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23 Reasons to Love My Readers

Today on Alphabet City: As the countdown to the new Poptimistic blog begins, Jon Paul looks back at the 23 Most Popular Alphabet City Posts of 2010.

Thank you to the thousands of readers from around the globe who have spent time in Alphabet City.  You’re a diverse bunch with varied tastes—from eco-friendly travel to gay hook-up apps—there’s been a little bit of something for everyone in 2010.  And you’re always surprising me—I mean who knew there were so many Glee fans in Brunei?  In case you’ve missed some of the favorites, I’ve pulled together the Top 23 for you—a little primer on what your fellow Alphabet Citizens have enjoyed.  Why 23?  Because it’s a funny number.  Let me know—did your favorites make the cut?

#1 40, Love: Glee Bargain I’d like to think that my take on Fox TV’s hit show Glee and the producer’s difficulty in portraying Kurt in a more realistic light hit a nerve with the blog-o-sphere.  But judging from the Google searches that linked to the post, I honestly think folks were searching for pictures of cute gay high school student Blaine.  Maybe a channel dedicated to my thoughts on the show is in order?  I think I’d call it KurtiousGLEE.

#2 40, Love: Hello, Meat Grindr No surprise that sex sells, especially to gay boys on the prowl.  My humorous take using the hook-up site during jury duty is one of ABCityblog’s perennial favorites.

A chance encounter with photographer Jamie Beck lead to my favorite Alphabet City publicity shot!

#3 BizSavvyBlogger’s Peek-A-Blog: From Me To You Out of a chance encounter in the blogosphere—courtesy of Whole Foods—blossomed a fun friendship with phenomenal photographer.  The result has been spectacular pictures of me, Chef and our home.  This post gives a peek behind her stylish blog.

#4 Alphabet City’s Episode 1: Whoopi A crazy cat and a mishap with her Oscar, make my encounter with Whoopi a perennial favorite—and the perfect opening to Alphabet City.

#5 BizSavvyBlogger’s Peek-A-Blog: PerrinPost.truth.travel For years travelers have been religiously following the advice of Condé Nast Traveler’s Wendy Perrin.  In this post, I get my longtime friend to dish about how her print job keeps her from blogging 24/7 and what that means for PR folks.

Another Jamie Beck captured moment

#6 40, Love: Tattoo Police I’m an exhibitionist at heart, so I take every chance to show off my tattoos—even on the blog.  According to Google, many people are worried about being “booked” in this tattoo database.

#7 Alphabet City’s: One Night in Bangkok Okay, I’ll admit that I was pandering to my readers with, shall we say, more prurient interests by posting this scandalous excerpt from Alphabet City about a gay sex palace in Bangkok.  But it has one of my favorite comic lines, ever.

#8 Green Globe Trekker: Blue Bahama Mama Thankfully, my readers have rather diverse tastes—especially for eco-travel.  In advance of my panel at Condé Nast Traveler’s World Savers Congress in Singapore, I get the green scoop on The Atlantis.

#9 Kitchen Knightmares: Something Fishy Moroccan Halibut and Carrots from a Bon Appétit recipe is the star of this post—the top viewed recipe related story.

#10 Alphabet City’s Alpha-Beltway This entry is the most-read post related to the Alphabet City Book Tour. While in DC, I get an insider perspective courtesy of old friends, have nauseating John Boehner sighting, and wonder what happened to my favorite Rosalynn Carter outfit.

#11(tie) Tex and the City: Lela & BA Café MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts makes a guest appearance in this post, sharing a picture of his taxi driver’s name Ram Amandeep.  Read it aloud.  That name has become the #2 Google search directing traffic my way.  The first?  “Glee Blaine.”  There’s a joke there, but for now, I’m going to refrain.


40, Love: Virgin Queen My first time with a woman—first time getting a tattoo, of course.  Next to sex, tattoos sells.  I guess they are related in a way.

#13 Kitchen Knightmares: Kiss My Grits After meeting Chef Marcus Samuelsson at a Kraft-sponsored event, I’ll admit developing a little crush.  Will his next restaurant be in Washington Heights?

#14(tie) Alphabet City’s Even Jesus Had a Publicist A rejection from a literary agent who thinks the general public won’t know what a “publicist” does provides an opportunity to excerpt from Alphabet City.


Alphabet City’s Episode 4: Tyra, And Nothing But the Truth Before she was America’s next top media mogul, she was grazing the breakfast buffet and quizzing me about my sexuality.

#16 Alphabet City’s First Excerpt from Episode 13: Happy Soul The online encounter that changed my life.

#17 40, Love: Justice Jo(h)n Paul Unearthing a letter from his father’s papers, I pay tribute to Supreme Court Justice John Paul.

#18 Alphabet City’s First Excerpt from Episode 14: And Baby Makes Three A heartbreaking farewell to a special cast member.  Pet lovers won’t be able to read without crying.

Outside Hanoi's Golden Cock

#19 Green Globe Trekker: iPho Vietnam—Motorbikes & Golden Cock While I’d like to think it’s my lovely description of Viet Nam that makes this post a standout, I believe the name of Hanoi’s gay bar is what calls out to many in their Google searches.

