RuPaul’s “Untucked”


You know by now how absorbed I am by every new season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”  We are getting very close to the end of Season Four, and have our final four drag queens (although, in a not-so-surprise twist, they’re bringing back an eliminated contestant next week, just to extend our agony.  And it had better not be Kenya Michaels.)



Everyone has a favorite reality show / competition; this is mine. Partner doesn’t share my fascination with Ru and the goils (though I’ve caught him watching the show once or twice).  So I have to gossip about it with the only person in my office who’s also a RuManiac: my friend Tab.  Tab is about twenty-five years younger than me, and much more in touch with the modern gay world (he just made a sweep of Washington DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, and gave me a critique of the gay / social scene in each city).  We swoon and flutter over every week’s drama: Sharon NeedlesPhi Phi O’HaraLatrice Royale! Chad Michaels! DiDa Ritz! “I like Latrice,” I said the other day.  “I can see her winning.”



Tab looked at me very severely.  “Latrice will not win,” he said definitively.  He’s probably right.  It’s gonna be a gunfight between Sharon and Phi Phi at the end, with Chad as the spoiler. 



But every week’s episode of “Drag Race” has its own outtakes reel, shown immediately afterward: a half-hour show called “Untucked.”  It’s a montage of backstage gossip between the contestants, with a lot more personal revelations and a lot less makeup and sequins.  Tab told me that he thinks “Untucked” is more interesting than “Drag Race,” and I have to admit that I’ve begun to fall under its spell.



This week’s “Untucked” was terrific.  We were down to five drag queens.  One – Phi Phi – is really no one’s friend.  The others – Dida, Latrice, Sharon, and Chad – were sharing stories about being bullied and beaten up in school.  Dida was surprised with a video of her mother wishing her luck, which moved her to tears.  Chad said that the bullies who’d made her school life hell were now trying to reconnect with her on Facebook (I’ve had the same experience), and that she had no interest in reconnecting with them.  Latrice said that she’d been approached in the same way, but that he’d been reminded that there had been some good times in school too, and that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.



It was a profoundly human conversation.



Growing up gay is tough, believe me, I know, I was there.  But most of us, gay or straight, were mocked and bullied as kids.  It’s therapeutic to hear people talk about it – the good and the bad – and think about our own situations, and try to relate.



Maybe Tab is right.  Maybe the gowns and makeup and heels on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” are the less important things.  Maybe the heart-to-heart personal stuff on “Untucked” is actually more vital.



(But the gowns and shoes and makeup are fun too.)



In memoriam: Adrienne Rich and Earl Scruggs


I’m having a John Berryman moment.



Berryman, in his archival “Dream Songs,” chronicled the deaths of other poets and writers: William Empson, Delmore Schwartz



Well, two of the poets of my youth have just passed away.



Adrienne Rich was a feminist confessional poet and essayist. Her writing was rich and powerful, and she inspired legions of other writers.



Earl Scruggs was a “banjo pioneer,” and partnered with guitarist Lester Flatt to create the early hillbilly / country sound from which just about all modern country music flows. 



I still remember when Jack Benny died.  I was a senior in high school.  I felt very solemn.  I realized that he was an old man, but (as happens when we think about celebrities) I felt that he was someone I knew and liked.  And I had a very funny feeling about this whole death business.



Now, all these years later, I know what I was feeling. 



I was feeling for myself.



Here’s Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child”:



Margaret, are you grieving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leaves, like the things of man, you,

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! As the heart grows older

It shall come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you will weep and know why.

Now no matter, child, the name:

Sorrow’s springs are the same.

Nor mouth had, nor no mind, expressed,

What heart heard of, ghost guessed:

It is the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.



Older and wiser


 When I was a kid, I had no idea what the adults were talking about most of the time.  I wanted desperately to figure out what was going on.



In high school, and in college, I realized that – inside – I did not feel like a grownup.  I was faking it.  I monitored everything: what I said, what I did.  And I fell short.



Graduate school: even worse.  I felt like a terrible poser, and completely inept as a human being.



Then working in a real job, and then in the Peace Corps, and then working again.  Inside, I still felt five years old.  I managed to fake it once in a while, but I still felt like a kid.






Recently I took a friend to lunch, and she told me, in her funny rushing confidential way, the very sad story of her mother’s recent passing.  And I commiserated with her. 



And I realized, about halfway through, that I didn’t need to worry about acting like a grownup anymore. 



For one thing, I’m just too old to worry about it anymore.  And that’s one of the secrets I didn’t know: you don’t learn it.  It just happens, with age and experience.



And for another thing, we were talking about deaths in the family, and cleaning the house and throwing things away and dealing with grief and guilt. These are things I know first-hand.  No problem.



