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August 2014

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.













The Fad of Gay Parenting: How Much Longer Will It Last?

Gaydads.book When I see giddy gay daddies toting around their kids, I think of the tattoo craze.  Although it peaked a few years ago, those sporting one are stuck with them.  And I think that gay men with kids is another fad (this isn't an issue with lesbians, who don't possess the "Hey, look at me!" gene).  But unlike that Brazilian boyfriend who was so enthralling for the first year when he was brought in to spice up a stale relationship, kids can't be sent packing after the sparkle wears off (nor can you hope they'll scope out another couple with even more money and move on).  Yes, one of the daddies may split (as BD Wong or Ricky Martin can attest) but little ones are a responsibility that can't be stuffed into the back of a walk-in closet.





Eltonjohn-davidfurnish-usmagazineOnce the kiddies age out of their darling "accessory" phase, and no longer warrant fawning attention of friends and family, some gay fathers may come to the sobering realization (behind their Potemkin facade) that, unlike last year's fashions, they won't be able to drop off Jamal or Sophia at Housing Works.  Already the general public's interest in the trend appears to be waning, as suggested by the cancellation of the TV show The New Normal.  Despite its Ryan Murphy pedigree and attractive male couple, it never caught on.  (Perhaps viewers got their fill of gay parenting from Modern Family's Cam and Mitch and daughter Lily.) 


So adorable now ...


Twenty years ago if you saw a gay man looking haggard it was a safe assumption he was either ill or had been at a circuit party.  Now, however, chances are good he's raising kids.  And as these cherubs suck every last drop of fabulousness from their existence, gay daddies may come to appreciate, as the baroness did in The Sound of Music, the wonderful institution known as boarding school.  That, my friends, will be the next big fad.




PradaFinally, travel Pop.tartscompanies and marketers of luxury goods will take a hit as gay parents spend what was previously discretionary dollars on mundane necessities for their kids, such as clothes, Pop Tarts and Chips Ahoy cookies, toys (no, not those kind,) healthcare items and education (boarding school as well as college).   


(Besides lesbians, I don't believe this will be an issue with gay fathers who don't live in major metropolitan areas, especially New York, LA and San Francisco.)



Remembering Our Gay Ancestors

Barbara.jordan2Truman.capoteFour years ago I wrote a post about popular LGBT personalities, and another about gay icons over the age of 75.  This latest post provides an overview of accomplished gay men and lesbians who are no longer with us.  I've drawn up a list of just over 250 individuals who've made their mark in their respective professions.  Of them, about two-thirds were open about their sexual orientation. (Please note that this post was published in 2014.)


The median age of these gay pioneers at the time of their death was 63.  Taking out the 20% who died of AIDS (at a median age of 45), the median age of those who died from other other causes rises to a still relatively young 68.  The oldest, architect Philip Johnson (in photo below) was 98 when he died in 2005.  Del Martin and Mabel Hampton were the oldest lesbians, both 87 at the time of their deaths in 2008 and 1989, respectively.  The youngest person on the list is Pedro Zamora, a cast member of MTV's The Real World, who died from AIDS at the age of 22.  He's followed by actor James Dean who was 24 when he was killed in a car accident.  The woman who was youngest at the time of her death was Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote Raisin in the Sun.  She was 34.




