Welcome reader back on the cyclone of my life and the Coney Island of my mind. The entries are organized in chronological order. The earliest entry will be found at the end of the list. My latest writing will always appear a the start. I think I have grown as a writer so please excuse some of the earlier jejune writing. I am in the process of re-writing them. Your comments are most welcome. Please Subscribe (right button) to receive my future postings – aa
Alexander Hamilton Napoli
This is the speech I gave at Valbella Restaurant at the conclusion of our fantastic 41st Carnevale after we had seen the Broadway musical, “Hamilton.’
Tonight reminded me of the phrase – “On such a night as this”
From Shakespeare’s, The Merchant of Venice – Act V scene 1.
I was always struck by the 1973 production, directed by my mentor, Ellis Rabb at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center. He placed the two lovers on the Lido in Venice, 1960’s Jet-set Italy – very Felliniesque. Lounging on their hotel beach chairs the two lovers look up at the night sky and try to verbally outdo each other with classical allusions:
The moon shines bright.
On such a night like this,
when the wind blew the trees
so gently that they didn’t make a sound,
me thinks Troilus climbed
up onto the walls of Troy
and sighed for Cressida in the Greek camp.
On such night like this,
Thisbe saw the lion’s shadow
and ran away in fear.
On such night like this,
Dido stood holding a willow branch
on the seashore, begging her lover
to come back to her in Carthage.
On such a night like this, Medea gathered magic herbs to rejuvenate old Jason.
On such a night like this, did Loretta steal away from Appalachia
Driving her way from Romney town to the City of Churches
all the way to Garfield Place.
On such a night like this, young Anthony swore he loved her very much, stealing her heart with vows of love, but not one vow was true.
On such a night like this, handsome Gary, in a bad mood, said outrageously wrong things about his husband lover, and he forgave him.
On such a night like this, family and old friends have gathered round
On a cold winter’s night, for two score years in masks of revelry and
I would out-night you more,
With my perhaps clever verse and bastard Bard iambic pentameter but time has come to bid a sad adieu.
So let us dance a merry last dance –
On such a night as this!
“The Best of Times” occurred at a fantastic party on Sunday February 17, 2008 as Gary and I celebrated our 25th anniversary. Sixty of our dearest friends and family trekked to the Bronx for a gala afternoon.
The guests gathered at Trattoria Zero Otto Nove on Arthur Avenue for home made Pizza Margarita baked in an authentic brick pizza oven by a pizzaiolo direct from Naples. All this was washed down by a very special red sparkling wine called Gragnano from Salenero. Forty-five minutes into cocktails, a eight-piece band from the Feast of the Giglio in Brooklyn marched into the restaurant and invited the group to parade down Arthur Avenue to Roberto’s Restaurant for dinner.
What a sight this was! An Italian street band leading our family and friends laded down with gifts laughing and clapping in a festive mood all the way around the corner. Pedestrians gawked, patrons stuck their heads out of various ristorante, and cars honked their horns as we strolled down the mean streets of Belmont. My cousin, an avid movie buff, commented that it reminded him of the Sicilian wedding scene from “The Godfather.” He guessed one of my inspirations; the other was the final scene from Fellini’s “8 ½.”
Roberto’s, one of the best restaurants in New York City, was the scene for nine-course Sunday supper and very special presentation. My second inspiration for this part of the evening was the Broadway Revues of the 1950’s that commented on the social scene of the day. Gary and I welcomed our intimate gathering explaining that the evening program of music of Broadway Show Tunes would reflect aspects of our relationship and comment on our lives together for the past twenty-five years. The surprise hit of the evening was our opening rendition wish custom lyrics of I Remember It Well from the movie, “Gigi.” There was not a dry eye in the house.
Four song segments punctuated the many course Italian dinner of hot/cold appetizers, two pastas, risotto, veal and lamb, and desserts. Three Broadway performers sang music by the great composers of Broadway: e.g. Rodger’s Some Enchanted Evening; Styne’s Just in Time; Porter’s Always True to You Darlin’ in My Fashion; Gershwin’s They All Laughed and Kern’s Don’t Ever Leave Me..
The finale ended in a toast to us with a sing-along to the Jerry Herman tune, The Best of Times from “La Cage aux Folles”. This erupted into dancing to the Disco Classics from the 1970’s. Prosecco and Limoncello and “La Comedia e finita”. All of our guests received a CD of the Show Tunes perfomed along with traditional Italian Wedding “Confetti.”
The warmth and love from our family and friends still fills our hearts.
Gary: We met at nine
Tony: We met at eight
Gary: I was on time
Tony: No, you were late
Gary: Ah, yes, I remember it well
You cruised me dear
Tony: No you cruised me
Gary: I sat alone
Tony: You sat next to me
Gary: Ah, yes, I remember it well
That dazzling April moon!
Tony: There was none that night
And the month was June
Gary: That’s right. That’s right.
Tony: It warms my heart to know that you
Remember still the way you do
Gary: Ah, yes, I remember it well
How often I’ve thought of that Friday-
Gary: Night when we had our first rendezvous
And somehow I foolishly wondered if you might
By some chance be thinking of it too?