So, at last, I find I can talk and act like a grownup.



And all I really want to do is be a kid again.



Go figure.


For a departed friend


A few months ago, a friend, someone I’d known for almost twenty-five years, suddenly passed away. 



Friend?  No, it was a far more complex relationship than that.  We were co-workers first; we shared an office back in the late 1980s; there was a big partition between our desks, but we both smoked, so we could each see the smoke rising from the other side of the office, and we could listen to one another’s completely fascinating telephone conversations.



Then, for about two years, I actually worked for her.  She was irritable and finicky, but we actually got along pretty well; once, however, she refused to speak to me for three days because she thought I’d neglected to say “good morning” to her. 



It was one of those relationships.



After that, we were just friends.  We always talked in the hallway.  I used to run into her in the market frequently; her stories were endless, but I enjoyed them anyway.  She was smart, and extremely opinionated, and completely fearless about telling you what she thought.  (My new boss told me several times that he’d like to be rid of her.  I never had the nerve to say it out loud, but I always thought: Good luck.  You will never be rid of her. And good for her.)



Partner knew her too, because we ran into her in the local grocery store with some regularity.  Sometimes she’d stop and give me a ride, especially in the wintertime. 



She was intelligent, and very sure of herself, and very stubborn.



And now she’s gone.



As always, when someone I care about passes away, I keep wanting it to be a mistake or a joke.  I think: It’s not real.  She’s still around somewhere.  She’ll walk through the door in a moment, and we’ll have a good laugh about all of this.



(Now, a few months later, I keep seeing her in the street, or going in the door ahead of me.  Naturally it’s just my failing eyesight.  But I think my brain wants it to be her.)



Hey, you, upstairs, whoever’s in charge of this stuff: this has got to stop.  This has gone a little bit beyond a joke.



Stop killing off my friends and family.



I rely on them for so much.


The Liebster Award


I was surprised and flattered on Monday morning to receive a note from the talented Melissa Hassard, who edits and contributes to the poetry / prose / photography collective “20 Lines A Day,” telling me that she’d nominated me for something called the Liebster Award.  This is a nice little accolade given to bloggers, recognizing them for their contributions. 



It comes with a couple of rules:



        You must thank your nominator in your blog, and link back to his/her blog.

        You must display the award itself (see above).

        You must pass the award on to five other blogs (preferably those with small numbers of readers), and notify them of their award.



Well, thanks to Melissa for the award.  And do check out “20 Lines A Day”; you’ll find some excellent stuff (including Melissa’s poetry, which was the first thing there to catch my eye.)



The nicest thing about the Liebster is that it needs to be passed along.



(I think a lot of us began this thinking it was only a matter of time before we became a combination of the Huffington Post and Martha Stewart Omnimedia.  We have learned.  But we have also had a wonderful time.



(And now, here we are winning awards!)



Here are my five nominees:



        Topsytasty.  This is a very well-written little series of articles, mostly about food, but also about the author’s early life in Rhode Island and his current adventures in the Pacific Northwest.  The author is also the younger son of my frenemy Apollonia, and he shares her wit and eye for detail.

        Going Dutch.  This is mostly photography, with food and anecdotes thrown in; the author / photographer is originally from the Philippines, and now lives with her family in the Netherlands.  She takes wonderful scenery / flower photographs – just the kind I try to take, except that mine never turn out right.  Hers are always beautiful.

        Well, That’s Just Great / Well, That’s Just Ducky.  This is a twofer!  The former is written by Anthony Giffen, a very clever Floridian who always gives me a laugh (you might say he’s like Dave Barry, but funny); the latter is written by Anthony’s dog Ducky, who speaks very movingly about how much he likes to chew things up. 

        Tangly Cottage Journal.  I have a lot of childhood memories invested in the Pacific coast of Washington state, where we used to take our seaside vacations.  This blog, by a couple of professional gardeners living in the small fishing town of Ilwaco, is a combination of prose and photos, very casual, but charming (and, like “Going Dutch,” with lots of good flower photography).  Even if you’ve never visited Ilwaco, this blog will remind you of your own favorite little beach town.

        Crypt of Wrestling.  Well, you knew I had unusual tastes, didn’t you?  This blog covers the waterfront of lowbrow 1960s/1970s culture: comic-book advertisements, movie posters, Rat Fink memorabilia, album covers.  It gives me an adrenaline injection of Early Space Age nostalgia every time I look at it. 



And hundreds of others.



You know who you are. 



