Westend Avenue is the tree-lined thoroughfare that continues down the western edge of the Upper West Side where Broadway veers to the east at 106th Street. From the very beginning of the development of the West Side, Westend Avenue was reserved for the elite, with fancy hotels and high rent apartment buildings. To this day commercial traffic is not allowed on Westend Avenue and luckily while developers in the '60s and '70s were tearing up the East Side building boxy "deluxe apartments in the sky," the west side was largely ignored leaving us with block after block of pre-war buildings that retain some of the grace of old New York.
Living on a block between Westend Avenue and Riverside Drive, my fancy address sounds impressive and belies the humble brownstone studio flat I call home.
Cable stations such as Bravo, HGTV, and the Food Network seem to do a much better job representing competent professional gay men on their reality shows and regular programming than the mainstream networks do. (I've written about thisbefore.) This season's Top chef on Bravo is no different. Among the three finalists in the competition is Dale (no last name given), a 34 year old gay man and Chicago resident. Dale is a self-taught chef and has a background in competitive diving and gymnastics. Dale's appearance on the show has been refreshinly drama-free as week after week he quietly and competently displays his considerable culinary skills.
This week Dale outshone the other chefs by preparing a dish which was to include Elk meat. The dish was served to a group of Colorado cowboys and rated the best. A gay man who knows what cowboys like--imagine that! I'll be rooting for Dale in the finals!
This from AOL's morning news headlines: "Iran's President Gets Bronx Cheer." They are referring of course to the chilly reception and protests Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got here in New York over the weekend. But what they mean is "jeer". It's Bronx jeer.
Jeer as in: to speak or cry out with derision and mockery.
Not Cheer as in: a shout of applause or encouragement.
"Cheer" doesn't seem to make sense along side photos of protesters holding signs that say "Go to Hell!" now, does it? What kind of a cheer is that? Duh.
Stay in school, kids.
UPDATE: After doing some research online, it seems that "jeer" and "cheer" are used interchangeably. While the expression is supposed to be ironic, I thought the irony was derived from the fact that the "jeer" was actually a flatulent sound rather than a verbal remark, while others (Dave) believe the irony is that it's actually the opposite of a cheer. Sometimes I'm too highfalutin' for my own good.
When I brought up the "cheer/jeer" issue to my friend Peter and explained my point of view he said "Only a fag would know that." Touche.
One of television's best-loved character actresses, Alice Ghostely, died this past weekend after a long battle with cancer. Perhaps most famous for her role as the lovably befuddled housekeeper, Esmeralda, on Bewitched, Ghostley got her start on the Broadway stage in New Faces of 1952where she became a star along side other such "new faces" as Eartha Kitt and Paul Lynde singing her signature "Boston Beguine" for the first time. Though a master of comic timing, she went on to win a Tony Award in 1965 for a dramatic role in The Sign in Sydney Brustein's Window. Over the years Ghostley popped up all over TV-land in supporting roles and guest spots that would re-energize even the most stale sit-com for her brief appearance. In the late '80s Ghostley was introduced to a whole new generation of TV viewers as Bernice Clifton, the eccentric dotty neighbor of the Sugarbaker sisters on Designing Women which earned her an Emmy nomination in 1992. Her 31 film credits include such classics as The Graduateand To Kill a Mockingbird. One of my personal favorite Alice Ghostley roles was as one of the stepsisters in Rodgers & Hammerstein's 1957 television version of Cinderella opposite Kaye Ballard (inspired casting!) and starring Julie Andrews. Ballard remained a friend to the end releasing news of Ghostely's death to the press saying among other things "She was an exceptional actress...(Alice) was gentle and she was sincere and she was kind and she never said a cruel thing about anyone -- ever...But she was superior in everything she did. She was a special, special person." Alice Ghostley died at her home in Studio City, California. She was 81.
A sign of the times. I saw this car parked on my street today advertising that it's powered by vegetable oil. I'm sure you've heard about this "technology." It's nothing new however since apparently it's been known for years that most diesel engines can operate on vegetable oil. But only recently are people starting to become hip to the fact. I'm no car afficianado, but the car pictured here appears to be an early '80s diesel engine Mercedes. This line was introduced in response to the gas crunch of the '70s. (Interesting how we seem to go in circles on this issue.)
Usage of the vegetable oil fuel source is still pretty rare in this country. In fact I don't even know anyone who actually has one of these cars. It seems only the occasional environmentally conscious celebrity who you ever hear of fueling their cars up at fast food joints with french fry grease instead of gas from gas stations. Country Music legend Willy Nelson is a huge proponent of the alternative fuel source and all of his tour buses and trucks are operated this way. He has even started his own brand of the stuff: check out BioWillie.
