Monday, December 31, 2007

Dear Internets,

It's been an exciting year, hasn't it? It was the year everyone in my family moved into new houses. It was the year I moved in with a boyfriend and soon converted him to a fiancé. It was the year of holy shit Christmas is already behind us and I still haven't started my Christmas letter. It was the year Sweeney Todd finally became a movie.

Speaking of, did I mention we saw it on opening night? (Did I mention that the friends we went with knew a secret place to have our parking reduced from $32 down to only $6? BONUS!) Being Sweeney Todd freaks, we of course have all kinds of opinions about the movie—namely: we loved it but we didn't grow-white-forelocks-and-slit-our-own-throats-in-homage-to-Sondheim's-genius love it—but being generally exhausted, I'm not really in the mood to write about it just yet. So the two of you out there who are salivating for my review will probably have to wait a bit longer. Sorry. Have a nice meat pie while you wait.

In the mean time, I've been having fun with my scanner and my old photo albums. Because scanning doesn't require a lot of thinking. This weekend, I scanned through a decade of shows I'd been in. (Why? Because nostalgia is in. And because we finally unpacked the boxes that had my photo albums in them. And because scanning photos was more interesting than doing dishes.)

Here are some scans from my favorite show ever: Forever Plaid. I did the show at Theatre Cedar Rapids in late 1995, and it was such a smash hit that we brought it back five more times over the next three years. For the uninitiated, Forever Plaid tells the story of four nerdy crooners who were killed in a traffic accident on their way to their big breakout gig way back in the 1960s. Which makes it a comedy. But they get to come back to life one last time to perform the concert they never got to give. Which makes it a musical. The songs are packed with tight harmonies, and they're a bitch to sing. And the show was one of the most satisfying and exciting I've ever been in—if not for the material then for the way the four of us really clicked as singers and performers. Here's an early publicity shot, taken just as the first rehearsals were underway. Our costumes hadn't been made yet, so we borrowed plaid jackets from a nearby theater that had just closed the show:

Here's the publicity art we used once our show opened. It's the most kick-assed promotional material ever:

We even made promotional appearances around Cedar Rapids. Here we are at the grand re-opening of Younkers department store in scenic Lindale Mall. Coincidentally, I'd worked in this very Younkers when I was in high school. And I spent every paycheck I earned on the Generra fashions we carried. Some of which were plaid: And here we are in our dressing room on opening night. The plaid jackets don't figure into the show until near the end, which is why we start the show in white. And also because we're technically dead. Look closely and you'll see, though, that we do have matching plaid bowties and cummerbunds:
There's a movement afoot to have a Plaids reunion show in Cedar Rapids this July. One of us lives in Chicago and one of us lives in Hawaii now, though, so making it happen might be a bit of a challenge. Kind of like getting my dishes done. Or writing my Christmas letter. Stay tuned.

In the mean time, have a happy transition into 2008. See you on the other side!

Friday, December 28, 2007

The last Christmas meatball

He may not look so attractive in his little Tupperware coffin—especially next to that pile of meatball schmutz in the corner—but he was as delicious out of the microwave today as the day he first came out of the oven. And he and his little dead brethren have given me a week of holiday-fancy leftovers for lunch.

Now I'm on a strict diet of low-sodium soup, steamed broccoli and pre-cooked chicken breasts. Because three weeks from today we leave on an Atlantis cruise through the Caribbean. There will be sunshine. There will be swimsuits. There will be the disdainful smirks of gay men. So there will be very few sweets or fats between now and when we return to port on the 26th.

Then all bets are off.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

ChicagoRound: The Chicago River at Night

I took this picture last night from the LaSalle Street bridge facing east toward the lake. Wacker Drive separates the river from the buildings on the right, but the buildings on the left butt up right to the river with only a small public river walk separating them from the water.

The Chicago River originally flowed into Lake Michigan, but as Chicago exploded in size in the 19th century, the river became a dumping ground for garbage and sewage—especially from the city's massive slaughterhouses. The pollution moved directly into the lake, contaminating the city's fresh water supply and creating severe threats to public health. In 1900, the Sanitary District of Chicago managed to reverse the flow of the river in a remarkable feat of engineering and sheer willpower. While the change stopped the pollution of Lake Michigan, the river continued to be a dumping ground all the way up to 1990, when a cleaning and beautification initiative by Mayor Daley made the river the appealing attraction it is today.

