Sunday, March 14, 2010

My evening with Miss Ross

One hot July day, Richie and I drove to NYC from NJ, then got on the subway to take the C train to Central Park West.  It was sunny and warm and we were late as usual.  We knew we would get there after the concert had started, but we figured we would snake our way through the crowd and somehow get up close enough and be happy.  So, we got off the subway car and saw hordes of wet people rushing toward the train.  They looked like hungry wet rats scurrying toward the last piece of cheese.  We had to fight our way up the stairs of the 72nd St station.  We wanted out; it was suffocating.  Once we escaped, we found ourselves in front of the Dakota Building.  Looking up, we wondered if Yoko were watching the madness.

We could now see how dark the sky had gotten.  It was one of those summer storms that come out of nowhere with wind and clouds that open up and drop buckets of water.  Everyone was soaked through.  It put an end to the Diana Ross Central Park Concert.  

The rain had let up by the time we were outside and it was just coming down lightly.  We decided to take a walk into the park and see what remained.  It looked like 800,000 people had fled and left behind whatever they couldn't carry.  Blankets, clothing, coolers, children and so on.  We walked through the park, surveying the damage and destruction, then decided to take a look behind the stage and scaffolding that supported it.  Somewhere along the way I saw a green fabric patch on the ground, picked it up to see that it was a press pass for the concert.  We thought that would make a good souvenir and held on to it.  After viewing all of the devastation, we left.

Then we found out that Miss Ross was going to return the next day and start all over again. Richie could not get the day off from his summer job at Great Adventure, so I decided I would go it alone.  I didn't want to stand in a crowd of people and view from a distance so I decided I would put on a seersucker jacket and attach the press pass to it.  Since I knew the way to the backstage area, I figured I could just walk right in.  I decided to get there shortly before the concert.  I took the trail we had taken the day before that lead to the backstage entrance.  I saw security stopping people and checking for passes; I felt confident that I would be ushered right in.  As I passed a guard, I showed him my press pass and he stopped me, saying, "That's yesterday's pass; today's pass is blue." I had to think fast and quickly said, "Oh yeah, I left my blue pass on my desk and just grabbed this jacket I was wearing yesterday and ran out of the office.  Do you need me to go back and get it?  I'd hate to miss the opening of the concert."  He said "No problem; go ahead in."  I was surprised he let me in since I looked so young.  The most I could have been was a reporter for my high school newspaper.

But I was in.  I was up close.  I was excited and now in the backstage world of the concert.  I scouted around and saw that I was free to go anywhere I wanted.  The concert was about to begin so I decided I would climb on the scaffolding and sit at stage level on stage left.  I could see the crowd out in front and watched the whole concert from that position.  It felt like I was right on stage and since the scaffolding was slightly in front of the stage I had a perfect view.  I could see her sweat and her tears.  And her dresser kept walking right past me for every costume change.

After a couple of hours, the concert was over.  Miss Ross finally left the stage after singing to the exiting crowd and thanking the "men in blue."  I felt like an insider, so I decided to explore the backstage area.  There were a few tents set up.  One large one with food & drink and a lot of people inside.  I considered walking in to get something to eat but thought that if there were security at the entrance, I didn't want to be asked again for "today's pass" so I kept walking around and found myself in front of a trailer.  Suddenly, the trailer door opened and Miss Ross appeared in a flowing white gown. 

(At the 3:13 minute mark, you can see the trailer door where she came out to find me standing there.)

She was alone; no one was behind her and no one was waiting for her.  It was just Diana and Duane.  She saw me, smiled and put her hand out for me to take.  I helped her down the small steps in her big heels.  She then locked her arm through mine and we proceeded to the big tent.  I was her personal escort!  It seemed so natural, as if this were all planned and intended.  I told her how great the show was and what a fantastic job she did and how beautiful she looked.  She thanked me and as we approached the opening of the big tent, she took a deep breath, turned to me and said, "Here we go."  She squeezed my arm and the last thing I remember was seeing her get swallowed up into the crowd of people inside who were all waiting to get to her.

I stayed a while and had some food and drink.  It was all very exciting, and yet something was lacking, which would have made it the perfect experience: Richie wasn't there to share it with me.

On my way out of the tent, I passed someone I recognized and said "How ya doin', Mayor Koch?"

 "How'm I doin'?"

Friday, March 12, 2010

Jail bait.

I was really bored the summer of my fifteenth year (I don't really write like that but I wanted to, ya know, sound all literary n' shit) (OK, I don't write like that, either...but you knew that already) because everyone I knew seemed to have a boyfriend or girlfriend or a life of some sort.  Meanwhile, my main interests were: watching TV, writing poetry (I wrote good know, the kind that don't have to rhyme), playing with my Black Lab Tarzan, or some combination of the three (i.e., writing free verse poetry about Tarzan and me watching Brady Bunch reruns...and both having a crush on Greg).  I wasn't into sports, I was too young to drive and there didn't seem like anything else for a lonely gay teenager to do in suburban Freehold Township, NJ.

So, I turned to a life of crime.  (Does a week count as a "life"?)

