Friday, March 30, 2007

Introducing Inimeg Ranul Eht Productions

I felt like I was in Dexatrim ad today. Someone was asking to see a photo of me -- don't ask -- and photos of me online are somewhat limited. So I found a goofy little photo I had taken with Patti LuPone when I lived in New Jersey, and imagine my horror when I realized:

OK, I knew I had lost some weight since moving to New York, but my God I was fat! Just look at my face. As a comparison, here's a more current, post-weight-loss photo:

OK, ignoring how greasy I look...and I had always hoped that if I had anything in common with Oprah, it would be her ability to give out diamonds as party favors. But this got me thinking back to my attitude toward food in New Jersey. Even though I was working out three times a week or so, I was largely sedentary. Still, I never felt like I was getting enough food. I probably eat half of what I ate when I ate there. But there's a reason for that.

I don't know if there's a such thing as reverse anorexia, but if there is, I had it. As a kid, I was quite skinny. I was a picky, to be sure, but I ate well when it was something I liked. That didn't stop everyone -- friends, family, nosy adults -- from telling me I was too skinny, gangly, sickly or whatever other adjective that came to mind. I felt like I was never eating enough, so I ate horribly in order to compensate. Even as my weight started to creep up when I hit college, the feeling that I wasn't eating enough still lingered. I would eat when I wasn't hungry because I thought I had to do it to be healthy. It wasn't until I put myself on a calorie-counting diet that I realized how wrong I had been. Think about that before you tell one of those hackneyed "can't see you sideways" or "slide you under the door" jokes to a kid like this:

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Gay dating in the styx (part 4)

Moving to New York from southern New Jersey was a famine to feast move in regards to a dating scene, but -- if you'll pardon the mixed metaphor -- I quickly learned that not all fishing holes were created equal. In particular, it was only a matter of months before I learned to avoid Splash on a Saturday night, that awkward mix of eager tourists and natives equally eager to exploit them.

A little debauchery is fun, sure, but I found out how fast it turned to awkwardness thanks to Igor. While he was cute and sweet, he was one of the zero to 60 gays, meaning he seemed to be ready for a long-term relationship shortly after meeting. But as I always say, I'll go out with almost anyone once, so I agreed to a date. In Brooklyn. My first venture into the outer boroughs, not counting the airports.

Unfortunately, Igor was not the easiest person to understand, thanks to an incredibly thick Polish accent, so his directions to me were a little flawed. Simply telling me to take the "express train," I assumed he meant the A train, the only express train near me. It was only until I was nearly in East New York that I realized he had meant the 2 train, which isn't anywhere near me, and it took me a good 90 minutes of wandering through Brooklyn to right this wrong.

As I mentioned yesterday, I was battling a somewhat nasty cold during this date, so arriving weakened from walking so long and nearly two hours late really set the tone for the evening. As luck would have it, he had prepared the dinner that any sick boy would dream about: heavy sausage, potatoes and sauerkraut. I ate as much as I could -- mostly in silence, as he was angry with me for misunderstanding his directions -- and I was trying not to be intimidated by the giant photo of John Paul II staring at me from the mini-shrine in his honor ("You like?" he asked me, motioning to the Pope, to which I feebly answered yes).

I was ready to call it a night after dinner, but he insisted we return to Splash, where I sat nearly comatose at the bar for about two hours with the rather, er, interesting videos that were playing. Let's just say the men in the videos were pretty darn handy and put their all into their work.

Not surprisingly, I tried the fade away after that date, but karma never has been kind to me in the dating department. The first time I ever returned to Splash, nearly six months later, guess who was there to greet me? Ah, how quickly I was reminded why I should never return to my passive aggressive ways. I certainly don't want to eliminate every going out opportunity in the city for me.

Still, Igor was a gentleman, which is more than I can say for...well, we'll get into that one the next time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Same phlegm next year

The pathetic little cold I've been battling the last few days would be hardly worth mentioning except for one fact: It seems to be turning into an annual event.

