Archive for February, 2014

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Bob and Kevin followed me everywhere.  They seemed to think that the twenty five or so words I had managed to learn in Japanese would keep us safe and help us to not get hopelessly lost.  I took the silly dictionary with me everywhere but it was more my keen ear for subtleties within accents and willingness to make a fool of myself until I got it right that made me the best choice Bob and Kevin had when it came to available tour guides and translators.  We were good friends before we got to Nagano anyway, so it made sense that we would tool around together.

Of all the Olympics I have been to, Nagano will forever remain my favorite.  It was my first, Bob’s and Kevin’s third.  We all worked for CBS.  They had been to Albertville in France and Lillehammer in Norway before I started working there.  It had been a dream of mine to work the Games so when the opportunity arose to be one of only three stage managers taken to Japan by the network, I was thrilled.  As a kid I had hoped to be an Olympian someday but I wasn’t a good enough athlete and the dedication needed just wasn’t there so going as part of the media was the next best thing.

I arrived in Tokyo on a brisk January evening.  It was dinner time and I had only this one night to experience the big city before being whisked away the following morning to the mountains where the games would be held.  Bob and Kevin were still in New York and wouldn’t arrive for another five days so Nick and Mary headed down to the subway with me to make sure I got to the neighborhood I had in mind before scurrying off on their own planned adventure.  We took the train that, according to the map, would get me closest to where I wanted to be, but I wasn’t sure I had made it to Shinjuku until I saw all the rainbow flags hanging from the low buildings.  Nick and Mary waved goodbye and told me to be careful.  They went in search of sushi and live music.  I checked out the gay bars.

Shinjuku is like the West Village of Tokyo.  I went into a lesbian bar that was the size of a big walk-in closet and paid the equivalent of almost $50.00 for the cover charge.  When I sat down at the bar, all eyes were upon me.  With a smile, I ordered an Asahi and it arrived with a steaming, complimentary bowl of delicious vegetable soup.  The bartender spoke some English.  She could tell I was from New York.  I told her I was there for the Games and she told the three other patrons this.  I heard a lot of indecipherable words but somewhere in the middle of what she said to them I distinctly heard “CBS” and “Olympics” and watched them all nod in recognition.  They proudly showed me photos from the gay pride march that had taken place in Tokyo the previous June.

The next bar was bigger but only slightly.  Again I paid the crazy cover charge and again my beer came with a delicious bowl of soup.  It’s the custom.  And this bar was noisier.  There were more customers.  There were more bartenders.  There was karaoke.  I later learned that there was karaoke almost everywhere you went in Japan, even on tour buses and in fast food restaurants.  The cute bartender spoke decent English and asked where I was from.  I happily told her Brooklyn and she happily handed over the karaoke song book and insisted that I pick something to sing.  And I do love to sing.  Before I became half deaf and I could actually hear what was spewing from my mouth I had a pretty decent voice.  But I like to sing torch songs, like Ella and Lena and even kd lang.  There was none of that in the song book.  All I could find was Over The Rainbow by Judy Garland, so that’s what I picked.  We all had a good laugh when I was finished.

In one corner, on the big front window bench, there was a young lesbian who was passed out from drinking.  Her concerned friends, rather than taking her home in a taxi, kept escorting her to the bathroom, presumably so she could puke her guts out.  Then they would gently deposit her into her corner seat where she would promptly fall over and pass out again.  It was after 1AM but no one showed signs of slowing down or getting ready to head home, even though it was the middle of the week.  The bartender admitted that her customers would not leave until after three, get perhaps 4 hours of sleep, work a full day at a boring office job and be right back at the bars the next evening.  I thought, if I tried that as a way of life, I’d be dead from exhaustion in no time.

Once Bob and Kevin arrived in Nagano we started going everywhere together.  Our hours were the best I have ever had for any of my Olympic tours.  We were on the noon to midnight shift but since all we were there to do was CBS This Morning, our director would sometimes tell us not to show up until 4 or 5PM.  We got to see a lot of hockey games once the flame had been lit and we were generally wrapped by 11, when the show ended on the east coast of the States at 9 in the morning.  Our industrious stagehands, who had been there for months building and lighting the studio, had found an amazing restaurant called Zen and the whole crew went there for late dinner almost every night.

