Saturday, March 26, 2016


I watch a ludicrous number of sports on TV for a ridiculous number of hours a gruesome number of days a year.

Numbers! Watch sports even occasionally and you'll be overwhelmed by numbers. Quarterback ratings, on-base percentages, triple-doubles... And everything in tennis, my true love, corresponds with a statistic many of which fly in the face of the reality of the match.

(Btw, I am watching the Miami Open pre-game show as I write this. Tennis Channel is killing it!)

Anyway, I figure I could profitably cut my sports watching in half and apply that time to reading, writing and arithmetic (or perhaps two out of three). Here is how that might look:

Football 70% reduction. Well, I should really give up on football entirely. The concussion problem is real and the league is corrupt and Goodell is a Trump-worthy villain and the two biggest quarterback stars of the past decade are liars. But when fall comes around and there is a close game in a packed bar on a crisp, sunny day, it taps into a lifetime of cozy feelings that fight reason. So for now I'll just watch the home team. I do like that Kirk Cousins... This will leave dozens and dozens of hours for Proust.

Baseball No reduction. The nice thing about baseball is that it's ideal for multi-tasking. I CAN actually read while watching baseball; the sounds of the game, learned over a lifetime, inform you when to look up. You'll almost never miss a home run or a double play or even a steal. And you can put down that book when Scherzer is five innings into another no-hitter. I love baseball and see no reason to adjust my habits here.

Basketball 65% reduction, already in effect. Last year was the first year I watched an entire season of pro ball, and I didn't get what the journos were saying about the lead-up to April. This year I do: There is no reason to watch regular-season basketball. Wait until the playoffs, which go on for months anyway. I'll be watching every Cavs game and maybe a few others. But really it's all about the Cavs. (Oh, and this year I gave up March Madness too. If Georgetown ever makes a serious run again, I'll opt back in.) Result: Several blog posts, several poems, return to a journal.

Golf No reduction. I take a lot of guff for this, but I love watching the majors. This too can be accomplished with a book in hand, and in any case it's only the weekend rounds that really engage. P.S. I have been on a golf course once in my life and remember nothing about it except that I didn't know what I was doing. Proof that you don't need to have played a sport to understand its difficulty, to appreciate the superhuman talent of the athletes, to get into the drama of a close finish/playoff.

Soccer is an every-four-year activity for me. I couldn't love World Cup more and couldn't be less interested in day-to-day league play. Hockey I am immune to. Boxing is only to be watched live, on someone else's
(Remy Martin's) dime. The Olympics well, all bets are off.

And now Tennis 30% reduction, no promises. I think that I could probably give up every tournament between the Australian Open and Indian Wells without too much damage to my equilibrium. And eventually I do grow weary with the long clay court season. But the North American summer hard court season is the most happy-making sporting stretch in the world. Okay, I probably don't have to watch quite so many first- and second-round matches at EVERY tournament. It's just that tennis is the only sport I actually play and the one I really understand inside-out and I probably have seen all Top 100 men and Top 100 women in action... There's just too much water under the bridge to bail out now. And you never know. Perhaps there's still a broadcasting career in my future.

I should get on that. I'm good with numbers.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Provincetown (I Can Be Your Buddy)

On a night like this
you can’t brush away 
all the faces in the street

Shep flew into Boston and killed some hours at the art museum by the ferry. It was a good show of photographers, so he spent more time than usual with it. Nan Goldin, with whom he’d played pool, and some other folks that Nadia knew from Cambridge. Then lunch by the boat, with wine. He shared his table with this woman from St. Louis or Kansas City, some place he’d never been, got a little bit drunk and then boarded. Boston Harbor was amazing to pull out of, gorgeous. He had a beer or two and smoked some cigarettes and listened to his music. Eventually the city was gone and there was just sun and sea spray and… It was loud and Shep put on his earphones and listened to The Clientele.  

Darling, there's a big fog up ahead

We ferried into Provincetown in the mid-afternoon and Nadia met me at the dock. She had a place for me to stay up Commercial Street.  It was a carriage house at the art gallery end of things. The big famous author of Provincetown lived across the street. We went there for weirdly stiff cocktails and then Nadia left to perform.I have no idea what happened for the next few hours.

Presumably Shep took a shower in an unfamiliar place and got good-looking again. And went to a show, or a couple of shows. That was the August of the girls who did circus tricks. There was wholly enjoyable silliness at that one club that looked like every house he lived in growing up, in Alexandria, Maplewood, and Akron. Like a gin and tonic in a salty room.

And then Provincetown closed.

So the deal is that you go and have a slice of pizza with everyone else. And it’s lovely. It’s a street party and there are these cute Irish kids managing the pizza distribution and you are starving for that pizza and looking around at guys, at midnight. It had been a very long day and Shep was sort of exhaustedly reeling at the side of the road when he saw Leo. They started laughing at each other immediately.

Shep said you look like you are from Argentina and Leo said Shep looked like he was from Germany. And that became their schtick: “Argentina.” “Germany.” Shep had a long crew cut and was sunburned from the boat and as always with a sunburn his eyes looked very green, and Leo was baked from a summer in Provincetown with olive skin and light blue eyes anyway, so... Somehow the mutual-misattribution made sense.

