Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Boiling Point

It was a busy Friday, which is a problem for someone like me who doesn’t especially love to be busy. On the other hand, it is nice to feel wanted. Woke up at the crack of Noon as usual, poured myself a cup of ambition and headed into the city. First stop: Studio 2 to interview self-proclaimed “Hollywood trophy wife” Candy Spelling. Delicious Candy has been in a tasty battle with her daughter Tori for years and now Candy has a book of her own,“sTORIes From Candyland,” which has all the cardboard depth of the board game you loved with none of the plot twists. A loose thread of shallow Hollywood adventures, heart-clogging recipes and mind-boggling home inventories that attempt to bring some ordered understanding to a decidedly disordered mind are wrapped around anecdotes proclaiming the normalcy of her life amid hoarded mountains of evidence to the contrary.

Candy herself was very, for lack of a better word, sweet. It is clear that the key to success for her is gliding as effortlessly through life as an ice skater sailing through the vacuum of space. She looked good too. So many Hollywood wives are pulled overly tight or try to maintain the appearance of a youth that is but a dim memory. But Candy looks respectable, aging if not gracefully, than ever as slowly as her vast wealth will allow. I did manage to illicit a human emotion out of her when, in our anticipated discussion of her daughter, I brought up the Time Magazine piece on Tori during her terrific turn in “The House of Yes” where she was quite believably a haggard donut shop girl out of her element. Time Magazine, in the midst of a flat out frame-it-and-put-it-on-the-wall rave about Tori couldn’t resist tearing her down to a size zero by referring to her as the “shovel-faced” daughter of Aaron Spelling. Candy’s eyes actually welled up when she described what it was like to be a mother when someone says that about their daughter.

The real story worth crying about was waiting for us after the interview down at a diner in Chelsea when we ran off to see the devil on two sticks himself. Our old board op Ben Dover was waiting there for us on crutches. It was very Vanessa Redgrave in Julia and his story was filled with almost as much intrigue. A few weeks ago crossing the street, a car slammed into him, landing him on the hood like an ornament before sliding off into the street, his leg broken. While he told us this terrible story, I methodically made my way through a banana split the size of my own head. Ben told Romaine later that he had never seen anything like it before, but Romaine casually waved him off. “He eats like that all the time,” she deadpanned, failing to mention that restrictive diet I have been on for two months that allowed me to shed fifteen pounds at the drop of a hat by eating nothing that resembled food.

I ditched Romaine and Hop Along Cassidy and walked up to the world headquarters of Fabulis.com, aka a very nice apartment in Chelsea with a view of the Statue of Liberty, so you were instantly aware you were in the nosebleed section of wealth. Walking in, I knew I could only stay for a half an hour and still get back to the studio in time to do the night’s show and I stuck to my schedule. I amused Young Bradford and the few assembled guests who arrived early by announcing myself as “Number Five,” my local NYC ranking that day on the preview site (or as I like to call it Friendster 2010). I sipped my way through a quick cocktail while chatting with Richard Socarides, lately quite the busy TV pundit. It was nice to dish Obama Administration policy and performance with someone who had actually worked in a White House before. I also spent some time coveting the Capresso machine, so very sad that our Krups fancy coffee machine at home crapped out on us after less than six months. You’d think they won the war!

After the show, I headed downtown, way downtown, for Chris’s birthday party. Chris wanted to celebrate at The Boiler Room, which I hadn’t been to since the last birthday party I attended there. I suppose it was just last summer but it feels like a whole lifetime ago. And it was. The bar was jam packed but that didn’t stop two of the fattest men I have ever seen in a gay bar attempt a round of pool, waving their cues menacingly at all the skinny East Village gays who in their minds had no doubt shunned them one too many times. Passive aggressive is my least favorite gay flavor.

The short-lived pool game was obnoxious but the friends were lovely. I met lots of new guys in the group but I remember none of their names. Why bother? So-and-so was the boyfriend of this one and this guy was the college roommate of that one. I was too busy in my own head making one of those wall maps with string and newspaper clippings that crazy people are always doing in TV shows and movies to show you that they are insane. Guilty as charged, crazy!

