Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Rhasaan Manning and Lara Vallance

“I could never be with someone who was…a dentist,” Lara Vallance says. She flicks her wrist, a lithe hand extending in explanation.“Oh man,” says Rhasaan Manning, who jokes later that "she is the woman whose husband I am. “I was gonna take up dentistry.” They laugh.
When I meet them at The Good Fork in Red Hook, they are easily two of the coolest people I have ever encountered in real life, calm and collected, thoughtful and worldly, tall and lean and wearing interesting pants, jackets, and hats. We eat eggs and biscuits and pork dumplings and drink coffee and they tell me about their work.

Lara and Rhasaan have been married for a couple years now. Both of them are multidisciplinary artists and they live in Brooklyn, regularly collaborating on different projects that intersect their interests. For example, they recently screened a series of short films for which Lara illustrated the visuals while Rhasaan produced the music, and developed a short film and installation called Pocket Brain, about a woman addicted to her cell phone.

Lara is an illustrator and artist whose work lives in the space between digital and analog. She will draw on top of images in a really amazing and colorful collection of work, part of which lives on her
Instagram, but she also draws on clothing, develops comics, animates her work, produces illustrations for publications, and is working on a children’s book. Rhasaan is a musician (as DJ OYASABA and with his band OYASABA; he also recently returned from touring with Deerhunter, for whom he does percussion and electronics), photographer, writer, director, and more. He has a zine he’s been working on called Behind the Stick, which features images of friends and bar denizens from the last 10 years. “Not to be lame,” Rhasaan says, but working together as collaborators has taught them how to be better partners, simultaneously respectful of and inspired by each other.
After brunch, they roll and smoke cigarettes as we walk to Record Shop on Van Brunt Street. While sifting through soundtracks and protest albums, Lara finds a vintage Italian phrasebook and Rhasaan procures a stack of records, one of which includes Voices of the Civil Rights Movement. We then head over to PioneerWorks for Anthony McCall’s Solid Light Works exhibition. A series of horizontal and vertical installations that press light into varying corners of darkness for a kind of living light sculpture experience, simultaneously cinematic and inviting. Rhasaan and Lara weave their way through the exhibition, pausing to absorb the light and take pictures. We meander upstairs for Kathleen White’s Spirits of Manhattan and Nan Goldin’s Kathleen. As Rhasaan and Lara walk through the gallery, it feels like they’re living a life so many people aspire to: consuming and making art with the person they love. Afterward, we will stop in at Fort Defiance for Bloody Marys topped with lemons and pickled green beans, and they will look at each other and I will know I am right.   
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Sunday, February 11, 2018

After it happens on Saturday

After it happens on Saturday, I call HanOre. Can she please have brunch? We nibble on french toast and croque monsieur and pommes frites and sip mimosas while I talk and do a good job of not crying into my plate. “You deserve better,” she says. We do face masks and watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I head to SD and SW’s comedy show in Queens because I always intended on going. They are funny and brilliant as ever and SD’s husband buys me a drink. I ride the train all the way to Brooklyn to go dancing. I am smoking a cigarette outside of Friends & Lovers when AR shows up and offers me half of his sandwich, which I accept gratefully. I realize it’s been a while since I’ve eaten. Inside with his friends, we shimmy and shake to funk music, then we shoot tequila one time and then another.

-

After a photoshoot on Sunday I am slicing my fork into pancakes at my favorite diner. They’re undercooked, tasting more like batter than pancake. I pray to some strange being that I can make it through these slices of ham before disintegrating into a puddle of tears.

When I get home, I collapse into my new red faux fur coat, dusting its exterior with saltwater that I hope doesn’t damage it. I need a task. I organize part of AS’s bachelorette party. Then I head to Brooklyn and on the way I have an anxiety attack on the street. I get so dizzy and hot I have to take off my jacket in 40 degree weather. I sit on the train and listen to Karina Longworth tell me about Jean Seberg and Jane Fonda.

AR and I eat Ethiopian food. I sip a coconut lemon martini and my nerves calm down. Then we watch Lady Bird and a nun says something like “Love is paying attention” and I don’t remember the rest of the movie after that. I sob in the theatre for what feels like ages, first quietly then not, my eyes burning. AR sits next to me, silent, and waits for me to finish. We probably have to go, he says. An attendant overhears from the back of the theatre and says no, it’s okay, you can stay if you need to. But I just want it to be over. Instead, though, I spill onto my knees in front of the BAM Opera House and sob more. “Do you think I’m stupid?” I say to AR.

