Splash

Anthropomorphism is not encouraged on farms where livestock is the livelihood. How cuddly a lamb is doesn’t pay the mortgage or feed the family.

Considering most farm species would be extinct if they weren’t bred for consumption, slaughtering the herd isn’t that cruel. That will change the day they learn to domesticate Herefords.

This harsh agrarian outlook once skewed my view of pets. As a kid, the care of our dogs was left to my brothers. It drove them crazy when I’d walk through the yard oblivious to the frisky critter bouncing at my feet. They’d yell, “just pet him!” or “all he wants is a little attention!” I kept my emotional distance fearing another harsh winter and the dreaded Pepper Pot Stew, Laotian Style.

My cat Sheena in Bloomington was the only pet I’ve had as an adult. Named after the Queen of the Jungle TV Series (later a Ramones’ song too), Susan misunderstood me and called it “Cheena.” That sounded more exotic, so Cheena it was.

Raising a cat was not without its challenges. Especially after she started hanging out with Tom down the alley. She became laden with kitty. We prayed and read the scriptures together then sought counseling from our pastor. In the end, Cheena chose life and was delivered of three adorable kittens.

Hitchhiking was the way we handled long distance travel back then. When I hitched the 150 miles between home and campus, rarely would one lift go all the way. It usually took 2 or 3 rides and about 3 hours.

I often hitchhiked with friends who kept me entertained.  Marilyn was very aggressive and stood nearly on the edge of the asphalt. When she saw a vehicle wasn’t stopping she’d abruptly pull in her arm then turn her head in the opposite direction as if to say, “Me? In a Dodge Dart? Keep moving.”

Dale focused more on the truckers.  Once the driver could spot him he’d suck his thumb. As the rig drew closer he languidly slid it over his lower lip, slowly unfurled his arm until it was outstretched, and then gave the digit a wiggle. Subtle.

Me with Jim and the enigmatic hitchhiker. 1975.

The last kitten in Cheena’s litter was to go to my Mother. The only way to get it home was to hitch. I made a leash of rat-tail satin that had a purring white fluff ball at its end, then assumed my place by the interstate. That trip took 5 hours. Not from a lack of rides but because so many wondered what I was up to. I had 9 short hauls that day.

The weirdest was a salesman who picked me up near Anderson. He wore his thinning hair in an unconvincing comb over and a cheap polyester shirt that barely contained his paunch. His plastic pocket protector proudly displayed an impressive array of ball points. With a lecherous smile he said he never picked up hitchhikers. But he was curious about me. “I just wanted to see your pussy.”

That was too creepy even for me. I asked to be left off at the next exit. We’ll never know for sure but I have a feeling if I’d been more compliant I might have ended up a major shareholder in Miramax.

I didn’t live with a pet again until I moved here two years ago. My roommate’s 17-year-old bichon frise was defying all longevity records and still going strong. I had known Mr. Puppy for a few years and dog-sat him a couple of times. But I don’t think he was particularly fond of me until he realized what a sloppy cook I was.

I’d like to think everyone gets excited when I decide to make something  But nobody’s enthusiasm rivaled Mr. Puppy’s when he heard me go into the kitchen. I was the best dietary supplement he ever had.

His last morning I took him out first thing. The surroundings were still new to him and his sight was failing so we’d carry him downstairs to the front door then place him on the sidewalk. That was his signal he was en plein air. Otherwise, like many seniors residing here, he confused being out of the apartment in the hallway with being outside the building where he could do his business.

There was no indication at the start of that day it would be different from any other. When his paws hit the pavement he squared his haunches, threw back his head, then launched his Westminster prance. A champion until the end.

Today he is remembered in his favorite room on the back splash. With apologies to Ethel Scull, here is Mr. Puppy Dog 15 Times.

Bua uuh Guul

Back in the disco days when we encountered a person of undecipherable gender, we would turn to each other and ask “bua uuh guul?” The phrase became part of our vocabulary when someone overheard a pimp on the sidewalk approach a potential customer and offer him his choice of gender in a playmate. Not only was the john’s predilection unclear, what was available was pretty murky too.