There was actually no devious plan.  I just decided to take a bike ride down to Pathmark, which was the closest store that sold records, which were the only things I ever purchased.  It was after dark and the register in that section was closed, so I had to go buy my album at the regular supermarket checkout.  But then I innocently remembered that there was another record I'd forgotten to look for, so I went back to the record dept. and on a whim, decided to slip it into the bag with the other one.  I got a kind of a rush and thrill when I got outside to my bicycle.  I mean, I, Richie Cohen, honors student and eternal "good boy," had just done something bad.  I was like one of those mustachioed villains on Charlie's Angels.  Or better yet, like one of those tough bad-ass boys at school who smoked pot and talked back to teachers and got in fistfights.  I was one of those cool kids now.

Then again, the second record was a Diana Ross 12" disco single.  But nobody had to know that part.  For all they knew, it was Black Sabbath. And the first one was KISS!  (Actually, no, it was Supertramp's Breakfast in America.)

Oh wait, let me back up a bit.  I did get into a sort of fistfight in 4th grade with Richard Johnson.  You see, my father had been making my brother and me take karate lessons, which I really dreaded because they forced us to do push-ups on our knuckles, whereas I could barely do a normal push-up on my palms.  To me, it was just cruel torture in a room that smelled of stinky bare feet, when I would have much rather been in Coleen's dark, dank basement playing Secret Barbies.  But my father insisted it was important to learn self-defense, and I must admit it sure came in handy that day in class when Richard Johnson, who sat next to me, started a fight.  I remember how it began...I was bragging to him that I was a karate expert (with only 3 lessons and a white belt to my credit) so he started punching me, telling me to "prove it."  Well, the one thing I had learned really well was blocking.  I'm not even sure if that's the proper term (I tried googling but couldn't find it) but it's where you sort of flip your arm up at an angle to knock the other person's punching arm out of the way.  I loved that move, because it seemed so Wonder Womanly. 

 The Karate Kid

Anyway, Richard Johnson was punching at me and I was blocking and deflecting and knocking his arms out of the way.  These were not subtle moves, btw.  It was all big and theatrical and exaggerated.  So, of course, Mr. Haynes (our tough-guy former-military teacher) noticed and demanded, "Richard Johnson and Richie Cohen, what are you two doing?"  Richard Johnson did the smart thing and in his most innocent, Eddie Haskellesque voice, answered, "Nothing, Mr. Haynes!"  While I, in my quest to show everyone how tough and macho I was, loudly & proudly proclaimed, "We're FIGHTING!!"  And off we went to the principal's office.  Richard Johnson thought I was a real jerk to do that, but man, I was proud!  Richie Cohen was fighting with boys and being sent to the office!

And that pride stemmed from what had happened the year before.  My 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Holitowsky, had sent a note home to my parents saying that she felt I needed psychiatric counseling because, at recess, I preferred to be on the swing set and seesaw with the girls instead of playing football and other aggressive games with the boys. Or, in other words, your son's a fag and needs to be cured.  (I never actually understood that thinking, because to me, a boy that prefers to be surrounded by girls as opposed to getting physical with other boys seems more straight than gay, no?)  But my father, to his credit, informed Mrs. Holitowsky that she was the one who needed counseling and that I was just fine as I was.  And I agreed.

Still, the following year, it sure felt good to be in a "fight" (even if it only involved a few blocked punches) and a few years later, to be a criminal for a couple of days.  It felt so...I don't know, kind of butch.
James Richie at Fifteen

Anyway, back to the record-taking tale.  It was so exciting to get away with it that I went back to Pathmark the next day and repeated the exact same scenario (buy a record, then go back to the music dept. and slip a second one into the bag).  At home, I already had all the albums and disco singles I wanted so I really just grabbed whatever was the nearest one in the bins.  It wasn't a matter of need or desire and I certainly had enough money saved to be able to buy them.  I really just wanted a thrill and since I wasn't interested in drinking or drugs or smoking (those health class films really had an effect on me and to this day, I still have no interest in any of the above), this was gonna be it.

The third day, I decided to see if I could get away with slipping two extra albums into the bag.  And the fourth day, I took three extra.  And the fifth day, I went for four.  But on the sixth day, it was the weekend and the hours were different, which meant the register in that music section was open, with a cashier and everything.  So I took the five extra albums over into a nearby aisle and did my bag slipping trick over there.

But when I exited the store to get on my bike, I was grabbed from behind by a big burly security guard (don't go there....this isn't porn!) and shoved into a tiny little brightly-lit cinder-block-walled room to be interrogated by somebody (manager? head of security? the janitor?  I had no idea...I was too terrified).  I do remember that I kept saying, "Isn't there just something I could sign?  Like, a promise never to enter the store again?  I feel like I've seen that on TV, on One Day at a Time or an After-School Special or something..."  But then the police arrived and they tossed my bike into the trunk of their squad car and took me to the jail, where my parents were called to come pick me up.

My parents arrived and I was shocked to see my mother with her hair in curlers (she was always styled and "camera-ready" in public).  My father was really pissed off, but not for the reason you'd think.  "Dummy!  If you're gonna do it, don't get caught!"  Hey, he was a self-described "juvenile delinquent" as a kid, so maybe he felt this was a rite of passage.

I had a hearing before the Juvenile Court a few weeks later, where my father put on a tour de force performance for my benefit.  It was sheer genius, but it took a bit of persuasion on his part to get me to go along with it, because I didn't like how it made me appear.  You see, he invented this imaginary gang of tough kids I'd supposedly been hanging out with and trying to impress, and how this whole thing was a dare on their part to see how tough I was.  It worked, and the judge admonished me not to bow to peer pressure (this is the part I hated...I have never in my life followed the pack!), and I bowed my head in solemn remorse and repentance (it was real; I didn't want to ever go through this again).  And my sentence was a fine of $100 to be paid to the charity of my choice.  Isn't that kind of cool?  I chose the American Cancer Society, in honor of my grandparents. 

