I’m Coming out!

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Looking east towards Fifth Avenue from Cedar Hill in Central Park. 4:00 PM. Photo: JH.

Thursday, May 21, 2020. Nice, sunny Spring day in New York with the temps reaching mid-60s and some of that daily chill wind we’ve been getting lately.

It was one of those days where I never got out except the quickies with the dogs. I don’t have a cleaning lady. She quit on me a couple of years ago after more than ten or fifteen years. I liked her but she’d got used to the job and by then the cell phone always came with her, and vice versa.

So. I’m not a slob but I’m not OCD either. But the dogs as well as I require keeping things in order and clean. They demand it, and there’s rarely a day that goes by where a floor doesn’t get washed or a carpet vacuumed. Since the lockdown all of my meals have been prepared here. I’m not a cook, but I can cook and like it. But the kitchen is tiny and so economy is required, so nothing is left waiting.

Sundown, looking south, just as the BCRF Virtual Hot Pink Party went online last night.

My desk needs a once-over at any time, also. And closets straightened or unstuffed. Then there’s the books. Books and books and books. I’m a book-fiend; they are my sense of personal wealth. Not that they’d be worth anything to anybody else. It does get to a point where it’s either you or the books, and realistically it would have to be the books. But then it’s like having to give away a child (or a pet).

I just re-read the previous paragraphs to get back to last night:  I put a chicken in the oven at five to prepare my dinner, and it all had to be done on time because I had accepted an invitation to “attend” the BCRF Virtual Hot Pink Party, which began at 8 o’clock on my computer screen.

I’ve written many times over the years about the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. It is a great New York story, aside from its amazing accomplishments and achievements in breast cancer research. As you may know, the BCRF was founded by the late Evelyn Lauder. It was often queried about Evelyn’s relationship to the disease, but she never spoke about it, so it was presumed she was not its victim. Evelyn Lauder certainly was no victim, and she saved many lives with her intense devotion to the cause.

Since BCRF was launched in 1993, they’ve raised hundreds of millions for research grants. This year alone there were $66 million in grants now at work in laboratories across the world. The annual Hot Pink Party’s Spring gala has always been held in hotels with very large capacity, often attended by as many as a thousand guests. Sir Elton John for years was the star performer. And when Sir Elton performs, as you may know, he gives you his all.

Sir Elton John performing at one of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation’s previous Gala dinners at the Waldorf.

This year was no. No, you can’t. This is a moment in all our times, as you know. It is personal and for many of us it is very isolating. I knew that the BCRF would be doing a “virtual” benefit, although I didn’t know how I would cover it. I’ve watched it grow – with the assistance of Myra Biblowit at the helm – and it’s a beautiful example of what can be done and how we can do it for ourselves and others. That sense and energy has always been in the room during those benefit evenings (and luncheons).

So I wondered how a “virtual” can maintain, let alone “top” that. And I found out, last night. I had my dinner early enough so that I could be ready to watch at 8 pm, registering online at 7:45. I mean … where’s the auditorium? Where’s the big stage for the podiums, for Sir Elton’s piano and orchestra; for the research awards? That’s a lot of the evening.

Not anymore it is. Last night opened with the Broadway’s Norbert Leo Butz. He’s one of those brilliant actors that when you see him in a role, you think that’s what he’s like in real life. Then the next time you see him, he’s another character and you think that’s what he’s like in real life. Brando could do that. Last night he was face on up close to the camera, looking like he’s in his office or apartment, looking anxious to tell us something, but with a slight grin. And it’s a song we all know: “Something’s Comin’” … “Could be, who knows? There’s something due any day. I will know right away, Soon as it shows…”West Side Story; Stephen Sondheim.

Norbert Leo Butz opening with “Something’s Comin’”

But Norbert Leo was singing us the story, it was more this person with his face right up to us. And at moments he looked like he was gonna break out in laughter at the excitement. He looks like a good friend telling you something good.

These screen grabs give you an idea of what a “virtual” could be. There was no big auditorium. It wasn’t necessary, right? But it was personal like Norbert’s song, followed by more song, more music and more personal appearances. There was something a little bit of home-movie about it.

It was casual, informal but professional and full of color and light. YOU were the audience and all of the guests and performers and speakers were directing it at YOU. It was personal. There were stories of recoveries, of miracles, of friendships and family, and fears and emotions and victories. And good news, like that opening Sondheim song.

Nile Rodgers.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. It was a banquet of an evening, and fascinating and sweet, and it always felt like it was just getting started. But Nile Rodgers came onscreen to tell us that we’d got to the eleven o’clock number. That was about ten-to-nine. And on came Rodgers dressed for a performance, along with his singer and musicians moving us into the soul train station. Joining the number were the multi-images of the guests, the friends, the cast, the staffs, and the music went on and on (oh, and you could contribute all through the program).

The finale. (Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images for Breast Cancer Research Foundation)

And that was the show. Amazing. They could do this every year, maybe more. It was so intimate and interesting and positive and beautiful and moving and fun. In one hour. I could see it playing across the nation. It was special. Like having something good come into your house. And kinda brilliant! Good news, sing it Norbert!

And, it was announced much later in the evening that they’d raised more than $5.2 million. A great show!

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