Because the bridges that cross the river are built as flexible bascules that raise and lower to allow boats to pass underneath, they actually bounce when traffic crosses them. So it was impossible for me to get a clear picture of the view last night as I stood on the bridge with cars and buses rumbling past me. But I think the blurry effect is kind of cool.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

How to be a Christmas tool

Say "Merry Christmas ... if I'm still allowed to say that."

Seriously. Are the three of you who actually parroted these exact words to me over the holidays (do you all get mailed a script from the home office or something?) so insecure in your religious convictions that you honestly need permission to express them? Or is your passive-aggressive sarcasm rooted more in the fact that the culture of freedom that allows you to choose any religious beliefs you want also allows other people to choose religious beliefs that are different from yours and you're too solipsistic to live with that?

And while I'm on my self-righteous high horse here, if you're going to record "Angels We Have Heard on High" on a Christmas album that's going to be played in every freakin' mall and on every freakin' radio station for two months solid, learn how to freakin' pronounce excelsis.

Speaking of religious Christmas music, I overwhelmingly prefer it to that secular stuff. Which I realize is an odd conviction for someone of my religious beliefs. Or lack thereof. But seriously. Whom would you put your money on in a carol smackdown: "O Holy Night" or "Jingle Bell Rock"?

Then again, I spent the holidays in Iowa, home of the Dangerously White Christmas. And after shoveling a few tons of snow off my car and out of my folks' driveway, I got a dull, persistent pain in my lower back that would handicap me against Carol Brady in a smackdown. Of course, she got her voice back just in time to sing "O Holy Night" simply because that was Cindy's only wish for Christmas, and all I wished for this year was a set of ramekins and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross' The Hottest New Group in Jazz on CD, which I grooved to all the way home today.

But not before I seriously grooved to a whole truckload of the aforementioned religious Christmas carols at my folks' church. Every Christmas Eve I stand in as an emergency pinch-singer to help replace the adult choir members who are away for the holidays, and I get to sit in the balcony surrounded by rumbling organ pipes and a mighty five-piece brass ensemble and a wall of voices and we all belt out carols in full harmony with the occasional descants dancing above us and believe me we're not singing any of that crappy stuff about Santa and Rudolph and and chestnuts and rockin' around the Christmas tree but the real stuff that was written when music was music and there's a reason it's endured for centuries and we always end in "Silent Night" and at the start of the final verse the lights go way down and the organ drops out and the entire congregation keeps singing in improvised a cappella harmonies by the flickerings of hundreds of candles and it's just about as perfect as anything you can imagine.

Except for the choir robes. I hate the choir robes. I was not made to wear polyester, see, and I simply don't look good in a mother-of-the-bride silhouette. But merlot tends to be a flattering color on me, I guess. Here's a surreptitious cell-phone pic that I took in front of the Christmas mural in the kids' education wing of the church. And aside from the forehead wrinkles and the cookie blubber conveniently hidden under voluminous cascades of merlot polyester that's been ruched at the shoulders for structure, you can see I did indeed have a Merry Christmas:

Sunday, December 23, 2007

And are you beautiful and pale

with yellow hair, like frosting?

(I went out of my way to give all the angel cookies little yellow bouffants just so I could make a post that combined my three favorite things: pastries, Sondheim and vile puns. But I didn't make the frosting yellow enough to register in a blurry camera-phone picture. So the joke is totally lost. And I've already eaten all the cookies, so I can't re-frost and re-photograph them. They were delicious, by the way. You might say I was buried sweetly in their yellow hair.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Grandma's Christmas Cookies

We mixed, rolled, cut, baked, frosted and sprinkled 100 of them today. I predict they won't last through Sunday.

See for yourself how delicious they are:

2/3 cup margarine (1 stick and 3 tablespoons) – we prefer Imperial
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel or orange juice
2 cups flour (we prefer Gold Medal)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons milk

Cream margarine and sugar. Add egg and beat well. Add vanilla and orange. Sift dry ingredients together. Alternate adding bits of the dry ingredients and the milk to the margarine/egg mixture, mixing thoroughly. It works best if you end with the dry ingredients.

