Tag Archives: thanksgiving

Turkey Trouble

Today on Alphabet City: A tragic “honor” killing in Turkey reminds Jon Paul of his trouble in Istanbul with a gay hustler while on tour with Tyra.

Last week as I was beginning to cook the big Thanksgiving meal and make final preparations for my Spit List, I came across an article in the New York Times about a man named Ahmet Yildiz who was brutally killed in Istanbul by his father for being gay.  The reporter and sociologists refer to it as an “honor” killing—which I find horrific and gruesome.  The premise of the article is that modern Turkey is battling fundamentalist Islamic ideology as can be seen in acceptance of cross-dressing pop-stars but murders of gay men.

I must admit that I had lulled myself into believing that things must have progressed for gays and lesbians in the metropolis of Istanbul since I visited many years ago with Tyra Banks.  I thought it was daring then that I ventured out to find exotic gay nightlife, and would up in a heap of trouble.  But nothing as tragic as Mr. Yildiz.  As an American, I was able to return to a land where I might not be able to marry my partner, but I at least feel free from being hunted down by a family member justifying their action in the name of “honor.”

If it were still Thanksgiving, I’d add “Honor Killings” to my Spit List.  In the meantime, I offer up an excerpt of the story about an experience in Istanbul that caused me years of shame.

CLICK HERE to read an excerpt from Episode 7: Turkey Trouble.

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Today on Alphabet City: A stranger introduces Jon Paul to a new Big Apple holiday captured in an excerpt from Episode 3

Thanksgiving aftermath is really about the creative use of leftovers.  So in case you missed some of last week’s turkey-themed postings, I recommend you reheat a few of these gems: Theme Week & Spit List which sets up a two new excerpts, and Thanksgiving Superpower, a sweet little tale of a little boy’s love for the dishwasher.

My own experience with leftovers continued even after I scraped out the last bits of buttermilk pie, and waved goodbye to the few remaining out-of-town guests.  Chef Juan Pablo had accepted an invitation from a client to an “Annual Thanksgiving Party” that happened on the Saturday after the holiday—the invitation promised a full feast including bird, dressing, pies, the works.  Who wants to eat another Thanksgiving meal after cooking one for 12?  Sounds like just the kind of thing I’d hate, right?  Wrong.  We were both thrilled with the prospect.

Why?  Because when your partner is a chef, you rarely get invited to eat dinner at anyone’s home—people are too nervous and embarrassed about possibly serving anything subpar.  With dinner invites few and far between, who am I to be picky?  Chef had taught a series of cooking classes for our hosts, an investment banker and his new bride.  I was pretty impressed that the student would invite the teacher, and like a true New Yorker, always intrigued with the opportunity to see a new apartment.

It’s been a long time since Chef and I have been to a party where we are so obviously the only gay guys in the room.  And believe me, we stood out.  While most male guests were in banker casual chic jeans and untucked button down shirts, I sported a brightly patterned Paul Smith shirt, tightly cut Parke & Ronen trousers and my favorite flashy brown patent leather Neil Barrett loafers.  Gay as a goose.

Chef and I stood off to the corner asking each other typical gay party questions like, “How would you redecorate this apartment?”  A sweet young couple took pity on us, made eye contact, and asked the go-to party ice-breaker question, “So how do you know the host?”

Once they heard the answer, they signed up for cooking classes with Chef, and asked how we met.  They didn’t blink an eye when I told them the Gay.com story, although I edited out the well-endowed part (CLICK HERE to read that post/excerpt).  Then I asked how they had met, and the answer excited me.

“I was out celebrating my New York Move anniversary,” the young woman named Monet (or Monay?) began.  “I had lived in New York for a year and decided to celebrate.  So I took myself to a neighborhood taco place, sat at the bar, and he was there with friends.  Turns out he lived just down the block from me.”

I’d never heard of celebrating the date of your move to the Big Apple, but I immediately fell in love with the idea.  We spent the next 30 minutes telling each other war stories about the good ‘ole days.  And now I have a new event to look forward to on my calendar.

Thanks to Monet, the party served up more than just leftovers.  And here’s a special serving for you—an excerpt from Alphabet City’s Episode 3: Summering, about my first few weeks in Manhattan.  Something I’ll celebrate at my next New York Move anniversary.

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Spit List Recap

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul’s heart is warmed by Spit List nominees Lou Dobbs and Rihanna.

