Has the Pines Seen its Day?

Lewd Lea’s mike gets cut off; Eartha continues purring; free college tuition

Memorial Day weekend found me succumbing to the promise of fab weather and joining the endless Friday traffic snarl to Fire Island. I basked in the graciousness of my hosts, Anthony Russo and Phillip Sleep, who lovingly organized a Leona Maricle film fest for me––look her up!––but, as regards the neighborhood, must report a certain feeling of faded glory, which I pray is only temporary.

I guess certain improvements are underfoot, for there’s exposed, lethal-looking electric cable everywhere. My favorite spot, that idyllic end of the dock in Pines harbor, is inaccessible, due to the construction of a new, steel dock (the cost of which, some say, will bankrupt the community). The boardwalks are ever shabbier and those big beach houses, which once seemed the very cutting edge of minimalist chic in the ‘70s, now look kinda ramshackle. (Maybe paint would help.)

And there are too many blasted kids! Toddlers seem to have now replaced Vuitton and King Charles spaniels as the perfect accessory, and I was horrified to see two little girls enjoying their Shirley Temples, or whatever, at the bar of the Sip & Twirl. Strollers threatened to turn Fire Island Boulevard into Columbus Avenue. I can sadly see it all now––the Meatrack, perhaps the last place on earth where gay men can al fresco without fear of arrest, will be cleaned up for kiddie picnics. It’s enough to make me want to sic those two avowed baby bashers, Jackie Hoffman and Lypsinka, on ‘em all!

If the Pines didn’t have this vaunted reputation for chic—Robin Byrd! Tommy Tune! Hal Rubenstein!––it wouldn’t be so bad. Funky Cherry Grove chugs alongside, with its happy dykes, drunken Long Guyland day-trippers and appalling fashion sense (you can always find a fringed beaded T-shirt there). But the lack of pretense, along with the raffish ambiance of its funky shacks that still evoke Paul Cadmus’ halcyon days, has an undeniable haimische charm. Curtis Strohl and Jack Quinn, publisher of Theatrescene, hosted a meet-the-neighbors cocktail party that was a delightful mix of characters, including Barbara Levy, owner of her eponymous gallery, and Bob Levine, longtime Fire Island Tide scribe.

While aux Pines, I heard that singer/comedian Lea DeLaria was in the middle of a ruckus recently in Palm Springs, while performing at “Evening Under the Stars,” the annual benefit for the AIDS Assistance Program. Reportedly, claiming she was “so vulgar,” organizers turned off her mike in mid-performance, causing a co-chairman, Mark Anton, to come onstage and apologize for her act. The organization subsequently sent out a letter of apology to the attendees “for the inappropriate and totally unexpected comments which were made during the event by one of our performers––she was only contracted to perform as a singer.”

DeLaria hosted, quite delightfully, the Lambda Literary Awards at the CUNY Graduate Center on June 2 and wanted to set the record straight: “That’s how they’re trying to spin it, that I was so vulgar. The truth is, I got up and started bashing Bush, and this family, who were big sponsors of the event, said they would pull all their backing if I continued. So they turned off my mike. They said 1,500 people walked out, but that was because they did that, not because of any anti-Bush statements. It’s sad that even the gay community seems all too eager to jump on the bandwagon and spread this shit they put out about me.”

DeLaria’s explanation came before a somewhat more sympathetic audience, and included her Palm Springs references to the Bush twins and how, as loathsome as they are, she’d “still fuck ‘em, and Laura, too!” Undeniably vulgar, but hey, that’s Lea, and if you prefer, hire Kristin Chenoweth!

Writer Blanche Wiesen Cookereceived a Pioneer Award from Lambda Literary and amusingly evoked the name of Jo Carstairs, the legendary butch dyke millionairess who was Marlene Dietrich’s lover: “I once asked her to dance with me and she said, ‘Two butches dancing together? That’s disgusting!’” She then joined DeLaria for a quick turn around the stage.

“I hope you’re having as good a time as I am up here,” purred the ageless Eartha Kitt at her Café Carlyle gig on May 31. It was, in effect, something of a self-deprecating apology, for, as her daughter Kit told me afterwards, “She was so nervous tonight. She hasn’t performed in New York for a while, and the last time was at BB King’s for New Year’s Eve.”

Swathed in burgundy velvet, slit up to there, she was the Eternal Catwoman to the nines, with all nine lives and personalities flying in the most eclectic cabaret act I’ve ever seen. It took her a while to settle down and sing a song straight through sans interruption or her habit of staring deadpan at the nearest male audience member.

But once she did settle down, she wove real magic. I’ve always felt her musicality has been woefully under-appreciated in the easy clamor over her vampy, purring ways. I heard of one group of tuxedoed queens at her recent Mohegan Sun appearance donned cat ears just as she came out––yawn. I’ve been obsessed by her ever since watching a Mike Douglas show as a kid, when this apparition came on and indignantly shrieked “Little White Lies,” shattering the complacency of daytime television for me forever.

Kitt’s voice remains a now liltingly girlish, now basso profundo miracle, especially effective during a marathon medley of “La Vie En Rose/Lilac Wine/What Is This Thing Called Love?/If You Go Away.” She professed to be too old––at 78––and tired of doing her standards, like “I Want to Be Evil,” and, indeed, seemed to toss them away. (“Only because you request them.”) She still moves like a dream, whether undulating to one of the many seductive Turkish interludes she has traditionally peppered her act with, or bopping to a hilarious rendition of “Come On-a My House,” in Japanese, that will probably be the camp highlight of 2005.

The Italians really seem to be making the best films these days and “Caterina in the Big City” (Landmark Sunshine Cinema) is another one you shouldn’t miss. It’s a marvelous, beautifully acted coming-of-age story about a girl who moves to Rome with her family, and how her desperately ambitious, misfit dad tries to use the friends she makes in school to further his own literary ambitions. These friends are polar opposites––a sapphic, left-leaning rebel and the spoiled fascistic princess-daughter of a high-ranking minister. Their contrasting worlds, as well as the Eternal City itself, are dissected with wit and warmth.

Last, I want to make mention of a wonderful event I attended, The Butterfly Awards, at B.B. Kings on May 16, benefiting Bari Zahn’s Living Beyond Belief non-profit, which fosters AIDS education and awareness among youth. Five college grants were awarded to local high school seniors involved with the program—Constance Barry, Whitney Brown, Kawanny Cato, Alexandra Friedman, Dionne Toussaint and Nairobi Shellow. Kim Cea was her wonderfully raunchy self, doing hostess duty, and the whole place rocked, packed with eye candy, like Jai Rodriguez and José Llana, who currently has uncontrollable erection problems in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

Contact David Noh at Inthenoh@aol.com.

Jack Van Antwerp

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