Oscar night, 2011


There are things that gay men have to do. One of them is watching the Oscar telecast, whether we want to watch it or not.



Here, for the rest of you, is what you may or may not have missed last night, the highs and the lows:



  • In the obligatory funny opening, James Franco and Anne Hathaway teleport through this year’s movies, in a conceit borrowed from “Inception.” Cute, right? Until they did “Black Swan.” Anne wears a dreadful duck outfit; James is in a very tight white leotard, and kids, he has a killer ass.

  • Kirk Douglas looks dreadful, but he’s very funny, and he can’t get enough of the camera. And they can’t get him off the stage. “Australians always think I’m funny!” he cackles, pointing to Hugh Jackman.

  • Melissa Leo, accepting her award, uses what will be known forevermore as “the Melissa Leo f-word.”

  • Justin Timberlake claims to be Banksy. Too highbrow for this crowd?

  • Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem, who have a whole boatload of cute between them (Javier, if you’re reading this, call me!), look awful in their matching white tuxes, which (Partner and I agreed) appear to be made from old flour sacks.

  • David Seidler, the sweet old man who won for writing “The King’s Speech” (and who waited almost thirty years to write it, so as not to offend the Queen Mother), jokes charmingly about being a late bloomer.

  • Anne Hathaway sings really well! Dressed in a natty tux (take note, Javier and Josh!), she does a cute little lament to Hugh Jackman, mentioning his “fake retractable claws.” (Everyone loves Hugh Jackman.)

  • After Anne’s song, James Franco comes out in Marilyn Monroe drag, matching Anne’s Marlene Dietrich tuxedo drag. (I give them both credit. You know I have deep respect for drag.)

  • Russell Brand and Helen Mirren, presenting an award together, are inexplicably perfect as a combo, like Canadian bacon and pineapple on pizza. She is icy and speaks French; he is crazy and idiotic. And (producers take note!) they are not on stage for very long.

  • Christian Bale, with a neatly-trimmed Captain Ahab beard, references “the Melissa Leo f-bomb” in his thank-you speech. (You could tell he expected to win. I bet he would have thrown a brilliant tantrum if he hadn’t.)

  • Matthew MacConaughey looks like a dried codfish.

  • James Franco called the winners of the Scientific and Technical awards “nerds.” Nice guy!

  • Cate Blanchett, reading the nominees for Best Makeup, calls the clip from “The Wolfman” “gross.” Big laugh. Guess who wins? Rick Baker for “The Wolfman.”

  • Kevin Spacey: “Good evening. I’m George Clooney.” (Yo, Kevin! Call me!)

  • Every time I hear Randy Newman perform, I think of Will Sasso on “Mad TV,” who did it better than Randy ever did.

  • (Why the hell is Adrien Brody doing a Stella Artois ad?)

  • A crazy man with mop hair, Luke Matheny, wins for short subject. He thanks his mother for working as craft services! And Franco gives him a shoutout for NYU!

  • Billy Crystal does a shoutout to Hugh Jackman in the audience. It was at least the third Hugh Jackman shoutout of the show. Everyone loves Hugh Jackman! (Yo, Hugh! Call me!)

  • Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law have huge chemistry together. I want them to start making out, right there on stage.

  • I’ll kill Gwyneth Paltrow with my own two hands if she keeps pretending to be a singer. Especially after being introduced as “country music’s new sensation.” Does Country Music know about this?

  • (Randy Newman update: he won for his “Toy Story 3” song. And he was funny and self-deprecating in his speech. I take it all back.)

  • Best Oscar-themed commercial of the night: “Modern Family” cast, doing charades. “Lovely Bones! Milk!”

  • Natalie won Best Actress for “Black Swan.” Good for her. I’m glad that stupid Ashton Kutcher movie she made didn’t kill her chances.

  • Sandra Bullock is very funny during her presentation speech. She calls Jeff Bridges “Dude”!

  • Colin Firth wins Best Actor. Partner just said: “What a relief! Imagine being the favorite and not winning!”

  • Anne Hathaway promised seventeen outfits for the evening, and she delivered. And she looked good in all of them.

  • The King’s Speech” wins Best Picture! One of the producers thanks his boyfriend. Good for him.



Good night, good night. Until next year.


And thanks to the Academy.



(This is exhausting.  I hope you appreciate what Partner and I do for you.)



Sunday blog: No-knead bread

This recipe goes out to all those who are fearful of baking bread.  It’s very simple (so long as you follow the basic outline), and the result is very nice indeed: a chewy crust and a nice fluffy white interior. Mark Bittman says that this is his most popular recipe of all time, and only regrets that he didn’t create it (it came from his acquaintance Jim Fahey).



