Monday, June 30, 2008

This Is The Life!

“There seem to be more of them than usual.”

Many years before OverheardInNewYork, I overheard in New York a woman talking to her husband about all the gay men on the subway train. She was right of course. It was June 1994 and my boyfriend of the time and I were there for the 25th anniversary of Stonewall. The Gay Games were also happening and we were on the subway going to Yankee Stadium for the closing ceremonies. A year earlier we had flown to DC for the March On Washington where we thrilled to the sight of RuPaul in a red white and blue outfit spinning her heart out, our very own Barbie come to life and dressed as Wonder Woman. It was a great time to be gay.

We didn’t know at the time that the AIDS crisis was at its zenith, but there was feeling in the air that everything was changing. The Act Up protesters at the March On Washington slowed down the parade with their chalk outline demonstration in front of the White House, so the massive California contingent, annoyed and relegated to the back of the line, ditched the parade route altogether and beat everyone to the mall to get good seats at the show. There we all were. A sea of white Don’t Panic t-shirts and denim shorts as far as the eye could see. A year later in New York, not much had changed. We felt a real momentum going, like the first twenty five years were good but the next twenty five would alter the whole world.

I live in New York now. Thanks to the AIDS cocktails, the crisis as we once knew it, on the streets and in films like the devastating “Silverlake Life: The View From Here” is a distant memory. At the parade today, a massive section near Rockefeller Center was set out for the protesters, but only four people showed up, including one very cross old lady holding a very expressive cross. I joked with Jack Mackenroth that next year we should come as protesters so we can get a good seat and really spread out with some lawn chairs and maybe an ice chest.

Jack and I were invited by Clay to the parade viewing party thrown by In The Life, the long running PBS documentary series. How fitting that my mind should wander to the early heady days of the Clinton administration, when gays felt a real visibility and force and In The Life was born. Their offices overlook Fifth Avenue, just across from the stoic yet lovably quirky Flatiron Building, a perfect place to view the parade. Personally I think the parade is too long. At this point, as the gay community reaches middle age, it is time to step it up people. Inclusion is a nice buzzword but it makes for one exceedingly long and boring parade. When the name of your organization is too long to fit on a single line on the side of a float, you are just overreaching. And maybe it is time to rethink your mission statement. And those shoes.

At this point, I think the gay pride parade in New York should be like the Rose Parade in Pasadena. Narrow the number of entries down to less than fifty and make people submit their float concepts or audition, and only the best get in. Our parade should be a show piece. The Lion King performed with anti-gravity! Grand, spectacular, and televised nationally to awe Middle America with the wonders and ingenuity of the gay community. Instead it is just like any other boring parade but with what seems like endless supplies of both welcome and unnecessary nudity (some people are so hot they should be barred from ever wearing clothes while some women of a certain age and size just should NOT be in only tassels).

Steven and Marty were also there, although I learned that most people call him Martin and somehow I accidentally nicknamed him all on my own. That has not deterred me. This is Marty’s first summer in New York and Steven is visiting from Kansas City, so the parade was new to them, although it would seem they shared my lack of enthusiasm. Later Jack’s friend Chris joined us too and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out where I knew him from. After an hour of conversation, Jack mentioned that his sister found him on my blog in an entry about fisting, and suddenly all of the pieces fell into place. “I am the cute blond guy who never fucked Michael Lucas,” Chris declared, his initial irritation at having his Connexion page linked to having long since subsided.

It was a charming gathering but after three days of partying and what seems like non-stop blogging, I was just worn out. The weather had been alternating humid heat and torrential downpour, so I used a brief break in the bad weather to make my exit when everyone else decided to abandon the party and head out among the people. For most of them, the Pier Dance awaits, but for me, I am on gay overload. Time to pack up my gayness, condense it into blog form and head home. And along the way, my mind drifted back to the whole reason we gathered together today in the first place.

Like me and a few others I know, Jack is a 1969 baby. We were born the same year as the Stonewall riots that launched the modern gay movement. And in a way, it is approaching middle age in the same way we are. It was a happy go lucky childhood filled with promise, and then just before puberty, AIDS struck, leaving those of us in the Stonewall Generation with the prospect that as soon as we lost our virginity, certain death awaited us. It was an awkward adolescence, raised suddenly by the lesbians who took charge of everything when the gay men died, and we had to find our own identities as men after the generation before us was decimated. But once we got into our twenties, things really smoothed out. We came out and became accepted and went on with our lives.

