It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy! The Summer of 1989

Originally published on It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy!

The summer of 1989 was not an easy one for me. It was my first summer spending four weeks away at summer camp instead of the usual two. My friendship with Jeff, my best friend from home who shared the camp experience with me, was deteriorating. And for whatever reason, that summer was the year when all the bullies at camp noticed the target painted between my eyes, and it became open season on David.

The one thing that kept me going during the first two weeks of camp was being cast as one of the leads in the camp play. After three years of (happily) toiling in the chorus in roles such as “Man #2” (never Man #1, alas), I had my moment in the spotlight. More importantly, I had my place in the company. My only complaint was that for the first time in my camp career, we weren’t doing a musical.

That was the summer the original cast recording of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway came out in a deluxe package of two glorious cassettes with a cardboard slipcase. For the cost of a stamp, you could write to the record company and request a copy of the booklet with pictures and lyrics that came with the CD. I didn’t yet own the album. I think it might have come out after camp started, or perhaps at the tender age of 11 I hadn’t yet developed the need to own every album on its day of release. But one of the girls in the show had it, so naturally we became best friends.

Okay, to be honest, we weren’t best friends. In fact, there were two blonde girls in the cast, both a couple years older than me, and I had no idea which one owned the album. Pretty straight girls all looked (er, look) the same to me. But I convinced the girl who owned the album (and, I suppose, the rest of the cast?) that we should listen to it during the cast party. I remember peppering the pretty blonde girl with questions as I poured over the track listing. “Is the overture medley sung?” I asked the wrong pretty blonde girl, totally confused as to why I was talking to her about this album.

That album was the first time I heard Debbie Shapiro sing. In a summer that I’ve mostly repressed as one long terrible memory, the warmth I felt from that cast album, and the cast in which I got to hear it, remains one of my only bright spots.

It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy! One of my favorite parts of this weekend…

Originally published on It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s dlevy!

One of my favorite parts of this weekend…

…and this actually happened a couple of different times…

But first, at the Paley Center during the Q&A with Sheldon Harnick, the moderator kept speaking in shorthand, or apologizing when he didn’t because “we all know about the aborted She Loves Me film that was to star Julie Andrews” or saying things like “I’m going to tell you about the lyric changes in the TV version of She Loves Me so you’re not distracted agonizing over them when they happen.”

And then the following day at the park, when we played a game that somehow managed to get two people – NEITHER OF WHOM WERE ME – to submit “Paul Geminagni” as a celebrity name and I could get Reese to guess “Kevin Kline” in our game of celebrity by charading what it might look like to have sex with a young Patti LuPone….

There’s something really special about finding your tribe and being able to share in that shorthand, that code, the secret handshakes and mottos that only you know.

Pretty much all of us who came to the meetup yesterday have been posting on various media about how amazing it was to meet each other, and I guess this is my version of that. And yes, that was amazing, and it’s thrilling to finally get to spend in person time with some of my favorite Tumblr people and introduce some of my favorites to each other. (And the flirting! That was fun too!)

But there’s something more than that.

While I have other tribes like that in Boston, I don’t have my theater tribe. (And even in my Jewish circles, because we’ve become so (rightly) sensitized to being inclusive of everyone at various levels of knowledge, we rarely geek out in this way any more…)

There have been a few times in my life when I’ve had this feeling of suddenly *belonging* after years of alienation. My first steps into the Jewish youth group world; my entrance into junior high show choir; moving into West Hollywood (which I described at the time as the gay man’s equivalent of a Jew’s first trip to Israel)…. This weekend felt like one of those moments. And I’m not sure why at this point in my life having a theater tribe feels more important than it has for a long time, but it does.

So now I’m embarking on a process to figure out how to hold on to it. What’s Jewish about Gay Pride?

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Last Shabbat, I was invited by Rav Claudia Kreiman to give the drash (sermon) at Temple Beth Zion in Brookline for the GLBTQ Pride Shabbat. She asked me to speak on the question of why gay pride is a Jewish concern. Here’s what I had to say:

Falsettos - Broadway PlaybillIn 1992, the summer before I started high school, I saw Falsettos on my second-ever trip to Broadway. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it was the combination of two earlier, ground-breaking off-Broadway musicals by songwriter William Finn: March of the Falsettos, which told the story of Marvin, a Jewish man in his forties who had left his wife and son for a male lover, but who wanted a “tight-knit family” that included all of them; and its sequel, Falsettoland, in which Marvin’s son struggles with becoming bar mitzvah while Marvin’s lover struggles with the disease that would come to be known AIDS.

I don’t know that there’s ever been another show — or ever will be — that spoke so directly to me. A large part of that is simply that it’s the first time I can remember seeing gay lives portrayed, well, anywhere. I didn’t know any gay adults, and while I had an inkling that some of my friends might also be gay, none of us had yet spoken the words out loud to each other.

