Tag Archives: frida

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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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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Dog Daze

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul finds something missing on his return from Mexico—Frida!

Escaping the heat, Frida settles in the library at her Woodstock estate

Ay caramba!  Several things were seriously out of whack last night when Chef and I returned from his 40th birthday celebration in Mexico.  You know something’s wrong when a plane full of South of the Border citizens gasps upon hearing the arrival temperature of 100 degrees.  The ghastly remnants of our garden looked like an early sketch for Tim Burton’s next movie.  Our brownstone’s lights were mysteriously dark courtesy of a blown master fuse.  And to top it all off, there was no pitter-patter of little feet accompanied by a wagging tail and sloppy wet kisses to greet us.  No, Frida had decided to stay at her country estate in Woodstock to beat the dog days of summer.

You’d think being from Texas that I would be accustomed to prolonged periods of heat.  But there, everything is over air-conditioned—the most you’d suffer was the walk to your car from the icy entrails of Dallas’ NorthPark Mall (unless of course you valet parked).  But Big Apple heat is another beast entirely requiring odd clothing combinations like a tank top when leaving the house, paired with a summer sweater for the possibly meat locker cold subway ride, finished with a cotton button down left at the office for any last minute meetings.

Loews' winning dog gets Scooby BBQ Sliders!

This morning I am running around the house getting it ready for Frida’s return.  Susan says she’s like a matron from days gone by returning to her city penthouse from her country manor.  No doubt, that dog has quite the life, enjoying her summer.  In celebration of pampered pooches like Frida, my friends over at Loews Hotels are running a “Dog Days of Summer” photo contest—upload of a photo of your dog enjoying summer and you could win a 3-night package at any Loews Hotel in US and Canada that includes a special room service meal of “Scooby BBQ Sliders.”  Even if you don’t have a photo to enter by July 11, you can vote on your favorites beginning July 12.  The entries are worth a look—if at least to distract you from the heat.

Speaking of distractions, back to work.  Mistress Frida arrives soon and the house is a mess.  Hay dios mio.

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Seven Year Itch

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul realizes Frida has reached middle age, and that Chef may have got bitten by the seven-year itch.

Our little one soon after her birth

Our little goose turns 7 today, which effectively means that our incurably cute Bichon Frise Frida has reached middle age.  Chef and I have begun noticing the telltale signs of aging (early dementia?) that runs in our family—restless sleeping, irritability around children.  Then there are the mysterious new habits like randomly removing kibble from the bowl and leaving uneaten bits on carpets and stairways throughout the house.

It’s funny to think back now that exactly this time 7 years ago I had forged Chef’s name on the breeder’s adoption application and was plying him with wine to lessen the impact of the news that we were starting a family (Alphabet City’s Episode 15 And Baby Makes Three).  At the time, Chef claimed he wasn’t a dog person thanks a particularly unfortunate childhood experience with the family Weimaraner.

Chef and Frida on the ferry to Fire Island

Soon enough though Frida Carlota Xochtil Amarilla Buchmeyer-Chavez (her full Mexican birthright name) had charmed the pants off Chef, and those two have been in love ever since.

Sure, I’m still Alpha Dad—the one she relies on for food and walks and treats.  But Frida has a special bond with her Papa Chef.  His legs are the ones she curls up inside at night.  I’m the one she forces out of bed in the morning so she can snuggle next to him.  She’ll sit with him and watch World Cup matches no matter the time of day, no complaints.  Both of them share a love of True Blood, Smallville and Dexter.  They’re easy companions, through and through—like Father and Daughter.

The family in Provincetown

Meanwhile, I have classic Working Mother Syndrome.  I arrange the childcare, and interview the au pairs/dog walkers (all of ours have a painting background which we’re sure is a good influence on Frida).  I take her to the allergy specialist and dole out the meds.  I feel guilty when traveling, and get punished and ignored for a day upon my return.

In the early years, Frida traveled with me.  She was a regular on the West Coast prancing through the lobby of the L’Ermitage Beverly Hills and exploring the grounds of Montage Laguna Beach.  She took in the Cherry Blossoms in the nation’s capital and ran the corridors of Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco.  She lounged poolside in Puerto Vallarta.  She even went to New Orleans for Susan’s birthday and enjoyed beignets at Café du Monde.

