Scenes From A Pandemic: March/April 2020

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3/21: Hall table wi/ masks & New York Magazine, Forest Hills

“We are living in interesting times…” That is an understatement. For better or worse, I thought it should be documented here, as a continuation of my previous two posts. The following photos and videos were taken by me as well as my sister Jennifer, an ER nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bethpage, Long Island. Additional photos by my partner Chris Hovanec and my stepdad Mike Turner.

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3/27: St. Joseph’s Emergency Room converted for COVID Triage
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4/1: Jen wearing a donated face guard at work.

Cards and notes of gratitude on the doors of the staff lounge at St. Joseph’s:

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4/2: Before masks were mandatory – a surprise visit to my bedroom window from Mom & Mike.
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4/2: Before masks were mandatory – a surprise visit from Jen.

 

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4/5 Burns / Clyde St. Alley, Forest Hills
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4/8: Jen in a floral mask made by Mom
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4/10: Burns St. Pharmacy, Forest Hills
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4/12 Pandemic Chic: Chris with Samus @ Forest Hills Stadium

 

Snacks and treats of gratitude for the staff at St. Josephs:

 

Every evening at 7pm, New York says thank you to first responders, health care professionals and all the essential people working to keep us safe. This is from local television:

4/17: The 7pm cheer at Parker Towers Apartment Complex in Forest Hills, with a flag bearer and saxophonist playing the Star Spangled Banner:

 

 

 

 

 

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4/15: Participants of the 7pm cheer, Parker Towers, Forest Hills

4/15: The 7pm cheer filmed by Jen outside St. Joseph’s Hospital:

 

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4/17: On her day off, Jen goes to the 7pm cheer with my nephew to support her coworkers.
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4/20: Line for Trader Joe’s, Rego Park
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4/20: Line for Trader Joe’s Pt.2, Rego Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4/21: Baron Von Munchausen, (aka Munch) on a chalk rainbow, Burns St., Forest Hills

Thursday At The Racetrack

I arrive at the Aquaduct Racetrack parking lot where the digital traffic sign announces COVID TESTING. I drive up to the first checkpoint. It’s all military here: everyone covered in fatigues and masks. Multiple signs direct me to keep my windows rolled up.

They yell at me through N95s and my closed car windows. I know they aren’t angry but it sure gives that impression. I am a possible contagion under glass. DO YOU HAVE AN APPOINTMENT? Yes. WHAT TIME? 1:30. SHOW ME YOUR ID#. PUT IT ON THE DASHBOARD WITH YOUR LICENSE AND LEAVE IT THERE. DO NOT OPEN YOUR WINDOWS.

Next check point. DO NOT OPEN YOUR WINDOWS. My dashboard info is examined and additional paperwork is placed under my windshield wiper. I am really starting to sweat now. It’s a warm day and I have turned off the air conditioning so I can hear what they are saying. I assume someone will take my temperature at some point and I’m going to say that they should really grade that on a curve. Thankfully, nobody ever takes my temperature.

Next check point. I am approaching the testing tent. The windshield wiper paperwork is now held up to the outside of the driver’s side window for me to examine and verify.

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I am instructed to pull up and wait. There are two cars ahead of me. DO NOT OPEN YOUR WINDOW UNTIL YOU ARE INSTRUCTED TO. PUT YOU HEAD BACK ON THE HEADREST. A COTTON SWAB WILL BE INSERTED IN YOUR NOSE TO COLLECT A SAMPLE FROM THE BACK OF YOUR THROAT.

I know. I know. I have been waiting for this appointment for quite some time. I am a week past my 17 days of fevers and fatigue but I thought I should get tested anyway, because who the hell knows what is going on with this virus?

Now it’s my turn. Pull up. Put it in park. Roll the window down. A medical person and his assistant in scrubs and masks approach. The previous information is repeated, just not as loud. I lower my mask. Put my head back. The swab is inserted. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be.

“Are you a music teacher?” He’s asking me a question while this thing is twisting in my nose.

“Am I a… huh?” I’m trying to figure out what prompted this inquiry. And then I remember: my mask. Black with white musical notes and clefs on it.

I want to say “Oh – my mask? Well… for my birthday back in 2002, my mother used this fabric to make me a wall tapestry depicting the pre-9/11 New York City skyline and now she used the leftovers to sew masks for my partner and I. Can you believe this world we are living in?”

 
But instead I just say, “No.” The test swab is still grinding against the back of my throat.

 
“Was I close?” he asks.

I know what he’s doing. He’s being nice. He’s trying to keep me calm. But it’s like when you are in the dentist’s chair with a mouth full of gauze and suction and instruments and he asks a question that requires more response than a head shake or a nod. How in-depth can I get in the midst of this procedure?

