and for a brief period, back in the day, he was quite the talk of the town. Here's a photo of him with Maximilian Schell in A Patriot for Me (1969), and a headshot from a few years later, which, I believe was featured in After Dark magazine.

When he was a young man, as you can clearly see from these photos, Noel was very beautiful. As he aged, however, while still handsome, he became, well... crazy. But he was my friend and I loved him just the same. 

Noel, that beautiful crazy fucker, took his own life right before I relocated back to New York from California in 2002.

Disturbed, troubled, crazy, whatever - he was someone special to me and now he's gone. 

You know, I've learned a lot from experiencing loss and from crazy people - about patience, perspective, acceptance, myself...

Life is funny. Oh, it's hard too, but it's funny.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

the tombs

Sitting at my computer this morning, scrolling around the news sites, drinking iced coffee, eating smoked salmon and heirloom tomatoes on a toasted pumpernickel bagel - suddenly the thought of the guys I'll be talking with tonight came to mind. I'll be doing volunteer service at The Tombs (The Manhattan Detention Complex) this evening. I'm contemplating what they eat for breakfast; what kind of morning they're having inside those cold, austere institutional walls, as the temperatures outside climb.

For a couple of hours tonight, two of my buddies and I will surrender our civilian rights to the NYC corrections system, and be let into the bowels of an ugly, windowless 1970s institutional building. We'll share our experience with the inmates who show up, and try to bring them a message of strength and hope. Attendance is voluntary, usually 5 to 10 guys will show up.

When I first started doing this, around 10 years ago, I was more than a little uncomfortable, a little scared, and felt very self-conscious (what should I wear? how should I talk? should I hide my orientation, or pretend to be something I'm not?). My impression is that most of the inmates we see are just guys down on their luck. Guys who were caught doing stupid things, things I might have done myself, but was saved from having any legal consequences because of dumb luck or white priviledge. The injustice and racial disparity of the judicial system is very plain when you're inside the belly of the beast. Of course, there are hardened criminals too, but the disproportionate amount of poor, disconsolate run-of-the-mill joes is a disturbing and grim reality. Glaringly evident is the lack of mental health services inside the system. A number of the inmates are simply mentally unstable and have wound up incarcerated as a result.

Those who show up are usually so grateful, it's almost heartbreaking. They know we've volunteered our time to come see them and talk to them, and they seem so happy anyone has gone out of their way to give them any attention. I can't begin to know what it must feel to be so isolated and apart; relegated to a community the majority of our culture wants treated as animals, a faction of which actually act as such, and the fear and stress of having to be forced to live among them in such awful conditions. I imagine they feel forgotten and hopeless. Ultimately, my experience has often been both sad and surprisingly rewarding.

Here is a 1905 photo of the Bridge of Sighs, the covered walking bridge that connects the NYC criminal courts building to the original Manhattan detention complex (the tombs), on Center Street downtown.

Sunday, August 7, 2016


Forgive me for getting sentimental. I just watched "Looking: The Movie" on HBO. It's the conclusion of the discontinued HBO series Looking. A kind of Sex in the City that takes place in San Francisco featuring gay men in their 20s and 30s. The storyline focuses on friendships, relationships, looking for love, commitment, life choices, and risk taking.

I lived in San Francisco from 1992 to 2002 - some very fun and some very hard-lived years. Having been there for ten years, almost every location in the film was recognizable to me. The final scene takes place in Orphan Andy's, a 24 hour greasy spoon in the Castro district that I used to frequent relatively often. At the end of the scene, the group of friends sits embracing each other as the camera pulls out to a long shot of my old neighborhood. Memories of nearly-forgotten relationships, poor life choices, and past friendships came flooding back. Sitting in front of my computer with tears running down my face, I felt very sentimental and self-indulgent. Likely due to the setting and the close friendships portrayed, my mind kept directing me to memories and thoughts of my friend Greg. I took this photo of him at the beach, probably around 1999 or 2000. It sits on a shelf in my room and I see it every day. Greg died in 2002. He was 38 years old. He was kind and he was beautiful, and he was always there for me. My last couple of years in SF, I was in pretty bad shape and was making some very poor life decisions. Greg was there for me; he held me and encouraged me. At my lowest, he was a source of strength and love. We don't get a lot of friends like that along the way. Hold onto the ones you have.

