Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Steppin' Out 7 Questions featuring Yours Truly!

Thanks Dan Lorenzo!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fabrette Doesn't Need a Boyfriend


I know it's been a while since the last blog, people have even been kind enough to send me little internet nudges to get back on it. But I've been very busy since the hurricane, doing things like posting photos of rock stars in CSFH tees on facebook:

 I've been videotaping the cats:


I've been using my headset to play Borderlands 2 online with my brother:

And scads of other important stuff like researching people on facebook that I've met once or twice and didn't like but wanted to see what their lives are like just to piss myself off more, making soup, shopping for Christmas gifts that I can barely afford, forcing friends to give me a little more work (three days a week bartending now--gainful employment!), studying the now-required-for-bartenders online safety course (one chapter a week, because, you know, don't want to overdo it) and manufacturing arguments like this with Drew:

ME: I just realized you have four 7's in a row in your phone number and I have four 8's. This makes me better than you because 8 is a higher number than 7.

DREW: No, it doesn't, because 7 is a sacred number, so as usual, I'm closer to God than you are.

ME: 8 represents infinity, which is equally holy, so I win, because it's sacred AND a higher number.

DREW: The only thing infinite about you is your mouth. It goes on and on and on for eternity.

I did get a couple of perfect-for-me management offers and I turned them down, with a twinge of guilt. I am unused to refusing that kind of work, and used to doing everything in my power to make sure that bills are paid with a minimum of stress. And in the past I think I have relied on the status of being in charge to keep my ego comfortable. I haven't wanted to be thought of as "just" someone who is serving. 

But that doesn't move me so much anymore, with maturity comes the realization that no one is "just" anything, regardless of whether they are cleaning your toilet or running the country. Plus I am not mentally or emotionally prepared to sit in an office five days a week just yet, and I know that at present I would not bring my full self to any work of that type, although there are aspects of it that I do enjoy. For now, I am genuinely elated to not be the keeper of the keys. I show up, pour drinks, try to be nice to strangers and keep the credit cards straight, and go home with some cash in my pocket--sometimes less, sometimes more.

The lesson, this time, has been about choice. I choose who I am, what I want to do. I have spent my life assuming that our job is to ask the Universe to provide what we think we want or need. It's only recently that I've realized that we, and only we, make the choices for ourselves. We set life in motion for ourselves. This feels both daunting and freeing.

Anyway, so I haven't been hit with any major inspiration for blogging, which is why things have been a bit lax here in Ye Olde House of HIgh Drama. I never worry about the blog too much because it's my own thing, no one's paying me to do it, and eventually something always pops into my head that feels worthy of mention. But I've also not done anything on the book since I quit my job with the intention to write more, and that has felt like a genuine and constant pressure. Recently I've had to admit to myself that the book may never happen. Or it might, who knows? I've certainly got pieces of it down, but it comes and goes in my brain and there is a resistance somewhere that I don't fully understand as of yet. I only know that I can't stress about it anymore.

I've probably mentioned this before (too lazy to look at old entries to check): This summer I got a reading from a psychic friend and the gist of the reading was that it's my time to have fun and to stop worrying about the fact that I'm not producing anything immediately amazing. He said that I have been stymieing my own creative process with a constant mental self-abuse about being lazy or unfocused or whatever, and the time had come to let go and enjoy myself. When Drew heard this he rolled his eyes and said to our friend, "Well, how much more fun is she supposed to have? She has been having a pretty good time ever since the job ended."

Which was true, and remains true til now. I've had a long  five months in which pajamas, old movies, video games, laying in bed reading the Game of Thrones series, and wine with friends loomed high on the priority list. Though even after hearing it from a reputable source, I continued to feel guilty. That shitty voice that we all have in our head:

You should be writing. Why aren't you writing? Other people put out books. Half of your friends have put out books. Everyone in the world is more creative than you are. Did you quit your job to sit around? You are so lazy. Are you going to end up being the oldest living bartender in Manhattan? Is this what you're going to do with your life? You're not getting any younger you know. 

Sometimes my abusive inside brain voice sounds much like the narrator in the Pepe Le Pew cartoons: "Fabrette, do you want the others to think you cannot get a boyfriend??"


Then all of a sudden, as late as last week, it stopped. I thought, I've already been told by a number of people to enjoy this rare and fortunate opportunity to decompress. And beating myself up isn't working, so why not give not giving a shit a try? Maybe I'm not meant to be super "productive" right now. Does it matter? Maybe that's all ego, thinking I'm supposed to prove something to the world. Maybe the lesson is something different. So every time that voice came up I told it to fuck off. Yeah, I'm organizing my entire day around a soup recipe right now, go fuck yourself guilty voice. Fabrette doesn't need a boyfriend.

This morning, before I was fully awake, a character formed himself in my head. And then his girlfriend appeared, and then his job and his apartment. It was kind of awesome. I got up and fed the pets (because nothing gets done when pets are hungry), and then went straight to the computer to write him down before he faded away. A couple of times the voice popped up while I was opening cans: You can't write fiction. Who is this guy? What do you know about the male point of view? You don't even have a real story in mind. You suck...

It is true that I have never thought myself a fiction writer, and this imaginary character may never go farther on the page than he did this morning. But I told the voice to screw itself again, because I already got the real message from a deeper source. And it's not so much about the end result right now. Creativity and joy don't come with self-hatred. They come when you're not paying attention to that doubt that is always there in one form or another, they come with living your life, with experience, with making a soft place for yourself to land when you don't perform perfectly.

So my blog message for the time being is to stop beating yourself up, regardless of what it is you're trying to achieve--lose weight, get a new job, form a family band and tour the countryside, etc. Sounds simple enough on paper, maybe not so much in real life. But really, aren't there enough people out there that want to tell us that we suck, without adding our own voice to that mix? It only serves to freeze all forward motion anyway, that fear of revealing imperfection, and if we aren't on our own side, how can we expect it from the rest of the world?

So if anyone needs me, I'll be putting this theory into practice with my friend Tiny Tina.


Oh, and PS. I should add that the kind folks at Steppin' Out Magazine printed my last blog about the hurricane, and are featuring me in their next "Seven Questions" section, so if you're in New Jersey make sure to pick it up.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Holy crap that sucked. Hurricanes, who knew? Okay, everyone except me. The last time we got hit with one our Direct TV dish went out for about a half an hour. That was it. I just didn't get it, I guess.

