Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Plus None

Here is a really good party tip from someone who doesn’t go to a lot of parties: If you are invited to an event and you only know the host, make sure you bring a plus one with you. It doesn’t matter how many times I get invited to a party where I only know one person, I always fail to bring someone with me. I suppose it is because I don’t have a reliable standby plus one. This is where having a straight female friend comes in handy. In fact this seems to be the primary motivation for most of these symbiotic relationships. Mental note: make new friend, attend party together.

Last week, I got a text message from Reichen inviting me to the bar Industry for the launch of his new fragrance. It is also called Reichen, so for the purposes of clarity from now on, I will just refer to it as the fragrance. That way, when I tell you some Reichen got sprayed in my eye, you won’t think the evening took a decidedly sexual turn between us. But more on the spritzing later.

My new life strategy is to say yes to everything. I will in fact now attend the opening of an envelope, both literally and figuratively. Just ask! As I have plunged headlong into midlife, I have discovered the reason you don’t see forty-something gay men anywhere: It just becomes easier to stay home. You reach a point in life where you have everything, and have been everywhere. There is nothing waiting for you out at Industry that isn’t either already at hand, or can’t be managed with your own hand. But my career dictates a certain level of sociability. I am not so famous that I can afford to hide at home and wait for the residual checks to roll in. In fact, I am not so famous anything.  I need to work, not just at an office, but also a room, a bar, or launch party for a fragrance.

As I point out in my fantastic new book, When NightlifeFalls (available now on Amazon, for Kindle, and the Nook), I have known Reichen for some time, although not extremely well. He is the quintessence of a celebrifriend. That is a celebrity who I am on friendly terms with but with whom my only contact is in full view of the public.  Truth be told, Chris Rice is my favorite celebrifriend because it feels all literary and classy and he is such a good sport about the whole thing. But Reichen is guaranteed to get attention, anywhere, anytime, and tonight was no exception.

I like Reichen. He is pretty, ridiculously so. And most people stop there. But the more time I spend with him, the more I see only his character. He is honestly and genuinely earnest. If I were pressed and told to describe him in one word, earnest is the word I would choose. Unfortunately, earnest is the gay community’s least popular descriptor, right behind sweet or blousy.  Being earnest gets you into trouble, especially in the big city, because it can so easily read as disingenuous or condescending. I am not at all earnest. I’m blunt and crass. That, for better or worse, is never taken the wrong way. I am like a hostage taker and Reichen is like the negotiator they send in to defuse the tension.

Reichen had the launch party tonight at Industry, one of the newer hot spots in midtown (and about which my feelings are already well established). The party was scheduled to end at ten, which is also when my show ends. So I told him I would be there after the show and he gave me a private password so I would be able to get a gift bag at the event. Since I hate meeting new people, scoring a gift bag became suddenly a primary motivator for attending, mostly out of curiosity as to what might be in it. As I walked out of the studio tonight after the show, I ran into Ben and Dave, making notes ahead of the recording of their latest podcast. I told them where I was headed and joked that since I would be the fattest person at the party, I was going as both me and my own plus one.

Arriving at Industry, I opened the outer door and was immediately greeted by a giant poster informing me that entering was my consent to be filmed. I hoped that by coming late, I could avoid the filming of The A List and as it turned out, while I was waiting to talk to Reichen, some very nice production people shoved me out of the way to cart out the equipment. I’ve never been so happy to be pushed aside in a bar in my life! I don’t know how Reichen puts up with that reality TV nonsense, but then again, people wonder how I talk for four hours every night. I guess it is something you just get used to doing after a while.

Reichen seemed genuinely surprised and happy to see me, but then suddenly blurted out: “You missed the gift bags! I’m sorry. I really wanted you to have one.” Oh well, I thought to myself, it is just a gift bag. But then, noticing an unattended gift bag on a stool, he said, “I wonder who left this here. Doesn’t matter. It’s yours now!” Reichen stole a gift bag for me at his own party! I felt like a star and a criminal at the same time.  That’s a good feeling, in case you were wondering. Intoxicating.

“We’re leaving,” Reichen told me, “Come with us to Le Bain!” Uh. I really had only planned to drop in fast as the white hot party burned down to an ember, so I could quickly nab a gift bag, say hi to Reichen, gather enough intel for a blog entry and still make it to the 11pm train. But I say yes to everything now, so I said yes to Reichen and his after-party adventure! And then just as suddenly I was filled with dread. Tom and Lorenzo had warned us all about the overly dramatic after parties on The A List. Was I leaving the bar just to end up as an extra in some high anxiety wine throwing melee with that horrible hairdresser, the tanorexic bitch with my name and the fat model I’d still fuck even though he got TV fat?

