Friday, April 25, 2014

The Life of an Artist

If we took a holiday
Took some time to celebrate
Just one day out of life
It would be, it would be so nice

Madonna, Holiday

Summer, 1985, Provincetown.

I went alone with my lover’s blessing took the bus had a stash of cash, an open airline ticket back to the city, a suitcase with my clothes, a Walkman, two cassettes, one by Madonna the other was Brian Eno’s Discreet Music. I packed a blank notebook, was going to spend my time writing, start my breakout novel.

I had never travelled to go somewhere alone and since then have not done it again. My sense of adventure is limited, I had always wanted to be that kind of person who backpacked across Europe, seeking out great stories and random experiences, someone who could pick up and just go somewhere without a travelling companion, but over time it has become obvious that I am not that person.

Jason was sure that it was the right thing to do, send me to a gay resort at the height of the epidemic, alone, so that I could come to a conclusion as to what it was that I wanted from a relationship, if I wanted a relationship, or maybe just sow some wild oats before settling into one. Included in the equation was the thought that I might never return, escape myself, become another.

The bus drove through Provincetown passing the bed and breakfast where I would stay, the next stop was a mile away. I dragged my stuff to the house, met the straight couple who rented rooms to gay tourists, they were very nice, showed me my small private room, the bathroom that I would share with whoever else would be renting on the third floor and then they left me to myself. I was alone.

Jack was ecstatic that I would be taking this potentially sex filled trip, finally I would achieve the numbers that I had failed at so miserably, that I would have an open relationship and be his bar buddy forever. He was travelling alone for a couple of weeks, would be passing through P-Town would be there for one day during his solitary sex-tour of the coast that would end at his mother’s place in Florida.  

We were scheduled to meet at the beach then he would show me the ropes. I thought that I would walk not realizing that just because I could see the bay from my window that the beach was quite a distance away and that is why they had a bus that would take people to the water’s edge.

I meandered through the streets, which by day were filled with straight families coming off of ferries buying pulled taffy coming across drag queens who were passing out flyers drumming up business for their shows later that night then taking the ferry back when the seaside resort became a gay wonderland. I bought postcards for mom, never sending one, what would I have said. I continued walking towards the water thinking that I had found a short cut through muddy marshes with prickly thorns as a school bus filled with beach goers passed on the distant street. Finally I came upon the beach.

I love beaches, not the one at P-Town, the sand is pebbly and there were biting flies everywhere. I took off my clothes and was in my tiny Speedo, laid on my towel and then there was Jack. I had never been happier to see him. He rubbed suntan lotion on my back, his touch was very soothing, he caressed my skin with tenderness. It wasn’t sunblock it was tanning lotion. We stayed for a couple of hours, then returned to our rentals and agreed to meet later for Tea Dance.  

The disco was in a hotel that overlooked the ocean, it was the prime location, ideally where one would stay to enjoy what the small resort town had to offer, sex.
The drink to order was a Sea Breeze everyone was drinking vodka, Stoli. The dance floor was huge, packed with sweaty handsome young men, the music was loud and pounding, the energy very uninhibited. Jack and I danced, I danced by myself then met a guy named Mike. Jack stood above the dancers ushering me on with his shit-eating grin, was Jack my friend my devil.

Later we had dinner at a small restaurant across the street from the house where I was staying then as night began to fall he showed me the cruising strip. One would have a drink at any number of bars, check out the guys, move on, walk through the darkened promenade and end up at the ice cream parlor then get a cone, very civilized. Night would fall and if you hadn’t gotten laid and wanted to that was your chance, unless you walked the promenade after dark.

Maybe it was a way of running away, pretending that death wasn’t looming, that there wasn’t some terrible disease that was killing us, that as men died back in the city at least we could forget about it all for a day. I don’t know if people were being cautious, but I am sure that the scene wasn’t what it was ten years earlier.

Jack and I said goodnight and went our separate ways. That would be one of the last times that we would spend together, alone, at all, ever. He was good to me, generous, sincere in his friendship, but I could never be who he wanted me to be and soon enough we would stop calling each other.