Saturday, two days before the storm, I got hit with a flu fever and took the night off of work and stayed in for two days. So by Monday night, when the storm hit, I was already getting antsy with cabin fever. Drew went to Whole Foods and stocked up on supplies, including stopping by Two Boots for "emergency pizza". We ate a ton of food and settled in to watch scary movies all night. It seemed like a pretty mild storm, and then all of a sudden it wasn't. Things flickered; I turned the computer off. What sounded like gunshots went off, then BOOM, a loud crack. And then blackness and the sound of everything whirring to a halt.

We immediately started bickering:

ME: Oh my God. Is this really happening?
DREW: Hand me the matches.
ME: I only have a half charge on my phone!
DREW: Can you hand me the matches, please? I told you to charge your phone up.
ME: I did! But now I only have half!
DREW: Because you played that stupid game for the last hour, and now you have a half charge on your phone, and you're already freaking out. Is this all the candles? 
ME: Well my little cove was getting overrun by pirates. How was I supposed to know? 
DREW: Um, the NEWS. And because I TOLD YOU. 
ME: Ugh! I know! But you go on and on and on. It's boring!
DREW: Well, maybe you should pay attention, Mary, and then you wouldn't be shrieking at me right now.
ME (shrieking): I'm not shrieking! This sucks! Stop stepping on the dog!
DREW: I'm trying to get the candles lit!

That was Day 1. The silence and oppressive blackness was palpable. It carried a heavy, threatening energy, and the lone sound of constant sirens only heightened the feelings of dread and isolation. My phone ran out of power almost immediately from text attempts, which drained power extremely quickly because of towers being out. We read for a little while in bed, by candle and flashlight, and tried to sleep.

In the morning Drew wanted to check things out and get more supplies. 

ME: Why do you have your shoes and coat on already?
DREW: Because it's time to go.
ME: I'm not even dressed yet. Stop rushing me. You're always rushing me.
DREW: Stop fucking around, I told you we have to get out early before things get too crazy.
ME: All right! Sit down then so you're not walking your bum pee shoes around all over the floor.
DREW: Put on your pants!

On the topic of clean floors: my first thought, after the phone charge situation, was "How am I going to vacuum?" On the surface this seems neurotic, which it is, but I have four animals in my apartment, so in some ways it's a reasonable fear. And although you would never know it by looking at my apartment, in times of crisis I feel an overwhelming urge to clean, something about gaining control in uncontrollable situations.

Outside it was cold and desolate, so quiet and grey, rain drizzling. Most bodegas were open, with one man standing in front, another at the register, and another with a flashlight to help you find items. We bought batteries and spaghetti with exact change and went home. The apartment was freezing. Drew went out again later in the afternoon while I drank tea (gas stove still worked) and read the second book of the Game of Thrones series. He came back and reported that people were getting crazy and the bodega owners were being harassed a bit. I felt sad for them and for all the business owners losing so much money. Meanwhile in my book horses were screaming in agony from war wounds, donkeys burning in fires, children being ripped from the arms of their mothers and murdered, constant rape, cats shot with arrows and eaten. And the dark day dragged on.

By evening we were insane with boredom and the oppressive energy, silence mixed with sirens, lack of light and color, and unrelenting cold. We cracked open a bottle of Jamison that had been sitting around for a year and Drew got wasted, listening to music on our battery powered Ipod dock and rambling about Leon Russell and the Stones while I ignored him and kept reading about war and suffering and madness. He passed out and I lay in the dark, grateful for his presence next to me but feeling the weight of the world coming down. I couldn't stop thinking about all of the suffering of children and animals out there at that very moment. How can we live with it? What can we do? It's just too much. It closed in on me, I felt I couldn't bear it. I got up to flashlight to the bathroom and realized I'd left food on the counter, shrimp that we'd had to cook before it went bad. I opened the freezer to put it away, and I stood for a moment watching reddish liquid drip from packages down the freezer door.

I went back to bed and freaked about the liquid. I felt as if it were dripping all around me. I couldn't clean it until morning and that felt impossible. Something had to be done immediately. I couldn't vacuum. I had no power on my phone. Animals and children were being abused at that very minute, all over the world. thousands of them, millions suffering. People were drowning in their houses, people losing their houses, people alone. We couldn't leave, we were trapped on the fifth floor in utter darkness and the filth of decaying food. Drew snored softly next to me and I opened my mouth and stared into blackness and let out a silent scream. Just an "ooooooohhh" of breath and complete madness, eyes wide, hands pulling my hair back in desperation.

Oh, hello panic attack. We meet again. I remembered I had a couple xanax leftover from a birthday gift last year and scrambled through the drawer, holding the flashlight in my mouth. I found them and took one, studiously ignoring the refrigerator while getting a glass of water. As I laid back down and waited for it to take effect, I realized some things:

1.. Drew is absolutely right, I am batshit crazy.
2. There is an addiction to electronics in place that I never knew existed, and the pain of cold turkey withdrawal was hitting me hard.
And 3 (saddest of all): Contrary to long-held personal opinion, I would be absolute shite in a zombie apocalypse and anyone with half a brain would quickly know to shoot me in the knee to leave behind for bait.

That was Day 2.

On Wednesday (Halloween!) we decided to walk uptown to find somewhere to charge our phones and get some news and of course, more batteries. Drew also had to get payment for a speeding ticket (received from a most humorless cop when driving across the Midwest) into the mail by a certain date, so he wanted to find an open post office. We walked from 3rd Street and Avenue B to 34th Street and 8th Avenue; all stoplights were out so navigating crossing the street took concentration for both drivers and pedestrians. It felt good to move, but it was still cold and I felt shaky from the night before. Once we hit the areas with power, above 34th Street it was a whole new world full of happy shoppers and cars who didn't have to puzzle out when to stop and when to go.

The post office was inoperable but the doors unlocked for self-service machines, and I spotted an outlet. I plugged my phone in, so happy to be out of the grey wind and near electricity for a moment. A lone security guard approached me and told me I could not use the outlet.

I sputtered. "It's a citywide emergency!! We don't have power! This is a federal building!! Are you kidding me?? That is so incredibly mean it can't be possible!" 

