Monday, December 31, 2007

Dear Internets,

It's been an exciting year, hasn't it? It was the year everyone in my family moved into new houses. It was the year I moved in with a boyfriend and soon converted him to a fiancé. It was the year of holy shit Christmas is already behind us and I still haven't started my Christmas letter. It was the year Sweeney Todd finally became a movie.

Speaking of, did I mention we saw it on opening night? (Did I mention that the friends we went with knew a secret place to have our parking reduced from $32 down to only $6? BONUS!) Being Sweeney Todd freaks, we of course have all kinds of opinions about the movie—namely: we loved it but we didn't grow-white-forelocks-and-slit-our-own-throats-in-homage-to-Sondheim's-genius love it—but being generally exhausted, I'm not really in the mood to write about it just yet. So the two of you out there who are salivating for my review will probably have to wait a bit longer. Sorry. Have a nice meat pie while you wait.

In the mean time, I've been having fun with my scanner and my old photo albums. Because scanning doesn't require a lot of thinking. This weekend, I scanned through a decade of shows I'd been in. (Why? Because nostalgia is in. And because we finally unpacked the boxes that had my photo albums in them. And because scanning photos was more interesting than doing dishes.)

Here are some scans from my favorite show ever: Forever Plaid. I did the show at Theatre Cedar Rapids in late 1995, and it was such a smash hit that we brought it back five more times over the next three years. For the uninitiated, Forever Plaid tells the story of four nerdy crooners who were killed in a traffic accident on their way to their big breakout gig way back in the 1960s. Which makes it a comedy. But they get to come back to life one last time to perform the concert they never got to give. Which makes it a musical. The songs are packed with tight harmonies, and they're a bitch to sing. And the show was one of the most satisfying and exciting I've ever been in—if not for the material then for the way the four of us really clicked as singers and performers. Here's an early publicity shot, taken just as the first rehearsals were underway. Our costumes hadn't been made yet, so we borrowed plaid jackets from a nearby theater that had just closed the show:

Here's the publicity art we used once our show opened. It's the most kick-assed promotional material ever:

We even made promotional appearances around Cedar Rapids. Here we are at the grand re-opening of Younkers department store in scenic Lindale Mall. Coincidentally, I'd worked in this very Younkers when I was in high school. And I spent every paycheck I earned on the Generra fashions we carried. Some of which were plaid: And here we are in our dressing room on opening night. The plaid jackets don't figure into the show until near the end, which is why we start the show in white. And also because we're technically dead. Look closely and you'll see, though, that we do have matching plaid bowties and cummerbunds:
There's a movement afoot to have a Plaids reunion show in Cedar Rapids this July. One of us lives in Chicago and one of us lives in Hawaii now, though, so making it happen might be a bit of a challenge. Kind of like getting my dishes done. Or writing my Christmas letter. Stay tuned.

In the mean time, have a happy transition into 2008. See you on the other side!

Friday, December 28, 2007

The last Christmas meatball

He may not look so attractive in his little Tupperware coffin—especially next to that pile of meatball schmutz in the corner—but he was as delicious out of the microwave today as the day he first came out of the oven. And he and his little dead brethren have given me a week of holiday-fancy leftovers for lunch.

Now I'm on a strict diet of low-sodium soup, steamed broccoli and pre-cooked chicken breasts. Because three weeks from today we leave on an Atlantis cruise through the Caribbean. There will be sunshine. There will be swimsuits. There will be the disdainful smirks of gay men. So there will be very few sweets or fats between now and when we return to port on the 26th.

Then all bets are off.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

ChicagoRound: The Chicago River at Night

I took this picture last night from the LaSalle Street bridge facing east toward the lake. Wacker Drive separates the river from the buildings on the right, but the buildings on the left butt up right to the river with only a small public river walk separating them from the water.

The Chicago River originally flowed into Lake Michigan, but as Chicago exploded in size in the 19th century, the river became a dumping ground for garbage and sewage—especially from the city's massive slaughterhouses. The pollution moved directly into the lake, contaminating the city's fresh water supply and creating severe threats to public health. In 1900, the Sanitary District of Chicago managed to reverse the flow of the river in a remarkable feat of engineering and sheer willpower. While the change stopped the pollution of Lake Michigan, the river continued to be a dumping ground all the way up to 1990, when a cleaning and beautification initiative by Mayor Daley made the river the appealing attraction it is today.

Because the bridges that cross the river are built as flexible bascules that raise and lower to allow boats to pass underneath, they actually bounce when traffic crosses them. So it was impossible for me to get a clear picture of the view last night as I stood on the bridge with cars and buses rumbling past me. But I think the blurry effect is kind of cool.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

How to be a Christmas tool

Say "Merry Christmas ... if I'm still allowed to say that."

Seriously. Are the three of you who actually parroted these exact words to me over the holidays (do you all get mailed a script from the home office or something?) so insecure in your religious convictions that you honestly need permission to express them? Or is your passive-aggressive sarcasm rooted more in the fact that the culture of freedom that allows you to choose any religious beliefs you want also allows other people to choose religious beliefs that are different from yours and you're too solipsistic to live with that?

And while I'm on my self-righteous high horse here, if you're going to record "Angels We Have Heard on High" on a Christmas album that's going to be played in every freakin' mall and on every freakin' radio station for two months solid, learn how to freakin' pronounce excelsis.

Speaking of religious Christmas music, I overwhelmingly prefer it to that secular stuff. Which I realize is an odd conviction for someone of my religious beliefs. Or lack thereof. But seriously. Whom would you put your money on in a carol smackdown: "O Holy Night" or "Jingle Bell Rock"?

Then again, I spent the holidays in Iowa, home of the Dangerously White Christmas. And after shoveling a few tons of snow off my car and out of my folks' driveway, I got a dull, persistent pain in my lower back that would handicap me against Carol Brady in a smackdown. Of course, she got her voice back just in time to sing "O Holy Night" simply because that was Cindy's only wish for Christmas, and all I wished for this year was a set of ramekins and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross' The Hottest New Group in Jazz on CD, which I grooved to all the way home today.

