A few years ago, I did this short film for my friends Megan and Patrick Heyn for FunnyorDie.com. It’s the press junket to a fake movie called The Kite Man. Megan plays a Lindsay Lohan-type actress trying to break out into her first adult role, Drew Droege is the The Kite Man‘s director, Kristin Wheatley is the Maria Menounos-like E! interviewer and I play, well, you’ll see. If you only know me from this blog, you might think I am a very serious person. I just wanted to post this to show I have a mirthful side, too. So watch and vote FUNNY! (NSFW)
A couple nights ago, I was curled up on my couch, reading a John Cheever short story. Sadly, every few passages, I would lay down the book, pick up my phone and check my Facebook and more importantly, the stats page on my blog, this blog, easilycrestfallen.com. I thoroughly enjoyed the story about a midwestern writer with some delusions about his writing talents. It rang true because here I was reading a Cheever masterpiece and I kept setting it aside to see what people on the internet might be saying about, well, you know where this is headed.
So yesterday, I was talking to my friend Eboni about how I feel like I’m slipping into a rabbit hole and I don’t know how to get out. She suggested I take a one week break from Facebook, Twitter and most importantly, checking the stats page on my blog, this blog easilycrestfallen.com. When she suggested it, I told her she was cruel to even suggest it, it would be like 7 days without a heartbeat, it would kill me. “Do you know how much LIVING goes on on Facebook in a week’s time?” I might have said. I countered with, “24 hours”, she guffawed. I whispered, “Forty eight hours?” She told me I was going to do whatever I wanted anyway. So, we and by we, I mean I decided that I would take a 48 hour break from Facebook, Twitter and checking those damn stats. She did say I could continue to post to my blog. Actually, that’s the point. Unlike every other time I post something, I won’t be able to immediately run to my stats page or see how many “likes” I’ve received on Facebook. In fact, it will be 48 hours (well, 39 hours and 28 minutes now: I started my sabbatical last night) before I know how my little offering will be received by the masses. I feel like an old-time writer again, like John Cheever even. And don’t be too judgemental about me. Trust me when I say that Cheever was even more of a narcissist than I am.
So, something interesting happened after I posted one of my recents blogs, The Truth about Paul which I’d written about an incident that took place while I was in Bible College. I was kind of proud of it and yesterday morning, I thought I would send it to the gay news website, Towleroad.com. I did not have a lot of expectations, I just thought, just send the link, who knows what could happen.
I could lie to you and say that I completely forgot about sending it, but the truth is, all morning, I kept checking the statistics on my blog. If you are a blogger, you know about statistics pages. They tell you how many views you’ve received, which of your posts are getting the most traffic, what countries are viewing you, what links led people to you blog, etc., etc. If you are a blogger, I hope you are a more rational, less obsessive compulsive individual than myself. Because I am obsessed with my stats page.
When I started this blog a few weeks ago, I told myself the blog was for me. I wanted to write about the subjects and post the pictures and videos that appealed to me, what I would want to read if I was reading a blog. That’s what I told myself. And I’ve been pleased with the following my little blog has collected along the way. I’ve received some nice compliments, I’ve interacted with a few members of the wordpress blog community. I’ve also felt a pride that I’ve been writing. I am not the greatest writer and I think of myself as an even worse editor, but I’ve started to see possibilities in my writing that I had not seen previously.
Anyway, getting back to yesterday. At one point in the morning, I checked my stats and I had 115 views, which is good for me. Anything over 100 is always good. I knew that that traffic came from my friend Alan who has 2,373 friends on facebook who had reposted the piece with a kind endorsement. Alan is one of those special people who remembers meeting every person who comes into his path, kind of like Marilu Henner, but likeable. Anyway, at about 11:00 am, I had 115 views and then at 11:15, I checked again and I had 345. Something was up. I went to the Towleroad website and sure enough, they had pasted a link to my blog in an article about Daniel Dobson, the man who was the springboard for my post. : “Daniel Dobson, son of prominent West Michigan minister, talks about being a gay Christian. “It’s morally right for me to do it. I feel I have something good to contribute to the conversation, something positive.” Blogger Ray Barnhart offers a response to Dobson’s disclosure.” ( http://www.towleroad.com/2013/05/news-20.html#ixzz2V10D0hBt) They referred to me as BLOGGER RAY BARNHART!
