Friday, October 8, 2010

The Commute

At 8 a.m., RuPaul wakes me up. It’s going to be a good day. But I decide to put my head back down on the pillow for a few more minutes.

At 8:30, Nirvana is pissed that I’m still sleeping, so they throw a little “Mexican Seafood” at me and zap me to life. I have to leave by 9:15.

“Okay, okay,” I say, wiping sleep from my eyes as I sit up and look around my room. It’s a mess, probably. Handbags thrown left and right, yesterday’s rejected outfits piling up on my chair. I hobble into the bathroom and ask my roommate the weather report. Rain? Ugh. Sunshine? Sweetness. I start compiling my outfit in my head. Light colors, tan handbag; dark colors, black handbag. What heels? Boots? What color tights? 8:40 a.m.

I turn on my desk lamp and apply my makeup in the mirror that I sit on top of my pencils. Concealer to cover the number of minutes I should have already been sleeping the night before (30-60). Eyeshadow painted on in spritely strokes. Eyeliner glided smoothly across my lids. Mascara in thick Bettie-Page like swipes. 9:02 a.m. I always think I am going to be late, but that has only happened twice.

Then the clothes, the hair (down unless it’s greasy). I throw together a lunch—one day I brought a whole cucumber with me then cut it in the office and ate it with some hummus; it requires zero effort and it’s healthy—and grab a yogurt which I will then eat with a fork because I can’t seem to remind myself to go buy plastic spoons.

I run my fingers through my hair on my way to the bus stop, and the garbage man tells me “Your hair looks fine!” and smiles. The teamsters on the corner say, “Hey miss, how you doin’ this mornin’?” I smile and keep walking, stepping over the questionable substances on the ground because chances are great they were left by a dog.

As I keep walking, I see nannies taking their child charges to nursery school. The children stretch their hands upwards to hold onto Nanny as their Batman or Dora the Explorer backpacks thump happily on their backs.

The woman with the corgi walks her dog along the gates in front of the apartment building near the bus stop. It is the happiest dog, with its tongue hanging out of its mouth and its bright brown eyes. It always makes me smile, even when I am the most tired.

The bus will arrive 2-8 minutes late, which usually makes for an interesting morning. Especially in the rain when the bus is nearly exploding with people and the bus driver has to actually reject some passengers. But by 9:21 I am on the bus with the dental hygienist who never tucks in her shirt; the older woman with a bright auburn pixie haircut, red lipstick and purple eyeshadow who sits elegantly in her wheelchair as if she was on a sightseeing tour at Disney World; men in their early fifties who still wear pinstripe suits to work; younger men in slick tan trenchcoats; fashionista girls who read Women’s Wear Daily; and many an elderly person with whitish hair and glasses.

If we are not yet on Lexington Avenue by 9:40, I start to worry, but that has only happened twice. I sit and watch all the different people interchange stops—some bolt out of the bus as if they’re on fire, others solemnly press forward as if they’re about to slog through another day. I greet Seventh Avenue with a pulse in my step as I catch the walk sign and make my way toward 54th Street.

Tourists crowd the area, wearing fanny packs and sneakers and “I Heart NY” shirts, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to read their guidebooks. I brush past them as I head to my building, past the old Chinese Restaurant that now holds a For Sale sign.

Inside the building, I step up the white marble stairs and head to the elevator. The operator presses the button for me, which is a luxury I will never truly get over. I press the button for the eighth floor and change into my heels as the elevator creeps higher to my destination. As the doors ding open, my shoes are on and I trot a few steps to my office. It’s five minutes to ten. My boss is not in yet, so I unlock the door, turn on the lights, and start my day.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With A Little Bump and Grind

Standing for an hour in front of B.B. King’s in Times Square, my roommate and I hoped against hope we’d get in. The line was bursting with ticket holders, including but not limited to fishnetted, tattooed ladies in glittery, glamorous updos and dapper gents in pinstriped pants with suspenders. We so wanted to be inside with them later on. As we waited some more, we heard all tickets were sold out. But we waited anyway, since we would have been happy to even stand in the back of the New York Burlesque Festival’s Saturday Night Spectacular. And eventually we got in, standing room only, right behind the spotlight for a fantastic view of the stage.