The only problem with this recipe is that the dough needs to meditate for long periods of time. Last time I made it, I started the process on Friday evening, checked in on the process around noon on Saturday, and put it in the oven at three p.m.  Voila! Home-baked bread for dinner.




Thoroughly mix in a large bowl:



3 cups all-purpose white flour

1 5/8 cups water (be precise)

1 ¼ teaspoon salt (again, be precise)

1 packet active dry yeast or instant yeast



Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it in a warmish place for at least 12 hours.



You should now have a bowlful of white goo covered with little bubbles. Turn the goo onto a floured surface, flour it again, fold it once or twice, cover it with the same piece of plastic wrap, and let it rest for about 15 minutes.



Now: flour your hands lightly, shape the dough into a ball, and flop it onto a cotton towel which you’ve sprinkled with cornmeal, or bran, or flour (I prefer cornmeal). Sprinkle more cornmeal on top. Fold towel over, or cover with another towel. Kiss it tenderly, and let it rest for at least two hours.



When you’re ready to bake, put a covered metal pot or saucepan (at least four-quart capacity) in the oven (ungreased) and preheat it to 450 degrees (at least 15 minutes). Take the pot (carefully) out of the oven. Take up your glob of dough (carefully) and plunk it into the sizzling pot. Shake the pot once or twice to smooth out the dough.



Bake, covered, for 30 minutes at 450 degrees.  Uncover and bake for about 15 minutes more, or until “beautifully brown.” Cool on a rack.






Thank you, Messrs. Fahey and Bittman.





The war between plants and people

I like plants, but I’m wary of them. They only seem peaceful and friendly because they’re slow-moving. They’re full of toxins. Some plants poison the soil so no other plants can grow around them. Big plants smother small plants by hogging the sunlight.


If they hate one another so much, imagine how they must hate us!


Christopher Walken did a sketch on “Saturday Night Live” about a man who was terrified of houseplants. He pointed to a Boston fern. “What if they all ganged up on you, and crammed their leaves down your throat, and strangled you?” he said. “What would your last thought be? Mine would be: ‘I always knew it would be the ferns.’”



Amen to that.


But I think the war between plants and people has entered a horrible new phase.


I have a nice big amaryllis blooming on the bedroom windowsill. I was opening the curtains the other morning when it jumped me. It only grazed me, and it seemed shaken when it hit the floor, but it was okay.


Then,a few minutes later, I noticed a big blotchy yellow-green stain down the front of my shirt.


The thing tried to pollinate me!


They want to infiltrate the human species by interbreeding with us!



Well, forget it. I’m not ready to have children. Or seedlings. Or whatever.



Although the amaryllis is very attractive.


Maybe if it took me to dinner and a movie first.





There’s nothing like a good ol’ slapfight

I’ve mentioned that my friend Apollonia is a little gaga for “Twilight” in general, and Robert Pattinson in particular. She’s completely irrational on the subject, in fact.



I love needling irrational people.



The other day she was mooning over a photo of Pattinson on the cover of a fan magazine. I leaned over to get a better look at it. “So tell me,” I said. “Was he actually born a man?”



Her pupils dilated. “Were you?” she hissed.



Well, I got a good laugh out of that.



Later, we were discussing a salesman we’ve both been dealing with. Apollonia doesn’t think he’s a very good businessman; I think he’s okay, and sort of cute besides. “Next time you talk to him, you should cut him off at the knees,” she growled. “He’s not good at his job.”



“Oh, have mercy on him,” I said. “He’s fine. He’s just a little green.”



“Nothing doing,” she said, her eyes glinting. “This is revenge. You like him, so I hate him. You take out one of mine, I take out two of yours. This is only the beginning.”



“Bring it,” I said loftily. “By the way, Pattinson’s hair looked a little thin and stringy in that photo. Probably the stress is making it fall out.”



Jealousy,” she shrieked. “Pure jealousy. You should have such hair.”



And so on, for hours and hours.



Children, please don’t follow our example. Peace, love, et cetera.



But I have to admit that a good slapfight is fun once in a while.





I am the Queen of England

My great-great-grandmother Mary Rowe fell for the 19th-century “Bogardus hoax,” which alleged that if you could prove your descent from a person named Aneka Jans Bogardus, you were part-owner of a big chunk of property in downtown Manhattan. American courts were clogged with these cases for a while. My poor great-great-grandmother died in the loony bin, still clutching her legal documents, or so we are told.