That taxi ride
Tony: I walked you home
Gary: We went upstairs
Tony: No, you sent me home
Gary: Ah, yes, I remember it well
We had some rain
Tony: No, it was fair
Gary: Those Donna Summer songs!
Tony: Sung by Cher?
Gary: Ah, yes I remember it well.
You wore Jeans of Levi blue
Tony: Chino’s LL Bean
Gary: Am I getting old?
Tony: Oh, no, not you
How cute you were
How young and gay
A disco queen
In every way
Gary: Ah, yes, I remember it well.
Both: Ah, yes, we remember it well
John Lahr has written an insightful portrait of Sir Ian McKellen in the August 27, 2007 edition of the New Yorker magazine. One aspect of this wonderful actor that goes unnoticed is his daring coming out and his great contribution to gay rights in the UK.
However I cannot think of a single American in the entertainment industry who has been as courageous as a spokesman. We have had no one to lead or stand up for us with the authority that being a celebrity incurs.
We can only revere the dead icon of the crucified Rock Hudson who by his death made Elizabeth Taylor, the Virgin Mother of Aids. Or laugh at the closeted minstrels of Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly. If only we could have looked up to the example of the of the “marriage” between Cary Grant and Randolph Scott. Or if Garbo really would have talked, Dietrich sang and Tallulah laughed at the “love that dare not speak its name”.
Would that John Travolta and Tom Cruise would blast out of Scientology and fess up. Where is our Martin Luther King? It is time for Kevin Spacey to step from behind the Paramount bar and lead us into the Promised Land of equality. “I have a dream” girls.
(one of the last pictures taken with my mom)
I guess a boy’s first Valentine is his mother. In second grade our teacher announced we were going to make Valentine Day cards. Mrs. Morris was one of the few lay teachers at our Catholic grammar school of St. Thomas Aquinas in Brooklyn. She handed out multi-color sheets of construction paper, white paste glue, pipe cleaners, glitter and those funny stubby scissors that couldn’t really cut anything.
I constructed a glittery Valentine for my mom. I was proud of this crude hand-made arts & crafts token of my love for her. I carefully brought it home; pressed flat in one of my schoolbooks. When she wasn’t looking, I placed it on the kitchen table; the 1950’s kind of table with chrome legs, flamingo colored Formica top and matching vinyl covered chairs. I sat down at the table and pretended to do my homework.
My mother came back in with a frilly apron on, getting ready to cook our supper, which we promptly ate every night at 5:30 pm. It seemed hours before she noticed the big read heart I had laid out before her. She picked it up and held it at a distance. “What is this? Why, thank you.” She gave me a demure Mona Lisa like smile of disappointment. It took me a few years to figure out that hand made gifts were not as appreciated as store bought ones.
As I grew older, Valentine’s Day found me at the local drugstore. I would go to the card section and pick the biggest flowery card I could find. At that time in the card section, you picked up a sample card sort of sealed on cardboard with a code number on it. You then handed the druggist the sample and he would open the drawer below and hand you the card out of a file with the same number on it. When I got bolder I would go to the drawer myself and select the Valentine. They got more lacey as the years went on, one of them even had a little silk tuft of sachet. Next stop was the candy aisle for a large red, satin heart-shaped box of Russell Stover or Whitman’s candy. Over at the next aisle was the toiletry section for a bottle of Jean Nate Bath Oil or a round canister of “Evening in Paris” talcum powder. Like the gifts of the Magi, I made these three offerings to my mother from her adoring son. She smiled.
The next serious Valentine is usually your husband or wife. Mine was for my boy friend, Gary. Having learned my lessons, I bought him a Hallmark Peanuts card with Snoopy on the front cover, Teuscher chocolates flown daily from Switzerland and a bottle of Lagerfeld eau de cologne. I had them displayed on my dresser in my bedroom alcove in my West 83rd Street walk up in Manhattan. He would be sure to see them as we arrived back after dinner at Forest & Sea Restaurant. We tipsily climbed up the creaky stairs to my fourth floor studio. I unlocked the Police Lock bar of the #4A apartment door and Gary went straight to the bathroom to brush his teeth. I lay coyly on my pink chenille bedspread like a Burt Reynolds Playgirl centerfold. Gary came over kissed me lightly and saw his gifts. He opened them gingerly making sure he folded up the ribbons for future re-wrapping. I was given that same La Giaconda smile that I remembered from long ago. Hmmm? So I went back to the drawing board. I am a quick learner.
The following year, I wrote Gary a hand written poem that I took a long time to compose. I dropped it in the post and it arrived as planned on February 14th. I handed him the daily mail and as he went through it, he noticed one was addressed to him. I tried to disguise my scrawl so he wouldn’t know it came from me. He opened it and read the missive. He gave me a big Dustin Hoffman – “The Graduate” like grin from ear to ear – this time more Cheshire Cat than Mona Lisa.
I got nothing back that day but his generous smile. That smile funnily enough would stay with me for 25 years … each day being Valentines Day.
My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable
Yet youre my favourite work of art
Is your figure less than greek
Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?
But dont change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is valentines day
Rodgers & Hart
It was a cold, late afternoon on January 7, 1976 as I headed out in my heavy dark blue Navy Pea Coat to the D Train from Park Slope, Brooklyn to get standing room only tickets for that evening’s performance of “Fidelio” at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center.
