In a city where gossip columns are as scintillating as Christmas newsletters, one column is a breath of pure nitrous oxide. It's dishy. It's swishy. And, to borrow one turn of phrase that recently brightened its pages, "it couldn't be more fun than if it rained martoonies!"
It's also disturbing, appalling and oh-so politically incorrect.
What is this bitchy bulletin that has the town atwitter? It's The U Report, darlinks.
If anyone doubts the power of the press, he need look no further than The U Report, a local four-page tabloid that's one step removed from being a vanity production. Yet despite its tiny circulation, this biweekly bouillabaisse of gossip, breezy banter, fashion tips and potential libel suits has transformed its publisher (not to mention its editor, star reporter, photographer, distribution manager and ad salesman--all of whom happen to be the same person) into quite a Guy About Town.
And as this club-scene Citizen Kane will be the first to tell you and his faithful readers, it couldn't happen to a more fabulous guy.
Didn't David Van Virden look fetching in his vintage pink polyester double-knit wife-of-a-politician ensemble?
--The U Report
Since last summer, David Van Virden's The U Report has been required reading in gay bars, dance clubs, coffee houses, hair salons and Valley record stores where the 5,000 papers are distributed free every other Thursday. Says one worshipful scenester, "Within the gay community, David is one of the very top 'A' list people."
He's also turning up on more than a few "S" lists. Pointing to Van Virden's fondness for publicly identifying homosexuals in The U Report, as well as the gleeful tone with which he frequently reports on sexual misconduct, some critics claim that the columnist is an embarrassment to the gay community, as well as a dangerous role model for younger readers.
"There are some people in the gay community who absolutely cannot stand David and The U Report," admits Doug Wilkey, a friend who's known the columnist since his surname was simply "Virden." "That's because David thinks nothing of printing something like 'We were at a birthday party and the male stripper went into the bedroom with a couple guys and they had a three-way.'
"Well, I'm real sorry if a couple members of the gay community happen to think that item makes gays look promiscuous," says Wilkey. "I've got news for you, honey: Some of them are! And this is what's happening! True, there are probably straight people who are doing the same sort of thing. We just didn't happen to be at that party, that's all."
Although The U Report used to boast that it was filled with "Art Poop, Nightlife Naughtiness, Gay-Goings-on and Gossip Galore," the openly gay Van Virden recently deleted the homosexual reference from the masthead in an attempt to lure more advertisers into the fold.
"The U Report is not a matter of gay or straight," explains the 30-year-old Van Virden, a freelance graphics artist whose countenance suggests a cross between Mephistopheles and the Ed Sullivan-era George Carlin. "It's a matter of who's having the most fun. And, frankly, gay people are having far more fun these days. Oh, my God, yes!"
The out-'til-dawn party people who populate The U Report don't just have fun. They have kee-razee fun!--an all-purpose phrase which Van Virden and his followers are fond of screeching at the top of their lungs during conversational lulls.
And they have fun in the kee-razeeiest places! Places like an all-male underwear party, a BYOBVD affair which U recently attended. Or the underground "rave" where the "in" crowd danced the night away beneath a big-screen TV featuring videos of vasectomy surgery. Or at Encanto Park lagoon, where a cadre of Halloween revelers (several in full drag) stopped after a night of partying "to take pictures with the ducks and the homeless people, who never dreamed such glamour existed!"
Truth be told, much of this glamour wouldn't exist were it not for Van Virden's verbal knack for making magic of the mundane. Just ask the legion of "edibilicious" hunks and "faboo" debs who can't wait to star in the hyperbolic high jinks that fill The U Report.
Beginning at happy hour one Friday night last month, Van Virden and his "partners-in-grime" (as members of his twentysomething all-male entourage call themselves) embarked on a typical U Report "fact-finding" mission that would eventually encompass seven different social stops. (Actually, eight stops if you count Dan Majerle's saloon. But after realizing the nature of the establishment, a horrified Van Virden beat a hasty retreat, curtly telling the troops, "Under no circumstances does The U Report ever set foot in sports grills!)
