From Speechless to Storyteller – One Man’s Hike through the Grand Canyon

Growing up in New York and then living in South Florida, I am not someone you would call “a hiker” – for me, climbing over sand dunes on a Saturday is considered altitude training.  So when a friend of mine suggested that some of us travel to the Grand Canyon to hike it from one end to the other, in one day, I have no explanation for my immediate agreement to do it.  FOMO, perhaps? I mean, I have always been passionate about fitness but this was next level stuff. Looking back I realized that if I had hesitated then I would have been susceptible to insecurity, or self doubt, or fear and I have committed myself to not allowing those emotions to get any traction at all! Our passions must be respected without distraction.  That’s the great thing about our passions, they are always with us even in difficult times just waiting to be reignited. So we circled Saturday, September 11, 2021, on the calendar and our planning began.

For those of you as unfamiliar as I initially was, nearly six million people visit the Grand Canyon every year.  However, less than 1% of those visitors take on the “Rim to Rim” hike – a nearly 30 mile trek down into the Canyon, across the Colorado River, through a punishing 7 mile stretch known as “The Box” and onward to the opposite side.

The first decision to make is which Rim to descend – North or South? We choske to descend the South Rim for a few reasons. First, the paths are more “hiker friendly” and less steep.  It is also at a lower elevation than the North Rim. We would begin our hike at 4:00 a.m. using headlamps so we wanted to take advantage of the smoother route in the darkness.  This of course meant that our climb out of the Canyon to the North Rim would be difficult, but more on that later.

Fast forward to 4 a.m. on Saturday, September 11, 2021, and we were ready. After some words of encouragement and a moment of silence in remembrance of the lives lost on 9/11, we turned on our headlamps, firmly gripped our hiking poles and off we went.

The 8 mile Bright Angel Trail is a series of switchback paths which zig zag back and forth descending 4380 feet to the bottom of the Canyon and hug tightly along an imposing but truly mesmerizing cliff face. Looking across the darkness we could see dancing white lights from the headlamps of the other hikers on the trail. They looked like fireflies and it was truly a magical start to a life changing day.

By 5:45 a.m., the sun began to rise giving us our first views of the majestic Canyon. The sun brought the Canyon to life, illuminating parts of the rock face while keeping other areas hidden in shadow,

As you arrive at the bottom of the Bright Angel Trail, you are greeted by the soothing waters of the Bright Angel River and the trail continues another two miles to Phantom Ranch – a historic canteen nestled at the bottom of the Canyon which includes cabins for campers but the cabins are awarded only through a lottery system and there is a 15 month wait even if you are lucky enough to be selected. 

Before you arrive at Phantom Ranch, you cross the Colorado River on the Bright Angel (Silver) Bridge and it is majestic!

We arrived at Phantom Ranch around 10 a.m., and quickly sat down to eat and enjoy some of the best lemonade you will ever taste!  It was great to talk to other hikers and campers about their experiences. The hikers with whom we spoke came from all walks of life – groups of friends, seasoned hiking veterans and even families with young children! I must admit that I was most impressed with the families for instilling in their children a sense of adventure and a love of the outdoors that they will carry with them throughout their lives.

Full disclosure – I maaaaaaaay have a fetish for men with great calves. Let me tell you, I don’t know why I waited so long to start hiking because there are great calves EVERYWHERE! Of course, decorum prevented me from taking any “calves selfies” but trust me, the memories will last a lifetime. 

After we refueled, reapplied sunscreen and took care of bathroom business at Phantom Ranch, we began our hike on the North Kaibab Trail which would take us to the North Rim.  As you leave Phantom Ranch, you enter what is called “The Box” – a four mile stretch of trail which is very narrow and gets very hot if you do not get through it in the morning.  This was another reason we chose to start on the South Rim. Once the sun crosses over the Canyon, the temperatures in the Box can soar above 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, I haven’t been in a box since my high school girlfriend so I was ready to get out of there in a hurry! Lucky for us it was still nice and shady so we did not suffer from extreme heat.

On our way along the North Kaibab Trail, we took a detour to Ribbon Falls.  The falls are about 100 feet high, and the mineral rich water has created a distinct ecosystem of lush vegetation and gorgeous flowering plants.  It is about a 1 ½ mile round-trip hike off the Trial and you have to cross a few streams and climb some rocks to get to it but it is worth it!

Once we returned to the North Kaibab Trail, we were blessed with a brief rainstorm that cooled us off.  The steepness of the trail got considerably more difficult, so we knew that we had to stay mentally tough because the hardest part of the hike was about to begin.  

We arrived at Cottonwood Canyon which is about the halfway point on the NOrth Kaibab Trail and took advantage of the campgrounds for a water fill up and bathroom break.   The sign at Cottonwood Campground told us that the North Rim was 7 miles away.  The steepest section of the North Kaibab Trail is between Cottonwood and the North Rim Trailhead.  While the Bright Angel switchback trails were mostly smooth rock, the switchbacks up to the North Rim were just nasty.  In addition to their steepness, many of the switchbacks included sets of steps in excess of 12″ in height.  To make matters worse, the terrain on these switchbacks varied from very loose soft sand, to slick rocks over which you had to climb, as well as large logs you had to navigate across. And several of the paths were more mule poop than dirt, which was super fun to navigate as well.

I am not going to lie, the 6,000 foot ascent tested all of us mentally in ways we did not expect.  The North Rim itself was not far above us, but because the trails zig zagged back and forth you would hike for an hour and feel like you had made no progress at all. Suffice it to say that we took a slow and steady approach as our collective fatigue set in.  The five of us were united as one, ensuring that we each stayed hydrated, rested when necessary and there were pep talks a plenty!  

As we began to see hikers coming down, fresh faced with a spring in their step, we knew we were close. At 5:45 p.m., 13 1/2 hours later, we made it to the North Rim Trailhead. These exhausted but proud faces tell the tale. 

But wait – there’s more!  We were staying at lodges back at the South Rim so I trust that you are asking yourself, how the hell did they get back? The only way is by reserved shuttle, and it is a 211 mile drive that takes about four hours.  So yes, after hiking for nearly 14 hours we climbed into an air conditioned van that drove us back to our lodge (with a pit stop for food of course).  We got back to our cars at the Bright Angel Trailhead at about 10 p.m. 

It has been said that you are defined by the people with whom you surround yourself and I believe this to my soul.  I could not have imagined this journey without Sean, Erika, Danny and Micaela. We have an experience that is exclusively ours. 

I talked earlier about insecurity, doubt and fear.  These are ever present, very real emotions.  There are times when I have been paralyzed into inaction because of them, we all have.  What I can tell you now is this – we are presented with fear and uncertainty not to relent to them, but to punch them in the face and thrive. You don’t have to hike the Grand Canyon in a day but I promise you there are things in your life you can accomplish just by believing, by ignoring self doubt and by spending time with like-minded souls.

