Fire Island PaJaMa Party

During vacations from the 1930’s through the mid-1950’s, artists Paul Cadmus, Jared French, and his wife Margaret Hoening French photographed each other on the beaches of Fire Island and later Cape Cod. Usually nude or donning simple costumes, they would also use found objects as props to create stark, surreal and/or erotic images. They passed Margaret’s Leica camera around, taking turns as subject and auteur. This collaborative authorship was reflected in the umbrella name they chose for this work, utilizing the first two letters of their first names: PaJaMa.

Years later Cadmus explained, “After we’d been working most of the day, we’d go out late afternoons and take photographs when the light was best. They were just playthings. We would hand out these little photographs when we went to dinner parties, like playing cards.”

The dynamic was complicated: Cadmus and Jared were lovers – a relationship that continued during the marriage. All three lived and worked in a townhouse at 5 St. Lukes Place in Greenwich Village.

A 2015 New York Times review of a PaJaMa exhibition noted that their photos “breathed eroticism.” While some of the hundreds of photos are masterpieces of magical realism, others appear to be figure studies for their painting. And then there are simple snapshots of nude men frolicking on the beach, enjoying the sun and surf.

Right: Jared French on Fire Island (1940) Left: Paul Cadmus’ etching “Youth With Kite”, 1941

Jared French and his considerable wares are the most frequent subject of the photographs, with entire rolls of film devoted to his nude poses and posturing. Cadmus and Margaret are slightly more demure although we do not know who was giving direction from behind the camera at any given time.

These three artists were joined by various friends and lovers through the years, fellow artists and writers that were part of their New York social circle.

Dancer/Model José Martinez appears in PaJaMa photos of the late 1930’s with Paul Cadmus

1938 PaJaMa photos of writer Glenway Westcott sometimes appear online mislabled as Paul Cadmus or Ted Starkowski.

Writer Donald Windham (with Cadmus & French), 1938

Photographer George Platt Lynes was a frequent guest with his own camera.

Jared French in Saltaire after the devastating hurricane of 1938.

West of Saltaire, the Fire Island Lighthouse served as a frequent backdrop.

Jensen Yow, Bill Harris & Jack Fontan, ca. 1950

Now well into his 90’s, Alexander Jensen Yow recently recalled the circle of artists, as well as his participation in PaJaMa photos of the early 1950’s. “Paul posed us and took the pictures. I was never out there with Jerry (Jared). There were plenty of personality conflicts all scattered around with these people, but I never knew what they were or anything… Jerry was always nice to me though. But his and Margaret’s was a strange relationship… She was crazy about Jerry but she was always in the background, you know. Always there. Jerry did what he wanted to do, and she tagged after him. I was so green when I met these people that I didn’t know how to act…. I tried to be discreet but it wasn’t easy.”

Paul Cadmus, “The Shower”, 1943
Margaret French, “The Moon by Day”, 1939

As with George Platt Lynes’ male nude photographs, the PaJaMa collection did not receive much notice or recognition until the 1990’s. They are now frequently exhibited in galleries and selections are a part of the MOMA collection.

PaJaMa, Nantucket, 1946

See Also:
Artist’s Muse: Chuck Howard
Artist’s Muse: Ted Starkowski
Artist’s Muse: Randy Jack
Buddy & Johnny: A Historic Photo Shoot

We Got Hitched

The warmth of your love
is like the warmth of the sun…
This will be our year
took a long time to come…

“How come you don’t write about me? Or maybe you do.”

His eyes narrowed suspiciously. Or, I assumed they did. He texted this to me, so it was virtual skepticism that I sensed.

My partner of 9 years is artist/musician Toby Hobbes. He is also my editor/proofreader and the person who set up this blog 5 years ago and told me to get to work. While he does get an occasional mention from time to time (see Circle In Monkeyshines or Scenes From A Pandemic), any essays specifically about him or our relationship remain unfinished.

This was one piece I started:

It was our second date. We were heading out to dinner after a few pre-game cocktails at Nowhere Bar in the East Village. I pulled him over by the side of a building to get out of the First Avenue foot traffic. I had something that I needed to tell him and didn’t want to keep it a secret any longer. My gut was telling me that we were heading into a relationship, so there had to be honesty. And he was new to this – at 37, this was his first same-sex dating experience.