Was he close? My resume spins like a rolodex in my head. I am overthinking this. I finally manage to say; “I was an actor.” Does that sufficiently answer his question? It is the simplest answer. And I still have a stick in my nose.

No other questions are forthcoming. I think about what I said. I was an actor. Past-tense. Before all this. Before we got here. Are we done?

He slowly slides the swab out and I am momentarily reminded of some stunt we used to pull as kids: snorting a spaghetti noodle up our noses and pulling it out of our mouths. Kids.

Once the swab has been extricated, I let out a little whoop that could be interpreted a lot of ways. Pain? Excitement? Relief? The assistant looks a little startled so I assume it is not the normal reaction.

We are done. I can go online in 2 to 3 days to get my results. I smile and thank them and wish them a good day and roll up my window. I put the car in drive and pull out of the tent, following a line of cones directing me back to Rockaway Boulevard.

The sun streams in through the closed skylight window. And I burst into tears.

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Sunday: My results were posted today and I am all clear.

 

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New York Is A Ghost Town

As some of you may know, I have ramped up the blog posts in the last few months. Here’s a little backstory on why:
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I was abruptly let go from a humanitarian organization back on October 1st as my position was relocated to the London office. I spent the next 5 months at home, searching for a new job… and also devoting more time to this blog and other creative endeavors. I am lucky to have a partner and his nephew at home with full time jobs to help get through that period.
I was recently hired into the president’s office of a university downtown – my first day was March 9th. The following day, all classes were switched to online… and you can imagine how it has progressed from there.  By the end of the week, my partner and his nephew – a chef and a theatre manager – were laid off from their jobs.
At work, the number of people on campus dwindled, but we kept working in the president’s offices. I started taking pictures as the normally packed downtown/WTC/Brooklyn Bridge area started to empty out.
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The first picture above was included in an NBC news story about empty New York City.
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The above photos were taken at 1pm on Friday 3/13 – I wish I had retaken these angles today because it would have been much more stark, as you can see from the other photos I have taken since then.
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When I got the office today, I was told that we could now work from home, so I won’t be going back for a while. I’m grateful that I still have a job.

 

 

Madame Spivy: Auntie’s Face

“She was once like Whistler’s Mother – now they whistle when she passes.”

Ladies and Gentleman, it is time once again to revisit that late great dynamic lady of song, Madame Spivy LaVoe (1906-1970), also known simply as Spivy. A lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I add “…. if he was born Bertha Levine in Brooklyn.” You can see earlier posts about her here and here.

Spivy Promo pic

Since my last Spivy post, I was thrilled to see that she had been profiled on Dennis Dermody’s Cinemaniac website, and even happier to see that, after a little nudge, I was given some credit for all the “borrowed” photos, video and large portions of my previous posts. Bless his heart, I’m sure it was just an oversight.

Moving on… today we will be listening to Auntie’s Face, a song written by Broadway actor and fellow nightclub performer Guy Moneypenny. Spivy’s recording was featured on her 1949 album An Evening With Spivy.

spivey-evening-medSpivy had something of a catchphrase that she would use to introduce a song: A solemn pronouncement that “This is VERY sad and we must be VERY quiet, please.” She would then launch into a number that was anything but either of those things. At least four of her recordings contain this introduction – one can imagine that it was a playful way to get the attention of a noisy nightclub audience.

Auntie’s Face

We all have strange relatives… but let me tell you about my Aunt Grace.

She’s a MAD thing. This is very sad and we must be very quiet, please.

This is the tragedy of poor Aunt Grace – how she became a complete disgrace

It all began when she lifted her face and decided to be young and gay.

Since she’s become a rejuvenated case, the whole house suffers from her madcap pace

There’s no longer any quiet in the whole damn place

So we lift our eyes to heaven and pray.

Please God make Auntie’s face fall. For we’ve all got our backs to the wall.

Her reputation’s battered. Our principals are shattered. She hasn’t any moral code at all.

Her breath now reeks of bathtub gin. Goes out nights in search of sin.

We wake up in the morning to find her coming in… from an all night brawl.

We’re all in such a dither, for heaven knows she’s coarse.

When she brings the milkman with her – wait ‘til you hear this one – why must she bring his horse?

Please God make Auntie’s face fall. For nothing is sacred at all.

We caught her teaching Granny to manipulate her fanny in a rhumba with a cashmere shawl.

And just last night they phoned from the jail – it seems they’re holding Auntie ‘til we fork up the bail

They found her on Broadway singing Love For Sale. Yes they did! And the price was small.

She steals cigars from brother. She’s thrown away her glasses.

She was once like Whistler’s Mother – now they whistle when she passes.

She thinks she’s the belle of the ball. We’re afraid that she’s going on call

Dear God we beg your pardon but to hell with Lizzie Arden

If you’ve any mercy left at all… please God make Auntie’s face fall!

