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    Sunday, June 5, 2011

    Sunday, September 27, 2009

    Race and Diversity

    My first thought about this is “what the hell do I have to say about any of this that matters?” But yesterday, I was listening to my sibling describe a discomfort with people that spoke with accents or foreign languages – not anything like a belief they were in any way inferior, but that it made them feel uncomfortable – “like it’ll take a long time to figure them out.”

    This seemed so completely foreign to me, and because I was separated from the rest of my family for about half of my life and we had vastly different childhoods it shouldn’t be so surprising. But it shocked me. I grew up in an Italian-Irish inner city neighborhood – snatched from that and moved to Michigan at 5 – though I wouldn’t lose contact with that family till much later and spent every summer "back home" in Baltimore in that same neighborhood until I was 15. My siblings were born in Michigan.

    I have a brother who hasn’t spoken to me since 1983 but we were very close growing up. He was thrilled & content with the swing set in our backyard while I planned future trips across Europe. My brother now lives in very rural Virginia. I, on the other hand, was banned from the local travel agency for swiping all the travel brochures. I felt very different from the people around me in Michigan with their snowmobiling and deer hunting. I had a fascination with being around different people – and years later I even handpicked the most vibrantly diverse neighborhood in San Francisco, the Little Saigon area of the Tenderloin to call home, (prostitutes help me find parking spots, and crack addicts meander around freely, and in a high-rise bldg largely filled with Vietnamese mafia-I have watched the children of a hitman grow from babies to high school and his wife is among my dearest friends), because Asians were the race I was least familiar with when I came here after living in Europe and the east coast.

    The point I’m making is that while some of this is terribly personal, a lot of it was shaped by my family, my experience in the city, and the era in which I grew up, and in particular some experiences of my grandmother – most of which revolve around her love and passion for food. Those experiences and exposures have reverberated through me and is a big part of what makes me so different from the others in my family.

    My family ran the first gay bar in Baltimore… in the VERY early 1960s. My Uncle (grandmother’s brother) was gay and a prolific songwriter who got a scholarship to Peabody Conservatory and then moved to Greenwich Village and was under contract to write “numbers” for the burgeoning “negro acts” in the late 50s and early 60s. Those that became close to my Uncle would come back to Baltimore for weekends and have Sunday dinner at my grandmothers narrow rowhome in East Baltimore. My grandmother began a longstanding friendship with Little Anthony when he fell in love with her meatballs. He then offered to show her how to prepare barbecue. They wrote to one another for the next 20 years.

    When my uncle returned to Baltimore he would play clubs and make other club owners a lot of money, so they asked him to play "Pepper Hill" the family bar instead. His following was largely gay, and they found a clientele that were polite, “good punters” and would go out of their way to patronize anyplace that welcomed them. The bar was a huge success until my family failed to “play ball” in local politics and the city rezoned the building in 1963 as the new fire station which still exists today on (I swear to God) Gay Street.

    Make no mistake, apart from one boho Aunt my family has never been liberal nor ventured more than a few miles away. Devout catholics with very fixed rules about masculinity, feminity and above all never ever venturing from the family. But there was also that very Sicilian wariness of authority, a complete disinterest in the language or ever returning to the country they came from (“bad memories”), and above all, an ability to turn a blind eye to anything that was lucrative. My grandparents met bootlegging. The front was a flower cart with booze inside, and others would try to hijack them, so since the man always had to drive the cart it was the woman who knew how to use, load and reload the pistol. That was my grandmother.

    My gay Uncle regrettably died suddenly of an aneurism 2 yrs before I was born but he has haunted me constantly and for years my family was convinced I was his reincarnation (despite the fact that that’s TOTALLY un-Catholic) and my mother had a terrible fear I would die young as he did. Such inconsistent illogical superstition.

    Now the “jew food” craze I vividly remember but didn’t understand until seeing a documentary much later. There was a push in the late 60s to make bagels and lox and kosher food more mainstream in America. Somehow my grandmother ventured where no Sicilian had gone before – to a family deli run by the Levitzes – and discovered “jewish pickles” as she called them – then pastrami and knishes followed. I remember a bit of a battle of wills when crunchy “jewish pickles” (nothing like Vlasic - more like pickled kosher cucumbers) were added to the notoriously italian tomato salad with balsamic that was always marinating in the refrigerator for a late night snack. My grandfather thought leaving the skins on cucumbers was “dirty” and disgusting, but as I recall he started to eat them.

    This is where things get inconsistent. I distinctly recall anti-semitic comments in the family (“they look ugly, like fish outta water”), mostly from my grandfather, who also used the n word on occasion (which my grandmother never uttered and my mother said was "a filthy word that filthy people use".) My grandmother would say a black person attacked him when he was younger but never gave any details, and even at age 6 it was obvious she was making up some story to defend him, and that although my grandmother disapproved she’d never dare speak up against a man. The polite Sicilian word for black is pronounced NEE-vah-dah, but my grandmother later started saying black in English, but she said it as though she were saying “blech!” We were told to lock the doors and roll up the windows if we ever were near black neighborhoods. I have no idea how she reconciled all this with her friendship with Anthony.

    So basically if not for the love of barbecue & good pickles I may very well be a great big fat cracker. But things certainly didn’t end there.

    Saturday, August 15, 2009

    NYC: from hellish to beautiful and special

    Picture this-August in NYC-left to live in SF yrs ago so to me, it's deathly muggy. Performing my play in NYC moving back & forth within the same 4 blox of the theatre district so many goddman times all I see is traffic & I don't even feel like I'm anywhere let alone in NYC. Finally Sun matinee is done and I just wanna die & catch my flight home Mon am & SOMEHOW I get talked into stumbling over to the HighLine and catch the Sunday sunset and a salsa concert at the Chelsea Piers. It finally hits me, I'm in NYC. And it's really really special and beautiful.