In the mornings, Bob and Kevin and I got to see a lot of the unique and exotic places the region had to offer.  We took the train to Kobayashi to see the snow monkeys and sit in the extremely hot water of the local onsen or hot spring.  It took me 20 minutes to get in and then I only lasted a little more than three and had to get out.  My skin, beet red, felt invigorated and smooth.  I took them to the temple right in Nagano and helped them walk through the pitch dark, curving downstairs hallway to find the ornament in the wall which, if found and pulled, would lead to salvation.  We went to Mongolian barbeque and a small restaurant everyone called sushi choo-choo because of how the plates of fish came out of the kitchen and floated by the counter on a conveyor belt, available to be plucked up and devoured.  I don’t like sushi so I went for the novelty and ate mostly California rolls with lots of wasabi and ginger.  And Japanese beer, of course.  No saki for this lightweight!

Our best adventure, though, came high up in the mountains, reached by bus through curving and very scary narrow roads, at the bobsleigh and luge venue.  The three of us, known by this time as the Mod Squad, got off the bus and headed to the press entrance.  We had tickets but we thought we could beat the long lines by flashing our credentials.  Bob and I breezed through security and started walking, figuring Kevin was right behind us.  He wasn’t.  We turned back to see him being detained and pointed at by a security guard, while another held his arm to stop his progress.  The first thing Bob and I thought of was, oh wow, not here.  Not in this beautiful, ancient country.  Racism, really?  Because Kevin’s skin is brown?  We breezed through but they are holding him?  We looked at each other in disbelief and started to make our way back to the gates.  Another security guard, this one with more medals and stripes on his uniform than the others, rushed to our side and beckoned us, all three of us, to follow him.  His broken English was as urgent as he could make it, given the difficulty he had with the language.  “Come now to me,” he nearly shouted.  And he had a rifle slung over his shoulder, so we did.

He lead us to the side of a one-story storage building where security guards were coming and going and scurrying about.  There was a row of low hedges adjacent to it, running alongside the road we had traveled to enter the venue.  The guard, still speaking urgently, stopped the three of us, got down to a squatting position and told us as we towered over him, “You all do like this.  Now!”  We thought for a moment that we were a part of some sick joke.  I flashed back to my days of watching Candid Camera.  But there was that rifle, and that tone in his voice.  We stared at him, confused.  He immediately got that we didn’t understand and did his best to continue.  “Emperor son is coming.  If police see you, they will shoot you.”

Oh.  That we understood.  We definitely didn’t want to be shot so we joined the officer near the ground in our best imitation of tribal squats.  “Good,” he said.  “Now can’t see you.”  And, sure enough, a minute later a giant black limo drove through the gates where we had just been, attached Rising Sun flags flapping with the speed of the vehicle.  In an instant it was gone, up the hill and around the curve, presumably to some cushy luxury box where the occupants could watch the event in warmth and style.

“Okay,” the guard said finally.  We got up and slowly walked back to the path leading to the bobsleigh track.  He followed us, apologizing for all the confusion.  Apparently, we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And Kevin hadn’t been delayed at all because of the color of his skin.  He just, by being a few seconds behind Bob and me, had tried to get in a pinch later than the time the guards had set to close off the entrance in anticipation of the arrival of the prince and his wife.  We watched the two-man sledding competition in complete awe of the speed and the noise as the athletes flew by us, so close on the ice that we almost could have reached out and touched them.  But every now and then we glanced at each other and chuckled.  “Police will shoot you,” became our private little joke for the rest of our stay in Japan.  And sometimes, when I’m lucky enough to run into Kevin at the CBS broadcast center, we relive the story and laugh all over again.  And then we get sad.  Bob’s been gone at least three years now.  And it’s just no fun to be Julie and Linc without sweet Mike.  Our Mod Squad days are over.

