Thursday, August 20, 2009

One Small Step For Ham

Neither the camper nor the Jeep broke down. Nor did I, for that matter.

Two road trips are now under my belt and it looks like this idea of hauling 1600 pounds of steel and aluminum behind me just might work.

Last Thursday I took the Canned Ham on its maiden voyage to visit my friend Cass Morgan in Vermont. (The scenic aspects of that trip are elaborated on in my brand, spankin’ new column on Feel free to leave a comment there. In fact, I beg you: leave a comment.) It was also a test run for Mickey. She’s only been in the car a few times and in those instances she was in the cat carrier and we only drove a few miles. She does not speak highly of those experiences. I put her catbed in the passenger seat and the hosed-down and sparkling clean litter box in back. She found that immediately and took a nice big pee before we got very far down the road. At least she found it.

I took the local road to Albany, at which point I was forced to get on the highway for a bit. My sister-in-law Amy is right: highway driving is easier than the back roads when you have something in tow. You get up a good speed (a dizzying 55 M.P.H. in this case) and the whole thing just hums along nicely.

But it was back to the blue highways once I hit Troy. The main road out of Troy goes all the way to Bennington, VT so I didn’t have to worry about directions too much.

Mickey, who at first seemed more confused than anything else at what was going on outside, soon settled into to a typical cat routine: nap, explore, nuzzle. She seemed fine.

Once across the border into Vermont I came to my first real challenge: the Green Mountains. By this point in the trip pulling the camper wasn’t really too much of a challenge anymore. It was, uh, braking and, um stopping that were not the sharpest weapons in my arsenal.

OK, I thought, trial by fire: mountains. And as I got further into them, the highway department threw construction into the mix, too. At one point, coming down from a summit, the “trucks use low gear” sign got my heart pounding a little harder. The runaway truck ramp didn’t instill much confidence, either, and as I rounded a bend and saw the “One-lane road ahead. Be prepared to stop” sign, the odor of cat urine cutting through my brain and Mickey herself deciding that between my feet was the best place to be, I did sort of wonder what the heck I had gotten myself into.

But it all worked out in the end, just a slight squeal of camper brakes giving away my novice status.

My visit with Cass was, as always, sublime. She’s got a very comfy log cabin that gets nicer every time I visit, but as this trip was to be the subject of my first column, I decided it would be a good idea to sleep in the Ham. Such comfort! Such coziness! I slept like a baby. A baby who had a cat sleeping on its neck.

The trip home was pleasant and uneventful, and I even started to pick up a few towing techniques (like, you want to start thinking about braking about a mile away from the stop sign. The Canned Ham is not quite as hard to land as the Ile de France, but you just want to take your time coming to a halt.)

The next day I took to the road again, this time to join Alan Cumming’s weekend house party in the next county over. (More from that at a later date.) Again, mountains... narrow village main streets... and—the real kicker—Alan’s driveway. If I tackled that beast (and I did) I’m in pretty good shape.

And again, it felt so great at the end of a long evening with friends to “go home” to my house-on-wheels to go to bed. I think it bodes well for life on the road. No matter where I am I’ll be going home to sleep.

And Mickey will be there waiting for me.

September 23/24 at Dixon Place in NYC. Tickets available here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

It's A Miracle!

“Hey, Bill, it’s Tom. I was going to come by this afternoon to pick up the camper. Is it ready?”

“Yeah, it’s ready. I just have to put the wheels on.”

Ready… Put the wheels on… These two things do not sound like part of the same equation to me.

“Uh, OK, so when should I come by.”

“I’d have to say not ‘til the end of the day. Like 5.”

“OK, sounds good. Because I have to be in Albany by 6.”

Y’know, you just can’t come by and take it right out, though. We have to do a few things like figure out which hitch to use and test out the lights and put the license plate on and secure those two loose windows and make sure the brakes are working OK and install the propane tank and get those mirror extensions on your Jeep and do an inspection.”


“So just come by around 3:30.”

And, lo, one of us was driven insane. And I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t Bill.

But everything on that list was, in fact, completed in time for me to get to Albany. It was sure fun watching the wheels go on to the camper and then watching the camper being lowered of the jacks back to street level. I think it was probably the first time I saw the thing at the proper height: before being in the shop it was at my house resting low to the ground on flat tires.

Bill gave me a deadpan towing lesson in the parking lot of the shop (“You do want to brake very slowly because otherwise the camper will pass you on the road.”) before I started out for the short trip home. That was, um, interesting. One definitely knows there’s a 3/4-ton object following behind.