As I walked onto the Lincoln Center Plaza, the fountain sprayed a frosty glow and the Chagall’s looked like Marc had just finished them with his box of Crayolas. The usual bunch was already on queue for the standing room tickets: opera queens, Juilliard boys (and girls), Saul Bellow Upper West Side characters, senior citizens, and me. This night was my lucky night since they still had student seats left. I got to sit in a real seat in the orchestra; House Left at the extreme end the row –
After I got my ticket I strolled next door to the Library of the Performing Arts to hang out till the 8pm curtain. I had come here many times since 1967 when I was a student at Cathedral College on West 87th Street and West End Avenue. If I sat at a certain LP listening station, I could watch who went in and out of the Men’s Room while I listened to the latest original cast recordings – how perfect!
At 7:45pm I went to my seat so I could read my program. The great Boris Aronson had designed the sets and the young John Mauceri of later Hollywood Bowl fame was conducting. Of course, I knew the plot of Beethoven’s “Fidelio” – about Leonore, loving wife disguised as a prison guard named “Fidelio””(the Faithful One), who rescues her husband Florestan from death in a political prison.
I settled in with my coat folded neatly over my lap. I could never understand people who put their coats on the back of their seats and then sit on them! – so uncomfortable and lumpy and wrinkling. Then the magic moment came that never failed to excite me. The Swarovski Crystal Chandeliers, a gift from Austria, rose slowly up, up and up to the golden ceiling of the Met. The house darkened.
It was then I noticed I was seated next to an attractive older gentlemen dressed in suit and ascot with his coat folded on his lap too. I tried to glance discreetly sideways but he caught me looking.
The overtures began. Leonore, disguised as a gentleman, began to sing in the beautiful quartet – Mir ist so wunderbar (“A wondrous feeling fills me”). It was then I felt the pants leg of the ascoted gentleman brush up against mine. I stared straight ahead and concentrated on the music. As he shifted in his seat, his shoe slid up along mine and then withdrew. I stirred in my seat. Since the electrical gap was now broken I decided to close it and move my leg close to his. Contact was made as a surge of electricity pulsed, almost in complicity with the surging quartet. The current ebbed and flowed to the end of Act One.
I swiftly flew up the aisle at intermission for a breath of fresh air on the Grand Tier Balcony. Mein herz was pounding. I didn’t know what to do, but knew I had to do something. As I walked back downstairs I saw my gentleman standing up against the Enzo Pinza Water Fountain holding one of those silly white cone cups people pretentiously use to drink from the fountain to prevent their lips from touching the spigot. I jauntily walked up and bent over and took a mouthful direct from the bubbler. He was standing next to me now. As I wiped a bit of water dripping down my mouth, I stammered out “Tony” to his slightly British cadenced response of “Alfred.” He surreptitiously gave me torn piece of his program with a phone number that I guess he had hastily written.
Suddenly a woman approached. He said to me “This is my wife Lynn” and to her “This is my friend Tony.” Like a grand dame she said “Good Evening Antony” and stared right through my mask of embarrassment. I was saved by the bell so to speak, as the usher struck the end of intermission chimes. I quickly excused myself as I waited for them to go back to their seats first. I took my seat at the last moment as house lights were almost dark. I looked furtively over – funny I didn’t notice whom he was sitting next to during Act One.
The young John Mauceri climbed onto the podium and started Act Two. Florestan is alone in his cell, deep inside the dungeons. He sings first of his trust in God, then has a vision of Leonore coming to save him:
Gott! Welch Dunkel hier!
God! What darkness here!
In our darkness the switch was pulled once again and the current flowed. Our ritual continued till the famous off-stage trumpet call announced the arrival of the minister. The horn stirringly rang out as a hand moved under his cashmere coat and across my overlapping dark blue one. His palm ever so slowly and gently moved over my thigh to its desired end.
O Gott, o welch ein Augenblick!
O unaussprechlich süßes Glück!
Oh God what joy at last!
Oh what a moment unsurpassed!
Mauceri was impassioned leading the orchestra in the interpolated Leonore Overture #3. My gentlemen caller was stirring as well. Then came the great chorale finale ultimo. The gates opened and the prisoners came up into the light in joyous exhalation of freedom and love.
There was a standing ovation, torn program confetti streaming from the “heavens” and four curtain calls. Since I was on the aisle, I left before the last applause died out and the house lights came up. I grabbed a quick drink of water at the Pinza Fountain before I floated onto the plaza like Cher in “Moonstruck” but without Nicholas Cage on my arm.
The D Train came right away. Seated in my orange plastic subway seat, I felt like Cinderella as my coach arched up over the city and across the Manhattan Bridge – A Lovely Night. The walk from the subway station to my apartment on Garfield Place was exhilarating. I got into bed and read the entire “Fidelio” program from cover to cover. The night was long and cold.
The next day I woke up feeling like Scarlet O’Hara the morning after Rhett carried her up the dark blood red staircase. Having waited anxiously till 11 am, I finally got up the nerve to dial the number on the scrap of paper that I had looked at so many times during the night. It rang a few times till it connected. “Hi, this is T-t-t-t.”… I was stuck – T-t-t-ony.