DISTANCE 

26.7 miles (Bright Angel Trailhead to North Kaibab Trailhead including our side trip to Ribbon Falls)

ELEVATION 

10,500 feet total elevation: 4,500 feet descent on Bright Angel Trail and 6,000 feet ascent up North Kaibab Trail.

THREE POEMS

by GUEST WRITER JIMMY WOODFILL

“Soaring”


Inequality marched on Selma, Birmingham, and of course D.C.
Discrimination will be snuffed out: equality for all… let it be, let it be.
We’re not being thrown from buildings, or burned, or lynched.
Be grateful the crumbs I’m tossed, nay sure I’m convinced.
Oppression: a word not hard to define in the least.
We hear it on Twitter, world news, and battles in the Mideast.
While waiting for the crosswalk, they shout “fag,” a beer bottle thrown at my feet.
It didn’t even get my shoes wet – did oppression and I just meet?
Stifling tears, I click on the remote to ease my anxiety.
Polite tidy panels of four, a discussion on TV:
Debating my rights, whom I should love, where I can work, whether I’m a danger to children?
Hurting kids… I’m just a wannabe writer, mostly watching “Grey’s,” and chillin.’
But at night in my mind’s eye, my rainbow color wings unfurl, and I soar like a mythical
Phoenix over unseen blue and red states. I glide over swaying fields and crashing oceans,
echoing dry canyons and crisp mountainous rivers so vast. I ascend northern metal giant
skyscrapers and then plummet to the southern delta with its humidity, cobblestones and sweet-
sweet jazz. I experience life as my multilayered kaleidoscope-prismed wings, all the differences
needed and in harmony.

“Bird of Paradise”

My sister is a bird of paradise, the pretty one, the first grandchild, the only girl.
Upon my grandfather’s lap she shouts orders to us lesser children, we recoil from her wrath and
marvel at the way she has them hanging on her requests.
We long to be in the birds’ universe, but always feeling cautious and watchful when granted
limited access; for she always bites. It’s inevitable; it’s in her nature, her radiant design.
The world hearkens her whims and desires; I stay in the shadows hesitant to shine on my own. I
fall flat, she shrugs at my gaff. It’s inevitable; it’s in my nature, my flawed self.

She reigns over her adobe estate, squawking commands that must be completed post haste. She
knows I’ve come to inquire a favor. “Come forward little brother, you know we always do for
family.” A drop of bird venom…

“Pink Sheep”

I am the pink sheep of the family,
sissy is what some called me.
Their guns, their god, their glory,
but I am not welcomed to share their story.
Just another minority born into the enemy camp,
so I found refuge under a night club speaker amp.
No longer a misfit, I travel the world with my own kind,
their willful blindness never cross my mind.
Our haven lost at the Pulse, Eddy and forty eight people died;
months earlier, I’d dance eternally by his side.
We weren’t that close, just flag football friends;
this I tell myself, when my panic attack ends.
Mom says: “come on home baby, I’ll bake you fresh bread all day,”
my bags in the trunk, her cars NRA sticker on display.

Jimmy Woodfill is an aspiring writer, world traveler, citizen of the planet and a student of the
school of hard-knock’s – plus a few other universities. He lives in New Mexico and can be found on Twitter at @PonderingJimmy

THE ACCUSATION!

by GUEST WRITER VINCENT POMILIO

The pounding on my door jolted me awake. In a semi-stupor, I quickly threw on some clothes and opened the door.  Two burly NYC cops were in the hallway.  

“Are you Mr. Pomilio?” one of them asked.  His tone was threatening.

“Yes,” I replied nervously.   

“This is a summons to appear in Criminal Court for harassing and assaulting Mr. Joseph Stanziani.”

After handing me this formal looking paper, I went to my desk to turn on the lamp to take a closer look.  However, there was no power in the apartment.  Not only was the electricity shut off, so was the gas.  How could this be?  What just happened?

I went down the hall to my friend Joyce’s apartment.  I showed her the summons. She gave me this look of dread.  

“Mr. Stanziani was rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital last night after suffering a massive heart attack and he is unconscious and in intensive care,” she said.  

“What?  How could this be?  I just saw him last night in the Pizzeria.”

“What happened?” she asked.  

The night before, I went to the restaurant to pay the rent for the month.  Mr. Stanziani was there with his wife Rita closing up for the night. He took one look at me and said, “Who are you?”

“Vince Pomilio,” I replied.  “I’m living in Bess Sherman’s apartment in 5C.”

the author in 1978

“I never saw you in my life,” he said. 

“Mr. Stanziani, I’ve been here for six months while Bess is in San Francisco.  She told you Elliott and I would be living there while she is gone. I see you every day in the halls or on the street.” 

“I never saw you before,” he replied.  “Get out of here and never come back,” he said in a rather angry voice. 

“Mr. Stanziani, I’m only here to pay the rent.”  I placed a check on the table he was sitting at. It was my personal check in the amount of $430.00, the total amount for the rent.  When he looked at the check, he flew into a rage.  “Get out of here right now or I’ll call the police.” 

‘Please, I don’t want to upset you, I would just like to pay my rent.” 

“Get out you son of a bitch.”  

I’m standing there stunned and bewildered.  I tried one last plea.  “Let me pay the rent and I will leave.”  

At that point, he pushed me and started hitting me with his broom.  I headed for the door as he was screaming at me.  He began hurling salt and pepper shakers at my head.  Glasses were breaking and Mrs. Stanziani got into the act.  “Get out of here you bastard,” she screamed.  

Stunned and slightly bruised, I went back to Joyce’s apartment.  Joyce informed me that Joe Stanziani only rented to single women, hated gays and only accepted payment by the legal tenant. By taking my check he would be acknowledging me as a tenant.

Who do I call? What do I do? My roommate Elliott was in Aspen, Colorado teaching acting to opera singers and not scheduled to return for several weeks.  I called him to tell him what had happened. We both wanted to keep the apartment.  Bess also wanted us to keep it since she had decided to stay in San Francisco. Keeping the apartment was a minor detail since I was faced with a criminal charge.  What if Mr. Stanziani dies?  Should I call my parents in Philly?  That was a terrible Idea. I could hear them saying, “Why did you have to move to New York?  You had a nice teaching job here and a great apartment and we are here, too.”  Elliott told me to get a lawyer.  I was still in this apartment with no gas or electricity so the following night I went across the hall to Joyce’s apartment to seek more advice.  She called another tenant who lived in the building. 

Rebecca came up to meet me and hear the whole story.  “The Stanzianis only rent to single women,” Rebecca informed me.  “They never rent to men.  Young women get married, get pregnant and move to New Jersey. Then they jack up the rent for the next young ingénue.  They also bully these young women and scare them. They run this building like a convent.”  

Rebecca said she might be able to help.  She knew a young attorney who worked for the ACLU and might be interested in my case.  I called the lawyer.  He was a nice young man living in Brooklyn Heights and after hearing my story decided to take on my case on a pro bono basis.  A good thing too since the court hearing was only a week away.  

