Wednesday, March 18, 2009

meet me

Well, that was me. It was me, in the photobooth... in the photobooth, indeed. There I am, at a certain place in time. I awakened yesterday... surprised to be here in this place, instead of in another place. It was 5:30, and I dressed to go to work. Look at me! I had forgotten I am retired. That was mistake number one. Then, I collected myself and stopped dead in my tracks. It was not morning... it was evening and I had not just awakened after a night's sleep, I was up after a nap.
On any new day, I have to decide how to spend the day. Do I go left or do I go right? I have to decide where the day will take me. At the end of the day, no matter where I go... at some point I will be right back here. Right back here, indeed. The choices I made in one time and the turns I make in this time along the way make me a self-published soul. Had I one day perhaps turned left instead of right, all the pages that follow here would perhaps have been different. But since I didn't... it's all now set in stone. If I had not seen the documentary, "Wide Awake," and then sent an E-mail to Alan Berliner... all of this might have ended up in a Staten Island landfill because at places in time I made a decision not to partner-up or to have children. People used to scrawl on public bathroom walls, "I was here." Then the internet and Google came along and I get a sort of bittersweet and ironic last laugh. I created a blog, a blog indeed! I can tell the world, "I was here." And the photos and memories in this memoir are the pieces of my documentation to prove it.

meet the parents

Get a load of these two! I was raised by these two, and I am amazed I can function. If that Alec Baldwin tape with the message that he left his daughter is a barometer of bad parenting, these two should have gone to the electric chair. My mother made Deirdre Burroughs look like Carol Brady and my father made Dr. Finch look like Jim Anderson. 'Nuff said.

to the bellibone

When I was a teenager, I thought I was gorgeous. I had many photographs taken and submitted the pictures to modeling agencies. I created the name "Dorian Fay" and hoped I would snag a contract and appear on the pages of top fashion magazines. I was rejected all over the place. I was convinced the hacks at these agencies had detached retinas. I was not happy with having modeling agents, who were total strangers, evaluate my beauty and summarily reject my face. Honestly, I really did not need or even want their approval. I thought the whole process of sending portfolios and waiting for validation and getting loads of rejections was demeaning.

the drag queens and me

In about 1975, I was waiting for the elevator in the 5th floor hallway of my building and the door to apartment 5G opened. I watched as Barbra Streisand, Cher, Bette Midler, Shirley Bassey, and Diana Ross exited and walked towards me. They were laughing, calling each other "Mary," and having huge fun. We all got into the elevator and "Barbra" invited me to come to their "drag show" at a club located on Seventh Avenue and Bleeker Street. Well, I couldn't go that night because I had plans... but I was curious and intrigued.

The next day, a handsome and friendly guy named Frank knocked on my door. He invited me to visit David. "Who is David," I asked. "David Miller is the greatest drag queen in New York," he replied. "You are living across the hall from Barbra," he said.

So off I trotted down the hall to apartment 5G. When I entered, my mouth dropped open as I was immediately surrounded by the most expensive and ornate gowns I had ever seen. Frank was a very talented designer. The hundreds of fancy colorful gowns and costumes hung on racks all over the apartment. There were wigs, false eyelashes, and pancake makeup stacked on trays. There were black satin heels and jewelry and real and fake furs. Many gowns looked like clothes I had seen in recent films. One was an exact copy of the Bob Mackie bugle beaded gown worn by Barbra Streisand in "Funny Lady." It hung in a place of honor on a door. A few were copies of gowns Cher had worn on her TV show. There was even the Barbra "sailor suit" from "Funny Girl." It was like a drag museum in there.

And guests arrived all day. Bette, Shirley, and Cher visited almost daily. David's bell was constantly ringing. The stereo music was loud and inspiring. I was euphoric. I had never had so much fun in my life. Gay guys were out, drag queens were in. It was all drag 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I inhaled drag and left when they started doing poppers, which always smelled to me like dirty feet.

I began to take photos of all the good times in David's apartment. And they took photos of me. Freddie, David's other lover, took many untouched "glamour" shots that appear at this blog. I started going to all the drag shows. I went during the week to Les Mouches, The Ice Palace, and The Limelight. I always stayed at Les Mouches until 4 AM because that was when they rolled out the donut table. I was a chow hound even back then.

Of all the many who at times actually lived or stayed or loved or danced or laughed or sang or partied for a while in apartment 5G during 1975-1977, only a few are still alive. Frank, David's lover, went with me to the comedy club, Comix, last spring. Oh, and in the 30 years since those great and happy and fun years of my life, Frank has not aged. He is still hot and sexy. And he is still designing bugle beaded gowns... at his own showroom like a true "Garmento."

And Freddie, who was also David's lover at that time? He and I recently reconnected on Facebook. And he is now quite an accomplished photographer with a portfolio of beautiful photos.

There is a sadness I carry with me and a terrific longing for those wonderful days of silliness and laughs. When David moved away, I knew life for me in this building would change forever.

David Miller, RIP.

with pulchritude

David and his lover lived in an apartment right across the hall... and one day they gave me cheekbones and false eyelashes and big hair and they stuck me in maribou and fur. I had for many years felt like "Charlotte Vale," but David was able to give me the "full Ivana" and I never even had to go under "the knife."

(The above photo was hand=painted in watercolors by the photographer)

coming up: a family reunion

circa 1916?

This photo was taken almost 100 years ago... and I am unable to time travel to meet my ancestors. However, in a few months I will meet many descendants of Abraham and Goldie when we gather for a reunion to celebrate the Levine family, from Minsk, who stood so happy in front of this Brooklyn house on a seemingly warm summer day.

the bride and the groom

My parents were married on June 8, 1941... and soon after my father was in the army and stationed on the Aleutian Islands for the duration of World War II.

June 8th, 1941

This was the menu at my parents' wedding reception and dinner at The Aperion in Brooklyn, NY... yum! derma!

an underwood, some pin-ups

85, 85, 96

with pilots

a soldier trains, 1944

army shows: 1942

army chef

staff sergeant

My father was stationed in the Aleutian Islands during World War II. The above are the photos that remain of those four years.

williwaw, williwaw

an empty room, "somewhere in time"

... The above was a rec room for the men in the Army stationed on the Aleutian Islands, maybe circa 1942? And sometimes the soldiers danced in that room and sometimes they had shows. And sometimes they took group photos there.

a soldier's sense of humor

coming in for a landing

a shadow photo

friends during war

broadway comes to the aleutian islands

"The Male Animal" came to Alaska.

the army years

a proud soldier

This is a photo of my father, dressed in his army uniform. It was part of the wall at the Museum of Jewish Heritage that was filled with photos of Jewish soldiers who fought for their country during WWII. The display had a beautiful view of the Statue of Liberty. It was a very moving exhibit.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009