Funeral for a Friend

 My beautiful friend Codie Leone died last week, on my birthday, October 23, 2013, of a heart attack.

This is a (somewhat blurry) photo of her the last time she was in my apartment. I made her a vegetable juice in a glass we both felt was appropriate for the occasion.

Codie had many, many friends and fans. She is considered an underground icon, a transgender pioneer and mother to all LGBT children in her vicinity. Codie left three sons behind. If you don’t know who she is or was, this video reel, a reality show teaser, will give you a good idea. I can’t embed the video here but the link should work:

http://vimeo.com/38810369

The day after she died my blog got more hits than ever before. People were clearly googling the hell out of her and found something I’d written a while back (Pronounity). Everyone loved her. You can’t find anyone who has a bad story about her, and this is because Codie, unlike most of us, genuinely loved and enjoyed people. It didn’t matter who or what you were, she accepted you and wanted to hear your thoughts. Gay, straight, yuppie or freak. And she loved to laugh above all else; she could take the worst circumstance and turn it into the most hilarious story you’ve ever heard, so she was always fun to be around.

Codie had been sick many years past, and we almost lost her then. But that was miles behind in the rear view mirror. She was healthy now, vibrant, and excited about numerous projects. The fear of losing her was not in anyone’s consciousness; Codie was going to outlive us all.

I had a big birthday party on the day she died, which she was supposed to attend. When she didn’t answer texts we all assumed she had bailed to stay home with her two dogs, although it did seem weird that she didn’t answer anyone. I didn’t mind, I’d see her soon enough, her apartment is only a few blocks away and she often popped her head into Dream Baby, the bar I work in on Saturdays, when she was out walking the dogs. She would leave them with someone at the door, run in, push through the crowd, shout “I love you!” and run back out again. That’s the way she was, always taking an extra moment to make sure you knew you were loved, that you were still connected.

Funny thing is, for someone I consider family, I can’t quite remember when I met Codie. It feels like she’s always been there. I know it was the 80’s, probably at Boy Bar, maybe over a line of coke at Save the Robots. I can’t pin the exact moment. She was just an integral thread in the fabric of my new New York life.

Codie around the time I met her, this is a famous photo by Nan Goldin.

Codie and Gina Vetro as MTV”s Art School Girls of Doom:

As the decades passed we saw each other sometimes less, sometimes more. No matter how long, it was as if no time had passed. You have that with people you’ve known from lifetime to lifetime. You might not talk for years and then you see each other and it’s all “Hey girl! Where’d you get that nail color?”

Drew and I joke that we are “the Last Responders” because we are both selfish and step up reluctantly in a crisis. Codie, on the other hand, was always willing to be there if you had so much as a cold. “What do you need, Doll? Do you want soup? I’ll come over with supplies.” 

Over the last decade we worked together at Patricia Field and it was always entertaining. We shouted insults and gave beauty advice. She, Joey Pauline and I called ourselves the Stygian witches. Who’s got the eye? We walked home together a lot of nights, Codie tossing her hair and enjoying the attention of men who whispered sexual innuendo as she walked past them in her heels and low cut top, cracking wise while they gaped. Sometimes she wore flip flops, but they were always very expensive flip flops, because Codie was well-known for her love of designer shoes. Often things got so ridiculous that Joey would have to stop, doubled over from laughing so hard.

Me, Codie, Joey…

Codie was was constantly glamorous even while occasionally covered in dog hair. Codie’s apartment could be messy sometimes, but her makeup remained flawless. She had a ridiculously deep trannie voice with a Queens accent. She called me ‘Relph” sometimes. She shouted off-color jokes at the most inappropriate moments. She could stand in the most evil 5″ stilettos for hours. Codie couldn’t spell for shit, but she was smart as a whip and remembered everyone’s name. Codie was vain, she drove me nuts making the same damn face over and over again for photos because she knew it worked for her. I’d shout, “Stop making that dumb ‘Ooh’ face!” And she’d reply, “Stop being an asshole, Asshole!”

Codie always liked to be beautiful, which she was. But she would be happy to whip out a boob in public or put a wig on backwards if it could make you laugh. She went out of her way to make sure everyone in the room felt comfortable, not just the famous or fabulous. She would work to draw the mousiest person in the corner into conversation because she didn’t want anyone to feel alone or unseen. She prized her Louboutins, but if you wanted to borrow a pair, she would let you.

