Saturday, August 30, 2008

Live Blogging Hurricane Gustav

For years, I have been trying to convince my friends in gay media to join my call for all gay people to go to New Orleans and support the local economy. Gays do one thing well: travel and spend lots of money. It's just what a down on its heels tourist destination needs. And each year over Labor Day weekend, there is Southern Decadence (sort of gay Mardi Gras), which was blamed by certain bloated TV preachers for Hurricane Katrina. Never mind that very un-gay friendly Mississippi got much worse out of that storm. So each year since then I have traveled down to New Orleans for Southern Decadence to show my support and this year has been no different.

Wednesday, August 27th

8:40pm Tropical storm Gustav begins to appear to be strengthening and heading for New Orleans. Expected landfall: Labor Day. Mike and I decide to see how things are shaping up before deciding to cancel our trip.

Thursday, August 28th

9:10pm Gustav looks headed for hurricane status. I dine with Cyd and Dan and Mike at Rocking Horse in Chelsea. Mike is still firm on going to New Orleans. I decide to see if they announce an evacuation on Friday morning.

Friday, August 29th

8:31am Travel companion Clayton backs out of the trip, even though Jet Blue steadfastly refuses to refund or change the ticket without a fee.

10:00am Clay Lee decides he isn't flying in from Texas after all. "If I come, we will be evacuated. If I stay home, the weather will be great and nothing will happen."

10:45am Mike and I decide to make a go of it (along with the other Mike who is meeting us at the airport) and continue packing for our 2:50pm flight. I go online to the airport's official website to see if there is any info. It's url (flimsy?) doesn't instill much confidence.

2:45pm "This is the Captain speaking. Welcome to flight 119 to New Orleans. The weather is beautiful there now. I can't say it will stay that way. Why are all of you going to New Orleans today? Shouldn't you be headed the other way?"

5:30pm Deplaning, I notice that the guy in my row is wearing a Red Cross name badge. The guy in the row in front of me is wearing a Weather Channel baseball cap and carrying a television camera. As I watch the Red Cross organizers meet in a huddle outside our gate upon landing, I start thinking this might be a short trip.

7:05pm I arrive at the Decadent Ducks cocktail party, for which I have been made a guest of honor. I forget that I am still wearing the red v-neck shirt that says "OTTER" on it as I wander into a room filled with hundreds of bears. I am a big hit for all the wrong reasons.

9:18pm Mike and Mike and I wrap up dinner at the my favorite New Orleans restaurant, The Gumbo Shop. I tell the waitress that we come back each year to support New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina. She hugs us. We leave her a big tip.

11:37pm The Bourbon Pub is so packed you would hardly know there was a hurricane coming. The rest of the French Quarter is even quieter than usual, but the gay part is in full swing. David my favorite bartender watches as a dozen or so listener ask him where I am and then come up to take pictures with me. "I guess a few people know you are here" he smiles as he gives us a mind eraser to share. I am coy. "One or two."

Saturday, August 30th

3:23am A long day of flying and drinking has caught up with me. I want to go to bed and I am worried about a possible early morning evacuation. Listeners Josh and Nick assure me at the Bourbon Pub that no mandatory evacuation will happen.

4:30am I arrive at my hotel to find notices posted everywhere and under my door announcing a voluntary evacuation starting at 8am, and directing people to buses at the Sheraton to get to the airport. I call Jet Blue to change my canceled flight. I am rebooked for the 5:45pm flight on Sunday, meaning I could spend as much as 36 hours at the airport before leaving. I set my alarm for 9:30am and try to get some sleep.

9:27am Banging at my door by a hotel employee. She demands I leave the hotel by 10am. I argue with her and slam the door. I hate being woken up in the morning but especially moments before my alarm is set to go off.

9:56am A phone call from Dave, the hotel manager at the Hilton Garden Inn. I tell him my flight has been changed to Sunday evening. There is no mandatory evacuation yet. I can stay until there is one. Fine. He gives me his cell phone so I can reach him if I need anything. I go back to sleep. I have a nightmare about a large drag queen maid trying to get into my room to clean up.