I was so excited and of course, I spent the rest of the day checking my stats every 6 seconds. It kept ticking up until it petered out this afternoon. In 24 hours, my blog had 1400 views, an easilycrestfallen record. I can now say that someone in Iceland has read my blog. (Þakka þér, nýja vini!) It was exhilerating, then exhausting and then it gave way to depressing. It was this little bright spot in my day, my year actually. And now I feel the way I always felt on the Sunday after my town’s yearly Fall festival, Neewollah ended. The carnival came, we ate the jaffles, we crowned the queen, we listened to the Oak Ridge Boys, and now it’s over. I guess I should be happier, but there are reasons why I call my blog easilycrestfallen.
If I’m lucky, every morning I start my day with a swim. About four years ago, I joined a gym with access to an outdoor pool and ever since, swimming has been a regular part of my life. Because I swim, I tend to have a bit of a tan year round and at least once a day, someone will ask me where I got my tan. I’ll tell them I swim regularly and they will always respond, “Oh, I loooove swimming.” It amazes me how every time I start my first lap, I instantly feel like a child again. I’m not a doctor or scientist, (insert best joke here) but I believe we love to swim because it subconciously reminds us of swimming in our mother’s bellies as fetuses. Feel free to quote me on that.
The other reason I think we love swimming is that it’s sensual. This blog adheres to a strict PG-13 guideline so I won’t elaborate too much further, but swimming is sexy. People with attractive bodies look hot in swimsuits.
I’ve compiled an album of swimming pools, please peruse, comment, if you feel compelled. Summer’s here, it’s time to dive into the pool!
When I was 22, I bought my first piece of “art” at a flea market while visiting Orange County, California on vacation. It was a print of Gottfried Helnwein’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Proudly, I carted the framed print back to my small Missouri town and hung it prominently on the living room wall in my apartment. Every morning when I woke up and walked into the living room, I gazed happily at my purchase. I’d look at the images of Marilyn and James Dean and Elvis and Bogart, trying to understand something great about art and myself. I loved the picture because it reminded me of a painting I loved called Nighthawks that was one of the works of art in the childhood board game, Masterpiece.
Somewhere between 1990 and now, I did become a little more sophisticated in my relationship with art, though I will never be an art historian or expert. I moved to New York in 1992 and spent a lot of time going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art and other New York museums where I discovered the works of American realist Edward Hopper with my own eyes. For the longest time, I would tell people that Hopper was my favorite artist. There is an exhibit that just opened at the Whitney, the first major museum exhibition to focus on his drawings and creative process. In the last few years, it seems like Hopper is more popular than ever and I believe what makes him so beloved is the fact that anyone can look at a Hopper painting and be moved by it. He evokes childhood, he evokes a simpler time. His subjects are lonely, staring into space or their cup of coffee. We relate to his art. When I lived in New York, I would go to the 24 hour donut shop on my corner and I felt like I was living Nighthawks. When I look at the gentleman at his gas pump in Gas, I think of my father who owned gas stations when I was growing up. The few times I worked an office job, I spent way too much time daydreaming like the man in Office in a Small City. Even now, when I walk into an old theatre, I think about the lonely girl standing at the rear in New York Movie. Art is subjective, thank goodness, but Hopper is, in my humble opinion, among the most universal of artists.
Now that I am a little older, I think of Edward Hopper a little differently. I still count him among my favorites, but I always think of him as the first painter I really loved, the first one who I felt like he was painting just for me. When I look at the paintings of other artists I now gravitate to, like John Sloan, or Winslow Homer, or George Bellows, or Thomas Eakins, or John Koch, there is almost always a recognition that I love them because they remind me a little of Hopper. My apartment walls no longer boast mass market prints, but rather paintings and photographs that Eric and I have collected through the years. Some were collected at yard sales. Some were gifts. And many remind me of the works of Edward Hopper. It makes sense, because, of course, you never forget your first.
