Michael Cunningham: Time's Arrow

9.29.2010

By Tim Murphy

He's also known in town as a kind of writer laureate; several years ago, he published Land's End, his meditation on Provincetown, where the ghosts of puritanical Pilgrims, who settled here before moving on to Plymouth, hover among naked bears -- the grizzled, not the grizzly, kind -- nuzzling in the dunes. A poverty-stricken renter here for many years, he's now among the landed. 'When The Hours was optioned as a movie, Scott Rudin gave me a certain amount of money,' he says, 'which was the exact cost of this house!' Part of a classically gray-shingled condo complex, the two-story townhouse -- all lumpy, shabby chic sofas, curiosa like several antique globes, and a black upright piano that Cunningham occasionally plinks at -- has a white wood-paneled upper bedroom nook that feels as though it floats over the vast expanse of blue bay. 'We're sitting in The Hours house!' he exults. 'Sitting on an Hours sofa, drinking water out of an Hours glass.'

What, just water? What about the Cunningham of old, who'd bring a Thermos of ice-cold martinis to his favorite beach here, Hatches Harbor, to gab away afternoons with his Ptown friends, who include the interior designer David Cafiero (he did Chlo' Sevigny's place in New York), the actor-writer James Lecesne, New York magazine editor Adam Moss, and John Dowd, perhaps the town's best-known painter? Cunningham says he's given up recreational drugs and all but stopped drinking save a glass of dinner wine. 'I've certainly stopped getting loaded,' he says. 'Basically, I found that I wasn't drinking less as time goes on.' These days, he says, his biggest vices are an occasional cigarette and the several cups of coffee he drinks while writing every morning -- except for Sundays, his day off. He just started a new novel, which he says is about 'people doing drugs in Bed-Stuy' -- a neighborhood in Brooklyn, whose artistic and literary renaissance fascinates him and often draws him out there when he's in the city.

Later today, he'll kick back and read, then play his ritual 5 p.m. billiards game at the Gifford House with his buds, the local pianist Billy Hough and art adviser Joe Sheftel. Then he and Moss and their boyfriends will grab dinner at the high-end cafeteria Frappo66 before catching Hedwig creator John Cameron Mitchell's short-run show at the East Village'style cabaret Enzo. (Mitchell ends up hauling performers Amanda Palmer and Margaret Cho onstage to sing with him.) That pattern -- writing in the mornings, beach in the afternoon, eating and goofing with arty friends at night -- is his life here in this gay boho paradise, and he doesn't seem to want to walk away from it. 'I have exactly the same day here over and over again,' he says, 'and I'm very happy with that day.'

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