Monday, February 27, 2012

The Life of an Artist

“Some say she's from Mars
Or one of the seven stars
That shine after 3:30 in the morning
Well she isn't.”
The B-52’s

There were only a few months of high school left for me, an end to all of that daily hate that I faced, but also an end to my beloved art teacher, the cherished friendships that had formed and the opportunity to challenge that rigid and archaic social structure.

I did cause a small galvanizing force, one where several of the other students did make it official, still it was difficult at that time, in being courageous enough to create some kind of Gay student group. But there I was happily a member of the clan of outcasts and eccentrics. My circle encompassing all of the social classes, races and gender, it didn’t matter then and it still doesn’t, as long as we can get together and have some inspired fun. 
 There were a few of my tormentors, who by that point, having witnessed all that I had been through, kids that I had first met in the 7th grade, who had had a change of heart and honored me with their respect. No real official apologies, just their voices added to the list of my defenders. These kids were also freaks in the world that we belonged to, but they all had grown into leadership positions within their subculture ranks. Then there were the kids that I had grown up with all of my life, the ones that I used to play with in grade school, we had all become young adults together, they grew even more intense in their cruelty, that was tough.

By that time I had snuck into the Gay bar, found it a terrible experience, I was so shy,
was still getting the Veteran’s benefits from my dad’s death, bought my first pair of designer jeans, had some amazing acid trips, was writing, reading and drawing daily, all the while dreaming of my eventual escape.

So the day came when the names of graduating students would be posted onto a wall in the school hallway. Everyone was anxious and nervous, their future plans in the mix, what in the world would they do without high school? My name was not on the list, I needed to speak with a guidance counselor, the first and the last time for that.  The system would cut me some slack for flunking math and never taking P.E., that algebra teacher was insane anyway, he gave out F’s to all but two of the students, and PE, no way, even the coach knew better. 
 So I would not graduate with my friends, no cap and gown ceremony for me, but I only needed a quarter credit and it would all be done, would need to find some suitable summer program, I would choose a class for aspiring radio disc jockeys held at the local university radio station, no child left behind.

There were still those last couple of months of high school, plenty of partying taking place, and I gained more respect by selling joints out of that leather vintage purse, the one that I stole from grandma. We were still living in the trailer on the mesa, the one that rocked in the wind, still getting up early, going to church with Ma, the 7 o’clock mass, getting on the bus by the Boys Club, snarled at from that minute up till the end of the school day, but walking tall and knowing all the while hat I was bound for a better life.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Life of an Artist

“To live in this town you must be tough, tough, tough, tough, tough!
You got rats on the west side
Bed bugs uptown
What a mess this town's in tatters I've been shattered”
The Rolling Stones

That album did inspire me to want to move to the city. Made living in New York sound cheap, fun and crazy. I was looking for some way to find myself, a chance to leave that life that I was living then, and leave it far behind.

I wasn’t ready to leave home, not just yet. But I did find a way and I had that chance, through a grueling chain of events, to be there on that plane, the one that had just touched down at La Guardia. A weeklong excursion, high school, the drama club. That overwhelming sensation that at that very moment when our plane did land, that I had found my true destiny.

We walked out of that plane and down onto the tarmac, the noise sudden, loud and brash. The sky smog-filled, the air hot, moist and dirty. Masses of people soon became visible. There was a general confusion, an erratic electric eclectic energy. This wasn’t L.A.; this wasn’t anywhere that I had ever been to before. Every pore on my body was suddenly vibrant, alive and awakened.

We stayed at the Hotel Edison, heart of Times Square. 25 high schoolers, two adult chaperones, the cute twenty-something Gay couple, my drama teacher and me. There were no cell phones, no computers, no social networking, kids who could afford it might call their folks once or twice. A completely different time and place, mothers must have been going crazy with worry. It really didn’t seem to matter to us, to me.

The Hotel Edison was skanky, smelled like piss, the carpets rolled damp underneath. There was a palatable odor of decay, but I felt like I was in heaven. I guess that I could have stayed there then, but I knew somehow that if I would have, that it would have been hell for me.  

There I was, just turned seventeen, the fragrant humidity of the streets piled with someone else’s trash. Pimps, their hookers, lost boys and girls, everyone strung out. Drag Queens, X-rated adult theaters, guts spilled out before me. So bitter, so sweet. Explicit weirdoes, guys on the street, selling to anyone, loose joints. The facilitator kept telling us just to ignore those things, walk past, and pay no attention. I felt like I had found paradise.

We were there for the theater after all, the bright lights, the great white way. Did I mention that by this time I also wanted to be a model, a fashion designer and a ballet dancer?
I think now that even though I did want those things and that I would have loved to have taken any one of those paths, that eventually I would have to choose and through a process of elimination and sometimes harsh realizations, that ultimately I would focus my energies on the visual arts. That still would take some time to fully realize.