Summer, 2013

I took a deep breath and said; “Listen there is something that I need to tell you before this goes any further…” I was still holding onto his hand. He looked concerned.

I continued on, talking fast just to get it over with. “I know I told you I was 39 years old. Well I’m not. I am 44. I know. It’s stupid. It’s just a number. But 44 sounds so much worse and I didn’t want you to feel like it was too big an age difference. So now you know. And I hope it’s not a big deal.”

The concern faded into puzzlement. “Why would I think that was a big deal?”

I went off on a diatribe about gay men being ageist and that I had shaved off exactly 5 years when I ended up single again at 40, which seemed to be a big cutoff number for most men on Match and Grindr and Scruff and Growlr and Fluff and Squirt and…

Toby let go of my hand and took a step back. “I have to tell you something too,” he said. “I have a kid at home. Well, he’s my nephew. I’ve had custody since he was 10 and he’s 17 now. I didn’t say anything because I was afraid that you wouldn’t want to deal with all that.”

In that moment, my opinion of him – of his character, his heart – went right through the roof. He was a responsible adult.

Besides his nephew, there were also two dogs, a cat, and the long shadow of the ex-girlfriend that had left his finances in a shambles. On our first anniversary, we agreed to move in together. This was partly out of necessity and also because we felt like we were ready. For me, this meant leaving Manhattan after 22 years, as there was no way we could afford adequate space for our crew. We settled in Forest Hills, Queens, which I highly recommend.

At the time, people would congratulate me for being “selfless” or ask how I could take on so much responsibility. For me, there was no choice – no question about it. I realized that I loved Toby very quickly. And he loved me with a totality that was unlike any of my previous relationships. I felt like the last 4 years of frustrating dating experiences were just The Universe’s way of keeping me in a holding pattern until he showed up at my apartment with a six pack of Sam Adams.

________________________________________________________________

Fast forward to July 30th 2018: I proposed to him on The High Line above West 23rd Street with my family hiding in the bushes taking pictures nearby. We made no immediate plans for the wedding but assumed that we would be married the following year.

Then Toby got accepted into a program at the International Culinary Center (formerly the French Culinary Institute) and we decided to wait until he graduated. Then I was suddenly unemployed. So we waited again. And then there was the pandemic.

In the spring of 2021 we started to look at wedding venues. I was determined to get hitched before we celebrated our 10th anniversary as a couple. Besides, after this pandemic, we all needed a party. To celebrate LIFE. Also, neither of my sisters ever got married, and my mom was itching to finally have a wedding for one of her kids. We secured a venue and set a date: Sea Cliff Manor, May 19th, 2022.

About that pesky pandemic… I thought; “Ohhh – surely that will all be behind us by then! Just a masked blur in our rear-view mirrors.” Silly, silly fool. I failed to remember that objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.

In the months prior to the wedding, it became clear that COVID was not going to be gone, so we decided to specify on the invitations that attendees needed to be vaccinated. Imagine our surprise when this turned out to be a deal breaker for some, as a few formerly enthusiastic friends and family members suddenly ghosted us.

We went into planning this wedding with the awareness that, at some point along the way, we might encounter people who were a little more churchy than we realized and they might object to our Big Gay Wedding. Thankfully that did not occur. As it turned out, our big ethical divide was not religion. It was science.

Ultimately this was for the best. Better to know who people really are when their masks come off.

The three weeks before the wedding are bound to be stressful, as anyone can tell you. We were finalizing the guest list, DJ setlist, photographer, tuxedos, favors, seating charts, menus, programs, obtaining the marriage license and wedding rings. And the vows! We had to write the vows.

But then other stuff started happening.

On Saturday April 30th, Toby cut his finger on a meat slicer at work, requiring 12 stitches on his left pinky. Three days later, I got sick with COVID. The next day, while taking the final reception payment to Sea Cliff Manor, my mom & stepdad were in a car accident. Thankfully, nobody was injured. Two days after that, on his birthday, Toby got COVID as well. We were both vaxxed and boosted, so it was more of an inconvenience than anything else, although we were starting to feel like some homophobic anti-vaxxer was practicing voodoo shit.

We soldiered on. This wedding was going to happen whether we were ready or not.

