Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Glittergasm

The annual glittergasm festivities of Bushwig and the New York Burlesque Festival graced the city last month. I had the joy of being present for both with my camera.

Bushwig











New York Burlesque Festival















Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Sandwich

It’s about 9:30 on a Wednesday night and the last hints of steam are rising up out of the concrete. Fresh from a rain or just the humidity, the concrete glistens. It’s like a send-off to summer, even though technically the “end” of summer was last week, on Labor Day. But somehow, the weather was a trippy 89 degrees today, and I’m not quite sure what that means for the rest of the week or the health of the planet, but I’m trying not to think about it too much. I had the remnants of a salad around 7:30 for what I thought was dinner, but kept dreaming of a sandwich as the clock crept past 9pm.

I walked outside and saw the sidewalk, the street, felt the heat on my face, and walked to my bodega for a turkey and Swiss on whole wheat with honey dijon, though they pile on the honey dijon and even the turkey more than I was expecting. The bench outside is empty, the one that’s always filled with an elderly woman and her dog during the day, and I sit, looking into the space that’s always lit just so brightly no matter what time of day it is. I unwrap my sandwich from its tin foil as a sweaty man in expensive running sneakers and Ivy League tank top strolls past me with a duffel bag, an elderly woman with hair dyed auburn and giant silver wedges on her feet teeters past me. There’s more than one curly-coated dog.

I notice my skin beginning to glisten as I bite my way through this sandwich, sitting with my wallet and phone next to me on this black iron bench. The bread becomes moist with steam from the melted cheese, my hands greasy, drippy with honey dijon. It wasn’t quite the “healthy” sandwich I was expecting, but I could have done worse.

I’m thinking about the last time I wrote here. It’s been a while. In part because there are days when sitting in front of the computer for another moment shuts my brain down, in part because I made plans to occupy my evenings night after night after night, in part because I didn’t make time to just sit down. I notice I get into a writing mood, a reflective one where I have Real Things to Say about Life, as it were, but there were many times this summer where I pushed them away in favor of good company instead of my own.

There was the day SJT and I went to Arthur Avenue, ordering thick Italian sandwiches from Mike’s Deli, mine laden with figs; then a cannoli and coffee from Morrone, then another cannoli from Egidio. Signs in the windows as we pass hold bodies of goats and pigs I think are still looking at me, though they’ve been hanging in the window for too long for that to be remotely possible.

There was the day NE and I met up for Filthy Martinis at Cafe Cluny in the West Village, dishing about literature and sex and politics while gobbling up first one homemade vodka with tomato water tinged with olive oil and then another. We bobbled over to Corner Bistro, rolling our eyes at the bros who sadly found the place out after it used to be a hangout for the Beats so many years ago. We console ourselves and validate the shit out of each other while we bite into luscious cheeseburgers and French fries, and later ooey gooey ice cream from Ample Hills up the street in Chelsea.

I ate vegan pizza with LM on the Lower East Side. I drank Diet Cokes in the backyard of a dive bar with JS while he smoked cigarettes whose ends he left in buckets. I watched the 25th annual drag march from Tompkins Square Park during Pride then ate caramelized onion caramels from Confectionery a few doors down. I saw Leikeli47 in the vicious humidity of Prospect Park on a Friday evening and then, too hot to take the subway, I walked down the length of the park listening to Kesha. I went to Long Island Bar with SJT and AR, then to see Julia Easterlin in concert at the teeny tiny music bar The Owl, walking a few blocks down to a Japanese takeout restaurant that served $10 omakase bags 30 minutes before they closed. AR and I shoved poke and miso soup and tuna rolls in our mouths before heading over to a 1960s-ish bar in South Slope called Mama Tried. I took a cab through the New York City blackout that darkened a quarter of the city then watched a drunk Harry Potter play in total darkness save for a few very bright cell phone lights to send EH off to Houston for a surgical residency in Dallas for a year. I watched GD and HanOre present their new books at The Strand. I met HannR’s baby and drank fermented cactus juice. I celebrated nine years in New York.