Following cocktails at Chez Nous (a fave Van Virden watering hole), the group visited two gay bars, attended an art opening at the downtown Radix Gallery, chatted with a couple of female impersonators in an alley behind the 307 Lounge, ducked into a birthday party at the Red Devil pizza parlor and dropped by another party in the clubhouse of an apartment complex in Chandler. Around midnight, the group finally adjourned to a techno-pop concert at The Works, a Scottsdale dance club where Van Virden donned a long skirt and pearls.
To the uninitiated, it was a grueling evening, interesting only as a sociological look into a fruitless quest for fun. From a gossip standpoint, it seemed a total washout.
Because The U Report rarely mentions AIDS unless it is immediately followed by the words "fund raiser" or "gala," Van Virden dithered over whether to run the evening's only solid piece of news. "I like to keep things light, I like to keep things friendly," he explains while debating whether to print an item about a waiter's death from complications of AIDS. "Glamour is the key."
Van Virden ultimately decided against running the AIDS obit. Instead, he ran an item he considered more upbeat, a blithe report of how, while attending the concert at The Works, one member of his entourage (whom he identified by name) had performed fellatio on a man he'd met in the balcony.
Over 250,000--that's right darlings, 250,000--people with candles surrounded the White House as a memorial to those who have died. When a fellow walker remarked tersely that some of the participants were enjoying libations along the way, Harrison quipped, "Darling, there's no reason cocktails and candlelight vigils can't go hand in hand."
--The U Report
The self-made kingpin of a social empire bounded by gay bars and downtown art galleries on one side, hair salons and department-store makeup counters on the other, Van Virden first pounced on the public more than a year ago.
"There are people out there who feel I'm responsible for unleashing Virden on the world," says Robrt Pela, editor and publisher of Phoenix Resource, a gay biweekly. "What can I say? He was already out there and I made the mistake of convincing him he could write."
Looking for someone to write a circulation-boosting gossip column (he envisioned a "demented, over-the-top queeny fag"), Pela knew he'd found his man upon spotting Van Virden at a party in mid-1991. "He was wearing an Armani dinner jacket--and a skirt," recalls Pela. "I didn't care whether he could write or not--I knew this was the person. Each time I saw him, I wanted him for the job more because he was obviously so zany."
Several months later, Van Virden made his journalistic bow as "Girl," author of a column called "Oral Intercourse" that quickly became the most popular feature in the newspaper. "This was intended to be a spoof of gossip columns, but David began seeing it as a big power trip," says Pela. "He didn't understand that that was exactly the sort of thing I wanted him to make fun of. He started using the column as a vehicle for his personal vendettas."
Unhappy about the way things were going, Van Virden walked off Pela's paper in April. In July, the first issue of The U Report rolled off the press.
U wants all U readers to put on your best voting gloves . . . 25 million raging shrieking queers can make a difference.
--The U Report
"Is Dave pushing the border?" asks Doug Wilkey, one of Van Virden's "partners in grime." "Definitely! I can't tell you what a kick it is to eavesdrop on people at the bar reading the column and hearing them gasp, 'Oh, my God! Can you believe this?'
"Still, 90 percent of what he says is very positive--even if it isn't exactly true," contends Wilkey, an unemployed substance-abuse counselor. "David will write, 'So-and-so just threw the most fabulous party I've ever been to--and believe me, the party was really a big snore!'
"Basically, though, the column is just terribly fun," he continues. "People love it! The gay community is just bursting to be talked about. They scour that paper for their names. And they're all so eager to be mentioned, a lot of them are willing to take the chance David is going to write something bad."
Not that anyone who crosses David Van Virden's path has much choice in the matter. That fact has caused some observers to question seriously whether The U Report isn't guilty (however inadvertently) of "outing," the controversial practice of publicly exposing homosexuals.
"When I print someone's name, my intention is to tell the world that these people are so fabulous they are worthy of mention in my column," he explains testily. "If other people infer someone's gay because his name appears in my column, that's their problem, not mine."