And that was the end of my life week of crime.  I was still bored after that and desperately wanted a boyfriend, but I'd have to wait two years before I'd meet Duane.  That was a long two years, and poor Duane didn't know what hit him when he met me because I was really hungry!

 Hungry Richie eyes his prey.

Friday, February 19, 2010


There has been a running theme of quitting in our life (I don't say "lives" because ever since we met as teenagers, it's been one life, except for the brief period of separation when Duane graduated college but I still had 2 more years to go, but let's not get technical, OK?).  Actually, sometimes it's just been pausing (as I mentioned when we began this blog; I'd paused in my writing after meeting Duane, remember?) and sometimes it's been quitting.  You know, I don't think of quitting as a negative thing; I think it's just that we, as creative people, get easily bored and need to move on to something else.  Or, occasionally we, as creative people, get frustrated and decide to take our toys and go home.  OK, maybe it is a negative thing sometimes.  Maybe I'll just type and let you judge.  I hope you're sitting because judges sit.  So sit.

There've been many things we quit over the years.  Some of them I've already discussed (monogamy, veganism) and some are mundane (gym memberships, day jobs).  But there were two major quittings (quittals?) (the Ape just suggested "acquittals") which had some significance to our career as Dick and Duane.  I'll start with the second one in today's post, because as you may have already noticed, I don't usually think in order.  It's like that Get Smart episode where the CONTROL scientist gives Maxwell Smart a camera which is actually a tape recorder and a tape recorder that's really a camera.  Max: "Why hide a tape recorder in a camera and a camera in a tape recorder? Why not just take pictures with the camera, and record with the recorder?" Scientist: "Because my mind doesn't work that way, that's why!"  And my mind doesn't work from A to B to C.  It's more like C to A to D to B. 

I started doing stand-up comedy around 1993, after taking a class which taught me the basic rules, which I then tried really hard to forget because I didn't want to sound like everyone else who'd taken a stand-up class, you know?  Things seemed (in my naiveté) to take off quickly for me...I won a talent contest, competing against 20 other comics, with only a few weeks of stage time at open mics under my belt.  From there, I performed everywhere I could (not just comedy clubs, but also cabarets, restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, hospitals...anyplace somebody was putting on a show) and I was getting stronger and more confident each time. I was thrilled to have discovered what it was I truly loved and did well; plus, it combined two of my favorite things -- writing and having a roomful of people watching me.

But I was also hitting the stand-up comedy brick wall, and it wasn't until much later that, looking back, I realized what it was (I'll get to that).  You see, my main goal was passing at one of the major clubs in the city.  ("Passing" means getting regularly booked at that club.)  That's how you not only develop your act but also where you get seen by the industry and get booked on a late-night talk show or a comedy festival and from there, a sitcom and stardom and your very own anatomically-correct celebrity doll.  So, I auditioned at every club and I did really well at most of them, usually "killing" and at times clearly being the best of the night.  But each time, I watched as others passed while I was passed over.  I remember once, another comic turned to me and said, "I don't get why I passed and you didn't.  What did you do, piss someone off?" I really had no idea.

All I could think was that, despite my getting lots of laughs from the audience, there must have been something wrong with my act, so I continually scrapped entire perfectly good chunks of my material and started over with a new approach.  One club said I was "too personal" so I switched to more "social commentary,' and so on.  Here's what I was doing in the Fall of '95, but I would soon drop most of it:

Meanwhile, I was getting booked regularly at clubs & benefits outside of Manhattan; I produced & starred in a couple of one-man shows and continued to grow as a performer.   But passing at the NYC comedy clubs continued to elude me.  And looking back, I realize now that part of it was homophobia.  This is not something I ever acknowledged at the time, because I refused to play the victim and wanted to "own it" myself (thanks, Dr. Phil), but it all kind of makes sense now.  I used to hear from my comic friends that certain club owners were referring to me as "the fag" or "that homo" behind my back, but I just brushed it all aside.  Then one night, I was emceeing a show at a club uptown and I casually mentioned on stage that I was gay; after the show, the manager pulled me aside and said I couldn't perform there anymore because it wasn't "that type of club."  That happened at another club, when I was actually pulled from the show ten minutes before I was supposed to go on stage because the owner said, "This ain't no homo show."  No amount of arguing or persuading from me (or from the headliner, on my behalf) could convince him to let me perform.

Yes, this was the mid '90s but it felt like it could have been the '50s.  Remember, there was no Logo or Here channel yet; Ellen would come out in '97 and Will and Grace would begin in '98. There was really no gay comedy scene as there is today; I think there were only a handful of us in the city.  Although, I felt and still feel that it's a shame that we have to be segregated into "gay comics" and "black comics" and "[insert minority group here] comics."  I guess it always comes back to my growing up listening to Marlo Thomas's Free to Be...You and Me album and not wanting to be labeled or compartmentalized.

