Passing by a school playground full of children at recess in the East Village today, the din of a car horn in “panic” mode droned on and on in a monotone as they played. Just as I began to feel sorry for city kids who have to endure the urban noise around them from within their 12 foot chain link fence enclosed playground, I heard four or five boys stop what they were doing and start to build a chord based on the note from the car horn. They matched the rhythm creating the third and the fifth with one of the boys providing an off-beat and another improvising a counterpoint melody. One boy began to conduct with his right arm while the ball he had just been playing with was tucked under his left. I stopped on the sidewalk to wonder at the spectacle. Touched and amused at their ability to make music out of a car horn, I rounded the corner and realized that this was no ordinary playground I stumbled on to, this was the playground of Grace Church School.
A beautiful Gothic Revival style edifice set back from the street at 820 Broadway, Grace Church boasts one of the finest musical programs in the city. Their open-door policy and daily organ meditations are famous in the neighborhood. In fact, the school at Grace Church began as a boys’ choir boarding school in 1894. Eventually the school expanded into a regular elementary school and became co-educational, but obviously they have maintained their strong music program including a chorister training programfor kids. Good thing, too, because these kids probably would have been beaten to a pulp on any other New York City playground. Keep singing, boys!
I won't lie. The last couple of months being back in New York have been a big adjustment. After such an incredible year at school it was bound to be a let down getting back to the city grind. I miss the friends I made and the constant creative stimuli. On top of that, I had to finish up my final paper (which is done!) and I'm still living in a temporary housing situation. The reason? Because the tenant I chose with such care last year to rent out my apartment while I was at school won't get out! I won't go into all the details, but it has been a constant source of frustration and anxiety the last six weeks. So, when my friend Jimmy suggested I join him to attend the Unicef Snowflake Lighting at 57th and 5th Avenue, I jumped at the chance. Somehow the beauty of 5th Avenue as the holidays approach never fails to lift my spirits.
As these holiday lightings go, the Snowflake is a bit of a dog and pony show. It's short and sweet; a kids' choir singing some holiday tunes, some remarks from the Unicef mucky-mucks and a beautiful celebrity like Unicef Ambasador Lucy Liu to flip the switch. Et Voila! Merry Christmas! Just what I needed. But the best part was probably going out for burgers afterwards with Jimmy who loves a good greasy spoon diner as much as I do. Bacon cheeseburger deluxe, please. Ah, La Parisienne Diner--c'est magnifique!
An interesting bit of news about New Yorkwas released yesterday. It seems that more than 50% of Manhattanites live alone; as in single, no spouse, no family. This doesn't surprise me considering that the housing stock in Manhattan is made up of more studio and one-bedroom apartments than anything else. But what I'm waiting for is some kind of acknowledgement that this is the case.
I have lived alone for the past 9 years. That's not to say I'm "single". I've been in committed relationships for most of that time. But that's the way we do things in Manhattan. No one wants to give up their apartment. It's a classically eccentric New York tradition. In one of the most famous examples, Woody Allen and Mia Farrow maintained separate apartments for years! Okay--maybe that's not the best illustration. The point is, this is nothing new to us, and yet, we single households are constantly discriminated against by society and in the media.
Coming off an election year, and still with the health care debate, all anyone cares about representing or protecting or benefiting is "families". As if these are the only people worthy of going to political bat for. Have you noticed? Listen carefully--no one ever talks about single people. It's "families, families, families." The message is loud and clear that the only acceptable choice in our society is to live as a family. This attitude, probably a result of a right-leaning socio-political trend driven by the religious right, even fuels the LGBT fight for marriage equality. We've gotten the message that in order to be legitimized by the mainstream, we have to imitate their lifestyle. I'm convinced it's the reason the fight for marriage equality is far more visible and passionate than ENDA. But shouldn't we make sure we're able to support our families by protecting our job security first? But I digress...
Manhattan was built for single people. Literally. Like I said, look at the housing stock. Now, the numbers even support that. And yet, New York continues this "family friendly", theme park approach to development and zoning that frankly most of us don't need, or, as in my case, want. I remember a friend who lived in Chelsea telling me that he and his partner wanted to get out because every new building going up was selling 3 and 4 bedroom apartments. "What comes with all those bedrooms? Kids!" There goes the neighborhood.
Now, don't get me wrong, I don't hate kids. On the contrary. I just don't want to raise yours and I don't want to live in a childproof world. I've made another choice. A legitimate, individual, American-as-apple-pie, free choice to live alone--just like the majority of Manhattanites. And there's nothing wrong with that. We're Americans, too.
Now, wish me luck on explaining this post to Scott who's moving in with me in a couple of weeks.
This week President Obama will sign a federal hate crimes bill into law. Hallelujah. 11 years after Matthew Shepherd's death, no one will ever be able to commit such a heinous act without being prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law as a hate crime. It's about time. But obviously we still have a long way to go to to educate people and eradicate homophobia. Sadly, I suspect, like racism, it will always be an element in our society and permeate the way people think and act toward gay people.
Yesterday, having read the news that Obama would sign the Matthew Shepherd Bill into law, I felt pretty good. I ventured out the door to buy a cup of coffee. As I stood waiting in line at the Dunkin' Donuts, my eyes fell on a stack of that day's New York Post. On the cover was Shane Victorino of the Philadelphia Phillies. His torso was photoshopped onto a woman's body wearing a cheer leading skirt. The caption read "Only in the City of Brotherly Love would Victorino be considered a slugger." Whack! Homophobia slaps you in the face. Way to stay classy, Post. Sure, it was a slam against Philadelphia as a second-rate city, but with strong homophobic overtones.