Or so one young mall employee discovered a while back when Van Virden ran an item leaving little doubt about the man's sexual orientation.
"Some girl he worked with brought the paper to the store and showed it to everybody--and I do mean everybody," reports one Van Virden associate. "The guy was absolutely humiliated. He was so furious that he eventually confronted Dave about printing it.
"Dave was like, 'Oh, get over yourself! You've been a fag for five years and everybody knows it! Who are you trying to kid?'" says the insider. "Fortunately, there are a lot more people in the gay community like me and Dave than there are the one or two guys who don't want to be mentioned because of their careers or whatever."
Quizzed about the alleged outing, Van Virden defiantly retorts, "Did I create this problem or did he create the problem himself? If you're open about who you are, you don't give anyone any ammunition to use against you. And if you want to be a fabulous gay socialite, you probably shouldn't work for a corporation that doesn't like having fabulous gay socialites in their employ."
But what about homosexuals who aren't interested in becoming fabulous socialites, gays who'd just like to be able to drop into a bar for a drink without later seeing their names in The U Report sandwiched between an item about a transvestite's boob job and a porn star's pajama party?
"You don't want to be in The U Report?" asks Van Virden, who obviously has a hard time with that concept. "Well, fine. If you're that neurotic and worried about someone finding out that you're gay, I say stay home, fer cryin' out loud!"
Thank God people who matter have apparently learned that mobile phones in restaurants are out, out, out! The only two people in the place [California Pizza Kitchen] with cellulars were two sloppy, fat, middle-aged, graying, ponytailed gentlemen whom no one would want to call anyway.
--The U Report
If David Van Virden is master of the Universe, the mistress of that glam galaxy is the woman who calls herself Miss Coco.
"To get anywhere in this town, society-wise, you've got to know David," reports Miss Coco, recently dubbed "queen of Phoenix nightlife" by U.
A six-foot siren who must be seen to be disbelieved (imagine a John Waters starlet waiting to happen), the visually stunning 18-year-old may well be the only biological female mentioned in every single issue of The U Report to date. Since mid-December, she's also bylined a U Report featurette titled "Coco A-Go-Go," a loopy fashion forum in which she urges readers to think of platform shoes as "your very own stages attached to your feet."
With or without platforms, Miss Coco (nee Courtney Hudson) was very much center stage with the "in" crowd long before she bumped into Van Virden on a crowded dance floor last year. Thanks largely to her unique style (a "look" perfected with the assistance of a handful of young male admirers who create her outfits, hair and makeup), last spring Miss Coco even parlayed her notoriety into a part-time job at The Works, the Scottsdale dance club. After all, how many other high school seniors can boast of earning $12.50 an hour simply for mingling with customers at a bar?
Damn few. And that's probably why the Galleria gift-shop clerk complains that she's getting rather sick of listening to Van Virden rattle off his own revisionist version of Pygmalion whenever anyone asks how they happened to team up.
"David's always telling everyone that he discovered me," sighs the world-weary teen, her eyelids fluttering beneath the weight of ubiquitous false eyelashes. "Well, he didn't--I was a club celebrity way before I ever met him."
Yet despite their obvious differences (If we weren't friends," she sighs, "we'd probably just tear each other apart), Miss Coco insists that the dueling duo are still the best of buds.
"If you're going to be friends with David, you just have to realize that he's kind of a perfectionist," she explains. "Everything has to be done a certain way--his way. And if it's not done his way, expect a major fit. He can be very bratty."
Yet Miss Coco insists, "I love David dearly. I wouldn't tell him any deathbed secrets--I'm not stupid--but I love him, I really do."
Fabulous fealty like this does not go unrewarded. And in honor of her loyalty, Van Virden recently immortalized his full-figured friend with a backhanded reference in The U Report's year-end "in & out" listing. To wit:
In: John Fluevog platforms (on 300-pound girls)
Out: Threadbare Vintage (on corpulent pseudodebutantes)
Apparently used to such antics, Miss Coco smiles wanly. "Well, that's David for you."
The Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Association of the Thunderbird Academy of International Management threw a gala mixer to introduce students to the more fabulous members of Phoenix. (God knows they need the help; they'll never meet anyone near their campus in Glendale . . . Social Siberia.)
--The U Report
"The U Report is fun and it's festive," says Jeff Ofstedahl, a staff writer for Echo, a local gay publication. "And speaking for myself, I always enjoy seeing my name in there."
If that's truly the case, Ofstedahl must have been in festive-fun heaven back when issue No. 8 rolled off the presses: In a blurb about a gay yachting party, Van Virden described Ofstedahl as " really sexually deviant," then just a few paragraphs later wondered, "And why did Jeff Ofstedahl ask the extremely religious lady in Tempe how often she gave her husband a blowjob?" Earlier this month, the writer figured prominently in another item, this one suggesting that Ofstedahl and another U Report regular had "done the nasty with the same person . . . but on different nights?"
Whether such gossip items are true, the remarkably thick-skinned Ofstedahl refuses to believe that they reflect negatively on the subjects. "David's not doing any kind of character assassinations," insists Ofstedahl. "He's just doing verbal caricatures of people within the community. It's all in good fun."
Art-world perennial Kim Moody is another Valley scenester who can't wait to snatch up the latest issue of U--but for totally different reasons. "I scan that paper like crazy the minute it comes out," Moody claims. "Like everyone else I know, I want to make sure I'm not in it."
As lord and master of the Alwun House art manse, Moody has frequently played host to Van Virden at art shows--like the evening the bald columnist swept into the gallery wearing an evening gown and a lavish headdress.
"You've got to hand it to the guy, though," concedes Moody. "He's got a helluva lot of chutzpah. Just keep it away from me, thank you very much. It's gotten to the point where the minute people see David coming, everyone's going, 'I wasn't there! Really! I swear it wasn't me!'"
Q: What did Senator Kennedy tell his secretary to do with the Abortion Bill?
A: Pay it!
--The U Report
While it might be fun to report that David Van Virden is the product of an illicit coupling between Truman Capote and Edie Sedgwick, that's unfortunately not the case.
"Are you kidding?" Van Virden laughs maniacally as he contemplates his humble roots. "I'm from Scottsdale, darlink! South Scottsdale--you know, the poor side of town."
Van Virden first burst upon the scene in 1963, the only child of a couple who divorced while David was a small child. Mom was a high school counselor. Dad was puzzled.
"My father is an air-conditioning contractor so as you can tell, I inherited most of my fabulous style from him," chuckles the prodigal son, who doesn't see much of päre Virden these days. "He's kind of out there--he doesn't even know what The U Report is!"
His since-remarried mom is considerably more hip. According to her son, she's read every issue of The U Report cover to cover, even though (perhaps mercifully) many of the items in the paper fly right over her head.
Beverly Highland laughs nervously as she discusses her son's journalistic claim to fame. "It's certainly different, isn't it?" she says. "Still, I think that The U Report fills a niche in the community. And it's great for David because it gives him a chance to utilize his verbal skills and computer skills. I really feel the paper is fulfilling a lot of his abilities and needs. I just hope this works out for him."
To hear Highland tell it, life around chez Virden would have probably been a lot easier for all concerned had there been a Weekly Reader version of U when David was growing up.
"As a child, David was truly an individualist and something of a loner," recalls Highland, who spent eight years as a single mom before marrying Van Virden's stepfather, a stock broker. "Not having any other children, I tried to encourage him to join the Boy Scouts and what have you, but I didn't have too much luck in that area. It was very difficult to channel his interest into things he didn't want to do."
Not surprisingly, young David was more interested in playing dress-up than rubbing two sticks together. "He's always looked up to Andy Warhol, and I think he's tried to pattern himself in that direction," explains Highland. "As long as I can remember, David has had this idea that he wanted to be in the limelight."
There wasn't much of an audience for his antics until very recently. "I never went out, was never invited to any parties and was never picked for anything at school," recalls Van Virden. "My childhood was, shall we say, 'cloistered.'" And things didn't get a whole lot better following high school graduation. "Back before I was a fabulous socialite, I majored in chemical engineering for three years because I figured that's where all the money was," says Van Virden. "Unfortunately, there was absolutely no glamour in the chemical engineering industry so I knew I had to leave."