I was alone, excited and scared, I had a week there or more if I wanted, the idea that the trip could change my life was frightening, who was I anyway and who did I want to become. I called Jason collect from a nearby phone booth, all is well, this place is lovely, the beach, the community, I could stay here for a long time, I miss you, I love you, goodbye.

I met an older man the next day who smothered me in suntan lotion, the only other time that I went back to the pebbly beach, he bought me drinks later at Tea Dance, he reminded me of Jack. I became acquainted with my fellow housemates, a group of four young guys from Boston, one of whom was named Barry, a big man, very sweet, his friends were trying to get him laid, while I was on the short list it never happened. I was hardly a sex pro, was insecure and naive, not sure of my seduction moves and I was in love with Jason. Would I get laid in P-Town, would I become infected, would it be with someone who could steal me away or someone who could end my life.

With my empty notebook opened I would sit out on the veranda of the rooming house overlooking the seaport during the day with my Walkman playing Eno as ships passed by. The words did not come, only a torrent of thoughts that could not be siphoned into any coherent pattern. What the hell was I doing there, what the hell would I do if I returned home, did my lover want me to fuck around, was I a writer, an artist, a housewife a man slut?

Tea Dance. I was on the dance floor my inspired moves sweating as the sun was slowly setting, then I met Bobby, young, cute as hell, we danced together laughing with no concerns no wars no disease no hate, just drinks and the sea breeze. Mike always seemed to be around, looking over me, my housemates were all there, it was time to have fun, no past no future just the moment.

Bobby had a room upstairs at the hotel. We were making out on the dance floor, had something to eat then went up to his place. The room came with a balcony the sliding door was opened to the smell of the sea, the smell of desire, the endless darkened vista promising hope commanding the loss, the future. I devoured his lust, he shoved his crotch against my ass in the shadows of night as the sky grew darker. We kissed long and hard, all youth, all certain, hungry for something more.

He was white, from Boston, as young as I was, had a good job, a life filled with promise. I was from the city had nothing to rely upon but Jason and my wits. We undressed and were under the sheets, tumbling, devouring. He had a tiny dick, hot damn, I rolled over and went to sleep. We shared a shy breakfast in the morning then I went back to the bed and breakfast. Everyone asked me what happened. I caused a spectacle the night before, yes it was hot and sure he is as cute as fuck, but we didn’t fuck.

Now I am not what anyone would describe as hung, not by any means, they call it average, my size, not a very sexy description, but what were the chances that I would end up with someone else who had pinkie tip sized dick?. I wasn’t a size-queen, was just looking for one good man with a good fit. My sex-ed was limited maybe a decent dildo could have solved the problem.

That reminds me of a drunken conversation that I had with my mom years later while visiting her in Vegas. She spoke of an early suitor of hers, he loved my mom, didn’t care about anything, was a plumber, offered to take care of her and her kids, but he was not endowed. Mom liked sex. She went on, my first husband had a huge cock, she said, your dad, he wasn’t big but his dick was pretty. Variations on a theme.

Later on the veranda I was being chided by one of the other houseguests as cute Bobby walked by on the street below, his lips were swollen, his skin chafed, his neck covered in hickies, come up I shouted, he did, it was awkward, everyone telling me that he was in love, he was leaving the next day, I never saw him again.

I spent my days alone feeling confined in my mind and questioning the purpose of my existence. I was supposed to be finding myself, there were so many layers that I had built up for self-preservation over the years that a week away would probably not do the trick but I tried. My open notebook remained empty, no words, too many nightmares, too much pain, by evening I would forget and head out onto the streets.

I ran into Mike at the bar with a pool table, Mike was hot, my age, sincere but looking for something that like me he couldn’t decipher. We started making out, soon enough I was rolling on the pool table, lost in the illusion, breaking glasses, teasing anyone who would look at me. Mike went his way, gave me my space then I met another guy, I do not remember his name.

This stranger and I met the next day, he had a car, picked me up at the B&B, was working, a real hustler, told me that his John was tied up at their place, to a tree in a diaper, that one of his paid for services was to shit on the John’s chest. As we drove around in his car it became obvious that he wanted to have sex with me, the needs of a young hustler looking for love. He parked near the lighthouse his hands were down my pants, all I could think of was that my dick was shriveled in fear that I had to pee and that it wouldn’t be on him.

