Sunday, November 27, 2011

One Upcoming Holiday Workshop for Kids and Two Writing Workshops for Big People

One Day Only
December 17, 2011
10 a.m. Til 4 p.m.
Cost: $80

Back by popular demand I am offering one day of gift making for kids ages 9 - 13 inclusive. We'll meet at the UU church over on Grover. We had a great time last year. Cost includes ALL supplies (even gift wrap and cards). We'll have light snacks but kids do need to bring a box lunch. This one is very close to being sold out, and it will sell out, so if you're interested please send me an email asap.


**Write to Read in Public Workshop**
Dates: 12/8, 12/15 & 12/22
Time: 7 - 9 pm
Cost: $75
Description: Each attendee will pick a theme or two on the first night and start writing in class. We'll spend the three sessions whipping one piece into shape and practice reading it out loud for maximum effect. Then we'll have a public reading. (The reading will not be held on one of the meeting nights, but shortly thereafter.)

**Winter Six Week Writing Workshop**
Dates: 1/5, 1/12, 1/19, 1/26, 2/2, 2/9
Time: 7 - 9 pm
Cost: $300 (discount for returning students)
Description: We'll spend six weeks talking about all aspects of memoir/creative non-fiction from process to publication. There are weekly homework assignments, in-class writing as time allows, group feedback and one-on-one coaching via email during the course of the six weeks. These six-week workshops sell out pretty regularly so let me know soon if you want to sign up. And yes, you can pay in installments.

For more info about my writing workshops, to read interviews with great writers like Hank Stuever (formerly of American Statesman, now the TV Critic for The Washington Post) please check out

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Au Revoir Uncle Jack! Hasta Luego! Layla Tov! I Will Miss You with All My Heart Forever.

Even if I had a million years and ten times as many words at my disposal, I could not ever do proper justice on the page to my Uncle Jack, who passed the other day. Passed is a word carefully chosen, not a euphemism to try to ease the reality of death or push away grief. Uncle Jack really was just passing through, and if there is another plane, or a chance to reincarnate (as a pelican or a Vegas showgirl or a marigold), or some other opportunity to somehow manifest again, I’m sure Uncle Jack has already got all that figured out.

And though I cried hard when my mom called me a couple of Sundays ago to tell me her oldest brother was reaching the end, whatever momentary grief I felt melted as he lingered for a week, took his time exiting, and gave many of us who loved him a chance to say goodbye. My own opportunity had to be conducted via phone— buying a next-day plane ticket involves the kind of money I don’t think I’ll ever have. But the phone turned out to be okay.

Uncle Jack— whose primary cancer (lung) gave way to another cancer (not sure what)— declined morphine until the very very end. He told me, when I called, he wanted to stay alert. Boy was he. At 81, he had never gotten around to retiring. He told me he planned to get out of the hospital and get home soon because he still had some clients to whom he owed work. Yes, that’s right— my uncle was still doing people’s taxes up until the end. (And his mother, my Murphy Mom-Mom, was his secretary until the day she died at 94.) Uncle Jack was so adamant about getting out and getting home that he refused to sign a Do Not Resuscitate order and was weighing three options the doctors presented to try to squeeze a few more months (or years) out of his rapidly failing body.

When I spoke to Uncle Jack, I tried to hold it together and the more I talked to him the calmer I got. What a blessing to be able to tell him goodbye and how much I loved him, and to hear him say those words back. He also managed to reassure me and mystify me in the ten or fifteen minutes we spoke. The reassurance: “Don’t worry about coming home – there’s not going to be a funeral. I’m donating my body to science!” he said.

And then the mystery. “You know, Jack,” he began, calling me by my childhood name, a name we shared, a fact I loved. “When you were born, Mom-mom said something to me I didn’t understand. She said, ‘Jack, I hope you’re around to see her grow up to adulthood, she’s going to need you.’ Well I just didn’t know what she meant by that but I wondered if maybe you had been born with both organs.”

Both organs? WTF? I thought about this for a minute and, while I didn’t ask him to clarify, I felt pretty certain my favorite uncle had just sort of asked me, “Hon, do you now or did you ever have a penis in addition to your uterus and other lady parts?”