Van Virden throws a hand across his brow and sighs dramatically. "That was the day I realized there was something far more important than money."
And what might that be? "FABULOUS GLAMOUR!" he screeches. "See, I decided that instead of becoming a rich engineer, I'd become a poor, glamorous person. Believe me, I've been a better person for it."
Goodness, fags flock to free cocktails like bees to honey!
--The U Report
Whether the Valley has benefited from Van Virden is another matter altogether. Some people think so--the CRASHarts alternative art space recently acknowledged The U Report's contribution to the local art scene by giving Van Virden a CRASH Culture Award. (Acting as if he'd just been named Miss Congeniality, Van Virden gushed about "this wonderful and beautiful honor from such wonderful and beautiful people.)
Others aren't so quick to throw bouquets.
Longtime Scottsdale gossip columnist Danny Medina groans upon learning that Van Virden considers Medina's Trends publication a big influence on The U Report.
"I think I've only seen his paper once," says Medina. "Let's put it this way: I was not flattered to discover that I was his inspiration. Jesus, maybe I should go into another line of work?"
"The problem with David is that he just doesn't know when to quit," says Dwayne Stone, who knows Van Virden through their work in ACT-UP, a militant AIDS activist group with which Van Virden is no longer affiliated.
To illustrate the point, Stone recounts an incident that occurred a few years ago when he, Van Virden and several other friends were waiting for an airplane to Phoenix after attending a gay pride rally in Los Angeles. According to Stone, one of the men in the group grew alarmed when he happened to see a relative approaching; the relative, who just happened to be passing through the same terminal, was unaware the man was gay.
"We looked at Virden and asked him to please cool it for a few minutes," recalls Stone. "Big mistake. Virden immediately started camping it up, acting like a total ass, putting his arms around the guy and trying to kiss him. The poor guy was mortified.
"Virden can be hilarious, but after a while, everything is at somebody else's expense," continues Stone, himself the butt of several unflattering digs in The U Report. "He doesn't care who he hurts as long as he's the center of attention."
When Van Virden and Stone bumped into each other at a recent Radix Gallery opening, the onetime friends scarcely acknowledged each other's presence. "I can't deal with the guy and all his spiteful attacks," says Stone. "His paper is old and it's tired, but it's the only way he has of getting back at everyone. And the scary thing is that while a lot of people are petrified, nobody does anything."
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Perhaps even more frightening is the message Van Virden may be sending to his largely young, impressionable party-hardy readership. "I would hate to see the next generation of queers influenced by David Virden," says Robrt Pela, Van Virden's former editor. "That would be horrifying. The last thing we need right now is another reinforcement of negative stereotypes.
"What he's doing with this paper is telling everyone who comes after him, 'Hey, look at us! We're still doing this and isn't it fun?' He's glamorizing the sort of stuff that stopped being glamorous the minute people started dying. And because of people like him, thousands of people will continue to die. I sincerely hope that his 15 minutes are almost up."
Apparently having the time of his life, David Van Virden is one very busy socialite these nights. Busy rubbing biceps with muscle boys during the weekly whipped-cream wrestling matches he referees at The Works. Busy gearing up for "Meow," an advice-to-the-sexlorn column soon to debut in U and busy plotting his upcoming mock wedding ceremony to Miss Coco--an event whose future may be in serious doubt. (Fearful that his future "bride" was receiving too much attention during a recent photo shoot, he was overheard snarling, "Remember, Miss Coco, I don't have to wait until 1994 to compile my next 'out' list!) Far too busy, actually, to pay attention to anyone whining about lack of journalistic responsibility in The U Report.
"Doesn't anybody read the little disclaimer I print in the paper?" he asks. "It says, 'This is a gossip publication, not the evening news!'"
And like he also says in his paper, "Glamour is not a matter of life and death . . . it's far more important than that!