Sunday, December 30, 2007

Jingle Balls II: The Escape Clause

You may recall my frank discussion of my balls some weeks back. Well, I have some resolution to the story. Just in time for the holidays! Because nothing says holiday cheer like discussing your scrotum in public.

The final step in the process was a review of the situation by the urologist. I have never been to the urologist in my life. Why should I? The junk works, so why mess with perfection? As usual, in need of a doctor, I rummaged around on the internet for a while and then picked someone with a catchy name who was nearby. I suppose I could check credentials or something, but I have to assume a total quack would not be able to afford to pay rent in one of the most expensive cities in the world if he didn’t know what he was doing. And yes, I did specifically choose a male urologist. It is weird enough having a stranger manhandle me under fluorescent lighting, I don’t need to make it completely bizarre by bringing a woman into the mix.

The doctor I chose was in Gramercy Park, steps away from a convenient subway stop and my regular doctor. He is right around the corner from the National Arts Club, which when I passed it reminded me that it had been a long time since I saw Manhattan Murder Mystery, so I picked it up on DVD. I had to wait seven weeks for my appointment, and even though my doctor told me it was probably nothing and the two women at the ultrasound office couldn’t even FIND what I was talking about, I was still filled with a certain level of anxiety.

I had my appointment in the week before Christmas. I trotted down to his office and sat in the waiting room filled with current magazines and old men for about 45 minutes before he finally saw me. The urologist looks like all doctors in Woody Allen movies: tall, reed thin and expressionless. He also spoke with a German accent, but not like a character actor in a Hollywood movie about Nazis. He sounded more like a mad professor in an old Looney Tunes cartoon (although visually lacking the mess of white hair and the cheesy Frito Bandito moustache). The whole package instantly filled me with confidence, as all situations that remind me of the movies do.

He asked me the usual routine questions, even though I had filled them all out on the form in the waiting room.

“How many zexual partners: zingle or multiple?”

“Um. Right now, or over my lifetime?”

“In your lifetime.”

“Oh. Multiple.”

He arched his eyebrow and gave me an ever so disapproving murmur. I was instantly outraged and defensive about what a slut I have been. You know what. I am a sexually active 38 year old man. I don’t need to get shit from some stranger about the fact that I have had sex with more than one person in my whole life. Granted, the number isn’t two. But how does he know that? If I want to feel judged, I’ll go to a department store cosmetics counter and put my head inside the black light box with the magnifying mirror in it that makes you buy anything they put in front of you. I don’t need to hear it from the man who is going to tell me definitively if I have cancer.

So he sends me off to the waiting room while his assistant contacts my doctor to have my records faxed over. After that he calls me down to the separate exam room.

“Take your pants down and I will take a look.”

I kick off my shoes and then start in on my pants when he stops me.

“You can leave your shoes on. I von’t be examining your feet.”

So, like James Edstrom in the Ramble, I just shoved my pants down around my ankles and hopped (quite literally) onto the table. I laid back as instructed and he began to dispassionately knead my balls like bread dough.

“Zo. What do you do for a living?”

Really? A conversation about the wonders of satellite radio while you are all over my balls like a case of the crabs? This is definitely one of those situations, like when you are standing at a urinal, when I am not in the mood for idle chit chat. He asked me where the lump was that I felt, and when I told him, he stopped the exam as suddenly as he began.

“What is behind and above the left testicle is a normal structure. Put your pants back on please and see me in my office,” he declared as he ripped his surgical gloves off dramatically and dispensed with them in the trash can nearby. He just left me lying on the table with my pants down around my ankles. I felt so vulnerable!

Once I pulled myself and my outfit (such as it was) together, I went back to his office. He glanced over my paperwork and looked up at me. “There is nothing going on in your genitals.” He stated it so flatly I instantly wanted a second opinion. It was the second meanest thing a doctor has told me during this ordeal, only behind my regular doctor assuring me that I have nothing to worry about because “testicular cancer is a disease of young men.” I don’t need a stranger to tell me there is nothing going on in my genitals. I live with them. I know what they are doing at night.

Unfortunately, my ultrasound results weren’t there, so he insisted that I come back on Monday for a follow-up. Monday, as in Christmas Eve. Aren’t Jewish doctors the best? I guess he doesn’t like movies and Chinese food. However, it did take seven weeks for the initial appointment and he is on the American Board of Urology, so I guess I should take whatever appointment I can get. I trotted back down to the city on Christmas Eve, waited once again in his waiting room with several of the same loose characters I saw during my initial visit. He called me in, glanced over my ultrasound, and then waved his hand over it as if performing a magic spell.

“Nothing. There is nothing here. Go home. Enjoy your time. Have fun. I will see you in six months. Maybe there will be something there then.”

And with that my testicular cancer ordeal was over. As definitive as the Supreme Court ruling in Bush Vs. Gore, the process was stopped dead in its tracks. Yes, maybe something else will go wrong in my genitals, but as I will be six months older during the next go round, I am that much further away from testicular cancer. So now there is nothing left to do but sit back, enjoy Diane Keaton reunited with Woody Allen and pronounce my personal Manhattan mystery solved.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Phoenix Rising

It is so hard for me sometimes to know what to write here. I try to at least mention my adventures out on the town. Being something of a hermit, going to a bar is as close to an event as my life has these days. Well, yesterday a deer wandered right up to the bay window in the front of the house and was giving a disapproving glance at my Christmas tree when I spotted her from the kitchen. I really felt for a moment like I was in a Douglas Sirk movie, and not just because light was coming in from every direction at once. But when I went to get my camera, Mike scared the poor animal away. This is what passes for excitement and high drama at my house, so you will understand why a trip to a grungy watering hole is what I choose to write about in my semi-annual blog.

I wonder if grungy is really the right word for the Phoenix, an alt-boy neighborhood bar in the East Village. Seedy doesn't seem appropriate because I never worry about losing my wallet. And it isn't disgusting like The Cock, which in its past location had a bathroom so filthy I preferred instead to urinate outside against a wrought iron fence. That dump really knew how to put the anus in tetanus. Now that the Cock is by some necessity in the Hole (that, as they say, fits), I haven't been there since it moved. I'll just wait for the Health Inspector's final report and a booster shot.

