I want to call your attention to what I consider to be the best delivery of a song anywhere anytime by any singer in the history of the world. Judy Garland sings Ol' Man River and her performance is flawless.
Try to take your eyes off her as she invests each phrase with a million shades of meaning and feeling. The power of this rendition is amplified by the fact that the song sums up her entire life.
Of particular interest to me is the fact that the arrangement and orchestration, typical of those days, does not enhance or support her, but acts as an enemy that she must do battle with throughout the piece. In the end, she wins.
Your rain and lightening slapped Farmboyz took it on the chin and decided to go to the movies on Sunday afternoon (after C made a superb frittata, and I made a disastrous Galkyd-laced painting of eggplant, zucchini and Hungarian peppers). The 3pm was sold out, but we got tickets for the 4:30pm (where else in the world but on the Upper West Side can you walk one block from your house and be inside a megaplex without an umbrella let alone a car?)
I am still softened butter from yesterday’s seaweed wrap. C gave me a spa treatment at The Spa at Chelsea Piers for my birthday. This is how we are, having learned that the best gift is often a totally impractical splurge that we would never allow ourselves in Real Life. My poor business-harried baby got himself a soothing massage while I chose the seaweed.
The buxom blonde and crystal blue-eyed lady who performed the treatment began by asking me (in what I suspect was an authentic Swedish accent) if I had any allergies, especially to seafood. She then explained the procedure. “First, I gonna exfoliate you and then I give you the gloves to take home. Then, I gonna apply lotion and then I gonna apply the seawid. Next, I gonna wrap you in a hot plastic shit and then hot cotton shit.” I tried not to laugh. What followed was heavenly, and while I was wrapped, she sprayed my face with a citrus concoction and performed a head massage that put me to sleep. Later, we lounged on the deck over the Hudson River and watched the chartered yachts come and go as the sun went down over New Jersey. Whirlpool, steam, sauna, eucalyptus, aloe and olive oil moisturizer. I am reduced to limp velvet. I want to stuff the thick terry robe into my bag just for the memory, but do not. I can barely walk to the subway. Back home, I pour a glass of Orvieto secco (savoring its rough flavor and raw grassy color) and open a recent biography of Machiavelli. I read three words and fall asleep.
But my purpose in writing is to review the new movie “Hairspray”. I have been eager to see this, having loved both the original John Waters film and also the Broadway musical.
Would Travolta add something to the definitive tracks of both Divine and Harvey Fierstein? Or, would he fail as miserably as did Bernadette Peters in her dreadfully stillborn revival of Gypsy?
I had read his comments about the extreme amount of thought he put into his decision to accept the role and his decision to play Edna as an aged and obese but still voluptuous Sophia Loren.
Despite the fact that there were some transcendent moments in his performance, when, carried above his own thinking by the power of the music and the choreography, you find yourself happily in love with his Edna, I think he was still the weakest part of the movie and an unfortunate choice for several reasons.
His vocal register was entirely misplaced. Perhaps he had tried out a number of possibilities, all of them unsuccessful, and resorted to his natural voice, hoping that the visual impact of Edna would surely define any voice that went with it. He had said in an interview that he had researched and delivered an authentic Baltimore accent. If this is true, there must be only two or three people left in America who employ that accent, because it is totally unrecognizable as indigenous to Baltimore. Why deliver an accent so unrecognizable (albeit etymologically perfect) as to be un-endearing and therefore unfunny?
Travolta’s Edna is heavy on agoraphobia and light on ferocity. She is a weak-chinned and fearful Laura Wingfield whom he never quite manages to set free from a diva’s imprisonment in fat even though the script calls for more than one moment of exalted liberation.
Travolta’s “Timeless” duet with Christopher Walken, one of my favorite songs from the Broadway version where it was a showstopper, was a bit disappointing. No sexual chemistry, and that is exactly what the song is about. I kept suspecting that Travolta should have taken the role with trust in the director who might have been better able to elicit a performance that was not a copy of the previous two standards while able to stand on its own fat legs.