Then, I discovered the Lower East Side "alternative" scene going on at the Collective Unconscious and later at Surf Reality.  Along with Duane and my cousin Stacey, we formed a trio ("The Cousins") and had a blast creating the kind of silly physical shtick we'd learned while watching & worshipping Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett.  We really stood out at first because the others were doing more "serious" performance art and poetry, but soon other stand-up comics discovered this other world and headed down from the mainstream clubs.  Stacey dropped out to concentrate on her film production catering company, and the duo of Dick and Duane was reborn (that's the earlier story I'll get to later; remember how my brain works!).

The Cousins: Richie, Stacey, Duane

I continued to do solo stand-up for a while, cutting off my hair ("Maybe it's the hair that's holding me back!") and rewriting a whole new act for myself, but nothing could compare to the joy I had performing with Duane, so I eventually quit (there's that word again) to concentrate on the duo.  We continued to do alternative shows like Luna Lounge @ Rebar and at various gay bars and private parties.  As a gag, we entered the Star Search drag contest at the bar Barracuda and, although we weren't in drag, we won (doing a brand-new bit called "Gloria"), which led to our being given our own weekly show there.  But we still wanted to pass at the mainstream clubs, so we auditioned and auditioned, just as I had as a solo, but again we hit that wall because nobody wanted to take a chance on a gay duo.  The manager at one of the clubs in the city actually told us that he wanted everyone to be the same and that it would be too "disruptive" to have anything different in the lineup (of straight white men).

Then we got cast on an episode of the USA network show "Up All Night."  The not-so-funny script called for us to play a couple of effeminate queens who go into a beauty shop for a makeover, but we insisted on rewriting it as a couple of goofy knucklehead soldiers who lose a bet.  It aired in Feb. 1998.  They loved it and decided to hire us as regular writer/performers on the show.  That would have been a great break...however, according to wikipedia: "In April 1998, USA decided to re-brand itself, and canceled or overhauled many of its long-running programs -- Up All Night was one of those casualties."  So were we!

Eventually, as immensely fun and satisfying as it was, we took a break from performing.  It was originally supposed to be a short break (a "hiatus") but it soon felt as if we'd quit and would never set foot on stage again.  And that was actually kind of liberating.  But then, we joined Facebook two years ago, uploaded some sexy photos and quickly became popular (sexy photos will do that).  I added some video clips from a performance of ours at Caroline's and people started writing to us regularly, asking when & where we'd be performing next.  And, as if waking up like two Rip Van Winkles, we suddenly realized that there is a whole new world of gay comedy out there and we're ready to return.  Just don't call us "gay comics."  We're comics who happen to be gay.

Right, Marlo?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Parsippany is Burning

It all started in a quiet NJ suburb, in a time called The 70's.  And it all took place over a 2 or 3-year period.  Mother and Father told me never to play with matches, but I was fascinated with the words:  "close before striking".  I think it was the word "striking" that appealed to me.  I liked the idea of striking a match.  Maybe I just liked the idea of striking and that's why Richie and I had so many knock-down fights early on in our relationship.  Actually, he enjoyed provoking me because he knew how to get me mad and I'd jump on him; I fell for it every time.  Don't get me wrong, it was not an abusive period of our relationship and I'm not blaming him (although he would say stuff like, "What's the matter, tough guy?  You call that a punch??").  It's just that there is always that thin line.  Every fight ended us up in bed because, you know, it was the next logical step.  Just look at the popularity of the UFC.  Or Sam and Diane on Cheers.  There is a primitive psychosexual connection.

But I'm getting off track.  My childhood fascination with matches and their ability to create fire is where I was heading.  But it wasn't just fire on its own; I combined it with my interest in architecture.  No, I didn't burn down neighborhood houses.  I would build my own houses from small (usually shoe) boxes.  I would spend a few days building these homes.  Using old fabric or rags to make carpets and drapes.  Using packaging material, toothpicks, cotton and found objects for furniture.  Each house was fully furnished, with art on the walls (tiny reproductions of classic paintings, framed in toothpicks).

Once the homes were completed, then came the best part -- taking them outside on the patio and setting them on fire.  It was the construction/destruction process that intrigued me.  Sometimes the fire would start in the kitchen, sometimes in the bedroom.  But I grew a little bored with the slow and incomplete burning of the homes, until I discovered that a little of Dad's lighter fluid dabbed in a few areas of the homes made for a raging inferno of total destruction.  I needed to feel the heat of the flames.  Soon, the model homes had to be bigger.  Multiple boxes were connected and stacked to create bigger dwellings with separate rooms and multi-level residences.  The bigger the house, the bigger the fire, so I had to eventually take it from the patio to the end of the back yard near the lake.  I didn't want to burn our real house down and I didn't want Mom to know.
My birthday with Mom and Dad.  Who doesn't like a cake on fire?

This was all done during the warm summer months and I waited until Mom and Dad were not around.  I always had the garden hose on and ready for fire duty (I may have been playing with fire but I was also a boy scout, so safety came first).  Wait, I just remembered that I once did a winter fire using a Swiss ski chalet that I'd built as an art class project in school.  I created mini-mountains out of snow and placed the chalet among them.  The fire began at sunset and was over quickly.  The charred remains were buried in the snow, leaving no trace of a blaze.  It was the perfect crime.