The director Richard Brooks told a great story about making "The Blackboard Jungle" at MGM and how he wanted it to be "gritty" so, for instance, he had them make the walls near the light switches dirty, like in a real life high school. But every night, the old craftsmen of MGM would dutifully paint everything back to a pristine white because that was the MGM way. Most Manhattan gay bars are sophisticated and pristine, like an old MGM movie as are the fussy young queens who go to them. But the Phoenix is gritty, yes that's the word I want, but in just the same manufactured way the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland is dangerous. There is graffiti on the bathroom walls, but it's all very clever and occasionally political or deeply thought. There is a gruff bear of a man in the basement, but he is polite and runs the coat check. So the gay boys can have their sense of life in an old fashioned road house, but still order a fancy mixed drink without getting punched in the face.

The Christmas holiday is right around the corner and that means everyone is escaping the island of Manhattan like it's Paris 1940 and the Nazis are about to march in. And in much the same way, the gays like to have one last drink before they fly off to fly over places where mind-numbing conversations will take place in living rooms crowded with knick knacks and oppressive memories, and the last gay person they will see for a week will be a weary flight attendant more interested in his own frosted tips than your safety in the air.

Mike had just said good bye to his mother, who visited us for a week instead of the other way around, and was certainly in the mood for a night of East Village boys, his favorite kind. I invited him along even though I had really invited myself along. Terry and Jonathan had hatched a plan to hang out there together, but since they hatched the plan on my own Facebook Wall, I felt no compunction about inviting myself and a few friends along as well. As it turns out, that was the right move, as a little rain earlier had caused Cinderella to meet her midnight a little earlier than planned and Terry bailed on the whole thing. That would have left Jonathan alone to hunt his neighborhood haunt, and we can't let that happen, can we? Not right before Christmas!

I invited Zach to come along who insisted he would stay away from the gin and tonic this time around. He brought along his very newly single friend Jon, who looked very familiar to us all, but mostly looked like Zach in five years. The conversation spun easily between the five of us into a roundelay, layering over and over again in its series of recurring themes (the pending election, gay life, 30 Rock, Britney, Manhattan), while past acquaintances of Jonathan's made blatant overtures for rematches that he oh so coyly moved to the txt realm or rebuffed entirely. Meanwhile, Mike was struck by Zach's powerful and rigid stoicism, more than a match for his own blank visage. Jon was bored, and I passed the time waiting to see who I would run into at the bar.

I don't know many people in New York City, and I infrequently go to the Phoenix. But it never fails that someone I know is in that bar! This time around it was Michael, Melissa's contortionist of a roommate, who had shaved his head and packed on easily thirty pounds of muscle. If I were living back in Los Angeles, I would assume that he got a part in a movie and had altered himself for a character role, but in New York, even though he might well be an actor preparing for his Broadway debut, it seemed more likely that he just was tired of the old Michael and decided to make a drastic change. Having worn the same hair style for twenty years now, it is a notion I don't easily understand.

In the end, it turns out that everything else with me was still exactly the same. Outside the coat check, a drunken Jonathan confronted me about my electric blue polo shirt. "I know why you wear blue all the time," he smiled as though revealing a surprising secret. But it was no secret to either of the blue-eyed people in the conversation, whose own vanity led them to the matching color. We got into a competition about the blueness of each other's eyes and I insisted on one-upping him by telling him that my eyes change color with the color around them. Then with great effect, I zipped up my pale grey jacket and Jonathan watched my blue eyes turn pale grey. "I hate you," he said as he turned on his heel and stumbled up the stairs.

It is true that I am often an enormously unlikeable person. I don't know why anyone listens to our radio show. I tell Romaine all the time that we are two of the most unlikeable people ever and then we just laugh about how silly it all is. Maybe people like us together because we are both so horrible that we deserve each other. Out in the real world, my terrible personality keeps my number of close friends conveniently small and my desire to leave the house even smaller. But as long as I have a blog to write and a radio show to do, I will continue to burn my way through modern gay life, rise from the ashes once more, and do it all again the next week.

After all, it is Winter, and we have to keep warm somehow.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Out With The New

I think watching old movies might be dangerous for me.

The Hollywood writer's strike has been going on for weeks now and it has finally caught up with us on the small screen. We are fresh out of fresh episodes of our favorite shows. And while some shows will be starting or returning in January (Lost, New Adventures Of Old Christine, American Idol and a thousand other reality/game shows), the momentum built up so far this fall is at an end. As an avid TV viewer, this has put me in a terrible quandary. What am I supposed to do with all this free time and my incredibly honed staring skills?

It is with this in mind that I have recently returned to watching old movies. What can I say? I am a homo, and I love an old movie. Last month was Guest Programmer month on TCM and even though I owned "The Letter" on DVD, I have never actually watched it. But I did TIVO guest programmer Gore Vidal and that film last month and finally this weekend, at a loss for new TV, settled in to watch it. I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would.

I have seen the enormously famous opening and closing scenes a million times, but the whole movie in between was a swift and engaging good time. Somerset Maugham (who I have decided might be my new favorite dead playwright, knowing now that he also wrote the source material for the hilarious Being Julia with Annette Bening) wrote the original play and it starts off rather delightfully with a quiet night on a rubber plantation interrupted by Bette Davis plugging six bullets into a man trying desperately to get away from her. It is all shot very dramatically and powerfully and I thought William Wyler might have used his best tricks in the first two minutes, but the overall film remained sensational right up to Bette's famous final declaration, "With all my heart, I still love the man I killed." Gore said the film still gives him chills, which at his age could honestly be caused by almost anything. But as much as I liked the film, I fear it might stay with me the way other recent old movies have.

I am well known as a soft touch when it comes to the movies. I might have gone to see the most-awful Deep End of the Ocean with Michelle Pfeiffer because I cried TWICE during the trailer ("Children don't get lost. People lose them!"). As much as I love a good comedy, I think I love to cry at a movie even more. I like it best when I cry at a movie you would least expect tears from, like the unexpectedly poignant ending of the Albert Brooks comedy "Defending Your Life." After all, there is no challenge in crying at something like "Dumbo," easily the most gut-wrenching 64 minutes ever committed to celluloid, although it is satisfying just the same.

