Tuesday, December 25, 2007
There is a distinct Christmas feel in the air. It does not need snow and cold weather to make its appearance. Santa can wear sunglasses and drive a '55 Buick convertible.
Merry Christmas to all of you from a sunny day in Santa Monica.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
I first heard of the Del Rubio Triplets in the late 80's. Identical triplets in go-go boots and miniskirts well into their sixties performing both Sinatra standards and the Devo songbook. Their enthusiasm more than made up for any lapse in actual talent.
Sadly, both Eadie and Elena have passed on and Milly is pressing on alone. Recently I have learned that she has been having heath challenges herself and may be facing her last Christmas season. Her friend Michael has started a campaign asking fans to send a Christmas card to Milly so she doesn't feel forgotten. Please send the cards to him, and please don't refer to her health or the passing of her sisters.
Send a Christmas card to:
MS. MILLY DEL RUBIO
VIA: MICHAEL A.
2275 WEST 25TH, #30
SAN PEDRO, CA
And to get you in the Holiday mood, check out this video of the fabulous Del Rubio Triplets at their peak, performing Winter Wonderland on Pee Wee's Christmas Special, circa 1989. Ho Ho Ho.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
The slender volume of dark maroon leatherette was on the stand next to her bed. The cover said "Senior Memories 1952" in silver debossed lettering. Inside were many casual photographs of her- playing sports, clowning with her best friend , skating in an exhibition.
Her senior portrait showed off a modest smile. She wore her brunette hair not unlike Audrey Hepburn's. A single strand of pearls accented her sweater. Her intense blue eyes stared out into a world full of promise. Each graduate's picture bore a caption, hers was "A lily girl, not meant for this world's pain". It would prove more prophetic than anyone could have imagined at the time.
She endured more than her share of this world's pain. Her years of skating as a teenager, compounded by pregnancies, caused severe back problems in her young adulthood and a premature onset of arthritis. Medical science responded in imperfect ways, including the introduction of pain medications whose presence caused dependency. Her mobility diminished with each passing year but her spirit did not.
There were emotional pains as well. Two miscarriages, including one which would have provided a badly wanted daughter. A failed marriage later in life, the loss of her own mother to whom she was extremely close. And yet her will to live was undeterred.
We spoke briefly on Friday. I had gotten in too late on Thanksgiving to call from California. When I reached her, she seemed sleepy. I told her to rest, and that I would call her later. "I love you, Mom", I said as I hung up the phone.
We found her on her sofa with her hands peacefully clasped, as if she had laid down for a nap and simply did not awaken. Five days short of her seventy fourth birthday, her pain finally ceased.
I've returned to Michigan in the winter for the first time in fifteen years. I always come in the summertime. She's commented before how I've been back for Dad's birthday but not hers. The irony was not lost on me as I boarded the plane on December first- she finally got me to come back on her birthday.
She is laid out in pink, because she loved pink. She was a girly kind of girl at heart. She'll be wearing her Macewen sash, honoring her Scottish heritage. My brother has arranged for a piper to play for her. Following services on Monday, she will be laid to rest alongside her mother. Both my darling girls will be together.
Rest well, lily girl. There will never be another like you.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
And what was his west coast domicile? An enormous faux Tudor mansion in the heart of Westlake Village. It looked as if it has been dismantled brick by brick from an older section of Greenwich and painstakingly reassembled amidst the palms. "A courageous house", was my observation. "One that exudes self confidence".
The theme continued on the interior. An enormous curved stairway, which seemed to anticipate the stylish descent of Dolly Levi at any moment. Enough carved oak trim to keep all of the woodcarvers of the Black Forest busy for months, were they not already steadily employed making veneer trim for Mercedes Benz. And just to the left of the entry, a very grand dining room.
Beautifully furnished, suede ceiling, table for twelve, and as Edwardian as the rest of the interior. Exquisite hand made lace tablecloth and fine linen napkins. Twin German silver candelabras which, even while lit, were tempting to look beneath for the silversmith's mark. An impressive setting indeed for an east-meets-west dinner party, one which would prove memorable for other reasons besides the decor.
David's parents, Doctor Raymond and Doctor Wilma, were visiting. He had been a fashionable Park Avenue opthomologist, now retired. She was a PHD psychologist who had made her mark in the world of pharma. They were accompanied by his aunt and uncle, an East Coast University professor and her husband. Upon receiving the invitation, I wondered if I should enroll for a quick Master's degree to be prepared. Instead, I studied E! online. Let the games begin...
It was a very witty and lively conversation at dinner. David's aunt Lillian told a story of how she got released from Jury duty on the excuse that she was just back from Africa and had to testify before Congress that week regarding the famine she had seen. And this was the truth. After the NPR topics has been thoroughly reviewed, the conversation steered a bit more toward the west and celebrity talk began to surface. I told my favorite Elaine Stritch joke (of course, everybody has an Elaine Stritch joke, and I'll publish it later. I'm certain you are all breathless with anticipation) and we all had various snippets to interject- JD manages a fashionable hotel and had a couple of amusing sightings to share regarding a former pop princess recently shorn of hair, but I am sworn to secrecy on her true identity. Other names got tossed about- Martinis with Barbara Mc Nair, Gwen Stefani at church, Linda Ramone in a black Cadillac convertible wearing a chartreuse maraboo. Chartreuse- it's not just a color, it's a lifestyle.
"You know", Dr. Raymond began. "Rex Harrison was a patient of mine. We became good friends". Our celebrity gossip was becoming bi-coastal. "And Tennessee Williams. I was very fond of him" he said. "I feel very badly that I killed him". At this moment, twelve people were nearly as silent as a jury about to sentence someone to the chair. Dr. Raymond explained how Tennessee Williams came to see him for a matter that could have been easily corrected with minor surgery. Tennessee was nervous about the idea of eye surgery, so Dr. Raymond gave him some eye drops as a temporary measure. Shortly after that, when the great playwright was in an inebriated state (which we were all rapidly approaching ourselves) Tennessee unscrewed the stopper from the bottle, held it between his teeth, inhaled and choked to death on it. Hence the good Doctor's claim of culpability. He broke into a hearty smile. A bottle of twenty year port got opened. The rest became a bit of a happy blur, but I found myself repeating in the car on the way home, "I feel very badly that I killed him".
