July 4th - this is a continuation of Part One, so you might want to scroll down and catch up with that first so you know what's going on. After you get a snack and a beverage and make yourself comfortable, that is. This puppy's practically a novella. Check out a bunch of pics from my NY trip HERE.
Alright...on Monday I checked out of the Hampton Inn and since no one at La Casa Levi was answering phone calls, I wandered around Midtown for a few hours since I couldn't check into my new hotel for awhile.
Again, Midtown stank. But the people-watching was AWESOME!
At one point, I thought I was sitting outside of Penn Station and updated my status on Ye Olde Facebook and Twitter saying so. My sweet friend, the fabulous up-and-coming artist Gene-Manuel (who I would be meeting for lunch on Thursday), texted me and said he'd meet me to say hi cuz he was close by. Well, in the course of more texting, we discovered I'm a doofus and I had been sitting in front of the Port Authority, indeed NOT Penn Station (cuz somehow I'd not noticed the giant "PORT AUTHORITY" marquee over the doors - ???). That boy went and ran ten blocks to meet me ANYWAY! Crazy fool. But it was lovely to see him even briefly that day. He took me to get my weekly Subway pass and then told me how to get back to the hotel to get my stuff. He also said Midtown's "pretty much a pit" and he's pretty much the most positive guy living on the planet, so I can rest assured it wasn't just me being a snob! :-)
Got my luggage, took a cab to my new hotel on the Upper West Side (frou frou!), On The Avenue. Suh-weet digs! I'd never stayed in a hotel room with a mini-bar before (not even in Vegas, where I visit often - or used to, when I had money to waste). I promptly disrobed and climbed into the AMAZING, poofy bed with way too many pillows (I swear it felt like sleeping on a cloud) and napped. VERY HARD.
And then finally, after about five years of online-only friendship and a few phone calls, my friend Tiffany Keiller - who made this whole trip possible - descended upon New York City from Canada, eh. It didn't even feel weird to meet her. I just said, "It's YOU!!!" and we had a big hug and then jumped on her bed and started yakkety-yakking like school girls.
That night we got dressed and went to the world famous jazz club Birdland for Jim Caruso's Cast Party (read all about my experience with Cast Party in L.A. in my "Magic at the Castle" blog!). I was SO excited to a) finally visit Birdland and SING there after hearing of it my whole life and b) to check out Cast Party where it originally began, AND c) get to see my longtime friend Mark Aaron James (we met back in our Nashville days) who told me about Cast Party in the first place and had just moved back to NY three weeks earlier after a couple years in London. Oh and d) to see my sweet and talented friends Marla and Richard from here in L.A., who were in "Not Your Mama's Broadway" with me and who just happened to be vacationing in NY at the same time! How small IS this world, people? And you don't think there is a Grand Design? I mean C'MON!
Here's video of me singing that night (and I hope those of you without Facebook can view it, haven't had time to get it onto YouTube yet): http://www.facebook.com/v/1467216807835
I cannot put into words how this felt, to be singing at a world famous jazz club, to have shared a stage with Linda Lavin (who had been nominated for a Tony this year), Sarah Paulson (who did some funny impressions at Jim's behest and was in the fabulous but short-lived Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip) and other unbelievably talented musicians and entertainers (including an Italian dude who I just saw on America's Got Talent for standing on his head on a basketball - which he did for us at the club - and swallowed some balloons - inflated). AND I got enthusiastic applause, too! Man, New York audiences are tough and they've heard the best singers in the world (and many have sung at Cast Party), so they are not easy to impress, so I kinda felt pretty dang good about that. What a night! AND their food rocked! Delicious roasted rosemary chicken, garlic mashed potatoes and collard greens. Sooooooooooooo good. Oh AND the guy who seated us got up and sang "Stormy Weather" and blew the freakin' doors off the joint! I FREAKIN' LOVE NEW YORK!!!
Me. Onstage at Birdland. Yep. That's right. ME!
So Tiffany was a real trooper and lasted quite a long time for someone who'd been on a plane all day, but finally she started crashing and we had to go before all the entertainment ended (though that's the thing about Cast Party, it can go on for HOURS and unlike L.A., NY bars stay open past 2am). So back we went, feeling euphoric, full and sleepy, to our hotel.
