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Tears Over the Death of Princess Diana (August 31, 1997)


Princess Diana's life was cut tragically short when she was killed in an auto accident in Paris late Saturday night on Aug. 31, 1997.  She was only 36 years old.  And although we're not British subjects, her death cast a pall over Labor Day weekend here in the US.  Indeed, grief over Diana's death reverberated throughout the world.




Diana was especially beloved by the gay community because of her AIDS charity work.  Ten years before her death she visited a newly opened shelter for gay men with AIDS and shook their hands - the first high profile celebrity not afraid to touch AIDS victims.  She further endeared herself to gay men because of her sense of style and the ability to rise above the adversity she encountered while married to Prince Charles.




The Pet Shop Boys wrote a beautiful, dirge-like song (with a beat) called Dreaming of the Queen.  It tells of a dream in which Queen Elizabeth and Diana discuss, over a spot of tea, the futility of love.  It was from PSB's album Very which was released four years before Diana's death.  In 2000 I saw them in concert at Radio City Music Hall where I saw them perform this song.  Behind them on stage was a video showing the hearse bearing Diana's coffin, its windshield wipers famously working overtime to clear flowers thrown by the millions along the funeral route.   




(I was spending Labor Day weekend out in Fire Island when I heard the news about Diana's death.  I've written a blog post about what I remember of that night on my history blog "History As You Experienced It".)


Tickled to ... Boredom



A documentary titled Tickled came out this summer.  It's about men who get off restraining guys and tickling them - and engage in it as a competitive sport.  This brought to mind a fellow I once had a few encounters with who was very much into tickling as well.  I met him at Fire Island in the Meat Rack on Labor Day in 1999 and we later got together in the City during the fall.  Because I was attracted to him I indulged him a few times (four times to be exact) before I grew frustrated and bored.  Although we'd briefly veer off into some other bedroom activities, he'd always bring it back to tickling.  Through it all he was always playful.  (Tickled, by the way, grossed a little more than $600,000 at the box office, and at its peak played in 53 theaters.)


It turns out that one of my best friends tricked with "the tickler" ten years earlier and also experienced the tickle treatment.  He also told me that the fellow had done a number of photo shoots for the gay porn magazine, Mandate, in the 1980s (but his career was in IT).  In his spare time he collected Marilyn Monroe memorabilia and during my visits he was in the process of putting his collection up on ebay.  He was partnered with an older man but they didn't live together.  The last time I saw him was in Chelsea walking with him.


As for me, I don't consider myself ticklish - unless I'm restrained.  Besides not being a fan of tickling, I was also never excited by fetishes such as nipple play, biting, toe sucking, or spanking.  A gentle touch was always the best way to get me worked up.  (But, as those who have been intimate with me can attest, there are still a good number of other "pleasures of the flesh" I enjoy, but that's a blog for another day.) 


Tickled poster















A Tale of Two Movies Named "Stonewall"

Stonewall2015.poster Stonewall1995.posterIn September of this year the movie Stonewall opened amid controversy, poor reviews and very minimal box office (grossing less than $200,000).  A generation earlier another movie called Stonewall was released in 1996 (poster, near right) that, curiously, was never mentioned in articles about this year's movie.  Both were fictionalized accounts of real-life events that revolved around a  young, white Midwestern boy, new to New York, who ends up participating in the Stonewall riot alongside new-found friends, who were largely transgendered or drag queens.  Each film also had gay directors.  The earlier Stonewall grossed $616,000, or $1.2 million adjusted for inflation, six times greater than Stonewall 2015.  Additionally, Rotten Tomatoes' score for the 1996 version was 63% while this year's scored an abysmal 9%.



"Stonewall" 2015's protagonist, Danny Winters


"Stonewall" 1995's protagonist, Matty Dean


What I remember most about the first Stonewall was its opening, with three draq queens lip-synching to the '60s song "Boy From New York City"; also, there was a dramatic suicide later in the film.  (And one of the extras in a protest scene was someone I had a few dates with.)


Differences between the two movies?  The earlier one was shot on location while this year's was shot in Montreal due to cost considerations (but it still cost $20 million to make).  This year's was steeped in controversy because, in the hyper-politically correct era we live in, its characters didn't represent exactly the ethnic mix that was found at Stonewall in 1969.  The 1996 movie, however, had no backlash that I can recall.  My issue was that the buffed physique of the lead misrepresented the non-gym physiques of gay men of the '60s. 