Sunday, November 25, 2007
"Look at those mountains, look at those trees. Look at that bum, he's down on his knees". Los Angeles is a microcosm of America. It's a city of opposites, and it represents a society full of contradictions. Is that what Randy meant? Or was he noting that we somehow got along?
Still, it's the only place I think of as home. Must be the palm trees.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
A case in point is Dora, who writes the blog "What Would Jackie Wear". She was writing recently about how our definition of family can extend well beyond our birth family.
I've always had two, one by birth and the other assembled as I went along. I've always been aware of this, but I didn't have a name for it. I reasoned that I was doing it because gay men tend to be less accepted by their birth families, and so they build their own support network. Some people refer to it as their "gay family", but I don't really care for that as my network is not limited to gay people. So I had something that didn't have a name. I'm seeing now that this is not just a gay phenomenon but something much more universal- a family by birth, expanded by choice.
She used the word 'Ohana- a Hawaiian term to describe the phenomenon. Wikipedia describes it thusly: ’Ohana can actually mean much more than the dictionary definition of family. ’Ohana can describe a community, a circle of friends, who share common goals and values.
'Ohana- a magic word to describe the precious circle that has seen me through so much and still supports me in so many ways. What a lovely name.
For Mike. What's not to like?
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
My friend Will spent the weekend in San Francisco with his long-distance 48 hour paramour. He earns the name by beginning to panic after about the two day mark of each visit, often accompanied by premature flights home. Some people struggle with orientation their entire lives, but I digress. This time, the reaction was much milder and they actually completed their itenerary as planned. Will returned in a much better mood than usual and brought a gift- a plump loaf of fresh sourdough bread.
This morning I put on the coffee as usual and fired up the computer for my blog hour. It's my quiet morning reading time, a chance to catch up with my favorite writers and hopefully post a few coherent sentences myself. I've been noticeably lacking lately thanks to recent 60 hour work weeks and haven't yet figured out how to blame my inactivity on the Writer's Guild.
The house is dark except for the glow from the monitor. Steam rises from the coffeemaker and contrasts prominently against the cooler, denser air in the kitchen. It is unmistakably autumn. I slice thick slices of fresh sourdough bread and place them in the toaster oven. I watch them darken under a red glow. I sit at my desk in the quiet house, savoring fresh coffee, good writing, and the taste and texture of fresh sourdough toast. It's heavenly. I don't have to be anyplace for hours.
Dedicated to someone for whom I keep the umbrella handy. I know you're reading.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
The M, as we called it, was a hangout. On the Corner of first and water, it had large picture windows and a horseshoe bar inside. It was not one of those dark back alley gay bars I had been used to in small Midwestern town. It was OUT for all to see, and in that fall of 1987, I had decided to be out as well. I guess we synched.
There was a small restaurant attached to the back of the pub, which was known for its Friday fish fry. In a German Catholic city, this made for a very busy night. Often, we would meet at the M and then wander a couple doors down to the Chew Toy until the dinner crowd thinned out.
I'm sure the three of us were in Izod polos. We always were. We probably looked like rainbow Sherbet. Dan, Gary and I had become close friends hanging out at the M. Gary and I were both recent transplants attempting to get our arms around gay life in the city. Being winter, I'm sure we parked my Saab 900 SPG at the curb, the black one with the baseball glove leather seats. My Hartman attache' was probably on the back seat. We could not have been more 80's without Voguing.
Grizzled fiftyish Leather Dude in chaps listened as we discussed our news of the week, and finalized weekend plans. Finally he looked over at us and asked sarcastically, "What are you guys, the Guppies from Hell?"
Perfect! We had been racking our brains trying to come up with a name for our bowling team, and the season was about to start. We wore our badge proudly.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
EJ Wells, Hearse Driver, directed by Zachary Byron Helm
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Saturday, October 27, 2007
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
John and I looked into the cage at the six virtually identical black kittens. They were tiny, just barely one pound each. They all had green eyes and silky black fur. The attendant told us that they were all little girls, and speculated that both parents were in all likelihood solid black as well. They were alternately sleeping and playing. I picked one up and held her in my hand. She peeped contentedly- "mew..mew..". So tiny and innocent.
John picked one up and she ran up his sweater sleeve and began biting him on the arm. It was at that moment that I realized that not all kittens were the same. We took detailed notes on each one.
John and I had been together almost four years, the first two in Chicago where I lived and he was working on location making television, and the next two long distance when I transferred to Los Angeles and he remained with the show. We had grown apart during that time. We had both been used to certain freedoms during the two years which were now difficult to reconcile. John began dropping hints about bath houses. It was obvious that he wanted more freedom. He would soon have it.
John was concerned that I would be lonely after his departure. In all honestly, I had been so for the prior two years, but it was nice of him to at least notice. His solution was for me to get a cat. I wanted a dog, but my frantic work schedule made that impractical. I was at an impasse.
For my birthday, John gave me an "Everything But The Cat" kit. Food, dishes, litter box, play toys, even a carrying box. There was a label on the side of the box- "Kitten Not Included". That we had to provide ourselves, which is why we found ourselves at the Malibu Animal Shelter on a Saturday morning staring into a cage full of black kittens.
In Los Angeles County, you are not allowed to adopt black kittens in the month of October. I don't think I have to go into too much detail here, except to say that I was left a one day window to choose what could prove to be a companion for years to come. Not like there's pressure or anything.