Chill at least one hour. Roll as thin as you can and cut into your favorite cookie shapes. Flour your roller, roller cloth (if you have one) and cookie cutters often. Keep your extra dough cold.

Bake at 375º on an ungreased cookie sheet for 6–10 minutes. Don't let them get too brown. Cool on wire racks. Wash pans between bakings.

3/4 cup softened margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon (plus a little more) milk
1–2 cups powdered sugar

Mix margarine, vanilla and milk well. Sift in powdered sugar until you get a consistency thick enough to hold peaks. Add more milk if you go too far with the sugar. If you add food coloring, add a little more powdered sugar as well to keep the colored frosting from running.

Taste one. Try not to eat the whole batch.

ChicagoRound: Palmolive Building, 1936

This picture, which I lifted from the Chicago Tribune archives, looks like it was taken near North Avenue looking south toward North Michigan Avenue:

The shiny building in the center of the picture is Holabird & Root's iconic Palmolive Building, at the time one of the tallest skyscrapers in Chicago. It was built between 1927 and 1929 in high Art Deco style with soaring vertical lines, dramatic setbacks and a 97-foot tower topped by the Lindbergh Beacon, which could be seen all over the city and even by airplanes 225 miles away. The Arthur Rubloff Company renamed the burgeoning North Michigan Avenue shopping area the Magnificent Mile in the 1940s in an effort to brand it as a retail destination in consumers' minds. In 1967, the Palmolive Building was bought by Playboy magazine and became the Playboy Building. Two years later, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill built the John Hancock Center on the lot immediately behind the Playboy Building in this picture. At 1,127 feet, the Hancock Center dwarfed the once-mighty Playboy Building, and the beacon had to be turned off so it wouldn't shine directly into the Hancock's residential units. The building was rechristened the Palmolive Building in 2002 when it was converted to high-end condominiums and, of course, high-end retail shops.

Friday, December 21, 2007

These are my friends

I often wonder if Miriam and I would still be friends if she hadn’t been murdered.

We’d met the summer of 1988 at Darien Lake, an amusement park just south of Buffalo, New York. I was singing and dancing in the park’s extravagant 100-songs-in-30-minutes Broadway show, and Miriam was in the nearby open-air pop-music show. Both casts were extremely close that summer—ten of us even ended up living together in a tiny hippie commune of an apartment with one bed, one couch and one bathroom—and Miriam and I had forged an especially deep friendship amid the chaos.

In retrospect, I’m not sure what brought us closer to each other than to everyone else in our group. We certainly had more in common with other people—especially to the people in our own shows. But for whatever reason, Miriam and I found ourselves hanging out with each other, taking long walks, sharing inside jokes and sneaking into each other’s dressing rooms during our shows to tape stupid song lyrics to each other’s mirrors. My photo album from that summer still has the scrap of envelope she used to write “Oh, I wanna dance with somebody. I wanna feel the HEAT with somebody.” Whitney Houston was rocking the charts in 1988, and we both thought she was pretty ridiculous.

Those were the dark ages before email and cell phones, so when the summer was over, we all exchanged addresses and many of us did a pretty good job of writing letters to keep in touch. Miriam went directly to London to spend her fall semester studying abroad under the auspices of Syracuse University. And when my mom found cheap airfare to London that fall, I flew out to spend Thanksgiving week with Miriam and her roommates.

I made it home safely at the end of November. But nineteen years ago today, Miriam and a third of the students in the Syracuse program were blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, by a terrorist bomb.

As would be expected, her murder brought me closer to the rest of my cast … and even to Miriam’s London roommates. Our friends Jody and Brad got jobs dancing in a much cooler show at a much cooler park in Ohio the next summer, and I drove out for a long weekend to see them. Miriam’s roommate Christine and I started writing each other with such regularity that I spent a week with her and her family in Boston right after I graduated.

But time passed and lives were lived and local concerns trumped distant friends from long-ago summer jobs, and of the ten or so close friendships I had that summer all I have left today are the Christmas cards I exchange with Jody and the occasional email from Christine. Ironically, I’ve recently reconnected with Miriam’s London roommate Jessica—who was traveling the week I was visiting London so I’d never even met her in person though we’d talked on the phone a couple times after the bombing. She’s living in New York now, and I’ve actually met up with her twice in the last couple years. She and her husband were investors in the Broadway indie-pop musical Spring Awakening, and they’d gotten tickets for the fiancé and me when were in Manhattan last February.