I went home for 10 days and worked almost the entire time, though I did get to Bloomingdale’s once and I did see brown bunnies with little white cotton tails and mermaids and teapots shaped like flamingos. I drove up the beach road at 10:30pm on a Wednesday, my windows down to invite in the salty, whipping air and no traffic in sight. I flirted with extreme sleep deprivation and burnout. I slept. I woke up.

And now it’s almost fall. Kisses of humidity on the street will make way for warm-hued leaves. I’ll trade my cutoffs for jeans, my sandals for cowboy boots, my pashminas for first jackets then coats.

But first I’ll finish my sandwich. I’ll breathe and stand up, throw out its wax paper and tin foil wrapping, and I’ll go inside and write.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Have Some More

Our bowls of pasta arrived sometime recently, but I don’t remember because time began slowing once our broccoli rabe appetizer, accented with strips of crispy pancetta, arrived at our table.

I am with my friend NE, human glitter, a poet who brims with shine and sparkle and intellect and knows how to appreciate joy and pleasure in big and small bites. We will be having dinner at Fiaschetteria Pistoia, which I will soon learn is a sliver of Tuscan culinary heaven on Christopher Street, where a man with tattoos in the window makes fresh pasta by hand, BY HAND, spinning dough into strips that will eventually become spaghetti, pappardelle, and lord knows what else. Waiting for NE in the tiny hallway next to a kitchen cordoned off by glass, I watch as another man makes slabs of veal in a pan, tossing in generous heaps of olive oil while the cast iron sizzles the meat to a light brown. Small plates of pasta, artichokes, vegetables leave the tiny kitchen window and exit into the room decorated with exposed brick painted white. A Keith Haring poster of Rome and another for Italian ice cream dot the walls. When we sit down at a tiny gray marble table, the words “Fresh Pasta is Never Al Dente Because it Was Never Dried” float above our heads.

We rip slices of bread, offered to us in a tiny brown paper bag, into a olive oil from an equally tiny ramekin. A waiter offers us wine from a selection of empty bottles, each tagged with ‘White’ and ‘Red’ like Alice’s bottles in Wonderland are with ‘Eat Me’ or ‘Drink Me.’ We don’t, instead pouring ourselves water from a repurposed bottle etched with what look like window panes.

NE is talking when the broccoli rabe arrives, its green stalks and florets dipped deliciously in olive oil, but I don’t remember what she says because I slide a chunk of it into my mouth with a sliver of pancetta and my brain stops working, the broccoli falling apart next to the crunch of the pancetta, releasing flowers and spices onto my tongue. She stops mid-sentence, eager to “have what I’m having” as When Harry Met Sally would say, and takes a bite. We look at each other, eyes wide. Wow.

We make our way through the small plate loaded with the shiny green vegetable until there’s just a little bit left.

“Have some more,” NE says.
“You have some more!” I say back, pointing a fork at her.

We both giggle and take each other’s advice. A lone floret rests on the edge of the plate when a waiter tries to remove it, but I make him pause so I can give it to NE. A smile spreads wide across her face.

Our pasta arrives in two small bowls lined with blue trim. I slide mine toward me, ribbony pappardelle made yellow by the redness of a bolognese-style ragu. I'm careful not to “chow down,” and remember to taste. The silken pasta glides next to the chunky, meaty ragu and slowly my brain begins to stop working again. I have trouble forming sentences. I try not to speak because that means more time I’m not eating. And NE is having the same experience with her Cacio e Pepe, this hand-rolled spaghetti with pecorino and black pepper that’s tangy and creamy at the same time. I taste it and eat it with all manner of impropriety, nibbling the strands of pasta from my fork one by one.

We go back to our own dishes, but NE insists. “Have some more!”

When I hear her say it this time, I realize she is not just saying to keep indulging in Cacio e Pepe. Enjoy, she is saying. Take pleasure! Live! Taste! Be in and of your senses and this moment. The food is so good, she says I start blushing. She wants to marry every man in the restaurant, especially the one who makes the pasta. After a while we stop speaking altogether and just look at each other and shake our heads. We both feel a little drunk, despite having only water to drink. This food euphoria is something new, a buzz not unlike a strong glass of wine. The pleasures of good food shared with a friend extend beyond the stomach. We are tasting joy, and in good company.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Kings and Queens

The Guggenheim curls upward like a bowl of steps, itself a work of art just like its architect, Frank Lloyd Wright intended. Staring up from the lobby, tourists and locals dot the interior as if they were paintings themselves, walking past exhibitions on its sloping floors curated by Jenny Holzer, Carrie Mae Weems, and other people I don’t remember. Some kind of pastel peach mural doubtlessly beloved by Instagrammers introduces the show, waiting in the lobby for SJT and I, but we are not here to see it. Instead, we ride this red-lined, round-walled elevator, perfectly integrated, crafted into a seam of the building to the fourth floor, where the Robert Mapplethorpe show is on view.