The big day arrived and everything went off without a hitch. It was a family affair with Toby’s nephew as his best man and my sister as my best woman. My mom & stepdad walked me down the aisle.

We asked my friend Merri to sing The Zombies’ This Will Be Our Year. When I chose the song last year, I thought it was a pretty obscure choice. Turns out to be a wedding standard as well as the jingle for Target’s “Back To School” ad campaign. Ah, well. The chorus of “This will be our year / It took a long time to come” certainly struck a chord with us.

While the planning was crucial and paid off in the best way, it was actually a spontaneous moment that I keep revisiting from that day. Luckily we opted to live stream the ceremony, so there is footage to look back on. When Toby and I joined hands to say our vows, he started to bounce up and down with excitement. It was the defining moment of the day. I turned it into a gif captioned “Life Goals: Marry someone who is this excited to marry you.”

And now it’s done. After nine years, we are hitched. Married. We tied the knot and jumped the broom. It took a long time to come.
Wedding photos by Glenmar Studio

Len & Cub – A Relationship In Photos

A new book gives insight into a same-sex relationship in rural Canada a century ago.

Tinted photo of Leonard “Len” Keith (1891-1950) & Joseph “Cub” Coates (1899-1965) on a trip to Jemseg, New Brunswick (1916)

If it weren’t for the advent of the self-timing camera, we would not know anything about the relationship between Len & Cub. There are no surviving notes, letters or documents to provide any further evidence. Luckily, Len had an interest in photography and documented their intimacy in a trove of images spanning nearly 15 years. These photos serve to illustrate their story in the recently published book Len & Cub: A Queer History (Goose Lane Press) by Meredith J. Batt and Dusty Green.

Len & Cub features Len’s photos of the duo between 1916 and 1930 and tells the story of a relationship in early 20th Century rural North America. These photos provide the oldest known photographic records of a same-sex couple in New Brunswick, Canada.

The term “queer” seems a bit ill-fitting to describe the actions of individuals a century ago, when even the terms “homosexual” or “gay” were not part of the vernacular. The choice of language is explained by the authors, who dedicate the book to the queer youth of New Brunswick. As Green states in his preface, “… the record of their lives is a testament to the resilience of queer people and an affirmation that we belong in any place we choose to call home.”

Leonard “Len” Keith  was born in 1891 in Butternut Ridge (now Havelock), New Brunswick. His family enjoyed a moderate amount of wealth as the owners of a match factory and later a grist mill. Joseph “Cub” Coates was born 8 years later, the son of a farmer who was a neighbor to the Keith family. Together Len and Cub shared a love of the outdoors and documented their outings in photos. The pictures taken during hunting and canoe trips with their arms around each other or lying in bed together make clear the affection they held for each other.

When Len was called to service during World War I, Cub signed up as well, and the two trained together in Quebec.

Cub and Len in training at Saint-Jen-sur-Richelieu, Quebec (1918)

Photos of the duo are less frequent in the late 1920’s. Len’s camera captures several other unnamed male companions that accompanied him on trips and other outdoor adventures.

Len was also a car enthusiast and eventually opened a garage, which he later converted into a pool hall. Cub continued to make a living farming and then as a butcher.

In 1931, Len was forced to leave Havelock, allegedly due to his homosexual activities. He signed over control of his business and finances to his sister Lucy and headed to the United States. He later settled in Montreal, where he resided until succumbing to cancer in 1950. His sister arranged for his burial in Havelock.

It appears that Cub was not caught up in the scandal that forced Len out of town. He stayed in Havelock until 1940, when he married Rita Cameron, a nurse from the neighboring town of Chatham. After he served in WWII, the couple relocated to Moncton. He would go on to become a prominent figure in New Brunswick’s harness racing circles before his death in 1965.

Len & Cub, ca 1916

The photos were donated to the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick by John Corey, a local historian who purchased them at a Keith family estate sale in 1984. Corey’s father had been a classmate of Len’s and knew both families. When he donated the collection, John referred to Len & Cub as “boyfriends” and also identified a photo of an individual who was instrumental in driving Len out of Havelock.

As some of these photos began to circulate on the internet several years ago, curiosity about Len & Cub’s story grew. In addition to the recent publication of the book, the BeaverBrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, NB is featuring an exhibition of the photos from April 2 – July 29, 2022.