My roommate was there and even though grungy east side boys are right in his wheelhouse, he didn’t have a very good time. He didn’t know anyone there and even I only really knew the birthday boy and his boyfriend Cub, so I was no help in introducing him around. Although he did have an amusing obnoxious encounter at the bar while waiting to get a drink. One of the skinny grunge gays turned to another skinny grunge gay and threw his arm up in the air. “Brooklyn?!” came the haughty squeal, “They are so pretentious there!” Takes one to know one.

Charlie showed up and Mike brightened considerably. He had a question about the way Tribal Council is run on Survivor and Charlie, being a former contestant was able to answer. Not only did he know, but he was very anxious to delve into about the nerdiest conversation you ever heard about how Tribal Council works. Mike was happy to get the scoop but Charlie was in heaven. “If you ever want to know more, call me! I love talking about this stuff!” Charlie assured him as we were leaving and I know he meant it.

I ran into Martin on the way out and hadn’t seen him in a while, so that was nice. In fact the whole evening was nice. Of course, then we got to the subway which was closed going the way we wanted and as usual that was a whole ordeal so we just hopped into a cab. “I always say I should come downtown more often,” my roommate opined, “But then I get here and I remember why I never come down here. It’s a pain in the ass.” And so pretentious! The cab whisked us off to Grand Central Station with an ease that no doubt would have made Candy Spelling feel right at home.

Maybe it was the four cups of coffee or the cocktails or the banana split talking, but I was in a good mood. I was so upbeat and loving with Ben Harvey at the bar, it might have scared him, but I don’t care. Who cares? It was a good day. And while I may not have a 56,000 square foot house with two wrapping rooms in it, I am not rambling around in a giant mansion wondering why my daughter never calls and telling my butlers how down to earth and normal I am. My personality is no asset but at least I am not on crutches. So while I can normally be counted on to meltdown in a major way, I won’t be reaching my boiling point tonight. I’m happy for a change and I don’t care who knows it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Hooked On A Feeling

My job affords a variety of weird and wonderful experiences. Yes, the constant emails reminding me how fat and ugly I am are not the most pleasant aspect of the job. But despite my complaints that I hate everyone, most of the listeners I have met have been very nice and respectful. And we do get to travel a lot (Next month: Phoenix Pride!) which has allowed me to see places I wouldn’t normally go. And speaking of places I wouldn’t normally go: tonight was The Hookies at Club Rebel.

Award shows are in and of themselves silly events. Certainly it is always nice to be an award winner but in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t what I would call important. Maybe it is because there is an award for practically everything now. I am reminded of Goldie Hawn snapping at Bette Midler after her sacred Golden Globe is mocked in First Wives Club: “What did you ever win? A pie eating contest? Best suggestion?” The Hookies award the best escorts through popular voting. Now, I ask you, how do you even go about ranking escorts? I can’t imagine anything more personal and, therefore, insanely subjective. One of the categories was “Best Boyfriend Fantasy” and the winner looked like he might beat the living crap out of you. I don’t know about you but domestic violence isn’t necessarily my idea of a dream date.

The nice people at RentBoy.com asked me if I wanted to be a presenter and never one to turn down any opportunity to be seen in public, I jumped at the chance. As I said when I stepped up on the stage, “I am so honored to be one of the presenters here tonight. A veritable ‘who’s that?’ of New York gay society.” The category they gave me to present in was “Best Ass” which was kind of awkward. They have “Best Top” and “Best Ass,” not “Best Bottom” as if you are no more than the sum of your hole. While that is often true (and you know who you are), I still think the category was too narrow and needed to be widened a bit. Perhaps with one or two fingers.

I only knew one of the nominees in my category personally: Tory Mason the eventual winner (in a tie with Alex Baresi). As I declared from the stage explaining Tory’s win, “everyone knows that crazy pussy is hot pussy.” In solidarity for my category, I wore my “Pussy Wagon” t-shirt from Kill Bill, recently revived by Lady Gaga and Beyonce in the “Telephone” video that is blowing up this week on YouTube.com. I thought it would be a big hit but no one made the connection. I had planned to yell from the stage, “Bitch stole my car! I’m gonna sue her for $30 million!” but after sensing the crowd’s non-reaction I thought better of it.