They traded numbers, touched hands, and made plans to meet the next night.

The usual thing in Provincetown, having gone to bed absurdly early in a party town, is to wake up and find a cup of coffee and get on your bike and pick up a sandwich and ride over to the place where everybody chains them, then walk across the flatlands, through sand and shallow water, to the dunes. (Well, it’s all I ever did. Maybe other people drove. Lesbians with children certainly used the parking lot near the water.) Up over the steep sand hills to the beach, a none-too-wide strip with painfully sharp rocks. No East Hampton. No North Carolina. Unless you are me, you probably don’t even go in the ocean.

Nadia and her guys would walk up and down the shore along with all of the other performers, passing out flyers for their show.

After a full day at the beach, I got myself some dinner at the bar of a restaurant overlooking the bay and talked to a nice female couple from Boston. I was killing time. I’d told Leo I would meet him at some place at midnight, after he got off work. He was a waiter. A big Russian financial genius working as a waiter. Leave it to me to find that kind of guy. On the beach, everyone had been funnier than me. My jokes did not come off. But the Boston ladies found me hilarious.

After dinner, I saw Nadia's show and then another, both uproarious (P-town does comedy so well, if you choose correctly), and then headed to the after-hours alt-piano bar (rock 'n roll and subculture patter) where Leo was to meet me. At first I had a great time with my group of stand-ups, trapeze artists, drag queens, etc., but the clock was ticking and eventually I became agitated to the point that I could no longer hear a word that anyone said.

And then he came. With his fucking beautiful lugubrious Russian attitude. "Oh God, the restaurant made me close because somebody didn't show up for work. It was very irritating." The great thing was that shining through his accent and his affect was his own agitation. We got drinks and held hands a little bit when we thought no one was looking and laughed at each other. Then I took him back to my place and we had a beer and climbed into the loft.

I think I’m such a sweetheart. What if I’m a brute?

Leo was well gone by the time that Shep woke up, and Shep was foggy. Nadia and a bunch of guys came by and grabbed him and drove him to Truro, to a clear water hole in the middle of the woods. Shep left a message for Leo about their destination, but didn't hear back. The water was glorious and he swam joyfully. And then they broke for lunch and a snake slithered past them into the water. It was all he could do to get himself back in afterwards, but he bucked up and did it. Then, in the middle of the afternoon, in the tree-dappled sunlight, he said something ever-so-casual about Leo and it turned out that this particular Russian was famous. He had a boyfriend back in New York, it was said. He was part of some non-specific Russo-Boston Mafia, it was said.

Shep was still wondering what he may or may not have done the night before.

Between his hangover and the snake, Shep was feeling slightly negative (entirely negative) by the time he got back home. So inward-scraping that he didn't notice what Leo had left for him by the doorstep. He was very unhappy, so he chose to go get Provincetown drunk. Life is not fantastic when you wake up on a gorgeous day fuzzy but excited and then find out that the handsomest laughing man you have ever met has another boyfriend. Who is presumably superior to you.

But it was my vacation, so more Provincetown theater was in order. I was on my bike, as ever. Very little walking is done in Provincetown. I knew that Leo was waiting tables, knew I wouldn't run into him, but still did a pretty ineffectual job of the night. I left wherever I went early and was wheeling my bike up Commercial Street, all energy drained, when I heard a voice -- a guy sitting on a fence.

Shep was walking his bike up the road and this guy went, “Hey?” A cute boy with a big smile. He was parked on a kind of wrought iron fence at the edge of a property. He was very sunny for such a dark night. Pleasantries were exchanged,  humorous banter, though Shep was in the opposite of the mood.

“I know how to do stuff.”

“I bet you do.”

He’d parked himself beside the road and he was pitching me.

“I’m not good at walking, but…”

For all his faults, Shep had a severe tenderness for guys with ambulatory challenges. And folks with bad teeth. And people passing out flyers on the corner of 14th Street. (Just take the fucking flyer! You can throw it away on the next block!)

I’m not an asshole, so I helped him up the hill and apologized for being otherwise smitten.

I walked in. I walked in now. I walked in with nothing

The next morning, Leo showed up bright and early at the house. He brought pastries and coffee and pointed out the flowers he'd left the day before. It was a rainy day. No, first it was a sunny day. He must have cared a bit about me, because he’d arranged some flowers in a way that I was suppose to see. That spelled my name.

We ate what he'd brought, then walked across the street to where there was a small patch of sand and went swimming in the bay. Splashed each other, lunged at each other and laughed. The kind of behavior that would make you cringe if you were served it by a movie. But all I ever wanted.

We went back to his place over a garage and Leo made a more elaborate breakfast -- eggs and bacon and other stuff, probably potatoes, all great. He told me about leaving the flower pattern and how insulted he was that I hadn't picked it up. I didn’t tell him about the guy on the fence. He was still a bit embarrassed about how… masculine I was. And I’m not like that. I just thought he was so beautiful. So Argentinean. I asked him if he had a boyfriend and he said no, just a guy he saw in New York.