If not for Harvey’s excellent turn as Edna, I’d be tempted to say that because the part was so perfectly written for Divine, anyone else would fail in it. Travolta has said that he did not want to play it as a man in drag, but as a real woman. If so, he should have devised a voice that would have helped us believe it, and he should have envisioned a woman with stronger passions and frustrations beyond a mousey and fidgety anxiety over carbohydrates. Maybe he just didn’t take the time to meet and understand Edna. Even John Waters did not fully understand the Edna he had created until one day, on the set of the original movie, when Divine first appeared and took his place at the ironing board. Waters reports that everyone cheered, and that Divine looked at him and said “No matter how hard you try, you can’t make me look less than beautiful.” It is exactly that inner conviction that is missing from Travolta’s performance.
Among the many successful turns were those of Nikki Blonsky who easily shoulders the entire package and delivers a perfectly lovable, spunky and energetic Tracy Turnblad, Michelle Pfeiffer as the scheming Velma Von Tussle, Zac Efron as the adorable Link Larkin (in one of the film’s most inspired moments, singing to a framed black and white photo of Tracy that sings along with him), and best of all, Elijah Kelley as Seaweed. Some actors winningly draw the audience into their face while singing and dancing in movie musicals, and he is one of them. While the camera is on him, you forget all and any cinematic devices and are swept away by his instinctive magnetism.
The same cannot be said for the sadly miscast Queen Latifah who delivers herself of Motormouth Maybelle with exactly the same breezy laziness that she brings to her television cosmetics commercials.
We were seated next to two very proper women of a certain age who had arrived at the theater hoping to see “No Reservations”, and had chosen “Hairspray” only because their first choice was sold out. They had seen neither the earlier movie nor the Broadway show. When the lights came on, I turned to them and said, “Sooo? What did you think?”
And that it is. I recommend it based on the music alone. Also, it is a fine example of the newer style of movie musicals established by Chicago and Moulin Rouge in which there are no slow parts that one must endure for the sake of plot motion.
I wonder, however, how much better it might have been with Baz Luhrmann directing the first ten minutes. He would have known how to fly over Baltimore and into Tracy Turnblad’s bedroom for the rousing “Good Morning Baltimore” in that style that makes your heart stop when you watch the opening of Moulin Rouge.
And why couldn’t Harvey Fierstein have played Edna? And although Ruth Brown died last November and was probably not up to recreating her Motormouth Maybelle, Darlene Love who currently plays the part on Broadway would probably have been a better choice. And why did they save “Mama I’m a Big Girl Now” until the end of the credits? According to Wikipedia, Ricki Lake and Marisa Jaret Winokur (two previous Tracies) sing this with Nikki Blonsky, but there is no good reason for clipping it from the body of the film and tacking it on at the end.
I agree with the ladies. Slightly less than wonderful, but definitely fun.
Michael Albetta, Dean Trantalis and Norm Kent video
At the end of the rally at City Hall, Michael A. Albetta, President of the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus (and perhaps the most powerful speaker overall at this event) introduced City Commissioner Dean Trantalis who took a moment to introduce the Norm Kent, publisher of National Gay News.Com whose proclamation summarized much of the day.
I've listened to a lot of gay hooting and hollering for rights over the years, most of which could be chalked up to beer and would be burned away by the next day's sunlight, but this event was superior. Those who spoke demonstrated a closing of ranks among the local leadership against a seriously out-of-control bigot, Mayor Naugle.
At the “Flush Naugle” rally, I concluded that Fort Lauderdale’s City Hall is the ugliest public building in the world. As is always the case with an ugly building, the viewer tries to imagine improvements short of demolition. Would replacement of the precast aggregate slabs with spandrel glass alleviate its “urban bunker” quality? Maybe, but the basic proportions are clumsy. The garrisoned upper level protrusion is irrational.
The spiraling cord around the telescoping antenna of the media van was like jewelry, and there’s that sole palm tree weeping over the landscrape.
Local political leaders came together on Tuesday to close ranks against Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle whose bigoted comments have finally galvanized an otherwise sleepy gay community.
