Sunday, May 15, 2016

Welcome to My Midlife Crisis, Part 3: The Clock Is Ticking

Video of Ethyl Eichelberger in "Leer"
 Yesterday I had another one of those days (which I’ve been having a lot of recently): a culture-filled day that turned into yet another reminder of that existential reality: the clock is ticking.
It started out at Howl! Happening, an East Village gallery that opened up in one of those newly constructed luxury buildings that have been popping up all over the East Village lately. The gallery was created by Arturo Vega, the former art director for The Ramones (he created their famous logo, among other things), someone I knew from the years I used to hang out at The Bar on East 4th Street. The gallery itself is a reminder that Manhattan has turned into a museum, a memorial to all the great things that used to happen here. But the places where those things used to happen have been bulldozed to make way for the yuppie hordes who now live here and are trying to recreate their suburban childhoods.
But I digress.
Anyway, the current show is called “When Jackie Met Ethyl” and it features videos and artifacts from performances by two legendary drag queens/actors, Jackie Curtis and Ethyl Eichelberger. Jackie was, of course, one of Andy Warhol’s “superstars” and Ethyl was an accomplished actor, playwright and wigmaker whom I think I first saw perform at the Pyramid, but who eventually appeared on Broadway and HBO. I was lucky enough to catch one of Ethyl’s last performances at PS122. I’ve been racking my brain trying to remember what it was. I think it must have been Leer, his interpretation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, but I remember that it featured him playing the accordion. (That was one of his trademarks.) He eventually committed suicide after being diagnosed with AIDS.
Holly Woodlawn memorial at LaMama
While I was at the gallery, one of the people working there mentioned that they were going to be streaming a memorial service for Holly Woodlawn (another of Warhol’s superstars) that was taking place at the LaMama theater a few blocks away.
Without even thinking (or having an invitation), I ran out of the gallery to LaMama and insinuated myself into the line of mourners for Miss Woodlawn. (I’d like to think she would have approved.)
The memorial service was a Who’s Who of downtown New York and off-off-Broadway: Penny Arcade, Michael Musto and others. Some of them I knew personally or from their work, others I had only read about (including at the gallery show I had just seen).
Memorials like these are a sort of uncomfortable mix of stargazing, legacy-building and genuine emotion. The memorial service was being streamed all over the world and there were people taking pictures and filming both officially and unofficially (i.e., on their cell phones, for future Facebook postings, no doubt). I must confess that I myself took one photo before the ceremony started, but I wanted to be respectful.
Even though I didn’t know Woodlawn personally (as many of the people in attendance did), I found myself very moved. In fact, there was one point when the Lavender Light Gospel Choir started singing that I began crying uncontrollably (much to my own embarrassment). I think this was because they were singing a religious song (after an amusing rendition of “Walk on the Wild Side”) and, in contrast to all the light-hearted remembrances that had come before, it brought home the reality and enormity of the fact that someone had actually died.
Martin Belk at BGSQD
The final stop on my cultural tour was a book reading and signing by a writer, Martin Belk, who happens to be a Facebook friend of mine and also happens to be one of the few people I know who’s read my book. While we’ve corresponded and I’ve followed his Facebook posts for many years, this was the first time we had actually met. (He lives in London.)
I was very impressed by both the quality of what he read and the mere fact that he had written this book, gotten it published and was now having a reading and book signing in New York City.
Reading his biography in the program afterwards, it seemed to me that he had really gotten his life together and figured out what he wanted to do with it. He’d completed his B.A. at night while still living in New York City, had moved to Scotland to get his master’s degree and was currently working on his PhD.
As my job search slogs into its ninth month, I’ve been having serious questions about my own life choices. I thought that at this point in my life, I’d be doing something much more meaningful and exciting than just struggling to find a job to pay my rent.
And I’m starting to question my artistic choices, as well. I’m not even sure of the best way to express myself anymore.
In addition to writing this blog, I’ve been writing and performing stand-up comedy for the last 15 years. But in the last two months, with all the stress of my job search, I’ve completely lost my sense of humor. (The shitty spring weather we’ve been having hasn’t helped, either!)
My experiences yesterday reminded me once again that we’re all on this planet for a very short amount of time. As my writer friend quoted one of his teachers saying: “You have the rest of eternity after you’re dead to do nothing. But right now, you better get on with it!”

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