#20(tie) 40, Love: Share, and Cher alike AND Kitchen Knightmares: The Premiere The launch of my cooking show with a nightmare of rancid pork is as compelling to readers as my fighting with neighbors and their kids at the local CSA food pick-up spot.

#22 Tex and the City: The Parent Trap Confronting the question of “are you guys going to have kids?,” I turn to theater reviews for help.

#23 Green Globe Trekker: Costa Rican Eco-Luxe Many of the travel industry’s most pressing sustainability questions have been answered by the Costa Rican trendsetting company Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality.

Jicaro property

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A pOptimistic Christmas Note

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul’s Christmas note announces the end of the ABCityblog sitcom as we know it, but the launch of a new pOptimistic network.

2010 Christmas Card Wreath

Receiving Christmas cards is one of my great holiday joys.  I’m not one of those curmudgeons who complain about the cutesy pictures of kids posed in their holiday finest, or roll my eyes at the “year in the life” letters that could have used a deft editing touch.  In the age of Facebook, when you’re only one passive peek away from knowing the latest thought of your 389th best friend, I find Christmas cards wonderfully anachronistic.

Maybe it’s the sense of anticipation that has me addicted to holiday snail mail.  Will I make it back onto the Jewish Billionaire’s Christmas card list having run into him on book tour a couple times this year?  No, but his company sent me an e-greeting with a recipe for a trifle.  Bah-humbug. Will Tyra see her way clear to forgive a little out-of-context PageSix book publicity?  Unfortunately, no.

But then there are the true friends and family on whose cards I can always count.  Frida’s veterinary pet insurance kicks in the season early with a note that arrives right after Thanksgiving.  My 83 year-old Uncle Cleigh typically sends a picture montage card—usually posed with his dogs and sky diving on his last birthday.  My best gay Gareth chooses a homosexually charged fold-over.  Keith mails an artistic and intricate pop-up cut out.  Cathy manages to unearth yet another jokey Mexican theme featuring yet another Chihuahua, this year posed in a sweater with message, “Fleece Navidad.”  Which, by the way, has Chef in stitches—never underestimate the power of homonym humor to a non-native speaker.

Given my love of the card tradition, you’d think I’d get in on the action.  But no, I’m just a greeting voyeur.  And I don’t even feel guilty about it.  I suppose if you get right down to it, that’s what this blog is really: each post one big Christmas card note, a snapshot of my thinking at a certain point in time.

Here then is my (electronic) Christmas card missive:

With Chef in Mexico

Dear friends, family, fans and casual readers—

2010 has been a life-changing year for me, and I couldn’t have done it without the love of Chef, my partner of a decade (yikes!), not to mention all the encouragement and support you’ve given me along the way.  A year ago, the success of this blog in connecting with readers convinced me to muster the courage and independently publish my humorous memoir Alphabet City.  And what a joyous journey—both literal and emotional—with consequences I never anticipated.

On book tour, I had the opportunity to connect personally with so many of you who graciously opened your homes for book parties with friends.  Christine E., Cathy, Mandy and the ladies of Chi Omega in Dallas/Ft. Worth made my hometown welcoming again—and the reconnection with my stepmother Christine C. was an early Christmas gift.

Alphabet City themed cupcakes at sister-in-law Laura's party

My Mexican family—Isabel in S. Florida, and in-laws Laura and Miguel in Boston—thanks for trying to translate Mary Tyler Moore to a Latino audience.  Of course, the coastal gays jumped into action: Bryan K. for the first Manhattan gathering, Larry for LA’s Gay Pride, Chris and Tom for a weekend on Fire Island.  I had the opportunity to see dear friends blossoming in their new homes: Kara in DC, Dana in LA, and Jimmy in Madison.  Old friends like Shannon took me to new places like Lubbock where her sister Colleen charmed the boots off of me!  Even older friends (and family) introduced me to their new friends and family: sister Paige to the Whole Foods gang, Valerie to Austin’s Media Mavens, including Tammy and her gorgeously renovated historic abode.  Not to mention the reconnections along the way: Kathryn, Mila, Julia, and Diana.

The love I felt from you, your friends, and the fans I met along the way, made me truly believe that I have a unique, fun and optimistic voice that is connecting with readers.  And that is what has given me the courage to announce my next journey: following my passion and dream of being a writer, and doing so full-time.

An optimistic attitude, like Mary Tyler Moore

That means I bid a fond farewell to life as a marketing/public relations consultant, and say hello to the life of a writer.  While I anticipate many ups and downs, I’ve learned that my passion, creativity, hard work and optimistic attitude can take me far.  Already, my focus and energy landed me an important story for Condé Nast Traveler (watch for it in March 2011).  And I have many more exciting changes in store, including a complete redesign and relaunch of this blog.  The topics I write about are more than can be captured in a sitcom called Alphabet City.  With favorite shows like Tex and the City (culture), Green Globe Trekker (travel), and 40, Love (life), and soon-to-be-released shows like Service Entrance (food) and Biz Savvy Blogger (technology), I may just need my own network—like Oprah.  As the wise and wealthy media mogul says herself in promos for her OWN channel:

“What if I could take every story that ever moved me?  Every lesson that motivated me?  Every opportunity that was given to me?  All of my most special celebrations?  And shared them with you?”