I ended up seeing eight plays in seven days that week. That included some Rockettes show, Glenn Close in a Sherlock Holmes story and Annie. I was so sick and tired by that point, having snuck out the in the middle of the night, ending up standing in line at Studio 54, walking afterwards, half the night, alone, lost, high on the uppers that Sam had shared with me.

As that child actress sang while we sat in the theater watching Annie, “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow”, some kid puked in the row in front of where I was sitting with my drama teacher. It was then that I experienced life, all on my own, no ma, no pa, just some teacher, who was not so much a mentor, but just someone that I could have become. 

Years later, after I had been living in the city for a while, he and I would meet again, a bar in Times Square. He was starting to go to New York City regularly, we met, had drinks, I was in my prime. We eventually would have a falling out and now I hear that he is on his deathbed.   

We went before all that, back to our week in the city, to a play before we knew what our future would bring. It was about a grown man and his father. It was towards the end of the old guy’s life, terrific sets, end scene. Knew that that scenario was no longer a possibility for my dad and me.  That was something that would haunt me for some time to come, like whenever I achieved professional acclaim or reached a long sought after goal, not unlike that one day when I had lived longer than he.

Mom picked us up at the airport after that trip was over; I had come back, home. A few of my friends were there to welcome us; they were stuffed into the backseat of ma’s car. I was just quiet. I didn’t say anything, didn’t tell Andre that his cashmere jackets were ruined by some New York City rainstorm, didn’t tell anyone anything that night. 

That drive back to the trailer as ma dropped everyone off, one by one, I looked off into the dark night of that old little town. What little it offered me, what I would then still need to endure there and how I would need to plan to leave as soon as possible. 

I vowed to myself to do it, to finish high school, to get a job, to save up some money, to get as far away as I could, because I knew after that trip that I truly had found a place to call home, my home.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Life of an Artist

The Life of an Artist

“Ding dong, the witch is dead.”
Wizard of Oz

“Fame, I’m going to live forever!”
Irene Cara

Senior, high school, from the moment I stepped foot onto the school bus, till the time I arrived at the end of the day at my grandma’s there were verbal taunts, goddamned faggot, fucking faggot, freak. I would never back down.

My dad had just killed himself, and yes we did sing a chorus from Wizard of Oz, he was a veritable force in the Chicano community, helping the poor find healthcare, access to food, building community centers, leading the pack of his peers, all around his age, 40. They adored him. I did not. That old story of the activist, who though revered by the public, was not much in the way of a loving father.

There was a time when I was a kid and we’d play records, he loved Johnny Cash, and one of his favorites was A Boy Named Sue. Sure, so it was tough love all the way. There were a few moments when he was proud, one being when I joined the R.O.T.C. in the 9th grade, yeah I did it for him, and the uniforms were fantastic.

He and mother fought nightly, usually in Spanish, I never wanted to learn, this kept me safe from knowing what all of their fighting was about, anyway I assumed it was all my fault. But those days were over, we were kicked out by my grandma, his mother, spent a month at my mom’s mother’s house, our stuff on the porch, sleeping on the floor, shopping for a mobile home.

When I came back to my senses it was time to return to high school and continue my studies, art, drama, photography. Then it became clear that since I was still a minor I was entitled to Veteran’s Administration benefits, money? Me? I did have a part time job in the library over the summer, chump change, but this was gold, and though it came at quite a price, I could change my life some.

Mom had finished her G.E.D. and was working as a medical assistant at the clinic, she was seeing her first husband, apparently that was taking place even before dad died, and supposedly dad was messing around too. Anyway I had a new attitude, one that encouraged me to come out more, though not sexually, too repressed, although there was no doubt in my mind what that I was Gay.

I learned one day in drama class that several of the high school drama clubs were getting together to plan a trip to New York City. The drama teacher that I had, Sam, was an old school Gay man; everyone knew it, though he had never officially come out. But he would show up exhausted after a night at the baths, and nap while we wrote plays, shared our dreams and plans, and basically had an opportunity to teach ourselves, that was perfectly fine with me, although having a dedicated teacher might have been nice. 

Sam and I decide that we had better sign up for the trip, there were some meetings scheduled at a different school, west side, bitter rivals. There were kids from many of the city’s schools, those who could afford it, what a better way to spend my benefits than on a trip to NY? I had been dreaming of this for a while, so I thought that I had better take advantage of the situation.

The facilitator was a bubbly big man, full of humor and ideas on how to make the proposed trip pleasant for everyone. I signed on, so did Sam, we were going to The Big Apple! At the Safeway grocery store, I would stand and read the magazines while mother shopped, Town and Country, New York Magazine, GQ, Vogue, The New Yorker. Sometimes I was clad in one of my outfits, inside out, buttoned up the back, my sister’s jumpsuit with enough length to cover her high heels.