Then a female voice said sharply and knowingly “Antony, don’t ever call this number again, ever.”
I recoiled and dropped the phone, the scrap of program still in my hand. The winter sky darkened a bit and I felt like the other Christine pulling off the mask off the Phantom revealing the horror underneath – a hideous laughing grin. I sat down on my coat on the sofa which I had jauntily thrown there the night before. Reaching under into my coat breast pocket, I took out my ticket stub – Row R35 – and tore it up as the glittering Swarovski Chandeliers came crashing down around my head. I went to my window and stood there motionless like Garbo in Queen Christina, silently staring into the horizon.
In between my Off -Off Broadway directing jobs, I paid my rent as a teller at Bank Leumi, an Israeli establishment on Fifth Avenue and 47th Street in Manhattan. I would work there from 9 to 5 and then direct showcase rehearsals from 6pm to 11pm. It was a long day and a long subway ride home to my place in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Ars gratia artis
As a stood at my teller window in front of a wall of the skyline of Jerusalem made out of cut-up pieces of carpet, customers would que up on one long line and then wait for the “Next Available Teller.” There was one particularly good-looking Israeli boy who somehow always got to my window. I caught him a couple of times letting other people go ahead of him while he pretended to be fumbling, filling out a last minute deposit slip.
We would demurely exchange pleasantries as I slowly counted out his large deposits, delaying our transaction as long as possible. Soon enough, our hands would ever so lightly touch as I handed him back his receipt. He would finger the diamond ring on his pinky finger as he sweetly whispered thank you then look deep into my eyes and coyly say Shalom. It was like a prison visit of some white trash girl visiting her man at Sing-Sing as they stole a forbidden kiss as the warden watched on. Or a scene from “Midnight Express” where I was the young American captive and he was the handsome swarthy Turkish guard.
My prisoner of love was named Sol, short for Solomon and he worked in his family business in the Diamond District on W. 47th Street across 5th Avenue. He hated his job but was compelled by his strict Jewish Orthodox father to assist him at the Exchange. He longed to open up a floral shop. He always smelled of lavender scent. Our exchanges went on for a half a year with the visits becoming more brazen and our conversations longer. I gave good customer service.
One frustrating morning visit, Sol asked if I would meet him for a drink on Saturday night after Sabbath was over. I hesitantly agreed. He suggested we meet at a bar called Camp David. That seemed like an ironic place for our rendezvous since Israel and Palestine were negotiating peace terms at The White’s House’s Camp David. I wondered excitingly what negotiations he had in mind to bring us to détente.
Camp David was located on the fashionable Upper East Side on Lexington Avenue. I soon discovered it was a gay bar. I was 26 and surprisingly I had never been to one and was very scared about going to one now. I was sexually precocious in many ways but not “out.” I was socially inept at meeting guys in public outside of illicit places. That Saturday afternoon I almost backed out in going if it were not for my roommate, Loretta’s insistence that I grow up and go. Should she have said, “grow out!”
Showered and coiffed, I hopped into my metallic chocolate brown, Toyota Corolla and drove into Manhattan taking the Brooklyn Bridge and up the East River Drive. There was no anticipated traffic; I got there so early I had to walk around for an hour before our meeting time of 8:30pm. I circled the block may times to see who was going in and out. I didn’t know then that NYC gay bars didn’t start hopping till much later so I saw no one go in or out.
I finally got up the nerve to enter the bar. It was a small place, dark, clean and contemporary in style. I took a barstool at the far end of the bar by the TV as All in the Family” was just about over – “Those Were the Days.”
An older mustachioed bartender in white shirt and black tie brought my requested cocktail. There were a couple of guys at the back of the place sharing a table and quietly chatting, all very civilized. I was not set upon and stolen by a homosexual white slavery den. I downed the first gin and tonic quickly and was on to my third in no time.
It was 9:15pm and I was playing with the lime and stirrer in my fourth gin and tonic when the door opened. A sexy woman decorously dressed in a gray skirt and blouse with black pumps walked in. She was clutching a leather handbag as she peered into the darkness; I didn’t think lesbians came to this bar. I only knew the Park Slope flannel and denim variety lesbian. Guess this is what they called a “Lipstick Dyke.”
She slowly sidled down the bar as she moved closer to me. Of all the empty seats, she took the stool next to mine. I hurriedly pretended to look discreetly away as to not to have to interact with her. The final moments and theme song of The Mary Tyler Moore Show was playing on the TV.
“Who Can Turn the World on with Her Smile?” I froze as I got a whiff of lavender.
“Hi Tony, sorry I am late.” I quickly turned in disbelief to see… Sol.
“Hey Sailor, see anything you like?” I dropped the lime on my lap.
I held tightly onto my empty lime-less glass and stirred as I looked down at his pinky ring. It’s a wonder the glass didn’t explode in my hands.
“H-h-hello Sol,” I finally stammered.
“You can call me Sheba, tonight” she laughed lightly.