As I recover from a serious food coma, thought I’d reply for you some of the highlights from Thanksgiving Spit List 2009.  (For those new to Spit List, CLICK HERE for a background post).  Some trends: in years past people reported having no problem coming up with famous faces to spit on—the challenge was always narrowing them down.  But this year, guests at the table reported having to think long and hard about their nominees—it just didn’t seem so obvious.  I theorized this was known as Obama Effect—having a reasonable leader of the free world makes us less edgy and aggressive.  At the same time the Obama Effect draws out reactionary, religious right nut cases who just don’t seem worthy of our spit.  Thus, our field is narrower.

As the host, I celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the Spit List by re-nominating my very first spitee Dakota Fanning, mostly because she is appearing in Twilight—and last year I spit on any type of vampire hyped films.  CNN took center stage with double nominations for Wolf Blitzer and ex-host/anti-immigrant Lou Dobbs.

In the category of 15-minute Famers, we decided that spitting on Levi Johnston would make his Playgirl photo spread hotter.  Thankfully, and perhaps surprisingly, John & Kate didn’t make an appearance on anyone’s list—people just said they were exhausted of hearing about this not-so-interesting couple.  And that’s the thing about the Spit List—it takes a lot of effort to spit on someone, so you better do it wisely.

A new category called “Spit On When They’re Down” appeared this year.  First up, John Travolta—Darrell is offended by the actor’s inauthentic life.  And then this one really drew gasps all around—Rihanna.  Why would Scott spit on a talented singer who was beaten by her boyfriend this year?  Because he doesn’t like her haircut.  Fair enough.  And that’s the true spirit of the Spit List—it makes no rhyme or reason, just a guttural response.

Sometimes, I get nervous when a new person joins our feast—I am well aware the Spit List is not an everyday family tradition.  So I always make sure that the newbie have a full grounding in the rules before they arrive.  This year, Angela and Jim’s friend Laura seemed slightly nervous as we rounded the table and got closer and closer to her.  As the game allows, participants can ask for a quick recap of the rules, which are simple—you don’t have to defend your spitting because it’s just visceral response; people can move on an off your spit list over time and for no reason; your spitee has to be famous, someone you might run into on the red carpet—it can’t be Bob in Accounting.

Laura considered the rules and leaned forward, “I’ve been thinking that actually spitting on someone would be like an actual assault, right?”

Nods and all around.

“So, I’d just like to say, if anyone ever got to spit on their nominee, and then got arrested.  I’d bail them out!”

Cheers went up all around!  We all raised our classes.

“Welcome Laura!”

I got a little emotional.  That’s the true spirit of the Spit List—gathering strangers at the Thanksgiving table and bonding over mutual disdain of famous personalities. To me, that’s something to be thankful for.

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Thanksgiving Superpower

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul’s superpower surfaces during Thanksgiving

Growing up in Texas, the dishwasher held a special place in our house—it was a modern miracle worthy of our respect.  And Aunt Shirley, my mother’s oldest sister, was the Master.  Her loading skills were legendary.  In short, she was a Dishwasher Superhero, and I looked forward all year to that one time when I would get to apprentice at her side—Thanksgiving.

Regardless of the rotating location of the family feast—from Houston to Baton Rouge—once the tummies were stuffed, Aunt Shirley leapt into action.  While my cousins settled in to watch the Cowboys football game on TV, I snuck into the kitchen to watch Aunt Shirley work her magic.

She spun around the kitchen like a ballerina—in went the greasy turkey platter, the grimy green bean casserole dish, and the dessert plates smudged with pumpkin goodness.  Next, she loaded the salad bowls, flatware and ice tea glasses.  Before adding the soap and closing the doors, Aunt Shirley paused and winked at me sitting on a kitchen stool.

“What about the copper carrots?” I asked, pointing to a dish with the remains of one of my mother’s least successful contributions, a murky marinade of BBQ sauce, ketchup and brown sugar.

Given the packed dishwasher, I couldn’t imagine one more item being able to fit.

“Want me to wash that in the sink?” I volunteered.

Aunt Shirley smiled and shook her head.

“By hand?  Over my dead body!  Now you listen to me, young man.  Everything can fit in the dishwasher. Watch closely.  It’s just a matter of rearranging.”

