The Ex of In House in Rhinebeck is an experimental guest house developed directly from the ongoing Explorations of “IN” project at Steven Holl Architects.
Jim Hodges, Gladstone Gallery NYC 2016. I Dreamed a World and Called it Love
Imagining, like millions of others this weekend, how one might spend a billion dollars… I learned something helpful about myself and my life goals.
Recently I met a psychic. She told me my mother would win the lottery. I told my mother to play… she won $50. She was thrilled. I was thrilled for her.
Gripped by Powerball fever, everybody wants a chance at the big money. Everybody wants the Powerball mega bucks payout. I took notice of the rolling stock market jackpot indicator. $700,000,000. I baulked at the tax one would have to pay. You wouldn’t see any more than $300,000,000 if you opted for the one time pay out. Sad face.
Frankly, a crisp $20 would have done the trick.
Everybody wants the jackpot. Rich people were doing it, poor people do it every week. With so much at stake, everyone everywhere in the USA contributed to the largest purse in lottery history.
I surreptitiously bought five tickets at Hannaford supermarket in Kingston. I told the woman who sold them I’d never bought a lottery ticket before. A ghost of disbelief flickered across her white face.
“A psychic told me to buy it.” I lied.
She said, “I’ve sold so many tickets to ‘first timers’ this week.”
“Thank you, thank you for that.” I replied.
I felt better about buying a lottery ticket. I felt relieved. Affluent people don’t buy lottery tickets. Poor, uneducated people buy lottery tickets. It was essential she understood I would never usually gamble in the ghetto.
As I lay in bed that night, my ticket folded neatly in my wallet, I imagined a life with $500, 000, 000 in the bank. What would I do?
We are all limited by our imaginations.
I’ve seen some of my friends earn extraordinary amounts of money. The last time I saw JJ he told me since becoming very rich, very successful… rather than having a huge life his life had… shrunk. The same faces, the same path around the world. Holding onto his position at the top of the pile. Fame and fortune can hamper the inquisitive.
My current best friend is very rich. Very, very rich. He lives well but has worked the same job the past twenty years. His money and his job are unconnected. He has a nice life. I found myself wanting to ape him. A lovely apartment in the city, a house in the country, a dependable car. He gives money to charity, he is generous with his friends.
But… with his kind of cash, where would I want to live? To my surprise, I knew immediately that I didn’t want to live in the USA. I started my search for a dream home in Paris. I found a sweet apartment in the 7th for 1.5 million euros. I looked for a country house in the french countryside and quickly settled for something that cost 500,000 euros.
After I’d made myself and my family comfortable… which charity might I patronize? I decided to set up a foundation for poor British kids who can’t get into drama school. I gave money to a bat charity and another that supports country skills and farming practices. I gave money to beautify Whitstable, my home town. I concluded that with the bulk of the money I wanted to help the motivated, stuck in poverty or prejudice, achieve their goals… to break through their own glass ceiling and… fly.
As I lay there I realized I didn’t need $1.5 billion to achieve my rather humble aims. Everything I wanted to achieve was within reach. I could already buy a place in Paris. I could determine to raise money for all of the charities I wanted to help. Maybe winning the lottery, for some one like me would be a curse? Untold millions would merely inflame the disease of more that seems to blight me… blight us all?
Today I walked home with half a baguette in my pocket. This simple action gave me so much pleasure.
The first week yielded no winner. I wanted to see this through. The Powerball lottery and I have a relationship now. I could have gone elsewhere to have a second go. Instead, I went back to the reassuring woman in the supermarket.
“Didn’t win?” She smiled.
I bought ten more.
I didn’t win that week either but three people did. The jackpot divided into three paltry $300,000,000 increments. I found myself wondering, what would THAT buy you in the modern world?
Hudson, NY 2015 winter. I moved into the Princess Beatrix House, owned by Tanja Grunert and Klemens Gasser. The ice so thick on their un-ploughed drive it’s almost impossible for the tiny Mexican movers from sunny California to negotiate the heavier items from the pantechnicon to the house. They wear my Knole sofa like a huge hat. It is bitterly cold yet these foolhardy boys brave the day dressed only in thin, grubby tee shirts and flimsy, cheap sneakers, skidding up and down the icy drive. They are totally unprepared for the winter delivery.
Before I arrived in Hudson, NY I had never heard of Eric Galloway, Eleanor Ambos, Tim Dunleavy, Warren Street, Modern Farmer, Anne Marie Gardner, the Bonfiglio bakery… or the slew of slippery realtors wheeling and dealing all over town.
I didn’t know the Basilica or Helsinki or Etsy. I didn’t know the darker side of hipster culture, the craving of desperate, lonely females and the clawing misery of gay men trapped upstate in search of a better, freer life.
The only person I knew ahead of my 9 months in Hudson was Marina Abramovic. And it was she who piqued my interest the very first time my friend Tom Taylor showed me the building Marina had acquired, the building Rem Koolhas had been charged with transforming into a ‘laboratory devoted to performance art’ funded by 12 million crowd sourced dollars.
The Old Tennis Court on the corner of North 7th Street and Columbia Street in Hudson, NY owned by Marina Abramovic, stands forlorn, peeling and abandoned. The windows boarded, trash blown under the grand portico. It waits, warehoused like so many building in Hudson, for it’s owner to come renovate, repair or make good the myth of Marina Abramovic transforming this imposing building into her performance art institute.
Tom Taylor, stopped his beaten truck outside the building. After several weeks of heavy snow and bitterly cold nights a wall of ice stood between us and the building. He was excited to show me, telling a story I would hear many, many times from equally excited local people.
Upstate New York . Cheap, fertile land… derelict 18th and 19th century houses desperate for attention. Abandoned red brick factories. The promise of space and sanctuary.
My first visit to Woodstock, with cabaret star Lady Rizo three Christmases ago, my first real taste of life beyond NYC. The thick white, blindingly white snow, the mountains, rivers and forests a welcome respite from 12 years of endless summer in Southern California.
I returned the following winter to the same charming stone house and started looking for a home to buy. Property prices were very low. As usual I was tempted by obscure, isolated locations but did not give in to that melancholic fantasy.