Codie was a downtown legend, a freak to some, a hero to others, a friend to many. She was so deliciously human. She was a gift. Gina Vetro said, “Codie thought with her heart and felt with her mind.” Meaning it was all heart to her. She didn’t stop to break it down. Love came before all else. Her very minor imperfections only served to make her more wonderful, and her depth of spirit and kindness, a deep, abiding kindness to any and all, are what make her sudden departure such a devastating loss to everyone in her orbit.

Codie, me, Joey, and Zoe after doing the Rew and Who show at Otto’s. 

Recently Codie had been asked to speak on what it means to be transgender:

The reality show about her day to day life looked as if it was very close to happening.

On the Friday before she died she came to my happy hour shift for a moment with a friend she had had a major break with, and who she had since forgiven. He was so grateful to be with her and and we talked about how real friends can weather all storms if everyone is honest and loving, which Codie always was. I am so happy for him that he was able to make that happen in time.

The next day, Saturday, she did her usual run into the bar to say “I love you.” It would have been just as easy for her to walk by and assume she’d see me soon.

On Sunday I was supposed to go to a brunch that she was hosting but my feet hurt so badly from working the two nights before that I sent her a text that I wouldn’t make it.

She texted back, “Eeeuww.” I thought, “Wow, she spelled something right for a change.” I wish I’d gotten off my ass and hobbled over there. I said to our friend Douglas Hovey, “If I’d known she was gonna DIE, I would have gone to her goddamn brunch!”

When Joey broke the news to me over the phone, weeping inconsolably, I thought, “What’s going on, did his cat die?” When he finally got to the words, “Codie’s dead.”, I thought, “Nope. That can’t be right. That’s a mistake.”

Codie survived major illness. She survived pneumonia and a coma and weighing 90 pounds. She survived a father who wanted to crush the very essence of her, her otherness. She survived teen parenting. She survived being transgender. She survived losing her own friends. She survived working at Patricia Field, fer chrissake. What do you mean she’s gone? Nope. Sorry, we all need her. There are sons who missed her during much of their childhood and are now owed more time. So nope, sorry.

Codie was out on the street when it happened. She called her boyfriend Eugene and told him she didn’t feel well, and he came out to get her. She complained that her arm, neck, and chin hurt, he took her shopping bags, and she collapsed in his arms. And then she left her body shortly after that. And there was a great wailing and gnashing of teeth. At the cemetary Eugene told me the story in a rush of words that he could barely contain, whispering feverishly. It was too much, it had to be expelled. Anguish. Anguish.

A friend sent me a text that said, “Codie is your angel now, she watches over you from the other side.” I think, Yes, I can feel her around me. My mother, a psychic and channeler, checked in and Codie came through right away to say she’s fine and to apologize to everyone for leaving so quickly. My mother says her energy is very clear and strong. None of that is really a surprise and I’m glad. I know her dear friend Ruby, who died very recently, was there when she crossed over, and that makes me glad.

 But I’d still rather have her in person. Who is going to make us laugh so hard that we can’t breathe?

We all went to a wake and a funeral this weekend and saw people we hadn’t seen in years and hugged each other tight and joked and cried. The wake was open casket and a girlfriend did her makeup rather than the funeral home because it was imperative to get her eyebrows right. Codie was dressed beautifully in a vintage Mugler suit and rhinestone Louboutins. It was hard to take in for extended stretches of time and we took frequent breaks. At one point I found myself n the lobby grilling Debbie Harry about her recent guest star on Project Runway, and she looked down at her phone and said, “Oh my God. Lou Reed died!”

I thought, how does life get so surreal? So wonderful and so terrible all jumbled together?

At the cemetery Joey put a big plastic eyeball on the casket. She’s got the eye now.

On my way home from work, walking up my stairs tired and heart-aching, I heard the sounds of yet another frat party raging in the courtyard next door. I thought, “Shit. This is just too much right now. I don’t know if I can handle it.”

And then I heard Codie’s voice in my head, clear as a bell.

She said, “I got you girl. You’re good. I always got you; you should know that by now.”

Happy New Year 2013!

