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.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...For Two Years!

So we’re a little late on this, but here we are, at two years. It’s been a joy meeting and spending time with such wonderful humans. I’m excited to continue the project moving forward, but I’m not quite sure what shape it will take next. So much changes in a few months, a few years, and I think projects need to change, too, to morph into their next evolution. Maybe more stops around my beloved city, which I haven’t been exploring about and writing about as much as I would have liked. Maybe more visits with people who make this city, or their cities, great. And maybe more pets ;) I want to keep it going, but I want to breathe, too. I want to remember why I moved to New York as much as I want to document it. Often, for me, the two coincide. But sometimes just living in your adopted space, not working, just seeing, allows for you to reconnect with it and with yourself.

This past weekend, for the first time in a very long time, I was able to traverse the city for an entire day with my friend Andrew. Eggs and tea and French toast in Hell’s Kitchen; jaunts through Chelsea’s galleries and probably far too much time amongst the zines at Printed Matter; following first the pangs in our stomachs to dim sum in Nolita, then our brains to McNally Jackson in SoHo, then our stomachs again to Caffe Roma for Italian cheesecake and ricotta pastries and more tea. That was the life I wanted to have living here, the life I wanted to write about and share. I don’t want to lose sight of that, so perhaps I’ll incorporate it into my work here somehow along with my documentation of New York’s loveliest inhabitants, furry and not.

What would you like to see more of? What makes you excited to open this TinyLetter every week? Where should I go that I haven’t been? Who should I meet that I haven’t met? Living here almost nine years, there’s so much of New York I have yet to explore, so many people I don’t know. I want to keep seeing, keep experiencing. I welcome your suggestions.

Something I have learned over the years is that everyone is busy. Nobody has time for anything. But we make time for the things that are important to us, the people who are important to us. Bestowing on a person or a place the small slivers of time that we have is the greatest gift. I hope to continue sharing these slivers that have been offered to me with you, to pass on the joy that comes with being allowed into someone’s life or someplace’s existence even for a few hours. I appreciate your continued readership, and look forward to the next phase of this project. In the meantime, here are some previously unseen images from the last six months. I hope you enjoy.

All my love,
Miss M

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...Takes A Break!

There are some exciting goings-on here at Miss Manhattan HQ! With that in mind, I’m taking a break from Miss Manhattan Hangs Out for a few weeks to focus on these other projects, of which I will certainly keep you posted. I’ll return in March to celebrate the two-year anniversary (!) of the project. In the meantime, if you need something to read, you may avail yourself of some of my favorite pieces of (non-MMHO) writing from 2018, which I kept meaning to share but never did. These should last you awhile :) They are below, in no particular order. See you in March!

Miss M

Life After a Double Mastectomy at 33
A young, single New York City woman is diagnosed with the genetic mutation that gave her mother breast cancer. After removing her breasts, unanswerable questions about her future loom large.

From my “Woman Seeing Woman” column at VICE:
These Intimate Portraits Are an Antidote to Icky Ads
Talking with photographer Zora Sicher about the importance of having a dialogue with your subjects.

How Deborah Willis Made Space for Herself in Photography*
The renowned photographer and historian conquered the photography world when others said she couldn’t.
*This essay was anthologized at the end of last year, in Deborah Willis’s book, In Pursuit of Beauty.

These Haunting Photos Were Inspired by a Near-Death Experience
When a car crash left her unable to speak, Cig Harvey used photography to examine life's miracles and misfortunes.

Radically Intimate Photos of Parenthood
In spite of the world’s cruelties, the Israeli-born photographer Elinor Carucci chooses love.

From my Drag Herstory column at them.:
-Crystal LaBeija
-The Cockettes
-Joan Jett Blakk
-José Julio Sarria

Vivian Maier’s Never-Before-Seen Color Photography
Vivian Maier's square-format black-and-white images became beloved worldwide, but her color photographs have mostly remained a mystery until now.

A Natural Thread
In her latest exhibition, Mira Lehr traces a fine line to enforce environmental conservation.

Rising Singer-Songwriter Raffaella Prefers Salinger to Sororities
A profile on one of New York's newest voices

For Francisco Correa Cordero, Running a Gallery is an Art Form
How the gallerist makes his teeny space in Manhattan a must-see, artist-friendly spot

The Forgotten World of the Badass Valeska Gert
On her 126th birthday, measuring the influence of the incomparable ‘dance performance artist’ who inspired entertainers from German Expressionism through to 1980s punk

The Young Women of Mah-Jongg
How I found culture and community playing the game my mother—and grandmother—loved

Sasha Velour's Nightgowns: Inside the Eclectic, Wild & Highly Personal Drag Show
Performances at Nightgowns are not just fierce renditions of pop ballads with death drops and splits.
'RuPaul's Drag Race': As Season 10 Arrives, What Does the Show Mean to Pop Culture?
Drag Race isn’t niche like it used to be. It’s popular culture now, for people inside and outside the communities where it started.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Miss Manhattan Hangs New York Fashion Week

I photographed New York Fashion Week every season with religious fervor for a few years. I still get backstage from time to time now if I’m not totally swamped with other work. This season one particular invitation was to Pamella Roland’s Fall/Winter 2019 show and backstage. Known for her elegant formal wear, Roland has been beloved by the likes of Angelina Jolie and Halle Berry since she first showed at New York Fashion Week for Fall 2002. With hair by Frederic Fekkai and makeup by Rick DiCecca for Artistry cosmetics, backstage was a flutter of spritzes and shadows. Influencers pranced about wearing heavily drawn-on eyebrows and silk dresses with sneakers while speaking into their iPhone cameras in selfie mode.