Guillermo.diaz.as.lamiranda. Guillermo.diaz.scandalOne of the main characters of the '96 movie, La Miranda, was 20-year-old Guillermo Diaz, now known for his role on ABC's Scandal.  La Miranda was a gay man who defiantly walked around in drag, and who Matty Dean fell in love with.  Another known character actor was Luis Guzman, who played a bartender at Stonewall.  The two best-known actors in Stonewall 2015 were Johnathan Rhys Meyers and Ron Perlman.



Stonewall riot scene, 1996 movie


Stonewall riot scene, 2015 movie



Saluting The Kennedy Center Honors' Roster of Gay Inductees

Kennedy center honorsLike the Academy Awards and Tony Awards, a considerable number of gay men have an affinity for the Kennedy Center Honors because of its celebration of personalities in the performing arts.  Since the first awards were handed out in 1978 a steady stream of accomplished gay men have been chosen as honorees.  However, not until 2015 year was a self-proclaimed lesbian awarded the honor - Lily Tomlin.  (But rumored lesbians such as Mary Martin, Claudette Colbert, Katharine Hepburn and Dolly Parton have been honored).  The ceremony takes place in early December, with the President and First Lady in attendance (the exception has been Trump and Melania); the telecast of the event usually airs a few days after Christmas on CBS.  Interestingly, the colors of the award's sash are those of the rainbow flag.  In 2002 DC's Gay Men's Chorus performed as part of the tribute to Elizabeth Taylor.


2014 honoree, Lily Tomlin


23 of the 213 recipients (through 2019) have been gay.  In four of the years there were two gay inductees: 1979, 1986, 1993 and 2010.  (In 1989 Claudette Colbert and Mary Martin were honorees).  The longest stretch in which no gay honorees were named was the five years between 2005-2009 (this drought might be matched next year depending on 2019's announcement).  Conversely, between 1979 and 1988 every year but one (1989) had a gay recipient.   



To be considered, a candidate must be living at the time of their induction.  Of the 23 gay honorees (listed below), eight are still alive.  The first gay honorees were Aaron Copland and Tennessee Williams in 1979.  One glaring oversight was playwright and director Arthur Laurents (who died in 2011 at the age of 93).  Perhaps it was because of his prickly personality?


Bill T. Jones


Aaron Copland (1979) - composer (died in 1990, age 90)

Tennessee Williams (1979) - novelist (died in 1983, age 73)

Leonard Bernstein (1980) - composer/conductor (died in 1990, age 72)

Jerome Robbins (1981) - choreographer (died in 1998, age 79)

Virgil Thomson (1982) - composer (died in 1989, age 92)

Gian Carlo Menotti (1984) - conductor/composer (died in 2007, age 95)

Frederick Loewe (1985) – lyricist (died in 1988, age 86)

Merce Cunningham (1986) - dancer/choreographer (died in 2009, age 90)

Antony Tudor (1986) - ballet choreographer (died in 1987, age 79)

Alwin Nikolais (1987) - dancer/choreographer (died in 1993, age 82)

Alvin Ailey (1988) - dancer/choreographer (died in 1989, age 58)

Stephen Sondheim (1993) - composer/lyricist (born in 1930)

Arthur Mitchell (1993) - dancer/choreographer (died in 2018, age 84)

Edward Albee (1996) - playwright (died in 2016, age 88)

Fred Ebb & John Kander (1998) - lyricists (Ebb died in 2004, age 76; Kander is still alive, born in 1927)

Van Cliburn (2001) - pianist (died in 2013, age 78)

James Levine (2002) - conductor (born in 1943)

Elton John (2004) - singer/composer/pianist (born in 1947)

Bill T Jones (2010) - dancer/choreographer (born in 1952)

Jerry Herman (2010) - lyricist and composer (died in 2019, age 88)

Lily Tomlin (2014) - actress/comedian (born in 1939)

Michael Tilson Thomas (2019) - conductor, pianist and composer (born in 1944)


Michael tilson thomas


Other lesbians worthy of consideration for future induction may include Jodie Foster, Cherry Jones, Melissa Etheridge and Cynthia Nixon. And Johnny Mathis, Terrence McNally, Tommy Tune and Richard Chamberlain are worthy candidates on the gay male side.  



Although not gay themselves, sixteen recipients, all women, have the distinction of being gay icons.  The most recent was Cher, in 2018.  Another icon, Maria Callas, likely would have been honored but she died the year before the first Kennedy Center Honors (at the very young age of 53).