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I love women. 

I also love men.  As a person who is trying her best to “Do unto others…” and lead an authentic, wholesome life, I tend to love everyone first and ask questions later.  There are, most definitely, people on the planet who turn my stomach and fill me with nothing but wholesome disgust, but I love them anyway and wish for them happiness, enlightenment and peace.  It amazes me, though, how many people there are who simply assume that, because I am a lesbian, I automatically hate men.

In the late 1980s and early 90s, I worked at a local TV station in Secaucus, New Jersey.  I would make the daily drive in from Brooklyn, against the usual flow of rush-hour traffic to my job as a stage manager, working on shows such as 9 Broadcast Plaza (with a young Matt Lauer), Steampipe Alley (with an even younger Mario Cantone) or, if I happened to be on the late shift, The Morton Downey, Jr. Show and the 10 o’clock news.  I loved my job and I worked with a lot of great people.  The place was so busy that parking spaces were difficult to find and the lunchroom was always full.

As a television stage manager I have to tell a whole crew of people what to do and when to do it.  I have to cue talent and guests out and give time cues and get the audience involved and keep the director informed about what is happening on the studio floor and backstage and do whatever he or she needs to make the show successful.  It’s an important but fun job, suited perfectly for a multitasking, think-on-your-feet, physically fit, motivational yet polite person.  You can never panic.  You can never bark at people.  You need to be able to get the audience members to applaud even when they’re not sure they want to.  And you have to stay one or two steps ahead of everyone and everything.  I have been a stage manager for more than 30 years and I can’t think of a regular job I’d rather do.  My job has taken me all around the country and the world, to presidential conventions, dog shows, basketball and football games, museums, debates and five different Olympics.  It’s been a blast.

At Channel 9 in Secaucus all those years ago, I made some lifelong friends.  A lot of them were men.  A lot of them went on to bigger and better things as the station started to shed productions and jobs.  We were there in the good old days and didn’t have a clue at the time.  It’s only now, all these years later, that we can reflect, through social media opportunities, on how good we had it back then, when we all worked together and thought of each other as family.  I had friends who were cameramen and audio engineers and technical directors and associate directors and show directors and janitors.  There were women in all those jobs, too.  Everyone said hello to everyone.  The hallways were abuzz with activity.  There were days, back then, when it even seemed like everyone was “sleeping” with everyone.  That sounds like an idea for a future blog post.

Recently I was hired to work on an independent TV production that airs daily on cable.  The broadcast company needed studio space so they shopped around and found some nice, clean, available studios in Secaucus, New Jersey.  Channel 9 is nearly empty now.  Almost everyone who ever worked there is gone.  The hallways are quiet, the whole upstairs floor is dark and old equipment litters the studios and control rooms.  Two of the three studios have not been converted to digital, so no one wants to rent them for anything.  Studio C, though, where up until recently WWOR created its own nightly news program, is fairly up-to-date.  The audio board is an ornery relic and the arm on the jib camera isn’t very long, but the whole place works so it was available to rent.  A friend called me and told me to get my butt over there and ask for a job.  I got one.  Not exactly the job I was hoping for, but after three years of almost complete unemployment, I’ll take it.

When I walked in for my interview, the first person I saw in the studio was Richie.  He was up on a scissor lift, working on some lighting in the grid.  “Yo, Bro,” I yelled up to him, to the surprise of the production manager who was leading my interview.

“Slim!” Richie yelled back, using his old nickname for me.  He brought that scissor lift down and gave me an awesome hug.  Soon, Billy was there and hugging me, too.  Then Tommy and Jim.  My old stagehands.  My men.  My brothers in production.  I had known them all for at least 25 years but hadn’t seen any of them in eons.  They were old.  I was old.  We’re in our 40s and 50s and 60’s now, but working together again has given us all a renewed youth and a chance to scoff at the kids working alongside us who seem to have very little respect for the accomplishments and experience of their elders.  Twenty and 30 years ago, we weren’t like that.  Richie and I discussed what it was like coming up in the industry in the early 1980s, when the old guys then were all part of the greatest generation.  They were WWII photographers who became cameramen, Navy radiomen who became audio engineers, men who, as mere kids, parachuted into France to free the world of Nazis.  By the mid-80s they were middle-aged, the way Richie and I are now.  And we treated them with the utmost respect and reverence.  We listened to their stories and learned from them.  We loved those men.

