NY Mirror

The Two Boots complex on Avenue A is starting to rival Lincoln Center in the sheer diversity of its kooky entertainment. In addition to that fabled pizza restaurant, the place houses a video store, the arty Pioneer Theater, and the Den, a subterranean lounge-screening room that's definitely got my number. On Mondo Mondays, the den unveils off-kilter old movies (Hieronymus Merkin, hello) and '70s variety shows like The Paul Lynde Halloween Special, the latter treat prompting me to push the other dysfunctional queens away for a front-row cushion. Lynde, the lovable curmudgeon who played Uncle Arthur in Bewitched, was fabulously flaming and even hinted about his ya-ya sisterhood, but this being a few million years before Ellen, he never fully opened the closet door except to show off his outfits. He was, but he wasn't, but he was, but he wasn't—a free-sex-era taunt that made him a total fagoon to some, an effeminate neuter to others, and a frustrating enigma to moi, who worshiped his knowing snicker and withering wit in a haze of foofy fascination.

But in the special, Miss Thing turns out to have been way gayer than you would have imagined. Dolled up in a Rudy Valentino getup replete with hoop earring, Lynde cracks, "I'm a very chic sheik. That's why they call me Florence of Arabia." In another sketch, he plays a (wo)manly dude called the Rhinestone Trucker, who's vying for the drag-queen-like Roz Kelly. And Lynde ends up cavorting around an androgyne-filled disco, quipping, "It's the one place a person can Hustle and not get arrested."

Throw in campy, trick-or-treat cameos by Kiss("Just what I've always wanted," deadpans Lynde. "Four Kisses on the first date") and Florence Henderson(who sings a truly rotten disco version of "That Old Black Magic"), and you've got a wince-makingly mindless, pseudo-topical, trashy, fun spectacle that's light in its loafers and high on its heels. Not surprisingly, it was co-written by Bruce Vilanch, who later becamePaul Lynde as the new gay on Hollywood Squares!

The next week, I had to miss the Den's showing of the '78 Star Wars Holiday Special with guest stars like Art Carney and Diahann Carroll. Can you imagine anything so heinous? (And I don't mean the special, I mean having to miss it!) I consoled myself with the Angelika premiere of Never Again, starring Jill Clayburgh, who could probably get her own downtown film festival, thanks to a career studded with Oscar-nominated roles (An Unmarried Woman), brave failures (La Luna), and mesmerizing clinkers (Gable and Lombard).

Never Again is a raunchy tale of fiftysomething love that wins you over when Jeffrey Tambor, thinking Clayburgh's a trannie, blurts, "How big is your dick?" (It turns out it's huge; Clayburgh later dons a strap-on, long story.) But gaywise, the movie exists in a cuckoo netherworld less enlightened than that of '70s variety shows. When the pudgy, bald Tambor can't get it up with a woman, he has a gay panic attack and ends up in a queer bar, where the hottest stud in the joint promptly descends on him and starts sticking his tongue down his throat—and he's not even a hustler! (These hetero love stories really need to spring for gay consultants.)

Anyway, after the movie, roastmaster extraordinaire Jeffrey Rosswas beaming, "I can't wait for the sequel—Never Again Again!" I broke the comic's reverie by asking how he liked Clayburgh with the strap-on. "Was she the guy or the girl?" he replied, blithely. Moving right along, what are his views on the well-hung Martha Stewart? "I heard that she's so stressed out, her house is a mess," Ross said. "Sheneeds to get a strap-on!" As for the newly accessorized Julia Roberts? "I'm so happy for her and Paul McCartney. Isn't she the one with the fake leg?"

No, she's the one with the strained smile—I feel a spiel coming on—the one that started a year ago, when her Oscar acceptance speech seemed like another performance, one designed to give folks the screechy delight they craved. This past Oscars, Julia was just as scarily people-pleasing, kissing Sidney Poitier, throwing herself into Denzel's moment (yes, I know she'd campaigned for him), and tossing in that careful reference to her "honey." And what about that honey? The most-seen photo of the twosome has my beloved Julia sitting patiently while he busies himself on a cell phone! So he's landed Julia Roberts and he's calling someone else? Will he need a strap-on? In any case, I hope a cameraman makes a better companion for a superstar than backup dancers and bagel boys have proven to be. I love you, Julia!

I love free food, too—stop the presses—so I went to Man Ray's first anniversary bash, where host Sean Penntried to duck the red-carpet photographers, prompting one of them to start calling him "Sam!" (a reference to his mentally challenged epic, I Am Sam). Inside, if you left the upstairs V.I.P. level and later tried to come back, the doorman obediently whinnied, "Celebs only!" The owner was no help either, telling rejects like me, "There's a good view from down here." Yeah, of Adam Sandler's butt! I weaseled my way back up anyway, only to learn that Sean (who was actually being semi-affable, in his pained way) had split. Sam!

I'm starting to feel like Bette Midlerin The Rose ("Where's everybody going?"). Another case in point: Liz Smithwas asked to join me and others on a Mediabistro.com panel called "Secrets and Lies: Gossip Columnists Tell All!," but she replied to editor Albert Lee, "Thanks, but I don't want to be on a panel with Michael, as much as I like him. Panels with him are not about journalism, only about gay issues. I'm sure it will be great without me, but he wants a forum—I don't." Oh, these wacky bisexuals!

Moving on with my forum, my spies just spotted Matt Lauerdining at Gabriel's with Bryant Gumbel. Funny, not that long ago they would probably have had each otherfor dinner. . . . For dessert, Elaine May's written a play called Adult Entertainmentin which someone named Heidi the 'Ho calls her TV viewers " 'Ho watchers." I hear Robin Byrd auditioned for the role, and also hoping to play Heidi-go-seek are divas from Teri Hatcherto Sandra Bernhard. Anyone need a Rhinestone Trucker?

In other legit news, the Flower Drum Songrevival can deal with the potential stereotyping problem by taking a cue from Thoroughly Modern Millie and having the characters announce at the end, "By the way, we're not really Asian at all. We're crazy, evil people pretendingto be Asian!" (That should please all the racially sensitive Michael Jackson types out there.)

I pretended not to freak—stay with me now—when the power went out on Fire Island last week, forcing all the Florence of Arabia types to huddle around candles, forage for food that didn't have to be refrigerated or cooked, and flashlight their way to the Pavilion, praying the place had a generator so the summer-long dance party could keep its mojo going. It did.

While I light up this island with my throbbing glowstick, let me remark that my gaydar is pinging for that Bloombergguy. But hey, I've been fully assured that he's straight, just like past mayors. Well, somepast mayors.


EXTRA ITEM: Guess what's going to be the next strike in the current battle involving Jacko. I hear it'll be the public opening up of court files related to his pedophilia suit! And I hear Jacko will hit back with some blockbuster allegations of his own!


musto@villagevoice.com

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