Before I could gather my thoughts, Reichen was introducing me to his friend Zach. “I don’t shake hands!” Zach yelled, simultaneously pushing my outstretched hand away and pouring half his cocktail down my arm, “I like to hug! I love Derek!” I would like to say this was the last time he got alcohol on me, but that instead of love, turned out to be the running theme of the evening with him. 

We all went outside to hail cabs to get downtown to Le Bain, which it turned out is a bar at The Standard. I had never been there before, and I worried about getting past a velvet rope in shorts. I figured I should try to get into a cab with Zach since he was also in shorts and was the only other person I knew, but he and three skinny girls in shiny dresses climbed into a cab behind Reichen’s cab. So, being unusually bold, I waved a heretofore unknown fun black girl and a strapping gay lad into a third cab headed downtown. No doorman in NYC could resist me if I am part of this threesome! I sat in the hump between Farrin, a recruiter visiting from Dallas and Ryan, who said he was an NYU grad student recently relocated from Beijing. They were both a total blast and my favorite part of the evening.

“How did you get a gift bag?” Ryan asked me in the cab ride to The Standard. “There were only like seven of them or something.” Suddenly, I realized that I didn’t see anyone else with a gift bag. Zach didn’t have one. None of the girls in sparkly dresses. Not even Ryan and fabulous Farrin. “Reichen gave it to me.” I offered up but even as I said it, I wondered how I ended up with it too. When pressed about how I knew Reichen, I told them about my radio show. “Oh, like Ben and Dave.” Ryan offered, then suddenly something clicked. “Wait a minute. Weren’t you on their show a couple of weeks ago? I thought I recognized your voice.” True story, I was recognized from someone else’s show in the back of a cab. Only in New York, kids. Only in New York.

Our cab was the first to arrive at The Standard. The three of us waited briefly downstairs to get our ID checked and our hands stamped before we jumped into a packed elevator to the top. The bar itself was not very crowded at all and the view south to ground zero was lovely. Ryan suggested we all go upstairs and that was the revelation. Le Bain is an outdoor rooftop bar and it was spectacular. The night air was crisp and breezy. There was a hint of fall about it but it felt refreshing instead of chilly. Ryan was cold but Reichen agreed with me later that the night air was perfect. It turned out that this was his favorite place in the city and spending only a few minutes up there it was clear why.

Le Bain wasn’t very busy when we arrived but the crowd began to thicken fast. It was a funny crowd too. There were mostly young guys there, mid twenties. There were some older guys in bow ties and button down shirts tucked into shorts. That is trying too hard even when a twenty-something urban hipster does it. A blond guy across the crowd in a tight red t-shirt caught my eye. I smiled at him and he winked back. That was nice. But the best was that none of the other A Listers were there and no one was filming anything. So in all, I had a really good time. In fact, I was surprised. Plus none and non-plussed, you might say.

As the evening started to wind down, I went to say good night to Reichen. Zach was there with a tester bottle of the fragrance. Zach was even drunker at this point, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when he sprayed me with cologne and then two seconds later forgot that he already had and sprayed me again. At one point, he sprayed it directly into my eyes. “It’s all organic!” Reichen assured me as I struggled to see. The cologne has a nice clean scent to it but I barked at Zach to stop spraying me. “If I get any more cologne on me, they won’t let me on the train!”

He looked at me funny. “What train is that?” Obviously I couldn’t mean the NYC subway, where if you aren’t shitting into your own hand you get a good conduct medal from the city. When I told him, I lived in Westchester, he dismissed me. “Oh, you have no power.” And there it was, I thought, the cruelty of not being a Manhattanite anymore. You live in the suburbs and you are worthless. I asked him what he meant, ready to get into a terrible name droppy fight about how close I live to Martha Stewart and own instead of rent but then in his drunken haze he suddenly made it clear he thought we were all still without electricity since the hurricane last weekend.

I guess that is the lesson of the night, and a fitting lesson when dealing with Reichen. People so quickly assume he is one thing when he is something completely different. I thought I would end up in a horrible reality show but instead I landed in a calm oasis high above the city in the welcoming night air. I thought the rooftop bar at The Standard would be a drag but it was friendly and nice. I met new people and they turned out to be a lot of fun. And even though I was awash in cologne, the conductors still let me on the train back home. Gift bag and all.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Irene Done

Nothing like a hurricane bearing down on you to really convince you to get your affairs in order.