I remember having the same cold at this exact time last year for three reasons. First of all, I remember it coming right after a yearly corporate black tie event, which was last Monday. I also remember having it when calling my youngest sister on her birthday, which was last Sunday. And most of all -- I remember having it on one of my worst dates in recent history, on which I'll go into more detail about tomorrow.

But whatever. This cold is so unoriginal. It's even the exact same progression of symptoms: A day of a scratchy throat, a day of sinus pressure and then a few days of pointless hacking. Shake it up a little next year, little microbes! Or better yet -- find somewhere else to vacation.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Stars of screen and stage -- simultaneously

After seeing uncredited guest appearances by Jon Stewart, ragin' Cajun evangelist Jesse Duplantis and Papa Smurf on the Off-Broadway stage, I must declare enough!

The first time I saw a working television as a part of a play was "Hurlyburly" a few years ago. It was an interesting convention, seeing the Smurfs or Go-Bots or whatever other "Hey, it's the 80s" statement they wanted to hammer in. And I suppose closing out with Johnny Carson had a plot purpose.

Then, a few weeks ago, I caught "Stone Cold Dead Serious," which treated us to a pre-show QVC extravaganza of sports memorabilia as barely lucid Dad napped on the couch. OK, the QVC appearance figured into the plot, too, although the later appearance of Duplantis was just bizarre. And it was a show about media -- largely video games, but television, too -- so it gets a pass. Barely.

Then, Wednesday, I caught "Dying City," during which an episode of "Law & Order" played on the sparse set as the audience wandered in. Yes, again, "Law & Order" figured into the dialogue, but later on, when the television started playing "The Daily Show" -- which also had been a part of the dialogue -- it was the most distracting moment of all. Some in the audience were actually chuckling at Jon Stewart's quips rather than pay attention to the acting on stage. Hear that, directors? Your props are upstaging your actors!

Listen, guys and gals. We might be an over-stimulated generation, but we still have the capability for a slight suspension of disbelief. Just like we know that there's not a big transparent wall in someone's apartment that's letting the audience peer in, we also could probably accept that a blank television set is not actually playing "Law & Order," "The Tonight Show," "Jerry Falwell's Old Time Gospel Hour" or whatever.

Because you know what the extra media element brings me back to? That dreadful tour of "Starlight Express" with the 3-D movies in lieu of races. And trust me: That's one theatrical memory you do not want me to dredge up while watching your show.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The sum of all queers

Oh, how times have changed. It seems like only yesterday Terrence
McNally was sparking fiery protests with his gay Jesus allegory "Corpus Christi." Now he's getting titters out of the blue-hair crowd at Second Stage Theatre with jokes about bathhouses, online booty calls and marriage with his latest work, "Some Men," now in previews for a March 26 opening.

It's the M-word that's at the center of the show, a series of vignettes throughout gay history bookended an unseen couple's nuptials. The scenes--spanning from an underground Harlem nightclub to the inevitable future of legalized gay marriage--all tie to the various wedding attendees, a veritable who's who of gay archetypes portrayed by a deft ensemble.

McNally's writing is as good as ever in many spots, particularly in the large ensemble scenes. The trite subject matter of a gay Internet chat room is freshly humorous, the nightclub owner's onstage antics in talking of the coded messages sent by gay songwriters to their lovers is an exquisite monologue and the furor created by a drag queen's appearance in a piano bar neighboring the Stonewall riots would make a striking 10-minute play by itself.

Unfortunately, a few scenes don't work at all, like the beach rendezvous of a Jewish Wall Street broker and his Irish chauffeur, and others, like a modern group therapy session, drag on far too long. The second act as a whole could use a good trim, as the play clocks in at about two and a half hours including intermission. And it seems pointless as characters suddenly reveal family relationships with all the characters from the older scenes. After all: One of the seasoned gay characters responded incredulously when a young upstart referred to gays as a "people." So why the need to make further ties between the scenes other than merely the diverse gay experience?

Standouts in the strong ensemble include Don Amendolia in a variety of "older man" roles, Kelly AuCoin as the recurring character of Bernie who makes the decision to come out when it wasn't en vogue and the honey-voiced David Greenspan as the foul-mouthed drag queen.