Except for the first few, I never did the burning alone.  After I had made an art form of these events, I would always invite a friend or one of my sisters to watch with me.  One year for my birthday, one of my sisters and her friend bought me real doll house furniture so that I wouldn't have to construct all the furnishings from scratch each time.  They bought metal and plastic items so that they could hopefully be used more than once.  With a little reupholstery and some paint, I was able to reuse them a few times until the plastic pieces became too melted and misshapen.  To replace them, all I had to do was take my bike for a ride down to the end of Intervale Road where one of the best toy stores stood.  Man, this store had everything.  My favorite things to save money for were Matchbox Hot Wheels cars.  It seemed that every month they had new models out and it was such a turn-on for me to go shopping for a new vehicle.  The Saturday morning commercials would get me revved up to want the latest cars. 

Cars and trucks still get me going.  Now that I think about it, I guess it was a good thing I never sexualized the fires.  That could have become a real problem later on, right?

One of the last burning events I did was my houseboat.  I made it from balsa wood; it was quite large and contained very little furniture.  I loved that houseboat; it was a perfect burn.  I lit a birthday candle in one end of the cabin and at the other end, I placed a cotton ball soaked with rubbing alcohol.  (Dad had hidden his lighter fluid....I'm not sure why.)   There was a trail of tissue paper that lead from the candle to the cotton ball.  The plan was that once the candle burned down, it would light the tissue paper, which would in turn lead the flame to the cotton ball and ignite the alcohol.

The houseboat moved silently through the water of the lake and once it got about 20 feet out, it burst into flames and sunk.  The small group of kids that came to watch reverently applauded.  And that was pretty much my last event.  I remember doing a few more houses with firecrackers after that but they didn't have the same destructive or emotional impact.  Those just looked like explosions had occurred in small areas of the homes.  Little by little, the lure of the flame burned out.

I found out recently, when I confessed this childhood activity to my mother, that she'd been well aware of what I was doing and had monitored my events carefully from the kitchen window, always wondering if and when she was going to have to seek professional help for me.  She says that she felt better about it once I started to invite others to watch the burnings; she was relieved that, at the very least, I wasn't retreating into a secret world of my own.

I'm going to guess that my next life's fascination was fitness magazines.  I'll save that story for another day.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Third.

Once upon a time (like, ten years ago), we briefly had something we'd always wanted (a dog) and something we'd never imagined (a third boyfriend).  This is the story of that (or, that is the story of this). 

(Warning: run-on sentence ahead!)  One night, not long after we'd started eating meat, which led to our bodies beginning to grow, which made us more sexually attractive to members of the same sex, which led us to end over 15 years of total monogamy because, having met as teenagers, we decided we wanted to see what sex with someone other than each other was all about before we got too old to care, we went out to The Spike, an old leather bar at 20th St. and 11th Ave (which later became an art gallery when the building was sold).  For me, it was very exciting to wear a tank top (something that had just never looked right on my formerly shoulder-less body) or dress up like soldiers and go out to a dark, sleazy smoky bar which had a back room.

It was in that crowded, sweaty, packed-like-sardines back room that we met Rafael, a dark, swarthy, sexy Spaniard with an air of quiet dominance.  It didn't take him long to push us both down to our knees and put us to work on "it" (and it was big enough for two).  It also didn't take him long to finish.  With an accent as thick as his pinga, he asked us for our phone number and we gave it to him, but we never expected to see or hear from him again. 

We were mistaken.

Rafael spent the next week calling us frequently, but there was a big difference between the things he was saying to us and what we were hearing from other guys to whom we'd given our number.  Whereas the others were contacting us for sex, he actually seemed to be courting be trying to woo us and win us over and make us fall in love with him.  It was kind of funny, kind of weird and kind of exciting.  It also didn't make sense.  I mean, who pursues a couple, especially a couple who's been together such a long time?  We really wanted no part of it.  We were just looking for some fun and cheap thrills, not a love affair.

But he wore us down and eventually, we both fell for him.  We didn't fall in love, but we came pretty close.  He only lived a block away from us, so in addition to becoming his two boyfriends, we became his Sex Slaves on Demand.  He'd call and one or both of us would obediently run over.  Oh, by the way, up until this point, Duane had been a dominant top, but Rafael turned him into a submissive bottom.  (Now, he's truly versatile and likes it all.) 

Soon, he was talking of buying a house for the three of us, of putting me through law school (a fleeting idea I had at the time) and of us getting a dog.  There never was a house purchased and I'm no lawyer today, but he did go out and get the dog.  We were really annoyed that he'd not only chosen the dog by himself with no input from us, but he got it from a pet store instead of rescuing from a shelter.  However, when we saw this adorable little Chihuahua and he let us name it "Freddy" (after Little Ricky's dog "Fred" from "I Love Lucy"), we melted. 

But things started to sour.  We tried to really let Rafael into our formerly closed little world, but the language barrier made things difficult (he spoke English, but badly, and never understood our humor, even when we explained each joke and comment, which only frustrated him and exhausted us).  We even offered to never again celebrate our anniversary (October 26) and instead only celebrate the day we'd met him in the back room of the Spike (July 10).  But none of it mattered.  He continued to feel like an outsider and resentment began to grow all around.

Finally, Rafael left on a business trip and brought Freddy over to our place so we could babysit.  During that week, we finally did fall completely head over heels in love...with Freddy.

He was so tiny yet fearless, and we'd laugh hysterically as he'd prance around with one of our socks (which were bigger than him) and act like king of the castle.

 What was fascinating to us was that he instinctively reacted differently to each of us.  With Duane, he'd run around wildly and his favorite activities included standing on Duane's neck while licking his whiskers, and chewing on Duane's nipples through his T-shirt.

