Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Marine Attack and the Eyeball Incident

Finally I had a NY weekend in Sydney. Not a SydneyisNewYork weekend but one filled with an Aussie rollercoaster of unexpected highs and lows. It was anything but tepid and might have been worth losing my wallet, cash, keys, wigs, heels and makeup somewhere between Darlinghurst and home. That did actually happen, but so did experiences, which are what, let's face it, this hour upon the stage is all about.

FRIDAY:

I had a pre-Mardi Gras Party at the office where I dressed in galactic drag and won $50 in the costume contest! That would soon disappear, along with all my other belongings after high-tailing it to Oxford Street for more dancing and shots until I changed back into a boy and that's where it all ends - at least for my bag of belongings. And let me tell you how much Bam likes being woken up in the middle to me "screaming and yelling" (it's never just the one, apparently).

SATURDAY:

I wake without my belongings to discover my eye, which has been hurting for several days, is worse. It's starting to look and feel like that angry red vagina from Lord of the Rings.
So I march to an optometrist who begins by flipping my eyelid inside-out... an ewwwww-inducing maneuver which was the least of my revulsion after he tells me I have a "foreign object" embedded into my eyeball. It gets all very sci-fi (syfy?) as he explains (did you know?) that corneas regenerate and because I left it for days, there were layers (of slimy cornea?) over said object, and unlike an oyster, my eyeball was not planning on turning it into a pearl I could retire off of. So he sent me direct to the eye hospital ER, explaining the foreign object would have to be removed using a "little spoon".

The idea of a little spoon coming for my eyeball sent me to the pub for a couple beers before hitting the hospital where the doctor said mister optometrist was just being kind. "It's not a little spoon," he explained. "It's a needle that I'm going to use as a spoon." No doubt next up is a fork-feeding of the antibacterial eye drops.

After the good doc spooneedles my eyeball, it's discovered the foreign object is a tiny shiny fleck. It appears to be a fleck of glitter! Uh-huh. Let it be known: glitter - it's not just hard to get out of your sheets anymore!

Eyeball much less angry, my friend Jack gets Bam and I tickets into the fabulous Harbour Party...
This kickoff party to Mardi Gras which is perennial fun minus the swarms of police and sniffer dogs surrounding it. The police don't have much else to do, certainly not track down my missing drag bag! Let's prioritize.. and arrest partiers for club drugs!

It's a summer evening with the best views in Sydney, right on the harbour and I unexpectedly bump into people I haven't seen in ages... from around the world. And I see my friend Gerald who's supposed to compete in an ocean swim with me in the morning. He just stares in my eye (the good one) and says, "jesseeeeee" when I remind him. Jessseeeee... I think you're on your own.

So besides the gestapo, the party was perfect.
And I'm busy on both dance floors, sweating, totally off my tits and suddenly the alarm goes off.

SUNDAY:

It's 7am. I haul my bones out of bed when the alarm goes off because I knew I wouldn't want to wake up for the 2.5km Tamarama to Clovelly "cliffside odyssey" ocean swim. So I plotted against myself. I paid the entrance fee online and told all my friends I was doing it. Because if Jesse can't party his ass off and still keep his commitments he will have to reconsider giving carte blanche permission to the prior. Survival is a wobbling tightrope between molten combustion and self-preservation. In other words, growing up is a terribly dreary last ditch option.

So I get up and walk to the bus stop thinking, hoping, even praying...that the bus doesn't come. I can't be blamed for a failure of public transportation. But the bus does arrive and at Bronte, I get out and walk along the cliff toward Tamarama Beach when I see clusters of people in the sand and hear voices over a loudspeaker: "Good news, swimmers. We haven't sighted any sharks along the course yet!"
Swimming off the Aussie coast naturally carries this danger, and yes I did sign a waiver stating that a) I might drown, b) I was responsible for my own physical fitness and c) I might be taken in a "marine attack".

A shark attack would be a pretty awesome ride from top to bottom of the food chain and definitely the way I want to go. I just don't want to see prehistoric gnashers lurching for me from out of the deep. Visualizing this has me considering doing backstroke for 2.5km, but even with your back to danger, even with your eyes closed, you still imagine terror and isn't that all fears and phobias really are? Only something the mind consciously allows to enter and to linger; an all-consuming tenant who vanishes the second he's confronted. That spoonneedle didn't hurt, just the idea of it. I won't do the backstroke.
More importantly, wouldn't Marine Attack make a sensational drag name?

There are hundreds of swimmers milling about the beach in bright neon caps, to be easily spotted in case of drowning, distress or marine attack. I'm given a anklet with a chip to calculate my race time. Affixed with velcro, I picture as Jonah, beeping deep within the guts of a nondescript leviathan.