But not before I seriously grooved to a whole truckload of the aforementioned religious Christmas carols at my folks' church. Every Christmas Eve I stand in as an emergency pinch-singer to help replace the adult choir members who are away for the holidays, and I get to sit in the balcony surrounded by rumbling organ pipes and a mighty five-piece brass ensemble and a wall of voices and we all belt out carols in full harmony with the occasional descants dancing above us and believe me we're not singing any of that crappy stuff about Santa and Rudolph and and chestnuts and rockin' around the Christmas tree but the real stuff that was written when music was music and there's a reason it's endured for centuries and we always end in "Silent Night" and at the start of the final verse the lights go way down and the organ drops out and the entire congregation keeps singing in improvised a cappella harmonies by the flickerings of hundreds of candles and it's just about as perfect as anything you can imagine.

Except for the choir robes. I hate the choir robes. I was not made to wear polyester, see, and I simply don't look good in a mother-of-the-bride silhouette. But merlot tends to be a flattering color on me, I guess. Here's a surreptitious cell-phone pic that I took in front of the Christmas mural in the kids' education wing of the church. And aside from the forehead wrinkles and the cookie blubber conveniently hidden under voluminous cascades of merlot polyester that's been ruched at the shoulders for structure, you can see I did indeed have a Merry Christmas:

Sunday, December 23, 2007

And are you beautiful and pale

with yellow hair, like frosting?

(I went out of my way to give all the angel cookies little yellow bouffants just so I could make a post that combined my three favorite things: pastries, Sondheim and vile puns. But I didn't make the frosting yellow enough to register in a blurry camera-phone picture. So the joke is totally lost. And I've already eaten all the cookies, so I can't re-frost and re-photograph them. They were delicious, by the way. You might say I was buried sweetly in their yellow hair.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Grandma's Christmas Cookies

We mixed, rolled, cut, baked, frosted and sprinkled 100 of them today. I predict they won't last through Sunday.

See for yourself how delicious they are:

2/3 cup margarine (1 stick and 3 tablespoons) – we prefer Imperial
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel or orange juice
2 cups flour (we prefer Gold Medal)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons milk

Cream margarine and sugar. Add egg and beat well. Add vanilla and orange. Sift dry ingredients together. Alternate adding bits of the dry ingredients and the milk to the margarine/egg mixture, mixing thoroughly. It works best if you end with the dry ingredients.

Chill at least one hour. Roll as thin as you can and cut into your favorite cookie shapes. Flour your roller, roller cloth (if you have one) and cookie cutters often. Keep your extra dough cold.

Bake at 375º on an ungreased cookie sheet for 6–10 minutes. Don't let them get too brown. Cool on wire racks. Wash pans between bakings.

3/4 cup softened margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon (plus a little more) milk
1–2 cups powdered sugar

Mix margarine, vanilla and milk well. Sift in powdered sugar until you get a consistency thick enough to hold peaks. Add more milk if you go too far with the sugar. If you add food coloring, add a little more powdered sugar as well to keep the colored frosting from running.

Taste one. Try not to eat the whole batch.

ChicagoRound: Palmolive Building, 1936

This picture, which I lifted from the Chicago Tribune archives, looks like it was taken near North Avenue looking south toward North Michigan Avenue:

The shiny building in the center of the picture is Holabird & Root's iconic Palmolive Building, at the time one of the tallest skyscrapers in Chicago. It was built between 1927 and 1929 in high Art Deco style with soaring vertical lines, dramatic setbacks and a 97-foot tower topped by the Lindbergh Beacon, which could be seen all over the city and even by airplanes 225 miles away. The Arthur Rubloff Company renamed the burgeoning North Michigan Avenue shopping area the Magnificent Mile in the 1940s in an effort to brand it as a retail destination in consumers' minds. In 1967, the Palmolive Building was bought by Playboy magazine and became the Playboy Building. Two years later, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill built the John Hancock Center on the lot immediately behind the Playboy Building in this picture. At 1,127 feet, the Hancock Center dwarfed the once-mighty Playboy Building, and the beacon had to be turned off so it wouldn't shine directly into the Hancock's residential units. The building was rechristened the Palmolive Building in 2002 when it was converted to high-end condominiums and, of course, high-end retail shops.

Friday, December 21, 2007

These are my friends

I often wonder if Miriam and I would still be friends if she hadn’t been murdered.

We’d met the summer of 1988 at Darien Lake, an amusement park just south of Buffalo, New York. I was singing and dancing in the park’s extravagant 100-songs-in-30-minutes Broadway show, and Miriam was in the nearby open-air pop-music show. Both casts were extremely close that summer—ten of us even ended up living together in a tiny hippie commune of an apartment with one bed, one couch and one bathroom—and Miriam and I had forged an especially deep friendship amid the chaos.

In retrospect, I’m not sure what brought us closer to each other than to everyone else in our group. We certainly had more in common with other people—especially to the people in our own shows. But for whatever reason, Miriam and I found ourselves hanging out with each other, taking long walks, sharing inside jokes and sneaking into each other’s dressing rooms during our shows to tape stupid song lyrics to each other’s mirrors. My photo album from that summer still has the scrap of envelope she used to write “Oh, I wanna dance with somebody. I wanna feel the HEAT with somebody.” Whitney Houston was rocking the charts in 1988, and we both thought she was pretty ridiculous.

Those were the dark ages before email and cell phones, so when the summer was over, we all exchanged addresses and many of us did a pretty good job of writing letters to keep in touch. Miriam went directly to London to spend her fall semester studying abroad under the auspices of Syracuse University. And when my mom found cheap airfare to London that fall, I flew out to spend Thanksgiving week with Miriam and her roommates.

I made it home safely at the end of November. But nineteen years ago today, Miriam and a third of the students in the Syracuse program were blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, by a terrorist bomb.

As would be expected, her murder brought me closer to the rest of my cast … and even to Miriam’s London roommates. Our friends Jody and Brad got jobs dancing in a much cooler show at a much cooler park in Ohio the next summer, and I drove out for a long weekend to see them. Miriam’s roommate Christine and I started writing each other with such regularity that I spent a week with her and her family in Boston right after I graduated.