Some might call that nauseating, others might call that Facebook and Twitter, but I’m calling the new JP network:

Watch for this fresh, frank, fun website-network to launch in the New Year.  I can’t wait to share this next part of the journey with you.  As Oprah says, “Oooh, this is gonna be good!”

Until then, wishing you a

Viewer programming note: To prepare for the Poptimistic programming change and to celebrate the season, ABCityblog will be going on hiatus—except for instances of breaking thoughts/news.


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Spit List XI: Tea Party Pat Down

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul sounds an alarm regarding preparations for The Spit List.

Chloe Sevigny was the original Spit List nominee 11 years ago

Confused by the kooky controversy surrounding TSA pat-downs?  Bored by the bogus buzz around Black Friday?  Then turn your attention to that imminently more critical consideration—the question that gets everyone gobbling at Thanksgiving gatherings: Who’s on your Spit List?

For those of you who don’t have time to read an excerpt from Alphabet City about The Spit List origin that includes Chloe Sevigny and the Condé Nast cafeteria, let me lay the ground rules:

  • Your Spit List nominees should be folks you so dislike that if you saw them, you would spit on them.  It is a guttural response based upon a visceral reaction, which means there’s really is no rhyme or reason.
  • You can only spit on famous people—someone that you might see on a red carpet.  It can’t be Bob in accounting.
  • Your Spit List doesn’t have to be long; people can move on and off the list over time.  Scarlett Johansson was on my very first list, but has since moved off.  Although the recent appearance of her lips on Saturday Night Live has me reconsidering.

Did someone just spit on John Boehner?

Friends have tried exporting The Spit List to overseas celebrations with varying degrees of success.  Last I heard, my friend Aimee was debating the delicacies of introducing The Spit List to Kabul based on her limited success with it in Liberia.  At last year’s Spit List 10th Anniversary Celebration, favorite choices included Lou Dobbs and Rihanna, the latter nominated because of a bad haircut that just seems to be getting worse.

WORD OF CAUTION: In a post-election daze, it’s easy to go wild with political appointees to your Spit List.  Believe me, I am all for a full on TSA pat down of the Tea Party baggers.

Gwyneth and a rain of spit?

But from experience, the game is far more fun when there’s a Spit List balance of party officials and pop-culture wackos.  So, for every John Boehner there should be a Gwyneth Paltrow—damn, her Glee appearance is throwing a curve ball at my Spit List.

Good luck, guttural speed, and may your Spit List be thoughtful and controversial.

And by all means, let me know whom made your Spit List.

Excerpt from Alphabet City’s Episode 11: Bold Faced Names

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Tex and the City: Maudlin Maupin

Today on Tex and the City: Jon Paul checks in on gal pal Mary Ann Singleton in Armistead Maupin’s new Tales of the City novel.

In addition to Mary Tyler Moore, another triple named gal, Mary Ann Singleton, has eased me through some of life’s sharpest moments.  Driving in a U-Haul to Alphabet City nearly 15 years ago, I kept awake listening to my friend Martin read aloud the latest antics of the fallible heroine of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series.  Indelibly inked in my imagination as the actress Laura Linney who played in her in the PBS mini-series, the girl is back in the 8th book in the collection, Mary Ann in Autumn.  The books have always been a cleverly composed and punchy commentary on pop-culture, vaguely hiding Maupin’s own worldview and life experiences, with hilariously constructed plots.  This one is no different—minus the hysteria.  There aren’t many laughs here.  As the title would suggest, Mary Ann’s light is dimming at the age of 57 which leaves her feeling a little blue, perhaps a reflection of Maupin’s own maudlin mood.

Laura Linney (center) as Mary Ann Singleton

A personal tragedy has lead Mary Ann to escape her New York life—where she fled in earlier episodes—to return to San Francisco to seek comfort from lovable characters she had left behind, including best gay friend Michael and the indomitable Mrs. Madrigal, played to TV perfection by Olympia Dukakis.  Like Mary Ann, Michael has aged and now has a much younger husband, giving Maupin the opportunity to explore monogamy in gay relationships, along with a titillating discussion of male vs. female sexual desires.  A supporting cast of characters includes the transgender Jake who provides a real insight into the psyche of gender identity issues that Maupin didn’t necessarily explore earlier with Mrs. Madrigal.

But really, the story here is all for Mary Ann, as one would expect from the book’s opening dedication to Laura Linney.  I couldn’t help  imagining that captivating actress reading some of the lines here—as if Maupin was channeling her current character on Showtime’s The Big C (a program I’m wildly ambivalent about).   Typical of Mary Ann’s sorry state of mind:

“It all goes so fast, she thought.  We dole out our lives in dinner parties and plane flights, and it’s over before we know it.  We lose everyone we love, if they don’t lose us first, and every single thing we do is intended to distract us from that reality.”

Maupin and his muse

Sounds like a Sondheim lyric if you ask me—and something Chef said to me on second date, sweet, right?  Only Laura Linney could give this thought a lift that would keep me from hitting the bottle to drown my sorrows.