It was possible and I was forced to unplug my phone. I continued to winge and fume over my shoulder as Drew led me out of the building by the arm. We walked on while I squeaked at the outrage and cruelty of it all, back on the verge of hysteria. Drew pulled me over in front of HK, a restaurant, and said,

"You need to calm down and not turn this into a martyr mission. Why don't we go in here and have a drink and some food? I'll buy you whatever you want."

I know, he's awesome. And thus, we opened the doors into heaven. Overtly gay waiters dressed in crisp black swanned across a white, sunlit room carrying trays of colorful, artfully arranged salads and glasses of delicious looking liquid concoctions.

We sat down and ordered two martinis from our adorable waiter, whose name was, I kid you not, Joe McCutie. He graciously took my phone and charger to plug into a power source while we decompressed with our drinks, and then ordered and ate perfectly prepared calamari and overpriced salads while basking in the warm glow of television sets, heat, a spotless bar stocked with pristine bottles of every shape and size, everything so clean and warm and nice. So nice. So very nice. We ordered chocolate martinis for dessert and Joe McCutie brought us a round of shots of something sweet and strong to toast our temporary freedom from oppression.

We left (sadly, so sadly), found an open post office (where people sat on the floor around outlets, charging their phones unfettered) then turned around to walk the miles back home before things got too and scary. We stopped at BB on Avenue B to say hi to friends huddled in the candlelight, but didn't dare stay for too long. Once home, footsore and weary, my flashlight died. I veered on the edge of a freakout but let it go. Tomorrow was another day. I took another xanax and passed out, shivering, under the covers.

That was Day 3.

By Day 4 I was ready to put some effort into not being such a giant baby. Drew had to walk over the bridge to Brooklyn to rehearse with his band, so he took my phone to charge it at the studio. Between the inability to get texts or calls through and the speed of battery usage with the attempts it was unusable anyway, so it didn't seem to matter that much anymore. I felt glad that Drew could get a few hours away from his high-pitched girlfriend.

I strapped on a mat and walked to Yoga to the People, who were still, God bless them, conducting classes by candlelight. The beauty and invitation of the entrance almost made me cry, colored candles staggered on either side of the hallway leading up the stairs to studio. Everyone (all seven of us) talked in whispers and I made it through the class without openly weeping or causing a scene. It felt nice to heat up my body and at least work toward a meditative state.

After class I hiked back uptown to find a flashlight. I walked from 1 pm to 5 pm, stopping in store after store, but there were none to be had. I took a break to eat a cheeseburger at the Stage Deli, feeling that the current state of things gave me permission to eat meat. I sat happily by myself, munching warm french fries and drinking delicious hot coffee, watching the carnage on a television overhead. It dawned, as it always does, that I am a lucky, lucky person, and that we had gotten the least of it.

I ran into a friend on my way home and he gave me his extra flashlight. I hugged him and got back into our scary building right before it got dark, lighting my way up the five flights and praying for no lurkers. Once in the apartment the flashlight bulb zapped right away. I sat in the candlelight and sniffled a little and considered letting it snowball into a full tantrum just to have something to do, but that seemed too self-indulgent even for me. When Drew got home he poured us two faux martinis of vodka and olive juice, and we sat getting pleasantly loaded while listening to music. He figured out the secret mag light extra bulb stash in the bottom of the flashlight, so that crisis was solved. My dog laid on my chest, so happy with the undivided attention, and although we were cold, and drinking to have something to do, and my legs were fuzzy and hair a flat mess from lack of hot shower, and I missed my friends and I was sick of carbs from the cupboard, I was safe, not homeless, and loved. And I was finally, weirdly, at peace with the electronics withdrawal and felt content to sit still.

So yeah. Hurricanes suck, but it could have been worse, and I got the lesson. I will work towards being more still in my life and thoughts. I hope this blog finds you happy, healthy, warm, loved, and in an intact home. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Go Home and Tell Your Mom

Today I went to my favorite nail salon on Avenue D, some of you may recall that I blogged it upon discovery: Beauty in the Hood

Last time I was there a man got punched right in front of the window I was looking out of as my nails dried, and I had to call 911. That was kind of a bummer, and it's not usually that violent on the block, but there's always some kind of action happening. I look forward to these visits because I know it's going to be entertaining, full of remarkably dubious fashion choices and pant size errors, exotic and completely unnatural eyebrow shapes and sparkly toenail designs, all to the soundtrack of an overloud television that no one watches and people screaming at each other in Korean or ghetto slang.

Happily, this time the lady with the colostomy bag was back. She was out of the hospital and looking good! Except for her pinky finger on her right hand, which appeared permanently bent in a curved position. When the nail "technician" tried to straighten it, the lady said, very loudly and to everyone in the room, "Oh no! I broke that finger and I didn't know it and it healed funny. Now it's stuck in that position!"

I'm always up for what she wants to talk about, so I said, "What happened?"

She replied, "This guy spit in my face, and I punched him, and I broke my damn finger!"

Ooh, yay! Story time. I squished down happily into the pedicure chair in preparation. "Why did he spit in your face?"

She said, "Well, I was on the train with my daughter, in my wheelchair, and this Chinese guy kept talking about how big his dick is, really loud. And there are kids on the train, and it was rude and I didn't like it, and I told him so."

Mmm hmm...Do go on, Madame.

"I told him to shut the fuck up. And he didn't like that. He got all belligerent and called me names, and his girlfriend told him to stop, and I said, 'Man, you are Chinese, you got two inches and that is it, and there are kids on this train, and no one wants to hear your shit, so listen to your girlfriend and shut the fuck up.' Then we all got off the train and onto the platform, and he spit in my face! He thought he was all badass 'cause I was in a wheelchair and he thought I couldn't do nothin'."

Foolish man.

"So my daughter, she's a big girl, she starts pounding him on the top of his head, because he's small, cause he's Chinese! She don't play, she will pound you down! And I got up from my wheelchair, and I punched him in the face! His girlfriend left him there and we beat on him and then I said, 'Now you go home and tell your mom that you just got beat up by a lady in a wheelchair!'"

She waved her bent finger in the air.

"So then I had to go to the doctor two weeks later, because, you know, I have my intestines on the outside of my body, and I'm always sick. I said, 'While you're looking at me, my finger hurts.' And the doctor looked at it and said it was broken and that it healed weird because I didn't know to get it looked at. I thought back and remembered I had punched this Chinese kid on the train and that's why it's crooked and so you can't straighten it when you're doing my nails!" 