Philip Johnson Architect 98
John Gielgud Actor 96
Gian Carlo Menotti Composer/Conductor 95
Paul Cadmus Artist 95
Arthur Laurents Playwright 93
Bunny Breckinridge Actor & Drag Queen 93
Horst P. Horst Fashion Photographer 93
Michael Tippett Composer 93
Van Johnson Actor 92
Virgil Thomson Composer 92
EM Forster Author 91
M. Somerset Maugham Playwright/Novelist 91
Aaron Copland Composer 90
Harry Hay Gay Rights Activist 90
Merce Cunningham Dancer/Choreographer 90
Quentin Crisp Writer/Raconteur 90
Jermaine Stewart Singer 39
Willi Smith Fashion Designer 39
Federico Garcia Lorca Poet/Dramatist 38
Larry Levan DJ 38
Michael Callen Songwriter/AIDS Activist 38
Arthur Rimbaud Poet 37
Marlon Riggs Filmmaker 37
Rainer Werner Fassbinder Director/Screenwriter 37
Cyrano de Bergerac French Dramatist 36
Sal Mineo Actor 36
Joe Orton Playwright 34
Lorraine Hansbury Playwright  34
Casey Donovan Porn Star 33
Brian Epstein Manager of Beatles 32
David Cole Record Producer 32
Hart Crane Poet, Life Savers heir 32
Patrick Cowley Disco Producer 32
Franz Schubert Composer 31
Keith Haring Urban Artist/Activist 31
Rudolph Valentino Actor 31
James Dean Actor 24
Pedro Zamora Reality Star 22


Sixty-one persons (about 25% of the total) were born before the 20th century.  The furthest back in time was the Roman emperor Hadrian, followed by Richard the Lionhearted and Henry II.


Roman Emperor Hadrian


Hadrain Roman Emperor 76-138
Richard the Lionhearted English King 1157-1199
Edward II King 1284-1327
Leonardo da Vinci Painter/Sculptor 1452-1519
Cyrano de Bergerac French Dramatist 1619-1655
Jean-Baptiste Lully Composer 1632-1687
Arcangelo Corelli Composer/Violinist 1653-1713
Franz Schubert Composer 1797-1828
Ralph Waldo Emerson Essayist 1803-1882
Elizabeth Cady Stanton Feminist 1815-1902
Henry David Throeau Author, Poet 1817-1862
Walt Whitman Poet 1819-1892
Susan B. Anthony Feminist 1820-1906
Emily Dickinson Poet 1830-1886
Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky Composer 1840-1893
Henry James Writer 1843-1916


Looking at how many search results their names turn up on Google, the median number is 440,000 (note: from the summer of 2014).  Sixty-one generated more than 1 million search results, with Alexander McQueen (pictured below) and Leonardo Da Vinci the top two, well ahead of the rest.  After them, the three others with 5 million or more search results are Oscar Wilde, Divine and Andy WarholFrida Kahlo is the woman with the most, ranked twelfth with 2.8 million.  Sixty-four have fewer than 100,000, with the lowest number being for Mabel Hampton, Franciscan Friar Mychal Judge and drag performer Bunny Breckinridge, all who turned up 7,000.




Alexander McQueen Fashion Designer
Leonardo da Vinci Painter/Sculptor
Oscar Wilde Writer/Poet
Divine  Actress
Andy Warhol Artist
Yves Saint Laurent Fashion Designer
James Dean Actor
Freddie Mercury Musician
Sylvester Disco Singer
Christian Dior Fashion Designer
Frida Kahlo Artist
Perry Ellis Fashion Designer
Virginia Woolf Writer
Ralph Waldo Emerson Essayist
John Gielgud Actor


By profession, actors/actresses and authors/novelists have the greatest representation, comprising close to 40% of the total.  Then there are occupations with just one LGBT person associated with them, such as architect (Philip Johnson); mathematician (Alan Turing); chef (James Beard); economist (John Maynard Keynes); marine biologist (Rachel Carson); and astronaut (Sally Ride).


Economist John Maynard Keynes


Actors/Actresses 67 26%
Authors/Novelists 34 13%
Activists (Various Causes) 21 8%
Composers/Songwriters 21 8%
Poets 17 7%
Directors (Movie/B'way/TV) 15 6%
Playwrights 12 5%
Choreographers/Dancers 11 4%
Fashion Designers 10 4%
Singers 9 4%
Artists 7 3%
Athletes 6 2%
Photographers 6 2%


Finally, regarding their deaths, more than half died from either AIDS, various forms of cancer or heart attacks.  Additionally, nine were murdered, eight took their own life, seven died in various accidents and two died from drug overdoses.  It should be noted that not everyone who died before they turned 50 died from AIDS as nearly half died from other causes.  