With a flick of her apron, Aunt Shirley turned to do battle like Wonder Woman.  A wave of her hand over the coffee mugs and a slight tug to the trifle bowl, and suddenly there was space for the errant dish.  After Aunt Shirley punched the button, the machine roared to life with the familiar sound of pulsating water, and she gave me a kiss on the forehead.

“Remember, it’s just a matter of rearranging.”

For ten years in Alphabet City, I cooked Thanksgiving without the assistance of a mechanical dishwasher.  And when we moved to our very own Manhattan brownstone, the thing I most looked forward to was not the tripling of available bathrooms, not the floors of sun-filled rooms, or even the Mexican-tiled patio with outdoor fireplace.  No, the thing I most dreamed about was the GE Nautilus 2000 we had installed.

A few months after moved, 18 people joined us for our first Pilgrims’ feast.  Standing in the kitchen surveying the plates of damage, Juan Pablo looked worried.

“There’s no way that’s all going in there,” he said.

I rolled up my sleeves and channeled my inner Aunt Shirley.

“Don’t worry.  I’ll handle this.  It’s all just a matter of rearranging.”


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Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: A Kitchen Knightmares Special

Today on Alphabet City: Overshadowed by Juan Pablo on Thanksgiving, Jon Paul feels like Charlie Brown.

In the debut posting of the series Kitchen Knightmares, I acknowledged that no one wants to hear me whine about being married to a chef.  But I really get worked up about the issue when Thanksgiving approaches because none of my guests ever give me any credit for cooking the meal.  Since Chef Juan Pablo hails from Mexico City, I usually bar him from the kitchen claiming that only an American can appreciate the meal’s historical underpinnings.  I’m not interested in his South of the Border suggestion to add chipotles to my green bean concoction.  Usually, he’s happy to escape the kitchen, and always willing to accept the compliments when our friends remark year after year, “Chef’s done it again!”

I’m like the Charlie Brown of Thanksgiving.  Try as I might, I just can’t get through to our friends that I spend days preparing our annual spread.  While fellow Texan Angela gets kudos for her trio of pies, I get nada from friends for my buffet of casseroles and cranberries.  It’s odd that Chef gets all credit for the food, because in the beginning my dishes were straight-up white-trash—not at all things they’d expect from Juan Pablo.

“My goodness, everything sure is brown.  And starchy,” observed my Australian friend Rebecca when she first joined us about eight years ago.

Rebecca worked for the UN and was accustomed to more exotic flavors it seemed.  She had a difficult time distinguishing between the line-up of Pyrex dishes offering down home casseroles made with Cream of Mushroom soup: broccoli-rice, green bean, and potato.  Later, she tried to hide the sour look on her face when she reluctantly tasted a frothy pistachio green concoction known ominously as Watergate Salad.  At that point, I made a vow to break from my Texas ways and embrace some more “elegant” Yankee traditions.

That’s when I turned to Bon Appétit for help.  Over time, their November issue has provided easy-to-make upscale suggestions, many of which have become part of my repertoire.  No more canned cranberries—my crowd-pleasing recipe: Spiced Cranberry Sauce with Zinfandel, my stained page torn out from BA, Nov. 2001.  After years of therapy, I’m adding an interpretation of a vegetable that I’ve hated for decades: brussels sprouts—the unpleasant smell of which I associate with my sister Paige’s after-school snack doused in vinegar.  BA’s advice?  Make them into a slaw—Brussels Sprout Slaw with Mustard Dressing and Maple Glazed Pecans!

This year, we celebrate a very special moment at the table—it will be Chef’s first Thanksgiving as a certified United States citizen.  In honor, I’m tearing down my wall and am allowing him into the kitchen on this holiday.  His first suggestion?  Spice up the turkey and gravy.  At first I was suspect.  But then while I was flipping through an old BA, just a few pages down from my cranberry specialty, I spotted a recipe for a Citrus-Glazed Turkey with Chipotle Gravy.  A little immigrant influence never hurt anyone—why that’s what has made this country great!  Viva America!

The only downside?  A jazzed-up turkey is exactly the kind of food our guests expect from Chef, not me.  And that means no one will ever give me my hard-earned kitchen credit.  Good grief, a Charlie Brown Kitchen Knightmare for sure.

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Spit List

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul’s celebrity hatred game becomes a Thanksgiving tradition.