It's telling that my three choices are all the "older" ensemble members. Perhaps it's generational, but the older characters ring much truer than the younger and run together much less. Poor Pedro Pascal has so many similar roles that I couldn't even remember where his wedding guest fit in the story fabric by the end of the show. But he looks good in a towel, so all is forgiven.

Despite the cliche scenarios and stereotypical characters, however, this Cliff's Notes of gay history seems necessary. Perhaps it's that familiarity that makes it palatable with some of the same people who might cringe over a gay Christ-like character. With the crescendo of verbal crassness and physical violence toward gays that's been around in recent months, it's delightfully sobering to watch these disparate histories converge into the conclusion of equality, for better or for worse.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Behead me, baby!

I have a problem with the new miniseries "The Tudors."

That's King Henry VIII, by the way, as played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Therein lies the problem. Henry VIII is on the short list of historical figures about whom I should never have impure thoughts! Right between Mahatma Ghandi and Walt Whitman. Yes, I know the man was quite a looker in his younger years, but don't put me in the position to have to picture my not-so-secret little crush Johnny with a turkey leg hanging out of his mouth.

Of course, the show promises "gratuitous nudity," so maybe it has some redeeming qualities after all.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Review roundup

I've fallen behind in my reviews, thanks to being overwhelmed by a visit from the parents and everyone else under the sun (there were seven people sleeping in my two-bedroom apartment at one point last weekend). So, in the interest of space, here are a few quick capsule reviews of the shows I saw during their visit:

Perhaps it was my hunger from my recent lackluster experience with "The Pirate Queen," but few shows in recent memory have left me with as pleasant an aftertaste as "Curtains," now in previews for a March 22 opening. Although the show--a murder mystery set among the colorful characters trying out a show in Boston--is far from perfect, the cast is pretty darn close to it. As the theatre-loving investigating police lieutenant, David Hyde Pierce is his usual nebbish self but manages to do so in a way that feels delightfully fresh, unlike some others who have fallen into that type (paging Matthew Broderick). Debra Monk, as the producer, stops the show with her brassy numbers, and leading man Noah Racey is probably the best dancer on Broadway right now -- and that includes the entire cast of "A Chorus Line." Even Edward Hibbert, whom I usually find cloying, scores here as the director. Some songs are certainly better than others, and I found myself not really giving much of a damn about the whodunit aspect, but overall, this is truly a crowd-pleaser that might not be a critical darling but certainly deserves a decent run. And I finally broke my Ernie Sabella curse! He was out when I saw "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and "Sweet Charity," but the third time was the charm. EDIT: I can't believe I forgot to mention Karen Ziemba and Jason Daniele, both of whom also are excellent, and ditto what I said about Racey for Ziemba.

"Prelude to a Kiss"
What began as a seemingly dull and trite romantic comedy cliche actually turned into an engaging evening of theatre. The absurd plot centers around an idealistic but morose young bride (Annie Parisse) who somehow switches bodies with a feeble old man (John Mahoney) on the day of her wedding. The early scenes detailing the courtship of Peter and Rita drag on for quite a while, and one almost expects to see the Lifetime logo in the bottom corner of the stage. But oddly enough, Rita becomes a much more entertaining character when she's played by Mahoney. Alan Tudyk is fine as the befuddled Peter, but show-stealing honors go to Robin Bartlett and James Rebhorn as Rita's parents.

Lea Salonga in "Les Miserables"
I hereby recuse myself from ever reviewing "Les Miserables." I have far too much of a history with that show. Yes, I was one of those teenagers who had all three CDs of the complete symphonic cast recording memorized, and I've probably seen that same darn production of it more times than any other show, and like a dear old friend, I can love it despite its faults. So just a few words about it's new leading lady. Following the departure of the much-maligned Daphne Rubin-Vega, Lea Salonga--star of "Miss Saigon" and former Eponine--is a fine fit for the overly tragic role of Fantine. She does what she's supposed to do: sings the hell out of "I Dreamed a Dream," gets abused in a few scenes and finally gasps her last, vanishing (save the well-disguised appearance as a boy at the barricade) until her ghost comes back for the finale. Hey, you wanted nuance? This is "Les Miserables." If I want nuance, I'll go watch "Grey Gardens." But let's see Christine Ebersole try that deathbed scene!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Be my test audience, please