It was an invitation from Tom Taylor to Eleanor Ambos’s huge Victorian pile in Philmont that finally ignited my passion. I’d met him on some dating app in the city when I spent that mad winter in the Captains House in Brooklyn. After months of asking me to visit I finally bundled me and the dogs into the rental car and headed north.
Tom is the right hand man and beneficiary of Eleanor Ambos’s valuable real estate portfolio. Her notable possessions: the Pocket Book factory in Hudson and The Metropolitan Building on Long Island.
“It is as if she doesn’t hear the same music that everyone else is hearing,” says director Andrew Michael Ellis of 89-year-old Eleanor Ambos. In his documentary short Ellis follows the eccentric aesthete as she loses her eyesight to macular degeneration.
Eleanor bought the dilapidated Metropolitan Building on Long Island in 1980 as a cheap alternative to the area’s warehouses to store her vast and growing collection of salvaged antiques. The octogenarian owner caught Ellis’ eye while he was shooting there. “She had no intention of being a subject in a film at first, but eventually I became her friend, therapist, practically her lover. It was impossible to be a fly on the wall.”
The month I met her she had bought a 72,000 square foot mid century modern school in Claverack. The day I arrived to see it she was laying a delicate floral carpet in the hallway. “I like playing house.” she purred. And that, my dear friends, is what attracts people to her and repels people from her. I introduce her to the thin lipped owners of the Gilded Owl in Hudson, a most pretentious ‘gallery’ curated by interior fluffer Andy Goldsworthy and down and dirty art trader Elizabeth Moore.
THE GILDED OWL is an online journal exploring craftsmanship in modern and contemporary design, fine art, fashion, and music. Inspired by authenticity, ingenuity, and above all, quality, Andy and Elizabeth Moore continually investigate subjects of fascination and enlighten their readers as to what makes the beautiful beautiful.
And if that description isn’t enough to make you puke… Elizabeth, Andy and I visited an Ambos property (they were both eager to see) namely the magical Summit Mill in Philmont with Eleanor and Tom. After the visit Andy and Elizabeth couldn’t wait to kick the snow off their moon boots and rip into Eleanor’s aesthetic, her hoarding and wonder how other people could find her so fascinating.
Hudson has rich history of despair. The ghosts of a thousand hookers, gamblers and dismembered whales join those native Americans murdered here for their land. Something very bad happened in Hudson, something catastrophic… something that has scarred its psyche, blighted the land and poisoned the air. Those who spend a weekend in Hudson seldom notice it, those who live there become irradiated… toxic.
Resentment and vitriol. The Hudson cancer… is much reserved for one successful Hudson businessman: Eric Galloway.
I visit Hudson only occasionally. I walk Warren Street, much of it owned, to the chagrin of those impoverished white people who live there, by the stately Eric Galloway and his billionaire boyfriend Henry Van Ameringen.
At the very heart of the contempt for these acquisitive gentleman is racism. Eric Galloway is an angular, elegant black man and the despair white people have (who are not benefitting from his patronage) often descends into barely concealed racism.
‘Educated’ white folk who think they know better about architecture, who keep tabs on each purchase Galloway and Van Ameringen make all over the world. Tanja Grunert and others could barely contain themselves when Galloway bought much loved and recently deceased (owner of the fanciful store Rural Residence) Tim Dunlevey’s iconic Union Street home.
“That disgusting man bought Tim’s house.” She said.
Yet, who was Tim’s ex boyfriend meant to sell? The poor white people who couldn’t afford it? Or, the contentious black man who could?
This past year Hudson’s ‘revival’ (one of so many) has continued with renewed vigor. The expensive, beautifully designed River Town Lodge opened at the top of Warren Street. Farmer’s restaurant on Front Street spared no expense on its warm and elegant interior, bravely situated in a less salubrious part of Hudson and lastly the airy bar Or on 3rd and Union Street enjoys enormous success in a beautifully renovated 1930’s garage. All quality establishments, some owned by Eric and Henry.
These small businesses are the future of Hudson. Other larger businesses are sniffing around. Soho House are discussing the possibility of opening in Eleanor Ambos’s Pocketbook Factory. A whirl of invesment and optimism… yet, The Old Tennis Courts on the corner of North 7th Street and Columbia Street in Hudson, NY owned by Marina Abramovic remains forlorn and empty.
As painful as it is, it’s time for everyone in Hudson, NY to accept the truth: Marina Abramovic isn’t coming.
The rain, interminable. Cats and dogs. Great lakes puddle over the marshy back land. Ominous clouds scud over the Hudson Valley. Tom the gardener ploughs trenches down hill, unplugging the dams. Thirty years of fallen oak leaves dredged from soggy trench and damned culvert. Branches thrown over the fence into the once vacant lot by lazy neighbours, removed. A scribble of dead bramble, removed. Now, on the northern perimeter, a pile of rotting vegetation – we might have burned on November 5th if we lived somewhere sensible.
“There’ll be no bonfires in the village.” She said. The woman at the Mayor’s office. So. No wood smoke drifting over sparkling, frosty fields, no Guy Fawkes. No baked potatoes wrapped in scalding tin foil found amongst the dying embers.
I call friends in Los Angeles, they ask smugly if I’m prepared for the winter. They have no idea. Windows, insulation, boiler… thick curtains thankfully saved from other draughty, Victorian mansions. The winter months do not scare me. Come winter, come freeze the air, let the first snow fall.
How many pairs of gloves will I lose this year?
I am happy in Tivoli, so are the dogs. They chase squirrels, rabbits and deer.
The Little Dog has been skunked twice. Good God! The second time I took him to the vet, where they washed him with some magical solution. Better than being savaged by coyote or bitten by a rattlesnake… I suppose, cheaper to remedy. He’s such a brave, curious, foolhardy Little Dog.
Dude hasn’t been skunked once, he hangs back from anything mildly threatening. He learned to climb the steep stair in the new house, laboring one step at a time he finds us in bed then dances on two legs until I fetch him up.
I drive my old Mercedes into Hudson once a week. It’s a lovely town to visit but I hated living there. I hated it. Frighteningly, I can’t remember the name of the road where I lived. Let me remember. Bellview, Fairview… PROSPECT! Prospect Avenue, Hudson, NY.