Cut to the chase- the last day to adopt the little black kittens was Monday. I had an advertising meeting at 10, after which I drove to Malibu. When I arrived, a young woman was leaving with a black kitten in her grasp. I looked into their cage and there was just one bewildered kitten left, looking very scared. I checked her collar tag and referred to my notes:
Yep, the little arm biter. John had liked her best, saying that she would have personality. I agreed, and then mused, so did Lizzie Borden. Well, I said to myself, I have come all this way for a cat, and technically, this IS a cat. I scooped up the little dragon and headed for the exit.
By the time I got to the car, I named the little fluff ball Serena, figuring that she would either turn out to be tranquil and calm, or Samantha in a black wig. I do not have to tell you which way it turned out.
She did not like the car ride. At all. She howled for most of the way home. Thirty-Eight miles, as a matter of fact. LOUDLY. By the time I got home, I began to wonder if I had made a most grievous error. Then we got inside the house and she stopped crying. I sat her upon my lap where she promptly fell asleep. This was my cat, all one-point-one pounds of her.
This post commemorates our eleventh year together. I can't imagine being without her. I've made her promise that she will live to be forty.
Happy Birthday, Pumpkinbunny. Daddy loves you.
Now stop chewing on my wrist.
Monday, October 8, 2007
Sunday, September 30, 2007
For example, one time, Ron showed up with a totally sun baked 1950 Ford sedan. The body and chassis were remarkably intact, but the car simply looked like it had been parked on the sun. This one reminded him of his Grandfather, who had an almost identical car back in Texas in the early sixties. Ron recalled how his Grandmother referred to it as the "little gray Ford". Another time it was a green and white mid-fifties Ford sedan with factory air conditioning, but that one reposed in the driveway for only a short period of time.
Ron's mother Sue passed away recently from cancer. He went back to Lubbock to the little mid-century house he grew up in, only the second house of her adult life, and began the task of sorting through belongings that had been accumulating there since LBJ's first term. Clothes, shoes, books, photographs, papers, catalogues, magazines. Some recent, some not. In the cedar chest were the family papers. His Grandfather's Military Discharge papers were there, along with his Parent's Marriage License, almost every document pertaining to the lives of her four boys, and a yellowed newspaper clipping.
He carefully unfolded the clipping. It was dated September 30, 1957. The headline read "Four Killed on Area Roads". It was published on a Monday and told how four people, three adult women and one nine year old child, were killed the previous day in three separate crashes. There was a black and white photograph of a mangled 1955 Ford sedan. One could not tell the color but Ron knew instinctively that the car was light green. It had belonged to his Aunt Patsy.
Ron does not remember his Aunt Patsy, his father's second-youngest sister. He was only two years old when she died. She was only twenty-seven years old herself. He had grown up keenly aware of her absence. He heard his family talk about her over the years, especially his Grandmother and his Aunt Bobbie. There is a picture of him on his first birthday in her arms. He does not recall this photo being taken.
She has raven black hair, dimpled cheeks, and a big smile. She is a beautiful young woman. He has seen other pictures of her also, including one of her in her casket. Her son Donnie appears in a similar photograph. Ron recalls that he knew better than to ask his Grandmother about those photos. He knew almost nothing about the accident which claimed their lives. His Grandmother was unable to discuss it. According to Aunt Bobbie, Grandmother had to be heavily sedated to even get through the funeral.
From his Aunt Bobbie, he knew that Uncle Tommy, a baker in downtown Lubbock, had worked part of the day that Sunday. His mother had offered to help the young family buy a badly needed bigger house, so Patsy and the kids picked her up at her house in Cone, Northwest of Lubbock, and drove to the bakery downtown to get Tommy. They spent a long afternoon touring and looking at potential new homes.
When the day drew to a close, they dropped his mother off at about 8:30 pm and headed back to Lubbock on Highway 82. It was a busy two lane road and Patsy was driving. Tommy was in the right front, and nine year old Donnie was seated between them in front. In fifties highway etiquette, the eldest got first dibs on the front seat. They were nearing home when a car being driven by a twenty-one year old man from Fort Worth pulled out to pass and hit the green Ford sedan head on.
It is all but impossible for us to understand such a loss in the context of its own time. To imagine an era where ladies wore single strands of white pearls and dainty hats, but then could be suddenly thrown through the windshields of pastel colored sedans is beyond our ability to comprehend. It bemoans the limitations of technology at a fixed point in time. And while it may seem to us to be primitive, it was the state of the art at the time. These were just the risks one assumed in daily living. Life changes in an instant, and this fact is as true today as it was in the late summer of 1957. Perhaps that is what makes the memories so precious.
On the nightstand next to Ron's bed, there is a framed photograph of a smiling young woman holding a one year old boy. She has raven black hair and dimples in her cheeks.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Finally, toward the last few days of summer, he seemed to become unresponsive, his breathing shallow and difficult. The nurse said it appeared that he had suffered another serious stroke. The family was summoned.
They accumulated throughout the day- His wife Gladys, son Michael, and daughters Peg and Patty all crowded into his room along with two of his longtime caregivers. It was not until his daughter Kathleen arrived that he allowed himself to let go. Fifteen minutes after she walked in, he breathed his last. He had waited for her to arrive. She was his favorite.
Draped in black, I found myself at the first Irish Catholic funeral I had attended since the late seventies. I walked into the funeral home and immediately spotted Delphina, one of Michael's closest friends. We approached the sign in table together. On the table were photos of Jack at the care facility with his family. Well, almost. The photos showed his wife and all his children, except Michael. Michael, who for 22 months spent every spare moment with his father, was excluded. I am reminded of why I was not particularly close with his sisters.
Gladys carried her husband's cremains in a silver urn. She was followed into the chapel by her children. Mourners on both sides of the aisle stood and followed her with their eyes as she passed. It was not unlike a wedding except there was no bridal march.