It is Thursday night in Manhattan but it is like any other run of the mill Thursday. You would never know that churning hundreds of miles away in the Atlantic Ocean, Irene approaches. New York is a busy place and everything happens in time here, even destructive forces of nature like hurricanes or tourists. Irene won’t arrive until Sunday, a veritable lifetime when counted in New York minutes, so there is still plenty of time to have a cocktail down at a small local bar, which is what I did.

Earlier, I joined the busy online world buzzing like hornets about the weather. Since I live in the suburbs, my concerns are for my roof or that great old tree in my backyard that has lately turned leaning toward my patio into an art form. But for the city dwellers, where this kind of weather event is beyond their control, thoughts turn elsewhere. In this case, the impending interruption of life out on NYC’s decadent gay oasis of choice: Fire Island.

Personally, I have no love for the place. I had lunch there once in 2001 with my old boss and stayed overnight a few years later with Cyd and Dan. My boyfriend of the time Sean and I shared a sandy twin bed and I found the other housemates (one in particular) insufferably fussy. Cyd and Dan are lovely, laid back people but they had ended up in a share with someone so tense that dinner felt as if it was made of a ticking time bomb with only 15 seconds left on the clock. Throw in my dislike of sun, sand and the ocean and you have the makings of the most unpleasant 24 hour period this side of Jack Bauer. I have not been back since.

If it wasn’t guaranteed to confirm for certain religious zealots that God hates fags, I would wish Irene wipe the place off the map. It could use, as I posted on Adam Sank’s Facebook wall earlier, a good hosing off like a “50 MPH enema.” I was less kind on Zachary Barnett’s wall where I followed a string of stringy gays wondering if they should stay or go under his status update heading “Fire Island: Forced Evacuation.” Sounded like a good porn title to me, but a lousy way to spend a weekend vacation out of town. “How dedicated are these homos,” I posted aloud to those very same homos, “to the prospect of getting laid that they would want to ride out a hurricane in one of those claptrap 1970s asbestos palaces that linger outside the meat rack filled with ghosts of popper bottles past like a rash that won’t go away?”

Further evidence of why I have no friends.

But as I took stock in my life tonight in a tiny piano bar on the Upper East Side, collecting friends was as far away from me as that dreaded hurricane. There was only one friend that mattered in that moment: Barton Brooks. Barton is perfect. He is the Ken doll of compassion and charity. He is the person you pretend to be at your high school reunion. He is wonderful.

We met at Brandy’s, a saloon with a solid wood bar and a central piano. Like all places in New York, it is old with a quirky plumbing issue and at least one patron who seems to have lost touch with modern life just about the time The Jeffersons went off the air. This is what is known as character, and Manhattan is busting with it. It oozes, like a sore that never heals.

Like me, Barton is also in a place of evaluating his life but it isn’t related to the weather. Whatever gets you to that point, so long as you arrive at your destination I suppose. As Madonna (and no one ever before her or since) said, “an unexamined life is not worth living.” So here we are: two people examining our lives. We did it over chocolate cake shots and a slice around the corner at Two Boots and as best we could while an opera singer screamed a show tune into a microphone like he was trying to fill Carnegie Hall (and I don’t mean with people, either). I don’t know that we accomplished anything but we had a good time anyway.

Soon enough it was time for me to leave, and not by ferry to Fire Island or even the Hamptons Jitney bus parked so forlorn around the corner from the bar. As I waited in Grand Central Station for my train to open up, I gazed around at the expanse of marble. Was it for the last time? The new Apple Store is under construction on the far mezzanine. I hope it doesn’t destroy the character of the great hall, but knowing Apple it will be cool and amazing and the worst thing about it will be the constant lines to get in, like the hottest nightclub in town, where people consume overpriced accessories and cruise processors instead of people. I wonder if Steve Jobs will ever see it. I hope so.

I hope the hurricane ends up a dud. I hope the worst thing that happens is how bored I am in my house without electricity and all the wonders that the mother’s milk of power provides. I hope Grand Central is spared so future generations can search the ceiling, past the stray Mylar balloons, for their astrological signs. And Apple can sell whatever crazy new thing they shit out after everyone realizes the iPad is just an iPhone you can’t make calls on, like the regular iPhone you can’t make calls on, only twice as big and more expensive.

Spare our city, Irene, in all its terrible glory. Spare it all. But if Fire Island joins Atlantis, so be it.