Off to court.  Joyce and Rebecca decided come along to support me in my most trying hour.  {You might remember Joyce from my Thanksgiving story. Joyce was a cabaret performer and at the time of this story she was appearing with Holly Woodlawn, of Andy Warhol fame, in the “Miss Cheese of the Week Review.”  Joyce played Miss Velveeta: “I’m so incredible. I’m even spreadable”.}  

I was nervous as shit. I didn’t really have anything good to wear.  I went with a hand-me-down Harris Tweed sport coat and khakis with a Ferragamo tie a friend gave me for Christmas.  Joyce and Rebecca showed up looking like they were going to Studio 54.  My handsome, frail, overly nice young lawyer looked the part and boosted my confidence.

We get to the court house in lower Manhattan and I began to shiver and shake.  The judge walked in looking like Vincent Price in one of his horror movie roles.  Across the aisle was Mrs. Stanziani dressed in black with a lace mantilla on her head.  Her obese lawyer wore a wide necktie with coffee stains on it. The judge read the charges as I sank deeper into the pew.  

Mrs. Stanziani’s lawyer spoke first.  He told a tale of bad pulp fiction.  He spoke about how I accosted Mr. Stanziani and threw him to the ground as I harassed him and his dear wife and terrorized them with my rent check.  He told the judge that I had caused his heart attack.  I sat there terrified with my arms folded.  The judge looked at me and said, “Young man.  Unfold your arms.  You have nothing to fear here. In my entire alleged mind, I have never seen such a circus.”

My turn.  My lawyer told a very different tale.  As it turned out, my tale was more credible. The Stanzianis were in court every other week trying to harass some poor tenant into eviction.  They were notorious in the NYC courts and the judge declared, “This circus ends here.  This is clearly a case for Landlord/Tenant court.  You have wasted our time here. If I wasn’t such a kind and just man I would put you all in jail, every last one of you.  Get out of my courtroom and settle your score elsewhere.”

A date was set for Landlord/Tenant court.  I had to wait for two weeks.  Joyce, Rebecca, my lawyer and I went back to the Village and had lunch at Pennyfeathers Restaurant on Seventh Avenue South.   I felt ecstatic.  I could go on with my life with this huge burden lifted. The worst is that I would most likely have to move.

A lot was going on with my life at this time.  I was working at the McBurney YMCA in a low level administrative job.  I was the complaint department.  My office faced the Chelsea Hotel.  I was at my desk the morning they dragged Sid Vicious out after being accused of killing Nancy in the bathroom of their hotel room.  What a scene that was.

Elliott eventually returned from Aspen.  We were still living in the apartment without gas or electricity.  Elliott was a very fine actor and landed the role of Renfield in “The Passion of Dracula”, an off-Broadway hit at the Cherry Lane Theatre on Commerce St. in the Village.  

With this criminal trial behind me, I prepared for the meeting at Landlord/Tenant court.  Bess, the woman who had the lease on the apartment, wrote us a letter saying that she was not planning to return and would love it if Elliott and I took over the place.  She also wrote the same to Mrs. Stanziani, now the acting landlady. Her husband Joe was still at St. Vincent’s in a comatose state.  Mrs. Stanziani seemed to be in a better mood as far as everyone in the building could tell.  

Off to Landlord/Tenant court.  This should be interesting.  I didn’t need my entourage or a lawyer for this one.   I arrived at court and there sat this fat, jolly looking African-American judge looking over the notes for the case.   Rita Stanziani came with her lawyer, both glaring at me as they waited for the case to begin.  After all of the lies they told the last time, how dare they look at me this way? How do these people live with themselves?  The judge addressed us and asked me when my utilities were shut off.   I told him that it was the night I went into the restaurant to pay my rent.  

“How long have you lived there?” 

“Six months, your honor.”

“Have you ever caused a disturbance in the building?” 

“No, your honor,” I replied. 

He then addressed Mrs. Stanziani:  “Madam, were you responsible for shutting off this man’s utilities?” 

“Yes, your honor,” the only honest thing she said during this whole saga.  The judge reviewed the notes again and appeared agitated.  He addressed Rita Stanziani and said, “Lady, if you don’t turn this man’s utilities back on within 24 hours, I’m going to put you in jail.”  He then requested proof that the legal tenant wanted me to take over the apartment.  The case was postponed two weeks.  Whew!  I dodged another bullet.

Bess sent a certified letter to the landlady announcing that she would like to get out of her lease and turn it over to Elliott and me.  I was happy to be back in the apartment with the electricity and gas restored.  Life goes on.  At the second court appearance and after the judge reviewed all of the details of the case he asked Mrs. Stanziani if she had any objections to me taking over the lease. She said she did but gave no reason.  In New York, a landlord has the right to refuse leasing an apartment without a valid reason.  I had heard that over the years. 

The judge ruled that I could have six months to live there rent free until I found a suitable place to live.  Great news!  Apartments were easy to find. Six months is a long time. I’ll be okay.  

Meanwhile roommate Elliot was a big hit in “The Passion of Dracula”.  Whenever I had a date and wanted comps, he had them.  I lost count of how many times I saw “The Passion of Dracula”.  One of those dates became a regular thing and I soon found myself in a hot love affair.  

I made good use of my six months in this wonderful apartment, as did Elliott.  He too was involved in what turned out to be a serious love affair.  Three months after the court case was settled, we received word that Joe Stanziani had died.  The mood in the building was like Spain when Franco died.  Rita Stanziani became the landlady and soon she was taking art classes and having parties and was even pleasant to me when running into her in the halls.  I was ready to move on.

Entrance to W.10th Street

{Vincent Pomilio’s work can be seen at the Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson, NY or the Hal Bromm Gallery in NYC}

RHONJ – SEASON PREMIERE RECAP!

Welcome back to the great state of New Jersey! Home of Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, water taffy and Asbury Park, THE gay destination along the Jersey Shore. Snooki and The Situation will not be doing shots on the beach next to you though. Its up to you whether that is good news or bad.

RHONJ can hit or miss for me, but it has been hella entertaining the past few years. New housewives Margaret, Jackie and Jennifer are all great additions to the cast, albeit for different reasons. The standard housewife test for me is – “would I be friends with them?” That’s also my go-to question for celebrities as well, with stars like Jennifer Garner and Kristen Bell topping my list. Yes I gravitate toward the basic girls. Lol.  In Jersey, it should come as no surprise how much I love Jackie, Melissa and Margaret. It should also come as no surprise my disdain and dislike of Teresa and Jennifer. Dolores falls somewhere in between. 

I try to go into each season or episode with an open mind, giving people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they changed, maybe they are not as rude, vindictive and hypocritical as I had previously thought. I was pleasantly surprised with Jennifer. She came across almost likable. Maybe that was due to her minimal screen time. Teresa is another story.

