Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Divas Amongst Us

There’s an epidemic of ego inflation taking over the land. It seems that everyone believes that he or she is a diva and that the rest of us are mere peons. You probably know a few divas yourself. Most likely there are some in your list of Facebook “friends”. Worse, you may have to deal with a diva or two in the real world – you know, that place where people see and talk to each other without the insulating medium of a computer screen.

There are real Divas, of course. The word originally referred to female opera stars and came to include stars in the other performing arts. It derives from an Italian word that basically means goddess. It has roughly the same meaning as prima donna (literally “first lady”) which designates the leading female singer in an opera. Apparently opera stars had a reputation for being egotistical pains in the ass since this is what most of us think of when we hear the words prima donna or diva.

I suppose someone who has climbed to the pinnacle of stardom, someone who clearly has legendary talent and perseverance, has earned the right to be a bit of a pain in the ass. But the nouveau divas haven’t accomplished anything. They just like to think they are superior. I’m not talking about self-proclaimed divas that everyone has heard of – Kathy Griffin, for example. I’ll give them some credit for being spectacularly successful at self promotion.

The divas I’m trashing are the nearly unknown. They are common everyday people who play the role of diva for the small circle of acquaintances who are willing to indulge them. They are the ones who say this kind of nonsense:

 “I would never stay at a hotel that didn’t have a complimentary bottle of champagne on ice waiting in my room!”

“I’ll never use that car service again. They didn’t show up on time and I had to take the subway! It was horrible. Some of those awful people brushed against me. As soon as I got home, I threw my clothes down the incinerator.”

“It’s getting to the point where I can’t go to the clubs anymore. All the bartenders absolutely insist on giving me free cocktails and, darling, there’s a limit to how many Martinis even I can handle.”

It’s easy enough to understand why people get seduced into playing the role of diva; I’ve even lapsed into it myself a few times. We’d all like to have the life of a mega-star with millions of fans who would die to have our fabulous life. What I can’t understand is why otherwise ordinary people encourage this behavior by playing the role of adoring fan. They are the ones who reply to the diva’s absurd prattle with one of the many variations of “you poor thing, you deserve so much better,” or “I wish my life was as fabulous as yours.” Why do they play the fool to prop up some undeserving ego? Are they so starved for friendship that they are willing to subordinate themselves to some boorish person who will cast them aside the moment they fail to genuflect in the diva’s presence?

Strictly speaking a male diva is a divo. But since most male divas are gay men with a lot of affectations, it’s probably alright to call them divas. They will argue that playing the part of diva is innocent fun. It’s just an extension of the camp. They will claim that gay men have always loved their camp icons from the classics – Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand – to the contemporaries such as Lady GaGa and the previously mentioned Griffin.

But unlike the divas of pop culture, the army of recent unknown divas haven’t done anything of note. They want to bask in the glory without having given us anything in return. At some point innocent fun deteriorates into self indulgent tedium and there is already an abundance of tedium in our lives. Do yourself and the world a favor: stop feeding the divas.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On the Island

Bruce Vilanch boarded the same ferry to Fire Island Pines that I caught. He was slated to host the Fire Island Dance Festival. New Yorkers never embarrass the celebrities who live amongst us and who we pass on the streets every day so I resisted the urge to take his picture or ask for an autograph. I did dare to crack a little joke. I told him that the upper deck was reserved for first class passengers. He quipped right back at me, “Believe me, this is a downgrade.”

You can only get to Fire Island by boat – the ferry, private boat, or, if you unfortunately miss the last ferry at night, by very expensive water taxi. There are no cars or roads on the island. Instead there are boardwalks. Not the usual beach front boardwalk found in most resorts, but a network of intersecting walkways with names like Neptune Walk, Tuna Walk, and Black Duck Walk.

Our house is on Ozone. It is just one house in from the ocean but fortunately the house in front of us is one of the last remaining single story ranchers left on the beach. The rest have all been replaced by multi-story contemporary mansions. We have a clear view of the beach and beyond from our deck.

There are nine of us sharing the house, ranging in age from 20-something to, well, me. I tend to be the oldest member of the groups I find myself in. I am also the only retired member of the house.  We gather for up to a week once each month. Two of the guys are spending the entire summer on the island. I think I would be bored to tears spending that much time there. By accident, we have turned out to be a rather compatible group and there has been only minor drama in the house so far.

Ours is a hard drinking crowd. They arrive Friday evening tied in knots from the stress of their demanding jobs in the city. The vodka begins to flow immediately and keeps flowing for the duration. By Saturday afternoon everyone is pretty mellow.

There is a regular daily pattern at the Pines. Mornings are quiet, usually spent sipping coffee on the deck. Some of the guys hover over their laptops doing mysterious work. Afternoons are for the beach and perhaps a nap. Later we have cocktails and hors d'oeuvres and perhaps a soak in the hot tub. Around 6 PM a series of “teas” begin. Low Tea at the Blue Whale with dancing inside and mingling over expensive cocktails on the harbor deck waving hello and goodbye as the ferry comes and goes. Then High Tea in the upstairs room of the Pavilion where the DJ plays the same music as Low Tea and the seemingly identical shirtless bartenders serve the same expensive cocktails. More waving to the ferry. There is a Middle Tea somewhere but I’m not sure where.