So many irrelevant details scrubbed from the hard drive. I will never forget that house. That vile, ‘English Tudor’ house on the optimistically named Prospect Avenue. Overlooking the hospital; and a busy, dirty road. The worst place (by far) I ever lived. Badly designed, badly renovated, so badly insulated: incapable of keeping heat in the winter or cool in the summer.
The house was haunted, not by angry ghosts moving things around or waiting in the corner… but melancholy, lonely women, dragging themselves up and down the stairs. Most evident, the ghost of an elderly school teacher who spent twenty years peering from the sitting room window, equally scaring and delighting passing school children like a Halloween ghoul.
The house attracts lonely women.
Tanja Grunert, the current owner, is the last of a long line.
So, I dedicate this blog post to her. To lonely Tanja whose life is more treacherous than a Hudson pavement in mid January.
The night I met Tanja she was wearing a huge black and white fur coat. Like a skunk.
A short, stocky woman, she wears baggy jeans and tailored jackets. Her cropped, gray/mauve hair… cut hard around her masculine, pudgy face. A smear of red lipstick, the only evidence she might be a heterosexual woman.
The night we met (by accident over steaming bowls of Asian broth) I should have run away.
Sadly, I have never had the resolve to run from a catastrophe. As the towers came down I ran toward them. There is something immediately alluring about Tanja, something fascinating. From the moment we met I was hooked. Some people are. I’ll not be the first and I won’t be the last. She crafted a first class art world career from a scintillating first impression.
That night Tanja focused her all on me, seducing and melting… gasping and fluttering, roaring her huge laugh. After dinner she invited us to the house… that house.
Much later I understood the only time she threw back her head, roaring that infectious laugh, was used as part of a sinister, well rehearsed routine. A carefully constructed formula.
We discovered we had many people in common, Jay Jopling, Samia Saouma and Benedict Taschen.
She told me how beautiful I was. Told me I was her ‘type’. I was clear about my sexuality, “I am a gay man.” I said, as she coquettishly batted her eyelashes, grabbed hold of my hand, inviting us back to her cold, empty house. “Oh I’m so sorry.” She bows deeply into every apology. She is a committed apologist. “English is my second language.” During our cohabitation I must have heard her say a million times, “Excuse me if I don’t understand.”
It was a lie. I knew from the beginning she understood everything very well. Yet, I chose to ignore her lies. I chose to ignore, that cold winter, her lies, her homophobia, her racism, her alcoholism and her delusion.
Tanja is an alcoholic. She is the kind of binging alcoholic who convinces herself that because she doesn’t drink in the morning she doesn’t have a drinking problem…. but she drinks in the morning. She is the kind of alcoholic who convinces herself that because she doesn’t drink alone she isn’t an alcoholic… yet, she drinks alone. She is the kind of alcoholic who convinces herself that she isn’t an alcoholic because she doesn’t black out and wet the bed…
She drank wine by the bottle, chain-smoked cigarettes; listened to opera so loudly on her record player that good conversation became impossible. Drowning in Wagner, drowning not waving, into misery.
That night, my first visit to her house, she lit a fire in the huge, totally empty sitting room. Her husband was gone. He had taken flight that summer. Taking with him the money (his fathers) and the possibility. She told him: “You cannot come to the house in Hudson.” He said, “You can’t have money to furnish it.”
I said: “You have an empty house and I have furniture.” She said “Yes!” immediately.
Listen for a moment. Stand back. Re-read my offer and tell me what could possibly go wrong?
Obviously it was terrible mistake. Half measures avail us nothing. I had no right making a deal with this devil. She started texting and calling all day and all night. She would introduce me to her friends as her boyfriend or her husband. She’d tell everyone who would listen that she loved me. I was living in the East Village. We had dinner in the city. Tanja tried making me pay for her expensive wine habit… I refused.
Instead, I moved in.
So began a slow, interminably slow, head on collision. Two cold, stubborn alcoholics buckling, catastrophically into one another. I spent nearly a year at the house, firstly because I was entranced… then the doors began to slam behind me. The furniture arrived and she took what she wanted from my things. “Each thing more beautiful than the last.” She cooed.
My Gary Hume disappeared.
Because she is an unapologetic racist she made me hide my African art because black people do not interest her. They make her ‘think of slavery’. They ‘make me sad’. “I would never sleep with a black man.”
She buys five tickets for the Bjork concert but can’t find anyone to come with us. Finally she invites people who barely know her. They say, “I don’t know her at all.” At the will call she’s told very clearly that her tickets are being exchanged for better tickets. Tanja starts screaming. Screaming at everyone. Kicking the theatre. I stand back and watch her disgusting spectacle. I take the tickets, tell her to shut the fuck up, lead her into the theatre. We take our excellent seats at the front of the theatre.
Shocked by her behavior we walk in silence back to the car after the event, unable to discuss Bjork like normal people. Like the normal people around us, happy and grateful to have seen Bjork. Her tantrums, her temper, her screaming, her crying fits of righteous outrage and indignation became so regular I learned to ignore them.
The winter was long and hard and cold. Minus 23 degrees. Unheard of upstate New York. I found myself held hostage by the masculine German woman in the unfriendly house.
She refused to fill the oil tanks. The house froze. The pipes burst. The tiles fall from the bathroom walls. I fill the oil tanks myself, ferrying 10 gallon cans from a filling station five miles away.
The chaos, her unmanagability became easier when the sun began to shine.
Spring came suddenly this year. The original deal she reneged. She wanted money. Always desperate for cash. Another good idea blown into a million pieces. I handed it over.
Her grasping, fat fingers. Her solid, bruised, Teutonic arms quaffing wine, passing out, laying naked on her bed until she leaks yellow stinking piss all over herself. Naked on her bed, not sleeping but unconscious. Laying like the dead waiting for the autopsy, naked on her back. Acres of white flesh. “We are always naked.” “We always talk to ourselves.” “We only eat from Fish and Game.”
She tells everyone that an important publisher has commissioned an auto-biography. She says that the money will come.
“We only write in the kitchen.”
“We hate mood lighting.”
