|Seen backstage at The CafĂ©, Anjie Myma, Ruby Holiday, Pollo Del Mar, Anyanka Munro and Persia Socrates performed Jan. 2 at The GlamaZONE, the columnistâ€™s first drag show of 2011. Not pictured is adorable Angelica Gold.
Notorious Sainted Glamazon About Town
Sitting in the early morning quiet of this Spanish Harlem apartment, well before any of those living here awake, the hiss of the steam heat is the only company I have. Accustomed to the relative silence of my own, quiet Excelsior District abode, the constant rattle of the pipes proved nerve-wracking at first. Now I find it somewhat soothing. It seems to help me think.
Certainly the clattering steam is better than the alternative. Upon my arrival two days ago, the crisp â€” freezing â€” air outside chilled me to the bone. Even that, I know, is mild compared to what New York City faced just a week ago, a blizzard which buried streets under mountains of snow, snarled air travel and, to date, still has the city clogged with post-Christmas garbage waiting to be removed.
Iâ€™m well-acquainted with the cold, of course, having attended college and lived in Cleveland, OH, for years. Still, I moved away from those frigid climates when I found my way to San Francisco more than a decade ago, fleeing myself as much as the icy East Coast winters.
At the time, I surely thought Iâ€™d never look back, much less consider a return. Now, Iâ€™m not so sure.
Every time I find myself in New York, I am once again overwhelmed with love for its vast neighborhoods, bustling atmosphere and beautiful people.
Each time makes me wonder if, perhaps, I didnâ€™t miss its call 15 years ago when, shortly after graduating from our small, private Methodist university, countless friends and acquaintances packed their bags and headed to The Big Apple to pursue Broadway dreams.
Our college is well-known throughout the Midwest for its conservatory â€“ one of the finest in the country â€” and many I knew there seemed primed for the big time. Though I did not study music, and had only peripheral involvement with the theatre department, a handful of those close to me decided to make the leap to New York. I watched in awe as they went...
At that time, several urged me to join them. My friends Kim Putnam and Erin Craig, who paid astronomical rent to share a bunk bed in a claustrophobic â€śthree-bedroomâ€ť Manhattan apartment, made the most convincing argument. They were so adamant, I decided to visit a few months after they arrived.
It was early-January 1996 â€“ nearly 14 years ago to the day â€” when I drove my beat-up Chevy Cavalier from Ohio to New York on a relative whim. The afternoon before, I was fired from a marketing job at a Cleveland-area community college, and decided a change was exactly what I needed.
â€śRemember you told me to come visit anytime?â€ť I said in a voicemail on my friendsâ€™ answering machine (those were the days before cell phones).
Well, Iâ€™m on my way! See you tomorrow!â€ť
My friends showed no outward signs that my unplanned Pilgrimage annoyed them when I arrived with barely a nickel to my name early the next morning. Instead, they appeared happy to see me and gave free-reign of their tiny apartment.
It was snowing heavily when I arrived. The next day, when I went to move my car, I discovered it swallowed by a snowdrift outside their building. Only a barely-visible patch of red paint identified its whereabouts.
Realizing I was likely to stay longer than just the couple days originally intended â€“ at least until my car was freed â€“ I decided to explore the city in earnest, finally considering a move. At the time, everyone from corner stores to area publishing companies was hiring. My friends encouraged me to pick up applications, and so I did. Perhaps, I though, the universe trapped me here for a reason?
At some point during my stay, I stumbled across Jacqueline Susannâ€™s novel The Valley of the Dolls. After long days walking the city streets, I stayed up late, voraciously reading the classic story of Anne Welles, Neely Oâ€™Hara and Jennifer North.
I felt an odd connection to the tale of three fresh-faced young women who move to New York City to pursue their dreams only to spiral into drug addiction, dysfunction and, in some cases, heart-breaking death! That could easily be my friends Kim, Erin and me, I realized.
In my mind, Kim was clearly Anne, the beautiful, driven and successful (yet unlucky-in-love) heroine. Erin, one of our schoolâ€™s most gifted performers, seemed perfect for talented ingĂ©nue and eventual Oscar-winner Neely, who grows addicted to a myriad of substances to cope with her stressful career.
That left me to be Jennifer, the most beautiful yet surely most tragic of the lot. While I certainly didnâ€™t relate to the character in a physical sense â€“ as I was an exceptionally late bloomer â€” I connected deeply on some spiritual level. Her emotional fragility, the desperate search for a love which always seems beyond her grasp, her intelligence overlooked because of her outward appearance touched me.
And, to be honest, her fate startled me!
I remember finishing that novel and being 100-percent convinced that, if I were to move to New York City, I would become Jennifer. Her story spoke to some dark core in me that I had, at that point, been unwilling and afraid to examine.
Back then, I mistakenly believed the kind of personal demons I felt swirling just below my surface could be avoided if only I side-stepped the catalysts which cause those to surface. As a 20-something, having just read that book, the most obvious reason for the characterâ€™s decline seemed the influence of the city. As a result, no matter how I loved New York, I took it off the table as an option.
A couple of years later, I landed in San Francisco instead. The Bay Area felt like a viable alternative, giving all of the big city elements I craved but none of the risks Iâ€™d read about New York City in Valley of the Dolls.
Or so I thought. No matter where you go, though, there you are â€“ and there truly is no running from oneâ€™s self!
All the frightening similarities I felt to Jennifer surfaced just as quickly on the West Coast as they might have in New York. The very spiral into darkness and heartache I once feared came to pass, just as it surely would no matter where I had gone.
Though it was the most difficult thing I have ever done, I walked through that more than a half-decade ago. Today, as I sit her in New York City yet again, I have a different perspective and intense new curiosity.
Whether staring out the window or walking the streets, alive with people and piled high with holiday debris, the draw I feel to this city is as it was so long ago. Aside from superficial changes, nothing here has changed. The city remains the same; I am what is different.
Unlike those days when I was afraid of what New York might awaken in me, I know â€“ and have already faced those things head on. With those out of the way, itâ€™s what else these streets, this city and these people still have to offer that these steam-filled pipes seem to whisper this quiet, snowy morning.
Each creak and groan carries the promise of adventures untold in a city I fell in love with so long ago. Every hiss of the heater is a seductive invitation of what has been waiting for me all these years.
Even 15 years later, I hear New York calling again. As exciting as the prospect seems, Iâ€™m still not ready to answer.
Follow â€śThe Glamazonâ€ť at Twitter.com/TheGlamazonPDM. Email her at Pollo_DelMar@Yahoo.com.