Groups of swimmers plunge into the water en masse. The way they crash into the surf recalls The Last Unicorn, at the end when all the unicorns surge forth, released from the ocean, saved, sparkling, free.
 Only now the swimmers tumble forward, right into the churning water, making one with the waves.
There are many more boys than girls, their speedo'd asses emblazoned with the names of their swim clubs: "Bondi Icebergs" "Coogee" "Hammerheads". These are stunning surf gods - tawny, brawny, beautiful. James is here, he's the only person I know or recognize. He told me about the race, knows it's my first. We both wear neon green caps. He's heat 16. I am heat 18. The water is 21 celcius. Jocular voices on the speakers announce, "It's an easy course to follow," they say. "Just one right turn!" They also mention that the cliffside odyssey (around "shark point"!) has been rated the most beautiful ocean swim in the world.

But how far down the coast is 2.5km? How far out? James asks, "Do you see the boys?" How could I miss them? His wife is here supporting him, I'm all alone so maybe he's trying to provide a measure of comfort, a distraction to calm the fear in my fuzzy hungover head. "Follow the pink boys," he says to me and I now understand he's referring to the big pink buoy out in at sea - the right turn. That's how to pronounce buoy here, it's "boy". Just exactly like that.

Once in the water, there is no more fear. There is only one thought: let's finish this fucker! Well that's not entirely true. I do briefly envision how I might dress Miss Marine Attack (scales of shimmering sequin pallettes with a Busby Berkeley-esque acquacade cap outfitted with a prominent dorsal) but for the most part I'm present, in the moment, bobbling about the open ocean. I've never swam close to 2.5km. I've never swam in the ocean before today, not like this. And the ocean, unlike a pool, is uncontained, moving, heaving. Mighty. I struggle to move forward, eating seawater like a shipwreck as swells hit and pull and twist me round like a single sock in an overfilled washing machine on stir.

I can't enjoy the scenery of the most beautiful swim in the world because I breathe to the left, toward New Zealand. I don't worry about spotting a white-tipped dorsal fin in the big blue beyond; not even when smacked in the leg or rib because it's just another swimmer, all of us trying to finish this - stroke by splashing stroke. At times we swim alongside one another and I get the impression I've made a new friend even though it is only a pair of goggles and a gaping mouth. Occasionally, I pop up to see if I'm on track, to gauge how much further (I can never tell), to look for a buoy. Lifeguards sit on surfboards at intervals, pointing me which way. There is a large cemetery atop a lonely cliff.

I have no idea how long I'm actually in the ocean. The next day I'll discover I was clocked in at :51 minutes. Back on land I suck on some orange slices and down a banana, but I'm queasy. It's not dead tired or sore but I can't string together sentences and I realize it's residual motion sickness. Kinda like when you hop off the treadmill, but feel you're still on it. 

In the afternoon, I introduce the Aussie premiere of Half-Share for the Mardi Gras Film Festival. It's fun to see this funny film we shot on Fire Island, half a world away, now a historical document because after a devastating fire this winter, some of its locations no longer exist. The audience is great, and I'm with friends old and new, including Sydney drag star Roma Therapy, a vision in powder pink.
The weekend is almost over, but not quite. I'll have dinner with Bam (he's forced to pay, I've got no $!) and think to myself that a shard of glitter in the eye isn't a tragedy; losing cash and credit cards is not a cause for rueful regret and that perhaps it's all wrapped up in the price of admission. Without epic ups and downs, without a few spills and thrills, just what kind of ride are we on?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Star Observer

Huge thanks to Jesse Matheson and the Star Observer for last week's cover story and interview. Here I chat about my roles (and more - is art elevated theft?) in the upcoming Australian premieres of two of my films at the Mardi Gras Film Festival, which just kicked off.
Photo is totally UNRETOUCHED (!!)
If you're in Sydney, I'll be introducing two screenings at Fox Studios. Tonight is Going Down in La La Land, and next Sunday the 26th is Half-Share. I hope to see you there.

Melbourne, you're next!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Didn't She Almost Have It All?

If there was one artist, one icon, who provided the soundtrack to my childhood, it would be Whitney Houston. And now her ethereal voice is gone, dead at 48. Though unconfirmed, it will probably be revealed that Whitney took too much Xanax and drowned alone in her hotel bathtub. Tragedy: What becomes a legend most?

I had this poster in my room as a boy. I grew up admiring Whitney: her beauty, her crystal clear voice, that hair.
My very first concert was her "I'm Your Baby Tonight" tour, in Portland. My high school Spanish teacher, Mrs Nikzi, was sitting two rows behind me - that's how universal Whitney's appeal was. It's almost as if that magical instrument of hers didn't belong just to her, but to all of humanity. So when she began to squander her gift, as that magic began to lose its lustre, the overwhelming feeling was one of profound heartbreak.

I watched her play a free concert in Central Park in 2009. She was beautiful, but breathless; and we all wanted her to win. For that crystalline voice to rise as it always did, forever. Because on some level, when it didn't, Whitney was a startling reminder that all our powers, superlative and small, are destined to abandon us. 