But time passed and lives were lived and local concerns trumped distant friends from long-ago summer jobs, and of the ten or so close friendships I had that summer all I have left today are the Christmas cards I exchange with Jody and the occasional email from Christine. Ironically, I’ve recently reconnected with Miriam’s London roommate Jessica—who was traveling the week I was visiting London so I’d never even met her in person though we’d talked on the phone a couple times after the bombing. She’s living in New York now, and I’ve actually met up with her twice in the last couple years. She and her husband were investors in the Broadway indie-pop musical Spring Awakening, and they’d gotten tickets for the fiancé and me when were in Manhattan last February.

Obviously, musical theater plays an important cultural role in the lives of theme-park entertainers. Miriam and I spent hours gushing over the amazing London revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies after we saw it together, and she’d even made me a mix tape of her favorite Sondheim songs before she died. She called it “No One is Alone.” Tonight the fiancé and I are seeing the opening of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd movie—something we’ve been anticipating for months with the giddiness of little schoolgirls.

I find it strangely fitting to honor Miriam’s memory by watching Sondheim on the anniversary of her death. I’m certain she’d be as excited to see the movie as I am. I know she would have pre-ordered the CD, just as I did. I bet she’d get tickets on opening night as well.

I just wish I had the same certainty we’d still be in touch.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


When you move in together and merge all your stuff, your little piles of clutter become overwhelming piles of crap. And if you've spent a lifetime being pack rats, your combined piles of crap can be pretty embarrassing. Especially when you find two and three and even five copies of the same bargain-bin Barbra CD. Oy, the shame!

We have eight extremely large boxes packed with books, CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes, boxed sets and miscellaneous dustables that we're just starting to go through. And because they represent thousands of dollars in cumulative regret, we're trying to recoup some of our—and I use this term with bitter, self-flagellatory irony—investments on craigslist and ebay. Here's a sampling of this week's crop of chagrin:

Four big gay movies at a pocket-gay price: the never-heard-of "Trevor," "Torch Song Trilogy" starring Harvey Fierstein and a grotesquely miscast Matthew Broderick, the stunning "Maurice" starring Hugh Grant when he used to be cute, and the charming "Beautiful Thing" featuring the music of Mama Cass.

Five Titanic movies and documentaries on nine VHS tapes for less than a steerage ticket across the Atlantic. Includes "A Night to Remember," "Titanic: The Truth Behind the Legend," "Titanic" starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Wagner when he used to be hot, the four-volume A&E "Titanic" documentary, and "Titanic" starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, who totally shows her boobs.

There's nothing gayer than a Mandy Patinkin CD. Unless it's four Mandy Patinkin CDs.

Stop the presses. I think we found something gayer.

Do you know where you're going to? Not to our house—at least not if you intend to watch these movies on our VCR. There's a very good reason we're trying to convince you to take them off our hands.

The essential Barbra Streisand: Four CDs including "Barbra: The Concert," "Greatest Hits ... And More" (the "more" obviously being songs that are neither great nor hits), "The Broadway Album" and "Back to Broadway." We'll even throw in the BONUS four-track CD "Ordinary Miracles" absolutely free. Because we probably got it in some free giveaway in the first place anyway.

BONUS SALE ITEM! Gargantuanly heavy aquarium with black lacquer stand includes everything you need to create a nautical paradise in your home or a God's waiting room for lobsters in your restaurant lobby. Just add water!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Blood, you didn't do right by me

I had a 1,000-mile checkup a few weeks ago. Everything's fine, thanks for asking, except my good cholesterol is still low but I've been taking fish oil supplements which may or may not help but at least I'm keeping the economy solvent while the war-on-Christmasy among you selfishly hoard all your wealth this holiday season.

For whatever reason today, I decided I needed to know what my blood type is because nobody's ever told me what it is and when I'm in long meetings where lots of people are talking I tend to get a little mind-wandery and when you're mind-wandery it's really not a far walk from credit card collateral to what's my blood type.

So I sent an email to my doctor to see if any of the gallons of blood he's sucked out of me over the years had ever been tested for blood type. And while I was at it, I asked him if he'd checked my PSA levels at my checkup because I turn 40 exactly four months from today and you're supposed to start worrying about your prostate around age 40 and I clearly remember him not sticking his finger up my butt when I was there a few weeks ago.

As simple questions about blood type are not typically the topics that drive the plots of gripping hospital dramas like ER, I didn't expect a response for a few days. So I was pleasantly surprised to find a note in my inbox when I returned to my desk after my next meeting. Except it was from one of his nurses who I guess got stuck on email duty while the doctor was making his appointed rounds. And while the nurse clearly had dug around in my files to look for the information I requested—and while she clearly knew what she was talking about—I was a little surprised by the text-messaginess of her response:
HI Jake we do not have your bld type we don't check for this unless requested by the pt because insurance don't cover this test also in regardsto the PSA it was not checked but you are approaching 40 so we could put an order in the system to have this chkd
I'm not quite sure how to respond to her offer to "put an order in the system." Does that mean they still have blood on hand they can re-test for random things as it occurs to me to ask about them? Or do I have to come in specifically for a fingerbang and another bloodletting? And who has time during the holidays for spelunking anyway? I've barely started writing my Christmas letter, and I have yet to find a moment to curl up with Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen and wonder if I can get Edith Head to stop by and ermine-up my holiday wardrobe. And who knew Bernardo was a gay holiday backup dancer before he started inciting gang wars in New York?

In any case, I'm approaching my 40th Christmas without knowing my blood type or when I might suddenly have trouble peeing. So when I'm worried and I can't sleep, I guess I'll just have to count my blessings instead of my PSA levels.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Thick paint is not your friend

You may think you're saving a buck or two when you keep using paint after it's started to get syrupy and show signs of age. But what you save in paint you'll spend double on touch-up tape. And then new paint. Because when you spread thick, syrupy paint on your first application of tape, it oozes under the tape like a Christian Republican Senator under a men's room stall divider. (Sorry. That metaphor was just too easy.) Then you get to buy new paint and a couple new rolls of tape and spend hours and hours squinting at paint lines as you mask off the worst of the oozy parts so you can repaint them. Which is about as fun as looking down and seeing a wrinkly old hand grabbing for your ankle.