And I love my men.  I love Richie and Billy and Tommy and Jim.  We don’t see eye to eye on every little thing.  We come from different backgrounds.  We’ve taken different roads.  I have always been out to them, though, and could not even imagine any of them acting judgemental of me because of my sexual orientation.  I have told them all, many times, if a crazy war suddenly broke out in our backyards, I would want them on my side.  They have said the same about me.  We work well together and treat each other with respect.  No, I don’t want to sleep with them.  But I really do love working with them.  And back in the day, I really loved partying with them, too.  When we were kids who had the energy and the time.

UPDATE:  Unfortunately, as of yesterday, my position at the new show has been eliminated.  I still love my men, but they will have to carry on without me.  Anyone who knows of a production looking for a good, reliable, professional stage manager or A2, please let me know.

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Years ago, I was sent to New Orleans for six months to be the DJ in the nightclub at the top of the Hilton Hotel.  I was trained to spin by a company out of London that built clubs in hotels all around the world and then provided the DJ’s to play the vinyl and keep the visitors dancing.  My club was called The Rainforest.  It was on the 29th floor of the building, the same building where Pete Fountain and his band would play every night downstairs.  If you wanted live jazz and dixieland, you went to hang with Pete.  If you wanted disco and the very newest in the blossoming genre called new wave, you took the elevator up to my aerie in the sky.From my DJ booth, I had an almost 360-degree view, through the enormous windows, of the beautiful Crescent City and the Mississippi River as it curved around and hugged the town.  I lived in an amazing house in the Garden District and drove to my job down St.Charles Avenue, following the route of the city’s oldest surviving streetcar.  Once at work I’d unlock the turntables and thumb through the hundreds of vinyl albums and 12″ singles at my disposal.  I was new to beat mixing so sometimes I’d play the same records in order, night after night, until I felt like I had a true feel for a bunch of new songs, how long the intros were, where the breaks and good blending points were, what the energy was like and how long I could keep two songs going simultaneously before slamming into the next tune.  I figured no one would mind since I played primarily for tourists who came up to the place once and then moved on to something else the following night.  Once I felt comfortable with a song, though, I felt like I could throw it in anywhere, and I got better and better at mixing and keeping the crowd satisfied.

One crazy, busy night, a very drunk woman approached the booth and asked for a specific song.  I was in the middle of playing rather fast dance music, upbeat disco at about 130 beats per minute.  The song she asked for was slower, funkier, and I told her I’d get to it eventually.  The dance floor was packed at the time and if I simply segued into her request I would have lost more than half the dancers.  So I set up a mix into another fast disco tune and started to switch to it.  Once that song was playing by itself the drunk woman returned, looked down at the label and brazenly reached over to take the stylus off the spinning disc.  The whole place went silent.  All eyes looked at me.  I screamed at her and had her escorted out by security.  It took me a few minutes to get the crowd involved again but a couple of people actually came up to make sure I was okay and to reassure me that I did the right thing when I had her thrown out.

The coolest part of The Rainforest was the little toggle switch on my mixer.  All I had to do was flip it up and in about five minutes it would rain from the ceiling, into pools of water surrounding the dance floor.  People used to come up to the booth and ask me to “make it rain.”  I did, about ten times every night, feeling the awesome power of Mother Nature at my fingertips.