Later that night at the bar I saw him again, it was too much, he was too much, I wasn’t enough, I completely ignored him, spoke with Mike instead, you wouldn’t believe what that guy told me what he is doing for money, I wasn’t judging anyone, it was that I didn’t want to mess around with some crazy hustler who was shooting up heroin and then shitting on people. I did shun him though it wasn’t my proudest moment. I have nothing against hustlers, just didn’t care for that one.

Days later I couldn’t take it anymore, called Jason, I need to come home, I need you, and I need our relationship to work. My money was running out, I alerted my hosts that I would be leaving the next day and that I was grateful for their kindness but my time in P-Town was up.

I fell into a melancholy, a severe funk, melting down alone in my room, shaking under the covers and sobbing. I was trapped in myself, there would be no rescue, no escape, no knight in shining armor, not there, not then, but maybe Jason was my hero and maybe I could do it, be the perfect lover, guide him, care for him, assure him of his worth and truly love him.

I recovered from my decline, began packing and readying for my escape when I came across the outfit that the small up and coming East Village designer made, the one of a kind Spandex jumpsuit and all of my rhinestones necklaces, my cock-ring bracelets, what the hell, last night why not. I had a bottle of vodka that I drank from till I was high enough to ignore my racing heart was dressed and ready, it was time to hit the streets.

My outfit left nothing to the imagination being that you really couldn’t wear underwear. It was a time before gym culture, you just had to be young, thin and good looking. I flirted with the boys from Boston, was making out with random guys, men were buying me drinks, I was dancing to relieve the shivering, causing a scene, getting higher, becoming completely uninhibited.

I felt like a majorette dancing up to the ice cream shop later, leading the parade of men who followed me to the last stop. I needed a final act. I began singing a Madonna song, was it Holiday or Like a Virgin? I rolled on the ground as a crowd surrounded me, making my own MTV music video in my mind, the shadowy figures and starry night looming over me, then the song ended, everyone cheered we all had ice-cream cones. I ate mine with Mike as men wandered nearby, circling, Mike was wise and so he walked me home.

Back at the B&B alone I felt too wired and horny to sleep so I thought that I would make one final attempt to cruise the streets. I was in my outfit dragging my leather jacket on the ground behind me, then by the small park I ran into Mike again, he was sitting there smoking a cigarette waiting for something, he said, “you’re looking for trouble, you can find it easily, but I don’t think that is what you want, you should go back home to your lover.”

The following day after paying my bill I ran into the houseboy, he said that he had seen me the night before that he thought I looked terrific and would I like to see his bedroom. I followed him into the basement where he slept. It was damp with low ceilings, he tells me that he is straight that he works this job every summer, that the money is good and would I like some Crank.

He opened up a small baggie, loaded a straw with the grainy powder, put it under my nose, I inhaled. I felt glorious, wired and plugged in to an energy force. Later as I boarded the ferry back to Boston I became unplugged. I sat on the top deck with the departing visitors and completely crashed, no energy, no joy, only one thought in my mind, get me home please.

I dragged my ass through the airport made my way to the airline check-in, the flight was overbooked, I could have a voucher and wait or take my chances with another airline, somebody get me out of here, I ran from counter to counter till there was a seat available and I was on my way home.

With my dignity mostly intact Jason and I resumed our life together. That’s what I wanted, one lover one good man. He was thrilled to have me back and didn’t ask questions knowing that I would tell him everything sooner or later. I would be a great lover I would take care of my man, surprise him every day when he came home from a hard day’s work, there was always something to startle and humor him, some ploy to distract him from his job and my continuous presence. He would support me, my vision, there would be time to paint and I would become a real artist.

We’d eat the dinner that I fussed over all day up in the loft while watching Wheel of Fortune on that little black and white TV. Vanna, Pat, the damned plaster Dalmatian dog that someone always bought for eighty dollars. I wonder how many of those dogs still exist.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Life of an Artist

The East Village 1984. There was a growing population of homeless people living on the streets, some were deranged, others just lost. There were young squatters living in vacated brownstones, artists, punks, drag queens, junkies, hustlers, warfare between drug dealers all amidst the disease, the urban decay and the dying mom and pop shops from a bygone era, oh and you weren’t supposed to walk past Avenue B, otherwise you might get shot. But we had a terrific place to call home, I was living with Jason and I loved it!