She spends hours under the harsh light at the kitchen table tapping on her keyboard, claiming to write a book some grand publisher might (or might not) have commissioned. She says she’s researching but she’s on the internet trying to fill the consuming void her younger husband left when he scarpered last June. Filling the gaping, suppurating wound with Internet dates on match.com, okcupid and other… less salubrious sites. She shows me a thousand pictures of penis she has been sent.
Her less sexually ambitious female friends think she is a pioneer. This old queen knows she is a lonely, sleazy woman on the cusp of suicide. In and out of Belleview. Unable to accept the truth. Popping pills. She is poor, illegal and single.
Gay men seldom share the cache of penis we’ve been sent on line. Maybe the largest or the smallest. Maybe the most beautiful. She indiscriminately shows me every one. She wants me to know she is still relevant, that her menopause hadn’t knocked her through a hoop. (Like Samia before her.) But her boast falls on deaf ears. I look at her poker faced, disguising the pity I have for her.
There’s a young art dealer in town with a cool gallery, I buy art, he delivers the art to the house. He knows who she is. Curious to see where Tanja lives, he is surprised that the house is so clean. He expects to see a mountain of empty bottles. He tells me that she owes everyone money, him included.
“There’s a joke art dealers tell each other. They laugh about how long they’ve been in the art business. They say, I’ve been selling art so long… I remember when Tanja Grunert was hot.”
I reserved the most sympathy for her children who instinctively knew how selfish, self-obsessed and self pitying she and her ex husband are. Both so eager to flee from her, like the men she meets on-line. A French man meets with her and tells me “Within a few minutes of phone conversation she offers to lick my ass.” to be his toilet. When he meets with her he says he could not fuck her because fucking her would be like “Fucking grandma.”
After meeting him she text messages twenty times an hour. She sobs, howls… when it becomes apparent that he is not interested in her. She wrings her hands and bangs her head into the wall, she blames everyone for her distress.
She meets another man and calls at 1am to ask where they can find a woman for some three way. I terminate the call.
Her teenage daughter watches as every man her mother meets on the internet lets her down. Steals what little she has left. She has learned to keep quiet. She is biding her time, waiting for the day she can turn her back on them all.
Tanja boasts that during her second pregnancy with the girl she was high on cocaine, drunk on alcohol every day for the first trimester.
Her insufferable, precocious, entitled, blue-eyed son lives with us for the summer. He leaves chaos and mountains of trash infested, after a few hot days, with maggots. He said, “You are the room mate, you must clean up after me.” I refuse.
I video the mess and send it to his mother. He is now at an expensive college in SF exploring his homosexuality, thankfully a long way from his gentle, yielding girlfriend who was often heard plaintively asking the teenager why he needed to hurt her to express his love.
The boy barely conceals his contempt for the girl. Like his mother, like his father, like his grandmother. Generational dysfunction. Violence. Violent to others, violent to herself, Tanja told me her husband would beat her in the bedroom. Not because he loved her… because he hated her. The provenance of the son’s fledgling misogyny evident for all to see.
The son drinks until he passes out. Naked on his bed. His father drinks himself into a black out… she wets the bed. I could smell the piss before I saw it.
Her son wants to stay with me at the hotel. I cling to the edge of the bed. As far as I can from his yearning adolescence. Tanja wants to know why he is so interested in me.
For all of her gay friends, she is an unapologetic homophobe. She makes sneering jokes about ‘Your side’ and ‘Your people’ she tells me that I am ‘No use’ to her. They are not jokes, they are evidence of her deep-seated homophobic resentment. For all the extraordinary gay men she surrounds herself, delighting them with her drama… she hates gay men. We are good for loans and art purchases. We loyally turn up at the hospital every time she half-heartedly overdoses.
When I brought that beautiful boy Spencer home, she asked if he was my boyfriend, then slandered me in German. My school boy German catches every word.
Gay men know this: we all know that those determined to kill themselves rarely fail. The rest, like Tanja, merely crave the attention: cosseted in hospital beds, prescribed medicine, given the benefit of the doubt.
The gays around her provide the Greek entertainment. The chorus. Picking up the pieces.
At dawn, when she finally let me sleep. Before she falls into her bed, Tanja became sexually abusive. When we are on our own, if I’m the only person in the house she focuses her sexual violence on me. Keeping me awake until dawn, drinking and smoking. Trying to touch me.
When, at the end, I mention that she is sexually harassing me and I could sue her… she smiles a smile only a torturer could have smiled and I saw very clearly into her rotten, stinking soul. She looked like the devil. I saw the devil smile. I will never forget that smile, for it was quite unlike anything I had seen before.
In the morning, by way of apology, she reminds me again that her mother had abused her. That she had hidden from the Nazis by living in a box under a mill, like a fairy-tale troll. After the war her mother had children and beat them. This was the excuse she gave for abusing me.
The same excuse. Again and again.
Excuses: excuses not to pay her artists, why the house would freeze and the pipes would burst. Excused for not having insurance when Sandy hit Manhattan and filled her Chelsea gallery with raw sewage. Excuses for not paying her taxes, for not bothering to renew her visa. Excuses why she never made a better job of killing herself. Excuses and apologies. One after another. A crocodile of dead infants snaking their way to hell.
After my painful pancreas operation, drowsy on meds she made me drive to the bank, fetch her $3000 and then punches me when I burst into tears. She apologizes immediately; she tells me that she was abused by her mother. It’s too late. The summer is coming to an end. I hate her with such vigor. I hate being near her, I hate her voice, her smell, her proximity.
We drive back to the gallery where an angry artist is waiting for cash. Arms crossed.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand.” She pleads with the angry artist.
At the end of August I empty the house of my possessions and I am free. 8 months of hell finally comes to an end. I move to Tivoli.
Even after I am gone she demands money. I have learned not to respond or engage. A good lesson in restraint of pen and tongue.
They had the complexion of wealth, that white complexion that is heightened by the pallor of porcelain, the sheen of satin, the luster of fine furniture, and is kept in perfect condition by a moderate diet of exquisite foods. Those who were beginning to age seemed youthful, while those who were young had a certain look of maturity. Their faces wore that placid expression which comes from the daily gratification of the passions; and beneath their polished manners one could sense the special brutality that comes from half-easy triumphs which test one’s strength and flatter one’s vanity.