We wander the halls of the gallery, set aside from the rotunda and noted for its mature content, longtime fans of the artist and his muse, Patti Smith. In my favorite image from the show, the innards of a flower hang erotically near its petals, sloping and curving, covered in the finest hairs. While many images of the show feature explicit content—a man urinating into another man’s mouth, for example—I find this one the most sensual of all, startling in its intimacy and metaphor in the same way Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings are.

I had seen a few of the images in the show before, but this one was new to me. As was what SJT called “the whip picture,” which he mentioned before we arrived at it.

“I don’t know if I know that one,” I said.
“If you don’t know if you’ve seen it, you probably haven’t,” he said. He was right.

In it, Mapplethorpe stands naked, bent over away from the camera but facing it, a whip dangling from his [writer’s note: I do not know how to elegantly phrase this, so might as well just be explicit?] asshole.

While it’s been the center of many controversies since it was first on view so many decades ago, I’m curious about how Mapplethorpe envisioned his own work, made in the age before easily accessible pornography and in a time when queerness was deeply cemented in so many closets. Shot with a medium format camera, which pushes crispness into every corner of its signature square, there are no details left to the imagination. As quiet as they are in soft light and creamy black and white prints, they are also so loud with defiance as he puts into the spotlight people and situations and life forces society had previously condemned, shaking viewers to see beauty in the places they’ve been told not to look.

Sun spools in from a skylight as we walk through, imagining the parts of his life and the lives of so many others traditionally hidden from public view, ones so private he chose to publicize them. In the gift shop, a tote bag bearing his image sells for $75. I think he would be amused.

*


The Queens Night Market is not as difficult to get to as I thought it would be, merely a long sneeze on the 7 train that’s mercifully running on schedule that weekend. The sun is still warm in the sky when we get there around 6pm. We follow the music once we enter Flushing Meadows, and the coterie of vendors are abuzz with bodies. We’ve been meaning to go for the last two years, always missing it because of the symphony of summer plans that arrive once New York puts away its snow boots and sweaters for good. We resolve to take turns choosing what we want to eat, striving to always try something we can’t easily get in the city or at some other kind of food festival. Bengali-New York-inspired jhal muri—crisp, crunchy rice with cumin/turmeric chickpeas— spam musubi, Filipino palabok—noodles with shrimp bisque, baby shrimp, jammy eggs, and a lemon wedge—Iranian eggplant dip mirza ghamesi, Puerto Rican pasteles with pork stew, fluffy pandan cakes, and Portuguese pastéis de nata, a warm, petite creme brûlée surrounded by a croissant-like pastry that burns my mouth but oozes so much creaminess with crispy, buttery edges that I don’t even care. And all at about $5 each. Twilight sets in as we leave, having consumed the perfect amount of food to sit comfortably on the train and swim in the euphoria of having eaten well in an exciting new place, surrounded by people equally excited to be there, far removed from the assholes who go to Smorgasburg.

Another long sneeze later, we’re back in Manhattan, at a wine bar called Amelie, a grapefruit-forward Cote du Gascogne for SJT and a blissful peach/pear-noted Albarino for myself. My feet burn blissfully with the ache of a day spent walking and standing, legs taking me to see one beautiful New York moment after another.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Spirited