Tuesday dawned and Tiffany, being a mother of two, was up way earlier than me. This happened every morning. She was kind enough not to wake me before 9am, though. We tried to go see the Statue of Liberty but by the time we got there there was a line as far as the eye could see. We asked an employee when the best time to come was and he deadpanned, "8 o'clock." Aka: in the morning. My favorite. So we planned to return on Thursday. We walked around Battery Park a little bit and then decided to head to site of the new World Trade Center construction and St. Paul's Chapel across the street (where the Ground Zero workers would go between shifts to rest, eat, receive massages and love from volunteers from all over the country).
Construction at Ground Zero.
St. Paul's Chapel. George Washington used to worship here when he was President. It's the last standing colonial era church in Manhattan. It took two years to clean up all the debris from the Twin Towers from the property.
Now, Ground Zero is much different from when I visited in 2006 and was inspired to write "Go On." The makeshift memorial walls have been removed (and stored away for the time being) so that construction could begin. But as Tif mentioned, the atmosphere was still heavy. I anticipated that it might be a bit emotional for her being in the area for the first time, but I was surprised at how much it still got to me. Particularly once we went into the chapel, which still has services but is very much serving as an interim memorial, a tiny museum. They had removed all the pews but one (which was at the back of the chapel and covered in scuff marks from the workers boots who'd slept on it), I suppose to make it easier for visitors to move about and view the discreet displays, which are generally makeshift memorials with pictures of missing loved ones, information as to what went on there during the clean up efforts, personal notes and messages from volunteers and workers, hand-made signs and banners of encouragement from all over the world, one remaining rollaway bed, a reverend's robe covered in patches from all kinds of volunteer workers' uniforms from all over the world, even a tattered pair of boots and FDNY jacket, which I couldn't bear to take a picture of or look at very long. It was heartbreaking all over again, but also interesting to walk it through with my good friend from Canada, who was seeing this for the first time and whose wonderful people were there for us immediately after the tragedy. I was happy to be able to share the experience of what it meant to her, a citizen of another country. It opened my eyes a bit to what the city of New York and the U.S. in general stands for to the rest of the world. This is an honor that our leaders of all political parties have perhaps abused and taken for granted in recent decades and certainly must be rectified. We are so lucky to live here. We must never, EVER forget this or act like we, the still living, are entitled to be here. The blood of the dead - from the first Native American slain by the hands of a new settler to the most recent loss in Afghanistan - bought it for us. We should be grateful and humbled.
Sorry. Preachy. I get a little carried away sometimes.
Sorry. Preachy. I get a little carried away sometimes.
After that, were were definitely ready for some levity. So we got ourselves ready to go see Levi's Tony-winning performance in Million Dollar Quartet at the Nederlander Theater!
Now there was an experience. Levi has been in this show for something like four years, originating his role as Jerry Lee Lewis from when it was just a table read. The show started in Seattle, moved to Chicago and finally landed in New York. I had never seen it. I finally got to and it happened to be his first show as a Tony award winner. Let me tell you something, this little show rocks. It's a jukebox show. Full of wonderful rockabilly classics, good ole fashioned fun. Levi's Tony was deserved (seriously, I'd like to see any PREVIOUS Tony winner sit on top of a piano and play it backwards), but I'd also like to compliment the rest of the cast, who I feel did some really fine work, particularly Robert Britton Lyons whose Carl Perkins was much more nuanced than the book allowed for (and the guy can shred on guitar). If you get a chance to see this show, just go. It's a blast!
Afterward we went backstage...we walked behind the set and saw panel after panel of cast members' signatures from every show that played the Nederlander you can imagine, including Rent:
Tif and I were all set to get our picture with the whole cast backstage. But freakin' Rhoda stole our thunder! We got over it, cuz we got THIS picture instead:
Valerie Harper and the cast of MDQ
But WE got to go up to Levi's dressing room, which is filled with little inspirational sayings on stickies, but desperately needs a woman's - or gay decorator's - touch. So I got this picture, which I lurve:
And Tif got THIS picture! What a sassafrass!
And then Levi showed me the box of chocolates that Whoopi Goldberg sent him (uh, no link necessary!), at which point I had a hissy fit and told him I was OVER being gracious and happy for him and now I was just plain jealous and then I wove a tapestry of obscenities that my parents would be MORTIFIED to have heard come out of my mouth. Tiffany and Levi, however, GREATLY enjoyed my little tantrum.