Maupin has been a big influence in my own writing.  His clever integration of historical references and pop culture items will no doubt make the books an important cultural historical relic.  I took cues from Maupin in writing Alphabet City trying to capture the feel of a specific time period—the late ‘90s—with stories about early gay dating on the Internet—hearing the modem connect with static, for example.  A line that always earned laughs from gay boys when I was on book tour.  Here, Maupin hones his craft using Facebook as an important plot point.  Similarly, Mormons and their Prop 8 fight in California are crucial to the development of a few other characters.

Honestly, I was excited but nervous when I first learned that the next book in the Tales of the City series was forthcoming.  Similar feelings to a class reunion, I suppose.  While you might look forward to catching up with the people you remember liking—meet their new spouses and lovers—it’s always the signs of aging that are  worrisome.  Maybe it’s that you don’t want to see those reflections in yourself.  On the whole, I’m glad I attended (read) the Mary Ann in Autumn reunion.

It gets better at a gay pride event

But it didn’t perk me up.  Instead, it left me feeling, well, maudlin.  And if that’s how Maupin is feeling, then by all means, the next time I see him, I want to give him a hug.  Because after autumn, it gets a little worse in winter, but then there’s spring.  As the phrase of the moment says, it gets better.

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Through Tourist Colored Glasses

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul’s love of the Big Apple is rejuvenated by visitors—and a celebrity chef.  Guest star: Lidia Bastianich.

Stumbling through Times Square yesterday, in a post-election fog I had been trying to out run on the New York Sports Club treadmill, I suddenly found myself smiling.  Not because my iPhone was blasting Glee TV stars Rachel and Kurt’s “Happy Days Are Here Again,” but because I had been stopped in my tracks by two tourists desperately trying to compose a photo of themselves in front of the theater for Million Dollar Quartet.  Never mind that they were in the way of thousands of hurried and unhappy commuters making their way to Port Authority, or that they were in danger of being swiped by yellow cabs careening down 41st street.  These tourists were in the thick of love with New York City—they saw and wanted to capture a part of that Big Apple magic on a side street that most residents ignore.

with Uncle Cleigh

It often worries me that after 15 years, I can become numb to the excitement and glamour of New York.  But thankfully, Chef and I host a steady stream of visitors—spending time seeing the city through their eyes is like a renewal of our Big Apple love vow.  Often, it’s the smallest thing that we take for granted.  My 82 year-old “Uncle” Cleigh from Austin has more spunk (and better outfits) than me.  Last month on his semi-annual pilgrimage, we took in a Sunday evening performance of the outrageously hilarious Charles Busch’s Divine Sister.

Afterwards, he was hungry and I fretted that I had failed to scope out dining options in the area.  After a recent hip replacement surgery, Uncle Cleigh might not be up for an aimless wander in search of the Holy Food Grail—a cute downtown establishment with no line out the door.  Not to worry.  Uncle Cleigh gave a dramatic toss to the cape around his shoulders and a tap of his cane and lead the way, within minutes we turned the corner to a little side street.  After seeing a curb piled high with garbage, I just knew we were headed in the wrong direction.  But Uncle Cleigh’s eyes lit up—he’d look past the refuse to a plate glass window of the charming little restaurant Salt.

“This is the New York I love!” declared Uncle Cleigh.

Inside, the food was good, the wine flowing, the service delightful, and the company even sweeter.  And to think initially I had wanted to run the other way.

But even with restaurant reservations, I can be jaded and suspect.  Last year, our friends Tony and Christine were visiting from Sydney, and they were excited about taking me and Chef to dinner at Lidia Bastianich’s Felidia.  Lidia’s new cooking show had just debuted Down Under and Tony was a huge fan.

“Maybe she’ll be at the restaurant and can sign my cookbook,” Tony enthused.

I felt like it was my duty to lower his expectations.

“Don’t get your hopes up.  It’s a Sunday night in the summer—most New York chefs are gone.  Besides, it’s not one of her newer restaurants.  I’m sure she doesn’t spend any time there,” I advised.

When we arrived, the host refused to sit us in the main dining room and said the only table available for us was in the front window, by the bar.  I was displeased.

“Typical, treating us like tourists,” I said to Tony.  “Try to not let it ruin your evening.”

“I won’t. This is a better place to spot Lidia.”

I rolled my eyes and buried my head in the menu.

And then somewhere between opening cocktails and first appetizer, a sweet lady with thinning red hair and glasses in a chef’s jacket appeared at the bar.

“Oh my god, there’s Lidia!” I practically screamed.

Chef, Tony and Christine applauded in excitement.  And the next thing we knew, Lydia was at our table talking about how much she liked Australia.  Taking pictures.  Signing autographs.  And later sending out a whole range of desserts on the house.  Bless the Australians and their fresh, hopeful, optimistic outlook.  They had conjured up a little of the Manhattan magic.

That last experience had slipped my mind, until I got a call a couple of days ago from my friend Aimee in Afghanistan.  I know, right?  I just like saying that.  Aimee and I have been friends for many years in New York and she’s now on assignment working for an international organization in Kabul.  In a funny stroke of luck, our paths had crossed this summer when I was in LA on the Alphabet City Book Tour and she was on leave, just about to head back to help rebuild Afghanistan.  Aimee called to say how much she loved Alphabet City that she had just finished reading, and, and then wrote me a note later as a follow-up:

“I knew I’d enjoy your book no matter what, b/c, well–it’s you. Normally I just love talking to you and hearing things that happen, like when Lydia unexpectedly showed up at her restaurant to the amusement of your tourist friends (who fully expected her to be there) and all sorts of things that happen to you on a day-to-day basis.”