2013! How did it get here so fast? I remember being a little kid and talking about how old we’d be in the year 2000, when people would be using flying cars and robot maids. It seemed a million miles away.

I haven’t had much burning in my brain to talk about, but it seems like it’s time to get a new year’s blog out, so I’ll just wing it and see where we land. First, PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT for all my ladies and my gays:

My gorgeous and only slightly batty friend Codie Leone has a friend who is a top notch aesthetician, who recommended that she get a nuface machine, which is a little handheld device which zaps the facial muscles into shape. Sort of like this for the modern age:

But it looks like this:

I noticed Codie looked very refreshed, so I forced Drew to order one for me for Christmas, even though he’d already blasted out his credit card on some other items I just had to have. He’s a very good boyfriend and luckily for me he finds this kind of nonsense entertaining. Over the years he’s purchased a laser hair remover, a sonicare face cleanser, a sonicare eye serum thingy, and a series of well-marketed and overpriced creams and potions, all with a minimum of grousing.

I’m gonna post a video of him rocking out to show my nuface gratitude. He’s the drummer:



So, I have been zapping myself since Christmas day, and have noticed a difference. Zoe got one and she sees it too. I recommend that everyone…ahem…of a certain age…go out and get one immediately. Don’t say I never did anything for you: http://mynuface.com/

In my mind, this whole 2012 cosmic shift hooplah has been a bit of a bust. I am regularly immersed in readings and channelings through my loved ones, and was hoping for something more dramatic. Alien visitations, not having to use currency anymore, people suddenly being less selfish and obnoxious, or at the very least having the ability to see auras or losing the red states to secession. Alas, I am still in my tiny apartment, watching my beloved neighborhood get eaten alive by NYU students, and arguing with near-strangers about politics on facebook. One website promised big heads to hold all of our new-found knowledge and energy, I still have a pea-sized head. Although this one is not such a disappointment really.

But things are good. In 2012 I lost a little weight and got free of some major energy vampires. I quit my day job and free fell into a new, scary but fun place. None of my animals need vet care at the moment. I am happy. I like my life, I am healthy and surrounded by people who love me and are good for me. This is because I have been fortunate and because I learned how to make better choices for myself. Once, I wasn’t any of those things. And it has occurred to me, as I run a little machine over my face like Norma Desmond, that middle age isn’t nearly as bad as our youth-obsessed culture portends.




A former bandmate posted these photos on facebook this week, that’s me in panties and a bra and not much else, looking like a low-rent Cher from behind:


Hammerjacks (best rock club ever), Baltimore, 1989. The photo surprised me for a minute. Holy cow! There I am, in my underwear, in front of a sea of people who paid good money to be watch me “sing”. I lived this on a daily basis for a while, but in some ways it feels like another lifetime. I remember that it was exciting, and fun and adrenaline-charged. But I couldn’t fully feel it. I hated myself, and when I got offstage at many of these shows I had a a guy waiting for me who would do nothing but a lot of drugs, tell me that I sucked, hit me up for cash, make rendesvous plans with the waitresses behind my back, and abuse any male fans who came near me. I don’t blame him; he hated himself too. I forgive him for being a crappy boyfriend and forgive myself for choosing such a crappy boyfriend. I did the best I could with what I knew at the time, and still had a blast through much of it and consider myself so lucky for the experiences. I’m just saying that sometimes what we THINK should be the pinnacle of success and happiness really might be outer programming which has nothing to do with the truth of what our soul seeks.

I saw a fascinating interview with Caroline Myss recently, and she said much of the pain that people experience in life comes from coveting a path that isn’t our own. Meaning that we can’t all be mega-rich pop stars with Bentleys and public adoration, no matter how many affirmations we say. I have never coveted that path, although I did walk a parallel line next to it. My main goal as a teenager was to look cool, to get near rock and roll, and to get backstage easily.  I just overshot it a little, and gained a great education in the process. Anyway, what she has to say about how to find our path is brilliant: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/29/super-soul-sunday-caroline-myss_n_1922777.html.

We’re always on the right path, even if we take some side streets into suffering. My mother says that it’s all tools for the cosmic toolbox, and once you learn a lesson, you don’t have to take that class again. Although I would add that in my experience you usually move on to advanced courses in which the same lesson shows up looking a little classier. like same douchey boyfriend behavior but this time he has enough money to buy new boots instead of repairing the old ones with duct tape. Or is that just me?