Jason and I didn’t have many things to set up house but he did have some furniture that he left with the ex, he acted nonchalant about ever getting his stuff back. I insisted that we go and get his things, close the door on that chapter. It was an awkward visit, everyone polite, this is Max, my new lover, Moses and Cheryl a couple, Moses was gayer than I ever could be, he was after Cheryl’s money, she knew, all she wanted was a husband. Jason’s furniture was decorative, deco, antiques, each piece came with a story, lets take it home and you can tell me about it later.

He was making a little money under the table at work, they sold fabric remnants to the retail stores in the Fashion District, getting a couple of bucks on the side per yard, Tony was in charge of the operation keeping most of the money and giving Jason a small percentage. I wasn’t going to tolerate that, stand up for yourself, demand half, you work hard you deserve it.

Soon we had a small growing stash of cash and my mind began to wander, how would we spend it? We took a weekend trip to New Hope, Pennsylvania, there was a gay hotel, art galleries and antiquing. The hotel had a small restaurant and bar, our room had two single beds. The fellow guests were older drunken queens, we were weekenders from the city. The ride on the bus was easy and quick, our first trip away together.

We wandered around the small city, looking in the shops but not buying, I had only just begun working on my princess attitude, the pout that would change our lives. We had drinks one night at the hotel, Jason was tired, we returned to our room. I wanted to get kinky, suggested that we separately jack off in our single beds with the lights out.

I couldn’t sleep, I’m going for another round darling. I ended up picking up two older men, my taste veered towards the easy and sleazy that night. We went to one of their rooms, the lights on, they laid down, my dick popped out of my pants, I shoved my ass in one of the guys face, it wasn’t his thing, it was mine. I hovered over the other guy’s dick, we all came, I snuck back into the room hoping that Jason was asleep, he was, I think.

The next day as we got onto the bus one of the guys that I had sex with boarded after us, I was sure that he would say something, my heart was pounding, Jason could never know. That was a long ride home and back to the city. We were only beginning to find our way, setting the rules of our realtionship amidst the times, the plague and changes in the neighborhood, the very slowly creeping gentrification that would alter the East Village and remake it completely.

We began doing the brunch scene, it would be Emile and Hamlet, Jack and Jose, then Jason and me. Brazilian food was the rage, Emile was still convincing people that he was from Brazil, we drank cachasa by the pitcher. I had a tiny bladder and would often excuse myself to pee, it also gave me an excuse to check myself in the mirror, is my skin greasy, how is my hair, I was very vain and very self-conscious.

This hunky waiter that we had all been checking out followed me into the restroom, you are so beautiful, I must touch you, I must kiss you, I must hold your beautiful hands. He pushed me against the wall and began thrusting his hard dick against me, I’ve never seen anyone as handsome as you. My lover is ten feet away, please stop, I can’t imagine what the expression on my face must have been when I returned to the table. Emile never believed me when I told him the story later.

After brunch we would go flea marketing. Hamlet and I played a game, who could become more spoiled, who could pout better, who could get what they wanted, his diction was terrible, they had less money, he was nowhere near as cute, I always won. We started collecting things, lamps, furniture, dishes, Fiesta Ware was coveted, I preferred Russell Wright.

Jason and I would go out to dinner with Emile and Hamlet, double dating. Emile was coming into his bitchy queen self and Jason already was one. They would talk shit about everyone, Emile would abuse Hamlet, he started calling him Spamlet. I was uneasy about it though because we’d never meet any new people that way, but I listened and learned.

I got it into my head that I needed to meet more artists. The art scene was starting to kick in in East Village, there were galleries that popped up in the mom and pop storefronts the old Polish run businesses, tailors and cobblers. They sat in the windows watching and waiting as their rents were rising and no business coming in, they soon disappeared. Besides the hot young galleries small used furniture stores opened, 50s Modern was so cheap. Several young fashion designer set up shop, one of which designed the Lycra bodysuits that I would wear to the clubs.