People seemed to like my jokes from the stage and I seemed to be the only one there doing material, including the emcee Raven O who mostly writhed around to a couple of dance songs and co-emcee Sherry Vine who stood somewhat dazed as if someone had just slapped her across the face with a baggie of cocaine and then didn’t offer her any. As I climbed on stage, Sherry greeted me warmly, like an old friend. We’ve never met. Coming off the stage, I ran into Brandon Baker, for whom I made a nasty crack on stage about his ex-boyfriend. I might have yelled out to the crowd that I needed to look inside the hole of the Best Ass winner to see if his ex was in there because “he’s a huge turd.” Michael Lucas was waiting in the dressing room off stage and that surprised me. “I didn’t know you were coming! If I had I would have made a joke about you on stage.” Michael seemed genuinely disappointed. Well as close to genuinely anything as I have ever seen.

Later as I was making my rounds saying good bye I ran into him again with Mr. Pam and the Lucas PR guy who was drunkenly waving one of the awards and kept throwing his arm around the unsuspecting and screaming “we won best duo.” Me included. We’d never met before either. “I’m having a wonderful time.” Michael purred dryly, the word "wonderful” stretching out longer than the Director’s Cut of the last Lord of the Rings movie. I know the feeling. A room full of escorts and the men who love them is a fascinating mix, but for just for a moment. And after one am, that moment had passed.

On the stairs, I passed blogger Ken of Kenneth In The 212 who earlier in the day had emailed me somewhat perplexed after he discovered his site was the top destination for the nonsensical Bing.com search string "Derek Hartley nude photos." Speaking of nude photos, I tried in vain to find Drew Cutler on my way out. We had a nice time hanging out in the VIP holding bin before I went on stage but I didn’t see him after that. Ryan Raz is right, he is a good guy. Or at least he seemed so from our grabby conversation in the crowded and loud bar. He told me he wanted to hang out the next time he is in NYC and he took my number but porn is transitory and it is best to keep things moving and not get attached, lest things become ossified and unpleasant. Speaking of which, I saw a notorious porn panderer in his same tired white dinner jacket as I came in. “Nice to see you,” I said BEING GENUINELY POLITE as we made eye contact. “Not nice enough to have me on your radio show!” he snapped after I had already walked away, though not quite out of earshot.

I did not come to The Hookies to make love or make war, so in a way I guess I succeeded on both counts by walking out alone and unsullied. I do like the attention from the stage or from my radio show that I receive, even when it doesn’t always work out the way I want, but it is an unstable high for which you really don’t want to develop an addiction. Awards feel so meaningful when you get them, or even don’t get them, but in the end they are just a hunk of glass or metal on a wooden pedestal. Porn stars and escorts and parties are the same way. It can feel like the real thing, but that’s just the magic of the moment. The anticipation of it all is the best part. So live in the moment and revel in it, but don’t linger. The fantasy doesn’t last forever, David, and in order to hold onto it, you have to literally lose your grip on reality.

Let it go.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Blue Folder

Brandon left his blue folder in the studio tonight.

Friday night is The Hookies, the annual Rentboy.com award show for gay escorts and he was on the show to promote it. What’s the word of the year for 2010? Classy! Naturally, I am presenting the award for “Best Ass.” I don’t know if this is because I know my way around a porn star escort ass or if I am just the biggest ass they could find. In either case, I will be there. And no doubt see porn star escort extraordinaire Drew Cutler, who joined Brandon in studio tonight.

Drew was very hot and kept winking at me and sidling up against me, and I will admit, I got that rare churn in my stomach when he was around. I don’t often have that kind of visceral reaction to a man, especially not porn stars, but it was there for him. Such is the make believe island I live on. Through it all, I had to keep reminding myself of “Notting Hill” and Julia Roberts’ immortal words, the important part before the famous part: “The fame thing isn't really real, you know.” Besides, didn’t I just have a porn star showmance? Thank God Drew lives in Los Angeles and at best we might have some mild flirtation in the VIP lounge at The Hookies. Or better yet, it was all just for air and evaporated the moment the door to the studio swung back open. The last thing I need is thoughts of a man cluttering up my mind, just when I was so close to exorcising the last one.