“You give them a good product, good service,” said Levkovitz, who has spent 50 of his 62 years in the deli business. “They come in, and over a period of years they feel at home. They live by themselves. If they went to other restaurants, they’re strangers. Here, they’re friends.”
The quote above is from an 1986 L.A. Times article about Langer’s Deli. The man speaking was Art Levkovitz who worked there for over 25 years. After he “retired”, he went to work at a restaurant named Barney Greengrass and that is how I had the privilege of knowing him. He passed away two years ago at 86 on May 24, 2011. This morning I woke up thinking about him and his funeral which took place on the Sunday of Memorial weekend of that year. I still work at Barney Greengrass and even now someone every day will ask about Art or tell us how much they miss Art. Sometimes people offer stories about him, sometimes people get a little teary talking about him. There are a few things that always make me think of him. I have an orange Oxford shirt that once, when I was a little portlier, I wore it and 6 times that day he told me I looked like a jack-o-lantern. I’ve never worn the shirt since. I also think about, crave actually, his kippered salmon salad. I know the ingredients: kippered salmon, red onion, celery, fresh dill, tabasco, lime juice, mayonnaise, but I will never know the exact recipe, the increments, that made it so delicious. My other thing that I think about when I think about Art is how he always asked me how my parents were doing. If you knew Art even a little, you knew his love for his family was at the heart of who he was. He was always bragging about his son and daughter and grandson. And you heard it in his voice every time he called his wife “sweetie” when he talked to her on the phone from work.
I have had a few friends over the years who have asked me when I was going to grow up and stop working in restaurants. And by the way, if you are reading this and you were one of the people who asked me that and you’re wondering if I forgot when you asked me that, No, I have not forgotten you asking me that. There is something inherently theatrical about working in a restaurant. People don’t just go to a restaurant for delicious food, they come in for the experience. Art understood that.
I don’t know how long I will work in restaurants. I wonder about it, sometimes I worry about it. But when I think about Art and the legacy he left and the way he touched people’s lives in the decades he spent working in this field, I do feel like I’m in good company.
They say that anything is possible. An example of this is that one of Bravo’s Real Housewives led me to one of my favorite authors. In early 2012, when I read that someone named Carole Radziwill was going to be one of the new Real Housewives of New York, I picked up her book, What Remains, a New York Times bestseller about her husband and their friendship with his cousin, JFK Jr. and JFK Jr’s wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy. I was moved by her well-written account of love and loss. She wrote in the book about another book Manhattan, When I was Young and how it was a comfort to her during a troubling time. Talking me into reading a book about New York City is about as difficult as talking me into eating chocolate cake for breakfast. So, I read it. The author, Mary Cantwell, broke the book into five different parts, the five different apartments she lived in when she first moved to Manhattan in the 1950’s, first as an unmarried college graduate with a new job into her first years of marriage and early motherhood in the 1960’s. The book is about her husband and children and jobs, but centrally it’s about a stranger coming to New York and finding their place. I loved it. And then I read her other books, American Girl: Scenes from a Small-Town Childhood and Speaking with Strangers: A Memoir. All three are currently available as a trilogy called Manhattan Memoir. I read all three in the span of a few days and they are wonderful. The first is about her childhood, the third is largely about her daughters and travels writing for Mademoiselle and Vogue. But her second is the one that touched me most. While I was reading it, I google earthed every address she talked about in the book. Of course, every building is still there. And it wasn’t hard to imagine a twenty-something moving to New York, a heart full of dreams, making their way with successes and failures in the big city. She reminded me of Peggy from Mad Men, but she also reminded me of someone else I know even better.
There are two things that I have not fully recovered from: 1. Oprah retiring from her talk show and 2. me not winning the lottery this weekend. At work last week, we pooled our funds and bought Powerball tickets and Saturday was electric with the possibility that we would all be millionaires by 8:01 pm PST. We did not win, but we laughed a lot, speculating how we’d spend our money.
Who doesn’t love to give a gift? Oprah did and her favorite things episodes were among her most popular every year. Well, I’m not a millionaire and I do not have a talk show, but for a few minutes let’s pretend. These are my favorite things! Would that I could, they’d be coming to you in a big gift basket tomorrow morning!