It was an electrifying time to be young, an aspiring artist, one without a concrete vision and no direction but my own. I began painting in the small room off of the kitchen, I had no idea what I was doing, buy some acrylic paint, a canvas, sketch something, add color. My early paintings were embarrassing, but I was just starting and nothing would stop me. The handful of galleries in the neighborhood weren’t showing astounding masterwork, they were showing young artists who intended to fuck with the status quo.

Training or degrees were unimportant, it was the streets that were filled with life, not the university. The limousines began arriving for the gallery openings, the cocaine fueled energy, the dirty filthy neighborhood where the buyers were slumming gobbling up the next great thing. When they drove away and the lights went out the chaos of the time resumed.

I decided to apply to the ad in the Voice for a manager position at Pearl Paint, I would meet artists there, right? Fabiana who was the district manager of Benetton asked me when I resigned if it was about money, why could I never just answer yes? The manager of Pearl Paint that hired me said that they normally hired from within and that I would start as an assistant manager not to ruffle any feathers.

The store was run poorly, it was a mess, I had no instruction, just get on the sales floor and do what assistant managers do. I stood around in my tight black outfits attempting to look busy and fit in as the salespeople ignored me. After the spotless and pristine presentation of Benetton where we refolded and restocked all day long, Pearl Paint’s operations were a shock, I began to have doubts about my move.

Rick befriended me, another young gay guy in a relationship, there was chemistry between us but not enough to take it further than maybe drunk making out. He had passes to Area, the nightclub in Tribeca, a friend of his a chanteuse was performing. I don’t remember if it was my first time at the club but the scene was something that you would never forget. It was my first time out alone without Jason, I need to make artist friends, he agreed and gave me space. 

Afterwards I went out to Boy Bar on Eighth Street for a nightcap, ended up being picked up by a handsome young man, we went to his place. The desire was there all right, we were deep in the heat of passionately making out, but when I looked into his eyes all I could see were Jason’s. What the hell was I doing, I excused myself, left and arrived home very late. Jason was furious, he was worried, it was the first time that he was angry with me, it would be a long time before he screamed at me again.

The comfort of our place, our life, the daily rituals, work, eat dinner, watch Wheel of Fortune, Dynasty, the very vanilla sex, the money, the idea of finally having a safe and secure place to call home, slowly eroded my ability to mask the trauma of my past. The contrast between my jobs started eating at me, there was no way to save Pearl, a career there seemed like a ridiculous idea, I began to unravel.

One day I was in tears, Jason, I can’t do it, I can’t continue this job, I need to take a step back, you understand don’t you. He agreed, I resigned and intended only to take a little time off, maybe a month, find something else, pursue my art, my acting career, my writing, Jason would support me for a short time till I figured out what my true calling was. He wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but he didn’t want me to have a complete breakdown. 

We were still going out, drinks at Uncle Charlie’s, Boy Bar, dancing at the Pyramid Club, Limelight, The Palladium, staying out till three in the morning, waking early, sending him off to work and then painting in the small studio overlooking the backyard with the 100 year old tree. What was it that I wanted and how would I achieve those goals? 

My early paintings were figurative, but I couldn’t fulfill my vision because my drawing skills sucked, I could draw like a self-taught artist but I wanted to be a master. I turned to the city architecture for inspiration. We would wander the streets on weekends, I would shoot the skylines with a camera that we bought on the street from one of the many transient vendors who would set up shop, it was like a stoop sale that went on for blocks.

The sellers were young artists selling their belongings to pay rent or homeless people who somehow happened to come across all kinds of things, they were wheeling and dealing, sold things cheap to make a buck, buy a bottle, some food, maybe get enough to spend the night in a shelter and get a bath. Provenance was irrelevant and we made some amazing purchases.

Once my photos were developed I would sketch a line drawing from them making them very angular inspired by the Precisionists the paintings began to have a very sophisticated look. Jason had grown up respecting art and what artists must go through to create but he was becoming tired of my lack of a job.

I tried the movie extra work, went on auditions, my face appearing as a background blur in several films. It grew tedious, sitting around for hours waiting for some second or third director to scream at you. When I auditioned all that I could see was the camera, when I was given lines to read I could never remember them. That didn’t work out for me, it was too humiliating I began looking for a part-time job.

