Monday, June 30, 2008

The W Montreal

Let's start the day off with a third-grade question. Where's the most likely place you'd see this kind of view?

A. In a national park
B. In a Japanese garden
C. Inside an office building
D. From the window of your seventh-floor room in the W Hotel in Montreal.

If you answered "C," you pass. But if you answered "D" too you've obviously stayed at the W Hotel in Montreal.

See, the W Montreal is very fashion forward, the leader of the urban aesthetic pack. They're so avant garde, in fact, they assigned some of their integral design decisions to drunk chickens. You know how hotel rooms frequently overlook parks, or rivers, or city lights? These trendsetters have put one whole wall of the nine-story structure inside an office complex. The folks on this side, then, don't look at a park, or a river, or a city. They look, as I did, straight into a zigzag of hallways, elevators, and conference rooms for poor governmental drones. Five feet away, seventy feet off the ground.

When I arrived at nine PM, the offices were deserted. I stood there for probably ten minutes, wondering if I should speak to someone. What kind of zoo would I find out there the next morning? How many people would be wandering by when I rolled out of bed sans clothes? I had quite a few goals for my Montreal trip: tour the Musee des Beaux Arts, eat poutine, gamble at the Casino de Montreal. Showing my penis to harried Francophiles didn't make the Top Ten. Still, I decided, I could manage. I really liked this hotel: the room was smart, the employees were friendly. The whole place was torn straight from the 90s -- their signature purple bottles of water looked like gay flashlights -- but everything was so terrific I couldn't bring myself to complain. I spent the night with the curtains drawn, watching Canadian TV from the king-sized bed.

The next morning I awoke refreshed and invigorated, and ran straight for a bathrobe. I inched the curtain open. Not a zoo, but busy. I brushed my teeth with the curtains closed, then approached the Concierge. "Let me get this straight," I said. "A whole wall of this hotel is inside an office building?"

"It's so different," she gushed excitedly. "Isn't it wonderful?"

"Well, kind of. Except -- can't they all see in my room?"

She laughed. "I get asked that question all the time. There's no way they can. Don't worry about it."

She didn't specify the technology -- whether the glass was mirrored or whatever -- but of course that's the way it had to be. "I kind of figured," I said, feeling dumb. "I just wanted to make sure before I did anything rash."

And so when I woke up the next morning I luxuriated in the privacy of my designer hideaway. As worker drones passed by mere feet away, I explored my sleepy body, leisurely teasing several of my erogenous zones awake and slapping others into rose-hued ecstacy with my hands and a tortoise-shell letter opener I found on the desk. I flipped onto my side and naughtily smacked my curvaceous bottom until it was pink and emblazoned with the mark of an oversized hand. And after I exploded in a foot-stomping orgasm, I lay dazed until my strength ebbed back, languidly searching my chest hair for fleas, checking my ass for zits, and examining the fragrance wafting from my armpits like it was a 1928 Cabernet.

After I caught my breath I decided it was time to shower and hit the road. I leapt up and threw on a bathrobe, noticing from the corner of my eye a line of giggling businesspeople perched outside. Obviously they were dodging work by hanging out with coworkers and shooting the breeze. I waved in sympathy to the poor saps.

Most of them waved back.

I scurried for my camera, thinking I'd need proof that I wasn't imagining this, but they simultaneously ran for the hills. I snapped exactly one shot of a retreating worker before she disappeared once and for all:

Three minutes later in the lobby I angrily corralled somebody I'd call a bellhop but who was probably dubbed a Louis Vuitton Container Transport Technician. "Well," he said, "if you've got all the lights on, and it's really dark outside, maybe they could make out minor details."

"I waved," I said. "And a whole bunch of them waved back."

He was absolutely stunned. He ran off to convey the problem to management, and next thing you know a manager was breaking it to me gently.

The hotel windows are 100% clear glass, untinted and unmirrored. On every side, if the curtains are open, people can look right in. Evidently I'd put on one hell of a show.

He relayed this information hesitatingly, embarrassment covering his face. He offered me a heartfelt apology and the room of my choice. Would I like a park view? A river view? A city view?

I remembered the faces I saw running away. Are you crazy? I told him. That's the first time I've ever made anybody happy in bed.

I was kind of flattered until I realized 6,550 of them were for Canadian Viagra.

Friday, June 27, 2008

From Cute to Brute

Friday night at the Lure there was a Coke machine of a man leaning against the bar, and I knew I had to have him. Though it was snowing outside he was shirtless, and while with some guys this can look narcissistic it gave him a sexy "I don't care how goddamned cold it is" kind of vibe. I guess when you spend a thousand bucks getting a lifesize eagle tattooed on your back you grab any opportunity to show it off.

I "accidentally" bumped into him and pretended to spot him for the first time. "Great tattoo," I said. It's my standard opening line, since it works with everybody from frat boys to Cher.

"Thanks," he growled. He looked me up and down, though mostly down. "You're a cute little thing, aren't you?" I blushed and thanked him. He dislodged his cigar from the corner of his mouth and tapped the ashes on my Nikes. "I don't do cute."

As he galumphed off I realized a couple things: first, guys get even sexier when they're walking away from me; and second, nobody here does cute. Since after "responsible" and "clean" that's the first adjective people use to describe me, I knew I'd have to select another breed of brainless companion or die alone. I decided to get a dog.

I got lucky the next day, outside the grocery store. A Girl Scout had a boxful of puppies and one in particular, a bouncy ball of fur that looked like a pompom with big brown eyes, stole my heart. I couldn't resist, even when she demanded $100.

"Hey, when's cookie season?" I asked, handing over a stack of twenties.

"I'm not really a Girl Scout," she said, scratching a tattoo on her wrist of a cigarette-smoking weasel. "I just wear the outfit because otherwise nobody's gonna pay me for stray dogs."

I grabbed little Snowflake and started for home but before we got ten feet we were mobbed by little kids. I wasn't surprised -- in fact, I'd planned on playing dress up with him the second we got home.

"That dog is too friggin' cute," a girl said in Barry White's voice, cracking her knuckles against her thigh.

A boy with more chest hair than my dad nodded. "It sure is," he agreed. "Let's set it on fire."

Snowflake may be tiny, but when lit matches are flying he can move. We ran all the way to my apartment where it finally hit me: I'd seen hundreds of dogs here -- frisky and mellow, young and old, big and small -- but Snowflake was the only cute dog I'd seen.

What the hell was going on? I wondered. Did somebody drown all the cute dogs?

By the time I worked up the nerve to take Snowflake outside again it was dark. Still people stared at me like I was wearing pink pedal-pushers. Three separate guys volunteered to tell me what my problem was, and since they looked tough I took notes. Snowflake made the wrong statement, they said, using slightly rougher words. These are the statements New Yorkers want to make:

1. "I could chew you up and spit you out."
2. "I eat chumps like you for breakfast."
3. "I could bite you up and swallow you whole."

Now, after talking to these folks I realized something: I was going to die in somebody's mouth. No, something else: New Yorkers want to look scary. That explains the black, the boots, the tattoos and dirty hair. If we wanted to be cute we'd glue Japanese tourists to our heads.

Where dogs are concerned, then, the uglier the better. Somebody in Kansas City might cringe upon spotting a mangy monstrosity with bugeyes, wrinkles, snaggleteeth, and a nose bent like a pretzel, but New Yorkers would just start to get interested. "Is there some way to get him to drool?" they'd ask.

The guy at the kennel confirmed my theory as he led me down an aisle of perky furballs. "Look at these things," he said, shaking his head like Joe Friday at the Hellfire Club. "Every one of ‘em, cute as a button." He pointed out a pink toy poodle just begging for a big satin bow. "That's Princess Peaches. If nobody takes her by tomorrow she's history. Along with Mr. Whiskas, Shuggsy Marie, and Fluffy Fluff Fluff. Adorable little bastards. Sometimes when I gas ‘em it looks like a Puppy Chow commercial."

We both looked down at Snowflake, who cocked his head like a Keane painting. I pictured him toppling over dead. It was sad but still really, really cute. Kennel Guy wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and pulled a black eye patch out of his pocket. "Do me a favor," he said, his voice cracking. "Keep the dog. But put this on him before you go outside. He'll look weird enough that maybe those bastards will leave him alone."

Snowflake fixed his big brown eyes on me and I figured I'd give it a try. I slid it on him and like they say on Ricki Lake, he went from cute to brute.

On the way home I walked Snowflake through the park and now everybody was giving him respect. He got jealous looks from the men, startled glances from the women, and everything with four legs went berserk. It was like walking Russell Crowe. If one little alteration could save Snowflake's life, I decided, maybe it could improve mine.

That night when Snowflake fell asleep snuggled in his favorite teacup I put on his patch and headed to the Lure. An Ernest Borgnine lookalike, shirtless and sweaty beneath a Members' Only jacket, latched onto me the second I walked through the door. I tried to duck him but since I could only see a tiny wedge of the bar it was futile. "You really turn me on," he said, trapping me beside the pinball machine. "I don't know what it is."

