Thursday, June 30, 2011

Unsupported Assertions

The Empire State Building took my breath away tonight. I was walking up Sixth Avenue, between 27th and 28th, on the West side of the street, and I looked up and there it was. At that angle, it was muscular, unyielding, and intimidating. And in our world of disposable diapers and casual encounters, that presence is as reliable as the Farmer’s Almanac. As I have been many times before, and not even for the first time tonight, I was left in awe by the wonders of New York.

Some people may think of living in New York as some kind of abusive relationship that is constantly excused away. Every insufferable subway platform (searing heat in summer, glacial tundra in winter), every 1am garbage truck seemingly backing repeatedly over a dumpster under your window, every muttering maniac in a dirty coat, every Wall Street douche screaming into his earpiece, they are all just another doorknob walked into, another encounter he is really sorry about and promises will never happen again. But New York is more complex than that.

To me, to love New York is to know true unconditional love. In fact, I think if you can’t love New York, you can never fully love another person, or even yourself. It is a million flaws, writ large. It is bold, italics, and underline. All caps and all encompassing. It is everything, all at once, all in one place, open all night. The dirt, the temperature, the claustrophobic closets sold as apartments, the speed, the noise. It is an assault on every sense and through multiple dimensions. It seeps into your bones and invades your dreams. Its density is so great that it creates its own gravity. How can you not love something so powerful? So majestic? A rollercoaster forever shy of cresting that first great peak.

And then, one night, you go over that peak.

“Be nice,” Chip had quietly entreated, “but tell the truth.”

New York is about truth. It is truth. Because there isn’t the space or time for lies. And this is the truth of what happened tonight at Matt and Roy’s birthday party.

After the show, I wandered down to a bar called Black Door on 26th street. Don’t worry. I had never heard of it either. It is very nice and way in the back, the birthday party was whirling at full tilt as I arrived. The first person I saw and knew was Chip. He was standing near the door, surveying the fun.

Roy, who is often known as the notorious and outrageous Bianca del Rio, was out of drag but still in fine spirits. He and Matt had found matching tuxedos with blue ruffled front shirts in Chicago and they made quite the duo in them tonight. Roy kept up Bianca’s horrifying banter out of drag, so naturally I was forced to say something. “You know, when Bianca says shocking things, it is appalling and fun, but out of drag, you just sound like a racist.” Roy had to admit that you can get away with a lot when you’re a man in a dress.

On Monday night at Bianca’s show, Matt had arranged for a little person in drag to pop out of a present and molest her. Not to be outdone, Roy secretly arranged for a little surprise of his own. “You know the naked cowgirl, right?” He asked me. We had her on the show, so I nodded enthusiastically. “I have arranged for her to come and give Kugie a lap dance! But it is a secret so don’t say anything!” Why I, the person least likely to keep any secret, am the first to be confided in is a mystery I will never solve.

As it turns out, it wasn’t the official Naked Cowgirl, who had visited our studio, but instead the other Naked Cowgirl, Sandy Kane. Sandy was a bit older, in a blue wig and came ready to party. After she spent about ten minutes getting situated and removing her shorts, the music kicked in and she started lip syncing (quite badly I might add) to some kind of parody song about flatulence. No better or worse than Lady Bunny, but at least the Bunster (usually) knows her own lyrics. Then the bra came off and there she was, with just some star pasties over her breasts. The songs and the shaking continued, soon with a candy cane striped dildo of no significant length or girth tossed into the mix. At the end of the third song, I wondered aloud to Patrick, the cute guy next to me, how quickly it would turn from mildly amusing to sad. And then the impossible happened.

As the fourth and final song kicked up, the pasties disappeared and out came a box of safety matches. And then before all of our eyes (and camera phones), she took two matches and stuck them into the holes in each of her nipples. The matches jutting out of her pendulous breasts, she then struck a third match, lit the two sticking out of her nipples and told Matt to blow them out. Happy. Birthday.

Well, that is New York for you. It is towering achievements of concrete and steel. It is baby boomers with flaming nipples. It is everything, all at once, all in one place, open all night. And I love it. Unconditionally.

Monday, June 27, 2011

People. People Who Know People.

I climbed the stairs. Those dusty old stairs in the back of the theatre. The ones that take you up to the dressing rooms. And I looked up and there he was. I waved and he peered around the corner just like in a movie, a surprised grin on his face. And in that moment, I forgot everything I was going to say.

It seems that I have done that a lot lately. It has been months since I have written. Well, I should say it has been months since I have written anything new. I have been writing, a new book that will be out soon if I ever declare it finished. So it isn’t like nothing has been happening, or truly that I have forgotten to write about it, but my mind has been somewhere else. And when I saw Luke MacFarlane, all golden there in the back of the Golden Theatre, my mind was somewhere else again.

