Friday, June 29, 2012

Vanilla is Nice, but I'll Take Freak

I've been to Harlem twice in as many days for dinner at friends places and can we just say the Harlem Renaissance has Renaissanced? This is Noveau Harlem. 125th street has outdoor sidewalk dining! It's downright chic, but not gentrified. Harlem's just swank around edges and is otherwise authentic with its baptist churches, friend chicken joints and men with far too many gold teeth. 129th street is now barricaded off by police because there's too many shootings. Yes, I could totally live here.

At my friend Sharon's on 145th street I get way too excited because she lives across from a 99cent store. There's shit for 99 cents! On her stoop three boisterous black ladies are yelling at passersby, sitting on chairs on top of the stoop and having a little party. I get the feeling they have this party every day. The building door is wide open and they wave me on in with a smile, not even a word.

Sharon tells me she's been learning about Hindu gods from her students in Queens. Hindu is chaotic and confusing because their gods supposedly all come from three gods - but not. There are more and other worlds within and somewhere is a deity named Kali - who holds severed heads in her hand and wears a necklace of skulls and a skirt of severed arms. When Sharon asked her student if this god was a devil, the student shook her head like Sharon was crazy. This bloodthirsty woman is a god, there are no devils! Hinduism has it all, keeps evolving, even adding bits of other religions, there's even a little Buddha in Hindu heavens. It's continuosly morphing, changing, and most importantly absorbing... and in that way it reminds me of New York City.

On the train home there are three people seated across from me. A wide-eyed backpacker, a big black dude with "selena" tattooed on his forearm and a baseball hat all askew. In between them is a white woman of at least 85 years old and she is dressed to the nines as if she just got out of the opera. It is long after midnight.

By day, the city is a sweltering soup and... there are homeless! One of them asks me to "borrow" a quarter. When I refuse, he says god will bless me anyway. Relevancy is struggle is survival is being unemployed but pursuing your dream hobby is rampant jaywalking (I'm inordinately happy to have found this lost tribe) and that line of people waiting for a $1 slice of cheese pizza. They're speaking Spanish! And Hebrew!

Within the crowds of 8th avenue I hear my name being called. It's Aron, walking his dog. He owns a fashion showroom and I used to work for him at trade shows. Below, on the A train platform I'm sweating into my shirt and the wet spreads into it as if it were a paper towel. I hear my name again and there is Brian, a theatre kid I went to school with at USC.

At Industry bar, darling drag queen Dallas Dubois gives me a huge hug and when I speak with her she doesn't even realize I ever left for Australia. I strangely agree with her. Anita stumbles drunkenly through the crowd to tell me, "I couldn't get laid if I were an EGG," hastening to add, "I keep telling them that beauty is only a light switch away!" My friend Travis pops something in my mouth, "It's my last quarter of adderall... but you have to dance with me!" and I do.

On the way home along Delancey, a young Latino struts past and leers at me. There's a mix of danger and dare in his eyes and I stare back defiantly. How long has it been that I've been leered at? I don't know what's wrong with me that I miss a sense of menace. I don't know exactly why I need to be surrounded by freaks, in a place that feels like foreign travel where I am always aware, noticing, absorbing like the Hindus. For whatever reason, it's inspiring. And I realize what I miss the most, what I elementally require, even if it be in bad taste, is what we call FLAVOR.   

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Matinee Party

In an effort to wipe us out completely, we got tickets for the Pride weekend day party MATINEE. This was on Saturday of Pride Weekend. It was something outdoors and different  - held on the man-made beach over at abandoned Governor's Island.
Gov's Island has great views of lower manhattan, including the nearly complete Freedom Tower - lit red, white and blue. But going there means waiting forever for a ferry that goes about five minutes across the harbor. We could've swum there faster.

It was curious to watch the general public descend from the ferry before we boarded. They got off to find a massive lineup of boys... all in tank tops with the sides ripped down, muscles, hair perfect, designer sunglasses, shorts and colored high tops. What that must be like is exactly like seeing a lineup of big-tittied black women in hair weaves and Flo-Jo nails eating from buckets of extra-crispy Colonel's. An array of cliche. Fun! Fun and awkward.