When They Were Young: Gay Heartthrobs From the Past

FaintingBesides being very accomplished in their various professions, some of our gay forebears were also blessed with strikingly good looks (not surprisingly, many were products of Hollywood's star-making machine.)  What follows are those men, in alphabetical order, who turned heads and caused fainting spells when they were in their prime.



Cristobal Balenciaga (1895-1972)

Spanish fashion designer whose house of Balenciaga thrived in the 1940s and 1950s.




Alan Bates (1934-2003)

English actor especially known among gay audiences for his homoerotic wrestling scene with Oliver Reed in the 1969 movie Women in Love (whose screenplay was written by none other than Larry Kramer).  In the photo I've chosen I see a little bit of Zac Efron in Bates' facial expression.




Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

Composing and conducting were just two of his many talents.  Somewhat gawky as a young man, Lenny came into his own as a sex symbol as he approached his 40s.  And as an older man he cut quite the dashing figure in his tux while conducting the New York Philharmonic.  In pop culture he's best known for composing the music for West Side Story and his series of Young People's Concerts on CBS.






Montgomery Clift (1920-1966)

A critically acclaimed (four Oscar nominations), and handsome, actor whose good looks were marred somewhat after a serious car accident in the mid-1950s caused facial scarring.  This was the beginning of a downward spiral that ended with his death ten years later.




Farley Granger (1925-2011)

Actor best known for his starring role in the 1948 Hitchcock movie Rope, which had a gay subtext.  Looked a bit like Eddie Fisher.




Rock Hudson (1925-1985)

There's eye candy and then there is Eye Candy, and that would be Rock Hudson.  If People Magazine had been around in the 1950s and '60s he probably would have been chosen its Sexiest Man Alive multiple times.




Larry Kert (1930-1991)

Actor, singer and dancer, he's best known for his role as Tony in the Broadway production of West Side Story.  Then in 1970 he replaced Dean Jones in the role of Bobby in Company.  In this photo he somewhat resembles Liam Neeson.




Arthur Laurents (1917-2011)

Playwright, stage director and screenwriter best known for West Side Story, Gypsy and La Cage aux Faux.  Had a reputation for being very difficult to work with (ask Patti Lu Pone) and burned many bridges (ask Stephen Sondheim).  This demeanor is probably what kept him alive into his 90s.




Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936)

Poet and novelist who was executed in the early weeks of the Spanish Civil War.




Jean Marais (1913-1998)

French actor (stage and screen), director and sculptor.  Wildly popular in France for his roles as a swashbuckler.  Had a 24-year relationship with novelist/poet Jean Cocteau. 




Kerwin Mathews (1926-2007)

Not to be confused with Sherwin Williams, Mathews was a B-list actor whose roles ranged from Sinbad the Sailor to Johan Strauss (on the Wonderful World of Disney).  Reminds me of Paul Rudd




Sal Mineo (1939-1976)

Actor who rose to fame at a young age with roles in movies such as Rebel Without a Cause, Giant and Exodus before he was 22 years old.  More cute than handsome, he tried to change his image as he got older and directed/starred in a stage production of Fortune and Mens' Eyes.




George Nader (1921-2002)

Actor who appeared mostly in low-budget movies and TV series.  Perhaps best known for being pals with Rock Hudson, and some suggest they were romantically involved.  The photo below of them together brings to mind the even more famous poolside photo of Cary Grant and "roommate" Randolph Scott.






Ramon Novarro (1899-1968)

Actor in the same mold as Rudolph Valentino, who was a contemporary.  (I have an acquaintenance, an accountant, whose name is Ramon Novarro.)




Rudolf Nureyev (1938-1993)

Acclaimed ballet dancer, he defected to the West from Russia when he was 23.  He and porn star/director Michael Lucas look as if they sprang from the same gene pool.




