aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Friday, April 13, 2007
Airstream: travel without ever leaving home
The Times looks at classic Airstream trailers this weekend. And the man, Wally Byam, who dreamed them up. Wally envisioned a self-propelled land yacht, with “a motorized portion that would detach from the mothership, like a dinghy.” But he traveled around with his trailer:
Byam pledged in his book “Trailer Travel Here and Abroad,” to “lead caravans wherever the four winds blow...to the traveled and untraveled corners of the earth.”
With his wife, Stella, and their dogs Penny and Chica, Byam led caravans that traversed the Oregon Trail, South America and Europe. The most ambitious trip went from Cape Town to Cairo. Along the way, he met a witch doctor in Uganda and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.
The journey culminated in the encampment in the famed wagon wheel circle of a vast fleet of Airstreams in the shadow of the Great Pyramid of Giza, like a congregation of silvery metal worshippers.
Family had one - not the trailer, the “land yacht” - the biggest one they had. It was an absolute hoot! Once we got stuck in traffic at the Bear Mountain bridge, so pulled over and made a wonderful dinner. While we ate, three cars stopped and asked to use the bathroom. By the time we were through the traffic had cleared.
But in the end, this I know to absolutely be true:
The iconic successor of the Conestoga wagon and the prairie schooner, the yacht and the private Pullman car, the Airstream can be seen as a symbol of the best and worst qualities of traveling Americans: the willingness to go anywhere tempered by the simultaneous wish never to leave home.
TV news is a big lie!
TV lies to us all the time and it bugs me big time! Jon Stewart’s in-studio green-screen location correspondents underscore it every night on Comedy Central: TV works to imply that it’s live and on the scene when typically it’s there long after the fact and rolling in previously recorded footage to imply that it’s still there - give us that live feel - when it emphatically is not.
Today Timothy Noah looks at the deeper fakery of Katie Couric:
I’m hardly the first to point out the risible irony in CBS News firing Web producer Melissa McNamara for passing off as her own work a commentary she ghosted for Katie Couric that borrowed extensively from a March 15 Wall Street Journal column by Jeffrey Zaslow. From a strictly narrow perspective, of course, CBS was justified in firing McNamara. The network paid her to write original essays for Katie Couric to read in video and audio clips made available on its Web site and to CBS-owned radio stations. McNamara deceived CBS by plagiarizing the Journal. But CBS News wronged visitors to its Web site by inviting them to think that the opinions Couric expressed in these commentaries were her own. It’s no special knock on Couric; before Couric, Dan Rather regularly recited commentaries on the radio that were written by others, and Walter Cronkite did the same before him.
The deception was a little more conspicuous in this instance, at least retrospectively, because it began with a personal memory: “I still remember when I first got my library card.” That sentence was not lifted from the Zaslow column, but it’s actually more fake than anything else in the commentary because it purports to be a personal recollection. In fact, however, it is McNamara remembering on Couric’s behalf the time she toddled up to the library, filled out a form, and was handed her very own library card.
I’m a Couric fan. She’s only playing by the rules. Problem is, the rules should change and Couric
could should lead the way. Read the whole piece.
1983 Fierstein: on Torch Song, Letterman & La Cage
Our office was in the turreted northwest tower of the municipal building and we came out of WNYC (TV, sold off by Rudy Giuliani in 1997). It was great fun. I so wanted a gay network then, and confidently foresaw the day that it would come about.
Alas, now that it’s here (and it is here on my rural Georgia cable system, though I don’t subscribe) I’ve stopped wanting it.
In fact, in 1983 I talked with one of Torch Song’s producers, John Glines, about starting the gay network I envisioned (he wasn’t interested, theater was his thing). And today we’ve got two and I still don’t want one. And still don’t subscribe. But with word of Harvey’s new show I went digging up in the attic. And this is what I came down with:
1982: NY Times Torch Song Trilogy theater review.
For old times’ sake, from the New York Times review of Torch Song Trilogy, July 14, 1982:
CERTAINLY it is one of the most daring and anomalous plays to ever move to Broadway. A four-hour drama in three parts, Harvey Fierstein’s ‘’Torch Song Trilogy’’ recounts the story of Arnold Beckoff, a nice Jewish boy of ‘’great wit and want,’’ who also happens to be an avowed homosexual and a transvestite who makes his living by appearing on stage. [...]
Only a short time ago, of course, ‘’Torch Song Trilogy’’ itself would have been cause for shock on the part of some Broadway theatergoers. Although Mr. Fierstein says that he modulates his performance in response to audience reaction - he can let the seduction scene run anywhere from 4 to 10 minutes - the text of the play possesses a willful candor that makes such older plays as ‘’Tea and Sympathy’’ and ‘’The Boys in the Band’’ seem cautious and condescending.
Indeed, it is only in recent years that playwrights and authors have been able to deal openly with homosexual themes; in the past, such subjects were couched in metaphors and allusions, and characters who deviated from accepted norms of sexual propriety usually underwent conversion, died or were condemned to lasting unhappiness.
The homosexual was popularly portrayed as an effeminate clown, a corrupter of youth or an out-and-out villain. Given this history, ‘’Torch Song’’ clearly represents a radical achievement, although Mr. Fierstein makes it clear that he did not write the play with a polemical intent. He believes, in fact, that the anger that animates so many plays with homosexual themes frequently tends to be unfocused and that that ‘’anger is not going to open anyone’s heart up.’’