The priest conducting the mass had been acquainted with the family since he had been a child himself. His own father was a boyhood friend of Jack's. He himself had known Jack's parents, Fred and the inimitable Maud, quite well. He shared boyhood stories and observations of not only Jack but also of his parents. It was sweetly touching. There were moments where I could see that Michael, directly in front of me, was softly sobbing. It was very hard for me to see that.
One of the things the priest touched on was the immigrant experience. He talked about how Fred and Maud had both come from the old country to the new, as had many of their friends. It was something they all shared, he said. The Melting Pot. A community welcome extended to all- Irish and Welsh, Swedes and Swish. Yes, he said swish. I looked around the room at all of the blue eyed redheads. Not a sign of swedes, I noted, but with Michael's friends in attendance, certainly no shortage of swish.
At some point, sister Peg elected to narrate the twenty-two months for us in a level of detail that bordered on the excruciating. We learned the names and rotation schedules of all of his caregivers, his favorite routines, the television programs he favored, and even which nurses he developed crushes on. One mourner put his head down on the pew in front of him. The priest sighed loudly as a signal which went unnoticed. We actually began to understand what the seemingly interminable illness had been like. She staggered aimlessly as if wrestling with her grief in the improvised setting of a one woman show.
Finally Peg relinquished her seige and, after a tearful rendition of "When Irish Eyes are Smiling", we accompanied Jack to his final resting place. As it was very near to the chapel, we actually walked behind the hearse where Jack rested on his wife's lap. We read the names on the plaques in the colombarium. I noted an unusal number of plaques, including one for Michael's own brother Chris, whose inscription read "Beloved Brother and Uncle". These men were in their thirties to mid forties. The tragic early days of the plague, I observed. Again, no swedish names were evident.
I left Michael there, with his sisters and his mother. I did not stop by the family home, it did not seem like a place I needed to be. The priest's words stayed with me. I wondered, what things would have been like if the swedes and swish had truly been equally welcome.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Charles Nelson Reilly. Brett Somers, Betty White. Marcia Wallace. Richard Dawson. Sone of the best comic actors of the 1970's propelled the Match Game to its iconic status.
Thought for the day- if you were the creator of Match Game 2007, who would you choose for the six panelists?
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
When I was a teenager, I used to rush home from school to watch Match Game Seventy-Whatever. Brett and Charles were omnipresent, Betty White and Richard Dawson nearly as much. These people were my electronic babysitters. I loved their banter and repartee. I think I learned about gay men and their fashion accessory gal pals from watching. In many ways, it was a road map to my future. I guess that's why I'm so saddened. To me and the young men of my generation who were trying to understand who they were, Charles and Brett were a godsend. Drinking, bitchy, irreverent, fabulous, crazy role models. I had the opportunity to thank Charles in person in 1996. He kind of brushed it off, but that was his way, I wish I had gotten the opportunity to thank Brett as well.
The Game Show Network will be airing a Match Game Marathon in honor of Brett this Saturday beginning at 9 am. I'll be glued to the set, the world's oldest 13 year old.
Here's Brett and Charles from 1976:
We went back to the pebbly beach. Four days after our near air disaster, we went back. This time, things went much better. We arranged a different aircraft (big comfy Hawker 700 with an excellent safety record) from a different Air Charter service and even used a different airport. Our cast changed slightly, Ron was freaked out by our prior adventure and decided to stay home and projectile vomit. Tami brought her boyfriend Steve. Myself, Nick, and Ken were the veterans, having just attempted this a few days beforehand.
The new pilot, Joe, was terrific. Ex-military, ex-airline, and ex-cellent. Flew his own plane. With confidence. When I described what had happened, he scoffed. "That wasn't an emergency", he explained. "That was an impaired landing". He strongly implied that we had been terrorized for little reason. We boarded his Hawker 700, a big comfortable plane that Joe owned himself. No lease-back excuses. This guy knew his stuff. "Let's Go Flyin!" he said. And flyin we did go.
Forty five minutes later we were on the ground at the Monterey Jet Center. We were picked up by Kathy, a soccer mom nee chauffeur who earned extra money with the family 'burban in between frequent calls from her son Darryl. Except for being a bit less adept at running roadblocks than our usual driver, she did a great job and we had a lot of fun with her. "This is no time to be frail", Ken admonished as he directed her around sawhorses and past security into Pebble Beach via our secret way. We all shouted "Hello" to Darryl as he phoned in, and made jokes about our other brother Darryl. A few minutes later, and with the aid of last years permits (Tami never throws these things away), we were at the lodge.
It was a beautiful morning at the Pebble Beach Concours. We were overlooking the ocean, the lush green lawn, and the most beautiful cars in the world. It was one year since we were all here showing the Duesenberg on behalf of our departed friend. That was a very emotional day, this year it was much more relaxed. We actually looked at the cars on the field. Ken and I studied Ferraris and Aston Martins.
Tami rushed the Mercedes tent. We would have had access to credentials if we had done a bit more planning, but we didn't need that- we had Tami. She located a VIP pass or five and we spent the afternoon hanging out at Mercedes. We picked up these three nice PR girls in overly slinky dresses (NOT hookers, Michael- that's more your speed than ours) and genuinely had fun hanging out and chatting. People eavesdropped our table, so we invited them to join us. We were even mostly sober. Oh, and we did bump into this Madam we knew from Malibu, but again, she was not a hooker herself.
After the Best of Show was presented, we headed over to Gooding for the auction. Ken had been mentally toying with the idea of a Ferrari to replace the one lost in the Estate battle, and there were four extremely nice and rare ones at the sale. We checked out the cars while the rest of our crew got settled. The PR girls wandered over and sat with us. We got quite a bit of notice, in no small part due to our Harem.