1:00pm Automated phone call from Jet Blue. My flight on Sunday has also been canceled. I am connected immediately to an agent who books me on the just created red eye flight out that night at 11:50pm. Mike and Mike are on that flight too. We plan to head off to the Praline Connection for lunch and fried pickles.

2:32pm Praline Connection is closed so we go to Port Of Call for a sensational cheeseburger and a baked potato drenched in the works. Thought about going to the Chartres House but they were boarding up the windows with the patrons still inside. Scary!

3:45pm Walk down Bourbon Street. The Quarter is largely quiet and boarded up. The gay area is still in full swing. Gays are pouring into the streets with to-go cups in hand. My old friend Allen is working the bar at Bourbon. I say good bye and head for the hotel to pack up, watch some TV and get on the shuttle bus to the airport.

4:48pm Ray Nagin urges the tourists to get out of town now while they still can. I try to call down to the desk at my hotel but there is no answer. I go down in person and there is one guy there hanging out watching the hurricane coverage on the news. It is Dave the hotel manager. "You must be in 1621." I am the last hotel guest, though four journalists are staying in the hotel through the storm. He and one other woman are the only staff left. "We can open the bar for you if you want one last drink before you go" he offers. I check out of the hotel and head for the city shuttles from the Sheraton.

5:23pm Mike and Mike are already waiting at the Sheraton. The city shuttle buses spontaneously stopped running an hour earlier much to the anguish of the few tourists left and trying to leave. Mike secures a taxi to take us to the airport. Traffic being a concern we leave 3 hours for the trip since it was reportedly taking that long in the morning. Cab driver knows all sorts of short cuts. There are lots of hot National Guardsmen lingering next to Humvees along the way. We get there in 35 minutes.

7:07pm Sitting on the floor in the middle of the terminal, eating my supplies of beef jerky and nutter butters that I secured at the corner market before I left in case the airport didn't have anything open. Everyone in the city is in surprisingly good spirits given that a potential Category 5 hurricane is headed straight for them. I had a fun adventure though I am sad the weekend is ending early. Should be home at the crack of dawn to start another adventure, preferably aside Clayton's pool.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Best Face Forward

I have had a lot of facials lately but you can get your mind out of the gutter. Enrique, the handsome and charming owner of the Face To Face Spa offered me the once over after his first appearance on the show and it ended up sandwiched between two other “corporately-mandated facials” that Romaine and I got as part of the launch of a new advertiser on the show. Three facials in three weeks and the ensuing overly intense scrubbing since then on my skin at home has left me noticeably younger in at least one regard: I have broken out like a teenager. Even worse, it is in a conspicuous arc under and around my eyes giving me the look of a bandit who is deeply allergic to his mask.

Despite the baleful condition of my skin and my impending pool party tomorrow at Clayton’s house, I agreed to join Hottie Zach out for a short drink at Therapy after the show. I orchestrated original Jonathan’s appearance there as well, which wasn’t difficult since he lives around the corner and is always as game for a cocktail as a scuba diver is for more air. Walking into Therapy the first person I saw was adorable Ronnie Kroell. He and Zach both share a feckless cream cheese complexion that even under my best circumstances I envy with the bloodlust of Snow White’s wicked queen. But his warm giddiness at seeing me melted my self-doubt and I threw myself wholeheartedly into the experience.

Ronnie is actively trying to make his way in the big city, a modern gay version of Mary Tyler Moore, but substituting a modeling contract for the beret. Perhaps I am the gruff and wise Lou Grant type here to guide him along, coaxing him relentlessly but unsuccessfully into my web of cynicism. Ronnie was there with Hottie Zach and original Jonathan and a fashion designer named Sergio (“Serge!” he implored me in a beautiful yet booze tainted accent while insisting on joining in on the round of hugs that accompanied my arrival).