But her laughter, amplified by my surprise, fear and nervousness, seem to fill the bar. Were the bartender and that couple at the back laughing too – Laughing wildly, wild strawberry lipstick mouth agape, handle bar waxed mustache bouncing up and down like some Ingmar Bergman surrealistic sequence I might have seen at the Thalia.
I did not know what to do. The G&T and the lavender were going to my head as if to swoon-
So I escaped….
Without a word, slapping down a few dollars on the bar, I ran out onto Lexington Avenue, jostling an East Side doyenne and her poodle. I had my keys out before I got to my car. I almost flooded the carburetor as I pounded the gas pedal. I sped down the F.D.R Drive and through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, having to pay a toll to get home faster, safe and sound. Thank God, Loretta was out on a date. I jumped into bed, turned off the lights and pretended to sleep till I finally did.
Sunday morning, Loretta sat on my bed and asked me how my date was. I said it went ok but it didn’t work out. She made breakfast for me and a Latino guy named Ronnie she met the night before a at a disco. The three of us making an odd sight. I am sure the guy thought I was her lover and was ready to pounce on him for a threesome. I was so frustated that maybe I did give off that scent. Loretta had good taste in men.
Later that afternoon the thought of Monday sprang up! What was I to do tomorrow when he showed up at my teller window? So of course, I called in sick.I went to work on Tuesday and waited all day for the siren’s call. Sol did not come in that day or the rest of the week. He never came to my window again; fumbling on line if he had to, so he could avoid me. Eventually, he stopped coming to the bank and another runner for his company made deposits.
Looking back at Solomon and Sheba that night, of course I knew I acted silly and not wise.. I had behaved like a silly little girl in the big bad city. Of course, it was a shocker seeing Sol as a She but I could have at least stayed a bit and got out gracefully.
It was not till fall that year that I dared to go to another gay bar. I was tired of tricking on the streets. So I picked a safe haven to return to the scene of the crime. Julius, a bar in the Village was not so threatening since it seemed like a place where the old queens went to die. I could be a chicken and not chicken out.
Eventfully I graduated to other bars for the living and the quick: Uncle Charley’s, Wildwood, Tys and Boots and Saddles. I wised up pretty fast as the Bicentennial year started in 1976. I reveled in a newfound freedom of liberation. I was ready for any drag queen that came my way. It was a time to throw my hat in the air, spin around and start living…
“Love is all around, no need to waste it
You can have a town, why don’t you take it
You’re gonna make it after all
You’re gonna make it after all”
The summer of 1974 was the start of my Disco years in New York City.
I had just completed my MFA thesis at Brooklyn College and was now on my own. I was staying temporarily with my good friend Dennis who was the set designer for my graduate production. He lived in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn before the lesbians, yuppies, chic shops and million dollar brownstones – the Park Slope of Irish Bars, Chinese Laundries, Food Coops and middle class teen rednecks.
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”
Dennis was a tall and lanky, very bohemian, sensitive artiste – straight. He was very generous and open to let me room with him in his tiny studio until I figured out my life. We shared a pullout sofa bed in a tenement walkup on Seventh Avenue and First Street, facing a noisy public school yard. It was a platonic relationship even though I wouldn’t have minded a bit of “gee was I drunk” one night since he was handsome Pole with a kielbasa to prove it
“Ah Memories, Light the Corners of My Mind.”
Armed with my recently acquired MFA in directing from Brooklyn College, I was ready to take New York by storm and become a famous Broadway stage director. For the summer interim however, I received a scholarship to study directing at the Shakespeare Institute in conjunction with the Stratford Theatre Festival in Connecticut.
Lodging and classes were at the University of Connecticut at Bridgeport. Evenings and seminars with the cast were held at the theatre in Stratford. Bridgeport was an iconic 1960’s urban renewal mess of a city. One side faced the then polluted Long Island Sound, one side faced the PT Barnum Museum, and the other side faced ghetto squalor.
“Livin’ Just Enough for the City”
I Discovered Disco and Loretta in the summer of 1974. Loretta was also attending the “institute,” as we mockingly call it to this very day. Loretta was a 22-year-old English Major from the hollers of West Virginia, a girl destined to escape her Mennonite ancestry and blossom into a then unknown Hilary Clinton-like dynamic woman. She was a demure high school English teacher in the one-stoplight town of Romney who fell in love with New York City and soon fell in love with me. We became the Disco version of Scott and Zelda as we escaped the “institute” every weekend for madcap escapades in the city.
“I Can’t Help It, If I Am Still in Love with You”
Our favorite hangout was The 82 Club in the East Village on E. 4th Street. The pre- “Rent” East Village and The 82 Club were the height of depravity. This hideaway was as close to a cabaret of the Weimer Republic as one can imagine with drag queens, chanteuses, superstars and us.
Like Sally Bowles and Christopher Isherwood we played on Saturday nights at being totally decadent and in love. Early Sundays mornings, we would crash on Dennis’s pull out sofa, all three of us exhausted in drunken abandon. Dennis was usually the first to rise, and he would get up and moan, “I need my coffee” and make us the first cappuccinos we ever tasted. On Sunday night, Loretta and I would sleep in each other’s arms all the way back up to Bridgeport on the local Metro North train, waking up at every stop to chant with the conductor: Stamford! Darien! Westport!