While I had my camera out this afternoon to document my pain for your enjoyment, I took another picture of our little tree as it looks out over our freshly snowy courtyard. Do you think the chandelier makes our dining room look gay?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Impressions from a Toronto business trip

Tim Hortons, the Dunkin’ Donuts of Canada, makes a blueberry fritter that’s so gooey and glazey and delicious you want to spank it.

Toronto Pearson International Airport is about as beautiful as any modern steel-and-girders airport has a right to be. It takes a simple visual vocabulary of soaring arches and glass walls and open spaces and exposed trusswork, washes it all in whites, and creates a clean, calming, logically organized people-moving environment.

How come customs agents will arbitrarily demand crash courses in advertising creative philosophy from you before they will let you enter their country, but security screeners won’t notice that you forgot to take out your legally mandated plastic bag of liquids and place them in a separate scanning tub twice?

We had two days of meetings sandwiching a three-hour drinks-and-appetizers client meet-n-greet. Normally I hate small talk and big crowds—especially small talk with clients, which automatically eliminates “so, what do you do for a living?” from your arsenal of conversation starters—but I really like these clients, and the restaurant we picked (Paradiso in charming Oakville) served us delicious food in a funky environment. Plus, I may have loosened up beforehand with a vodka tonic.

Canadians follow US football and watch US television. I don’t know why learning this surprised me so much. And kind of embarrassed me once I heard what their favorite US shows are.

They use the same snow in Canada that we use in the United States. Or maybe they’re just importing our snow now that the dollar is so weak.

Speaking of snow, I’m amazed we even got off the ground in yesterday’s blizzard. We had to go through a two-step de-icing before we took off, but our pilot walked us through the process so we’d get what was going on. The first step was a spray of pink soapy stuff that washed existing ice off the fuselage. The second step was a day-glo green goo they sprayed on the wings to prevent new ice from accumulating. It clung to the wings like an “ex-gay” to his delusions, and as we waited to take off I could see all the planes lined up self-consciously in front of us with their green wings glowing as conspicuously as a rainbow bra under a white sweater set.

I was so excited to land yesterday in time to listen to NPR on my drive home, which I never get to do when I take the bus home from the office. Unfortunately, NPR is obviously facing a year-end budget deficit so severe that they were staging a fund drive smack-dab in the middle of shopping season. Best of luck with that. To make matters worse, they’d changed their phone number, and the only thing the radio personalities could come up with off-script was the fact that it was so hard to remember the new number. Which kind of boggles the mind—if you’re able to say “This is 91.5 WBEZ” about a thousand times a day you really shouldn’t have trouble remembering 888-915-WBEZ. All things considered.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What if they threw an ice storm and nobody came?

We got back to the Toronto airport faster than we expected yesterday and we managed to get ourselves on an earlier flight home. Then it got delayed. Ice in Chicago, they told us. The storm could last all night, they said with furrowed brows. Which was no fun to hear, but at least their furrows assured us they hadn’t yet jumped on the Botox bandwagon. Then there was some kind of non-ice-on-the-runways-back-home window, so we boarded the plane. And we waited. Then we had to pull away because some other plane—bound no doubt for some less icy destination and feeling all snooty about it because its passengers packed coconut-scented sunscreen while ours packed tire-scented galoshes—needed the jetway. So we sat on the tarmac. For two hours. But! We were given constant updates from our handsome pilot and attentive beverage service from our crew and they were playing Ratatouille on the in-flight movie and I had a big stack of unread magazines to catch up on and we got word via the miracle of cell phones that the client was extremely pleased with our work and it all ended up being rather enjoyable.

Until we landed in Chicago and discovered that all this ice-storm business had been a big LIE. It was rainy and misty, sure, but woe to the business traveler who intended to keep his complimentary diet soda chilled by simply holding it to the heavens.

Then I walked into the office this morning and found myself caught in the crosshairs of Vendor Gift Smackdown 2007.

“Our holiday muffins are moist and delicious,” one vendor seems to tell us as it stocks our break room with baskets of cellophane-wrapped pastries, “so please turn to us for all your printing needs.”

“No!” another vendor shouts through tufts of raffia. “They did not procure for you 12 different flavors of individually wrapped chocolate candies all organized by color in a handsome holiday tin. They do not deserve your business. Plus they lubricate their printer heads with the blood of puppies.”

“We don’t know shit about printing,” trumpets a third, “but we can make custom magnets for you any time day or night! Which is why we brought you a drum of chemically flavored popcorns, cleverly partitioned by bits of waxy cardboard into pie-shaped columns. When you think MSG, think magnets!”

I’m back in Toronto tomorrow and Thursday. The envelope people had better wait to bring their day-old doughnuts until I get back.

Monday, December 10, 2007

LiveBlogging: Toronto

I'm currently sitting in a quaint little coffee shop the locals refer to as "Starbucks" in a country called "Canada." Which is just like the USA, only with a different kind of government loonies.

We booked a butt-ass early flight this morning to make sure the weather wouldn't get in the way of our appointed business rounds. The fates being what they are, we actually managed to land here half an hour ahead of schedule on top of our intentional earliness, so we're spending our morning sitting among the locals, sipping flavored beverages, listening to Benny Goodman and sneaking peeks at one of the baristi for three hours until we have our client meeting. Normally I just travel with a stack of unread magazines in case I have down time, but this morning I threw my laptop in my carry-on at the last minute. Which means I can do actual work on a business trip. Once I get a blog post up and running, of course.

Not to brag, but I'm a world-champion sleeper. I can knock myself unconscious in a matter of seconds, and I can sleep through anything from a cataclysmic thunderstorm to that one Golden Girls episode where Rose says something stupid and Blanche says something slutty. But since I had the alarm set for 3:45 this morning, I was too nervous to fall asleep last night. I was tossing and turning so much, in fact, that the fiancé finally got up and slept on the couch. So this trip has cost me a night's sleep and caused grave alienation of affection. But it got me an expense-accounted venti chai tea latte, so who am I to complain?

The chorus show came and went this weekend without incident. But now the fiancé and the vast majority of his extended family have witnessed me engaging in an act of man-on-man waltzing. Which should remove any lingering doubts they may have had. Good thing I'm in Canada for a day in case they need a cooling-off period.

Friday, December 07, 2007

There is this moment ...