Next year, we and Stonewall will be forty. Maybe the gay community is waiting for fifty to make another big splash but let’s face it. In the gay world, forty is the new fifty. The gay community is facing an identity crisis. Our institutions we relied on as our backbone (GLAAD, HRC, etc) have lost their √©lan and we have questioned their current purpose. And maybe it is our midlife crisis that has us abandoning the Clintons (our first loves) in droves for that fresh young thing Obama. It’s all botox and biceps now in our struggle to remain relevant, and we seem as generationally disconnected from the gay teens coming up now as we were from our own parents so many years ago.

So let’s ditch the overly long parade, the vodka cranberry and the worn out circuit party. It’s time for something new. As the gay community marches into middle age, it is time for an extreme makeover: homo edition. Let’s bring together our best and brightest reality show contestants to whip up something really amazing for 2009. It’s time to show the world that we can still be cool, still be bold. After all, being seen in something you shouldn't be wearing is not cutting edge anymore, it's how the rest of America goes to the mall. But let’s just make it one reasonably short day and have plenty of comfortable seats in the shade. Because let’s face it, we aren’t as young as we used to be.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Messcapade

As gay as I am, there are some things I am just not gay enough for. For instance, this underwear I have on. It’s a pair of Ginch Gonch boxer briefs. I wear them when I am at the end of the line with clean underwear. They have a blue floral pattern on them with white detailing and I would bet the farm that I got them in a gift bag at some gay event somewhere. In fact, I have an additional four pair of extra small Ginch Gonch briefs which have HereTV stamped on them so I know exactly where they came from should I ever lose forty pounds and my nut sack and decide to wear them someday.

My favorite price point for clothing? Free. The cute purple shirt that Otter Fashion sent me, that I wear all the time, was a big hit tonight at David Coleman’s party. But the same could not be said for these damn boxer briefs. They have some kind of stitch nexus point right underneath my right ball that chafes my thigh like it hates me and my whole family. It bugged me all day in the city and it was a not so gentle reminder that even though I am gay, I am not always a full time player in the gay community. It seemed appropriate to wear them though because it is pride weekend. I should wear my gayest underwear on the gayest weekend of the year. And since it is day two of three days of parties, I figured I should keep escalating the gay until it reaches some kind of bizarre crescendo around 4pm on Sunday.

I was really on a roll earlier today working on the house, and if Clay hadn’t been in town for the weekend, I would have skipped the city altogether. After all, the gutters aren’t going to clean and cover themselves, and Roommate is right, they are so overgrown with foliage they look like a small planter box surrounding the eaves. Even though the gutter guards are basically worthless, I got up on my death trap of a ladder, scooped them out with my hands and then jammed the guards in as best I could. I did this shirtless since I will be in a bathing suit on the 4th and I don’t want to blind strangers with my iridescent paleness. “Really?” my roommate chided me as I climbed high enough for the entire street to see my back fat, “Shirtless?” I guess I am plenty gay after all.

Later at David’s party, surrounded by a sea of worked out torsos, I returned to feeling not gay enough. It was a bit of a welcome back party for the adorable Josh, who moved to Los Angeles four months ago to pursue a new dream in a new city. I was looking forward to going because I knew it was a crowd Clay’s own massive arms would like and I have been looking for a reason to spar, Hepburn/Tracy-style with the dashing Barton Brooks. It was Mr. Brooks himself who came up with the catchphrase of the night “messcapade” to describe my last appearance there, making out in the most shameless fashion with Gary, a perky blond college boy. That night, Gary, who I brought with me, replaced the party iPod with his iPod and proceeded to entertain everyone with the entire Britney canon, of which he was dutifully obsessed. Eerily, Jonathan, one of the people I invited to the party this time, replaced the party iPod with his iPhone and entertained everyone with the entire Madonna canon, of which he is dutifully obsessed. I fear my party invites, rare as they are, might quickly dry up.