I tried to remember the scary statement I wanted to make. "I could fit your entire body in my mouth," I said, and I haven't been able to shake him since.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

BM: It's What's For Dinner.

Could somebody please explain to me why Boston Market still exists? The name tips you off to the problem: I mean, when everything they serve is brown, you'd think they'd be a little more careful with their initials. You go there and you stand in line and you choose between three or four entrees and a couple sides. It’s been sitting around for a while so you pick whatever looks closest to its original color and they plop half a spoonful onto a plate and staring at it pitifully you carry it over to an empty, food-crusted table.

And you think, isn’t this what it’s like to eat in PRISON?

These are the main reasons I don’t want to go to jail: I don’t want to eat old, discolored food, I don’t want angry people making minimum wage to portion it out, and I don’t want to eat a meal where the largest component is cornbread. To be fair I guess there are a couple differences -- in prison you get nicer utensils, and you get enough food to survive. After a couple Boston Market meals even Jared from Subway would be overturning tables and jabbing the help with a sharpened spork.

Take their “family meal for four,” for instance: you get four sides, four cornbread, and one and a quarter pounds of turkey. Now, this works out to a little over four ounces of turkey per person. In fact, this is so little turkey that you could dump it into a liter of Coca-Cola and still call it TURKEY-FREE. If my folks had served this for dinner I’ve have been angrier than when I came home from summer camp and found all my belongings piled up on the lawn.

People must buy this stuff, though, which strikes me as pretty remarkable. Because if your average turkey is sixteen pounds and each person gets a quarter-pound, they’re feeding sixty-four people with just one bird. You start wondering why they don’t get more press -- I mean, Jesus fed fewer people with all those loaves and fishes, and he got massive coverage in the Bible.

They’re just as stingy with their sides. For instance, they think one serving of corn is like a spoonful. I feel like telling them, hey, corn is not an endangered species. It grows on stalks, from the ground. Yet with a scoop of mashed potatoes and an inch-thick slice of meat loaf this is what they call an “individual meal,” and it costs $5.99. You could wander around Costco, get more food for free, and the people smile when they serve it to you. Set the Boston Market “meal” out on the street and pigeons wouldn’t fight over it. They’d waddle over, glance at it and waddle back. “Maybe later,” they’d think. “I saw some strawberry Bubblicious over by the porno newsrack.”

If you’re still hungry when it’s time for dessert, you’re going home hungry. I’ve been to Thanksgiving for like thirty years straight and let me tell you, a pie serves six people, tops. Whenever I serve one I make the first cut down the middle and immediately some wiseguy yells, “I WANT THE PIECE ON THE LEFT!” Make more than two more cuts across it and people are going to start throwing ashtrays. At Boston Market, though, a pie serves like eighty. They slice them with laser beams because when they use a knive nine or ten servings stick to the blade. Try serving a piece this thin at home and people will laugh at you, right before they start looking for blunt objects. “Uncle Fred, you’ve already had a half-inch of pie. Leave a quarter-inch for Aunt Edna.”

Yet somehow Boston Market can be stingy and people keep coming back. I think it’s because they keep apologizing, over and over. Like six months after they opened the first billboards appeared: “We aren’t such stingy bastards any more!” You go in and give them another chance but now they’re doling out the mashed potatoes with a teaspoon. “Fooled ya!” they say. Their stock plummets again and there's more apologizing. These days the commercials promote “the new Boston Market.” And you walk in and now they’re measuring the turkey with calipers, on a gram scale.

There’s a guy down the street from me who’s freer with his merchandise, and roast turkey doesn’t have a street value of fourteen thousand dollars an ounce. I tell him the story and he stares at me in disbelief. “One pie? Eighty people?” The calculator in his head starts going, and dollar signs appear where his eyeballs used to be. He calls somebody on his cellphone and as I wander off he starts to talk excitedly about Colombian farmers planting vast fields of cherry trees, and unmarked airplanes dropping baked pastry shells over abandoned airfields.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

RomanHans Hears the Mermaids Singing

Somebody intelligent once said, "Poetry is truth hidden in beauty." I think it's more like a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, hidden deep inside a pile of bullshit, but then again what do I know? Try as I might, I can't write the crazy stuff.

When I saw ads in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times for the National Library of Poetry's $24,000 contest, though, I knew I had to enter. The Library was "founded in 1982 to promote the artistic accomplishments of contemporary poets. . . . 'We're especially looking for poems from new or unpublished poets,' indicated Howard Ely, spokesperson for The National Library of Poetry, 'we [sic] have a ten year history of awarding large prizes to talented poets who have never before won any type of writing competition.'"

Why, I thought, that describes me to a tee, as long as you ignore the "talented" part. So I sent one of my favorite poems to the Library and a month or so later received this response:

"It is my pleasure to inform you that after reading and discussing your poem, our Selection Committee has certified your poem as a semi-finalist in our . . . North American Open Poetry Contest. . . . [Y]ou have an excellent chance of winning one of 70 cash or gift prizes. . . . And Poet, in view of your talent, we also wish to publish your poem in our forthcoming anthology . . . 'Beneath the Harvest Moon.'"

"'Beneath the Harvest Moon' promises to be one of the most widely read and highly acclaimed additions to the pool of poetic literature. . . . [O]ther poets will appreciate the chance to read your artistry. . . . We're very excited to be able to bring your artistry to the attention of the media and the public through this hardbound edition." With my personal biographical data included, "the media and public can gain a greater awareness about your personal and family history . . . as well as your own personal or philosophical statement."

I held the letter in shaking hands: my dream had finally come true! I'd never been bound in leather, unless you count that weekend with Fergus the Stock Clerk from Stockholm. I was so excited I barely noticed the offer to sell me the "heirloom quality publication" for a mere $49.95, or the $20 fee to include my biographical profile. (Although I did come up with an opening line: "Poet, aesthete, plumber, fop . . . I am a man of all seasons.")

The letter told me to await the publisher's proof, which arrived a few weeks later:

"I'm pleased to inform you that the initial typesetting of your poem for 'Beneath the Harvest Moon' has been completed. The enclosed publisher's proof represents your poem as it is now scheduled to appear in print." And there it was, typeset, with the notation "Wonderful verse!" at the top printed almost like a live person had written it in marker.

But the words "money grubbing" came to mind when I noticed two more offers: they could mount the poem on a "walnut-finished" plaque (clearly different from a walnut plaque) for $38, and they could send me a cassette of "nationally renowned speaker, Ira Westreich" reading the poem to music for $29.95.

There was just one catch: I had to sign a release certifying that I wrote the poem.

What could I do? I was clearly on the brink of international renown and enormous financial gain. But like I said, I'm no Elizabeth Barrett Whoever, so I didn't actually write the poem I submitted. Instead, I sent them a verse I learned as a child. It was so long ago I couldn't remember many of the words, so most of our poem consisted of the words "Tra la la, la la la la."

But I'll never forget how the Banana Splits -- Fleagle, Snork, Drooper and Bingo -- romped and danced while they sang.

In the end I didn't sign the release, because of my mixed feelings about prison. So the poem probably won't be printed. I'll never get that media attention I so deserve. I'll never get the chance to reach other poets of similar artistry. I'll never be bound in leather, or see my work on a "walnut-finished" plaque.

But worst of all, I'll never get to hear the "wonderfully expressive quality" Ira Westreich would give to "One banana two banana three banana four."

Regrets, I have a few.

You may quote me.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Overture! Dim the Lights.

I was browsing through socks at a famous department store when my nose began to run. Since I don’t carry tissues with me I sprinted for the men’s room -- four flights up, left at Women’s Undergarments, through the tunnel near Shipping and across the catwalk past the “High Voltage” locker. The place was empty and I wasn't going to be there long so I didn’t lock my stall door, but the toilet paper holder only dispensed like a sheet at a time before slamming on the brakes. I’d wrestled out maybe five mangled sheets before somebody else walked in.

Footsteps approached the bank of urinals across from me, a zipper unzipped, and somebody let loose. While he was going at it the door opened again, and pretty soon there was so much splashing I expected neighborhood kids to scamper around the pair wearing swimsuits and water wings.

I decided to give up on the toilet paper and make due with what I had. I wiped my nose with some, stuffed the rest in my pocket, and when I was ready to go I noticed the place had gone quiet. I’d have heard if anyone had gone anywhere -- to the faucets, to the mirror, or straight out, like typical males -- but there was nothing. I poked my head over the stall door to see what was up.

Two guys were standing at the urinals, but they were definitely not peeing. The guy on the right, wearing tight Levis that framed his butt nicely, was more interested in the guy next to him than any bodily function. His eyes caressed the man’s stubbled jaw and then slowly worked their way down, and to my surprise the other guy followed suit. I popped my head down as they turned to case the joint, and when I popped back up I guess they figured they were alone, because both their facial expressions and their arm movements had become more animated.

“Can I help you with anything?” the guy on the right asked, his eyes fixing on his neighbor’s bits.

“Yeah, man,” the other guy said gruffly. He turned from the urinal, bolstering his equipment with both hands. “Suck on this,” he commanded. “SUCK IT!”