Click here to watch a short video about Len and Cub from the CBC.

Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me: John Weir

John Weir is pissed off. Rightfully so.

He has a new book out. An award winning book. It’s called Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me (Red Hen Press). It is described on the cover as “linked stories” and won the Grace Paley Prize for short fiction. God forbid you call it a memoir or a short story collection. But we’ll get to that later.

This month, his two previous novels: 1989’s The Irreversible Decline of Eddie Socket and 2007’s What I Did Wrong are back in print with Fordham University Press. You can easily order any of these titles on Amazon or Barnes Ignoble. However, if you want to throw your business to an indie book seller, or more specifically a gay bookstore, it appears that you will have to go to one that he has personally walked into and asked them to stock his books. He’ll come back and sign them, too.

The Strand also does not have copies in their store. He went there and asked. Something to do with distribution, although you can order them from their online warehouse.

John Weir on the cover of The Advocate (1990)

I have been a fan of John Weir’s work since Eddie Socket‘s original release. I purchased a copy at, uh, Barnes Ignoble, and was thoroughly captivated by this groundbreaking book – winner of the 1990 Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Debut Novel and one of the first to address the AIDS crisis.

The book kept me company on a miserable theater tour in the fall of 1991. I strongly identified with the protagonist, and when he contracted AIDS halfway through the book, it scared the hell out of me.

I wrote some of my favorite quotes in my journal:

Though he didn’t think that God existed, still, it was nice to just sit somewhere with people who believed that he did.

And

My feelings are clichés and that bugs me, so I try to hide it with other slicker clichés, and with everything in quotes, at least I can remind myself that I know better than my feelings, which are really the drippiest, most sentimental, self-pitying things.

I pored over it for so long that one of my cast-mates finally said “What the hell is with you and that book?!”

The many editions of Eddie Socket

John Weir was working with ACT UP on The Day of Desperation in January, 1991 when he and other activists (including fellow writer Dale Peck) interrupted the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather:

It’s interesting to hear him mention his mother in the clip above, as she is the subject of several stories in Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me, written 25 years later, after their relationship had evolved into an adult child/caregiver situation.

In the intervening years, Weir was Contributing Editor at Details magazine and published nonfiction pieces in The New York Times, Spin, and Rolling Stone, among other publications. In addition to his writing, he has been an associate professor of English at Queens College since 1993.

I have been following John on Facebook for years. He would sometimes post new material and share extended witty, hysterically funny conversations with his mother. I also followed Sukey Tawdry, Mrs. Weir’s beloved pooch who had his own Facebook profile and passed away just days after she did in 2018. (John’s tribute is posted here.)

For all of the platform’s faults, John’s connection to Facebook is evident: he dedicates Nostalgia to his 5,000 followers.

Weir has a crankier social media alter-ego, whom he refers to as “The 3am Guy.” This allows him to rant about various topics at all hours of the night and then perhaps soften the edges or clean up the mess the following day – a tactic more people should adopt, IMHO.

It was Weir himself and not The 3am Guy who posted the following – a stinging encapsulation of what it is like to be a gay author of a certain age, on the first day of Gay Pride Month, just trying to get his work in front of its target audience.

This is his entire post, which I have reprinted with his permission:

The Self-Pitying Author Asks: Why Are None of My Books on the LGBTQ+ Pride Table at My Local Groovy BKNY Bookstore, Next to *The Town of Babylon* and *The Guncle*?

It’s LGBTQ+ Pride Month, and I plan to spend the month ashamed! Mostly because I have this new book out and I haven’t done enough to promote it. Here’s a funny thing about the book:

John Weir Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan

What’s its genre?

Is that like asking a book its pronouns?

Maybe!

Well, *Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me* calls itself “linked stories” on the cover. That’d mean it’s a collection of short stories: fiction.

Somebody said maybe it’d get more notice if I had called it a novel, “because it reads like a novel” (presumably because the same dude is the narrator of all 11 stories, and the stories follow him – not in order! – from like 1974 to 2014); and the thing is:

It got published because I submitted it to a writing contest – the Association of Writers & Writing Program’s (AWP’s) Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction.