Then again, the parties themselves may dry up, oh but that is a story for later. First, you need to hear about the other parade of hot men at the party. Clay chatted up Josh whom he met before he met me, and even expressed surprise at how many people they both knew in common, though independently. “When you have big arms, Manhattan is a very small town,” I assured him, an instantly classic truism met enthusiastically by Josh. As if to prove my point, Conor arrived on cue, muscles bulging yet looking as soulfully wistful as ever. Even Erik Bottcher was there, taller than I would have expected, and second only to Shawn Hollenbach as my most frequently spotted one-degree-away internet connection.

Later I got cornered quite happily in the kitchen by the endlessly handsome Henry who was downing Absolut New Orleans and club soda like he had somewhere to be in a hurry and he wanted to make sure he couldn’t make it. His sweet boyfriend Dan made frequent circles around checking up on the whereabouts of my hands and later when I insisted I was coming back to their apartment for New Year’s Eve whether they were having a party again this year or not, he smiled at me like he had already filed for a restraining order.

Eventually I settled on the couch with Barton for some classic sparring. We talked about his pending good will trip around the world, helping people in more than thirty countries over a one year period. I compared it to a cross between the Amazing Race and Oprah’s Big Give, though obviously without the Ugly American racism of one and the massive ego of the other. Barton is a good person with good arms who makes me feel bad about myself because I am not such a good person, as opposed to just a person with not such good arms. Meanwhile, Steven and his nice arms arrived to encircle Clay in his charms but mostly I saw him across the room having a good time.

The giant arms continued to pour in and the party swelled to dangerous proportions, prompting me to ask one of the guests “how soon until the floor collapses?” It didn’t. On the other hand, I did continue to collapse my underdeveloped carcass on the couch, waiting with Barton for the occasional a/c breezes that would waft over the sea of tight t-shirts and blue plastic cups filled with vodka. Soon, adorable Mark, the massage therapist I met at a previous party joined me on the couch and we had a grand time discussing the crowd and his own obsession: the musical version of The Visit with Chita Rivera.

Even though the party was supposed to end at eleven, it was still in full swing as the clock across Union Square threatened to strike twelve. Suddenly, as if Cinderella herself were running the show and didn’t want to lose a good shoe, the lights went on full, the iPod stopped and David announced, like Ingrid Bergman in Notorious, that the party was over. The gays were slow to leave, most of them unfamiliar with the concept of a to-go cup, so some polite shoving began after about ten minutes. I was going to stick around and help Mark clean up, but Clay and Steven got ushered out and I didn’t want to get separated from my charges.

The hallway was filled with gays waiting for the elevators, and only one of the cars seemed to be working. Some, like Clay, opted to take the stairs, but most chose to remain behind to wait for the next car. I got into one car, but Steven got left behind. Stopping on the tenth floor, Clay got on with a gaggle of gays who couldn’t make it all the way to the lobby until their own power. Clay and I waited in the lobby with Taylor, who was hot to trot in his City Boy t-shirt and didn’t care who he went home with as long as it was Clay or Steven. Eventually, Steven arrived, though when he did, the elevator stopped about six inches below the floor. Not a good sign.

We decamped to Therapy, which had a huge line. So we all peed at Bamboo 52 and then started over for Vlada. Along the way we ran into three gays who recognized us from the party. “We just got out!” they told us, “The elevator got stuck and firemen had to open it and pull us all out. It was crazy!” Poor David. What a messcapade! And what a way for fourteen gay men to learn a valuable physics lesson that muscle really is heavier than fat. There was a line at Vlada too but it was much shorter and faster than Therapy, so I left the boys there and headed for the train home.

On my walk to the train, I passed a woman slumped down on the corner of a building, blind drunk, trying with no luck to send a text message. I asked her if she needed any help but she just waved me on. At Grand Central, a guy was throwing up outside while his friends looked on. “Better here than on the train,” I told his female friend as she looked on annoyed. Inside, Grand Central quite literally smelled like vomit, something I had never experienced before. I didn’t relish the heterosexual disaster the train would be but I did welcome the journey home. As much as I need the gays for regular sex, fun parties, and laughter at their expense, the only messcapade I am interested in these days is the one awaiting me in my gutters at home.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Transitions

New York City is in a constant state of flux. O Henry once aptly predicted that “It will be a great place if they ever finish it.” Living here, it is the kind of thing you get used to. Buildings get torn down. People move away. Even the seasons, when they end, do so with such a brutal finality it borders on intolerable cruelty. The most frequent NYC transition involves a change of address. Even though it seems like a lease (like any bad relationship) will never end, eventually it does and people move up, on, down, or out. Ben Harvey decided to use his last weekend in his old Chelsea apartment to celebrate the end of an era for himself and, since it was Dave Rubin’s birthday yesterday, the end of a year for Dave as well.