This week on my train ride, I settled back in to watch "National Velvet" with a young and powerfully earnest Elizabeth Taylor. You can see instantly in the movie why she became a star and her clarity of character is staggering, especially in her scenes with Anne Revere who plays her mother. Taylor breaks your heart in every scene, her pure faith in that wild horse never wavers, and I can usually wring at least five or six cries out of every showing. Even jammed in the drunk train home on Friday night, I freely let the tears flow for all to see. And this is part of the problem.

I let myself become overly involved in this movies, even to points where I don't realize they are influencing me. I am just too susceptible Years ago in Los Angeles, my roommate Eric and I were shopping for wine at Trader Joe's and I picked out a bottle. "I've heard good things about this one," I said, not being a wine drinker myself. "No you haven't." Erik replied flatly, "There is a billboard for it outside our apartment." The moving images on the screen are even more of a draw to me than a flat advertisement under the warm California sun. Eight weeks after a chance purchase of "Christmas In Connecticut" with Barbara Stanwick and dozens of viewings in a row, I abandoned my perfectly comfortable Manhattan apartment for a house in the country with a bay window, a fireplace and a piano. I guess after buying a whole house, running around all the time saying "I know men. Some of my best friends are men" in a throaty rendition of Tallulah Bankhead in "Lifeboat" isn't so bad, but the end result is the same.

Maybe the problem is that I feel out of control in the whole process. The movies are long since finished and in the can, but my life is still malleable and open to broad interpretation. Not that I think that watching a movie will lead me to stand trial for murder, join the circus, or sit out on the open sea for as long as 43 days with a Nazi; it's just that after buying a house and nearly purchasing bad wine, I am filled with some caution. Then again, these movies can also provide important life lessons, like my favorite from "National Velvet":

"Win or lose. It's all the same. And how you take it that counts. And knowing when to let go. Knowing when it's over and time to go on to the next thing. Things come suitable to the time. Enjoy each thing and then forget it and go on to the next. There is a time for everything."

So I guess now is the time for me to watch old movies, and sit in the window box of my room and blog while the deer and squirrels roam through the yard like extras in a Douglas Sirk movie. And then at some point, it will be time for me to do something else. In the meantime, I suppose I can learn some lessons on my own. Like, just because there isn't anything on TV, that doesn't mean I don't have plenty of other things to watch and do. Another Gore Vidal pick "That Hamilton Woman" is sitting in the TIVO now and since it is unlikely that the Queen of Naples will rise from the dead to oversee my affair with Lord Nelson, I think I am safe for the time being.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Fall To Pieces

Years ago, when Romaine and I first started working together, she introduced me to one of her great loves in Manhattan: Pieces. The shoebox of a bar hosts a legendary karaoke night on Tuesdays that is something of a drunken staple. As we were getting to know each other, we would drop by occasionally after the show and I would sit back while Romaine would belt out a favorite country tune, her trusty leather jacket on, a bottle of beer in one hand, the microphone in the other. As time went on, we went to fewer and fewer bars together and my Tuesday nights gravitated to hot boy central at Bowery Bar. Flash forward a few years and in need of somewhere new, I headed instead to somewhere very old.

Hot listener Zach, who recently relocated to New York, wanted to hit the town and had initially suggested Bowery Bar. During his last visit to the city, I took him there on a hot summer night and I suppose he just assumed it was hot every Tuesday night. But Bowery Bar has seasons, which is part of why it has remained the hottest Tuesday night in town for more than a decade. Spring and Fall are the best times to go, weather-wise, and during the summer, when most gay New Yorkers spend their weekends out of town, Bowery Bar is a perfect weeknight opportunity to regroup and exchange notes. But in winter, the giant outdoor patio all but abandoned, Bowery Bar is off the radar, and brave New Yorkers disperse to neighborhood bars that are easier to navigate to in the midst of an ice storm.

I shot down the idea of Bowery Bar and suggested instead that we hang out in a fun midtown bar, conveniently near my office. I wanted Jonathan to join us too, but after spending his entire long weekend with his sister in midtown, he was anxious to explore another part of the city, one would assume in close proximity to his apartment and/or the late night Taco Bell on 14th Street. So I suggested our long ago haunt Pieces. Even though singing was anathema to each of us, it seemed like a fun environment to have a casual drink and pass judgment on strangers. And really, what more do you want in a bar?

I suggested we meet at the studio and head down together. Jonathan had never heard the show so he came an hour early to share in the “magic”. He settled down in Romaine’s usual chair on the other side of the studio while Romaine ran the board. Almost immediately, he pulled out a crossword puzzle and started in on it with his usual intensity and an ink pen. Occasionally, he would chuckle or look up and smile when the show caught his fancy in one ear, but soon he would return to the trials of down and across as we ran out the clock on another show.

As we were walking out, we gathered Zach from the main lobby and the three of us headed for the One train to the heart of the West Village. Along the way, Jonathan and I traded off as tour guides and New York historians, tossing in our own experiences into the mix to give it some humanity. Most of it, like the location of the Stonewall Inn, was already well-known to Zach and with the temperature dropping, we hastened our walk to Pieces.

The bar was just as I remembered it. The narrow entrance was Tailhook Convention-style cruising. The right side devoted to the stage and the devoted sing song regulars. The left side, running the length of the bar itself, was for fresh meat, like us. We immediately took up our position near the stage but decidedly in the fresh meat section. Earlier Jonathan and I had been buzzing like gay hornets about Xanadu and the disappointment that the slim country vignette from the finale was cut from the soundtrack recording as well as the new Broadway show, but Zach was ready for a meaty political conversation better suited to Hardball than gay bar. Jonathan is a political animal like me, so he was happy to pile into the fight. We discussed electability and the fascinating mysteries of the Iowa caucus system.

