The Time I Was a Stripper

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When I lived in Los Angeles, I dated an Armenian musician named Ara. Well, “dated” is something of an exaggeration. Ara was the closest thing I’ve ever had to a fuck buddy. When he was in the mood, he’d call and ask if he could come over, we’d do it, and he’d leave. The arrangement worked because I didn’t like him very much. He was stylish enough that I could overlook his lack of personality.

One evening after a particularly adventurous session of hot, sweaty monkey sex, he asked me if I wanted to strip with him at a club in Hollywood. Since moving to Los Angeles, I’d had a rule that if someone asked me something truly off the wall, I had no choice but to comply, because, if nothing else, it would lead to a good story. So this is how I ended up performing in Skinny Boy Burlesque at the now defunct Hollywood club, Star Shoes.

Because we were roughly the same size and build, i.e. short and scrawny, Ara had this idea that I’d come out on stage dressed like him, dancing to “Rock and Roll” by Peaches, and then he’d come out on stage and we’d get into a mock fight and rip one another’s clothes off, down to our Incredible Hulk underroos. Which is more or less exactly what happened.

To his credit, Ara had some mad fashion skills and was able to sew our matching, tear away outfits himself. I strutted out on stage with the faux confidence of a supermodel, wearing a ripped, black t-shirt, skinny jeans, and boots. I danced to Peaches, my lip curled up in a snarl. The hipster girls (and boys) were screaming and taking pictures. There was something exhilarating about standing beneath the black lights, being blatantly objectified.

Ara came on stage dressed exactly like me. We stood, identical, regarding one another. I was wearing a long, black wig so our hair would match, stenciled in eyebrows and drawn on sideburns. But in the semi-dark of the club even his brother couldn’t tell us apart. He shoved me. I fell back against the crowd and they pushed me back into him. In the heat of the moment, our fight was more real than feigned. He ripped my shirt off. I grabbed him, turned him to face the crowd, holding him from behind, ripped his shirt off with both hands, and then licked the side of his face.

The crowd went wild.

Our pants came off as each of us struggled to get the upper hand. In our undies, there was little left for us to do. The music died, and Ara picked up the microphone to MC the rest of the show while I got to watch with Anna from the sidelines. Being lusted after by so many strangers gave me a confidence (albeit short-lived) that I’ve seldom regained. But one night, in a club, surrounded by screaming, adoring young people, flashbulbs and desire, I felt like a star.

 

 

The Time I Got Drunk With a Morrissey Impersonator

wifebeaterface2It began, like many of my adventures from that decade, with a call from Anna. “Come meet me in Belltown for dinner with the band!” She said with more excitement than I felt dinner with a Smith’s cover-band warranted. But as a dutiful friend, I came when she called.

The night was typical for late February in Seattle, cold with a fine, gray mist hanging in the air, giving the orange street lamps a diaphanous glow. Traffic lights stretched across rain-swept streets downtown. I pulled my striped black and gray scarf tightly around my neck and did my best to blend in with the other hipsters stumbling drunkenly from bar to bar.

The night before Anna had gone to the Showbox to see the band perform. They were an L.A. based Smith’s cover band cleverly named The Sweet and Tender Hooligans. Figuring this was as close as she’d ever get to seeing the Smiths due to Morrissey and Johnny Marr’s ongoing mutual contempt for one another, she dived into the show with complete abandon. She’d been wearing her black, Smith’s t-shirt, bobbing along to the music on the front row, singing the words to every song when the lead singer spotted her. He pulled her up on stage with the band, and while she didn’t dance like Courtney Cox had for Bruce Springsteen, she made enough of an impression to be invited out for dinner and drinks the following night, and told to “bring a friend.”

When we got to the restaurant, I could see right away that I wasn’t the kind of friend he’d had in mind, specifically that I was lacking breasts and sporting a penis, but he was a good sport about it. We had dinner with the band following their second show at a swank restaurant in Belltown. We made awkward smalltalk with crew. One of the roadie’s girlfriends told us she did Cher’s hair. For reasons now lost to time, Anna had me pretend to be her cousin visiting from the East coast. I slipped in and out of a bad, Boston accent, and told everyone I was a grad student at Harvard, majoring in linguistics.

After they sprang for dinner, the rest of the band dispersed and Anna and I were left alone with Faux-Morrissey. He suggested we meet up with him at Whiskey Bar for drinks. Sitting at a table in the dimly lit, red and black night-spot, Anna mapped out her plan to make out with him to fulfill a dream since childhood. I sipped gingerly on my gin and tonic and was quietly supportive. She was still getting over her imaginary boyfriend back then, and I thought that a make-out session with a celebrity impersonator could probably do her good.

While waiting, a handsome, young gentleman who’d been watching us from the bar came up to the two of us and suggested that we have a threesome with him. We sent him away to nurse his rejection alone while we waited for Morrissey. But the idea of Anna, naked, had been planted in my brain and couldn’t not be banished with gin.