I’m just young enough to have missed Billy Crystal on Soap, and Tom Hanks in Philadelphia was still a year away; Ellen wouldn’t come out for another five years. So in 1992, gay boys who loved Broadway musicals had Falsettos, lesbians had newly out of the closet country singer k. d. lang, and that was it. The gays of Falsettos were Jewish – and I don’t just mean Jew “ish” – the opening number of the show is called “Four Jews in a Room Bitching,” which really sets the tone for how the rest of the show unfolds… that these characters’ sexuality and domestic struggles were wrapped in the familiar neuroses of my community intensified the resonance. Continue reading

It’s Not Where You Start: If I Could’ve Been

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was in the first grade, I had a really spectacular teacher named Mary Caiza. She exemplified everything you could ever want in a teacher. She was kind and caring and made every student feel like a superstar. She encouraged creativity and imagination, and modeled these traits by telling us stories of her playful dogs (named Jack and Jill) and bringing in photographs of her neighbor’s duck-shaped mailbox that changed outfits as often as Barbie.

One day, she gave us an assignment to write and illustrate a poem. I still remember my first-grade thought process. “Everyone else is going to write a rhyming poem, but I know that poems don’t have to rhyme. I’ll write a poem that doesn’t rhyme so that mine will stand out. I don’t know what to write a poem about, but I really like Where the Sidewalk Ends, so maybe I can rip that off.” Please note, I was envisioning pastiche, not plagiarism.

So I wrote a poem called “Where the Sea Ends” (oh, the cleverness of me!), and I drew a beach with some seagulls, and handed it in. I (thankfully) can’t remember the actual content of the poem (although I do still have it, in a box that will get unpacked as soon as I remember to borrow my parents’ scanner so I can preserve its contents). But I do remember Mrs. Caiza’s reaction. She enthused about my effort and encouraged me to keep writing. It was that moment that I decided I wanted to grow up to be a writer.

Of course, being me, I wouldn’t be happy unless I grew up to eclipse Shakespeare. In fact, my Harvard application essay was about this very notion. If you’re going to do something, why not aim to be the best at it?

When I was in high school, I got very involved in Judaism via USY, the youth group of the Conservative Movement which, contrary to its name, is one of the liberal streams of Judaism. My time as a USY leader shaped the man I grew up to be, probably more than any other experience in my youth. And one thing became clear to me as a teenager: when I grew up, I wanted to be an involved Jewish layperson. But I definitely did not want to be a Jewish communal professional.


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It’s Not Where You Start: Sleepy Man

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

I have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a condition that prevents your air passages from staying open on their own while you sleep. For most people, your body deals with this situation by waking you up every time the passage collapses on itself, which in my case was close to 60 times a minute (that’s once a second!) when I try to sleep unassisted. When you wake up that often, you don’t necessarily feel conscious, but when you wake up “for real” in the morning, you feel as if you haven’t slept at all because, well, you haven’t.

There are generally two reasons why someone develops sleep apnea. Either they are massively obese — viewers of The Biggest Loser are familiar with the condition because it’s frequently listed among the reasons why being fat makes the contestants miserable — or their throats are just made that way. Sadly, I fall into the latter category. Each time I see my doctor, she begins a lecture about how I could lose a few pounds (and I know I could), but she stops herself short once she points her microscope at my throat, realizing that no matter what my weight, sleep apnea is my lot.

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It’s Not Where You Start: God Help the Outcasts

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

Today is National Coming Out Day.

Coming out is an ongoing process. The first time I told someone (out loud!) that I was gay was in 1993. It was New Year’s Eve, and for some reason I was home alone. TBS had a triple-feature of “sing-along” musicals — Grease, Viva Las Vegas, and West Side Story, each outfitted with lyrics & a bouncing ball to earn them the sing-along moniker — hosted by Tommy Tune. I watched the entire triple feature, and then some, while on the phone with my friend Amy, who was also spending the night at home, across town.

Why didn’t we just decide to meet somewhere? Neither of us drove yet, and I guess it didn’t occur to us to take a cab? Who knows. In some ways, the simultaneous intimacy and distance the phone provided was just what we needed. We were already at that point best friends. And we each had something we wanted to share with the other. So unfolded what we have come to refer to as our Epic 13-Hour Phone Call. (And yes, we called it that before epic became the most overused adjective of our generation.) I was so sure Amy was going to tell me she was gay. She didn’t. That didn’t come until many, many years later. She had a different revelation, but knowing that we each had something to share, something that made us worried and vulnerable, made it easier for me. Coming out is always a risk. Coming out the first time is terrifying. But knowing that we each were taking a risk equalized what is normally a treacherously uneven power dynamic. Of course, we both knew that we were devoted to each other and there was pretty much nothing either of us could have said that would have threatened our relationship. But that didn’t make it any less scary.  Continue reading