I submitted to a contest, which I’d never done before, because: my agent wasn’t interested in the manuscript, which meant I no longer had an agent; and of the *12 agents whom I queried to see if they’d represent me* – well: None. Of them. Even. Replied. Not even their harried assistants wrote back to pretend they were the agent and say, “No thanks.” No one. Not an email, not even a form-rejection email.

Then in fear and self-loathing I sent the manuscript to a friend, who is also an agent (generally, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have an agent who’s a friend), and they said, “Love this, can’t sell it.”

So I submitted to a contest.

Which specified: “Short Fiction.”

Author Grace Paley, photographed by Jess Paley

Like the kind of stories Grace Paley wrote. A prize in her name! And I was all, “Well, I’m not Paley, and not that the judge has to pick a Paley-esque collection, but: I do sort of do the thing Paley does of writing stories as if they were just what happened that day.” (Not to put myself on her level of genius!)

A lot of Paley’s stories are written as if they were unstructured suit jackets, they fit fine but without the expected ribbing: her work feels impromptu, copied from everyday ordinary life (even if that ordinary life is extraordinary); and so but then you realize that every word is deliberate, she has a distinct aesthetic and a project, her writing isn’t random, nor is it cinema verité, though it’s often presented as if a quirky documentarian were given a camera to record whatever is in front of her.

So my collection got picked for the Grace Paley Short Fiction Prize, the reward for which was its being published by a small press that partners with the AWP: Red Hen Press.

So it won a Story prize, so it’s Stories.

I guess it was my idea to use the phrase “linked stories,” because short story collections don’t sell that well, and I thought maybe people would be more likely to buy it if they thought it was gonna feel like a novel.

I don’t think it’s a novel. I don’t really care if it’s a novel. I don’t know what it is; but then some people have been:

It’s a memoir. It’s autobiography. It’s a series of essays with a dude in the middle saying “Ow.” It’s nonfiction misnomered as fiction!

“How dare you misgenre me!” it’s thinking, sitting un-bought on a low shelf in the Fiction section at your neighborhood Barnes Ignoble.

Well, but back to Paley: I can’t call it nonfiction because I lied about stuff; compressed 6 real people into one fictional character; took scenes from real life and put them in a different month, with other weather; invented conversations; collapsed 8 different events into one; made shit up; gave all my best lines to other people; left things out that’d make me look bad if you thought I committed them; mis-remembered the past; manipulated my mis-remembered past to satisfy narrative arcs. Gave stuff tidy endings that, in real life, are never-ending.

I used techniques of fiction, in other words.

But I wanted it to read as if it were happening right in front of you, happening *to* you, right now, in this moment that you’re reading it.

I wanted it to read like nonfiction. Or like a Frederick Wiseman documentary, maybe.

I wanted you to think, “He must have just written down what happened.”

Robert Lowell & Elizabeth Hardwick

“Why not say what happened?” Elizabeth Hardwick said to Robert Lowell, when he was stuck on a poem; and then he emptied all her letters into his book! Her aggrieved, enraged letters about his leaving her for another woman.

Sleep with a writer, wake up in print.

So I can see a person’s assigning my book in a course in, like, I dunno, “Personal Narrative?”

Argh, I think the term these days is “Autofiction,” which I hate. I always hear, under that name, the accusation that all a particular writer ever did was obsess about themselves; and that an “auto-fictionalist” was deficient because they could not make shit up.

Is there a notion lately that a “writer” is a person who works entirely from “imagination,” and that to base a story on true events is somehow not to be as glorious as a person who works solely from imagination?

As if “saying what happened” did not involve using your imagination.

As if “autofiction” is somehow ethically suspect because you’re invading the privacy of people whose lives your work is based on. But there is such a thing as an emotional autobiography, where the arc of feeling is lifted from your own life, if not the events. And even a science fiction writer is surely modeling characters on people they know in real life (see Philip K. Dick’s books where one of the main characters is clearly based on Bishop James Pike of California).

Argh, anyway.

John Weir Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan

And then there is this thing of, If you’re a homo-dude like myself over age like 55 and you’re writing about stuff that happened in the first 15 years of the global AIDS crisis, 1981 -1996, you are automatically *historical*, and your writing is going to have no useful application to stuff that is happening today, it’s gonna be retrograde at worst, merely “interesting” at best, yet another traumatized recounting of an era that properly belongs in a theme park, AIDSWorld.