I took Brandon’s blue folder with me to GUMBO in Brooklyn. I knew he wouldn’t be there but I figured if he needed the collection of printed emails and porn star travel arrangements contained inside, I could always drop it at his hotel later. As it was, he finally responded to my texts assuring me that nothing in there was that urgent and I could make the covert drop at Club Rebel, or even throw it away if need be. So I tucked the blue folder and my blue jacket into my backpack and deposited them both at coat check.

GUMBO faced its first real competition tonight with the launch of FOX over at our old Manhattan haunt The Park, but I didn’t notice a drop in attendance. It was filled as always with skinny-legged gays with gently yet laboriously tussled hair. “They’re not gays,” insisted Eyal Feldman “They are queers.” The winter v-neck sweaters over button downs have given away to white v-neck tees under flimsy grunge rock plaid shirts worn open and waving. But as queer as they think they are (and the ultra of-the-moment akimbo posture confirms their commitment to the role), they are still little gay gay gays to me. And so tiny! Eyal and his equally hot boyfriend towered over them, in a eat me/drink me juxtaposition that would have delighted Tim Burton if not Lewis Carroll himself.

But if the bar was crowded, absent were so many of the usual suspects. Matty, finally back from Europe had already ducked out before I arrived. “I needed a burger,” was his simple text response, and having spent long periods of time abroad, I completely understood. But Ben was there and that was the reason I went in the first place. I spent last Saturday night lingering on the press side of the red carpet at the GLAAD Awards with Ben and his business wife Dave Rubin while they interviewed celebrities. After winning an award last year, life on the other side of the velvet rope put me in a foul mood and I was even more unpleasant that usual. Ryan and Caroline were there and I was horribly dismissive, especially to Ryan.

After I left the GLAAD Awards last weekend, Curtis’ ominous words about me haunted my brain: “Sometimes when Derek is talking, he has no idea who he is talking to.” Most of the time, it works like gold on the radio (or at least I like to think it does). But when it comes to maintaining friendships, it can make an already exhausting person like me completely unbearable. So tonight I apologized to Ben. It wasn’t his fault I was so blue and was just terrible company. And when he asked me why I was in such an ill-temper last weekend, I didn’t even have a good excuse.

“Just the usual nonsense.”

My own blue folder full of nothing important. I should just leave it behind or throw it away. No sense in carrying it all around the make believe island, even if there is room in my bag.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Cult of Celebrity

Monday. 11:15pm. Nighttime at The Ritz and the half empty bar is waiting for half in the bag Bianca del Rio to take the stage, such as it is. It seems like a million years ago that I dragged Bobby there and, primarily for my own amusement, encouraged him to enter Bianca’s drunken dance off contest, which he mistook for some genuine opportunity to win cash and fame. But that was just October of last year and about forty tons of snow ago. Not seeing the place through Bobby’s fresh eyes on his first ever trip to NYC, the walls did not vibrate with the same excitement as before but Bianca’s aggressive bray rattled the glassware enough to break the reverie for me.

Kugie and I had finished up a bland meal of Mexican at the nondescript place up the street from Arriba x2, which was “closed for cleaning” (although the appliances sealed in plastic said otherwise) and naturally wandered down to The Ritz to cheer on Bianca. The two of them are just back from Mardi Gras and while Bianca had her game face and enough make-up for six other game faces on, you could tell they were both still a little rough around the edges. Bianca practiced material on us, old and new, and at one point I think was making a subtle dig at me, which is rare for Bianca since her digs are never subtle.

“Oops! I think you dropped a name.” she called out, bending down to pick up an invisible celebrity moniker. “That’s a good bit, but I guess it probably wouldn’t work so well on the radio.” And then she looked straight into my heart.

For the most part, I confine my name dropping to my writing because when you drop them on a page, they tend to stay put. Names dropped in the ether of radio tend to float away, untethered and disconnected, and fade off into the shadows of memory. But print lives forever, more or less (my apologies to shuttered newspapers everywhere), and rarely more vividly than in Michael Musto’s column for the Village Voice. Barely twenty-four hours after abandoning Matt and Bianca at The Ritz, her words were fresh in my mind as I attended Musto's 25th anniversary party in a swanky Fifth Avenue penthouse on the fringes of Chelsea.