We drove from Provincetown yesterday, leaving the pretty streets, the clapboard houses and verdant gardens to Bear Week. Thousands of large, hairy shouldered men smiling and engaging not scowling or isolating like the circuit boys who infested the town two weeks previously during the 4th July celebration.
The past six weeks in Provincetown were, on the whole, a great deal of fun. I met a huge assortment of extraordinary and not so extraordinary people. I saw people I knew from LA and NYC. I met men and women from DC, Nashville and Florida. Mostly enjoying their week off, some of them… not so much. Americans get so few vacations.
The A gays who live in Provincetown were kind and considerate. They have beautiful homes and make them readily available to those they trust.
The extraordinary designer Ken Fulk has restored a perfect gem of a house in The East End where I was privileged to spend the 4th July and then see photographed by famed society doyenne Douglas Friedman for Elle Decor. Editor Robert Ruffino scampering around arranging flowers wearing his Florentine winkle pickers.
The walls are the color of raspberry mousse, the windows frames and architrave painted chocolate-brown.
My birthday dinner: an anonymous donor very kindly paid for.
I really didn’t know anyone very well at my party, except Michael Goff and Michael Cunningham. So when it came to making my speech, after the candle was snuffed, I said: “I don’t know any of you at all… but this delightful group of strangers came together to celebrate the birthday of another stranger… and with such magnanimity it brings tears to my eyes.”
The following day I told someone from the party that I had no intention of making friends with him beyond Provincetown because our friendship could only flourish on the Cape. He looked a little perplexed but one has to be realistic. When we return to the city a tsunami of gay gossip will drown the truth and ones expectations will be dashed.
The utterly adorable Michael Cunningham (who I had known previously through Amelia Rizo) made a necklace for my birthday. We sat in his exquisitely decorated water front home, surrounded by magnificent art, picking out trinkets for a silver chain. I had a moment of unrestrained excitement as I realized that a Pulitzer Prize winning author, writer of The Hours, was making me a birthday present with his bare hands. He continued, throughout my stay, to delight and engage. We discussed Emma Bovary. We… of a certain age, share the same literary starting blocks… but he won the race.
We talked about Neil Bartlett‘s beautiful book Who Was That Man. Required reading for any young gay.
There were many occasions these past weeks when I noticed how relaxed I was, at peace, living in my own body, inhabiting the life I have rather than the life I thought I wanted. There were, of course, other occasions when a face from the past popped into view and caused momentary consternation. The vile, blond publicist/image consultant, owner of Black Frame Brian Phillips who, wether he likes it or not, is in my social orbit but never bothers to be cordial. Or the ex boyfriend Chris Shipman who cycled around town with his thin calves and sad eyes. I ignored the ex and engaged with fey Brian Phillips who sat in his chair as I forcefully reminded him what an evil cunt he can be and how he seems unable to keep and love another man due to his crippling narcissism.
I met Jim Lande, producer of the hit burlesque/freak show Audition and talked about his flawed film: Love is Strange directed by Ira Sachs. Shown at The Provincetown Film Festival this beautifully shot and directed film promises so much but fails to deliver… relying on coincidence and melodrama. The film lacks any real emotion. Two old gay married men separated by circumstance and bad choices. Could have been brilliant but… wasn’t.
I kept away from the drag shows and the theatrical events but I saw Ryan Landry‘s inventive and surreal Pantomime: Snow White and The Seven Bottoms which reminded me of Charles Ludlam. Go see this if you can.
I spent a great deal of time chatting with the adorable Andrew Sullivan and his husband Aaron Tone. The gays, on the whole, are openly hostile to Andrew, they accuse him of being a ‘traitor to the gays’ because he aggressively posits an alternative view. Our politics couldn’t be more different yet we agreed about so much, mainly our loathing of powerful lobby groups like AIPAC, GLAAD and the HRC. I found him to be gracious and engaging.
Andrew told fascinating stories about his private dinners with President Obama, his short-lived stay in NYC, the history of his three-legged dog. We sat outside The Wired Puppy coffee shop on Commercial Street where I witnessed at first hand the disdain the gays show him and the delight straight people have… in equal measure.
The white gays may never understand his POV because by now they think they rule the world.
I spent time with Michael Goff and Andy Towle in town to promote their site towleroad.com, we greeted the first of the bears at the dock with 20 drag Goldilocks who boasted that they had eaten all the porridge. We sat in their charming house and ate whatever they had in their fridge. We took my friend Caroline Reid to a Bear-B-Q, Caroline is cult performer PamAnn. We took her to more bear events where she was the only woman. Her fans adore her.
And that was that. There were other amusing people to play with who I haven’t mentioned. There were less amusing people who I hope I never see again.
Thanks Provincetown and… adieu.
I wonder if Michael Alig hated the movie Party Monster as much as I did?
I wonder if someone at Fenton Baily’s World of Wonder who filmed Alig’s ‘reactions’ whilst he watched the docudrama about himself… paid him? I can’t imagine that he won’t be on Fenton’s payroll before the year is out, just like his friend and the gay douche James St. James… who I was once bored to meet in LA with Ian Drew.
Meanwhile, the soggy Michael Musto pretends Alig is a very bad man yet seems secretly in awe, unable to stop writing about him. There are articles about Alig everywhere in the gay press. Of course, The Gay Voices section in The Huffington Post want his ‘opinion’ about EVERYTHING.
The gay frenzy around Alig’s release from prison is beyond macabre. What does Michael Alig think about the progression of gay rights? What does Alig think about the overturn of DOMA? Does he have an opinion about the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?
Am I crazy? This murderer gets out of jail. A murderer who dismembers another gay man and we ask his opinion about DOMA?
For those of you who don’t know Michael Alig… and there are many… Michael Alig (born South Bend, Indiana, April 29, 1966) is the co-founding member of the Club Kids, a group of young club goers led by Alig and his long-time best friend James St. James in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1996, Alig pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Andre “Angel” Melendez in a confrontation over a drug debt.
If Michael were a straight, white guy getting out of jail for killing and dismembering another man… would other straight people be fascinated by what he had to say about… the Affordable Care Act? Mind you, if he was a black man… we wouldn’t ever hear his opinion about anything… because he would still be in jail, convicted of first degree murder rather than the white man’s sop… manslaughter.