I frigging love my nail salon. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Notes From the Frontline: Bartender Edition

Tuesday nights I'm bartending in a basement dive/lounge that plays primarily metal and hard rock. It's a long shift and a late night crowd; drinks are cheap, other substances are most likely imbibed on the sly. Much of the clientele lives on the edge, if you know what I mean, and at the moment it's sort of an experiment in how much I can take for the purpose of new/old adventure.

This week a man came in appearing possibly drunk, and I was prepared to refuse him. He was small, of some kind of Latin descent, wearing a mustache and a baseball cap. I'm going to call him Mario for the purposes of this blog, as I can't remember what his real name was and he sort of looked like one of the Mario Brothers. When he sat down and ordered a drink he spoke articulately and pulled out a wad of cash, so I amended my first assessment and poured him a beer. He thanked me, tipped, and sat happily nursing the beer and singing. He knew all the words to practically every song DJ Mr. Tim threw on, and when Patti Smith's "Rock and Roll Nigger" came on, he sang along cheerily and shouted to me, "This song is a sign! It's a sign! I'm an asshole!"

Okay, I'll bite. I asked why, and he told me that an hour earlier he had been woken up with a shove in Tompkins Square Park by some sort of park official, who called him a drunk and told him to get out. He said that the brusque treatment and name-calling made him so mad that he called the man a nigger. The man then closed the gate between them, and once it was safely shut, spit a big loogie in Mario's eye. He stated, "It was gross, I had to wipe my eye, but I deserved it! It was a shitty thing for me to say! What do you think the lesson is for me?"

I said, "The lesson is to not use the n word, and to not get so drunk that you pass out in the park. You got lucky that you didn't get hurt." He mulled that over for a few seconds and threw his hands up and said, "Ah...maybe..." and went back to singing.

I liked him. He was smarter than he appeared on first sight, his energy was friendly, he wasn't needy for my attention, he pulled his money out as soon as he ordered. He stayed there, drinking and singing along with the songs for some time. He spent a lot of money on shots of whiskey and beer, and I monitored him to see if he was getting too drunk but he seemed to be one of those people that could just go until they collapsed. Finally, to be on the safe side, I told him no more shots. He was fine with that and stuck to singing and holding on to his beer.

Soon after a young guy came in wearing a plaid shirt and a backpack, short hair, looking sort of clean cut nerd-indie. He seemed friendly enough and he sat next to my drunk friend. I think his name was Dave. So Dave said, after backpack removal and PBR purchase, "God, I love this place! But I miss the sign that used to be over the register. I'm going to make them a new one. That's how long I've been coming here! Since that sign was there. Since I moved to New York!"

Okay, I'll bite... "How long have you been coming here?" He said, very proudly, "Three years!"

Sigh...All right, it's not a contest to see who is the most ancient and has lived in the East Village the longest. And I like a lot of the new kids I have gotten to know, and he could be awesome and there was no reason to comment upon the flimsy quality of his neighborhood "cred' at that juncture. I smiled and listened as he listed the bars that he frequents in the neighborhood, and he mentioned Blackbird, where I also work, and which is owned by friends and my fairly famous ex-boyfriend, whose name people love to drop. 

I said, "I work there." And he said, "Oh, I know X, Y, Z and [famous ex-boyfriend] and he is always giving out drinks to the girls, but he never gives ME a free drink and oh I know him so well, but he's all about the girls..." And I think, ooh, better nip this in the bud before he starts saying something really shitty, because I have a rule in which only I am allowed to publicly slag the men in my life. So I stopped him before he got too far and said, "He's my ex." 

And the guy got very excited that we know the same people and he stopped gearing up to shit talk and in return I gave him a break and didn't tell him that there's a professional reason that bar-owners give an attractive girl a free drink rather than his lame, nursing a $3 can of beer for an hour and a half, just got here three years ago, backpack wearing in a bar, not really dolling up the joint or bringing in any revenue ass.

I got distracted by other customers and the night rolled on, until a few minutes later Dave got up from his seat next to Mario, and moved to the other end of the bar. He said to me and the customer next to him, "That guy at the end of the bar is trying to pick a fight with me. I will fucking kill that guy. I will kick his ass!"

Mmm hmm... I walked down to Mario's end, and asked, "What's going on? Are you picking fights now? Do I have to kick you out?" And he said, "No! I promise I wasn't! I was asking him a question, but he didn't understand me! I was trying to explain..." I said, "All right. Just be careful. He thinks you're trying to fight with him and you know you're kind of drunk and I don't want any drama." 

He agreed. But he thought he had to make amends, so he got up and walked down to Dave the neighborhood veteran and tough guy, and apologized, very sincerely. But Dave, instead of accepting the apology decently, just kept repeating, "GO DRINK YOUR BEER." Like he owned the place, and like Mario was a moron, which he was not. I found this all very irritating, but it wasn't my fight so I let it go.

And luckily, Mario was not a violent man, and he quickly gave up and went back down to the other end of the bar. He called me over and asked, "Are we all right?", meaning me and him. I said, "Yes. Of course. I'm not going to give you any more booze but you and I are cool, and I appreciate that you tried to apologize."

Now, while this magic is unfolding, one of the regulars, who is a rock and roll dude and very sweet, but loses all filter about halfway through each night, said, "I read your blog. It was decent. You're a pretty good writer." I said "Thank you." I should add before continuing that this regular regularly mentions the fact that I am older than he is, not in a directly critical way, more in a generational reference way. But he likes to mention it A LOT. You know, that I'm OLDER.

He went on, "But in your bio it says you're a rock wife."

I said, "I am."

"But you're not married. That was your boyfriend, right?" Drew had stopped in to say hi earlier during this never-ending good time that is my Tuesday night right now.

I said, "We've been together for 9 years, we both consider ourselves married at this point."

He rolled that over in his brain for a moment, but couldn't accept it. "But you're not legally MARRIED. So you're not a rock WIFE, you're a rock GIRLFRIEND." Sigh...check my phone, 2:00 am, two more hours to go. He goes on...

"So let me ask you this. How many years younger than you is he?"

"He's X years younger than me."

"Oooohhh! So you're a sugar mama!" 