We were on a time limit. Our jet had to be "wheels-up" by 10 pm. Our soccer mom was meeting us at 9:15. There was a highly desired Ferrari late in the sale. We were cutting things close. To cut to the chase, we bid on the car (against my straight ex-boyfriend who was manning the phone bank. Thanks, Garth), won the bid, looked at the car for two minutes, ran out the door and into the 'burban, raced to the airport and were wheels-up at 10:02 pm after a wonderful day where we all enjoyed each other immensely.
That's when we realized that Ken hadn't signed for the car. On a seven figure bid. Oops. We'll take care of that tomorrow. We had a grand time on the pebbly beach.
It was a kinder, gentler time. A time when we naively thought that our president was merely a stumbling illiterate alcoholic. This was before we realized he was Darth Vader and we were trapped in the Evil Empire. I think it was June.
I posted a hilarious Laura Bush parody video by Mandy Steckelberg called "Liberal's Just Another Word for Gay", which ends with the line "Don't make me open a can of Whoop Ass on ya". It became a catch phrase for my friend William. Like the Mommie Dearest screaming matches Ron and I used to have in front of the Drake Hotel, but without the full length fur coat. After all, it's summer.
Anyway, so Will returns from a vacation trip to see family in Florida and presents me with...a can of Whoop Ass. Don't make me open it up, now.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Then Monday I learned that Brett Somers passed away on Saturday. Rest in peace, Brett- you made so many people laugh.
Here she is with Charles Nelson Reilly and country singer Bill Anderson in a hilarious goodbye from 1976.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
It's wearying for me to be an American in the fall of 2007. For some reason, the destruction of democracy and our decent into fascism upsets me from time to time. Oh, and that illegal war thingy. Sometimes I need to take a break from the republican congressional sex scandals of the day and think back to a kinder, gentler time.
Ah, the fifties- those tailfinned, poodle skirted fifties. How innocent they were.
Fifty years ago today, September 4, 1957, the Russians announced that they had an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile that could reach the world. They could attack us in our beds. Sleep well, kids. Did you say your prayers?
Fifty years ago today, in Little Rock, Arkansas, nine teen aged black girls were turned away from going to high school- by the National Guard. These fifteen and sixteen year old girls were caught between armed Guardsmen and an angry mob of racists. It started a crisis that resulted in the cancellation of the entire 1958 school year for three Little Rock High Schools and would not be resolved until the fall of 1959 when the schools reopened, integrated.
And last but not least, fifty years ago today, Ford Motor Company introduced its latest line of automobiles. It was the first introduction of a new medium priced American make since the Mercury of 1939, It offered two and four door sedans and hardtops, two and four door wagons, and two convertible models. It was called the Edsel.
At least two of the three turned out okay.
Happy Birthday, Ed.
Um, can I go back to 2007 now?
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Here is Back to Black, a virtually perfect perfect perfect song in every way. I've noticed that she's absolutely nailed me with this one. This is where I've been living since December. Take a listen.....
Saturday, September 1, 2007
It started with an phone call from Ken. I don't believe he asked "would you like to go with us and nearly end up in a fiery crash?". At least, I think I would have had the good sense to decline. Oh well, sometimes its better not to know.
No, I think I remember now. Ken was taking the rat pack to the Christies party in Monterey to kick off the Concours weekend. We were hoping for a different year than we had experienced in 2006. And we certainly got that.
It started off perfectly- we had a six passenger Premier I jet, less than a year old, waiting for us in Burbank. We brought our own travelling bar and hors d' oeuvres. We had a slight delay while Nick looked for his misplaced ID, but we idled away the time in a hip retro-chic lounge in Toluca lake where the interior lighting is made of 1959 Cadillac tail lamps. Add faux leopard skin and stir. After a quick round, we were off to the jet center.
My first impression of the Premier I is that it was small but luxurious. It had leather seating for six and a small luggage area in the back which we used for cocktail service. Tami and Nick shared Flight Attendant duties, we nicknamed them both "Trixie".
All was well until about 15 minutes out of Monterey. The pilot advised us we were about to descend into the San Jose area. One can imagine this was a surprise. Ken went to ask the pilot what was going on and was told "Sit down, Sir- we're having an emergency". Note to pilots- best to avoid casual usage of this phrase. Can be upsetting.
So we talked amongst ourselves for a few moments, imagining exactly what was wrong with the plane. Shortly before landing, the pilot came on and told us that the flaps on the wings which extend upon landing had malfunctioned and so they had to divert to a longer runway. MUCH longer, it turned out. The tarmac at San Jose was a full 65% longer than Monterey and thus we were able to land safely, although we touched down FAST. Had we attempted Monterey, we probably would have crashed through the party in the hangar and continued onward to the water. Too splashy of an entrance for me.
So there we were on the ground at the San Jose jet center. Safe, thankfully, but an hour from our destination and with a plane that needs repairs. Not the best. Our team sprung into action. Nick began calling flight services, Ron went online to research hotels in case we were stranded, Ken and Dan took a cab to a liquor store and returned with a bottle of decent vodka. Martini in hand, Tami and I retreated to the pilots lounge where a giant TV was tuned to the history channel, which we both enjoy. We were treated to a program about the history of cremation, which considering the evening, we did NOT enjoy. We chilled. Dan went to the gift shop and got each of us a spiffy San Jose Jet Center hat, and a junior stewardess set for Tami. Gift bags. Just like the Oscars.
After two and a half hours of fun, the maintenance crew finished rebooting the plane's computer and pronounced us fit to fly. We rounded up our merry band, and, much wiser about cremation than we had been, boarded for a return to Burbank. Throughout the hour long trip home, we chatted bemusedly about whether the flaps might really work when we got home. Thankfully, they did and we landed normally this time.
Once we got home, we gratefully deplaned and loaded into our waiting cars. It was about that moment that we noticed that we had never actually reached our destination at all. But neither did Patsy Cline. We raised a glass to her.
That night at home I was reading online about the accident record of the Premier I. It seems that so far, two of the six million dollar jets have been totalled in crashes involving the same failure we experienced, causing them to run off of the end of the runway and crash. Imagine Fred Flintstone trying to stop a plane. I shuddered once I read the reports. At least we were together. We were very lucky.
