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Gary’s Turn

Today on Alphabet City: JP’s alter ego Gary Tyler Moore waves goodbye to Big D, paying tribute to friends & family with Broadway melodies.

Sometimes my sitcom life veers off course and right onto the Broadway stage.  I’ve practically been a show queen since birth, so I’m often inspired by tap dancing tunes.  Here’s how bad it is: I run on the treadmill to a mix called “WorkoutShowtunes2.”  Tuesday, at the Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar Dallas spiffy workout room, the lady next to me nearly came unglued as I inadvertently sang/blurted out the lyrics to In the Heights’ When You’re Home—”and that song you’re hearing is the neighborhood just cheering you along.” But I couldn’t help it.  The song spoke to me in a new way as I imagined myself as the lead character Nina returning from afar while the hunky Benny sings to her about the neighborhood rooting for her success.  That’s how I felt the last several days in the DFW Metroplex—my hometown came through for me in some very special ways.

Cathy pulled out all the stops

First up on Tuesday was a Donna Reed inspired photo shoot clutching a faux-Oscar on the grand staircase of Dallas’ Hotel Palomar—a campy shot exclusive to Arnold Wayne Joes at the Dallas Voice of course.  Then I headed to Colleyville, where one of my many mothers-in-law Cathy—in “reality” she’s Angela’s Mom—had pulled out all the stops for an Alphabet City themed luncheon.  Cathy may have read the book closer than anyone I know pulling out inspired dishes like fresh baked Whoopi Pies accompanying pierogies (not a Texas delicacy I assure you), pigs n’ blanket, and even “Mrs. Buchmeyer’s Thimble Cookies” from Episode 2!  Cathy has always been one of those people who understood my own familial challenges, and happily adopted me into her family back when Angela and I were at the University of Texas-Austin.  I always feel lucky to call myself the “only Landon son not related by marriage.”  Her friends couldn’t have been sweeter, many buying multiple copies.

Mr. Schindler a stage Dad from Junior Players' Guild days

Back in Dallas, I fretted if anyone would show up for the final event at the Hotel Palomar.  Although attendance was low on quantity, it more than made up for it in quality.  Former cast members I hadn’t seen in a decade or two surprised me with their support: the father of the Schindler kids I acted along side in my pre-teen thespian years as a Junior Player (he bought four books), and even my ex-partner Nathan (he bought three books).  Best of all, my sister Pam brought my niece Robin just graduating from high school—she bought one book although I warned her about reading the episode called Babylon, although she’s off to college soon so maybe it’s good background!

Persian cat Pfeffa was my early stand-in for Oscar

There’s a song that keeps playing in my head from one of my favorite recent influences [title of show].  Heidi sings “A Way Back to Then” near the end of the show.  Here’s how it begins and I think you’ll get a sense of why I connect with it so much:

Dancing in the backyard / Kool-aid moustache and butterfly wings / Hearing Andrea McArdle sing / From the hi-fi in the den / I’ve been waiting my whole life / To find a way back to then

I aimed for the sky / A nine-year-old can see so far / I’ll conquer the world and be a star / I’ll do it all by the time I’m ten / I would know that confidence / If I knew a way back to then

Heidi goes onto sing about how “the mundane sets in” as an adult and you lose site of that dream, but you then life takes unexpected turns.

And when you least expect / Opportunity walks through the door / You suddenly connect / With the thing that you forgot / That you were looking for

And there you are / Right in the middle of what you love / With the craziest of company / You’re having a kick-ass time / And being who you wanted to be in this world

You’re that little girl / With her wings unfurled / Flying again / Back in your backyard dancing / I found a way back to then.

Hard for me to say it any better than a song.  So thanks Dallas, for helping me find a way back to then.

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Gary Does (Greater) Dallas

There's nothing I wouldn't do for a sale

Today on Alphabet City: JP’s alter ego Gary Tyler Moore traverses the Metroplex for the book; rushes Chi-Omega sorority!

By the end of book tour day 2, I was sprawled on the floor of a fancy home in Southlake doing my best Playgirl pose for the alumna of Chi-Omega Sorority.  Anything for a sale.  And they bought 20 books at a Sex and the City themed party (was I Aidan or Mr. Big?)—the perfect end to a day that began with me demonstrating the Shake Weight on Good Morning Texas—anything for more air time!

See how I hold the book too?

Victory Park.  In Episode 5, I write that I learned from Tyra about book tour etiquette, including

always carry an extra copy of Tyra’s book along with a summary of key points and list of suggested questions because the host of the local ‘Wake Up’ morning show will have lost hers.’”

Well, leave it to Dallas’ own Rob McCollum, host of Good Morning Texas, to prove the exception to the rule.  Not only did the he read the book fully, he shared with me he was also the son of a Federal Judge and put me right at ease.  In typical Texas style, the crew was so helpful they even took behind-the-scenes photos for me.