All the while, Zach was chugging, CHUGGING gin and tonic. As the drinks disappeared he became more and more adamant about mobilizing Jonathan and I to a higher political calling. He is recently out of the Air Force and I think just getting out of the military is a little bit like just coming out of the closet. He is filled with years of pent up gay with a capital “G” energy and he can’t wait to translate it into action now that he no longer has to look over his shoulder. Jonathan and I, much longer in the mix, are far more comfortable with the current state of affairs. But I admire Zach’s pluck and enthusiasm. Jonathan thought his youthful, untainted vigor refreshing and sweet.

As usual, the hour was drawing late. Zach left to get his coat at coat check and I soon followed. When I got there, I thought Zach had already left, but instead I found him getting the bum’s rush from inside the coat check area. Initially I assumed he had lost his claim check and went in to help them find his coat, but apparently, the cigarette break the coat room attendant took was too long and Zach in full military zeal, charged into the coat area to leave no jacket behind. I didn’t realize until that moment just how plastered he was, but I guess the four drinks he had before he arrived at the bar were just too much for his system to bear.

I really should have gone with him to make sure he got home okay, but by the time I told Jonathan I was leaving too, Zach was gone into the night. He ended up sending me a text message in the morning which confirmed that he did in fact get home safely. I said good night to Jonathan hastily and dashed out to find a cab to take me to Grand Central. Mike was already waiting on the drunk train to join me on the long journey home. As I bounced along sixth avenue in the back of the cab trying to ignore the cab TV in the back, it occurred to me that I probably should have made sure Jonathan got home safely too. I really am not a very good friend. Especially since I suspected he was quite intoxicated too. That was only confirmed for me a few minutes later when he sent me a text message of regret that he hadn't dueted to something from Xanadu.

But by then, suddenly, the wheel's were in motion on the train leaving the station. There will be other nights for two bad singers to duet. Xanadu isn't going anywhere, and neither is our friendship. And that's the great thing about a bar like Pieces, and old friends too. You can leave it just where it is and come back, even a few years later and find it exactly the way you left it.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

See Or Be Scene It

Jonathan invited me to a party in his apartment tonight. His sister is in town (the one whose face he appears to be licking in one of his Facebook photos) and since she is under 21, he decided staying in to party would be a much better idea. Since it is well-established that we like all of the same things, he felt it was safe to invite me to a Harry Potter-themed party in which we would play Scene It (the Muggles edition) and other fun board games. Since I will take any excuse to hang out with Jonathan and I am highly competitive when it comes to games of all kinds, I was happy to sign on for the adventure. I even dragged Roommate along because I didn't want to him to feel left out or spend the evening home alone on a Saturday night.

We sojourned down to the city and descended on Jonathan's apartment with a regifted bottle of champagne (I have FIVE of them in my house and no one will ever drink them) and a plastic container of 23 store-bought bakery sugar cookies with holiday sprinkles on them (one of them accidentally fell into my mouth while bored in traffic on the West Side Highway). The cookies were a big hit and I am sure Jonathan will find a good home for the champagne this holiday season.

If I may veer off on a non sequitor for a moment... I just don't understand champagne. I have never really been wild about the taste of it (although I am also not a wine person so I am probably not the best judge). It seems fine in mimosas, but a mimosa isn't the kind of drink you can have six of. Really you just have one. The problem with champagne is that it is a commitment issue. Once you open the bottle, you have to finish the whole thing. You can't just put a cap in it again and file it away for later, like a trusty bottle of gin. And given that it is an alcohol that can only be sipped and not chugged or downed in shots, you really need to have something of an enthusiastic crowd to even bother to open the damn thing. For all these reasons, I hate champagne. It is the devil. I hope Jonathan likes it, or passes it along because I am certain now that champagne has become the 21st century version of the Christmas fruitcake.

Jonathan was already half in the bag when we arrived, which is just how I like a man. We are so alike, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when I discovered he also throws a party in the same way I do: unnecessarily intensely. Like Robert DeNiro sweeping dirt into a dustpan. So much anxiety over nothing. I wasn't there five minutes before he said, "Are you going to sit down? You just standing there is making me nervous." I felt like I was having an out of body experience. It's a dull cliche but he literally took the words right out of my mouth.

We settled in fairly quickly to a deeply nerdy game of Scene It devoted entirely to Harry Potter. I think I would enjoy (and would win handily) in a regulation game of Scene It, but although I liked the films, I only saw them once, and really couldn't remember any salient details that might have helped me out in this immediate circumstance. In between, there were plenty of jazzy conversational bits about other pop culture phenomenons and I was right in the mix with all of those. A discussion about an upcoming version of the Veggie Tales on the big screen led to my best line of the night:

"I thought after the Terri Schiavo case, the Christians were done with Veggie Tales."

It got a mixed reaction from the crowd. Maybe it was too soon. After all, my comparison a few moments later of Courtney on Survivor to a Holocaust victim went over like classic Don Rickles in Vegas, so it was definitely a group that appreciated more daring material. Jonathan laughed heartily at all my jokes which is all I really ask for in life.

Terry was there as well, although he was anxious to escape the house party at a reasonable hour and hit the bars. Roommate sat out the Harry Potter game and tried to enjoy whatever was happening on the TV screen while also desiring to join Terry in his planned escape from the fun. Unfortunately, Terry wanted to go to Barracuda, which I have previously established is a cluster fuck nightmare now that I am just too old to deal with anymore. I am convinced that one of these nights, just like the mythical rat king on 30 rock, a knot of gays will become so entangled in their own egos and drama that they will be unable to pull away and will just have to fight each other to the death to escape.

The Harry Potter portion of the evening over, Terry Goldman bailed to meet up with people who were still interested in getting laid on a Saturday night. The gaming at Jonathan's then turned to something much more up my alley: Namesake. Jonathan had raved about this game before when he first invited me over for the party. He had played it in the past and loved it so much, he found one on eBay (it is out of circulation) and bought it. In the game, much like the early scene in the movie Go where the checkers battle each other to name a famous person who's name starts with X to decide who will work the cash register, players must name famous people in a series of categories with particular first names. Jonathan's entire pop culture canon can be perfectly summed up in his illuminating examples for the name "Ethel": Ethel Mertz, Ethel Merman, or Ethel Rosenberg." Namesake could be the new gay version of the Rorschach test. I'll tell you a first name, and you tell me the first famous person that comes to mind.