“You’re My First, My Last My Everything”
The beat, the drive, the rhythm of Disco turned me into a dancing fool. I never was the teenager who watched Dick Clark’s American Bandstand dancing around the living room or went to the school dance. I don’t remember the exact song or moment it possessed me but suddenly at 26, the music swept over me and took control of me like the ballerina in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Red Shoes or like a manic Sicilian girl with twirling skirts, dancing herself into a trance to the Tarantella trying to ward off the malocchio.
“Rock the Boat Baby”
I bought a portable record player (the boom box of the day,) and became a proselytizer of dance, a young Pan, a Disco Dionysus. I spent money I did not have n 48’s and LPs. I had to have the latest extended DJ version of a song, which you could only buy at a store on Carmine Street in the Village.
I had Disco parties in the UConn cafeteria after our studies or after we retuned late from an evening performance at Stratford. We danced at Club 82, on the beach of the Sound, in the scene shop at Strafford and on the hardwood floors of Dennis’s apartment. Loretta and I even danced to our own inner beat on the empty D train as it crossed Manhattan Bridge high above the East River.
“Dancin” in the Street”
The Disco beat was steady and pulsing. It’s trance like mantra released my inhibitions. It was if I took an elixir and turned me into an impish Puck/Donkey of Midsummer Night’s Dream or a devilish, grinning Mr. Hyde. You didn’t need to know dance steps and the movement was sexy and fluid. You could be dancing with anyone in the swirling crowd around you. I sometimes pretended Dennis was my partner as I danced around an unsuspecting Loretta as we all spun around her “Disco bag” she had recklessly thrown down on the dance floor of Le Jardin, ourr own Arden Forest.
We studied Shakespeare all summer and we all had to present a project for accreditation. In retrospect I must have been unconsciously inspired by my dancing craze and summer love. I directed a choreographed/acted version of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. The poem was accompanied by the music of Arnold Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night – a very Anthony Tudor/Agnes DeMille dance/drama piece
Venus and Adonis comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Ovid told of how Venus took the beautiful Adonis as her first mortal lover. They were long-time companions, with the goddess hunting alongside her lover. She warns him of the tale of Atalanta and Hippomenes to dissuade him from hunting dangerous animals, he disregards the warning, and is killed by a boar.
“Must Be the Night Fever”
I also fell “a little bit in love” with the director Michael Kahn, while assisting at Strafford. This was the season of his “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” with Elizabeth Ashley, Keir Dullea and Fred Gwynne. He also directed a beautiful production of “Romeo and Juliette” set during the Risorgimento in Italy. I dreamed of becoming Michael’s assistant and protégé and lover. He never did and I never told him.
“If You Love Me, Let Me Know,”
The dancing stopped one night in August. After our cafeteria dinner, as we listened to “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” from Elton John’s new album. Someone turned the TV on and we froze like figures in a game of “Statues” as we gathered around to hear the rumored news.
This is the 37th time I have spoken to you from this office, where so many decisions have been made that shaped the history of this Nation. Each time I have done so to discuss with you some matter that I believe affected the national interest. I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interest of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.
Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.”
“Shame Shame Shame”
We all listened in silence as President Nixon resigned on Aug. 8, 1974. And the sun did go down over the Long Island Sound. I can’t say August 8th is the “day the music died.” Even though it was the last days of the “institute my inner beat and Disco were about to explode.
We danced and danced all though that hot summer nights in Manhattan, Stratford and Bridgeport. Loretta and I became beloved friends and soul mates. A woman I could love without fear or responsibility and expectation – a masquerade, a pas de deux, and shadow play of Romeo of Juliette. How fitting we were studying in the hometown of PT Barnum, appearing in our own Midway Freak Show with acts of curiosity and sideshow romance.
Sam, Barry and me
“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”
Loretta returned to Romney, West Virginia only to move in with me the following year with a her friend Fran. I returned to Park Slope and started to notice an influx of women in overall and flannels. Thirty years later, straight Dennis came out. Timing is all. He now has a lover who looks curiously like me. Ahem.
“Rock the Boat Baby”
The Disco Years had just begun with nights at Studio 54, Peppermint Lounge and the Sanctuary. The era of liberation and sex was dawning – poppers, pot, polyester shirts, and potluck Disco parties in my first apartment on Garfield Place. I rented it with Dennis’s younger brother, Robert and “gee we did get drunk”.
I was the “new boy was in town” – not Tony Manero of Saturday Night Fever strutting down 86th Street but Tony Napoli strutting down Broadway like a character in Fame. I was dancing down the street and catching the night fever, dressed in platform shoes, white tight pants, Nik Nik shirt with gold chain bracelet or Puka Bead necklace and blow-dried styled hair. I was ready to take NYC by storm.
Loretta, Fran and me
So can you guess I am standing on the parapet of the base of the Statue of Liberty? And did you notice there are no World Trade Towers? So here I am in 1968. I took my 12-year-old sister on the Short Line Bus from Newburgh, NY for a day trip to NYC.
As you can see we visited the Stature of Liberty in the morning. We had lunch at Tad’s Steak House ($1.99) in Times Square on 50th Street. Or sirloins were followed by a matinee performance of the then racy production of the Broadway musical Cabaret (before the awful “revisionist” Roundabout Production in 1988 – UGH!). Tickets were $4.95 for good orchestra seats for matinees shows.
