The world run a Monk.
The self-declared "premiere fagabonds in America and pioneers of dashboard publishing" (they used to produce some of their work in the back of their van), James Crotty and Michael Lane--better known as the Mad Monks--are currently and uncharacteristically living in a house. From 1986 to 1997, the two travel writers lived on the road, traveling back and forth across America--first in a 1972 Ford Econoline van and then a 26-foot RV (dubbed "the Monkmobile"). But now they seem to have been almost immobilized by their own success.
First they landed a deal with Macmillan Travel to write a guidebook series, beginning with a tome on New York City and including the just-out The Mad Monks' Guide to California. Then came a travel column for Playboy Online. Now the two are in the process of greatly expanding their Web site. Since these are business activities unsuited to the "dysfunctional" (as Crotty calls it) life on the road, they rented a house in Los Angeles. But they both maintain it won't be for much longer. The Monk spirit is evidently irrepressible.
Crotty's and Lane's paths first converged in San Francisco in 1985. "We met two minutes before April Fool's Day," recalls Lane, now 49 (Crotty is 40). "It was in a place called Barefoot Boogie, which was a smoke-free, alcohol-free dance studio which once a week hosted an event where a lot of spillover hippies, anarchists, and general free spirits gathered together for five or six hours to dance their heads off." The following day the two went together to the St. Stephen's Day parade, trod that, says Lane, "sort of defined the unpredictable excitement of the relationship."
After a year living together in the Castro, Crotty and Lane--in a concerted effort to get away from the 9-to-5 lifestyle, the skyrocketing rents of San Francisco, and the death and disease that were engulfing the gay populace at the time--took off to live, says Crotty, "a more authentic existence." Moving on to Oregon, they decided to send a letter home to their friends. And that letter turned into a 24-page newsletter documenting tales of their journey--the places, people, and happenings along the way.
Assuming the nomadic alias of the Monks, they raised enough money from those pals to print the first issue in newspaper format. With the second issue, they changed to a magazine format. Monk Magazine was born.
"We started giving the magazine away in health food stores, and people loved it," says Crotty, who sold advertising to support the venture. "There were these two guys on the cover, and it was always about our journey. It was so raw and ungentrified, filled with spelling and grammatical errors, that people found it charming."
Twelve years on the road and 19 issues (or "episodes," as they were called) later, the Monks had become an institution. In the meantime, the Crotty-Lane relationship had undergone a change--the onetime lovers were now just creative partners. Crotty says he's probably more straight than gay ("I'm a broadly pansexual person," he says), and Lane says, "While there's still a great deal of camaraderie and intimacy, it doesn't cross into the bedroom." Quips Crotty: "We're now about as close as you could get without exchanging fluids."
With a Seattle guidebook up next, plans for a roundup on gay attractions across the country, and a possible Monk TV series (they've already finished a pilot), the Monks are gearing up for the next phase in, yes, their traveling life.
And some of their stops will put them on the gay map. Lane, who came out in 1968 and says he has witnessed "dramatic strides across the country," continues to seek out places that further his vision of gay America "Gay men across the country completely identified with our journey and could see that we were not afraid and out there. I know that we had a tremendous effect on a lot of small-town rural gays," he says. After all, notes Crotty, "we were the first people to dress in drag and drive around the country in an RV, way before Priscilla."
RELATED ARTICLE: The Monks' five queerest attractions
The Mad duo give us the scoop on their favorite gay sites in America
Funny Farm 64990 Deschutes Market Rd. Off Highway 97, north of Bend, Ore. (Turn right at yellow blinking light)
When you see the Love Pond, you know you're there. This is central Oregon's wackiest private park and playground. It features fainting goats, human-size chess pieces, and a bowling ball garden. Proprietors and lovers Gene Carsey Jr. and Mike Craven have withstood all manner of intolerance to keep their hokey, happy dream alive. If you're nice, they'll let you see the cow that jumped over the moon.
Good Vibrations 1210 Valencia St. (at 23rd St.) San Francisco
This is the most positive, progressive sex shop in the land. Why? Maybe because it was founded by women, who promise you'll find "the right tool for the job." The staff can be extremely helpful, providing lots of explicit sex education without a trace of shame.
Gianni Versace mansion 1116 Ocean Dr, South Beach in Miami
One of the more sensational murders of the past decade--the slaying of the famed designer, which authorities determined was committed by Andrew Cunanan--took place on the steps of this block-wide Italianate mansion facing the beach, The mansion stands as a silent backdrop to a steady stream of gay tourists who pose on the steps, snap a photo, and then sheepishly take their leave, invoking the ghosts of both Versace and Cunanan, the accused spree killer who would ultimately off himself nearby,
Liberace Museum 1775 E. Tropicana Ave. (at Spencer St.) Las Vegas
There's only one real museum in this town, and most everybody knows it's the Liberate. A bit too closeted for our tastes (even in death), the piano man, known as "Mr. Showmanship," did possess a certain baroque elan that is as hilarious as it is revolting, See the spoils of his preposterously ornate pianos and his rhinestone-studded cars and wardrobe. Marvel at homophobic retirees actually enjoying this stuff, even though they would have turned on the man had they known the truth.
Miss Vera's Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls P.O. Box 1331, Old Chelsea Station New York City
Perhaps the world's only cross-dressing academy, Miss Vera's Finishing School has been around since 1992. Today, it boasts a student body of over 300 students, with several hundred more participating via telephone extension classes. Course offerings include "Maid to Order" and the two-day "Femme Intensive" (otherwise known as the "Cinderfella experience").
For more information on the Mad Monks, go to www.advocate.com
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|Title Annotation:||originators of the Mad Monks' travel Guides, are also planning a television show|
|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Date:||Feb 15, 2000|
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