I’ve just finished watching Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill, eyes inching close to sleep, when T texts me. He’s visiting from Lancaster, PA and schleps up to my apartment from Brooklyn, arriving at something like 11:30pm because our friend P, who he’s staying with, isn’t out of work until something like 1am. So we catch up and we drink whiskey or bourbon, I forget which and it doesn’t really matter. He got married last year and he likes it, that it’s pretty much the same as living together. He’s happy, and I’m happy he’s happy. P arrives around 1:30 and he has a drink with us. We laugh and bullshit. P says he is starting to act again, and there’s a sparkle in his eyes that wasn’t there a few months ago, a few months ago when he said he didn’t want to act anymore, that he just wanted to teach at a local college. I felt then that he was lying to me and himself. He seems to have realized at that, too. Soon we all finish our drinks and they leave, around 2:30am. They invite me to come out but the heavy weight of my eyelids makes me stay put. I feel like the mother hen, giving the children whiskey then sending them out into the night. If that’s what mother hens do. I’m not quite sure.

A&C are visiting from Maryland and I suggest dinner at Pocha 32, up stairs off a busy street in Koreatown, behind a door covered in stickers and drawings. Inside, it’s covered in green fishnet that’s been decorated with empty wine bottle wrappers. We drink a soju cocktail from a giant, hollowed out watermelon and they tell me about the house they just bought. We eat squid with pork belly and we laugh and they ask me how dating is going and I try not to answer. They look at me, trying not to make the facial expression equivalent of patting me on the head. Later, I take them for dessert at a crowded food court next door. We eat a chocolate chip oreo cookie and another dessert that looks like a potted plant. Toward the end of our desserting, we’re muscled away from our table by a giant group of nerdy teens in navy hoodies. “I think one of them just called me ‘bro,’” A says.

After dinner with them, I meet up with HanOre for margaritas. She tells me about moving in with her boyfriend, about their new apartment, about her new borough, about her new book coming out so soon. She eats nachos and I really shouldn’t because I just had a giant meal but I sneak one or two. I’m lonely, I tell her. How do I feel less of that? She cries a little then we laugh and go to another bar where some sport plays on the televisions. We laugh more. A couple in their forties makes out at the bar behind us. I drink a cider, peeling off the label slowly.

A few weeks later, for Hannah’s birthday, we go out to Quality Eats and eat roast chicken and complain about men. We walk to The Surrey on Madison Avenue for birthday cocktails and dessert. We order molten chocolate cake, which deliciously oozes when we slide our spoons through it, but they also give us a rhubarb vacherin and two glasses of champagne on the house. We cross our legs and lean backward on the black leather barstools and the bartenders call us “miss” and tell Hannah happy birthday. Going to a high-end Upper East Side hotel cocktail bar on a Tuesday night puts a swing in your step and makes you believe anything is possible.

In Woodstock for Stephen’s birthday, the sky is grey and the air smells of clean rain. There’s a babbling stream alongside the road up to our house, and when we arrive and there are yellow flowers outside of it. Inside there’s a curling wooden staircase. We try on wigs and laugh and drink too many bubbly drinks. I get food poisoning and wake up sweating, but a few hours later I’m a little better and buy a vintage dress covered in smiley faces. At dinner I lose at Scrabble even though I have the letters to spell ‘bidet.’ My stomach turns in so much pain I leave the table to cry, but in the morning I wake up and I’m better and I first pick at then dive into what’s left of Stephen’s rainbow birthday cake from the night before.

The following week, I have a tame weekend aside from Saturday night, when I go to a drag show at a private club housed in a townhouse on 14th Street. Before it starts, however, a man downstairs tells me there’s a party on the third floor with food and I crash it, snacking on fish and chips and sliders while drinking a dirty martini. It's a press party so as a journalist I fit in. I talk to a man from TV Guide, a woman who runs a film festival in Milford, PA, and a man in a gold and black suit who’s a former professional wrestler now going to mortuary school and writing a pilot. Tiny cupcakes appear when I am talking to the former wrestler and I eat one. He declines, saying he’s trying to get abs, but then indulges anyway. I am a bad influence, he says, and I laugh.