It’s so exciting to have him home in New York City! Let’s read more about Michael Alig in Vanity Fair! Imagine what it must be like to be free after 17 years! Everything’s so incredibly different! Here… play with this. It’s called a smart phone. These are ‘apps’.
Michael Alig tweet his fans. Michael looks at Manhattan as he crosses an unnamed bridge into the city and has a moment of trepidation . Did he remember dumping Angel’s body into the East River? Alig drinks Starbucks and eats Arctic Char. He scarcely seems like a man who would murder and dismember another gay man as he eloquently discusses fish seasoning.
Later, Michael forgets to take a shower because no one is telling him to wash. It’s ‘amusing’ to see Michael use Grindr for the first time and wonder if and when he hooks up… will he tell his on-line fancy… the truth? Will he conceal his true identity? The truth about his murdering and dismembering past… huh? Are you kidding? Nobody tells the truth on Grindr. A world of wonder… indeed.
“Michael you’re my hero.” The young gays squeal on social media. ‘We still love you!’ ‘You helped me become the man I am today.’ The elder ones tweet: ‘You made me true to myself.’
Michael Alig has become our best, brightest and newest gay celebrity. Hankering for a second chance in a country that loathes giving second chances to anyone. He will become a living legend, his gay apotheosis assured by Fenton Baily and Michael Musto who may make fortunes from Alig’s gruesome celebrity. Nor must we forget Ramon Fernandez, director of the upcoming documentary Glory Daze: The Life and Times of Michael Alig, he too expects to win big riding on Alig’s murder and mayhem.
No doubt Alig will be invited to GLAAD events, his crimes diminished by celebrity and pithy comments about hetero normative gay life… he will champion individuality, he will sit at The World of Wonder table with Ru Paul. He will work tirelessly for the HRC.
Michael Alig will be loathed and loved in equal measure when in fact… he should be totally ignored.
Meanwhile, a truly talented filmmaker kills himself. Malik Bendjelloul, director of Oscar winning film Searching for Sugar Man. When I heard it, your personal story moved me. It’s tough to be a star. I know what you went through. I was there for a moment too. Same age. It’s very disconcerting, all that attention after years of solitude. Making art in a vacuum… then Hollywood comes calling with their lies and false promises.
Two different tales, different intentions. Two very different filmmakers.
Fenton Baily and Ramon Fernandez add a miserable, self indulgent post script to a stark and soulless documentary making themselves more money from the death and dismemberment of a brown man… no doubt delighting other soulless white people… whist you dear Malik made an inspiring documentary that touched the hearts of many and was so deserving of the international acclaim it received.
Sometimes it seems like a shit, shit world. A world where people like a gay drug addict and murderer Michael Alig get all the attention on exactly the same day a brilliant man like Malik Bendjelloul ends his own life.
Rest in Peace.
So, Ellen Page ‘comes out‘ with Chad at her side and (as scripted) is immediately hailed as ‘brave’ by the neo liberal media for telling her truth. Big fucking deal. Did Ellen Page come out in Uganda, risking her life? Did Ellen Page use her power and prestige to help those less fortunate lesbians in other parts of the world who risk being imprisoned or worse for the luxury of telling their truth? No, she talked about how hard it was for her to crash stereotypes.
Poor Ellen. My heart bleeds for you.
As more and more celebrities come out it is no longer good enough to expect and prepare for fanfare without their truth becoming a political gesture. It is not good enough for a celebrity in the free world to expect a ‘small gesture’ toward acceptance to be adequate.
Small gestures need to get bigger. It is the responsibility of every lgbtq celebrity who comes out to address the disparity between their free lives and their oppressed brothers and sisters else where. For Ellen Page not to mention Uganda, Russia etc. was willful and selfish.
After all, what did she expect… a fucking medal? No, all she was doing was safeguarding her job and her position and her fame and fortune.
Party last night at Jacob Brown‘s East Village duplex. Celebrating his birthday were cute thin people, two old farts… me and the perfectly adorable producer Hunter Hill. Crowd included (amongst others) the delectable poet Andrew Durbin and former MOCA head honcho Ari Wiseman.
I loved that my controversial green fur hat found favor with this cool, queer crowd.
Valentine’s Day, enjoying my burgeoning relationship.
We popped in at lunch time to make our reservation and the young lady maitre’d dutifully jotted it down, took names and numbers and the promise of a two top.
At 8pm we arrived at Isa. The booking was lost, we were given the end of a community table under a loud speaker playing the most intrusive music, the waiters seemed to be very eager to process EVERYONE in and out very quickly.
We were asked by 4 separate people if we were sure we didn’t want alcohol.
Anyway, I ordered the rustic tomato soup and the skirt steak. The soup was ok but served in very small dish. The skirt steak entree was ghastly. It was like chewing through a shoe. A rubber shoe. I sent it back and the duck special was whisked to our table in its place. The duck was ok, not very well seasoned, the polenta was soupy and badly prepared and $30. The tiny dish of $7 brussels sprouts were tepid and badly flash fried leaving most of them untouched by the pan… temperature issues at Isa became an irritating theme.
Our coffee was also cold so I left it.
The staff were the kind of people who try to shame you for making a complaint. Condescending young people who are used to old people putting up and shutting up. “Do you think you’ll like the duck better.” He asked after I sent back the inedible steak… he asked as if I had some sort of learning disability. No, I’m just past 45 years old. I can hear and understand just fine.
We attempted to leisurely enjoy our dinner but the waiter was eager to snatch our unfinished dishes, “Still working on that?” they pestered. YES!! Leave us alone I wanted to scream but I didn’t. This was obviously the worst choice for a Valentines dinner. A total waste of time and money.
Here are some recent moments:
I felt both overwhelmed and liberated in 2013. Simultaneously.
I spent the past few hours un-subscribing from 100 mailing lists from whom I receive emails begging for money. All perfectly decent causes, gun control, black theatre, saving the ocean, climate control, Unicef, the world wildlife fund, democratic causes, mercy for animals, slow money…
I un-subscribed from cook shops, travel companies, furniture stores and fashion lines. I spent a few moments each day erasing my name from the lists I added myself in the hope of being better informed, no more Gawker or Huffington Post or the Daily Beast.