So thanks Aimee, and Uncle Cleigh, and Tony and Christine, and all those tourists flooding the streets of Manhattan—for giving me the perspective needed to keep loving the Big Apple, and all its surprises.

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Gave a Kid a Break

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul fondly recalls PageSix Richard Johnson’s role in his early career.

News broke yesterday that Richard Johnson, the cheeky editor of legendary gossip column PageSix for the past 25 years, is loading up his truck and heading to Beverly—Hills that is.  While many have been reluctantly caught in his inky crosshairs over the years, I have a fondness for Richard—he gave this young flack a break when I was struggling to climb the ladder of celebrity publicity.  Thanks to him, I’ve ended up as a Bold Faced Name in the column on at least three occasions—a mark of pride in the Big Apple.  Back in February, I sent him a copy of Alphabet City and marked the stories of our encounters.  He immediately contacted me to thank me for portraying him and PageSix in such a nice light, and ran a slightly sensationalized excerpt about Tyra Banks the next day that spun out-of-control across the Internet gossip land.  Even in this day and age of online celebrity rumor mills, PageSix—and Richard Johnson—set the pace for coverage.  Best of luck in the land of swimming pools and movie stars.

Here’s an excerpt from Alphabet City’s Episode 4: And Nothing But the Truth

For a few months now, I had been struggling to master the duties required to be a junior celebrity publicist.  Other than a brief and almost disastrous encounter with Whoopi, so far my primary job had been escorting the firms C-list clients to be the third guest on NY-filmed TV talk shows like Rosie.  These clients usually played the sitcom’s whacky next-door neighbor but had a dramatic movie-of-the-week to promote.  As a favor to the firm’s heavy-hitter publicists who promised to deliver their headliners, talent bookers slotted in our low-wattage names in the last few minutes of a show.

Each week, my responsibilities were explained long distance by my boss, BusyB—think blonde highlights of Ryan Seacrest with the easy attitude of Neil Patrick Harris.  He was Greasy’s partner in the firm, headed up the celebrity division, and had a reputation as the nicest and busiest entertainment publicist in the business.  BusyB was responsible for teaching me the public relations two-step dance I call “Spin and Cover.”

First, I mastered the art of spin.  A few days after my job interview-date with Greasy, BusyB called with my first assignment—a very important daily mission involving Liza Minnelli.  By 7am, I was to read all the daily gossip columns, cut out and paste up any that mention Liza, and fax them to her manager, assistant and head publicist by 7:30am.  No earlier or later.

Liza’s entourage seemed awfully high maintenance, but that was fine by me.  As cliché as it is for a gay boy, I have been completely devoted to Liza ever since I was six years old and my father took the family to The Venetian Room at Dallas’ fading Fairmont Hotel for a live performance by the diva.  It was the waning days of 70’s hotel cabaret but I dressed as if it were the second coming.

For weeks, I pranced around the living room with a top hat and cane found in my stash of dress up clothes singing along to the cassette recording of Cabaret.  I was perfecting a heart-wrenching rendition of “Maybe This Time.”  At Liza’s performance, I quietly mouthed the words as I sat enraptured by her every word, note, gesture and sequin.

Twenty years later, and I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be traveling in her orbit.  Which is why I was so unnerved when after a few weeks of successful gossip column faxing, BusyB assigned me a more critical Liza task.

“I need you to call Richard Johnson at PageSix and deny that Liza is back in rehab,” he said.

“Richard?  He’s the most powerful columnist around.  I’ve never spoken to him.  Why me?”

“Because I’ve spoken to him a million times.  He won’t believe me.”

“But I wouldn’t even know what to say.”

“Anything.  Make something up. Like she’s going into the hospital to have a procedure.  Her knee or hip drained, something like that.  It’s called spin.”

Spin sounded an awful like lying to me.  Didn’t Greasy say something about my integrity landing me the job?  With no other options, I called Richard, but he wasn’t buying what I was selling.

“You’re honestly expecting me to believe some junior flack telling me that Liza is having her knee or hip drained?”

I paused, and then just tried to be as honest as I could.

“I know, but give a kid a break.  I’m in over my head here, and my boss is telling me I have to feed you this story.”

I could hear Richard typing away on his keyboard.

“That’s the most honest thing I’ve heard all week,” he said.

Next day, PageSix ran with the Liza-back-in-rehab story.  But Richard included at the end of the piece an obscure line about Liza’s reps claiming she was having a medical procedure.  I was heralded a hero in the LA office.  Greasy had told me the key to this business was keeping my integrity in tact, and surprisingly that is what charmed the most important gossip columnist.

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Tex and the City: Lela & BA Café

Today on Alphabet City: When a friend’s mom visits NYC, Tex and the City helps out with a visit to the BA Café.  Guest star: MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts.

