First off, if you haven’t seen Michael Urie in Hamlet, what are you waiting for? Urie, in the titular role, provides something new and dynamic. Yes, you are probably wondering, how can Shakespeare’s longest play, a play well over 400 years old, be anything close to new? Taking the usual role of the down-in-the-mouth son pushed out of his birthright, Urie inserts a little velvet rage and makes Hamlet the gay son we always knew he could be.
Isn’t Hamlet a little bit gay anyway? Moody, always plotting, dynamic costume changes and a big, screaming fight at the end. Reminds me of a lot of my gay dodgeball friends. But, as I watched Urie’s Hamlet get tossed Yorick’s skull from out of a freshly dug grave somewhere in Act V, the ideas of a gay life, legacy, and what exactly of us is left behind were fairly palpable.
Hamlet was Wednesday. My friend Russ surprised me with tickets. I surprised him Saturday by dragging him to former D.C. City Council member Jim Graham’s estate sale in Bethesda. He died last year and Graham had always intrigued me. He was a staple in Washington life, often spotted driving around in that convertible Volkswagen bug of his. We had only met once, bowtie and all, years ago when I first moved to the city, some junk store on 14th Street that’s now lamentably a small-plates wine bar or something. That was 12 years ago or so. I’m pretty sure the back room of that junk store had a dirt floor.
Graham had a hard political fall. But all that aside, he earned all the laurels he could ever need through his work at Whitman-Walker. At the preview before the auction, you could see Jim in all his glory, via his things, laid bare for everyone to see. And I do love a good auction — the excitement, the atmosphere, the picking up and fondling of objects and the possibility of then taking those objects home. Was Jim a hoarder? Maybe. What’s the real difference between a hoarder and a collector? A nicer apartment? Jim’s taste ran from the beautiful, to the curious, the comical, to the downright odd. The oddest piece being the collection of skulls. The room was full of gay men, many I recognized, looking over Jim’s gay life, now laid out on tables, in boxes, tagged with numbers. Gay men have a certain affinity for their possessions. Our homes are more likely to be near-curated. And like a well-matched accessory, these items almost become an extension of us, telling a little story of our gay life. Sans children, do our possessions and collections mean something different? With Jim, he cared enough about these items to take them home and care for them. Each I’m assuming had a story. And now in the home of another gay man, their story continues. Essentially, these curious items now have another 40 years of gay life added to them.
I went home with a large, metal Greek god-type garden statue that I still have no idea what to do with. I have no garden. No one else was bidding on it and I guess I felt sorry for it.
Dito sat front row in a large black mink coat. He went home with an array of items. As did my friend Pepin. I helped him carry out boxes of treasures. My friend Jocko went home with a collection of vintage costume jewelry, including an old Safeway name tag simply reading “Alice.” Anyone who knows Jocko knows these items found the right home. You have to wonder, who was Alice? And who was Jim Graham? Can anyone say they knew him? Perhaps. But so many gay men now have a little piece of him. And knowing what I knew of him, he would have loved that.
Hamlet runs through March 4. The second installment of Jim Graham’s estate, including that Volkswagen, will be auctioned off March 10.