Of course the shirts came off right when we got to the beach. A little bit of diva worship with Natasha Bedingfield who put on a great set despite sporting Gaga shoulders from 2010.
photo: Queerty!
A little diva worship outside with my friend Leslie.
 With CoolDan! You can tell it's Saturday before Sunday's march because of the body hair. 

The go-go gods were all under-the-sea inspired. Loving the seahorse headdress. 
Yes, we appreciate your beauty!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Gay Pride Parade New York 2012

So thrilled to reunite with my friends in New York for yet another edition of gay pride parade infiltration. This year with more MSG! We all took a twist on the Chinese Year of the Drag-on.
Becky, Cooldan and Jesse
Getting ready: Marcos and Travis
I can't take any visual creative credit, which is why I surround myself with creative friends. Not only do they come up with amazing looks for themselves - they come up with mine, too! I had dragon fabric shipped to CoolDan who created my awesome kimono. When he emailed his sketch to me in Australia, I was concerned it was not going to be short enough. "Oh, it will be short," he wrote back. "Practically a belt." Perfect!

Heels were the first purchase: gold encrusted flamed stilettos. Totally impractical - like all things of beauty!
Thanks to our photographer friends Wendy and Charlie for dropping by!

For makeup, hair and all-around finessing - we had the superlative skills of our pal Harrison who is the visuals expert at YSL. He's a MacGyver of styling. Give the guy a stick of gum and two twigs and presto! Runway styled. The day before, Harrison took me shopping in Chinatown. When I suggested what we needed to complete my look he said, "We're not looking for anything, or we won't find it. The secret is to not look." Ok, Confucius! We found it. Pagoda earrings and so much more!
harrison does dan
Drag-on Roof
Gaysha Wayne
Sexy dragon-slayer Leslie
Anita Light
And other fire-breathing dragons.

Gideon and Harrison
Fine, I'll walk.
We made it to 5th Avenue at 20th street and didn't even have to climb over the barricades this year - the police kindly opened it right up and let us in.  We got sandwiched between the float for Evita on Broadway and the Cirque du Soleil. Couldn't really get more theatrical.
Wayne and uncle Billy!

Thanks to Cyndi Lauper for being Grand Marshall this year (and knocking it out later at the Pier Dance - ending her "True Colors" song in the middle of the chorus, fist in the air: "Don't be afraid!")

Becky was our superstar celebrity. This stellar pic made media outlets from Daily Beast to CNN:
And her take-out titties got a full page in color in the NY Post! Epic.

Happy Pride!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

No-Drama Drama VS. the Anarchist

I was trying to explain Bam Bam the concept of his "No-Drama Drama". He's so extremely no-drama, it actually becomes a drama of its own and most people can't understand - least of all him.

All the times he doesn't answer the phone, doesn't let me know what he's up to; his tendency to retreat and leave me making excuses for his absence, the fact he'd rather twirl his hair than argue with me... it's all what I term no-drama drama. He scoffs at such an idiotic idea, but I say he can't just dismiss the assessment of someone he's lived with for 6 years.

So Bam turns it back on me and says, matter of fact and succinctly; flowing from his tongue as if rehearsed, he says: "You're an aggressive, highly opinionated, angry anti-establishment anarchist." WOW.

Props for the alliteration.. although you forgot alcoholic! Obviously I can't dismiss the assessment of someone I've lived with 6 years, but there must be a way to phrase that in a nicer way. He says there isn't, really. But hastens to add, "It's not a bad thing. I'm cool with it." See what I mean? No-Drama Drama!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Cheers to Middle Health!

"Middle health" exists in the extremities. If I can't stay out all night and still get up before dawn for gym class well then - I just shouldn't go to bed at all! Middle Health is a bit tricky to maintain. But the alternative - plenty of rest and early to bed? I'd rather watch Octomom's porno!

The other night I was out Monday morning (?) for the Queens Birthday holiday. Me and my friend Denton on the dance floor at Phoenix eating popsicles they passed around at 8:00 am. In Australia, they're called "ice lollies" which kills me.
By 9am, my buddy Jack had fallen on the stage in a crumpled heap. He went down in parts and in slow motion, like a euthanized horse. Bam Bam then arrived to harrass the bartenders in his constant, un-quenched quest to order a refreshing sherry ("it's good for the heart!") which no bar ever stocks.