Susan, JP, Shannon, Thomas, Marc

When my mother from Texas makes the trek to the Big Apple, I’m always in a panic about how to fill her dance card.  Too much two-stepping together time can get us into trouble, which means that I’m always pressing into service others around me to relieve some of the burden.  So I immediately RSVP’d yes when my friend Sam—the graphic design whiz responsible for the cover of Alphabet City and also an art director at Bon Appétit magazine—sent out an invite to a little get together with his mom visiting from Iowa.  The request had me intrigued on multiple levels:

  • His mother’s name “Lela” is the same as my very fancy next door neighbor growing up—the one whose husband at their annual Christmas party put out an automatically opening and closing mirrored treasure chest that displayed an expensive piece of jewelry he gave to his wife that year.  Classy.
  • Lela was coming with her friend Gayle—as Sam said, “that’s right, just like Oprah!”  Maybe a trip to Australia was in my future.
  • It was all going down at the BA Café—a pop-up dining spot in Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall next to the NY Fashion Week tents.

Even though I think Lincoln Center is a bit of a cold mess, when I do visit I am warmed remembering All My Children’s Erica Kane prancing about the fountain in the ‘70s shooting a fashion portfolio.  Next to Mary Tyler Moore, that scene is one of the reasons I moved to NYC.  So how great that the BA Café has a view of that esplanade, as well as the fashion tents across the way.  Who needs a ticket inside for the runway when you can watch the free parade of fashionistas and Euro tourists from a banquette while sipping a Terrazas Malbec?  Even better, you can do all that and snack on Daniel Boulud’s terrines or Mario Batali’s cheese plate?  During the day, the BA Café serves a fuller menu of breakfast and lunch items—today’s the last day, though.

Sam standing, Lela on his left, Gayle on his right

Lela and Gayle were, of course, a delight—dishing on how a certain actress was fumbling lines in the matinee of A Little Night Music.  But who cares?  Gayle and Bernadette share a hairdresser it turns out—they both went to the same spot when Bernadette was traveling through the Midwest!

My friend Marc, who works at ABC News down the street, arrived with the impossibly handsome news anchor Thomas Roberts in-tow.  Now, Alphabet City readers might recognize Marc as the guy who brought Graham Norton to one of my East Village soirees, having been hoodwinked into believing from the invite that my apartment was actually the site of an underground nightclub.  Well, this time I had nothing to do with the fact that Marc thought the BA Café might be behind-the-scenes of one of the fashion tents.

The two got over their slight disappointment quickly and settled in with the crowd.  I gave Thomas some tips on his next day interview with ice skater Johnny Weir—I suggested he inquire about the truth behind the mysterious break-up with best friend Paris (don’t ask, I admit to watching his show on Sundance).  Thomas countered by showing us a picture he took of his Middle Eastern cab driver’s name—and I am NOT making this up—Ram Amandeep.

Even Lela and Gayle laughed at that one.

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Tex and the City: Romantic Fall

Today on Tex and the City: JP picks his favorite Fall happenings, while Chef prepares for a Nor’easter.

in a colorful fall scarf. photo by Jamie Beck

By the time of our ninth date, it was fairly obvious that Chef and I had radically different approaches to seasonal transitions.  We met in late summer, and so by mid-September Chef was already breaking out hat, gloves, and down jackets for a stroll around Central Park to see the changing leaves.

“Aren’t you a little over dressed for a romantic walk?” I asked, wearing a light sweater and cute new scarf.

“Romantic?  There’s nothing romantic about this weather.  You never know when a snowstorm might hit.”

“I take it you’re not a fan of fall, then.  That’s too bad, it’s my favorite season.”

“If you ask me, fall is just a harbinger of impending doom.  Six months of Nor’easters and no sun.”

So dramatic.  That’s my boy.  Not that I lack a flare for the dramatic.  I suppose my love of Fall is rooted in too many Woody Allen movies as a kid—they were like love letters to the Big Apple.  And then When Harry Met Sally came along I was mesmerized by  the image of Meg Ryan walking through Central Park while the golden leaves fell around her.

When I first moved to Alphabet City, I was overwhelmed by the energy with which New Yorkers attack the Fall season.  It’s as if right after Labor Day, summering finally ends, and they are allowed to unleash every bit of pent up ambition in a flurry of activity that concludes before Thanksgiving.  I always feel like if I don’t pay attention, and plan, then I’m going to miss something important—especially theatre offerings.  I’ve learned to really sit down and study both New York and Time Out magazines’ Fall Previews, and then triangulate it with the New York Times Arts & Leisure Fall guide.

For those of you traveling to NYC this romantic fall, or those of you living here that need a little help, here’s what’s on my radar screen that Tex and the City will most likely be writing about this Fall.

That is, when I’m not strolling the city with Chef—I’ll be the one with the colorful scarf, he’ll be Nanook of the North.