Let’s dig in. The episode was titled, “C U Next Tuesday.” A better title could have been – 

HOW FAR DO WE LET A WOMAN LIKE TERESA GO? Jackie says this to Margaret, as always, hitting the nail on the head. Jackie from day one has been one of my favorite housewives. I think she handles herself well, she is well spoken, her husband is HOT, and her kids seem nice. She has not been scared or backed away from a fight with Teresa Guidice. I was with Jackie the entire episode, word for word, but at the very end she crossed the line for me. More on that later.

The episode opens up with Jackie and Teresa screaming and cursing at each other. These ladies came in hot from moment one. Rumors of Jackie’s husband, Evan, cheating on her are circulating around town. I wonder who could have started such a rumor? Rewind back to three days before, a storytelling device that Bravo uses quite often. Hey, if it aint broke dont fix it. I’m hooked. This episode was more entertaining than the entire season of Orange County. 

We are reintroduced to each Housewife. Margaret has almost an entirely new face to go with her new boobs. Dolores got an ass lift, and a boatload of other procedures we learn later on as she is talking to her surgeon boyfriend David. Melissa tells Joe about all the surgeries the ladies have been having, he wastes zero time, and brings up his penis. Again. Yawn. Teresa, facetiming with one of her daughters explains her grief over the loss of her father.  Jackie tells us how during the Covid Pandemic she appreciates her family even more, especially her husband who has never had a birthday party. 

Cue the first contract mandated get together of all the ladies. The tension between Jennifer and both Melissa and host Jackie has apparently not gone away. Jennifer barely got an invite and can thank Coronavirus for warming Jackie’s heart. The party begins and the ladies show up one by one, with “Tre” being the last to arrive. Will she bring a date, they wonder? She does bring a plus one but it’s not a man, but one of her best friends.

It’s no secret I do not care for Teresa Guidice. I don’t think she is a nice person. I think she treats people, too many to name here, horribly. Do I want her to be happy? Of course. Do I think Andy Cohen should have never hired her back after her release from prison, especially after her and her ex-husband partially blamed being on the tv show for their crimes. HELL NO. And true to form, within minutes of walking into the party – Teresa shows her true colors. A leopard never changes its spots.

Teresa pulls each housewife aside to tell them the rumors she has heard of Jackie’s husband Evan cheating on her “at the gym.”  As always when someone is lying, she has no evidence, she forgot who told her, blah blah blah. To give each housewife credit, every one of them tried to shut Teresa down, telling her this is not the time or the place for this. Even her lapdog Jennifer who bowed at her feet last season says in her confessional it went in one ear and out the other. The fact that Teresa chose Evan’s birthday party to throw him under the bus, to stab him in the back, and try to take him down tells you everything you need to know about her. Even her own brother said “Teresa holds grudges.” Teresa hates Jackie and this – make no mistake – is payback.

Before the final confrontation teased at the start of the episode, we get treated to scenes of Jennifer with her entire family – minus her mother. Her parents, without the buffer of a child, are at each other’s throats during quarantine. Jennifer moved her father into her house and now Mom is on the outs. Props to Jennifer for recognizing that she is very much like her mother who she described seconds earlier as “critical and judgmental.”  We also get a few minutes of Dolores with David, a relationship so confusing to me I won’t even try to discuss it.

Jackie and Teresa meet on neutral ground – Margaret’s house – and Jackie talking to Margaret about the hurt Teresa has caused her and Evan is hard to watch. Jackie then lays it out in no uncertain terms – how much more damage is Teresa going to get to inflict before Bravo says enough? She pushed Cohen out of the way at a reunion, she gave Danielle Staub her marching orders to pull Margarets hair. What will it take for Bravo to finally fire her?

As the fight begins Jackie tells Teresa in no uncertain terms that she needs to say this is a lie and end what she started. Teresa says she’s sorry, Jackie does not care or want an apology. Teresa, never the best public speaker, is falling all over herself saying meaningless things like “I don’t want you to be upset,” or “I didn’t ask for evidence.” Teresa slips up when she tells Jackie, “you don’t call the shots.” There you have it. Teresa, the self-appointed queen of the franchise, knows she has met her match. Jackie, after giving Teresa numerous times to make things right, has had it. 

Jackie tells Teresa she heard a rumor about Gia. BOOM! 

I think housewives’ children are off limits and Jackie crossed a line. I also think housewives’ husbands are off limits as well. Do I feel bad at all for Teresa? Not one bit. Do I feel bad for Gia? Yes. Awful. But Teresa, for years has played dirty and then went postal if the tables were turned on her. We reap what we sow.

Cannot wait to see how this plays out. Until next time…

PLANTING RAINBOWS

GUEST WRITER – PETE ZHENG

New York City’s queer community is both strong and intersectional. In fact, it is strong because it is intersectional. And in 10 months, NYC will be choosing a new mayor. One that must prioritize the well-being of all New Yorkers while balancing covid-related urgencies, but even more importantly, one that will prioritize the needs of the queer community who have been disproportionaly marginalized in impact and forgotten in governmental solutions. 

Growing up, I never truly understood what it meant to be gay. At the time, my understanding of sexuality was in the most basic premises — one where I felt a sexual and emotional desire for another that was our own sex — and as time continued and I grew up, it became more of a grappling with where we fit into the origins of a society that circulated around heterosexual ideals. I became acutely aware that being a part of this community was more than just an identity. It meant realizing that we would have to fight for our civil rights, to unify the heterogenous silos within a homogenous labeled group, and most importantly – to carry on the work of our predecessors who valiantly fought for us to be where we are today. Amanda Gorman’s sentiment in The Hills We Climb so eloquently described the work that remains to be done, even in 2021. 

Around 9 months ago, I received a LinkedIn message from a man named Art Chang. He asked me if I was interested in politics, and I unbeknowingly responded “yes, I studied policy in graduate school and my current job is in business integrity policy.” He quickly followed up with a Zoom meeting request to gauge my thoughts on something. Still unaware of who this man was (other than a synopsis from his LinkedIn), an invitation to chat would quickly turn into the planting of seeds for his NYC Mayoral campaign. Shortly after, we would grow the campaign from 2 individuals to a team of 50+ growing staff and volunteers. 

Raised in Jim Crow Atlanta by Korean immigrants, Art Chang knows the detrimental and debilitating effects of marginalization on mental and emotional wellness. He experienced racism in his school and community and domestic violence at home, and eventually became the second man at Yale to graduate with a degree in Women’s Studies—he knows the harmful nature of the gender binary and approaches complex issues from an intersectional lens. 

And in order to right these wrongs, we need a mayor that will prioritize our community and fight for us. Art doesn’t claim to have all the answers—and that’s a good thing. He will listen to the experiences of those primarily affected by policies on LGBTQIA+ issues, and defer to the experts to advocate for and implement changes that will truly help our city’s queer communities. 

