Saturday, June 6, 2015

Lammies, Brooklyn and Broadway

My trip to New York City last week included surprising pastoral and cultural parts of Brooklyn, a fun bar hop, a brilliant Broadway show, a Philadelphia group reading, and culminated in the 27th annual Lambda Literary Awards.

My first day proved surprisingly botanical with a long stroll through scenic Prospect Park. I enjoyed Frederick Law Olmsted's other masterpiece, Central Park, on my last NYC visit in 2012.

Prospect Park is of course much smaller, but retains that balance of natural and tarted up landscaping. Open fields echoed with the joyful screeches of packs of school children at recess, and a lone reader under a huge elm (or oak?) proved the tranquility of the park.

Prospect Park serenity
I couldn't help but think about my fictional character Reid Conniff, who spends a good deal of Every Time I Think of You and its sequel Message of Love working in parks or studying plants. Thus the two book covers that sort of resemble field guides to plants.

Of course, my own modern curiosity about plants and trees could have been solved with a few apps, including Leaf Snap and Plant Net. The phone apps let you take a photo of a plant or tree leaf and it identifies the species.

Plants of all types were identified by small nameplates throughout the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, which are adjacent to the western edge of Prospect Park. This highly manicured park includes a rose garden, Japanese mini-lake and landscaping that's beautiful.

Prospect Park swans
The enclosed displays of tropical, desert and other climates were amusing and fascinating. Huge fronds, Venus Fly Traps, and even a display of ornate bonzai trees showcased the floral diversity of our planet.

Brooklyn Botanical Gardens
Up next, and a handy neighbor to the parks, was the Brooklyn Museum. I'd only been there once in my New York days, and the updated eclectic exhibits were fascinating. Plus, you can take all the photos you want!

Also, the museum isn't as crowded as Manhattan venues, and I often had many minutes alone in a room. I got to contemplate the beauty of several classic works, and discover new ones as well.

a Chagall at the Brooklyn Museum
Modern exhibits included an expansive exhibit of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, another focusing on South African photographer Zanele Muholi's documentation of LGBT lives, including a glamorous butch lesbian wedding. Even Judy Chicago's impressive classic The Dinner Party took my breath away.

Book of the Dead scrolls
John Koch's the Sculptor
The Egyptian rooms were deliciously spooky, with sarcophigi, statues, and more, and included a thousands of years old scroll of The Book of the Dead! My favorite had to be the serene and spacious arrangement of paintings around the big atrium (closed but observable).

One of my favorite surprises was seeing the large homoerotic lesser known classic, gay painter John Koch's The Sculptor. Along with a Henri Fantin-Letour and a few Monet's, another favorite was Sanford Biggers' "Blossom," a playing piano with a tree growing out of it.

And I also discovered a long time favorite, a smaller version of Antoine Bourdelle's Archer hidden away in the glass cases of the fascinating Visible Storage Room, where works not on display are, well, still on display in glass cases.

Nowhere Bar pals
Party Time
Friday night included dinner at Elmo with friend Adam B., who's a New York native and former San Franciscan. It was great to catch up, and the food was delish. A post-dinner text lured us to the East Village for Witch Camp at Nowhere Bar, where we hung out with SFers Ken White and Marc Freeman, and former SFer-now New York singing sensation Justin Vivian Bond. I even got a surprise smooch from a cute young Swiss hunk!

Don't mess with Papaya Dog!
Unlike my 80s and 90s days, 14th Street was alive with partying people in the warm night. Our late night dining at the nearby Papaya Dog was interrupted when some drunk guy got into an argument with the staff. He exited then came back hurl a trash can! Three staffers swiftly emerged from behind the counter armed with baseball bats to chase him off! So New York.

Curtain Up
Mickey & Minnie (who got in a fight)
After a relaxing morning and afternoon perusing my host's thousands of books, and a bit of grocery shopping in Park Slope, on Saturday, Broadway beckoned with a brilliant array of current shows, many of them Tony winners or nominees. Kinky Boots, Chita Rivera's The Visit, On the Town, and Alison Bechtel's Fun Home were tempting. But I had one ultimate favorite that stood out.

Times Square itself gave me a sudden case of the icks as I emerged from the 42nd Street subway. I snapped a few photos, photo-bombed a group snap session with the Naked Cowboy (who isn't naked), then diverted my path from the tourist hordes around the Hard Rock Cafe. Even when I lived in New York City, the area was not a place I often visited. Although more pedestrian-friendly with its central parklet, the entire area was too crowded. I did get a snap of Mickey Mouse and Minnie, who only days later was arrested for brawling with a Hello Kitty character.

Darren Criss in Hedwig
Heading east to the Belasco, I finally arrived for Hedwig and the Angry Inch, currently starring the adorable Darren Criss. I took pictures in front of the huge double-door poster of Criss' glammed-up eyes (captivating even without make-up), and shot pics for other fans.