1. Magnolia Bakery Chocolate Cake. Best chocolate frosting ever! The cupcakes are good, but a slice of the cake is better!
2. A case of Piper Sonoma sparkling wine. There are people that will never be able to look at a bottle of Piper Sonoma without thinking of me. It’s my go-to bubble for nearly any occasion. I could have sent you a bottle of Dom or a case of this. I figured if I send you a case, you HAVE to throw a party!
3. Levi’s 501 Shrink to Fits. My trademark dungaree since 1982.
4. Pepperoni from Claro’s Italian Market. The best! And yes, there is a vegetarian option: Olive Muffaletta.
5. Damon’s Gift Card. There is a tiki steakhouse in Glendale, CA that is frozen in 1978. They have the most delicious mai-tai’s in the world (I’ve done the fact-checking) and the prime rib’s pretty great, too.
6. Sirius Satellite Radio. When I bought my most recent car, it came with Sirius for free for three months. Now I can’t imagine not having it. And I love starting my morning listening to Frank DeCaro and Doria Biddle!
7. Four Plays by William Inge. Self-explanatory.
8. Subscription to Sunset magazine. For the little old lady in all of us.
9. A basket of popovers and strawberry butter from Popover Cafe.
I did a storytelling show last night and that means I spent the entire previous evening trolling around youtube instead of working on my set. I saw something on Kristin Chenoweth’s twitter page (don’t judge) that linked to this video of Dixie Carter as Julia Sugarbaker chewing out a beauty queen who disrespected her sister Suzanne on Designing Women. If you are of a certain demographic, you know this clip well. At least, you should know this clip well. I saw Dixie Carter at Bed, Bath and Beyond once. I wanted to offer her my extra 20% off coupon, but I was too shy. Anyway, this is one of her finest moments. It’s an episode that always resonated with me and judging from the 30 or so youtube videos of gay guys reenacting the scene, I’m not the only one.
A few days ago, my friend, “Susan” and I were discussing a mutual acquaintance. I said that I liked this person, but I said, “She’s just so desperate.” Susan chortled and said, “Well, I feel pretty desperate myself sometimes.” It kind of surprised me because I do not think of Susan as desperate. She is one of the most beloved people I know and I know she knows it. But her statement made me think a little about what desperation is and how we are all a little desperate. And if we are artists, I think we want to be desperate. Forgive me for being obsessed with William Inge, but so many times last weekend, I thought about how desperate Inge’s characters are. Lola in Come Back, Little Sheba is desperate to feel vital again. Hal in Picnic is desperate to find his way in the world. Elma in Bus Stop and Millie in Picnic are desperate to leave their small Kansas towns. Sammy in Dark at the Top of the Stairs is desperate to make friends. And of course, my favorite desperate Inge character is Rosemary Sidney who gets on her hands and knees begging her boyfriend to marry her because the thought of another year as an unmarried schoolteacher living in a rented room is too much for her to bear. I’ve seen the scene in skilled hands and less skilled hands, but every time I’m moved to tears by the, well, the desperation. And I think about how desperate William Inge was . One of the interviews from the Saturday night program included one with a niece who recounted a conversation she’d had with Inge where he told her his life had been a failure. This is a man who won an Oscar, a Pulitzer and wrote four of the most successful, profitable, beloved plays of the 1950s. Perhaps he always had a voice telling him he was a failure and that made him desperate to create the characters and stories that touched our lives so deeply. In the last couple weeks, I’ve thought so much about why I’ve started this blog. It’s fun to get compliments and see which stories get the most traffic, but I also feel so vulnerable at times, even foolish. I’ve had close friends make fun of the blog. Granted, there is something desperate about a 44 year old man plunking away on a keyboard, offering his hopes, revealing his shames. And I do feel like Rosemary. With every awkward sentence, I’m beseeching a reader who may or may not be reading this, “Marry me, Howard. Please, please marry me.” Here are Rosalind Russell and Arthur O’Connell in that scene from the original movie of Picnic.