Ben’s apartment was a cozy L-shaped studio in a modern building with modern furnishings. It is the kind of apartment tower that has flourished in the city over the past decade like dandelions, at once adorable and annoyingly ubiquitous. Since he is moments from moving out, the place is pretty cleaned out, save for a few leftover pieces of furniture and (thanks largely to the guests) a refrigerator chock full of liquor. It felt like the endless parade of hot twenty-somethings all arrived carrying a bottle of vodka with them. Maybe they do that so that their bicep is flexed and huge as they walk through the door, or maybe they are just being thoughtful guests. Worried about neither the size of my upper arms or being nice, I came empty-handed.

Some of the usual suspects were there (like Jonathan and Ben’s rascally cousin Christian), but mostly it was filled with people I don’t know. This is my least favorite kind of party since I hate meeting new people. However, one of the first people I met was the delightful Anne (aka Lesbi-Anne), a stand-up comedian with surprisingly nice taste in clothes for a comic and/or lesbian. Ben’s friend Zach, anxious for a blog mention apparently, was also there, and much calmer than my first encounter with him at Ben’s new apartment three months ago. Unfortunately, he was so calm, nothing much happened between us and I have nothing really to say about him other than he was there and he was tall.

My friend Clay joined the party too. He came in town for pride weekend and was instantly dejected by the fashion at the party. The locals were all dressed in various shades of blue, Manhattan’s summer version of basic black. Upbeat and chipper in a bright green shirt, Clay stuck out in a good way in a sea of drab. “What is wrong with everyone? It’s Spring!” he declared, less than a week into Summer. But point taken. New York gays love a man in uniform, even if the uniform is expensive denim jeans and a blue, grey or black t-shirt.

Bucking the drab shirt trend was new arrival Steven, in town from Kansas City, where everything’s up to date. Steven was visiting his friend Marty and joined in the fun in Ben’s apartment, in a clingy white t-shirt that left little to the imagination. Fortunately gay men don’t like to use their imaginations, so he was a big hit. For me, the big excitement was finally meeting the notorious Shawn Hollenbach. I have never met him in person, but his photo has haunted me from Friendster to MySpace to Facebook and beyond. We probably have the most friends in common of two people who had, before tonight, never met. It this regard, the party felt like mission accomplished.

The party moved from inside Ben’s apartment to the roof deck and back, as guests refilled their glasses and then returned to the breathtaking view and perfectly cool summer night. The south view off the roof was really something to see, and there is just something great about the canyons of high rises in Manhattan. They are majestic from every angle, though nothing beats the view from on high. Eventually, building security (as Ben had predicted they would) kicked everyone out of the roof deck and the drunks poured back into the apartment like wet cement, chunky slow and in fear of drying out too quickly. A bunch of us settled onto the couch for a series of photos I am certain to never see again, outside of a tagging frenzy on Facebook. This is fine since I generally hate all photos of myself, so I am happy to see the vast majority of them vanish into thin air.

As always happens, the drunk train was calling so I had to dash while everything was still in full swing. Clay offered for me to stay with him at the W since they upgraded him to a massive suite. “Who needs three walk in closets in a hotel room?” he asked from inside an apartment roughly the size of three walk in closets. Maybe tomorrow night, Clay. Christian, who wasn’t wearing any underwear (no surprise) and kept showing off his tramp stamp tattoo, which looked something like a folded out Rubik’s cube if you made one with origami, also offered me to stay with him. “You don’t mind cats do you?” That wasn’t the pussy I had in mind, so I figured I best stick with the train.