When I returned from my meeting in Albany I spruced up the inside of the camper for the big test-run I have planned for today: I’m making an overnight trip to visit my friend Cass Morgan in Vermont. I can avoid the highways for almost the entire trip there, which is a good thing for my first time out. Mickey’s coming along, too, so we’ll both get an idea of just what the heck we’re getting ourselves into.

Most certainly, there will be a full report in the near future.

In the meantime, here are Wayne and Bill, the excellent, and leisurely, geniuses that are Wolfie’s Tire and Auto.

September 23/24 at Dixon Place in NYC. Tickets available here.

Friday, August 7, 2009

I Wake Up Screaming

I had a nightmare last night that my mechanic had not done any work on the camper since the initial spurt of activity when I returned home and discovered nothing had been done while I was away. This was probably due to the fact that had I dropped by the garage two days ago to check on the progress and… nothing had been done. Argghh! I realize there’s a good chunk of time left before I plan to hit the road, but you weren’t around when my Falcon was up on the lift for three months waiting for… well, I can’t remember exactly what his excuse was then, but it cost me an entire summer of convertible-ing around the countryside.

“So, Bill, what’s the status on the camper,” I asked.

“Well, you know you can’t just pull brake pads off the shelf for this…” blah blah blah.

“I know that. But what about the other things that could be worked on? The pull-out step, the propane tank holder? Installing those stabilizing jacks in the rear of the camper?”

“We’re getting to it.”


“So, when do you expect it to be done?”

“When do you want it?”

“Well, you said it would be finished August 1st.”

“Yeah, and it’s August 4th.”


I cocked my head. Did he somehow just win that argument with some weird logic? Is this a technique I should remember: simply shrug and state a quasi-non-sequitur with enough quiet authority to confuse the hell out of your opponent?

I left the shop and drove down the road muttering comeback after comeback to myself.

So you can imagine my relief when I dropped by yesterday to find almost everything was done. I don’t even care that Bill asked me about the new taillights (recessed vs. flush-mounted) with a tone in his voice that said “you’re holding me up on this until you give me a decision, y’know.”

As I said, his work is worth waiting for, even if your hair turns gray in the process.

But why dwell?

Tickets for the NYC premiere of “Canned Ham” are officially on sale. Yikes! No backing out now, I guess. The Dixon Place ticket ordering site is here. I don’t want to influence anyone, but I think there may be some sort of post-show shindig after the Wednesday performance.

The tour schedule is starting to come into focus. It’s still mighty blurry but I’m beginning to get a sense of what might be going on with this for the next 6-8 months or so.

Now if I can only decide which accordion to use in the show (I have two, naturally.)

(Oh, and did I mention you can buy T-shirts here?)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jackin' the Ham

…and if that’s not a first-class euphemism, I don’t know what is.

I went by my mechanic’s yesterday to see what progress has made on the camper. It’s inside the shop, at least, which is definitely a step up from when I returned home. He’s actually gotten a lot done in just a few days. The coupler and v-shaped thingy on the tongue have been replaced, along with the front-end jack. Wayne is working on securing the pull-out step and the wheels are off so he can rebuild the brakes. Did you know a camper has its own brakes? I didn’t. But now that I know it, I like it. I’m hoping to make a test run to my friends Cass’s house in Vermont the week after next. My mechanic promised me it will be ready by then.

We’ll see…

On the show front, we’ve added a couple of folks to the production team. Mr. Dan Knechtges will be choreographing the show. If he can teach non-roller skating actors to look great in “Xanadu”, and can make adults look like kids dancing in “Putnam County Spelling Bee” he should be able to something with this lummox and his accordion. I’m lucky to have him, fer sure.

And there is an up-and-coming young fellow who’s offered to do a costume for me… what was his name… where’s that piece of paper… Oh, here it is: let’s see, someone called William Ivey Long will be consulting on the wardrobe. Frankly, a jockstrap and a pair of Converse hightops should do it, but I say let’s give the kid a chance. (You all know I’m kidding, right? I’m still pinching myself that William even agreed to take my call, much less work with me on this project. He truly is one of the most generous of humans.)

Other than that, the script tinkering is pretty much done until Kevin and I start rehearsing it in September. So I printed out a hard copy and am gearing up for the gargantuan memorization job. All 43 pages of it. Gulp.

I will be revisiting my past on September 9th when I’m the guest something-or-other at Will Clark’s Porno Bingo at Pieces on Christopher Street. Will was kind enough to ask me to join him even though I’m not really a porn star anymore. I called out numbers at one of his bingo nights a few years ago and, golly, but it was fun! I sat right by the door and announced people as they came in. “(The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, ladies and gentlemen.” “Please give a warm welcome to Miss Nanette Fabray!” Newcomers were generally confused.) More will be forthcoming when there’s more to come forth.