The secret attraction here was not only the promise of money, but the allure of royalty. Aneka Jans was supposedly a daughter of “King William of Holland.” And don’t we all wish we were descended from royalty?


My grandmother Minnie found her grandmother Mary’s various family trees and affidavits, and caught the genealogy bug. My aunt Louise has kept the franchise going; she published a gorgeous book, “The Pioneer Spirit,” which incorporates much of the research she and her sister Lucille and their husbands have done over the years.


I have done my tiny bit to help. Early on, however, I gained a healthy respect for what Louise and Lucille and Minnie and even crazy great-great-grandma Mary accomplished. It’s hard work! You end up with a tangled heap of contradictory claims. Even the reference books aren’t very authoritative.


But wait until you hear this!


Some years ago I discovered a website called Geni.com, which allows you to upload and share family information. I noticed the other day that someone had added a little extra info on my seven-times-great-grandfather Luke Bromley. It turns out that his wife, Hannah Stafford, was not only a Stafford (the family of the Dukes of Buckingham), but was also descended from the Woodvilles, and the Percys, and the Poles, and the Bohuns. It’s a regular Who’s Who in Fifteenth-Century England. Ultimately, the family goes back to King Edward III and Philippa of Hainault.


Dearie me! Royalty at last! Great-great-grandma Mary would be thrilled!



In the words of a poem in the National Lampoon back in the 1970s:


I am the Queen of England,

I like to sing and dance,

And if you don’t believe me,

I will punch you in the pants.


And I’ll do it, too.




Uncle Freakshow

Two of my nephews call me “Uncle.” Not “Uncle Loren,” mind you, just “Uncle.”



I like this. It’s almost a nickname, but not quite. It assigns a role within the family, but it’s not a very difficult role to portray. What do uncles have to do, after all? Heckle from the sidelines and tell embarrassing stories about what your parents did when they were young.



My family was always full of odd nicknames. My sister Darlene was always just “Sister.” My mother, whose given name was Tosca, went by “Shim” within the family (she was quite a dancer in her youth). As a young man my father was “Doc,” because he was the family veterinarian. My late uncle Primo was “Bud” (no idea where that came from). My aunt Loretta was (and still is) “Toots.” My late uncle Louis was “Sonny” (his father was named Louis too).



I have no idea what my family calls me behind my back, of course. I can only guess.



Lately my friend Apollonia has been coming up with comical / clever nicknames for me in the office. She is very creative. My favorite so far is “Freakshow,” although I’m also fond of “Sweet Potato.”



So long as my nephews don’t find out.



Uncle Freakshow” doesn’t sound very complimentary.




Everyday life in the Milky Way Galaxy

Scientists recently reported that there may be as many as 50 billion planets in our own Milky Way Galaxy alone.



I, for one, am delighted.



An astronomer named Frank Drake came up some years ago with an informal way of calculating how many civilizations there might be in the galaxy. It depends on a lot of variables: how many stars, how many planets, etc. If you put in the new number of planets – well, boy howdy. I twiddled around with the calculator on the above link, and I came around a thousand intelligent civilizations!



Stephen Hawking, among others, has warned that this might not be cause for celebration. If any of these civilizations has mastered interstellar travel – well, we’re probably done for. Our own terrestrial explorers spread nothing but trouble from continent to continent on Earth over the past few thousand years; can you imagine what advanced extraterrestrials might do to Earth’s civilization, wittingly or unwittingly, if they came to visit us?


But there are other scenarios.



For one thing, the Drake equation allows that life doesn’t always produce intelligence, or civilization. Gorillas are perfectly nice, but they’re not building skyscrapers, or death rays for that matter. Ditto border collies. Ditto paramecia.


Science fiction authors have portrayed lots of different kinds of extraterrestrial life, both intelligent and unintelligent (and in-between, like us). Talking plants. Humanoid geese. Slow-moving heaps of liquid nitrogen. Lumps of telepathic protoplasm. Giant delicious superintelligent slugs. (If you’ve read science fiction, you may be able to guess which stories and novels I’m thinking of.)


I’m sure there are lots of freaky geese and slugs and plants out there. They’re just planetbound, the way we are: trapped in our fishbowls, not ready (or able) to jump over the side yet.



I am encouraged to think that, with science constantly improving our ability to see afar, we may be able to detect signs of life on those far-off planets without actually visiting them.



We don’t have to visit. We can just wave hello from a (safe) distance.



It’s a shame, though. I bet those slugs are really delicious.




Berry picking

Where I grew up, picking strawberries was a way for kids (and adults) to make money in June after school was out.