Hello, all. I've been invited to do a little comedy routine at a certain event, and there's some new material I'd like to try out. I'm going to write out the routine, and I want you all to be brutally honest. Is it funny? Here goes:

I really don't understand the big flap over the so-called "anti-Christian" bloggers employed by John Edwards. The last thing they should do is apologize for using the word "godbag." The last time I heard the word, it was from a casual acquaintance of mine who goes to a Lutheran church or something like that, so obviously it's not offensive to any Christian anywhere.

If anything, decrying the use of the word "godbag" would be offensive in of itself, as it would leave no alternative but for us to be "evolutionbags," and heaven knows that crap never happened! But enough about that. Here's what the bloggers should do next:

1) Start a Web site called "Global War on Christians" today.
2) Begin writing essays calling for the cleansing and purification of society via the mass murder of Christians.
3) Distribute videos on the Web site showing the actual murder of Christians.
4) Circulate instructions on how to bomb Southern Baptist churches in the South.
5) Circulate a "battle dispatch" to give specific information on America's most notorious Baptist churches.
6) Apply for a job at Liberty University.

Laughing yet? No? Surely you're laughing as much as I was when I read this column by Mike S. Adams over at Even more of a riot were the comments below it. I particularly loved the one by the appropriately named "Handy": Whenever a gay guy comes on to me, I ask him if he's into "fisting." Regardless of his answer, I put one on his nose just for good measure.

Ha ha ha ha ha! It's funny because it really happens. Truly, Townhall, you should be proud.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

So that's where you've been, charming Billy

Forget an ill-timed joke and a trip to Florida. The clod of the year award prematurely goes to the Prince Philip of American television, Bill O'Reilly, who wasted no time in turning the tragic Bronx fire into a diatribe against immigration.

Never mind that he doesn't even know whether the children killed in the were here legally. No, he points his finger squarely at those who don't agree with his immigration stance and says, "You helped this to happen." Jerry Falwell would be proud!

His paper-thin link of the two stories centers around the living conditions at the Bronx building. Granted, they weren't ideal. I would, however, suggest that O'Reilly take a tour of the housing options open to people in New York who cannot afford more than $1,000 a month in rent. Having a green card does not get you any credit toward a better place, I'm afraid. As Kirsten Powers noted, there are plenty of legal citizens -- a group in which these folks might very well be included -- who live in similar conditions. From all accounts, this fire was the result of nothing more than a space heater, missing batteries and understandably panicked reactions from some very frightened people.

Perhaps O'Reilly should visit the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side and learn about the conditions in which some of his (presumably legal) ancestors used to live. Then perhaps he might give a little consideration before tossing out a speciously seasoned piece of red meat to his base in an effort to capitalize on someone else's tragedy.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A little shameless self-promotion

Since I know a good portion of the people who either visit regularly or just stumble upon this blog are New Yorkers, I have to throw in a quick plug for my upcoming concert.

OK, not my upcoming concert, but I will be one of more than about 100 men (and a few women) performing in the New York City Gay Men's Chorus' "Classically NYCGMC" concert at Merkin Concert Hall on Monday and Tuesday.

Having worked with several different styles of choral directors in my lifetime, I can't say enough good things about our director for this concert, Casey J. Hayes. He's done an impeccable job from start to finish, from picking the music to getting me feeling as prepared as I've ever been for any performance. The "classical" designation is purposely loose, as we'll be doing well known favorites like Offenbach's "Barcarolle" and selections from "Die Fledermaus" and "Carmina Burana" as well as some lovely new works -- terribly modern, as Vera Charles would say -- that are being recorded for the first time. Our guest artist, Met mezzo Kathryn Day, is worth the price of admission alone.

Or look at it this way: For anyone who has ever hated one of my theatre reviews, here's your chance for revenge.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Tacky? Or a breach of trust?