Ella Fitzgerald (1979)

Martha Graham (1979)

Leontyne Price (1980)

Lucille Ball (1986)

Bette Davis (1987)

Katharine Hepburn (1990)

Aretha Franklin (1994)

Judith Jamison (1999)

Angela Lansbury (2000)

Chita Rivera (2002)

Elizabeth Taylor (2002)

Dolly Parton (2006)

Diana Ross (2007)

Barbra Streisand (2008)

Barbara Cook (2011)

Cher (2018)



Terrence McNally's Play "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" Opens (May 28, 1991)




Straight couples in the Pines?  Nowadays they're no longer a novelty (nor are gay couples with kids), but 25 years ago they were.  The play Lips Together, Teeth Apart, written by esteemed playwright Terrence McNally, looks at two such couples spending the 4th of July holiday in the Pines in 1990.  They're staying at the house formerly owned by David, the gay brother of one of the women.  He recently died of AIDS, and she inherited the house.  Not only is neither couple familiar with the Pines, but with gay life in general, and with AIDS.  Lips Together opened off Broadway on May 28, 1991 during some of the worst years of the AIDS crisis in terms of deaths (and a few years before protease inhibitors transformed AIDS from being a death sentence to more of a chronic, manageable scourge).




The cast of four was comprised of Christine Baranski, Swoozie Kurtz (the sister who inherited the house), Nathan Lane and Anthony Heald.




Lips Together was staged two years after McNally's production of The Lisbon Traviata and three years before Love! Valour! Compassion!  All three had Nathan Lane in their cast.  (He portrayed gay characters in Lisbon Traviata and Love! Valour! Compassion!, but played a straight blue collar type in Lips Together.)  I saw both of those plays, but not the original production of Lips Together.  I did see a revival of it, however, in the fall of 2014.




The action takes place out on the deck of the house and it's a perfect reproduction of a Pines beach house, i.e., the architecture, sliding doors, pool, outdoor shower, house flag, kite and even a bug zapper.  And although there is unenlightened conversation about AIDS and gay men, much of the play delves into the the four personalities and the struggles they are going through with their own lives.  And although it had constant moments of levity, overall it was a downer as it addressed subjects such as AIDS, prejudice, infidelity, cancer and death by drowning.


This show is especially interesting if you've spent time out in the Pines.  However, one aspect of the production that was unrealistic for me was that neither of the neighboring houses on either side ever played disco music, just classical or jazz.  Speaking of music, there's a funny scene in which the characters bicker over the title of the show tune, There's No Business Like Show Business.  Of course, because the play takes place in 1990 they weren't able to use Google to end their argument! 


Finally, a flag waving scene brought to mind Little Edie in Grey Gardens, while at the end of the play the cast watches a shooting star, which brought to mind the star gazing scene on the rooftop at the end of Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along.


Cast from 2014 revival at 2nd Stage Theater in NYC




Fire Island Memories: My Wonder Years (1996 - 2002)





Earlier this summer I wrote a post about my experiences at Fire Island in the years before I took a share there (1981-1995).  This post highlights experiences during my share in the Pines on Driftwood Walk between 1996 and 2002.  During these seven years four of us were housemates every summer while sixteen others had a share for at least one of these summers.  While not quite an expose like Hollywood Babylon (no names are named), nonetheless what follows is a bit dishy, a touch titillating.



What kept me from taking a share in Fire Island for so many years was my impression that getting out there was such a hassle, i.e., take a subway to Penn Station to catch a train; then change trains at Jamaica or Babylon; get off in Sayville, and rush to a van that took you to the ferry; and once off the ferry, a schlep to the house.  However, it turned out the 2-1/2 hour journey wasn't all that bad, especially since I often traveled with housemates. 


Looking back at it, what sticks in mind most is the acronym BIGOS, which helped in remembering the stations between Bay Shore and Sayville ('I' was for Islip, 'G' for Great River and 'O' for Oakdale).  At Oakdale I'd get up and make my way to the door so I could hop off at Sayville and get to a waiting van ahead of the other eager boys swarming off the train.


Another useful piece of information was that the walk from Pines harbor to our house took about eight minutes.  This was especially helpful when deciding what time to leave the house when heading to the ferry for the to the City on Sunday evening.





In all my years, the worst travel experience was on Labor Day 1998 when a severe thunderstorm struck mid-afternoon, causing widespread disruptions on the Long Island Railroad.  After waiting for two hours for the train at Sayville, a group of us took a taxi up to Ronkonkoma where we got a train not affected by power problems.  I ended up walking into my apartment at 11:00 rather than 8:00.


