The nice column
by Roberto Friedman
Some longtime readers of this column have accused Out There of being a Blue Meanie for calling out society matrons and preening politicos on their bad behavior in recent weeks. So this week we're making a special effort to be nice, play well with others, hand out candy hearts and flowers, etc.
For instance: we're often highly critical of the San Francisco Chronicle and its slippery journalistic ethics – having a prominent columnist, for example, who is simultaneously a power broker and lobbyist. So when he writes, "Cabbie told me about this great joint on Chestnut," you: a) know he has a car and driver, doesn't take cabs, and b) wonder how much that jernt is paying him for the squib. Fun to read? Sure. Ethical? Non. And not very nice.
But we'll get off our high horse, because we're being nice today. The fact is that the Chron is just doing the best it can in very trying times for print media. And they're still able to publish some great stuff. We love the work of columnist Leah Garchik, for instance, and we think columnist Jon Carroll is the cat's pajamas – in this case, Bucket. Top scribes both, back-page though they be placed.
See, aren't we being nice? In fact, we're prepared to go nicer. Despite a tendency to run to misanthropy, Out There even has some nice things to say about the human race in general. We love how a group of people will quiet down and listen, enraptured, should someone with a lovely singing voice vocalize for them. We love how people get so mesmerized by fireworks. Mankind has definitely come up with some spiffy recipes, e.g. spanakopita. OK, that about covers it.
We're also proud of the nation's newspaper of record, The New York Times, for evolving, in a few short decades, from never mentioning the words gay or lesbian to regularly featuring gay stories, gay writers, and gay weddings in its pages. The Old Gray Lady has become, in effect, the Bay Area Reporter for the national scene! Just last week, the answer to a prominent clue in the Times crossword puzzle was "same-sex marriages," and other answers hinted towards this theme by placing "man" next to "man" in the grid. How gay-friendly was that puzzle? We "like" it!
We like all sorts of other publications, too, such as The New Yorker, which fills many happy hours when we would otherwise be out in the streets getting into trouble. TNY offers stories which go on for many dozens of pages. Thanks for piling up in stacks of unread issues in our apartment, New Yorker! Because of you, we have become quite magazine wracked. But in a good way!
A few weeks ago the periodical published an appreciation of great modernist author James Joyce that ran on for only five pages. One passage told of Joyce's first date with Nora Barnacle, in which "they walked to Ringsend, on the south bank of the Liffey, where she put her hand inside his trousers and masturbated him. It was June 16, 1904, the day on which Joyce set Ulysses. When people celebrate Bloomsday, that is what they are celebrating." See, if it weren't for The New Yorker, we would never have known that!
There's so much else that we're grateful for, we have reams of appreciation, but we really have to stop right now, as we think we've pulled an especially nice muscle in our groin.
A few weeks ago we briefly mentioned the new book Outlaw Marriages – The Hidden Histories of Fifteen Extraordinary Same-Sex Couples by Rodger Streitmatter (Beacon Press), but the book is worth a longer consideration. Journalist and cultural historian Streitmatter profiles same-sex unions who defied the cultural norms of their time to be with the partners they loved. In many cases, the pairs lived in secrecy. Here are some fun facts about a few of those couples.
Walt Whitman & Peter Doyle: Whitman not only revolutionized American poetry with his Leaves of Grass, he apparently was the sweetest sugar daddy you could ever want to spoon. He and Doyle met when the poet was a passenger on a Washington, DC streetcar where the younger man sold tickets. Doyle later recalled: "We were familiar at once – I put my hand on his knee – we understood. He did not get out at the end of the trip – in fact went all the way back with me. From that time on, we were the biggest sort of friends."
Streitmatter translates: "Whitman going 'all the way back with me' meant that the poet stayed on the streetcar until Doyle ended his shift and the two men then spent their first night together." We'd say that makes them both slutty McSlut sluts – but we mean that in the best possible way (see column theme).
J.C. Leyendecker & Charles Beach: Popular magazine and advertisement illustrator Leyendecker modeled his famous "Arrow Collar Man" on the "tall, powerfully built and extraordinarily handsome" Beach, who would become his lover.
Bonus factoid: it was Leyendecker's younger brother Frank , also gay, who first hired the 17-year-old Beach to model for a commission. Good eye, little gay bro.
Greta Garbo & Mercedes de Acosta: "The highly cultured de Acosta taught the star how to speak, how to dress, and how to live in the style expected of cinematic royalty." She also advised Garbo "on which film roles to accept and which to reject." Glad someone was Daddy in that relationship.
Aaron Copland & Victor Kraft: "The two men spent many of their daytime hours on the beach near the capital city [Mexico City], sunning themselves and frolicking in the water. The playful, fun-loving teenager also enjoyed being photographed, and the smitten older man was more than willing to stand behind the camera as his winsome companion positioned himself in various nude poses." Variations on a theme.
Other cavorting same-sex couples covered in the book include Alice B. Toklas & Gertrude Stein, Frank Merlo & Tennessee Williams , James Baldwin & Lucien Happersberger, Robert Rauschenberg & Jasper Johns, and Frances Clayton & Audre Lorde . If dynamic duos are your thing, seek out this volume for many darling examples.
This week we're listening to: Melody Gardot , The Absence (Verve); The Magnetic Fields, Distortion (Nonesuch); Busdriver, Beaus & Eros (Fake Four); Brian Eno, Music for Airports (Live) – Bang on a Can (Cantaloupe); and Puccini , Tosca – Czecho-Slovak Radio Philharmonia Orchestra, Alexander Tahbari, cond. (Naxos), prepping for the fall opera season. Always thinking ahead.