At Montage Laguna Beach

Cherry blossoms in DC

Lounging in Puerto Vallarta

Beignets in New Orleans

The mad pumpkin

But middle age has brought on a bout of persnicketiness.  The girl likes a set schedule.  Up at 6am to look out the front window.  6:30am return to bed to push Papa (me) out of the way.  7am visit Papa downstairs and lay on couch.  7:30am back patio to chase stray cats.  8am check on Papa at his computer.  8:30am stretch and whine for walk.  8:45am walk.  9:00am Papa departs.  Any switch in schedule is cause for much concern, pitiful looks, cries and opportunities for lap sitting.  Except Friday, that day, she somehow knows is Papa-Often-Works-From-Home-Day when anything goes.

This week is National Take Your Dog to Work Week.  And so, Frida is right here in my lap, looking at me with her big saucer eyes—sensing that I am writing something about her, no doubt.

Lately, Chef has mentioned the possibility of getting Frida a sister.  He must have the seven-year itch.  I don’t know.  Maybe I’ve got my hands full with this one—especially as she moves into her twilight years.  I start to get nervous remembering the searing pain when my last little goose Winnie passed away.  And I hug Frida a little too close.

Then she winks, doles out a round of wet kisses, and I smile, knowing Chef and I have raised quite the little charmer.  Happy Birthday, goose.

Two proud papas

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Beantown Book Tour

Today on Alphabet City: On book tour, Jon Paul takes Boston by storm.

I  took it as a good omen when Vanessa Williams was in my room at Kimpton’s Nine Zero hotel in Boston.  After all, Tyra had accompanied me via American Way on my first leg of the journey, and now Chef spotted Vanessa peeking at me from the cover of SpaFinder touting her beauty tips.  I can tell you one of them—fresh honey, read Alphabet City’s Episode 8: As Bees in Honey Drown.

At that point in the day, I took any good sign where I could get it.  Earlier, Amtrak moved down a notch on my fan belt when chaos reigned at Penn Station.  A planned computer system outage left overwhelmed train customer service agents scrambling to help panicked travelers.  If Amtrak has all of our purchase information and emails—why couldn’t they have alerted us to the problem in advance?  Why couldn’t they have put more staff on duty?  Even the exhausted agents were snapping pictures on their phones and emailing it to headquarters.  Have I heard from anyone at Amtrak despite all my twittering?  Adding insult to injury, the engine broke down just outside of New York City, and we waited—with no A/C—for over an hour for a replacement.  The only thing that would have made the trip better was having Frida with me—oh, but wait, Amtrak doesn’t allow travel with pets.  In just a few hours, Amtrak amazingly made the airlines look like customer service geniuses.

On arrival, Chef and I raced to Cambridge for the first Beantown stop on the Alphabet City Book Tour—a party hosted by my in-laws Laura and Miguel.  They were the first members of Chef’s family I got to meet—and Laura has been a fan of my reading and blog, and now has the unenviable task of trying to translate some of the racier parts of Alphabet City into Spanish for our family back in Mexico!  Como se dice “well endowed?”  For the backyard gathering, the hurricane rains held off and I debuted my new Aaron Krach original t-shirt design!

My youngest fan and me in Aaron Krach couture

Laura not only assembled a multicultural crowd—turns out Mary Tyler Moore isn’t as iconic South of the Border—but she also pressed into service a friend with a new cupcake business.  The result had me eating my words—literally.  The behind-the-scenes story was that the owner of The Yellow Cupcake was worried she might be going a little too gay with rainbow flags—my sister-in-law told her not to worry—wait until she met me!  If you’re in Boston and would like your own image on a cupcake email gabs79(at)gmail.com.

Sister-in-law Laura makes me eat my words

In true Kimpton form, the Nine Zero hotel pulled out all the welcome stops thanks to the cute and clever concierge Thomas.  Our room had been transformed into a Princess oasis—for Frida—with bejeweled dog collar and photo of Frida Kahlo.  The only thing that kept me from missing the little goose was the spectacular view across Boston Commons to the Charles River.

The Nine Zero-hosted event was special in so many ways.  It was the first time Chef accompanied me and he had the opportunity to re-shoot the previous evening Flipcam of my reading.  Seems like I didn’t give good enough direction and ended up with video of me talking over close-ups of the cupcakes.  You can take the girl out of the kitchen…

Task Force supporters!