I loved the game because it was right up my alley. My brain is like a dusty attic filled with old, broken pieces of pop culture just waiting to be brushed off and sat on the front lawn for strangers to bid on in a mixture of shock and wonderment. Roommate on the other hand was in a new circle of hell. It was all the things he hated most in life: socializing with people and being put on the spot about pop culture. Plus, the TV was tuned to endless episodes of "I Love New York," a show that represents everything he can't stand about the darkest low points of his beloved TV programming universe.

Unfortunately, the structure of the game play and general intoxication made the experience last for hours longer than necessary. It is always a bad idea to play board games with drunk people. They have no sense of time passing, which is always a problem, and their slowed reaction times can make something as simple as picking up and reading a card off the board take ten minutes. At two am, perilously close to the end of the game anyway, there was a general movement to call it quits and head home. It was getting late, and my earlier off-hand suggestion of Taco Bell was looking more and more necessary. Jonathan was also in the mood for making a run to the border, so he closed up his party and joined us on our fourth meal adventure.

The Taco Bell on 14th street is open until 5am on Saturday nights and by 2:30 when we arrived, the scene was in full swing. The crowd was almost entirely straight, and a mix between drunk twenty-somethings needing a greasy bite and teenagers with nowhere else to go. I suggested to Roommate that it would make a perfect video podcast. Fourth Meal: A Late Night Soap Opera. So much drama was played out between bites of chalupas that you wouldn't need to do much more than set up a camera and start shooting. Jonathan and I engaged in a deep conversation about the shared sitcom structures of I Love Lucy and the Golden Girls (did you know they both shot on the same sound stage? True!) while, to paraphrase The Remains of the Day, Roommate put his thoughts elsewhere while we prattled on endlessly.

And then, just as soon as it began, it was time to call it a night. We dropped Jonathan off and made our way back out of the city. Okay, so Roommate didn't have the best time but tonight was just the way I like it. And it was nice for a change to be at a party and not spend the whole evening worrying if everyone had enough to eat or drink. Jonathan said once that he thought he would be me in a few years. Having seen how he throws a party, I think he is already me in far too many ways. But I don't mind it, if he doesn't.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Meeting Face To Facebook

I have been spending a lot of time on Facebook.com lately. So, MySpace.com, if you are reading this, you know where I have been most nights these past few weeks. I hope you won't be mad. It's not you. It's me.

My first online social love was Friendster.com in 2003 and it was a glorious adventure. Friendster is a dream for stalking people, which is why I link to it so liberally in my blog. It's always the first and easiest place to find anyone you casually bump into at a party or meet at Bowery Bar. I was one of the first gay adopters of Friendster in NYC (Hell, one of the first adopters period -- user number 2876 thank you very much) so I like to think I personally turned it into the server crashing nightmare it was when most everyone I know abandoned it a few months later. I still keep my Friendster profile up and, to a certain degree, running, but it is a little bit like colonial Williamsburg now. A functioning place trapped in the past.

I dabbled a bit in Connexion.org land. The nice thing about Connexion: no straight people! If you saw a cute guy, he was a homo. The downside was that he was probably a Denver homo, but a homo just the same. Connexion seemed mostly to be a quickie Friendster knockoff with a political edge to it. It can also be useful for online stalking, but functionally much less interesting than Friendster. Connexion is basically Friendster's slutty kid sister. Different, younger, faster, but still sharing a LOT of the same DNA.

After the radio show launched, music artists kept raving about MySpace.com. I resisted because it seemed like something for the kids. But guests on the show kept talking about what a great organizing tool it was and how useful in informing fans of upcoming events and new developments. So as a show, we jumped in feet first. We each made profiles and we even created a show profile. When I launched my video podcast, it got a page too! Soon, MySpace became the space for me to wallow in during all my free time. True, I was lax in updating my top eight friends, and any new changes there just caused grumblings from those who got dropped or never were included.

I don't know why MySpace became the rock that everyone's ego shattered on, but such was the case when people didn't rank where they thought they should. I have no patience for this. I was only on there for the show, so why would I highlight friends and family who have no connection to the show at all? It is a skewed perspective on what my life is. A public profile for a public life. But private people didn't always see it that way.

More recently, the invites to join Facebook started coming in droves. As soon as it opened up outside its college core, I had to start avoiding the requests like they were calls from creditors. If MySpace was for the kids, Facebook (in my mind) was for the babies. There was no way in hell I was joining a primarily college network. The offers kept coming and serious friends tried to assure me that it was a place for grown-ups. I wasn't buying it. But then everything changed at the Gay Life Expo.

There was much chatter from Terry Goldman and friends about Facebook. Cast in the Doubting Thomas role, I threw myself into the part body and soul. But Jonathan made me see the light. During the course of our brief conversation I determined that we liked the same TV shows and he was even reading "The Nine," which like the Alexander Hamilton Exhibit at the Natural History Museum in 2005, I had been meaning to check out for weeks but had not gotten around to it. So, with his credibility firmly in place, he persuaded me with the final, crucial piece of information that changed my mind: you can play Scrabble on Facebook.

Now my waking hours are spent cramming QI into triple word scores on Scrabulous and battling Australian high school students on Bogglific. I am practically untouchable at Boggle so it is nice to have an outlet for that since Games.com got so sketchy after 9/11. Scrabble is another matter and I remain ever vulnerable to endless defeat as my romantic side is always lured to the fancy word over the high point score. Story of my life. Go for the joke or the bit instead of the money or ambition. Since Jonathan is the reason I joined Facebook, I spend an enormous amount of time being beaten by him at Scrabulous. Not only does he have a fancy education (you know Johns Hopkins is a good school because they throw in that extra S to confuse and thus weed out the idiots), but he is smarter than I am. He does the Sunday Times Crossword in ink, which I would likely only attempt after a pitcher of mimosas and no will to live.