Once in a while I’ll get an email on facebook from someone asking life advice. I love to give it, although I have no illusion about my genius and most of the time just throw my own examples against someone else’s wall until something sticks. I know that people can hear information over and over again, but until they feel fully what they’re in body to experience, and learn it in their being rather than their brain, the information-giving is only marginally helpful. But I’m glad to be there for moral support.

So yeah, 2013. Maybe there is a shift going on and I’m simply being petulant because I don’t have a giant head full of cosmic knowledge and I’m still worried about rent money from time to time. My shift has been occurring over a lifetime, and as this new year enters I think about everyone out there who is hurting, animals and people, and pray that their shift is happening too. I feel like sometimes I dance around in my own newly cheery world and forget what it’s like to be out there, sometimes through no fault of one’s own. I wish you all a release from all that wounded you in 2012, and a happy new beginning full of love and light.

Zoe and me, New Years Day, St. Mark’s Church:


Namaste, bitches.

Beauty in the Hood

I frigging love my current nail salon, so much so that I’ve been meaning to blog about it for weeks, but I’ve been so busy with work that I haven’t had time. My job at PF, although I put in notice, doesn’t seem to be coming to an end. I think my bosses have opted to pretend that I didn’t quit. My new job, which is a return to one day of bartending at Bowery Electric, has more fun that I expected. My friend Tim Greer is DJ-ing and running movies for me and I get to see friends more regularly, but it still takes another day out of my schedule. And then Zoe and I did our show, which was well-received and also fun, but draining. So essentially my plan of making more time to write is currently taking it’s sweet-ass time to manifest.

Okay…ANYWAY…fingernails. Nail salons in my hood have become increasingly expensive and the girls working in them less versed in anything other than the most rudimentary of manicures. I was having trouble and spending too much money, and my lovely friend Ms. Codie Ravioli recommended her salon on Avenue D.

For those of you who don’t live in New York, Avenue D is hardcore. It’s not dangerous anymore, but it is home of the Projects and there are no white girls like myself walking up and down the Avenue. It is populated by inner city, working class Hispanic and black people and their numerous children. Most everyone communicates in Spanish.

So I trotted over there and found a magical land in which Christmas decorations stay up all year round:

This is one half of the room, the other half is exactly the same size, with giant, semi-destroyed, brown massage pedicure chairs. It’s tiny, and everything is covered in fingernail dust. It looks much cleaner in this photo than it should. All of the Korean ladies working here address the women, including myself, as “Mami”.

Everyone talks over one another in a shout, it’s very chaotic, and I fell in love as soon as I entered because I was seated on a pedicure chair next to a woman who looked very much like this:
Except that my girl was about 60 lbs heavier, her hair was flaming red, and her lips were equally dramatically outlined with Chola lipliner. She had a constant look of outlined surprise. Her feet were so big I couldn’t stop looking at them. I tried to guess the shoe size. 11? 12? 13?? She was there for the pedicure and a dubious sounding service in which they glue eyelashes onto you so well that they last for days and days. Gorgeous!
Because we are all packed in like sardines either waiting for or getting services, and because of the friendly, community nature of the neighborhood, everyone chats loudly with everyone and their children run rampant, which would ordinarily annoy me, but in this setting is simply more entertainment. No one reads, no one talks on their cell for long, they just all shout at each other about their relationships, their kids, their fingernails. 
Not five minutes into my pedicure, a woman standing near tells me she’s wearing a colostomy bag and pees out of her belly-button. Now I’m really in heaven. I gleefully texted Codie immediately. “COLOSTOMY BAG. JACKPOT!”
Clearly the woman was open to talking about about it, so I asked her what happened. She told me that she went in to the hospital 12 years ago for a C-section and they cut too far into her and destroyed her insides in a way that left her thus debilitated. She had had numerous surgeries to correct the problem, to no avail. She lifted her shirt to show me her stomach, which was distended and criss-crossed with scars. She was going into the hospital in a few days for another operative attempt at repair.