Gender confusion and challenging sex role stereotypes has always been a preoccupation of mine. As documented in a recently published book, Curatorial Activism: Towards an Ethics of Curating.

When I first saw the words “ethics” and “curators” together I thought “not another rehash of the frolicking I did back in 1973.” Those allegations involving The Detroit Institute of Art staff have been laid to rest years ago.

Then I realized it was referring to the Extended Sensibilities: Homosexual Presence in Contemporary Art show held in Manhattan in 1982. My friend Charley Brown did a series of paintings of me in the early 80’s, a couple of which were in that New Museum show.

The portrait included in the book is one of my favorites because of Charley’s use of found materials: layers of cardboard glued together, appliqued toothpicks adding dimension to Brian’s sequined top. There’s gutter in that glamour.

The timing of that show coincided with my waning interest in drag. The derring-do and shock of what I’d done before was no longer there and my falling out with Jim had left me without focus. Plus, RuPaul was on the ascendant and about to change the drag landscape completely. I like to think I helped make the world safe for Ru. Then I think what a miserable failure I’ve been. No one’s safe from that bitch.

My friend Charley did a series of B paintings, a couple were in this show

On my trip to Indiana this month I reunited with Susan in Bloomington who I hadn’t seen in over 40 years. One of the things we reminisced about was the evening she gave me makeup lessons. As we listened to Ike & Tina records in her apartment that night, she went over the basics of eye makeup. And told me my practice of the art was particularly abysmal.

On our recent visit I tried to convince her that precision wasn’t nearly as important back in those days as how I presented myself. She would have none of it. She chided that anything worth doing was worth doing well. Then, out of the blue, she asked whether I identified as a woman or a man.

The question is an obvious one and the way the discussion seems to be framed these days. But it caught me completely off guard. The essence of my being never entered into my thinking when I did drag. It was all about what I could get away with. And looking good while I did it.

I told Susan the only thing I’ve ever identified as was a troublemaker.

Cherry

Reading Nancy’s Lips and Wyman’s Beads

I don’t know if Facebook still does Throw Up Thursdays but I thought I’d offer this rare photo of Ronald Regan’s sister wives together. It may be the only time Nancy Davis Regan and Jane Wyman Regan were captured in the same frame.

My big take-away from the aftermath of the Harryghan Nuptials was the need for more experienced lip readers. There’s a lot of storyline being missed that not even the exhaustive reporting of CNN or HuffPost can capture.

So I enrolled in a Phoenix University correspondence course and one of my first assignments, for which I received a C-, was of this photo.

In 1954 when Nancy pulled some family values trickery and deliberately got pregnant, Regan was forced to take one for the Gipper and marry her. Nancy with the laughing two-face made no joke of her disdain for the divorced first wife, Ms. Wyman. Like any cult with weak-minded recruits, all links to past personal relationships were severed so there could be no escape route. Nancy forbade mention of Jane, treated her as nonexistent and never acknowledged her for the next 50 years.

When the sole issue of the Regan-Wyman union died in 2002, the two women were forced to call a brief truce to the pettiness and meet in public at Maureen’s funeral. As best I can tell, the former first lady consoled the bereaved Mother with these words: “I mean it, the Meissen was Ronnie’s, it belongs to us!”

Ms. Wyman seems stunned, unable to express herself. She hadn’t been this lost for words since she won her Oscar for Johnny Belinda, in which she played a deaf-mute.

 

Regina, Start the Show

Cover art of the era that I preferred to Sgt Peppers.

Since its release, Their Satanic Majesty’s Request has been criticized as nothing but a Beatles’ rip off.  While Sgt. Peppers’ is hailed as the one of the most influential albums ever it seems if you’re one of those who was influenced by it you’ve committed a crime. What the sine qua non?

I loved the Beatles but was obsessed with the Stones. The Beatles wanted to hold your hand but the Stones aimed for a more intimate portion of the anatomy. The manroot of it all may be in Keith’s observation to Paul: “yours was a songwriters’ group, ours was a musicians’.”

