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.