However, I like to think my quick wit has the upper hand. In between rounds of Scrabble, I spend a lot of time leafing through his many photos looking for snappy photo caption opportunties. A photo of Jonathan smiling from inside an apple tree gets "Lot of fruit in that tree" while a strict rectangular pattern of flowers in a garden is declared "The Tomb of the Unknown Florist." He has a strange habit of being photographed with weird blank expressions where his mouth is hanging open which has led to an unfortunate string of captions related to short buses and the Special Olympics. This is probably all just passive-aggressive misery on my part at being bested constantly on the Scrabble board, but mostly I just amuse myself endlessly. He seems enormously patient while I commit this travesty on his treasured photo memories and I apreciate that.

With all of the applications on Facebook, it is easy to kill thousands of hours in a single day without even noticing. Yes, some of them are mildly irritating (do we really need more than one travelled world map application?) while others are downright bizarre (nevermind, the obvious gay angle to my profile, why does Compare People keep asking me if I would rather marry my sister or my sister-in-law? What kind of choice is that?). My friend Alex Kang just keeps lashing out in all directions on Facebook with status updates that started casually enough ("Alex is thinking he still don't "get" Facebook. What do people do on here besides send vampire bites to one another? Do we not have any thing better to do?"), progressed a bit ("Alex is so bored with this site. And he doesn't want to be bitten by vampires, or given eggs to hatch, or the millions of other pointless stuff on this site.") and now borders on mutiny ("Alex is tired of comparing people, stripper naming and defining himself. Is this ALL there is to Facebook?").

Personally I am willing to judge this Facebook by it's cover. It's a game of modern socialism. A website for people with tons of time of their hands (i.e. college students and adult gay men with high powered careers). None of us have kids of our own, so why not just play in the sandbox a little while longer. Lighten up, Alex. Maybe a few rounds of Scrabble will help balance out your Qi.

See? I am learning something! Johns Hopkins here I come!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Back To The Future

Hollywood, USA. April 1996

I am on top of the world. As I blogged before, I have my insanely cushy job at SONY, working Special Events on the old MGM lot. I am making more money than I had ever made in my whole life. I had access to awesome swag (Mary Rielly nightshirt, anyone?) and I was able to get my long suffering friends into glamorous movie premieres featuring big stars (Peter Weller! Neve Campbell! Ricki Lake!). And yet, all of my wildest dreams coming true didn't make me the least bit happy. If anything, it just made me more sad. And then, after only nine months of glitz and excitement, I was unemployed again, a combination of my own lack of ambition and a boss hopped up on Phen-Fen. What followed was a manic-depressive summer of highs (sex with Mitch) and lows (a string of low paying crap temp jobs), yet a collision-course that sent me careening into the career I have today. Subsequent years of intense alcohol abuse would normally be enough to wipe it all away, but now it comes flooding back like Christina Applegate's memories on Samantha Who? thanks to my good friend Paul Horne's retro blog: The Horneblower.

Holed up for two months in a string of world class spas in Thailand with nothing better to do than dredge up the past and report on the seedy present, Paul has finally put his creativity and vast tech savvy to good use. I highly recommend his current and past blog, although for me, the joy and the heartache are all in the past. Things begin with a bang in the premiere issue with our attendance at the Sharon Stone naked Oscar bid "Last Dance" which Paul describes as "In a nutshell: Sharon Stone/Death Row/Made-for-TV Movie. I could barely hear the film over Derek's snoring, but from the wisp of a plot I could find, you could cut the tension with a gossamer thread. I did think the anguish of the death penalty debate was effectively "fleshed out" when a prime witness--who happened to be a stripper--could only answer questions while gyrating in pasties over Rob Morrow. " It was not however "our movie" (studio speak for a film we had made). I had met Jeff Hare a few weeks earlier. We were both publicists at studios (I at Columbia-TriStar, he at Disney) so we agreed to swap movie premiere invites. He sent us off to "Last Dance" at the Director's Guild and I think I was able to return the favor once before I got shit canned three weeks later. I don't remember sleeping through the movie but pretty much everything else, from Faye Dunaway alphabetizing the candy to Sharon Stone's death stares on our way out, feels completely accurate.

As I leaf through his blog, I can feel the countdown to my demise at SONY. The following week, we are at the premiere of "The Craft," my last movie at the studio, and I was once again talent escorting, this time at the VH-1 Honors. Although as I recall, I got there late or they didn't have an assignment for me or something because I have no recollection of the event outside of waiting behind the Universal Amphitheater for a shuttle bus. See! The alcohol is working! Just so long as I never decide to write a memoir. I click the link to week three and bam!, I am already unemployed.

Paul makes no mention of it but when I see his movie review for Twister "Ooooh... windy. If you can't see it now on a big screen with a big audience and surround sound, then wait for the ride at Universal." I know exactly what week it is. I am fired but don't care because I have tons of money saved up and in severance, and I have just reconnected with Mitch. Our fateful meeting for coffee at The Abbey (remember when they used to serve coffee) turned quickly into five solid hours of sweaty sex in his apartment. I could have stayed all night, but in those pre-Moviefone days, my unemployed ass had agreed to buy everyone's tickets that morning at the Chinese Theater and everyone's Friday night fun at the opening night of Twister was sitting in my shoe on the floor.

However, I don't dwell on what happened to my life for long because I am quickly drawn into Paul's classic, brilliant stories including "You Can't Throw It Away -- It's A Cookie" (scroll down). But he really hit his stride with "Cafe Gal." The Horneblower led to an extremely brief stint as a columnist, writing "Enough About You" for Detour until the magazine folded (though not before his brilliant first column Starbuckers appeared). Then undaunted by the failure of Detour he went and launched his own magazine HERO.