The hills that our ancestors have climbed paved the path for a new generation of activists who must continue the ever-growing nature of equity and human rights for the LGBTQIA+ community. I hope you join us and feel inspired to fight for a NYC that is safer and more equitable for all.

Pete Zheng is currently serving as Director of Policy for Art Chang for NYC Mayor. He can be reached at p.zheng@columbia.edu.

My Top 11 Favorite “Lip Syncs for your Life”

2020 has been a difficult year, and it’s safe to say we’re all seeking some positivity and things to be happy about in the new year, and I think 2021 will deliver. The first gift 2021 will bring us is a brand new season of Rupaul’s Drag Race. Starting this Friday, New Years Day, 2021 will deliver joy and fun and drag queens on day one! If you follow me on social media or read this blog you  know how big of a drag race fan I am – I proudly consider myself to be a super fan! Though I love the show, I’ve been told I do not make a pretty girl when I dress in drag myself, AT ALL. Maybe I should just stick to reviewing drag queens and not try to be one? Lol.

In honor of Friday’s season 13 premiere I present to you, for your reading and viewing pleasure, my favorite lip syncs for your life from Rupaul’s Drag Race, Rupaul’s Drag Race All Stars and Canada’s Drag Race. Before you read the list and start writing nasty comments on how I could leave off so and so, I am basing this list on entertainment value. Specifically, would I rewatch these lip syncs over and over on YouTube? (And trust me, after a few White Claws or Truly lemonades during quarantine I rewatch many of these battles).

So, while you won’t see Latrice Royale’s “Natural Woman,” or Jujubee’s “Black Velvet” on this list, many consider these two of the best performances during a lip sync in the show’s herstory. This writer agrees but for some unknown reason I don’t gravitate towards a rewatch.  

This list is presented in no particular order. SPOILERS AHEAD! 

*MONET XCHANGE vs. DUSTY RAY BOTTOMS “Pound the Alarm” – Season 10

Two powerhouse performances with Rupaul even proclaiming, “For the ladies in the back that is what we call a lip sync for your life.” Miss Congeniality winner Monet stumbled in her looks, but her personality and comedic chops shined through. Her fake out death drop was EPIC! (look for Monet again on this list a little later on)

*BOB THE DRAG QUEEN vs. DERRICK BARRY “Mighty Real” – Season 9 

The judges saw something in Derrick Barry that I did not, keeping her until the Final Five. Her All Stars stint was much shorter as she was eliminated first. No shocker here.  Derrick’s showgirl shtick did not fit with the tone and feel of the song. She was “dead queen walking” against powerhouse, and one of my favorite queens, eventual season winner Bob the Drag Queen. When RuPaul takes out his fan for you, you know you are shantaying. 

*PRIYANKA vs. KIARA “I Drove all Night” – Canada’s Drag Race season 1 

Another lip sync with powerhouse performances from both queens. Two Canadian queens performing to a Celine Dion song, on the first season of Canada’s Drag Race – the pressure was on. And both girls delivered and then some. If I was a judge, I would have saved them both. Eventual season winner Priyanka edged out Kiara to advance in the competition.

*YVIE ODDLY vs. BROOKE LYNN HYTES “Sorry not Sorry” – Season 11

After disastrous Snatch Game performances, season stand-outs Yvie and Brooke Lynn found themselves in the bottom two early on. Once the song started, each tore up the main stage. Wig reveals, flips, cartwheels, you name it they did it. Both fought for their spot in the competition and both deservedly stayed. Weeks later they would be the final two standing and would lip sync for the crowd, with Yvie Oddly winning the title. 

*ALYSSA EDWARDS vs. COCO MONTRESE “Cold Hearted Snake” – Season 5

I don’t love Alyssa Edwards as much as the rest of the Drag Race community seems to, even though she appears on this list THREE times. Hmmm maybe I do like her. Lol.  Bitter rivals Alyssa and Coco each wanted to send the other home, with Coco prevailing. As she said, she was “lip syncing every word as if I was Paula Abdul herself.”

*ALYSSA EDWARDS vs. ROXXXY ANDREWS “Whip my Hair” – Season 5

Alyssa’s final appearance on this list was good enough to earn the first ever double save from RuPaul. But for me, this lip sync belongs to Roxxxy Andrews. Roxxxy will never win Miss Congeniality, but gurl is a performer!  She started the trend – ON DRAG RACE DON’T COME FOR ME IN THE COMMENTS SECTION – of the wig reveal. 

The quickest kiss of death in a lip sync for your life is for a wig to fall off or be taken off purposely. “Do not take your wig off…unless you have another wig underneath!”

*SASHA VELOUR vs. SHEA COULEE “I Get so Emotional” – Season 9 Grand Finale 

Speaking of wig reveals, Sasha Velour cemented her place as Drag Race royalty with this performance. Not only did she eliminate front runner Shea Coulee but she advanced to lip sync for the crown (which she won!). Her wig reveal and rose petal shower is nothing short of legendary. 

*RITA BAGA vs. LEMON “You Oughta Know” – Canada’s Drag Race season 1 

Canada’s Drag Race came out swinging in its first season. Lemon and Rita Baga were my two favorite girls throughout the season. But truth be told, Lemon was my ride or die. That being said, she missed the mark with this performance to this Alanis iconic anthem of revenge. Her background in dance and gymnastics worked against her here. Rita Baga blew the roof off the joint, channelling Morrissette. 

*MONET XCHANGE v. TRINITY THE TUCK “Fighter” – All Stars 4 Grand Finale 

A perfect combination of song choice and performance. From both queens. The performances were so stellar both queens won the title and the crown – a drag race first. Favorite moment – Monet revealing her pussycat wig to reveal – wait for it – another pussycat wig. COME THROUGH MONET! 

*PEPPERMINT vs. TRINITY THE TUCK “Stronger” – Season 9 Grand Finale

Saving my personal favorite performance for last, another case of a queen with loads of charm and personality but maybe stumbling in the lewk department. Peppermint  – the lip sync assassin of the season – took out Alexis Michele to advance to the Final Four. With this performance she eliminated Trinity to lip sync for the crown. Trinity’s fate was sealed when Peppermint executed a double reveal: removing her wig and turning her mini skirt into a dress. YASSSSSS PEPPER!

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

*Darienne Lake: another shady queen who can lip sync the house down.

*Shangela: any of her All Stars 3 lip syncs.

*Roxxxy Andrews: “One Last Time” – representing for the thick and juicy girls.

*Alyssa Edwards v. Tatiana “Shut Up and Drive” – All Stars 2. 

*Manila Luzon – “MacArthur Park” – Season 3.

Thanks readers, see you Friday night for Season 13. BRING BACK MY GIRLS! 

(This column was edited by Noah Cohen.)

