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"Take Me Out" Explores Impact of Openly Gay Baseball Player on Teammates (September 5, 2002)

TakemeoutTakemeout2My most lasting memory of the 1994 revival of the musical Damn Yankees was its jaunty shower scene while the players sang HeartTake Me Out, another show I saw with a baseball theme, also had a memorable shower scene, but with a completely different, and hotter, tone.  It opened off-Broadway at the Public Theater on September 5, 2002.  


Daniel_sunjata2While Damn Yankees was a light musical about a man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for becoming a major league baseball player, Take Me Out was a drama that explored how a team was impacted after one of its star players, portrayed by Daniel Sunjata (pictured), came out.  This premise was somewhat topical at the time because a few years earlier hunky New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza called a press conference to deny rumors dogging him that he was gay.  


Whereas the shower scene in Damn Yankees had each player in separate shower stalls with doors that restricted the view between each player's calves and waist (while they sang the song Heart), Take Me Out's scene took place in an open shower with two totally nude ballplayers (except for shower shoes) having a somewhat sexually charged conversation as they soap up.  It was largely because of this scene that gay men who weren't the least bit interested in baseball eagerly lined up to get tickets.  


Denis_ohare_takemeoutSix months after opening, Take Me Out went to Broadway where it won the Tony Award for Best Play - and openly gay actor Denis O'Hare won for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play.  (Sunjata also received a nomination.)



Celebrating Mark Spitz, the First Olympic Sex Symbol (September 1972)

Mark_spitz_redtrunksNo pun intended, but 1972 was seminal year if, like me, you were a teenage boy coming to grips with your same-sex attractions.  First, Burt Reynolds flaunted his stuff for a Cosmopolitan centerfold; then six months later Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz came along in his Speedo.  Spitz was the Mark Phelps of his generation, winning seven gold medals at the Summer Games in Munich.  What was great about him was that you could openly ogle him while watching the Olympics in the living room with your parents.  If you found these tantalizing displays of Mark and Burt's "packages" arousing you knew it was likely you were gay.




Although Spitz and Reynolds both had black hair and mustaches, the hairy chested 36-year-old Reynolds had a lascivious, bad boy grin while the smooth 22-year-old Spitz's smile evinced the innocence of the boy next door.  Gay men benefited from the early feminists who believed that men could be objectified as sex objects for the titillation of women just as their sisters had been subjected to since the beginning of time.




Markspitz_posterSpitz was the first male Olympic star to become a sex symbol.  Four years before the famous Farrah Fawcett poster was plastered in boys' dorm rooms, an equally popular poster of Spitz was available for his female fans.  If you were lucky you had girlfriends who owned the poster.  This display of beefcake for public consumption was long before overt displays of celebrity skin became the norm.         





Porn Legend Al Parker Dies of AIDS (August 17, 1992)

Alparker Alparker2 Al Parker, one of gay porn's biggest stars, died of AIDS complications on August 17, 1992 at the age of 40.  Between 1977 and 1991 he appeared in more than 20 films, including classics such as Inches, Heavy Equipment and Oversize Load.  Whether wearing his hair long or short, the bearded Parker was the epitome of virility.  In his later years he had his own gay film company, Surge Studios, which was one of the first to require its actors to use condoms during filmed sex scenes.



Caseydonovan Parker's death came five years after the death of Casey Donovan (Boys in the Sand), the first porn superstar who succumbed to AIDS.  Donovan was 43.  

Celebrating 120 Years of Crisco





Crisco shortening was introduced by Procter & Gamble on Aug. 15, 1911.  Made from vegetable oil, it was an improvement over using lard for cooking, and helped housewives get better results with their baking.  It was especially celebrated for the flaky pie crusts it produced.  However, some gay men use it for an entirely different purpose - as a lubricant for "fisting".  (When Crisco was introduced in smaller containers, the joke was that this convenient size was sold only in New York and San Francisco.)  In 2002, P&G sold the brand to the J.M. Smucker Company.     




And that's not the only connection Crisco has to the gay world.  Nearly 40 years ago there was a popular gay disco located in New York's Meatpacking District called Crisco Disco.  A large Crisco Can served as a DJ booth (pictured, above), which comfortably fit up to ten people.  More recently, gay clubs in Tampa and Venice Beach have held weekly "Crisco Disco" nights, when classic disco is played.  Then there was the peculiar disco-oriented album released in 1977 by poet Rod McKuen called Slide ... Easy In.  Because of the album's cover art, many in gay circles referred to it as the "Crisco Disco album".