If there exists some 'other side' where we someday get reunited with our loved ones, I want to hold him again. I want to hear his laugh and feel his hand in my hand. I've never stopped loving him, and I miss him every day. 

Rest in peace, my angel. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

la foule

This performance! Any superlatives I could come up with would be insufficient. The words, the music, the exquisite sorrow, the unspeakable joy! That unlikely little body and that awkward fluttery voice - and the result of that improbable combination, well, there's really no word to describe it other than magic. And while what she does is absolutely personal and unique in every way, somehow, it is also irrefutably French.
After last night's terrorist attack in Nice (these horrors seem to be coming with such regularity; FUCK, I'm sick of it!), I fell down a French music rabbit hole this morning. I listened to favorites by Poulenc, Chausson, Duparc, etc... but then I started listening to and watching Piaf, and I became spellbound and entranced with her once again.
What causes a personality, a soul, to be so irrepressible?
There have been countless biographies and films based on her life. Of course there have been, her story is miraculous, the stuff of legends: father a traveling circus performer, abandoned by her mother as an infant, raised by prostitutes, singing for money on the streets of Paris as a child (it is believed she was as small and frail as she was in adulthood due to childhood malnourishment). Piaf's journey from hapless and desperate beginnings to the national voice of her country is so extreme as to seem too fantastic even for fiction. Plagued by poor health and addiction, she died a tragic alcoholic death at 47.
Surprised at my own response this morning, I wept for the senseless tragedy in Nice last night, and I wept at the diminutive chanteuse, dead 53 years now, who still, somehow, through time and space, across continents, different languages, and even modern technology has the ability to touch me so deeply. And I'm pondering the acute and unlikely emotional connection between present day calamity and bygone art.
Vive la France!

Friday, April 29, 2016

oh, the interwebs

The interwebs are a wonderful way to keep informed about what's going on in the world. They're also a surefire way for me to derail my emotional and spiritual condition. For example, I've just read that a House committee has approved an amendment to President Obama’s executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors. The amendment, introduced by Rep Steve Russell (R-Okla.), would enable religious organizations doing business with the U.S. government to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Every one of these recent anti-LGBT laws are being pushed through under the guise of 'religious freedoms.' Let's be perfectly frank. The legislators pushing these new laws aren't concerned Jews leave work early enough on Fridays to be home before sundown. Nor are they concerned Hindus be offered vegetarian options, or Muslims have adequate breaks for prayer. These new laws are specifically designed to allow people to legally discriminate against faggots and dykes in the name of Jesus.

Let's take a moment to consider what Jesus actually said about discriminating against fudge-packers and carpet-munchers. Please turn to Matthew 25:40.

'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

Wait... What?

Okay... let's turn to 1 John 4:21

He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

In other words, Jesus ain't down with this shit!
Y'all are just hateful bigots!

As you can see, I've gone and made myself completely nuts this morning by keeping abreast of current events. So here's a picture of Matthias Schoenaerts with a bulldog puppy. I'm just gonna take a few moments and let its healing power sink in. 

Have a good day.

Monday, April 11, 2016

look at the pictures

I watched the HBO documentary last night, “Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures.” It's very good and very interesting. The big takeaway for me was the necessity of drive and perseverance, most specifically as it relates to having success as an artist. Of course, as always with his work, the issue of exploitation versus love of subject matter is brought to the surface, and it reminded me how essential it is for an artist to express his or her own passion and life through their work. 

It was certainly brave of HBO to show the images that caused so much controversy back in the day (basically penises, and oh yeah, fisting and pissing, etc...). But they now somehow seem surprisingly tame; maybe because those images have been seen so much as to have become almost iconic representations of what controversial 1980s photography was, or maybe it's just harder for me, personally, to be shocked by sexual imagery, I don't know. 

Two people who played prominent roles in my youth were featured in the doc and in the photos. It forced me to think if the trajectory of certain events had shifted just slightly, might he have photographed me? It seems self-centered to even think that, but it's not out of the realm of what would have been possible at the time. The whole thing brought back youthful, nostalgic, exciting, clandestine memories of a vibrant and gritty New York. A New York that's been washed away by tourists and foreign investors; a New York that I mourn daily as I walk through scrubbed canyons of shiny new luxury living towers. Light, shape, form, sexuality, work, friendship, family, the artist's process, the passing of time, the cultural significance of imagery, mortality; this doc had it all.
Well worth a watch.