When it comes to a crisis, I don't think many would mistake Mayor Mike Bloomberg for Winston Churchill. Or even Mike Brady. Just a few weeks after he orders a rash of parking tickets during the worst winter storm of the season, he gets caught in an incredibly insensitive quote following one of the most horrific fires in the city's history, which killed nine people, including eight children, in the Bronx on Wednesday.

In talking about criticism that he did not cancel a planned trip to Florida after the fire, he told the Daily News: "Some people think I'm here for spring break. But actually I was thinking about doing a movie in South Beach -- 'Mayors Gone Wild.'" Not exactly the best tone for the moment, to be sure.

Whether he should have canceled his trip is a different debate entirely, and I tend to fall in line with the Daily Intelligencer in saying no. Somehow, I don't think knowing the mayor's in town is going to be of much comfort to the families involved, and stirring up controversy over it is a distraction from the tragedy. But there's no question his joke was ill-timed. Still, rather than place the blame entirely on him, I'd also question the reporter's judgment in using it in the story.

When a reporters have to build rapport with sources, they'll often have off-the-cuff conversations with them. Trust me: If you've ever lost a loved one in a car accident, you don't want to hear the way police officers sometimes talk about accident victims. It can range somewhere between indifferent and joking. I certainly can understand why -- they see this stuff all the time and can't fall apart over it every time something happens -- and I certainly never used any of it in my stories. Not only would it have been insensitive to the families involved, but the officer in question never would have talked to me again.

Now, I'm not comparing Bloomberg with a first responder. He's not a warm, comforting presence, and he probably never will be. I'm just saying that it wouldn't surprise me if this joke occurred in the conversation long after the talk had moved from the fire itself. If not, it should have been put in better context within the story. If it was jarring to me, I can't imagine what it was like for someone who had a much closer connection to the tragedy than merely living across the river from it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Magic Kingdom comes to the Emerald Isle

Forget "The Little Mermaid." The void left by the shuttering "Beauty and the Beast" is already being filled at the Hilton Theatre by a musical that is every bit as Disney -- it just doesn't admit that it is.

I caught the first preview of "The Pirate Queen," the latest from the "Les Miserable" and "Miss Saigon" team Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, last night. Given that it was a first preview and has a while before opening, I'll naturally be selective in my criticism and try to focus on the things I'm sure will not change before its official opening April 5.

Elizabethan history buffs might be familiar with Grace O'Malley, the Irish clan leader in the sixteenth century who later forged a short-lived truce with Queen Elizabeth I. Well, the Grace O'Malley now at the Hilton -- played by Stephanie J. Block -- seems to be her as imagined by Michael Eisner. Every bit as plucky and lovely as any of the other Disney princesses, O'Malley swashbuckles and grapples as well as any man in an era in which women were not given respect. Yes, that theme is hammered in throughout the show to the point where it seems like every character is the ancestor of those people destined to find themselves watching mandatory workplace sexual harassment training videos today.

All the other stock characters are there, too: wise, benevolent father Dubhdara (the excellent Jeff McCarthy); handsome suitor Tiernan (Hadley Fraser); the vain wuss who Grace must marry, Donal O'Flaherty (Marcus Chait); and the scheming, Snidely Whiplash-esque villain, Sir Richard Bingham (William Youmans). Even Her Majesty (Linda Balgord) is reduced to a shrieking Cruella de Vil in the first act, although her character is given a much better treatment in the second act. I kept waiting for a talking animal sidekick to appear for Grace.

The result is an entirely too broad story, with heroes and villains so black and white that they make a "Dick Tracy" comic look nuanced. Foreshadowing is done with such a heavy hand that I could not only pick out which characters were going to die, but I also could pick out the order in which they would die.

While the story structure seems familiar, it becomes even more familiar at the hands of Boublil and Schonberg. Many of the melodies will seem familiar to "Les Miz" fans. The opening motif sounds almost beat-for-beat like an echo of "Do You Hear The People Sing?". And many of the standard B&S conventions are used, such as the counterpoint confrontation scene that inevitably happens between Grace and Donal.