“No, I don’t think you’re stupid,” he says, and pats me lightly on the back.

What must be an hour later my eyes are swollen and red, my face contorted and puffy. We go to a bar and drink tequila and whiskey. “I realize I put you through a lot of friendship tonight,” I say. “If you don’t want to hang out again for a while, that’s okay.” He laughs at me and finishes his drink.

-

On Monday, I have dinner with SD. We eat chirashi then ogle makeup at Walgreens, giggling at what makes cosmetics packaging distinctly “feminine” or “masculine.” She covets an “As Seen on TV” spice rack that, strangely, is nestled on an endcap between hairbrushes and 24-hour eyeshadows and skin lotions that maybe do something but probably nothing. Isn’t a miracle in a tube what we all want? Do we ever really get it?

I buy red nail polish because I always buy red nail polish and she buys Haribo Sour Gummy Bears. We eat them as we walk around Sephora, marveling at what could make a compact cost well over $50. Janeane Garofalo walks past us. I’ve seen her before in this neighborhood, she lives not far away I think. We don’t buy anything.

-

Tuesday, DL and I eat vegetables on 8th Avenue. He loves his new neighborhood. He looks at me with sad eyes. “What the hell happened?”

“It was for the best,” I say. In the last two days, I have been feeling sparkly and beautiful and intelligent and charismatic and interesting in ways I haven’t in months, perhaps longer. The world is full of possibilities now. The uncertainty is energizing. Later, in a bar, I make DL laugh as we sip bourbon and then gin. Then I stumble into a cab and start to say the wrong cross-streets, but immediately correct myself. When I get home, I cry, but it will be the last time I do that for a while.

A plant can die, or it can become dinner.

-

Wednesday, HanOre is on a panel at The Strand. She wears a bright red dress. A dating and relationships editor at a magazine, she spent time as a matchmaker and has a fiction book based on her experiences with it coming out in June. What is it like to date in Manhattan? the moderator asks. How do you meet someone in real life? I sip champagne from a plastic flute and place it below my seat when I’m done. Later, at the end, there’s a Q&A. I ask another panelist, a veteran magazine editor, “Do you think dating prepared you for marriage?”

“Yes,” she says. “And I can tell you this, the best thing that ever happened to me was that the last one left.”

-

Thursday, my mother shares a quote from Buddha with me on Facebook Messenger. It says:
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the universe, deserve your love and affection.”

AR, who somehow still wants to be my friend, brings me to a classical music concert at Carnegie Hall. I am going because I want to wear my grandmother’s mink and it’s nice to get out of the house. I have trouble paying attention to the music. Modernist sounds rise out of a cello, a piano, a violin. The chandelier sparkles.

Afterward, we sit and chat with a documentary filmmaker who is doing a travel pilot for CNN. Casual. We eat nachos and the filmmaker asks me what I love about traveling. I tell him, but I am excited to have the opportunity to continue answering for myself as time goes on.

-

Friday I sip Old-Fashioneds with B in the lobby of a building erected in 1928. I talk to people who go on expeditions for a living, who save wildlife from trafficking, who drive sportscars in rallies across the country. And somehow, they’re curious about what I do for a living, too.

Later, in a burger joint, things get both quieter and louder. I learn about coral bleaching and the Congo, I feel stimulated by conversation, by learning something new, by talking to people who are passionate about their work and their worlds.

Hope and excitement bubble inside me and I leave with a grin on my face. I will be okay.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Erin Felgar

Inside of a heated teepee in Brooklyn’s Industry City, I am sitting across from Erin Felgar as she tells me about her work. Shortly, she will have to go into the office at Brick Shop Audio, where she is one of their resident voices of erotic audiobooks.