Movie review: “21 Jump Street”


Partner and I, for various reasons, were feeling in need of a nice entertaining movie on Sunday.  The big movie of the weekend, of course, was “The Hunger Games,” which involves lots of nice fresh-faced teenagers killing one another, so we didn’t think that would quite entertain us in the right way.  And none of the movies we’re really looking forward to (“The Three Stooges” with Sean Hayes and Will Sasso!  “Wrath of the Titans” with Liam Neeson!  “The Avengers” with everybody under the sun!) has come out quite yet.



So we took a chance on “21 Jump Street,” with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill.



We snorted with laughter through the whole thing.



This is comedy done right.  It’s hugely over-the-top: Channing, as the muscular cute dumb guy, is too dumb for words; Jonah, as the plump sensitive smart guy, is much too delighted with himself when he finally gets some recognition.  The original 1980s TV show (which, I have to admit, I didn’t really watch) was afterschool-special serious: overage actors infiltrating high schools to uncover plots dealing with drugs, guns, crime.  This movie makes glorious fun of this conceit.  Channing Tatum is gigantic and obviously much too old to be in high school; no one takes him seriously for a moment. 



Which brings us to the crux of the matter: Channing Tatum.



You know that I subscribe to the “Libby Gelman-Waxner Rule” concerning movies and actors.  Libby, a movie reviewer for “Premiere” magazine back in the 1990s (who was actually Paul Rudnick writing under a pseudonym) was responding to a reader’s letter.  “Libby,” the writer said, “you seem to like or dislike movies depending on whether or not you think the leading actor is attractive.  Libby, that’s not what movies are all about.”  To which Libby responded, simply: “Oh yes they are.”



This is one of the most enlightened comments anyone has ever made about the movie industry.  You could also call it the “Hugh Jackman rule” or the “Daniel Craig rule,” but let’s call it “Libby’s rule” for the sake of historicity.



Anyway: Channing Tatum is fabulous in this movie.  We first see him as a jerky 2005 high-school kid with long stringy hair, smirking at Jonah Hill’s failed attempt to ask a pretty girl to the prom; then as a police-academy trainee who can wrestle any perp to the ground in three seconds or less, but who can’t memorize the Miranda rights; then as a cop, partnered with his old enemy Jonah Hill.  He is carefree and goofy and very sexy.  (While he’s undercover in high school, his chemistry teacher is hypnotized by him.  “No!” she shrieks.  “Don’t look at me!  Look at me!  No, don’t look at me!”)



If you saw him a few months ago on Saturday Night Live, you’ll know what I mean.  He has a nonchalance and charm that some of the other meaty cuties of the day – Sam Worthington, Tom Hardy – just don’t have.  (You know he was a stripper, right?  I have a feeling he learned it there.  He’s unashamed of his body, and very sure of himself, and he likes being admired.)



But enough about Channing.  Heaven knows I could talk about him all day long.



The movie is very cute.  We laughed a lot, actually.  The MacGuffin that pushes the plot forward is a drug called HFC, which makes people do very peculiar things.  (The drug and its effects are key in a couple of very funny scenes.)  There are lots of good actors in small roles: Chris Parnell from “SNL” / “30 Rock”, Nick Offerman from “Parks and Recreation,” Ice Cube as an angry police captain, even a couple of cameos (I won’t tell you!) from the TV version of “21 Jump Street.”



And Channing Tatum wrestling with Jonah Hill.  Channing Tatum clobbering Jonah Hill over the head with a big stuffed giraffe.  Channing Tatum straddling a perp at the beginning of the movie . . .






I give this movie my very highest recommendation.



Go see it.



For Sunday: “The Spring,” sung by Anna Russell


Yes, I know, I missed the Vernal Equinox the other day.  Don’t freak out!  Today (March 25) is the traditional New Year’s Day in England and Wales (until 1751, anyway).  And you Tolkien fans know that a certain hobbit and a certain Gollum were struggling on a precipice within the vaults of Mount Doom on March 25 too.  (Why do you think Tolkien chose that particular date? Duh!)



I don’t know if you’re familiar with Anna Russell.  She was a perfectly wonderful comedienne (she passed away, sadly, in 2006), a trained singer who did hysterical routines in which she sang and played the piano and commented on art and politics and society in this wonderful Margaret Dumont country-club voice. 



Here is one of her imitation-English folk songs: “Oh How I Love The Spring.”



Enjoy it.


04_I_Love_the_Spring_for_voice_&_piano_[Live].mp3 Listen on Posterous



Rick Santorum, the false prophet


I have begun sketching out little pieces about Rick Santorum several times over the past few weeks.  Every time, I work myself into such a blinding fury, I short-circuit myself and go back to square one.



So I will now try again.



