A Snowball’s chance in heaven

As a kid, I got a pet rabbit, a fluffy, white little critter named, not surprisingly, Snowball. I was 7 and oh, did I love that rabbit. I used to take him out of his cage and place him on the rug, watching his little wrinkling, twitching nose, transfixed for hours. I mean, it was ridiculous.

Of course, Snowball being a rabbit and me being a kid with little thought about mortality, I gave little thought to what lay in our future. On day, after an enormous thunderstorm, I wandered down to his big outdoor cage in the backyard. There, inside the still dripping chain-link cage, lay Snowball, soggy, limp and undeniably deceased. I wailed and sobbed, overwhelmed by grief for a creature I loved.

My poor mother, seeing me distraught, said she’d buy me another rabbit. And she did. But I got two, instead of one. Soon enough, there were little bunnies and, as their famed propensity for producing offspring foretold, those rabbits did it like rabbits, till we had so many they were squeezing out between the chain links. That was in the mid-70s and to this day, my mother’s yard still has rabbits hopping here and there.

My mind only turned momentarily to those little hoppers about a month ago, when I went out with a friend, Simone Lupson-Cook. Simone is a general falconer and keeps two hawks — a red-tailed and a goshawk — and I’d contacted her a short while before about heading out with her and the red-tailed, named Chase, to film her hunting with him. She agreed and not only brought Chase, but Cricket, a young goshawk. The day was gorgeous and for a couple of hours, they soared from her glove to tree limbs, dove to the ground and caught a rabbit (or at least, Chase did). It was a stupendous day, truly.

I took a good amount of video of the morning. I’m planning to turn it into a short film, but here’s a trailer, to whet the appetite. When it’s done, I’ll make sure I’ll post it, with apologies to Snowball.


Thar she blows!

Every year, if things work according to plan, you get older. And, many moons ago, for my 25th birthday, I got a great gift: a whale-watching excursion.

I lived in Provincetown, MA, at the time, on Cape Cod, an area known for centuries for its whaling fleet (“Moby Dick,” which is such a fantastic book it doesn’t make sense, begins in New Bedford, MA, not too far away). But by the 90s, the tide had turned on whaling, as all manner of cetaceans found themselves on endangered and threatened lists. By the last decade of last century, whale watching was the way to go.

We set out on a beautiful day in late May and, in a word, the experience was astounding. Actually, make that humbling. North American right whales — so named because they were considered the “right” whale to hunt because, once killed, their bodies would float — came up to the boat. One swam alongside our non-motoring vessel for a good two minutes, on its side, an enormous eye checking us out as we all bent over to get a look. Another whale breeched in the near distance. Whales circled us for a good 15 minutes. I was in a state of awe: How could a creature so massive, so beautiful, so obviously intelligent actually exist? I felt so tiny, so inconsequential. On the ride back to land, I realized what a fortunate life I lived, to be able to experience a live whale, in a way most people haven’t. And I couldn’t believe that an intelligent animal killed in such great numbers by humans would still interact with us, and decide not to steer clear.

Since then, whales have been a big love of mine. That’s why when I hear, or see, anything about whales, I stop and listen or watch. And just the other day, I found this: Down in the Antarctic, Japanese whaling vessels have been battling it out with Bob Barker.  No, not the former “The Price is Right” host, but a ship named after him, that’s part of a fleet of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which exists to protect marine life. Bob Barker has been rammed; water cannons have been fired from ship to ship. And, while most of us live our lives up here, down in the cold oceans near the South Pole, a battle wages for the lives of whales.

Say what you will about the society’s leader, Paul Watson, and his tactics, his organization makes it hard to ignore the reality of whales, the giants that exist in the watery sphere of our planet. And it’s hard for me to fault him too aggressively when I remember gazing into that whale’s eye and witnessing the worlds I saw contained within.

Ms Smith goes to Washington (State, that is)

Years ago, I used to live on Cape Cod — Wellfleet, to be specific — on Long Pond Road. Stuck back in the woods, a mile from the highway, Route 6, the house overlooked Long Pond, a gorgeous body of water. A man named Philip owned the house and I lived upstairs.

Philip, who had worked for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, seemed to know everyone. And if he didn’t, he’d probably been around him or her. As proof, he had, in his study, a photo of him at a concert somewhere, standing off to the side, while in the foreground the rocker Patti Smith was in the process of smashing a chair to smithereens by hurling it to the ground. Watching the whole thing go down, Philip had a little smile on his face.

I loved that picture. Oh, did I love it. Looking at it, I always thought, Wow, she’s awesome. And, Damn, I want to meet Patti Smith.

I thought that in 97-98. Now, it’s 2010 and, somehow, that thought came true.