Since I moved to the Big Apple, Thanksgiving has become my all-time favorite holiday.  Instead of traveling to spend stress-induced time with family, I gather friends in my home for a big meal.  After we pile our plates with food and pour copious amounts of wine, we go around the table and announce the person we would most like to spit on.  That’s right, we don’t waste time being sappy and thankful.  Instead, we use it as an opportunity to vent frustration with famous faces.  The Spit List as we call it has a long and storied history, having been created by Susan and me in our days at Condé Nast.  CLICK HERE to read a full excerpt about the origins, including a peek inside the famed Condé Nast cafeteria, and a dig at Chloe Sevigny.

For those of you rushing to adopt the game as a conversation starter at your own feast and too busy to read the excerpt, let me give a quick overview of the ground rules:

  • Spitting on someone is a real commitment based upon a visceral reaction; it comes from the gut.  There really is no rhyme or reason—so there’s no arguing allowed once someone announces their “spitee.”  They are allowed to give some background, but not required to defend their choice per se.
  • 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, and people can move on and off the list over time.  Scarlett Johansson was on my very first list, but has moved off.

Friends who have enjoyed The Spit List game at my table report that it has become like a drug for them—they spend all year looking forward to creating their list.  If they miss Thanksgiving at my house, they phone or email in their entry.  Some have tried exporting it to their family gatherings with limited success.  My friend Aimee spent some time in Liberia but was frustrated in her attempts to explain the game to citizens of a post-war torn republic.

Over the years, we have had quite a diverse group of honorees—Jennifer Aniston has moved on and off various people’s lists; not surprisingly both Suze Orman and Oprah have appeared more than once.  I imagine at least Oprah will be back this year.

Last year, Angela tried expanding it beyond just celebrities to broader concepts like the “blogosphere.”  The judges are still out on whether pop culture concepts will be a permanent category addition to The Spit List.

This year I’m extra lucky—two of my perennial Spit List favorites have collided: the Vampires of Twilight and Dakota Fanning.  I’m already getting choked up.

Have a heartwarming holiday, and do report back on your own Spit List.

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


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Theme Week

Today on Alphabet City: Thanksgiving Theme Week begins with a bittersweet memory of loss

On most TV shows, holidays get woven into storylines as part of a ratings booster—and Alphabet City is no different.  So this week, log on for a special series devoted to Thanksgiving.

Although odd to some people that I process my life through the lens of a sitcom, my group of friends has always indulged me.  In fact, some of them have starred in their own series.  When I first moved to the Big Apple, I remember worrying that the East Village might be too grungy of a location for a gay Mary Tyler Moore show.  My Texas buddy Katrina—think face of Julie Andrews with the dry wit of Tina Fey—counseled me otherwise.

“Setting your sitcom in a slightly trashy neighborhood just adds to the dramatic tension,” she told me one day, giving me an expert pep talk at a grungy little coffee bar filled with the stink of too many cigarettes from nervous artists avoiding their dreams.

“My show opens with a montage of my subway commute showing all the crazy characters on my daily journey.”

Katrina was the star of Scalin’ the Heights—her own life sitcom that was the lead-in to Alphabet City.  She was a writer for a TV Guide-like trade publication for local cable operators—a job that sounded dull but scored her interviews with down-and-out C-list celebrities.

“I might go out with Tom Wopat.  Dating a Dukes of Hazzard—how’s that for an episode?” she laughed.

“Sounds like the makings of a powerful Tuesday-night line-up,” I teased.

We peppered our every day dialogue with the promotional language networks use to capture viewers.  I referred to regular people in my life as having “guest roles.”  When parents came to visit, or we scrounged up enough cash for a vacation, I called it a “very special episode.”  When friends moved away and new ones arrived, I officially announced a new character joining the cast.

When Princess Diana died, the heart broken casts of Alphabet City and Scalin’ the Heights teamed up for a “special memorial tribute”—we journeyed to Coney Island and rode the Cyclone picturing ourselves like the Peoples’ Princess on the log ride with her boys.

“We’re living our lives.  It’s what she would have wanted,” said one of the Scalin’ the Heights co-stars, also named Diana.

So for the beginning of Turkey Week on Alphabet City, we begin with a bittersweet excerpt from Episode 14: And Baby Makes Three.  It was 2001, a year of transitions, with the loss of a special little character that began at Thanksgiving.  CLICK HERE to read the excerpt.

And keep tuning in for more Turkey Week fun.

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