The rally at City Hall attracted about a thousand participants, mostly gay men. The impressive roster of speakers included Matt Foreman, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, whose words were strong and clear, directing Floridians to shun Mayor Naugle and to exclude him from any gathering of decent people.
The real product of the "Flush Naugle" movement is a unifying grassroots movement that will probably result in the eventual toppling of the bigoted mayor and his replacement with more inspired leadership.
It was a pleasure to be part of this crowd. Interestingly, these are mostly not the men one sees out at the bars and sex clubs and bath houses and gay beaches of Fort Lauderdale, but these are the men whose work will guarantee the rights of those guys, making Fort Lauderdale an even better gay mecca. I suspect the "Flush Naugle" movement will expand rapidly and will develop some real muscle.
Calling it “The Eagle in Exile” is no joke. Fueling suspicion that the Puritans actually landed at Port Everglades rather than Plymouth Rock, I need to drive out of town to get to this improper twice-a-week sex romp that had once been located in Fort Lauderdale proper.
It’s ten exits and ten minutes up Route 95 at the edge of Pompano. (Yes, that very same Route 95 that runs through New York and New England, making the difference between here and there an easily memorized handful of left turns barely more complex than the placement of a message in a bottle into the Atlantic which follows the path established by this interstate.)
“The Eagle in Exile” is located in a tired single-tiered failing concrete strip mall (as is literally everything in Florida). I feel nothing but affection for these malls, emptied of their original pizzazz and blemished with consignment shops, tattoo parlors, check cashing venues and those similar businesses that move in once the owners surrender any hope of better-paying tenants.
The cheerful man (think retired Princeton language scholar with two grown daughters) inside the door is the same fellow who greeted me a year ago when this club had been located on Sunrise Boulevard. His gracious welcome and a blast of chilled air erase the dreariness of the spongy parking lot and I am launched within.
In its glory days, this might have been an Anne Francis Swimwear Shoppe, a Denny’s, a GNC Health Food store or maybe a Radio Shack. Now it is a collection of tarpaulins covering any surface likely to be defiled by the attendees and hung from the mullions of the dropped ceiling to create “rooms” (interestingly employing the exact same aesthetic rules used by Edith Wharton in the establishment of her formal outdoor garden “rooms”). Some of the tarps are duct-taped to the carpet under the seven sofas draped with white sheets that act as navigation points in the dim light.
There are also three port-a-slings (identical to that owned by a certain celebrity blogger who shall remain nameless) set up to facilitate the watching as well as the pounding. Sure enough (and this is always the unfortunate case), some toad set himself up in one of those slings and spent the entire evening with his eyes closed, head turned to one side and legs splayed in the air, gently swinging and available to any and all comers, of which there were none.
I’ve gotten ahead of myself and made the place seem horrid which it is not, so let me rewind a bit in order to establish its terrain.
Once inside, you are in a lengthy room that looks like most any gay bar in America. The bar itself is roughly fifty feet long (I use the length of a seventy-five foot swimming pool to calculate this) with a dozen stools and four tables each attended by four more stools and governed by overhead video screens giving forth the recommended activities (not the Food Channel). A very friendly, well-tanned and handsome bartender in black briefs offers to check my clothing and wants to give me a drink (admission gets you three coupons redeemable for beer, wine or spirits, with soft drinks for the asking), reaffirming my decision that my next career really ought to be one in which I can work in my underwear.
According to their website, the place opens at 8PM, and given that this is a Wednesday night, I have arrived at a respectable 8:30 with hope that I’ll be back home with a book in bed by midnight. Unfortunately, it is immediately clear to me that I am among the earliest arrivals. (Don’t arrive until 10:30) There are but a dozen naked men wandering about and watching the door hungrily. I chat up the bartender and then wander into the farther two recesses which are a step or two up and around corners. These contain the aforementioned furnishings and I am pleased with the lighting, good enough to inspect the details of the occupants but weak enough to erase a few years from anyone’s age.