Just this past week, on Jan. 25, Patti Smith came to Seattle, to give a reading from her new book, “Just Kids,” about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. (Yep, him, the photog who took some unapologetically S&M-themed queer pix that drove Sen. Jesse Helms batty.) I’d contacted Seattle Arts and Lectures, to see if I could interview her. Unfortunately, she was too busy. But, I was asked, what about attending a champagne toast with Patti? I would have been a fool to say no. So I didn’t.

And let me tell you: Patti is just about the sweetest person you’d ever wanna meet. She walked right up to me, all nonchalant, and said, “Hi, my name’s Patti.” Like she needed an introduction. Then she posed for pix with me — and everyone else there — and, when she found out I worked for Real Change, she said, “The homeless, they’re our people.”

She went on stage a short while later, read from “Just Kids” (which, I gotta say, sounds great), did a Q-n-A with rock journalist Charles R. Cross, then sang. And since she can only play six chords on the gee-tar (?!?!), she led the audience in a rousing a cappella version of “Because the Night.”

And seeing her, listening to her, it was hard not to feel that the does indeed belong to us. All of us.

On the wing with Cricket and Chase

In late 2007, while wasting time on the Web, I began searching sites about birds. Being a birder — or bird nerd, as I like to say — this made sense. But for some reason, I started searching for info about falconry, that practice of keeping raptors, or birds of prey, and sometimes hunting with them. That led me to the Washington Falconry Association. I emailed the webmaster.

That communication led to a short e-chat, where I asked if she knew anyone in the Seattle area who could tell me about falconry. She directed me to a woman named Simone. After a short e-communication with her, Simone invited me out with here and Chase, her red-tailed hawk.

We met and, the moment she took Chase out of the large corrugated plastic box she carried him in, I just about fell over: Chase was so beautiful, regal, dynamic. Chase sat on her glove and then flew off into a tree. With long sticks, Simone, another person and I beat blackberry brambles to flush out rabbits. Above us, Chase sat in a tree. And then he dove, straight to the ground, landing on top of a rabbit. Simone — who just happens to be a vegetarian — caught up to him and broke the rabbit’s neck and Chase began to feed.

I couldn’t move. The scene felt so primal. You could see fur and blood as Chase ate. We all just stood and watched. And it may sound strange, even heartless to say, but: I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. Not the gore, but the entire experience: a young woman, with her hawk, out in the suburbs of Seattle, hunting a rabbit. I told myself if I ever got the chance again, I’d do some sort of project with Simone and Chase.

Fast forward to Jan. 2010: Just a few days ago, I went out with Simone and Chase and her newest addition, Cricket, a European goshawk. I took pix and video of the rabbit hunt. I’m turning it into a video profile. When it’s done, I’ll let you know.

But to whet your appetite, here’s a pic of Simone and Cricket. All I’ll say now is the experience was incredible. And I’m gonna do my best, with the vid, to do justice to what happened that day.

Dishonest Abe?

Years ago, when I got my first job at a newspaper — that would be, ahem, 1995 — I worked for the Provincetown Banner. A start-up weekly paper, we covered the little village of Provincetown — known as P’town to most — that sat at the very tip of Cape Cod, in ye olde Massachusetts. While the year-round population stood around 3500, in the summer, it ballooned to some 25,000 or more, thanks in large part to it being the gay Mecca of the East Coast. That meant any big gay name you could think of came to P’town at some point.

One such person was Larry Kramer. What’s that? Don’t know him? In the late 80’s and early 90’s, it was hard not to. Larry was a pivotal figure during that time, when AIDS seemed in the forefront of everyone’s mind (except Ronald Reagan’s). A man who never stopped demanding that gay people be afforded respect and that the health crisis affecting them be taken seriously by the healthcare industry, he angered a lot of people. But he wrote a seminal, polemical novel “Faggots”  (and how’s that for a title?); he penned the play “A Normal Heart.” He helped start the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in NYC and ACT UP, that activist that staged die-ins to grab the attention of those who were ignoring the death of so many people to complications from AIDS. So no surprise: Larry came to P’town.

By some chance of Fate, I got to interview him. I’d love to link to that article now but, alas, poor Yorick, the Banner’s online archive doesn’t go back that far. Or maybe that’s not so bad: I had no idea what to ask him and essentially, I just let him talk, which was like giving a child a key to candy store. He pretty much ran away with the convo. Still, I loved and turned it into an article.

I bring it up because, a little while ago, New York magazine printed a GREAT profile on Larry Kramer, who, at 74, is still out there. Even if most people don’t recall his name.

And then today, I came across a video interview with him on the NYTimes website. It’s called “Abraham Lincoln was Gay,” which I think pretty much sums it up. Take your pick. Both are great. And both reveal a man who, decades ago, led hundreds of people to the streets to fight to be heard and these days, is barely remembered.

Ahhh, history…