This seems like such a simple answer to our years of worry over foreign fuel sources. In fact it's almost too simple, is there a piece to this I'm missing? Why aren't we doing this? Oh, right, big oil in the White House. Check out greasecar.com for more details on how to make vegetable fuel work for you.
After doing a City Snapshot post of the Hilton Theatre the other day, I was reminded that the Hilton Theatre actually began life as the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in 1997. Ragtime was the very first show to open there. The Hilton was built out of two old Broadway theatres, the Apollo and the Lyric which were both turned into movie houses in the '30s and then fell into years of disrepair. They were among the theatres reclaimed and saved by the New Times Square project in the '90s. Bits and pieces of both theatres (the dome from the Lyric, the proscenium from the Apollo) were saved to create an old world style Broadway theatre for the opening of Ragtime in January of 1998. The theatre is truly glorious inside but there is one aspect of the period theatre the designers did not get right: the size. At over 1800 seats, every show that has played the Ford, now the Hilton, has suffered trying fill the large house. It is a full 200 seats larger than the St. James, the largest of the vintage theatres left on Broadway. This may not seem like a lot, but it can make a difference as to whether a show runs two years or four years. But back to Ragtime...
In the new Ford Center for the Performing Arts, Livent, the show's producers, mounted a truly magnificent production of Ragtime, an adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's novel of the same name. The set was a behemoth and Ford product placement figured prominently in the show and even included a number featuring Henry Ford himself along with his assembly line for the Model T. Yet somehow none of this seemed gratuitous!
Ragtime was a refreshing glass of water in the desert that was musical theatre in the 1990s (lest we forget musical versions of Big, Footloose, Saturday Night Fever...I could go on.) Ragtime was one of the most masterfully crafted shows to appear on Broadway in years. Outside of being a very good adaptation, the score quite brilliantly used all the musical influence of the era and of the characters featured in the story: there was gospel, the minor keys of Jewish and Eastern European immigrants, and of course Ragtime.
In the opening number featured below all three of these groups are represented and set the stage for a truly epic musical that dealt with complex relationships, families, race, class and framed it all in beautiful historical context. With a cast of around 30, the huge state-of-the-art set and the extra large house to fill, the carrying costs for the show were astronomical. Despite great reviews, the show only ran two years. But don't let that keep you from enjoying this fabulous opening number. Hit play. (Oh, and don't let that precocious child at the beginning of the number turn you off--he's only there for a minute.)
Six years later, September 11th once again falls on a Tuesday. I give thanks for the overcast skies and rain. Anything but that bright blue September sky that so vividly invokes the memory of the original tragic day.
As I make my coffee newscasters announce the plans for the memorial. All the names will be read again. The Star Spangled Banner is sung a Capella as I get in the shower. I hear the names begin, through the A's and B's as I'm in the shower, shaving.
The names continue read by first responders, I can't help but think that these men and women whom we proclaim as heroes are having their health turned into an election year issue. They read the names pausing to remember their friends, co-workers, brothers.
It depresses the hell out of me but I can't bear to turn it off.
As I leave the house we're only through the C's.
Things on the subway seem remarkably ordinary. You'd never know this was the anniversary except for the headlines of the papers being read by commuters. They seem nonplussed, or like me, they are doing everything they can not to dwell on it. Not to make the day extraordinary. For some sense of normalcy.
At work the thunder claps and lightning flashes outside our windows. The sky is black. It seems appropriate.
You may be wondering how I could possibly let the whole Larry Craig debacle go by without comment here on Manhattan Chowder. Well, to be honest, I was waiting for the story to come to some kind of conclusion before I remarked on it. But it seems the story keeps lingering, in part because Craig himself does not wish the story to die. Every week we are subjected to this delusional man’s next step in the story: First he’s guilty, then he’s not, then he’ll resign, then he won’t, etc. Craig has suffered much criticism from both the gay and straight community for not only his handling of the situation, but also, for allowing himself to engage in this kind of behavior to begin with. But to Larry Craig, I say THANK YOU!
Thank you, Larry Craig, for showing us what the darkness of the closet can do.
Thank you for providing a generation of gay self-help authors with the perfect example for the chapters in their books titled "Don’t Let This Happen to You."
Thank you for illustrating so vividly that a man, gay or straight, who owns his sexuality can have nothing taken away from him, and that a man who lies about it has no credibility about anything in his life and is doomed to become a laughing stock and a scape goat for others to push around.
Thank you for showing us how powerful self loathing can be that a man with a career of almost 30 years in public service can self-sabotage it all for a quickie in a men's room.
Thank you for showing us how shame and envy can result in the harm of others who live openly and proudly by trying to legislate us out of existence by voting against gay marriage or protection against hate crimes simply because you’re not man enough to face who you are.
Thank you for showing us that lying about one’s sexuality can lead to a whole host of other lies (wide stance?) each more ridiculous and implausible than the last.