Now, this seemed a little coarse to me, but the guy on the right didn’t agree. He sank to his knees and started to zero in on the target. Maybe I needed to be a little rougher, I thought. Whenever I broached the subject on dates I approached it circuitously, touching on everything from recent gains in sodomy laws to a Woman’s Right to Choose. And the response I always got was somewhere between “No, thanks” and “Huh?” This was an exchange I needed to see.

I stood there transfixed, like Dian Fossey coming across a particularly interesting pair of apes. Unlike Dian I didn’t really want to just hang back and take notes, but I’d intruded on people having sex before and while they’d screamed a lot of things “Why don’t you join us?” wasn’t one. Before the demanded sex act had even begun, though, the bathroom door swung open again, and both men leapt back to their peeing positions. The intruder, a pale old man whose purple track suit made him look like a dachshund in a Chivas bag, shuffled to the urinal between them and after exchanging a resigned look the two guys zipped up, flushed and fled.

In the days to come I thought a little about public sex. I’d always felt it was something like dogs licking their balls: I mean, you can’t really blame them for doing it, but I’d rather not see it near my feet at the mall. But then I thought, what the heck’s wrong with it? New Yorkers can ignore the guy blowing snot rockets at our shoes, and the drunk with his pants around his ankles harassing us for change, so why can’t we ignore two hot guys going at it? Is there something about public sex that’s particularly obnoxious, or are we all just timid dogs afraid of our own balls?

A week or so later, this experience still fresh in my mind, I met my friend Gail at a fancy restaurant. I got a little tipsy and halfway through dinner noticed a handsome man at the next table excuse himself and lumber toward the bathroom. I followed, thinking I’d “accidentally” run into him there, but he veered off at the telephones and I entered the bathroom alone.

There was a nice-looking guy standing all by himself at the mirror, and I hoped this could still be my lucky day. I headed to the urinals and while most guys flee after their privacy’s been interrupted this one didn’t. He fixed his hair, then brushed invisible lint off his jacket, and though he was dressed like he had some important job he was obviously in no hurry to leave.

I could feel myself being watched while I pretended to go, and when I casually glanced over my shoulder he was looking at me and smiling. He was being pretty brazen about the whole thing: washing his hands, again fiddling with his hair, pacing back and forth. He was ready for action. I mean, damn, he was even holding a towel.

It’s now or never, I thought, swallowing hard. Time for this dog to start licking.

I looked at him again, this time trying to wink lasciviously while simultaneously coaxing my bits away from aloof. He inched slowly toward me and his eyebrows slid up. “Can I help you with anything?” he said, his tone implying a laundry list of possibilities.

Yeah, buddy, I thought. I’ve heard those words before. “You sure can,” I said, in a low but still possibly believable voice. I swung around, pushed my pants down and grabbed my dick. “Suck on this,” I said, shaking it up and down to make my point crystal clear. “SUCK IT!”

I grabbed his crotch for emphasis, feeling around for his genitals and then clamping my hand tight around them. He looked down for a second, seemingly unhappy at this turn of events. “Uh, guy,” he said, his ruddy face reddening. “You know I’m the men’s room attendant, right?”

I thought he was going to slug me so I flew out of there. He stopped chasing me after I flung him a twenty. But he deserved it: I mean, I gave the coat check girl two bucks and didn’t even touch her hangers.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Tall Tale

I'm tall, dark, and handsome, and I think it stinks. The "dark" part is cool, and I wouldn't choose anything other than "handsome." But the "tall" thing is a freakin' pain in the ass.

Of course there are the obvious problems. When I go to the movies, whoever gets stuck behind me sits and swears for two hours. I have permanent twig marks on my forehead from low-hanging branches. And traveling by plane, well. . . . I've had my legs in the air for five hours before, but never while wearing pants.

What I don't understand, then, is why guys get so jealous.

Whenever I go barhopping, I get a ring of tiny admirers around me, shrieking about how wonderful it is to be tall. "You can see everything around you," they squeal. And I think, "Hey, kids, this ain't Switzerland!" There are no glaciers sliding by, or fluffy little woodland creatures scampering through the shrubbery. We're surrounded by 100 half-dressed men, and while you got your face rubbing Hunky's face, or your tongue on Rugged's chest, I'm left sucking on Toothpick's bald spot.

Yeah. Woohoo. Tall power!

Being gay makes being tall even worse. Straight guys don't care if their clothes are ugly, or dated, or if they fit like burlap sacks. They go to the Big and Tall store, find a polyester shirt with palm trees on it and purple pleated Dockers, and they're like, "Cool. A new outfit."

They're lucky. They're not heading back to Homoland, where the guys wear Prada and Gucci and spit on folks who shop at Sears. People in Heteroville are accustomed to crap, so they don't chase after you with torches when they spot it. They buy shoes at PayLess, food at Wal Mart, and housewares at Target. They don't clutch their palpitating chests when they see a clothing label that reads "Made in America for Freakish Fred's House of Pituitary Problems."

Here's what straight people say when they see a badly-dressed tall guy:

1.) Gosh, he's tall.

2.) I bet his parents are tall.

3.) I wonder if he plays basketball.

Here's their gay equivalent:

1.) Sweet Lord, are those pants from Sears?

2.) That reminds me. I should mail a donation to St. Dymphna's Church for Folks Who Might As Well Just Shoot Themselves.

3.) HeLLOOOO! Halloween is 207 days aWAAAAAY!!!

Lurking just outside the tiny admirers is the Bob Vila Boyfriend, poised for rescue like a knight in shining armor. While he means well, he'll prove a little annoying. It would be cool if he wanted to repair my microwave oven or regrout my bathtub, but it's geeky old me who's the fixer-upper. He approaches me like a building contractor, with a list a mile long on his clipboard, thinly veiled slurs hidden inches below the compliments:

"If you worked out," he says, ticking off item number one, "you could be really gorgeous."

Now, this might qualify as flattering . . . if I hadn't lifted weights three hours a day for the last eight years. Unfortunately, biceps that are longer than the "Lord of the Rings" movies don't quite bulge like ones that are as short as cartoons.

I smile and explain that I've been to the gym once or twice. "You should have seen me 10 years ago," I say. "I was so skinny I could have swum to Manhattan just through the plumbing."

He crosses that off and turns to item number two. "You'd look really hot wearing cotton/khaki/instant pudding/anything other than what you have on."

Which, of course, translates to, "Hey, those are some ugly clothes!" And I think, er, I've always kind of suspected that, because -- hey -- I've GOT EYES.

Now, I like getting a little attention, so sometimes I'll go out with these guys. And then the sad ritual begins. Where a date with Bob Vila might start off at Home Depot, his gay counterpart heads to the Big and Tall Store. "They've got clothes for tall guys there," he explains, and you slap your forehead, like you'd assumed they sold monkeys or clam juice or something.

What he doesn't realize is, you've been there, oh, 500 times. Once to see what they had, and 499 times to confirm that, yes, their clothes suck as bad as you remember. And the store owners are just as happy to see you, standing out like a hot dog in a box full of donuts. "Hey, boss!" the clerk yells. " That tall guy's here again! What should I do?"

The boss sees you searching in vain for anything that'll fit, and flashes back to Godzilla versus Tokyo. "AIEEE!" he screams, scurrying for the door. "Run for your life!"

I cornered a salesclerk during one of my first few visits. "We don't actually have any tall clothes," he admitted sheepishly. "We just put that in the name so it's not as embarrassing for the fat guys."

That makes sense, though it has totally wasted my time. It would be like opening a clothing store for transvestites and Baptists: Most folks don't mind claiming to be one or the other.

And so your clueless new pal drags you back there, just knowing it'll be a sea of Prada XT or Gucci Longue. He'll roam the aisles for an hour or two, looking stunned -- wondering why the Levis top out at a 32-inch inseam, which looks like hotpants on me.

I'll try on some random monstrosity, just to make him feel better, but while I'm in the dressing room he'll scurry off in shame. Me, I've been objectified, insulted, and treated like Formica in a world full of marble. I head to the nearest gay bar, where the Tiny Admirers surround me like a stretched Rue McClanahan. It's as if they're motion-activated: I scratch my head and it fires one up. “How tall are you?” he chirps excitedly. “Six foot seven,” I reply. I look toward the ceiling and another kicks in. “How tall are you?” he asks. “Six foot seven.”

I push my way toward the bar, hoping massive doses of alcohol will make them vanish. The bartender takes my order, then maneuvers his mouth near my ear. "How tall are you?" he asks.

"Six foot seven.”

He looks me up and down. With my height, it takes a while. "I see the six feet,” he finally declares. “Now how about the seven inches?"

It's an old line, but I go home with him anyway.

I love seeing that look of surprise.
I'm on vacation all this week. Going to Montreal, though I'm not really sure why. After I made all the plans I told somebody I'd heard Montreal was cool and they said I was thinking of Toronto.

Oh, well. I was really looking forward to trying some of that poutine, too, until somebody told me it was food.

I've got repeat posts scheduled for all this week. See you next Monday!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Twentieth-century technology is absolutely amazing. If I had to live at any time in human existence, I'd pick now, because we've almost done away with disabilities. For the hearing impaired, for example, we have virtually undetectable hearing aids, and closed-captioning on most TV shows.