Middle health had Wednesday greet dawn from the other way around. Body Pump with my favorite fitness instructor. It takes a special personality to transcend the rote choreography of these classes with their cover songs and Will is so damn adorable we've taken to stalking him on Facebook. And this Wednesday in class, sigh, he winked at me. Winkin' Will: Stop toying with my EMOTIONS!!!

Thursday at 6 am is Body Attack with Jaqui. She's a fighting fit Pebbles Flintstone, but blonde and even more animated. We love Jaqui because she is always screaming random things to distract us from the fact we're exercising, "I slept with your boyfriend," she screams as sweat drips down your face. "I'm not sorry!" She's also got a massive fan following. In their short shorts, the same six acolytes always line up in the same spots in the front row. We call them The Royal Court.

Swingin' back to late night, I invited friends for a farewell at Polly's Follies amateur drag show. Polly was in fine fettle, on stage drinking champagne out of her tea kettle and making fun of all the queens. At the end of the night, she whipped me and four others on stage, ripped off our shirts, and told us to lift her above our heads. Putting the mic down, she whispered, "Don't drop me. Also, I'm wearing a fake ass."

Happy to report Polly and her fake ass were safely returned upright to the stage.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sweet Sorrow

I came into work today on my last day and walked into a drag explosion on my desk! My erstwhile co-workers and friends surprised me this morning at 8:30 am with an office full of everyone in glitter, feathers, and wigs. When I walked in they started blaring Whitney Houston. I was so touched!

Then there were cards, gifts, a homemade picnic lunch with food and games in the gorgeous gardens overlooking Sydney Opera House on a perfect balmy winters day.
My lovely editorial team delivered a glitter card and gift... an iPod... as they know mine was stolen months ago. I said, "I know I haven't been the easiest person to get along with" and they laughed uproariously, like it was the most obvious thing ever. They accept me despite my flaws. And damn you Jack for making me cry!!!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

If we were birds, men would get all the makeup!

As a kid, I remember being discouraged from rolling my yellow socker socks up to my thigh like stockings. And I was only five when stopped from spending time at my friend's house down the street because it was discovered she and I played dolls together. I don't even remember my friend's name, maybe she was called Amy, but I distinctly remember that forbidden doll. She was My Friend Mandy.

All my life I've been disinclined to follow gender roles, but I have never once questioned my sex. I may have liked playing with dolls and dressing up but I never actually wanted to be a woman. I can't understand what it's like to feel trapped in the wrong body, because I have no personal experience with transsexuality. But if I ever had a trans or questioning kid, I hope I'd be as supportive as the parents in this video who also surely cannot understand, but nevertheless chose to love, listen and let.

I learned quite a lot from this episode, "Becoming Me" by In The Life media.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mao's Last Dancer

For an insightful glimpse into Mao's China from the peasant point of view, read the 500 page Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin. It starts at the beginning, in rural China, with his beloved parents and six brothers in a poverty so abject they pass around the bowl to one another because though they're all starving, nobody wants to selfishly take the last bite. 

The book is simple and straighforward in its storytelling. You won't underline poetic passages or find a symphony of paragraphs that move you to self-harm with the quality of their orchestration. But if Li is not a writer, he certainly has a story worth telling.
At 11, he was plucked from his village by Madame Mao's cultural delegates and taken to Beijing to be stretched, pulled and formed into a dancer. The emotional punch comes not with the training he endured, the "self-criticisms" you have to write if you so much as want a candy in Mao's China, or the mental focus achieved with proverbs about mangos, but with his family back home. One of his brothers, it turns out, was given at birth to his aunt and uncle to be raised as their own. In China, a son was not only handy in the fields, but essential for family self-worth. That brother's anguished desire to be part of his birth family is heartwrenchingly refused.

When Cunxin goes home for a visit, he finds his "second brother" in existential crisis - forced to work as a futureless peasant for a pittance, pushed into an arranged marriage after begging his parents to let him marry the woman he loved. These two stories alone are affectingly touching, but in a more able writer's hand, they could have left you a weeping wet mess on the floor.

