Entertainment :: Culture

Out There :: To Be Young, Gifted, and Gay

by Roberto Friedman
Saturday Jan 25, 2014
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’Looking’ actors Murray Bartlett, Jonathan Groff and Frankie J. Alvarez onstage at the Castro Theatre during the world premiere of the new HBO series
’Looking’ actors Murray Bartlett, Jonathan Groff and Frankie J. Alvarez onstage at the Castro Theatre during the world premiere of the new HBO series  (Source:Steven Underhill)

The new HBO series ’"Looking" premiered at the Castro Theatre before its first broadcast last week, and Out There was in the house. A fun and lively take on what it’s like to be young and gay in 2014 San Francisco, it reminded us of when we were young, had a flat stomach and a full head of hair. In fact, one of the revelations for OT was how many of these young actors sported facial hair. In OT’s day, young men did not wear lumberjack beards. Only communists, ethnic types and drug addicts wore long beards. Since OT was more or less all three, we got a free pass.

After the episodes, moderator K.C. Price from Frameline took the stage for a Q&A with
 executive producer Andrew Haigh ("Weekend"), co-executive producer Michael Lannan, and comely stars Jonathan Groff, Frankie J. Alvarez, and Murray Bartlett. If Groff as Patrick is the series’ Mary Tyler Moore, then Alvarez as Agustin is the series’ Rhoda. Settling down in Oakland with his hubby, who knows?, Agustin may yet spin off into a series of his own.

Ten brownie points for including Esta Noche. Minus 10 points each for scenes at the Press Club and Doc’s Clock. Big love for the threeway and penetrating "the gumdrop." Demerits for the quickie hand-job in Boner Vista Park.

At the glamorous afterparty in The Cafe, OT and Pepi mingled with HBO suits just up from LA, as well as with a smattering of SF personages: Tom Horn and Cesar Alexzander, Bevan Dufty and Corey Lambert, Jon Ginoli of Pansy Division, Donna Sachet, and similar men-about-town. We were especially delighted to see the go-go boy wearing an oversized plushy/furry head who had a small role in the TV show putting in an appearance on The Cafe’s runway. Gay life imitates gay TV.

In the Drink

Recently in The New York Times Book Review, writer Lawrence Osborne reviewed "The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking," a new book by author Olivia Laing just out from Picador. The book looks at the alcoholism of six famous writers: John Cheever, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver. The dipsomania of writers is a subject that fascinates Out There.

Osborne points out that writerly alcoholism is rather a cliche at this point, and conjectures that this "was perhaps sealed in the popular American imagination by Charles R. Jackson’s underrated 1944 novel ’The Lost Weekend’ and the subsequent overrated Billy Wilder film of the following year." As it happens, OT was right in the middle of reading Jackson’s novel; having just finished it, we have a few observations to share.

We read a paperback edition of the novel published last year in conjunction with a new biography of its author, "Farther and Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson" by Blake Bailey (Knopf). The biography makes clear that Jackson, though a loving husband and father, and capable of being quite charming to boot, was a tormented alcoholic whose downward spiral eventually led to his death from a drug overdose, at 65. Further, Bailey is quite explicit in his conviction that Jackson’s closeted homosexuality, and his feeling like a social pariah in midcentury America because of it, contributed to his unhealthy addictions.

Prize-winning biographer Bailey (he also authored a biography of Cheever) wrote the introduction to the new edition of "Lost Weekend," and it’s fascinating to read the tragic tale of protagonist Don Birnam with this new perspective in mind. It’s clear that Birnam is tormented by repressed homosexual yearnings. Late in life, Jackson admitted that the book was almost wholly autobiographical. Birnam traces his out-of-control behavior to having been publicly shamed while at college for having had a crush on one of his fraternity brothers. He remembers incidents in Provincetown. And he protests too much after an encounter with a gay nurse in the hospital: "That was the trouble with homos, and he didn’t mean sapiens either. They were always so damned anxious to suspect every guy they couldn’t make of merely playing hard-to-get."

Reading "Lost Weekend" was no bowl of cherries for us, and we imagine it’s a daunting proposition for any dipsomaniac to witness the tragedy as Don descends into his personal hell. Its litany of symptoms and syndromes - the self-destructive and self-defeating stratagems of the alcoholic mind - will ring bells with any "problem drinker." Moreover, because most of the book is set inside Don’s psyche during a five-day bender, there’s precious little relief from the claustrophobia of mental illness. For drinkers everywhere, TLW functions, of course, as a cautionary tale. But it’s more than that, it’s a complex psychological study.

Happy CNY

We sampled the Chinese New Year menu at Hakkasan San Francisco during a media preview lunch last week, and can recommend the special menu items, which will be available from Jan. 29-Feb. 8 in celebration of the Year of the Horse.

The CNY menu is rooted in traditional presentations, and everything on it is freighted with symbolism. For example, the steamed sea snapper with salted plum in Teochew style is offered as a whole fish, which guarantees longevity in Chinese lore. Stewed pork trotters with black moss in brown sauce portend a good return on investments. Braised Chinese cabbage with mixed mushrooms stands for safety in the new year; and wok-fired jumbo prawns with long beans presage fun. Crab meat brings good fortune. It was our own good fortune to be invited to this lunch. Gung hei fat choy!

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