Moments later, upstairs with drinks in hand, Serge explained that he was a fashion designer for whom Ronnie’s body was the perfect hanger. Earlier in the day, they had gone to Bergdorf’s so Ronnie could try on a selection of his Italy-made designer duds, the tale of which invoked instant flashes of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. The way Ronnie described his fantasy of walking through Central Park in Serge’s jeans and gorgeous cashmere sweater, latte in hand, made me realize that despite having a masters degree in political science, his dream of being a paper doll has been a long time coming.

“Ronnie has told me wonderful things about you!” Serge purred in my ear. I demurred. “Lies,” I smiled, both deflecting the flattery and knowing full well that I had no chance of living up to Ronnie’s earnestly Midwest rendition of me. “I will get you a pair of my jeans. What size are you?” Petite is always my stock answer but the language barrier made my joke even more incomprehensible than usual. “I have a 32 inch waist.” I told him. Serge nodded, “I am going to get you a 33. My sizes…” his voice trailed off into a sea of fashion jargon I will never comprehend as I fixated on his insistence at sizing me up against my will.

As I headed off to the train, original Jonathan offered to take the jeans off my hands. When it comes to pants we can practically wear the same size, but when it comes to style, he leaves me in the dust. This is for the best. When I wear something fashionable, instead of looking sexy, I end up looking like Edina from Absolutely Fabulous. I can carry off a suit or a tuxedo, just like every gay man can, as evidenced by the preponderance of three year old brother of the bride photos that spread through gay dating sites like Syphilis. But high fashion is lost of me. Head to toe, I am a lost cause. I am sure Ronnie’s complexion can handle a hundred face scrubbings a week and still look flawless, and original Jonathan can fill out a pair of designer jeans like an application, but my lack of style is a style all its own. And even such as it is, unfashionable and unkempt, I should probably stick with what I know. As the saying goes, better to be thought a fashion victim than try something new and remove all doubt.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Uncle Tom's Cabin

What a lazy weekend. Hottie Zach invited himself up on Saturday to help around the house. His last visit had him helping Roommate and I install some light fixtures and we did have a lot of fun. I initially envisioned a painting party for the upstairs hall if I could get the wallpaper off in time and put on a coat of primer before Friday. Since none of that happened, I just decided that we should have a big country breakfast and then go swimming in Clayton’s pool instead. As it turned out, a much better plan.

Zach arrived with his dog Diva, who really lives up to her name. Mike had to share the backseat with her on the ride over to Clayton’s and she was not amused about having someone else in her space. Mike, who loves dogs, was delighted to have a canine companion to pal around with, albeit a reluctant one. At Clayton’s Diva, whose love of insects and mice is legendary, made haste into the foliage, while the four humans relaxed around the pool with mojitos made with mint fresh from Clayton’s garden.

On our last swimming adventure the previous weekend, Clayton and I spent much of our time critiquing our diving postures. We were both much improved the second time around thanks to that previous day of practice, but neither of us could hold a candle to Zach who admitted after he surged gracefully across the pool that he had been on the swim team (of course). Mike chose to relax in the sun and consume a few beers instead of joining the rest of us on the diving board. After tiring of chasing bees, Diva also got into the act, leaping into the pool ostensibly to rescue me and then later Zach, from some unknown watery fate. We capped the day with a sumptuous meal at Chili’s and then, a bit sun-kissed and exhausted, we all headed home to make an early night of it.

The next day, after a leisurely breakfast out on the sunny porch of coffee and the last of the cinnamon buns that I had made fresh the day before, Mike and I decamped to the Catskills for Tom Judson’s little summer party. Tom lives even further from the madding crowd than I do, as evidenced by the hour and a half long drive to his little cabin in the woods. A few years ago, Tom made a name for himself as a porn performer (that name was Gus Mattox), though lately he has distinguished himself as something of a celebrated house flipper thanks to his ACME Housing Company.

