I did a reading for one of Ms. Puma Perl’s writer’s nights last night. She is a killer poet and author, a true East Village rebel artist, and an all around lovely person, so if she asks I am there. I feel like she is one of the keepers of the creative flame in a neighborhood that has lost much of that fire, and I am grateful that she includes me in her circle.
So I wrote a piece a while back that I read last night, and I hadn’t intended to post it anywhere. But since I haven’t had any time to blog lately, and a friend asked me if she could find it online, I decided I might as well house it here:
One of my best friends is semi-famous. She’s not like, Motley Crue or Tom Cruise famous, but she’s got a lot of action in her life as a performer. Let’s say she’s past 5000 facebook friends famous.
We’ve been friends for 25 years and it’s a relationship in which there is a lot of trust because we went through some difficult times together. I was the semi-famous one when we first met, so it’s been entertaining to watch the roles reverse, and it has created a safety wall around us because we both know what it’s like to be either visible in a way that isn’t fully the truth, or invisible, which is an untruth in another way.
Recently my friend flew into town to meet someone new that she had hired, and she asked me to come with her to a party this person was throwing so I could offer my assessment. I do love to give an opinion and gladly accepted the invitation.
The party was at the Jane West Hotel, where I lived for a brief time in the mid-80’s when it was a trannie hooker flophouse extraordinaire. It was hardcore, complete with the guy in the weird cage desk in the lobby and a vibrating air that smelled of crack sweat and desperation. The guest rooms were bum hotel tiny but two friends and I managed to rent a large, sparsely furnished room in the basement. These two friends were Michael Schmidt, who has since become a well known designer and who created the legendary party Squeezebox, and a supremely talented painter named Martine. We were all kids fresh out of the Midwest, so we had a lot in common, primarily obscurity and a lack of income.
Our room must have been a ballroom at one time. It maintained that sad brokedown aura of elegant days gone by, with ceramic tile on the floor and a balcony running along one side of the room. It was probably beautiful once, but by the time we arrived, it was filthy and depressing. There was another large room on the other side of one wall that housed parties, most notably the Rock Hotel, which was the first party in New York to feature hardcore and heavier bands like Motorhead on a regular basis. And sometimes they’d rent out that room for low rent disco parties. The bass would thump, thump, thump all night long against the wall near my head, until I would sit up in bed and scream, FUCK YOU, MICHAEL JACKSON! FUCK YOU!!
We were beyond broke. Michael (Schmidt, not Jackson) weighed little more than a hundred and some odd pounds and lived on mini-marshmallows for what seemed like one entire week. He sat crunched up in his jacket like a bony mantis picking them one at a time out of the bag with long fingers, shivering in front of our television, which featured a screen cracked with what looked remarkably like a bullet hole.
We shared a bathroom with a Chinese family who we never saw, but every single day, without fail, would jam the toilet beyond use with leftover food. The floor and tiles were gritty with grime, and waterbugs were our constant companions as we stood in flip flops day after day, shaking angry fists at the unusable toilet and the unseen Asians who crept in at night to fill it with rice and mystery meat.
And just to round out the picture of this magical time in my life, I was date raped in our room by a Frenchman who was my boss at my very first job in New York, working as a salesgirl at Betsey Johnson. I didn’t know that it was date rape at the time, it was quietly traumatic in a way that didn’t become clear to me until years later, but this is a another story. I just want to give you a memory snapshot of my time at the Jane West Hotel.
So now it’s been renovated to the nines and it’s very fancy and Jane Street is THE street in the West Village. And this is where my friend’s very expensive new person was throwing the party.
When we approached the building I recognized the entrance staircase, but everything else was quite different. The smoky desk cage was gone. The lounge we entered was sumptuous, with a sort of murder mystery mansion come Moroccan feel, featuring that taxidermy of exotic animals that is both horrible and beautiful and very fashionable right now. Suffice to say not a waterbug in sight.
At the entrance to the party room was a single file line-up of very bored looking models hired to stand in a row as eye-candy. They were very pretty, of course, but looked miserable and bored. It seemed a pointless waste of thin nubile flesh to my experienced party eye. I would have given them drink tickets and sent them into the fray. Let ‘em get too drunk, pick a fight at the bar, blow someone in the bathroom! This gives the guys something to focus on and old cranks like me the opportunity to feel superior with our more mature behavior. Everyone is happy. Instead they just stood there, like giant statues, reminding me of all my physical flaws as I slouched past them, avoiding eye contact.
The new hire was cute: one of those typical industry girls–short, animated, not much makeup, trying very hard to exude that super-hip, “just one of the guys” energy that many women working behind the scenes in entertainment adopt in order to survive. She seemed cool enough. She introduced us to people who seemed cool enough.