Sometimes my neighborhood is so loud I put on the closed-captioning just so I don't miss a word. It's fantastic! I don't know how these intrepid typists keep up with hosts talking at breakneck speed. If you've never tried it, here's a snippet of what the hearing-impaired read on cable's ShopNBC channel last Wednesday night.






Truly, it is amazing. And I applaud ShopNBC for providing this vital service to a large portion of the American population.

Now, tell me what they were selling.

a. An oversized designer handbag
b. A floor-length car coat
c. A decorative throw
d. A Tiffany-style lamp
e. A faux-fur ottoman with hidden storage drawers
f. A kicky knit sweater, available in sizes up to XXXL

Answer: c. A decorative throw. Like the woman said, Prince Ferguson metal propeller are you kidding me?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mayor Bloomberg's New York Legacy

Mayor Bloomberg's main accomplishment after six years in office has been to create 311, a one-stop phone service that consolidates all the government's resources into one place. It's been amazingly successful. I mean, before it existed, you had to call a Park Avenue plastic surgeon to be so completely ignored.

Somebody chained a bicycle to a "No Parking" sign outside my apartment, and after its basket became a makeshift trash can I called 311. My call was bounced around to three different departments before it ended up with the local police. "We can't do anything," the officer said. "Somebody owns that bike, and they might come back for it."

"It's been there four months," I replied. "Hasn't moved. Doesn't have any wheels."

He thought for a second. "Maybe whoever owns it went to buy some."

Across the street from my apartment is the ugliest condo building within eighty miles. Right smack in the middle of a cute Italian neighborhood, all fanciful bricks and wrought iron fences, sits a mammoth cement monstrosity that's twice the size of any other building on the block.

Seems odd. An anomaly. There are really strict rules architects have to follow to design a building in New York.

The catch is, they get to decide if they're following the rules or not.

Robert Scarano is the culprit for my local monstrosity, and apparently he's not the best judge of what's legal and what's not. He evidently claims the second floors that make his condos so huge are really "lofts." Second floors aren't allowed. "Lofts," though, are totally cool. And they pull in almost double what a legal, one-floor condo will get.

Every developer in the city ran to Mr. Scarano for more questionable blueprints, making him one of the most popular architects around. He's brilliant! the developers squealed. He'll design things nobody with a smidgen of scruples would draw!

Of course, there was an outcry. There goes the neighborhood, everybody said, as his monstrosities popped up like mushrooms. And finally the government acted: six years after his first questionable building went up, they've given Mr. Scarano a warning, and they're thinking about changing the law so architects can't approve their own plans.

Well, that'll sure take care of that.

The subway here is the worst in the world, and in today's New York Times we get a clue as to why. The Metropolitan Transit Authority is controlled by a dozen or so billionaires with numerals after their names who were appointed to their posts by the Governor. Everyone claimed these people served out of sheer altruism until the New York Daily News revealed that they're given little "gifts" for serving on the board. Like lifetime travel passes for themselves, their spouses, and even their girlfriends on every form on transportation that exists.

Naturally the MTA took exception. That's just a cheap little bonus! they claimed. Like giving a gift bag to Academy Award presenters. These kind-hearted billionaires would serve on the board for nothing, so what's a little token gift? When the scandal refused to go away, though, they swore they'd put an end to the practice . . . until one by one the billionaires stepped up and said, Are you crazy? We wouldn't serve on the board without our little gifts.

"[We board members are] invaluable," [Vice Chairman David S.] Mack said, speaking to reporters. . . . "If you saw something [on the streets, or on the subway] and called it in, it goes right there," he added, as he put his foot on top of a wastebasket. "When the normal public calls it in, you know what happens with the bureaucracy, they don't get the response that a board member would get."

Which confirms what we all suspected. The city acts immediately when billionaires talk. The "normal public"? Mayor Bloomberg has created a wall we can talk to, and it's called 311.

In his defense, I guess we should have seen in advance exactly what we'd get with Mr. Bloomberg. Because if you let a billionaire run a city, he's going to turn it into a city for billionaires.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Drugs Not Hugs

I was at Barnes & Noble leafing through a book when it happened. It was so quick, I barely had time to react. As he was coming for me, barrelling down like a heat-seeking missile, I glanced up and noted a couple details: he was handsome, he was in good shape, and . . . he looked exactly like that famous gay advice columnist who's published in all those newspapers. His arms wrapped around me as sheer bliss over took his face, mere inches from mine, and he squeezed and beamed and . . . left. Without a word. He just casually walked off, like nothing had happened, straight out the front door.

Naturally, I was left a nervous wreck.

You'd think somebody who deals in gay psychology would know better. When one is hugged by somebody who is very nearly a health-care professional, questions are raised in one's mind. Did I look like I needed affection? Worse, did he think I needed serious help, but since he was in a hurry he'd just slap a band-aid onto the wound? Or did he want a quick feel but was too polite to head straight downstairs?

I don't get the attraction. I'm not one of those people you look at and think, Gosh, I'd sure love to hug him. I'm tall and skinny, not one of those people you fall into like an overstuffed couch. I'm so angular and bony that if you rubbed up against me you'd stand a strong chance of suffering a paper cut.

Frankly, I've never had the urge to hug anyone. Most New Yorkers, in fact, would benefit from increased distance, rather than closing in until contact is made. I made the mistake of returning my friend Steven's hug when leaving his house last week when, placing my hands around his waist, I discovered more gooey rolls than you'd find at Cinnabon. Now I won't be able to look him in the eye again, though on the plus side I've confirmed that black t-shirts really do work wonders.

I blame my mom for my anxiety here. Every time I saw her after I moved away from home she'd greet me with a stomach-churning squeeze. "Hugs not drugs!" was her motto, but I remained skeptical. I'd lived in San Francisco, so I knew it for a fact: the withered arms of an old lady couldn't compete with the discoveries of modern pharmacology. Besides, it was pretty clear she was the one in need of affection, not me, since being reasonably attractive I spent 80% of my life pressed up against another man.

And so, when somebody says I need a hug, I feel insulted. If they were truly interested in my well-being, they'd offer me a plasma-screen TV, or a spacious apartment. They wouldn't say I needed a minuscule amount of physical affection, or a hobby, or an attractive haircut. Frankly, I'd rather Famous Advice Columnist had grabbed my genitals, because I'd rather hear "I want to have sex with you, you hunky bastard!" than "It looks you haven't had any human contact recently."

Anyway, while standing there, I made up my mind. Next time he's in town for a lecture or booksigning or something, I'm going. And the minute he stops talking, I'm going to race right up and squeeze him. Beam like I'm in heaven and squeeze him, wrapping my arm tight around him and maybe even lifting him off the ground. That'll teach the son of a bitch!

You know, sometimes I think I need a hug.
From the front page of today's L. A. Times:

Wow. He can wait on tables for just $565 a month? The man is living a dream.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Really Useful French for Tourists

Last year I took a long vacation in Paris and though I'd brought a phrase book I had a terrible time making myself understood. If you're planning a trip to France, forget that useless "Where is the library?" crap and memorize these useful phrases instead.

D'accord, je s'excuse pour George W. Bush, je s'excuse pour Cheetos, je s'excuse pour "Agence Tous Risques." MAINTENANT puis j'achete une carte postale?

OK, I apologize for George W. Bush, I apologize for Cheetos, I apologize for "The A-Team." NOW can I buy a postcard?

C'est une toilette interessante! Nos Amerique rarement avons occasion diriger notre crotte.

What an interesting toilet! We Americans rarely get the chance to aim our poop.

Eh bien, je ne suis pas convaincu ma chambre sera calme, même lorsque les poulets aller dormir.

Well, I don't think my room will be quiet even when the chickens go to sleep.

D'accord, avez vous quelque plats vegetarien que NE CONTENIR PAS jambon?

Um, do you have any vegetarian dishes that DON'T have ham in them?

Je suis triste, monsieur gendarme -- je ne ressente pas confort parce-que je sais que l'homme qui cambriole dans ma coche est probablement jeune et chic.

I'm sorry, officer -- I don't feel comforted knowing the man who broke into my car was probably young and stylish.

Pourriez-vous me chercher un croissant c'est un peu plus loin de votre chien cul?

Could you get me a croissant that's a little farther from your dog's ass?

En Amérique nous attendre jusqu'à ce que les enfants peuvent tenir les cigarettes

In America we wait until the kids can hold the cigarettes themselves.

Vraiment! Il fonctionne même si vous SAUTEZ un jour.

Really! It works even if you SKIP a day!

C'est tres delicieux! Je ne sais pas que les vaches avons cette partie.

It's so tasty! I didn't even know cows had this part!

Que voulez-vous dire, cela ne fait pas partie d'une vache?

What do you mean, this isn't part of a cow?

Reellement, je fais reglement ne mange pas cheval avant . . . qu'est l'heure?

Actually, I make it a rule never to eat horse before . . . what time is it now?