I dreamed of the big city, Santa Fe was too close, San Francisco too earthquake prone, New York, yeah, escape the daily ordeals, live in a world where I could start again and become a star. I actually came out to mom, in line at the Safeway, she was shocked, never understood that one.

Pretty soon all of my friends knew that I was going on the trip, I borrowed a couple of cashmere jackets from Andre, paid my trip dues, followed the travel tips, and was ready to leave on a jet plane. New York was bankrupt, the trip would be cheap, we were prepped on never to look at people, not to talk to hookers or drug dealers, to be cautious and ultimately have fun.

Some of the kids were jealous, many already despised me, my friends were happy and knew that even though I had been through all of the crap, that I was doing what I wanted, so they were encouraging and thrilled for me. I paid all of my dues, this included tickets to six Broadway shows, we were only there for a week, airfare and hotel, it was somewhere around a thousand bucks.

It was time to go, did we take time off from school? I can’t remember that, could look it up in one of the old journals, but will just continue instead.  I’m sure that mother cried, prayed, worried, I had had a lifetime of that, though looking back she had every right to be concerned. There were only a couple of adult guardians, maybe twenty to thirty kids, Sam, a young Gay couple, I was so trying to be cool with them, they were friends of the trip facilitator.

My family was so poor and happy to stay put that very few of us had flown before, my father being one of the few who had been to the east coast. I had taken a plane ride in R.O.T.C, prior to that we traveled by bus, but I did get to fly to L.A. once to visit my sisters that lived there then. That was when the flights could be taken for $30 one-way. But my flight to New York was approaching; I had my model’s smile, my dreams of being discovered, a place to stay and a group of my peers who would take the journey alongside me. 

It was a small plane, our group all eager and excited filling nearly every seat. The energy was high, there was nothing but the sky between us and our dreams. The plane circled the city, palpitations, New York City, just as I imagined it. The moment we touched down, the moment that those tires screeched to a deafening halt, the moment we were let out onto the tarmac, I knew, I knew that I would finish school, and find a way, this was home, that was where I belonged.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Life of an Artist

"How bleak was my puberty." Agnes Gooch, Auntie Mame.

Just to recap, born early 60s, both parents second marriage, age of Camelot, raised American, entitled to pursue happiness. Self-discovery, awareness, path in life all came pretty early, shocking to my little mind but dealt with it through creativity, focus, empathy, lots of love, and later drugs.

Late 60s, family foundation begins to cave in, slowly, a constant string of negative experiences, bullied regularly, living poor, but my ideas and individuality were encouraged by my elders. Move to California for a couple of years, introduced to a whole new way of living, it was tough being uprooted but it did create a sense of adventure, then back to New Mexico, the onslaught of harsh times would really kick in then.

Focus focus, good teachers, good books, music, start coming out, trip the fuck out of a lot of small minded folk, learn not to back down. Create support system, amazing loving friends, elders, hell I even felt safe at church.

Okay, where was I? Oh yeah, calamity Jane.

Dad was a community activist, everyone loved him. He was the kind of guy that edited school textbooks, was invited to China after that wall fell or whatever. Built clinics, all for the cause, the poor, the Chicano people, wait a minute, I'm a Chicano? Anyway, so he was a grand public figure who gave voice to the under served, took some kind of vow of poverty or whatever, became a Communist after China, life was strange, but I had my outlets.

Then one night, boom, Dad kills himself. The community turned their back, my grandma, who once sewed my outrageous outfits, kicked us off the small plot of land, I blanked out. Took a month off, we, ended up in a trailer on the west side mesa, pretty much extricated from the idea of home, so I got gayer, and more productive. Then also it became clearer that even through all of this turmoil and upheaval, change, that I still had my dream. So I had to finish high school and get the hell out of Dodge.

It was then that I first began to dream about Santa Fe, it was only an hour away, obviously gayer, seemed a little more snobby and I could go to school to get my degree in acting. Oh wait, I forgot to mention that, yes I wanted to be an actor, well and a writer, a photographer, a video sensation, a ballet dancer, and something else, oh a model. The high school art teacher was originally from Santa Fe, she would tell stories of the time when she was a girl growing up there, you know it was a different time, kind of glamorous.

I didn't know how to apply to college, and even though I could pull a 4.0 average even under the duress, my records were shoddy at best. Then something like disco and the Village People, Punk, New Wave, all of those alternatives occurred. What about San Francisco? Hey I am talking late 70s here, the joint was jumping, and cheap.

