Tag Archives: christmas

40, Love: Small Packages

Today on Alphabet City: JP learns during his first Christmas in NYC that handsome wrapping can’t make up for small packages.  Viewer Discretion Advised.

My first Christmas in Alphabet City turned out to be rather disappointing.  Although I was alone, I wasn’t sad exactly.  Living thousands of miles away from my Texas family finally provided me with a terrific excuse for not suffering through their dysfunction.  On top of that, I didn’t have any money and someone needed to take care of the menagerie of animals living in our apartment.

While my roommates trotted off to warmer climes, I stayed behind and decided to keep myself busy building new Christmas Eve rituals and memories.  All bundled up, I set out for a big walk filled with iconic New York moments: watching couples ice-skate in Central Park, smirking at Barney’s holiday/pop-culture window displays, pushing through crowds gawking at Rock Center’s Tree.

Everything was going fine until the Titanic.  A tradition I imported from Texas was my Christmas Eve enjoyment of movies with a non-traditional holiday theme—nothing sappy or sweet for me.  I prefer something really off-kilter like Misery or even Monster’s Ball.  But 1997 was in short supply of depressing features and so I thought a movie about hordes killed aboard a huge shipping disaster might be okay.  Boy was I tricked.  The doomed love story brought to life by Leo and Kate sunk me into a sea of loneliness.

As I walked the eerily empty streets of Alphabet City, I decided to drown my sorrow with a few drinks at my go-to dive The Boiler Room.  Surely I wasn’t the only lonely East Village gay boy?  And this seedy joint had always been good for some guaranteed pick-ups.

Let’s just say it was slim pickins’ that night—maybe about 7 sad souls nursing beers and watching the animated version of The Grinch That Stole Christmas on the TV over the bar.  Really?  What kind of cock tease buzz kill is that?  I almost turned around and left when I noticed a handsome Latino fellow at the bar.  I figured I had nothing to lose, and hopped onto a stool next to him.  He smiled and leaned over to me.

“I’m visiting from Argentina and never seen this funny show before.  Can you explain to me?  Is this the way you celebrate Christmas?”

I smiled and gulped my beer.  Things were looking up—if I played my cards right, the night might not end so badly after all. Continue reading

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These Boots Are Made for Savin’

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul’s charitable giving reminds him of a dramatic time in South Africa with Ashley Judd.

‘Tis the season—for charity, evidently.  Lest you think from yesterday’s post that I’m completely neurotic about the holiday season, I do often feel charitable in the last month of the year.  And I’m not alone.  According to a story by Stephanie Strom in the New York Times, the most lucrative day of the year for charities is Dec. 31 when donations surge because of the soon to lapse tax breaks.

Skeptics—or Scrooges depending on your perspective—often worry that their money isn’t actually going to the neediest.  They gleefully cite recent stories about the marketing techniques some groups use to raise dollars during the holiday.  Turns out, there’s a chance that the dollars you thought you donated for a specific heifer or water buffalo for a poor family in Cambodia or Liberia actually went into a general fund for the community (read the fine print).  Sure, that kinda sucks, but it’s not like you were really going to visit your donated dollars hard at work on your next trip to South Africa.

But I did.  Several years ago Condé Nast Traveler dispatched me to Cape Town to oversee a photo shoot with Ashley Judd.  We were honoring her as a global ambassador for YouthAIDS, part of the global non-profit health organization PSIYouthAIDS, founded by the visionary force-of-nature Kate Roberts, works around the world to end HIV transmission in young people—for as little as $10 per month you can protect one person from becoming HIV+.  I know how effective their programs are because I was privileged to see their work up close with a personal tour from Ashley Judd.

At the time, I had no idea what I was getting into, and how much the trip would change my worldview.  So I’d like to share with you a little sneak peek from a very important Alphabet City chapter about my time with Ashley and YouthAIDS.

I know, I told you earlier this week you’d get no more excerpts until the book came out.  But I was just in DC meeting with the folks at PSI and YouthAIDS, and one of my friends/readers Tracy Z. encouraged me to share this tale.  And so in the spirit of the holidays, here’s an extra little gift to you, along with my annual donation I just made to YouthAIDS.  Please consider doing the same at www.YouthAIDS.org.  You can save a life, and I know it’s money well-spent.

Very Short (Bonus) Excerpt from Alphabet City’s Episode 16: Boots

The next morning, a crowd of photographers followed Ashley and entourage through clinic tours, testing sites, peer education programs, and a lunch with female hairdressers who were using their salons as distribution centers for safe sex messages.  At every turn, Ashley was poised, and able to effortlessly answer any question about the epidemic.

Early afternoon, we piled into a caravan of black SUVs and traded the flashbulbs and admiring crowds of Cape Town for the filthy streets and dying orphans of AIDS ravaged Khayelitsha Township.  While I had seen much poverty around the world, I was ill prepared for the devastation from the epidemic I witnessed at Ashley’s side.  She took me by the hand, lead me into a hospital treating dying children, and taught me to sit at the bedside of a 15-year old who was so emaciated from AIDS that he looked ten.  She showed me how to run my fingertips lightly along his arm

“Stroke like this.  Everyone needs a human touch.”