In 1999 the LIRR started running double-decker (or bi-level) trains from Babylon.  However, despite their technical advance, the new cars had a pitiful lack of room for luggage in the racks above the seats.  Also, these new trains presented riders with a new decision - whether to sit in the upper or lower berth ("tops" or "bottoms" could sit in either, there was no segregation).  This was similar to the decision when boarding the ferry. 



My housemates joked that my primary role at the house was to be the eye candy who greeted visitors on our deck, where I'd be sitting on a chaise lounge reading Entertainment Weekly.




Sometimes my welcome was extended from the pool.




Of course, I took part in other house activities such as grocery shopping, cutting veggies for dinner and loading the dishwasher after dinner.  I also organized the house's photos.  And one summer I bought a manually operated ice crusher as a gift for the house.  Inexplicably, I was the only one who used it (I now have it in my apartment).


My unappreciated gift.


While my primary reason for spending time out at FIP was relaxation, some housemates loved to have projects.  I contentedly observed, from a distance, while they installed solar panels on the roof to heat the swimming pool, put in a sprinkling system to water the flowers during the week, and constructed a wet bar out on the deck. 



The Meat Rack was just a three or four-minute walk from our house.  My first time there was in the black of night, and as I cautiously made my way through the sandy paths enshrouded in shrubs, and low hanging tree branches, the movie Blair Witch Project kept coming to mind.  However, on nights of a full moon there was no trouble finding your way around, and the place truly became a wonderland.  (As Olivia Newton John and John Travolta said so well in Grease, "Oh, those summer nights!")  However, as the summers went by I gravitated to daytime "walks" because I wanted to see the merchandise before touching it.


During these summers I went on dates back in the City with eight gents I met out in the Pines, six of whom I was "introduced" to in the Meat Rack.



On Labor Day weekend in 2000 I bumped into a fellow at Sip'n Twirl who I had dated briefly after we met on Labor Day weekend ten years earlier.  Magic happened and we ended up walking out to the moonlit beach where we had a passionate "reunion".  The next day I saw him and told him how much fun the night before had been, but he was very aloof and, poof!, the magic was gone.



In May 1998, a boyfriend and I were the only ones out during a chilly and rainy weekend.  What should have been a romantic weekend turned sour.  John was agitated because our house didn't have a TV (at his apartment he had two that were always on, and tuned to different channels).  And he didn't help with cooking or cleaning up afterwards.  Tension flared, sex was withheld, and on Sunday we broke up.



Like most houses on the Island, ours had a flagpole over the house and a flag holder in the entrance way by the door to the deck.  One of the duties for those who arrived first each weekend was choosing two flags from our extensive inventory.  My favorites were the flags of Barbados, Djibouti, Estonia, Panama, the Seychelles and Tanzania.







Compared to other houses, ours was rather tame as far as drama went.  Still, if life in our house had been presented as a reality series, here are some of the moments that might have been highlighted:

  • A housemate was baking a cake in the oven and asked me to take it out when the timer went off.  However, although I was sitting at the dining room table, and another housemate was reading the newspaper in the living room, neither one of us heard the timer go off, and the cake was singed.  It turned out it was my birthday cake.
  • Pines celebrity Robin Byrd supposedly walked off with a box of our paper towels after they were unloaded from the ferry.
  • Here are just a few of the personal "slights" I suffered:  1. A housemate chastised me for pronouncing Long Island with a hard 'g'.  2. I was ridiculed for not knowing how to flick open a fan, and fan myself coquettishly.  3. A dinner guest asked me if anyone had ever told me I looked like Smithers from the Simpsons.  (The house was divided on whether it was a slight or an innocent comment.)  4. Finally, one summer my last name was misspelled in the Pines phone directory, jeopardizing my chances at being tracked down by someone I exchanged names with at tea, in the Pantry ... or elsewhere.  
  • After one of our housemates broke up with his boyfriend we learned that the ex had a brother in prison, convicted of murdering two strangers he thought were his parents.
  • Another housemate was a lawyer who had a gay couple who owned an architectural firm as a client.  After a lengthy litigation was decided in their favor, they had the audacity to claim poverty and refused to pay, but  expected to keep their settlement - which, as their attorney, our housemate had control of.  (Ironically, their lawsuit was against a client who didn't pay them!)  This couple had a house in the Pines and if any of us was seen saying hello to either one we were given grief.
  • During the last night of my first summer, I had a dream in which I was given my drag name - Collette Whatchoowant.  Obviously, a French Canadian Indian princess.
  • Two housemates were the primary chefs and they never met a piece of meat they didn't think could be enhanced by smothering with an apricot or prune compote.
  • During the 4th of July weekend in 2002 all of Fire Island was inconvenienced by "rolling blackouts" that lasted for 2-4 hours.  They began on Saturday evening, and after a few hours, one of our housemates broke the monotony by putting on a wedding dress he just happened to have at the house, and glided down Fire Island Boulevard in the pitch darkness, creating an eerie, spectral image. 
  • The "Wig Wall" was always there to liven up any dinner party.