On the walk to Grand Central, I spied another New York landmark. It is almost impossible not to see at least one of them and I purposefully walked up Fifth Avenue just to catch a glimpse. And suddenly there it was, the nearest thing to heaven we have in New York City: the Empire State Building. The lights were off because it was after midnight, with just a UFO-like ring of lights around the top of the tower, but even in the dark, it is as beautiful as ever. The city around it can change all that it wants, but that building always stays the same. Elegant and cool, it is living proof in the heart of Manhattan that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Carry On

New York City is a place of adventure. When you live here, it is easy to forget that. You get caught up in the routine of it all, or distracted by a smelly homeless guy pushing a shopping cart, and the magic spell can fade. And then, just as suddenly as it began, you rediscover your love of the city, and it is alive with adventure and the wonderment is fresh again. This is what happened to me.

Tonight started as a fairly run-of-the-mill trip out to Gym Bar. Hottie Zach has been out of town for weeks on various errands and I have been adrift in a sea of pride events across the country. I have been pressing him to reconnect and finally tonight we managed to get together. He asked if Roommate was coming along too, so I sent him a text message to join us and after my second one, he agreed to be there after the show.

I was the first to arrive at the bar, which happens sometimes. I have a reputation for being tardy, so when I actually show up on time somewhere I am invariably alone. As it happens, I lucked out with the One Train and arrived five minutes early. The sports bar was packed with the usual crowd of scruffy thirty-something men just beginning to blossom into bear-hood. I made my way through the place, casually looking around for the friends I knew wouldn’t be there yet while actually searching for an open corner to hide in until they arrived. Unfortunately, busy gay bars rarely have unoccupied nooks and I had to make do with a slot sandwiched in between three guys and an empty bar chair.

While waiting, the tallest of the three men introduced himself. He was Lucas, recently relocated to New York City by way of Chicago and before that Houston. Lucas asked lots of questions about the bar, how often I was there, and if Wednesday was my usual night. It turns out that he and his two roommates were all flight attendants for Continental. “International!” he insisted, which I guess is more high end. I fly all the time so the ability to open a Coke can 50,000 feet over open water doesn’t have the kind of magical allure to me that it must have for others Lucas has engaged over the years. Or perhaps it has never worked and he has yet to realize that the swinging 60s are over and his Boeing Boeing existence is not filled with the jet set glamour and intrigue it once held. An alternate theory might be built around the fact that despite being a SIRIUS subscriber, he had never heard of my show, didn’t know SIRIUS had a gay channel, and only ever listened to The Beat.

Our conversation quickly fell to long patches of silence and his friends made very little effort to engage us either. Lucas must have been after me and not roping for his shy friend in the t-shirt with the kitty surrounded by writing on it that more than implied that his pussy belonged to Daddy. That is probably for the best, since for someone to realistically be his Daddy, he would need to be on the sunny side of sixty. As soon as Zach arrived moments later, Lucas and company took one look at his velvety soft brown eyes, cream cheese smooth skin and muscle-packed torso in his simultaneously loose and tight fitting t-shirt, folded their weak hands and walked away from the table. I barely had time to introduce him before they zeroed in on other prey by the dart board. Roommate arrived seconds after Zach, a beer firmly in his hands (“You know I always keep one in my backpack just in case,” he joked), but already the flight attendants were a dim memory.

Zach was as pretty as ever, if a little forlorn. The magic spirit of Manhattan has left him and he hasn’t even gotten to the miseries of August yet. I think his expectations for the city might have been too high when he moved here last fall. In any event, he needs something dramatic to shake things up and make this the city of his dreams. He asked me who I thought might be the secret surprise guest at the Pier Dance on Sunday. I decided on the spot that it must be Madonna. She was just photographed at a baseball game here in the city and her tours usually coincide with gay pride, except this year. I find it hard to believe, with a new album and tour to promote, that she would miss out on the free publicity boost such a surprise appearance would make. Also, I heard that the surprise performance disappointed last year and the organizers are probably anxious to make an extra big splash this year, and nothing would top Madonna. Nothing.