We moved from bedside to bedside of these abandoned and dying children for over an hour.  Ashley looked up at me every so often and smiled, encouraging me to keep giving and touching despite the heart-breaking situation.  I’d never seen such a caring and committed celebrity.

At one point, a six-year old boy with AIDS sporting yellow rain boots sat in my lap and demanded I carry him with me around the ward.  We nicknamed him Boots, and as I was about to leave, he couldn’t control his bladder and peed all over me.  I just smiled and kissed his forehead as I laid him back down in his bed.

Later that day, I tried shaking off the horror I had witnessed earlier to focus on capturing an image that would sell magazines, but it all seemed so pointless.  I knocked on Ashley’s trailer.

“How do you not feel guilty about all this luxury?” I asked.

“Remember, it’s never a choice, JP.  Never feel guilty for what you have.  Not as long as you work so that others have access to what they need.  It’s never a choice.”

She’d thought a lot about this disparity.  Ashley was a woman on a mission who trained her laser-like attention on a problem and attacked it with vigor.  Opinionated, she rarely suffered fools gladly—something that I noticed sometimes rubbed people the wrong way, similar to other pop-culture crusaders like Madonna or Angelina.  But seeing her in both spheres—the glamorous and the destitute—I appreciated the veneer she used like a passport to travel between the first and third worlds.

When my plane touched down in New York, I entered a new era.  My boss had been promoted to creative director for the company.  That meant that Editor and I would no longer work side-by-side, traveling the globe.  And a call from the YouthAIDS team confirmed my worry—just after I left Cape Town, Boots had died.  I might have been the last person to hold him, touch him, and kiss him.

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Postal Guilt

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul laments the guilt brought on by the Christmas (card) season

‘Tis the season for guilt—and I’m blaming the US Post Office.  Every day, tucked between the mounds of catalogs and discount Broadway ticket offers are the neatly addressed offenders—Christmas Cards.  Or Holiday Greetings if you prefer the PC term.  I’m not really sure when the feelings of guilt first set in, because I used to be Christmas card person.  I took great pride in picking ornate Crane’s stationery every year and personalizing notes to everyone on my list.  I even saved  the project for my regular late-November cross-country flight to Los Angeles and set up an assembly line in my trusted seat 38A.  My seat companions always looked on in awe of my organizational skills.

But then one season something in me snapped, and I just stopped.  I couldn’t bring myself to pick up a pen or even pick out printed cards.  And that’s when the guilt set in.  Every card that arrives causes a flood of questions to run through my head.  Here’s a sampling brought on by yesterday’s mail:

Who’s this from?  The signature is intelligible.  On Lexington Ave?  Chef and I don’t know anyone who lives on Lex, do we?  Think.  Think.  Think.  Oh, right.  It’s John.  My tennis buddy.  Wait, isn’t he Jewish?  What’s he doing sending me a card with a Christmas Tree?  And that cute dog.  Did he pick this out special for me?  Great.  He’s not even the right religion and he got up the energy to send a card.  What’s he going to think of me?  Am I supposed to send him a clever Hannukah note?  Isn’t it over by now?  Maybe he’ll just think it got lost in the mail.  When do I see him next?  Hope he’s not one of those people who asks, “Did you get my card?”  I hate that.  How am I supposed to respond?  That I was too lame and thoughtless to return the gesture?

You can see how I drive myself crazy.

Sometimes NOT getting a holiday greeting from someone is even worse.  There are people who I know have their assistants prep the cards—like Tyra or the Billionaire I worked for years ago.  I’ve been on their lists forever.  Then one lonely December, nothing.  What did I do to get taken off a list?  Not send a card?  Maybe their staff is cross-referencing received cards in a database and assigning a point system—and I lost.  Great.  Hope I don’t need them for a job reference at some point.

Lots of people complain about those “update” letters that people.  I kind of like them—I’m fascinated by the kind of minutiae that people include in those.  But I am noticing a steep drop off in the number of those special missives.  Maybe there’s no need in the age of Facebook and Twitter since we’re kept in a constant state of personal update.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s a good rationalization for me not sending cards.  Consider this blog post my holiday greeting to you.  I can feel the guilt lessening already—until I open tomorrow’s mailbox.

Oy vey.

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(Gay)DivaNTrainingMegaMix

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul worries that his niece’s Christmas gift might turn her gay.

It’s becoming clear that I hope my niece Hannah will turn into a Gay Man.  Mind you, not in a sex change Chaz Bono kind of way.  But more in terms of her aesthetic.  I blame her mother, my sister Paige, for continually casting me in the role of Uber Gay Uncle—a part I happily play on holidays and birthdays.

This Christmas, Paige encouraged me to burn a CD of some of mine and Chef’s favorite tunes for Hannah’s iPod that we gave her (in pink) a couple of years ago.  Seemed simple and fun at first, until I had to wrest control of the project away from my partner.