Years later in a cultural exchange, Li goes to Houston and immediately disbelieves all the notions of America and the wicked wealthy West as explained by God-like Chairman Mao. People are happy, friendly and he quickly defects. Li secretly marries and at when he tries to defect, the Chinese embassy in Houston traps and hides him. Who helps him out? BARBARA BUSH. I met someone who knew Barbara Bush and said beneath that innocuous granny facade stirs a viper as evil as the bubonic plague, but Babs loves her ballet and her clout helped him defect to the USA and Houston. I also got a new view of Houston, which before I cast off as solely a muggy metropolis with nothing to offer but the bayou, but - it's a bastion of ballet!

At the top of his game as an international ballet sensation, Li's finally allowed to return to China to visit his former teachers and family. He brings them all gifts, and later they visit him and his wife in the free west. All of that culture shock is fascinating, but more interesting is how he loves his mother so intensely he never stops to criticize or even question the culturally-fuelled wrongs she committed - against his second brother, in particular.

I also found it bizarre that in the USA, he married a ballerina whose parents really wanted a wedding in a Catholic church, so he, very easily, converts to Catholicism. After growing up and later rejecting what proved to be the epic lie of Mao = God, you would think he'd actually struggle with accepting a new dogma... only to satisfy another new (fickle) cultural mandate. He took such a giant leap, only to return to the choreography as directed.

His is an incredible story; Li himself has an astonishing memory, determination and strength of mind, but introspection and probing analysis inside his mind? That may be one combination Mao's Last Dancer can't land. 

And Then There Were None

The strange fruit has abandoned the branches of the Sydney Royal Botanical Gardens. The garbled cries of the fruit bat colony adds a fantastic layer to the prehistoric feel of the beautiful gardens. Eery as they are, it was eerier to stroll through this morning at noisy bat bedtime and notice silence.
I looked up and there were no bats. There are usually thousands. It was like looking at the Interstate and seeing it empty.

The effect was so troubling I sought out a gardener who informed me that the bats were evicted. They were damaging too many trees, so the city council tried a new method of playing "industrial" music at dawn and dusk, an "unwelcoming noise" (her words) which forced the bats to abandon their home.

"I'm sad about it too," she said. What's most sad is that in a city with so many rules, regulations and restrictions - the nanny state has come to the treetops. Sure they damaged trees, I could see that. But they were physically relocating many already, why drive them all off? Those who are cast out, I embrace! The freaky flying foxes were a huge tourist attraction and gave the city something special.
One of the most spectacular things about Sydney was the bats at dusk, dotting the sky on their daily pilgrimage across the city to Centennial Park. You could set your watch to it.
The skies are now that much less awesome.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Mr Rogers Remixed

How awesome was Mr Rogers? It would be impossible to measure his influence and impact in the imagination of a generation. How nice to see and hear his messages again in this, yup, imaginative remix by John Boswell for PBS.

It's good to be curious about many things.... have you ever grown anything in the garden of your mind?

Monday, June 04, 2012

Prison Andy Shares

I've taken to sitting in on AA meetings because it's here Sydneysiders talk about things that actually scratch the surface of interesting, controversial and profound. For all the same reasons, I write letters to my prison pen pal Andy, the former pedophile. After 12 years, Andy is just out of prison.

Last month, they transported him from Texas to a halfway house in Utah. He recounted his first days of quasi-freedom on a Greyhound bus. The bus journey made him nauseous - his nerves and the motion. He had not been in a vehicle in so many years. Then he went to a Wal-Mart and was totally "WTF'd" by the technology section. He just wanted a CD and a... Discman, which is hilarious. I'm writing letters to a time-traveler!

Another major first impression was shock at the cult of the cell phone. Andy isn't allowed, due to the "nature of his crime", a cell phone. Though drug pushers and other criminals in the halfway house are. He's also must undergo a battery of "Inquisition-like" pschological evaluations including electrodes on his penis, is forbidden alcohol and must cease contact with the friends from back in prison. After being locked up for 12 years, those people are pretty much your family.

Andy says the halfway house is more menacing than prison ever was, and he's now living on the down low for safety. Still, his spirit ain't broken, even if he's unble to let himself truly contemplate freedom, the same as society often never truly contemplates forgiveness. He writes, ever eloquent:

"I didn't give myself to the incarceration machine therefore I'm not irreversably institutionalized. Thank the gods for that plus my indomitable will to not become what the vast majority in the system do become: broken, afraid, lost, irrelevant... "