This speculation on his part THRILLED me! It was a pure Uncle Jack moment. And though sadly, my sister Kitty told me-- during a fact-checking call I made to her shortly after talking to Jack— that she’d changed my diaper plenty and could assure me I never had a penis, not even one that maybe got lopped off early so that maybe I forgot about it, well… I still get to keep the memory of that last priceless conversation with Jack.

Oh the other stories I could tell you about the man. He was often referred to as the crazy uncle, the one who was “a bit off.” In our family you might hear someone suggest you were going to “grow up to be like Uncle Jack,” which wasn’t intended as a compliment, but nor was it an insult. More it meant, “You are exhibiting signs of nuttiness” and that was, I can say, a fair assessment. For my part I loved it when it was predicted I would be like him, and I loved it later when it was noted that the prediction had come true. Uncle Jack didn’t march to his own drummer—he dispensed with drummers altogether and strode along to some internal rhythm only he truly knew. What a damn fine role model his was.

I know only scattered, non-confirmable parts of his story. These came from a number of places--- family lore, family grapevine, and/but mostly from Uncle Jack himself. My family spent summers in West Wildwood, NJ, a spit of an island that went under water with every full moon. Mom-mom and Uncle Jack-- who were roommates til the day she died (though I think a lot of us didn’t piece together that this was, yes, the classic gay son situation until several decades into their living arrangement. A friend of mine once asked, “So, you just thought he was waiting for the right woman to come along before he moved out?” Well, yes, I guess we were)—lived in a little house the next block over. Every time we’d get to the shore, they’d be waiting with treats for us—Jello and marshmallows, rice pudding, or some soup Jack cooked up in a massive pot, his cigarette in a long holder as he stirred, the equally long ash at the other end threatening to become (an no doubt sometimes becoming) the exciting secret ingredient.

As I got a bit older and started spending whole summers down the shore, honing my teenage alcoholism and later sharpening my skills as a smoker, it fell to Jack and Mom-mom to “keep an eye” on me since my parents were back at our year round home, save for weekends. I loved Uncle Jack and Mom-Mom’s version of supervision, which mostly involved them telling me to have fun and praising me for being such a good worker. One night, when I was out way past curfew, I ran into Jack walking on the boardwalk—he loved to just walk all night (and I, too, can walk for hours on end). I was startled to see him, thought I might be “in trouble.” Nah. He just wished me a pleasant evening, showed me the buck knife he carried for protection, and was on his way.

Whenever I wanted to bum a smoke from Uncle Jack, he would just whip out a whole carton and offer me that, or at least a few packs. He smoked those MORE fags that are, like, five hundred feet long. My god the man could smoke, and yes lung cancer got him in the end, but he never voiced regrets (and in truth he quit probably twenty years ago).

Uncle Jack had lots of interesting habits besides smoking. He would sleep in most of the day, spend as much time as possible—by which I mean weeks or months on end—in his bathrobe, and then, suddenly, decide it was time to get out the lawnmower. When he did he would mow his and Mom-Mom’s lawn, then proceed to the neighbors’, and before you know it I swear Uncle Jack had mowed the entire little island.

He had a hippie friend name Paul that he brought around in the sixties or early seventies. Uncle Jack had long hair then and Paul had an earring and there was that ubiquitous cigarette holder. Oh they were so radical and bohemian and a total shock to everyone. Except for me. To me they were an inspiration.

When I got my first computer in 1995, Uncle Jack got his. I guess he was 65 then. I was and he was, an address he kept to the end. We might not have been freakishly early adopters, but we were ahead of the curve and these magical machines served us well. I could kick myself for not saving our email exchanges but in those long notes we sent back and forth I began to get a deeper history and broader picture of this man.  For example, I’ll swear he told me he helped found the first lesbian bar in Philly, and that the secret code to get in was this line, “What’s your story?”

He didn’t talk a whole lot about being gay, but I pieced together some of his story from the long emails he sent me. As a young man he joined the seminary. He learned a bunch of languages. Seminary didn’t work out. He fell in love. His partner died young (I have no idea how). Uncle Jack had what they call a “nervous breakdown.” Maybe that’s when he came back to live with his mom, I don’t know. All I know is that he came back, and he stuck around, and he was the most damn cheerful person – at least on the surface. Maybe there was other stuff going on, but if so he didn’t mention it at all.