And then I arrive in my Olsen Twins Circa 2005 ensemble, a giant Michael Jackson t-shirt over ripped pants and gold boots hiding under my giant red furry coat. I gobble down a coffee and probably one too many Laduree macarons (the vanilla ones in particular are delicious). I start taking pictures, doing my best not to get in anyone’s way but not always succeeding. The shows always start a half hour late and yet everyone’s in a tizzy as ever. Models are still arriving from other shows when rehearsal begins. They strap impossibly slim stilettos to their ankles and stand in line, waiting for instructions while dawdling on their phones, texting and taking selfies with hair is still in curlers. They will never not be a sight to me, these slim giraffes who from birth have the jawlines and cheekbones some Park Avenue women have certainly given their literal eyeteeth for.

Some sonorous, elegant, yet upbeat music blasts around the runway’s white walls as the models begin. They’re still in street clothes that, despite being as simple as a black t-shirt and jeans, look impossibly chic solely because their collar and hip bones point through them with force. Bored, they walk a walk they’ve walked a thousand times possibly that day and will walk more as the week progresses. Yet everyone in the photo pit at the end of the runway takes pictures as if it’s something they’ve never seen before. On the sidelines, I’m not immune myself.

After rehearsal, more primps and pumps before dressers adorn the models in the sequinned, beaded, ruffled gowns and cocktail dresses Roland has made her signature these last 17 years. The show space fills up with sleek-haired, coated attendees. Among them is the actress Patricia Clarkson, who somehow looks just as charming and lovely in person as she does on screen. Seats fill and an epileptic attack of photographers’ flashes points itself in Clarkson’s direction before the show begins. I sit on my perch for a short while, and when the fateful music starts rise to take pictures, ruffle after ruffle catching light after light as a vision of stylish youth makes its way down the runway a half hour late as usual. And in a few short minutes, it’s all gone.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Brianne Lugo

When Brianne Lugo tells me to meet her at the Hungarian pastry shop on Amsterdam Avenue, I wonder what the name of the place is. It turns out the name of this Hungarian pastry shop is, well, The Hungarian Pastry Shop. Very easy to find and SEO-friendly, as the kids might say.

Brianne--or Bri, as I know her--is a full-time freelance violist originally from the New York area. Though by now she’s played viola for most of her life, she originally wanted to be a marine biologist but decided to study viola in college instead. After getting her MFA in Music from the Cleveland Institute of Music, she lived and worked in the Chicago area before moving back to New York in 2016. She is currently a member of the Southwest Florida Symphony in Fort Myers, Florida, but she has also played viola on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, at Carnegie Hall, with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, and for Kid Victory, a new musical written by John Kander.

The day I arrive to meet Bri at The Hungarian Pastry Shop is rather gray but not totally frigid, a welcome respite from the torture this winter has thus far unleashed upon us. Mere blocks from Columbia, the place almost carries with it the romanticism of Beats past. Its interior is dotted with late-teen/early-20-somethings hunched over Baudelaire and Montaigne, with thick, white mugs of coffee and scratched silver spoons within grasp. It feels like a relic of 60 years ago, with lights so dark and warm they feel like they’ve always been that way. Above curving glass cases bearing myriad pastries at the entrance are graying poster menus. Bri arrives and knows exactly what she wants: baklava.

The slice arrives tall and layered on a thick, white plate. We dive into it with forks and knives while discussing the freelance hustle and her violist life. She jokes she initially picked up the viola over two decades ago because the violin was too small and the cello was too big. Bri stretches her chin upward to show me her neck callus, sometimes called a viola hickey or “fiddler’s neck,” which she gets from the placement of the chinrest on the instrument. Decimating our baklava and coffee, we head back out into the cloudy day.

Across the street is The Peace Fountain on the grounds of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Assembled from several different representations of good and evil, it’s quite an experience to look at, crab claws, giraffe necks, and all. We chuckle to ourselves at the raucous collection of visuals, which also include angel wings and Satan’s decapitated head. Just, you know, some fun art to look at. Casual.

We walk over to the Cathedral, in awe of its sculptured exterior, and wander inside. But it’s a Sunday, and we’re not allowed to jaunt further than the security guard (no matter how much Bri makes him laugh, which is a lot). It’s beautiful just the same.

Learn more about Brianne on her website.

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