Al Parker (1952-1992)

The porn superstar of the 1980s, best known for such classics as Oversize Load, Heavy Equipment and Inches.  Not to be confused with '80s disco singer Paul Parker (Right on Target), who's still alive.




Anthony Perkins (1932-1992)

Boyishly handsome actor best known for his role as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho.  15 years later in the movie Mahogany he played the possessive/unhinged photographer who discovered Diana Ross's character.  Interestingly, his character's issues with his homosexuality were similar to Perkins' struggles in real life.  




Howard Rollins Jr. (1950-1996)

Dramatic actor best known for his role as Coalhouse Walker in the movie version of Ragtime in 1981.  This was his first movie and he received an Oscar nomination for his role.




Yves St. Laurent (1936-2008)

Although this world-renowned fashion designer wasn't leading-man sexy, he had a boyish appeal when he was first starting out.  Like Anthony Perkins and Montgomery Clift, St. Laurent's adult life was characterized by mental anguish.




Tom Tryon (1926-1991)

Tryon was one of a number of actors I wasn't' familiar with when I began work on this post.  Others were Jean Marais, Kerwin Mathews and George Nader.  In his older years he was the spitting image of Mitt Romney.




Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926)

Famed actor who looks very much like Cristobal Balenciaga and Ramon Novarro.  In many of the photos I've come across he's holding a cigarette.  (But he didn't die of lung cancer.)




Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

Novelist, essayist, writer of screenplays and an intellectual gadfly, Vidal wrote the novel Myra Breckinridge and created headlines when he and William F. Buckley Jr. got into a heated argument on TV during the 1968 Democratic Convention.  Vidal called Buckley a Nazi and Buckley called Vidal a queer.




Finally, some former heartthrobs are still alive, including Richard Chamberlain (80 years old) and Tab Hunter (83).  Of all the names on this list Chamberlain is the one most identified with TV, beginning with Dr. Kildare in the early 1960s.  And Hunter, besides having a movie career, is the only one to have a #1 song, Young Love in 1957.         


Richard Chamberlain


Tab Hunter















Why Do Some Gay Men Take Their Husband's Last Name?



In the past year three gay friends of mine were married and took their husband's last name.  I found this curious and pondered why they made such a decision.  Rather than just ask them, I brought it up for discussion a few weeks ago while having cocktails (vodka gimlets) with some friends and we drew up a list of possible reasons, which you'll find below. 


  • I never liked my last name (especially true if it was Dick, Pansy or Swisher).
  • Since we both refer to each other as "husband", by taking his name friends will know he's the "top" (or earns more money).




  • I'm getting back at my homophobic, unsupportive family.  (Could pose a problem if both feel this way; if so, a coin toss is recommended.)
  • My family disowned me so I'm disowning their name.
  • My homophobic family paid me $25,000 to take my partner's name.




  • With my husband and I both having Polish last names, each with 15 letters and no vowels, we didn't want to inflict a hyphenated name like that on our friends.




  • It was the only way Sal's Italian family from Bensonhurst would accept our marriage (and especially Nonna).




  • As a Republican I wish for life the way it was back in the 1950s (except for the way homosexuals were treated) and this is my way of paying tribute. 
  • I don't want to make it difficult for debt collectors, old boyfriends or anyone from my high school days to be able to track me down.




  • I believe I'm the reincarnation of Laura Petrie so there was never a question in my mind that I would take my husband's name.




  • I like being the center of attention and my decision will always be a topic of conversation among family, friends and work associates  (even if they roll their eyes when they talk about it - doesn't matter!)




  • My partner told me to do it if I loved him.  Otherwise he'd beat the crap out of me.  (But he really loves me.)  And consider going back to his ex.  (He does.)




  • By subsuming my identity I show solidarity with my mother.
  • Although I'm from Iowa I always fantasized having a Brazilian last name.  (So what if Paulo still hasn't found a job.  Or that he just told me he has a wife and two kids down in Recife.)




  • My husband promised to buy me a washer and drier.


Over dinner, after sobering up, we agreed that the most likely reasons were #1 and #3.