Houses held parties that were either charity events or parties with a theme.  Ours held the latter.  The Hat Party took place in the first or second week of August and was a late afternoon/early evening affair (5-8:00).  Guests wore a hat, simple as that.  Some used no imagination and came with a baseball cap (but if they arrived bare chested, no one noticed) while others put a lot of thought and creativity into their hat.  In general between 125 and 150 attended.  Raw veggie platters and cold shrimp were served.  The biggest debate would come weeks before when the design of the invitation was debated.


Hat Party 1999


Hat Party 2002



At the close of the 1999 season huge pipes were laid on the beach to bring in sand being dredged from the ocean's floor.  It attracted quite a crowd, probably because the season's big parties were over and this was the most excitement to be had in early October.






The first few summers I was attached to my bottle of Skin so Soft to keep mosquitoes away.  Then, because of West Nile Virus, there was a major effort at spraying the island to eradicate the breeding grounds of mosquitoes.  From that point on I didn't need protection.  However, sand fleas still tormented me whenever I tried to lie out on the beach, biting my ankles.





Just because it's a carefree weekend destination, doesn't mean FIP is immune from reminders of our mortality.  For instance, an ex-boyfriend of one of our housemates was found dead on his deck, a victim of a heart attack; he was only in his 40s.  Then there was the fellow who collapsed and died on the dance floor of the Pavilion (Aug. 1998).  One person drowned in the ocean in the vicinity of Fisherman's Wharf (Labor Day 1999), while another was found dead in a swimming pool at a house on Ocean Walk (4th of July 1999).  I was also at the house the weekends Princess Diana and John Kennedy, Jr. died in 1997 and 1999, respectively.  Because we didn't have a TV, and no wireless internet back then, we depended on the houses that had TV for updates.



Since most of my time on the Island was spent in a bathing suit, it was an important purchase.  Every summer I'd buy one or two to add to my collection.  There were four in particular I favored (all square cuts).  One was a cotton, black/white checked number, a second had a blue-pink geometric pattern, another was a turquoise number by Raymond Dragon with a vertical white and metallic sliver stripe, and, finally, my favorite (seen below) was navy with a a vertical yellow-white-yellow stripe on one side.  One of my boyfriends went wild whenever I wore it.  (He asked me to give it to him if I ever decided to throw it out.  I haven't been able to find it, so perhaps he took off with it.)


The most favorite of them all




Alas, after constant exposure to bright sun, chlorinated pool water and salt water from the ocean, they, like we humans, faded. 



And here is the final look at the deck of our house before we closed the door on the 2002 season ...


A fond farewell to the summer.













Unusual Circumstances Behind the Deaths of Some Noteworthy Gay Personalities

CemeteryAs I was doing research for an upcoming post about noteworthy LGBT persons from the past, I collected information on the circumstances of their deaths.  And although nearly two-thirds died from AIDS, heart attacks, pneumonia, strokes or various cancers, there were some other causes of death that stood out because they were out of the ordinary.  Here they are, arranged in chronological order:



  • We begin with perhaps the most gruesome death, that of England's Edward II.  Supposedly, a red-hot poker was thrust up his rectum while he was imprisoned in 1327, scalding his internal organs.  However, scholars now believe this story was made-up and that Edward, in fact, may not have been murdered at all.  Read the story behind it here.  




  • Jean-Baptiste-Lully succumbed to gangrene at the age of 54 after the composer and conductor struck his foot with his long conducting staff during a performance in 1687.
  • Famed composer Franz Schubert died in 1828 from mercury poisoning, a result of mercury being administered to treat tertiary syphilis.  He was 31.
  • Hart Crane, poet and heir to the Life Savers candy fortune, was 32 when he jumped from a cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico after an evening of drinking (and being roughed up by a crew member he made advances on).  His body was never recovered.  In 2012 James Franco played Crane in the movie The Broken Tower.




  • Spanish poet/dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca, just 38, was executed in the opening weeks of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 by Nationalist Guards led by General Francisco Franco.