Two weeks ago, we went back to Pebble Beach for the Concours. We had all been there last year as well. That was a very emotional time.
Last year, John passed away five weeks before the event. One of his favorite cars, a Duesenberg Model J Convertible Sedan, was already entered in the show for exhibition. His surviving partner Ken made the decision to go ahead and show the car. Longtime friends Tami and Steve came for emotional support. I knew how to drive the car.
When I arrived on Friday, Ken was already in town. He asked if we could go to the Lodge for a drink because he didn't want to go back for the first time without John on show day. We checked in with the show organizers who asked if we wanted to move the car into the judged class, owing to one car having dropped out.
We talked about this over a Martini. There were three Martini stems at our table overlooking what was becoming the show field. One was for John.
Moving the car to judging competition ...at Pebble Beach... with less than 48 hours notice...? "Why not" was my reply- what do we have to lose?
The car had been shipped up to Monterey by our good friend David Gooding and was stored in the Gooding Auction tent. David knew of an excellent detailer named Darryl. A quick conversation explaining our circumstance and he and his crew leaped into action. His crew spent two solid days polishing every tiny surface of the big Duesenberg. The undercarriage, the engine bay, it all shone superbly. We made a friend for life that day. We put the convertible top down, snapped the boot into place, and raised the rear seat windshield. The car looked superbly sporty. We were ready. "How do we look?" Ken asked. "Like a Million Dollars", I blurted out. He looked crestfallen- "That bad?", he replied. We both laughed. It was the first time I had seen him laugh all weekend.
Sunday morning was crisp and perfectly clear. We maneuvered the Duesy into place and polished off the morning dew. By late morning, I put the car through its paces for the judges. They had heard about what had happened and were superbly kind and understanding. It just felt right to have the car on the lawn. We had placed John's picture in a frame leaning against the left rear wheel. This was done so we would not have to tell the story a thousand times. Tami wore a big yellow hat so I could spot her easily. She and Steve took Ken to look at cars. About 1 PM, a gentleman in a blue blazer approached and asked if I was with the Duesenberg. I said I was,and he asked if I would like to follow him. I said I would like that. I called Ken on his cell and told him to get back to the car. We started the J and I pulled her into line a line of stunning classic cars, between two other Duesenbergs in our class.
The Pebble Beach Concours understands the concept of anticipation. The fact that we were in line meant that we had won an award, we just didn't know which award. When our class neared the reviewing stand, the big Duesenbergs were pulled alongside each other bumper to bumper. We were side by side with two lovely cars, a sexy black Speedster and a pale green Convertible Coupe. We were the only convertible sedan in our class.
I looked over at Ken in the passenger seat. He was shaking like a leaf. I told him that considering where we had been five weeks prior, that any outcome was a victory. He agreed, and then the judges gave the nod to the green convertible for third place. I tried to catch the Marshall's eye, but he wouldn't look at me. Just then he gave the nod to the black speedster, and walked up to our car to shake Ken's hand.
We had won best Duesenberg at Pebble Beach.
As soon as we got parked, friends came running. Tami and Steve brought bottles of Champagne for a toast. The tears were not only of happiness. It was a very good day, the first good day in five weeks. But it was very emotional. Looking back, I guess Michael picked up the black hooker to amuse us. He is so very thoughtful.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Monday, July 16, 2007
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
I drove a yellow Cadillac convertible in the Flint Bicentennial parade. Sponsored by the Ancient Order of the Hibernians, I carried the Irish- American Queen in my car. Her name was Ann Marie Mulcahy. She had fair skin, red hair, and freckles. She smiled and waved from the back of the Cadillac and occasionally chugged from her lightly concealed bottle of Miller High Life. 1976 was a great year for America.
This year was a much more reflective Fourth. I still put out the flag. My friend Will and I had a great cookout in his backyard. We hung red, white and blue stars from his latticework. There was a ribbon down the dining table, and a bouquet of red carnations, and blue and white daisies. We even found American Flag cocktail napkins. I wanted it done up right, although I think 2007 is the darkest year in America's history.
I grieve for America. I grieve for her ruined international reputation, for the horrible abuses of power that the Administration has used against her own citizens under the guise of protecting them. I ask the world's forgiveness for the illegal and immoral war, I pray that the House of Representatives introduces articles of Impeachment. I think it is the only way to be able to ask the world's forgiveness. And I worry that it is all too late, that the balance of power has been so stretched that it will topple.
I know that we have to be vocal and demand our country back. It will not be enough to just vote, it may mean marching in the streets to demand that criminals be held accountable for their crimes. It may mean the sixties activism all over again, But I don't see any alternative- I have friends who are shopping for "vacation homes" in other countries, I'm not ready for that option. I was born here. I love America. And I miss her terribly.
Friday, June 29, 2007
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
It's Tul-sa-ra-ma day!
Monday, June 18, 2007
Friday, June 15, 2007
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Unfortunately, we never got to see it. Once completed, the car was carefully wrapped and placed on board a ship to New York. They loaded the Norseman aboard the Andrea Doria in July of 1956, and as you can imagine, it is still there. One cannot imagine if anything actually remains after 50 years in cold salt water.
Like other gearheads, I have often had dreams about finding a truly lost car- stumbling upon something amazing. Perhaps that is the root of my fascination with Tulsarama- the brand new 1957 Plymouth Belvedere Hardtop, nicknamed Miss Belvedere, locked away (in this case, literally underground) and untouched for fifty years. I imagine the world that encased it and the one that unearthed it. Perhaps she won't want to come out...
A pair of unfortunate events for Tulsarama this week-first, that my co-driver flaked on Monday and left me unable to attend, which is deeply disappointing, and second, that the vault was opened Wednesday to find Miss Belvedere resting in two feet of water. Water marks on the walls of the vault indicate that it may have been completely filled at times. Rusty streaks running down the sides suggest that the watertight seal of the roof simply did not hold.
