Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Funeral for a Friend

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


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

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

http://vimeo.com/38810369

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

Me, Codie, Joey...


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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

She said, "I got you girl. You're good. I always got you; you should know that by now."



Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cursed Diamonds

Was there something planetary going on last week? I got super sick with the flu the week before and spent days holed up in the apartment feeling hot, then cold, then cranky. My guru mom says that we are all going through more clearings, past life and this life, and that I was clearing out energy/toxins from drug usage in this current lifetime. To which I whined, "Well, that's gonna take forever!"

But it didn't. If you're interested, we're supposed to be moving from carbon based bodies to crystalline. http://drsmick.com/carbon-based-to-crystalline-based-body/. I don't feel very crystalline and clearing, if that's what it is, sucks--"Cher, I don't want to do this anymore. And my buns: they don't feel nothin' like steel."--Tai in Clueless.

But hope does indeed spring eternal and all things must pass.

So after some heavy couch time I was eager to get back to stabs at productivity, especially as lately I've been feeling less procrastinaty about the book, like for the first time, ever. I sat down last Thursday and wrote some pages, and was very pleased to see I'm closer to measurable progress. Then as I sat there determinedly typing, seemingly without provocation, I burst into tears and went on nice little crying jag, the likes of which had not been experienced since viewing Les Miserables while in the full throes of PMS. That damned Anne Hathaway.

It was weird. But not. After honking into the sixth kleenex that little bulb went bright and I thought, "Ooooooohhh... So I'm not LAZY, it's that it sucks to dredge this stuff up. That's why I've been procrastinating for the last 10 years. Not lazy...SENSITIVE! Not lazy...PAINFUL! I felt quite vindicated despite the snot-producing state of affairs. Though it's not fun to carry shame and sadness over the past, it' is very nice to find a reason to justify ten years of steady video gaming.

The next day, feeling slightly vulnerable and a tad off my game, I worked my happy hour at BE. Patrick Kavanaugh, the supremely talented Mad Hatster, came in and gave me the most gorgeous bowler you've ever seen, custom made for my tiny yet remarkably hard head.


So that was awesome and I love the hat so much I haven't taken it off since.

And then various friends  from varying eras in my life, from varied parts of the country, stopped in, just by random chance all converging in NY at the same time. The evening was shaping up to be nice.

And then it wasn't. One of the friends who I hadn't seen in twenty years, and who I was very close to back then, confessed quietly that they'd been homeless for a number of years. For the purpose of privacy, let's call this person "X". That made me sad and also meant I would be putting some of my tips in the register to pay for the drinks, which also makes me sad. But I was glad to be reunited and am grateful for all I have, and am happy to pay it forward when possible.

Things went from fun and reunion-ey to overly drunk and sloppy in a very short time. But I didn't notice because the bar manager forgot to tell me there was an open bar halfway through my shift, and I was suddenly faced with a hundred eager-for-libation strangers waving free drink wristbands and shouting drink orders at the top of my head as I concentrated on pouring as fast as humanly possible.


One woman in particular got belligerent because she wanted two glasses of water immediately (no intention of tipping) and I was not getting to her fast enough. I tried to explain to her, while making ten drinks at a time with hands and toes, that water took the same time to pour as a drink and that there were many other, more well-mannered people who had been waiting much longer than her. She ignored all logic and human decency and continued to insist that she wanted her water asap. She waved her hand without stop and and shouted, "I ONLY WANT TWO WATERS. I ONLY WANT TWO WATERS!" I finally screeched, "ALL RIGHT EVERYONE! THIS WOMAN GETS HER ORDER BEFORE ANYONE ELSE BECAUSE HER NEEDS ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT IN THE ROOM!"

Everyone looked nervous as I slammed two glasses down in front of her, the contents sloshing onto the bar. She made a face, not cowed in the least, and took her gd water. I felt badly immediately after, because my behavior reflects on the bar and could get me into a conversation with my bosses, and because it sent an adrenaline surge through my system that quickly alchemized to angst and weird afore-mentioned weepy shame from the day before. So when she came back feeling hydrated and insisting upon a complicated drink (again no tip), I apologized. I still think she's an asshole, but it made me feel better to do the professional thing. Sometimes I don't care about being right or wrong, I just want to be comfortable.

Once the shift was over I took a deep breathe and collected my things, anticipating some relaxing down time. Whew!

Not to be. Asshole Lady elbowed me and pointed to my long-lost friend X and said, "Someone better do something about THAT." X was at that moment trying very hard to simultaneously choke and punch another friend while sliding off the bar stool. We were in full Barfly mode. I'm surrounded by fancy white people in business attire and free-drink wristbands and MY people look like hell and are attempting to kill each other.

