Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Life Imitates Art

As many of you know, I work evenings/nights, so most nights I find myself riding home on the subway in the wee hours. On Monday, I had what I like to call a quintessential New York moment of being the only other person on a downtown A train car with a VERY ANGRY and VERY LOUD "little person" who couldn't stop screaming about God, or something. I pretended to get off at Penn Station and then got on the car behind his, on which I could still hear him VERY LOUDLY. (I'm not kidding, it was pretty terrifying!) But last night was quiet so I was doing what I usually do: I was reading the leftover USA Today that nobody at work wants. I had only made it to Page 1 when the USA Today Snapshots graphic -- which I always read because I used to have to write them for The Orange County Register in the early '90s; you try coming up with 365 of those a year about nothing but The O.C.! -- caught my eye. As you can see, it ranks the Top 5 most-visited art museums in the world, and nearly every one of them brought back a memory that made me smile.

Greg and Kenny getting artsy ...
On the giant molar
With Greg, left, and with Nina
I was thinking my pals Greg and Nina and I visited the Met when we invaded New York City back in December of '85, then I realized it was actually the fabulous Museum of Modern Art where this photo session went down. (OK, so I said a smile. I didn't say my memory was perfect!)

In 1987, my pal Cleo and I had grand plans to visit the Tate Modern on our big trip to London only to be sidetracked by her desire for a drink or two (she's younger than I am so sent me, at age 19 still a liquor novice, to the store to get something and I think I wound up buying a bottle of Kahlua!) and my desire to hit the town (I tricked her into going to the Hippodrome when, unknownst to her, I knew it was "gay night"). Needless to say, I think we were both at the age when these desires were far more important than something cultural.

Cleo wasn't able to get a visa to France, so we parted in London and I went on to Paris to attend my first Grand Slam event, the 1987 French Open. (That's Dianne Fromholtz Balestrat, above.) It was the year Steffi Graf won her first major, and I also got to meet a 16-year-old up-and-coming American out on the practice courts. (His name was Andre Agassi.) While in Paris, I did manage to hit the survey's No. 1 museum -- the Louvre -- to which I wore my famed bowling shoes that I had stolen from the Brunswick center in Mesa. (How new wave!) Tennis fans will find it fun that on the way home from Paris, I spotted Terry Holladay on the flight and sat with her talking women's tennis all the way back to Houston, where we went through customs together. (She was a doll!)

At my desk at the National Gallery of Art, circa 1993
The Alexander Calder Mobile

Although I had been there a number of times before, in 1993 found myself employed at the No. 3 museum on the list, the National Gallery in Washington. After leaving West Hollywood I sold my car and headed East, crashing with my brother Bill on Capitol Hill. (It was a special time because our brother Terence was also living on the Hill at the time, so it was the first time we'd all lived in the same city in a number of years.) I worked with a very smart group of people in the gallery's library (my boss Anna Rachwald was so much fun to be around) and loved being surrounded b so many beautiful things, but I quickly started to miss the news business, and didn't last even a year there.

Taking a break on the Mall

After moving to New York with my DC BFF, Ken, we began to make regular summer jaunts to Europe, which were made more cost-effective by Ken's status as a pilot. In 1999, we discovered a row of dirt cheap but decent hotels right behind the British Museum (No. 2 on the list) and figured their proximity to culture and Soho night life was ideal. But each time we'd go we'd end up staying on East Coast time (we'd usually only be there a few days), so sleep all day long and then stay out partying all night. Club GAY and the Pink Pounder would always prove too irresistible (and an Egg McMuffin at sunrise on the way home was like a little slice of American heaven), so we managed to walk past the British Museum literally a hundred times without ever so much as setting foot inside. (I know it's bad, but god we had fun!)