A slim young guy with short black hair and goatee has followed me into an empty area set up to accommodate several dozen men. He is Ricardo, Puerto Rican, the comptroller of a real estate company and owner of the expressive and impressive dick poking at my belly button as would a third person attempting to crash our conversation. We eventually give in to the insistence of his dick which I introduce to my own, as would two gentlemen walking dogs in Central Park let their pets play with each other while continuing their conversation. We are soon joined by a short man with a silvery brush cut and a powerful gym-built chest who unleashes from his white jeans (not everyone is naked) a pit bull of a dick that is not as well trained as our own. The game changes when he announces to us that he can cum simply by our biting his chest. He demonstrates the truth of this and heads off to the bathroom. He is one of those men who paces himself through several such climaxes in the course of a night. We were the recipients of his “first up at bat” and I saw him prove his stamina at least three more times in the course of the evening.
Back at the bar, I meet a very tall and magnificently proportioned black man wearing a t-shirt remembering Barcelona. He has been on one of those Atlantis Mediterranean cruises that include some Greek islands, and he highly recommends it. We share our affection for the beauty of Barcelona and end our conversation without needing to verbalize our mutual decision to get frisky with each other later in the evening. This commences several minutes later, when, sprawled next to each other on one of the sofas, with one of his long and powerful arms yoked behind my neck and over my shoulder, we take note of the various men who kneel in front of us, sometimes lifting a head out of one of our crotches and applying it to the other’s as if to say “This guy’s real good. Try this one.”
Back at the bar, I introduce Ricardo to Barcelona and the evening develops a fine pattern. The three of us would convene wordlessly in the play areas, create a tableau vivant and then escape back to the bar whenever the press of the onlookers became too frenzied.
In the course of the night, I cannot imagine that the attendance exceeded seventy-five, that being a dismal number, but I had a convivial time of it, and was glad for the good company what with C, and everyone else I know, up north. Tonight I will attend a special meeting of our condominium association called to decide whether or not to replace the carpeting of the party room with tile. I’m going to suggest tarps.
Ours was a balanced weekend including the riotous crowd crammed into Shubert Alley (“the heart of Broadway”) for the annual “Broadway Barks”, and also, a bike trip to the serenity of Wave Hill, a city-owned garden/mansion on 252nd Street in the Bronx (We put our bikes on the subway).
At “Broadway Barks”, with Pal Joey, who had to make a stop at the nearby 7/11 done over as a Quicki-Mart, to purchase memoribilia, I loved being less than ten feet from the long line of celebrities who took the outdoor stage on behalf of dogs and cats needing adoption. Mary Tyler Moore, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters, Jo Anne Worley and Harry Hamlin, to name a few.
At Wave Hill, we toured the seventeen distinctly different gardens, overlooks, buildings, exhibits and paths that comprise this twenty-eight acre dreamscape packed with rare trees and flowering plants. Panoramic vistas of the Hudson far below us, and of the cliffs of the Palisades.
Getting there was easy. An elevator at 66th Street accomodated our bikes, and, in line with subway policy, we wheeled them into the last car which we had entirely to ourselves all the way up to the last stop on the #1 line: 252nd Street. From there, you have to carry your bike down a long staircase to street level, and, you have to bike uphill for 15 minutes. This effort is rewarded by the touring of some shady streets featuring enchanted cottage-mansions designed by Dwight Baum (crazy brick, stucco, eyelet windows under slate, very arts and crafts. We'll be back to see more of these and more of the Fieldston neighborhood in which they are located. Hard to believe you are in the Bronx.
Today I test drove the not-yet-available DaimlerChrysler "Smart Fortwo" at the stop their roadshow made in the Wretched Little City. I explained to the pert young lady with the blonde ponytail drawn through the back of her SmartCar baseball cap who sat in the passenger seat and displayed the various features that "I don't need a big car like some guys who need to compensate for their shortcomings". Her lack of reaction let me know that I wasn't the first to trot this out.
The mileage has not yet been set by the government but it should exceed 40 per gallon. (C's Prius does better than that, but costs $7-10 thousand more). An all-electric model is planned, but the staff would not tell me when it would be available, no doubt afraid that some of us will skip the gas-powered one and wait for the plug-in version.