... in the final number of the show. It's rather early in an intricately contrapuntal arrangement of the Gloucestershire Wassail, which only lately has grown to become one of my favorite holiday carols.

In our arrangement the tenors sing the first verse in a hushed unison, as though you were hearing the echoes of their holiday revelry wafting toward you over a snowy hill. The baritones and basses join in on the second verse, chanting "wassail, wassail" in a simple unison continuo under the melody. As the verse dies away, the lower voices drop to an open fifth, drumming the opening "wassail" rhythm on a D and a low G in disciplined restraint ...

... until the entire chorus explodes into the third verse in a glorious A-flat modulation. As the baritones and basses keep pounding out the "wassail" rhythm, the melody—now slightly syncopated as we toast Dobbin and his right eye—soars across the tenor voices in a bright mezzo-forte third. The drinking party has suddenly crested that snowy hill, the sun has come out and the world is full of promise.

And in that single flash of brightness, our conductor always—always—breaks into a big goofy smile. The arrangement we're singing is his, and in that moment—that big, boisterous explosion of harmony and rhythm and simple counterpoint—as he indulges himself in the lush materialization of of his creative work, I too stand reveling in the beauty of it all from my perch at the end of the back row. We are 100+ gay men whose lives and talents and careers and incomes span the spectrum of human experience. But in this joyous confluence, we are one voice, celebrating an ancient camaraderie captured in a song that dates to the Middle Ages. And to me, moments like this are what make life life.

* * * * *
The show opens tonight. And it closes tomorrow. You have three chances to experience this moment with me. So click HERE to order your tickets. Or go HERE for more information about the show.

Here's a quick peek at last night's final dress rehearsal. Act I finds us in red accents to our basic black-and-white concert attire. Because we're nothing if not festive.

Act II is all about green accents. Which apparently don't reproduce well under the theater's work lights. Here we are getting notes after the runthrough. Notice how happy we look. That's because the show is clean and tight, and we've breezed through every rehearsal this week. Yay!

And, of course, it wouldn't be a Chicago Gay Men's Chorus show without a guy in drag. Or two. This is my view from the wings as I wait to make my grand entrance among seven dancing couples in the very, very, very gay corps de Christmas Waltz:

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

ChicagoRound: My bus stop on a snowy night


Whateveresque has a great collection illustrating the (ahem) evolution of the LOLcats meme using images from the so-called Creation Museum. I'd insert a snarky joke here, but the examples I pulled from the site do it way better than I could:

Monday, December 03, 2007

No time for a Ho

STOCKHOLM (AFP) - Christmas is hectic for all but particularly for Santa, who must live in Kyrgyzstan and make his rounds at lightning speed if he is to deliver gifts to all the world's children on time, a Swedish consultancy has concluded.

Between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Santa Claus's route around the planet includes stops at 2.5 billion homes, assuming that children of all religions receive a present from the jolly man in the red suit, Anders Larsson of the engineering consultancy Sweco told AFP.

"We estimated that there are 48 people per square kilometer (120 per square mile) on Earth, and 20 metres (66 feet) between each home. So if Santa leaves from Kyrgyzstan and travels against the Earth's rotation he has 48 hours to deliver all the presents," he said.

Father Christmas has long been believed to reside at the North Pole, although a number of northern towns, including Finnish Rovaniemi, claim to be his true home.

But Sweco's report on Santa's most efficient route -- which takes into account factors like geographic density and the fewest detours -- shows that he wouldn't be able to make his round-the-world trip from there in time.

"He has 34 microseconds at each stop" to slide down the chimney, drop off the presents, nibble on his cookies and milk and hop back on his sleigh, Larsson said.

Santa's reindeer must travel at a speed of 5,800 kilometers (3,604 miles) per second to make the trip on time.

Another report circulating on the Internet suggested however that Santa's sleigh, weighed down with presents and travelling at supersonic speed, would encounter such massive air resistance that the entire contraption would burst into flames and be vaporised within 4.26 thousandths of a second.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Got your tickets yet?

On Friday and Saturday, I'll be singing and dancing my little gay heart out in the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus' holiday show, which this year we're calling Fruit Cake (though technically fruitcake is just one word). The show includes everything you'd want in a holiday concert: waltzing homos, "Here Comes Santa Claus" as though it were written to open Sweeney Todd ("And so to town came Santa Claus ..."), an exegesis of a live nativity painting by Sister Wendy, some fabulous glee-club arrangements of holiday standards and even a live fruitcake-making demonstration by The Food Network's The Hearty Boys.

This may be my last chorus concert for a while, though, so if you want to see me dancing around like a total homo on stage, get your tickets now. Click on the picture below for a direct link to Ticketbastard:
To avoid getting thoroughly boned by Ticketbastard, you can also get tickets in person at the Athenaeum Theatre box office at 2936 N. Southport (at the six-way corner of Lincoln and Wellington).

See you there!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

ChicagoRound: Water Tower

Chicago's iconic Water Tower on North Michigan Avenue was one of a handful of downtown buildings to survive the 1871 Chicago fire. It originally housed a 138-foot standpipe to equalize water pressure coming from Lake Michigan. The tower was connected to a tunnel leading the then-revolutionary length of two miles into the lake to ensure water coming into the city was uncontaminated by sewage and runoff. The standpipe was removed in 1911 when it was rendered obsolete by the installation of rotary pumps.

The soaring Water Tower and the turreted Pumping Station across the street were modeled by architect William W. Boyington on a medieval castle and constructed of Joliet limestone between 1897 and 1869 in what's called the castellated Gothic style. The two buildings have stood for over a century as symbols of Chicago's resilience after the fire. The ornate tower offers a striking counterpoint to the modern consumer architecture around it, and it looks especially stunning at night:

The Pumping Station is still in use today, though it also houses a visitor welcome center, the Lookingglass Theatre and a Hot Tix office. The Water Tower is now home to a rotating gallery of photographs, and it holds court over a small fountained plaza in a manicured park on the west side of Michigan Avenue. In the winter, the city hangs canopies of lights over the walkways in the park. We took a stroll under the canopies last night after our annual pilgrimage to hear the always-spectacular Chanticleer kick off the holiday season in the Gothic splendor of nearby Fourth Presbyterian Church.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Christmas amid the chaos

I know: A real gay would do some basic housekeeping QC before taking a picture of his tree and posting it on his blog. He'd also hunt a little harder to find his real camera instead of using his blurry camera phone. But I live to do things only halfway, so if you want holiday perfection maybe you should go hang out with Mitt Romney and his 100%-not-homosexual family. I'm kidding! Come back! Mitt probably gives boring presents like flip-flops (ahem) anyway.