Alors, si nous faisons une echelle pour "gauche," je probablement dirais "porter tennis blanc" un peu dessus "aider les Nazis dans Monde Guerre Deux."

Well, if we're making a "gauche" scale, I'd probably put "wearing white tennis shoes" below "helping the Nazis in World War II."

Monday, June 16, 2008

When I was five, my parents split up and my dad moved out. Which made our house a happier place, but meant I didn't learn any of those things that most boys learn. I never learned how to play any sports, never got that lecture about sex, never got instruction into male anatomy. Even when I got to college I was still a preschooler when it came to all those things passed down from dad to son.

Still, I wasn't completely oblivious. I had a serious crush on my first-grade teacher -- a hunky stunner with the unlikely name of Dr. Doctor -- from the very first day of school, and since all the other boys were falling over the female teachers I knew that something was very, very wrong. By third grade, I had the finely-tuned gaydar of your bachelor balletomane.

The courts gave Dad custody of my sisters and me on Wednesday nights and all day Saturday, but since preteens aren't exactly stiff competition for a brand-new bachelor pad on Wonderland Avenue he only turned up on Saturdays. One afternoon he came by in the familiar Dodge Valiant -- a car as known for its reliability as its total absence of style -- with two women stuffed into the passenger's front bench. "This is your Aunt Betty," Dad declared, nodding towards one, "and her roommate Priscilla."

My sisters smiled shyly and shook hands with the two women as I stared in disbelief. Two women, roughly fortyish. Overweight, in oversized, unflattering gingham dresses, with unstylish but eminently practical haircuts.


As the folks in the front seat reminisced about friends and family, I literally shook with anticipation in the back. Two enormous lesbians, actually sitting in the car! Now the shit would hit the fan! Dad would say something about how great Reagan was, and these two would tear him apart. He'd praise the latest John Wayne film and they'd laugh in his face. He'd talk about how modern art was all a big con and they'd stare at him like he didn't have a brain in his head. Death to the patriarchy! I'd yell in solidarity as Dad shrank into obsolescence, and then I'd ride off with my two new mothers to Topanga Canyon or the Dinah Shore Golf Classic, whichever one came first.

Every Saturday we did something free, and even though we had guests today it didn't alter the formula. Dad drove us to the Farmer's Market where we wandered through the shops, marvelling at all the cheap, colorful crap. The candy store, the toy store, the postcard store. Though he'd never cooked a meal in his life, Dad even looked into the butcher shop.

Being raised by a female, I was something of a gourmet cook. In fact, I'd been known to pester our local butcher over the quality of his skirt steak. Still, there in the front window was a platter of round, softball-sized lumps that I'd never seen before. I read the sign, but had no idea what it meant. "What the heck are those?" I asked Dad.

He peered at the sign. "Rocky Mountain oysters," he said.

Mountain seafood. Just didn't make sense. "Huh?"

"They're cow testicles," he snapped. "You know, the testicles of cows."

I thought for a second, like it'd come to me in a flash of light. "I still don't know what those are."

Dad dove into the vernacular, as if a seven-year-old is really only hip to the euphemisms used by comedians on late-night TV. "You know," he said. "Your nuts. The family jewels."

I stared blankly, which confirmed Dad's suspicions. Clearly I had to know at least one of these terms, and my continued ignorance proved I was playing some kind of strange joke just to get Dad to use dirty words. He knew there was something weird about a boy who hated the park, who was immune to the charms of the Frisbee. And now, in a tiny white building with gingerbread details, all doubt was erased. I could see it in his eyes: What else was I plotting? What would I do next? Over my milk and cookies would I try to goad him into an analysis of butt sex?

"They're balls!" he shouted in defeat. "Balls balls balls!"

I was turning to the two women for another translation when finally, somehow, it hit me. "Oh," I said as the puzzle pieces slipped together in my head. "Balls."

"We wouldn't have recognized them either," Priscilla said. She and Betty laughed loud and long, turning the heads of a hundred tourists. I was lost again, but I joined in. I liked them, my two aunts. "Death to the patriarchy!" I yelled in my head, and then I called the butcher over for a quick word about his skirt steak.

Friday, June 13, 2008

With the first free concert in Prospect Park, summer has officially begun. Isaac Hayes was absolutely spectacular. Sang "Don't Let Go," "Walk On By," "Never Can Say Goodbye." Artists confuse me: did he really think we'd rather hear "Soul Man" than, say, "By the Time I Get to Phoenix"? It's like going to a Beatles concert and hearing them sing "Last Train to Clarksville." Dude had to be helped on and offstage, but he was in fine voice.

Free concerts in New York attract a certain type. For the encore, I was treated to six thousand people saying into their cellphones, all at once, "Isaac Hayes is playing 'Shaft'!" And directly behind me, of course, a guy thinking, "It's a good thing I brought my tambourine!"

Crowd going nuts.

Answering the question, "Roman, why don't you take more photos?"

Ecstatic New Yorkers brought to their feet by an extra-long "Shaft."

No Guru, No Disciple, Part Two

In the car on the way home, Michael was furious. "How could you ask him that kind of question?" he asked, aghast. "He was nice enough to agree to an interview, and then you go and quiz him on his personal life."

"Quiz him? I asked a seventy-year-old man about gay relationships. I didn't ask for photos of him fucking Don."

"Well, it's none of your business, and you didn't have the right to ask."

"Let me get this straight. We've got a writer prized for his honesty who refuses to discuss homosexuality? His religion centers on unity and oneness, but his experience in life has no bearing on our own? There's been a sexual revolution. We've had gay liberation. And the end result is we still can't talk about sex?"

"Yes," he said. "That's absolutely right."

I tried to back out of our agreement, but even I knew that'd be lame. Michael hadn't promised he'd be civil to me: he'd just agreed that I could go. I typed up the interview, Michael edited it, and then he sent it off to Mr. Isherwood for his approval. A week or so later a reply came back.

Mr. Isherwood had written up a whole new interview, with brand new questions and answers. His version talked a bit about writing but focused primarily on Vedanta. I'd written off that religion. I didn't believe in reincarnation. I didn't believe in one God, let alone vast quantities of them. I was a gay teenager who'd left home at sixteen. I'd spent most of my adolescence on the street, wondering if long-term relationships even existed. To me, and other teenagers like me, the details of an obscure Indian religion weren't foremost in my mind.

Here, however, they was explored in vast detail.

Tell us about the role Vedanta's Five Sheaths of Existences can play in illuminating the unexamined corporeal life.

I flipped through the pages in disbelief. It seemed like every question should have been asked on a hilltop and ended with "Oh Enlightened One." Neither Michael nor I could get through the thing. Maybe it would have been interesting to, say, Dick Cavett, but nobody under forty could have plowed through Isherwood's first reply.

Michael was somewhere between insulted and horrified. He'd spent weeks preparing for the interview: rereading every book, reading every interview, writing up pages of questions. And it wasn't good enough. It didn't rate praise or publication. It had to be tossed out and rewritten by the pro.

The interview was printed the way Isherwood wrote it, and Michael came through with flying colors. Since he hadn't offended the master, he was invited back, and eventually Don drew a picture of him.

Me, I learned a lesson, though it wasn't quite as profound as the ones Mr. Isherwood learns in "My Guru and His Disciple."

Even if someone assures you that their life is an open book, don't risk looking between the covers.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Oh. My. God.

Let's make this perfectly clear: the Boy Scouts are as discriminatory as the Ku Klux Klan. The only way you can justify supporting or even tolerating them is to proclaim that they also do some good.

Which, IMHO, isn't good enough.

Because where do you draw the line? Would the Nazis have been okay if they'd volunteered for Habitat for Humanity? Are anti-American terrorists okay if they help old ladies across the street? Are you really going to balance the benefits -- houses for poor folks, politeness -- against the negatives -- killing innocent people, crashing planes?

Apparently, though, we're willing to do just that. Boy Scouts: volunteerism, ethics codes, outings. Gays: probably wouldn't enjoy the camping stuff anyway, and there's so few of them around.

The Scouts have stubbornly clung to their homophobic membership rules, prompting the loss of many taxpayer-funded benefits. In response, they almost seemed to whine, "Well, then, we're taking our ball and going home!" Now that their 100th anniversary is coming up, though, they're coming back with a vengeance. They want their members back. They want their respect back. They want all that lost money back.

And as always, homosexuals need not apply.

NBC's "Deal or No Deal" was also born hypocritical. From Day One they decided it was okay to force women to dress like strippers as long as the contestants pretended they didn't notice. The man runs the show, the women stand around and look pretty.

We all pretended not to notice its offensiveness and it became America's most popular game show.

One argument the Scouts and their sympathizers use in defending their homophobia is that gay people shouldn't discuss sexuality. It has no part in scouting, and if gay people didn't bring it up it wouldn't be a problem.

And then Texas Scoutmaster Adam Hansen, accompanied by his wife, goes on the most heterosexual show on TV. There's a reason declares the models "the main attractions of the show." There's a reason the "girls" are featured prominently on websites like

This is a match made in heaven: an obnoxious, heterosexual TV program aligning with an obnoxious, heterosexual youth group. And what an advertisement last night's show was. Host Howie Mandel spouted praise for the Scouts over and over again. What ethics! What a great moral code! What a fantastic way to help our kids!