We mused on the weekend pride plans since they both are joining me at the parade viewing party on Sunday. They consumed several beers. I peed in the men’s room even though it smelled like a dead homeless guy. Zach confided that he lost seven pounds on a low carb diet while I wondered what pounds he could possibly have had to lose. The hands spun around the clock over our heads and before long it was time to catch a cab to get the 12:12 train home. The only problem: no cabs! Suddenly, it was a taxi shortage. There were groups of people waiting on every corner, and Eighth Avenue, usually the sight of dozens of free cabs, looked like a scene from I Am Legend, except without tall weeds growing up through the pavement. Leaving Zach and facing the realities of an almost certainly missed train, Roommate and I ducked into XES for one more drink before walking to the station to catch the 1:00am train.

XES is a cozy nook of a neighborhood bar that was the site of a horrible nightcap with Roommate and Jonathan after the Dolly Parton concert in May. That night an excruciating drag queen attempted suicide with a microphone and a series of shot glasses, almost dragging the rest of the patrons down with her. Tonight it was karaoke, but as Roommate pointed out, it was still better than that drag queen. I ordered him a Blue Moon and we discussed at length how perfect the bartender was for Roommate. Meanwhile, bartender sat in the corner wolfing down a salad from Hale & Hearty like he hadn’t eaten in a month, which his tight, toned body seemed to confirm.

After XES, we walked up Sixth Avenue to Grand Central. By now the weird taxi shortage had ended and the streets were an embarrassment of yellow, lighted riches. The city was filled with the sounds of New York (aka a woman yelling “Fuck you bitch!”) and I was starting to feel the magic of adventure again. At Bryant Park, I spied a Mr. Softee truck and decided to indulge my permanent craving for a vanilla soft serve cone. “I’ll have a large please.” I told Mr. Softee, a reasonably hot, twenty-something Chris Noth clone with a shaved head and relaxed demeanor. Without words he held up a giant waffle cone. “This?” I was horrified. I already had to pee again so bad I considered jumping into the bushes in the park. There was no way even I with my legendary love of ice cream could finish all that in four blocks. “A small then.” He smiled, having been down this road before.

As I walked down 42nd Street with my cone, I was happy. Mr. Softee was filled with the snarky kindness that is a hallmark of Manhattan life. It is almost as if our borough motto is: I don’t care if you live or die, but I am going to tell you something for your own good anyway. I guess you need that kind of world weary wisdom to dish ice cream out of the back of a truck at one in the morning to drunk people. And to live in this city. Some people see it as rude, or brusque, but I see it as basic equipment. This is a practical town. When there isn’t a car, you walk. When you want something, get just enough. We all have the ability to fly away, but sometimes it makes more sense to take what you are given and just make it work for you.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I Am A Camera

I bring my camera out with me on nights on the town like this because I always intend to take photos to better commemorate the evening. After talking to Gary today about his lost camera and the contents of our first fun night together, I am a little sad that my blog and my own memories are all we have left of it. It helps that I was spending tonight with two of the most photogenic and photographed friends I have.

Shaun McCarron, along with his boyfriend Paul, is a model, most recently featured on the Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency. I think the show is a fine diversion thanks to its ample mixture of hunky horseflesh and outlandishly phony drama. It isn’t going to win a Peabody Award anytime soon but it’s always good for a late night zip through on TiVo, scanning from underwear photo shoot to brief moments of mild tension teased and slo-mo played ad nauseum. It really fills the time.

After being on the show Friday and Monday, I told Erik Rhodes that even though we don’t like the same food, go to the same places or have any friends in common, we really should hang out more. He heartily agreed and we decided to go to Bowery Bar tonight, and drag Shaun along with us. So I slipped my camera into the pocket of my cargo shorts and headed downtown. I wore a cute shirt from Old Navy that cost me $6 when I bought it in Utah back in January. It is the perfect thing to wear to a place like BBar, I thought as I passed the French Connection store around the corner, because I am guaranteed to be the only gay there in it. True enough, while someone at the bar was wearing my favorite Club Monaco shirt, I was the only one there in Old Navy.

There was an insane line outside. So long that if I wasn’t meeting several people at the bar, I would have turned and walked away. This is Roommate’s biggest pet peeve with me. He doesn’t understand the point of having a national radio show if it can’t get me to the front of lines at trendy places. But I relish my anonymity in the city and part of me thinks that if I don’t start pressing doormen for favors, I can still hold onto that feeling, even as the phone numbers of the callers creep closer and closer to home. My friend Dan who agreed to meet me out was the first to arrive and he had the same reaction to the line I had. “Don’t worry,” I assured him. “As soon as Erik Rhodes gets here, we won’t be in this line any longer.” Sure as shooting, Erik arrived and hurriedly whisked us to the minor mob of impatient gays in tight t-shirts waiting at the main door.