So this is the fiancé's and my first Christmas together in our combined household. Which means it's the first commingling of our Christmas crap. And even though we'd just gotten back from vacation and our dining room is torn up and the fiancé's brother is living with us and my folks are coming in a week and there was no food in the house, I decided we needed a little Christmas and I insisted on hauling out all our holly and singing along with my Messiah CD as I strung lights and created artful arrangements of fancy ribbons and sparkly glass balls this weekend. Just like most guys did.

You can't tell because of the dark ... and the camera phone ... and my uncontrollable DTs ... but this tree is brimming with golds and burgundies to complement the chocolatey beiges of our living room. We still need to find a tree skirt and a suitable topper—and we're not convinced this is the best tree location—but I think Our Very First Tree turned out to be pretty lovely. That's Christopher Meloni on the TV, just moments after he discovered he was suffering from temporary blindness after a violent blow to the head. I sacrificed quality Christopher-and-Jake time to photograph my decorations for you people. The TV is in the picture because I wanted a wide shot of the room to show you the Ralph Lauren Suede wall color and the fancy decorations on the table in the little sunroom, but my damn DTs have reduced everything to a dull blur. If you embiggen the picture, you can see the Mickey Mouse Christmas stockings we just bought hanging on the backs of the sunroom chairs. The darker chairs are from the dining room. They're crammed along the walls of the sunroom because the dining room is under construction. Still. As you can see here:

I had a little four-foot tree left over from my Shoebox Manor days, so we put it up in our always-under-construction dining room after spending most of the day installing those goddamn wall mouldings. Which turned out to look pretty freakin' cool. We still have weeks of painting and glazing ahead of us, which is why the room looks like a home-improvement store. But I wanted some goddamn Christmas cheer amid all the clutter so I put up my little tree even as the paint on the windowsill behind it was still emitting fresh-paint fumes. The tree is resplendent in silvers and blues to complement the room's color scheme and to remove every shred of doubt the neighbors may have as to just how gay those two tall guys across the courtyard really are.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

How to be a bad Disney guest:

1. Walk through a crowded park while looking over your shoulder.
2. Drive your little scooter through a crowded park while looking over your shoulder.
3. Moan Oh, Man! in a loud, creepy voice as you stand elbow-to-elbow at a bank of urinals.
4. Wear a T-shirt that says Female Body Inspector
5. Scream like you’re being raped by a gorilla in the middle of a ride you’re supposed to enjoy quietly and respectfully as though you grew up in a world not marred by penetrative gorilla sex.
6. Bring children. I mean seriously. Who brings children to Disney World?
7. Spend five days at four Disney theme parks and take pictures of only three things.
8. Honestly need to be given these instructions in the bathroom:
When you wish upon a star
Disney is amazing at creating ambience. Everywhere you go you hear sounds that enhance your visual surroundings: banjos in Frontierland, fake crickets at the Wilderness Lodge, screaming children in line at the Snow White ride. But Disney doesn’t stop there! They also pump smells into certain rides to give you Total Sensory Overload™. For instance, the dancing “Be Our Guest” pastries in Mickey’s PhilharMagic ride smell like apple pie. The stinkbug in the “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” 4-D movie squirts what I hope is just synthetic eau de stinkbug in your face. The orange groves you sail over in Soarin’ smell like oranges and the feet of the people hanging one tier above you with their legs dangling in your face. Even Mission: Space has a distinct smell. The claustrophobic little space pods that take you to Mars (but never take you back to Earth, but maybe that’s Disney’s way of managing holiday crowds) smell like farts.

Be our guest
You get valuable perks when you stay at a Disney resort: Fast, efficient bus service everywhere you go on the property. Mickey-themed soap in your room and Goofy sightings in your lobby. Walking access to a private Epcot entrance if you’re staying at the Beach Club Resort. And the parks stay open late just for you—the Magic Kingdom was open until 3:00 am for us resort dwellers one of the first nights of our vacation. And in the wee-hour absence of common folk, the wait times on popular rides drops from 75 minutes to 10. Except for the Peter Pan ride, which always has hour-long waits. That ride will never grow up. We spent our late-night park time running among the three mountains: Space, Splash and Big Thunder. And for a thrilling six-ride run, the line gods always deposited us in the front seat. Which clearly means Walt likes us best.

Speaking of Mickey-themed soap…
I love the art direction on this label. Sorry the pic turned out so blurry:
It’s a big world
While holiday crowds (including all those rude little bastards who obviously grew up in freakin’ gorilla caves) are never the best way to take in a park with any hope of efficiency, we were sometimes unable to enjoy the parks for an entirely different reason: We’d hear on one of Disney’s self-promo TV spots, for instance, that it would take 70 years to sleep in every guest room on Disney property and we’d suddenly lose ourselves in the mental gymnastics required to comprehend the ramifications of that number. How many bars of Mickey-themed soap do they have to keep on hand to stock 25,550 rooms? How big a building do they need to store it all? How many miles of wiring does it take to light everything in the parks and resorts and access roads and parking lots? How many toilets do they have? How many people does it take to set up all the fireworks displays every day? We produced X number of dirty napkins or wet towels or poops each day, so how does Disney accommodate the X hundred thousand daily guests who eat and dry off and poop on their property? Of the hundreds of park employees we see every day, how many do we not see who assemble our sandwiches and purify our water and keep our roller coasters from crashing and make sure the audio-animatronic chickens at the end of the Splash Mountain ride keep lifting their skirts in time to “Zip-a-Dee-Do-Dah” so we can catch a glimpse of feather pie before the ride ends?