Now my blood is starting to simmer. I'm tired. It's 2:00 am, I've been opening cans of beer since 8:00, I've got two more hours of babysitting drunks and yes, I KNOW I'm OLDER THAN YOU. I want to snap sarcastically, "Yes, dear, you caught me. This desperate cougar has to PAY some guy to be my boyfriend, so thank you for always tipping on those Budweisers." But I take a breath and say, "Actually, no. We support each other equally, although he probably pays more dinner tabs than I do." 

And he says... "Oh! That's really nice, that doesn't happen too often with age differences!"

At this moment, Dave, who has finally pulled out the big three bills for his second PBR of the night, points at Mario, who is sort of blearily looking in our direction, and says, "That fucking guy is staring at me. I will break his kneecaps, I will fucking kill him."

I'd had enough. I snapped, "Really? Are you gonna bust his kneecaps? Are you gonna walk over there in your little plaid shirt and your backpack to do it? 'Cause I'm pretty sure I can fucking take you, dude, and I'm totally sure that guy can as well, so maybe you should stop throwing out empty threats for the time being and GO DRINK YOUR BEER."

Dave pretended he didn't hear me, which seemed prudent and his only recourse under the circumstances. Meanwhile, contestant number three, who hadn't been paying attention to this exchange, says, "Hey! What's the name of this song? You should know this, being OLDER and all!"

New York City 2012. It's still not for the faint of heart.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The First & Last Time I Tried Stripping

My ipod has been on an awesome shuffle run for days, you know how sometimes every song that comes up is something you hate and didn't even know was on there, and then other times it kicks into one perfect song after another? I've got the latter going, it's all Ike and Tina and Faces and Cheap Trick, and I'm afraid to stop the shuffle until it peters back out into throwing up old Fugazi songs and second-rate death metal samplers I downloaded for free ten years ago and forgot to delete.

One of the songs that came up during this awesome and ongoing randomizing was "Possum Kingdom" by The Toadies. Guy would often spin this at Squeezebox during peak hours, and it became one of my favorite go-go dancing tunes. Michael Schmidt, who created the party, had sort of induced me at its inception to get up there and shake it every other week, and once I got over the initial panic of imperfections on display, I came to love it. When the party was packed at peak hours with everyone moving on the dance floor, the music at a high decibel, and a song like Possum Kingdom came on, I could completely lose myself in it. Separate human energies would click together as one and it felt great to move, everyone sweating and smiling. When we were all in that sync I could direct the dancing crowd below from my platform. It made me feel beautiful and free and connected to everything and everyone.

Of course there were off nights where you wore the wrong shoes and your feet hurt or the crowd was a little obnoxious and not as much fun as other times. One waste case regular would always spill her drink and leave broken glass under my feet. Someone burned a cigarette hole through my favorite fishnet bodysuit and into my stomach. I was a total nazi about "straight' girls and models who always rushed to take my spot there the minute I went for a drink. Get off my fucking pole, sorority girl! But for the most part it was a joyous way to make a little bit of cash, filled with moments like a drunken Leonardo DiCaprio wrapping his arms around my legs and hanging on for dear life while his angry date pried his fingers from my thighs, or John Waters simply smiling up at me with a drink in his hand.

This is a clip from the documentary, I'm only in it for a few seconds at the 2:39 mark, but you get the picture.

So, thinking about this time in my life while listening to The Toadies naturally led me to think about another altogether different dancing experience, which I wrote a piece about for a reading a while back. It doesn't read that well out loud, so I'm putting it down here.


1989. It didn’t even seem like a good idea at the time.

In the 80's and early '90's I hated strippers. They were the cockroaches to my little rock and roll scene: dirty and regularly appearing when least welcome. In fairness, they probably kept music alive in some ways, at least they kept the boys alive financially. Many of us have read the accounts of how Guns n’ Roses survived almost exclusively upon the kindness of loose women. But I had a deep snobbery about it at the time. I didn't like the competition. We were the rock chicks and we felt that they were interlopers. We had worked hard at creating a niche for ourselves, against the constant misogynist disrespect of most male musicians, just in time for these skanky girls to show up in bad outfits and an overage of cheap perfume, fully prepared to invade your dressing room to offer your boyfriend a blowjob in the bathroom while you stood across the room arguing with your bandmate over who got the last beer. A girl had to be steadily vigilant once the party got rolling and the strippers entered the room. Those bitches did not care, and as far as I was concerned, there was a war on.

But through a series of dramatic non-coincidences, I became friends with a stripper named Nadege. She was French and had the kind of truly shitty attitude that I found appealing in a woman. She dressed great, chain smoked, obsessed over Christopher Walken, and was white-knuckle sober because she’d had a raging heroin habit for years. And she had indeed, true to her profession, fucked my boyfriend and we’d had a big problem, but in the end it brought us together and that is another tale altogether.

So there we were, stripper and aspiring rock star/bartender, and stripper always had way more cash. She usually had a stack of crumpled bills on her dresser that looked mighty appealing, especially as I was going through a dry spell with lucrative bartending jobs. I hated bartending anyway, and the more broke I was, the less I sneered, until dancing seemed like a possibility
. I started envisioning myself as a modern day Tura Satana, shaking it with style, untamed and wild. I was enthralled by her character in "Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill". My Cycle Slut persona was inspired by her, so maybe, I thought, maybe I could be that onstage. Perhaps I could break the tacky mold and turn it into something dangerous and interesting...

Nadege was dubious, but willing to introduce me to her craft. She said, blowing a cloud of smoke in my direction, "You are goeeng to 'ate it". I chose New Jersey as my testing ground, because it was as far away from the East Village as a person could get without a car.
And is wasn't legal in the state to go topless, so I could keep my...ahem...dignity. Like it made a difference. But all of the Cycle Sluts were prudes in some ways, regardless of the band name and reputation. I didn’t want anyone on the scene to know what I was doing or to see my naked boobs, which in retrospect was ridiculous considering the constant rotation of rock dude "romances" in my life.

And thus, we began.

First, costumes: Costumes were imperative. I dug around in my dresser for g-strings and stockings and anything else remotely dancer-ey. I was woefully low on stripper gear, but my particular musical career incorporated some very similar clothing, and soon I had put together a big, bulky, impossible to carry bag just like the other girls.

Then transportation: A cab to the bus and then another cab, lugging that giant duffel. Sweaty, annoying, expensive.