So, in closing, if you innocently mention Crisco in a social gathering or at a business presentation and hear snickering, there's a good chance that some gay men are in your midst. 



New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey Comes Out & Steps Down (August 12, 2004)

It was a bolt out of the blue, coming during the dog days of summer, when Jim McGreevey, the Democratic governor of New Jersey, revealed he was gay during a news conference on Aug. 12, 2004.  ("My truth is that I am a gay American.")  Then he announced he would step down because he had been carrying on an affair with a male aide who was the state's homeland security advisor - despite being unqualified.  During the few months McGreevey remained in office he had the distinction of being the first (and, so far, the only) openly gay governor in U.S. history.




It was unfortunate that McGreevey's coming out was linked to a scandal.  And the months following his press conference were like a soap opera.  Stories came out about his liaisons at rest stops, and then during an ugly court fight with his wife, Dina Matos, over alimony McGreevey divulged that they carried on a menage a trois with another male aide (she denied it).  A few years later each spouse wrote tell-all memoirs (his: The Confession; hers: Silent Partner) and did the Daytime talk show circuit to tell their sides of the story.






For the governor, the story had somewhat of a happy ending as he found a well-off boyfriend (pictured below) relatively quickly, who he lives with in the "gay suburb" of Plainfield, NJ.  Then he sought refuge in the Episcopal church and studied for his Master of Divinity degree.  The Episcopal church turned down his bid to become an ordained priest so presently McGreevey advises prisoners in Newark.  And although it seems he's now on a righteous path away from the spotlight, a shroud of tawdriness still lingers.




Meanwhile the sexy male aide who was the object of the governor's affections, Golan Cipel (who denied that the affair was consensual), returned to Israel and hasn't been heard from since.  Now that's a book I'd like to read.






Gritty, Sexually Charged Prison Drama "Oz" Debuts on HBO (July 12, 1997)



Before they were made into movies the prison dramas Fortune and Men's Eyes and Short Eyes were originally novels.  However, another grim depiction of prison life, Oz, was written expressly for the small screen.  It premiered on HBO the evening of July 12, 1997.  Oz depicted life in an experimental wing of a prison and had an array of disturbed inmates (to put it mildly).  The show was notorious for its foul language, violence, frontal nudity and depictions of homosexuality and male rape.  And it was dripping with homoerotic tension.




What immediately comes to mind whenever I hear the name of the show is the gay couple Tobias Beecher and Chris Keller.  This relationship didn't begin until the show's second season when Keller's sociopathic character was introduced.  Their tempestuous relationship had to be one of the most dysfunctional ever shown on TV.  And, wow, was Keller (played by Christopher Meloni) ever hot!




Before going to prison Keller and Beecher were both married and lived straight lives, so it appeared their relationship in prison was a situational one, but they did have feelings for each other.  In fact, after Beecher was released Keller found a way to get him tossed back into prison.  (Only one made it out of the series alive.)  There were some other gay characters who were transvestites but their storylines weren't nearly as enthralling as those involving Keller and Beecher. 




The show's cast also included gay actor BD Wong and gay faves Betty Buckley, Rita Moreno, Eddie Falco and Bobby Cannavale.  Honorable mention goes to the character Adebisi because I loved the stylish little caps he wore perched atop his shaved head.  This was HBO's first drama, airing a few years before The Sopranos (premiered in 1999) and The Wire (2002).  Oz aired through February 2003 so there was some overlap with these other two series.  Although HBO now regularly receives more Emmy nods than the broadcast networks, honors were few for Oz.


Nearly 26 years to the date after Oz's debut (on July 11, 2013 ), women would get their due when the acclaimed prison drama Orange is the New Black debuted on Netflix.








Landmark Supreme Court Decision Strikes Down Sodomy Laws (June 26, 2003)

Lawrence_v_texas On June 26, 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas' same-sex sodomy law was unconstitutional. The landmark Lawrence v Texas ruling was decided by a 6-3 vote, with Justices Scalia, Thomas and Chief Justice Rehnquist the dissenting votes.  (Pictured are John Geddes Lawrence, far right, with fellow plaintiff Tyron Power.  Both have died since the decision.)  The ruling voided the remaining sodomy laws in twelve other states as well (including Florida and Michigan). This decision came 42 years after Illinois became the first state to strike down its sodomy law.


Supremecourt_building This ruling reversed the Court's infamous 1986 decision upholding Georgia's sodomy law (Bowers v Hardwick). Many legal scholars consider Lawrence v Texas one of the Court's most important rulings. Once same-sex relations were made legal it opened the way for making same-sex marriage possible - and the state of Massachusetts followed suit the following year.