Speaking of wiring…
Cinderella’s castle in the Magic Kingdom is currently draped in billions of tiny lights that glow and twinkle and change color. The effect is quite spectacular, even in a blurry camera phone picture:
Hi-ho! Hi-ho!
We experienced a spate of broken rides this trip: Splash Mountain’s audio-animatronics did indeed crash just as we were about to claim one of our front seats, and we waited a good 20 minutes for the ride employees to get all the bunnies hopping and the chickens lifting their skirts again before we gave up and rode the front seat of some other ride. The sound dropped out halfway through Ellen’s Energy Adventure and we had to abandon the ride and come back later. And the tumble monkeys—four hunky little gymnasts in orange Spandex monkey suits in the “Festival of the Lion King” show—mysteriously ran off the stage in the middle of their performance and the tech crew had to come on and awkwardly strike their set for them. Only three tumble monkeys came out for the finale, so I assume that one of them got hurt. And that the show doesn’t keep a stock of standby tumble monkeys waiting in the wings. Maybe because they’re too busy counting all that soap.

I just can’t wait to be queen
While we toured a cool exhibit on Walt Disney’s early years at Disney-MGM Studios, a wispy little park employee named Shaq repeatedly (and clumsily) propositioned us. We put up with it for a while because there’s this Year of a Million Dreams promotion going on where random employees can give random guests fabulous prizes like gift cards and free FastPasses and even a night’s stay in Cinderella’s freakin’ castle. So we were both hoping this dude’s come-ons would pay off in tiaras and sparkly bedsheets (just not with him in them). But he was working us solely for something decidedly not sanctioned by the Disney marketing department. Which was primarily inappropriate because Shaq was working us while he was working as an employee of Disney. Where nobody has sex ever!™ But it was just as inappropriate because he did it in front of the fiancé’s developmentally disabled brother, who lives with us and who was on our vacation with us. And while he understands that we’re gay, we’re not sure he understands much of anything about sex. And the last place he needs to learn about it is from a clumsy little Disney employee.

We almost came home with a new son
As we were taking in a character breakfast buffet one morning, we saw a painfully shy little boy returning from the buffet with his little muffin and his little bowl of fruit. He walked up to the empty table next to us only to discover that it was not, as he was expecting, his family’s table. He craned his little neck looking around for his family, faint traces of panic beginning to show on his little face. But he didn’t see them anywhere. He looked back at the empty table, hoping to find some clue to let him know he was indeed in the right place. But he didn’t find anything. He looked around at the people at neighboring tables, but he didn’t recognize anyone. He looked back at the table again, this time lifting one of the placemats as if perhaps he’d find his mouse ears or his mother’s purse or his little sister hiding underneath. The look of worry on his face was priceless, and we were just about to get up and see if we could help him find his family—or adopt him if they had indeed abandoned him—when he grabbed a waitress, who took him off to what we hope was a successful family reunion in the correct seating section.

My money is still wet
We rode the Kali River Rapids—which drips with as much ambience as it does water—twice in a row Wednesday morning. We got so soaked that the leg bands in my underpants were still moist—and my underpants area was more than a little chafey—when I crawled into bed that night. And yesterday when I reached in my wallet to pay for lunch at the airport, I pulled out a $20 that I could have easily wrung water out of. The Sbarro clerk, for the record, didn’t flinch when she touched it.

Disney DILFs
There was a dearth. It was a disappointment. But otherwise the trip was spectacular and the weather was ideal and Pirates of the Caribbean has been perfectly updated to include some of the characters in the movie franchise and the Haunted Mansion has been filled with even more cool stuff to look at and we were able to eat pretty healthily every time we got hungry and we’re already planning our return trip in 2009. Because we are Disney dorks. And this time we’re staying in the damn castle.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Christina, bring me the Internets!

While googling Brenda Frazier earlier this week—so as to better understand the life of Carlotta Campion—I stumbled on the most fabulous treasure trove of all things Joan Crawford:

The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia

Now, I don't really consider myself to be one of Joan Crawford's fans. To my knowledge, the only movie I've seen her in is The Women, in which I thought 1) she was waaaaay too old to play Crystal Allen and 2) she looked kind of like a witch. And while I'm sure the Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest is built on a bit of theatrical exaggeration, I have absolutely zero tolerance for emotional and physical abuse, so I'm inclined to think Christina's portrayal of her mother didn't occur in a vacuum.

But! The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia is virtual crack, sucking up every free moment of my (and maybe my employer's but you didn't hear it from me) time this week with photos and timelines and exhausting research and fascinating trivia about the growth and decline of Hollywood through everyone and everything remotely associated with Joan Crawford.

For instance: Did you know that there were two Christopher Crawfords? It's true! Joan adopted the first one from some deranged woman who eventually demanded him back so she could abuse him for a year and then adopt him out to someone else. Then when Joan adopted the second boy she named Christopher, the deranged woman—forgetting she'd already reclaimed and re-adopted-out her son—broke into Joan's house to demand her kid back a second time.

Also! Everyone knows Joan's real name was Lucille LeSueur and that "Joan Crawford" came from MGM/Movie Weekly magazine's 1925 naming contest staged as a publicity stunt to launch her career. At least you all should have known that. Well, The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia has the rest of the story: "Joan Arden" was really the winning name in that fabled contest, but three people had submitted it and MGM didn't want to pony up $1,000 each to all three winners. So they went with their second choice, which—as we all know—was submitted by only one person: a Mrs. Louise Artisdale of 149 Dartmouth St., Rochester, New York.

One more: Joan was a slut. The woman who so devotedly put together The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia clearly loves Joan Crawford (and clearly hates Christina for suggesting even for a second that Joan wasn't a saint), but she makes no bones about the innumerable affairs Joan had (and even allegedly had) with both men and women all over Hollywood.

So! As we-all are enjoying ourselves this week in Disney World, you-all can spend your NoFo time combing through The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia. But don't say I didn't warn you about its addictiveness.

And don't forget to come back here when you're done.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sometimes when you're sick ...

... a giant pile of fat and salt and carbonated chemicals presented in unattractively branded packaging is far more delicious than a box of antihistamines and a bottle of NyQuil.