O and alas. Call my book what you want, it doesn’t have a genre. But if it reads like nonfiction, that doesn’t mean it’s without an aesthetic; and if it reads like a novel, that doesn’t mean it’s not a series of stories carefully revised and assembled in a particular order; and if it reads like memoir, don’t expect it to be telling the truth about everything; and if it’s just some Wicked Aging Sodomite not letting go of the past, well:

Maybe we live in a country and moment when we are deeply aware of having *let go too quickly of the past*; and maybe the refusal to account for the past is a right wing strategy; and maybe the past is not even past, as Faulkner says; and maybe a book is not a weighted blanket, maybe it’s not meant to help you fall dreamlessly to sleep, maybe its point is to fling you into a stage of inconsolable grief at 3 in the morning.

Follow him on Facebook. Follow him on TikTok. He’s @jwierdo on Twitter.

Buy the fucking book.

1991: Homo Alone

In May of 1991, I completed my first professional theatre job – playing the Corwardly Lion in a national children’s theatre tour of The Wizard Of Oz. It was a whirlwind experience full of laughter, adventure and romance that ended as soon as I was dropped back into my parent’s house on Long Island. I felt just like Dorothy – unsure if what I had just experienced was real or a Technicolor® dream.

The Cowardly Lion on the road: Spring 1991. This photo is featured in Dee Michel’s 2018 book Friends of Dorothy: Why Gay Boys and Gay Men Love The Wizard of Oz.

While Dorothy may have felt that there was no place like home, if you think about it… the Lion, with his newfound courage, remained in the Emerald City.

I was determined to stay connected with New York City – my Emerald City – and continue my life as a working actor. I purchased a Long Island Railroad ticket for the month of June to ensure that I would go into the city to audition, search for a job and find a place to live.

The Wicked Witch from the tour had mentioned that her sister was curating an evening of performances called Homo Alone in the East Village on June 3rd. She suggested that I go see it and be sure to introduce myself.

So I hopped on the LIRR, a homo alone, to go see Homo Alone.

My own journal from the time reads:

Just went and saw 3 performers – somewhere between single-person one acts and stand-up comedy…. I’d love to do it. This journal would serve me well up there. Hmmm…

I then continued to write for 6 pages pining for the tour that had just ended and planning out my transition into NYC. But I remember how the performances that night made me feel: this was where I belonged, in a little theatre in the East Village, getting up in front of people with a notebook full of stories. To speak in my own voice with confidence and… yes, courage. To trust that what I have to say is unique and worth sharing and maybe even funny or touching or meaningful. Hopefully some combination of all those things.

By the following month, I had found a job and was sharing a leaky 5th floor walkup on East 6th street with Glinda The Good Witch. By the end of the summer, I had lost the job and Glinda turned out to be a clinically depressed nightmare person, but another tour loomed in the Fall and I was on my way. I had made the move to the big city and the life that I was looking for.

Fast forward to 1998: I read David Sedaris’s Naked and absolutely loved it, so I picked up his previous book Barrel Fever, which I had somehow missed. A fbarrel feverew pages into “Parade,” the first story in that collection, a light bulb started to flicker on: I know this story. How do I know this? I didn’t read this… I have heard this. Where did I hear this? Wait. This was the guy from Homo Alone. Back in 1991. That was David Sedaris reading onstage that night. 

I mean, how do you forget the tale of a guy who breaks up with his boyfriend Charlton Heston to start dating Mike Tyson and then one night after strenuous sex, he accidentally swallows Mike’s gold teeth?

Something like that stays with you.

gettyimages-82746711-2048x2048
David Sedaris does the laundry in his Astor Place apartment on June 28, 1993 (Photo: David Corio/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

In 2017, when David’s selected diary entries were released in book form as Theft By Finding, the first thing I did was flip to June of 1991 to see if there was any mention of that night, but it skips from May 15th to June 22nd. It was interesting to read about this period of his life though: he had moved to NYC the previous October and worked at SantaLand in Macy’s that Christmas. In 1992 he would gain national exposure reading “The SantaLand Diaries” on NPR.