“This is where all the fags who think they deserve to be inside already stand and wait.” His dismissive attitude of the pretentious boys at the door made me love him even more. Going to a gay bar with Erik Rhodes is like going to the prom with the captain of the football team, and where he thinks the whole high school thing is one big joke. It’s twice the delicious. Naturally, we were swept into the bar faster than you can say tank top weather.

I was glad to be out of the line. Not just because it is humiliating to stand in a long line outside of a virtually empty bar. But also because I was in the line for all of one minute before the homos behind me started the worst conversation I ever had to hear with the opening line, “How was Fire?” The kid meant Fire Island, but after I told occasional Fire Island share veteran Dan that story we both agreed that no one calls Fire Island “Fire.” In one word, they managed to take something that was already obscenely obnoxious and shoot it off into a whole new orbit. I don’t exaggerate when I say they should be stoned to death in the streets.

As much as we trash “the scene” at Bowery Bar, the guys who go there, fueled by the patented blend of drugs, liquor, desperation and sardine-like proximity that has kept it a downtown staple for more than a decade, are surprisingly chatty and friendly. Most gay bars in New York, no one wants to talk to anyone, with the exception of happy hour at Therapy which is so spontaneously kissy at times that it constantly threatens to make mono Manhattan’s most common communicable disease (second only to rudeness to tourists). On my first trip outside to rescue Shaun from the long line, a guy tapped me on the shoulder and told me I had a nice body. I stared at him blankly, asked him where it was, and then kept going. Later a guy walked up to me and said, “Someone put a roofie in my drink. Can you believe it? Come see me later. I’ll be over here.” I am certain I would not get this reaction if I went to Bowery Bar often. It is only because I make an annual pilgrimage that I am greeted as fresh meat.

The same cannot be said for Erik. He could go to that bar every single night and still be a hot property. First he ran into his friend Phil, who threw a birthday party for him two years ago. Phil is a photography student and a “prodigy” according to Erik. I was tempted to do that thing where you pretend like you don’t know someone is a famous photographer and ask them to take a picture of you and your friend in front of something. My camera was in my pocket and I did want a picture of me and Erik since there isn’t one that I can recall, but I got shy and thought better of it. Even Shaun ran into people he knew at the bar. So did Dan and later so did I when the DJ Keo Nozari swept in with his ultra low key cool vibe and sweet smile.

The place was also awash in reality show people. Erik Rhodes of course made a famous splash on My Life On The D List last year when Kathy Griffin ever so patiently stripped him of nine layers of clothing at the GayVN Awards. Shaun was on last season of Janice Dickinson, his ass so delightfully cupped into tiny underwear like two ripe peaches wrapped up in a very expensive napkin. Keo ran into his friend Ronnie who had been one of the contestants on Manhunt, the Bravo male model series (not to be confused, as Keo initially was when I asked him if Ronnie was from Manhunt, with the dirty hook up website). I even saw Project Runway reject Milan sitting at a table, not looking rejected so much as tired and in need of one of those five minute face lifts they are always advertising on late night TV.

I suppose it is too bad that I only took one photo all night. Waiting for the train in Times Square to go down to the bar, I snapped a photo of some funny graffiti scribbled on an ad that I will put in my ongoing New York photo project that I not-so-ironically call “Advertorial.” So this will have to be the only record of the event. The sight of Erik Rhodes putting his head on my shoulder so sweetly, the bags under Milan’s eyes, and the Long Island gay Guido poser who tried to blend in between Shaun and Erik who were oblivious to his presence will live on only in my mind. Maybe Christopher Isherwood was on to something. We are our own cameras, viewing life, shutters open, through our own lenses and filters, and recording. But I am thinking, about the antics we see from our single perspectives, and knowing that we view only what we want to see.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Icon Nicht Anders

I really like Erik Rhodes. I think he is a decidedly misunderstood figure in the world of gay porn. To me, he has the most clear-eyed view of any performer I know. His blog is like Martin Luther posting his grievances on the door of the Catholic Church. Some people think it is all an act, which leaves me incredulous. It’s like the fag-haters who think people choose to be gay because they like being alienated from their families and fired for no reason.