Faux-Morrissey arrived shortly thereafter in a black shirt with the crazy eyebrows and pompadour of his celebrity look alike. His darker, Hispanic skin was the only thing that detracted from the illusion. He was Morrissey who’d spent too long in the tanning bed.

He ordered us another round of drinks, which was probably a bad idea considering what light weights Anna and I both were. Faux-Morrissey, aside from fronting the cover band, was also a lifeguard in L.A. We listened as he told us how he’d met the real Morrissey, who, we were unsurprised to discover, is a total asshole. Morrissey had asked him why Mexicans liked him so much.

By the time I started my third gin and tonic, I’d given up the Boston accent completely. Faux Morrissey kept asking hypothetical questions like, “If you could be anything at all, what would you be?”

I answered, “A proctologist.”

He seemed sleazy, and I was tired of playing along, and wondering why I was there in the first place. Noticing the glint of gold as he held his drink, I asked him about the ring on his left hand. He looked uncomfortable and assured us that he and his wife were having problems and were separated. I was doubtful, but Anna, intent on fulfilling her teenage dream was willing to ignore it. When Faux-Morrissey excused himself to use the restroom, Anna turned to me and told me I could go home now.

I hugged her goodbye and stumbled home, drunkenly through fog. I wondered what celebrity look alike I’d make out with, and couldn’t think of any in particular, but couldn’t dismiss the likelihood of such an event if the opportunity were to arise. Back in our apartment I put on my headphones and listened to “There is a Light that Never Goes Out,” and waited for Anna to call and tell me how it all had played out.

 

Brooklyn

IMG_1504“I hate Brooklyn,” Carlos says as soon as we cross the Manhattan bridge. I nod my head in agreement. Before moving to New York I had this idea of what Brooklyn was going to be like, all Brownstones and little cafes and coffee shops, swarthy, Italian men with pizza places, and children of color playing hopscotch on the sidewalk.

Of course all of these things exist. The street we live on in Clinton Hill is lined with beautiful old brownstones and decaying mansions from another, more prosperous era. Mixed in with these are the less desirable brick, New York Housing Authority complexes like the one we live in. Hipsters with ridiculous glasses shop for organic produce at Mr. Coco, our corner market, or get overpriced, gourmet coffee from an obnoxious place called The Coffee Lab. Equally ridiculous are the young, black guys who walk with their pants hanging down to their knees, holding them up with one hand so they don’t fall down completely. People shout entire conversations to one another from across the street.

The only thing that the hipsters and their ghetto neighbors have in common is their propensity for being thoroughly annoying. There are other, nicer neighborhoods in Brooklyn like Brooklyn Heights with it’s views of Manhattan, and claim to fame for being the location of Michael Winners’s film, The Sentinel. The gentrified Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, home to writers Paul Auster, Martin Amis, and Tony Kushner are a yuppie paradise.  I understand the charm of Brooklyn. You’re removed from the hectic pace of the city. You can push your spoiled toddlers in their strollers from the Farmer’s Market, to the park and stop at Trader Joe’s on the way home.

For us, Brooklyn is like the city at large, filthy, crowded and overpriced. It’s as expensive as living in Manhattan, without the benefit of, you know, living in Manhattan.

Yesterday we looked at an apartment in Staten Island. The neighborhood was quiet and green. There was a park nearby. The apartment itself was huge. For $1,100 it seemed like a steal, especially since we’re paying $1,000 a month for a just a room in Brooklyn. It was a five minute walk to the ferry, and the ferry ride was 25 minutes, not much longer than the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Living on Staten Island wasn’t something I’d even considered prior to moving, but now it seems like an affordable, if not ideal alternative.

“At least it’s not Brooklyn.” Carlos said as we left the big, white building, built in 1929 before apartments were cookie cutters.  I nodded in agreement, lost in my own thoughts.

It doesn’t matter how much we like, or can tolerate, the apartment in Staten Island, or in Washington Heights, or Harlem, the places we can afford. Until I get a job, we cannot sign a lease, and aside from a couple of temporary assignments, I have no prospects. After applying for jobs non stop for the past 3 and a half months, I’m feeling more than a little demoralized. We’ll be forced to continue to sublet, or go further and further away for a place where Carlos’s income alone would be sufficient for a lease.

“Don’t let it defeat you.” Carlos says. I smile at him and kiss his cheek. But I feel defeated. I didn’t think finding a job would be so hard, considering that I’m not in the least bit picky about what I do at this point. Sitting in our sublet room in the dingy apartment in Brooklyn that we share with a strange and secretive lesbian, I can’t help but think of what I gave up to be in New York City, a job I liked that paid well and allowed me to work from home, an apartment of my own, a comfortable bed, belongings, friends. Part of me wants to just give up, go back to Seattle or Austin and beg for my old job back and live in a city where, for what I’d pay for a closet in Manhattan, I could have a luxury apartment with all the amenities.