The Tony-winning Broadway revival of John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask's transgender rock musical is a favorite among LGBT fans, and deservedly so. Adding Criss as the star in this edition only made it more fun. With contemporary inside-Broadway jokes, and a few Criss-specific one-liners, he embodied the role and obviously had fun. Near front-row audience members like myself got an up-close view of his antics, including spits of bottled water, a lap dance and some bawdy face-licking. The woman whom he slurped that night may never recover!

Darren Criss signs Playbills
Waiting a short while with fans outside, Criss and his costar Rebecca Naomi Jones signed my show poster, along with those of many fans, including a few wheelchair-using patrons (Amazing that one of those old theatres is accessible).

I got a half-minute of chat time with Criss, mentioning how much I enjoyed his Fillmore band show last year. Although an admitted super-fan, I wasn't as obsessed as the lovely pair of young women standing next to me. They'd trekked all the way from Ottawa to see the show on four successive nights!

Philadelphia Freedom
Kelly McQuain, Matthew Hittinger, Paul Lisicky, Dean Kostos, Jim Provenzano
Sunday included a fun drive with my host, author John Weir, to and from Philadelphia, which was a great relief, considering the transportation risked of derailing Amtrak trans and exploding Bolt buses.

After a bit of strolling around the gayborhood of Center City, and a brunch where we surprisingly met and dined with author Mark Merlis and his husband, Five for Philly, the group reading I organized at Philly AIDS Thrift at Giovanni's Room commenced. Poets Kelly McQuain, Dean Costos, and Matthew Hittinger read selections, as did myself and author Paul Lisicky.

Tom Mendicino, Philip F. Clark, John Weir
The audience included literary notables Jim Cory, Philip F. Clark, Tom Mendicino, Weir and Merlis, making for a fun event on a hot Philly day. Drinks and dinner afterwards with Weir, McQuain and his partner John was delicious. Several of these guys were quite helpful in shaping the historical and personal aspects of Message of Love. There's even a scene at the bookstore 30 years ago. I didn't read that passage because I forgot to note its place! Should have ended on the sung bit in an earlier chapter. Always end with a song.

Lammy, Lammy, fo Fanny
Jerry Wheeler, Jim Provenzano, Philip F. Clark
Finally, the most important reason for my visit, the 27th annual Lambda Literary Awards were held June 1 in the historic Cooper Union. After a rainy trek through the East Village, and a lunch at Odessa Cafe with Weir, Query Books' Ken Smith and my former OutWeek colleague Andrew Miller, I adjusted my tie and prepared for the big show.

Returning to the imposing Cooper Union brought a flood of memories. The last time I'd been inside the building was at the early 1990s meetings of ACT UP. So many years ago, and so many lives lost since then. The reception included chats with Michelangelo Signorile, my co-finalist Lloyd Meeker, prolific editor-author Jerry Wheeler, and many others.

Gloria Steinem and Alan Cumming
So, with announcements, awards and speeches, it was fun to return and see multiple projections of my book, Message of Love, on the screens. But frankly, I didn't think I was going to win this year. The Companion by Lloyd A. Meeker was a strong contender in Gay Romance, but my secret choice, Salvation: A Novel of the Civil War by Jeff Mann, won. Mann was glamorously in England and unable to accept the award in person.

Two authors from the San Francisco finalist reading at the SF Public Library back in April did win, however. Katie Gilmartin's Blackmail, My Love (Gay Mystery) and Abdi Nazemian's The Walk-In Closet (LGBT Debut Fiction) took honors, as did many others that I've read or heard were exceptional.

Michelangelo Signorile and Janet Mock
The event was also full of celebrity presenters and honorees. I sat behind Rita Mae Brown, across the aisle from Kevin Sessums, near Alan Cumming, and just a row away from John Waters! I chatted with Edmund White (who humbly predicted that his book would not win; he proved right).

The after-party down in SoHo at the Scholastic Books rooftop greenhouse provided time to mingle with Ron Suresha and many new acquaintances, each a literary veteran or newbie. What energized me most at the awards was the enthusiasm the young writers and their friends offered, with whoops of approval.

John Waters
Here's a nice write-up in the UK Guardian. Author-journalist Michael Luongo did a nice photo feature for Gay City News, and the Wall Street Journals' Eric Sasson lamented the state of literature, while mistakenly claiming that Giovanni's Room was still closed. Funny, I read there the day before.

This Metro US write-up includes the finalists as well as winners.

Message of Love's moment at the Lammys
And back home, having enjoyed myself, I'm determined to write more, write more good,er, or something.

Celebrate authors and books. That's the simplest message of book love.

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