When the casinos opened in Atlantic City in the early ‘80s, Jack found his niche. He and Mom-mom went to those casinos nearly every night for decades. You’d ask him how he did and he might say, “Great! I won $15,000 last night!” But if you’d asked him how much he lost, he’d admit it was $20,000, maybe more. I’m not sure how he worked it—except that he did keep his job for all those years, probably to finance his habit. He was so well known in Atlantic City that I’ll be surprised if they don’t darken all the casino lights for a night in his honor.

Uncle Jack never did learn how to drive and he was always asking one of us kids for a ride. I think it drove my siblings nuts sometimes, but I never got sick of it since I wasn’t around very much—heading back to Jersey maybe once every five or ten years at most. I have this one great memory of him needing a ride to get gas for the lawn mower and some office supplies. I can’t even remember what beater I was driving then, but he climbed in, put the rusty gas tank between his feet, did some weird thing with the seatbelt to escape from the shoulder harness portion so he could turn sideways in the seat to sort of face me and chat, and then lit up a cigarette, once again the long ash threatening to fall, this time directly into a rust hole in the gas can.

During the week he spent dying, I got regular reports from one of my sisters, who visited him in hospice. From my perch down here in Texas, it sounded like Uncle Jack chose to die for a solid seven days, one for every language he spoke. One day he’d be saying goodbye in English, the next in Latin. I got a text from Kitty at one point saying, “I think he’s talking French now.” I texted back, “French as in fuck shit fuck? Or French as in Au Revoir mon cherie?” Because everyone is a comedian in our family, she wrote back, “I don’t know! I don’t speak French!”

During his very final days he got around to sign language and then nothing at all, except mouthing soundless words and conveying things with his eyes. I called my mom after he was gone—she’d stayed at his side all week—and she said that before he lost his voice he told her that dying felt a lot like being on hold with the IRS, that it was taking a lot longer than he expected, and that it was harder than he thought, too. But he said he wanted to die smiling, and my mom said he did. She said she really felt like she’d watched him head off on a journey. I’m telling you, that man was just passing through. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Zen and the Art of Having A-Peel!

I'm not a big fan of the big holidays-- the ones rooted in Paganism and co-opted by the marketing whizzes of Christianity. But I'm getting less militant about that whole mess the older I get. Plus there are some holidays that I am pretty down with-- St. Patty's Day (less so since I gave up tossing 'em back), International Talk Like A Pirate Day, Knit in Public Day, that sort of thing.

As for the recently passed Halloween-- I like Halloween just fine. I don't have the same sort of nightmarish childhood memories about that one as I do, say, Christmas. My mom always made us really cool costumes, a tradition I carried on for Henry. And even though Henry is all grown up now, I still love shoveling mini-Snickers and Reeses Cups into my piehole. I also get a kick out of handing out candy (a kick that is not without cynicism when, as happens often enough, the Trick or Treater appears to be badly in need of a shave and/or an underwire brassiere.) Since I moved over to the hood, on a busy thoroughfare with no sidewalks, I have to borrow other people's houses if I want to be part of the fun.

This year, as last, I invited myself over to Garreth and Mary's house. That way, they could take their kids out T-O-Ting and I could hold down the fort. I decided to wear a costume-- in fact, a costume given to me years ago by G & M, a big banana suit that I have gotten way more mileage out of than any bridesmaid dress I ever owned.

In fact, a few nights before Halloween proper, I went to a big Halloween party at the W and also wore the banana costume. Please note: I am not a W Hanger Outter type but I had some generous friends offer me a ticket. It was my first time to that palace of falling glass and the food was great and the mood festive. But what I liked best of all was an unplanned (are they ever planned?) moment of Zen.

The thing is, I have a lot of social anxiety. Way more than anyone would ever guess who has seen me onstage or running my mouth at a dinner party. I mostly stay home, in bed with the dogs or arguing with Warren over the right way to open and close the refrigerator-- these places/activities defining for me "comfort zone." Going out into a crowd makes me squirm. But I put myself out there for this party and because I did, I realized something pretty quick: Hanging out at a party is WAY easier when you are dressed like a banana. Everywhere you turn, people light up. (One guy said to me, "Are you a banana?" And I said, "No, I'm just happy to see you!")