Just a few days ago Scott was saying to me "Remember those Scholastic Book orders from elementary school? You'd go home and ask you mom for money and then weeks later the books would arrive and you forgot all about them. It was so exciting. It was like getting a present." I have the same memories. Then Scott sent me this article that appeared in The Stranger. It seems the powers that be at Scholastic Books are exercising homophobic censorship. Go to the link to read the full story, but apparently they asked an author who featured a set of same-sex parents in her book to edit them out in favor of a heterosexual couple. Thankfully, she refused.
I had the opportunity to educate someone this weekend about homophobia, but I unfortunately I failed. I was hosting a garage sale out at my parent's house in New Jersey. A woman came by with a couple of kids, one of whom was in a Boy Scout uniform. He was about 12 or 13. He was selling Christmas wreaths to benefit the Boy Scouts. First he approached Scott who told the boy he didn't live there, and passed him off to me. I stalled passing him off to my mother as "the lady of the house". She didn't want to order any wreath from the Boy Scouts either, but gave the kid a small donation instead, mostly to spare us all any more awkward moments.
After that, the kid went to ring other doorbells on the block while his mother stayed behind and browsed among the Garage Sale items. Now, I didn't want to burst the kid's bubble by telling him I think the Boy Scouts are a bunch of homophobic bigots. But I did have the opportunity to say to his mother after he left "You know, I didn't want to order anything that would support the Scouts because they discriminate against people like me." I wanted to tell her that the only men I ever knew who made it to Eagle Scout are gay. I wanted to tell her that municipalities across the country (including the City of Brotherly Love) are doing the right thing and not allowing a discriminatory organization to hold meetings in municipal buildings. But I didn't. I thought she might buy something so I didn't want to offend her. I sold out my civil rights for a potential $5 garage sale transaction. Way to stay classy, Michael.
PS She didn't buy anything.
Please, do better than I did. Speak up when you have the opportunity.
UPDATES: The LAPD has cut tieswith a spin off group of the Boy Scouts as the group's discriminatory policy against LGBT youth and leaders is at odds with the city's non-discrimination policy as is the case in more and more cities and municipalities across the country. It's hard to be happy about it, though. Scouting could be such a wonderfully positive organization for boys. And it's the kids who lose in the name of "protecting" them.
Also, Scholastic Books has released a somewhat confusing statementregarding the Luv Ya Bunches controversy. They insist they do not censor, but rather "review" books for inclusion in their clubs and fairs. (The LGBT thing aside, isn't asking an author to clean up language a form of censorship?) Also, they say that Luv Ya Bunches eventually passed review for their middle school book fairs. This is an interesting distinction since the book is about 4 elementary school girls and according to Amazon.com, is recommended for a 9 to 12 year old reading level. Pre-middle school age.
Hugh Jackman has received a great deal of press over the last 24 hours for stopping a preview performance of his new Broadway play, A Steady Rain, while an audience member's cell phone rang for almost a full minute. I think reports of Mr. Jackman's reaction have been greatly exaggerated. (One report I heard said that Jackman "ripped into" the audience member in question.) Actually, I think he was fairly patient. You can watch the clip yourself.
This made me recall a similar episode during the penultimate performance of Patti Lupone's Gypsy, during which some hapless audience member dared to take a picture. Patti's response was deliciously Classic Lupone. Watch and listen.
As an actor, I admit, I feel a certain degree of satisfaction when I watch these clips having had to perform through picture-taking and cell phone ringing and some even more distracting behavior. However, I never stopped the show. I can't. I'm not a star. Really, the only actors who can get away with these sorts or responses are the ones whose names appear above the title.
In the case of Jackman and Lupone, both have worked hard to get where they are and, in my opinion, are deserving of their success. And whether it's fair or not, their celebrity and fame gives them a certain amount of leadership within a company of actors. But, for example, if the picture-taking had happened during "Little Lamb", the girl playing Louise would have been expected to just soldier on through the song. Every actor knows the oldest rule in show business is the show must go on.
As actors, part of our job is to have the technique and concentration to continue in the moment despite whatever distractions may happen in the audience. You owe it to everyone in the audience who is not behaving badly and the rest of the actors on stage who are working collaboratively to create the reality of the play. One actor deciding to abandon that collaboration is arguably more distracting than any cell phone ring or camera flash.
Also, in our "community" of the theatre, as Miss Lupone so eloquently puts it, we, onstage, know that there is a staff of ushers and a house manager out there whose job it is to deal with offending audience members. You can't see it in the Hugh Jackman clip, but I promise you, there was an exasperated House Manager or usher standing in the aisle, arms waving wildly, trying to communicate to the cell phone ringer to get the heck out of the theatre. Someone from the stage jumping in to do this job makes the entire episode more humiliating and disruptive than it really needs to be. Now, I admit, this is the ideal philosophy I'd like to adhere to in the best of all possible worlds, but...these reactions, though I don't condone them, are kinda fabulous in an "actor's ultimate revenge fantasy" sort of way.
The great irony here is, that while recording these reactions may not be distracting, it is illegal. Can you imagine what Patti would have done if she'd known?