After the show we ran to Port Authority to catch the 5 pm bus back to Newburgh where I was in exile.
The Freshman & Sophomore Years
In the fall of 1966, I attended Cathedral College, a preparatory seminary for the Archdiocese of New York.
Cathedral College was based on the old 6 year school system of 4 years of high school combined with college freshman and sophomore years. The final 6 years of junior and senior college years and 4 years of graduate work would be at St. Joseph’s Seminary up at Dunwoodie, Yonkers, NY. The school itself was on the corner of West End Avenue and W. 87th Street. The dorm, known as the Bishop Ford Residence was on W. 86th Street between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West.
The West Side was not what it is today, the residence of the up and coming sophisticate. It was a raucous, dangerous, teeming collection of artists, pimps, drug dealers, Bolsheviks, liberals, homeless, struggling actors, musicians and students. The avenues were lined with decaying storefronts of Irish bars, Flea Market Thrift Shoppes, Chinese Laundries, Greek Coffee Diners, Jewish Dairy restaurants and SRO hotels. No one ventured above W. 72nd Street then known as Needle Park unless you lived up there.
After graduating NFA, Newburgh Free Academy, I enrolled myself for the study of the Roman Catholic priesthood. Of course, this was a big step for a boy to take. My mother, who you think would be ecstatic about being the mother of a priest, was not. She wanted me to get a job and contribute to the household. I had higher aspirations, priesthood or not and this conflict would escalate with her in the coming years.
The Bishop Ford residence was set up for the students from the upstate counties of the diocese. Classes were held Monday to Friday and we were free to go home on weekends. The residence was a classic five -story limestone townhouse -first floor was parlor and dining room, second floor chapel and the upper floors were the sleeping rooms.
Since I was a freshman and sort of upper class to the high school attendees, I got to share a dormer room on the top floor facing 86th Street. My two roommates were Bob and Charles. Bob was in the top bunk, me on the bottom and Charles had his own single bed. There was a sink in the room, one closet and one communal bathroom per floor.
The day my mother dropped me off was very emotional. My father waited in the car since he could not come in due to his Parkinson’s disease. My mom came up and as I dropped my valise on the floor we both burst into tears. It was the first time I would be away for any extended period of time.
My roommates were great guys. I am still in touch with Bob who lives in North Carolina. Every night, Bob would hop onto his top bunk, reach down and shake my hand and say good night when it was lights out. I dreamed of Charles in his single bed and longed to be next to him. I lost touch with Charles years later after an intense homo-erotic friendship.
Me, Dad and Mom
I was so excited to be back in New York City after my forced exile in Newburgh. I didn’t need a car to get around and I was free from my parents glare. The subway was my chariot. During the first week of classes I snuck out to see my first Broadway show at a Wednesday matinee. For $3.75, I saw “Funny Girl” starring Mimi Hines who was great and had just replaced a then unknown to me, Barbra Streisand. I became a Broadway Baby and attended theatre at least once a week. As a freshman, I got the keys to the front door so I could sneak in at night after curfew. Some of the shows I saw that first year were:
Fiddler on the Roof
Man of La Mancha
The Rose Tattoo
Annie Get Your Gun
The Apple Tree
Right You Are, If You Think You Are
I Do! I Do!
Royal Hunt of the Sun
The School for Scandal
Cathedral College was a great place to study. I received a classic education of Latin, Greek, English Literature, Philosophy etc. I had 32 classmates from all walks of life form Staten Island to Saugerties. They were mostly middle class immigrant sons: Irish, Italian, Polish, Puerto Rico and one Negro. We studied hard, prayed a little and played a lot in Central and Riverside Parks. We wore jacket and tie to school and prayed in the chapel before dinner every night. Our Irish cook and sort of den mother, Mary prepared wonderful home-style meals on the first floor dining room of Bishop Ford. The two priests who resided with us never ate with us. In the evenings, sometimes we pulled all those college pranks what adolescent boys are wont to do from shorting of sheets to water balloons to snapping of towels in the showers. We night we entirely dismantled a freshman room and set it up
in the basement.
To save the five dollar round trip bus fare to and from Newburgh, I stayed the weekends at my grandmother’s for the first few months. I would take the R train to the last stop at 95th Street in Bay Ridge Brooklyn. My Polish grandmother would make dinner for me and my two uncles at 7pm. My uncle Eddy owned a fruit and vegetable store in the Sunset Park section and my Uncle Joey was a night watch man at Metropolitan Life. By 8pm both were gone for the night, one off prowling and drinking with his doll and the other uncle off to his nightshift. I was alone with my hard of hearing grandma who went to bed at 8pm.
The first weekend there I turned on the radio after grandma went to bed and listed to very first opening night of the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center. Since grandma was asleep and deaf anyway, I turned up the volume way up and listened to Samuel Barber’s, new opera, “Antony and Cleopatra”. It was difficult opera but Leontyne Price was in glorious voice. I fell asleep on the kitchen table listening to Cleopatra’s final aria: “Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have Immortal longings in me.”