And then they'd cut to a shot of a model's boobs.

The show was full of "Huh?" moments. BSA policy says the uniform can only be for scouting activities and events. What's "Deal or No Deal," a Stripper Jamboree? Uniforms are to be respected -- unless you're hot, apparently, in which case they should be tied off just above the midriff.

In the end, Mr. Hansen took home $263,000 -- a huge win "for the boys" that was also going to buy him a new home. But his appearance made one thing perfectly clear:

Anyone who supports the Scouts -- or anyone who watches "Deal or No Deal" and quietly assents to this moral code -- deserves a merit badge in Hypocrisy.

Now there's a cowboy who rides side-saddle.

No Guru, No Disciple, Part One

Until last weekend, I'd assumed Christopher Isherwood had faded into history. At the local library, though, I saw an announcement for a panel discussion of the new film "Chris and Don: A Love Story" -- to be attended by Chris' partner of thirty-something years, Don Bachardy -- and I knew I couldn't miss it.

The event was an absolute lovefest. Chris was a brilliant writer, a generous teacher, a devoutly religious man. Sure, he picked up Don on a Santa Monica beach when the former was 48 and the latter was 18. Or was he 16? But theirs was a love story for the ages that just had to be put on film.

Chris just loved young men, filmmaker Guido Santi declared. He loved their "violent opinions." They reminded Chris of his youth. And filming couldn't have been easier. They had access to everything. Nothing was off-limits. What honesty everyone had shown!

What a pile of crap, I thought.

Many years ago I went to college to get a math degree. Between studying and working full time, I was burning the candle at both ends. To buy myself a little peace and quiet -- and to learn something that might have the slightest relevance to my life -- I signed up for a Gay Literature class. How hard could it be? I thought. Read a book, then discuss. Not exactly trying to reconstruct the proof of Fermat's second theorem.

Michael, one of my classmates, was a lead member of the clique that produced the school's gay quarterly. We weren't exactly friends -- he was a May Sarton to my John Rechy -- but one day he just casually let drop that he was going to interview Christopher Isherwood, in the way you casually mention your parents gave you a Firebird for your birthday. Being the world's biggest Isherwood fan, I went temporarily insane. I told Michael I'd do anything if I could tag along. I'd cook him dinner, I'd wash his socks, I'd type up the whole interview for him. Michael agreed to the bribe.

Bubbling with excitement, we drove out to Isherwood's house in a secluded part of Santa Monica Canyon. Mr. Isherwood, casually dressed and apparently alone, met us at the door and led us into the living room. We talked about everything under the sun, from his childhood to his writing to his adherence to Vedanta, a Hindu religion. After about an hour, I worked up the courage to ask a slightly more difficult question. About his personal life.

Now, even at this point I had issues with Isherwood. His work, while beautiful, was completely closeted. He was known as a gay writer, but his characters were sexless rather than gay. The female protagonists would bunk up with the Navy while the male lead sat in a cafe and stared out the window. I'll admit that most works of this period were similarly closeted but James Baldwin and Gore Vidal had the guts to push the boundaries a bit.

I thought it was a harmless topic. I'd had vast numbers of insignificant relationships and not a single long-term one, so I asked an old man about his. Did he think gay couples needed to follow the heterosexual model of monogamy? If so, did he think we were capable of it?

The pair shot me a horrified look, like I'd ejaculated bodily fluids onto the cashmere carpet. "Do you speak German, Chris?" Michael asked.

Mr. Isherwood said yes, and the pair started conversing in German. For two, three, four, five minutes. It's pretty clear you've done something wrong when people switch to a language you don't know. They were both clearly offended, but I thought their reaction had me beat. There are several thousand tactful ways of telling somebody they've overstepped the bounds of propriety. Talking about them in a foreign language isn't one.

They wrapped up their little conversation, bonding with a mutual distaste for my prying, and I wanted the floor to open up. I stayed quiet for the rest of the night. I'd brought along a biography of Isherwood, intending to ask him about some of it, but instead I just asked for his autograph. "You know I didn't write this, right?" he asked.

Oh great, I thought. I'm stupid now.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

SWF, 5' 7", 60 pounds

Maybe I'm sensitive, since I could stand to lose a few hundred pounds, but it seems like nearly every advertisement I see is for weight loss. Maybe these companies mean well, but I get the idea they're all just trying to make scads of money preying on our insecurities. I decided to investigate.

In the Sunday paper I saw an Ultra Slim-Fast promotion called "Picture Yourself Slimmer": you send four dollars, your full-length photo, your height, weight and the weight you'd like to be, and they'll computer-generate a photo of you at that desired weight. I sent in four bucks with the following letter:


I'm a model and I rely on Slim-Fast to keep my weight down. Though I'm pretty slim now, I'd like to see what I'd look like if I took off a few more pounds. But I don't want to get too slim!

So, here's a copy of a photo of me. Please let me see what I would look like 40 pounds thinner."

Oh, and I told them I was 5' 7", 100 pounds, and sent them a photo of Kate Moss I'd clipped out of People magazine.

When I was just about convinced they'd tossed out my application in horror I got my reply.

"Dear Consumer:

Ultra Slim-Fast would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your participation in our 'Picture Yourself Slimmer' Promotion.

America is finally getting the message: fat is out! We truly believe that diet and exercise are the keys to better living. Ultra Slim-Fast, one of America's favorite ways to lose weight, is proud to lead the way for consumers to take off the pounds without going hungry. As a result, you feel better, and you look terrific. We know it -- because consumers share with us their Ultra Slim-Fast success stories.

We hope your 'picture' proves to be a motivation for you to lose weight, and stay slim.

Please use the attached cents-off coupons, with our compliments, to enjoy great savings on delicious, nutritious Ultra Slim-Fast.

Slim-Fast Foods Company"

The computer-generated photo? Well, see for yourself. I think Kate still looks a bit heavy for a woman weighing 60 pounds. It's a shame -- she has such a cute face.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

AC/DC's next album will be sold exclusively at Wal-Mart stores in the U.S., according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

The record is said to include several live tracks targeted specifically to Wal-Mart customers, including "You Shook Me Until Nearly Eight-Thirty" and "Dirty Deeds Marked Down Fifteen Percent."

Florida's tomato industry is in "complete collapse" after raw tomatoes were linked to 145 cases of salmonella. "We probably have $40 million worth of product we can't sell," said Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange.

In fact, to show you how bad things are, millions of tomatoes have actually been left in the fields until they turned red.

Next week Christie's is auctioning the world's first phone book. The directory lists just 391 names, and includes a warning against using "profane or otherwise improper language."

This thing is so old that back when it was published "Yankee Doodle" was the #1 ringtone.

The New York City Opera has commissioned Charles Wuorinen to compose an opera based on Brokeback Mountain, the short story by Annie Proulx that became the basis for a movie that won three Academy Awards.

The opera is scheduled to premiere in spring 2013, but Wuorinen says he already completed the arias "Desidero Sapevo Como Quitter Tu" and "Jacques Twist? Jacques Nasté!"

Friday, June 6, 2008

Big Apple Barbecue Block Party

The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party is wildly publicized. Every magazine and newspaper here heralds its coming, like it's a first-rate advertisement for our fair city, proof that we're the entertainment capital of the world.

Just one problem. You'd have to be an idiot to go there, because it's an absolute nightmare.

See, of the eight million people in New York, seven million are dirt poor and desperately in search of cheap entertainment. They mark inexpensive events like this on their calendars, and race to them the minute they start.

So, picture this. Seven million people. Twelve stands hawking cheap barbecue, each manned by three or four people who are more concerned with pork burning than the crowd. You can actually see this in the center photo: on the left, a tiny umbrella shields a guy with a butcher knife who cutting small parts off a pig. And on the right, nine thousand people in line who've waited four hours and are so famished they're about to grab that knife and start carving themselves.

Now, the barbecue organizers aren't total idiots. After they were overwhelmed the first year, they realized something had to be done. For Year Two, then, they sold a Fast Pass. Buy a prepaid hundred-dollar gift card, they declared, and you won't have to wait in those crazy lines.

Anyone with half a brain will realize this doesn't make sense. They need more cooks. They need more servers. They should hand out wristbands to the people in line, because it's easier to get tickets to a Madonna concert than to get a pulled-pork sandwich here. Instead, they create another line for rich people who get served before the regular folks. Just before that platter of pig is served up to the first person in the Poor Dude line, a well-dressed man will casually saunter up, hand over his pass, and take it.

Nobody in the regular line gets served until all the rich people are fed. And at three o'clock, when they finally run out of food due to "unforeseen popularity," they turn off the fires and close up.

The first guy in line -- beet red from all that time in the sun -- stares in disbelief. "Can I get an order of ribs?" he asks.

"Sorry," the chef declares as he fires up his Ford F10. "All the millionaires ate them. Catch you all next year!"

Repeat Friday: Bush vs. Putin: Who's the Man?