As for ‘’Torch Song,’’ its success is doubtless based on the fact that, at heart, it is not concerned with homosexuality or minority group rights, but with more universal matters such as the relationship between mothers and sons and the flowering of narcissism into love and familial bonds.
‘’You go from seeing Arnold as a drag performer to seeing the human being behind the mask,’’ Mr. Fierstein says. ‘’By the end, you’re rooting for him because, really, everyone wants what Arnold wants - an apartment they can afford, a job they don’t hate too much, a chance to go to the store once in a while and someone to share it all with. Who hasn’t been waiting for the telephone to ring, who hasn’t had that particular moment when they realize the difference between sex and love, who hasn’t tried to be more grown up than they are? If the play does one thing, it should make people feel less alone, make them feel less like they’re the only ones who have ever been hurt.’’
A romantic and idealist, Arnold tends to hide his vulnerability beneath a stream of witty epigrams and caustic jokes, and Mr. Fierstein observes that his humor emerges from the singular perspective that homosexuals have vis-a-vis the dominant society.’’The gay child has to examine the entire world to see how he doesn’t fit in,’’ he says. ‘’And once he’s placed himself in that hostile world, he’s achieved the gay sensibility. It’s a humor based on seeing the opposite -which is also very Jewish. It’s like my saying that I perceive every human being to be gay until I’m told otherwise. It’s seeing everything in the other world as funny because it’s all upside down.’’ Inspired by Real-Life Experiences
Although Mr. Fierstein says that he is neither as forgiving nor as understanding as Arnold, he acknowledges that the play was inspired by experiences in his own life. Like Arnold, he had a lover who left him to get married. Like Arnold, he used to fantasize about adopting a child. Like Arnold, he has had friends killed and beaten up. And like Arnold, he has a close relationship with his widowed mother. In the case of Mr. Fierstein’s family, however, the revelation of his homosexuality caused considerably less acrimony than in the play.
‘’A good parent,’’ he says, ‘’is going to look at a gay child and think, ‘Oh, he’s going to take that road,’ as though just getting along day by day isn’t hard enough. Being homosexual is not like being a Rockefeller; it does not get you a table at Sardi’s or tickets at Madison Square Garden - it gets you ridiculed. But we were brought up with the feeling that the family unit was everything, and something as minuscule as my being gay was not going to disrupt that.’’
Seeing no reason to conceal his sexual preference - ‘’why have the extra burden of carrying around a terrible secret’’ - Mr. Fierstein began performing as a transvestite at a Lower East Side club while he was still a teen-ager. He weighed 270 pounds at the time and specialized in impersonating Ethel Merman.
‘’It was during the days when the underground still really meant something,’’ he recalls. ‘’There was a sort of raunchy chic to it all. But I was living very much of a triple life: I had my night life there, I was living at home with my parents in Bensonhurst, and like my mother says, ‘Remember to say you were going to school full-time too.’ ‘’
The drag-club appearances led to a theatrical debut in Andy Warhol’s ‘’Pork’’ at La Mama in 1971, and by 1973 Mr. Fierstein had turned from acting to playwriting. His first two plays, like ‘’Torch Song,’’ drew on the homosexual milieu - one of them served as a comment on the Continental Baths, and ‘’Flatbush Tosca’’ turned the famous diva into a transvestite - but the playwright’s next project, ‘’Spookhouse,’’ is less parochial in theme. According to Mr. Fierstein, it concerns a Coney Island family whose lives are fragmented by the well-meaning efforts of a social worker. He is also working on a play for the Public Broadcasting Service, and is thinking of adapting ‘’Torch Song’’ as a film.
For the time being, though, Mr. Fierstein is appearing every night on stage as Arnold - an exhausting role that keeps him on stage almost continually during the play’s four hours. ‘’I’m tired, very tired,’’ he says, ‘’but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. If ‘Torch Song’ were done in the 50’s, it would have played in a little cafe, and that would have been it - an artist can create his own world, but he can’t remake the world. So it’s very gratifying in that a breakthrough has at last been made; there’s at last a real live, outof-the-closet queer on Broadway. But for me, it doesn’t really matter where I work - as long as I work somewhere.’’
SEE ALSO: Excerpts from a June 23, 1983 NYTimes profile, Harvey Fierstein’s Long Journey to the Tony and Beyond. And Torch Song a 1983 dressing room interview with Harvey
Harvey Fierstein in A Catered Affair
Last week my friend Sam sent me the Inside Theater column from the Manhattan Users Guide with word of a new show from Harvey Fierstein:
BROADWAY BOYS CLUB: Straight couples have long produced shows together—the aforementioned Weisslers, Alex and Hildy Cohen ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬” so why not The Gays? Scott Rudin, lead producer of the Broadway hit The Year of Magical Thinking has brought on his partner John Barlow, co-owner of one of B’way’s biggest PR firms, as an Executive Producer on the show. And Richie Jackson, formerly a talent agent, join his partner Jordan Roth (VP at Jujamcyn) to produce the new Harvey Fierstein-John Bucchino musical based on Paddy Chayefsky’s A Catered Affair, with an out-of-town tryout scheduled for the fall at San Diego’s Old Globe.
A musical about the wedding plans of a Bronx family in 1953 sounds like a hoot. It opens in San Diego at The Old Globe in September.