Obviously, musical theater plays an important cultural role in the lives of theme-park entertainers. Miriam and I spent hours gushing over the amazing London revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies after we saw it together, and she’d even made me a mix tape of her favorite Sondheim songs before she died. She called it “No One is Alone.” Tonight the fiancé and I are seeing the opening of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd movie—something we’ve been anticipating for months with the giddiness of little schoolgirls.

I find it strangely fitting to honor Miriam’s memory by watching Sondheim on the anniversary of her death. I’m certain she’d be as excited to see the movie as I am. I know she would have pre-ordered the CD, just as I did. I bet she’d get tickets on opening night as well.

I just wish I had the same certainty we’d still be in touch.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


When you move in together and merge all your stuff, your little piles of clutter become overwhelming piles of crap. And if you've spent a lifetime being pack rats, your combined piles of crap can be pretty embarrassing. Especially when you find two and three and even five copies of the same bargain-bin Barbra CD. Oy, the shame!

We have eight extremely large boxes packed with books, CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes, boxed sets and miscellaneous dustables that we're just starting to go through. And because they represent thousands of dollars in cumulative regret, we're trying to recoup some of our—and I use this term with bitter, self-flagellatory irony—investments on craigslist and ebay. Here's a sampling of this week's crop of chagrin:

Four big gay movies at a pocket-gay price: the never-heard-of "Trevor," "Torch Song Trilogy" starring Harvey Fierstein and a grotesquely miscast Matthew Broderick, the stunning "Maurice" starring Hugh Grant when he used to be cute, and the charming "Beautiful Thing" featuring the music of Mama Cass.

Five Titanic movies and documentaries on nine VHS tapes for less than a steerage ticket across the Atlantic. Includes "A Night to Remember," "Titanic: The Truth Behind the Legend," "Titanic" starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Wagner when he used to be hot, the four-volume A&E "Titanic" documentary, and "Titanic" starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, who totally shows her boobs.

There's nothing gayer than a Mandy Patinkin CD. Unless it's four Mandy Patinkin CDs.

Stop the presses. I think we found something gayer.

Do you know where you're going to? Not to our house—at least not if you intend to watch these movies on our VCR. There's a very good reason we're trying to convince you to take them off our hands.

The essential Barbra Streisand: Four CDs including "Barbra: The Concert," "Greatest Hits ... And More" (the "more" obviously being songs that are neither great nor hits), "The Broadway Album" and "Back to Broadway." We'll even throw in the BONUS four-track CD "Ordinary Miracles" absolutely free. Because we probably got it in some free giveaway in the first place anyway.

BONUS SALE ITEM! Gargantuanly heavy aquarium with black lacquer stand includes everything you need to create a nautical paradise in your home or a God's waiting room for lobsters in your restaurant lobby. Just add water!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Blood, you didn't do right by me

I had a 1,000-mile checkup a few weeks ago. Everything's fine, thanks for asking, except my good cholesterol is still low but I've been taking fish oil supplements which may or may not help but at least I'm keeping the economy solvent while the war-on-Christmasy among you selfishly hoard all your wealth this holiday season.

For whatever reason today, I decided I needed to know what my blood type is because nobody's ever told me what it is and when I'm in long meetings where lots of people are talking I tend to get a little mind-wandery and when you're mind-wandery it's really not a far walk from credit card collateral to what's my blood type.

So I sent an email to my doctor to see if any of the gallons of blood he's sucked out of me over the years had ever been tested for blood type. And while I was at it, I asked him if he'd checked my PSA levels at my checkup because I turn 40 exactly four months from today and you're supposed to start worrying about your prostate around age 40 and I clearly remember him not sticking his finger up my butt when I was there a few weeks ago.