Then she said, “I’m not happy with my pedicure. They have to fix the design.” Everyone in there except for me had elaborate, multicolor designs planned for their toes. She said, “I don’t have a man, but I have pretty toes and I want to show them off.” And my John Waters delight for the grotesquerie of the situation faded a bit. How incredibly tragic it must be to go into the hospital to simply have your baby and exit with your body destroyed? She was open and kind and I wondered if I would have the same attitude in her place.

The lady in red left my side and was replaced by an older woman with a blonde buzz cut and the longest toenails I’ve seen in some time. They were thick and yellow and hoof-like and I shuddered with pity for the poor pedicure girl, her masked face inches from the toes as she dug underneath them with a metal tool. The woman mumbled at the girl about not cleaning them properly and then shouted to the salon manager in a thick accent, “Can ju tell her to clean underneath? She’s not doing that.” The manager got up and shouted something in Korean to the girl, who doubled the digging effort.

“Ai!” The woman said to me. “She dossent clean and den I get a fungus. And she dossent speak our languish so I can’t tell her!” I said, gently hinting that a simple trim might be in order, “Well, your toenails are very long. Don’t they hurt when they’re pressed up against your shoes?” She told me no, and then bitched out the girl for the polish design, which was not zebra-ey enough for her liking. She wasn’t mean, but determined to get satisfaction. The manager came over and quickly swiped glitter and polish on the toes until they were a work of creepily too-long toenail art. 

I fucking love my new nail salon.

The next week I tried to get some surreptitious film of the place while I was sitting next to a woman with enormous, swollen legs that were criss-crossed with blue veins. She said, “Oh, honey, don’t film my legs. They aren’t pretty.” I felt bad and put the phone down. I asked, “What’s going on with your legs?” and she told me that she was born with crooked legs and spent much of her life in a wheelchair because her family didn’t have the money to get them repaired properly when she was young. Recently she had an operation which allowed her to walk, although it took a long time and a lot of rehabilitation work. She said, “I did not want to spend my life in a wheelchair, so I’m proud that I can walk on these legs now, even if they don’t look so good.”

As we talked a woman with three kids, one a toddler on her lap, sat getting large chunks of silver glitter applied to her long fingernails. She said, “Hang on! I don’t want the baby breathing these chemicals!” She put the pretty little girl down, and the baby stood next to the table, mouth and nose level with the situation, waving her bottle of juice. The grandmother, who had been advising a woman whose boyfriend had just been caught cheating on her, shouted from across the room, “Chanel! Dat baby is still breathing dat shit!” The young mother gently pushed the baby and she toddled off to stop three feet away. The tiny salon hasn’t been wiped down in years, it’s coated in chemicals, but I found the gesture sweet nonetheless. 

And thus, beyond the magic of chola eyebrows and colostomy bags, I understood something new and saw these exotic creatures as people rather than mere entertainment. I come from a privileged, white, upper-middle class background. As much as I have lived a rock and roll life, I am a snob in many ways. I entered this tiny land feeling other, possibly superior, and left slightly more humbled and educated.

Most of the women frequenting the tiny salon come from an low income background and live a blue-collar, very urban life. They don’t have control over a lot of things. They don’t have control over doctors, who fuck them up during childbirth, or who charge too much to fix crooked legs. They have children at a young age and don’t have a nanny to watch the kids while they get their nails done. In the case of Big Chola Red, they don’t appear to have control over their eating habits. But they do have control over their fingernails. They can come to this tiny place, shoot the shit with each other, get and give advice, forget about their troubles for a short while, and walk out with art on their toes and fingers. Who am I to judge the high drama of their artistic fingernail and eyebrow choices?
So now I am simply grateful that I can go visit them any time I want and forget about my own confusions as they welcome me as one of their own. I am happy to put the phone away, park myself in a beat up chair, and enjoy the connection. I am still going to try to film the action, as it should be shared, but I’ll have to wait until the proper time.

Pronounity

We get a lot of celebrities coming into the Patricia Field store (where I work) and generally they’re pretty nice. Beyonce was a sweetheart. Katie Perry is adorable. Paris Hilton is always friendly and nice. Jerry Hall was a bit of a bitch, but her kids are always great. I think she was pissed she had to spend time in a store she probably considers declasse paying for stuff her kids wanted. Or maybe she’s just a bitch.