Holy Jesus, a political figure takes off his shirt and suddenly the whole world goes crazy.

Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, recently went on vacation to Siberia, and he went fishing with Prince Albert of Monaco. Maybe he got wet, or maybe he was just enjoying the sunshine, but for whatever reason he decided to doff his shirt.

And the entire world went nuts.

All of Russia is now in a tumult, a hundred forty-one million people in a state of shock. Women and girls are literally tearing their hair out after witnessing the brawny muscularity of the man in charge. Pravda, the country's leading newspaper, is printing photos Playgirl would reject as dicey, and fans of beefcake are stampeding news racks for glimpses of more exposed Putin flesh.

Now, some might say this reflects badly on our own president, who refuses to show any skin. Maybe he's shy; maybe he's got an "I Love Jeff Gannon" tattoo he doesn't want to bare to the world. Either way, I say to hell with them! Anybody can bench press. Anybody can do some dumbbell curls. But I hereby throw down a challenge to the Russians:

How does their man look in a dress?

Russia Goes Nuts Over Shirtless Putin

Thursday, June 5, 2008

I have very few goals in life. To get the pit stains out of my 2(x)ist t-shirts, to separate my giant bag of batteries into Still Useful or Dead; to get David Sedaris to autograph my first edition of Barrel Fever. He's in town to promote his new book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, so I get to the bookstore eighteen hours early to snag a seat in the very first row.

I sit and read for maybe twelve hours. I'm next to the Pet Care section, and unwilling to stray more than five feet from my chair, I can now safely deworm a Shih Tzu. The place is just about full, and a Barnes & Noble employee takes the stage to explain the rules. No flash photos, since eight thousand going off at once can permanently blind somebody. For autographs, they'll take one row at a time, starting with the front. Mr. Sedaris will sign just about anything except drawings we've done of him.

This hits me like an arrow to the heart. Here I've assumed I'm his biggest fan, buying Barrel Fever the second it hit the stores. I've never tried to draw him, though. I thought his crinkly eyes and cautious nose were simply uncapturable.

I continue reading -- did you know that every morning you have to clear the glands of boxers, squeezing their buttocks like Spanish limes? -- and she takes the stage again. "David's turned up early," she declares. "He's going to start signing things now." We all shriek with delight as he takes his seat behind the desk and she heads to the front row.

She asks the first person who he wants the book dedicated to. "Lurene," he replies. She writes it in big letters on a Post-It, sticks it on the title page, and sends him up to get the autograph. She moves down the row, repeating this at every seat, and by the time she gets to me she's written names on thirteen Post-Its. Mike, Kevin, Walter, Shoshanna. "Who do you want this dedicated to?" she asks me.

I've never understood this. Why would somebody want an author to personally address them in a book? He isn't giving it to them. He didn't sit there while he was writing and think, "You know, Lurene's really going to love this book. It seems pretty stupid, and even close to pitiful to pretend that you and the author are on a first-name basis. "Actually," I say, "could I get him to write something funny in it?"

She glares at me, like I've run into Gordon Ramsay on a street corner and asked him to whip me up Steak Diane. "You know, he's a writer," I say. "He should be able to come up with something."

"Why don't you think of something and he'll write it?"

"I don't want to put words in his mouth."

We stare at each other for five or ten minutes before I snap. "Okay, how about this," I say. "'Every story a classic.'" She scowls like she's swallowed a bad clam. "You know, it's kind of flattering," I continue. "I'm not asking him to write, 'I get sailors drunk and then suck on their jockstraps.' And it's only four freakin' words."

Reluctantly she writes it on a Post-It and sends me up to the stage. Mr. Sedaris sees the Post-It and I immediately backtrack. "I just wanted you to write something funny," I say.

He smiles. "Do you mind if I edit it?" he asks. I say that's fine. And as he signs it, I think, you know, I'll bet I could capture those eyes.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Repeat Wednesday: Once in a Cordon-Bleu Moon

Eating dinner in New York makes “Fear Factor” look like a church picnic. Some years ago, the residents got bored with real food and demanded the restauranteurs offer ultra-rare flora and fauna that no one had ever considered eating. Now they smugly declare themselves a culinary capital, standing in sharp contrast to the rest of the world.

Mid-America’s favorite foods come from:

(a) the freezer
(b) a bucket with the Colonel’s picture on it
(c) Olive Garden
(c) the Little Debbie display near the supermarket checkout

But a New Yorker’s favorite food is

(a) deadly unless cleaned by a licensed chef
(b) aged, uncooked meat, smuggled in through Customs
(c) found inside a sick goose
(d) dug up by a pig.

Now, we’ve got all the obligatory fast-food restaurants here, so this weirdness doesn’t affect those of us with normal appetites. But the Chelsea McDonalds isn’t a place to take a date, even if it does have a piano bar. I was seeing a guy named Anthony, though we had yet to do anything physical, and I figured I’d need to really impress him to leap over that hurdle. The city’s most expensive Mexican restaurant should do it, I convinced myself.

And today, the waiter confirmed, was our lucky day.

“We have something very special to offer you. Our chef recently returned from an excursion to Oaxaca with several ounces of huitlacoche. It is a rare, elusive fungus that grows solely in August on the south sides of mature corn stalks. As the kernels are infected, they grow large and puffy, turning gray to black as they fill with spores. It’s a rare treat, and was considered a delicacy by the Maya. The chef adds it to fire-roasted tomatoes and a fine julienne of papaya, enrobes it in a dried corn husk, then steams it especially for you.”

At this point I start thinking, buddy, you’ve got the wrong guy. You’ve got me confused with Mario Batali, or maybe Truman Capote. In fact, I’ve been scanning the menu looking for one of those frozen burritos you find at the grocery store priced at seven for a dollar. Yup, I know it works out to twelve cents a pound, and I know full well that neither meat nor potatoes nor corn costs twelve cents a pound, so obviously a brick-shaped amalgam of them shouldn’t cost less. But do I care? Nah. It’s just food. I’ll like it even if it wasn’t dug up by a pig.

Anthony, on the other hand, lights up like a chandelier. He acts like Alec Baldwin just jumped in his lap and started rotating slowly. “That sounds incredible,” he says. “I have got to have that.”

What? I thought, shaking my head like a soggy dog. Which part of “infected,” “spores” or “fungus” sounds best? I mean, if my date is going to eat diseased corn, why did I just spent the last three hours disguising a cold sore on my lip?

Unfortunately, dinner was the highlight of the evening. Saying good night at his door, Anthony looked considerably less happy than when he was eating. He shook my hand, said he’d had a nice time, and that was that. I told my friend Steve about it later, and he knew exactly what was going on. “See, average isn’t good enough for New Yorkers. If it was, we’d still be living in Boise and wearing Keds. This guy doesn’t like average, and Roman, you’re about as average as they get.”

Some people might take this as an insult, but some people don’t think Kenny Rogers makes the world’s best rotisserie chicken. “So how do I make myself look special?”

“Marketing,” Steve says. “Take Gucci, for instance. If you could just walk into any store and buy one of their handbags, nobody would pay that kind of cash. So they make a few a day, hand them out to celebrities, and tell the press they’re sold out. Everybody knows it’s just marketing hype, but it works anyway. People get into fistfights over the stuff.”

Hmm. That was mighty tempting. I mean, I couldn’t get people to fight over me if I had Al Sharpton perched atop my head. “So I should make myself scarce,” I say, to an enthusiastic nod. “Maybe stop answering the phone, make up nonexistent previous engagements, send myself flowers?”

Steve nods, and I shake my head sadly. “You know,” I say, “that advice was stupid when I read it ten years ago, in Cosmopolitan.

Naturally Steve got angry, though only a real friend will tell you when your advice is crap. Still, the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. New Yorkers have to make a big deal out of everything. It’s not enough just to eat something: you want to eat something that’s nearly extinct, that’s prepared by an eccentric band of monks, that’s scraped at 4:24 in the morning from the teeth of sleeping hyenas. I mean, how else do you explain truffles? If they grew on trees they wouldn’t be on the menu of every restaurant here, from Le Bernadin to Taco Shack. But pigs find them underground in a small part of the south of France, only a couple months out of the year. Needless to say, most New Yorkers want them in everything, from their toothpaste to their zit creams.

It was like pulling teeth getting Anthony to go out with me again. First he said he was busy, then he wasn’t feeling well, then he had friends coming in from out of town. After a month of bargaining with his answering machine, I finally wore him down. I promised him tickets to a sold-out Broadway show, and dinner at a restaurant that had an unlisted phone number.

The night went by quickly, though the conversation didn’t exactly flow. When we got back to his place he looked at me like I was cauliflower in a world of chocolate cake. Yup, I thought -- it’s coming. The “we’re not right for each other” speech.

“Can I come inside?” I asked. What can I tell you? I’m an optimist.

He shook his head. “I’ve got to get up early tomorrow.” He unlocked his door, stepped in, and turned. “Roman,” he announced, “this isn’t working for me. I think we should call it quits.”

I gave him the big-eyed, pleading stare of a Keane waif painting, but he was resolute, and started to close the door in my face. Wait, I thought -- I can still save it. Think rare. Think elusive. Something I’ve got that’s one in a million.