I mean c'mon. Who gets congratulatory chocolates from Whoopi?
So then we left the theater and said goodbye to Levi, as he lives within walking distance. Tif gave me a minute with Levi and that little private moment is just ours. ♥
On that note, I shall take a break and go to a cook out and celebrate Independence Day with my L.A. Family of Choice. I will finish up maybe late tonight or definitely by tomorrow. Would I have had this much fun in ANY other country in the world? GOD BLESS AMERICA!
July 9th - I'm back. Several days later than anticipated cuz it's been a busy week and I ended up with a nasty sinus infection that's trashing my voice. Lots of singing to get through this week so YAY for that! Happy to be on antibiotics and sterrhoids yet again. *thumbs up*
But enough whining...so now I'm having a hard time remembering what all we did on what day! I think Wednesday we stayed in the vicinity of our hotel, which was within walking distance of Central Park (which Tif checked out in the early hours of the morning before waking me up). At some point we had lunch at the amazing, hands down BEST burger place ON EARTH (and I ladies and gents, am a cheeseburger connoisseur)...The Shake Shack. Seriously, the burgers melt in your mouth like buttah! And they serve CRINKLE CUT fries! Ruined me for burgers anywhere else, ever again. Okay that's a lie, but I know where the best are. Then we visited the Museum of Natural History, which was REALLY cool. I LOVE museums! And I believe it's the one in Ben Stiller's "Night at the Museum" movies. Got lots of cool pictures of the ummm..."stuffed"?...animals to show the 3 1/2 year old twin girls I sit a couple days a week. They were enraptured. For five minutes. Then they were back to being shrieking little banshees. ♥ But I digress. That evening we decided to have a low key night and not be out too late so that we could scrape our butts out of bed early enough to see Lady Liberty the next morning, so we went to Times Square. And weirdly, it was quite relaxing! It was THE most beautiful night, humidity had let up, there was a light breeze, temperature was just right and there were enough people to make it bustle but not so many that you got annoyed. We sat for awhile and just watched people. There was an African-American dude dressed up like The Joker (a la Heath) who wouldn't let you take a picture of him unless you gave him a couple bucks. Said he's an actor out of work, with a little girl to feed. Nice guy. Of course, may have been insane and totally lying...one just never knows. After that, we debated - and chickened out of - going to the Empire State Building because we are both not so much in love with heights. I think I could've dealt with it, as I'd been to the top of the Twin Towers before as a kid and that was nauseatingly dizzifying, but since Tif was a first timer in NY, I kinda let her take the lead as to what she wanted to do. And she did NOT feel like conquering her fear that night! So we went back to the hotel eventually and got some rest.
The Joker wreaking havoc in Gotham.
Me protecting Times Square from the Joker. I'm ferocious, huh?
Thursday dawned - which is just an evil sentence in and of itself. Dawn...*shudder*. Lady Liberty day! We made it down there and in line by 8:30am and it went zip, zip, zip, just like Deadpan Boy from the other day had said. I love boats, I've decided. You have to get on one to get to the statue. Another perfect weather day, wind in our hair, the water splashing, and then the MAGNIFICENT site of the statue as you pull up to it. You see pictures of her your whole life, but seeing her up close and in person is really quite an emotional experience. I cannot imagine what the sight of her must have been like to immigrants from other countries who'd been at sea for weeks or months at a time, who had sacrificed everything for just a chance at a better life, not even knowing if they'd survive the trip. I must admit I got veklempt.
"Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these the homeless tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
Words by Emma Lazarus, music by Irving Berlin
Then...Ellis Island. Sobering. I suspect I had relatives from the French side of the family pass through there but I don't have proof (yet). I did a report on it in 4th grade, so it was very interesting to see it in person finally. For the number of people who came through every day in its heyday (about 5,000), it didn't seem that big. I got the heeby jeebies thinking about how claustrophobic it must've been...all the unbathed bodies, all the confused and crying children, all the languages of the world being spoken at once, all the sick and injured and some probably downright crazy, how grumpy the employees probably were. Again...all of that...just to live in America.