For now I have him, and a room. From our window we can see Manhattan rising above the river and the trees, close enough to walk to with just a bridge separating us from it. It might as well be on the moon though, the distance that divides the rich from the poor, us from our dreams, Manhattan from Brooklyn.

 

Hot Times in the City

man1-1Today is hot. A trickle of sweat slides down my back, even though I’m sitting in the shade. A group of men runs, shirtless, through Battery Park, their perfect bronze bodies glistening like Hollister models. Because it’s New York they may very well be Hollister models, or brokers, or bus boys. Beauty appears to be randomly distributed throughout the city with no regard to merit. Even I, despite my perpetual sheen of spray on sunscreen, have developed tan lines, something I never sported during my years in the Pacific Northwest.

A week ago was NYC’s Gay Pride celebration. Even though in years past I cynically dismissed Gay Pride as an excuse for gay men to get their nipples pierced, I was actually excited. We stood on a corner of 5th Avenue and watched the festivities unfold. Cyndi Lauper was the Grand Marshall and passed by in a red car mere feet from me, smiling behind a megaphone. George Takei waved happily in a Boy Scout uniform. Drag queens sauntered by with their faces melting off in the heat. Go go boys with 6 pack abs walked by wearing only underwear and smiles.

The bulk of the spectators were straight families with their children. My cynicism seemed well placed when most of the participants in the parade turned out to be churches, politicians unabashedly fishing for votes, and major corporations unabashedly fishing for gay money. Gay pride seems like such a strange thing to celebrate anyway. It’s like having a parade for people with blue eyes. Well, except for the fact that people with blue eyes can get married everywhere, aren’t in danger of being fired for their eye color, and are usually not singled out for hate crimes.

Carlos was bored and cranky, and I was getting sunburned, so after a quick once around the festival, we went out for Thai food at a place that boasted $8 sangria, having done our part to promote equality through visibility and ogling.

Gay Pride is also a harbinger for another momentous event in human history, the anniversary of my birth. As birthdays go, this one was a non-event. At midnight Carlos gave me my presents which included a LEGO Empire State Building. The next day he took me out for lunch. There was a 45 minute wait at the place I’d picked out in the East Village, and Carlos had to work, so we opted for a low key lunch at a less popular place nearby.

The day after your birthday sucks. You’re just older and there are no presents. It was impossible not to evaluate my life so I could compare myself to other people my age in order to gauge how big a failure I am. At 36 most people have careers, marriage,  children, a house, a car, and possibly even a pet. At 36 I’m unemployed, renting a room from a slightly deranged lesbian, and in a constant state of existential panic.

On the other hand, I’m living in New York City with this guy I kind of have a crush on. Since my last birthday, I’ve started publishing articles on the Huffington Post. I’ve dutifully been submitting short stories out in exchange for rejection letters. Things seem to be heading in the direction that I want, which is progress, even though I spend the biggest part of every day terrified that I’ll never get a job, and I’ll have to live under a bridge in Central Park.

After 3 months of not working out, I was dying to head back to the gym. I’d been waiting for a job before I signed up, but since a job hasn’t happened yet, I decided to treat myself to a gym membership as a birthday present to myself. I was immediately daunted when the first place I went to had a $250 sign up fee, a $30 “processing” fee, and a $100 monthly fee. The sleazy salesman, after talking up the gym’s perks, turned to me to find out what I thought. I thought that was ridiculously expensive and borderline rape-y. When I told him it was more than I’d wanted to spend, he had his manager come over and plink around on his computer before exclaiming that for me, today, he could lower the monthly rate to $90. I told him I was going to look around at some other gyms and get back to him, and he got upset. He actually said, “I just made you an offer to excite you and you aren’t excited!”

I blinked before responding, “I’m not excited because that offer isn’t exciting.” Then I walked down the street and found a gym that offered a membership for $10 a month. Make no doubt, the $10 gym is straight up ghetto, but it has a treadmill and weights, which are all that I require.

In order to meet some new people in New York, I decided to sign up with an umbrella organization that schedules volunteers for non profits all over the city. As soon as the orientation ended, I fled, so I wouldn’t have to meet any new people.

The heat persists. Walking home the other night we saw fireflies blinking on and off through Fort Greene Park. At night we sleep above the blankets. Every time my pillow becomes too drenched with sweat, I turn it over and sleep on the dry side. Or anyway, to attempt to sleep, miserable, with two fans angled toward the bed. Growing up in Texas I’d never heard of an apartment that didn’t have air conditioning. Of course, I’d also never heard of anyone paying $2,000 a month for a closet sized studio apartment. I remind myself that this is temporary, that one day we’ll look back on this hot summer with fondness, our first summer in New York.

I’ll get a job. We’ll get an apartment (with air conditioning). I may never have a house, a car, or a career, but I’ll be happy living my nomadic life, however unconventional. Either that or  I’ll eat some questionable dumplings from a cart in Chinatown and die of dysentery. All I’m saying is that in the city anything is possible. The summer will end, the heat will dissipate, and change will come. No matter what.