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Some of Spivy’s other recordings contain obscure references that require a little research and explanation. Not so with Auntie’s Face: Cole Porter’s song Love For Sale is still a well-known standard. The line “To Hell with Lizzie Arden” is a reference to cosmetics queen Elizabeth Arden, whose beauty product empire still stands. And who isn’t familiar with Whistler’s Mother? Furthermore… a song about plastic surgery certainly rings truer today than it did 70 years ago. It may come as a shock to fans of the Real Housewives that the first facelift procedures took place in the early 1900’s.

Be sure to check back – more Spivy to come soon! (Update: Here)

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Spivy card

If You Meet Me In The Bathroom, Be Sure To Shake My Hand

For 10 years (1997-2007) I produced and hosted a late night public access program on the air here in New York City called Bri-Guy’s Media Surf.

1998 Media Surf flyer

This 1998 flyer features the stop-action roiling sea of celebrities used in the opening credits to the show. Amongst the beefcake models and my first grade class photo, we also have: Bette Midler (3x), Goldie Hawn (2x), Diane Keaton (First Wives Club), Erasure (2x), Dusty Springfield, James Dean, Madonna, Lisa Loeb, Mark Wahlberg, Rupaul, Paula Cole, Keith Haring, Greg Louganis, Michael Stipe, kd lang, Julia Fordham and James Dean.

The quote at the bottom is a nod to legendary NYC late night hostess Robin Byrd.

 

One of my faithful viewers (Tammy) Remington Write recently reached out about doing an interview and has written a wonderful piece for Medium. Thank you so much for remembering, Tammy!

mediumIn the article she recounts when we first met on the street back in 2005. Viewers did not approach me often enough that I ever got used to it. I was always thrilled to be reminded that this thing I was creating alone in my apartment was being broadcast and people were watching.

I was going to just post the link to the Medium article here and leave it at that, but while looking for something unrelated on a backup computer disc, I came across this piece I wrote in 2006 for a MySpace blog that I had completely forgotten about:

Every once in a while I’ll hear from a viewer of my NYC public access program, Bri-Guy’s Media Surf. It’s still running, mostly in repeats, on MNN in Manhattan.

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Media Surf promo shot (1997)

I got an IM yesterday from a viewer that I have conversed with from time to time over the years. He’s a nice guy – perhaps a little off, but aren’t we all in one way or another? He still hasn’t gotten over the fact that sapphic little Dana Owens who worked in his record store in the late 80’s morphed into Queen Latifah. He brings it up in every conversation. That, and his obsession with Sylvia Miles. I’m not kidding. He scared her and now she won’t talk to him.

He lives in New Jersey but a friend would tape my show and pass him VHS copies. That ended at some point a few years ago and I wasn’t sure if he was still watching it. I don’t hear from him for long stretches of time and then he will suddenly IM me out of the blue.

This was today’s exchange in its entirety:

(curtain up)

Him:  I used to trick with a fuckbuddy in Harlem so I could see your show
Me:  You what?
Him:  I would time it just right
Me:  How funny.
Him: Sex after your show – I am not kidding
Me: That’s so sweet!

(curtain down)

Now… who could ask for a better compliment than that?

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Media Surf promo shot (2003)

 

This is actually the second person to extol this type of adulation. Last summer a guy came running up to me on the street to let me know how much he loved Media Surf, and that he had a regular Friday night tryst with his “one night a week boyfriend.” This had gone on for years: they would get together to watch the show and then have sex. Or vice versa. In their case, I’m not sure if the show was an appetizer or dessert. The point is, it was on the menu.

This is my fan base, if you will. For a while, it seemed like viewers who recognized me would only come up and talk to me when I was trying to pee in public. Apparently I am most approachable in public bathrooms. Not that I make a habit of hanging out there. Shut up.

Once after I disembarked from a flight at La Guardia Airport, I entered the restroom with some urgency and a member of the janitorial staff greeted me with a hearty “Hey Bri-Guy!”

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On the set: Media Surf (2005)

It wasn’t a terrible welcome back to New York City – the one place where I have just a smidge of recognition.

A guy reached over the toilet stall to shake my hand as I stood at the urinal one drunken evening in Dick’s Bar. I guess I’m less intimidating with my fly open. Or more vulnerable, at the very least.

In the realm of things, hearing that someone would choose their rendezvous to accommodate Media Surf’s broadcast schedule is high praise, considering that after 9 years on the air, I rarely bother to stay up late enough to watch it myself.

It means enough to these people to approach me and let me know that they like the show that I put together. To be a part of their philanderings – in some tangential way, without ever taking my clothes off or having to shower afterwards – is kinda cool.

Isn’t it?

Or am I just reeeally starved for attention?