On Saturday, I helped my uncles in their store while my grandmother washed my clothes by hand and hung them out to dry from the 3rd story clothesline strung across the alleyway. It was an old fashioned fruit and vegetable store. The Old Norwegian ladies would select their produce and I would weigh it on a big white enameled scale that hung from the low ceiling. I would calculate the price in my head and write the amount on a small brown paper bag and put apples, potatoes or turnips in it. After all the weighing was done, I grabbed a brown shopping bag, took the pencil from behind my ear, licked the point and wrote all the amounts down ant tallied them up. I made change, put all the purchases in the shopping bag and handed the bag to the lady. I always was courteous and remembered to thank them very much and wish them a good weekend. Sometimes I delivered the packages and got a quarter tip. My uncles gave me 5 dollars and I used this to see my beloved Broadway shows. The store was closed on Sunday as were all the stops except for the drugstores.
Before Saturday supper, my grandmother would polish my Uncle Ed’s shoes and in a childlike game sort of way, he would say , “Thank you Mama”, and give her a one dollar. She would then hand him a white stiffly starched shirt and he was off gallivanting around. I was alone again and I would often be susceptible to Saturday night fevers. Sometimes I went to the Harbor Theatre on Fourth Avenue to catch a double feature. Sometimes I walked under the Verrazano Bridge looking for love. I never found love by the Straight and Narrows.
Sunday was 10am mass at the neighborhood parish church, St. Patrick’s. We all ate a full Sunday dinner at 2pm that grandma had been preparing since the day before. At 3pm with my little suitcase filled with clean clothes and sheets, I made a dash on the R Train to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to sing Vespers with the rest of my classmates. That night I usually went to the movies in Times Square with Bob. Sometimes it was a road show presentation with assigned seats and intermission – “The Sand Pebbles” or “Hawaii.”
I was intensely lonely that fall on the weekends. I was so happy when one my classmates, Paul asked me to come with him to visit his folks in Brewster New York one weekend. His parents were very Waspy so I felt I was visiting the set of “The Donna Reed Show.” I did my own laundry for the first time in their basement as Paul and I fooled around a little. We did manage to catch the movie “Valley of the Dolls” that weekend. Wow did that movie affect me.
“When did I get, where did I
Why am I lost as a lamb
When will I know, where will I How will I learn who I am”
My love of theatre crossed over to the other side of the boards. I was assistant director on our school production of “Inherit the Wind” and “Murder in the Cathedral.” Every Christmas tide, the graduating class hosted Gaudeamus. This was a musical celebration held on the last day before we all went home for the holiday. I wrote and directed our musical satire based on “Damn Yankees” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” In my version of the musical mélange, we made fun of our Greek professor Father Wilders who is tempted by the devil and goes back to classical times to coach the Olympics! The highlight was a filmed sequence within the play which I edited ala Richard Lester. The cast got dressed in togas which I borrowed from my Sacred Heart Parish Passion Play costume collection and did a madcap version of the Olympic Games farcically reenacted in Riverside Park.
After Christmas break, I began going back home to Newburgh for weekends. I would grab my weekend suitcase, rush out of choir practice class at 2pm, catch the Broadway IRT Downtown local, ran like a banshee through the underground connecting tunnel to Port Authority to catch the 2:45pm ShortLine bus.
My parents picked me up at 4:45pm and dropped me off at my weekend job at the A&P. I worked in the Produce and Deli Dept. till 9pm and worked all day Saturday till 7pm. I was lucky to have this standing weekend arrangement with the A&P Manager, Mr. Smith who had take a shining to me. I was a very good employee. Of course, this was money to pay for the bus fare and all of my theatre going.
After work and a quick bite to eat at home, it was usually a movie with my Mom at the local Squire Cinema on Saturday night. I was slowly turning into a surrogate husband and I could feel the jealousy of my mother growing as I escaped every Sunday back to the city. That winter was when I first saw the film, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” I had heard or seen nothing like it before on the screen but the tensions, language and the dynamics eerily reminded me of my parent’s many furious arguments.
Martha: What a dump. Hey, w-what’s that from? “What a dump!”
George: How would I know?
Martha: Oh, come on, what’s it from? You know!
Martha: What’s it from, for chrissake?!
George: What’s what from?
Martha: I just told you. I just did it. “What a dump!” Huh? What’s that from?
George: I havent’t the faintest idea.
So was the beginning and the end of my first two years of college. Bob would leave the studies for the priesthood after we graduated and go on to Marymount College up in Riverdale to become an engineer. He married a lovely nurse, moved to North Carolina and they had three handsome boys.
In 1969 Charles and I continued on to St. Joseph’s Seminary and continued on….like the symbiotic relationship between Joe Buck and Ratso Rizzo in “Midnight Cowboy.” Continued on, little white, valise in hand… continued walkin’ on…
“Everybody’s talking at me. (click)
I don’t hear a word they’re saying,
Only the echoes of my mind.
People stopping staring,
I can’t see their faces,
Only the shadows of their eyes.
I’m going where the sun keeps shining
Thru’ the pouring rain,
Going where the weather suits my clothes,
Backing off of the North East wind,
Sailing on summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone.”
(To be continued)