Coming & Going in Fire Island's "Meat Rack"

Meatrack_path There are three ways to travel between the gay Fire Island communities of the Pines and Cherry Grove: take a walk along the beach, hail a water taxi or traverse the inland route.  The expanse of inland sand dunes and wind-twisted shrubs/trees is known as the "Meat Rack" (also referred to as "The Enchanted Forest" or just the "Rack").  Some use it purely for utilitarian purposes to get from point A to point B while others go there to fulfill animal urges.  (Some mix the two and make a pit stop on their way to point B.)  Like craters on the Moon, sections of the Rack have been given names, such as "Area 51", "Lower Dining Room", and "Upper Dining Room".  A song on the Village People's first album was titled Fire Island and the chorus was, "Don't go in the bushes, someone might grab you".  Besides being a place where sweaty, moaning bodies congregate, the Meat Rack is also a place of natural beauty.  It's great being there when there's a full moon reflecting off the white sand of the dunes with the crashing surf in the background.  I remember fondly one particular night when the moon came rising through the fog and emerged a beautiful orange. 





The entrance from the Pines side, a winding path with tall trees on either side calls to mind, especially at night, a stage set from Into the Woods or an illustration from the fairytale Hansel & Gretel.  (The first time I ever ventured there at night the movie Blair Witch Project kept coming to mind.)  For novices it's a good idea to first visit during the day to get the lay of land before venturing out after dark.  


Entrance path from the Pines


Mosquitoes, ticks, sand fleas that bite the ankles, and swampy areas are some distractions that can lessen one's enjoyment of their Rack experience.  (A housemate constructed a famous bridge over one swampy area and used to repair it every season.)  "Day trippers" who stop and stare (or shine flashlights at night) are another constant annoyance.  And there's always the possibility of bumping into a friend or a friend's boyfriend - but then, the same can happen in the City at a sex club.  




Earlier in this post I alluded to how the setting of Sondheim's Into the Woods very much resembles the Meat Rack.  And lyrics to one of its songs seem to have been written by someone who knows the Meat Rack mindset very well: "Anything can happen in the woods; let your hesitations be hushed"; and "Right and wrong don't matter in the woods, only feelings.  Let us meet the moment unblushed."


Of course, the various adventures housemates have had during a "nature walk", the magical as well as the humiliating, provide plenty of fodder for hilarious stories to share over dinner.








A Song Celebrates Promiscuity in the Early Days of AIDS (Summer 1983)




In the summer of 1983, the dance song So Many Men, So Little Time by Miquel Brown was a huge club hit.  However, its timing was peculiar as it was released in the early years of the AIDS crisis.  Hearing it always gave me a chill, and I was surprised there wasn't a backlash over its questionable message - or the cruel irony of the phrase "so little time".       


To be sure, there were other songs that touched on a similar theme, such as Olivia Newton John's Physical and the Weather Girls' It's Raining Men, but they had more of a bubblegum feel to them, and were popular somewhat before the full-blown AIDS panic took hold.  As for So Many Men, perhaps it seemed removed from the gay experience because it was sung by a woman - but it unsettled me nonetheless.




Deadly Fire at the Everard Baths (May 25, 1977)




"Son of Sam", and the July blackout are the two news stories most New Yorkers remember from 1977, but another tragedy that same year is overlooked - the fire at the Everard Baths.  (In fact, while doing research for this post, a Wikipedia article I reviewed about disasters in New York didn't include the Everard fire - so I added it.)   Although it wasn't on the scale of the fires at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. in 1911, or the Happyland Social Club in 1990, it was still one of the City's deadliest.  Because it was a bathhouse, families of the nine who died and those injured were no doubt concerned about having their names revealed.  One of those who died was 32-year-old Jimmy Stuard, a well known DJ at the club 12 West.




The Everard was on West 28th St., just off 5th Ave. and had been a bathhouse for decades.  It's even mentioned in Andrew Holleran's classic gay novel Dancer from the Dance , which was published the year following the fire.  After it reopened, it remained in business through the mid-80s, when it was closed as part of the City's response to the AIDS crisis.


I went to the baths during my first year in New York (1979-1980), and I visited the Everard once in March 1980 (which had relocated a few blocks away).  I also visited a number of other bathhouses once, including Man's Country, the St. Mark's Baths and the Big Apple, because I favored the Club Baths.  (However, once I began dating someone steadily in the fall of 1980 my adventures at the baths ended.)