Best. Thanksgiving. Ever.

by Vincent Pomilio, guest writer

Thanksgiving with the Three Strippers from “Gypsy”

I met my future husband Bob in 1996.  At the time, Bob worked on Wall Street at the Bank of New York.  He lived in Jersey City and I spent most of my days working in my painting studio on West Houston Street in Manhattan.  I usually arrived back at the apartment, after work, before Bob.  I liked to get a jump start on dinner and avoid the rush hour crowds. 

Vincent and Bob, Ocean Grove, NJ 1998

One night Bob arrived home flush with excitement. “You’re not going to believe this.  The Hudson Civic Players are doing “Gypsy.”  They’re holding auditions this weekend.  I’m going to try out for a part.” 

This little theatre group managed to put on great shows time after time.  They did it all on a low budget and drew on the wealth of talent that existed in the NY metropolitan area.  An out of work actor/waiter could have a shot playing “Sweeney Todd”, or the baker from “Into the Woods.”  

“Gypsy” is the musical to end all musicals: music by Julie Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents.   It doesn’t get any better:  the story of the world’s most famous burlesque stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee, her sister Dainty June, and their overbearing, larger-than-life stage mother to beat all stage mothers, Rose. 

Okay, some context here.  Bob and I fit most of those stereotypes about gay men when it comes to loving musicals, opera, cooking, design, old movies, etc.  We’ve seen “All About Eve” dozens of times.  But, who would Bob play if he got a part?  Certainly not one of the chorus boys; Bob’s not the Tulsa type (more about him later).  He would make a good Herbie, but can he sing?  Bob is a hunky, six foot two Irishman from Scranton, Pa. (we met at Ty’s Bar on St. Patrick’s Day.)    He and Joe Biden might be the best things ever to come out of Scranton.  Bob always said he would like Ed Harris to play him in “The Bob Bohan Story.”  We will see how that works out.  

Bob and Vincent, 1998.

Back to the story:

Auditions were held the first weekend after Labor Day, 1998.  Opening night is scheduled for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and will run for a week.  Bob returned from the auditions a little disappointed.  

“How did it go?” I asked.   

“Well.  I didn’t get a part but they asked me to be the stage manager.” He accepted the job.

The cast was announced.  A local grade-school teacher named Colleen got the part of Momma Rose.  She could belt out a song like Kate Smith.  The guy cast as Herbie came up to her shoulders, but he was bald and sexy and had a beautiful voice and was perfect for the part.  

Bob would return from rehearsals night after night with stories of disaster.  Colleen is impossible; the chorus boys can’t dance.  However, Herbie was professional and the strippers were terrific.

The strippers:  Mazeppa, Electra, and Tessie Tura.  In their show-stopping number, “You Gotta Get a Gimmick”, the strippers give advice to the young Gypsy on what it takes to be successful.    

As opening night got closer, Bob would come home with a more hopeful tone.  “It’s really coming together.”  He was getting excited about the show and asked if we should invite our mothers to come see it and then join us for Thanksgiving.  

“Sure,” I said.  “Let’s do it.”  That meant that I would get stuck with cooking, picking up the moms, and all the rest of it.  I’m in.  

Opening Night.  I pick up our mothers, Rita arriving from Philly and Ann from Scranton.  Port Authority the night before Thanksgiving.  Not fun.  

Off to the theatre.  There was only a three piece band, but boy could they play!  Everybody in the show invited their friends and family, so the auditorium is packed.  The house lights dim, the overture ends, and then Momma Rose takes the stage. I have to say Colleen was a hit.  

The show went on without a hitch and a big standing “O”.   The Hudson Civic Players were jubilant as they took their curtain call.  Bob was beaming and the moms and I were very proud.  We took Ann and Rita to a fashionable dive on Hamilton Park for some food and drinks and then off to Bob’s place to get ready for Thanksgiving.  It was not a huge apartment but great for dinner parties with an eat-in kitchen under a big skylight.  The moms were comfy and we played a little poker before bed.  

Thanksgiving Day.   We had to be out of our minds.  We invited so many people.  Good thing our moms were there to help.  

The Guest List.

I’m digging deep into the memory bank here.  We had invited a stellar group of misfits.  Wonderful, talented misfits.  Joyce Mandel was there.  Joyce was a downtown cabaret performer.  At the time of this story, she was appearing in the East Village in a show called “The Miss Cheese of the Week Review”.  She performed with Holly Woodlawn.  Joyce played Miss Velveeta:  “I’m incredible. I’m even spreadable.” You get the picture.   Joyce has joined us every Thanksgiving since.  

Pawel Thulin came. Pawel is originally from Poland and was a computer genius in the early days of the Internet.  He was also a legendary ladies man whose sexual prowess was well known.  His girlfriend Michele was there.  Poor thing was in a constant state of longing and desire.  

We also invited the young actor who played Tulsa in the show.  Tulsa is one of the chorus boys in the act who winds up stealing Dainty June away from Momma Rose to run off and start a dance act on the order of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  The part is usually played by a Gene Kelly-type guy, but in this production, Tulsa was more Cyd Charisse than Gene Kelly.  

The big surprise guests were the three actresses who played the strippers in “Gypsy.”  Rita thought they were the best part of the show.  She was thrilled when she found out they were coming for Thanksgiving.  

A little background here on Rita.  She often entertained at parties.  She would even make costumes for her act.  She would tell jokes that would get raunchier as the night progressed.  “Did I tell you the one about the mouse fucking the elephant?” she would tease.  “As the mouse was fucking the elephant, the elephant let out a thunderous roar from its trunk.  The mouse said, “What’s the matter babe? Am I hurtin’ ya?””   Her delivery was brilliant.  

Guests have arrived and it’s time to eat.  I was compelled to do the whole Italian Thanksgiving meal.  First, an antipasto, then the Holiday Soup (Rita’s mother’s recipe), then homemade manicotti.  And after all that, an entire traditional turkey dinner.  Joyce read her Thanksgiving poem, and sang an Edith Piaf song.   One of the strippers sang a song, too.  Lots of boisterous conversation and joke telling. 

The two mothers started talking about religion.  These were two good, church- going Catholic women although Rita probably spent time in Purgatory for all those filthy jokes.  Ann asks Rita, “What do you think about priests getting married?”  Without delay Rita replies, “I don’t want some priest serving me Holy Communion after he’s had his hand up his wife’s twat the night before.”  Well, that settles the six hundred year old controversy over celibacy.  There was a hush, followed by deafening laughter.  Rita strikes gold again.  Mazeppa asked, “Who is this woman? Where did she come from?”  

“South Philly”, I answered. “If you ever spent time there, you’d understand.”

The evening slowly wound down.  Bob announced he was going to bed.  The moms had a hot poker game going so many of the guests stayed and played well into the night.  The moms cleaned everyone out.  There wasn’t a penny left in the house.  While leaving, the strippers promised Rita that they wouldn’t steal any of her material.  Joyce got a ride back to the city with Pawel and Michele.  Tulsa did a little tap dance while leaving and I played a couple more rounds of poker with our moms.  

