Fire Island Feed

Remembering lllustrator Robert de Michiell (1958 - 2015)



Robert de Michielle


While watching last week's Tony Awards I was surprised, and saddened, when, during the In Memoriam segment, Chita Rivera said the name of illustrator Robert de Michiell (who had died in October 2015 at the age of 57).  Although I didn't know him personally I knew of his work through a friend who participated in an erotic drawing workshop that met weekly at the Leslie Lohman Gallery in SoHo.  Robert was one of the regular attendees and I bought a number of his sketches (two which are shown to the right) at the gallery's first Dirty Little Drawings show in 2003.  It exhibited work by participants of the workshop (all submissions were 4X4 inches square).  Once I knew his style I recognized his work in Entertainment Weekly and The New Yorker.  He also produced a series of colorful Fire Island postcards that captured the carefree, body-beautiful atmosphere of the Pines. 


One of the postcards in de Michiell's Fire Island Pines collection


Robert de Michielle chest
Another of his drawings that I own


Robert de michiell man on beach towel
Having spent a number of summers in the Pines, might I have been the inspiration for this sketch? 


New yorker cover by robert demichiell
March 1, 1993 cover illustration


I often found myself confusing de Michiell with another gay illustrator, Robert W. Richards (still alive, at the age of 80), who also participated in the erotic art workshop.  Their drawing styles, however, differ - de Michiell's hot and masculine men are a blend of caricature and cartoon while Richards' men are more lifelike and have pretty faces with a high-fashion flair.


Robert richards
An example of Robert W. Richards' work


After a number of Dirty Little Drawings exhibits the organizers of the workshop compiled nearly 300 of the sketches and published them in a handsome hardbound book (like the drawings, 4X4 inches) titled, you guessed it, Dirty Little Drawings.  de Michiell had four of his sketches published and eight of Richards' were chosen.


Dirty Little Drawings


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.













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 ... 


Paul Jabara Pays Tribute to Fire Island with "Pleasure Island" (May 1978)




Songwriter Paul Jabara (1948-1992) is best known for Last Dance, the Oscar-winning song Donna Summer performed in the disco-themed movie Thank God, It's Friday.  Besides being on the movie's soundtrack, a version sung by Jabara was on his album Keeping Time, which was released in May 1978.  The album also included another song from the movie, a throwaway titled Trapped in a Stairway.  However, the album's hidden gem was his 10-minute paean to Fire Island, Pleasure Island:  


                Get on a boat, take a train

                    If traffic's heavy we'll charter a plane

                    Come to the island, Pleasure Island, with me


                    Walk on the beach, sit by the bay

                    Let the sunshine burn your worries away

                    Come to the island, Pleasure Island, with meeeee!


                 There's nothing like the Island to give you what you need 

                     Time, space, fantasy for free

                     Nothing like the Island, you feel so good inside

                     You're feeling satisfied


The lyrics are concentrated in the song's first few minutes, followed by moaning that is gradually overtaken by a slowly building, Giorgio Moroder-like beat.  The moans of ecstasy are somewhat reminiscent of Donna Summer's in Love to Love You Baby, except that Pleasure Island's moans come from a man.  It's an absolutely beautiful song that perfectly captures the mood of languid hours spent at the beach followed by dancing and nighttime conquests.


The Village People had released their debut album the previous year, and it also had a song that saluted Fire Island.  Simply titled Fire Island, it was an over-the-top, campy romp.  Pleasure Island, by contrast, was far sexier and had a more complex song structure.    


I didn't make my first visit to Fire Island until 1981, so these two songs, as well as Larry Kramer's novel Faggots, served as the inspiration for the images created in my mind of the place.  And, as it turns out, they were quite accurate.  (A great companion piece to this post is photographer Tom Bianchi's coffee table book of photos, Fire Island Pine Polaroids, 1975-1983, published in 2013.)








"Pines '79" - Revisiting a Play Depicting Carefree Days Before AIDS




Recently, my friend Andy loaned me a paperback he bought on Amazon titled Pines '79.  Actually, it's a bound script and stage notes from the off-Broadway play that opened at Actor's Playhouse in the West Village in 1981.  Set in the Pines, it takes place over four weekends during the summer of 1979.  The comedy's main characters are five gay men sharing one house and an older, straight female friend who lives in another.  It touches upon drugs, disco, sex, relationships, fear of intimacy and the freedom found on Fire Island.  Lightweight and angst free, it's light years away from the self-loathing tone of Boys in the Band.




Prominent play is given to the Meat Rack, the Sandpiper disco (pictured, above), disco naps and "Beach '79" - the first dance party held on the beach, featuring 16-year-old France Joli.  There's no deep talk about politics, just decadence.  Disco songs such as Ring My Bell, the Village People's Fire Island and Don't You Want My Love are featured.  Unfortunately, the last act devolves into slapstick with the appearance of an oafish hustler and a clingy trick.  


Because Pines '79 is such a period piece it would probably be of interest only to those who experienced this way of life.  It would have been interesting if sequels were staged that followed the housemates over subsequent summers.  I wonder if any of the characters would have survived the onset of AIDS?  Alas, the playwright Terry Miller (not to be confused with Dan Savage's husband, who has the same name) succumbed in 1995 at the age of 47.  Miller also authored the book Greenwich Village and How it Got That Way, which was published in 1990.