But it was the turnout that really made the evening so terrific.  A range of supporters of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force turned out including Kathy and Patrick from Marriage Equality Rhode Island, who drove up from Providence (this is the next state to grant gay marriage, fingers crossed!).  A new twitter friend Scott of onefoodguy.blogspot.com also attended and I interviewed him after for an upcoming Peek-A-Blog post.  And Michael Hartwig and his partner Steve came.  Michael is special in my life because for many years he was partnered with Don Baker, who passed away a few years ago.  Don was the plaintiff in Baker v. Wade, the case challenging Texas’ sodomy statute, that my father ruled unconstitutional in 1982.  Sitting in the courtroom, hearing the testimony at 13, I saw for the first time a wonderful gay role model in Don and knew that I, too, could grow up to be a loving, caring, smart, professional out gay man.  Thank you Don for teaching me that, and how lovely to have Michael and Steve in my life.

Thanks for stirring up the Alphabet City pot, Beantown.

Note: flipcam videos of Jon Paul’s Boston appearance available here.

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Someone to Watch Over Me

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul worries about the disappearance of a supporting character.

The longer I’ve lived in New York, the more I’ve added to my collection.  Not bric-a-brac, mind you—although that “vintage” stool in our kitchen was once rescued from the street by Angela.  No, I tend to collect people, characters, supporting cast members that help fill out my ongoing sitcom life.  And I never realize how much I rely on them until they are written out of the show or go missing—like Fidel-the-Watchdog.  Rain, snow or shine, Fidel sits in his 4th floor window across the street from our Washington Heights brownstone chain smoking cigarettes and shouting at violators of parking regulations.  But about a month ago, he mysteriously disappeared.  I’ve been beside myself ever since.

View of Fidel from front door, just above right of tree

By way of background, Fidel is part of a long line of character (actors) that I have cast in my sitcom life since my days on the East Village set of Alphabet City.  Many of the supporting cast members had useful job functions like the Born-Again-Christian-Korean-Dry-Cleaners who assumed that Angela and I were married and that Chef was my brother.  The joke never got old (to us).  Other times, they provided a running gag like Opinionated-Semi-Homeless-Man who every morning shouted at me, “Spare any change guy? You look crazy in that suit!” as I headed to work gussied up in a tie while most E. Village hipsters were slinking home from the clubs.   I was sad to leave that motley crew behind when my show was transferred way uptown.

But moving to Washington Heights, I needn’t have worried about my new sitcom life filling with captivating characters.  The Dry Cleaners role was taken over by a sass talking Puerto Rican chica on 181st street who dishes with me on her latest boy troubles and wants to know when Chef is bringing her some of his famous guacamole.  And for one summer season, the Semi-Homeless Man was played by a good-looking guy who I oddly developed a crush on when he berated me for not complimenting him on his dedicated sweeping outside the A-train subway stop.

View of Fidel from Frida's landing in my 2nd floor studio

What I didn’t realize when we bought our brownstone was that it came with its own live security camera—the gentleman whom we call Fidel, an homage to another omnipotent Latin.  At first, just the idea of someone watching over my every move unnerved me.  If it wasn’t bad enough that he had a direct view into our apartments, he shouted at us in an unintelligible brogue whenever we were coming and going.  With a smoke-induced gravelly voice, we couldn’t tell if he was screaming at us in Yiddish or Spanglish.

As it turned out he wasn’t that good of a security camera either.  When someone stole a geranium off our front stoop in the pouring rain before Mother’s Day, he just shrugged.  Same thing when someone stole my chained up bike.  He never liked where I was putting out the trash.  And always had something to say when I watered the flowers.

Everything changed the day we planted a tree.  After a long battle with the NYC Parks Department, a few calls to a friend in Bloomberg’s office, and a hefty (to us) donation to the “Million Trees” program, our blessed Arbol de la Vida was delivered like manna from heaven.  And that’s when the Red Sea of 183rd Street parted and Fidel-as-Moses came for a visit.

Fidel "close-up"

Coming down from on high, Fidel regaled us with stories about how he’d seen the street change over his 40 years living life from that window—the fire that once gutted our home, the double homicide next door, the once beautiful trees lining the street cut down to make parking for the police precinct.

While we still couldn’t quite place his accent, it became clear he was once as suspect of us—the new kids on the block—as we were of him.  But our chutzpah in planting the tree had shown him we were putting down roots, and after three years, we had passed muster.  Fidel, whose given name is evidently George, returned to his perch, and continued his ranting to which we just smile and wave and take as a sign of affection.