Thank you for showing America that the majority of the men who engage in this kind of unseemly anonymous sex in public places do not, in fact, identify as gay, but are closeted individuals often with wives and children.
I don’t know whether Larry Craig will actually resign or if he will be successful in overturning his guilty plea. But the damage is done. His career and probably his marriage are over. Let's learn what we can from this and move on.
At the Hilton Theatre where Young Frankenstein is set to open this Fall, both the interior and exterior of the building are busily undergoing transformation in preparation for what is sure to be a big hit this Broadway season. One of the back doors that faces West 43rd Street is decorated as a Brains Depository in a clever nod to the show's off-beat comedic style.
A very dear friend of mine is working as the associate conductor for Young Frankensteinand tells me that the show has just enjoyed a very successful out of town try-out in Seattle. I just hope the Hilton Theatre doesn't compromise the show's success here in New York as it is one of the largest theatres on Broadway and often hard to fill cutting short the run of many shows that have played there in the past.
This week the opera world lost the closest thing it has to a rock star: Luciano Pavarotti. Considered by many the greatest tenor since Caruso, Pavarotti's god-given voice, ability to sail through cadenzas with ease and seemingly tireless ability to hit high Cs became the wonder and envy of other tenors. Known for his gift with the Italian language, Luciano became the quintessential Italian tenor with roles by Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini as his specialties. His rise to stardom had as much to do with his vocal ability as it did his affable personality. He is one of the few opera stars who achieved success as a cross over artist appealing to a much wider audience through his Three Tenors series of concerts with Placido Domingo and Jose Careras and charitable concerts with the likes of Sting and Elton John.
As a young voice student stumbling my way through the requisite "24 Italian Songs and Arias" my voice teacher advised "Only listen to Luciano--no one else." He was an inspiration to me then and remains so. He was quoted as having said "I think a life in music is a life beautifully spent and this is what I have devoted my life to." Pavarotti died of the devestating disease of pancreatic cancer near his home in Modena, Italy. He was 71.
It was heralded at a press conference months before its arrival, this thing, this gadget that would surely change the world. The Wizard of Apple, Steve Jobs, appeared before a giant media screen in a setting Hollywood might use to satirize a super-chic, self-important company and foretold of this gadget’s wonders. Oh, the capability you’ll have: the hours of Internet surfing, video games, movies, music and the ability to receive emails in the middle of cocktail parties and dinners with friends. And just think of the texting possibilities! It was coming he told us, so be prepared. It was coming and the dawn of a new day was upon us. And then, before God and all humanity, he revealed to us the future: the iPhone.
The months of anticipation that followed were heady times indeed. There was a constant buzz heard round water coolers across America; endless speculation of how lives would change, battles would be won and strides for the good of all humanity would be made. But alas, this thing, this iPhone, came with a price. And how to pay for it? Sacrifices would have to be made, credit cards maxed out, lattes rationed for emergencies only and hopes for little Billy’s college education dashed. After all, revolution doesn't come cheap. Advancements for humanity cannot be found rummaging through bins in bargain basements. When the countdown for the new arrival reached single digits, the most staunch followers of Apple, the ones who learned to compute on a Macintosh, stood by it through the dark days of PC domination, saw the light at the end of the tunnel with the introduction of the iMac with its retro design, were among the first to own an iPod and with no apparent job security to worry about, began camping out on street corners outside Apple stores, well stocked with provisions and lawn chairs to brave the elements and be among the first recipients of this gift from the future, this iPhone.
When it finally arrived, there was much joy in the land! Except for those who waited in ques and still went home empty handed, and some who did manage to get their hands on one of the precious gizmos ended up selling them on Ebay for twice the price. Oh, and didn't we tell you that the $600 price tag doesn't include any kind of service agreement. Yeah, so, if you want to actually use your iPhone, it’s going to cost you extra, not to mention the fees you’ll probably have to pay for canceling your old service agreement. Sorry about that. So, many friends I know and Apple die-hards postponed their purchase of the iPhone until their cell service runs out or until the price comes down a little or they start making more money.
And then, in the worst marketing decision since New Coke, Apple reduced the price of their precious iPhone by $200 just months after introducing the product prompting thousands of angry emails and customer outrage from those who paid full price. It adversely affected the company’s stock and cost them thousands in refunds and rebates and an apology from the man himself, Steve Jobs. Also, with this stunt they may have sacrificed one of Apple’s most bankable assets: customer loyalty. If the iPhone had been priced correctly to begin with instead of so out of line with other PDAs, they might not be in this mess now. Also, aren't we tired of being jerked around by this kind of "gotta have it" marketing with new generations of a product planned out ahead of with the goal of rendering the original device obsolete with a year or two? Come on. Aren't we smarter than this?