Best Thanksgiving Day.  Ever. 

Portrait of Bob.

One. Two. Three Strikes. You’re Out.

Things with me have always been black and white. I rarely live in the grey. No wavering.  Hot and cold people are at the bottom of my most despised list along with Trump supporters. I know immediately if I like someone or not. People do not grow on me. I have never said “OMG we totally hated each other when we met but now we are best friends.” This is true for friends, and it’s true for those who become more than friends.  

When it comes to romantic interests and friendships; never will the two intertwine. Black and white. Told you. Now, like most gay men some of my friends began as a “trick.”  The very first night we met we got horizontal and in the morning light we realized a romantic relationship was not in the cards. But we obviously liked each other’s company, and a friendship formed from there.

“Friends with benefits” do NOT work for me either. Blurring the lines often leads to hurt feelings on one or both ends. (Mostly mine!)

One specific time I tried blurring those lines did not end well.  (Shocking, I know!) A few years ago on a sunny warm July afternoon in Asbury Park, I met Roger through a very good friend of mine. Immediately there was a connection. Roger was with his boyfriend Juan at the time, so this connection was strictly platonic. We bonded through a variety of shared interests, and his West Coast roots.  Roger had lived in San Francisco, with me being a part of AIDS LIFECYCLE, we had dozens of very good friends in common. As time went on, Roger and I grew very close. From there a core group of six friends was formed.

While Roger and I had some things in common, we were very different. We communicated differently, we treated people differently and we handled stressful situations differently. To say that Roger was passionate would be putting things lightly…and nicely. Sometimes his temper got the better of him. When backed into a corner, he often reacted quickly and with venom. Hey, we’re all different! No judgments! Luckily at this point in time, I was never on the receiving end of these exchanges. Before he moved out of NYC, he told me in an email that I was a “really good person who will make a difference someday,” give or take a few words. 

However, just a week before that a discussion about Prep and Truvada got SO heated between him and a dinner guest that I removed Roger from the dining room and told him to cool off in one of the bedrooms. 

Roger didn’t move that far away and visited NYC often, so we still saw each other. There was an obvious mutual attraction. With him single now, more than once that attraction led to “something more.”  We fell into an odd routine, one that wasn’t very sexual but more PG-13. Lots of hand holding and make out sessions. We also fell into a routine of arguing. These arguments were over pretty minor issues yet they almost always turned into blowouts. Roger went from zero to ten on the flip of a dime. Actually I don’t think he had a zero. Or a seven. 

I didn’t know how to calm him down, and I never really approached a level ten in an argument. I tried to see his point of view but failed. As I mentioned above, we were different, especially in how we handled conflict. Looking back now it seems Roger thrived on conflict, almost reveling in it. I try to avoid conflict at all costs, ignoring issues, burying grievances almost to the point of catastrophe.  I realized, probably too late, this was not a healthy relationship for me, and Roger and I grew apart.  

We did still have a best friend in common and when Roger was temporarily back in NYC for work for a few months, we found ourselves together in random social situations.  Roger asked if we could be friends again assuring me that in the months prior he had changed and wasn’t the same person anymore, “things would be different this time around,” he promised. 

People are flawed. I am flawed. People fuck up. I fuck up. People can change. I can change. I have been given more chances than I deserve.  So yes I did forgive him and yes we fell back into our old patterns, minus the arguments!  

Things were going so well we began planning a trip to Puerto Vallarta over the Christmas holiday. I was tasked with finding our Airbnb. I sent him a few (10) choices, none meeting up to his high standards. My “instructions” became more detailed, “by the blue chairs.” I was told. Sent another group of choices, also none acceptable. (Truth be told, my standards of appropriate vacation housing are probably considerably lower than the average gay!) With me nearing my boiling point, I texted him telling him that this can go two ways.

One – when you ask someone to do something you let them do it and dont complain/find fault etc. or two you find and book our Airbnb.  Two solid great choices! From what I have described about Roger, you can guess this did not go over well.  Tee up a HUGE argument. The final text he sent me read that he decided this trip wasn’t going to work for him and he was cancelling it. No discussion. No trying to decide on a compromise. Nothing.

Relationship over for me. Time to move on. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, you get the idea. I knew at this point I was done, no more chances would be given. It was over. My ‘second chances’ limit for Roger had runneth over. We have not had any contact since his last text. 

I really wasn’t all that angry with Roger. I was hella pissed at myself. People show you who they are immediately. I chose to not see what was right in front of me. Mutual friends insisted Roger and I would be friends again, “you will forgive him like you always do,” they said. I assured them that was not possible and they, like I, should move on.  

This decision was cemented in stone, when the day after Christmas, a friend sent me a text. It was a picture of Roger. In Puerto Vallarta!  SON OF A BITCH! 

1976

GUEST WRITER VINCENT POMILIO

During the hot Bicentennial Summer of 1976 I had been happily living in Philadelphia, my hometown. Philly was a great town to be young and gay. So many bars and clubs – all within walking distance of each other.  I was teaching art in an elementary school in South Philly and working at night as a sous chef at a hot spot restaurant called Lickety Split.  

The restaurant was owned and operated by gay men and women; the head chef was a lesbian of great culinary skills. The wait staff consisted of gorgeous men and women, and one glamorous transsexual, Georgia.  Georgia was very famous in Philly and actually appeared in a couple of major movies: “Mississippi Burning” was one. 

Lickety Split was a party place of the first degree.  Sex, drugs and rock and roll with steak tartare thrown in.  The restaurant was a favorite hangout for many celebs that happened to be in town:  Halston, Lily Tomlin, and John Waters, just to name a few. Philly’s most famous transsexual, Harlow, was a regular.

After the kitchen closed and the doors were locked, the staff and clientele partied all night.  I tried to behave myself, having a boyfriend at the time, Tim, and a teaching job, but sometimes it didn’t work out.  

I thought I would stay in Philly forever.  However, things were about to change.

Vincent, circa 1976.

The spring of 1976 presented some serious challenges and events that would alter the course of my life.  I was an art teacher at a rough South Philly elementary school with a couple hundred students from K-6th grade and no art room.  I would put all my supplies in a shopping cart and go from class to class.  It was a nightmare.  

Two days a week they would send me to a home for emotionally disturbed kids to teach an art lesson.   One day I attempted to teach a lesson in industrial drawing since they were teenagers and I thought something practical would be good for them.  I gave them all compass needles and drafting tools to work with.  The only girl in the class was really tough and would often beat up the boys in the school yard.  The boys began to tease her and a fight broke out and the compass needles became weapons.  Trying to intercept the fight, I got a compass needle through my hand and off to the hospital I went.  A week later I gave the school my resignation notice.  

At the time, I visited New York City often as many of my friends had moved there.  I became infatuated with the city and decided to apply to graduate school there.  I was accepted to NYU grad department in Painting and planned to move in the fall.