Around 9:30 everyone drifts back to the house for dinner. We take turns providing and preparing meals. There is no formal plan but it seems to work out by itself and we have some amazingly good dinners. After dinner some of us head out for nighttime revelry. I rarely join.

Conversations on the beach tend to be influenced by the abundance of scantily clad men sitting nearby or walking along the front. Periodically one of us will announce a particularly hot guy is passing and most of us will look at the intended object but a few of us will invariably look at someone else. There is, thank god, some variation in our tastes.

So it happened that the other day we were having cocktails on the beach and discussing relationships. Our youngest member declared that in a perfect world he would have a dedicated lover who would rarely demand sex, a hot sex buddy who would rarely demand anything else, and that he would still be free to whore around with whomever he wanted. This was greeted with both enthusiasm and derision and we soon found ourselves in a sloppy debate about the meaning of words such as love, romance and lust. As with all beach conversations, it sputtered and faded out as a group of particularly hot men came into view.

I could stay the whole week if I wanted. But by Tuesday, I’m itchy to do something, anything, rather than lounge all day on an island that is cut off from the world – an island that lives by its own rules and on its own schedule. I miss my cat, I miss the rumbling of the elevated train at the end of my street, I miss supermarkets. When I announce that I am catching the noon ferry back to reality, my housemates are mystified. Why should the only man who doesn’t have to get back to a job want to leave? Maybe it’s precisely because I don’t have to go that I want to. Next month I may stay longer. Maybe the whole week. Maybe I’ll fall in love and never leave. All I know for sure is that I don’t want any vodka today.

Please let me know your thoughts. Click "Comments" below.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rain Delay

I love Penelope Pop Up and I think my cat Osito does too. We have spent 10 of the last 14 days camped in the Poconos but the weather has not been very cooperative. During the first few days the temperature was well over 95 by afternoon and not much cooler overnight. Now we are in a rain delay.

One of the drawbacks of a pop up camper trailer is that you are not supposed to fold it up when it is wet. If you have no choice and you must pack up and leave on a rainy day then it is essential that you open it back up to dry out as soon as possible. If not, mildew and mold will set in and I’m told it’s almost impossible to get rid of. So you break camp, fold up the pop up, drive home and the next day you go out to your driveway and open it back up for a good airing.

Fine, except I don’t have a driveway. There’s no way I can bring Penelope back to New York City so I store it in a field in the Poconos. I have two options: put it in the field today, make an overnight roundtrip to New York and return to the Poconos tomorrow to air it out or stay put until the weather changes. So we stay in the campground another day. In the rain.

I’m lucky that I am able to stay here. Other than rescheduling a doctor’s appointment, there is nothing that compels me to return to the City. Such is the freedom of retirement. Strictly speaking, I’m not retired. Not quite yet. It would be more accurate to say I am permanently unemployed and burning through the savings that are supposed to sustain me later in life. I guess I’ll deal with that issue some other time. Right now I’m just happy that I can hang out with my cat in my new popup for as long as I want or need to.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Penelope's Inaugural Trip

I love camping but I finally decided my days in a tent were over. Too much crawling around on the ground. So I bought a new-to-me pop up camper trailer. I named it Penelope PUP (as in Pop Up) after one of my beloved pet cats who passed away in 2006. Since I was in naming mode, I also christened my pickup truck as Ranger Rudy, in honor of another pet who is no longer with me. I stole the idea of using Ranger in the name from a friend who named his truck Ranger Rick. I don’t feel bad about copying because he bought a Ford Ranger after he saw mine and fell in love with it.

After towing a trailer for the first time (from eastern Long Island to the Poconos), and after somewhat successfully figuring out how to back it up, I am now on a week long inaugural camping trip. Unfortunately it is 98 in the shade. The thought of doing anything outside is absurd. Fortunately the pop up has air conditioning. So I am “camping” inside my pop up with the AC running and looking out at the parched grass and the heat waves rising up from the roadway.

At least I have music, videos and internet. Thank you Mr. Laptop and Mr. Droid. Through some magic called tethering, I am able to access the internet on my laptop through my cell phone’s data connection. Not to mention a refrigerator to keep the beer cold, a microwave if I ever get hungry, running water, and a few other perks. Isn’t technology grand?

This isn’t just the inauguration of Penelope PUP though. It is also the first time my cat Osito has gone camping. When we first arrived he shrieked for 20 minutes to express his disapproval of being forced into a new domain. Then he looked out the window and saw Nature! Not the usual pigeons on the phone pole and the potted plants on my balcony back in the city, but real honest to goodness trees and birds and chipmunks and all matter of walking, crawling, flying and slithering creatures. Now he is loving it here.

Yet another first this morning. Osito’s first time outdoors on a leash. I spent the past few weeks trying to acclimate him to wearing a harness. I wanted to be able to let him sit outside with me without fear of him wandering off or chasing some critter into the woods. He had an unexpected reaction to wearing the harness; he just plopped on his side, convinced that he was unable to walk. Well, so much the better. The leash wouldn’t even be necessary.

But this morning I harnessed him up, took him outside, and for the first time attached a rope. He forgot all about not being able to walk. Look at all this Nature! He spent the entire session straining at the end of the rope to explore further and further. After 15 minutes we retreated to the air conditioned pop up. It’s just too bloody hot for all this.

Now exhausted from all the excitement, Osito is sleeping. Maybe I’ll do the same.