Hometown Heroine

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul’s book causes dramatic revelations about long held family secrets.

JP wonders if he'll ever wear Big D on his sleeve

There’s no way around the fact that I’ve always had a delicate relationship with my hometown Dallas.  Anyone who has read Alphabet City: My So-Called Life knows that part of my Mary Tyler Moore life in the Big Apple has been about leaving behind painful parts of my Big D past.  But when wearing my (very stylish) PR hat, I knew it just made sense to start my book tour in Big D—after all, that’s where the journey began.  But the ramifications of that decision are just beginning to unravel—revealing unexpected connections, hometown heroes and dramatic revelations about long held family secrets.

Mockingbird Hilton turned Kimpton's Hotel Palomar, an urban oasis

First, the connections.  Because Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants is a national sponsor of the Alphabet City Book Party Tour, their Hotel Palomar is my first stop.  When I was growing up, the property that opened in 1967 was called the Mockingbird Hilton.  On the corner of Mockingbird Lane and Central Expressway, there was no way of avoiding the modern structure when traveling to and from our house on Hillgreen down the road.  Over time, I developed an immense fascination with the hotel.  There were the giant Tiki masks outside the ground floor Trader Vic’s restaurant that served smoking drinks!  And the top of the building featured floor to ceiling windows from a sparkling disco that my older sister Pam sometimes frequented.

Hotel Palomar lobby in its retro-chicWhen I was 10, my mother left Dad, and took up residence at the hotel for a week or so.  That’s when I got my first taste of a real live urban oasis.  For a couple of days, I kept her company lounging poolside, just feet away from the perpetually clogged highway, while some of her best girlfriends showed up to commiserate with her misfortune.

A few years ago, the property was returned to all its ‘70s chic retro-glam by Kimpton, and I find it too delicious that my tour begins at Hotel Palomar.  Thanks Kimpton for being such a terrific company, and for expanding your creative marketing to the GLBT community by sponsoring the tour!

Second, the heroes.  Sometimes on a journey like this you never quite know how folks are going to respond—from the press to family to friends.  So far, so good.  Robert Wilonsky’s post yesterday on the Dallas Observer site sent my blog numbers through the roof.  David and Arnold at the Dallas Voice have been a delight—as always.  Now fingers crossed for Dallas Morning News and D Magazine.  Local PR maven Kellie McCrory is all over it.  As is my extended family hosting Book Club Parties—Christine and the Greenhill Alumni Gang (shout out to Katie Young); my mother-in-law-once-removed Cathy and her Colleyville Ladies who Lunch; and certainly can’t forget the TCU Chi Omega Sorority Alumni Book Club arranged by my sister-in-law-once-removed Mandy.  I mean amazing.

Finally, the revelations.  Are you ready for the really juicy part?  Often I am asked if I am worried about reactions from the people who appear in the book.  For the most part, I am not.  The memoir is not snarky, and even when celebrities appear, it’s more about my journey, than it is about revealing hidden dirt.  The parts that involve family members are included to show a sense of my sometimes painful background—so readers understand what motivated me to take this journey.  In essence, it’s my truth.  I did check-in with the major co-stars and guest stars with whom I have ongoing relationships—more to give them fair warning than make changes.  Chef, Susan, Angela, even my Mom, have all read the book.

But after yesterday’s Dallas Observer post, I realized there was one person with whom I hadn’t checked in.  I did so last night, and the results have been, dare I say, life altering.  Folks who have read Episode 2—and I’m not going to give it away or spoil it—might remember that there’s a confrontation with my father about my then partner Nathan and I being allowed to stay at his home.  Let’s just say that in the book, my father’s position is shocking because it runs counter to his early support of gay rights as a federal judge.  But he basically “explains” it to me as a decision coming from my stepmother whom, as his wife, he must support.  From the book:

my Dad felt it was his duty to support her.  Never mind that Dad was a hero to many in the gay community and knew better.  He had never taken my side—I had always been a burden.  And now he was through with me.  I had been written out of his show.

One of the hardest parts for me in the whole affair was the stake that it drove between my stepmother and me.  She had always been one of the people whom I credited with getting me through my very rough teen years (and I’m putting it mildly).  So the idea that she was uncomfortable with my sexuality just never made sense to me, nor my sisters.  But Dad’s word was final and he told us not to make an issue out of it with his wife.  Slowly, I drifted away from one of the key mother figures in my life.

But my journey often takes unexpected turns—especially with this book in hand.  Yesterday, my stepmother, who reads my blog and reconnected with me at my Dad’s funeral last year, emailed me within minutes of the Observer post to say, “how cool is this?”  I used that as an opportunity to give her a heads up about what was in the book, but that I felt like that was water under the bridge and had more to do with my difficulties with Dad than with her.  Not only did she take it in stride, but she shed some new light on the situation—she never expressed any concerns about me being gay (after all, she was the one who snapped a Polaroid of me “coming out of the closet” and put in the family photo album).

Seems like my father might have had a unhealthy habit of spreading untruths when it came to emotional issues—he was possibly covering up some of his own complicated feelings about my sexuality.  In retrospect, given all of the other issues Dad and I encountered over the years, that seems to make sense.  Sometimes very admired public figures lead much more complex private lives—and none of this should take away from my father’s well-regarded accomplishments civil rights, just add another intriguing layer.    Unfortunately, I will never be able to clear the air with him.  But I can with my stepmother—she and I are having a much deserved catch-up dinner when I’m in town on book tour.

There's room for Pegasus

On my arm, I have a couture tattoo of all my favorite places—Sydney, Paris and, of course, New York.  My amazing tattoo artist Friday Jones at Senses in NYC has always questioned me about why Dallas is missing from the mix.  Maybe it’s time to change that, and let a little Pegasus love into my heart, and onto my arm.  Like Mary Tyler Moore taught me: things always work out in the end, and when they do, remember to have on a cute out fit—and, now, tattoo.

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