I have to admit that I am not terribly surprised. The description of the vault, concrete lined with waterproof gunnite, was a fairly common construction technique of the postwar decade. It is, in fact, a swimming pool. And like the swimming pool, had much more tendency to keep water in than keep it out. The planners were aware of the possibility, even inevitability, and took steps to waterproof Miss Belvedere. To quote an article from the Tulsa Tribune of June 6, 1957:
"The car will be covered with a special preservative provided by the Dobeckmun Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, a casing developed during World War II to protect military equipment. The encapsulating, the goo itself, and two company representative all were donated by Dobeckmun."
So in the end, it will all come down to the plastic, kind of like Twin Peaks. I'm hoping with fingers crossed that Miss Belvedere remained vacuum tight in her five layers of plastic. Otherwise, she'll be another Norseman. Either way, I think of the (possibly myopic) vision of the City Fathers fifty years ago to bury a car as a gift to the future. I imagine all of the planning, the hard work, the feeling of accomplishment when the vault was sealed. I hope they pulled it off. I just can't wait to meet her.
Sunday, June 3, 2007
Yes, a Plymouth. At the City Fathers' request, a Belvedere Sport Coupe in Desert Gold and Sand Dune White was donated by the Plymouth Division, no doubt imagining all the goodwill they would derive from the promotion and how it would most certainly spike sales of the 2007 Plymouths after the unveiling. Oops. And not to be content with just a car, they added ephemera of everyday life in Tulsa. A case of Schlitz beer. Home brewed gasoline and oil. An unpaid parking ticket. Even the contents of a lady's purse- cigarettes, tranquilizers, tissues, and all. Sort of a Valley of the Dolls Time Capsule.
Outside the Courthouse Building, the City Fathers created a Vault for the handsomely accessorized Plymouth. Lined with concrete and Gunnite, it was not so much a burial vault as a swimming pool. The car was lowered onto a steel framework by a crane and a (hopefully) watertight lid was fitted and sealed, then the entire vault was covered by three feet of topsoil.
On Friday, June 15, 2007, the capsule will be opened and the Golden Belvedere exposed to sunlight for the first time since the Eisenhower Administration. The car should be in fabulous condition, if everything behaved according to plan. Or the swimming pool could be full of water, as swimming pools sometimes tend to be, and there might be nothing left but the beer and the tranquilizers. Not to mention that some of the other contests are less akin to a time capsule and more along the lines of an EPA Superfund site. Fifty year old Gasoline. Yeah, right.
The point of this all is that my buddy David (the one I can usually talk into crazy things) and I have realized that we cannot possibly continue living if we are not there to witness the event, s0 we are driving to Tulsarama. We're going to witness the opening of what may be the most unusual Time Capsule ever created. It could only come from the fifties. We've elected to drive for the authenticity of it all, and because we both love a good road trip. While in Tulsa, I insist we visit the Golden Driller (a 76 foot tall golden statue of an Oil Driller that's been part of the Tulsa Fairgrounds since 1966) the Lortondale Neighborhood, and the Admiral Twin Drive-In, one of only eight left in Oklahoma. I'm scanning the 'net for authentic Roadside Diners.
I'll be travelling with laptop so I can blog en route. If anyone has suggestions of fabulous Fifties Tulsa architecture that I should not miss, please drop me a note. I'm totally excited about Tulsa- one has to love a community that buries brand-new 1957 Plymouths and erects 76-foot tall Golden Oil Driller statuary. If only Los Angeles were so forward thinking.
Only 100 miles from LA, Palm Springs is a different world. Relaxed, even slow paced. It's one of my favorite places in the world to do NOTHING. Easy to get to, I commented- "just head East on I-10 and get off in 1957".
Actually, we stopped a bit before that. Outside of town there are thousands of windmills generating electricity. They operate on all but the windiest days (too much risk of propeller damage). It's a beautiful sight to drive through. We stopped at the side of the highway so I could snap a picture. I emailed it to a friend with the caption "Because I'm not one of your FANS". I tend to do things like that in the Springs.
We spent some time by the pool, and stopped by a bar called Toucan's to play video trivia with the locals. We drank Margaritas and chatted up a woman whose husband was one of The Tubes. I serenaded her with songs from Xanadu. It was stupid and wonderful. We went home and made Martinis and grilled steaks. We hopped from video bars (I danced! to "Love Shack", no less...) to leather bars and ended up chatting and cocktailing on the patio until 2 am.
On Sunday, we had a relaxing breakfast around noon at Hamburger Mary's. I love watching straight families who stumble in. It's way fun when they realize where they are. They look around, and slowly begin to notice the high concentration of hunky males unaccompanied by females, except for possibly one to a party. Some pick up quickly, and some don't. Some don't even get it until their check arrives...in a red stiletto heel.
After lunch, we went off for more shopping. We found a brand new little GayMart called b fabulous and flirted with the very cute help. I bought a terrific new book called "When I Knew", in which gay people tell of the moment when they realized. I bought it on a whim, and read it aloud to Jim in the car on the way home (after we stopped at the Barracks and got our picture in the local bar rag- Talk about being treated like fresh meat!) Anyway, the book. It's full of funny, touching tales of guys and girls coming to the realization that they really, really are one of THOSE. The stories are sweet, and sad, and funny, and embarrassing, and affirming, and they reinforced to me that we really are born with this, its not the result of bad parenting or funny uncles. We are, and we have a right to be. Highly recommended little book.
I love Palm Springs.
My favorite was a white haired New Yorker named John. He was a lighting technician on Broadway starting in the mid-1950's. He lit Bells Are Ringing for Judy Holliday, one of my personal icons. And he had GREAT theater stories, both past and current. It was John that convinced me to see Angels In America on one of my Easter trips to Manhattan. He was a very friendly and gregarious guy.