I'm on the waiting list, and I've decided to go with the metallic blue convertible with the black trim. The cab is comfy, not at all claustrophobic, and the car delivered what you'd expect of a 3 cylinder engine: a jaunty oneness with the pavement that made me feel like a character in an animated movie by Pixar. The trunk is big enough for only the two bags that C and I weekly schlep into NYC, but eventually, this car will stay in Fort Lauderdale and we won't need anything more than the subway during the months we spend in New York. Meanwhile, we dream of the many small parking spaces on the streets of the Upper West Side that will become doable.
Our Hill, Hula Hoops, the Queen of Hearts and a Hyperbolic Helicopter
In this city, the price of real estate adjusts the way one uses both public and private space.
Our private space (home) feels less diminutive when we consider it to be an extended remix of our skin rather than a composition of rooms dedicated to various household functions. I don’t paint the walls of our co-op, I moisturize them.
And our public space, Central Park, becomes, in all its unabletobeoverstated glory, our back yard. A good Manhattan rule of thumb: if you can get from your place to the Park before the mug of coffee in your hand cools beyond palatability, claim it and use it for as much of your regular recreation as possible rather than pay for private outdoor space. It’s really a rather grand alternative.
On Saturday, fueled by a C-generated brunch graced by Joe, Jeff,Jimbo and our house guest, Peter, we do just that, in the good company of the bloggerati gathered, as is customary, on Bear Hill.
Before we push chairs away from that table, let’s take a moment to contemplate this photo of Peter (see the July GQ for his profile as the world’s pre-eminent divorce lawyer for soured gay couplings) and his nipploaf, from the camera of Jeff. (On Saturday night, the sly Peter, having decided to mock the hunger for stories that inflicts our lot, would spin out a fabulous tale of having been picked up at Gym Bar and helicoptered to the Hamptons by an Indian named Rasheed. Unwilling to doubt even the most absurd constructs, we all wondered if perhaps it had actually happened. He had us hooked for a while. It won’t work a second time.
Clockwise from the upper left:
Joe brought a boom box, tuned to pick up the music being pumped out by the DJ at the roller skaters’ rink a few yards away, and giving our gathering an amplification boost.
Jimbo, whose salutatory gesture is a bipolar combination of Eva Peron and Nancy Reagan, held great expectations for Xanadu, the musical, for which he had tickets. Rarely do I meet someone whose references elude me entirely, but that is delightfully the case with Jimbo. In life, we’ve both watched things and read things and remembered things, but never the same things. Even his mythological references which are rooted more in the claymational soils of the American Indian contain no cognate for me, dwelling as I do within the Greco-Roman temples. However, gardening (I happened to have stored on my camera a pic of a diploid hemerocallis called “Russian Rhapsody” - think baby pictures - ) and the complexities of threesomes provided a Rosetta Stone.
George, who, upon demand, delivered himself of one delightfully grotesque story about a hook-up with someone who was wearing adult diapers. Our questions involved the concept of Scotch-Guarding. Unlike Peter’s story, this one was unfortunately historic.
The shirtless and recumbent Aaron who is still vexed by his own proposed choice between two months in Rome and two months on Fire Island next summer. I’m up for either.
C, who brought the purple Frisbee which we shared triangularly with Chris. (I throw it with my left hand. Why?)
Damien The Responsible, who had to leave early to put in some work hours.
Chris, who confessed his need for a cupcake after every three drinks in life.
Jeff, who is not yet a doctor even though Joe refers to him as Doctor Jeff. What can we do, powerless as we are to rein in the supporting characters we have all become in that world? Mercifully, Benevolent.Is.Our.God.
Peter, wheels turning under Mack Truck cap, who would receive serious demerits for the helicopter story, later performed an assignation on the roof of TheEagle that even the French judges among us scored highly.
Andrew, of Williamsburg, whom I feel I’ve known in another life or maybe just two months ago.
