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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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40, Love: Paws for Reflection

Today on Alphabet City: JP rediscovers Maybe the Moon on an end-of-season Fire Island getaway with Frida and Chef.

A walk with Frida on the beaches of Fire Island has become one of my life’s greatest pleasures.  Although we have now been lucky enough to prance on those sands dozens of times, each time for her is almost like the first—her puppy dog eyes lit up with excitement, a smile on her snout a mile wide, and a kick her in back legs like a rodeo bronco.  She runs the length of her extendable leash until it pops its limit, then she rushes back to me with a look of amazement, “What’s better than this?” she seems to bark.  Frida is unencumbered by the stress of the commute from the city—do we change in Babylon or Jamaica and will we make the ferry?  Unlike me, she’s not saddened by the thought that this may be the last bath of sunshine on our exposed skin until next May, at the earliest.  Her antics on the beach are a reminder of the unexpected joy that can come with living life in the moment, in the here and now.

Chef and I are blessed with friends like Chris and Tom who willingly open their beautiful home to us on Fire Island’s Cherry Grove.  While it’s fun to visit them in the height of the summer, especially this year when they hosted an Alphabet City book party, I do enjoy an end-of-the-season getaway.  At that time, like this past weekend, the island is filled with folks trying to squeeze out every last bit of pleasure—they aren’t taking anything for granted.  Flyers around “town” announce everything as the “last of the season”—the final Middle Tea dance extravaganza, the final Underwear Party.  Even venerable Cherry’s gets creative with a “Christmas Party”—why not celebrate the holiday with your island friends?

One of my little pleasures at a vacation home is perusing the bookshelf.  I enjoy perusing and commenting upon books left behind.  I was guessing the same gay boy who read Eat, Pray, Love probably didn’t also enjoy Larry Kramer’s Faggots.  Since I’ve visited the house many times, I’ve developed pretty good command of the in-house library, but this weekend, for the first time I noticed on the shelf a book I adored when I initially read it, Armistead Maupin’s Maybe the Moon.  At first, I recommended the book to Chef, but he was too busy enjoying Kyle Thomas Smith’s 85A—the debut book by my friend that is fantastic—a full review later.

I go so excited telling Chef about my love of Maybe the Moon, that I put aside Anthony Bourdain’s latest and cracked it open myself.  Within moments, I was once again mesmerized by Maupin’s flowing, storytelling genius about the struggles of being a dwarf in Hollywood who played an ET-like character.  The book was based on the life of his friend Tamara de Treaux who played the actual ET, and Maupin claims it might have been the last book that Jackie Kennedy Onassis ever read.  What I love about Maupin is ability to create captivating characters and seamlessly situate them in a specific time and place—this one resonating with me as it is set firmly in the recession of the late ‘80s.  The 31-inch tall main character Cadence Roth has an outsized personality and work ethic that carries her far—certainly into my heart.

Normally, the trip back to the city exhausts me listening to the unfortunate conversations of jaded queens.  Case in point, overheard on the shuttle to the train, “You know how when you play with a pretty dog, and an ugly dog, and you reach down to pet the pretty dog, but the ugly dog lays its head on your lap, and you’re like, gross.  That’s how it is with Randy and Elliott.  I just want to party with pretty Randy, but ugly Elliott is always around.”  Thankfully, I had convinced myself it was okay to temporarily borrow Maybe the Moon, so Maupin carried me away from all that.

Frida slept in her carrying case all the way home, only rousing herself once we were back on land in Washington Heights.  While Chef and I dragged our feet a little, sad that we couldn’t linger in the sun a few more days, Frida had the same spring in her step that she had on the beach.  She was living in the now—and now was good.  We were home.

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Laura Linney L’Amour

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul spends Valentine’s Day with his longtime love Laura Linney.

Laura Linney has always been good to me.  If my childhood was governed by an obsession with Mary Tyler Moore, then my young adult years were guided by an equally strong attraction to Tales of City’s Mary Ann Singleton as played by Laura Linney.  Frankly, I was nervous watching the PBS version of Armistead Maupin’s nearly iconic gay books—what actress could they possibly cast in the role requiring equal parts Midwestern innocence and captivating gumption?  Laura Linney, that’s who.  And I’ve had a crush on her ever since.

When I later fell into being a junior celebrity publicist (read all about it in my new humorous memoir Alphabet City: My So-Called Sitcom Life), I quickly learned to tamp down my idol worship.  Up close and personal, the famous rarely lived up to expectations.  So I was pretty nervous a couple of years ago when I found out I would be in very close proximity to Laura Linney while attending the Telluride Film Festival.  My client Absolut’s LEVEL vodka was a sponsor and that meant I had entry to all the VIP receptions—including the very intimate opening night dinner.  Laura lives part-time in Telluride, is a big supporter of the event, and had a movie Jindabyne in the festival so her attendance was all but assured.

The combination of high altitude and high probability of meeting Mary Ann Laura left me breathless.  As I grazed the lavish buffet at the reception taking place inside the gorgeous apartment owned by Ex-NJ Governor Jon Corzine’s ex-wife, I tried to play it cool.  But a woman in line behind me kept encroaching on my space, really getting on my nerves.  I turned to get a good look at her—intending to give her my best rolling of the eyes—and was met by a captivating smile.

“Oh hi!  How are you?” asked Laura Linney.

My heart skipped a beat.  I had trouble taking in enough oxygen.  It was all I could do to smile back.  She looked at me with her piercing eyes.

“It’s been awhile.  We worked together, right?” she asked.

My mind was spinning.  Who does she think I am?  Maybe Stephen Dorff, my celebrity doppleganger?  But I don’t remember that they ever worked together.  Should I tell her the truth?  That I’m just some adoring fan.  She continued smiling at me and I just wanted to be her friend.

“Well, I used to be at Condé Nast, maybe that was it?” I offered, hoping that I could make that wish come true.  She smiled.

“Right, that’s it.  A photo shoot or something.  Anyway, it’s so good to see you!”

She leaned in and gave me a little shoulder-to-shoulder hug as we both awkwardly balanced our plates.  As we chit chatted our way around the buffet commenting on the food and what films in the festival we each planned on seeing, I was sure she realized the mistake she had made.  But she was so gracious, and such a good actress, that she never made me feel awkward or embarrassed.

“Well, I’ve got to go find my fiancé Marc.  But we’ll catch up later.”

And she disappeared from my site, but not from my heart.  Her performance made me love her even more.

For this past Valentine’s Day, Chef arranged for me to spend time with Laura—he bought me tickets to see her latest Broadway effort Time Stands Still co-starring Alicia Silverstone.  True to form, Laura Linney was captivating in the role of a war photographer—her subtlety making the character much more engaging than written.  Throughout the play, I caught myself laughing a little too loudly at her wise cracks and clapping a little too hard—like an over eager suitor.

As we passed the stage the door on the way home, paparazzi and autograph hounds were lined up.

“Want to wait her and see if she recognizes you?  Maybe she’ll have dinner with you again,” Chef teased.

“No, right now she’s perfect in my mind.  Wouldn’t want anything to screw that up.”

But at the end of the block, I snuck a glance back.  As she ducked into a waiting car, I was pretty sure she spotted me and gave a little wave.

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