I also realized that when I am not a banana it is really easy to inhabit the skin I grew up with. That is the skin of defense and judgmentalism and a bunch of other fear-rooted shit. It's a skin that I have worked very hard to shed over the years (thank you yoga, meditation, and therapy). And it's a skin so utterly familiar to me that even when I manage to leave it behind, I just sometimes want to slip back into it.

But it is very hard to be judgmental when you are a banana. It is damn near impossible to be angry. And when you-- as I did a few nights after the big W party-- swing open a front door and yell surprise to a bunch of unsuspecting little kids, and when they see a banana at the door, it just gets more and more fun.

After we ran out of treats, I wandered around the streets of my beloved Mueller, taking in the action. As I strolled, I heard kids say excitedly to their parents, "Look, a banana!" And then, behind me, I heard a deep man's voice say, "I'm hungry! I want to eat a banana."

This proclamation momentarily sidelined my joy. I thought, "Great, a fucking pervert." But I regained my inner banana sense of balance, gave him the benefit of the doubt, swung around to take a peek and... no shit, I came face to face with A GORILLA ON A SEGWAY! And ANOTHER BANANA! Truly a moment to remember.

Thank you banana suit.
Thank you other banana.
Thank you gorilla on a Segway.
The firm fruit in me bows to the firm fruit in you.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

From The Mailbag: A "Fan" Tells Us What He *REALLY* Thinks of the Dick Monologues

Preface: Yesterday I sent out a note to previous Dick Monologues attendees giving them the heads up that our next show-- The Dick Monologues: You're What's Wrong with the Holidays-- is December 18th, at 6 pm at the Hyde Park Theatre. I instantly received a slew of reservations requests, which I only just now am getting to. Going through these emails, I came across the following note regarding a recent show we did which, apparently, the letter writer was less than enthused about. And, well, y'all know me and that silly Irish Buddhism of mine-- I just had to respond. My response follows the "fan" mail. Meanwhile, for those of you who want to waste your money and have the worst time of your life-- drop me an email to reserve your seats for the most horrible piece of theatre of all time. Hurry up. Seats are limited.


Dear Spike:

I have been meaning to write you and tell you what a terrible staging of Dick Monologues I sat through about 5 weeks ago.  It certainly wasn't theatre by any stretch of the imagination.  You all sat around on the stage looking very uncomfortable.  And you, what's with the knitting?  Not clever, not cute, certainly not theatrical.  And you don't memorize lines, but just read from a piece of paper, real exciting.  The show was less than amateurish.  I've seen better shows performed by 5th graders.  I've been involved in theatre for over 40 years and have never witnessed such trash.  Maybe it's time to get serious about the future of your theatre, namely, everyone should look for a new career.


Hey Tom,
Wow— just read your email. Too bad you had such a bad time at the show. We started the Dick Monologues in 2007 as a one-night performance. The audience loved it and asked for us to bring it back. So we did. And we sold out our shows for two years before I retired it. Recently we did a reunion show— again, just for one night. Again, we sold out and the people asked for more. So I’m not sure what stick you have up your ass that you have to write a note like that tearing us to bits. It’s one thing if you don’t like the show— of course that’s your personal preference and just further illustrates the point De gustibus non disputandum est. However, if you hated the show that much you should’ve just grown a pair, pulled up your big boy panties and walked right on out and not sat through it. Life is short, Tom. What kind of idiot sits through 2.5 hours of such pain (unless, of course, you are practicing endurance and or adamant about writing a full start-to-finish review of The Tree of Life)? Also you should’ve asked for your money back. In fact, if you’ll send me your address, I’d be more than happy to refund your money. Heck, I’ll personally come to your house, crawl across your lawn, and lay it gently at your unhappy little feet.

As for what’s up with the knitting... Oh, I am SO SORRY my knitting offended you. I know, I know— I  am such an asshole with the knitting. You’re not the first one to say so. I nearly got banned from Passover dinner last year with the in-laws because I wanted to bring my knitting and I guess that’s just a selfish thing to do. Yep-- it’s always me me me, knitting the chemo caps and the blankets for little babies and homemade gifts for my only son and, yes, even sometimes stuff for myself, thereby depriving slave factory workers from earning their daily pittance knitting things for me to buy at ridiculously low prices at big box corporate stores. I really am a pathetic excuse for a human. I am grateful you took the time to point this out. As of right now I will never knit again, so don’t even think about me finishing that nice pair of alpaca socks I had planned for your surprise Christmas gift.