Now in its eighth year, the NYBF was literally bursting at the corsets for three days with over 120 performances by some of burlesque’s greatest artists the world over. The Saturday Night Spectacular, the biggest show of the NYBF weekend, was no different. Luscious performers done up with red lips, eyelashes out to the moon and garter belts galore took the stage at B.B. King’s in all shapes and sizes, sensually shimmying, bumping, grinding and twirling with a wink and a smile.

Burlesque hearkens back to the days of vaudeville, when a striptease act was performed in between comedy, dance, or musical acts. Originally, to “burlesque” something meant to make fun of it, “to tease and lampoon it with theatrical flair,” and the stripteases that came out of burlesque also became parodies, sometimes done with a “gimmick,” a “something special” that made each performance different from the last.

Though the ladies in the clip above describe their performance as “strippin’”, that term isn’t really correct. Though, yes, they do remove their clothing, it’s a more of an art form than that—the sexy removal of a glove or the teasing release of a garter belt is something that comes with practice. Details like these characterize modern American Burlesque performances, also called ‘Burlesque Striptease,’ performances where, according to the Ministry of Burlesque, “humor or pastiche is combined with the classic (non-nude) striptease.” And everyone gathers at the New York Burlesque Festival for a little bit of this cheeky, sexy (and sometimes raunchy) humor.

The event was hosted by famed emcee and drag king Murray Hill, who performs in the style of a 1960s lounge lizard. Hill spares no detail, decked out in a pink ruffled shirt, bow tie, and thick black-framed glasses. His hair is slicked cleanly to the side and large, square shiny rings grasp his substantial fingers. A thick brown line mustachioes his upper lip as he happily bullshits the audience in some jovial combination of Don Rickles and Sammy Davis, Jr.

Hill introduced each sensual performer with a hearty “Holy Shit!” and “Jesus, wait’ll you see our next act.” But Jesus had nothing to do with these performances.

Each artist, girl or boy (as in “boylesque”), puts on a five-minute, original performance—some are elegant, political, sexual, or even animalistic, but always creative. The lively audience—male and female, straight and gay—hoot and holler as each performer’s clothing leaves their bodies, extra applause for a happily twirling set of pasties.

Marilyn Monroe-lookalike Kitten Deville played a Hollywood starlet disrobing for an invisible Hollywood producer, eventually landing a contract after a spirited bumping session.

Sweet lotus blossom Amber Ray sat on a slowly spinning flower as piece after piece of her handmade pink rhinestone flower ensemble made its way to the floor.

Sporting a shiny hot pink wig, Miss Saturn removed her clothes while revolving upwards of 20 hula hoops around her body.

My favorite performance of the night, though, was Ms. Tickle’s “Living Doll”, in which she mimicked the objectification of women while wearing an almost robot-like pink latex body suit and blank face mask. She eventually disrobed down to a g-string (all performers are required to wear a g-string and pasties by law, though there were some occasional slips), out of which she pulled a tube of lipstick she then used to write “For Sale” on her stomach. It was a pleasant surprise, especially since I thought most of the performances that evening would be just erotic humor. But I learned that while being sexy, burlesque also has the power to make one think, just as with any art form.

Many of these burlesque performers are celebrities in their own right, such as Dirty Martini who has appeared in films that have shown at Cannes; World Famous *BOB* who has been photographed by David LaChapelle; and New York School of Burlesque Headmistress Jo “Boobs” Weldon who has appeared on CBS Sunday Morning and Gossip Girl.

Amidst all the glitter, makeup and, well, boobs, these burlesque ladies and gentlemen truly know how to put on a show. Burlesque is sexy, funny, and smart—performers know that sometimes a tickle and a tease is all you need. That, and a really good set of pasties.