It sounds like fun, children, I know. But let me assure you that it’s not.



You have to pick the berries early in the day while it’s cool; otherwise they smoosh into jam in your hand. So, before dawn, they truck you to the fields in schoolbuses and assign you a nice wet endless row of strawberry plants. You crawl down the row on your knees, or you do a grotesque hopping squat, whichever you prefer. The work pays next to nothing. Then there are the field bosses who yell at you and berate you for picking too slowly, or for missing too many berries, or picking too many unripe berries.



You’re home by mid-afternoon, muddy and covered in sweet red goo, and you can actually see strawberries when you close your eyes.



Raspberry season comes after that. Raspberries grow upright. Much easier to pick, right? Well, they have thorns. And they smoosh in your hand even more easily than strawberries.



Then, toward the end of the summer, people go up into the Cascade foothills to pick huckleberries. For fun! (Huckleberries are a wild variant of blueberries; they don’t have the powdery sheen that blueberries have, and they tend to be sweeter. There are whole thickets of them hidden on the mountainsides.) We took coffeecans with makeshift wire handles and went up into the hills (everyone had a favorite secret place to go) and spent whole August days picking. (The black-and-white picture above is my mother, on Doughgod Mountain, in 1970. If you look carefully, you can see that she’s holding a coffeecan full of huckleberries.)



I was a terrible huckleberry picker. My family never lets me forget it.



But the views from the mountaintops are spectacular.



Someday, when we’re visiting the Northwest, maybe I’ll get Partner to go up there. We can pick a few huckleberries and watch the sunset.





The secret recipe for Coca-Cola

Last week, Ira Glass of NPR’s “This American Life” broke one of the great secrets of our time: the formula for Coca-Cola.



Coke was invented back in the late 19th century, when druggists all over the United States were formulating their own counter beverages. It had real cocaine in it, by the way, which explains the name. (Back in those days, cocaine was considered a harmless stimulant, like caffeine. Sigmund Freud was a cocaine user in his youth, and warned a girlfriend in a letter: “I hope you’re ready to fight off a big wild man full of cocaine!”)



The Coca-Cola Company denies that this is the real recipe. Naturally they do. They are also obviously enjoying this very much, as it draws attention to the uniqueness and mystery of their brand. They also know that, if anyone is crazy enough to make this stuff at home, it will taste more like Windex than Coca-Cola.



I love this recipe, though. If I had lots of time and a couple of hundred dollars to throw away on a completely pointless enterprise, I’d make a batch myself. Since I don’t keep neroli oil and Fluid Extract of Coca around the house, I would probably have to make a couple of purchases, and possibly break the law a few times. (Neroli oil is a perfumery ingredient, by the way. Maybe I can substitute some cologne. As for Fluid Extract of Coca, I am informed that I can buy whole-leaf coca tea and make my own. I’m off to the local Whole Foods right this second!)



Cookery is just throwing things in a skillet any old way. Baking is more like chemistry: if you don’t combine the right things in the right proportions, you’ll end up with bowling balls and hockey pucks instead of cakes and cookies. Candy-making is like nuclear physics: precise amounts, precise timing, precise temperatures.



But, evidently, creating a new soft drink is more like science fiction, or the laboratory of Doctor Frankenstein.



I’m perfectly happy to accept the recipe as correct. It looks crazy and random and highly caffeinated, like something a druggist would throw together. I’m sure it’s been modified over the years – well, of course it has, they took out the cocaine, didn’t they? But it’s a starting point.



Now: what in the hell do they put in Dr Pepper?



Sunday blog: Erik Satie’s “Premier nocturne”

I’ve been a Satie fan since 1971, when I discovered a strange gatefold album of his music in a department store in Vancouver, Washington. The album’s performers (who called themselves the “Camarata Contemporary Chamber Group”) took Satie’s piano music and arranged it for Moog synthesizer, harpsichord, guitar, plaintive woodwinds, and a whispery string ensemble. It wasn’t the way Satie originally wrote it, but I didn’t know that. All I knew was that I’d never heard anything like it before.



I now own three complete sets of Satie’s complete works by different performers. His Nocturnes, which he wrote during the last few years of his life, are among my favorite pieces of music. Rollo Myers says of them: “The style is chastened, simplified, uncompromising in its rejection of any sensuous appeal, but the music is strangely impressive in its bleakness and almost inhuman detachment.”



It is also, when performed sympathetically, music of great tenderness.



Here, from the LP I bought in 1971, is the Camarata arrangement of the First Nocturne.





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