You know, at first when I read your note I felt sort of outraged, like, WHO THE FUCK IS THIS GUY AND WHERE THE HELL DOES HE GET OFF? But then, I thought about your stunning creds— he’s been involved in theatre for 40 years so he must know what he’s talking about! Humbled here in the shadow of the vast theatrical resume you hinted at, naturally I could hardly resist the urge to google you. And I know that just because my search for your productions yielded ZERO returns that it is entirely possible that, like many big stars, you operate under a pseudonym. Or maybe it’s just that my 30+ years of experience as a journalist simply has not provided the research skills necessary to find what I’m looking for. Probably that’s it. That said, please put me on your mailing list. Because in addition to being the worst performer you’ve ever seen disgrace the stage, guess what? I’m a theatre critic here in Austin, too! And I would love an invitation to your next production. I’d be happy to return the favor of offering feedback. So please keep me in the loop.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to catch me performing without my knitting needles and without reading from the page, I hope you’ll catch The Moth at the Paramount Theatre on December 6th. The folks who put on the show apparently did not get your memo and made the decision to invite me to join them. Those fools!

Thanks again for your input. We’ll be sure to overhaul the show— or better yet simply cancel it— per your observations.
P.s. It’s too bad we’re going to have to cancel the show now because I have to hand it to you, you really inspired a great new Dick Monologue I’d love to read onstage someday. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Gift to You This Holiday Season: The Companion of Your Dreams!

UPDATE: Based on feedback from the masses, we have made a slight adjustment to the "rules" (<-- a terrible word and concept, not to mention an accidental reference to that godawful bestselling dating book, but it's too early in the morning for me to come up with a better alternative.) Anyway, point is, that while we are most hoping to create an event where likeminded singles can meet each other sans the internet, sometimes it's good to have moral support. And sometimes your moral support might not happen to be single. SO... if you want to bring a friend tomorrow night it's not like we'll be kicking out folks who are already taken. But do be sure to RSVP. Info on that below.

Hey Y'all,
My friend Kathy Kehoe and I have been conspiring of late. The fruit of our labors is a brand new reading series designed to help single people get laid because:

Books + Sex = What Could Be Better Than That, Right? 

Below find some pertinent details. Please help us spread the word. The first reading is NEXT TUESDAY 11/22. You better sign up now.

Do you seethe with envy when you see couples bickering at holiday parties? Are you tired of arguing with yourself? Sure, sure, some people like being single and that’s their business. But then there’s the rest of us. The Rupert Holmes (look him up) Salon is for folks who don’t love being single, who do hate the whole online dating bullshit, and who want to meet like-minded singles for dating purposes. In short, IF YOU CAN READ **AND** YOU LIKE GETTING LAID... The Rupert Holmes Salon is for you. Our first Meeting & Reading is from 8 til 10 p.m on Tuesday, 11/22, at the SNUG (2928 Guadalupe), which is adjacent to Tom’s Tabooley. Cover is $5. We’ll have door prizes for folks who show their library cards. We’ll have dramatic readings of singles ads (bring one of your own and sign up to read). Come a little early and grab some excellent food and drink at Tom’s— you can bring the eats/drinks into the reading room with you. When you sign up, you also can join our private FB page, dedicated to joining together those of you who want someone to be irritated with at Christmas and Hanukkah parties, not to mention someone to share a chapped lip smooch with on New Year’s Eve. Space is limited to 50 people total. Reserve a spot today— email
*This event is for straight, gay, whatever... If you aren't single but have single friends who are constantly bitching about being single, feel free to send them info about the event.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

It's Like Montessori School for Fading Punk Rockers!

This is Garreth Wilcock, the human oxymoron. Which is to say he's a non-pushy realtor. A wonderful guy. And you should let him help you find a house in Mueller.
Last week Garreth and I went and took a tour of the Wildflower Terrace, a new apartment building going up over next to my FAVORITE ARCHITECTURAL STRUCTURE OF ALL TIME, aka The Eiffel Tower of Austin, aka The Old Air Traffic Control Tower. We even received complimentary hardhats!!