That is, until a month ago, when Fidel disappeared from view.   Not just for a bathroom break, but for days.  Then a week.  Then a fortnight.  Everyone in the house became nervous.  Angela assured me that this time last year he had gone to see his family somewhere—for Easter or Passover (we’re still not sure which he observes).  But then another week passed.  I could tell Frida started getting agitated—she usually had a stare down with Fidel from her own window ledge on our 2nd floor.  Even Frida’s dogwalker Andrea left a note wondering about his whereabouts.  He had infiltrated the lives of fellow cast members.  When asked, neighbors just shrugged.  The Handsome-Hardware-Store-Guy—the one who thinks I am Hugo Weaving—lives in Fidel’s building and told me everything was fine, that Fidel (a.k.a. Jorge) was just on an extended visit with family.

But Fidel’s continued absence just made me worry and miss him more.  I longed for the obligatory waves when taking Frida to and from her walks.  I wondered if I’d ever get another “thumbs up” for my front stoop gardening.  I hoped to once again take the risk of him seeing me naked when I ran from the shower into my front room office to grab my ringing cell phone.

Ever a fatalist—a dramatic flair I’ve inherited from my mother that in therapy I’ve been working to shed—I began to worry that should anything happen to Fidel, no one would know to tell me.  No one would know what an integral part of my Washington Heights existence he has become.  Funny the affect that one supporting character has on the way you live a sitcom life.

For days I’ve been mulling around how to write about my feelings of loss for Fidel.  And this morning, as I poured my first cup of coffee, telling myself that today was the day that I finally share with the world my worries about this character, I looked out the window out of habit.  Expecting absence.  And, no joke, there he was.  In all his normal glory—smoking and drinking coffee as if nothing had changed.

He caught me peeking and smiled, then waved and gave me a nod of approval fro my garden’s Spring Awakening.

Well, Fidel, welcome back to my sitcom life.  You may not know it, but you’ve been missed.

Update: EV Grieve has info on the “Spare Any Change Guy” from the East 5th Street days.

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Ugliest Egg

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul channels his father to teach his nephew about the gringo Ugliest Easter Egg competition.

Not the ugliest egg

This weekend, I had to take matters into my own “gringo” hands to teach my three year-old nephew a lesson in dying Easter Eggs.  With much of Chef’s family visiting from Mexico for the holiday, it had come to my attention that little Miguelito—born and raised in Boston—had never been exposed to the American tradition of the hard-boiled egg dye.  Mexicans, it seems, don’t partake in this odd pagan ritual.

“No gringo nephew of mine is going to be at a disadvantage in preschool if I can help it!” I declared.

The Washington Heights Key Foods grocery store was not helpful in my mission.  Where were the large displays of special Paz Easter Egg dying kits complete with just-add-vinegar-dye-tablets, stickers and a package that double as a drying rack?  Evidently, the major groups that make up the population of my ‘hood—Dominicans and Orthodox Jews (understandably)—don’t participate in this tradition either.  I was directed to purchase some regular food coloring and do-it-myself.

Me, Frida, MIguelito & Laura in action

Back at home, Chef nearly had a stroke when I started boiling the run-of-the-mill, antibiotic and hormone filled pure white eggs rather than the brown, earthy crunchy huevos from Whole Foods.

“We’re not eating those are we?” he asked.

“Of course!  After we hide them a few dozen times, then I make them into egg salad to serve with brunch.  That’s the Texas way.”

My sister-in-law Laura, Miguelito’s mother, helped me pour capfuls of vinegar and conjure up colors mixing the food dye.  Since she grew up in Monterrey, Mexico—which sort of looks like Houston—she was more familiar with my gringo ways and helped me defend the practice to my horrified in-laws.

That is, until I began mixing the liquids together creating a murky mixture that looked like toxic sledge.

The Ugliest Egg color palette blends with Frida's food

“Anyone can make a pretty egg,” I explained.  “But in the Buchmeyer house there was a special prize for the Ugliest Easter Egg.  My father, of course, was the Judge of the competition.”

As I dunked a white egg in the toxic sledge turning it an uncomfortable shade of gray, I reminisced about the time I hatched the perfect winning plan.  When I was seven, I escaped to my room with an egg and actually painted it black using fountain ink.  When I returned to the kitchen in triumph—sure that a black egg would win the coveted prize—my entire family gasped.

“Why Paul, that’s the prettiest, shiniest egg I’ve ever seen.  You lose!” my father shouted.

Chef came to the table to offer a hand to Laura and Miguelito while I kept perfecting my entry into this year’s competition.

“This year, you’ve won.  That egg looks like it belongs in Frida’s bowl,” Chef said.

And so, the Buchmeyer Gringo spirit lives on.

Frida not pleased to be in her Easter Bunny outfit from Tokyo.

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