I work in the office, not on the floor, and when someone famous comes in I usually remain hidden. I have met enough celebrities in my life, and I’m not particularly interested, unless it’s a rock star or someone I actually know. When Slash and his wife visited I made a point to come out and say hi and make sure they got a couple of CSFH tees. But other than him I can’t remember the last time I got excited over a visit.

We also get a lot of reality shows filming in there. The store is very colorful and fun and adds instant visual excitement. I am not immune to the lure of reality tv, but I’m not interested in the “stars” for the most part, so I don’t bother getting up from my desk when they come in. I did run out to see Kim Kardashian when she showed up because she’s just so goddamn pretty that I wanted to see if it held up in real life. It does. She’s actually more petite than you would expect and even prettier in person, if that’s possible. And her mom was very nice and fun. 

During that same visit Courtney’ Kardashian’s husband was somewhat ignorant and obnoxious about the transgender quotient in our store, but you would expect that from him. Which leads me to today’s blog. You would also expect that the Real Housewives of New York would behave a little better than one of the most hated people on reality television. Alas, they did not.

First, allow me to introduce you to my friend Codie Leone. She is a transsexual woman, and has been living as a woman since this 80’s. Nan Goldin took this iconic photo of her then:


This is Codie now. 


The ladies of PF: Ingrid, me, Sofia, Codie:

This is an outtake of a photo shoot that Aaron Cobbett did of Codie and her biological sons, which is a tale for another day:


So now you have a mental image. Codie has been my friend for 20 years. She’s hilarious, she’s generous and kind, and she manages the wig department and works in the salon as a stylist. Codie was on the sales floor when the Housewives came in to tart themselves up for some bullshit party that was most likely expensive and boring. According to Codie, they seemed very nice and she was happy  to help them.

She was not as happy once the show aired, because when she wasn’t in earshot one of the housewives repeatedly referred to her as “that guy”. 


Unfortunately I can’t post the video. I just spent the last hour digging around online and I am not web savvy enough to be able to bring it to you. I did find a small portion of it on this preview on Amazon, they’re in the store during the last quarter of the clip: http://www.amazon.com/Burlesque-Is-More-HD/dp/B005BO4X8U.

I bit the bullet and spent Amazon’s asking price of $2.99 to download the entire episode in order to see the full clip of their time in the store and be able to blog about it properly. It wasn’t quite as bad as I was expecting, but it was still the kind of ignorance that you would expect from a housewife from Kentucky, not New York. Especially when this particular New York housewife has openly declared herself a gay icon: http://www.advocate.com/News/Daily_News/2011/04/15/Housewife_Declares_Herself_Gay_Icon/

It’s not that complicated. It’s really not. Transgender/transsexual people are people who choose to change their sex, usually because they feel that their genitals don’t match their hearts and minds. To call a transgender woman “he”, “him”, or “that guy” is deeply insulting and in my mind, only shows your own stupidity and insecurity. 

I love my transgender friends. They have the same dreams and feelings that the rest of us have and it hurts to see them take so much shit on a daily basis. They are forced to defend themselves every day of their lives in some way, and I’m fucking sick of it. It’s 2011 fer Chrissake, everyone has a computer, everyone watches television. Why would anyone in their right mind choose to derogate another human being for making a change in their life that hurts no one?

And while we’re on the topic, and for the record, a transvestite is (usually) a straight man who likes to put on women’s clothing, sometimes for sexual purposes, sometimes just ’cause he wants to feel pretty. A drag queen is a man who performs professionally as a woman. Transsexual, transvestite, drag queen: three separate and distinct categories. The terms aren’t interchangeable, unless maybe you’re Pete Burns? I don’t know what he considers himself at this point. Manwoman, maybe? I’m not sure, I’m just glad he’s out there shaking up the status quo with his bad self.

I don’t know what else to say about it. Reality television is reality television and a good part of the reason we watch is to feel batter about our own selves by laughing at others. I watch Jersey Shore and Project Runway religiously, so please don’t send me personal email rants about how hideous it all is and how far above it you are. Save that for the comment section here because I already agree with you and know that most of it is horrendous.

But still, can’t we at least expect a little more from women who live in New York City? Codie welcomed them because she is an open, friendly person and she trusted that they understood who she is. They repaid her warmth by squandering an opportunity to educate and belittling her on national television. This makes me heart-achey and blog-ranty.