As simple questions about blood type are not typically the topics that drive the plots of gripping hospital dramas like ER, I didn't expect a response for a few days. So I was pleasantly surprised to find a note in my inbox when I returned to my desk after my next meeting. Except it was from one of his nurses who I guess got stuck on email duty while the doctor was making his appointed rounds. And while the nurse clearly had dug around in my files to look for the information I requested—and while she clearly knew what she was talking about—I was a little surprised by the text-messaginess of her response:
HI Jake we do not have your bld type we don't check for this unless requested by the pt because insurance don't cover this test also in regardsto the PSA it was not checked but you are approaching 40 so we could put an order in the system to have this chkd
I'm not quite sure how to respond to her offer to "put an order in the system." Does that mean they still have blood on hand they can re-test for random things as it occurs to me to ask about them? Or do I have to come in specifically for a fingerbang and another bloodletting? And who has time during the holidays for spelunking anyway? I've barely started writing my Christmas letter, and I have yet to find a moment to curl up with Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen and wonder if I can get Edith Head to stop by and ermine-up my holiday wardrobe. And who knew Bernardo was a gay holiday backup dancer before he started inciting gang wars in New York?

In any case, I'm approaching my 40th Christmas without knowing my blood type or when I might suddenly have trouble peeing. So when I'm worried and I can't sleep, I guess I'll just have to count my blessings instead of my PSA levels.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Thick paint is not your friend

You may think you're saving a buck or two when you keep using paint after it's started to get syrupy and show signs of age. But what you save in paint you'll spend double on touch-up tape. And then new paint. Because when you spread thick, syrupy paint on your first application of tape, it oozes under the tape like a Christian Republican Senator under a men's room stall divider. (Sorry. That metaphor was just too easy.) Then you get to buy new paint and a couple new rolls of tape and spend hours and hours squinting at paint lines as you mask off the worst of the oozy parts so you can repaint them. Which is about as fun as looking down and seeing a wrinkly old hand grabbing for your ankle.

While I had my camera out this afternoon to document my pain for your enjoyment, I took another picture of our little tree as it looks out over our freshly snowy courtyard. Do you think the chandelier makes our dining room look gay?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Impressions from a Toronto business trip

Tim Hortons, the Dunkin’ Donuts of Canada, makes a blueberry fritter that’s so gooey and glazey and delicious you want to spank it.

Toronto Pearson International Airport is about as beautiful as any modern steel-and-girders airport has a right to be. It takes a simple visual vocabulary of soaring arches and glass walls and open spaces and exposed trusswork, washes it all in whites, and creates a clean, calming, logically organized people-moving environment.

How come customs agents will arbitrarily demand crash courses in advertising creative philosophy from you before they will let you enter their country, but security screeners won’t notice that you forgot to take out your legally mandated plastic bag of liquids and place them in a separate scanning tub twice?

We had two days of meetings sandwiching a three-hour drinks-and-appetizers client meet-n-greet. Normally I hate small talk and big crowds—especially small talk with clients, which automatically eliminates “so, what do you do for a living?” from your arsenal of conversation starters—but I really like these clients, and the restaurant we picked (Paradiso in charming Oakville) served us delicious food in a funky environment. Plus, I may have loosened up beforehand with a vodka tonic.

Canadians follow US football and watch US television. I don’t know why learning this surprised me so much. And kind of embarrassed me once I heard what their favorite US shows are.

They use the same snow in Canada that we use in the United States. Or maybe they’re just importing our snow now that the dollar is so weak.

Speaking of snow, I’m amazed we even got off the ground in yesterday’s blizzard. We had to go through a two-step de-icing before we took off, but our pilot walked us through the process so we’d get what was going on. The first step was a spray of pink soapy stuff that washed existing ice off the fuselage. The second step was a day-glo green goo they sprayed on the wings to prevent new ice from accumulating. It clung to the wings like an “ex-gay” to his delusions, and as we waited to take off I could see all the planes lined up self-consciously in front of us with their green wings glowing as conspicuously as a rainbow bra under a white sweater set.

I was so excited to land yesterday in time to listen to NPR on my drive home, which I never get to do when I take the bus home from the office. Unfortunately, NPR is obviously facing a year-end budget deficit so severe that they were staging a fund drive smack-dab in the middle of shopping season. Best of luck with that. To make matters worse, they’d changed their phone number, and the only thing the radio personalities could come up with off-script was the fact that it was so hard to remember the new number. Which kind of boggles the mind—if you’re able to say “This is 91.5 WBEZ” about a thousand times a day you really shouldn’t have trouble remembering 888-915-WBEZ. All things considered.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What if they threw an ice storm and nobody came?