The Club: I have no recollection of the name or the town it resided in. I can tell you that it was a nondescript white cinder block building with a sign over it that featured a cartoon of a reclining woman with an anatomically impossible tiny waist and enormous breasts. The interior was grubby, painted red, and dominated by a tatty linoleum floored oval stage with two poles on either end, and a bar circling the whole mess. The dressing room was also red, tiny, and unwashed.

Time: A weekday afternoon, when clubs tried out new girls.

Name change: No one used their real name, so for my alias I chose the name Varla, an homage to Tura's character. Nadege couldn’t pronounce it properly, and instead called me “Vala”.

“Varla!” I said.

“Vala!” She said.

“No, VaRRRla!”


For my first set I put on my standard-issue thigh high Cycle Slut boots, a black g-string, and a black lace bra. Back then no one did the kind of hardcore pole work you see now. And that was a blessing, because I was way too busy partying and rocking out to have the ab muscles necessary for that kind of crap. Stripper requirements in those days were much less stringent. You just had to have a decent body and the willingness to show most if it while doing some rudimentary ass-pointing.

I had always wondered why the girls favored white clothing, now it became clear. There were black lights everywhere and under it my partner on the other end, a nearly underage girl wearing cheap blonde extensions, white stockings, white pumps, and a white teddy unlaced down the front, glowed very prettily, like an angel, if angels had camel-toe.

I am not a terrible dancer and was accustomed to being onstage. But five minutes into it and I had already run through all my supersexy moves. I was dancing too fast. Time seemed to stretch and bend into the distant horizon and I knew I would be dead at the end of a half an hour of that pace. I tried to slow down and sway my hips in a more timely imitation of the other girl and felt as if I were moving in slow motion. The music was awful and did not move me. I did finally understand that I wasn't really there to dance so much as show people my ass and g-string under the purple lights. But I was not especially limber when it came to the required bending over and crotch thrusting. And my feet hurt already. 

Then there was the floor work: flop to your knees on the ground and roll around with your ass in the air, then back on your ass and elbows to spread your legs. At least I could lay down. But then my knees hurt. I could feel bruises flowering every time I hit the floor. And the stage felt gritty with dirt and old glitter, a perfect recipe to make the skin on my back break out.

The blonde left and Nadege climbed onstage and hit the floor for her set. I did a sexy crawl toward her, thinking at least we could have some fun and goof around a little. Her eyes widened in terror and she crab-walked backwards away from me at a supernatural pace. “No, no, no!” She whispered. “Customers don’ like lesbian shit!" She pronounced "shit" as "sheet".

Sigh...Back to my side of the stage for another small eternity of butt display.

20 minute break. Second set, gotta come up with a new outfit. I put on a red zip around g-string that went with an expensive stage outfit I’d worn only once so far when performing at the Ritz with Joey Ramone. It was designed to be worn over leggings and it seemed a crime to use it for this purpose. But I had to use what I had.

Once I got out and started rolling around on the filthy stage I realized the g-string was not made for this kind of work. It slid all over the place and the zipper hurt delicate parts with every movement. Another sigh... 

There were four customers in the place, two of them friends of the bartender. I got on the floor in front of an Indian man who sat alone, silently sipping his drink. I did the standard leg spread and accidentally flashed him everything I had. He handed me a dollar and said, “Thank you.” He seemed genuinely grateful, which was sort of sweet. But I had just sold the goods for one measly dollar. I blushed and crawled back to my pole in shame.

Third set: At least I was free of that zipper. An obese, sweaty man had taken the place of the polite Indian fellow. And because it was pizza day at Ye Olde House of Inexpensive Beav, he was happily chewing an enormous slice of cheese pie.

I worked at my craft: hip grind, bend over, wiggle ass, swing around on pole, hip grind, bend over, knee slam to the ground, butt in the air, wiggle, flip over, leg spread, smile. The smiling was the hardest part. Every minute up there felt like slow death. But Jabba the Hut seemed friendly enough, and he grinned, his blubbery lips shiny with pizza grease. He swiped his mouth with the back of his hairy hand and said with an enthusiastic, gravelly voice, “I’m pretendin’ this pizza is you, baby!” He waved a thin dollar at me, squeezed between fat, oily thumb and finger. When I reached for it, he snatched it back so he could put it in my g-string himself, leaving a finger streak of grease on my thigh.

That was enough for me. Nadege was right, I was o
fficially done, I knew I could never go back. We packed our gear for the long trek home and I counted my earnings. With minimal shift pay I’d made about $70 total, not the wealth I’d imagined. By the time we paid for the bus and cabs I’d be down another $20. 

The owner asked if I’d be back again, I could tell he didn’t really care. I was non-committal. 

He asked, “What’s your name again?”

I said, “Varla”


 “No, Varla.”

“Yes. Vala.”

“Yeahhhh...” I sighed. “It’s Vala.”

When I got home I sat on the bed and rubbed my feet and poked at my black and blue knees. World takeover would have to wait for another day.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day

Fall is coming, and the thought always fills me with a tinge of dread. I am reading the first book of Game of Thrones and re-watching episodes in tandem, and thus the Stark family comes to mind: Winter is coming. Granted, their winters were seven or so years long, and it's still warm in New York in September, so I'm being (as usual) a bit dramatic. But I am one of the few that loathe the change from summer to fall, because summer to me means fun and frolicking and I'm never cold unless I'm over-air-conditioned. Fall means winter is not far behind, and being a girl from the whipping winds and endless snows of Northern Michigan, I do not welcome the winter.

So with the coming autumn, I am sticking to the spring plan of stepping into gainful employment once summer came to a close. I had a glorious time off through July and August playing Borderlands and The Darkness on our Xbox for days, with unwashed hair piled on top of my head (until I sprained my left index finger from overuse of sniper scopes and in no way is that depressing for a woman my age), practicing yoga, hanging out with friends and family, vacationing in Cape Cod and Michigan, and simply regenerating my creative spirit. It has been one of the best summers of my life and I had no idea how burnt out and wounded I was from my 11 year stint in the world of PF until I stepped away from it. Now I feel tentatively ready to face a few more days of work a week, and regardless of personal readiness, the bank account demands it.