My ticket tip: register with www.theatermania.com and have access to discount codes for purchasing tickets; otherwise go to www.telecharge.com

Mrs. Warren’s Profession.  Cherry Jones—one of the most powerful actresses of our time—stars as a brothel-owner in this George Bernard Shaw play about mother-daughter dynamics.  The daughter will be played by Sally Hawkins, making her Broadway debut.  www.roundabouttheatre.org

La Bete.  Patsy from AbFab on Broadway in a revival of a famous flop?  Count me in!  Joanna Lumley stars with David Hyde Pierce and Mark Rylance (Tony award Boeing Boeing), directed by God of Carnage’s Matthew Warchus.  www.labetetheplay.com

Without You.  Anthony Rapp writes the book and lyrics based upon his book Without You: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent.  Hey, Alphabet City as a musical?  I’m considering it.  So it’s a must to check out this show part of the New York Musical Theater Festival that gave us hits like Next to Normal and my inspiring fave [title of show]www.nymf.org

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.  Tickets already purchased, thank you very much, for this musical adaptation of the Almodovar movie.  Come on, starring Patti Lupone, Laura Benanti, Sheri Rene Scott and Brian Stokes Mitchell?!  There’s no decision here.  www.lct.org

Driving Miss Daisy.  Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones.  Enough said.  www.daisyonbroadway.com

The Pee-Wee Herman Show.  Paul Reubens is back and as goofy as ever.  And thank God, because he still influences my everyday dialogue.  “Why don’t you marry it?”  www.pewee.com/broadway

Elling.  Although my love for this actor can’t get me to watch him in True Blood, Denis O’Hare will make me run screaming to the theater to see him paired with Brendan Fraser.  They’re two men released from a mental institution living together.  Add in the quirky fabulous Jennifer Coolidge, and I’m not sure how this can go wrong.  www.ellingonbroadway.com

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.  Say what you will, but I live with a guy obsessed with super heroes.  And I’m obsessed with director Julie Taymor.  Let’s hope the most expensive production in Broadway history is either spectacularly terrific or outrageously tragic.  I’d hate for them to have spent a fortune to crank out this year’s mediocrity (sorry, Addams Family).  www.spidermanonbroadway.com

Other Desert Cities.  A new work by writer Jon Robin Baitz—whom I used to read magazine articles about while in Texas and fantasize I would have his life one day.  Story is about a novelist who returns home after six years and announces she’s working on a memoir about a controversial time in the family’s history.  Hmm, sound familiar?  www.lct.org

Out of Town Tryouts—Leap of Faith.  It often takes one for me to travel to LA.  But in case we need to escape an freak early snowfall, I’d consider a trip to Hollywood in October to see this musical.  Stars one of my Broadway boyfriends Raúl Esparza and eye-brow-licious Brooke Shields.  Based on the Steve Martin movie.  www.centertheatregroup.org

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1000 Faces

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul is confronted by a guest star who isn’t so sure about his characterization.

Photo by Jamie Beck

Like other parents, end of August means back to school time in my household, including a trip to the doctor for a check-up and shots.  Now, my seven year-old fluffy Frida is technically 49 years old in dog years, but we still have all the little kid problems like allergies and eye infections.  There are even treats in the waiting room to induce excitement in Frida about seeing her pet-iatrician, whom I describe in Alphabet City’s Episode 15 as “our trumpet playing Argentine vet Dr. Moscovich—think facial expressions of Sid Caesar with the comic timing of Desi Arnaz.”

Dr. Moscovich hasn’t made a guest appearance in my sitcom life since the book came out in March.  I sent him a copy, and marked the page where he appears, but didn’t hear anything back.  I assumed it had gotten lost in the mail, so didn’t think anything of it until I walked into the examining room and was greeted with his booming, heavily accented voice.

“Hello, how are you?  How is Miss Frida Carlota?  Thank you for the book.  When I got it, I said ‘who IS this guy?”

“Really?  You didn’t know it was me?  My picture with Frida is on the cover.”

“No, no.  Of course I knew it was you.  Are you crazy?  I mean the way you describe me.  This guy Sid something.  Desi Arnaz, of course I know.  But this Sid?  I thought who is that?  So I look him up on Wikipedia and find out he is a man of a 1000 faces.  So that’s what you think of me?”

His eyes bugged out of his head—a dead ringer for the whacky comedian if ever I saw one.  For the most part, I try to be flattering with my descriptions of guest stars in my life. After all, I want them to feel comfortable appearing back on the show.  I hadn’t run into anyone yet on book tour that objected to their description.  For a moment, I couldn’t tell what Dr. Moscovich thought of his characterization—and as my little girl’s caretaker, I couldn’t afford for him to take issue.

“So I called my friend Joe.  A professor in Ohio.  And terrific saxophone player, by the way.  And I said, ‘Joe, who is this Sid Caesar?’  He said, ‘Why you want to know?’  And I said, ‘Some guy wrote in a book that I’m a cross between Sid Caesar and Desi Arnaz.’  Joe started laughing so hard he could barely speak.  He finally said, ‘That guy has you pegged!’  So I guess I better find out more about this Sid!’”

When I was doing a final revision of Alphabet City, Sid Caesar had been on my mind because I had just been to see my father for a final visit in his dementia ward of a nursing home.  He spent his time watching old episodes of Sid over and over again.  In some way I suppose, pegging Dr. Moscovich for Sid was an homage to my father’s love of bawdy humor.

As I packed up Frida for our trip back up town to Washington Heights, I looked over her updated rabies vaccination form that had the day’s date—September 5th.  It would have been my father’s 77th birthday.  I poked my head back into the examination.