My friend and I got a drink and sat on a plushy couch and things immediately went awry in that quietly horrendous way that these kinds of parties always do for me. The models looked even more hostile from our new vantage point. We were seated across from a couple on the couch who were as cute as could be and more boring than should be humanly possible. I think the guy was gay. He had side-swept bangs that he kept tossing out of his eyes and the kind of wardrobe that my boyfriend and I play a game with on the street: “Gay or Hipster”. His adorable and clueless girlfriend was dressed perfectly in overpriced Soho boho gear. Someone took a polaroid of the two of them and handed it to her. She set it down immediately and stared off into space with her hand in her chin. He stared out into the crowd, probably wishing he could tell his girlfriend he’s gay.
I said, “You should keep that photo, you both look very cute in it.” They turned for a moment, looked at me as if I had three heads and then went back to staring into space.
My friend sat next to me, talking to new hire, who, in the space of five minutes had morphed curiously from professional businesswoman to teenage drinky gal. She had curled herself up into a ball with her knees scrunched against my friend and was alternately whispering into her ear and taking gulping swigs from a Heineken bottle.
My friend, who is the soul of patience, responded to each utterance briefly, and with eye contact and body language tried to direct Drinky Gal to the fact that there was another person on the couch, namely ME. But she could not be less bothered with my unimportant ass and rambled about her bad relationships and how she couldn’t be friends with ex-boyfriends and the usual completely inappropriate stuff that you shouldn’t talk about with employers but we all do when we drink too much.
I caught a small portion of it and said something that I thought was incredibly deep about the fact that until the lesson is grasped your energy will remain stuck. She glanced at me with that same three head glaze, and went back to ignoring me and whispering. I rolled my eyes and stared into space. Then I went back to staring at the young couple, fascinated by how truly not-fun they were at such an early age. The polaroid sat there, unclaimed, and its presence tortured me.
My second glass of wine kicked in and I started to get really mad, and I decided to play a game with Drinky Gal. I figured, I’ll give her the stare of death until she either gets uncomfortable and is forced to include me in the conversation, or until I finally master the power to explode people’s heads by deftly harnessing and focusing my rage. I thought, surely before her head blows up into a million pieces and covers my friend’s face with drippy viscera and bits of brain, she will notice that she’s being an asshole and include me in her dumb, stupid, ridiculous conversation.
She did not notice. And try as I might, I could not make her head explode. My wine glass quickly drained to empty and along with the wine, my passion dissipated, the residue a sort of limp resentment. If I had a third glass things were sure to head south, but my friend knows me well and we took our leave, abandoning Tiny Toad and her Heineken bottle.
In the cab I asked, “Why do people think that they can be rude to the wives and best friends? Don’t they realize we are the ones who will be sitting in the car with you on the way home, complaining about their shitty behavior?”
My friend slouched into the seat and sighed. “I don’t know. I guess she just got too drunk. I’ll give her three months and see how it goes.”
Then she asked, “Was it weird being in that hotel again?”
I said. “It was fine. Except for the stupid fuckface models reminding me that I’m a billion years old.”
She snorted. And I felt loved and that made me less angry about being ignored. And it occurred to me how much easier and safer things are for us than they used to be.
Twenty years ago this same friend was a nobody to the outside world, but still everything to me. She helped me put back the rubble of my shitty East Village apartment when my crazy, high-on-pills boyfriend trashed it nearly beyond repair. He smashed my antique jewelry box through a closed window, where it flew along with shards of glass down five flights and onto the courtyard below. The box contained all my tiny trinkets, a necklace from my dead father and a check for a few thousand dollars from Sony records, the only real money I would see during my big rock career. This friend climbed a concrete wall to try to salvage some of the items and almost got shot by a cracked out neighbor for the effort.
She had a broken mom and I had a gone daddy and it fucked us up nice, so then we fucked ourselves up. We fucked inappropriate people. We made disastrous choices. We talked complete shit. We spent endless hours working a coke grinder at our dealer/friend’s house, until the sun was well up in the sky, until we felt nothing but a longing for death, and still we didn’t stop. We both know what it is like to lie down on a dirty floor and cry, desperate and alone, for help that won’t come.
At the time, much like those models probably, we had no idea how impossibly beautiful we were. We were so very young and lost, how could we understand that we sparkled? Our hearts were broken. Our badass middle finger in the air hid the fact that we thought we were garbage. And we were of no real use to each other’s healing process, except that it was always a safe place to crash, a guffaw in the dark, a warmth in the eyes that did not falter. A true love, if you will, and a soft landing among the jagged rocks we’d chosen to reside upon.
I thought about the new hire and her less than stellar party behavior and the gorgeous decor of the hotel and my past there when it looked so much different, and the bored couple and the photographers and how all of it, everything around us in those public situations is like a tiny tapping on our window. We can hear it, it exists, we can even play with it and have fun. But because we are now closer to whole, it lives outside of us, and cannot penetrate or harm in any deep way.
So ramble on, Drinky Gal, and rock on, fancy new hotel, and enjoy your own trajectories, beautiful models. I hope they give you an ocean of free drinks and let you roam free at the end of the night. I do not begrudge you your youth and beauty, I can live without being included in your conversations, although I’ll probably still keep trying to blow up your heads telepathically, if only for personal, petty amusement.