So with that, I've gratefully accepted a couple more bar shifts, Tuesday nights at Three of Cups with DJ Mr. Tim:

Saturday nights in the VIP room at Blackbird, which is the gorgeous new lounge situated in the old Lakeside space. And there's still every Friday at Bowery Electric. This particular one already passed but Tim made me such a great flyer for the week I got back from vacation that I'm going to post it here anyway:

Here's the current one for our upcoming 6 month anniversary, featuring the always amazing rock and roll rebel, Ms. Puma Perl:

 Oops. Aaaaannnd one more, because I'm doing a special guest star happy hour with the BFF next Saturday:

 Okay, enough of Tim's awesome flyers. Sorry!

Anyhoo, I am blessed with good friends and family who work and own in the nightlife industry, and worked in it for so many years prior to stepping into the world of fashion that it is almost second nature to me. But it is still daunting in some ways. I am not a young girl, and bar/club work, especially in NYC now, is designed for the young. I wonder what people see when they look across the bar, and sometimes feel insecure about it. But I try to remember that I bring something other than the beauty and freshness of youth. I bring a wisdom (hopefully) and an understanding that comes with middle age. I am the tattooed relic of a golden rock and roll generation, and I'm okay with that. Sometimes customers ask me questions in that direction and I'm happy to answer.

Some are confused as to why I would ignore talents and skills that could offer a more solid day gig, with insurance and a real paycheck and some status in the world. It does look counter-intuitive, and occasionally the ego smarts a little when I can see in a stranger's eyes that I am less important to them because I am merely their server. I am at times too quick to explain my history, to state that I voluntarily quit a world that revolved around spreadsheets and brainpower and famous fashion types, rather than got ejected from it.

But that's just an ego-lesson that needs to occur anyway. And it's one that I've been through before, albeit this time it is infinitely more gentle. In the early 90's I  bartended in the shittiest of coked out biker bars after losing a record deal, with Beavis and Butthead in constant rotation on MTV on the television overhead. They extolled my band and played our one video and banged their cartoon heads happily, but it was too late to do me any good. It seemed so unfair that my time in the sun was over almost before it began, and the world looked very dark indeed. People would point at the screen and shout, "What are you doing here, aren't you rich?". "Nope", I said, tersely, sullenly, as I scooped up their beer money. It was humiliating and I was depressed beyond expression.

This time around it is my choice. My energy and heart are clear and draw to me a much lighter experience, even if the act of pouring the beer is the same. I long got over feeling the need to explain to anyone that I was once Kind of a Big Deal. I know this is absolutely meaningless, as it probably should be, to the kid in front of me waving a twenty dollar bill. There's another old saying that I love: That and a token will get me on the subway. 

We are all more than we appear upon first sight, and all more valuable than the world would have us believe sometimes. Don't ever doubt that about yourself.

So this is primarily a state of the address for those who are still struggling with hating their job or wondering if they could be doing something else as they watch a clock in a room into which they dragged themselves, soul kicking and screaming. I got so many responses and emails from people when I first posted about my own change that it seems that this is a topic on many minds. If you're wondering how it's been working out to free-fall from a job that once served me but eventually felt like a trap, I can tell you that I'm feeling great. It's scary; I don't have as much money right now, but it's wonderful. Every morning I wake up and know that I am free.

I do realize that I am lucky to have choices and friends to count on that some don't have, and I am not encouraging anyone to up and quit their job without some thought behind it. We all need to feed our children, to sleep somewhere warm and occasionally go to the doctor. I only want to tell you that in my experience, following an inner voice has raised the level of my day to day existence in exactly the way I had hoped it would. It is scary at times, and I certainly don't want to die one day as the oldest bartender on record. But for now it feels quite magical to be embarking into new adventures, and I want to encourage all my friends to look around and see where they can make changes according to their true selves. We are all artists at soul, and the world gets happier in increments each time one of us finds his true calling, whatever that may be. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Warning Rattles

I saw a man on television (okay, yes, it was Oprah, stop judging me) named Gavin Becker who wrote this book: The Gift of Fear

It was a fascinating interview. His focus as he spoke was not on foot stomping and ball busting, but on how humans are the only animal that will sense danger and ignore it, and this is what gets us into trouble. Women, he said, are very prone to this, because we are accustomed to wanting to be nice. While our spidey sense may start tingling as soon as we hear a dangerous man's voice behind us, our politeness brain kicks in and takes control. We don't want to hurt someone's feelings. And they look harmless enough most of the time, most serial rapists and murderers look like normal people, so it's easy to override that small bell dinging in the distance.

When I was in grade school I walked a half mile to and from school every day with my classmate neighbors/friends. This was in the 70's, in a small town, and we rode our bikes and walked everywhere. We wore Catholic schoolgirl uniforms and stopped at the store for candy if we had cash, and joked and bickered the whole way about things like what we would do if we were witches like Samantha on Bewitched. So it was generally a fun journey if the weather was decent. On one of these walks home, on a beautiful Spring day, a man came up from behind us and said hi in an overly friendly tone and started asking random questions: what were our names, where we went to school, etc. 

My friends reacted immediately with poker-face non-response, and then when he continued to push and went so far as to try to carry one of the girl's bags, they ran away. I kept walking with him alongside, but staring straight ahead, and answered a couple of his questions as tersely as possible. I didn't want to, I was extremely shy on a good day and his presence scared me. I knew I was in the vicinity of wrongness, I had already been molested earlier in life and recognized the icky temperature of the air. But I was frozen to the spot by the need to not hurt his feelings in case, just in case, he was really just a nice man who needed friends. My friend Shelly Hesslau finally ran back and grabbed me and pulled me into a run. I felt a great wash of relief as we ran together, knee socks sliding down skinny calves, even as she yelled at me for not moving immediately. She probably saved my life that day, and she told her mother who told my mother and then I got a big talk about the danger of strangers.

Now I am much older and have impolitely hurt feelings many times in my life. I have already written enough about a compensation for shyness that is sometimes too blunt and too bitchy. When I react in this manner I feel shitty about upsetting people so then I over-correct by being too accommodating and it becomes a neurotic see-saw of weird behavior. Like a teenager fresh behind the wheel of a car, I'm veering all over the road.