Reaching Out & Touching Someone in Fire Island: Memories of the Pines Phone Directory

Pines_phonedirectory2Twelve years after the first "invasion" of the Pines took place on the 4th of July, another tradition began over July 4th weekend in 1988 - the introduction of the Pines phone directory.  It wasn't a directory handed out free by the phone company, but rather a fund-raising idea by a schoolgirl that caught on.  Information was collected voluntarily - some houses even included drag names and pets!  In the early days it was sold door-to-door, then later at the Pantry.  Covers were often Fire Island scenes done in water colors by Pines artists such as the late John Laub or Glen Wielgus.


What made the directory unique was that, in addition to last names being listed in traditional alphabetical order, names were also arranged by house address and by first name.  The first names listings proved invaluable because they addressed those situations that didn't lend themselves to easily catching someone's last name, e.g., jam-packed tea dance, on the beach or in the, ahem, woods.  Recognizing the utility of these listings, the publisher put them in front of the directory.



I had a fascination with the first names section.  Since they were already arranged alphabetically, it was relatively easy to determine the most prevalent names on the Island.  (I'm surprised the publishers didn't do it.)  During the six summers between 1996-2001 I'd leisurely page through the directory and take a count (while sipping a cocktail, of course).  In the summer of 2000 the Fire Island News even reported on the the analysis.  The names Michael, David and John always vied for the top (no pun intended).  However, the long stereotyped name, Bruce, wasn't even among the top 20.


(1996-2001 Average)
Michael   82  
David   78  
John   75  
Mark   55  
Steve   39  
Tom   39  
Peter   37  
Jim   37  
Bill   36  
Paul   34  


It's striking how mainstream the names were.  For example, in 2000 there were just four listings for Carlos, three for Juan, while Miguel and Julio each had two.  And, not surprisingly, there were fewer than a dozen women listed.  I haven't had a share in FIP since 2009 so it's likely things have changed - there are probably even names of kids listed.  As an indication of how popular the directory became, the number of persons listed jumped 60% between 1996 and 2001, from 1,470 to 2,500.



I once tracked someone down using the directory.  I remembered his first name, which was Steve, and the part of the Pines his house was located in (at the other end from where my house was), so I was able to narrow it down to a handful of potential last names.  From our brief conversation I also remembered where in Manhattan he lived (Chelsea/6th Avenue), and I was able to further narrow it down to his apartment building.  However, there were a number of Steves from the Pines directory who lived in that building - and I chose the wrong one; however, the wrong Steve was kind enough to call me (I had left a note in his mailbox) because he happened to know the Steve I was stalking, I mean, seeking.  Mission accomplished, we had a date, but it turned out he had a partner with whom he had an "understanding".  But it was a fun pursuit nonetheless. 




Alas, like print media in general, the directory seemed to lose its utility in the 21st century.  (I even tired of doing my analysis of first names.)  Although e-mail addresses were added and listings could be be submitted to a website, it seemed to come out later, suffered from sloppy proofreading and one summer a sizable number of names were missing (including mine).  But in its heyday it was indispensable - and worth remembering.    


Some other ZeitGAYst posts about Fire Island you may also enjoy:

Celebrating DRA's Fire Island Dance Festival

Coming & Going in the Meat Rack

"Invasion" of the Pines

A Postcard Trip to Fire Island

Favorite Photos of the Pines & Cherry Grove


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 ...




TIME Magazine Cover Story Asks "How Gay is Gay?" (April 16, 1979)

Time_how_gay_is_gayApril 1979 was a milestone month for me.  I had just moved to New York to start my first job out of college (ad agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves) and I was living on my own for the first time.  I was starting my second week at the new job when TIME Magazine published a cover story titled "How Gay is Gay?" (with a cover date of April 23, it hit newsstands today).  The story was a positive portrayal of the state of gay America.  This was in contrast to a cover story published 10 years earlier titled "The Homosexual" which painted a more dreary picture.  (My first ZeitGAYst post reported on that cover story.)             


White_painters_pantsThe story reported on the influence gay men had in gentrifying formerly undesirable urban neighborhoods and in starting fashion trends.  Introducing disco to mainstream America was also mentioned.  One gay New Yorker who was interviewed commented that he first saw Adidas sneakers and white painters pants being worn as casual wear out on Fire Island a few years before they caught on with the rest of the country. 


Its_ok_to_be_gay One observation made in the article seemed like it was written today rather than 34 years ago: "A few younger gays, especially in the cities, have never hidden their identities".  And even in 1979 thirty-nine cities and towns had already enacted ordinances prohibiting anti-gay discrimination in jobs and housing (NYC wouldn't pass such a law until 1986).  Furthermore, 120 companies, including AT&T and IBM, had anti-discrimination policies as it pertained to hiring or promotions.    


Later that year I came out to a friend I worked with, Marina, and she told me she wasn't surprised and mentioned this cover story.  It seemed that I kept that particular issue of TIME on my desk for a while and she thought I was making a subtle statement.