    We make it to the end & I want good, reasonable, uncrowded and UNpretentious. Yeah in the West Village. My food czar friend suggests Moustache. A perfect ending to a perfect evening. It was circulating enough inside that we weren't hot, it wasn't hipster central and I wasn't breathing in some bridge & tunnel douchebag's Axe body spray fumes. Everything was terrific, from the lamb pitza - even the baba was really smoky and creamy. That was the moment, the only one in awhile, where I missed living in NYC.

    Then the next morning was a zillion degrees and I was thrilled to be going home again!

    Wednesday, August 5, 2009

    Skinny Rich & Famous (So How was New York?)

    Landed back in SF after taking Love Humiliation & Karaoke to NYC and have spent the last few days just breast stroking back to a normal life. But I've been asked a zillion times "How was NYC" and there isn't really a sound byte answer.

    The short is - it was an amazing experience. I really struggled not to go with a set expectation of how it would go. It was unpredictable. As previously mentioned, we had sound issues right off the bat the day we arrived for our tech (by sound issues I mean the issue of having no sound - in a show with more than a dozen sound cues, most of which are SONGS - none of the CDs or backup CDs worked and we wound up playing the cues through our iPhones!!) There would later be a lighting issue (the light burnt out 10 mins b4 curtain and we needed to rearrange several things stage right so when the lights for each episode came up I wasn't off in the dark somewhere).

    I held my own in NYC and I'm damn proud of that - I wasn't sure whether I would - I only know I love doing what I do and that I'm really dedicated to getting this kind of story out there. But as far as "setting NYC on fire" or getting "contract offers" - (please you guys asked! somebody's been watching a little too much Entourage lately?) Those Lana Turner moments can happen in places like NYC and LA, which is what i think brings out the worst in performers via anxieties. I'm so grateful this is happening later in life, when I'm grounded enough to know all that matters at the end of the day is how I felt about how I did. And I feel very good. I had a great group of people, support, a great team, who often gave in excess of what I was able to give back.

    But there were reviewers from pretty big places, and a casting director for films, but that's more par for the course there, just as here in SF a good portion of your audience has been in a 30-day recovery program, been briefly buddhist, and/or wandered into the sex industry at some point. Walking around NYC was like remembering how I was when i lived there. (Desperate to somehow be acknowledged as the latest thing, the best, the runaway success, but still terribly modest and cool about it, or so I thought.)

    If I coulda looked in a crystal ball back in 1989 and seen that 20 years later, I would NOT ONLY NOT be skinny, rich or famous (and there was no particular order cuz it had better be all three or nothin), I'd've probably said "well then just take me out now" and a Yellow Cab would've been happy to oblige.

    Of course, I didn't realize I assumed those elusive things would naturally make me happy. What I never imagined was how aimless and meandering my life would seem at certain points, how desperately in love I would be someday, how much that would heal me, grow with time and how much exponentially happier I'd be.

    But as for washboard abs, well not so much (in fact no abs at all to speak of as far as I can tell), no one jostling to snap my photo when I leave home (good thing given the lack of abs) & no West Village townhouse - not even a Tenderloin townhouse. But life is very very good. Sometimes I feel more love and support than I can wrap my mind around. And I feel really fortunate to have created this vessel in which to pour more of myself than anything else I've ever known. This is the story I'd die to tell. A funny story about wicked serious sh*t. How if you don't lose faith and hope, even when life supplies you an endless buffet of sh*t sandwiches - your entire world can still change suddenly and dramatically for the better.

    I wish this for everyone, which is why I risk putting ALL my sh*t out there. The fear, the loneliness, the neuroses - the laughs. So ppl can say "hey if this steaming hot mess can turn it around why the hell can't I?" But the secret of the path is that there is no path. But if you can dream it, I promise it's there waiting to be manifested. And in it's own way, it's probably bigger and better than anything you could've imagined.

    Friday, July 31, 2009

    Opening Night in NYC

    Opening day was a ride, not without a few faggy meltdowns. Showed up at the theater, which I was really pleased with, people very nice, and then realized NONE of the sound worked. Sound cues, backup sound cues, nothing for an hour, and opening in 4 hours. CDs, which we burn on computer but tested on the most ancient CD player, wouldn't work. So we were really screwed. They got a cable for an ipod and then we happened to have the music on our iPhones, so now on top of a lighting plot that David was just learning hours before he now had to trigger the iPhone to play the music. Tonight we'll do sound on the laptop.

    I'm VERY happy with the first show - for some reason, my voice was in really good shape, we switched the song at the end, different song and in a different place, when I'm giving David the elephant ring, it doesn't make the final song so weirdly close to the end of the show without being a finale. That went over well. Really good crowd. Susan Alexander (big laughs) and Heather Gold and some CSers.

    Tonights show is the plumb spot, so we'll see. I get that NYC audiences are more about what's on the stage rather than how hot the audience is, moreso than SF audiences, or so it seemed to me. I'm a fucking authority on the subject, having done one show.

    Yesterday was in my opinion as much of a triumph for my husband (the real life San Diego David) than for me, a number of people from other shows were astounded at how good my lighting design was for David having done lights just hours before. But he downloaded the lighting plot and figured out how to do things like backlight me when I did flashbacks so I was in sillhouette, which worked well, but which horrifyingly leaves me TOTALLY seeing everyone in the audience.

    Anyway, I'm proud of myself, it still hasn't registered that I am performing in this massive MASSIVE city.