We flew back from vacation yesterday and the flight was jam-packed with babies and toddlers. I swear there must have been a ticket deal for people with kids under 5, the din was overwhelming. Seated directly behind me was a little girl with a great fascination for the tray table. Up, down, up, down. Bang, bang, bang! I dirty-looked the mom and she apologized and then I felt bad. Not that it really changed anything. Bang, bang, bang! Kick, bang, kick, bang, squeal! Finally I turned around and said, "I know she's really little and it's hard, but if you could keep her from banging on the back of my seat I'd be grateful." I tried to be polite but I still felt weirdly shitty about the exchange, like I was a bad person who couldn't control herself.

Next up was the woman in front of me with a shrieky infant and a chipper and admittedly adorable toddler who she referred to as "Nina-Bear", her husband blissfully on his own in the seat in front of her. Sometime during the second half hour of the flight she created a rattle from hell out of a water bottle with change in it. So mommy ingenious! The baby screamed joyfully and shook the bottle and it made an overloud thunk, thunk, THUNK and then the baby would scream again and throw it on the ground, directly near the head of my poor dog who was horrifically abused throughout his puppyhood and is desperately afraid of loud noises, and who was at that time trapped in a carrier directly under the baby's seat. 

Sensitive dog who just wants to sleep in peace on planes:

Sigh...I tried, I really tried to be cool, as I already felt guilty about ragging on the woman behind me and I knew the woman in front of me didn't know about the dog and was just trying to keep the baby occupied. 

But then the noisy, ugly, change-filled plastic bottle flew in the air for the 9 gazillionth time and landed in my lap. The mother turned around smiling, expecting an indulgent ooh-don't-you-just-love-babies smile as I handed the bottle back. Alas, it was not to be. I held the offending item in front of me and cocked my head and made a grimacey face that said, "Really?". 

She said, still smiling, "Well, it's either that or a screaming baby, it's your choice!" 

I looked her in the eye a moment longer and said sadly, "Both choices suck." And then handed the bottle back to her as her smile dropped and Drew's eyes crossed as he tried to contain his glee. 

I felt really crappy almost immediately afterward. I was right, in a way, but I didn't like how the exchange made me feel. Why couldn't I have just nicely told her there was a dog under the seat? Why do I always have to take it there? I don't want to be mean, I really don't. It makes me feel better when people smile rather than frown in my direction. I love my rebellious nature but I'm a grown up lady now and let's face it: the middle finger is more appropriate and attractive when paired with a mohawk instead of a manicure. 

My nails look awesome right now, by the way.

But I digress...So this is a big lead up to the real topic, which is following intuition. After living in the heart of NY for 25+ years, I believe that I am fairly in tune when it comes to dangerous men. I know when someone is acting weird on the street and I know how to charm a potential psycho in a bar in order to avoid a brawl. But I am still learning how to navigate the less obvious pitfalls of ignoring my inner voice, which come these days in the form of unhealthy relationships, less soul-destroying than a rapist to be sure, but still damaging if left unchecked.

I recently learned that someone I trusted really doesn't think too highly of me or wish me well. This happens, I am somewhat loose about this kind of thing because lord knows I've talked my share of shit, even about people I adore. Sometimes you're just momentarily venting about a friend and it gets back to them and it becomes a high school drama. I don't want to know what everyone thinks of me all the time, it's none of my business and my ego can't take the blow. But this turned out to be much deeper than momentary bitching, with an element of insidious using and secret hatred that shocked those closest to me. It's a sickness that really has nothing to do with me, but I allowed it into my personal life.

The interesting thing about this situation is that my initial feelings at the beginning of the friendship were a tattoo needle buzz of quiet discomfort. No great warning bells, just a small something felt off. True to form, I initially overreacted and then over-corrected. On the surface there was so much overt, demonstrative kindness and intelligence and what I thought was deeply honest conversation, that I overrode the vibration of my own nervousness. I didn't want to be a snob to someone outside of my usual circle, I wanted to be thought of as nice, I want to think of myself as nice. I wanted to make someone happy, I wanted to be loved. It's nice to be nice to the nice. So I ignored warning signs, the advice of my clear-seeing boyfriend, and my own intuition for quite some time, and it bit me in the ass a bit this summer.

Happily, I am in tune enough that I feel the pebble hitting me on the head and don't have to wait for the wall to fall to get the message. I have people who love me dearly and are there to guide and protect me when I am unsure. So everything is good, just a few hurt feelings on my part and a lesson learned.

I know that many people out there struggle with this too. We want to be polite, we don't want to be snobs, we want to make new friends. We want to co-exist with our fellow humans in a way that fills our hearts and ensures that we'll always have entertaining dinner partners. These are all good things. Most of us are, at heart, good people. I simply want to remind you, as I have been reminded, that if there is something tapping at the back of your consciousness, it is there for a reason, and it is important to pay attention to the small messages before they snowball into more unwieldy and painful ones. 

It is my amateur advice to meditate or practice yoga or whatever it is that you love (painting, running, etc.) that will connect you with your inner, higher self, so that you have an easier time differentiating between mind chatter or social conditioning, and your true voice. It's hard to tell when we have been trained our whole lives to follow societal protocol, which is necessary for peaceful co-existence, but sometimes cripples our ability to protect ourselves.

If you are not in immediate, dramatic danger, but are unsure of someone's intentions toward you, envision yourself surrounded by white light whenever they are in your vicinity. Lower energies or intentions cannot get through a field energy of love and protection. Don't hate them or engage in the struggle, this will bring you down into a lower, and therefore more vulnerable vibration. My mother told me that she imagines a diamond of light in everyone's heart center as she walks through the world. This is a means of recognizing that regardless of form or personality or evolutionary progress (or lack thereof), there is a higher self in each person. I love that. People may or may not respond, it's not so much about them but about keeping in tune with your own higher self.

Come to think of it, it's probably a good idea to surround yourself with white light whenever it pops into your mind. Right now energies are moving very quickly, and we are being asked to step up to the plate and shed old, destructive habits in order to make way for a more crystalline form of being. If we don't cut the shit and do it now, we will probably get left in the dust with the worst of us. Which, in my case, is probably why this is happening, just a little reminder to stay the course of true soul as we move into the new age. I am releasing this person with love and moving forward peacefully.

Oh, and I found this: If you're on a plane with a parent using a super loud gross plastic bottle and dirty coin rattle that's totally freaking out your dog and ruining your flight, you can suggest this much more peaceful alternative. And then, because you've been so helpful and accommodating, you can ask for one of whatever is in the bottle.