He is so handsome. So handsome! It makes me uncomfortable. So naturally, I do that thing I do when I am overwhelmed by any man: I insulted him.

“Hey! What are you doing here?” he asked brightly through his billion dollar smile.

“Don’t worry. I’m not here to see you!” I declared, I suppose in an attempt to assure him that I am not stalking him, but instead I just sounded like an asshole.

Who says that? He just got off stage from appearing on Broadway in The Normal Heart. The performances were amazing. The show is powerful and challenging and upsetting and incredible. And this is the best I can do? I still had tears in my eyes and I couldn’t muster one scrap of anything nice to say? But in my defense, he is that handsome.

I had been meaning to see The Normal Heart for a while. It is a limited engagement with great reviews. It takes a pry bar and a stick of dynamite to get me out to anything in Manhattan. And you can just forget an outer borough. My heart is still filled with every intention to see the Alexander Hamilton exhibit at the Natural History Museum, whose billowing banners I passed on countless cab rides before it finally closed (out of sheer exhaustion!) in 2004. If Mike hadn’t encouraged me to go to The Gates in Central Park, Christo’s miles of fabric might still be on my to-do list.

So when John Benjamin Hickey came by the studio last week to do our show, and confessed his fandom for us, I felt incredible pangs of guilt. Luke MacFarlane had already been on our shows weeks ago. Not only had I not seen The Normal Heart then, I had never even seen him on Brothers & Sisters. In fact, I had never seen him in anything except photos on the internet. Meanwhile, he had been listening to our show for God only knows how long. I felt selfish, hogging attention without properly reciprocating. At least with John Benjamin Hickey, I had watched every episode of It’s All Relative. But I still had not seen The Normal Heart.

“I’m going this Wednesday!” I blurted out spontaneously to John as he was leaving the interview. He was so excited.

“Great! Come backstage after, will you?” Okay!

But then I went to buy tickets online and there is no Wednesday matinee of The Normal Heart. Since I work every night, Wednesday matinees are best for me. I can see things on the weekend if I am not traveling, but usually my weekends are spent happily buried on Saturdays in the Real Estate then the Automobile sections of The Times (don’t ask) and then Sundays in the Business section (makes even less sense). I like a hot cup of coffee and some lox and I’m in heaven. It takes extreme measures to wrest me from my quiet weekends in the suburbs living out my Douglas Sirk fantasies and this was such a circumstance.

Since I was going to the Pier Dance after seeing a Broadway show, I thought about bringing two outfits: one more dignified for the theatre and the other considerably less dignified for the Pier Dance. But in the end, I decided on short khaki shorts and a short-sleeve button-down blue and white seersucker shirt. So there I was, unsuitable to any occasion, like always.

Going backstage, I had planned to take the liberty of inviting John and Luke out to Kevin and Christopher’s island for July 4th. Those boys are Broadway folk and I am sure they wouldn’t mind. Besides, John was Christopher’s TV husband on It’s All Relative so it is practically all in the family already. And the 4th is a Monday so I am sure they will all be off work, include Christopher who just stepped back into Chicago as Billy Flynn. But then I saw Luke and insulted him and forgot everything I was going to say and after some nice small talk about Romaine, he grabbed his bike and fled while I made my way up a second flight of stairs to John’s dressing room, wondering what the hell was wrong with me that even though I talk for a living, I can’t talk to people like a human person!

Things went better with John who was very excited to see me. We had a nice long chat and he assured me that if he had been in a regular show that was off after the Sunday matinee, he totally would have given me a ride back to Westchester! That’s pretty amazing right? The nicest guy! I wonder if Luke had a motorcycle if he would let me ride on the back behind him. I am going to assume after how I was that such an adventure might not be in the cards.

Somewhere between talking about John’s partner writing for Modern Family and me awkwardly forcing the wonderful Ellen Barkin to shake my hand, I forgot to invite John out to the island too. At least I gave him my card so if he emails me, I will bring it up. And as I walked down the alley toward the street, instead of thinking about Anne Baxter waiting there in All About Eve, I hoped Luke would still be out front signing autographs next to his bicycle so I could apologize and hand him the other business card I had in my wallet. But as the sunlight hit my eyes, I looked around and he was long gone.

When I appeared outside, the crowd was momentarily excited but then seeing that it wasn’t a cast member, the deflation was palpable. “I’m not anyone!” I wanted to yell out in confirmation but it seemed like overkill. I’m just people. People who know people.