The scoop is that Wildflower Terrace features a bunch of apartments for folks 55+, and the majority of these will be subsidized. So, for example, if you're on a super low, fixed-income, you might score a spot for as little as $360 per month. There is a handful of non-subsidized units that'll run tenants up to $1600 but, hey, by the time I'm 55 even that'll be a steal on the off-chance I hit it big and don't qualify for the subsidy. 

And when will I be 55? In 7 years, 2 months, and 2 days (not to put to fine a point on it). Taking the tour-- seeing how they will have activity rooms and classrooms and a little art studio-- got me thinking. This place is sort of like a mashup between a dorm and a Montessori School. I'm not sure about the former but I know the latter always has a long waiting list-- don't couples buy a slot on Montessori waiting lists the same day they buy prom tickets to ensure that any hypothetical children that actualize down the line will have their pre-K needs covered? 

de facto Resident Assistant of Wildflower Terrace!
Along these lines, I am recommending that Wildflower Terrace start a waiting list so that folks like me can get in when it's time. I already have it all planned out-- I'm going to force my kid to take over my mortgage so he can deal with my quaint, 65 year-old house (it'll be 72 when he gets it). Let him fix the fucking casement windows, I'm done with even fantasizing I will ever be able to afford that-- I can barely make the mortgage. I am also convincing all of my same-aged creaky former punk rock friends that they, too, will be moving into Wildflower and that they, too, must therefore get on the waiting list.

And then? Then *I* will be the de facto Resident Assistant! No one ever believes this but I was an actual RA at the University of South Florida. There, I was stationed on the first floor of an all girls' dorm. My charges included: all the girls that spoke English as a second language/were from other countries, all the aspiring (but mostly still closeted) lesbians, AND the Hall Mother (who supervised all of the RAs in the building). I came back from summer break with a modified mohawk and the parents of the incoming freshman had a collective conniption fit. It was AWESOME. And every morning, at dawn, I would sneak to the emergency fire door and use my special key to open it and let out all the boys that had slept over, including my own. (Turns out I wasn't as stealthy as I thought, and I did get a verbal dressing down during my annual evaluation.) 

Anyway, so I have the experience to run my floor, and I can't wait to start putting up holiday themed bulletin boards! We will also have drinking games in my room! (No, I don't drink, but I'm planning to start again on my 80th birthday.)

I will insist on having an apartment that faces the Eiffel Tower of Austin. Speaking of which, I know this is a super hard sell, but I swear the Wildflower Terrace is a next big step toward turning Mueller into the Paris of Central Texas. How's that? They have one of those enclosed courtyard thingies just like in gay Paree! The apartment complex is four buildings that, bird's eye vies, create a square with a hole down the center. And if they ever let me back up to the top of the tower, I'll just take a picture to show you what I mean.

Meanwhile, by applause, how many of you aging Elvis Costello fans are ready to join me on the waiting list? Pump it, up, people. It's almost our turn to get AARP cards!!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My Son: Artiste!

You know even if my son didn't have a piece in the show that just opened in the DOMY Books Gallery, I would STILL LOVE DOMY BOOKS! Have you been there? DOMY BOOKS rocks! They have a massive offering of zines, a ton of Taschen, all sorts of beautiful art books, cookery books and craft books-- a lot of stuff you just won't find anywhere else in town. Plus DOMY is LOCAL. Oh, and they have super cool toys.

Anyway, as I was saying, the gallery, which is part of the store, had an opening the other night. The installation is called MONSTER SHOW SIX and 150 artists took that monster theme and ran with it. The results-- see below for some samples-- are spectacular from primitive to childlike to elaborate. Of course, being partial, I have to say I love my son's piece (pictured at the top) the best  He chose to interpret MONSTER as Warren Jeffs, and for his medium he used a six-pack of Modelo, some paint, and his brilliant imagination. And for the art opening he and his lady friend went as... Just Kids. Oh my boy-- such an artiste!

Please go check out the show, which is on til December 8th. Buy some cool books. And buy my son's art! DOMY Books is located at 913 E. Cesar Chavez.