Some of the tunes are quite lovely. One of Grace's early numbers, "Woman," particularly stands out, as does the duet for Grace and Tiernan, "Here on This Night," Elizabeth's driving "She Who Has All" and Tiernan's "I'll Be There," even though the latter has the misfortune of sharing a motif with the Miss America theme. Others, like Donal's "Boys'll Be Boys," a drinking song reminiscent of "Master of the House," would be better served on the cutting room floor. Much of the rest is rather forgettable. And overall, the lyrics are so banal and predictable that it's easy to see the coming rhyme long before the singing character ever reaches it.

The show's shortcoming are in no way the fault of the actors. Block is talented and doesn't disappoint. Fraser is a nice discovery, and Balgord does great work in the horribly constructed role of Queen Elizabeth. Youmans' character is the most cartoonish, but his acting skills still come through. Chait's performance is the most problematic, as his villainy is so without cause that it actually brought applause when he died. No one applauded when Thuy or Javert died. Even Thenardier, who had no redeeming qualities, is an audience favorite.

I have little comment on the technical aspects, as those are undoubtedly a work in progress. Mostly, the show seems to be in good shape in that regard, although something needs to be done to improve the sound quality in the cavernous Hilton. Elizabeth's soprano numbers were particularly difficult to understand at times.

Despite the similarities, this isn't Disney, and without Disney's marketing muscle, I don't know what's going to happen for this show. While it wasn't my cup of tea, the people, mostly tourists, around me -- I always eavesdrop on the way out of a performance -- adored it. The producers have done what I consider a pretty wise strategy of offering discount $25 for all seats during early previews, in an effort I can only assume to fill the house and build word-of-mouth. Possibly it will work. While I can't imagine going back to see this show when paying more than $25, maybe it will catch on with tourists who will overlook its weaknesses and survive. I wouldn't begrudge it success. I'll make this prediction, however: The critics are going to tear this show to pieces.

At any rate, if Grace O'Malley is still around come next fall, Ariel might have to fight a bit harder for her target audience. But at least she has that singing crab.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Turn around

I have a theme song!

I'd almost forgotten I was even doing this, as I had no idea it would take so long. That's what I get for having more than 1,300 songs on my iPod and, for the most part, exclusively using the shuffle feature without the aid of playlists. This also could explain how my workouts are often driven to a standstill when a song by Jessica Molaskey or Norah Jones comes up, when a Widor organ sonata comes up, or worst of all, the most sluggish song on my iPod: a suite of songs from "Camelot" performed by Julie Andrews shortly before she lost her voice.

But back to the issue at hand. After about six months, the Barbra/Judy duet finally came up, leaving me with only one song: the remix of "Total Eclipse of the Heart." How uplifting!

I do love that song, though.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Close to the maddening crowd

The year of the pig, indeed.

Honestly, by themselves, I couldn't care less about Ann Coulter's latest comments. Read the second paragraph in what I said about Tim Hardaway. Was anyone really surprised? I mean, she's already called Al Gore a fag and insinuated that both Bill and Hillary Clinton are gay. So why should her comments suddenly ascend above a third-grade level now? Meanwhile, as I noted in this blog's early days, the unmarried Coulter has been known to pal around in West Hollywood with lesbian conservative Tammy Bruce -- whom I stupidly called Tammy Baldwin in that post to which I'm referring. Totally different person.

I'm also not a big fan of the demanding a renouncement game from everyone aligned with a certain political movement, a practice I most commonly associate with Sean Hannity. However, to their credit, a lot of conservative bloggers--including The Lone Star Times' David Benzion and, of all people, Michelle Malkin--had harsh words for Coulter. But of course, a lot of folks out there were quick to jump on any dissenters in an effort to protect their right to call people a faggot -- which they have, of course, but I suppose free speech to them means freedom from criticism as well. And that got me to thinking: This just hasn't been a great year for the gays so far. Let's see:

1) Some pipe-wielding monster in Detroit beats a 72-year-old guy to death after calling him a faggot.
2) A guy gets beat up after leaving a PATH train because he was wearing pink pants.
3) Michael Savage equates Melissa Etheridge raising a child to child abuse.
4) The Tim Hardaway nonsense.