In the meantime I was still being harassed daily, had accumulated enough credits to have art classes three to four hours a day, flunked algebra, never took gym, took typing and dj'ing instead, was out to my family, lots of drama from many sources within and without there, but mostly support, dated the class president, son of a state legislator, fell in love with a basketball player, went to church everyday at 7am, had my support, my derision, doubt, draw, write daily, survive.

Judy introduced me to Queen, the band, we were both members of the subversives, the ones that would take lunch in the art teacher's classroom. One day we put up some Monty Python-esque posters during the school elections, something about a Stalin like rat. We would intentionally fuck with things, it was fun, we were bored. Anyway Judy got me into Queen, I bought that t-shirt, that album promotion, it was a robot head, with Queen written in bold letters beneath the image. I wore that to school, some trio of boys say, "Hey Queen, where is your dress." I know, sounds trite now, but that was the least of it. I told my mom later, in the trailer on the mesa, the one that was never placed right on its supports, would rock in the desert wind. She replied, "Why didn't you tell them it was at the cleaners?"

Years later when Grandma and I became friends again, I was living in New York at the time, I would call her and grill her about the past, her past, mine, ours. She would tell me anything, happy to divulge, both of us happy to have that friendship back, but at a certain point she would say, that's enough, and that is when we would wrap up our conversation.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Life of an Artist

"Who am I? Why am I here?" 
 Lloyd Bentsen, 1988 vice presidential debate against Dan Quayle.

When I was a kid, Pre-K, we went on a field trip, the local fire station, I actually got to sit in the driver's seat. I was convinced then that I wanted to be a Fireman, my folks were so proud.

Then in kindergarten, oh I didn't like school, came that day, finger paint. Oh yeah baby. The class was held in a barrack, there was a huge braided rug, what are those called? Anyway came that fateful day, the teacher suggested that every kid come up get two dixie cups of color and a piece of paper then go back to their desks.

I was a shy kid, came from a big family, we lived down the street from the school. With Ma and her twin there were 14 of us. Socializing outside of the family was totally weird at that point of my life so I waited till the other kids had gone up and made their choices.

I am the last kid in line, two colors left, red, black, I gather the materials, head back, sit alone, near a window, New Mexico light. I can still feel the sensation, putting my little fingers together, I was 5, and in slow motion, as the sun shone down, I go into it, rich thick deep color. What the hell just happened? I apply it to the paper, did someone say hallelujah!?

There wasn't much in the way of instruction at that time, and at home there wasn't much in the way of extra money for supplies, but there was always some affordable material at the five & dime, slabs of modeling clay for a quarter, simple coloring books, scissors, crayons, paradise.

Then that cursed Dialing for Dollars, that program, that not only incurred a lustful urge for luck and random monetary gains, but they were also showing really good movies, the kind of stuff that free tv doesn't bother with anymore. One day, The Agony and the Ecstasy, Charlton Heston as Michelangelo, what the hell, why didn't anyone tell me about this? Then wait a
minute, Lust For Life with Kirk Douglas, seriously oh my god!

The movie that sealed the deal was Moulin Rouge with Jose Ferrer. Obviously I am not as talented as these guys, but as a kid these were my lessons. I understood then that this path was going to be long and bumpy and that my chances of success were based on a variety of circumstances, but lordy I was considering the ride avidly.

So life got pretty tough for a while, yeah insert sob story, but to preserve myself, I began to focus, define studio time, this was when I was around thirteen or so, and yes maybe the same time that I started smoking pot, adios braincells hello new way of thinking. Heck if I only use ten percent that other ninety is just extra baggage, right?

At the same time I start reading, my dad has a bookshelf, the classics, way in over my head, I slowly delve in. Then an art teacher in junior high, she has this unfounded faith in my work, takes me out one night, she drove a VW bug, saw some art movies, later a belly dancer, then smoking pot with her brother. She treated me like an equal, with respect and kindness, she let me enjoy independent study in class and then came high school.

Ugh, by that point I had being going through over four years of daily bullying, went from a cute kid that everyone loved to an over weight hippie looking nearly drag queen child. But in high school I really started coming out, not much I could do about that either, and oh the torment was vivid. So I took drugs, not a lot, thankfully we were broke, and plenty of drinking, which I was bad at at that time. But what the hell we had the Bicentennial and Disco became the craze.

I was sixteen going on seventeen, somehow getting through, had a brilliant high school art teacher, more of a friend, someone that cherished me and my vision, not sure if I would have seen what she saw in me, nor even if the system would permit that kind of closeness now, but oh how kind she was, offering me a safe place, guiding the plight of insight, she is still one of my dearest friends to this day. Well some one weekend, in the dark of night, my dad killed himself. I lost it, so what? Everything changed, but we still managed to go to the same school and that art teacher was there, always encouraging and often surprised.

So I am running out of writing steam, will publish this for now, with some images of what I am working on. Will finish this story another time.