  • Writer Virginia Woolf filled the pockets of her overcoat with stones, walked into the River Ouse near her home in England, and drowned herself.  Her body wasn't recovered for three weeks.  She was 59.




  • James Dean was just 24 years old when he was killed in a car crash a month before his movie Rebel Without a Cause was released in the autumn of 1955.
  • Dag Hammarskjold had been the second Secretary General of the UN for eight years when he was killed in a plane crash in 1961 at the age of 56.
  • Marc Blitzstein, renowned composer/lyricist/librettist, was murdered in 1964 by three sailors he picked up in a bar while on a winter vacation in Martinique.  He was 58.




  • Poet and writer Frank O'Hara died from injuries sustained after being run over by a dune buggy on the beach in Cherry Grove on Fire Island during the summer of 1966.  He was 40 years old.




  • Neal Cassady, who ran with the crowd of the Beat Generation's Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, died from hypothermia in 1968 after wandering away from a wedding party in just a t-shirt and jeans on a cold and rainy January night in Mexico.
  • In November 1978 Harvey Milk was murdered in City Hall along with the mayor of San Francisco by a disgruntled former member of the Board of Supervisors.  At his murder trial the defense team used the infamous "Twinkies defense", saying his addiction to junk food produced mood swings.
  • The story is that Tennessee Williams' fatal 1983 heart attack, at the age of 71, was caused by choking after he inhaled the cap from a bottle of poppers he had opened with his teeth.  However, like Cass Elliott's ham sandwich, this has been disputed.
  • Andy Warhol died in 1987 in a New York hospital from a cardiac arrthymia while recovering from successful gallbladder surgery.  Ironically, it had been an effort to get Warhol to schedule this surgery since he was afraid of doctors and hospitals.  He was 58.




  • Rumors were that 70-year-old Malcolm Forbes didn't die from a heart attack in 1990, but rather by doctor-assisted suicide after being diagnosed with HIV.




  • Gianni Versace was shot to death in July 1997 by serial killer Andrew Cunanan in front of his South Beach mansion as he was walking back from a coffee shop with the morning paper (and $1,200 in his pocket).  He was 50.




  • Mychal Judge, a Franciscan friar who served as chaplain to the New York City Fire Department, was struck and killed by falling debris on the morning of 9-11.  His was the first certified fatality from the attack.




  • Winner of a silver medal in boxing for Canada at the 1992 Olympics, Mark Leduc's cause of death is listed as "heatstroke" after he collapsed in a sauna in a Toronto hotel in 2009.  He was 47.











Fire Island Memories: The Pre-Share Years (1978 - 1995)


The first time I ever heard the words "Fire Island", they came from the mouth of Joan Rivers.  It was during an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in the late 1960s, when I was still a child.  I don't remember exactly what she said, but whatever it was left me with the lasting impression that Fire Island was a rarefied place frequented by men who weren't part of the mainstream (to which Joan might add, "winky-winky").





Ten years later, I was in my junior year at Penn State.  I was just coming out and starting to embrace disco music, and in the spring of 1978 I bought the debut album by The Village People.  It had songs with titles that were gay destinations, such as San Francisco, Key West ... and Fire Island.  Not being familiar with Fire Island, I could only wonder what the lyrics of Fire Island were referring to (e.g., "don't go in the bushes, someone might grab ya").  I was also unfamiliar with its geography, and thought it was a tiny island, perhaps like Gilligan's Island.  (Paul Jabara also released an album in 1978, with a song on it called Pleasure Island, which undoubtedly was a tribute to Fire Island.)   





In 1979 I moved to New York and that summer I met a fellow at the Club Baths, Joe from Bay Ridge Brooklyn.  He was probably around 40.  He had a share out in the Pines, but told me he wouldn't be comfortable taking me there because I was too innocent (true) and he was a different person when he was out there.  This only added to the place's mystique.





Two years passed and I was dating another fellow who was also 20 years older than me.  On the Sunday of Memorial Day (1981) weekend we took a day trip to Cherry Grove.  The weather was glorious.  That evening we had dinner at the Monster (a year before it opened in the Village), where we were greeted by a lively host, who was wearing a muumuu.  We didn't venture to the Pines.  On the trip home the scheduled train didn't arrive so we waited more than an hour on the train platform in Sayville for the next one.  To make matters worse, I was coming down with a cold. 