When you strip away the lonely hearts veneer from Satanic Majesty’s, there are some excellent songs. Citadel alone is worth the price of admission. Its great riff highlighted by Charley’s shimmering cymbals is one of the Stones’ best ever. The curious break after the second chorus is nothing but reverb. A reviewer at the time said those five seconds summed up “the entire history of The Who.”

When it was released I wondered who they were singing about in the chorus, “Candy and Taffy, hope you both are well.” Twenty five years later I discovered that, while I was a gawky teenager in Grandmother’s kitchen, humming The Old Rugged Cross and baking Sugar Cream pies, Mick was in Manhattan hanging out with Candy Darling.

She’s A Rainbow and 2000 Light Years from Home were the most popular songs and have stood the test of time. And even The Lantern remains interesting with Nicky Hopkins’ piano playing.

Satanic Majesty’s is not the catastrophe it’s been made out to be. It was the product of an experimental time when being innovative meant more than to just produce good music. You couldn’t get too weird for the 60’s.

Candy was a trailblazer in the use of silicone for breasts. Unfortunately the substance was injected into the body and not implanted in bags. She was dead from cancer within 10 years.

There is footage from that period of Yoko Ono in the Beatles recording studio asking for her own microphone. (I’m not sure if this was before or after she demanded a bed be placed in there too.) The band members are non-confrontational and let her have the mic. Then they just ignore her.

As they work out a credible version of Get Back, she intermittently screams onto the recording “John!…..John!……John!” It’s annoying and makes no sense. The scene exemplifies the Petri Dish that was Swinging London and may explain where Gomper came from.

After decades of listening, 2000 Man has become my favorite track on the album. It starts off as a jaunty, acoustic folk song. Then the chorus adds a jaw dropping (but only on a good sound system) rhythm section with some astrological lyrics: “Oh Daddy, be proud of your planet, Oh Mummy, be proud of your sun.” A sarcastic clue that maybe they weren’t into the psychedelia thing as much as they were putting on.

Sheer terror at the Rococo. Waiting to go on.

In the Joan Rivers documentary, A Piece of Work, she’s booked into a seedy dive in the Bronx. To maintain her edge and polish her craft, she felt the need to work a live audience often. And she didn’t care where it was. In this case she finds herself in a backstage area that gave every indication of being just inches away from the city’s sewers. She was as comfortable there as she was in her own Upper East Side Penthouse with its ormolu and furs.

Backstages in night clubs are the great equalizers. It doesn’t matter how exalted you feel on stage, you enter from and exit through a dressing room that’s a gas station toilet. Maybe it’s an economy move by management to maximize profits. Or it could be a way to remind the talent they are the continuation of a centuries-old lineage of carnival folk engaged in an ignoble profession.

Grandmother enjoyed theater but would never have considered associating with those kind of people. You’re going to befriend someone whose professional skill set is based on deceit? That would have been only one of her many objections to my act.

Whenever I found myself in one of those shitholes, surroundings were the last thing on my mind. I was so consumed with fear, so terrorized about being in front of an audience, I would sit in stony silence and plot ways to bolt from the club without being seen. It always seemed like a viable option. I’d end up going on anyway but performing happened on such a primal level. I was riding a wave of blind faith.

The last cut on Satanic Majesty’s is On With the Show. It’s a mash-up of ambient lounge chatter, Brecht like melodies, dissonant piano and Jagger’s vaudeville banter. His phony concern is mixed with uninspired strip show spiel. Then, in a moment that is anything but majestic, Mick herds the girls onto the stage with a tawdry aside, “Regina, start the show.” One can only imagine the magic they created.

Not only does Their Satanic Majesty’s Request give us The Who in a nutshell but it also captures, in one phrase, the essence of Show Business.

With Pearl Harbor thinking of the nearest emergency exit. The Rococo Lounge, 1995.

Tony, I Didn’t Know Ye

He didn’t.

In late adolescence I realized you either looked good in eye liner or you didn’t. Genitalia shouldn’t dictate whether you wear make-up or not. I’ve spent my life fighting artificial sexist stereotypes.