It was an odd year. It was unusually diverse. I continued writing my film tho I stopped talking about it. I met thieving producers and film industry liars. I spent time with weed smoking Susan Sarandon in the back of her ping-pong club.
Away from the film I travelled to Martha’s Vineyard, to Des Moines and over the Rocky Mountains. I travelled by car all over America. Los Angeles to New York and back again… three times. I was constantly surprised by American kindness whenever I found it.
I fell in and out of love with AA. In and out of love with the gays tho… mostly out of love.
We are presently finalizing our divorce.
During the past months I began a strange adventure with a young man who I tentatively call my boy friend. I began to dream again… of better things… even though I am still cautious and burned. Erring toward single at all times.
I wrote a great deal but never published a word of it.
I wrote indignant things like this…
I am queer. They are gay. They are white and affluent. They want to get married and join the army. They want to assimilate. That’s what they say.
When you question them… when you ask them what assimilation looks like… they still want to keep gay pride, gay bars, gay apps, gay film festivals, gay morality.
They want the gay section in the bookshop, the ‘gay voice’ section in The Huffington Post. They don’t really understand what assimilation looks like because most of them are too comfy not assimilating.
He said, “This is all about your internalized homophobia.” I smiled. “It’s not internalized, it’s externalized.”
One can devote ones life to betrayal. Betrayed by parents, family members, institutions, schools, by loved ones even the country of ones origin. I have felt a smidgen from all of the above. Yet, I forgave my family, my school, the class system, my beloved country.
Because I wanted to be free.
I huffed and puffed about the NSA, I applauded Glen Greenwald and Chelsea Manning and Ed Snowdon. I stopped worrying about who could read whatever I was writing privately or which ever websites I was wacking to because there is nothing private. Not any more.
My counsellor asks things like, “Where in your body to you feel the anger first?”
I began to identify the genesis of my anger and feelings of uncomfortability. It usually starts with a demand for money from a worthy cause. A picture or video of a screaming rabbit as it is having it’s fur pulled off or a pile of euthanized dogs waiting to be incinerated.
It was the hopelessness that infuriated me, the cruelty, the stupidity, the hypocrisy.
I came to conclusions in 2013. That I do not, have never had, am not interested in… A CAREER! Careers, I realized, are… for other people. For those who may be interested in a legacy. I stopped calling myself a film maker and started telling people, if they asked, that I do… nothing.
I understood that wherever I found myself both good or bad I was meant to be. It was all for a reason. A reason that would one day be revealed to me. That my life was a series of choreographed moments. The life of a narcissist. That the cameras I learned to love whilst in the reality show had always been there and had never gone away.
In 2013 I never gave up. I waited patiently. I didn’t worry about the future nor was I enslaved to the past. For this I was grateful.
Occasionally I hankered to go home but knew that after a few days in Whitstable I would find my life shrinking and darkening. I did not go home. Though, I spoke more to my Mother this year and was curious about my nieces and nephews.
Finally the JB entanglement came to an end one nondescript day in November. I wanted to write to him and make amends for the mess I had caused.
But I wrote this instead… it was never sent.
An apology is owed.
I was wrong to lie to you. I was wrong to lose my temper. I was wrong to fight you. I was wrong to have asked for money to be paid when you owed me nothing. I was wrong to have blamed you for any part of our unhealthy association. The blame must fall squarely at my feet for everything that went wrong. The moment you came out I should have politely walked way… I did not. I was advised by everyone I knew and cared about… to walk away from you but chose to ignore their good suggestion. I should have thanked you and walked away. I regret very much that I did not. I am extremely remorseful. Due to my weakness of character I initiated a drama that harmed you and caused distress to your family. I should have walked away. The moment you told me you were gay. I know that you are happy now. I know that your happiness will continue.
It took two years to own up.
2013. Un-subscribing to websites, making amends, keeping my side of the street clean, owning up, anger management.
Let’s see what 2014 will bring.
As the years pass by, unrelenting, amazing, fulfilling, desperate, happy, sad.
Even though I have filled my homes with art and furniture and friends and the lingering smells of delicious feasts… even though I have made films and plays and paintings…. all I have ever wanted, really craved… was peace of mind.
I’m getting there. Slowly. A Happy and Prosperous New Year everyone.
The Little Dog is, as usual, very chill. He becomes more trusting as he gets older.
I spent two days in the hospital having a stent removed from my gall bladder. Yes, I did.
I had dinner with Fern Mallis… who, as you know, invented fashion week.
After dinner we decided to attend the Giorgio Armani One Night Only event.
When we arrived we were whisked off to meet Armani who refuses to speak english but spoke english to Fern… because Fern is a legend.
On Sunday we went to the doggy Halloween parade in Tompkins Square Park but we couldn’t be bothered to wait in line.
In Woodstock we met a man wearing a lovely sweater.
I met a friend of Wendy Asher’s.
The hedge fund billionaire who owned the apartment also owned a perfect Nakashima coffee table.
The lounge is perfectly beautiful and looks like the Beverly Hills Hotel interior on Acid.
This is my Halloween costume:
It is a paper napkin with two slits torn into it.
The following day I went back to Woodstock to look at a lake house I want to buy.
This is me and The Little Dog in the view taken by Angelo:
Gay and Lesbian cinema is enjoying a well deserved revival and two very special films are garnering a great deal of post Sundance attention.
By way of full disclosure, I was once very friendly with John Krokidas who stayed in both my ex boyfriend’s house on Fire Island and our house in London.
The similarities between Concussion and Kill Your Darlings, both opening in NYC this weekend, are legion.
Both are first features by writer/directors in their 40’s, both incredibly accomplished, both fatally flawed during the middle of the third act and both produced by lesbians. Concussion, produced by the venerable Rose Troche. Kill Your Darlings, by equally lauded Christine Vachon.
Thankfully, both have found their way into the mainstream at a time when the mainstream have developed an appetite for gay and lesbian culture.
After their opening night screening Troche, when asked what had changed for gay and lesbian film since she showed Go Fish at the Angelica twenty years earlier, said, “Social Media.”