It is fun to look back on it all now. The cutting edge technology of it all. Email newsletters! Cellular phones! My own AOL Keyword! Janeane Garofalo, movie star! I can't regret anything that happened there because it all set in motion the life I have today. Paul is back writing, and the technology has improved quite a bit since then. Now its RSS feeds instead of emails, blogs instead of newsletters. I am still friends with Jeff Hare, who left Disney for Warner Bros., but never did invite me back to another premiere. And I still have my Mary Rielly nightshirt. I kept it all these years and for a reason that didn't even exist back in April 1996.

eBay.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Puttin' On The Ritz

I am a hermit. But I look like the party planner from Sears compared to my roommate Mike. Mike never likes to leave the house, nor does he like to meet new people. Two weeks ago, when D-A-N tried to engage him in conversation he did his best impression of a cigar store Indian and D-A-N beat it on the lam. I don’t think his boyish charm is used to such a stoic rebuff. So when Mike announced earlier this week that he had been invited to a party, I campaigned like Tracy Flick for him to attend.

Apparently some of the guys from work were having a “So Bad It’s Good” holiday movie party. Being the forceful encourager, I naturally had to attend the party as well, thus guaranteeing Mike would go. Plus, ever since we stopped working together, whenever Mike talks about life at the office, I feel like he is describing a favorite TV show on a channel my cable company doesn’t offer anymore (Seriously FiOS, why no MSNBC????). Unfortunately, median ages dropped like an anvil in a Tex Avery cartoon since I left the company four years ago, and I walked into the youngest group of people I have seen since a high school class toured through SIRIUS last month.

It was a straight party, which was for the best. It is bad enough looking across the room and seeing a cute guy, it’s worse to think he is precisely half your age. At least in a room full of straight people, I could just concentrate on the bad movies at hand and not worry about my libido. We walked in during the finale of Jack Frost, a cheesy horror flick about a serial killer whose DNA accidentally bonds with snow and turns him into a murderous snowman. The effects were about on the level of a third grade play at a very nice public school. Once the film was over, we watched 60 minutes of classic TV show intros as an intermission before the next feature, along with some remodeled intros from a heavenly site called FatalFarm.com (The Facts of Life is my favorite, followed by Cheers, but honestly they are all pretty terrific).

In many ways, it was like attending a party in the future. The house had computers hooked up to the TVs and everything ran off the Xbox 360. It was Hollywood’s worst nightmare of copyright infringements gone amok, but I have to say, it was all so delightfully easy. The second feature was “Silent Night, Deadly Night” about a sweet boy named Billy who becomes convinced that Santa Claus is a killer doling out death to the naughty. Later, he grows up to be a sexy, troubled teen, who went forced to play Santa in a wildly overstaffed corner toy store, assumes the identity himself and goes on a murderous rampage. Along the way, we learn that no one owns a bra and nuns are pretty useless. Hilarity, as they say, ensues.

The film stars Robert Brian Wilson as the sexy deranged teen, an actor last seen in an episode of Jake and the Fat Man. His shirtless moments refocused my libido away from the sexy teens at the party and his wilderness of a hairy ass in his one complete nude scene reminded us instantly that this was 1984, no matter how futuristic the party was otherwise. The movie wasn’t that bad, although the filmmakers clearly had a massive hard-on for Psycho and borrowed liberally from the plot and shot list. The budget of the movie however was so low that at one point a woman refrains from breaking a storefront window to escape because they clearly couldn’t afford the replacement cost.

After the party, Mike and I left to find Jonathan who had been in Brooklyn but by then was partying it up at The Ritz. I had never heard of the bar, but it has only been open for six months, which is fast for me to discover a hip new place. We walked in to the familiar strains of Salt N Pepa doing “Push It” while an early twenty-something crowd giggled with oldies hits delight. At the bar, a fifty year old balding man in a fuzzy short fur coat and rings on each finger clutched a glass of red wine while ogling the bartender’s exposed torso. “That’s me in five years.” I whispered in Mike’s ear, although his askance glance told me it was closer than I thought. From across the bar, I spotted the back of Jonathan’s head moving toward the upstairs. I pushed through the twinks and made my way up the narrow staircase and greeted him in the calmer oasis of the second floor lounge.

Jonathan had already been drinking all night and his “Frak Me” t-shirt seemed less a come on than a declaration of sheer exhaustion. We chatted once again about all of our favorite shows, which is easy to do since we love all the same shows. In fact, I have yet to find anything that we don’t agree on. He is even excited about my Friday night murder ladies (aka ABC’s Women’s Murder Club). The show has been called Sex and the City in a morgue but it’s more like the episode of the Golden Girls where Dorothy solves the murder mystery, but with expensive shoes and a winter color palette. I implored Jonathan to search YouTube for stray clips of my childhood love “Partners In Crime” and sealed the deal with an anecdote about stars Loni Anderson and Lynda Carter wandering into a San Francisco theater and being mistaken for drag queens. We laughed. We shared a Coke and the belief that Diet Coke makes you fat.

It turns out that Jonathan lives mere steps away from the straight party we had attended earlier in the evening. And even though it was out of the way, since we were parked right outside The Ritz, I assured him it would be no trouble to give him a ride home. It is freezing outside now after all. And the journey back downtown allowed Mike and I to be once again in the vicinity of the Taco Bell on 14th Street. Unlikely earlier in the evening when ye just joked about abandoning hope and all entering here, at 2am we did just that. Along with Battlestar Galactica, Veronica Mars, and Arrested Development, Jonathan also shares our love of the bell and a pair of grilled stuft burritos and a soft taco later, we were back on our way downtown.

Jonathan safely dropped off, and our greasiest cravings sated, Mike and I headed back up into suburbia. Okay, so maybe the party didn’t help either of our social skills. We could have stared at a bad movie just as easily at home and skipped the BBQ chips they served. But we did visit a new gay bar. True, Jonathan is already over it, citing its inconsistent DJing, capped by a 30 minute long version of Gimme More. But we ventured out of our comfort zone and down into the secret world of social people. So that has to count for something. Besides, it was the last night before the snow comes, and there will be time enough for hibernating now that winter is officially here.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Jingle Balls

I am a double Scorpio with a Gemini moon. This is my way of excusing my intensely private nature. Even though I have spent the last decade writing about my life and half that time talking about it daily on the radio, there are still vast aspects of my life I prefer to keep to myself. In the finale of Six Degrees Of Separation, I find my life’s thesis. I too am not interested in reducing (and thereby diminishing) every aspect of my life to a witty anecdote, parsed out at luncheons and swank cocktail parties. But in this case, I am willing to make an exception because I am an inveterate storyteller and can’t pass up the opportunity to tell what I think is a particularly entertaining tale about myself, no matter how personal it might be.

