Thursday, April 12, 2007

Easter Parade

Michael won a stuffed dog playing Wack-A-Mole. I named it La Wanda after the black hooker he picked up in Pebble Beach last August. I have pictures of her smiling on his lap in the back seat of the Duesenberg. We were certainly the talk of the Concours that day.

Easter brunch with the Clan turned out well. Betty wanted to get all of us together for the first time since John's passing. We scattered to the winds at Christmas- Ken was in Paris with his Mom and daughter, Lee and Jordan went to Rome, Betty was in Montecito, everyone was everywhere but here so as not to have to face the empty house. But Easter, bringing with it the promise of spring and rebirth, seemed perfect to reassemble. We all knew each other because of John, but today was not for him. It was for us.

We arrived at the restaurant on Ocean Avenue in two immaculately polished Rolls-Royces and a strategically synchronized Minivan. Heads turned. Our little party of twelve, equally balanced between ladies and gentlemen and ranging in age from fifteen to eighty-four streamed inside and were directed to a lovely table on the patio with an ocean view. The brunch was enormous. There were tables and tables of food. The seafood was in hiding, but Lee and I managed to find it (and everything else). We made two trips for mussels. They served bottomless glasses of Champagne. We lingered over brunch and talked about a hundred different topics. Anita and I waited in the dessert line behind three paper thin supermodels attempting to resolve their food angst and "just have a little bite" of the Creme Brulee and pecan tarts. We asked for one of everything.

In the near distance we could see Pacific Park, which is an amusement park on the Santa Monica pier. Anita commented that she had never been there, and we soon realized that none of us had set foot on the pier in simply ages. So we decided to take a walk.

Our resident mother hen, Bruce, asked Lee (our senior most member) if she wanted to relax on a park bench with him. "Nothing doing", she replied. "I'm gonna ride the Ferris Wheel". And she did ride the Ferris Wheel, dressed to the nines, accompanied by seven of us in two gondolas. We took goofy pictures of each other while aloft. Ken bought a giant handful of ride tokens, so in recombinant pairs we rode the Roller Coaster and the Monster, and played midway games. We were conspicuously overdressed and laughed like teenagers. It was a great spontaneous time. John would never had allowed it. Perhaps that was part of the fun.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Fifty-Six Chrysler

My friend John had a truly world class collection of automobiles, but the car that held the most memories for me was a 1956 Chrysler.

Okay, considering how the collection also included Rolls-Royce, Duesenberg and Ferrari, I should be a bit more formal- it was a 1956 Imperial Town and Country Station Wagon. John used to tell boyhood tales of riding in a neighbor's 1953 Town and Country. It just so happened that the neighbor was none other than Willametta Keck Day, heiress of Superior Oil Company, and that he and the Day offspring rode to school with a uniformed chauffeur behind the wheel. Perhaps that is why it made such a strong impression on him. He vividly recalled it being red in color, with genuine chrome plated wire wheels and a little silver horse as a hood ornament.

I recall that the fifty-six made its appearance about ten years ago, At that time, it was a bit dowdy in faded battleship gray with an interior that looked like it was made of discarded stadium blankets. But John was determined to relive his childhood, and that meant that the Dowager was going to be a Debutante. The wagon was stripped to bare metal and repainted in a rich Ruby red. All the chrome was replated and a beautiful black leather interior was sewn. A rare accessory clock was added to the steering wheel hub. The crowning glory was a set of chrome plated wire wheels with wide whitewall tires.

John was very proud of the marvelous wagon and I recall when we took it on an inagural trip to lunch. My first time behind the wheel was on the way back from lunch, after cocktails. I piloted the big car through Laurel Canyon in heavy traffic. The hemi engine purred like a kitten and although it was a handful in the hills, our mutual fluidity seemed to be in harmony. Perhaps the martinis helped.

There were many outings after that- Huntington Library, one crazy night at a Drive-In Movie, a dry run for a Rolls-Royce car rally we were organizing, even a very fast trip across Mulholland attempting to keep up with John's partner Ken in a Ferrari 275 GTB. The Chrysler did remarkably well, pulling into the driveway mere seconds behind the six carburetor Ferrari.

John especially loved to drive the cars on his "exercise route" through the Studio side of Burbank, Griffith Park and Forest Lawn. The big red Chrysler was a familiar site to the locals as it paraded by. Of all his cars, I believe he enjoyed driving the Chrysler the most.