Until then, revel in the beauty that is the Canned Ham on blocks.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Won't You Help "Tom"?

“Tom” is a person with special needs. These include, but are not limited to, deportment lessons, an accordion teacher, a wardrobe consultant, and a new belt. And, frankly, a life. You can help “Tom” achieve these goals through your purchase of official Canned Ham merchandise. At present, these items include 100% cotton T-shirts in both brown and gray, and deluxe souvenir refrigerator magnets.*

Please visit the Canned Ham Merchandise page to purchase these items. By helping “Tom” you’ll also be helping, well, Tom.

*($1 of each magnet purchased will be donated to the Albany Damien Center, a community center for people living with HIV and AIDS in Albany, NY. Please click here for more info.)

Now that the PSA has been dispensed with, here’s the skinny on Canned Ham and all its various corollary projects:

The 2nd draft of the script has been completed and I’m ready to work on a further revision with a director. Fortunately, I have a director: Kevin Malony, the brains behind TheaterTWEED, the man who helped introduce Lypsinka to the world at large, and the director of the legendary Fractured Classicks series is going to be whipping my butt (the only part of me that, at present, is not tanned) into shape for the premiere of “Canned Ham” mere weeks away. Kevin and I have known each other for—jeez—more than a quarter of a century but apart from a one-night all-star reading of “The Women” that he directed at Town Hall (in which I played scene change music at the onstage piano and sang for the fashion show) we’ve never actually worked together.

I’m very happy and excited to have Kevin on board for this.

I’m still planning to hit the road in the Canned Ham itself around October 1st but there are a few dates lined up for the show before I leave. The world premiere will be a benefit performance for the Albany Damien Center, the wonderful HIV Community Center that was nice enough to employ me earlier this year before I left for Saba. That date is TBA, most likely the end of September. And Dixon Place in Manhattan will be hosting the New York City premiere for two performances on September 23/24. If anything else local falls into place I’ll be sure to post it here.

Until then I’ll be practicing the accordion, working up musical arrangements, revising the script, learning my lines and choreography (yikes!) and begging and pleading with my mechanic to please get the work done on the camper. He’s good but he’s none too speedy. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I cam home from the Caribbean a month ahead of schedule.

Finally (and this next is technically unofficial until a formal announcement,) starting in September I’ll have a monthly column on chronicling my travels around the country. I have mon ami Tom in Paris to thank for that.

Even Mickey is excited!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Joint Custody II

[This is the second entry to be posted simultaneously on both blogs.]




I killed ‘em on Booby Hill.


Since I wrote the first two drafts of “Canned Ham” here at El Momo, and since it was Patrick and Sophie’s invitation to come down here for the summer that inspired the writing of it in the first place, there was a nice poetic symmetry in giving the first public reading of the script this past Tuesday evening, here at El Momo.


We invited about a dozen of the friends I’ve made since my arrival on the island two months ago to a reading to be held in the dining pavilion.  Once people caught their breaths after climbing the stairs (6 storeys up from the road, remember?) I plied them with alcohol.  As all performers know, a slightly tipsy audience is a friendly audience.  No fool, I.  Patrick had casually mentioned a couple of days earlier that he’d “make some tapas” for the event.  Frankly, he lost control; he put out a spread that a) was beyond belief in its variety and tastiness (bacon-wrapped shrimp, sautéed celery, fish tempura cheese, crackers, pumpkin soup… I can’t even remember everything on the table) and b) made for a hard act to follow.  Suddenly I was appearing at the El Momo Dinner Theater.


When everyone was pleasantly stuffed with food and drink I said a few words to introduce the piece and then got underway.  Let’s just say I was pleased with the response.  I learned a lot about the text from both an actor’s perspective and from the point of view of the author.  Some things need to go, others can be fleshed out.  Some jokes didn’t work, some worked even better than I’d hoped.  Still other lines will remain but will be refashioned.  Frankly, it was an invaluable exercise, particularly in light of the fact that the references in the play are particularly American, and (thank God) I found that the scrip seems to work regardless of one's pop-culture frame of reference.


Flipping back through earlier blog entries I see that on April 3rd of this year the idea of writing a show here on Saba and returning to the states to tour it around the country in the camper really solidified into the plan that is now in place.  Just three and half months later and a huge chunk of that plan—the script—is a reality.  There are some other details (fun stuff) that I’ll talk more about when I get back home and get things cookin’ on that end.  But for now, I can count my summer holiday on Saba a complete, total and utterly fabulous success.

And that’s not even counting my world-class tan line! 

Friday, June 26, 2009

It's A Start

First draft of the script completed Friday, June 26th at 6:17 PM.