Believe me, you don’t find that level of support at many morning shows.  Still, I felt like I needed to smile more, and forgot to put in a special plug for sponsor Kimpton Hotels (although they were listed on the graphics).  My favorite comment from my stepmother giving kudos to the make-up people for doing a great job.  Hey, that make-up person was ME, thanks to a tinted moisturizer.

The Hill won't be the same without Dr. Stewart, who helped launch my journalism career

Addison.  Next stop, my alma mater The Greenhill School where Katie Young toured me around and arranged for the Montgomery Library to take ownership of a signed copy of Alphabet City.  Hey kids, maybe don’t read the episode about Babylon?  Then again, there’s probably nothing these kids don’t know about sex anymore.  I loved that everywhere I went there were stickers from GLSEN indicating the school is a safe place for gay teens.  And as I told Katie, I credit the school, and the teachers, with pretty much saving my life and keeping me on path during the chaotic teen years.  Although I’ve kept my distance, the school is never far from my heart—and what a special place it remains, including an organic garden that supplies some of the school food!  Can’t wait to catch-up with more alums on the road—it means so much that the people who helped me get through high school—and believe me, it took a village—are still sticking by me.

Plano.  If you don’t have library privileges at Greenhill, or you prefer to actually purchase a copy from a brick and mortar store, then RUN don’t WALK to Legacy Books in Plano—the first store in the country to have Alphabet City on display for all!  Of course I pressed into service an employee to take a picture of me with my baby—at first she didn’t believe that I was the author.  Do I look that different from the cover?!

Lakewood/SMU.  A homecoming of sorts—Kimpton’s Hotel Palomar, not only one of the sponsors of the tour, but the scene of many episodes of my early life.  Mary/Gary feels right at home in the 70s chic environment, running on the treadmill singing the lyrics to “A Way Back to Then,” from my one of my inspiration influences Broadway’s [title of show].

Southlake.  Which brings me to my life as a Playgirl centerfold pledging Chi-O.  Honestly, I’d been looking forward to this night since Angela’s sister Mandy organized it a month or so ago.  I truly believe there’s something for everyone in this book—and these ladies proved it.  Boy, do they know how to have fun with a very energized Sex and the City theme.  Because they laughed at every punch line from the readings about “summering,” first encounter with Tyra, and my mother’s visit, I was not shy about taking any photo they asked.  They were so gracious—constantly thanking me for spending time with them, and even took a liking to my latest iPhone SwipeIt app that allows me to take credit cards!  Well believe me ladies, the pleasure was ALL mine.  I just wished Chef could have been there to see the hostess Lana’s outdoor kitchen.  See you the next year with 40, Love.

Thankfully, Gary Tyler Moore has the spunky energy to carry us both through book tour.

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Hometown Heroine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There's room for Pegasus

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

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Green Globe Trekker: Settling Accounts

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul longs for hotel lobbies of yesteryear, but takes “art” in Kimpton.

Lil JP stealing one of my Dad's books at The Grand Hotel

Since I was a little kid traveling with my family every other year to The Grand Hotel in Pt. Clear, Alabama, hotel lobbies have enamored me.  My heart skipped a beat every time I saw the giant double doors fog up as the over air-conditioned interior fought off July’s southern humidity.  Once inside the kingdom, there was the smell that I describe in my Condé Nast Traveler essay on the experience as “an odd mix of pine floors and fried crab claws.”

As an adult lucky enough to travel the world, I developed an affinity for hotels that understood the lobby wasn’t just for shuffling people to and fro, but a stage.  And like good set design, I prefer my lobbies have a measured point of view so as not to overwhelm the actors guests.  While I could never quite square myself to the overt and uncomfortable theatricality of Miami’s Delano, I was immediately drawn in by the modern painting collection at Barcelona’s Hotel Arts.

The lobby of Kimpton's Hotel Palomar in Atlanta has a definite point of view.

Recent travels have left me slightly disheartened at the state of hotel lobbies with most companies adopting a Shake n’ Bake approach to dumb down design.  But a reception I attended last night for the unveiling of a 28-foot installation by artist Barbara Nessim gave me hope.  Kimpton Hotels commissioned this piece that will reach two-stories in the lobby of their new hotel Eventi, opening in “North Chelsea” in May 2010.  Kimpton’s interest in artwork already captured my attention on my recent stay in Atlanta at their Hotel Palomar.  So I’m looking forward to their latest in New York—the 50th hotel in their portfolio.

There was one more bit of lobby drama that captured my fascination as a kid—the moment my father paid for the two week stay—with a personal check.  He would march me up to the counter, take out his wallet and ready his personal check from Republic National Bank, while announcing in a dramatic flourish to the front desk attendant, “I’m here to settle my account!”

Years later, on my adult visit to the Grand Hotel, I also marched up to the counter the night before my early morning departure and announced, “I’m here to settle my account!”  The clerk eyed me suspiciously.

“We have your credit card on file, sir.”

So much for the dramatic.  Hey, I wonder if Kimpton Hotels would consider taking a check?

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