We got back to the Toronto airport faster than we expected yesterday and we managed to get ourselves on an earlier flight home. Then it got delayed. Ice in Chicago, they told us. The storm could last all night, they said with furrowed brows. Which was no fun to hear, but at least their furrows assured us they hadn’t yet jumped on the Botox bandwagon. Then there was some kind of non-ice-on-the-runways-back-home window, so we boarded the plane. And we waited. Then we had to pull away because some other plane—bound no doubt for some less icy destination and feeling all snooty about it because its passengers packed coconut-scented sunscreen while ours packed tire-scented galoshes—needed the jetway. So we sat on the tarmac. For two hours. But! We were given constant updates from our handsome pilot and attentive beverage service from our crew and they were playing Ratatouille on the in-flight movie and I had a big stack of unread magazines to catch up on and we got word via the miracle of cell phones that the client was extremely pleased with our work and it all ended up being rather enjoyable.

Until we landed in Chicago and discovered that all this ice-storm business had been a big LIE. It was rainy and misty, sure, but woe to the business traveler who intended to keep his complimentary diet soda chilled by simply holding it to the heavens.

Then I walked into the office this morning and found myself caught in the crosshairs of Vendor Gift Smackdown 2007.

“Our holiday muffins are moist and delicious,” one vendor seems to tell us as it stocks our break room with baskets of cellophane-wrapped pastries, “so please turn to us for all your printing needs.”

“No!” another vendor shouts through tufts of raffia. “They did not procure for you 12 different flavors of individually wrapped chocolate candies all organized by color in a handsome holiday tin. They do not deserve your business. Plus they lubricate their printer heads with the blood of puppies.”

“We don’t know shit about printing,” trumpets a third, “but we can make custom magnets for you any time day or night! Which is why we brought you a drum of chemically flavored popcorns, cleverly partitioned by bits of waxy cardboard into pie-shaped columns. When you think MSG, think magnets!”

I’m back in Toronto tomorrow and Thursday. The envelope people had better wait to bring their day-old doughnuts until I get back.

Monday, December 10, 2007

LiveBlogging: Toronto

I'm currently sitting in a quaint little coffee shop the locals refer to as "Starbucks" in a country called "Canada." Which is just like the USA, only with a different kind of government loonies.

We booked a butt-ass early flight this morning to make sure the weather wouldn't get in the way of our appointed business rounds. The fates being what they are, we actually managed to land here half an hour ahead of schedule on top of our intentional earliness, so we're spending our morning sitting among the locals, sipping flavored beverages, listening to Benny Goodman and sneaking peeks at one of the baristi for three hours until we have our client meeting. Normally I just travel with a stack of unread magazines in case I have down time, but this morning I threw my laptop in my carry-on at the last minute. Which means I can do actual work on a business trip. Once I get a blog post up and running, of course.

Not to brag, but I'm a world-champion sleeper. I can knock myself unconscious in a matter of seconds, and I can sleep through anything from a cataclysmic thunderstorm to that one Golden Girls episode where Rose says something stupid and Blanche says something slutty. But since I had the alarm set for 3:45 this morning, I was too nervous to fall asleep last night. I was tossing and turning so much, in fact, that the fiancé finally got up and slept on the couch. So this trip has cost me a night's sleep and caused grave alienation of affection. But it got me an expense-accounted venti chai tea latte, so who am I to complain?

The chorus show came and went this weekend without incident. But now the fiancé and the vast majority of his extended family have witnessed me engaging in an act of man-on-man waltzing. Which should remove any lingering doubts they may have had. Good thing I'm in Canada for a day in case they need a cooling-off period.

Friday, December 07, 2007

There is this moment ...

... in the final number of the show. It's rather early in an intricately contrapuntal arrangement of the Gloucestershire Wassail, which only lately has grown to become one of my favorite holiday carols.

In our arrangement the tenors sing the first verse in a hushed unison, as though you were hearing the echoes of their holiday revelry wafting toward you over a snowy hill. The baritones and basses join in on the second verse, chanting "wassail, wassail" in a simple unison continuo under the melody. As the verse dies away, the lower voices drop to an open fifth, drumming the opening "wassail" rhythm on a D and a low G in disciplined restraint ...