So I fell in love. I damn well vetted the situation. I didn’t just jump into the water like the day before, without awareness of snakes.

By now it was raining, so no beach in the plans. Instead we got into his bed and had fun. And napped. And then got up and watched Miss Congeniality while I wrote him a business school essay. We spent a long afternoon on the couch, accomplishing things, feet touching. 

Around four or five we went to the market and got oysters and wine to take back to my place. Then met Nadia and her parents for a drink.You know when you’re newly in love with somebody, not truly in control, and you go out for a drink? And your only options are to sit silently or laugh too hard? To say nothing or to talk non-stop? Nadia’s parents must have thought I was nuts.

Back home, Leo stabbed the shit out of his hand trying to open an oyster. Considerable blood, no Band Aids.

When I was a kid we stayed in Hyannis. You could stamp on the sand and the oysters would shoot up. We took a bus into Provincetown and went up in the tower. And made spin art.

Shep thought that Leo was as beautiful as that. He encompassed every bit of happiness Shep had ever felt by the beach. Once in a while, on a street car in New Orleans, on AMTRAK, in a plane or some other mode of transportation, Shep fell in love with the idea of love… His problem was that he didn’t ever like specific boys that much. Having determined that he preferred them generally, he was a failure at the particular. He would often rather kiss a girl. A shy waitress or an outgoing acrobat.

On Horatio Street, at his most lonely, he'd had these long drawn-out situations with guys, mostly men who were Nadia’s best friends. T built shelves for him an D hung out on his bed talking about books – great books, too. And they were both fantastic-looking men and he couldn’t wait for them to leave so that he could write about it.

There was another guy at Scott’s parties on Christopher Street who was even more beautiful and clearly didn’t care for him. One time, Gay Pride, Nadia gave him mushrooms and while he didn’t really feel anything psychedelic he did feel bold enough to make a pass and old Tom Jones just scowled at him like, “you’re out of your league.” Which made him laugh. Perversely.  

But Shep digresses. After the second night, Leo broke down. "I can't keep kissing you. My boyfriend in New York..." You'd think Shep would have been angry, but he wasn't. He felt that Leo should have a boyfriend and, honestly, thought he might still win. Which he didn't. And he was too far gone to care about character. He just wanted Leo around. All the time.

The boyfriend, by the way, was said to look  a lot like him. Nadia met him later and said, "He's very good looking in just the ways you are."

Which makes you think, well, what do I have to offer? I have nothing but allegiance. I can take the ferry and I can be your pal. I can laugh at you, knowing that above all things you want to be laughed at. Nobody is jumping at this opportunity, but…

About England - Part Two - London

As good as my memory is, I don't really remember when I went back to England. For the sake of convenience (for the sake of this blog) I am going to say it was with The Macallan in 1998. A long time from 1984. I flew first via Heathrow to Aberdeen, where a cab picked me up for the hour and a half drive to Speyside. My driver was a talkative motherly woman with a dry wit. All Scots have a dry wit. She spent most of the ride telling me that she did not believe Monica Lewinsky. All Europeans love Bill Clinton.

On not much sleep I arrived at The Macallan manor house and was immediately served a whisky. It was 11:00 in the morning there and five or six for me, so... This was followed by lunch with much wine and (seriously) haggis. It was a gourmet kind of haggis and I like weird food anyway, so that was fine. A day then learning about whisky-making and salmon. The guy who ran the salmon place was very handsome and charming and it turned out my companion for the evening. At the Craigellachie Inn (since gotten much fancier) we sampled other single malts and had a fantastic steak dinner. The next morning I had an astonishing hangover a clear-headed outright headache and gueule de bois... Thank God for the steaming bath. (Still no showers in Great Britain!)

I flew back to London that night, remember having a Barr's soda from the vending machine at the airport (not good, like Vernor's) and went immediately to a Macallan dinner at one of the trendiest restaurants in town. Perhaps in Chelsea. I think that one of the most glamorous moments in my life was walking into that restaurant, directly from the airport, in an Armani suit. Heads may literally have turned.

They'd put us up in this ultra-twee small hotel in Kensington. A couple of blocks from Harrod's. My primary memory of that place other than how tiny my room was and how extremely plaid is that you could not make it in or out of the lobby without somebody saying "Mr. Barr..." Barr by the way is a Scottish name but the English say it terribly. It drove me crazy how they said my name and even more this insistence on identifying me as I walked in and out.

I probably knew where I was ultimately headed, which was to the bars in Soho to meet young men who might want to come back to a terrible twee hotel. Oh and I had formal tea there with the client, which was just not something I am inclined to appreciate. Formal tea is not my thing. Tea is not my thing. Formality is not my thing. Social occasions in which spirits are not involved... not my thing.

There was an event, there were meetings... and whenever they were over I was on Old Compton Street as fast as I could get there. I met this Cockney kid who was great and who spent a couple of nights teaching me rhyming slang. On Sunday he helped carry my luggage to the cab as I departed to a chorus of (slightly aghast) "Mr. Barrs."

Stay tuned for Part Three...