Tom is a dream man. He is so handsome and intelligent, plays the piano beautifully and can turn a one room cabin into something truly stunning. And I am not just waxing poetic merely because he said I looked “incredible” and “so trim” when we arrived after the long drive. Tom’s cabin has expanded greatly from its humble beginnings and has even made room for the grand piano he picked up The Plaza Hotel auction a while back. It can be lovely when all of our treasured memories are shamelessly sold off if one or two of them can fall into the hands of our friends.

Tom’s party was made up mostly of the local friends he has gathered over the last eight years, a motley crew of artist types and relaxed gays, all suitable characters for the multi-level deck that ribbons the house evoking instant off-Broadway memories of Fifth of July and its ilk. When I accused him of such obvious stagecraft in his architecture, he just smiled that million dollar smile that toured in 42nd Street and got him plenty of tail in Big Rig (among others) and left it at that.

The party was not without its small excitements. Misty rain dampened the edges but could not extinguish the torches that ringed the house nor the fun inside. Tom wandered out onto the porch in one of those grand entrances and lamented that while the entire pitcher of bloody mary mix had been consumed no one had touched the vodka bottle sitting right next to it. Party guest Scott who had consumed four of those delicious yet quietly non-alcoholic cocktails and then switched responsibly to beer in time for his drive home was suitably mortified to discover his own sobriety. Later Scott found me lounging in the “Pavilion” a freestanding lavish sunroom that has become Tom’s signature design move chatting with other party guests. I had one leg carelessly draped over the arm of the chair and the other resting comfortably on the matching ottoman and he said I resembled a 1930s movie star. Well, I only emulate the best, and when I am around Tom he really brings out the Hepburn in people.

The end of a perfect weekend is never fun. It is hard to say good bye to good friends when they return to the city with loving dog in tow, or when you have to depart from a quiet sliver of paradise in a lush wood. But I suppose all good things must come to an end. A former boss at SIRIUS once told me after I lamented a particularly crappy show that if you never have the lows, how do you really know how high the highs are? I suppose the same is true of weekends. If we didn’t have the dull work patch in between, how would we know the weekends we had were so great. Though I suspect this would have been an amazing time, even if it had lasted forever. Clayton and Zach and I are already plotting a pool and slumber party to cap the end of summer, so you never know. Maybe this time we can defy the odds and make the moment last forever.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Garden State

I think that my Dad thinks the Olive Garden is a fancy New York restaurant. Whenever he comes to town, it is where we go to dinner because I love it there. But I don’t think they have them in Utah so I assume it’s a uniquely Manhattan experience to him. That is fine by me. Personally, I see the Olive Garden as a special kind of Americana kitsch. True it has all the homey warmth of a lit can of Sterno, but the bottomless salad is like crack and who doesn’t love an overly salty warm breadstick.

As I travel through life, professing my deep and abiding love for The Olive Garden, I have discovered other unlikely devotees along the way. Michelle Collins was really the first and she is my core Garden demographic. I know that she is always ready at a moment’s notice to split a salad over a couple of strawberry frescos. And the last time we went, she didn’t miss a beat when I walked out with a breadstick in my mouth.

Over July 4th weekend on Kevin and Christopher’s island, we picked up more of them. It was as if we ran a giant alfredo-scented lint roller over the island and chain restaurant loving gays adhered themselves to it en masse. So we planned an island reunion of sorts to commence as soon as possible at our favorite tacky Italian restaurant. Michelle is moments away from a month long adventure in Israel so the clock was ticking. After an abortive effort last week, our new Garden party descended on Times Square tonight in full force.

Joining me and Michelle were original Jonathan who bonded with Michelle on the bus ride over to the island, as well as Kevin and Adam Jay. Kevin joined me at the studio beforehand for a quick tour and then we walked the long two blocks to join the others upstairs. When we arrived, Adam mentioned some other island veterans might drop by but really it was just the five of us for dinner. They seated us in a big round corner table in back which at first seemed like heaven. But moments after sitting down, Michelle realized that the nuclear glow of the M&Ms sign in her eye line was certain to spark the kind of seizure usually reserved for viewers of Anime and the dulcet tones of Entertainment Tonight’s resident siren Mary Hart. She switched seats and then we were all off to the comedy races.