I could've spent hours reading every little piece of information in that place (cuz I'm weird like that), but eventually we had to leave to meet our friends Gene-Manuel and Jhon Centurri for lunch. We met at a little pizza place in the West Village and chatted up a storm. Once upon a time, Gene stumbled upon a blog I wrote and dug it. He shared it with Jhon. He dug it. They both befriended me on Facebook and we've been buds since. I met them in person for the first time last September when they visited L.A. and I booked a little acoustic show and bbq in their honor in my backyard (aka, "Riverton Bowl", more on that later). Well Tiffany, being my friend online also became their friend online. And then, being a supporter and lover of the arts, she commissioned magicalized portraits of her kids from Gene. And now FINALLY, she was getting to meet him! Anyone who wants to gripe about the evils of the internet can bite my lily white one...I think it's AMAZING. If not for the internet, I would not have been in New York City that day in the first place, let alone enjoying some time and delicious pizza with three truly good-hearted human beings. Brilliant!
Come to find out...we were mere feet away from historic Stonewall and I didn't even know it! So after lunch, the four of us walked over there to check it out. And since I'm practically a gay man inside, I could not help but get my picture in front of the place.
I'm a tourist in NY, I know I look tragic. Don't judge.
Unfortunately, by this time in my trip, my last full day in NY, my feet were screaming with pain from all the walking. In L.A., no one walks anywhere. We drive. Even the skinny people drive everywhere (they have to get to the gym somehow). I'm admittedly an exercise-hater (why have a couch at all if not to sit on it?). So I knew this trip was going to be a lot for me. That said, I am REALLY proud of myself and how much physical activity I did accomplish throughout the week. I had been so worried that Tif would regret this trip with me, but she said a "more relaxed pace" turned out to be good for her cuz as a mom she's always rushing everywhere. So...it's good to keep a juicy girl around, aiight? However...now I was DONE with a capital D and if I didn't get off my feet and prop them up soon I was going to start crying. They were literally throbbing in rhythm with my heartbeat and I could feel my knees shaking. I'm not even kidding. So sadly my afternoon with Gene and Jhon was cut shorter than I wanted and I went back to the hotel. Tif stayed with them and hung out for awhile longer. So sorry guys! Next trip I'm planning you in the BEGINNING before I lose mobility! Or...maybe I'll go on a diet. Nah, probably not. But it's the thought that counts.
Finally, that night we went out to hear my aforementioned friend Mark Aaron James play at Bar on A in the East Village - which, come to find out, cannot be reached by subway easily. Read: lots more walking. (C'MON!!!) Anyway, this was a new residency for him so the crowd was small, which meant I got to toss out requests for all my favorites of his originals cuz he wasn't really under that much pressure to do a bunch of covers. I'm not sure he loved me all that much for that, but I was happy and Tif enjoyed it. The place was a little bit dive-y but that's my kinda place. I can't stand swanky, glittery, pretentious, touristy joints - or the kind of people who frequent them. I prefer places with stories to tell and this was one of those. My favorite places in New York are the real New Yorker's places. It was a nice, low key last evening in town.
And we split a cab back to the hotel. No...more...WIRE...HANGERS....er...WALKING!
Me and my longtime buddy, MAJ.
And the ONLY pic of me and Tif together on this whole trip. Seriously???
The next morning, we packed up, checked out, had some lunch across the street at Big Nick's Pizza & Burger Joint (better burgers than pizza, but still not better than Shake Shack!) and just walked around the area a little bit more, enjoying the architecture of the Upper West Side. Yes...I could live THERE. During spring and early summer anyway. Then, we got car service to the Newark airport and I hugged Tif just long enough to start to tear up and then I ran away into the airport like the jaded, emotionally-stunted freak that I am while the car drove her off to her own gate and back to Edmonton, Alberta.
Tiffany, I cannot adequately put into words how to thank you. I hope you just know inside how very grateful I am for ALL of it.
Storm: So unimportant.
Gift: TIFFANY KEILLER.
And so I returned to Los Angeles rested, grateful, energized, strangely confident and with a fire lit under my booty. And for starters, I'd take on the "Angels Over Nashville" benefit at Riverton Bowl just a week later. And wait till you hear about THOSE gifts...
...to be continued in Part Three. I know, I know. I PROMISE there will be no Part Four!
...to be continued in Part Three. I know, I know. I PROMISE there will be no Part Four!