 With me, however, he'd curl up in my lap and fall into a deep sleep.  I guess that's the vibe we give off: a wild Ape and a cuddly Monkey.           

  Freddy stands on my thigh as he pulls on the camera strap.

That week, while we bonded with the puppy and trained him and bought him lots of toys and treats like doting new parents, we also realized that we wanted to end things with Rafael.  It just wasn't fun anymore; the novelty had worn off.  Freddy never seemed to like him, either, so the three of us weren't really looking forward to his return. 

But when Rafael came home and picked up Freddy, he had some news.  He'd also decided to break up with us.  But even though we'd come to the same decision on our own, it felt like we'd been dumped, and never having been through that before (remember, we were each other's first boyfriend), it was really rough.  We went through a few weeks of crying and depression, like a couple of schoolgirls.  The only thing that made it tolerable was that, just like with everything else, we were going through it together.  Most people who get dumped don't have that, right? 

I don't think we'll ever try the three-way-relationship thing again, but we will definitely get a dog someday.  We'd like a boxer/pit bull mutt and I want to name him "Tushyface."  Duane says there's no way he's gonna allow me to do that, but I always get my way.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Naked doll.

Retro Week on Facebook has me thinking about my childhood.  OK, that's a bald-faced lie (or is it a bold-faced lie?) (the Google just told me that both are acceptable...go figure).  I've always had the stories of my childhood swirling around in my head and pouring out of my mouth directly into the Ape's ears.  So, this is nothing new.

Since I show so much skin in most of my photos, I thought I'd go back to when my exhibitionistic streak first began.  Like, way back.

A few times a week, two older boys would take me to a public yet hidden place at the Brooklyn apartment building in which we all lived –- the alleyway where they would block the view from the street or the roof behind some looming, mysterious metal contraptions –- and I would drop my pants and turn around.  The two of them would lean in and stare for a few minutes as I stood there.  It was all kind of clinical and mechanical, yet we seemed to get a kick out of it because we knew it was "naughty."  I am not sure if I ever even knew their names; if I did, they're long forgotten.   All I know is that I liked showing off; it was a real neat-o game.  Oh, by the way, they were five years old and I was four.  I did say I was going way back, didn't I?

I still like hanging out in alleys.

Three years later, my family did the big shlep to New Jersey.  We now had a house – a one-level ranch, because, as my father had said, “Yaw mutha shouldn’t hafta climb stairs with a vacuum.”   My melancholy (he hadn't wanted to move) older brother and I now had our very own rooms, and we chose the color schemes ourselves.  His was dark, with mahogany wood paneling, burnt-orange shag carpeting, and bamboo shades, while my paneling was baby blue, my shag was ultramarine, and my shades were red-white-and-blue with American eagle pulls.  The carpet was so deep and long that every time my mother went to vacuum – no stairs! –  I’d insist on spending a half hour combing through it by hand first.  I always thought there might be small toys (like my prized Mexican jumping beans) mislaid in there or that had fallen from my shelf, that I’d never know which ones they’d been, and that I’d lose them forever.  I even had dreams that it was me hidden in the shag.  No one could find me, and my fanatically clean mother was aggressively sucking me up into her Hoover.  Dream analysts out there:  I'm not sure I want to know what that one means.

The move to Jersey also brought a new playmate, one whose name I do remember and who didn’t want to see me turn around in an alley.  She was Coleen, my best friend, confidante, and the freckle-faced girl next door.  Or, I should say, the goy next door.  She had long, stringy blond Sissy-Spacek-as-Carrie hair, loved to run around barefoot (which I was not allowed to do), and my mother was constantly trying to split us up.

“You should be friends with a boy!  A Jewish boy!   What’s wrong with Marc Moskowitz?”

“Ummm…for one thing, he’s Jewish and he’s a boy.”

Anyways (I added the ‘s’ to “anyway” on purpose, because that’s the way Coleen used to talk in her Jersey accent), Coleen and I used to secretly play Barbies in the dark in her basement.  That's right, right?  You don't say "play with Barbies," you say "play Barbies," like it's a game? 

Anyway, Coleen and I knew that boys weren't supposed to play with dolls (but I still don't understand why), so we'd hide in a dark corner of her family’s unfinished basement with a flashlight.  I was still doing secret things in a hidden place but now, instead of me, it was a Ken doll who had his pants dropped.

(Me, age 8. I never played baseball but I loved a good photo-op.)

 Then my Aunt Faye – a sweet but mousy woman who was my favorite aunt – gave me Marlo Thomas's album Free To Be…You and Me.  This was a collection of stories and songs that taught kids to break free of the outdated sexist rules of the past:  women competing against men in athletic contests, parents sharing the housework, boys playing with dolls, etc.   Aunt Faye, who had a sad, childlike quality to her, was in an emotionally abusive marriage to my domineering uncle, who wouldn’t even allow her to wear makeup.  I don’t know to this day whether she gave the album to me for me or if it was a silent cry for help.

I was thrilled but also annoyed:  the boy in the song "William’s Doll" was allowed to play with baby dolls so he could learn how to be a good father someday; why couldn’t he play with dolls just for the sake of play?  And why were/are boys not supposed to play with Barbie-type dolls, anyway?  I know it has something to do with deep-seated homophobia in our society, but isn’t it hetero to want to undress and hold a sexy woman?  