Sigh...



After an interminable one-way conversation about the fact that it was time to leave (heads too busy lolling on necks like the proverbial bladder on a stick to respond verbally), and some dragging/carrying out into the street with the assistance of Mr. Tim, we were able to get a cab and escort sorted out. I shoved hard-earned money into broke hands and Tim loaded them into the back of the car. I mouthed the words, "I'm sorry." to the cabdriver, and Tim and I  ran screaming into the night.

We made a beeline to Manitoba's for a nightcap with wifey Zoe Hansen and friend and jewelry designer Sara Samoiloff. I figured I deserved it at that point.

Zoe, having gotten my frustrated texts, handed me a cocktail upon arrival. Sara handed me the gift of a GORGEOUS, clearly expensive silver and pearl necklace. I was thrilled and grateful. I sat there sipping and sporting my beautiful necklace and hat, marveling at my generous friends. The angst began to melt away.

And then another person in the bar sidled up with mischief on the mind and cocaine in the bloodstream, and began shouting what would turn out to be a really boring story set on repeat, illustrated with even more boring phone photos, at a decibel level well over all sane, inside-voice conversation. It went on and on and on. And then without warning, the story veered, with no assistance or prompting from me whatsoever, to crap from my past and just by chance, exactly what I was writing about the day before that sent me into an emotional tizzy.

Ah geez.

I shouted, "I don't want to talk about it!" and as my eyes rolled into the back of my head preparing for what one could only hope would be a blissfully conscious-deadening seizure, someone else elbowed me from behind. I turned to see a man who looked somewhat familiar, but I could not place. He said, I kid you not:

"No one likes you."

I squinted and said, "Huh?"

He replied, "You know me. You remember me."

I shook my head and turned back around away from him. After that initial crack I wasn't too interested in any further trips down memory lane. He elbowed me again, I turned, and he said, "You know me."

I said, "I'm very sorry, but I don't remember. Care to enlighten me?" He paused, pulled out a giant wad of cash very ostentatiously, handed a $20 to the bartender, and said, cryptically,

"Indian Larry."

I said, "Larry's dead.You're not him. If you're not going to tell me then we don't have anything to talk about."

I turned back to Zoe, who was now glaring at me wild-eyed and desperate for rescue from the too-loud cokey story on repeat. Money-bags purposely banged a chair into my back. I ignored it.

I get this a lot. Between bartending, age and being a mini rock star for five minutes, I've simply met too many people for my limited and self-absorbed brain to hold each and every person clearly anymore. Most are nice about it. Last week a girl told me how grateful she was that I'd saved her life by slap/shaking her out of an OD in the bathroom of a bar (good times!), which I hadn't remembered it at all. Some people, like this guy, aren't nice and take it personally when you don't remember them. I do think I remember him now, but fuck it. I'll pretend like I don't if I see him again just to drive him bananas. Sometimes it's more entertaining to be right than it is to be comfortable.

I had a hard time getting to sleep that night. I felt very sad about the friend that I'd shoved into a cab, who had been such a fierce creature when we were young, almost otherworldly with that stardom and beauty that we all had in our youth. I wondered how some of us, like Zoe and me, have been able to emerge from our crazy, often drug-fueled pasts into a happy present, while so many others are dead, or still using and/or not fully there, or simply cranky about being forgotten. For every one of me, who survived with only residual sadness and regrets, there are numerous others who are either dead or trying to punch a friend in some bar well past the age when that sort of behavior can be considered dignified.

The alternative/artistic/rock and roll/whatever-you-want-to-call-it existence can be pretty cool. You get free hats and jewelry. You get attention and you go to a lot of shows. You get remembered more than others. But it destroys many and is not a life for the faint of heart. Which, I suppose, is the reason that so many dabble in it in their 20's and then move on to more normal-seeming lives, the only evidence of the past being a few photographs the kids find amusing. This is probably the sanest way to go.

But I have never been called sane, and don't know how or wish to live any other way. I woke up after my fitful night and decided that the truth I would choose for each one of the people involved in the last 24 hours would be the one that suited them best. Meaning, I choose to believe that my punch-drunk and sometimes homeless friend is merely taking a soul detour for the moment, and that the truth of who they are is that amazing creature I knew so many years prior. And that one day, maybe in this lifetime, or maybe the next, that truth will shine again and forevermore.

I would hope that people would do the same for me: remember me at my best and brightest and forgive some of those not so shining moments, as I am only now learning to do for myself. Maybe on the other side we will be able to look at each other with full memory of all of the people and events and absolutely no blame or shame, and go, "Whew! That was a fucking ride, wasn't it? Now where's that asshole woman with our water??"