“Hey Dr. Moscovich, my father left me some of his DVD collection.  I’m going to send a few your way.  There are some Sid Caesar shows I think you’ll enjoy.”

He smiled and gave Frida an extra treat.  She wagged her tail, and had a little skip in her step as we headed to the subway.

Photo by Jamie Beck


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La Tierra del Queso

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul and Chef get a little cheesy on book tour in Madison.

Viewer Programming Note: ABCityblog will be “summering” and on hiatus until after Labor Day.  Thanks for your support!

Local cheese from Whole Foods Madison

All I had to do was mention “artisinal cheese,” and Chef’s bags were packed for an Alphabet City Book Tour stop in Madison, Wisconsin.  My sweet friend Jimmy, who makes a couple of guest appearances in Alphabet City, moved there a few years ago with his husband, so it seemed like the perfect add on to my Chicago stop.  While some might have thought the town was an odd choice to be part of our 10th Anniversary trip, not my beloved—he didn’t need any arm twisting for a visit to “La Tierra del Queso” as he likes to call it.

With my Subaru Legacy at the Cheese Chalet

As much as I love living in New York City where I have been able to beat my Texas-born addiction to cars, I do enjoy the opportunity to test-drive a swanky vehicle through America’s heartland.  Subaru stepped up to the plate with an offer to drive around in a Legacy—a titled Chef liked solely because it was the name of a dancer on So You Think You Can Dance.  I, on the other hand, appreciated the sedan’s powerful pick-up that allowed me to outrun some irritating 18-wheelers on I-90.  Even better, the Subaru engineers have placed the cruise controls right on the face of the steering wheel—I hate when I mistakenly activate the wipers when trying to give my leg a break from the pedals.  Most importantly, Legacy was an expert at last minute maneuvering when Chef insisted on a stop at a roadside Cheese Chalet.   Chef bought some famous squeaking cheese curds and indulged in a little Wisconsin wine-tasting (not me, the designated driver), picking up a surprisingly not-terribly-sweet Pinot Grigio.

Pulling into Madison in Legacy we fit right in—various Subaru models were everywhere.  Clearly, the 4WD capabilities make it an excellent choice in a town with 40 days of snow.  And in a city that supposedly has the highest per capita percentage of gay and lesbian citizens in the United States, Subaru’s rainbow flag marketing messages are definitely paying off.  Especially during Madison’s Capital Pride festivities that were in full force.

My 9th Pride Festival of the Summer!

Wisconsin’s state capitol dome presides over all activities in Madison—including the country’s largest farmer’s market.  Now, I always snicker at claims like that.  Who exactly goes around and counts?  How exactly is it measured?  But no doubt was it true.  The stands surround the capitol grounds and by noon it’s as busy as tourists searching for a Chanel knock-off on NYC’s Canal Street.  As Chef perused each and every stall, I listened to young actors reciting Shakespeare lines, and some political theater about the Palestinian conflict getting underway.  Ignoring the bounty of fruit at one table, a young kid said to his mother, “When are we going to McDonald’s?”

Just off the square, a gorgeous cheese shop called Fromagination called out to us.  The store has a terrific selection of local artisanal cheese and wine that definitely captured our imagination.  But here’s a money saving tip: if you’ve got the time head off to Whole Foods Market about 10 minutes away (everything seems only 10 minutes away since there never was traffic anywhere) where you can snag many of the same local cheeses for a little less money.

Whole Foods Madison's bounty for the party!

In fact, the Whole Foods Market Madison helped out with a gift card to support Jimmy’s Alphabet City Book Party—and for less than $100 we loaded up on local cheese (my favs: Carr Valley’s Cocoa Cardona and Cranberry Chipotle Cheddar), and a range of 365 brand chips, hummus, salsa, Italian sodas, and wine.  If there’s one thing that I’ve learned helping plan the many of parties on book tour is that Whole Foods let’s you get local quality for great value—focus on WFM’s 365 brand to economize on staples, and then spend the savings on local products.  It was great to see that the Madison store had a nice selection of local artisanal cheeses that were a huge hit with the locals at the event.

Later at the party, I ran into a former colleague Patrick—we had worked together at Condé Nast Traveler many years ago.  Patrick moved to Madison and started a gay and lesbian magazine for the community called Our Lives that was celebrating its 1-year birthday (and included a lovely write-up of Alphabet City).  He asked me what was my very first impression of Madison.  I thought back to when we arrived, driving down the streets lined with classic two-story homes shaded by towering trees and kids playing in the lawns and beagles chasing chipmunks.

Dixie enjoys Alphabet City

“I wondered if it could possibly be this idyllic,” I said.

“It’s a little bit like Austin—thirty years ago,” Jimmy chimed in.

And so it is.  Not much traffic.  An economy dominated by a state university and government.  Fresh local produce from Whole Foods and a farmer’s market.  Madison definitely has it’s charm.

Just then, Jimmy’s beagles Dixie, Tatum and Silas barked—they were tired of playing with my faux-Oscar and wanted to go chase squirrels.  I smiled at my wonderful summer travels—this book tour had taken me to so many unexpected spots.  What a treat.

With Jimmy at his lovely home

With Chef under the Capitol Dome

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