Mark, of DC, survivor of a harrowing fall in the wilds of Hawaii, seems in this photo to be clutching his crotch, the task of which most anyone in attendance would have relieved him had he asked, should any of the whispering on the farther borders of the blankets be tested and I saw no reason to doubt their weight. (Send in the SentenceStructurePolice if you will, you know what I’m saying.)
Russ, of DC, whose podcast/blog is entertaining and practical. I reminded him of a vintage (in blog-years) post in which he reminded the men of the world that, in a bar, you are mostly judged by those parts that are visible in a crowd: not much below the chest. Therefore, one need cultivate only “bar muscles”: those of the chest and shoulders, and that this can be accomplished via the simple and classic push-up. How many of us have sadly abandoned the push-up? Return to it, and your chest and shoulders will rise to greet you as did the father of the prodigal son. The attractive Russ is now threatening to revive the “dip”. I’d be willing to play the Gravitron in that video.
Later, as we strolled out of our back yard, we passed through a dazzling gathering of hula hoop fanatics. Here are the star turns, first of Miss Natalie and then, of the amazing Miss Alison.
It’s always something in this town, and one grows so jaded that when a brigade of bagpipers had earlier passed our group on Bear Hill and added counterpoint to the Baptist choir that held the band shell, I could not even be bothered to raise the camera.
And then there was Sunday. We attended the “Sea Tea” aboard the “Queen of Hearts” accompanied by Joe and Chris. The twenty-five dollar admission fee benefited some worthy cause and also provided a summery buffet consisting of chicken, rice, eggplant and several porn stars. This particular excursion was organized by a redheaded impressario named Will Clark who also delivers a weekly Bingo event similarly garnished with porn stars. Here we find Will handing a raffle prize to a vacationing tonsured Irish monk. It’s a copy of “Black Inches” which I am told is a collection of poetry by Maya Angelou celebrating the struggles of, and measurable progress made by her people.
Truth to tell (and maybe it was the Dramamine that C and I had taken before this cruise) we would have been just as happy to have been on one of the ordinary editions of “Sea Tea” that do not involve dancer-gobbling guests, but the spectacle was trainwreckarresting and reminded me of the parts of “Suddenly Last Summer” in which Sebastian is set upon by the urchins. I wanted to run to the DJ booth and use my Liz Taylor voice to scream “Please! Please! Play something by ‘Flock of Seagulls’ “.
At a table next to ours was the legendary, mysterious and gracious Rollerina about whom I do not know enough. (Even Wikipedia contains very little about this Studio 54 regular rumored to be a Wall Street stock broker or banker by day.) (Also in this photo, not to be outdone, is Ruth Draper who, throughout the evening, like a parrot on speed, kept chirping “I love it! Aren’t doctors wonderful? Miss Honey!”)
As we approached Lady Liberty, with the boat getting us as close as you can possibly get on the water, the DJ played the classic ‘Everybody’s Free (to feel good)” by Rozala and the overlapping references included even those who were too preoccupied to notice her passage. As I clutched the railing and raised a drink in salute, I felt I had finally shared my grandparents’ experience of approaching the new world via Ellis Island. Right. And, I took the one pic I'll probably ever take of what certainly should have been included in the newly revamped list of seven wonders of the world.
This one has been kicking about for years. I never liked it. Twice it dried and twice I sanded it down to the basic shapes. I let it sit in a stack in the cellar for two years, and decided yesterday to finish it or pitch it. This is what we looked at from our bedroom window in Ptown. I painted this view four times. Two were shown and when they sold, I wanted to contact the buyers and ask them what they could possibly feel when they look at them, they who never wondered, as did I, who lived in that little house in the center. C made a few good suggestions which I followed, and now it's as done as it ever will be.
We took our bikes along the Hudson on Saturday, C, Joe, Jeff, and I.
At one point we found a public bathroom in the Bronx. It contained those gigantic porcelain urinals of old. Crackled glaze. Niagaran flushing. Hex tiles. There’s something fantastic about their sheltering size and their alluring finish and their human temperature. If I was going to fetishize something, I think it would be these. Oh. Looks like I just did. (Click to really feel 'em)