This whole chef brohood scene exemplifies that sexism.  Since women are traditionally associated with the kitchen and because the first great personalities of modern celebrity culinary cults were gay, male chefs have worked triple time to distance themselves from the perception. Get over it.

We want your recipes not your bodies. As Rudy Guiliani said so brilliantly and with such great sensitivity “just look at them!” Emeril? Please! Guy Fieri? Puke.

I found Anthony Bourdain hard to watch and easy to dismiss. The premises of his shows seemed interesting but they were served with way too much tude. He came on so strong I couldn’t get past the veneer.

Reading some of the things he’s written and watching various clips over the weekend, however, makes me think I was too hasty. He may have come from a meathead background and had trouble shedding that image, but he seemed reflective about it all and willing to change. And winning over people like that is the goal of any good cause.

Although you have to respect his privacy for what he did, selfishly I wish he’d stuck around. He would have been good to have on our side.

Candice Bergen says get the equal pay thing settled first and the rest will fall into place. Still I pursue other angles, like unravelling the Weinstein/Batali thread. All roads seem to lead to Paltrow. There’s an unsolveable conspiracy theory there. The Me Too Generation may have a Dorothy-Kilgallen-knew-too-much-about-the-Kennedy-Assassination on their hands.

Do You Love Me?

I have been to the muffintop!

In the mid-70’s when my cash flow was running light, I signed up to work on election day. The precinct they assigned me was way out in the Sunset.

Not only was it a Herculean effort to be somewhere at 6 a.m., but I was taking public transportation almost to the ocean. The bus left at 5. The hour commute afforded an opportunity to reflect on the previous night’s closing of the Midnight Sun at 2 a.m..

In a neighborhood of working class retirees, it was a boring 13 hours of long waits for some member of the greatest generation to show up and vote.

At 6 p.m. a sudden rush produced a three minute line to cast ballots. A  6’4″, gray flat top veteran stood seething, waiting for his turn to approach my station. He exuded the “white is right” attitude that still enchants the Republican Party today.

Before giving me his name to check off the roster, he asked sharply, “why should I be penalized for speaking English?” It was the first year for bilingual instructional posters in California elections. Being the model of discretion, it was not my place to answer.

The incident has stayed in my memory mainly because I’ve never figured out what penalty he was paying. Maybe he used phonics to read and two-thirds of the way through the instructions realized not all the words were in USofA American. Wasting time and effort like that can be annoying.

I vowed never to work elections again after that day. But this year, in an attempt to pad my portfolio of personal investments, I gave it another shot. The life’s lessons learned in the intervening 40 years made me feel I could bring something new to the experience. Like poll dancing, which didn’t even exist in the 1970’s.

Babs’ love shack. Today she has a 19th C. town house in the Dordogne. Sometimes things just work out.

Yesterday’s precinct was less than a mile away and nowhere near the ocean. What it lacked in distance, however, it made up for in height. The 21st Street hill has the steepest grade in the city. By the time I reached the summit, I was huffing, puffing and looking every bit my age. I had to fend off the roving van from the Death’s Shore Retirement Center which was targeting me for fast-track admission.

I knew this neighborhood well. In the early 80’s Barbara lived a block away on 20th. We gathered there on Wednesdays to watch Dynasty and eat pizza. Between cackles, the conversation ran the gamut from “can you believe Alexis did that?” to “can you believe we’re watching this shit?” Questions that remain unanswered to this day.

Two blocks in the other direction on Fair Oaks is where Gary (aka A-Hole) had his hillbilly wig party. A couple of doors down from where my friend John Acmoody once resided. Today Acmoody’s mansion is owned by a certain M. Zuckerberg. I looked for Marky-Mark’s name on my roster but to no avail. He’s probably bought his own precinct somewhere, population one.

Up on Fair Oaks where the Mountain Dew ran freely.

To share the personal voting information I’ve learned is a violation of the sacred Poll Dancer’s Oath I took. But there was one minor celebrity sighting, former Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg.

Bertie to her friends, Roberta was the first lesbian candidate for San Francisco mayor, a HUD Under Secretary in the Clinton Administration, and a confirmation hearing adversary of Jesse Helms. Always alpha driven, her interest in voting Tuesday seemed a distant second to the breakfast muffin she was multi-tasking on.