Still, I was very excited by the concept of this album.  I couldn't wait to grow up and live in the new world Marlo and friends sang about.  It makes me sad to see that today, very little has actually changed.  Little girls are still in pink dresses, toy stores still have pink "girl" departments with baby dolls, jewelry kits, and princess costumes, and blue "boy" sections with guns, tanks, and monsters.   

I feel so let down by Marlo Thomas. Thirty years later, are there still little ashamed boys hiding with their Coleens in dark basements? 

As for me, I'm still dropping my pants and showing off...and still playing with dolls.

I've come a long way, baby.

Pizza pot.

Last night, I stopped for a slice of pizza at one of our usual spots.  This is the place where you get a slice or two, but not a whole pie.  For some reason, the whole pie idea doesn't work there.  But let me explain the unwritten rules of this place.  You need to get a slice that has recently been baked and hasn't cooled down to the point of requiring a reheat.  That's when the slices are best.  So, it would make sense that if one got a whole pie from this place, it would be great, right?  But not true, because the first 2 slices from a whole fresh baked pie are terrific ("terrific", my new favorite word that doesn't seem to fit me but I like it and our friend Mandy uses it...not that Mandy has any control over the words I use; I'm just writing that as filler information) and after those first 2 slices, the rest of the pie is not so terrific (the thing with Mandy is that I don't know if Mandy uses terrific as I have been using it: to mean swell or great...or does she use it in the Charlie Brown sense to ironically express defeat or disappointment?)  

Anyway, at this point, Arturo's Pizza on W. Houston is our favorite in NYC.  Pizza baked in a coal oven makes a difference.  Don't ask me what the difference is.  Maybe it's just the idea of being baked in a coal oven but whatever it is, we like it.  

Me and a large onion pie at Regina Pizzeria.   

Our all time favorite is Regina Pizzeria in Boston's North End on Thatcher St. It has to be the Thatcher Street location because that's the one that has been there since 1926.  And those are old ovens, too.  Maybe we just like pizza made in old ovens.

 But back to my slice at the pizza shop.  It's a typical store front shop with the counter at the front and about 6 tables in the back.  The place was full and while I was eating, I got a strong whiff of skunk.  Then I realized that it was grass.  So, I looked to my left to see a guy cleaning out his pipe with his bag of goods sitting right out in plain view on the table.  Just like he is sitting at home in his own kitchen.  He finished cleaning out his pipe and organized his weed and put it all back in his backpack.  Then his buddy showed up all glassy red-eyed.  They were so high.  At first I was thinking that maybe people are not as uptight about grass these days and this guy feels really comfortable about doing his thing right out in the open.  But then when I saw the 2 of them together, I realized that he was so wasted that he didn't even know what he was doing.  

The whole event made me remember a time when I was a kid and we were staying on Long Beach Island for the summer.  There was a family on the beach and every so often the father would cover his head with a towel and do something.  As if he were blocking the wind to light a cigarette.  But there was no cigarette.  The adults who were with us at that time were all convinced that he was snorting something under there.  They had all come to that conclusion and were feeling pity for the children of that family.  "How could he do that right in front of his kids?"  Not me...I just wanted to go back into the ocean and perfect my body surfing.  And last night, I just wanted to eat my pizza before it got cold.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Follow us.

Blogger has a new "following" function, which is similar to following someone on Twitter, only instead of Twitter, it's Blogger.

We follow people all the time, btw.  Usually, it's some guy on the street with a really big, round muscular butt that the Ape says "speaks to him" and that's when I have to hold him back on a tight leash.

One time in the 90's, we followed Rod Stewart in Greenwich Village for 10 blocks and he knew it so he started to walk quickly and finally broke out into a jog.  We're not huge Rod Stewart fans but we had to follow because he was wearing really tight pants and...well, let's just say that "it" didn't speak to the Ape.  But we were still fascinated!

Anyway, look to the right and you'll see the "Follow" button.  If you haven't already, please click it...and who knows, maybe crazy and exciting things will happen.

Thanks. xo

p.s. I'll have a new "real" post tomorrow.  This one doesn't count, right?

Hair story.

The day I cut off my thick, halfway-down-my-back, envy-of-all-the-ladies, curly brown hair, suddenly everybody was nice to me.  It was September 8, 1997.  That day, the nasty cashier in the A&P actually said “Thank you."  Her name was “Meelissa” – we were never sure if her name tag was misspelled or if her parents had thought it sounded French – and just a few days before, we’d had this conversation:

Me: Oh, no, that’s mine. (I was next in line and she’d accidentally rung up my orange juice with the current customer’s stuff)

Meelissa: Next time, use the damn divider!

Me: You don’t have to be a bitch.

Meelissa: A bitch? Yo’ mama’s a bitch!

I didn’t have a response because, while I didn’t think my mama was a bitch, I did think that was a pretty good line, and I couldn’t wait to go home and tell Duane (since this was pre-texting).

Where was I?  Oh yeah, my new life ATH ("after the hair").  Wait, let me back up.  We’d lived in Chelsea for about 5 years at that time.  We chose it the same way we’d chosen all of our previous neighborhoods (East Village, Lower East Side, Jersey City): the rent was cheap.  This was a slightly depressed area: many storefronts were closed and gated or completely boarded up; it hadn’t yet become the trendy art gallery/restaurant/club mecca of today, and we loved the quiet, desolate atmosphere.  Our favorite time was 7 AM on Sunday mornings, when we’d head to the flea market (pre-eBay) at the vacant lot on 26th & 6th (the same one Andy Warhol had famously frequented to collect ceramic cookie jars, and which sadly has now become the site of yet another hi-rise condo) to get deals on collectibles and modern furniture. 