“This’ll be fun.  I know exactly what Hannah will like. I’m thinking music from Harry Potter, and maybe that cute new song from Taylor Swift,” Chef said.

“I appreciate that you and Hannah share the same pre-teen sensibility in movies and music, but I think my sister was hoping for something more classic,” I huffed.

I’ll admit that I have a tinge of jealousy about Chef’s relationship with Hannah.  When together, they are inseparable like best girlfriends at a pajama party, gossiping about boys, and movies and books they love, and rolling their eyes at me when I ask for clarification on some mysterious plot point at Hogwarts.

So, when I sat down to collect our gifts of song, I wanted the resulting CD to be educational, and reflective of my taste.  So I set some parameters.  I wanted classic songs that meant something to me, and preferred it be from female vocalists—young girls like Hannah need positive female role models.  After a few hours of serious deliberations, I raced downstairs to share with Chef the results—intent on listening to every song one more time to make sure none of the lyrics were too suggestive.  By the second song, Chef turned to me wide eyed.

“You’re kidding me, right?  Half-Breed?  How is Paige going to explain that to Hannah?” he questioned.

Half Breed is one of Cher’s seminal songs.  And racial discrimination is very much alive and well in this country, mister.”

“What about Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves?”

“A personal favorite.  More of a historical lesson, I’d say.”

“Alright, just balance it out with a little more Madonna.”

“You’re right.  I’m thinking Express Yourself would be good for a girl just developing crushes on boys.”

As we sat listening to the rest of the songs, I began to crack up in hysterics.  Among the highlights were Diana Ross’ I’m Coming Out, Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, ABBA’s Dancing Queen, Gloria Estefan’s Turn the Beat Around, Whitney’s I Wanna Dance with Somebody, and Kylie’s Better the Devil You Know.   37 of the gayest dance songs around.

“I think I’ll title this mix DivaNTrainingMegaMix,” I said.

When I called and told my sister laughed how much fun I was having putting together the CD, she laughed.

“This sounds just like you.  Remember the lesson you taught Hannah when you gave her a Barbie?”

Do I?  Hannah and I excitedly played dolls together that Christmas.  I took Barbie’s spectacular sparkly pink chiffon gown and put it on Ken.  Hannah nearly went apoplectic.

“Uncle Paul, boys don’t wear girl’s dresses!”

I grinned.

“Oh Hannah, just wait.”

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Dancing Santa

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul reveals some of his quirky holiday obsessions

Forget the presents and the parties—it’s the small rituals of the holiday season that excite me.  When I was a kid, my favorite part of every December morn was rushing out of my room and plugging in a rickety plastic gingerbread house on top of our built-in bar.  The sight of that little light glowing through a red gel warmed my heart.

After moving to Alphabet City, I replaced Texas holidays with New York’s own December traditions.  In addition to the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, Rockettes at Radio City, and window displays at Barney’s, there were more personal rituals like the annual dinner with my born-again Christian Korean Dry Cleaners Peter and Paige.  They were just around the corner from our East Village apartment, and over the years Angela and I had become such reliable profit generators that the husband and wife team invited us every year to a thank-you meal at Christmas time.  At first, I tried to convince Angela to decline their offer—who wants to share a meal with a service-provider like their dry cleaners?  Angela persuaded me otherwise.

“Turning them down seems dangerous.  Keep your enemies close, and your dry cleaners happy,” she said.

Words to live by, indeed.

Strangely, for a non-religious guy, I’ve collected quite an array of nativity scenes.  The collection started with mementos from my travels—the handmade Brazilian clay set that for some reason came with two Josephs, and the Argentine scene that includes a Llama and wise men carrying native instruments like a singing trio.

The offensive (to some) dog nativity

Once we moved in together, my Catholic-raised boyfriend Chef insisted that his own “nacimiento” given to him by his grandmother be placed far away from my own, and with some kind of odd potting soil moss to give it a traditional flavor.  Chef began questioning my nativity taste level when I added such unusual scenes as a Feline Nativity discovered in a craft store near my sister in Wimberley, Texas; and later a North Pole tableau including an Eskimo Mary trying to find room at an igloo.  But he really insisted I stop adding to the collection when I found a discontinued and elaborate Canine Crèche featuring a German shepherd as Joseph (‘natch) and a little white terrier as Jesus.

There is one thing in my holiday box of goodness that captures Chef’s eye every year—Texas Dancing Santa.  Angela’s mom Cathy bequeathed to me several year’s ago this tacky kitschy item when she sensed I needed a little Texas charm added to my Yankee celebrations.  And boy howdy does this gem deliver.  Plug him in and Lone Star Santa swings his hips like Shakira while singing, “Have a holly jolly Christmas!”

Chef let out a big cackle the first time he watched Texas Santa work his magic.  Now, every year at our holiday party, after a few tequilas, Chef flips the switch on his buddy from the North Pole and performs a duet.  Forget the fire hazard gingerbread house of my childhood, Chef and the two-stepping Santa are my new favorite holiday ritual.

And now, with the help of a Flip given to me by Angela, you can experience this Xmas miracle…

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