9780316431712-l

Later in 2017, my partner Chris and I went to see David read at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a sold-out multi-night engagement. He is known for meeting and autographing books for every single person who is willing to wait in line to see him after his readings. This can take hours.

When it was my turn to get my book signed, I stepped up and launched into the statement I had waited 20 years to say: “In June of 1991 I saw you at some little place in the East Village in an evening of solo performances called Homo Alone and you read the story about Mike Tyson out of a notebook….”

He said “Oh. It wouldn’t have been a notebook.”

I redirected. “Uh… it might have been a notepad. Or some papers. I’m not sure but I always remembered that night.”

He didn’t. “You have a really good memory.” He said without looking up from signing my book.

I mean, what did I expect to happen? Was he supposed to throw his arms around me and exclaim “My GOD that was a magical night! Your laughter and applause meant so much to me! And here you are! My biggest fan! After all these years!”?

Photo Oct 07, 8 24 54 PM

And yes, my memory might be good, but it’s not GREAT, or I would have also remembered that “the little place” was The Club at LaMama and  another one of performers that night was Lisa Kron, who would go on to win two Tony Awards for the book and score of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

The third performer, Dominique Dibbell, has also had an impressive career. Kudos to Heidi Blackwell for collecting this trio.

I only know all this now because I unearthed the original program & promotional postcard from my mother’s basement this summer. And while I cannot say that I have a flawless memory bank, I will accept being called “A pack rat with decent recall.”

Note the “Thank You” to David’s partner Hugh Hamrick. According to Theft By Finding, they had only met three months prior. “This spring” David wrote, “I am, if I’m not mistaken, in love.” 29 years later, they are still together.

Had I unearthed this program sooner, I could have gone up to Lisa Kron at the 2015 preview of Fun Home that I attended – one of the most memorable Broadway experiences I ever had – where she and Alison Bechdel were sitting two rows in front of me. I could have said “I saw you with David Sedaris in 1991 and I don’t remember what you did but I know I really liked it and now I think you’re awesome!”

Lisa Kron with her two 2015 Tony awards for Best Book and Score of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

But I didn’t. And again, what is the anticipated reaction? What do we expect of people we admire when we reach out to them? When the shoe is on the other foot and someone mentions that they were moved by something that I did or wrote, I am grateful… but I don’t have a proper response other than to just say “Thank you.” It can easily become an awkward exchange, but the impulse is strong to make a connection with someone whose work motivates us and/or makes us feel something.

The next time I attend a David Sedaris reading, I will bring that old program along to show him and say; “I was at this show. You read Parade and I never forgot it. You inspired me to write. Thank you for all your work over the years.”

Maybe then I will get a different reaction. Then again, maybe not:

Revisiting Blueboy Magazine (1980)

Torso cover 1980

A recent post – the one featuring an essay written by Armistead Maupin for the September 1980 issue of Blueboy Magazine – was my most-viewed ever. This was thanks in part to links from Queerclick and KennethInThe212. I threatened to upload another article from the San Francisco-themed issue written by Randy Shilts: What If They Gave A Backlash And Nobody Came? Several people requested it, so here it is.

But first… a couple of other items of interest from this same issue:

 

Uncle CharliesGrace Jones

There used to be a whole lot of Uncle Charlies in New York City! None of those advertised above is the one that lasted longest: The Uncle Charlies bar on Greenwich Ave. in the West Village, which closed in 1997. And then there’s the one that has been on E. 45th st for 10 years now.

And Look! It’s an advertisement for Grace Jones’ fourth LP… her first good album!

2 tuns of fun

Record review: San Francisco’s very own Two Tons O’Fun. Izora Armstead and Martha Wash had been Sylvester’s backup singers. They soon changed their name to The Weather Girls when it started raining men… and the rest is history. Hallelujah!

 

 

 

PM Movies
10 time capsules from PM Productions. Check ’em out! They’re a hoot. And Christopher Street Blues has a zippy little theme song.

And now for our feature presentation. This article recounts several significant incidents where backlash against the San Francisco gay community was anticipated, but did not happen. It’s interesting to read Shilts’ account of what had been accomplished up to this point in time – with no idea that they were standing on the precipice of a health crisis that would decimate the community and undo so much of the work towards assimilation that he was highlighting.