Chelsea was also a so-called gay ghetto, and that was fun.  Well, not exactly “fun,” because we didn’t take advantage of all the fun there was to take advantage of…fun like guys getting head right on the sidewalk of our block (we’d walk past and nod “Hello”) or S&M daddies walking home from the now-closed leather bars of 12th Ave, looking for someone to flog or piss on, or pumped-up muscle guys shirtlessly flaunting their shaved flesh in bulge-boasting shorts, cruising each other hungrily on their rollerblades (or as we called them, “Meals on Wheels”).

Actually, Duane did take advantage of that last one.  With his perfectly-proportioned physique (albeit much smaller than it is now) and cropped hair, he not only fit right in, but he got lots of looks…and took home lots of phone numbers (we were 100% monogamous, so he never did dial any of them).  I, however, still looked like I did when we lived in the East Village, with the body of a vegan in frumpy 70’s thrift-shop clothes and the hair of a straight rocker (or, as I used to say in my stand-up act, I looked like Kenny G’s lesbian sister).  I was truly invisible on the 8th Ave. runway.

But then, with the advice of a fellow comic who suggested that my long hair was distracting from my material, I decided to chop it off.  I didn't totally agree with his reasoning, but I felt like I needed a change and that was a good excuse.  I used to change my look frequently, but this long hair had been around more than long enough...ten long years.

With my palms sweating (this was like losing my identity), I went to a nearby barbershop and a 60’s-ish Cuban man named Willie with cheap whiskey breath hacked it all off and handed it to me in clumps.  It was a weird, exhilarating experience.  I finally felt free of all the shampoos, conditioners, detanglers, gels, and scrungees.  But more importantly, I noticed an immediate change in everyone else.  On the way home, I was checked out by three cute guys…and when I’d passed and looked back, they were looking back at me.  For once, I collected a couple of phone numbers.  And, stopping to get some O.J. at the A&P, Meelissa said “Thank you” instead of the usually unspoken but understood “Fuck off.”

At first, I was annoyed.  I thought, “I’m the same person inside, but suddenly everyone likes me?  WTF?”  But soon, I learned to enjoy my newfound power and made further changes to accelerate it.  I worked out like a fiend and began wearing tighter, sexier clothes, and we eventually opened up our relationship for 3-ways, courtesy of our new computer and America Online chat rooms.  We’d finally stopped fighting it and joined that other part of gay life in Chelsea – the part that was having a good time. 

But almost as quickly as we’d thrown in the towel, it turned right around and whipped us in the ass, just like in a college locker room.

Bendix, our local diner which had been a favorite gay hangout, closed down and reopened as a Bloomie Nails salon.  I remember thinking, “But there are hardly any women here; who’s gonna get their nails done?”  My answer came in the form of all the newly arrived Sex and the City chicks and mommies pushing baby strollers past the steroidal studs, who were very steadily disappearing, and have, by now, mostly dispersed.
Then came Ricky's beauty supply and American Apparel and even the archetypal symbol of suburbia, Home Depot.  They tore down the A&P (poor jobless Meelissa) and in its place, there is a dorm for the New School (who knew the New School even had dorms?).  So, the rollerblading Meals on Wheels have been replaced by Ugg-booting students with meal plans.  Suddenly, it’s brightly lit everywhere and the gay ghetto has morphed into just another neighborhood.  Yes, this is progress, but couldn’t I have had just a few more years of that Gay Disneyland before I’m old enough to get a discounted senior ticket?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Getting off the train.

My posts are all going to be sort of random, because that's how my brain functions.  (I think I mentioned that already, didn't I?  Oh great, I'm repeating myself.)  I can very easily go off on a tangent, but I think it all winds its way back and makes sense in the end.  At least, that's what the Ape tells me, but he could just be appeasing me, couldn't he?  Like, maybe he never really follows what I'm talking about but just nods his head as his eyes glaze over.  No, I know that's not true because I give him pop quizzes every now and then to test for retention and he always passes.

But about the glazed-over eyes...I used to observe him doing that when we would visit my grandmother ("Nanny"), who was the subject of our show "My Grandmother, My Self" years ago at Don't Tell Mama.  Nanny was a former fashion model who loved to tell and re-tell the stories of her life...most of them involving others' misery and/or death.  Or rotten things that had been done to her by her two-faced friends and neighbors.  It was all very entertaining but not linear at all, so you really had to pay attention to follow along.  And her Brooklyn apartment was always very warm, no matter the weather outside.  Duane and I would sit back on her blue velvet sofa as she sat in her blue corduroy La-Z-Boy, and between the heat and the non-stop stories which had started even as we were climbing the stairs from the lobby...well, let's just say I spent as much time listening and nodding my head as I did nudging the Ape to stop snoring.

He does sometimes snore when I'm reading aloud to him, which I do all the time because he hates to read and loves the way I speak.  But he swears he's not sleeping...he's just really "comfortable and relaxed" so he starts to breathe that way.  LOL

Coming next blog:  How we came to stop and then resume our comedy career.  Or maybe the story of our 3rd boyfriend, who wanted us to be his bottom sex slaves. Or how what began as a joke became an obsession: my celebrity doll collection.

Just make sure your room isn't too warm or your chair too comfortable.