Everyone laments that NYC nightlife is just not what it used to be. We traded a cleaned up city and safer streets for evenings as dull as a butter knife. The last mayor erased the sex from the place and our current mayor monetized it. They turned the peep shows into Disney stores and the hustlers into baristas, working at the Starbucks on the corner instead of working the corner itself. Even Musto’s wonderful party was the ghost of Studio 54 past. There were silver balloons and flashing lights and loud middle-aged women flashing their tits, but the gays were encased in tight sweaters with Reagan era precision, while bartenders in button-downs dispensed coke in a glass instead of on a glass table.

As I arrived, two hours after the early 8:30pm starting time, I was met with a rush of fabulousness flooding out of the building. “Well, I’ve missed all the fun.” I thought to myself, already wary of going to a party where the only person I definitely might know was working the door. But upstairs, a familiar face lurked around every facelift. It started with a drunken Jesse Archer rushing me in the dark, aggressively manhandling me in a welcome way. Moments later, I almost walked past Zach, who was seconds away from being furious about it. But as I explained to filmmaker Brian Sloan who was standing with them and later adorable comedian Shawn Hollenbach, when I am in a loud bar, the noise dulls my vision somehow and, mixed with the darkness, makes it impossible to recognize anyone I know.

Frank and Jim and Mike were there from work. And the eternally lean Ken. And Enrique from the Face 2 Face spa. But most importantly, Chris and Cub were there. Chris was working, quizzing people on their favorite and least favorite thing about Michael Musto for a feature I assume he was writing about the party. "He never writes about me," was my quick answer for either one of the questions posed. I felt bad that Chris told me he was interviewing “notable people at the party” while I was standing right next to indie movie star Jesse Archer, since that is usually the kind of thing that happens to me. But moments later, a pushy photographer was shoving me out of the way to get a picture of Michael Urie and two people I had never seen before, so the universe corrected itself very quickly.

Mike and I wandered upstairs to see the roof garden which it didn’t occur to me until that moment was actually outside. But Tony Phillips pointed it out when we met halfway on the stairs like one of those mother daughter confrontation scenes that is a classic movie staple. At the top of the stairs there was a rack of identical red robes and people were donning them before heading outside. I had no idea until that moment that the cult of celebrity had actual cult robes. I wondered if there was going to be some kind of secret ritual outside that we would witness. Perhaps this is how Tara Reid and Mischa Barton lost their careers, penthouse garden religious gay sacrifices in exchange for Lady Gaga at Radio City Music Hall or Tom Ford directing “A Single Man.” Fair trades all.

While chatting on deck with Chris and Cub and lean Ken, that sexy Mark came up behind me and started groping me, a move I pulled later on an unsuspecting Shawn Hollenbach. When it comes to inappropriate touching, the gays love to pay it forward. Mike came by again, raving about the view we couldn’t yet see but I was a disbeliever. Mark and I agreed: we have seen the Manhattan skyline before. But then curiosity overtook us and I shoved past some drag twinks and sixty-something hags only missing a cauldron to huddle around to get to the upper deck for a look of my own.

Suddenly, the Empire State Building loomed before us, towering over the center of midtown like a beautiful middle finger telling the rest of the world to fuck off. But you know, in a really glittering and spectacular way. To the side was my beloved Chrysler building, a fabulous gay pinkie jutting out for spite. You can forget in the city, caught up in dodging filthy puddles and erratic taxis that as annoying as it is, the tourists have the right idea when they just stop and look up for a while. The view however is better from a penthouse, even if the party and the city isn’t what it used to be.

After trying to take a crappy iPhone photo, the chill of the night air overcame us and Mark and I stepped down off the upper balcony. We had reached the heights we were going to reach and it was time to head home. It is easy to romanticize something you never saw, or perhaps never was. Studio 54 was a shitty movie and I am sure the club itself had an off night or two. In 25 years of reporting on nightlife in NYC, I am sure Michael Musto saw his share of duds. Not everyone is a star, not every party is a legend in the making. In our new austere century, all we may have left is the hangover of remembrances of flings past, but you have to keep putting your game face on. Seeing the Empire State Building reminded me that even as the rest of the city changes and changes again, some things are eternal. And spectacular.