It seems that in the late 1950's, John had just gotten married to a beautiful Rockette named Lynn. They had a small apartment in New York, and not unlike other Theatrical couples of the day, they had a starving actor living on their living room floor. John described him as a hilarious young comic actor who was struggling to find his big break, the one that would make him a household name. Unlike so many others, he did find his. A small part in Bye Bye Birdie led to a much better role in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and a Tony Award. The actor found when he went to register his name that someone already had done so, and thus he was compelled to register his full name: Charles Nelson Reilly.
I had dinner with CNR in 1995. We were setting up the LA Auto Show. I picked up the telephone and an unmistakable voice asked for John. "Tell him it's Charles", he said. He needn't have, there was no doubt who it was. John invited me to join them at the Daily Grill. We were waiting in the lobby for him when an ancient brown Mercedes with CNR plates pulled up. Within moments, I realized that the wacky television persona was not a part, it was Charles. Dinner was like being on the set of Match Game, albeit with cocktails and warm bread.
The pattern was thus: John would tell a story, and Charles would edit. "Charles is from Hartford", John said. "You mean Paris", Charles interjected. "Paris sounds soooo much better".
And on it went- an evening spent with two old friends, one of whom happened to be an icon in the television of my childhood. And one of only two openly gay people this boy from Southern Lower Michigan had ready access to for many years. Charles and Paul Lynde were about the only role models I had. Which might, in fact, explain a lot.
Here's to you, Charles. Thanks for everything.
Friday, May 18, 2007
All was well until Tuesday, when an enormous brush fire broke out in Griffith Park. The accumulation of approximately four decades worth of chaparral ignited and the hillside was suddenly aflame. Afternoon winds fanned the fire and soon there was a very serious fire indeed on the backside of the hills of Los Feliz. By evening, fingers of flame were beginning to creep into the residential side of the hills. A command post was set up at the Greek Theatre, streets most in peril were evacuated, and helicopters flew all night dropping water on the flames. Their refueling site was the Hollywood sign, to help add visual perspective. This was nothing short of extraordinary, as it is highly dangerous to fly these missions after dark, but the loss of the entire neighborhood was in all likelihood avoided because of this heroic mission. It was very much like a Hollywood disaster picture, with all the famous locations on camera, except that this time it was a reality show.
By Wednesday morning, the evacuees were beginning to return. The water drops had made serious inroads overnight and the flames were on the retreat. By Wednesday afternoon, all that remained was smoke and a charred hillside that had been a rather large section of Griffith Park.
Cork telephoned that evening to say that all was well, most of the exposure had been the on the next hill over, and that both tennis and lunch were still on.
I arrived at Casita del Campo, a classically camp Mexican restaurant in the heart of Silverlake, on Thursday at the appointed hour. Cork, his tennis cronies Rob and Michael, his neighbor Dale and myself. We sat on the outdoor patio and ordered Margaritas. The lunchtime conversation, as we munched on chips and salsa, had more to do with the eccentricities of Howard Hughes and the attempts of Bank of America to collect IOU's that he had written on scraps of paper than the brush fire we had just been through. There was concern expressed for the animals who were affected, and who would be wandering aimlessly through the residential neighborhoods. And of course, appreciation for the fire fighters and the nighttime water drops.
While no one took the favorable outcome for granted, they certainly took it in stride. Natural disasters are part of life here in sunny Southern California. We drank a toast to the Fire Department and moved on with the day. There were theater plans that evening. This is no place to be frail.
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
My hometown of Flint, Michigan was hit by a category 5 tornado in June of 1953. It descended on a muggy Midwestern summer night with almost no warning and mowed through hundreds of homes while it meandered eastward at a rate of approximately 30 mph. The storm left an entire neighborhood in ruins and cost 116 persons their lives. Sadly, almost half of the victims were children. The tragedy is recalled as the Beecher Tornado.
Both of my parents were young adults at that time, and the disaster had a lasting effect on them. My brother was born five years later in 1958 and myself in 1960. While the Beecher Tornado had long since passed, we were keenly aware of what had happened. My mother told stories of the rescue efforts and recounted stories of those who survived and those who did not. I vividly recall her telling the story of the woman who outran the tornado in her 1949 Buick, with the speedometer reading 100mph as the wind repeatedly lifted the back wheels off the ground. Her six children cowered in the back seat in fear but the car made it to safety.
When my brother and I were older, she showed us home movies my uncle Bill had taken the day following the storm. It was virtually impossible for my five year old consciousness to discern what the piles of rubble in the movies had once been. We were raised with a very healthy respect for the destructive potential of nature, a respect that I believe we shared with every schoolchild in the city of Flint.
Mother was particularly nervous on humid summer nights, the kind that hung in the air and produced the thunderstorms which hatch tornadoes. While she never tried to cause needless alarm, she kept a keen eye on the skies as she watched us playing in the lush Michigan grass. It was universally understood in our neighborhood that a weather siren meant the immediate cessation of playtime and a dash for shelter. Many a summer evening was spent listening to the rain in the basement, waiting for the all clear signal to be broadcast over the little blue transistor radio.
It was not until adulthood that I actually looked at a map of the destruction and discovered what Mother had always known- the Tornado touched to earth almost exactly two miles north of the bedroom I shared with my brother. Mother was keenly aware of that fact every time a humid summer night occurred, it was a line on her brow. However, she somehow never imparted that knowledge unto us.
Of course, storm warnings matured rapidly after the tragic events of 1953, and the truth is that we were dramatically safer at all times than only a few short years before. And although many tornadoes have struck in the ensuing 50 plus years, none have caused the loss of life that was so ingrained on my young parents. The passage of time has not diminished the memories of the citizens of Flint, nor has it lessened the tragedy of the loss of a hundred and sixteen lives when the winds dashed the houses against the Michigan clay. The news can take me back there in an instant.