I made my first visit to the Pines in the summer of 1982.  It was with another boyfriend, Rick, and we went at the end of July as part of his birthday celebration.  We stayed at the house of a friend of his, and we all went out on Saturday morning (to Shore Walk).  The "house mother" was a short, bald-headed fellow from Argentina whose name was Chin Chin.  He had a huge Great Dane, named Gandhi, who was larger than him, and Rick and I joked that Chin Chin probably had sex with him.  This was my first taste of decadent Fire Island life, which involved taking a "disco nap", then doing some drugs before going to the Pavilion in the wee hours of the morning.  On Sunday, we were recovering on the beach, where I was smashed into the sand by a huge wave when we were playing in the surf.





My next visit to Fire Island wasn't until 1986, but I made three visits on three consecutive weekends, all with different friends, all in the Pines.  The first visit was just for the day.  My boss, David, and I went to visit friends who had a share at the house formerly owned by Tommy Tune.  It was on the ocean side of the Pines.  Before leaving I took a shower on the deck, which afforded me a beautiful view of the ocean.


The next weekend I spent it with people I had never met, but they were friends of my elderly friend Jim who had died in June.  I met Jim through SAGE which had paired me up with him as part of its "friendly visitor" program.  After he died his friend Bill, who owned a liquor store in the Pines harbor, contacted me and invited me out.  His house was at 568 Driftwood Walk, which, 10 years later, was the walk my summer share was on. 


The third visit was over Labor Day weekend and my friend Tom and I stayed on Fisherman's Walk with a couple he knew, Donny and Dennis.  The weather was unseasonably cool but sunny.  One memory is of the four of us lying on the beach one night and gazing up at the stars and looking for shooting stars.  Donny was feeling under the weather that weekend and within a year he succumbed to AIDS.    




INTO THE 90s ...

Six years passed before my next visit, but that visit on Labor Day 1991 was just for a few hours.  My boyfriend Tom and I took a trip out and made an unannounced visit to say hello to friends of mine who had a share on Beach Hill Walk (that's me, pictured below).  They weren't home so we hung out on the deck for half an hour before getting on the ferry back to Sayville.  Two years later was my longest stay (before I took a share).  A former roommate, his boyfriend and I rented a house for a week in early August 1993.  The place seemed to be overrun by deer, even on the beach.





It was during this vacation that I made my first venture into the Meat Rack, but my late night exploration was thwarted by the pitch black that greeted me upon entering "The Enchanted Forest".  It would have been wise to get the lay of the land beforehand in the daylight.  That happened the next afternoon.  But there would be plenty of other opportunities to "explore" once I took a summer share ... 


Celebrating DRA's Fire Island Dance Festival

Dra_fireisland_dancefestivalFire Island Pines is surrounded by beauty - natural, architectural and physical.  And in the summer of 1995 Dancers Responding to AIDS further enhanced this rarefied environment when it organized the first DRA Fire Island Dance Festival there on August 5.  Showcasing dancers and choreographers from various highly regarded dance companies, the event was held outdoors, using Great South Bay as its background - lending its natural beauty to the breathtaking performances on stage. 





This first event didn't have the best weather as it was foggy and on the cool-ish side, but the event struck a chord and soon was a regular part of the Pines social season.  An early evening show was added, then a performance on Sunday afternoon.  The Saturday evening performance has proven very popular as it offers the opportunity to view a breathtaking sunset as a bonus.  In its second year, the event moved to the third weekend of July.  I shared a house in the Pines with one of the coordinators of the program, so it became part of our house's culture - and we were always aware of any behind-the-scenes drama surrounding the event.





Of course, because it's an outdoor venue, weather is always a concern and some years have been blistering hot, others gray and threatening (thankfully, not the norm).  An unforeseen challenge for the evening performance was the formation of condensation on the stage, which could be perilous for the dancers, so it had to be wiped down constantly in between numbers.  One non-weather event put a somber tone to the event in 1999, as the dance festival occurred the day after John Kennedy Jr.'s plane went down off Nantucket.  It made gazing out at the water of the bay somewhat sobering. 


Alan_cumming Richard_moveEach performance opens with the DRA Fanfare, created and donated in 1999 by Philip Glass.  Hosts have included BD Wong; Bebe Neuwirth; Whoopie Goldberg; Bruce Vilanch; Alan Cumming; Ana Gasteyer; and Richard Move as Martha Graham.  Another host was Kate Shindle, Miss America of 1998, who joked that she was sorry she didn't have her crown because she wanted to toss it in the pool to see how many queens in the audience would jump in after it!  Photographer Bill Cunningham from the NY Times has often attended one of the performances and his photos have appeared a week or two later in the Sunday Arts & Leisure section - lending the event even more cachet.