During that summer, I made frequent trips to NY and went to the Pride Parade of ‘76.  The parade was much smaller then, but there were still people from all over the country that would come.  It was so important to be out and part of it.  This was going to be my new town. 

The city was in terrible economic straits, but who cared?  I found a great apartment on Jane Street.  It had a fireplace, and a bathroom that was the biggest room in the apartment.  But it was in the Village and the rent was only $210.00 a month.  

Being the big bi-centennial year, the parade took on special relevance.  Afterwards, the crowd headed down to Christopher Street to begin what turned out to be an all-night bacchanal.  West Street was the place to be. At the time, it was okay to hang out on the street with drinks and party into the wee hours of the morning.  It was a sparkling, hot, summer Sunday and the tall ships for the Bicentennial were in the harbor.  

One of the great West Street bars at the time was Keller’s Bar. The bar was an old dock workers hangout with saw dust on the tiled floor.  Outside the bar was a gigantic block party.  The mood was jubilant.  I was hanging out in front with my Philly friends, feeling no pain, and having the time of my life.  

Around 6 o’clock, a huge flatbed truck with live music pulled up in front of the bar.  This gorgeous, blonde, Marilyn Monroe-looking woman gets up and begins to sing.  The sound was mellow and unique, and it cooled down the hot crowd of hundreds of gay men.  No one knew who they were.  We asked around.  Turns out it was Deborah Harry and the band, Blondie.  They were just starting out, but what could be a better audience than a throng of gay men?  She finished her set to huge fanfare and made a memorable exit worthy of the diva she would become.  

After enough time to get another beer, a group of hunky men in costumes came onto the flatbed truck: an Indian chief, a leather man, a construction worker, a cop, and a cowboy.  The crowd went wild. Yes, it was The Village People.  It was about six months before the release of their first hit single and album, but here they were, in the Village, post Pride Parade, in that all so important Bicentennial Summer singing their hearts out for a crowd so pre-programmed to love them.  It was insanity. None of us knew then who they were, but they were amazing.  

As day turned to night, and the live music stopped, I went back into the bar.  This sexy dark haired man caught my eye and approached me.  Before even saying anything, we kissed.  We couldn’t detach ourselves from one another.  After coming up for air, he introduced himself in a beautiful, exotic accent.

“I’m Gus, who are you?”  

Gus was from Greece and came to NYC to become a pharmacist.  He was a champion diver in Greece.  This beautiful Greek Adonis, wearing a white wife-beater tank top, swept me off my feet.  We left the bar together to go to his apartment on the Upper West Side.  Even on the subway going uptown, we couldn’t keep our hands from each other.  Of course with hundreds of post-pride parade revelers, it hardly mattered.  I woke up the next morning with my face in his hairy armpit. After a while, we got out of bed.  Gus asked if I was hungry.  Of course I was hungry.  He made me a feta cheese omelet.  I learned how to say please and thank you in Greek. 

As it turned out, I never saw Gus again, but I knew then that I was going to love living in this city… 

A painting from Vincent’s first exhibit. It was painted after a dream of visiting his grandfathers town in Italy.
The author, hiking in Arcadia National Park, Maine. 1976.

KIDS CHICKEN FINGERS. THREE VODKA SODAS.

Quick recap, in the last column I explained how I am a New Yorker in Delaware for the summer, happily engaged in a monogamous relationship with my new boyfriend – Rehoboth Beach.

It’s been a month and we are still gloriously happy together. Mornings we bike to Rise gym, to get our sweat on – or to sweat out the two or six spiked seltzers consumed during our afternoons at Poodle Beach. Nights we usually chill at home netflixing.

On the rare night out in town (ok, maybe not so rare), I have enjoyed Aqua, The Pines, Arenas, Diegos. Drag Bingo at the Moon was fun and I know the theme was “old lady” but the energy was too low for me. Drag Brunch at 251? Yes! I do love me a drag show. Brunch was OFF THE CHARTS fun. Performances were amaze: “Escapade,” “Part of Your World.” YES! The drinks were flowing, the food was – well, let’s just say I left hungry. Then again, who goes to drag brunch for the food?

As happy as my new BF and I are, it is time to get back out there. Riding out a pandemic, single, in NYC? We need a new word for celibacy.  As the country moves into new phases of opening up, it’s time for Robby to move into phase two. Hooking up! 

A major impediment to this hooking up is cockblock Covid. I am not great at the apps, even though I did set up a Scruff account my first week here. I’m old school. Go to a bar, meet someone, flirt, pick them up, take them home.  No muss no fuss. Covid has all but made that impossible. Stay at your table, no mingling, no socializing with strangers. F U COVID.

I haven’t even been able to use my new pick up line. “My name is Robert, I have the antibodies.” Yes, that is true. Back in February I was pretty sick for a weekend. Felt fluish, in bed for two days, unable to read a book or watch a movie. But it was only two days. The cough did linger for a week. I think I was exposed at a Super Bowl party. When my friend Mike and I are poolside here and I shout, “Don’t worry I have the antibodies,” he loves to counter it with, “The antibodies don’t last forever.” Buzzkill!

Back to the apps, as mentioned, not great on them. It’s hard for me to pull the trigger. I wind up telling people they’re hot and never meeting face-to-face. So, conundrum! Can’t pick up a stranger in a bar, can’t pick them up online. What is Robby to do? I’m youngish, not a troll, I should be hooking up. The other night a housemate knocked on my door asking to borrow lube. I didn’t even have any to give him. And not because I ran out. Because I have no reason to buy any. If that is not the saddest sentence I ever wrote.

Enough is enough. Time to get back on the horse. 

Leaving Poodle beach one afternoon, I decided to bike through town and walk around. Bought a book and decided I was thirsty and hungry. I sat in the Biergarten at Purple Parrot and discovered it’s their happy hour! My favorite hours! I ordered a drink and my bartender asked if I wanted food. I was craving chicken fingers (a Robby fave), so I asked for them and he said they aren’t on the menu but they have them. I then notice another bartender, very cute – well, cute with a mask on – mask cute. 

While the other bartender was taking care of me, “new hot bartender” asked how my day was. He was being nice, personable – a bartender. I, living in my own rom-com, wondered if this was flirting. Throughout my meal,  I needed to get some water so I went up to the bar and he asked me what I was reading. Do I need to go buy lube?

At the end of my meal, with some liquid courage, I felt like I might ask him his name as I asked for my check. “Which table are you at again?” he asked. I point to the table, he brings up my check. “Kid’s chicken fingers, three vodka sodas? Is this you?” 

Yep, that is me. Kid’s chicken fingers. Three vodka sodas. Good title for my memoir.

“Dude. Best check ever,” Hot Bartender laughed and smiled, “Have a good one.”

And with that, dude (me) and my antibodies paid the bill and biked home. No one is hooking up with kid’s chicken fingers. Hey Netflix, you ready for some Robby time tonight?

(this column was edited by Debbie Rech)