Put Some Gay In Your Day, Dallas!

The Old Familiar Places

Karl and I are back from our long overdue trip to New York.  It’s funny how leaving town for a couple of weeks should take one away from the familiar, but instead ends up providing a week of the familiar with freshness and appreciation.

We started by flying to New York with two longtime friends (more than 30 years), one of whom hadn’t been to the city.  Going to familiar places with someone for whom it was all new gave a perspective that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Hitting the Met and taking the Staten Island Ferry, seeing the Statue of Liberty and Central Park, and just walking down Fifth Avenue from Bergdorf Goodman past Tiffany, Cartier, Saks, Rockefeller Center, and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral—each site just a bit more thrilling than usual.  

Having breakfast at a favorite, and honest to goodness, diner and later having dinner at the restaurant I always go to in New York, dating back to when serving cocktails to an 18 year old on his first trip north of the Mason-Dixon line was still legal.  Remembering all the friends over the years that I’ve been there with, and perhaps having a nightcap down the street at the Algonquin, where the spirit of Dorothy Parker is always in attendance.

We arrived early to see the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, mainly because I just wanted to soak in the atmosphere of a Broadway theater after having wondered not that long ago whether I would ever have the opportunity to do so again.  Oh, and I dare not risk being late for Patti LuPone.

The next leg of our trip brought the two of us to Saratoga Springs, where a dear friend from college is retiring with her husband and she graciously invited a pod, as it were, of classmates for the Memorial Day weekend.  Friendships that stretch back to one’s teens when one hasn’t been a teenager in several decades takes familiar to a whole new dimension.

Perhaps the best way to explain what I mean is to acknowledge that I might tell a college story at a cocktail party or over dinner.  In that context, it’s an anecdote.  When it’s told with the people who were there, it’s a memory relived.

Finally, Karl and I went back to the city for a few days of just the two of us time.  He wanted to see the revival of Take Me Out, with its story of a Major League Baseball player who comes out as gay.  Much of the story takes place in the locker room or in the showers, so nudity is part of the play.  The show is excellent and brilliantly acted, even if the “nekkid” part isn’t as stimulating as other locker room scenes found in less vaunted entertainments.

We had the last day set aside for shopping, and Karl decided he needed a new wallet.  He selected one that is virtually identical to what he has been using for the last 15 years, purchased when we were shopping in San Francisco.  I suppose he’s a fan of the familiar, too, which is a good thing for me, all things considered.

Our last stop on the last night was The Townhouse, a gay bar in midtown where show tunes are played and the piano player will let you sing them if you’ve a mind to do so.  I requested “Come Rain or Come Shine” by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, which I declined to perform as I was only on my second martini.  I’ve always thought Mercer’s lyrics read like a sexier version of marriage vows, and we used his words in large part when Karl and I got married in, where else, New York.  

Of course, we heard about the horrific mass murder in Uvalde while we were in New York, with the resulting emotions feeling the wrong kind of familiar.  It’s really only been since we’ve been back at home that I’ve tuned in to this surprisingly ongoing story to see what isn’t so numbingly familiar about it.

Some of you, no doubt, are ahead of me on this, but I don’t remember being told about bodies having to be identified by DNA after being decapitated.  I don’t remember parents having to identify their child from the tennis shoes she was wearing when her body was pulverized.  I don’t remember a child telling how she smeared the blood of a dead friend on her own body so the shooter would think she was already dead.  None of this is familiar to me, and it should never become familiar to any of us.

That townhouse in New York, my friends’ lovely Victorian house in Saratoga Springs, and our own house driving up to it after nearly two weeks away offers familiarity that leads to comfort, constancy, and security.  But when I look at both houses of Congress in Washington in this moment, the familiarity of emotion I feel has no positive context.

It’s as if I understand better what “familiarity breeds contempt” really means, and why a feckless Congress deserves to be held in just such contempt.