... until the entire chorus explodes into the third verse in a glorious A-flat modulation. As the baritones and basses keep pounding out the "wassail" rhythm, the melody—now slightly syncopated as we toast Dobbin and his right eye—soars across the tenor voices in a bright mezzo-forte third. The drinking party has suddenly crested that snowy hill, the sun has come out and the world is full of promise.

And in that single flash of brightness, our conductor always—always—breaks into a big goofy smile. The arrangement we're singing is his, and in that moment—that big, boisterous explosion of harmony and rhythm and simple counterpoint—as he indulges himself in the lush materialization of of his creative work, I too stand reveling in the beauty of it all from my perch at the end of the back row. We are 100+ gay men whose lives and talents and careers and incomes span the spectrum of human experience. But in this joyous confluence, we are one voice, celebrating an ancient camaraderie captured in a song that dates to the Middle Ages. And to me, moments like this are what make life life.

* * * * *
The show opens tonight. And it closes tomorrow. You have three chances to experience this moment with me. So click HERE to order your tickets. Or go HERE for more information about the show.

Here's a quick peek at last night's final dress rehearsal. Act I finds us in red accents to our basic black-and-white concert attire. Because we're nothing if not festive.

Act II is all about green accents. Which apparently don't reproduce well under the theater's work lights. Here we are getting notes after the runthrough. Notice how happy we look. That's because the show is clean and tight, and we've breezed through every rehearsal this week. Yay!

And, of course, it wouldn't be a Chicago Gay Men's Chorus show without a guy in drag. Or two. This is my view from the wings as I wait to make my grand entrance among seven dancing couples in the very, very, very gay corps de Christmas Waltz:

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

ChicagoRound: My bus stop on a snowy night


Whateveresque has a great collection illustrating the (ahem) evolution of the LOLcats meme using images from the so-called Creation Museum. I'd insert a snarky joke here, but the examples I pulled from the site do it way better than I could:

Monday, December 03, 2007

No time for a Ho

STOCKHOLM (AFP) - Christmas is hectic for all but particularly for Santa, who must live in Kyrgyzstan and make his rounds at lightning speed if he is to deliver gifts to all the world's children on time, a Swedish consultancy has concluded.

Between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Santa Claus's route around the planet includes stops at 2.5 billion homes, assuming that children of all religions receive a present from the jolly man in the red suit, Anders Larsson of the engineering consultancy Sweco told AFP.

"We estimated that there are 48 people per square kilometer (120 per square mile) on Earth, and 20 metres (66 feet) between each home. So if Santa leaves from Kyrgyzstan and travels against the Earth's rotation he has 48 hours to deliver all the presents," he said.

Father Christmas has long been believed to reside at the North Pole, although a number of northern towns, including Finnish Rovaniemi, claim to be his true home.

But Sweco's report on Santa's most efficient route -- which takes into account factors like geographic density and the fewest detours -- shows that he wouldn't be able to make his round-the-world trip from there in time.

"He has 34 microseconds at each stop" to slide down the chimney, drop off the presents, nibble on his cookies and milk and hop back on his sleigh, Larsson said.

Santa's reindeer must travel at a speed of 5,800 kilometers (3,604 miles) per second to make the trip on time.

Another report circulating on the Internet suggested however that Santa's sleigh, weighed down with presents and travelling at supersonic speed, would encounter such massive air resistance that the entire contraption would burst into flames and be vaporised within 4.26 thousandths of a second.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Got your tickets yet?

On Friday and Saturday, I'll be singing and dancing my little gay heart out in the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus' holiday show, which this year we're calling Fruit Cake (though technically fruitcake is just one word). The show includes everything you'd want in a holiday concert: waltzing homos, "Here Comes Santa Claus" as though it were written to open Sweeney Todd ("And so to town came Santa Claus ..."), an exegesis of a live nativity painting by Sister Wendy, some fabulous glee-club arrangements of holiday standards and even a live fruitcake-making demonstration by The Food Network's The Hearty Boys.

This may be my last chorus concert for a while, though, so if you want to see me dancing around like a total homo on stage, get your tickets now. Click on the picture below for a direct link to Ticketbastard:
To avoid getting thoroughly boned by Ticketbastard, you can also get tickets in person at the Athenaeum Theatre box office at 2936 N. Southport (at the six-way corner of Lincoln and Wellington).

See you there!