Walking in, I had admired her black and white checked pants. Then I looked up to see her wildly gaping mouth chomping away on this banana-walnut concoction. Possessed, she tried to force even more cake into her mouth while she chewed. Her look was one of complete unawareness, to people and to her surroundings. Finally she spoke. It was a garbled mess.

The idea was to engage voters to verify their name and address. But I knew who she was and just wanted her away from the table. I handed her a ballot then watched her spittle a trail of crumbs to the voting booth.

Do you like it like this? Queens’ Christmas 1981, The Brothel Hotel (now Majestic), Sutter at Gough.

It was an interesting day that, in the end, had yet one more sad reminder of my advanced age. I’ve never worked a poll for 13 hours and come away with no tips.

After leaving the polling place I treated myself to a burger at 10:30 p.m. Utterly exhausted I vented my fried mind to the stone cold, millennial chick cashier. Within seconds she was calling me honey, mothering me and throwing in extra fries as she packed me on my way.

My heart was filled with civic pride as I boogalooed down Broadway all the way home. Watch me now, HEY!

 

What Went Wrong?

Where were the fucking jewels? The earrings, necklaces, bandeaus, cuffs, chandeliers, girandoles, lattices, and bibs that drip from every Mountbatten-Windsor bone and appendage on a state occasion?  Am I the only one who couldn’t stomach the complete absence of stomachers?

This paucity of precious and semi-precious stones has me questioning the validity of the Monarchy. How are we to recognize who is truly royal without these emblems? There wasn’t even a single piece from the Queen’s exclusive collection of the Precious! Get Me Some Chicken! line of costume jewelry.

The design genius behind Lilibet’s collection of paste.

Meghan’s ascetic simplicity was striking. She could have been equally at home taking vows of poverty in a nunnery. Granted, it would be in a small Order whose only other member is Audrey Hepburn. Sister Luke meets Sister Duke.

(A brief aside on my previously stated love for Miss Hepburn. To further support claims of her greatness, I offer up a clip I recently found of her presenting an Oscar to Rex Harrison.

The substance of what she does is not deep. It’s actually kind of childish. Easily mimiced, in others it comes across as contrived. In her it seems authentic. If she is not being genuine, she’s a much better actress than she’s ever been credited for. I find her every move mesmerizing.)

The lack of serious gems coupled with other changes like allowing divorce in the family make it seem like the British Monarchy is moving at bullet speed out of the 19th Century. I can’t stand the pace, I feel so left out. It makes me question my very existence.

The low point of the Wedding had to be the minister’s sermon. Although we’re never supposed to admit embarrassment at being American, Old Glory, pass the ammunition and all of that, his cheap theatrics belonged on a used car lot. Not in a serious discussion on the purpose of life.

His huckster antics are endemic to all US religions. Why aren’t these pompous fools exposed for the frauds they are? I was onto them by the age of 10. Their schtick became my schtick earning me high approval ratings with my audience (my family.) It was with great dismay that I later learned people do take these clowns seriously.

The other misstep of the nuptials was the failure to record the Duchess of Sussex’s initial curtsy to the Queen. Apparently the single camera in the Chapel went wide-angle from the ceiling just at the moment Meghan took a simulated knee. We may never truly know her symbolic worthiness.

Had it been me there, the gesture would have been so severe no one could ever question my conviction. I would have pancaked out a la Audrey in front of Her Majesty leaving no doubts about my obeisance to the crown.

Applying her Method Acting chops. Audrey almost won an Oscar for The Nun’s Story in 1959.

In a way I felt like I was there. The image of the day was of the Page Boy who had so much fun with his twin brother dutifully collecting Meghan’s train as she ascended the West Stairs. When they reached the top and took their first steps into the nave, trumpets blared the opening notes of the fanfare. The child was consumed with such ecstasy at the sound he could barely contain himself.

If that kid doesn’t turn out to be a queen my days on earth deserve to be numbered.  It would mean my personal gaydar is so out of whack I no longer have the necessary tools it takes for longterm survival in modern life.