Celebrating its 20th year in 2014, the Dance Festival has raised more than $3 million.  For more information about this year's DRA Dance Festival, double click here.




And for other ZeitGAYst posts about Fire Island:

"Invasion" of the Pines

Coming & Going in the "Meat Rack"

A Postcard Trip to the Pines & Cherry Grove

Summertime Memories: A Photo Tribute to the Pines & Cherry Grove

Sorting Through Gay Memorabilia, Remembering Good Times




Bric-a-brac, ephemera, mementos - whatever you choose to call them, collecting "stuff" can be rewarding, especially when you look through it years later and experience moments of your life all over again.  (As the disco classic, Souvenirs, by Voyage says: "Souvenirs are signs that take you away".)  I've already written posts about my postcard collection.  Now I'll share items from my collection of pins, fridge magnets, match books and business cards, all with a gay pedigree, circa 1980-2000. 



Looking at the first group, the "Go Homos" button was made to look like the style of GQ Magazine's logo, in response to perceived homophobia by the magazine's publisher.  In the second group, the pin on the left was handed out by the Pink Panthers, who were fashioned after the Guardian Angels to patrol against anti-gay violence in the Village in the early 1990's.  MGM took them to court and won for copyright infringement over the group's appropriation of the Pink Panther paw.  





In the third group, the "Clit Power" pin is the sole lesbian-oriented pin I own.  The simple "Fire Island 1981" pin was picked up during my first visit to Cherry Grove.  After spending years adorning bulletin boards in my various offices, the pin's purplish-blue hue has faded considerably.  Finally, the fourth group shows pins of a more serious nature.  The "DC in '93" pin refers to the huge political rally (between 800,000 and 1 million participated) that took place in the nation's capital on April 25, 1993, a time when hopes were high because of breakthroughs in AIDS treatments and the recent election of Bill Clinton.






These are all fairly self-explanatory.  And, yes, they all can be found on my refrigerator ...






The first on the left came from St. Mark's Baths; the second from a short-lived bar on 8th Avenue named Chelsea Transfer, which had a beautiful, curved wooden bar; The Saint, of course, was the premiere gay dance club in the 1980s; 'A' stands for the gloriously raunchy Anvil bar on West Street; and the last matchbook is from Uncle Charlie's, NYC's most popular bar from the late 70's through early '90s, until it was supplanted by Splash.  In the second group are matchbooks from Boy Bar in the East Village (1990s); Tracks, which was in Chelsea in the late 1980s; the Club Baths on 1st Avenue near Houston St. (next door to a funeral parlor); and Ice Palace disco on West 57th St., which had its heyday in the late 70s thru early '80s. 






In the 1980s and 1990s, Claire was in the space now occupied by Elmo on 7th Ave. in Chelsea.  In the late 1980s, Stefano's was in the gay Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego.  Partners was a gay bar in New Haven.  In the early '80s, before my boyfriend at the time moved to NYC, he lived in Connecticut, and occasionally after he picked me up at the train station in New Haven we'd stop in.  I remember it having a fog machine that sprayed a mist made of talcum powder.  Plain & Fancy was one of many restaurants on Commercial St. in Provincetown.  La Fabula (or, La "Faaaabula!") was a popular restaurant in West Hollywood (at least in the late 80s thru early '90s).  And La Te Da was an upscale restaurant in Key West's predominantly gay neighborhood.




These were handed out during happy hours that provided a free drink after the purchase of the first.  Nowadays, most bars just reduce drink prices during happy hour.  An exception is Splash, which still has a two-for-one offer, but bartenders now hand you a paper receipt rather than a decorative chip.





The first card is from Summer Solstice, the gift shop found in the harbor of Fire Island Pines, which sits atop the Pantry grocery store.  The middle card is from Sip'n Twirl, the bar that's situated in the complex behind the Pavilion.  The last card is a calling card to write your name/number if you met someone at low tea you might want to see later - this was before texting.





The card in the center is from Club Norreh, a multi-level bar/club in Pittsburgh, which was the first gay bar I ever set foot in - back in the summer of 1978.  Next is Che 2020, which was briefly what the mega-popular Food Bar restaurant was renamed in the early '90s . Manatus and Village Den are two West Village institutions - and still in business.  





This selection comes from the department store Fast Buck Freddie's on Duval St. in Key West; guest houses in Provincetown and Ogunquit, Maine; my membership card to the gay running group Front Runners; and the last is from Men in Suits, a monthly gathering of men who got into (and sometimes out of) suits and socks with garters.




And one more for good measure ...