This is all in the course of a matter of weeks. And to think none are related to the other is folly. Degrading someone to subhuman status in speech trickles down the idea that it's OK to beat such a person with a pipe. Perhaps as this nastiness reaches a crescendo, we'll continue to hear more sane voices from the right like Benzion who at least know how to disagree respectfully.

In happier gay news, I didn't realize until now that this guy came out the other day:

Christian Chavez. Never heard of him? He's a singer with pop group RBD, which spun off from the soap opera "Rebelde." Don't ask how I knew who he was. But welcome to the fold, Christian!

Friday, March 02, 2007

For there was no joy at Mambo Palace

As much as it pains me to be the bearer of bad news, I must inform our dear proprietor of Mambo Palace that he's out of the running for a job of a lifetime.

It looks like he, my co-worker, me and everyone else I knew who applied just didn't quite have the "thirst-hand knowledge" to be Four Points by Sheraton's chief beer officer. On the other hand, take a gander at the description of the four finalists. We have:

1) A guy who's visited 340 breweries around the world and tried 2,800 kinds of beers.
2) A guy whose wife works at a bar and who named his dogs Porter and Stout.
3) A woman who already works at a brewery and has received medals from the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup.
4) Another brewery guy who developed a magazine about beer.

C'mon, Sheraton! These people certainly sound qualified, but isn't picking one of them kind of like Bill Gates winning the lottery? Give my buds a bone and let them live the fabulous life these people already are living.

Meanwhile, I guess my own essay, which entailed how it takes me an hour to gag one glass of Guinness down but I was willing to learn beer-love, didn't go over a la Barbara Park's "Skinnybones" like I thought it would. Remember that book? When the kid got to be in the cat food commercial because his essay...? Never mind.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Retreating to my slimy place

I shouldn't have insulted my apartment management. I'm now cowering on my couch after spotting a mouse hopping around my stove, no doubt planted there by the visiting repairman this morning who didn't like his timeliness questioned.

So I'm trying to return to my filthiest memory, something that will make me feel better about sharing an apartment with vermin. And this is what comes to mind.

As a reporter, I saw a lot of awful things: mangled and decapitated bodies in car wrecks, gruesome autopsy photos at murder trials and municipal budget hearings. One assignment particularly sticks out, however.

With my work phone number printed in the paper every day, I got all sort of, let's just say, interesting ideas for stories to pursue. A lot of the times, the people knew me or my family because I had grown up in the area. One in particular was an older woman speaking in a thick Southern drawl, telling me that I had known her grandson in the Cub Scouts and that she wanted my help in finding two of her other grandchildren, given up for adoption by their estranged stepfather in Iowa. I guess she had heard about our vast Des Moines readership. She nearly made a grave error by saying she was reminded of me when watching "Barney and Friends" episodes with her grandchildren, in that I looked like the obnoxious, mugging blond kid (also named Michael) in the show, but my editor and I decided we'd let that unintended insult pass.

The photographer and I drove out to her trailer in Jones Creek, and the second we entered, the smell hit us: a mixture of mold, cat excrement and who knows what else. Dirty dishes lined the kitchen and den as cats writhed all over the furniture. The photographer and I tried to find the cleanest spots possible on the couch to chat with the woman, who was largely unable to walk because of her weight. I asked questions as best I could while I watched the photographer try not to gag. At one point, we saw a huge roach scuttle across his notepad as we exchanged anguished looks. After an excruciating 20 minutes or so, the task was done.

As it turned out, the interview paid off. Grandma reconnected with her grandchildren within a few days thanks to step-dad's acquiescence, and I quietly said thank the Lord when my editor allowed me to do the follow up story by phone.

OK, I'm feeling better. The mouse seems to be gone, hopefully having climbed down the stovepipe into the basement where he belongs. Meanwhile, I know what I'm doing this weekend! Scrub, scrub, scrub. And maybe getting a few hundred cats.