He guest hosted on the show tonight while Romaine is in Denver, visiting her family and emceeing PrideFest. As usual he was filled with truly amazing stories from deep inside the porn world, starting with rimming a straight guy in Las Vegas on camera who thought cleaning his ass meant spritzing it with Polo Sport to closing out the show with a shocking revelation about accidentally shitting himself inside his apartment. His candor is at once alive and heartbreaking and altogether real. A refreshing change from the familiar false notes the gays are always trying to hit in their quest to be accepted and adored.

After the show, we went to Vinyl for dinner. I have been there a few times and mostly I like it because I am addicted to thai iced tea and it is virtually impossible to find. If they sold a mix at the supermarket, I would drink it by the gallon. Erik was starving, downing four energy drinks during the course of the show, and ready for a juicy steak. Like most gay places, the food is fine but the atmosphere and crowd is what you really come for. There was something weird stuck to my knife and I think our waiter was understudying in Avenue Q around the corner in between popping by our table, but you can pee to Viva Las Vegas in the Elvis-themed bathroom and frankly that always gets my juices flowing.

At dinner, I got a text message from the original Jonathan wondering what I was up to. As it turns out, he was in the restaurant, heard a laugh that sounded like mine (it was mine) and then started to wonder what I was doing tonight. He was dining with some skinny friend of his whose name I forgot the moment I heard it. No matter, he was struggling to the point of exhaustion to act nonchalant at the sight of Erik Rhodes. I almost offered him a chair and a cold compress. They ran off after I promised to call them later to join for a drink.

As anyone who reads his blog knows, Erik has had some relationship trouble of late. This has made me very sad because I knew and really liked his now ex-boyfriend. I thought those crazy kids made a fun couple, but then again, I didn’t have to live with them, so I have no idea what life at home was really like. Great couples are always a mystery to outsiders but lousy couples are easy to dissect. I don’t envy Erik out on the dating scene. His massive Godlike frame is intimidating, made even more hulking in the presence of the lithe gays who swirl their way through the Manhattan cocktail scene. Being a world famous porn star doesn't help either. And even though he hates going to gay bars and being with the gays even more than I do, I managed to coax him into joining me and Jonathan for one drink at Vlada.

The Bolsheviks were revolting in my favorite vodka haunt. For some reason, Erik insisted on walking in behind me, leaving me to shove and fight my way through the crowd. When you are out with Erik, honestly he should be the one bulldozing through the crowd. The gays are far more likely to move out of the way and cower in fear when he plows through. Instead, sharp elbows akimbo, I jabbed my way through the downstairs and then made my way up to the second floor. The stairs were a brief respite before we returned to the crowded fray by the upstairs bar.

Jonathan’s favorite bartender (aka the one who gives him free drinks) was working, much to his delight. He didn’t have the ingredients to make the drink I wanted but he made Jonathan happy so that is all that matters. Jonathan was feeling sensitive all night after he asked me at Vinyl if I liked the new thing he was doing with his hair and before I could stop myself and pretend for a moment I was a human being, I tossed out a terse no. He tugged at his hair self-consciously for the rest of the night and laboriously explained that it was in an awkward in between stage before it could finally become the tussled surfer mess he was going for. After my initial rudeness, I attentively engaged him in a much too lengthy conversation about his hair, hoping he would relax for five seconds and stop thinking about the top of his skull.

As promised, we finished our one drink and headed out of the bar. It was a nice cool summer night and Erik and I walked to Grand Central Station, where I boarded my usual drunk train home and he hailed a taxi back to his apartment. As I always do when I see him, I asked him what his post porn plans are. After all, he is the one who told me that no one should stay in porn too long because “once they have seen your pussy, what else do you have?” His post porn plans seem as limited as his dating prospects. He is so iconic in his porn life it is almost impossible to imagine him in any other context. I looked up at the Chrysler Building from 42nd Street and wondered what it must be like to be an icon. In some ways it must be great to be such a gorgeous shining individual, towering majestically over everyone, though it probably gets pretty lonely up there, shimmering in the night sky.