Rick Santorum is a Catholic politician from Pennsylvania.  I say “Catholic” because it is important in his case.  I would not, for example, say “Mitt Romney is a Mormon who used to be governor of Massachusetts”; it would really be irrelevant and borderline offensive (although I don’t have much respect for Willard M. Romney).  Santorum makes a big deal of his religion.  He is intensely anti-abortion.  No, check that; he’s intensely anti-birth control.  Birth control is, after all, against the will of God.



Hello, Mahmoud Ahmedinedjad!



Presidents have to be religious.  If they’re not, no one would vote for them.  Someone recently retold the story of Eisenhower joining the Presbyterian church shortly before the campaign season in 1952, so that no one could accuse him of being irreligious. 



But Santorum is insisting on his religion.  He intends to run the country based on his religious principles.



Does this make you break out in a cold sweat?  It does me.



Let’s face it: lots of Americans are irreligious.  I grew up in a non-churchgoing family, in a Western state to boot.  We were not unusual.   Going down the list:



        Dad never seemed interested in religion.

        Mom was baptized Catholic, but never really practiced it.  She talked about it a lot in her later years, but never acted on it.

        Eldest brother was married in a church, but has never (so far as I know) practiced any religion.

        Eldest sister was proudly non-religious to the day she died.

        Younger sister married a moderately devout Seventh-Day Adventist and became observant.  She told me, very seriously, several months before her death in 1995, about things she planned to do in heaven.  I told her, with similar seriousness, that she would have to look for me and Mom in Hell, because that’d be where she would find us.  We both laughed over this.

        I went to a Catholic college, (predictably) converted to Catholicism, practiced it on and off for some decades, and have as of this date sworn off it.



Here, Rick Santorum, is the typical American family.  How many potential votes do you count there? 



One.  Out of six people.



And she’s dead.



And I would like to think that my sister Susan would be smart enough not to vote for a preening phony like you.



So that makes zero.



So huh.



The cigarette lady


I was waiting for the University shuttle the other day when a tough-looking broad approached me.  “HEY!” she said, a little too loudly.  “YOU GOTTA CIGARETTE?”  She moved her hand in front of her face in a smokey-smokey gesture.



“No,” I murmured demurely.



“I’LL PAY YOU!” she blared.



I shook my head.



She shrugged and turned away.  There was a guy parked across the street with his window rolled down; she bulldozered over to him and gave him the same line (I could hear the same dialogue, and his muttered reply).  She tilted back her head and bellowed: “DOESN’T ANYBODY SMOKE CIGARETTES ANYMORE?”



She stomped back across the street.  As she reached the sidewalk, I saw her look down.  She paused, and reached down into the gutter –



Please, god, I prayed to whatever god I pray to.  Let her be picking up a quarter.



Nope.  It was a cigarette butt.  She held it up and triumphantly displayed it to someone back inside the building she’d come from.  Hobo’s delight!



Hey, listen.  I used to smoke.  I remember waking up and realizing that I’d forgotten to buy cigarettes, and gone through the ashtrays to find some nice juicy butts.  Late nights, no cigarettes, same thing. 



Addiction is a terrible thing, kids.  It makes us do grimy horrible things.



I’m not hooked on cigarettes anymore.



I am probably blind to my real addictions.



I wonder what my real addictions are?


The worst (and best) places to visit


Partner and I argue over places to vacation and places to retire. Partner likes warmth and comfort (Key West, Palm Springs, the south of France); I like oddball places (Timbuktu, Nouakchott, Ouagadougou).



Where will we end up?  I’m sure we’ll compromise.  But in the meantime, here (from the Huffington Post’s travel section) is a list of the worst places to go.  And how to get there. (I’m sort of relieved that my three destinations of choice above aren’t among them.) 



Goodbye, Harare, Kinshasa, Port Moresby, Mogadishu.



But I have been to places like El Jadida, and Sliema, and Sfax.  None sounded very promising.  All of them were very nice.  Cheap, too, actually.



Sometimes you want a vacation a la Disney, with no problems and everything taken care of, nicey-nice. 



Sometimes you want something interesting.



I still want to see Nouakchott and Timbuktu.  A friend of mine in Tunisia said Nouakchott was the worst place she’d ever been.  Someone else said the same of Timbuktu.



Listen: I spent a couple of days in Settat, Morocco, back in the 1980s, during my Peace Corps training.  They sent me there just to see if I could handle it.  I handled it just fine.  The hotel doors didn’t have locks, so I just piled a bunch of stuff against the door.  And the café down the street had something called “ckae” on the menu; it was supposed to be “cake,” but evidently no one noticed the error. 



And I still had a good time.  



Of course, you have to worry about cholera and typhus and things like that. 



But at least I was seeing the world.



And it was glorious.



So let’s go to Timbuktu!  I can handle it.


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