Erin started at Brick Shop at the behest of a friend a few years ago, and in the last year and a half it’s become her primary occupation. She reads a lot of erotica written by moms in Utah, she laughs, as well as others that are so good they may be written under pseudonyms of writers of fine repute. Some are great, some are not, and some are great because they’re not. There are tales of hockey players with inner turmoil and the female protagonist is the only one who can save them; there are others with mob bosses or varying levels of BDSM. She reads it all under a pseudonym--she would like it to remain private here; on the Facebook page for it, though, the profile photo is a black and white photo of a woman holding two bright red cherries in her mouth. The page has fans across the country, with suburban moms and truck drivers reaching out to say she makes them feel a little less alone. She’s happy to be an erotic audiobook narrator especially if she can do that, she says. She has authors reaching out to her specifically, who are so excited to have [her pseudonym] read their book; one even named a character after her actual name in their text.

It’s not something Erin anticipated doing when she graduated from the Yale School of Drama, but reading erotic audiobooks opened up a new world of performance to her. She’s currently interested in expanding her repertoire to vocal acting and voice overs and is working on a reel to submit. When Erin prepares each reading, she first reads the text, then prepares the voices of the characters. She records in a booth, reading from an iPad. When she’s working, she occasionally shares some of the really juicy stuff in her Instagram stories.

Today, I’m allowed to photograph her briefly as she reads aloud from a recent text in one of Brick Shop’s sound booths. “His gaze wavers slightly with emotion, and then he leans closer and devours my mouth in a kiss so consuming I’m left breathless,” she reads in a quiet, all-knowing purr. I giggle quietly.

Later, Erin and I head to her happy place--Bed, Bath, and Beyond--to get a humidifier. A man helps us who knows more than I thought it was possible to know about humidifiers and soon we’re off. We stop at Greenwood Park, a bar where Erin used to work and where she currently does the chalkboard art, for lunch and afternoon libations. Her purr as [pseudonym] fades away, but there are still traces of her sense of amusement and mystery in Erin’s smile as she sips a glass of wine.
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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Untitled Queen

Untitled Queen answers the door in her glasses. She is pre-makeup, pre-costume. One of the reigning queens of Brooklyn’s drag scene, I had the pleasure of meeting her when I worked on a piece about the borough’s drag culture last year.
Before that piece, I saw Untitled perform only on video--a few years ago, I wrote about an art show in which a performance of hers appeared. To Judy Garland’s rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” wearing a wildly teased blonde wig and a ball skirt of sewn-together rags, she eviscerated my soul. I felt even then there was a deeper understanding of humanity that went into her work. And then when I saw her perform live at annual Brooklyn drag festival Bushwig, in makeup inspired by Japanese Noh masks to the Dirty Projectors song “Keep Your Name,” I knew how right I was. Onstage, she told a powerful story about what our hopes for love can be and how they can destroy us as we destroy each other. And recently, from the tiny screen on my phone, seeing her performance of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” made me audibly gasp. I was then as I am now not just watching a drag queen at work, but an artist.
It’s fitting, since Untitled has an MFA in Fine Art from Parsons. She started the program focusing more on visual art, later moving into performance art and attempting drag at the behest of a friend. Six years later, she is performing around the world, from Brooklyn’s Bushwig to Miami’s Wigwood to Vienna’s famed Life Ball. She has been featured in The New York Times, Refinery29, Out, VICE (by yours truly) and countless others. Untitled continues her visual art practice as well, exhibiting at galleries in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
Tonight she’s hosting the event “Cakes” at Metropolitan Bar in Williamsburg for the drag queen Didi Disco’s birthday. She smudges her face with pink to make an even canvas for the thick white makeup she will put on top of it. Beating her face with a powder puff, powder flies gently away from her face, illuminated to ghostly proportions by the lighted mirror in front of her. She draws on graphic, nearly pop-art eyebrows and eyeliner, adding circles and later lipgloss to complete the equation. After closing up her corset and jumping into a pink and blue dress, she tucks her bald head into a flowery skull cap and presses on clear nails that make her already lithe hands look even longer.
Arriving at Metropolitan, Untitled knows everyone. She kisses hello, says hi baby, sips a cocktail, floating on her platform combat boots. Soon, it’s her turn to take the stage with her co-hosts. She’s a luminous, commanding presence. Queen after queen performs, then it’s her turn. While she performs Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” her fingers curl in Joni’s pain and sweetness, her lip sync flawless. The audience sits in quiet awe then explodes in applause.
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