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Randy Shilts Interviews Harvey Milk ca1977_8
Randy Shilts Interviews Harvey Milk (1977/78)

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Randy Shilts CRose 1993
Randy Shilts on The Charlie Rose Show (1993)

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Shilts Lily 1993
Randy Shilts with Lily Tomlin (1993)

Shilts would go on to write three books, all important documents of gay history: The Mayor of Castro Street – a Harvey Milk bio, And The Band Played On, which chronicled the early days of the AIDS epidemic and Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians In The Military. He died of AIDS complications in 1994.

Just imagine what he would have to say about the current administration. Or Mayor Pete. Picture him as a frequent guest on Rachel Maddow. His voice is sorely missed.

 

Armistead Maupin in Blueboy Magazine (1980)

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Back in the early aughts, an older friend of mine was preparing to move out of his NYC apartment and gifted me with a gay time capsule: a closet full of porn magazines dating back to the mid-1970’s. He had moved into this rent stabilized 5th floor walk-up in college and stayed there for 30 years. Roommates and boyfriends came and went – leaving a trail of old magazines in their wake. But my friend stayed in this spacious top floor railroad apartment in the last remaining tenement building on a stretch of East 59th street, with a living room facing the Queensboro Bridge. Why move? The landlord finally offered him a sizable cash settlement to leave, unaware that he was ready to depart NYC anyway. But it was a nice parting gift.

I, in turn was given a King’s Chamber of gay erotica: 7 file boxes full of near-pristine old smut.

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Shocker: porn is lucrative. For a few years I supplemented my income by selling them singly on eBay. The shrinking collection has now moved through 4 different apartments in the last dozen years. Unfortunately I did not have my friend’s tenacity (or luck) when it came to NYC real estate.

Torso cover 1980Recently I cracked the boxes open again and came across an article I thought was worth sharing. Yes, an article. As the old joke goes – I like these old porn mags for the articles. Well… the photo layouts are nice too, but… the articles do give a window into what gay life was like before the plague.

The September, 1980 issue of Blueboy Magazine was dedicated to the city of San Francisco – The Promised Land for gays. Presented below is an article titled The City That Dare Not Speak Its Name penned by Tales of the City author Armistead Maupin.

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Author Armistead Maupin at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Although this was written just before the AIDS epidemic blew the gay community sky high, San Francisco had already been through some shit, as Maupin mentions in his opening paragraph. The Zodiac Killer, Jonestown Massacre, Patty Hearst kidnapping, the murders of Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone… followed by Dan White’s acquittal…. I am unclear what “Decadence” he is referring to, but surely it was a bloodbath.

Maupin sensed that the press was sharpening its knives to criticize his beloved city. And he wasn’t wrong in his assessment. Like his Tales of the City series, the article is a love letter to San Francisco, capturing the time and place as nobody else could. It was the best of times… it was the worst of times….

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A couple of notes:  The mayor mentioned in the article is Dianne Feinstein, now the senior California senator. And the 30-inch girlfriend he refers to was Tamara De Treaux, basis for the main character in his novel Maybe The Moon.

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Armistead Maupin photographed in 1978 as part of Don Herron’s Tub Shots photo series.

In the spirit of “everything old is new again,” Maupin observes “…. some local lavender ward healers (that) propagate the Cult of the Politically Correct can grow tedious beyond belief, and I wonder, in my heart of hearts, whether the immeasurable joys of cocksucking are worth the price of being either political or correct.” Yes, he ultimately concludes that nobody embraces eccentricity as unconditionally and as joyously as do San Franciscans.

40 years later, I think those who love the city would agree… even if they do complain about all the human feces in the streets.

Jackie Old

The article concludes with a reference to a novel Maupin was working on: Jackie Old – a fictional piece about Jacqueline Onassis at age 70. Unfortunately she did not live to see 70 and this novella – initially published as a 5 part series in New West magazine –  would not get an official release until a 2014 Kindle edition. Even so, it is not included in his bibliographies.

Also featured in this mag is an extensive piece by another prominent gay San Franciscan:  the late great Randy Shilts, author of And The Band Played On. I will post this piece – What If They Gave A Backlash And Nobody Came? -if there is interest. Lemme know if you want it. (UPDATE: I posted it HERE)

Or…  I could post more photos of these guys:

Men of SF