We, as gay and lesbian film makers, are no longer so isolated, so dependent on traditional media to get our message to what was once a niche market but has become, due to the marriage equality debate, a broader church.
Kill Your Darlings is a ‘bigger’ film than Concussion. There is a great deal of Oscar talk around Darlings and film industry infra structure to support that claim. A period film, a grander stage, a huge cast. My gay friend who saw it before me called it one of the ‘best films they had ever seen’.
There are flaws in both of these low-budget movies that maybe, with a little extra cash, could have been resolved.
Yet Darlings suffers most for its low budget.
When all is said and done, Darlings is a cold film, lacking substance. It seems scared of embracing man/man man/boy emotion. The characters lack depth and focus. It is a cruel film. Not least because it deals with a murder. Yet, the murder only really becomes apparent toward the end.
Described thus on IMDB… the film does nothing of the sort.
Before the murder is picked at like an unsightly, syphilitic scab in the middle of the third act Krokidas sets up a youth orientated world where older men are vilified, where young boys (Daniel Radcliff and Dane DeHann) run from party to party, taking drugs, reciting poetry and jacking off .
Young, attractive, sexually ambiguous, entitled, partying college students vaguely remind one of Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisted but sadly… without the wit, subtext or the huge budget.
Poor Michael C. Hall playing David Kammerer, the soon to be murdered older man, turns up periodically looking forlorn and pathetic in his period coat and beard like a homeless person had wandered onto the set by accident. Both he and the equally talented Jack Houston are horribly underused and sidelined while the less talented ‘youth’ continue to take drugs and quote Yates.
If Kill Your Darlings had really focused on the murder, the resulting trial and aftermath this film might have succeeded. Yet, the backdrop becomes the foreground, the story held hostage by pretentious fluff and circumstance.
Unaware of this compelling murder story before I saw Kill Your Darlings. I Googled Kammerer, Ginsberg and Carr.
I remembered William Burroughs coming to my 21st Birthday party. I began to see how the story had been massaged by Bunn and Krokidas to suit their own 21st Century gay agenda.
How do gay men want to present themselves and our history?
The murderer in Darlings is a bad gay not because he murdered a so called predator (his defense) but because he subsequently got married and had kids and didn’t ‘come out’.
The ‘older man’ is dispensable… worthless… the murder almost… forgivable.
Even though the victim Kammerer was seven years younger than forty-year old Krokidas is now, the writer and director show this character little compassion. Krokidas directs the audience to incorrectly believe that Kammerer was somehow a much older pedophile rather than a love struck gay man… that he deserved to die.
One final note.
The spectacle of Daniel Radcliffe being fucked in the ass, his hairy legs forced over his shoulders is perhaps the most daring yet superfluous, unnecessary and redundant scene in the entire movie. Sadly, it is for what this film will be remembered, which is not what the writers intended.
Both Concussion and Darlings are very white films. There are no black people at all in Concussion which I found utterly baffling.
Kill Your Darlings has perhaps one of the most racially offensive scenes where Radcliffe and DeHann are the only white faces in a black speak easy imagining what trouble they could cause by manipulating the clientele if they were negro puppets frozen in time.
As a metaphor it was sickeningly on point: this is how white gay Americans treats black gay Americans.
How could this appalling white casting have happened? Whilst Darlings can use the ‘period’ excuse… Concussion cannot.
The colorless casting issue aside, Concussion, because it seems to comfortably inhabit the parameters of a low budget film is a more accomplished and polished tale.
‘After a blow to the head, Abby decides she can’t do it anymore. Her life just can’t be only about the house, the kids and the wife. She needs more: she needs to be Eleanor.’
Concussion as described on IMDB only scrapes at the surface of what this ingenious film unpacks.
Concussion’s provenance is by way of the IFP script lab and Sundance Post Production fund.
The delicate performances, elegant settings, this thoughtful and spare film (compassionately told) delighting from beginning to end… well, until mid-way through the third act.
Concussion is Robin Weigert‘s film. Her performance is sublime.
Weaving interconnecting tales of Suburban and urban lesbian life, an ordinary sexually unsatisfied house wife strays into a world of sexual diversion. Selling her sexual self to other woman. It’s as simple as that yet the adventure she chooses becomes our teachable moment. Those who crave sex over emotion, or emotion over sex.
The questions posited pester long after the film ends.
Films about double lives are always intriguing. How those two lives collide. Picking up the children from school juxtaposed with violent images of remembered s and m sex.
Abbey is an interior decorator who is renovating a small apartment in lower Manhattan. She uses the apartment to meet women who hire her as a sex worker. After the loft is sold and her secret life revealed a choice has to be made.
Will Abby stay with her wife or move on?
I’m not going to spoil it for you other than to say that the answer gets lost somehow in a melee of loose ends.
Both Concussion and Kill Your Darlings are welcome at a time when almost every Hollywood studio is contemplating larger budget gay themed movies. Gay film makers must continue to tell stories that use the language and locations of our own lives. Although I had problems with Darlings it is imperative that these films go on being made.
White, gay male youth orientated stories have become bankable. White female middle-aged lesbian movies… not so much. Powerful white gay men in Hollywood make sure that some gay stories get applauded whilst others (Liberace) are ignored.
The Weekend by Andrew Haigh (Creator of Looking for HBO) although breaching the straight/gay divide was not given the ‘A Gay’ benediction Krokidus is currently enjoying. The gay men in The Weekend were too old, poor and took public transport… some of the criticisms I heard from the velvet mafia. The film was consequently marginalized by Hollywood gays.
John Krokidas waited ten years to enjoy the dream of making his movie come true, within that ten years the face of film making, gay film making, distribution and post production have undergone a revolution. The culture, the matrix from which these films are conceived and born has changed beyond recognition.
Krokidas could not have made this film ten years ago. Nobody was interested in making films like this.
The recently democratized means of production and distribution allow any young (or not so young) gay film maker the freedom to tell our tales without masking their truth.
For too long gay film makers were advised to turn their back on their own stories for fear of marginalizing their careers.
For those of us who waited, remained tenacious it is maybe too late to find a place at the table. Yet, I am thrilled for those… like John and Stacie who do.