“You don’t know what you’re missing, bud,” I called seconds before the door shut completely. “This is the first hard-on I’ve had since Christmas!”

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

From Joe.My.God:

[Scott] McClelland was reportedly paid $75,000 for his tome. A White House staffer referenced the Bible (*gasp*) in response by telling the media, "Ironically, in today's dollars that amount is worth exactly 30 pieces of silver."

According to Wiki and a Christian website, 30 pieces of silver was what a "common laborer" would have earned for working between 113 and 120 days.

Assuming this laborer pulls down a yearly salary of $50,000 today -- he lives in New York -- it's somewhere between $15,500 and $16,500.

So, memo to Bush's staffers: This is what happens when your mom dropped out of ninth grade and you were home-schooled.

Heather Has a Mommy and a Daddy, Part Two

One night there’s a dance at Heather’s school and her parents offer to chaperone. While Heather’s dancing with Danitra she sees from the corner of her eye her mom and dad moving onto the dance floor. She watches in horror as her mom just sort of stands there swaying, her gingham granny dress limply hanging to the floor. She grimaces as her dad starts chopping at the air like Jackie Chan being attacked by locusts.

Occasionally their movements coincide with the beat. Heather runs to the bathroom crying.

“Heather, don’t feel so bad,” Danitra says. “Lots of kids have embarrassing parents.” She starts to lead Heather out of the bathroom, then stops. “Um, maybe we should stay in here a while longer. They just started doing the Bump.”

One day the class projects are due. Heather brings in the model she’s made. It’s a lump of brown Play-Doh with ketchup poured over it and dotted with marshmellows stuck on with toothpicks. She sets it on the table as her teacher comes over to look.

“Why, Heather! That’s . . . nice! Very very nice!”

“What the hell is it?” Tommy asks.

“TOMMY! Heather’s parents had me over for dinner once. This is what they call ‘Salisbury steak.’”

Heather bursts into tears. “NO IT’S NOT! It’s a VOLCANO! That’s lava, and that’s steam coming out.”

Mrs. Weinberg-Lopez comforts Heather. Danitra enters and places her project next to Heather’s on the table.

“Why, Danitra, what’s this?”

Danitra delicately removes the sheet protecting her project.


Heather takes one look at the tiny replica of Louis XIV’s summer home, constructed by Danitra and her two dads out of two hundred cubic yards of teak plank, thirty square feet of gold leaf, sixty pounds of Italian travertine marble from the same quarry Michelangelo used, tiny topiary and functional miniature fountains, and cries even harder.

“Why did I have to have a mom and a dad?” Heather sobs. “Why can’t my family be like all the rest?”

Mrs. Weinberg-Lopez pulls Heather close. “Children,” she says,”every family is special, including those conforming to the rigid, stereotypical standard of male domination.” She starts to tell the class about her own family, including her hearing-impaired Hispanic mother, her height-challenged Israeli father, and her Gypsy recovering-substance-abusing brother-in-law and Armenian sex-addict half-sister, but stops, realizing the school year is only 4,074 hours long.

“Just because Heather’s parents are heterosexual doesn’t mean they’re slow-witted philistines, though there are strong correlations you don’t need a PhD in statistics to understand. But Heather is lucky to have a sweet mom and a wonderful dad and a dog named Molly and a hamster named Samson, and they all live together in a lovely house. They’ve got interesting avocado-colored appliances, carpet as long as your hair, and furniture that‘s by-and-large wood that must have taken them hours to assemble. There’s a big plastic sofa that turns into a bed, and a La-Z-Boy -- ”

“A what?” Keanu asks.

“A La-Z-Boy,” Mrs. Weinberg-Lopez repeats. “It’s a big vinyl chair that reclines.”

“Oh, man!” exclaims Keanu, covering his face with his hands. “And I thought our Herman Miller reproductions were embarrassing!”

Mrs. Weinberg-Lopez continues. “But the important thing is, they’re a family. They’re a group united for a common purpose, where each individual is given a sense of empowerment and their shared bonds are formalized in a ritualistic manner.”

“Oh,” the students respond in unison.

Everybody hugs.


If you enjoyed this story about Heather, ask your local bookseller for these titles:

“Heather’s Mom is Narcoleptic”
“Heather’s Dad Has Epstein-Barr”
“Heather’s Sister’s Problem Still Puzzles Specialists”
and the latest,
“It’s No Picnic Being Related to Heather”

Monday, June 2, 2008

He's lucky. Mine just exudes a melancholic wistfulness.

Heather Has a Mommy and a Daddy, Part One

I don't believe this. Apparently it's so fashionable to be gay, there are support books for children who have heterosexual parents.

Heather Has a Mommy and a Daddy

Deep in the heart of Dullsville, at the end of a cul-de-sac, behind a lawn of scratchy brown grass dotted with giant plastic butterflies, three flaking cement deer, and a philodendron the size of Bob Hoskins though with fewer decorative parts, lives Heather Thompson.

Heather has a mommy and a daddy. Heather’s daddy is an accountant. Her mommy is a homemaker. Before Heather was born they met, fell in love, and got married.

“I love you very much and I’m having your child,” Heather’s mom said.

Danitra is Heather’s best friend. One of Danitra’s dads is an empowerment facilitator. The other is an aura consultant. Danitra doesn’t know what they do at work, except they don’t need briefcases. Before Danitra was born her daddies met and fell in love, and after seventeen years spent discussing caring and support, handling acceptance, and negotiating intimacy, they had a commitment ceremony.

“I love you very much and I’m designing the rings,” Danitra’s Daddy Mike said.

One day in school Heather’s teacher, Mrs. Weinberg-Lopez, tells the class to draw pictures of their families.

Danitra draws two men, Julio draws two women, and Heather draws a man and a woman.

Keanu points at the woman Heather drew, with squiggly yellow hair, a crude red dress and simple brown shoes. “This dad here’s got some ugly drag going on,” he says.

At lunchtime Danitra sits on the bench next to Heather and pulls a sandwich out of a brown paper bag.

“Want to trade?” Danitra asks. “I’ve got grilled eggplant and goat cheese on marjoram foccacia.”

“Um, I didn’t bring lunch,” Heather stammers, kicking her brown paper bag out of sight. “I’m . . . uh . . . on a diet.”

“Diet?” Danitra asks. “Haven’t your dads told you not to buy into that patriarchal looks-based chauvinism? And anyway, what’s this then?” she asks, holding up the bag with “HAVE A SUPER DAY!” written in sparkle marker on it.

Julio, who was listening nearby, runs up and grabs Heather’s lunch. “Yeah, what’s this? It’s somebody’s lunch!”

Heather jumps at the bag but Julio holds it out of reach. “You give that back!” Heather yells.

“Try and make me!” Julio chides. He pulls Heather’s sandwich apart and drops it like it was electrified. He wobbles away, holding his stomach.

“Oh my God!” he cries. “There’s like dead stuff in there!”

Danitra looks at the sandwich lying on the cement. “Is that MEAT? Is that like SPAM?”

Claudia, sitting quietly at the other end of the bench, bursts into tears. “Heather’s eating BAMBI!”

“It’s friggin’ Wonder Bread!” Julio scoffs.

Keanu walks toward the bread and peers at it. “And it’s got LUBE all over it!”

“You idiot, that’s MAYONNAISE.”

“What’s mayonnaise?”

“It’s like goat cheese for heterosexuals.”

“Heterosexuals?” Keanu asks. “Heather’s mommy and daddy are heterosexuals?”

Heather starts to yell. “No! I don’t have a mommy and a daddy. I’ve got two daddies!”

“Hell-OOOO!” Danitra says, drawing the word out to twelve syllables. “We can see your clothes!”

“Um . . . “ Heather stalls, “then I’ve got two mommies.”

“And we’ve seen you play baseball,” Julio answers.

Heather, unable to think of a response, sits on the bench and starts to cry. Danitra pulls a robin’s egg blue bandana from her pocket and dabs at Heather’s face.

“Maybe your mom’s not really a woman,” Danitra offers.

“Well,” Heather says, sniffing, “she cleans the house, and cooks, and does the laundry.”

Danitra fumes. “We’re trying to establish that she’s female, not that she’s an idiot.

“Maybe your dad’s not really a man,” Julio suggests.

“Well,” Heather answers, wiping her nose. “He’s big and strong and he’s got a moustache.”

Several of the children wonder what this proves but nobody says anything.

“So let’s say you’ve got a mom and a dad,” Keanu says. “Then where did you come from?”

Heather thinks for a minute. “They went to bed together, and then I was born.” Some of her friends express further interest, but Heather doesn’t have a brochure. “Daddy put his thing in mommy -- “

“Oh, man,” Keanu interjects. “Is that legal?”

“HelLLLLO!” sings Danitra, who gets the word up to eighteen syllables this time. “We’re in CaliFORnia!”

“And nine months later I came out of my mommy’s tummy,” Heather adds.

Several of the children wonder why they didn’t hire a surrogate with a vagina but nobody says anything.