Packing for a week at Disney World

• Sunscreen
• Backup sunscreen
• Sunglasses
• Backup sunglasses
• Camera
• Batteries
• Backup batteries
• Shorts with lots of pockets
• Credit cards
• Backup credit cards
• Mouse ears
• Oversized yellow shoes
• Red shorts with giant white buttons
• And extra pockets
• Cold medicine
• Zinc lozenges
• Vicks VapoRub
• Kleenex
• Backup Kleenex

Monday, November 12, 2007

Partying, shopping, traveling

We survived my niece's birthday party over the weekend, but not before 18 little six-year-olds discovered that the goofy uncle and his equally goofy … um … friend could be used as emergency jungle gyms. We'd all been dancing around the living room like fools when my niece grabbed my hands and we started spazzing around like goofy uncles and six-year-old nieces are supposed to do when they dance together. But suddenly everyone wanted to spaz around with the goofy uncle. And spazzing somehow morphed into throwing children in the air. And before I knew it, the kids had formed a line in front me (and the fiancé, who gamely threw himself into the ring as well), all not-so-patiently waiting for their turns to be thrown in the air. From the looks on their faces, some of these kids had never been thrown in the air by a goofy uncle and his … um … friend before. And the fiancé and I needed the exercise anyway, so everyone came out of the party with giant smiles, new experiences and/or bigger deltoids.

Since no trip to Cedar Rapids is complete without a shopping excursion where parking is plentiful and merchandise is actually displayed on the proper shelves, we also made a pilgrimage to our friendly neighborhood strip mall, where we eventually stumbled back to the car with new shoes, new jeans, new shirts, and even a stainless steel toaster and crock pot to replace the hideously-not-stainless-steel toaster and crock pot that have been ruining our otherwise-completely-stainless-steel kitchen experience since the day we bought our condo. And all of it was on sale.

We also budgeted a little extra time on our trip home for me to stop and take pictures of some of the landmarks I pass every time I drive between Cedar Rapids and Chicago. Since all I had was my camera phone, I didn't entertain any fantasies that I'd be taking pictures that were by any stretch of the imagination "artistic," so I physically stopped the car only once on my junior photojournalist travelogue. But I did slow down on occasion. And all because I wanted to share my experience with you people. Please enjoy:

There is a stretch of Highway 30 just east of the Wapsipinicon River that cuts straight and true through a thicket of woods. Driving through it can be a magical experience in winter when the trees are covered in snow or frost. And even in the fall when the trees are just brown and boring, the visual effect can be stunning. Except when it's recorded on a camera phone through a windshield hurtling through space at 55 mph. I had always assumed this section was straight and brush-free to maintain compliance with that fabled law requiring that one of every five miles of interstate must be built straight and flat so it can be used to land airplanes in emergencies. But a quick google search for this law shows it's just an urban legend.

Travel about an hour farther east on Highway 30 (near the exit signs for DeWitt) and you'll find yourself in an entirely different kind of forest—one made of paperboard trees and pine-scented chemicals. Because DeWitt is not only the eponymous home of the wacky brunette from Three's Company (at least it should be), but it's also home to one of the manufacturing plants for the world-famous Little Trees® brand car fresheners. Which, of course, were invented in Watertown, NY, by the Car-Freshner Corporation way back in 1952.

There's this bluff along Highway 30 in Morrison, IL, that's home to some beautiful old mansions. I imagine that in their day they looked down over vast expanses of pristine land, but now the lots across the street from them are packed with 1950s-style bungalows, many in states of obvious neglect. This handsome quasi-Beaux-Arts manse has been a favorite of mine since I first started driving through Morrison 15 years ago, though I know nothing about it. I've done some creative googling and I still can't find anything to share with you. But I sure know it's pretty.

Update: A reader named Doug has this fabulously helpful background to share: Here's what I know about it...It was built by Leander Smith around 1976. Mr. Smith was born in 1819 and graduated from Dartmouth in 1842. He married Dolly Allen in 1855, and was elected to the state legislature in 1862-64. He was also a city councilman and established a banking company named, Smith, Root, and Company, later renamed the first National Bank

I'm assuming these little silos off I-88 were designed to hold corn or grain or something agricultural. But I think they look like breasts. There, I said it.

Nothing says "your long drive home is almost over" (also: "only about 30 more minutes until you can pee") quite like the Sears Tower waving up at you over the Eisenhower Expressway.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

LiveBlogging: My niece's birthday party

My niece is six this weekend. We're in Iowa helping her celebrate. There are 18 kids at the house. The fiance and I are having our tubes tied the moment everyone leaves.

Everyone's outside playing a rousing game of Scream At The Top Of Your Lungs or some such warm-childhood-memory-building activity at the moment. Uncle Jake is hiding in the computer room until they can find him.

My sister has thrown together a fun-filled celebration, children notwithstanding. There's a table where kids can decorate their own mugs. There's a room where everyone can dance to my niece's favorite tunes (which mysteriously include Dancing Queen, Y.M.C.A. and We are the Champions). And there's a cupcake-decorating station. Which I was put in charge of. And to help the kids get their creative energies flowing, I've been decorating cupcakes along with them. And I have to say I think I have a lucrative future in the field of cupcakery:

Thursday, November 08, 2007

ChicagoRound: AMA Building

Kenzo Tange's AMA Building (squatting in the center of this picture, as seen from my office window) imbues Mies Van Der Rohe's austere International Style with shimmery excitement and bold charisma. Constructed in 1990, the 30-story tower is clad in alternating stripes of pale stone and silvery glass that can sparkle in the sun or disappear into the surrounding blue of the sky, depending on your viewing angle. To underscore its rapport with the heavens, it features a four-story hole that fuses the actual sky with its striped reflection.

The building would have a standard rectangular footprint were it not for the slice missing from its southwest corner that leaves a sharp angle pointing vaguely northwest. A 20-story tower pointing the other way was planned for the lot just to the south of the building, but it never got built. Instead, there's a lovely urban park featuring terraced fountains sitting in its place, and it stretches around to fill the slice in the footprint with a pedestrian plaza and a triangular fountain. Unfortunately, the park space is being torn apart to make room for a hotel/condo complex, and the last time I walked by it was surrounded in fencing as its trees were being dug up and hauled away in trucks.

Here's a better picture of AMA Building that I stole from wikipedia since my camera takes crappy pictures through smudgy office windows half a mile away: