Thursday, September 27

One man's trash.

Today, I did something so laughably, stereotypically, outrageously New York: I bid good money to buy some artsy-fartsy celebrity's trash.

I have a friend who works at Phillips de Pury, a fancy-schmancy auction house that deals in contemporary art. I've been to a couple openings there, and we are talking chi-chi with a capital C.

So, my friend, over drinks a couple weeks ago, tells me that one of their upcoming auctions is a Robert Wilson "loft sale."

"Yeah," he says, "Bob's moving out of his Soho place, and getting rid of a bunch of his stuff."

"Wait," I say, putting down my vodka-something-or-other. "You mean, Robert Wilson is having a yard sale at Phillips de Pury?"

My friend nods, grinning.

Me: "I am sooo there."

Because, after all, who doesn't want to cherish an avant-garde theater director's used toothbrush as his very own?

I go to the viewing today (alas, I can't make it to the actual auction this weekend) and my friend gives me a guided tour.

"Here are some chairs," points out my friend. "And a whole lot of African masks."

There are a whole lot of African masks. Also, there's a pod-like closet unit that comes from a Finnish sanatorium.

"Look at these!"

For only $800, you can take home a collection of...six plastic Disney figurines Robert Wilson got from a Happy Meal in the '80s and found in the back of his closet?

Or, some...placemats that Robert Wilson ate off of? (A bargain at $600.)

"And this is the pen collection," says my friend, and opens a drawer with several fancy fountain pens. (All engraved with "Robert Wilson" or "R.W.," mind you.)

My friend and I are getting giddy.

"He totally got these as gifts! He's getting paid to regift!"

"I know! This is what my drawer looked like after my Bar Mitzvah. Full of fancy pens I didn't want. If only I had known to let Phillips de Pury auction them off for $1,500 a pop!"

The security guard looks at us funny.

So: the part where I sign a piece of paper saying I'll pay Robert Wilson to regift something to me.

It's a cute little blue-and-green foam playtable and chair set. My sister's expecting a boy in December, so I've had my Cool Baby Things Radar switched on. And this is really unique and fun, and comes with a good story.

I fill out a bid sheet, and now I just wait til the weekend to see if I win.

My bid was considerably less than the "estimated value." Cute as it is, it's still a table at a yard sale, Bob. I don't care how many autistic Tibetan children sat around it eating cookies in slow motion.

Wednesday, September 19

He set the word 'free' to a note so high nobody can reach it.

My insanely talented friend Jared posted this video on his website:

It features him (and my friends Michelle and Jim!) as part of the cast of the Spelling Bee musical, singing the National Anthem at a Giants game in San Francisco.

There's that moment in the National Anthem:

O'er the land of the free......
And the home of the brave

That always give me goosebumps, because it brings me back to a very specific moment of my growing up. Me, in middle school, at an Orioles game at Camden Yards. The cast of the touring company of Les Mis is there to sing the National Anthem. They sing, they sing, and they get to that part:

O'er the land of the free........

They coast on that note, the sopranos' vibrato shimmering in the springtime air... The tenors leap up a fourth and it's like lightning's struck and the evening's on fire, like the whole stadium is suddenly warm, flooding with the perfumed bathwater of these voices...

And that's when I realize I'm gay gonna spend the rest of my life making music.

(The Spelling Bee crew does a pretty kick-ass job with that moment in the song, by the way. Get your goosebumps a little before minute seven.)

Wednesday, September 5

An ode to Crazy Ron.

My first apartment in New York was a ground-floor studio at 69 First Avenue, that sat nestled behind a delicious mom-and-pop Mexican restaurant from which I would order copious amounts of burritos. The apartment had some personality, with its blue countertops and yellow tiles, and double (non-working) fireplaces, which I painted green. But certainly the most memorable thing about the place was my neighbor, Crazy Ron.

I visited the old stomping ground this afternoon, as I am wont to do when struck with a burrito craving, and was catching up with the guy who owns the Mexican place, and naturally the topic of Crazy Ron came up. (When I lived in the building, I was pretty much known as the one who lived across the hall from the crazy guy.) I asked if Ron was still living in the building, and was told he passed away last summer.

Oh, Crazy Ron.

Crazy Ron was a Liverpudlian who had lived in the building since before I was born. He was round and bald, with a thick accent, and his apartment, the only other one on the ground floor, was a rent-controlled duplex which I'm sure he paid about $5 a month for.

There are many, many stories I could relate about Crazy Ron, but I'll share two here that typify the unique joys and occasional irritation of living across the hall from a stereotypically crazy New York neighbor. (I should preface these stories by saying that I had/have nothing but occasionally-annoyed affection for Crazy Ron, who, for all his outlandishness, was usually kind and always harmless.)

For some reason, I was prone to throwing rather happenin' parties in my little studio apartment, packing them with so many people that the place felt like a crowded dance club on a Saturday night. At about midnight during one of these parties, there's a deafening bang on the door, which I open, and am greeted by Crazy Ron. The music stops. Ron screams at the top of his lungs that if we don't shut the party down, he'll call the police.

Now, I had known Crazy Ron for some time at this point, and I knew that there was no reason to be scared. I knew that Ron had a (sometimes debilitating) penchant for the sauce, so, without skipping a beat, I said, "I'm so sorry, Ron. Would you like to come in for a drink?" And just like that, Ron dropped his rage-filled arms, smiled, and said, "Sure!"

And right on cue, the music went back on, the conversations started back up, and Ron spent the next hour or so being passed from friend to friend, with whom he chattered on about Vietnam, dirty bombs, and the way the world was before we were born.

Here's a photo of Crazy Ron, with my friend David, at that party:

There was only one occasion where Crazy Ron crossed some sort of Crazy-But-Not-Too-Crazy line. It started one night where I was meeting with my friend Courtney at the apartment. Ron knocked on the door and asked if he could borrow five dollars to buy a burrito. Now, I had lent Ron, like, twenty bucks at one point before, which he did pay me back in full, but I wasn't about to become an ATM, so I declined. Ron left without any kind of commotion, and I didn't think anything of it.

About 2am that morning, I was awoken by the sound of the phone ringing. Not really awake at all, I didn't realize it was the phone until the answering machine kicked in, and I heard Crazy Ron muttering on the other end.

"I can't believe you wouldn't lend me $5 for a burrito! Neighbors help each other. If you ever need help, I'm not helping you!"


Oh, Crazy Ron, I thought. And went back to sleep.

The next night, the phone started ringing at about 3am. The answering machine started clicking:

"I can't believe you wouldn't lend me $5 for a burrito! Neighbors help each other! Don't even think about asking me for help if you ever need it. I'm not gonna help you!"


The next morning, I contacted the landlord, and soon, Ron was back to his charmingly, non-invasively crazy self.

The thing about having the crazy New York neighbor is that it's equal parts hilarity and sadness. The zany, cocktail party-story craziness is usually just a veneer for some deeper, darker crazy. In the case of Crazy Ron, it was alcoholism, which I was certainly aware of, but didn't realize was so serious until the appearance, one day late into my tenure at 69 First Avenue, of a female friend/social worker, who was standing outside the door to Ron's apartment pleading for him to open the door, as he raged, loud and drunkenly, inside.

That's not to say that Ron's crazy was completely the result of the booze. I had plenty of crazy sober moments with Ron that I cherish because of their sheer, earnest wackiness.

One evening, there's a knock on the door. It's Ron.

"You've inspired me," he says.

"Oh. Really?" I say.

"I made you this."

He hands me a piece of paper, painted orange with watercolor and then covered -- and I mean covered -- with geometric shapes and squiggles drawn in magic marker. It's a little piece of art.

"Wow, thanks!" I say. And I do mean it.

Ron nods and goes back into his apartment.

I look at my gift and turn it over. On the back is scrawled, 'To Adam, From your neighbor Ron."

Tuesday, September 4

Totally fucked.

"We cannot afford anything in Queens."

There's a moment you know you're fucked; it's when you receive those six little words in an email and know they're true.

To backtrack:

My dear friend Kelda, known by some as the Diamond of the Midwest, was in town this weekend, with joyous news of the possibility of her moving back to New York. On Sunday night, we dined with Kelda's quintessentially New York Aunt Bridget, who doled out advice on many subjects, one of them being the potential purchase of Kelda's potential new New York apartment.

"Queens," she said.

Now, this is a word easily spoken by someone who lives in a superfab apartment on the Upper West Side that she's owned for 20 years. But Kelda's Aunt Bridget is nothing if not sage, and besides, Kelda and I knew it was probably the only place she could afford. We both said the word out loud, with a look of effort as if we were trying to blow smoke rings for the first time.


Later in the evening, Kelda and I waited on line to use the fancy bathrooms in the fancy restaurant where we ate.

"Tomorrow, let's go to Queens, and check it out," Kelda suggested.

Now, readers of my blog will know that, every now and then, I am bitten by the New York real estate bug, which usually leaves me with a stinging, itchy welt.

"Let's go to Queens," I replied. I could probably afford something in Queens. And if Kelda lived there, too, then it wouldn't be so bad.

We met the next morning and took the train to Queensboro Plaza. It was a lovely morning, as it has been all weekend, and we wandered a somewhat sketchy and deserted part of town.

Kelda, forever the optimist:

"Well, there are definitely cheap eats around here," as we passed a grungy take-out place coated in a viscous layer of beige. "And entertainment." (We were passing a less-than-classy strip club.)

My spirits sinking, we wandered some more, turning south and connecting the dots between subway stops. Suddenly, we both saw it: a corner building, gorgeous red brick, windows trimmed in green. A street-level cafe with funky blue chairs on the sidewalk.

Kelda hit me.

"Signs of hipness! Signs of hipness!" we exclaimed, pointing frantically east.

Sure enough, we stumbled onto a little enclave called Hunters Point. Cute little restaurants, a smoothie bar, hip young people! Right by the subway! Blocks from the river!

"Queens...!" I said, nodding, as if made unexpectedly proud by a delinquent son or daughter.

"Queens!" skipped Kelda. There were new buildings going up everywhere, but it was Labor Day, so all the sales offices were closed. Kelda whipped out a notebook and jotted the names of all the buildings we passed, to look up on the internet later.

We were back in Manhattan within minutes.

"That was fast!" I said.

"Queens!" smiled Kelda.

A few hours later, Kelda sends me an email:

"We're fucked. We cannot afford anything in Queens."

She then listed the starting prices for all the buildings we passed in Hunters Point, the smallest of which was a cool half-a-million bucks.


It's true, in the racket that is New York City real estate, we're all totally fucked.

And all I have to say is:


Monday, September 3

Life/art, art/life.

Labor Day Weekend, 2007: a very good weekend, a weekend not yet over. Visits from out-of-town family, out-of-town friends; quintessential New York events packed with people, quintessential New York restaurants deserted by all the people who skipped town; gorgeous weather and time to be lazy in it. There are few pleasures in life greater than strolling through New York on a summer evening with good company after a good meal.

This past year I've been particularly in tune with all the little things about living in New York that make me happy, mostly because I soaked them up and put them into my latest musical, Ordinary Days. I had one session during my writing fellowship last year where the guest artist encouraged us to visit the Metropolitan Museum as an exercise in getting inspiration from a artistic medium totally different than the one we're working in. A few months later, feeling a bit stuck and panicked at a first-reading deadline a few too-short months away, I took a day and went to the Met, notebook in hand, and, as those of you who've seen the show will know, a good deal of the show was a direct result of this visit to the Met.

For example:

Claude Monet, "Camille Monet in the Garden at Argenteuil"

This painting reminds me
Of people like us
Thousand of tiny specks
Huddled together
In random arrangements
That nobody expects.

And also:

Paul Cezanne, "Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses"

So, this is a painting of what?

It's a painting of apples.

That's right.
That's right!

Ordinary Days feels to me like my most personal project to date, and not because it reveals any dark secrets of my soul, but because so many little pieces of my ordinary days found their way into it. Afternoons I've spent at the Met, the flea market on my block, the view from my bedroom window. It's as if the show is a double-decker bus tour through my life in New York, with nothing particularly major on the docket, but that somehow hits very close to home. A portrait of a life with nothing but a pencil and a favorite T-shirt on the canvas.

I suppose that's one thing that I hope Ordinary Days is about: that the smallest things, the ones we often ignore, are a lot of times the ones that are indelibly meaningful. The ones that make us human.

Humanity as a paper clip: one of those lessons you'll never learn from a social studies textbook.

Saturday, September 1

Victory, fast and slow.

I spent Friday at the U.S. Open, and among the matches I saw was this one, an epic chapter in the monomyth of boy wonder Novak Djokovic. It was pretty much edge-of-your-seat theater for nearly five hours. Good times.

On the other end of the spectrum, my new faves Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi kicked some American tail in, like, 10 minutes over at the mixed doubles court. Good fast times.

Victories come at all speeds. (But usually with 120mph serves.)