The witting banter flew at a lightning pace, frequently outdone by the kinds of offensive statements you don’t want easily overheard by traumatized tourists one table over. The surprise island veteran was none other than blonde venus Hannah Waddington, looking svelte and gorgeous. I tried to entice her with a free breadstick but they were off to join others for dinner at a real restaurant instead. Hannah is statuesque and while I would love any excuse to hang out with her again, I have to assume that the allure of The Olive Garden doesn’t easily translate across the pond.

After our fantastic dinner, we tried to find a local watering hole for a final night cap before I ran off for my late train. We finally settled in a very chic lounge on the second floor of a Times Square boutique hotel. If the place hadn’t been so deserted we might have felt horribly underdressed and out of place. Plus it was intensely jarring to leave the processed cheese product slickness of The Olive Garden for the modern chic of a midtown Manhattan hotel, but Michelle with her Century 21 shopping bag and Garden take out container charged up to the bar and ordered our drinks anyway. After all, we may have looked and (after almost two hours inside the Olive Garden) smelled like tourists, on the inside we know we are New Yorkers. And as such, we know, we belong anywhere we want to go. Because when you are Manhattan, you’re family.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Security Issues

I just bought some new shorts yesterday. It is so late in the season that the GAP wasn’t even selling them anymore. I am still accustomed to Los Angeles living when it is shorts weather virtually year round. That doesn’t mean it is appropriate to where them anywhere and everywhere but that never stopped me before. So, I wandered down to Macy’s to see if I could find some shorts. There in the POLO department I found a nice array of shorts, all on sale, and virtually all of them with a waist size of 36. Curse those skinny gays getting all the good sizes! Finally I settled on a 33” pair just out of my size range but at least I liked how they looked on.

So I am wearing my new shorts today and I noticed something strange about them. Of course they are cargo shorts with seventeen pockets on them. But now all of the pockets button or zip close, some of them even have double flaps for added security. I am as concerned as the next person about losing a wallet or cell phone, having many times looked back into a cab as I climbed out and noticed my cell phone sitting on the seat. Those slippery rascals will slip out of your back pocket during the bumpy ride across Manhattan in a New York minute. But now it all seems ridiculous to me.

While in Hawaii, I bought a new Oakley backpack that I love, though it too has intense security issues. Like my cargo shorts, it is a sea of zippered pockets (which I suppose is normal). But it also has a chest buckle on the front as well, should I need to suddenly repel from a subway car or zip line across the Avenue of the Americas to Radio City Music Hall. It is undeniably a sexy look, but I spend half my day looking for things in the myriad pockets that I know are in there somewhere but that require the skills of Indiana Jones to unearth them. Several weeks ago I couldn’t find my umbrella in there. An umbrella! That’s too much. It’s not supposed to have the properties of Mary Poppins’ carpetbag.

As with everything that goes wrong, I blame the terrorists. When gas prices go up, it’s al-Qaeda at work. Starbucks is out of ice? Colombian drug cartels! I have no proof but I have a sneaking suspicion that the Taliban is behind the closing of all the Taco Bells in Manhattan. It seems like the terror threat is lurking behind every inconvenience and annoyance and in a fit of panic we are cocooning at home and choosing fashions and accessories designed to assist us in the increasingly likely event that we will need to flee for our lives and want to look cute doing it.

After 9/11, I predicted that movies filled with fantasy would rule the box office and true enough, we have been besieged by Harry Potter and the Lord Of The Rings and Spider-Man and now most sensationally the Dark Knight. There are estimations now that the Batman sequel could surpass the box office score of Titanic. That doesn’t surprise me. If they remade Titanic now, Jack would have used his superpowers to keep the ship afloat long enough for the Carpathia to rescue everyone. We all want to escape into a world where the forces of evil can be vanquished by a basic good and a little magic, but instead we live in a world where we can only depend on ourselves for survival, with zipper pockets full of energy bars and vitamin water to propel us on into an uncertain future.