Michael Jackson was huge back then.  I played Walk Right Now by him and his brothers at least once a night.  To this day it is one of my very favorite dance tunes.  Evelyn “Champagne” King was hot and her song Shame made a nice mix with Super Freak.  I still do that mix sometimes, when I’m spinning a retro party and feeling nostalgic for the old days.  Donna Summer had not yet done her best to alienate her huge gay following so I played Hot Stuff and Bad Girls regularly.  Then I put those records away for a while, in protest.  I only took them back out a few years ago, when she apologized for every single homophobic, hateful thing she ever said.  I’m glad she made peace with her gay fans before she passed away.

New wave started to get big back then and I would play I Will Follow, Private Idaho and Whip It for anyone who asked.  Blondie was popular, the Pretenders were just starting to get noticed, Talking Heads was setting college radio on fire and Billy Idol was the new kid on the block.  I played them all, sneaking them in to expand the tastes of the disco- and funk-loving dancers.  I also played a lot of reggae and was saddened yesterday to read about the passing of Bunny Rugs, the lead singer of Third World.  Try Jah Love is one of my favorite songs of all-time.  And, little by little, a brave and completely fresh genre known as rap started to seriously make the scene.  I played Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash, Sugarhill Gang and Afrika Bambaataa whenever I could.  The crowd was cool to the newish stuff but I forced it on them anyway.  They needed to learn.  And those were the breaks.  They warmed up to early rap eventually and even started asking for it….

The craziest experience I had down there happened on an evening off from my nightly dance club grind.  I had made a friend named Bonnie at The Rainforest and she and I both found ourselves off from work on the same Sunday night.  We decided to pick up her boyfriend and his buddy and go for drinks and a movie.  She picked me up in the Garden District so I left my 1970 Plymouth Duster in my short driveway.  In college I had been the photography editor of the weekly student newspaper so my New York vanity plates read PHOTO-17, to commemorate my love of taking pictures and to honor my lifelong softball number.  Bonnie and I drove to her boyfriend’s apartment, about 15 blocks away, and had a cocktail while we waited for his buddy to show.  Once we were all ready to hit the road we came down the elevator and headed outside.  I led the way, opening the glass front door and strolling down the flowered walkway towards the street.  Just as I got to the sidewalk I turned to my left and saw an old, weathered, leathery and messily bearded man ambling in my direction.  He was shabby and drunk and I felt kind of sorry for him until I looked up from his worn out shoes and saw an orange and blue license plate hanging around his neck, tied on by a couple of shoelaces that were knotted together.  Oh, I thought for about half a second.  PHOTO-17, just like mine.  New York, just like mine.  “Hey,” I yelled when he got to where I was.  I grabbed his interesting attempt at a necklace and started trying to get the string over his head.  At that point, Bonnie and the guys ran up and asked me what the fuck was going on.  “This guy has my license plate.  From my car.  Which is parked at my house on Chestnut.”  It took a few seconds for this to register.  The timing was what made it all seem so unreal, that I should walk out of a random building at a random time to see a random person walking down the street with something he had so obviously stolen from my car, which was parked almost a mile away.  Bonnie’s boyfriend’s buddy caught on first and pretended to be a cop, intimidating the poor guy and threatening to arrest him unless he gave the plate to me.  He did, reluctantly, unwilling to give up his new, cool treasure.  And then he kept on walking, shaking his head, the incident as random for him, I’m sure, as it was for me.  He must have thought he’d entered the Twilight Zone!

My stay in New Orleans was short and amazing.  The food is America’s true cuisine.  I learned to make shrimp creole while I lived there and I’m so glad I did.  The flavors and spices of Cajun and Creole food are nothing short of genius, inspired.  The music is sizzling.  Jazz is a genuinely American phenomenon we have given to ourselves and the rest of the world as a gift.  The Saints were known as the “Aints” back then so tickets to their games were easy to come by.  I went to four gridiron battles at the Superdome and there’s not a more exciting place to watch a football game, even when the home team stinks.  The weather is steamy.  The flowers are huge.  The river is mighty.  The architecture is stunning and original.  I wonder, since Katrina, if New Orleans has managed to make its way back to its former days of glory.  I hope so.  Maybe it’s time to go back.

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