quiet sadness on the pope’s visit

As a person who cares deeply about ending poverty and its systemic causes, as well as reversing the disastrous consequences of climate change, I know I should remain silent.

I should tuck my personal feelings into my vest pocket, keep a low-profile, and roundly support the lovefest that has been unfolding here in the United States for Pope Francis during his visit.

But I’m conflicted.

And I’m tired.

Continue reading “quiet sadness on the pope’s visit”

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time capsule to my teenaged self

Dear Jim, Hello from 2015.

I’ll bet that sounds downright Jetsonian to you as a 17-year-old in 1975.

So I’ll settle one big question at the outset: we do not have flying cars.

There is, come to think of it, something called a personal computer that I know you’ll appreciate for at least a couple of its features in particular: it will check your spelling for you. Hold your tears. I know you’ll love that.

And then there’s the Internet, which is also hard to describe, but it will eliminate the need for the family’s old Encyclopedia Britannica. And there’s a whole lot of, well, anything you might ever want (publicly or secretly) on the Internet, such as movies and music and travel guides. And, umm, well, let me just say, kids your age today aren’t even thinking about agonizing over how to convince the sales clerk at the 7-Eleven to sell them a copy of Playgirl.

Yeah, I know about your secret Playgirl stash.

See, I’m you, grown old. I’m you 40 years from now.

Continue reading “time capsule to my teenaged self”

sidewalks of new york

a field guide for taming the wild pedestrian

When I arrived in New York 25 years ago, there was a shared sense on the street that if you didn’t follow the rules you could get hurt.

Figuring out the correct side of the sidewalk and how to navigate taxis, bike messengers, and loose mental patients was part of survival in this tough City. It was also part of being a good fellow New Yorker. You felt proud of yourself as you accomplished the ways of the City. Similar to stepping confidently onto a “people mover” at the airport, you learned what “regular coffee” really meant at a street cart, how to fold your Times so as not to annoy fellow subway passengers, how brief a question needed to be for a New Yorker to answer it, and that you always stayed to the right and moved attentively on the sidewalk.

True New Yorkers knew these things. New New Yorkers wanted to learn them quickly. Visitors wanted to know so as not to draw attention to themselves. We were all in it together. And if you hadn’t figured that out yet, you quickly did, or risked being run off the curb. Continue reading “sidewalks of new york”

f*ck

Last week a friend posted a Gawker video of consummate New York actress Elaine Stritch saying “fuck” while on the Today show to promote Shoot Me, the new documentary about her life.

I actually don’t understand why hosts Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford were so surprised, except to fain chagrin for anyone in the home audience who was offended by it. But I suspect most people would have been more surprised if Stritch had not said “fuck.” She has built a long career on being herself—a crusty New York broad who speaks her mind with unapologetic gusto and humor—and everyone knows it.

My comment on my friend’s post? “Everyone should say ‘fuck’ on the Today show.” Continue reading “f*ck”

gray’s papaya lights go out on 8th street

Eater.com has spent the past few days celebrating the life and death of Gray’s Papaya at the corner of Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue, with photos of its bright orange lettering being removed from its awning and reminiscent post from followers about drunken munchies and Gray’s goofy signage.

I, myself, best remember Gray’s Papaya, and the Famous Ray’s Pizza of Greenwich Village a few blocks up Sixth Avenue (which also recently closed for the second and final time), on my late-night walks home from Bob’s NYU dorm during our first year in New York, when he lived in graduate student housing on Third Avenue and I lived in the Jesuit Community on 17th Street. Continue reading “gray’s papaya lights go out on 8th street”

love songs to blue skies

With art school, parish duties, and New York at my doorstep, I barely had time to be homesick for California, that first autumn in 1989. But I was. I missed Berkeley’s temperate climate and dramatic landscape, the way nature entered everyday life, how people treated one another, the forward-thinking politics, and my friends. Oh, my friends. And the deep, clear blue West Coast sky that saturated Berkeley’s daylight, the shadows, and my mood most of the year.

Having in the past only visited New York during its damp springs and hazy summers, I had no idea that crystal blue skies were a trademark of New York autumns. Continue reading “love songs to blue skies”

a gay hate crime ends in murder on 8th street

It’s hard to believe I met Bob in a pervious century, but when I think about our lives then and now, I realize how much the world has changed. In 1989 when we met, there was no Ellen, no Modern Family, no discussion whatsoever of marriage equality. The biggest gay rights issue in any of the big cities around the country was legislation for AIDS services and research. Despite that Bob lived in the Village and I in Chelsea (the only real gay enclaves in the City at the time), we did not feel comfortable holding hands just anywhere around our neighborhoods. Even though we often did.

Over the past 24 years, we’ve lived openly as a loving couple, not so much as a statement, but as a way to live more honest, healthy lives for ourselves. Continue reading “a gay hate crime ends in murder on 8th street”

tall > small


I once had a therapist ask me what was the one thing I would want to say to all the tall people in the world, if I could.

“Trim your nose hair,” I said, which was the first thing that came into my head.

I had indeed, just that morning, stood beneath the looming presence of my six-foot-something Jesuit superior, distracted from whatever platitude he recited for my own good by the several long gray tentacles curling out of the dark cavity of his nostrils like some underwater creature.

Continue reading “tall > small”

the hairy pendulum swings

This piece appears as one of the two introductions to the art anthology Hair, published by Bruno Gmünder in 2010. The book is in its second edition, and the introductions themselves received callouts in reviews.

The Hairy Pendulum Swings:
How culture has embraced male body hair over the past century

When I was a child the world was warm and furry, from shag carpeting to suede bean-bag chairs to shing-a-ling trim to the long manes on everyone young. No one but competitive bodybuilders and drag queens would have considered shaving or waxing their bodies back then, and actors and athletes, like Sean Connery, Joe Namath, Burt Reynolds, and James Caan bared their luscious chests proudly on screen and in the pages of the magazines as often as possible.

In 1960s and ’70s America, chest hair was not only popular, it defined masculinity. The opposite of idealized stone-cold waxed muscle, the mysteries of adult male sexuality lay hidden deep within the thick matted diamond of hair between a workman’s pectorals, or under an athlete’s arms, or in furtive glimpses of bushy crotches in locker rooms. Hair softened the hard parts of men’s bodies, gave shape and expression to those that would otherwise have been shapeless, and suggested raw animal attraction waiting to be discovered.

And then came the 1980s. Continue reading “the hairy pendulum swings”

meeting someone in new york

I had that classic shot of Manhattan from the airplane window as I flew up the Hudson on the way into LaGuardia, parallel to the City’s skyscraper grid, as if the flight pattern had been directed specially for Continental Airlines and the City of New York by Woody Allen or Nora Ephron. I swear I heard Gershwin playing, possibly on the crackly airplane headphones, but I can’t say for certain. As I watched the World Trade Towers, then the Woolworth, Con-Ed, Flatiron, Empire State, Pan Am, and Chrysler buildings rise and fold below me like a pop-up book, the words passed through my head: “I could meet someone there.”

Continue reading “meeting someone in new york”