On the playground as a kid, I'd sing along to "The Greatest Love of All" and feel both hopeful and empowered: "I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone's shadows/If I fail, If I succeed/at least I live as I believe".

And though I knew I was only a child, Whitney made me feel I mattered as I sang with her those lyrics (for which I'll always be nostalgically grateful): "I believe the children are the future/treat them well and let them lead the way/show them all the beauty they possess inside..."

Thank you for sharing your talent with the world, Whitney Houston. It was epic. Rest in Peace



Wednesday, February 08, 2012

In The Weeds

There are some scenic places to perfect your plank.
And then there is Bam Bam...

Monday, February 06, 2012

Safety Third! Carrie Bradshaw Visits the Playground

I was hanging out with Bam and his 3-year old daughter at the playground - a new experience not least because I'm unfamiliar with modern playground features. Everything to climb is low to the ground - a landing pad made of spongy rubber. There wasn't a tire swing or see-saw, not even a swingset. It's as if all elements of potential danger were carefully excised.

"Back in my day", the playground was full of swings, jungle gyms, high bars. I used to hang from my knees upside-down and fly off in cherry drops to the ground - concrete. Kids got rowdy and there were sometimes bruises or goose eggs or you got your head cracked open like Duane Emery did once after a series of spinners on the tire swing.  That's how lessons are learned: trial and error.

Today as more and more we assume the trial and remove the error from the playground of life, how do you learn, judge or gauge, based on your personal experience? "Safety First" is a terribly antiseptic, and I'll argue corrupt, way to exist. It's not just helicopter parents, but helicopter society that nannies with its seatbelt laws and multi-million dollar rewards for being stupid enough to spill scalding coffee onto your vagina. Not your fault! Blame McDonalds!
Is it a massive leap to suggest that such a preciously pampered population might lack accountability for its actions? Perhaps the flagrant behavior of, say, Wall Street lenders, is not your garden-variety "greed" but rather the result of myopic human beings unable to differentiate between opportunity and fucking everything up.

Even a beast with eyes on the opposite sides of its head can see the big picture, but do we cover one eye so securely that the other is allowed to selfishly do all the seeing?

As we buffer and baffle consequence, is the bed we're making not looking a lot like the jungle gym?


Thursday, February 02, 2012

Going Home to Black Rock City!

Just found out we were lucky enough to survive a confusing lottery tier system to purchase tickets to Burning Man 2012! This year's theme is Fertility 2.0 and I'm gagging for a re-boot. With confetti.

The poster rather resembles the clusterfuck of their lottery ticket system - or a metastasizing cell, or maybe Charlotte's Web when she released all her baby spiders in the air? In any case, it's a very cool take on the layout of Black Rock City - and its expansive growth.
From the website: Theme camps cling in fertile clusters to its latticework of streets, artworks tumble out of it, like pollen on the air. These nodes of interaction mutate, grow and reproduce their kind. Burning Man communities have now escaped this capsule world: our culture in a Petri dish has effloresced - it spreads across five continents. 

This fertility theme reminds me of the book I'm reading by Stephen Jay Gould, Full House, which postulates we human beings are not the apotheosis of evolution, as most would like to believe. So we have consciousness, but is the fact that our brains excrete thoughts any better than the camouflage excreted by an octopus; the speed exerted by a cheetah?

If we're the be all end all of evolution, how is it a microscopic bacteria can take us down? How the mighty fall! Yet you don't see bacteria or viruses celebrating their own fabulousness; creating gods that only allow them into their exclusive heavens. 

Gould suggests, as did Darwin (sometimes), that natural selection produces local adaptation - and not overall progress. We humans are but a flourishing bough on the arborescent tree of life. We all go forth together. And yet it's interesting to me how we think not only that we're the best - but we're the only! How has our consciousness helped; how has it hindered? I would wager that it's more a curse, and that humanity's greatest gift is not consciousness but rather our conscience, which ought be more evolved.

Planned Parenthood lost their funding from the Susan G Komen Foundation, which caved to radical right wing pressure to drop Planned Parenthood because they provide legal abortion as an options to women. Let's punish women at Planned Parenthood by politically denying them cancer screenings and mammograms!*

A succinct sum up:

It's not entirely surprising they have politicized health care yet again. Certainly they sure as hell politicized AIDS (lack of) funding, so cancer's rather late in the game no? Or is it just another case of the gays being way ahead of the trend?

In any case, it makes  me wonder what kind of bough our species really is on that arborescent tree of life? And when I re-read that amazing short story, 'Big Blonde', by Dorothy Parker - about a bubbly woman's slow descent into boozy despair, and the words Parker uses resonated: "She was beginning to feel toward alcohol a little puzzled distrust, as toward an old friend who has refused a simple favor...." I may feel this way toward the world in general. Like maybe it'll do me in. And/or that maybe that alcohol is the old friend I actually can trust?

Burning Man - get me hence, far from the maddening default world!

*Donate to Planned Parenthood here.