At the drag show, gorgeous, hilarious people wear all many of neon and wigs and mustaches and nails and glitter glitter glitter and strip or lipsync or both. Later, a wig tycoon and his friend in a black leather jacket whisk me uptown to a small cocktail party on 57th Street. I drink a warmish glass of white wine and nibble on shrimp cocktail. The friend and I disappear to find cigarettes, with laughter and whiskey in between eventual success. Somehow, it becomes 2:30 in the morning and the leather jacket and I go to another gay bar, Townhouse. Drag queens dot the corners of the bar and smile wanly. Soon there is more whiskey and vodka and somehow a bill happens and we leave. It’s around 3:30am when I get home. I untangle myself from my jewelry and slide some peanut butter onto a piece of bread, eat, and fall asleep.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Days and Nights

“I need something to do tonight,” I say to myself. And I scroll through different event listings and even Instagram until I find something, a celebration of the life of Sweetie, a legendary New York drag queen who passed away two years ago from cancer. I had the opportunity to see her perform twice, once when she hosted the New York Burlesque Festival in 2010 at the B.B. King’s in Times Square that has since closed, and the second time at Dollypalooza, a Dolly Parton-themed drag and burlesque show at Le Poisson Rouge. She lip synced Dolly’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” in spangles and a giant blonde wig so powerfully I thought she was singing it herself. At Bedlam on Avenue C, her friends gather together to perform in her honor, then the drag documentary Charmed Life, made in 2006, is aired. During the performances, I sip a dirty martini and talk to a woman who used to work at Lee’s Mardi Gras, the place in the city where drag queens used to get their costumes. A loud blonde woman hands out cheeseballs from a giant plastic container. People laugh and smile and remember. I wanted to learn about an important part of drag history, but I feel like I’m intruding on other people’s memories instead. There’s a line there I didn’t know existed.

G and I have breakfast at Russ and Daughters Cafe on the Lower East Side. She’s in town for a few days for work and I’ve caught her just before her flight. We eat sandwiches on tiny bagels and talk about broken hearts, drinking coffee with almond milk. “How do you even meet people?” she asks me. I don’t know, I say.

The next night, Mag and I go see an artist’s new short film. She’s the only live actor in a film full of male mannequins and the scenes where she lets them dominate the frame and the conversation are hard to watch. Afterward, we sip tamarind margaritas and eat guacamole in a Soho bar filled with people just getting off work. I wonder what that experience is like, “just getting off work.” Having co-workers. Happy hour. Riding the train home slightly buzzed at 8:30 pm. Mag and I part ways as the cold March wind that I wish would just turn into summer heat shoves me along Grand Street, past the artist’s salon where I met the first man I loved and to the street corner where I once saw Fran Lebowitz walk past me in her signature navy blazer and jeans, glimpsing at me nonplussed. My jacket is not warm enough, and I tuck the lapels around my face. It’s my mother’s from the 70s, a nutmeg color. In her 30 years of owning it before I commandeered it she managed to keep the lining in tact and the pockets unfucked with. Just 10 years in my hands and it’s just holding on, the shiny, topaz-colored lining clinging to its seams for dear life. I hold it closer just the same.

It’s a Saturday, so I make sure I don’t work this time. I want to do something cultural, so I take myself to the Museum of the Moving Image and I wander around reading everything the way I would if I wasn’t there with anyone else, taking my own sweet time at every movie poster and ticket stub I want to. I take extra-long pauses at the busts of Dustin Hoffman and Robin Williams’s faces used to create makeup for Little Big Man and Mrs. Doubtfire respectively. In the Jim Henson exhibition, I visit with Kermit and Big Bird, who both, delightfully, look just as I expected them to. My child heart waves hello to them behind plexiglass, is so happy to see them, to know that even something so simple as a puppet can still bring joy to my heart decades after I saw it for the first time. There’s a hilarious video of Kermit asking some cows if they’ve heard of Los Angeles. I walk a length of Steinway Street and explore Astoria, stopping for a banana and cheese empanada, sweet in its crispy baked shell, at Mama’s Empanadas, then all the way down to Duzan for a plate of chicken shawarma and hummus. My legs carry me back to the train, back home, where I sit for a few minutes before I meet AR in Williamsburg at a funky pan-Asian diner called Snacky. We share sake and dumplings and two rice bowls--two because I ate half of his after saying I wasn’t hungry and then we shared another one. Afterward, we go and drink bourbon and I play wingman for him at one of our favorite bars, Rocka Rolla, where there are Kiss album covers at the entrance and 70s-style beer signs everywhere else. We are both successful.