A few weeks ago, I was in the throes of another birthday. I don’t relish getting older, but as my mother has always insisted based on no evidence whatsoever, it beats the alternative. So it was in this mindset that as I was soaping up carefully in the shower, I found a lump in one of my testicles. Normally, I am a vigorous sudser, working myself up into a lathered frenzy. But just days earlier I had strained my back while aggressively shampooing (still better than the alternative? I wonder) so I was trying to be a little more cautious. In my lack of haste, the lump became apparent and right there in the shower the end of my life flashed before my eyes. Cancer! Balls chopped off. Chemotherapy. My beloved hair in clumps in my hands. If Sweeney Todd had left a straight razor in my shower, I’d be dead right now.

Hurried scans through webmd.com and Wikipedia assured me that even if it was cancer, it was 95% curable and likely would only require one of my balls to be chopped off. In this case, I mused, it would beat the alternative. But since I live in the world of worst case scenarios, I prepared myself to hear six months to live when I saw my doctor a few weeks later. I scheduled an appointment as soon as I could but in the meantime, I did have a previously scheduled dermatologist appointment. So I figured, one doctor was as good as another in doling out the bad news. So when my dermatologist asked “Is there anything else?” I happily journeyed outside his specialty with him and encouraged him to rummage around in my junk like it was a yard sale and see if he could find anything worthwhile.

My dermatologist, ever a good sport, obliged my mania and felt me up. He groped behind my left testicle and felt what I felt. He opined that it was probably nothing but that I should keep my appointment with my regular doctor and have him run some tests. The following week, I was in my regular doctor’s office, my underwear around my ankles, my junk on display again. This time, my doctor had real difficulty finding specifically what I was freaked out about. He said he felt a “fullness” but not a mass, which he suspected was not cancer. Besides, he assured me with all late 30s of me hanging out for the world to see, that testicular cancer is a cancer of the young and therefore probably not a worry for me. So he ran some tests and gave me a referral for a scrotal ultrasound and a visit to the urologist.

I know that some men guard their genitals like they are state secrets in a time of war. Personally, I have never understood the notion of being pee shy. Yes, it is annoying when you are trying to urinate in a gay bar and some guy leans over so far you start to know what a drinking fountain must feel like. But as a rule, if someone wants to see my cock and balls, what do I care? I am perfectly content with them, so have a look. It’s not like I haven’t been looked at before. When it comes to disrobing for doctors, I am even less shy. In order to work successfully in retail, you have to take the attitude that the money changing hands is not the same as the money in your wallet, and I imagine genitals are the same way for health care professionals. They dispassionately count it out and put it back in the drawer, like a bank teller in a white coat. This attitude was seriously tested however at the ultrasound.

First of all, since it was an ultrasound, I journeyed to a women’s clinic and naturally was the only man sitting there. Having seen plenty of medical shows, I knew how an ultrasound worked, and I imagined that running that wand over my balls would be a fairly zippy procedure. I was directed to a small changing room where a shorty pink robe awaited me. I changed and dashed across the sterile hallway to the exam room. Being nervous always activates my already weak bladder, so the second I laid down I had to pee. But it was already too late. I had to just go for it and hope that I didn’t accidentally pee all over myself in the midst of the exam.

The ultrasound technician was a very nice young black woman and the first woman since being a baby to manhandle the goods. She was very dignified about it, casually draping a large paper napkin over my genitals and directing me to slide it up over my stomach so that my penis could be simultaneously covered and pulled out of the way. I described my lump and where it was and then she set about to map my reproductive system like a cartographer. She squeezed the gooey ultrasound gel on my balls like ReddiWip. The wanding went on for what seemed like forever, and on top of wanting to pee, I also had the desperate urge to fart too, which I knew would be the height of rudeness with her hand on my balls. So like my terror, I held it all inside while I tried to read her blank expression for sudden signs of cancer discovery. Her expression never changed and after twenty minutes of mapping she asked me to point out directly where the bad lump touched me. I pointed it out and she went over it from every angle. “I am just going to show your film to the doctor and then we should be all done.” She declared dispassionately and left me alone in the room.

Moments later, a nice Asian lady who looked to be about 14 years of age came in and announced that she was the doctor. She told me that she had looked over my ultrasound but was still unclear about the location of this lump I left. I rummaged around in my junk like it was a disorganized handbag trying to find what I was looking for. The gel made grasping any part of my balls slippery work, like trying to rescue a panicked bird from an oil slick. In my fevered attempts, I had significant trouble finding it myself. I tried staying on my back, then moving onto my side, and finally, standing up. At this point, I abandoned all hope of dignity and just let my junk swing in the wind as my hand molested my ball sack. “I am not crazy. I know it’s in here,” I insisted, filled with panic that she would now think I was some kind of weirdo that got off on exposing himself to the ladies in a medical setting.

We both looked at the monitor together. “That’s your testicle” she told me, pointing to an egg shaped pale mass. I marveled at what a perfect oval I had, which temporarily distracted me. There was a sea of darkness next to it. “Those are blood vessels over there. It seems like you just have a lot of blood vessels, which might be what you are feeling. It is not uncommon to have extra blood vessels it is just unusual that you just now noticed it. But we will send off the results to your doctor in the next four days and he will go over it with you.”

"Big blood vessels," I thought as I put my clothes back on, gingerly trying to avoid getting the gel that was all over my hands and balls on the rest of my outfit. Maybe I had a blood clot in there and at some point it will travel from my balls to my brain and give me a stroke! Sometimes you don’t even need to consult a doctor or the internet to get crazy ideas. So I will see my urologist and my regular doctor in the coming weeks and likely will hear that the only issue with my balls is a lack of symmetry. Not the worst thing that ever happened to anyone. As usual, the worst things in my life are happening in my own head and my genitals are merely supporting players in the larger drama of my life. But I guess it beats the alternative.