Let's assumed light jeans were in style back in '99

In 2000 we decided to mix things up a bit and flew into London with plans to go on to Ireland later in the trip. It was my birthday the day we arrived (Ken arranged for us to fly business class, so I was in heaven), so the plan was to go the hotel and freshen up and then immediately hit the bars to celebrate. Things quickly turned sour though when we went to check in and I realized I'd left my carry-on bag that had all of my most important belongings -- including my passport and all of our travel itineraries -- in the black cab. (Luckily, I still had my business-class blanky, which I needed to cry into the rest of the trip.) The hotel staff seemed confident that we'd be able to get my stuff back from the "Lost Property Office," so I managed to put the problem out of my mind long enough to have the funnest birthday of my life. That night at the Pink Pounder was magical. Cute guys everywhere. GREAT music playing all night (I still remember dancing to "Buffalo Stance" like it was yesterday!). We must have met a couple dozens boys, including the guy in the fuck-me-overalls named David I went home with (body by Michelangelo -- seriously). The next morning wasn't so great though. I don't know how much alcohol they put in beer over there, but I was sooooooooo sick afterward. David told me I could stay in bed until I felt better but he had to go to work. When I finally got up it was only to stumble into the bathroom so I could vomit repeatedly. It was on my way back to the bedroom that I met his "flat mate," who seemed nice at first until I realized he was wearing nothing but bikini underwear (um, gross) and watching a porno (at 8 a.m.!). Before I could even process what I was seeing (WHY is this happeing?!!!), he exposed himself and began taking care of business right there on the floor. (I've heard of sloppy seconds before, but your roommate's trick who's vomiting all over the house the morning after???) I nearly started crying and made a quick exit and met up with Ken at a restaurant where I was so hung over and so upset about my lost belongings that I finally did burst into tears right ther at the table. We ended up waiting around in London through the weekend and into the week and my stuff NEVER was returned. After getting a new passport at the American Embassy (you'd die at how easy it was pre-9/11) we did make it to Ireland for an abbreviated stay. Dublin was fun (it would have been better if our gay hotel -- the Inn on the Liffey -- hadn't turned out to double for a tragic bathhouse!), but when we got to the bed & breakfast we'd found in Galway -- in the middle of nowhere -- I had a breakdown and forced Ken to literally turn the car around right in front of the lady who owned the place and floor it -- and not look back. (The poor woman!) While most people find "getting away from the city" to be relaxing, the idea of being somewhere where I couldn't go to the corner store 24 hours a day just triggered a panic attack in me, so we headed to Galway City where we found a charming hotel in the heart of the little downtown. (There was even a gay bar and both of the guys in there were really nice to us.) Just when it seemed like nothing else could go wrong, the air traffic control system over the United Kingdom went down, and we suddenly found ourselves unable to fly home. I can't remember how or why, but we ended up trying to rush to Bournemouth to try to catch a plane from there.

As we made our way to the train station, the curious sound of circus music starting playing out of nowhere when we discovered this cabbie behind us. (I think you can imagine my reaction.) We then missed our stop on the train because we didn't realize not all of the doors open at each place and stood there banging on them until the train pulled away again. One way or another, we eventually got the Heathrow where we slept on the floor for a night or two as I called work periodically to tell them I wasn't sure when I'd be back. (To top the whole thing off, CVS lost nearly every photo from the trip!)

In 2001 Ken and I -- at the urging of our friend David Charlebois -- went to Paris, where I made my second trip to the Louvre (sans bowling shoes).

The trip holds so many emotions for me. First of all, I don't think Ken I have ever had so much fun as we did on that adventure. (Neither of us has gotten over the honeymoon bride overacting in the boudoir next store!) Second, Paris was David's home away from home, so he'd given us a very strict list of places to go and see. It was my first time there as an out gay man, so David knew just where to send us for maximum fun -- and his instructions were written just as he speaks, so it almost felt like he was there with us.

Adding to the fun, my pal Larry Brickman was coming through Paris while we were there, so we got spend some time with him, too.

Sadly, David would be killed a few months later, and Larry would die from a freak case of bacterial meningitis in '06. To this day, I can't think of Paris without thinking of the two of them and how much fun they made the City of Lights for me. I haven't had any desire to go back since, and I'm not sure if I ever will.


Unknown said...

So nice. So funny, so...melancholy. In a good way. That was an exercise for sure. Thank you.

btw - I have been reading you for years. 'longtime reader, first time commentor'

I hope you never stop.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing- I'm glad I'm not the only one who has occasional travel miscues.

nojarama said...

Haven't bee to the Louvre (nor France) yet, but the British Museum & the Tate Modern in London are absolutely fabulous (no pun intended)! I personally LOVE the LACMA here in Los Angeles the most myself.

Greg Hernandez said...

This is one of the most wonderful and heartfelt post I've read by you yet. I loved going on that journey with you and was heartbroken at the end. Thanks for sharing it with us.