Last July I drove the Chrysler for the last time. I had received permission from Ken to drive the wagon to John's memorial service. I fought back tears as I turned the key. The old wagon came to life and burbled happily. I gently grasped the steering wheel and drove the short distance to the familiar entrance of Forest Lawn. I turned left and steered for the Old North Church. The car motored up the hill with a reassuring tone from the exhaust. It felt both very familiar and terribly strange at the same time. I positioned the majestic red fifty-six Chrysler wagon immediately in front of the Church. I knew John would have parked it there.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Johnny Are You Queer

I must confess, I love myspace. It's the only place I can think of where one can form a social network that includes studly muscle bears, reigning monarchy, dead celebrities, fictional television personalities, 80's rock groups, and the odd animated figure or two. In other words, it is an exact replica of gay life.

So while surfing the music sites I stumbled across a site for Josie Cotton. From the picture, it looked like THE Josie Cotton but all of the songs were unfamiliar to me and there was no mention of her BIG hit.

The year was 1982. I was making my first trip to LA as an adult, travelling with my college buddy Darren. We flew out to spend a week with his brother who had moved to LA the previous year. It was my pre-graduation gift to myself, and I was looking to get as far away from my Michigan roots as possible. I had spent the last year scratching at the closet door but in southern lower Michigan, everything was very clandestine. The few people I encountered seemed to be living secret lives. One guy I met explained how he was afraid to plant flowers in front of his house, because the neighbors might figure it out. Please, Mary- they weren't blind. The prospect of life there was not very affirming.

All that seemed to change in Los Angeles with the crank of a radio knob. Darren's brother Steve loaned us his 1972 Buick Skylark, which he had brought with him from Michigan for unknown reasons. It was the only rusty car I had seen in LA, a source of no small embarrassment in the land of sparkling clean 380SL's. But it had four relatively matched wheels, and even better, it had a radio. Unknown to me, Steve had the radio station preset to KROQ. The first day, I turned it on and there was Rodney on the Rock, playing a song I had never heard- it was called "Johnny, Are You Queer", by an artist named Josie Cotton. There it was, out loud for everyone to hear, proof that there were gay people in the world. At least that is what it said to me.

I found her album, Convertible Music, at Tower Records on Sunset. She was reclined on the seat of a sexy red 63 Thunderbird wearing kicky black and white checked shoes. It was so eighties-in-LA that I could scream. I bought it on the spot and packed it into my luggage, along with the revelation that I wasn't the only one out there. I heard the song many times that week. I never moved the radio knob past KROQ.

My next glimpse of Josie was in the movie "Valley Girl", in a sexy black skirt with racing cars on it singing "Johnny" in the high school prom scene. It was the bomb. From there, I didn't seem to hear much about Josie but I kept the album in my collection.

Fast forward to 2007. I dropped her a note on myspace asking if she was the same Josie and got a very nice personal reply that indeed she was, along with a link to a blog about the history of the song. We exchanged a few more emails and I asked if she could possibly post the song, because of its historical significance. Apparently a lot of people were asking, because only about a week later, I got a bulletin that she had posted "Johnny, Are You Queer" on her myspace. I immediately linked it to my page. Check it out at .

Thanks, Josie, for posting it. And for all it meant to a confused yet deeply fabulous 22 year old in the middle of midwestern straight purgatory. It was enormously helpful to me all those years ago.

And yes, this Johnny is Queer.

New Math

The surprise 40th birthday party for my "straight boyfriend" Garth was a smashing success. We caught him completely off guard. We met for a drink and were heading to this amazing place downtown when my best friend UberKen called in the midst of a family crisis. We agreed to stop off for a few minutes and have a drink with him. Of course, that's where the party was assembled and that was my "all aboard" cue.

The rambling old Tudor house was completely awash in lights. The leaded glass windows danced in reflection. It looked simply magical. UberKen was outside in the driveway screaming into the cell phone and told us to go inside. I stepped back at the door and allowed Garth to enter first. He walked in and ran head first into his parents (secretly flown in), our friends, and a great surprise party. He was absolutely stunned.

We were limited to twelve by the number of seats in the dining room. And what a room it was. Seventy five yards of fabric draped the ceiling in a sunburst pattern overhead and set the standard for the rest of the room. Linens and sparkling stemware were newly purchased and being inaugurated. There were good friends, sumptuous food, animated conversation, and more than a few bottles of a good red wine.

After the dinner plates were cleared, they brought out an enormous chocolate cake with numeric candles spelling out 1-0-0-0. Garth's mother, Wanda, looked at me perplexed and asked, "Why does the cake say a thousand?" "It's how we count in Hollywood", I explained. "Thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine, ......a thousand". I gave her the slice with the number one.