Jason’s sister JoAnne visited us, she loved my work, bought a piece for four hundred bucks, told Jason that I could be a great artist with the right support, he let me stay home and paint. It wasn’t meant to be forever. I applied to Cooper Union, tuition free, surely they would see my potential, they did not. My first art world rejection letter, it was momentarily debilitating but it wasn’t shocking. I painted.

I was terrified of galleries including those that began opening up around the neighborhood, some unnatural fear, one that would prevent me from even pushing the door open much less getting my foot in. I would look at the art through the windows, surely my work was as good in comparison. Much of the work being shown was bad, I didn’t want to make bad art, I wanted to be better, I painted.

Emile had quit Benetton to work for Alice, she had a small jewelry shop on 57th street, he was hired to be her right hand man, he began designing for her, garish Victorian inspired baubles. That was the time of Madonna and her look then, the more rhinestones the better. His relationship with Hamlet fell apart, Hamlet was fucking around, Hamlet spent all of Emile’s money, Hamlet was gone, good riddance.

Emile’s old flame Walter came back into the picture. We were at Uncles Charlie’s one night, Walter had some coke, sure let’s try it. This is when the lines for the toilets were not because people had to piss. Two by two we would go into the stalls, the sound of sniffing the powder were obvious. Everyone became very animated afterwards, jabbering on about nothing, having more drinks, lining up again.

Then came the coke parties, someone would cut lines and pass it around. The stuff was cheap, you could buy it on the street, it seemed like everyone was using it. We hosted several parties till one of our friends lost her mind and ended up in the Bellevue psych ward. That would end the cocaine period for a short while.

We started entertaining, small get together's, Jason’s veggie and meat platters with onion soup dip, bottles of cheap champagne, the beginning of my dj playlist which was on cassette played via a boom box bought on Canal Street. People from Jason’s old hangout Alfonzo’s would come, friends from Benetton, and then a few people from Blass. Everyone would dress up, enjoy themselves, drink, eat, then we’d send them out onto the streets. The remembrances of their voices would carry me through the solitude of painting.

I would always end up totally fucked up, drunk off my ass and would become sick to my stomach, locking myself in the bathroom, puking, screaming at my dad, my bullies, my past then sleeping on the floor till early morning and crawling up to the loft bed to sleep next to Jason. It was at one of the smaller parties for just the Benetton kids where Roderick insisted that we watch Cheers. Then he tells me that I needed to watch David Letterman’s talk show and listen to Prince.

The plague was killing people, smart creative people, everyday people, still the government was silent. I began to live in a bubble during that horrible time, sure I was well aware of what was going on but I wanted to be a housewife like mom but without kids and with money. You would see people in the street with Kaposi’s, men who looked like the walking dead, then they would vanish. The guilt of being a survivor grew till it became shame.

Jason and I did not have safe sex, we assumed that we were not positive based upon our well-being, still every time we became sick we were sure that we had contracted the disease. I am not sure if I was more afraid of living or dying.

The gay bashings became worse we were targets. There were times after Jason and I went out dancing that I would fall into his embrace in public, the streets were dark before the city lit them up later with numerous streetlamps, before there were bars everywhere, restaurants, cops patrolling the streets. Strangers would shout at us, once this group of Punks screamed, take it to the West Village, there wasn’t anywhere to take it, our public displays of affection ended.

We had Jack, Jose and Emile over, my relationship with Jack was becoming strained, I didn’t need him like I once did, I had a real lover and there would be no more nights of going out and staying out late getting slices at St. Marks Pizza, eating in his car, the chemistry was on the rocks, he still wanted me to be a manwhore. I tried, was sure that I could do it if I just kept trying. Jason and Moses had had an open relationship before they broke up, that sounded ideal.

Jason knew in the back of his mind what was going on with me. I was young, hadn’t had much experience sexually, I didn’t know what I needed or wanted, and then what about AIDS? It wasn’t like you come home after fucking someone else with a bug, get a shot at the clinic and then it would all be okay. He decided that the best thing to down as to send me to Provincetown for a week, I would stay at a bed and breakfast, he would pay for everything, send me away to help me become a better lover or not. To find myself.